(Originally posted at 4SportBoston.com)
I remember cheering with the crowd when Papelbon got the last out, and like Papelbon, my friend LJ climbed on top of some bar tables to do a little jig. I was 23 and life was good, it was my first full year in Washington DC, I was a few months into a new job, and I was excited to start real life in a big city.
Today I turn 26. I’m rounding the corner on my Quarter Life Crisis and as I look back to that wonderful night it seems all but distant. Like the years prior to 2004, I saw the Sox stumble into the playoffs and lose in heartbreaking fashion; whether it was the one game short against the Devil Rays or the complete sweep to the Angels this year. The question comes to mind: after two World Series wins in three years, have the Sox peaked?
I believe the answer is yes.
Looking at the 25 players who won the World Series in 2007, 12 remain, and that could shrink to 11 if Mike Lowell is dealt this off-season. Now, that's not a sign of a complete turnover, but a Red Sox team without Manny that still shells out for players like David Ortiz and Mike Lowell just won't cut it this year.
There is new talent on the rise with Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Daniel Bard, and Jacoby Ellsbury—but that means additional pieces are needed to form a new core to take the team into the postseason and perhaps another championship.
It is a tough word to say, but it's clear that 2010 will be a "rebuilding" year for the Red Sox.
To rebuild, the Sox need to focus on long-term building blocks, find veterans to fill holes until better talent can be acquired, and figure out how to find that aforementioned talent—either through the farm system or through trades and free agency.
Here is a look at how the team stands and who is realistically here for the long haul.
1. John Lackey
With his five-year $82.5-million deal Lackey is going to be headlining the rotation well into the new decade, which is good because...
2. Josh Beckett
Beckett is entering the last year of his contract—however there is a $12 million club-option for 2010, but the Sox now have flexibility to let Beckett go and still have someone at the top of the rotation.
3. Jon Lester
Can be retained by the Sox all the way up to 2014, plenty of time for Lester to develop into the ace we think he'll be.
4. Daisuke Matsuzaka
He's caused a lot of headaches lately, and unfortunately, he's not going anywhere anytime soon. We can only hope he really is in as good as shape as he says he is because he's signed until 2012.
5. Tim Wakefield
Thanks to his knuckleball, Wake could realistically pitch into his late-40s. Before this off-season, the Sox had been enjoying a recurring club option on Wakefield, which they gladly re-upped for the past few years. The new two-year deal says that, even though he had a great season, the Sox are looking to keep him for less cash, or that his days may be numbered come 2011.
6. Clay Buchholz
It's popular opinion that the Red Sox will try to move this young commodity while he's hot. He's not tied down to the team long-term, and could be a major piece in a deal to land a big bat. Of course, we thought he'd be gone by July last year, too.
7. Boof Bonser
Given Wakefield's risk for injury down the stretch and Daisuke's risk for injury and poor performance all season, Bonser is more likely a long relief/spot starter for the season.
8. Junichi Tazawa
Another spot starter, he's signed through 2011.
C, Victor Martinez
The Red Sox exercised their club option on Martinez which will keep him on the team for 2010, there have been some rumblings for a long-term deal, and given the state of the position, we could use some some long-term talent there.
1B, Kevin Youkilis
Signed through 2012 with a 2013 option, Youk gives the Sox a viable option for either first or third base.
2B, Dustin Pedroia
His six-year deal signed in 2009 makes him half of the middle infield foundation for many years to come.
3B, Mike Lowell
Until we see if a deal gets pulled off we have control of Lowell until 2010. If he does get traded, the popular name out there to fill in would be Adrian Beltre, who would definitely be a power bat in the lineup, and at age 30, wouldn't be too bad for a couple of years. Still, someone to man the hot corner is one of the holes for the Red Sox right now.
SS, Marco Scutaro
He's not the SS of the future, and the team has to realize he's coming off a career year. The two-year deal says to me that Jed Lowrie has two years to become the starting option, or else the revolving doors continues.
LF, Mike Cameron/?
Hope the Red Sox can re-sign Jason Bay are growing slimmer and slimmer. Mike Cameron's two-year deal might be a sign that he's going to be the stop-gap.
CF, Jacoby Ellsbury
This is a young talent Boston has under contractual control until about 2012ish. I'm sure he'll be signed for longer than that down the road.
RF, J.D. Drew
Drew is signed until 2011, so it looks like Boston will be looking for quite a few outfielders in the coming years.
DH, David Ortiz
Despite his second-half comeback last season, David Ortiz is in the twilight of his career. His contract runs out in 2010, and I have a feeling we will not be exercising the 2011 club option on him unless he turns things around.
C, Jason Varitek
The captain's days as a starter might be done. That he exercised his player option after the club declined its option might mean that his days in Boston are also coming to an end.
1B, Casey Kotchman
The Red Sox plan to bring him back for 2009, which gives them another option if Youkilis needs to move to third base.
SS, Jed Lowrie
Lowrie still has a lot to prove as a shortstop, and we'll see if, after Scutaro is gone, Lowrie can take his place.
OF, Jeremy Hermida
Hermida looks to be our fourth or fifth outfielder pending any other deals made. His one-year deal means he's our next Rocco Baldelli.
OF, Josh Reddick
He looked great in his debut weekend against Baltimore, but still remains a long-term outfield prospect.
IF, Tug Hulett
He's nothing but an interesting name acquired from Kansas City. I see him spending time in the minors but could be called up to fill in around the infield if needed.
If he can take the next step in becoming a dominant closer, it may make a Papelbon exit easier to stomach.
CL, Jonathan Papelbon
The Sox have him under control for a couple of more years, but with Bard waiting in the wings, who knows if he'll still be here after that.
He has been a great arm in setting up Papelbon, but his deal is set to run out, and he isn't really a long-term closer candidate.
He becomes arbitration-eligible in 2010, so this season will be an indicator as to if the Sox want to commit to him long-term.
Which one? Doesn't matter both will become arbitration-eligible somewhere between 2010-2011. We'll see which one stays with the team then.
He is signed through 2010 with two club options, and could be a bridge reliever if he works out.