Just addressing the areas mentioned above, the starting rotation is better, they have a good closer in Bailey, and Crawford cannot possibly suck more when he comes back.
Isn't this roughly what many were saying about Lackey just over a year ago, that he couldn't possibly get worse than he'd been the previous year? And look what he did last year.
Not, mind, that I believe Crawford will drop off the proverbial cliff as badly as did Lackey, but saying it can't possibly happen just gives me shivering shades of Manager C.M. Burns on the inevitability of winning his softball bet: he was sure he'd win it "[... u]nless, of course, my nine all-stars fall victim to nine separate misfortunes and are unable to play tomorrow. But that will never happen. Three misfortunes, that's possible. Seven misfortunes, there's an outside chance. But nine misfortunes? I'd like to see that!" Except that he managed to win despite eight key "misfortunes," and the Red Sox play in reality.
The one thing we know, or at least about which we can be reasonably certain, is that some members of this team will get injured and need replacing. Just looking at pitchers, chances are good they will need the standard 10-plus starters, possibly some replacements for a sub-mediocre month at a time, and some sort of revolving door in the 'pen (again, as usual). Injuries are going to happen. They're a reality of the game, and at a certain point we have to stop considering them "bad luck." Whom they afflict-- and how-- might be bad luck, but even assessing that is a bit iffy. The Yankees' losing a key reliever to a bizarre trampoline accident isn't bad luck: Chamberlain has always been a lunk and a meathead, and has been gearing up for an impossibly stupid self-inflicted injury for years-- he's always been a potential candidate for the "Hold my beer, I wanna try somethin'" Hall of Infamy. 2011 Lackey's being too... whatever the Hell he was to cop to his injury, stop pitching so poorly, and get treated wasn't bad luck, it was part of his risk profile as a self-important douchecan with as much self-awareness as a leaky burlap sack of sun-rotten chum (which, coincidentally, is what he most often resembles). JD Drew's tweaking something or other and missing a week here and there wasn't bad luck-- it was a given when he was signed.
As for this year's possible misfortunes (pitching edition): Bard wants to be a starter and has reportedly utterly reformed his conditioning to bank on his conversion-- reverting to a reliever would likely be difficult for him, should need arise (which could well happen), and he could struggle all around. Matsuzaka could come back and repeat his worst starts of the past few years, failing in his modest role as a mid-season back-of-the-rotation starter. Doubront (like Iglesias, though that's for another thread) is an injury risk, so he could well hurt himself pitching and vomit out a few atrocious starts littered with enough sparkles of competence to keep him at the top level longer than would have been, in retrospect, strictly wise. Beckett hasn't been sidelined by an avulsion or other eczema-related issues recently, and that could always happen again (possibly due to a new diet with some hitherto-unknown allergen in). Lester could red-ass his way into a blown shoulder by mid-May. None of those alone would really constitute bad luck-- it's how the game works. Going into potential offensive afflictions would be too depressing, so I'll leave that for another time.
So, obviously, the only thing a GM can do is to prepare for some worst-case scenarios and have contingencies for as many positions as possible. Apart from the corner outfield spots, this team seems to have a batch of decent spaghetti for the rest, more at some positions than others. Cherington has done his job. How well is clearly up for debate, but he's ensured that the organisation has 12-odd vaguely viable starters (not good, mind, or even solidly average, but sort of viable), a pile of variably crap-to-good bullpen arms, at least decent-for-AAA backups (certainly some of whom have questionable ML readiness) for most positions. Cherington has done that without mortgaging future competitiveness in the process. Now Valentine needs to work with what he's been given to field the winningest team he can arrange on each game-day, and he's inspired no confidence yet as to his ability to do that with this team. I hope he proves canny and brilliant and a strategic and tactical savant and all that, but I have stats-less fears about his management style derailing what could otherwise be a competitive postseason team.
Realistically, this team (like many other on-paper competitive teams in history) could win 78 games or 110, depending on some unforeseeable events (injuries, chemistry, timing, management, etc) for them and for the rest of the league. The idea that this team's projection somehow starts at the threshold of 100 wins and varies from there is so patently absurd it actually made me guffaw: suffice it to say I don't share EV's confidence. Should they win 105 games, I'd be pleasantly surprised, but not incredibly shocked. Should they win 82 games, I'd be disappointed, but not very shocked. But I hardly expect
them to win 100*, give or take a few for misfortune, or to win a supposedly generous 85-- I expect them to fall somewhere in the 88-93 range, only with huge allowance bars in each side. But, then, the past seven months have so thoroughly warped my expectations and beliefs about the coming season that nothing would shock me at this point.
Unless Lackey were to come back healthy and early and win the 2012 Cy Young and MVP. That would shock me. But I reckon I'm safe on that front.
*: The Sox last won 100+ games in 1946; the only other times they've broken triple digits were in 1915 and 1912; by comparison, they've lost 100+ games 7 times, most recently in 1965. They've won 85 or fewer a Hell of a lot more often and more recently than they've won 100 or more. Not that that's meaningful, or even terribly topical, but... Well, I
wrote this post.