FORT MYERS, Fla. – Spring training 2013 began Tuesday morning under the sun and palm trees here in Southwest Florida.
While New England was still digging out from one big snowstorm, the Red Sox began the process of digging out from three straight years of missing the playoffs.
Pitchers and catchers are in camp for Tuesday’s first official workout under John Farrell, the new manager.
Expectations for this team are muted to say the least, and after a 93-loss season fans are just looking for the Sox to be respectable again.
With that in mind, here are nine questions that will be answered in the weeks ahead:
1. Is the new man the right man?
Farrell would’ve had a rough time following in the footsteps of Terry Francona. Anyone would have.
Instead, the man the Sox wanted all along gets to take over for Bobby Valentine. That’s a much easier task. Valentine was the lightning rod for all that went wrong with the team last season.
Farrell won’t be a lightning rod, but he will be expected to bring integrity, responsibility and competitiveness back to his clubhouse.
2. Will the new guys bounce back in 2013?
Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Steven Drew, Ryan Dempster and Joel Hanrahan are all key newcomers to the team. Each of them was better in 2011 than he was in 2012. Was last year an anomaly or was it the beginning of the end of their careers? If this group is able to recapture the success it had two seasons ago this will be a competitive team.
3. Is the top of the rotation a foundation for success?
Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, and John Lackey would rather not talk much about 2012. Lester had the worst season of his career, Buchholz had a dismal first half statistically and Lackey didn’t throw a major league pitch. This team isn’t going anywhere if the trio can’t bounce back in 2013.
4. Is the Achilles ready to support Big Papi?
David Ortiz has a new two-year contract and says he is ready to be the big bopper in the midst of a rebuilt Red Sox lineup. If he is, this should be strong offense. Yet Achilles injuries often plague athletes into a second year. Ortiz will be asked repeatedly if his heel is bothering him. Listen closely to his answers. A recurrence of the injury would be a huge blow to this team’s lineup.
5. Can Will Middlebrooks avoid a sophomore slump?
Until his season was cut short by injury, Will Middlebrooks trailed only Mike Trout and Bryce Harper in rookie hype last season. Now he needs to pick up where he left off and establish himself as an everyday third baseman for the Red Sox.
6. Are the wild times behind us?
The disintegration of Daniel Bard’s effectiveness was one of the saddest stories in baseball last season. The Sox have added key late-game arms in Hanrahan and Koji Uehara and will have one of the best bullpens in the game if Bard returns to form.
7. Will the centerfielder be the centerpiece of a trade?
Jacoby Ellsbury is in the final season of his contract with Boston. Will he perform in this contract year? Will the Sox look to shop him to get something in return? Stay tuned.
8. Can you catch up?
David Ross is the team’s new catcher. Jarrod Saltalamacchia is the starter. Mike Napoli, a catcher for most of his career, is at first base. Ryan Lavarnway is in Pawtucket. That’s a lot of catchers for one team.
9. Will we review enhanced performances?
PEDs are once again front and center in Major League Baseball as spring training begins. Curt Schilling made sure the Sox were in the conversation when he told us that a member of the team’s medical staff suggested he use HGH to recover from injury. It’s clear substance use isn’t going away, and the story will hover over the 2013 season.
Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.