The Red Sox have had an interesting first half to their 2011 season. After signing Carl Crawford to a lucrative deal and pulling off a blockbuster trade for All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, the Red Sox stumbled out of the gate to a 2-10 record. However, since then they have been the best team in baseball.
While they have been just about as good as advertised, they have some serious questions looming as we begin the second half of the season. Like every other team, they have some issues to address this offseason, but when you are in the media circus that is Boston, every move is critical.
I will address the top 10 issues that the Red Sox will face going into this offseason. Without further ado, let's get started!
*All stats used are from the first half of the season
Anyone who knows the first thing about baseball knows that in order to be a championship team, you need a solid bullpen. The Red Sox bullpen has been mediocre this year, some guys have been pleasant surprises, while others have been complete disasters.
Take Matt Albers for one, he has been very good as he sports a 3-3 record with an ERA of 2.55 in 29 games(his career ERA is 4.85). Before signing with the Red Sox, Albers pitched his previous three seasons with the Orioles, so he must have taken the "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" approach.
Like Albers, another pleasant surprise has been Alfredo Aceves. Aceves has been very valuable for the Sox as he has made four spot starts as well as come out of the pen. His record of 4-1 and ERA of 3.41 in 24 games shows that he has been very consistent. Unlike Albers though, Aceves has shown promise before, when he was with the Yankees in 2009, he went 10-1 with an ERA of 3.54, so you know he can do it on the big stage.
With the good come the bad, and "bad" is the best way to describe Bobby Jenks. The former White Sox closer has a 2-2 record with an ERA of 6.32. The Sox brought him in to add some depth and experience to close out games, but it really hasn't worked out that way. Before the season started the Sox made the bullpen ten feet wider, I think it was in anticipation of signing Jenks.
Not all of the blame can be put on Jenks, as former Rays reliever Dan Wheeler has been almost as bad. Wheeler has a 1-1 record with an ERA of 5.08 in 28 games pitched. Wheeler was an integral part of the Rays bullpen that helped the team get to the World Series in 2008. How many times do you think a player said, "Wow, I wish I was still with Tampa?"
The Red Sox have plenty of pitching depth in the minors, but if they decide to go outside of the organization to get help they could target guys like Bruce Chen of the Royals, Todd Coffey of the Nationals, or perhaps Joel Peralta from the Rays.
The Red Sox have gotten little production from their bench this year, which I guess when your lineup is as good as theirs is, you don't need much from the bench. However, it is always nice to be able to give your starters a little rest and be able to trust your reserves to produce at a reasonable level.
With all the injuries the Sox have had this year, their bench has been exposed by making reserves become starters, which is never good for a team.
The biggest disappointment over the last year and a half has definitely been outfielder Mike Cameron. He has been so bad that the Red Sox recently decided to part ways with the 38-year old after he hit just .249 in 48 games last year and an absymal .149 in 33 games this year. Cameron was always known for his defense, but even that hasn't looked right recently.
If you can believe it, Darnell McDonald has actually been WORSE than Cameron. McDonald has hit .143 with just two home runs, in 37 games while filling in for an injured Carl Crawford. The Sox decided to stick with McDonald because they felt he had a bigger upside than Cameron, they are just waiting to see it.
The Sox could look to add some infield depth this offseason and could go after someone like Josh Fields who can play multiple positions in the infield and can add some pop off the bench. Jerry Hairston, who is currently with the Nationals can play just about every position and can hold his own with the bat may be worth looking at. Jorge Cantu could be another possibility as he is versatile and adds decent pop off of the bench.
The Sox could also look to try and make a move for a player such as the Royals' Jeff Francouer who has seen somewhat of a resurgence this year and could benefit from being in a stacked lineup like the Sox have.
After a disasterous season in 2010, in which he only played in 18 games due to broken ribs, many thought that Ellsbury would be traded. Many fans called into question his toughness and heart, when in reality he may have been correct when he said the Sox training staff was not handling him correctly.
Ellsbury has bounced back to have a career year as he not only made the All-Star team, he has played in more games than any other member of the Red Sox. He is hitting .316 with 11 home runs, 49 RBI, 28 stolen bases, and more importantly a .377 OBP. There is no question that when Ellsbury is at his best, so are the Sox.
The interesting part is what do the Red Sox do with him? He is represented by Scott Boras, which makes it very difficult to sign him to an extension now. Ideally, the Sox would like to lock him up long-term before his asking price goes any higher.
The Red Sox do have him under control for two more seasons, but with all the money they have invested in Carl Crawford, they would like to get Ellsbury as cheap as possible, not to mention just have him locked up so they do not have to deal with it later.
Boras on the other hand is going to make this near impossible. He is going to tell his client to wait it out and test the free agent market in a couple years to drive up the price for the Red Sox. Many people will say that "money isn't an issue for the Red Sox," well in reality money is an issue for any team because no one wants to be handing out bad contracts.
Unless the Sox can pull off a blockbuster trade for Felix Hernandez or someone of that caliber, it is unlikely that they will move Ellsbury. However, that does not mean his name won't be part of trade talk.
Last year the Red Sox had one of the best catchers in the game in Victor Martinez. They decided to let V-Mart walk during the offseason, and allowing the young and inexperienced Jarrod Saltalamacchia take over at the helm with Jason Varitek as the backup. It's gone just about as expected up to this point.
Salty has been serviceable, hitting .251, with six home runs and 24 RBI, while 'Tek owns a .252 average, with five home runs, and 18 RBI. Considering there are few elite catchers in the game, I'm sure the Red Sox will take this production.
While it is possible that Salty will finally come into his own with some more playing time, it can't hurt to have a solid backup option if that does not work out. Varitek may retire at the end of the season so the Sox should look to acquire someone who can battle Salty for the starting role or at least be a serviceable backup.
