Everyone knows what the Red Sox lost when free-agent left fielder Jason Bay left to join the New York Mets this offseason. What remains to be seen is whether or not the free agents the Red Sox brought in this winter will be able to replace Bay's productivity, help the team in other ways and bring about a greater degree of postseason success in 2010.
It's safe to say that none of the new Red Sox players will individually challenge Bay's power totals from 2009 — 36 home runs and 119 RBIs. But for the franchise to revisit its World Series glory of 2004 and 2007, it's equally safe to say that the new kids on the block will have to perform at the top of their games.
Much has been said this offseason about the team's change in philosophy from run production to run prevention. The most substantial addition along those lines — at least in terms of dollar amount — was 31-year-old right-hander John Lackey, who inked a five-year, $82.5 million deal to come to Boston.
The winner of 102 games during his 7 1/2 years with the Angels organization, Lackey has been the epitome of consistency in his career, pitching in exactly 33 games each season from 2003-07 and posting a 3.81 ERA during his years in Southern California. He's durable, he has a proven postseason pedigree and he should fit in reliably near the top of the Red Sox rotation with Josh Beckett and Jon Lester.
If Lackey is able to win 15 or more games and keep his ERA under 4.00 (and the other aces perform up to expectations), the rotation should be in fine form to both reach the playoffs and win once the team gets there.
Another free-agent signing who fits with the run-prevention theme is 37-year-old Mike Cameron, who comes to Boston near the end of a journeyman career that saw him in Milwaukee for the past two seasons. But don't let his age fool you, Cameron is a three-time Gold Glove winner who still has plenty of pop in his bat.
In the field, Cameron is still regarded highly enough by the Red Sox that he'll take over the reins in Fenway Park's expansive center field from the far younger Jacoby Ellsbury, who will shift to left field in Bay's place. At the plate, Cameron, too, has shown remarkable consistency, hitting between 18 and 30 home runs and driving in between 70 and 83 runs every full season since 2002.
Yes, his batting average (he has a lifetime mark of .250) and strikeout totals (he's averaged 143 a year since 1999) leave a bit to be desired, but Cameron's skill with the glove, pop with the bat and presence in the clubhouse should have a noticeably positive influence on the Red Sox. Cameron will no doubt have his slumps, but he brings things to the table that Bay, Johnny Damon and his other predecessors in the Boston outfield did not.
Moving to the infield, third baseman Adrian Beltre is another former Gold Glover who the Red Sox had long coveted to replace Mike Lowell. And though Lowell remains with the club for now, there remains talk that he'll be moved as soon as an interested party makes a viable trade offer. Whatever happens with the former World Series MVP, though, it's clear that the Red Sox brass sees Beltre as the everyday guy at the hot corner.
And much like Cameron in center, Beltre, who turns 31 on April 7, is a huge upgrade in the field and no slouch with the bat, either. Regularly called one of the most dazzling third basemen in the game and with a strong arm to match, Beltre will be expected to make plays that the oft-injured and older Lowell couldn't make last season.
Furthermore, if he's penciled into the lineup every day in the sixth or seventh hole, Beltre's averages of 22 dingers and 80 RBIs a season since 1999 would be more than welcome.
Rounding out the fearsome foursome of free-agent additions, we come to Marco Scutaro, who signed a two-year deal worth $12.5 million to join the Red Sox from the AL East-rival Blue Jays. Though Scutaro's defense isn't quite on the level of that of his forerunner at shortstop, Alex Gonzalez – who, ironically, signed with Toronto several days before Scutaro came across the border in the other direction — there's reason to think that he, too, will be an adequate replacement in the Boston infield.
Last season, at the age of 33, Scutaro got the most playing time of his career and had unquestionably his finest offensive season, hitting .282 with 12 home runs, 60 RBIs, 90 walks and 14 stolen bases. He posted a .379 on-base percentage, good for 17th in the American League. If he's able to even approach those numbers this year — a distinct possibility even hitting near the bottom of a much better Red Sox lineup — Scutaro should play a significant — if understated — role in Boston's success in 2010.
Obviously, hopes are high for each of these four free-agent signings in 2010, and in addition, the hoped-for levels of production are dependent on full seasons of work. If Lackey or Cameron, for example, were to suffer a serious injury that kept him out of action for an extended period of time, it's entirely possible that the Red Sox wouldn't get the production they're looking for out of that position in the lineup or rotation. That, in turn, could result in fewer wins and the possibility of missing out on the playoffs.
But if each of these four players lives up to expectations and contributes in the ways he has to this point of his career, this could be a fun team to watch this season. They may not look like the Red Sox of seasons past — especially without a slugger on the level of Jason Bay manning the middle of their lineup — but they'll be capable of winning games in lots of different ways.
From now until Opening Day, NESN.com will run down 25 things that need to happen for the Red Sox to win the World Series.
March 23: Minor league players contribute when called up.