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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A bittersweet ending, cont.

Perhaps winning the final game and series of the season against the Yankees offered some relief from the 2010 season, but there are other issues that must be addressed now that the season is over too early. Derek Jeter once declared that a previous Yankee season was a total waste because they did not make it to the World Series. A season is never a waste. The Red Sox won 89 games with well over 1000 player games lost to the disabled list. 89 games were won with a patchwork quilt of a roster full of rookies and journeymen. I call that a successful season, not a perfect season, but still a success.

But now we turn to the off season…

Beltre, Ortiz, Martinez, Varitek, Papelbon, Okajima, Wakefield, Ellsbury, Cameron, Lowell

What will become of these vaulted players?

Beltre will most likely follow the money trail. While he had a monster of a season, most speculate that he will not produce anywhere near the level he did in 2010 for Boston. If he walks, then Theo will need to find a big bat for either the 1B or the 3B positions. Lars Anderson isn’t quite ready, but he got a good taste of the big leagues, as did Nava, Kalish, and Reddick.

Carl Crawford has been named as a target for the Red Sox for the outfield in 2011. Drew, Ellsbury, Cameron and Crawford make for a crowded outfield, especially when you have Ryan Kalish almost ready to make the jump to the big leagues permanently. My guess is Theo will hold onto Kalish, but Nava, despite his storybook splash into the 2010 season, could be gone. Bill Hall was super-utility man, playing in all but the catcher and 1st baseman’s positions. He even led the pitching staff in the ERA and WHIP categories after pitching a 1-2-3 9th inning this year. Darnell McDonald had a great storybook splash into 2010, homering in his 1st at bat, and then driving in the winning run with a walk off single later in that game. I see both Hall and McDonald heading for other pastures.

Will Theo retain the services of Big Papi with the current option? Will he renegotiate that contract? Or will he let him walk?

Victor Martinez has been declared a priority by Theo, but will the 2 be able to find a common ground in terms of dollars and length of contract, particularly the length? If Martinez is retained, then what will happen to Jason Varitek with Jarrod Saltalamacchia chomping at the bit? Could Salty land in Pawtucket?

The bullpen will be a huge concern over the winter. Okajima turned into a big disappointment before his stint on the DL, prompting some to think that the Red Sox would non-tender him, only to see his post DL performance improve considerably. Will Theo trade for new relievers, or will Bowden, Coello, Doubront, Richardson and Manuel be in the mix? Tim Wakefield wants to return next year, but clearly we knew he wasn’t happy in the bullpen. The current pitching rotation suggests that he would still be in the bullpen for 2011, but there have been suggestions that Dice-K might waive his no-trade clause if he were to be traded to a west coast team, closer to his homeland. That would open up a starting pitcher slot. Wakefield is a bargain, and will chew up innings. His bargain price tag will free up dollars needed for other players on the wish list. And he will pitch better as a regular starter.

And what of Papelbon? He set his own bar so high in 2007 so as to not ever reach it again, all the while strutting like a peacock, determined to raise the salary bar for closers. Will he be humbled enough from his poor 2010 season? Will he still demand $13 million for 2011? His trade value certainly has dropped. Will Theo use his services for 1 more year before letting him walk? Or will he dangle him as trade bait despite saying he’s not going anywhere this winter? He said ‘winter,’ not spring. Will Pap be dealt before next year’s trade deadline? Is Bard ready to be the closer? In any event, the bullpen will be overhauled, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Pap wasn’t in Boston come April.

The 2 biggest season ending stories are those of Lowell and Varitek. Jason Varitek has played his entire career in Boston. Seeing him in a different uniform would be like seeing Jeter or Mo in different uniforms in 2011. (It will be very interesting to see what the Yankees offer Jeter.) ‘Tek clearly thrived in his role as back-up catcher while mentoring Martinez. Martinez stepped up his defensive game as the season wore on as a result of being under ‘Tek’s tutelage. Yes, baseball is a business now, but it still would be heartbreaking to not see ‘Tek on the roster come April.

Mike Lowell will always be remembered fondly by Red Sox fans. After his career season in 2007, after he had played in 307 games in the previous 2 seasons, he fell to the injury plague and did not play in more than 119 games in 2008 or 2009. He production was still of quality, but his limited playing time due to injuries caused concern in the front office. Unable to complete any trades with Mike, he was forced into an uncomfortable position of being on the bench this year, ‘chewing up a position on the roster,’ practically begging to be released or traded. After taking his turn on the DL, he returned to hit a home run in his 1st at bat, one of several memorable home runs hit by Sox players this year. I was so hoping that Tito would honor Mike by starting him at 3B in the last game. I don’t know any of the details as to how ‘Mike Lowell Day’ ended up on Saturday, a day in which the game was broadcast on Fox, not NESN, and I don’t know if Mike took it as a slap in the face, but he took the high road, as he has always done.

2010 is all wrapped up, but despite finishing in 3rd place with 89 wins, there are plenty of memorable moments to revisit, which we will do in upcoming posts.

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