Xander Bogaerts, Will Middlebrooks Under Pressure If Red Sox Don’t Re-Sign Stephen Drew (Mailbag)

Xander Bogaerts, Will MiddlebrooksCover your eyes, nose and mouth. We’re blowing the dust off the Boston Red Sox mailbag.

While it seems like yesterday that the duck boats rolled down Boylston Street, it actually has been more than two months since the Red Sox captured their third World Series title in 10 years. Pitchers and catchers will report to spring training in less than a month (Feb. 15), if you can believe that.

It’s been a relatively quiet offseason for the Red Sox, especially when stacked up against last winter, when Boston brought in a whole bunch of new faces. Jacoby Ellsbury is gone, A.J. Pierzynski and Edward Mujica are among those joining the party, and Stephen Drew remains in limbo. In other words, it’s been an offseason of fine-tuning, although things could always heat up before Opening Day.

You folks, per usual, sent along some great questions for this edition of the mailbag. Sure, some of you sent awful questions, but I’m willing to forgive you and focus on the positives. It’s one of my New Year’s resolutions.

All kidding aside, I appreciate your inquiries. It’s clear that Red Sox fans are fired up for the club’s title defense in 2014. So, without further ado, let’s open up the mailbag.

What are the chances that the Red Sox go after Masahiro Tanaka? What are the Red Sox’ plans for their sixth starter?
– Peter Hein

Wait, a question about Masahiro Tanaka? No way.

In all seriousness, the mailbag was overflowing with Tanaka questions, and understandably so. It’s been one the offseason’s most intriguing storylines, even though the Red Sox haven’t been heavily involved in the sweepstakes.

I wouldn’t count on the Red Sox signing Tanaka. Boston currently has a surplus of starting pitching, so Tanaka would represent a luxury signing rather than a move made out of necessity. Plus, for every Yu Darvish and Hisashi Iwakuma, there’s a Kei Igawa and Hideki Irabu. While Tanaka has the potential to be a front-end starter, he’s hardly a guarantee. Gambling more than $100 million on an unknown commodity — unnecessarily — likely isn’t Cherington’s top priority, although the Red Sox have done their due diligence on the Japanese hurler.

If anything, the Red Sox could look to trade a starter. Boston currently has six viable major league starters — Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Jake Peavy, Ryan Dempster and Felix Doubront — plus a number of minor league starters capable of filling in at points this season. Brandon Workman, Drake Britton, Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster and Steve Wright are all candidates for spot starts — as they were in 2013 — and Anthony Ranaudo, Matt Barnes and Henry Owens are three starters who could soon begin factoring into Boston’s major league pitching plans.

The Red Sox will be able to pick and choose throughout the year if/when an additional starter becomes necessary. It’s a good problem to have.

What role will John Lackey play in the rotation: Just another starter or the ace that he was starting to become last season? Let’s face it, the majority of the games he lost was due to zero offense.
– Dan Howard

If I was a betting man, I’d say that John Lackey will give the Red Sox another year like 2013 — ERA in the mid 3.00s, six or seven innings each start and, most importantly, a chance to win every fifth day. The 35-year-old threw the ball as well as ever last year, particularly during the postseason, when his curveball was just plain goofy at times.

It’s up to the Red Sox’ offense to cash in more frequently this time around.

The one-year deal for A.J. Pierzynski is great as we wait for the two hot-shot catchers coming along nicely in the minors. Do you think either catcher will be ready by 2015?
–Winning Queensberry, Farmville, Va.

I assume you’re talking about Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart. If all goes according to plan, Vazquez should be ready by 2015 and Swihart likely will enter the major league discussion in 2016.

The Red Sox’ faith in the two backstops was apparent in their offseason catching pursuit — in which Boston was reluctant to offer a multiyear contract to any veteran catchers. I actually wouldn’t be surprised if Vazquez ends up in the majors at some point in 2014.

Ryan Lavarnway and Dan Butler also are in the catching discussion, so it’s possible that one of them would be called up if A.J. Pierzynski or David Ross misses time. The Red Sox might prefer to get a good look at Vazquez, though, especially later in the season.

Why can’t we include Ryan Dempster and Jake Peavy in some sort of a deal to acquire a top-flight outfielder either with speed or great power? Also, I’m just praying that someone else signs Stephen Drew. I want to see Xander Bogaerts at shortstop for 150 games or so while giving Will Middlebrookes a better opportunity at third base. Any chance that Giancarlo Stanton can be pried away from Miami?
–Winning Queensberry, Farmville, Va.

