Life without Manny Ramirez begins soon for the Red Sox and manager Terry Francona and general manager Theo Epstein are forced to maneuver the lineup to fill the void the dreadlocked nuisance left.
This begins with the reserves and bench players that Francona will undoubtedly be forced to employ with the uncertainty of injuries in the lineup.
This year's Red Sox bench has a much different look to it than in years past. Gone are the familiar faces of utility infielder Alex Cora, and knuckleball-specialist Doug Mirabelli. Theo Epstein has replaced them with more low-risk, high-reward signings including Rocco Baldelli, Brad Wilkerson, and Mark Kotsay.
Baldelli, a Rhode Island native, whom I am proud to say went to the same high school I did, was one of the best young players coming up through the Tampa Bay Rays' organization until he mysteriously became constantly fatigued.
Having been misdiagnosed by physicians for years with a mitochondrial disorder, Baldelli is now receiving correct treatment from doctors after having been correctly diagnosed with channelopathy, a more treatable disease.
Baldelli, if healthy, should provide pop from the right side of the plate, as well as dangerous speed on the base paths. He can play excellent defense at all three outfield positions, and should be an adequate replacement for J.D. Drew, should he become injured yet again.
All of this however, depends on Baldelli's health as he struggles with this rare condition.
Recently re-signed Mark Kotsay will also play an important role for the Red Sox. After he was acquired off waivers from the Atlanta Braves on Aug. 27, Kotsay hit .226 with 12 RBI's in 22 games. Kotsay, an outfielder by trade, moved to first base once he was acquired and played excellent all-around defense.
Kotsay provides decent power from the left side of the plate, but is a perfect fit as a hitter for Fenway's vast right field. Unfortunately, Kotsay is expected to miss about the first month of the season, after having back surgery on Jan. 27, but look for him to return to reserve duties once he is healthy enough.
Brad Wilkerson, who recently signed a minor-league deal with incentives worth up to $2.5 million, will begin the year in Kotsay's place on the bench. Wilkerson, known to have decent power from the left side, had a pretty disappointing 2008, hitting just .220 with four home runs in 264 at-bats.
Wilkerson's playing time will be severely diminished with the return of Kotsay, projected in May.
The Josh Bard experiment with the Red Sox begins again this year after having been signed as a free agent from the San Diego Padres. Bard appeared in seven games for the Red Sox at the beginning of the 2006 season, until he was traded to the San Diego Padres in a reactionary deal for Doug Mirabelli.
It was believed that Bard couldn't catch Tim Wakefield's knuckleball, but that will have to change this year as he is the team's second catcher. Bard, a switch hitter, provides an increased offensive threat over projected starter Jason Varitek and should see more at-bats as the Red Sox try to decrease the number of games Varitek catches.
With the quick development of Jed Lowrie at shortstop, look for Julio Lugo to begin the year on the bench as something of a utility infielder. There have been reports that Lugo and Lowrie will be battling for the starting job during spring training, but based on last year's results, look for Lowrie to start opening day.
Lugo, who missed most of last season with a severely strained quadriceps, provides excellent speed on the bases, but only average defense. Lugo still has $18 million left on his contract that he signed two years ago and gives the Red Sox one of the most expensive bench players in baseball.
Information borrowed from Yahoo! Sports.