As we approach the end of June, I have closely analyzed the Boston Red Sox this year. They currently sit atop the American League East, two games ahead of the New York Yankees. They do have a few problems, though, but the solutions are just as clear.
The status of David Ortiz: Could he be replaced?
The first problem that many people have been complaining about is the production of the once dominant force, David Ortiz. Maybe not so much now because of the way he has been hitting, but the question is how long can he be useful to the team.
I really do not think the Red Sox need him to hit over 40 home runs to lead them to the playoffs because of the production that surrounds him in the lineup.
Mike Lowell, Jason Bay, Kevin Youkilis, and Dustin Pedroia all are big bats in the lineup that make it so Ortiz does not even have to be what he once was. As long as Ortiz can produce at least 15 home runs and knock in 50 to 60 runs, then he is fine in the lineup and the Red Sox will be okay.
On the other hand, if Ortiz goes back to playing like he did for the first few months of this season, Theo Epstein needs to look at finding at least a decent hitter to replace Ortiz.
They do not need to spend or trade a fortune, but seeing as how the San Diego Padres are a mediocre team, I could see Boston going after Adrian Gonzalez at some point leading up to the trade deadline.
If he can not be acquired, I think Boston would look at younger talent. Others still speculate that Lars Anderson is ready, but he is in somewhat of a slump down at Double-A Portland.
A look at the pitching rotation and a possible six-man rotation
Moving on to the pitching rotation, it appears that the woes surrounding Josh Beckett and Jon Lester are returning to form, overcoming their early season slumps. Brad Penny has been a pretty good pickup and Tim Wakefield has been very useful as well.
The odd man out is Daisuke Matsuzaka, who is Boston's version of Chien-Ming Wang of the Yankees. The man cannot get out of the fifth inning without having fatigue issues and we are led to believe that he could pitch far longer in the Japan league.
In all honesty, Daisuke has always been rumored to be a player who rarely talks to American media and be more about himself in the locker room, though it has been claimed by Steve Buckley of the Boston Globe that he pays more attention to the Japanese media whereas he only wants to talk to the American media in the playoffs.
Besides that, Daisuke's record is 1-4 since coming off the disabled list and his start against the Phillies today seems like his last chance in my opinion.
The reason I say this is due to the fact that John Smoltz is preparing to make a comeback next week and with Penny and Wakefield pitching so well, I think Matsuzaka is the man to be either placed on the disabled list or to be sent to the bullpen, which I doubt he will be happy about.
Smoltz is guaranteed this spot in the rotation, but with all due respect for his past, I think that spot in the rotation is more deserving to Michael Bowden or Clay Buchholz, who are both dominating at Triple-A Pawtucket.
I really do not want to see Wakefield or Penny moved because they are doing so well, but Bowden and Clay are growing impatient with waiting in the minors and I do not blame them.
They have each earned a spot on the Red Sox and I think Smoltz is all hype coming off the disabled list.
He is coming off major surgery and hasn't pitched to Major League batters in a good while, so I doubt he will be winning over eight games this season. Besides that fifth spot, I think Boston has the best all around starting rotation as of today.
Shortstop: Lugo, Lowrie, Green, or Cabrera, who is the answer?
Boston's real problem is the shortstop position. Let's all face the fact that Julio Lugo was the worst signing that Theo Epstein has made in his tenure with Boston and Lugo needs to go (not that you didn't already know that).
Nick Green is solid at batting, but defensively, he is not that much better than Lugo.
There is also the injured Jed Lowrie, who should be back by the All-Star Break. I do not see him as a franchise shortstop, but I am all for giving him a chance. If Lowrie plays as well as he did at the end of last year, then problem solved.
Then again, if Lowrie is a bust, the Red Sox need to make a trade by July 31.
Some options are Omar Vizquel, Jack Wilson, and the well known Orlando Cabrera. Right now Cabrera is the likely candidate due to several variables.
The Rangers are playing so well that they are hesitant to move Vizquel and the Red Sox are unwilling to take on Wilson's contract.
Cabrera being let go in the 2004-05 offseason was a big mistake on Boston's behalf. If they manage to get him then I think the Red Sox are set at shortstop because he is an overall solid player even if it is for one year.
Outfield and infield: already in good hands
For the rest of the team, the outfield has been solid, but I would not be surprised of the Red Sox got a backup outfielder because both Mark Kotsay and Rocco Baldelli have been battling injuries this season.
I would just call up Jonathan Van Every because he was solid in his time in Boston this year. As for the infield, it is solid as all except Lugo are producing good defense and great offense.
Bullpen: Keep up the solid work
Lastly, we have the bullpen, which was stellar in the first few months of the season.
Ramon Ramirez has been cooling off as of late and Jonathan Papelbon has been providing a lot of scares in the ninth inning, somehow blowing only one save.
As for the rest of the 'pen, Okajima, Bard, Saito, Delcarmen, and Masterson have all been outstanding this year. Let's hope that they stay consistent throughout the rest of the season, which sometimes can be a problem.
Extra Notes: Offseason, Closer situation
As we are going through this season, I think the Red Sox are having a pretty good year, though I would like to add my thoughts on the scenario of this offseason.
Jason Bay will soon be a free agent and he is on many teams' radars including the New York Yankees, who will be in search for a new outfielder, which makes resigning Bay even more important.
Also, they need to decide if they are going to sign Papelbon to an extension or give the job to Daniel Bard. That is really a tough decision, but I would rather see Papelbon in the bullpen.
Well it is untrue to say that Boston is having no problems whatsoever, I do believe that all we need is to grab a shortstop for the end of this season and also call up either Clay or Bowden.
If Ortiz at least produces something for the Sox, there is no concern in my opinion, but as I said, if he goes back to his ways from earlier this season Boston will need a replacement.
Check out my State of the Sox blogs every two weeks where I analyze what is going on in Beantown.