Here in Boston, the city known just two years ago as Titletown, USA, it's hard to settle for just being good. This city always aspires to greatness — a season with no championship means no satisfaction for a true New England fan.
With that in mind, the Red Sox have some work to do this winter.
After 95 wins, a second-place finish in the AL East and an early exit from the postseason, the Sox have to really make a splash on the hot stove if they want to get back to the promised land in 2010.
The trading block is always an option, as Roy Halladay, Adrian Gonzalez and the like remain available if a tempting package of prospects can be put together. But the Red Sox are always a bit hesitant to part with the promising youngsters in their farm system — today's Double-A stars are tomorrow's AL MVPs. You can never be too careful.
More likely, the Red Sox could look to make some upgrades this offseason by investing in a big-name free agent or two. Here are some names to keep an eye on:
Rich Harden: Not always the first marquee name that comes to mind, but you could make a case that Harden is the ultimate prize of this offseason. When healthy, there's no one better — in 25 starts between Oakland and the Chicago Cubs in 2008, he had an ERA of 2.07 and a filthy strikeout total of 181 in 148 innings. If he's ready to go in 2010, he's a Cy Young waiting to happen.
He was a bargain in his mid-twenties, signing with the A's in 2005 for four years, $9 million total, and $7 million more in his 2009 option. He won't be cheap this time around — but if Boston can get him, he'd be worth every penny.
John Lackey: If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Or in this case, get 'em to join you. Lackey was dominant against the Red Sox in Game 1 of the ALDS, taking a four-hit shutout into the eighth inning. The Sox would love nothing more than to poach the ace of their newest rivals — it might not be likely, but Lackey is a free agent, and the Sox should take a shot at him. It's hard to argue with five straight seasons with an ERA under 4 in the heavy-hitting American League.
Chone Figgins: How about another Angel? Figgins will be 32 at the start of next season, and he's definitely slowed a little — he led the AL this season with 17 times caught stealing. But steals or no steals, he's a perfect player for the Red Sox' system — he's a superb on-base guy (.395 this season) and his defense is not only good, but versatile, too. Can't go wrong.
Troy Glaus: And now for a former Angel. Glaus is two and a half years younger than Mike Lowell, and he did go deep 27 times in 2008. This is the kind of player the Red Sox love: Coming off a down year, he's sure to be undervalued, and the Sox will be ecstatic if their bargain-bin pickup becomes a star in a Red Sox uniform. That's what happened with Lowell, and Glaus has the potential to do the same.
Marco Scutaro: Along with Figgins, he's one of the best possible solutions to the Red Sox' shortstop dilemma. No one's paying attention, but Scutaro had a season to remember in 2009 — with 35 doubles, 90 walks and an OBP of .379, he quickly vaulted to the top of the heap among the AL's best offensive shortstops. If the Red Sox can get Scutaro to scoot into Boston this winter, he'd be a huge boost to their offense.
Orlando Cabrera: If nothing else, there's sentimental value.
Johnny Damon: Perhaps he's Cabrera's opposite sentimentally, but the 24 homers and 36 doubles in 2009 are hard to ignore. If Jason Bay doesn't end up back in Boston, maybe Damon should.
Matt Holliday, Vladimir Guerrero, Carl Crawford, Magglio Ordonez, Jermaine Dye, Hideki Matsui and Bobby Abreu: All of a sudden, heavy-hitting corner outfielders are a dime a dozen. The Sox would love to have Bay back in Boston, but if they can't get a deal done, there are many contingency plans in the works. Any one of these guys would be a serviceable, if not ideal, replacement for Bay next season.
As currently constructed, the Red Sox are already all good for 2010 — but good is never good enough. Greatness is on the horizon — provided the front office can open its wallet and make things happen. It's always found a way before.