It took about 68 hours for that optimism to be completely wiped away.
Theo Epstein and the Boston front office are not going to overreact. You don’t blow up a 95-win team on the knee-jerk reaction to three losses.
That said, changes clearly have to be made. The last time the Red Sox were swept in a series was in 2005, when Matt Clement was the Game 1 starter and Boston proved to be no match for the world champion Chicago White Sox.
The following fall, the Sox did not make the postseason at all.
So what will happen in the coming months? Clearly, there are several key decisions that will profoundly impact the shape of the 2010 team.
He is the biggest issue surrounding the offseason, and the biggest name on the free-agent market this winter. He made it clear that he will test the market, and he’ll undoubtedly draw plenty of interest. The Yankees will have room in the outfield for Bay, and they always have room in the budget. The Red Sox will not overpay for Bay — or any free agent — but they may have to if they want to retain his services.
If he goes elsewhere, Matt Holliday, Chone Figgins and Bobby Abreu will be the most likely names discussed. Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui might be options if they can be landed for the right price. Of course, few general managers have surprised us with trades as much as Epstein has, and he could certainly fill the void without dipping into free-agent waters.
It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which the Red Sox pick up the captain’s club option for $5 million. Will he pick up the player option for $3 million?
It’s clear he will serve as no more than a backup if he does. If he wants to start, or even play more, he’ll have to go elsewhere. Victor Martinez might not be “the catcher of the future,” but he’ll certainly be the starting catcher in 2010. If Varitek doesn’t return, look for the Red Sox to acquire a backup catcher who could develop into an eventual replacement for Martinez.
He is no longer the durable guy who “eats up innings,” but at a $4 million club option, he is still a bargain. Unless there are complications in his back surgery, expect the team’s longest-tenured player to be back.
The stunning blown save in Game 3 — the first runs he has ever given up in the postseason — was the final chapter in a season that had fans murmuring over his control problems. He walked more batters this year than he did in 2007 and 2008 combined and posted the highest WHIP of any season in which he pitched exclusively out of the bullpen. He has two seasons to go before free agency, and if the Red Sox think they can live without him (hello, Daniel Bard), there is no better time to trade him.
Are he and the Red Sox on the same page at last? He needs to return, healthy and fit, as the No. 3 starter if this team wants to compete for a postseason berth in 2010.
He shored up the defense and surprised on offense. Is that enough for the Red Sox to pick up his $6 million option? If not, they will find someone else. Marco Scutaro had a terrific year in Toronto and was on Boston’s radar screen at the trade deadline.
Other things to watch
Could they really pull off a deal for Felix Hernandez? How about Roy Halladay?
After the playoff loss, Epstein talked a lot about the “high ceiling” prospects in the minors, and how they could help transform the franchise in 2012 and beyond. In the interim, look for Epstein to seek out low-risk, high-reward projects. He had mixed results with the Smoltzes, Pennys, and Baldellis of the world in 2009. Ben Sheets is a guy the front office has liked for a long time, and there are other pitchers like Rich Harden who could be available for a relative bargain.Despite its poor showing in three games last week, this is not a team that will see a massive overhaul in the weeks and months ahead. How much tweaking will be done? Only Theo Epstein knows the answer to that question.