It has now been just a little over two weeks since the Sox's season came to an end in St. Pete, and as soon as the season came to an end, it was time to look towards the 2009 season.
The 2008 team simply was not good enough. Right from the get go, their ace, Josh Beckett, was not himself. RBI machine and clubhouse cancer Manny Ramirez was traded. David Ortiz missed two months with a bum wrist and never really had his swing down.
2007 World Series MVP Mike Lowell was on the DL in April and then eventually with a hip injury that made him all but useless for the last six weeks of the season (including the postseason). This is just the beginning.
The captain, Jason Varitek, had his worst offensive season of his career. Now true, he is not expected to hit, but an average in the .220 area is not going to cut it. Future Sox phenom Clay Buchholz struggled early and often, finishing with a 2-9 record with an ERA close to seven.
Playoff ace Curt Schilling never even threw a pitch because he had a bum shoulder. Now, with all of this, the 2008 Boston Red Sox still managed to win 95 games and clinch a wild-card berth.
The positives from the year were the emergence of some young guys. Kevin "YOOOOOOOUK" Youkilis emerged as an elite first baseman by hitting .312 with 29 HR's and 115 RBI. Dustin Pedroia made a huge jump from his Rookie of the Year campaign and hit .326 with 17 HRs 83 RBI and a league-leading 118 runs scored. He even batted cleanup a few times this year after Manny was traded and Lowell and or J.D. Drew were hurt.
Even though Jacoby Ellsbury had a nasty slump that led to him being benched in the playoffs, he managed to swipe 50 bases and score 98 runs while playing Gold Glove defense in center field. Also, Jed Lowrie, took over for Julio Lugo (thank God) halfway through the season and made only one error. He proved he is ready for the big club.
No one made a bigger jump this year than Jon Lester, however. In his first full season since recovering from anaplastic large cell lymphoma, Lester made 33 starts, with a very impressive 16 wins and a nifty 3.21 ERA. Oh yeah, let's not forget, this guy threw a no hitter against the KC Royals on May 19 at Fenway Park (I was lucky enough to be there for that).
Another jump that was made on the mound was the emergence of Justin Masterson. He had been a starter all his life, making his major-league debut in April against the Angels (I too, was there for that...getting the picture?).
When the bullpen was in shambles around July, Masterson was in the minors, prepping for a bullpen role upon his return to the club. He excelled in that role, to the point where he was the set up man for Jonathan Papelbon.
Last but not least, there is Jason Bay. He had some very big shoes to fill when he was acquired for, more or less, Manny Ramirez. Bay received multiple standing O's while he was here, and he very much deserved it. Everyone thought he couldn't play here because of where he played before (Pittsburgh). In 49 games here, he had 37 RBI while supporting a near .300 BA. Bay quickly became a fan favorite.
The 2008 season was very exciting, seeing all of the young players that GM Theo Epstein refused to trade over the years blossom in front of our eyes. HOWEVER, it is time to see what the 2009 Red Sox team can bring. So here it is, position by position, on how I see the '09 Sox breaking down.
This is a glaring weakness and also a very tough call on what to do. Varitek, the Captain, is breaking down offensively and something has to be done. I say the Sox do as follows:
Varitek- Re-sign for one year at $8M, with a team option for 2010 at $8M
Trade: Red Sox Trade prospect RHP Michael Bowdon to the Texas Rangers for C Jarrod "Salty" Saltalamacchia.
As much as it hurts me to trade Bowdon, the Sox have a surplus of pitching prospects, and the Sox really need a young catcher who can be tutored under V-Tek and eventually take over for V-Tek. Some other minor prospects might be throw in the deal, but Bowdon and Salty are the main points here.
As a baseball fan, you probably think, the Red Sox have Kevin Youkilis, they are all set, right? Wrong. Fact remains, Big Papi isn't as dangerous unless there is another huge power bat hitting behind him. No offense to J.D. Drew, Youk, Mike Lowell, or Jason (Hey J-Bay) Bay, they all just cannot cut it.
Maybe Youk can, but that's it. Either way, the Sox make a splash. They will make an inquiry on Prince Fielder, but in the end, they go to the free-agent market. Cash will not be an issue for the Sox, now that Manny's salary is off the books.
Sign: Mark Teixeira 5/$80 with a club option for 2014 at $18M
The Sox don't like long-term commitments (Man-Ram anyone?), but Teix is a different player. He bats for average, power, plays defense, is only 28, has a high OBP, and is a great clubhouse guy. Overall, there is not a better "Red Sox" type player out there.
Nothing is changing here. Dustin Pedroia has the position on lock down and is only getting better as he gets more experience. Look for the Sox to at least begin talks of an extension.
Well, as much as this kills me to say it, Mike Lowell is done here in Bean Town. He was great while he was here, played awesome defense and even had some pop in that bat. Fact remains that he is going to be 35 when next year starts, and he is coming off of hip surgery.
Theo would probably like to take this re-signing back, at least a little. With the signing of Mark Teixeira, Kevin Youkilis will be back at third and the corners will be younger and quicker.
Trade: Mike Lowell traded to the Cleveland Indians for LHP Zack Jackson
Jackson is a young guy with some upside but nothing major. He will get a crack to win the job out of Spring Training but is probably a September call-up. The Sox will probably have to eat some of Lowell's contract. Lowell will also give the Indians a clubhouse leader and, if healthy, can help them contend for a playoff spot in a very tough A.L. Central. Overall, not a major move, but a possible quality move.
Ugh. This gives me a headache just talking about it. Jed Lowrie is the guy for now, but he clearly was exposed in the playoffs, batting left-handed. He can handle the glove and right now can be an everyday player. Look for the Sox to re-sign a reliable backup, a la Alex Cora, just in case Lowrie struggles. Oh right, I almost forgot, Julio Lugo will be the highest paid backup in MLB. His days as a starter are over.
I think Jason Bay proved that he can play in Boston and also play left field with the Monster. Had he played a full season in Boston, he would have had 30+ HR and over 110 RBI. That is more than enough for a No. 6 hitter. Those numbers are definitely in site, especially with Papi, Tex, and Youk in front of you. At $7M for next year, one of the best bargains in baseball. Look for the Sox to try to extend him as well.
Jacoby Ellsbury, end of story. Coco Crisp played well at the end of the season and very well in the postseason. But at times this year, when Jacoby struggled, it was a good thing the Sox kept him around. The only way Coco is traded is if he is used to upgrade at catcher.
Other than that, expect No. 10 back as a key bench player. Back to Ellsbury. He is fast, as in lighting fast. He is very exciting to watch, and sure, he struggled at certain points. Fact remains, he was still a rookie. Jacoby is the real deal, plus he plays Tori Hunter like defense in center.
J.D. Drew. He had a very good month of June when Big Papi was out. He stepped right into the No. 3 hole and hit .337 with 12 HR. FINALLY, this was the $15M J.D. Drew...not so much.
He later had a buldging disk in his back and missed significant time. When healthy, he will be a great No. 7 hitter on the Sox, still, look for the Sox to resign Mark Kotsay or a player of his type.
This is part one of two for the offseason outlook. The second part will be on the pitching staff. I digress, with the only major moves of signing Tex and trading Lowell, both of these moves can easily be done. The Sox have a lot of money and know where to spend it.