Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason of every MLB team before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series is in reverse order of team quality and continues at No. 2 with the Boston Red Sox.
2009 record: 95-67
2009 finish: Second place, American League East
2009 final payroll: $140 million
Estimated 2010 opening-day payroll: $130 million
By nearly any measure, the Red Sox ought to be well into a dynasty unseen since the Yankees of the 1950s. That it hasn't exactly worked out is less a failing of manager Terry Francona, his players or the cerebral front office than a testament to an ultra-competitive division. Those pesky Rays. Those damn Yankees.
At least it keeps the Red Sox from getting complacent. This offseason was no exception. Boston owner John Henry agreed to add a fifth year to an offer for premier free-agent starting pitcher John Lackey(notes) in order to pry him from the West Coast and a return to the Angels.
The defense will be markedly better because of adroit moves. A revolving door at shortstop should end with the signing of scrappy, late-blooming Marco Scutaro(notes). Veteran elite defender Mike Cameron(notes) was brought in to play center field, enabling Jacoby Ellsbury(notes) to move to left and provide a significant defensive upgrade over Jason Bay(notes). Adrian Beltre(notes), perhaps baseball's best glove man at third base, replaces tough but brittle Mike Lowell(notes).
Losing Bay's bat will hurt. Cameron and Beltre have pop but don't hit for high averages. Scutaro's lifetime .721 OPS makes him a No. 9 hitter. David Ortiz's(notes) slide is unlikely to do a U-turn. A full season of Victor Martinez(notes) will help.
Eight games is a lot to make up. So even though another 95-win season is within reach for the Red Sox, catching the Yankees and their 103 victories won't be easy. They need New York – which added a solid starter in Javier Vazquez(notes) – to slip.
The Red Sox are projected to accumulate fewer than the 872 runs they scored in 2009. The improved defense and addition of Lackey should mean the 736 runs allowed also will dip, putting them again at about 95 victories. None of this should be a surprise: The Red Sox have won at least 93 and no more than 98 games every season since 2002 except for an 86-win banana peel in 2006.
The starting rotation could push the Red Sox to 100 wins or drag them down to 90. Lackey and Jon Lester(notes) are bedrock solid. Josh Beckett(notes) is too when healthy. But a leap in maturation by Clay Buchholz(notes) and a return to 2008 form by Daisuke Matsuzaka(notes) will be key. Tim Wakefield(notes), still fluttering along at 43, will make 20 or so starts when others are unable.
RED SOX IN HAIKU
Bay back in Back Bay
Wouldn't play, so defense must
Become wicked good
Next: New York Yankees