BANGOR, Maine — Boston Red Sox radio play-by-play announcers Joe Castiglione and Dave O’Brien expect the 2013 Red Sox to be a more likable team and they’re cautiously optimistic the Red Sox can be playoff contenders.
O’Brien and Castiglione braved some frigid Maine temperatures to warm up a crowd of about 400 as the featured speakers at WZON-AM’s annual Hot Stove Banquet at the Bangor Civic Center Monday night.
Boston is coming off a dismal 69-93 season.
Manager Bobby Valentine was fired and former Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell has returned as the manager after managing the Toronto Blue Jays for two seasons.
The Red Sox roster has undergone a major facelift, with center fielder/right fielder Shane Victorino, first baseman-catcher Mike Napoli, outfielder Jonny Gomes, shortstop Stephen Drew, catcher David Ross, set-up man Koji Uehara, starting pitcher Ryan Dempster and closer Joel Hanrahan being added to the fold.
O’Brien said Boston’s team chemistry and image should be vastly improved over the previous two seasons.
“That has been a real problem the last couple seasons. You heard it everywhere the Red Sox went. People said, ‘We really don’t like these guys. And they’re not winning.’ If you’re not going to win, you’d better have likeable guys,” O’Brien said. “If you can put the two together and the Red Sox can get back to being competitive for one of those postseason spots, with the personalities and chemistry they have, people will enjoy watching them.
“We’ll have to see how it all comes together but what I like is they now have enough guys who know how to pull on the same side of the rope,” added O’Brien. “They are in it for each other. They’ve brought in guys with that reputation like Victorino, Napoli, Gomes and Dempster to go with guys they’ve kept [with that reputation] like [David] Ortiz and [Dustin] Pedroia.”
O’Brien also said they will “score enough runs” to be in the playoff hunt.
“If Farrell can get the pitching squared away, they can hang in there deep into the summer and maybe beyond that,” said O’Brien. “There are going to be decisions to be made that the real good Red Sox teams of recent years haven’t had to make.”
“John Farrell will make a big difference,” said Castiglione. “He commands respect. He has a great presence about him. He was a great teacher as a pitching coach and he has also worked in the front office. He’ll make players accountable and they’ll understand that going in.”
Castiglione also said strengthening the bullpen has been critical.
“You saw what the Orioles did last year with a good bullpen. They went from 93 losses to 93 wins. I’ll settle for [93 wins] right now,” he said.
“It all comes down to pitching,” said O’Brien. “That’s why the Red Sox have failed. That’s why John Farrell was really hired: to figure out how to make it better. He has to get Jon Lester straightened away and get Clay Buchholz to be a 19-20 game winner. I agree with Joe. I think the bullpen is going to be one of the best in the American League. But you’ve got to get to the bullpen. That will be the key.”
Lester was 9-14 with a lofty 4.82 earned-run average last season and Buchholz was 11-8 with a 4.56 ERA.
O’Brien said John Lackey, who missed the entire 2012 season after having Tommy John surgery on his elbow, will be one of the players who will play an important role in Boston’s success or failure.
“If he’s anything close to what we thought he was going to be when he signed with the Red Sox [in December 2009], not the guy that scuffled and got hurt, then the Red Sox have a chance to be all right. They certainly have enough offense,” O’Brien said.
The signing of Drew didn’t get much fanfare but O’Brien likes the acquisition.
“I saw him play for Oakland in the first-round series with the Tigers and he played really well. He does a lot of things his brother [outfielder J.D. Drew] did well. He won’t hit for power like his brother when his brother was really swinging the bat, but he’ll take ball four and get on base. And he’s a better defensive shortstop than people give him credit for. His range up the middle is very good,” said O’Brien.
O’Brien said Drew doesn’t have the range of Jose Iglesias but is a good stopgap signing until the Red Sox figure out who their shortstop is going to be for the next 15 years.
Iglesias hit a paltry .118 in 25 games.
“If [Iglesias] could hit [and become a regular], he could win a Gold Glove,” said O’Brien.
“He should be a better hitter than he was,” said Castiglione. “He’s fairly strong. He doesn’t get overpowered. He got into a rut. The jury is still out.”
Castiglione expects Jacoby Ellsbury to start the season with the Red Sox.
The talented center fielder is in the final year of his contract and there has been speculation that they will trade him so they get something in return for him.
Castiglione said Ellsbury’s tenure with the Red Sox will depend upon “how the club does. He has a lot of incentive this year.”
Castiglione doesn’t think the American League East is going to be as strong as it has been in the past, although Toronto is going to be “much better” thanks to the acquisitions of pitchers R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle along with shortstop Jose Reyes and second baseman Maicer Izturis.
“The Orioles won 29 one-run games last year and went 16-2 in extra-inning games,” said Castiglione. “Bobby Valentine said they got five years of good luck in one year. That’s not going to happen again. Tampa Bay traded a couple of outstanding pitchers in [James] Shields and [Wade] Davis to get [outfielder Wil] Myers from Kansas City and the Yankees are getting older.”
Castiglione said just because the Blue Jays have made a dramatic improvement on paper, it has to translate to the field.
“Remember what the Red Sox did in 2010? And it didn’t happen,” said Castiglione referring to the signing of All-Stars Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, who weren’t able to lead the Red Sox to a playoff berth and were traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers last season.
O’Brien said the Red Sox have gotten more than just a pitcher in Dempster.
“He a funny young man who does impressions. And he’s a first-rate magician. Hopefully, he’ll be able to make some hitters disappear in games when it counts the most,” quipped O’Brien.