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2011 Red Sox: The Team to Beat?

By Rani Smith

True, the MLB season has yet to begin and speculation early on usually doesn't amount to much. However, in short--yes. Based on offseason transactions, the Boston Red Sox are shaping up to be the dream team of 2011.

The Red Sox and New York Yankees have notoriously been the top 2 teams for the last ten years, despite the Tampa Bay Rays surge in recent years. Both teams have also had the top highest budgets in all of Major League Baseball. While the Steinbrenner/Cashman duo was known for making blockbuster deals at whatever cost, Red Sox GM Theo Epstein was somewhat conservative, not taking part in the A-Rod or Mark Teixeira deals after the price got too high. This year, Epstein took a page out of the Yankees book and became less frugal, signing Carl Crawford to a seven-year, $142 million deal, and will drop big bucks on high profile first baseman Adrian Gonzalez once an agreement is reached. However, as they say, it takes money to make money. The Sox definitely spent some money this offseason, but got top quality players, who will be vital during a World Series run.

Last season, Crawford batted an impressive .307, which ranked 16th in all of Major League Baseball. Gonzalez was not too far behind, ranking 26th with a .298 batting average. This is even more impressive given Gonzalez had suffered shoulder pain through most of the 2010 season. Additionally, Crawford ranked 2nd in the league with 13 triples, 7th with 110 runs scored, 11th with 184 hits, and possibly most importantly 4th with 47 stolen bases and was only caught 10 times.

Although these new players will most definitely bring the offense, pitching has also been a concern for Sox fans, specifically bullpen help. Epstein heard the fans plea and signed RHP Bobby Jenks to a 2-year, $12 million deal. Although Jenks may be known best for being in the news for his attitude, a good friend of Josh Beckett, Jenks will fit in well in Boston--despite taking over the closer roll after Jonathan Papelbon's struggles last season. The 2-time All-Star had some arm problems with the White Sox, but still managed to rank 8th among AL closers with 27 saves. Jenks also had a 86.9% save conversion rate.

Lastly, Red Sox fielding has been a concern for years, with only one or two Sox stars shining on the field at a time. However, with Gonzalez comes his two Gold Gloves. Gonzalez also ranked 10th with a .995 fielding percentage last season.

Lets not forget the other members of the Red Sox. Epstein resigned Jason Varitek, picked up David Ortiz's $12.5 million team option, resigned Hideki Okajima, Jonathan Papelbon and Jacoby Ellsbury to $1.75 million, $12 million and $2.4 million deals, respectively. The Red Sox have a nice blend of batting, pitching and fielding this season which will cover all the bases that make a productive team. Ortiz ranked 10th in the league with 32 home runs all while adjusting his swing. Ellsbury started the season off strong, but was hindered by injury. Also back off injury is Jed Lowrie, who will be a vital back up in the Red Sox line-up, especially since the team was plagued by injury last season. Barring injuries, the revitalized team will give others a run for their money.

Although the Red Sox lost Mike Lowell, Victor Martinez and Adrian Beltre, they have signed some younger, equally strong players to fill the gaps in their roster. The Sox have definitely lost some power in their line-up, but nothing that 3-time All-Star Gonzalez can't handle. The team also lost a Gold-Glover in Lowell at 3rd, however, Crawford has a Gold Glove of his own, as well as speed  and a big bat. With veterans like Varitek, players back from injury like Ellsbury and newcomers like Crawford and Gonzalez, the 2011 Red Sox are poised to be the most well-rounded team in all of Major League Baseball. And lets not forget the best move of the offseason, Cliff Lee signing with the Phillies...(and not with the Yankees). Happy baseball season!

-statistics from ESPN.com. No copyright infringement intended.

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