Look at you, Winning. Double-dipping on questions. You’re lucky I like you.

Really, though, you raise some interesting points that other readers also have inquired about, so I’ll use this as an opportunity to run down the topics you mention.

First, even if it’s unlikely, it’s still entirely possible that the Red Sox could deal either Ryan Dempster or Jake Peavy before Opening Day. I’m not sure that either would net a “top-flight” outfielder, though. Instead, the return might be a prospect (or two) or a depth acquisition — with a right-handed-hitting outfielder being the Red Sox’ greatest need.

If the Red Sox want to sell high on anybody, it should be John Lackey, who will earn the major league minimum in 2015 because of the Tommy John surgery that sidelined him for all of 2012. He would net the biggest return, although his team-friendly contract and his big-game potential are assets to the Red Sox like anybody else.

In regards to Stephen Drew, I’ve made my stance clear on the topic a few times this offseason. While I understand the desire to start the season with Xander Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks at shortstop and third base, respectively, I also think that the Red Sox would be a better team with Drew in the mix for 2014. They’d certainly be a much deeper team, and we saw last year just how important it is to assemble a deep roster. If Drew ultimately decides that he’s willing to sign a one-year contract and hit the open market again next offseason, the Red Sox should — and likely would — welcome the shortstop back with open arms.

Yes, Bogaerts already flashed his potential and is a future superstar. Yes, Middlebrooks might bounce back in 2014 after a dismal 2013. But both are young, and will be under immense pressure without Drew around. Are you really comfortable with Jonathan Herrera, Brock Holt, Brandon Snyder or any other current internal infield option garnering everyday at-bats if something happens to Bogaerts and/or Middlebrooks? The preference should be to bring back Drew if he’s unable to land the multiyear contract that he’s looking for in free agency.

Finally, you’re on the Giancarlo Stanton bandwagon, huh? You’re not alone. Stanton is a very intriguing potential trade target, and I actually wouldn’t be surprised if the Red Sox kicked the tires on the 24-year-old slugger. The Miami Marlins — still sounds weird — continue to insist that he’s untouchable, but does anyone really believe them?

Bogaerts likely is off limits in any trade, but the Red Sox have the pieces to make an enticing offer to the Marlins. Perhaps they will at some point. The Red Sox could have plenty of money to play with next offseason, but the free-agent crop — headlined by Hanley Ramirez and Chase Headley — figures to be relatively weak. It might be a good time to think long and hard about moonsaulting into the trade market for a long-time lineup cog like Stanton, or even Carlos Gonzalez of the Colorado Rockies.

Click here for a Red Sox 2015 roster projection >>

Who comes in for Jackie Bradley Jr. if his bat gets cold again?
— Ryan Donovan ‏(@ryand3312)

In an ideal world, the Red Sox would add a right-handed-hitting veteran outfielder capable of logging time in center field and playing against left-handers. The problem is that this isn’t an ideal world, and there simply aren’t many of those players available.

The link below highlights some free-agent outfielders that the Red Sox could consider adding before Opening Day. It’s unclear if they have any interest in any of those players, though, and the more likely scenario is that the Red Sox will rely on internal options.

Click here for 10 potential free-agent outfield targets >>

The Red Sox probably will be patient with Bradley, even if he struggles out of the gate. If they ultimately decide that it’s not working, Plan B likely involves Shane Victorino shifting to center field, which would mean more at-bats spread out between Jonny Gomes, Daniel Nava (who would shift over to right field) and Mike Carp.

Bryce Brentz and Alex Hassan also are on the Red Sox’ 40-man roster, though each is a corner outfielder and would still require a position change for Victorino.

If the Red Sox were smart, they would re-sign Jonny Gomes next winter to keep the good chemistry going. What do you think the Red Sox will do with Gomes?
–Tony, Agawam, Mass.

I wouldn’t rule out the Red Sox re-signing Jonny Gomes next winter. Gomes wants to be an everyday player, though, and I’m not sure he’ll ever get that opportunity in Boston, whereas another team might be willing to offer that.

Will the 2014 parade route be the same as last season’s? Woooo!
– Nick Luca

I’ll leave you all with that.

Keep the questions coming, and hit me up on the tweet machine if you so chose (@TheRickyDoyle).

Have a question for Ricky Doyle? Send it to him via Twitter at @TheRickyDoyle or send it here.