Post-2009: Roster locks and losses


We’ve covered our impending free agents here. Now we need to step back and see what the team looks like, sans those guys we’re gonna let walk. Then we can examine our strengths and weaknesses and formulate a plan for the offseason. Let’s take a look at what the Red Sox have already in-house, and what players could be gone:

Infield

Locks: Victor Martinez, Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Mike Lowell
Probable: Jason Varitek
Challengers: Jed Lowrie, Casey Kotchman
Losses: Alex Gonzalez, Chris Woodward

As usual, the big question for the Red Sox is who is going to play shortstop this year. Jed Lowrie is an unknown quantity, and even his ability to stay off the DL is unknown. I expect the Sox to let Alex Gonzalez and his $6M option walk and bring in a free agent or trade for a veteran who can compete with Lowrie for the starting job in 2010 (we’ll visit some of these options in a later post). Loser becomes utility infielder for a year.

Martinez is not capable of catching a majority of games (he caught just 83 games this year and started at catcher in 23 of 56 games for Boston), so having a dependable second catcher is a priority this offseason. Jason Varitek fits the bill defensively, but if his .157/.250/.239 second half is any indication, he won’t even be close to passable offensively. My guess is that Varitek exercises his player option, and the Sox let him start the year as catcher #2; but we need a strong contingency plan in place in case Tek’s bat doesn’t come through.

Mike Lowell showed some surprising fielding prowess at the end of 2009, so let’s hope one more offseason is what he needs to return to his usual defensive form. If not, Kevin Youkilis provides the flexibility to sign either a 1B or a 3B for the year. Casey Kotchman is probably too talented to stay as a backup first baseman, so I think the Sox find a trading partner for him this offseason.

Outfield

Locks: Jacoby Ellsbury, J.D. Drew
Challengers: Josh Reddick
Losses: Jason Bay, Rocco Baldelli, Joey Gathright, Brian Anderson

With the impending departure of Jason Bay, the Sox are expected to sign a significant free agent outfielder or make a trade for one. How they fill this role will depend on any other big moves they make this offseason, as re-signing Bay or adding Matt Holliday would add $15M+ to the yearly payroll. If the Sox opt to sign a big free agent elsewhere, I would expect the Sox to look for a stopgap veteran or trade for a longer-term solution here.

As for a fourth outfielder, the Sox have plenty of options, but the best in-house solution is to re-sign Rocco Baldelli. Josh Reddick would definitely benefit from another season down at Pawtucket, or at least regular playing time for part of the season. He can’t possibly be injured as often next year as he was this year, can he?

Rotation

Locks: Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz, Daisuke Matsuzaka
Challengers: Tim Wakefield, Michael Bowden, Junichi Tazawa, Casey Kelly
Losses: Paul Byrd

The Red Sox are in good shape here, as they already have four of their five rotation spots sewn up. We’ll have to wait and see how Wake’s back surgery goes, but I think we can probably count on a partial season from him. That being said, we thought we had more than enough pitching depth in 2009, and yet we added Byrd in August. Look for the Sox to add one significant free agent starter plus another low-cost starter.

One of the big questions is Josh Beckett’s impending free agency after 2010. The Red Sox will have to have some plan in place as insurance in case they can’t or don’t want to re-sign Beckett. John Lackey is the top free agent pitcher this year. If the Sox pursue a big trade this offseason for a player such as Roy Halladay or Felix Hernandez, I expect that Clay Buchholz would probably be shipped and they would take his spot in the rotation.

Bullpen

Locks: Jonathan Papelbon, Daniel Bard, Ramon Ramirez
Probable: Hideki Okajima
Challengers: Javier Lopez, Hunter Jones, Dustin Richardson
Losses: Billy Wagner, Takashi Saito

I expect that the Sox will bring back Okajima for the bullpen; he is an arbitration-eligible pitcher, but given his situation as a transfer from Japan, I expect that he’ll get a salary consideration similar to a free agent contract. Losing Wagner and Saito will hurt, but also saves Boston some $14M+ in salary, and we may gain as many as four compensation draft picks depending on who signs them. That’s a no brainer to me. There plenty of free agent relief options, and the Sox have plenty of depth at Pawtucket just in case.

So there you have it. Next post, offseason planning: how the Red Sox should rebuild to contend in 2010 while preserving the future.

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