The offseason is looming closer than most Red Sox fans had hoped for.
The look of the 2011 Red Sox is still very much up in the air, as the organization has a number of unanswered questions about who they will or will not choose to bring back.
It's very possible that an opening at first base or DH could appear next season for Boston, and they could very well choose to fill that void via free agency or the trade market.
One name that could be on the Red Sox opening day roster in 2011 might surprise some fans: Prince Fielder.
That's right, "the bearded one" could well be on his way to Beantown.
Prince Fielder Laughing At the Brewers Contract Offer
Fielder has just one arbitration year left on his current deal and will probably make somewhere upwards of the $10.5 million he made in 2010.
In 2012 Fielder will hit free agency and likely receive an offer that the Brewers cannot afford to match.
With the revamp of the Brewers farm system still in its early stages, the Brewers will look to win in the future, making Fielder expendable. It just wouldn't make sense for Milwaukee to entertain a halfhearted idea of resigning the slugger, only to get nothing in return when he departs via free agency.
Boston is on the short list of teams who can afford to take on Fielder's salary in 2011 and suitably extend his contract.
Prince Fielder, ironically enough, can't field, making a long term stay in the National League unlikely.
In five full seasons in the Major Leagues, Prince has accumulated an appalling 53 errors at first base, with a career UZR of -33.0.
Fielder would be the quintessential DH on an American League squad, and his burgeoning size would not be as much of an issue when he only has to hit.
Adrian Beltre has been fantastic for the Red Sox in 2010. If it weren't for him, the Red Sox record would be a lot worse than it currently is.
But his career year will certainly pay dividends when he opts out of the final year of his contract and hits the free-agent market.
For all intents and purposes, Beltre has been the best third baseman in baseball this season. His 28 home runs, 182 hits, 46 doubles, .322 batting average, and .927 OPS lead the majors at his position.
Sabermetrically, Beltre has been off the charts this year. His 68.7 RAR (runs above replacement player) and 7.1 WAR each rank third in all of baseball this year.
His defense has been stellar, too. Despite committing 18 errors this year, his 11.9 UZR (ultimate zone rating) is still in the top ten in baseball, regardless of position.
Not only that, Beltre has been a great addition to the clubhouse, and his personality and mental toughness is right at home with gamers like Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis.
Generally all these characteristics would be things that would entice the Red Sox into bringing Beltre back. But his MVP-caliber year will work against the Sox when it comes to free-agent negotiations and opposing offers.
It also doesn't help that these numbers are extremely out of character for Beltre. His last season like this came in 2004 with the Dodgers, also in a contract year.
Beltre's numbers have been fantastic this year, but it would be unrealistic to think that he would be able to maintain his play over multiple seasons.
While Beltre's power may actually be indicative of a switch from the vast expanse of SafeCo field to the hitter friendly Fenway Park, his average is most certainly a mirage. Just a career .275 hitter, Beltre is a free swinger who doesn't walk much. Because of this, when his average goes down so will his OBP.
Probably the biggest factor in Beltre leaving Boston would be his agent, Scott Boras. Boras is notorious for getting the best deals possible for his players and is widely regarded as the best agent in baseball.
Beltre will be 32 next year, and the Red Sox won't likely offer Beltre a deal for more than three years. Boras would most certainly be pushing the envelope for four or even five years at upwards of $60 million. With a player like Beltre, number of years offered could be the most important element to where he signs.
So, you ask, how does all of this affect Prince Fielder?
If Beltre leaves, a hole opens up at third that would be filled by current Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis. Equally skilled at both first and third, Youkilis could make the transition easily. All of a sudden the Red Sox need a first baseman. Enter Prince Fielder.
The influx of players like Adam Dunn will hurt Fielder's trade value
At just age 26, Fielder has already amassed a number of accolades.
Prince became the youngest player to reach 50 home runs in a season in 2007, at just age 23.
He has posted a .281 career average and .923 OPS, as well as 191 home runs and 531 RBI.
Yet despite all this, Fielder might be cheap, relatively speaking, in the trade market this offseason. This has to do with the large number of free-agent first baseman who'll be available, most notably Adam Dunn, Derrek Lee, Paul Konerko, and Carlos Pena.
