They have been moved to the back of the Boston sports pantry by talk of Bowls and Cups. But it’s never too early to dish on the 2012 Red Sox. With spring training less than a month away, and the roster finally coming into focus, the concerns heading into the season are becoming clearer. And coming off the epic collapse of 2011, there is no shortage of riddles for Bobby Valentine to solve.



Carl Crawford

It took him longer than anticipated, but Valentine was finally able to get his left fielder on the telephone to talk about the past and the future. As an ESPN analyst in 2011, Valentine had been critical of the struggling Crawford’s batting stance. And after an excruciatingly long game of phone tag, Valentine and Crawford cleared the air earlier this month.

“Carl and I talked a long time,” Valentine said two weeks ago. “It went good."

But already, Crawford’s 2012 season is off to rocky start. Crawford recently had left wrist surgery, putting his availability for Opening Day in jeopardy. After slumping badly under the weight of his seven-year, $142 million contract last season, another sluggish start is the last thing he or the organization can afford.



Shortstop

 

And you thought Theo Epstein had a blind spot for the shortstop position?

That the Red Sox had late-season acquisition Mike Aviles play outfield this winter, instead of his natural infield positions, is a pretty strong indication that the offseason plan did not include Aviles being a primary shortstop in 2012.

But that all went out the window two weeks ago when the Red Sox shipped Marco Scutaro to Colorado for a minor-league pitching prospect, leaving the Red Sox with just Aviles and Nick Punto as the only viable shortstops on the roster.

The Red Sox are hoping that prized prospect Jose Iglesias will take over the shortstop job for years to come. But the 22-year-old has thus far proven to be all glove, no stick in the minors, and if that continues in spring training, it may leave the Red Sox with a giant sucking sound at shortstop all season.



Starting Pitching

What was supposed to be the sure thing on the 2011 Red Sox proved to be its Achilles’ heel. Clay Buchholz got hurt, John Lackey got rocked and Jon Lester and Josh Beckett got the beer and fried chicken. That got the Red Sox a September meltdown and a third-place finish.

Will it be any better in 2012? Figure the food and drink selections will be severely curtailed in the Valentine administration, but the questions linger: Is Buchholz’s back better? Can Lester regain his luster? Can Beckett repair his reputation as staff leader? And has time healed whatever wounds Daniel Bard suffered as a starter in the minor leagues before the Red Sox originally moved him to the bullpen in 2010?

If any or all of those answers are no, there’s always the Stanley Cup playoffs and NFL draft to look forward to in April.

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