In high school, I loved taunting my history teacher, who was a diehard Boston Red Sox fan, as Boston's streak of years without a World Series continued to grow. Since I graduated from high school, the Red Sox have won two championships in the last four years. Even more impressively, they have won all eight games that they have played in the World Series. So, Mr. Kendzierski, enjoy the success.

With most of their team returning from last season, the Red Sox will be the team to beat in the American League. In my opinion, there are only two question marks facing the Red Sox in 2008. Who will be their starting center fielder? If Curt Schilling is unable to pitch, then who will step up to replace him?


As for their situation in center, veteran Coco Crisp hit .268 with six home runs and 60 RBIs in 145 games last season. However, after struggling at the plate, Crisp was replaced by prospect Jacoby Ellsbury in the ALCS. Ellsbury hit .438 in the World Series and was a major contributor in helping the Red Sox to sweep the Colorado Rockies. In 33 games during the regular season, Ellsbury hit.353 with three home runs and 18 RBIs. He also had nine stolen bases.

With all of his success, Ellsbury looks like the favorite to start, but Red Sox manager Terry Francona says that Crisp shouldn't be forgotten. In my opinion, this position battle will be one of the better ones to watch in spring training. If Ellsbury is named the starter for the first game in Tokyo against the Oakland Athletics on March 25, then he'll offer you a full season of productivity and will be worth a high draft pick. Ellsbury should still be drafted even if Crisp is the starter because he'll be valuable at some point this season, but his value decreases for every day that Crisp is starting ahead of him.

Questions remain about Schilling's shoulder injury and if he'll be able to contribute at all this season. In my opinion, Schilling's injury could be a blessing in disguise for the Red Sox. Clay Buchholz, who threw a no-hitter against the Orioles in his second major league start last season, could have a big season if he's given the opportunity to pitch on every fifth day. I remember watching the no-hitter and thinking how he was going to be a special pitcher one day. If Schilling is unable to be a factor for the Red Sox this season, then it could happen sooner than I thought.

The Red Sox have plenty of valuable fantasy contributors, which probably explains their team success. I'll name quite a few below, but also look at Dustin Pedroia, J.D. Drew and Kevin Youkilis if you need some extra parts for your fantasy team.

Boston Red Sox

2007 record: 96-66 (1st in AL East)

Key additions: 1B Sean Casey

Key losses: RHP Matt Clement, RHP Eric Gagne

Most valuable fantasy performers:

1. David Ortiz, DH – Last season, Ortiz only hit 35 home runs after hitting 54 in 2006. His RBIs also dropped (from 137 in 2006 to 117 last season), but his batting average jumped from .287 in 2006 to a career-high .332 in 2007. He's showing no signs of slowing down, so he should still be on your team as a DH or as a utility player. I'd expect him to hit around .300 with 40-45 home runs and 120-130 RBIs.

2. Josh Beckett, RHP – Beckett had his best year in 2007 with a career-high 20 wins and a 3.27 ERA. He struck out 194 hitters in 200 2/3 innings and finished as the runner-up to Cleveland's C.C. Sabathia in the AL Cy Young voting. At a minimum, he'll win 15 games and will have at least 150 strikeouts. More likely, he'll come close to 20 wins again and will strike out close to 200 hitters. There's a good chance that he wins the AL Cy Young this season, so make sure he's on your fantasy team if he's available.

3. Manny Ramirez, LF – Ramirez will be 36 in May and he only had 20 home runs last season. It was his lowest total since he hit 17 home runs in 1994 as a 22-year-old rookie. Ramirez isn't as valuable as he once was, but he's still fun to watch and I'd draft him and hope that he bounces back in 2008. He only needs ten more home runs for 500 in his career. Keep in mind that 20 home runs and 88 RBIs are still better production than you'll get from most outfielders, even if it's a down year for Ramirez.

4. Jonathan Papelbon, RHP – It's funny to me that the Red Sox even entertained the idea of Papelbon being a starting pitcher. He's got the perfect mental makeup to be a closer and it never looks like he gets rattled when he is pitching. Papelbon will pick up between 30-35 saves and will have an ERA below 1.20. It's always nice to have a closer that will get plenty of save opportunities. With the Red Sox winning close to 100 games, Papelbon should be one of the top closers taken. Make sure that you grab him before someone else does because he is one of the few elite stoppers in the game.

5. Mike Lowell, 3B – Lowell hit over .300 for the first time in his career (.324) and reached a career high in RBIs (120) in 2007. He's hit 20 home runs in both seasons since being dealt to Boston by the Florida Marlins following the 2005 season. I don't think his batting average will be as high again this season, but Lowell will likely hit around .290 with 20-25 home runs and close to 100 RBIs.


6. Jason Varitek, C – Batting average isn't one of Varitek's strongest statistics, but he had 17 home runs and 68 RBIs in 2007. If you can deal with his batting average, which will be around .250, then he'll be valuable to your team. Good offensive catchers are hard to find, so Varitek's home runs and RBIs will be helpful at the position. However, I'd avoid him if you're looking for someone who hits for a higher batting average.

Hidden gems:

1. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF – Ellsbury is viewed as the future of the organization by many followers of Red Sox Nation. He looked pretty impressive in his debut last season, so I think it's a pretty valid point. Personally, I think he'll be the starter for the Red Sox in center field, which means you'll want to draft him pretty early. Ellsbury will help your team in runs, stolen bases and batting average. Monitor the situation as spring training unfolds, but still think about picking him before someone else does.

2. Daisuke Matsuzaka, RHP – I know that you're thinking it's impossible for Matsuzaka to be hidden from anything. The Japanese native has received a massive amount of publicity since he signed with the Red Sox last offseason. He won 15 games as a rookie, so there's not much more to expect from him. That's why I have him listed here. I think he'll improve in his second season in the major leagues. He'll exceed his win total from 2007 and his ERA will be much lower than last season (4.40). Many people may be turned off by his ERA, so you might be able to grab him a little bit later in your draft.