The bullpen issue for Epstein and the Red Sox' front office goes back to the days of the "bullpen by committee." But this year, Epstein got it right. The Boston bullpen was one of the team's biggest strengths, and had a group of relievers that could rival any relief corps in the game.
The other piece of the puzzle that has been a difficult fit for the Red Sox in the past six years has been shortstop. The only thing consistent about that position for Boston has been change. Going back to the start of 2004, the Red Sox have trotted out Nomar Garciaparra, Orlando Cabrera, Edgar Renteria, Alex Gonzalez, Julio Lugo, Jed Lowrie and Nick Green as their everyday shortstops.
Now, it's time for the Red Sox to find a little consistency. It's time to bring Gonzalez back for another season.
Gonzalez was one of the key additions to the 2009 Red Sox. Along with Victor Martinez and Billy Wagner, he was part of a trio that addressed key needs on defense, offense and relief pitching.
Epstein turned back to Gonzalez because he was an upgrade defensively to anything the Red Sox could put out there at short. It was more than an upgrade, however. It was a necessity. Lugo was gone (traded to St. Louis), Green was hurt, and Lowrie was still an uncertainty because of his wrist.
In the field, Gonzalez gave the Red Sox exactly what they were looking for. While he doesn't have the range he did in 2006, he was still as sure-handed with the glove as any middle infielder in the AL East. He gave them defensive reliability at the position, once again making them solid "up the middle."
As good as Gonzalez was defensively, he wasn't too bad offensively, either. He hit .284 in his time with the Red Sox, with 10 doubles in a quarter of a season.
The team owns a $6 million option on Gonzalez for next season. It is too much money for a player who is still primarily a defensive weapon. But as Epstein said after the season, "one way we could go is bringing him back. I think we'd all be comfortable having him back here under the right circumstances."
Those circumstances would probably be a shorter-money, two-year deal, perhaps with some incentives. It would give the Red Sox a dependable shortstop going into 2010, and would allow them to ease up any pressure Lowrie feels to come back from the bothersome wrist issues that continue to plague him. Gonzalez can bridge the gap until Jose Iglesias or another young prospect is ready to make the team.
For a change, Epstein doesn't have to go looking for the answer at the shortstop position next season. He found that answer late in 2009.
NESN.com will be answering one Red Sox question every day in November.
Wednesday, Nov. 4: How can the Red Sox improve their defense and cut down on the stolen bases allowed?
Friday, Nov. 6: What will Jason Varitek's role be?
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