Last season the Boston Red Sox won 89 games in what was predicted to be a "bridge year" for the franchise. The constant storyline throughout the Sox season was injuries. With various ailments affecting the young core of Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and Jacoby Ellsbury, the Red Sox were lucky to approach 90 wins.
With a disappointing season in the books and a rich free agent class, the Red Sox were hoping for Theo Epstein to make a splash in free agency to improve the team.
A better word to describe this offseason's transactions so far is cannonball.
Let's take a look at Theo's recent moves and how Boston will move forward.
Last weekend, Red Sox fans woke up to breaking news of Boston acquiring coveted first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. The trade sent prospects pitcher Casey Kelly, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, outfielder Reymond Fuentes and a player to be named later. The trade supposedly fell through, leaving Sox fans in disappointment but the two sides eventually worked things out to finalize the deal.
Gonzalez has the talent, youth and personality to become a fan favorite in New England. Gonzalez hits for both power and contact and is an elite fielder. After playing in the pitcher-friendly PETCO Park, Gonzalez should fall in love with the size of Fenway Park. Look for Gonzalez's stats to increase in Boston due to the dimensions of the field.
Going forward, the Sox still need to negotiate a long-term contract to avoid trading prized prospects for a one-year rental, but the Sox are confident they can ink Gonzalez to a new contract during spring training.
Former World Series champion Jayson Werth signed a massive contract with the Washington Nationals. The deal led many to believe that it raised the price of prized outfielder Carl Crawford, which gave the Red Sox a small chance of signing him. Boy, were we wrong.
In the late hours of December 8th, Crawford agreed to a $142 million, seven-year deal with Boston.
Crawford, another possible fan favorite, has undergone Twitter reconstruction to show his excitement for his new team. He brings a bat to the table that can hit for average, some power and can steal many bases. Like Gonzalez, Crawford is a dynamic player entering his prime.
There will be a press conference to announce Carl Crawford's signing on Saturday, December 11th at 10 a.m.
If the season started today, the Red Sox would have a backstop tandem of switch-hitters in Jason Varitek and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Although Varitek knows the pitching staff as a veteran leader and Salty is young with a lot of potential, the Sox could still be in the market for a catcher.
Recently, the Los Angeles Dodgers non-tendered former Rookie of the Year Russell Martin. The Red Sox appear to be one of the teams in the running for Martin. The young catcher has stated his desire to move to the East Coast and could be a good fit in the Red Sox organization. Martin has recently narrowed down his list of potential teams to the Red Sox, New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays.
Signing Martin would allow Salty to develop for another season in Pawtucket and give the Red Sox a much-needed right-handed hitter. Hopefully a change of scenery could allow Martin to bounce back and hit like he did in his rookie year.
Martin joins a number of Red Sox players in Gonzalez, Crawford, Youkilis, Pedroia and Ellsbury in hitters entering the prime of their career. His defense and potential in hitting would make him a great signing if he chooses to come to Boston.
On Opening Day 2010, the Red Sox had a bullpen of Jonathan Papelbon, Daniel Bard, Scott Atchison, Scott Schoeneweis, Manny Delcarmen, Hideki Okajima and Ramon Ramirez. After a series of trades and non-tendered contracts, Papelbon, Bard and Atchison are the only pitchers that remain, along with veteran Tim Wakefield.
Next season, left-handed prospect Felix Doubront is expected to join the bullpen. However, there are still some opening spots left in the pen. The Sox need relievers, especially southpaws, and there are a few available in free agency.
Scott Downs is one of the best left-handed relievers in baseball over the past four years. The veteran would be a perfect fit to join the Red Sox bullpen, but there is one problem holding the Sox back from signing him.
Downs is a Type A free agent, meaning whoever he signs with loses a first-round draft pick. Since the Sox lost a draft pick in signing Crawford, many people think it is unlikely that they will sign another Type A free agent.
In the past four seasons, Downs has given up 62 earned runs in 233.66 innings, resulting in an ERA of 2.38. It's hard for the Red Sox to look past those statistics, and many people think the Sox will sign Downs to solidify their bullpen.
UPDATE: Scott Downs agreed to a contract with the Angels for $15 million over 3 years.