It doesn't help that Fielder is only under contract for one more year. If a team cannot reach an agreement for a contract extension, Fielder would run the risk of becoming a very expensive rent-a-player.
Also, questions of whether or not Prince Fielder, because of his size and "down year" in 2010, is already on the decline have hurt his value somewhat.
Because of these factors, Fielder isn't necessarily the consensus number one available first baseman in the eyes of some baseball organizations. The Brewers might have to cope with getting less than they hoped for in return.
Brewers GM Doug Melvin would be foolish to wait until the trading deadline to deal Prince
With the questions surrounding Fielder and his abilities, waiting until the trading deadline could be a huge mistake.
A slow start to the year would hurt Fielder's value even more, and the Brewers should capitalize on him sooner rather than later.
Holding onto him until the deadline just doesn't make any sense unless they think they can re-sign him, which also doesn't make much sense.
Also, Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and Cardinals super-machine first baseman Albert Pujols both hit the free-agent market in 2012 if neither can work out an extension.
Because of this, teams may be reluctant to deal for Fielder at the 2011 deadline in hopes that they can land one these two, hurting his value even more.
David Ortiz's contract is up at the end of this season, and it still isn't clear what exactly the Red Sox will do with him.
Ortiz has had a comeback year in the eyes of many; after another slow start, his 31 home runs leads the team and are fifth in the AL and 10th in all of baseball. He has also driven in 96 runs and posted an .889 OPS.
With an offense characterized by injury and misfortune, David Ortiz has been one of the few constants in the lineup this year. Not to mention he's one of the best, if not the best, clutch hitters in Boston Red Sox history and an integral part of both World Series seasons.
The Sox have a club option of $12.5 Million next season, and there has been speculation over whether or not the Sox will pick it up, sign him to a two-year deal worth less per year, or even let him walk.
If I had to put my money on it, I'd say the most likely scenario results in the Sox picking up Ortiz's option for one more season, then parting ways.
In any scenario Ortiz's stay in Boston won't be for much longer, making the DH spot open for Prince to assume once Ortiz is gone.
Boston would have to suffer with Prince's defense at first for a year, but once Papi is gone and Fielder is the full time DH, the Red Sox would be free to pursue another first baseman, one with better defensive credentials. They could just as likely switch Youkilis back to first and pursue another third baseman.
The availability of the DH spot for Prince gives the Sox great options going forward in adding another quality corner infielder, all while keeping Prince's bat in the lineup.
Some would point to the fact that the DH is becoming less and less important as the steroid era wanes. More and more teams are going to platoon situations to fill this role, or just using it as a rest day for aging players.
However, this couldn't be farther from the truth; if anything, the DH has become more valuable for those teams who have a top-notch DH available to them.
Being able to pencil David Ortiz's name into the lineup for the last eight seasons has been a luxury most teams haven't had, and that same luxury would be provided with Fielder.
Also important, the Sox do have the players to put a deal together. I've already mentioned the fact that Prince's value isn't as high as the Brewers would hope, and that they aren't in a position of power when it comes to dealing him.
First base prospects Lars Anderson and Anthony Rizzo could be used as potential replacements for Prince somewhere down the line, and a deal involving Fielder could involve one of these two.
And after a disastrous pitching year for the Brewers, GM Doug Melvin has already promised to improve the pitching staff by the start of 2011.
I've already alluded to this topic before, but with Daisuke Matsuzaka's inconsistent performance he could find his way out of Boston by way of the trade this offseason. Due $20 million over the next two years, the Red Sox would gladly eat a chunk of his salary if given the opportunity to acquire a player like Prince Fielder.
Matsuzaka's style could definitely fare better in the national league, and this year's near no-hit bid against the Phillies exemplifies how good Matsuzaka can be when he's on his A game.
Matsuzaka's departure would also open up a spot in the rotation for Boston's top pitching prospect, Casey Kelly. Many hope that Kelly will be ready for the 2012 season, and while this timetable could be somewhat generous, it definitely looks as if the Sox believe that he is the real deal.
