This offseason, however, there are a boatload of internal issues which demand attention before the club begins to import new players.
First and foremost the Sox have to iron out their plans with the three-headed monster of potential free agents — designated hitter David Ortiz, third baseman Adrian Beltre and catcher Victor Martinez.
Every other personnel move prior to spring training will be dictated by what happens to that trio, which combined for 80 home runs and 283 RBIs last year.
The first and most “simple” order of business is to bring back Ortiz, either by picking up his $12.5 million option or negotiating a multiyear extension. The 34-year-old slugger may not produce like he did in his first five seasons in Boston, but his 30-homer, 100-RBI potential gives the Sox a commodity at DH of which few teams can boast these days as the trend to utilize that position in a rotating manner continues to gain steam. Ortiz’s slow starts the last two years will not scare away team executives.
Decisions regarding the other two may not be so easy, yet the market may dictate the course of action for Boston.
While the crop of both free agent third basemen and free agent catchers is slim, the hot corner is a position at which replacements can be found. If and when Beltre’s asking price becomes severe (remember, Scott Boras is his agent) in terms of years, dollars or both, the Sox can look at other options in a much easier fashion than they can at catcher. For one, Jed Lowrie, who showcased a potent bat in limited action this year and who, according to manager Terry Francona, has appeared more comfortable at third base than other positions, could fill in.
Lowrie will not be Beltre, but the dropoff overall would not be as severe as it could be behind the plate with a potential loss of Martinez.
If Martinez leaves the options at catcher are the unproven Jarrod Saltalamacchia, the aging Jason Varitek (if in fact he is re-signed) or a free-agent signee such as A.J. Pierzynski or John Buck. While one of those imports might satisfy in some ways, they will come nowhere close to matching Martinez’s production and would need to build a relationship with every pitcher on the staff. Martinez, for all the heat he has taken over the years as a marginal defensive catcher, is praised time and time again by those who have to throw to him.
That is no minor factor and cannot be discounted if the Red Sox have to decide which of the two, Beltre and Martinez, they want to keep.
There are other questions to consider, such as what Martinez will be able to provide at the position on the back end of a multi-year deal or whether Beltre was following his career trends of exploding during a contract year and would simply regress in 2011. No doubt the front office will have some way of quantifying such scenarios.
If we give the club a return of two of the three big bats, likely Ortiz and Martinez, the remaining areas of need are clear. Boston will need help in the outfield both this year and perhaps down the road. Jacoby Ellsbury will enter spring training with plenty of questions to answer. Mike Cameron is winding down his career. J.D. Drew will be playing the final year of his contract and coming off a subpar season. Others such as Darnell McDonald and rookie Ryan Kalish represented the bright spots in 2010 but neither are proven to be the long-term answers, nor the bandage for an outfield that ranked dead last in the AL with a collective .245 average.
That’s where Carl Crawford or Jayson Werth, the two big names on the outfield free-agent market, come into play. It would behoove the Red Sox to go all in for one of these players, preferably Crawford. The starting rotation is largely settled, the bullpen facelift will involve more cosmetic adjustments than anything else and once the Beltre-Martinez-Ortiz situation is ironed out there won’t be many more pressing needs aside from outfield.
Importing a guy like Crawford, who could hit up and down the lineup, plays exceptional defense (wasn’t that the original intent in building the 2010 team?) and would fix long-term needs as well, would appear on the surface to be the best move the Red Sox can make.
There will be a modest push for lefty Cliff Lee, if only to drive up the price for the nearest competitors. And the bullpen was labeled priority No. 1 by general manager Theo Epstein. But neither of those pursuits will land a headline-grabbing name. The rest of the offseason may, beginning with Ortiz, Beltre and Martinez, and quite possibly ending with Crawford.
Each day of November, we will explore a different issue facing the Red Sox this offseason.
Nov. 2: Will Jacoby Ellsbury be in center field on Opening Day?
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