Guerrier is a seven-year veteran with a career ERA of 3.38. The right-handed reliever has been a career-long member of the Minnesota Twins. He could come to Boston as a proven middle reliever or set-up man to help get the ball from the starting five to Papelbon and Bard.
Feliciano is a left-handed Type B free agent. With a 3.31 ERA in eight seasons, Feliciano is another free-agent veteran that could immediately contribute to the Red Sox roster.
Fuentes is another left-handed veteran that has been linked to the Red Sox before. While Fuentes typically pitches as a closer, he could come to Boston as a set-up man.
Any of these three pitchers would be a great fit in Boston. It is important that Theo fills up the pen with reliable arms.
More Possibilities: Arthur Rhodes, Grant Balfour, Kevin Gregg, Ron Mahay, Jesse Crain
The Red Sox have reportedly made offers to a number of relievers. It is confirmed that Guerrier has received an offer from Boston.
In 2007 and 2008, Hideki Okajima was a reliable cog in the Red Sox bullpen. He became a fan favorite due to his great statistics and unusual pitching style. Unfortunately, Okajima has had off-years these last two seasons, which could be why the Red Sox chose not to resign him.
The Red Sox recently traded Dustin Richardson for Andrew Miller. Miller was once a key part of the trade that sent Miguel Cabrera from the Marlins to the Tigers. The lefty was non-tendered after being acquired by Boston, but the Sox could resign him due to his potential.
Buchholz (no relation to Clay) was claimed off waivers from the Blue Jays by the Red Sox and has since been non-tendered. In 2008, Buchholz was a stud in Colorado's relief corps, but missed 2009 due to injury. He pitched well in a short period of time, only totaling 12 innings in 2010. It's possible that the Sox resign Buchholz to hope he can replicate his 2008 season in Boston.
CF Jacoby Ellsbury
2B Dustin Pedroia
LF Carl Crawford
1B Adrian Gonzalez
3B Kevin Youkilis
DH David Ortiz
C Russell Martin
RF J.D. Drew
SS Marco Scutaro
The top of this lineup features Ellsbury, Pedroia and Crawford. These three players can all hit over .300 and rack up a lot of hits. Both Ellsbury and Crawford have the potential to steal over 50 bases per season. While their ability to hit for contact gets them on base, they have the heart of the order hitting behind them to get them home.
The 3-4-5 of A-Gon, Youk and Big Papi should all hit over 30 home runs and 100 RBI next season. With a number of players hitting in front of them, these three should have great numbers in the heart of the order.
A bottom of the order of Martin, Drew and Scutaro allows the last six hitters in the order to alternate between the right and left side of the plate. Martin will hope to find success at Fenway Park and channel his inner Rookie of the Year. Drew and Scutaro both get on base frequently to allow the top of the order to hit them home. Mike Cameron will start for Drew against left-handed pitching and Jed Lowrie could become the starting shortstop by the end of the season.
If Terry Francona chooses to go with the lineup listed above, Mike Cameron, Jason Varitek, Jed Lowrie and Darnell McDonald will serve as the team's bench.
Last season we saw two absolutely dominant pitchers in Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. Unfortunately, we also saw mediocre seasons by Josh Beckett, John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka, three supposed aces. Expect the young studs in Lester and Buch to continue to pitch well and hope that Beckett, Lackey and Dice-K can bounce back from disappointing seasons. This starting five has the potential to be the best in the league.
1. Jon Lester
2. Josh Beckett
3. John Lackey
4. Clay Buchholz
5. Daisuke Matsuzaka
Theo Epstein has some work set out for him in fixing the Sox bullpen. After poor seasons from everyone not named Daniel Bard, there are a lot of questions on who will be the best fit for the bullpen.
LRP: Tim Wakefield (R)
MRP: Matt Guerrier (R)
MRP: Felix Doubront (L)
MRP: Andrew Miller (L)
SU: Daniel Bard (R)
SU: Brian Fuentes (L)
C: Jonathan Papelbon (R)
While the Red Sox have a very bright future in a core of players entering their prime in Youkilis, Pedroia, Ellsbury, Crawford, Gonzalez, Kalish, Lowrie, Saltalamaccia and hopefully Martin, as well as pitchers Lester, Buchholz, Bard and Doubront, their time is now. Boston is a few acquisitions away from being the favorites to win the 2011 World Series.
Let's hope Theo continues his success this offseason and finishes building a championship roster.