Let the Fun Begin
By Brian Phair
After spending the past few weeks regrouping from a frustrating and yet rewarding 2010 campaign, it is now time to look toward the future. The Red Sox have many moving parts as the off-season begins and a wish-list/to-do list the size of Texas. John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino know exactly how difficult this season became on the Sox staff, players and fans. They placed a full page add in the Boston Globe vowing to improve the club and get better results in the future (the entire ad can be found after the jump). Maybe the most incredible thing about the Red Sox season is that despite the seemingly endless list of major injuries and an April slump that saw the team go 6-10 in their 1st 16 games, they finished with 89 wins, 16 games above .500. Say what you will about a lost season, but something must have gone right to have a pieced together lineup nearly win 90 games.
"There’s nothing like “October Baseball” at Fenway Park. You miss it. We miss it. We want it back.While we fell short of our annual goal of reaching the postseason, we are proud nonetheless of the way this team conducted itself through serious adversity — showing grit, determination and a team-first attitude.We are also proud of you, our loyal fans. Through injury (and more injuries) and after hard-to-swallow losses, you continued to fill Fenway Park and support the team. Whenthe kids were called up, you learned their names, their stories, and applauded them as your own. When you saw our veterans playing though their bodies weren’t cooperating, you took note and appreciated their heart and spirit. When we were struggling, you were there. When we had walk-off wins, you were there.We work for you. Our players play for you. It gives us immense pride to do so. You are the rock on which this franchise is built.We know the best way to honor you is not merely to thank you, but to go out and honor our fundamental commitment to field an excellent team in 2011, another one worthy of your avid support.We can do better. We will do better. We are committed to winning. For you, for us, for the whole of Red Sox Nation.Once more, we say “Thank You.”Pitchers and catchers report in 132 days."
The positives aside, let’s jump into the off-season with some of the areas that need to be addressed, in no particular order.
Arguably the most disappointing component of the 2010 Red Sox club was the bullpen. With the exception of Daniel Bard and occasionally Jonathan Papelbon, the Sox staff had 0 confidence in any other reliever and for good reason. With the exception of Bard and Papelbon, just 2 of the other 17 Sox relievers had an era under 4 and they were late addition Rich Hill who appeared in only 6 games and Bill Hall who pitched 1 inning. That is absolutely unacceptable for a team that hopes to contend and it has become painfully obvious that the Sox don’t have an easy fix within the organization after trying Felix Doubront and Michael Bowden at various times this season. Both Doubront and Bowden could be helpful role players in the future, but with Doubront likely being converted back to a starting pitcher and Bowden still showing growing pains in his recent reliever conversion (4.70 era in 14 appearances this season), the Sox need to add a few pieces to bolster the ‘pen.
End of the Rotation
Unlike the bullpen, the Sox can add a bit of depth to their starting rotation next year from within. Felix Doubront will likely have a shot at filling the 5th starter role in 2011 and with the return of Tim Wakefield likely for his final season in the bigs, the Sox will have some competition for that slot. Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Josh Beckett and John Lackey will fill the 1-4 slots and barring any major issues, it should be a solid group next season. There is a noticeable missing piece in Daisuke Matsuzaka, the $100 million man. I would be surprised if the Red Sox did not move him this off-season after an under-achieving tenure with the Sox and despite the huge amount of money invested in him, the Sox need to cut their losses and move on to better, healthier, and more consistent options. This is not the biggest need for the Sox, but outside of Lester and Buchholz, this group struggled quite a bit in 2010.
This is the biggest void on the Sox roster right now, with Jason Varitek and Victor Martinez not under contract for the 2011 season and Jarrod Saltalamacchia being the potential #1 guy. I am a big fan of Salty, but am concerned that he is too injury prone to fill a starter role and if the Sox don’t go after V-Mart, will leave a huge power hole in their lineup. Personally, bringing back ‘Tek for one more year to mentor Salty would be a huge bonus and would also aid his transition into coaching (hopefully in the Sox system), because we all know that’s what he wants. It’s tough to justify letting V-Mart’s .302, 20 home runs, 79 rbis walk out the door, but the amount of money he will draw in free agency is enormous and the Sox rarely overpay for free agents unless it is absolutely necessary (and even then they usually don’t). It will be interesting to see what the Sox do going forward, but if they want to bring back the best option regardless of price, V-Mart will remain in Boston.
Oh boy, what a revolving door the outfield spots were in 2010. The Sox played 11 outfielders this season, all appearing in more than 18 games, 5 appearing in 50+ games. The most consistent outfielder (in terms of playing time) in 2010 was J.D. Drew, arguably the most unlikely candidate given his injury prone nature. Second in games played was Darnell McDonald, a guy not on the opening day roster. The other 2 opening day starters (Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron) played in a total of 64 games, leaving the Sox to rely on Bill Hall, Ryan Kalish, Daniel Nava, Eric Patterson, Josh Reddick, Jeremy Hermida and Jonathan Van Every at various points in the season. The lack of consistency killed the Sox and leaves a few huge question marks for 2011. The first is Jacoby Ellsbury, who will likely return next season despite spats with the team because his trade value is next to nothing at this point. Will he be 100% and return to form? Who knows…The next question is who will fill the 3rd outfield spot. Several of the names above are in the pool of options, but likely the Sox will go after a free agent like Jayson Werth to add power and a strong bat to the lineup, especially if they lose V-Mart and/or Adrian Beltre. What a perfect transition to the next area of concern: 3B.
With Mike Lowell‘s retirement basically official and Adrian Beltre‘s player option looming, the Sox could be faced with a huge hole at 3rd base. If smart, the Sox will resign Beltre to a bigger contract for a year or two and have their infield set, but knowing the team’s inability to throw money at aging players, I’m not sure how this will end. Beltre clearly showed his incredible ability in the batter’s box this season (.321, 28 home runs, 102 rbis) and likely has another year left in him of top notch hitting, but he will be searching for a longer deal that will take him into his mid-30s. If the Sox feel he has a few years left in him, then they will give him a healthy 2-3 year deal and keep him in Boston, but who knows what they believe in terms of skill decline. The other obvious option is to go after a 1st baseman and move Kevin Youkilis to 3rd base, his native position. The Sox would like to avoid moving Youk around, but I’m sure they would consider that option if they could bring in a power-hitting 1st baseman to fill the hole left by Beltre in the lineup.
The DH position is an open area for discussion that will likely be solidified early on this off-season. David Ortiz has overcome early season struggles these past 2 seasons, only to post an impressive .270, 32 home runs and 102 rbis campaign this season, essentially putting the ball in the Sox court to offer him a 1-year deal to fill the all important left-handed power hitter role in the DH spot. Ortiz doesn’t have a ton of years left in his body, but certainly could help the Sox in 2011. He will likely be resigned, making this one of the least painful holes that Sox have to fill leading up to 2011. If the Sox don’t sign Ortiz, it will not only hurt the team, it will damage the fan support as well, because he is a beloved member of the Sox and brings a sense of energy to the clubhouse when he his swinging the bat well.
Besides the areas highlighted above, there are plenty of other discussions to be had and if there is one thing I know about Theo Epstein and the Red Sox, it is that everyone is on the table for a trade and no free agent is off-limits. It all depends on the strategy and direction the Sox choose to go in, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a higher-than-average number of moves and money spent to both keep players, add depth at the major league level and add depth of prospects in the system to continually build towards the future, while competing in the present. Not such a big task, right?