Red Sox fans have plenty to be thankful for. While the sting of three straight losses to the Angels might still feel fresh, we are in an unprecedented era of success for the local nine. Six playoff appearances in the last seven years, four trips to the ALCS and two World Series championships have arguably made this club the team of the decade.
That said, the Red Sox are at a critical crossroads this offseason. We’ve heard GM Theo Epstein talk about the next wave of minor-league talent, a potential bumper crop that is still two years away. Casey Kelly, Jose Iglesias and Ryan Westmoreland aren’t walking through that door next spring.
So are we going to see the team take a step back in 2010 in order to move forward in 2011 and beyond? Only Epstein knows the answer to that, and he’s not saying. What we do know is this: The No. 1 priority at this point in the offseason is filling in the left-field void. Jason Bay may be back, but he’s a free agent at this moment. If he signs elsewhere, the Sox will be in serious need of a middle-of-the-order hitter to take his place.
Hello, Matt Holliday.
We’ve heard plenty of talk about blockbuster trades with names like Roy Halladay, Adrian Gonzalez and Felix Hernandez thrown around. A deal like that would be a shock to the Sox system — in a good way, much like the acquisition of Victor Martinez sparked the team last July.
While we will all watch the news looking for big names, keep an eye on the players who are less likely to overwhelm you. Last season, the biggest offseason names added to the Sox were projects like John Smoltz and Brad Penny. Neither made it to the end of the season.
Rocco Baldelli did. He was another player who came to town with serious health questions, but he gave the Sox exactly what they needed, both as a reserve outfielder and off the bench, hitting .357 as a pinch hitter.
Boston’s bench for 2010 has already started to take shape. The addition of Jeremy Hermida earlier this month gives the Sox more depth in the outfield, regardless of who is starting in left. Hermida has had a disappointing slide over the past three years, but he is still only 25 years old. The best years for this former first-round pick could be ahead of him.
With the shortstop position open (again), Jed Lowrie could find himself starting in 2010. More likely, the 25-year old will serve in a reserve role as he continues a long return from a wrist injury. With his ability to fill in at three infield positions, Lowrie can be a valuable player next season — even if he’s not starting every day.
That means Epstein needs to fill the starting shortstop position before February. He’s already turned down the $6 million club option for Alex Gonzalez, but he has indicated he could bring Gonzalez back at a lesser rate. It would be a good fit. Marco Scutaro, coming off a terrific season in Toronto, is another good option.
Jason Varitek exercised his $3 million player option to return, and will back up Victor Martinez next year. It’ll be one of the more intriguing storylines of the 2010 season, as the team captain and former starter adjusts to life as a reserve ballplayer.Assuming Terry Francona wants to stick with his usual 12-man pitching rotation, that leaves one open spot on the 2010 bench. There have been recent reports that the team is interested in Rick Ankiel, who will enter his fourth year as a full-time outfielder and is coming off his most disappointing offensive season. There are other outfielders that could get some interest, like Reed Johnson and Frank Catalanotto.
Or, the Red Sox could add another infielder. Alex Cora’s available and is still a favorite in these parts. John McDonald is a terrific defensive infielder, and he even played four games in Toronto’s outfield last year. Or the Sox could keep Joey Gathright as a fifth outfielder — and one of the best pinch runners in the division.Of course, all this is likely to change as the trade winds pick up. Just don’t forget about the lesser names as you dream about impact additions to this team. Epstein and the Sox front office have proven they won’t.
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NESN.com will answering one Red Sox question every day in November.
Wednesday, Nov. 25: Who should be the fifth starter?
Friday, Nov. 27: Will Josh Reddick make the Opening Day roster?