Pressing Questions: Boston Red Sox

We're still six weeks away from the teeth of draft season but Fantasy Baseball prep is a 12-month pursuit these days; let's melt some snow and get some baseball talk going. We'll be visiting all 30 MLB clubs over the next three weeks – two teams a day, Monday through Friday – and opening up arguments on the most intriguing fantasy questions we can find. Today you're getting the most natural of rivals – the Red Sox below, the Yankees over here – and we've tried to create a theme with each of the 15 pairings. Time to start filling the ark.

How does Carl Crawford(notes) fit in The Hub?

Crawford's $142 million deal in early December was one of the biggest shocks of the offseason. He'll certainly be paid like a superstar for the next seven years, but has he done enough to force his way into our Top 12 or Top 15?

Crawford's career resume at Fenway Park only covers 76 games; we certainly don't want to overreact to a modest sample of games. That established, it's interesting to note that he's got a pedestrian .275/.301/.406 line at Fenway along with a modest four homers. We can't blame it on Boston's pitching staff – Crawford posted a .327/.362/.482 slash against the same Red Sox when the teams met at The Trop (along with eight homers, in 36 less at-bats).

Boston's expected starting lineup contains five left-handed batters and Crawford doesn't want to hit leadoff; connect the dots and he'll probably slot third to start the year. Will this be a drain on Crawford's stolen-base upside? He saw 49 games in the three-hole last year and only stole nine bases in those games. For his career he's attempted .424 steals per game when hitting second, as opposed to .303 attempts per game when in the No. 3 position. I'm not going to target Crawford in mixed-league drafts this spring – the price will have to meet me before I point-and-click.

Same question, Adrian Gonzalez(notes)

The Gonzalez deal should go down as Boston's signature move from this winter. The cost was pricy but not ridiculous, and Gonzalez has the type of inside-out swing that should play well in Fenway. He's got power to all fields, and he's certainly willing to hit the ball where it's pitched.

With all due respect to the fine people and fans of San Diego, it's exciting to see Gonzalez liberated from Petco Park while he's still in the prime of his career (he turns 29 in May). Cavernous Petco held Gonzalez down to a .267/.367/.442 slash line over the years, while Gonzalez posted a .298/.370/.559 line hitting anywhere else in the majors. His career home run rate is over 50 percent higher for his non-Petco games. You're committing highway robbery if you land Gonzalez in the second round of your draft, and you can certainly consider him for Round 1.

Is there any reason to worry about Jonathan Papelbon(notes)?

The red ink on Papelbon's 2010 file jumps out at you. He lost seven games and blew eight saves, and his ERA climbed by more than two runs. But how badly was he really pitching? Papelbon's strikeout rate was essentially the same as it was in 2009, there wasn't a dip in velocity, and he issued just one additional walk in 2010 (ignoring the intentional passes). For the most part this surface step backwards was a case of sequencing events; I'll be very surprised if Papelbon doesn't have a better season in 2011. Bill James projects a 2.61 ERA and 41 saves for Papelbon, and the Yahoo! Fantasy Baseball Magazine has Papelbon down for 38 handshakes and a 3.09 ERA.

Mind you, the Red Sox have plenty of capable candidates to step in if Papelbon can't sort things out. Daniel Bard(notes) was electric as a set-up man last year, and Bobby Jenks(notes) and Dan Wheeler(notes) were acquired in the offseason. Bullpen depth, at least from the right side, shouldn't be a problem here.

Josh Beckett(notes) and John Lackey(notes) aren't really this bad, are they?

There's certainly a positive spin to be made on Beckett. His messy ERA was driven by a meaty BABIP (.349) and a 14.2 HR/FB rate, and the last time he had a washout year (2006) a tremendous profit season followed. But why was Beckett's fastball such a negative pitch for him in 2010? Was a 0.8 loss in velocity enough to tip the scales? Was Beckett simply not able to command his heater? What concerns me most about Beckett is that he has a 4.59 career ERA at Fenway Park and a 6.26 career ERA against the Yankees. If you can't trust a starter most of the time, why invest?

I'm more interested in Lackey for 2011, and although his ADP is currently higher than Beckett's (137 versus 158), I suspect Lackey will come cheaper than Beckett (and cheaper than No. 137) in a lot of groups. Lackey's strikeout rate and control rebounded nicely in the second half last year, and while his overall numbers weren't great anywhere, he actually pitched worse on the road as opposed to Fenway Park. Perhaps the adjustments he made in the latter part of 2010 will carry over to this spring, and with a lot less pressure hanging over him.

Who's the starting shortstop?

Marco Scutaro(notes) still has that position on paper but it's not a done deal; Jed Lowrie(notes) will probably get a chance to make a run at the position in spring training. Lowrie posted a zesty .287/.381/.526 line last year, with nine home runs over 171 at-bats. The winner of this battle will hit at the bottom of the order, but any spot in the Boston undertow this year should offer fantasy utility. The Red Sox also have to figure out their catching situation, where the aging Jason Varitek(notes) and the annually-disappointing Jarrod Saltalamacchia(notes) top the list.

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