No. 19 Red Sox: Free of (most) awful contracts, flexible Red Sox still have questions

Jeff Passan
Yahoo Sports
Editor’s note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason of every MLB team before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues with the Boston Red Sox.

2012 record: 69-93
Finish: Fifth place, AL East
2012 final payroll: $168.6 million
Estimated 2013 opening day payroll: $155 million
Yahoo! Sports offseason rank: 19th
Hashtags: #kaboom #worstcontractoftheoffseason #titounplugged #hova #murderersno #papi #fakestreak #hungrymonster #willhitwontwalk #unlimitedtextingplan

OFFSEASON ACTION

The hot stove tally for the Red Sox, in descending numeric order:

- 126.45: Millions of dollars guaranteed to eight free agents.

- 99: Problems, but Nap's hip ain't one.

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Will the Red Sox's dugout turmoil continue in 2013? (AP)

- 39: Millions of dollars guaranteed to Shane Victorino, a 32-year-old coming off the worst season of his career and moving to a corner-outfield position when his bat cannot come close to carrying such a burden.

- 36: Walks in 59 2/3 innings last season from Joel Hanrahan, this year's crack at an established closer after Andrew Bailey apparently wasn't good enough. Considering Hanrahan's history of control issues, the bases on balls are troublesome.

- 35: Dollars for unlimited texting with Verizon, the official wireless provider of the Red Sox.

- 34: Millions of dollars Mike Napoli lost after doctors found an issue with his hip. A three-year, $39 million contract turned into a one-year, $5 million deal.

- 33.5: Average age of free agents signed by the Red Sox. The youngest, Stephen Drew, is 29.

[Related: Red Sox get big bat with $34 million discount]

- 29: Walks for setup man Koji Uehara in his major league career. That spans 211 2/3 innings.

- 9.10: ERA for starter Ryan Dempster, signed to a two-year, $26.5 million deal, against AL clubs with a winning record following his trade to Texas last season.

- 5: Years ago, the Red Sox signed catcher David Ross for the major league minimum. This offseason, they gave him a two-year, $6.2 million deal.

- 2: Years given to Jonny Gomes, at $5 million per, the first multiyear deal of his career at 32 years old.

- 1.026: OPS for David Ortiz last season. If Papi, re-signed to a two-year, $26 million deal, can continue to buck history and put up numbers like he did in his prime, he starts pushing himself into Hall of Fame discussion, especially considering the likely softening on PED users as well as Frank Thomas and Edgar Martinez's expected inductions.

- 1: New manager, John Farrell, poached from the Blue Jays.

REALITY CHECK

When the Red Sox blew up their roster, season and sports-talk-radio phone lines by going all Marlins on Aug. 25, they preached internally one very important principle: flexibility. The onerous contracts of Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett and the expensive one of Adrian Gonzalez no longer were unflushed surprises Theo Epstein left in his office toilet on the way out. They were, simply, the past.

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David Ortiz's bat will need to be active in 2013 for the Red Sox to stay competitive. (AP)

Ugly as it left the present – the Red Sox finished 2012 with their worst record in more than 40 years – the Bobby Valentine experiment would come to its merciful end and the Red Sox would go back to doing what they do best, which is win.

Only then they spent $39 million on a guy some executives peg as no better than a fourth outfielder. And then their biggest signing wound up with a degenerative hip. And then their rotation, which needed an overhaul more than anything, got a pitcher who bombed out against the AL elite last season. And even as the payroll climbed close to previous levels, this Red Sox team looked more like last year's mess than a winner.

The rotation of Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Felix Doubront, a rehabbed John Lackey and Dempster is a murderer's row of underachievers. For the Red Sox to have any hope of contending, they need the promise of their bullpen – Hanrahan, Bailey, Uehara, the very impressive Junichi Tazawa and Craig Breslow – to pick up those innings left naked by the starters.

As long as Napoli's hip holds up and the Red Sox commit themselves to a full season of Jacoby Ellsbury – no sure thing if they falter early – they should score some runs. And yet for the many positives – Dustin Pedroia is a rock, Ortiz a bopper, – there are still the matters of Gomes and the Green Monster, Will Middlebrooks and the frightening walk rate, and ownership and a mistrustful clubhouse.

[Also: Ryan Braun alone isn't enough to overcome Brewers' rotation]

Players notice things like the faux sellout streak and what Terry Francona made public about ownership's commitment and wonder: Can the Red Sox once again rekindle those halcyon days? Yes, shortstop Xander Bogaerts and center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. and right-hander Matt Barnes will arrive soon, and it will be the first large infusion of homegrown talent in almost half a decade. And that flexibility? Well, it will be there, all right.

Only Victorino and Buchholz have guaranteed deals in 2015. And the Red Sox have not a single contract for 2016. This year's team may not be what it should, and next year's, either, but the time is coming where with the right sort of management, the Red Sox can once again be scary. This time in a good way.

SAVIOR

Remember the time that guy picked Jon Lester to win the Cy Young? Oh yeah. That was me in 2011. Everything seemed to be on the uptick for him. Lester was striking out nearly 10 hitters per nine innings. His groundball rate jumped to nearly 54 percent. He was 27, left-handed and hit 96 with his fastball. He struggled in 2011. In 2012 he was far worse, a 4.82 ERA more than a run worse than his career average. And now, at 29, Lester is at a crossroads season. His velocity is about the same. His secondary pitches were especially flat in 2012, though, and unless the feel returns, Lester will be damned to the could've-and-should've-been annals instead of the superstar that once was written all over him.

HAIKU

Bobby V texted
John Henry last week. He said:
"Your team still stinks, pal."

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