|As Boston's new voice, Bobby Valentine brings passion and a wealth of knowledge. (Getty Images)|
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- What I like, and don't like, about the Red Sox.
• Bobby Valentine. He's all over the place, moving from one practice field to the next with the dexterity and energy of a man half his age (he's 61). He is all-consuming, and nothing gets by him. Even given all the great things Terry Francona did -- and as much as he was kicked while walking out the door last October, two World Series titles make him Boston's greatest manager -- the Red Sox can benefit from a new voice. Valentine's passion is infectious, and let's remember: He has a lot of talent to work with.
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"He's great," says veteran infielder Nick Punto, who spent last season winning a World Series in St. Louis. "He is extremely intelligent. He's forgotten more baseball than I know. There's a lot of wisdom in there. A lot of stuff to be learned."
• Boston Lumber Company. Yes, there is September, and yes, there is the 2-10 start last April ... but don't let that obscure the firepower these guys had in between. The Red Sox led the majors in runs (875), hits (1,600), doubles (352), extra-base hits (590), RBI (842), total bases (2,631), on-base percentage (.349), slugging percentage (.461) and OPS (.810) in 2011. MVP-candidate Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez, David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis ... most of the core returns. Yes, Ortiz is another year older (36), but he's in great shape and is coming off of a 29-homer, 96-RBI season.
• Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. Very strong front three in the rotation. Though it was obscured by the September dive and the beer and fried chicken, Beckett mostly was phenomenal last season in compiling a 2.89 ERA over 30 starts (13-7). And all systems are go this year. "I feel pretty good," Beckett says. "I can't remember how I felt last spring. The only thing I remember is when I was 19, I felt great the last spring. I even try to [compare] myself sometimes. I go, 'OK, how was I feeling this time last spring?' And I can't remember." All he knows is: So far, so good. Back, arm, all of it.
• There's some depth here that I'm not sure many people realize. Cody Ross was a late-winter sign, but a terrific addition. When he plays in 150 games, he'll hit .270-something with 20 homers. He was slowed early last year in San Francisco by a calf strain and only played in 121. Aaron Cook or Vicente Padilla could become Boston's version of the Yankees' Bartolo Colon a year ago. And former Rockies starter Franklin Morales could develop into a terrific lefty weapon out of the bullpen. Lots of ifs and buts, sure. But their options are good.
• Carl Crawford, RIP? So far, his encore to last summer's excruciating disappointment has been ... nada. Crawford has been sidelined this spring since undergoing offseason wrist surgery.
"He's going to be hitting soon. S-O-O-N," Valentine said Thursday. "I don't know when that is, but soon."
The Sox still do not know when he'll be able to play in a Grapefruit League game, but Valentine does like the way he's getting after it.
"The work that's gone unnoticed I think is going to pay dividends," the manager says. "He's been religious and conscientious about standing over there when pitchers are throwing [and tracking pitches from the batter's box]. He's taken it upon himself to find a pitcher every time he's thrown to stand there and see it. I think it's going to speed up his timing process. There are guys who need less reps. I don't think Carl's one of them."
• Scars. The Red Sox produced the worst September collapse in major-league history last year, and they'll have to wear it this year.
"Our record doesn't start at the end of last year," Beckett says. "Our record starts on April 4."
But after last year's swoon, the heat is going to be extraordinary this year. Nothing will go unnoticed, good or bad, and Boston is going to have to be resilient enough to deal with it.
"I don't see the clubhouse being much different than it has been," Beckett says. "It's not a cliquey clubhouse -- it never has been. Everybody makes fun of everybody, and then David Ortiz says something stupid and everybody starts laughing."
• Bullpen uncertainties. Things are far from settled. First, new closer Andrew Bailey must stay healthy, which is no small order. Then, he must prove he can close for a contender, something he's yet to have done. Next, is Mark Melancon capable of replacing Daniel Bard as chief set-up man? Melancon was very good in Houston, but the American League in general, and the AL East in particular, is a totally different beast. Though Melancon saved 20 games for the Astros, he hasn't done it in Boston. Questions surround a lefty specialist. Will Franklin Morales become that guy? The questions bleed into the rotation as well. If Bard claims the fourth starting spot, the fifth remains up for grabs. If he doesn't, two starting spots are open. Stay tuned.
• What's it take around here to find a steady shortstop? Former Kansas City infielder Mike Aviles -- or Nick Punto, or Jose Iglesias -- is in line to become Boston's seventh opening day shortstop since 2003. Rack 'em: Pokey Reese (2004), Edgar Renteria ('05), Alex Gonzalez ('06), Julio Lugo ('07, '08), Jed Lowrie ('09) and Marco Scutaro ('10, '11). Iglesias eventually will be the guy. But there is a case to be made that the Sox are worse now than in recent years at shortstop, right field (Cody Ross/Ryan Sweeney instead of J.D. Drew) and certainly behind the plate (Jarrod Saltalamacchia, with the glory years of Jason Varitek but a memory).