It has been a wild offseason for the Boston Red Sox following their 2013 World Series title.
Boston has already endured a slew of transactions that have taken place since the team walked off with the World Series trophy.
The Red Sox have welcomed in players like catcher A.J. Pierzynski and relievers Burke Badenhop and Edward Mujica. Boston also made sure to bring back first baseman Mike Napoli.
On paper, it would appear as if the Red Sox are poised to defend their team with a solid core of talent along with some young prospects like Jackie Bradley Jr. and Xander Bogaerts.
In addition, the pitching—in the rotation and in the bullpen—is both talented and deep. That alone makes the Red Sox formidable in 2014.
Yet Boston still has a few critical questions that remained unanswered.
General manager Ben Cherington has had a relatively quiet offseason in comparison to some of the other deals made around the league. Can the Red Sox expect much more this offseason?
Only time will tell.
Still, let us evaluate some of the key questions that Boston needs to evaluate between now and spring training.
Determining the Leadoff Hitter
The loss of Ellsbury hurts the Red Sox in a number of ways.
Aside from Boston being forced to see its former center fielder in uniform with their chief rival, the team now has to consider the absence of production from the leadoff position.
Ellsbury owns a career .350 on-base percentage and batted .298 in 2013. He also bolstered those numbers with a league-leading 52 stolen bases in the same season.
Those numbers are going to be difficult to replicate.
Nick O'Malley of Masslive.com sums up why replacing Ellsbury with a bona fide leadoff hitter remains one of Boston's top priorities this offseason. He writes, "The Red Sox have some in-house candidates to take up the full-time leadoff role. Yet, there's been little indication that the team is comfortable with any of them handling the duty as the primary option."
He goes on to state that Bradley, Shane Victorino, Daniel Nava and Dustin Pedroia are the most likely candidates on the roster to fill this void.
Out of that foursome, either Victorino or Nava appear to be the front-runners to take over the job—something that has been confirmed by Red Sox manager John Farrell, per Rob Bradford of WEEI:
John Farrell envisions Shane Victorino, Daniel Nava as Red Sox leadoff men http://t.co/01sizxcEQQ— Rob Bradford (@bradfo) December 9, 2013
Ideally, Boston would like to have Pedroia's bat further down in the lineup and also wait and see if Bradley can develop in what could be his first full season as an everyday player.
Cherington described Bradley's chances to assume the role, via O'Malley:
Yeah, I mean, [Bradley's] gotten on base his whole life—college and minor leagues, obviously, at a very high rate. So, that's what we see as the No. 1 criteria. We expect that in time he'll be a good on-base big leaguer and that would make him a candidate to do that. But I think, you know, when we're thinking about lineups in the offseason anyway, we're focused on guys that we know will be on the team and have some history of getting on base in the big leagues. I think that's how John feels.
Unless a major move is made between now and the start of the season, Boston looks as if it will employ either Victorino or Nava in the leadoff role and hope for the best.
Setting the table in front of the heart of the Red Sox's big hitters—David Ortiz and Napoli—was a critical component to the team's success in 2013.
Expect no difference this upcoming season.
Determining a Starting Center Fielder
Directly related to the aforementioned question, the Red Sox still have a looming concern in Ellsbury's wake.
Pending changes, it appears as if Boston will stick with Bradley in center and bank on him earning that everyday role. The only question is whether or not he is ready for this challenge.
Bradley hit only .189 with a .280 on-base percentage in limited action last season.
If the Red Sox plan on utilizing Bradley in this situation, he will have to post up numbers better than that.
Red Sox have faith in Jackie Bradley Jr., but is he ready? http://t.co/pnPXq3Ugia— Garrett Quinn (@GarrettQuinn) December 20, 2013
This is further described by
Report: Red Sox Taking Close Look at Free-Agent Outfielder Shin-Soo Choo http://t.co/zeCCLeMkaZ— NESN (@NESN) December 5, 2013
John Farrell: Red Sox, Stephen Drew Still Would Like to Strike Deal http://t.co/MJCVkks4S7— NESN (@NESN) December 20, 2013
Which area is the biggest concern for the Red Sox?