Gonzalez has been involved in Red Sox trade rumors for the better part of the last two seasons. His great glovework at first base and fantastic opposite field ability would make him a match made in heaven for the Red Sox and Fenway Park.
With just one year remaining on his deal, the Padres could look to capitalize on him via trade before his contract expires.
However, the Padres have failed to move him at each of the last two trading deadlines, and with playoff hopes still very much alive in 2010, any deep run that they might accomplish would only delay him hitting the trade market even further. It's entirely possible that A-Gon might not become available until the trading deadline of 2011, and if the Padres are still competing in the NL West, who knows if they'll even be inclined to deal him then.
The Red Sox just simply can't afford to wait until Gonzalez hits the trade market, as it's not even clear that he'll ever do so.
Not that this is necessarily a bad thing; as I've already mentioned in this article the departure of David Ortiz would open up a corner infield spot as Fielder would transition to DH.
Acquiring Prince Fielder doesn't mean that the Red Sox have given up on Gonzalez. If he makes it to the free-agent market in 2012, the Red Sox would have a spot for him.
Their team salary would balloon to enormous proportions, as they'd be paying both Gonzalez and Fielder quite large sums of money, but the Red Sox are no stranger to overpaying for talent. A residency in the AL East alongside the New York Yankees means that the Red Sox will always have to spend to stay competitive.
At any rate, the Red Sox can't bank on Gonzalez becoming available. Even if he does, he'll most certainly be more expensive than Fielder, and it's not guaranteed that the Sox would be able to put together the best offer for him.
Fielder is just 26, and to claim that he is assuredly over the hill because of one "down season" doesn't make a whole lot of sense. (In his case, a down season is 31 HRs, 79 RBI, and an .886 OPS).
He's just one year removed from 46 HRs, 141 RBI, a .299 average, and 1.014 OPS.
The Sox have a chance to acquire one of the best young sluggers in the game for a fairly cheap price and provide him the opportunity to be protected by some of the best hitters in baseball.
Since he's so young, a long term extension of four, five, or even six years could mean that the Sox get maximum efficiency from each year on the deal. They wouldn't be throwing in an extra year of service where they don't expect him to be as productive, just like they did with John Lackey.
No serious physical ailments have yet hit Prince, either. His consecutive games-played streak just recently ended at 327, when Fielder was forced to sit out because he was suffering flu-like symptoms. From 2006-2009, Fielder played in 157, 158, 159, and 162 games respectively. He's played in 152 so far this year.
A transition to full-time DH at such a young age could pay dividends in the future. His already spotless injury history could remain relatively clean with the decreased workload and keep Fielder better for a longer period of time.
Look for Red Sox GM Theo Epstein to make big moves this offseason
The AL East is the toughest division in baseball, and it stands to grow even tougher over the next few seasons.
The Yankees aren't showing any signs of slowing down, and while Yankee favorites like Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, and Andy Pettitte are on their last legs, they'll always remain competitive through free-agent signings. Look for them to pursue pitching help next season, especially former Cy Young award winner Cliff Lee.
The Rays might feature the best rotation in baseball next year. Their young staff will likely see the addition of prospect Jeremy Hellickson, who has been dominant in his his four starts this season. And while Carl Crawford may very well depart via free agency, the Rays have as suitable replacement as there is waiting in the wings in Desmond Jennings.
The Blue Jays were probably the best team in baseball that were statistically eliminated before the season even began. With no real chance of making the playoffs in the East, the Jays still managed to lead the majors in home runs, despite a huge drop off in DH Adam Lind's production.
The Jays, despite being in fourth place, have managed a 78-75 record. One could wonder if they wouldn't have shipped it in and become sellers at the deadline if they were in another division, and whether or not they would still be in the playoff hunt.
Since Buck Showalter took over in Baltimore, the Oriole's have gone 29-19 (.604 Winning Percentage). He'll look to continue the Orioles' success in 2011 and turn the organization around.
Long story short, the Red Sox cannot afford to be complacent in their pursuit of talent in this upcoming offseason. Unless some miracle occurs, the Red Sox won't make the postseason this year, which will put pressure on the front office to put the team in a position to make a deep run next year.
Not making the playoffs two years in a row has become near sacrilege to many in Boston. How quickly fans change.