The pot on the Hot Stove is just starting to simmer and pretty soon we will begin to get an idea of what the 2011 Red Sox will look like. There may not be any major action until around Thanksgiving — Nov. 23 is the last day that teams can offer salary arbitration for ranked free agents, thus ensuring they receive a draft pick if said player leaves.
By the time December rolls around, the moves figure to be fast and furious, with the winter meetings early in the month representing the highlight of the offseason. We will track it all for you with a weekly take of all things Red Sox, starting with this debut edition of "The Lineup."
1. It was just a matter of moments after free agency officially began that we had the first whisper of the Red Sox contacting Scott Boras, who represents coveted outfielder Jayson Werth. The Sox figure to put the full-court press on Werth and/or Carl Crawford, but the fact that they wasted almost no time in getting the ball rolling on Werth may provide a hint as to where their priorities lie.
2. Yours truly rated re-signing Victor Martinez as the top priority of the offseason, and yours truly still feels that way. But it’s looking more and more as if Martinez will be heading elsewhere, as Detroit and Baltimore express an increasing amount of interest and V-Mart festers over the Sox' two-year offer earlier this summer. Yours truly is not ready to call Jarrod Saltalamacchia the starting catcher, so yours truly is now on the John Buck bandwagon. There isn’t much room left. Of the six writers on MLBtraderumors.com, all six predicted Buck will land in Boston. Get ready for all sorts of "Uncle Buck" headlines in Hub papers this summer.
3. And then there's Adrian Beltre, the All-Star third baseman who took Fenway Park by storm this year with an unexpected offensive explosion. Boston will offer both him and Martinez arbitration by Nov. 23 and once Beltre declines it, no later than Nov. 30, the real bidding wars begin league-wide.
4. And they’re off! As many as seven teams, including the Red Sox, are kicking the tires on free agent left-hander Cliff Lee, but it’s one team that has become the instant front-runner. And it’s no surprise who has taken the lead as the horses head down the front stretch. Yes, the Yankees have already sent a contingent to the woods of Arkansas to meet with Lee and whatever it is he shot that morning. Makes one think of the great Tyson Foods charade Costanza pulled on Steinbrenner, which also involved an Arkansas-Yankees connection. Anyway, Boston will stay involved in this, if only to drive up the price.
5. "Adrian Beltre is sporting a black suit with a blue tie … it looks to be a Michael Kors design and the Red Sox third baseman looks dashing on the red carpet." OK, so Joan Rivers won’t be breaking down the outfits of Beltre and some of his colleagues, but it is awards season in Major League Baseball. The free-agent third baseman was in the mix for the Gold Glove Award but lost out, unsurprisingly, to Evan Longoria. Beltre figures to be one of the favorites for the Silver Slugger Award and could gain a few MVP votes as well. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz could both finish in the top five among Cy Young Award contenders, and Terry Francona has to get some consideration for Manager of the Year, or at least more than he has in some of his playoff years (he has never finished higher than fourth).
6. Can you imagine the nightmare for writers like myself when Justin Duchscherer is pitching and Jarrod Saltalamacchia is catching? It just took me five minutes to write that last sentence alone. This battery remains a possibility after reports surfaced that the Sox have expressed some interest in the former Oakland A’s righty. Duchscherer, 32, represents a reclamation project for anyone who signs him. He has said he wants to start but his success as a reliever is probably what appeals to Boston brass. Not only was he very effective in that role for several years in Oakland, but he’s been a medical mess as a starter, missing all of 2009 and nearly all of 2010. The former Red Sox farmhand could be a nice addition to the bullpen in Boston, if he can put aside his desires to start once again.
7. John Farrell has put together his coaching staff in Toronto, and he managed to wrest away another member of the Red Sox organization in doing so. Torey Lovullo, the manager for Triple-A Pawtucket, will serve as Farrell’s first base coach. DeMarlo Hale interviewing for the New York Mets managerial job adds to the degree of uncertainty within the Sox' coaching ranks.
8. Red Sox prospects continue to toil in the desert sun as play continues in the Arizona Fall League. While right-hander Casey Kelly gets most of the ink (he finished with a 6.75 ERA in four starts) and shortstop Jose Iglesias and Ryan Lavarnway get the rest (both competed in the AFL Rising Stars Game last Saturday) there is another story emerging from the heat. Juan Carlos Linares, a Cuban defector signed as a free agent by the Red Sox last season, enters play Wednesday hitting .407 with three homers and 12 RBIs in 13 games for the Peoria Javelinas. His 1.161 OPS ranked second in the league. Linares is already 26 but could become an intriguing outfield prospect in the coming year, or at least provide depth at outfield positions within the system. Last season suggests how valuable that can be.
9. Theo Epstein called rebuilding the bullpen the top priority of the offseason, but those itching for solutions will have to wait. There is an incredible glut of relievers on the market and unlike the trade deadline last year when the Sox lost out on a handful of guys, there will be plenty to go around. Just consider the fact that the Tampa Bay Rays, who had the best bullpen in the American League this year, have a total of six relievers hitting the market. Have patience and allow Epstein and his staff to pick and choose two or three quality options.