Game, Set, Match…Now What?
By Brian Phair
I needed a day to decompress from the crushing loss on Sunday night at the hands of the Tampa Bay Rays, but now am ready to move on. This day has been expected for some time now. The day when fans of the Red Sox could say goodbye to the 2010 season and begin to think about off-season moves and 2011. The day when the hope and desire of the players on the team meet with the mathematical improbability of their attempt at reaching the post-season again given missed opportunities and of course the biggest topic of the year: injuries. It was fun while it lasted, but now it is time for Theo and his crew to begin aggressively thinking about the 2011 campaign and what needs to be done to return to the baseball’s ultimate stage, the World Series.
The Sox have many decisions to make and to wait for with their own club before looking into the free agent market. Those decisions are not limited to, but include whether Adrian Beltre will pick-up his player option and if Victor Martinez, David Ortiz or Mike Lowell is worthy of an extension. The only decision of the 4 that seems obvious to me, is that Mike Lowell has put on a Red Sox uniform for the last time in 2010 and will not be reemerging next season. All year the Sox have been trying to move him, so the likelihood of a new contract is 0. After that, your guess is as good as mine, but i’m going to take a shot at guessing what the Sox will do and what I hope they will do.
The 1st is easy in my mind and that is Beltre picking up his player option. He is certainly not a cheap player ($5 million, $10 million if her reaches 640 plate appearances), but since May, has been the most consistent and impressive hitter in the Sox lineup and one of the best hitters in the league with a .323 average. He committed a few more errors than the Sox would have liked to see this year (16), but has made so many spectacular plays, it all balances itself out. Beltre certainly surprised a few people this season, but that is what will be a big hurdle for the Sox management to get over: Will he be able to repeat his impressive numbers in 2011? Honestly, as long as he can still put a ball over the monster, he should be a force in the middle of the Boston Red Sox lineup.
The next big question mark comes from the catchers spot and Victor Martinez. This prediction and decision is much more difficult because the amount of money V-Mart could get in he open market may be well beyond what the Sox are willing to pay. Don’t get me wrong, V-Mart is one of, if not the best, hitting catchers in the game, but it has been his inability to throw out base-stealers and the questions surrounding his health that are the major factors. Since he began his professional career in his teens after being signed by the Cleveland Indians out of Venezuela, his longer term career placement may be at 1st base or DH instead of behind the plate in order to prevent his body from wearing out. If that is the case, the Sox would be overpaying for a rare catcher, when he would be relegated to 1st base or DH primarily.
On the other end of that argument however, if the Sox don’t resign David Ortiz, or they do and he retires in a year or 2, it would be pretty nice to have a guy like V-Mart ready to take over that role. The main question Theo needs to answer is whether V-Mart is worth what others will offer him in the free agent market and if not, will he except a smaller deal to stay with the team and city he loves. The answer is not cut and dry and will surely involve a ton of strategical thinking in the front office, but my gut tells me that the Sox will explore other catching options in hopes of saving some salary. If V-Mart is willing to give the Sox a small break in dollars, he will likely remain in Boston for a few more years.
The final tough decision for today’s discussion involves one of the most beloved players ever to don the Red Sox uniform: Big Papi David Ortiz. The last 2 seasons have begun in shame, even resulting in talks of releasing the big fella in April this season, but have turned around since that point. Luckily for Red Sox nation, management doesn’t listen to the fans and has watched Ortiz not only break out of his April slump, but crush everyone and everything in his path en route to 27 long balls, 79 rbis and a .534 slugging percentage. His resurgence has been fun to watch, but are his days in Boston numbered? It all depends on what the Sox want to do in 2011. If they are planning on bringing back V-Mart and will use him partially at DH to save his body, then the Big Papi era will likely be over. If they are planning on passing on V-Mart, then I think the chances are strong Ortiz returns.
The are a million factors in whether Ortiz returns, but knowing the Sox, salary will certainly be a sticking point, with Ortiz wanting more than the Sox are willing to invest in the aging slugger. If Ortiz leverages his success this year for a bigger paycheck, the Sox will almost certainly walk away from the table. Theo knows a players value and rarely decides to overpay with 1 or 2 exceptions (J.D. Drew).
This is just the beginning of the discussion. I would love to hear your thoughts on my predictions/feelings, because the reason I write is for you, the reader. Keep checking back as I go more into depth about the players above, potential free agents and where I see the Red Sox headed in 2010. Just because the post-season is out of reach, doesn’t mean the writing stops.