Boston Red Sox's 4 Big Offseason Questions That Still Need to Be Answered

Douglas Sibor@dcsiborContributor IDecember 26, 2012

Boston Red Sox's 4 Big Offseason Questions That Still Need to Be Answered

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    With several free agents signed and the roster beginning to take shape, the Boston Red Sox have now offered fans a strong glimpse of what their 2013 edition will look like. While the signings haven’t been glamorous, they have been exceedingly functional and given the roster the most balance it has had in a long time.

    Those concerned about a “bridge year” will holler about the lack of thump in the lineup or consistent front-line starters, but the reality is that many of the problems that plagued the Sox the last two seasons (lack of leadership and balance in the lineup) have been addressed by GM Ben Cherington.

    Nevertheless, some significant questions still linger as the Sox move into the latter stages of their offseason rebuilding effort. Here are four major issues that still need to be addressed before the 2013 season begins:

Who Is the First Baseman?

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    On December 3, ESPN Boston’s Gordon Edes reported that the Sox had reached a three year, $39 million deal with C/1B Mike Napoli. Now, over three weeks later, that contract has yet to be signed. Given the lag and the reported holdup (the condition of Napoli’s hip), one cannot help but wonder if the deal is in jeopardy.

    If the deal falls apart, who is going to play first for the Sox?

    The first base market has shrunk since the Napoli deal was agreed upon, with Nick Swisher (Indians) and Kevin Youkilis (Yankees) finding new homes. The premier free agent remaining is Adam LaRoche, although it appears that he is closing in on a return to Washington.

    With so few alternative options available, Sox fans can expect a deal to eventually get done with Napoli. This same painstaking process occurred with J.D. Drew in the 2006-07 offseason, and according to Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, the Sox “do not think Napoli’s condition is that serious.”

Who Is the Closer?

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    While the deal is not yet completed, it appears that the Sox are set to acquire All-Star closer Joel Hanrahan from the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for Stolmy Pimentel, Jerry Sands and possibly Mark Melancon. This will be the second offseason in a row GM Ben Cherington has traded for a former All-Star closer, having brought in Andrew Bailey last winter.

    With Bailey still in the fold, though, just who will be the team’s closer remains in question.

    Both have been successful on the mound, but based purely on recent performance it looks like Hanrahan will have the advantage going into the season.

    It was a lost season for Bailey, who after injuring his thumb in spring training didn’t debut until August 14 and ended up with a 7.04 ERA in 15.1 innings pitched. While Hanrahan was no great shakes either (1.274 WHIP, 5.4 BB/9), he has shown the type of durability Bailey has never had over the course of his career.

    That sense of reliability alone should be enough to elevate Hanrahan into the closer’s role, at least to start off 2013.

Who Is the Starting Shortstop?

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    Jose Iglesias was given a lot of playing time over the last month of the lost 2012 season, and through the first two months of the offseason the Sox appeared set to commit to him as their shortstop for all of 2013.

    However, by signing Stephen Drew to a one-year, $9.5 million deal last week, the Sox have shown that significant concern about the impact of Iglesias’ anemic bat (.118 BA, .391 OPS for the Sox in 2012) over the course of a full season lingers. While Iglesias would be a shoo-in for a Gold Glove as a starter, his inability to hit serves as a major deterrent in giving him an everyday role.

    Quite simply, teams don’t pay backups $9.5 million per season.

    Drew is undoubtedly in Boston to start, which means Iglesias will likely end up back in Triple-A Pawtucket as he continues to refine his offensive game. If he can’t hack it at against minor league pitchers (and he may not be able to, as his .266 average and .624 OPS in 2012 indicate), Iglesias is going to be hard-pressed to hit over .100 in MLB.

What’s with All the Catchers?

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    When the Sox signed David Ross back in mid-November, it seemed a virtual certainty that they’d turn around and swap either Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Ryan Lavarnway for either a first baseman, corner outfielder, starting pitcher or some combination of the three.

    However, after addressing all these needs in free agency, the Sox still have all three on their roster. While there is still a lot of time before opening day, one cannot help but wonder exactly what the Sox are up to here.

    Saltalamacchia still seems the most likely to go, but in return for what? The Sox’s bullpen and starting rotation are full, it would seem, and all the positions on the field are spoken for assuming Mike Napoli gets signed.

    Were the Sox to package Salty with Jacoby Ellsbury in exchange for prospects or another outfielder, that would make some sense. With no moves imminent, though, the reasons for this accumulation of backstops remains a complete mystery.