Right after game three and the sweep of the Boston Red Sox at the hands of the Los Angeles Angels, I watched Kevin Youkilis on NESN , answering questions about getting swept, and he says calmly "yes, it's frustrating, but it's time to look forward to next season."
While I'd like to see Youkilis be pissed...it is time to look forward to the offseason, because reflecting on the outcome of the playoffs is just gonna piss me off too.
General manager Theo Epstein and his staff have objectives to accomplish. These should be on his list:
1. Work on an extension with C Victor Martinez and pick up his 2010 option. The fact that Martinez worked all three games of the playoffs should be a clear signal that Jason Varitek's time in Boston is done and it's time for the Captain to retire. The Red Sox couldn't have asked for Martinez to do more after he arrived in Boston—.336 BA, .405 OBP. I'd be happier if he could throw out more runners, but it's a no-brainer that he needs to be the catcher for this team for the next several seasons.
2. While he might be the shortstop of the future, Jed Lowrie is not the shortstop of the immediate future . Rehab, where he was supposed to be improved, wasn't the magic pill to his ills. He's got at least one option left. I'm not ready to give up on him, but I'd be fine with him at Pawtucket next year too. I'm happy with Alex Gonzalez and his play since coming to Boston has earned him the chance to start again next year. Pick up Gonzo's option...it's a bit pricey at $6 mil, but he batted .289 from the 9-hole and a .994 fielding percentage (only one error) should allow him to stay as the starter.
There's no other SS on the free-agent market I'd be interested in seeing as a Red Sox. I'm sure some want Marco Scutaro. While Scutaro's got great numbers, they didn't differ much from Gonzalez's second-half numbers and Scutaro would come with the price of a first round pick. This Red Sox team is very old, and, as opposed to three years ago, isn't really in a place to be giving up a first round pick for a shortstop.
3. I'm not ready to trade RP Jonathon Papelbon, yet . Why in god's name was he only throwing fastballs? When the pressure gets on, that's what he throws. While he throws heat, if you throw a fastball in the same place every time, a good hitter will time it, catch up to it, and knock the cover off of it.
So the adjustment Papelbon makes? He tries to place his fastball better and his control comes into play. It explains the outrageous WHIP. He came up from the minors in possession of four good pitches: slider, change-up, and a slurve. When the stakes were raised? Fastball, fastball, fastball.
Farrell and company have to figure out a way to get his head back on straight and get him to understand that he's got to use his other pitches. Paps has the first half of the season to figure that out. He'll be a free agent after 2010, and if he becomes the shutdown closer we used to know, then work out a longer deal. If he struggles, trade him and meet Daniel Bard, your new Red Sox closer.
4. First base; time for a fresh face? 1B Casey Kotchman and 3B Mike Lowell played pretty well coming off the bench, but I suspect a starting role for either of these two would have an impact on productivity, especially with Lowell, considering his health. This means Youkilis should start 2010 where he left off; solid as the third baseman. With Martinez solidly behind the plate, first base is open. It's Lars Anderson time. In an effort to get some youth on this team, this is the place to start. He was the 2008 Minor League player of the year and an Eastern League All-Star last year.
5. I don't think the Sox need to go nuts in the free-agent market, but one spot where it would be nice to see them spend some cash is right field . Outfielders Rocco Baldelli/JD Drew are serviceable, but those two also would be great players to bring off the bench, considering their injury history and increasing age. Seeing as how this team sorely lacked some power, a RF with some pop would be nice, but there's pretty slim FA pickins'.
Chicago White Sox RF Jermaine Dye would be nice; the White Sox had him on the trading block and I'd be surprised if they tried to re-sign him. He is a type-A though and it would mean giving up that first round pick...but I'd rather give up a first round pick for Jermaine Dye versus Marco Scutaro. St. Louis Cardinals LF Matt Holiday is an Unrestricted Free Agent, but I don't know how well he'd do transitioning from LF to RF and I'm convinced he's an great NL player but an average AL player.
6. Who's the No. 5 starter? I like Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz (I officially was wrong about Clay. He's earned his spot) and Daisuke Matsuzaka. Do the Sox bring in a reasonably priced Free Agent or give it to one of the youths?
Frankly, after the Brad Penny/John Smoltz experience failed miserably, I'm willing to let one of the young guys get a chance to earn a starting spot. I wouldn't overspend for a pitcher who'd be projected to be a No. 5 starter, but if a guy like a Chicago Cubs SP Rich Harden or St. Louis Cardinals SP Todd Wellmeyer can be had for a decent price, I say go for it.
I'm sure there will be more to chew on.....but I need a baseball breather for a couple weeks.