The Sox could target someone like the Reds Ramon Hernandez who has been solid in a platoon role with Ryan Hanigan. Another possibility would be trading for Miguel Olivo of the Mariners who has some decent pop and has the experience to help Salty learn the position.
Before the 2007 season, the Red Sox signed Japanese star Daisuke Matsuzaka to a six year deal after ponying-up about $50 million just to talk to the guy. Here we are, five years later, and Dice-K has been a bust.
It was announced earlier this year that Dice-K will miss the rest of the season and likely next season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, likely ending his tenure with the Red Sox. In only eight games this season, he went 3-3 with an ERA of 5.30.
Matsuzaka was pretty good his rookie year when he won 15 games, and was spectacular in '08 when he went 18-3 with an ERA of 2.90. Since then he has only averaged15 games pitched over the last three seasons. The Sox have an interesting decision to make: Do they give up on Dice-K completely and admit they made a mistake, or do they re-sign him to an incentive-laden contract that is loaded with performance bonuses?
Either way, I think just about everyone will agree that this shows how different the game of baseball is in Japan and here in the United States.
Before the start of the 2010 season, the Red Sox agreed to a five-year deal with former Angels ace John Lackey. He received a contract similar to what the Yankees gave to AJ Burnett. Who would have guessed that Burnett would have been better than Lackey?
After an up-and-down season in 2010 in which he won 14 games, many predicted that Lackey would be better after having a year in Boston and getting more comfortable in his new home. All those people couldn't have been more wrong as Lackey has taken a step back and he's actually been worse.
In 14 games this year, Lackey is 6-8 with an ERA of 6.84 with a DL stint thrown in there. There have been rumors that Lackey may need Tommy John surgery before the year is over which would likely cost him all next season at this point. And interestingly enough, Lackey has a strange clause built into his contract so if he misses significant amount of time with an elbow issue, the fifth year of his contract is only for the league-minimum.
Lackey has never had "ace stuff," however many people thought that going to the Red Sox would allow him to be more himself and be a third or fourth starter instead. The Sox will have to decide if they want to continue to give Lackey the ball every fifth day or try and dump his salary. The difficult part will be finding a team that will take on his contract.
The head-scratcher in all of this is why would the Sox sign Lackey to this deal and include the clause for the final year if they knew he had elbow issues? The Sox have other internal options, such as Andrew Miller or Felix Dubront that could be more effective, but what do you do with Lackey?
Since the trade of Nomar Garciaparra at the trade deadline in 2004, the Red Sox have had a revolving door at shortstop. They have seen the likes of Orlando Cabrera, Edgar Renteria, Alex Gonzalez,Nick Green, Alex Gonzalez (again), Jed Lowrie, and Marco Scutaro try to hold down the position. The best of the bunch has been Gonzalez, hence they brought him back twice, but apparently they felt like he just was not the answer.
Last year the Sox signed Marco Scutaro who was coming off of a career year with the Blue Jays, and he was respectable as he hit .275, with 11 home runs, and 56 RBI. This season saw Scutaro lose his starting job to Jed Lowrie, who in April hit .368, but has only hit .218 since. Scutaro has since regained his starting job but who knows for how long.
There have been rumors circulating that the Sox are interested in acquiring Mets starting shortstop Jose Reyes. Reyes is having a spectacular year (albeit in a contract year) and would add more speed to an already potent Red Sox lineup. Reyes just turned 28 years old and is just hitting his prime.
While Reyes seems like the perfect fit for the Red Sox, don't order your customized jersey quite yet. Reyes is very injury-prone and will cost a huge chunk of change to get. Whether it is through a trade or free agency, the Sox will have to give up a lot to get Reyes. However, the free agent market after Reyes is extremely thin and the Sox may need to make a move.
If the Sox chose to fill the void internally, they are likely to go with Jose Iglesias, who is a highly touted prospect and is supposed to be a perennial Gold Glove winner at short.
Other options for the Sox is to try and pull off a trade for Hanley Ramirez from the Marlins who's stock has plummeted this season.
Since 2007, JD Drew has been the Red Sox starting right fielder for the Red Sox. Before the start of last season, Drew announced that after his contract expired after this season he was going to retire, and it looks like he has already mentally-checked out.
No one has ever questioned Drew's talent, but always his attitude. He plays with no emotion and never seems to play to his full capability and this year it is showing more than ever. Drew is only hitting .229 with four home runs, and 21 RBI. Interesting note: Drew has never had more than 68 RBI in Boston (amazing considering the talent around him).
I think almost everyone will agree that Epstein overpaid for Drew, giving him almost $15 million per season, for a guy who frequently pulls himself out of the lineup and refuses to play through any pain. The question now is who will replace Drew in right field?
Josh Reddick has been tearing the cover off of the ball in limited action hitting .393 in 23 games, but who knows if he is capable of being productive for an entire season. Going into this season many thought that Ryan Kalish would be the successor to Drew, however he has dealt with shoulder and neck injuries much of the first half.
If the Sox chose to go outside of the organization they could look at someone like Carlos Beltran who has had a nice bounce back season. The biggest question with Beltran however, is whether or not his knees can take playing the outfield much longer.
Another option would be the previously mentioned Jeff Francouer. Hunter Pence of the Astros could also be available for the right price or perhaps Reed Johnson if they wanted to improve their defense.
Jonathan Papelbon took over as the Red Sox closer in 2006 and between 2006-10 he has compiled 188 saves, averaging 38 per season, with an ERA of 2.18. Paps was one of the most dominate closers in the game over that time span, but the last couple years we have seen his ERA and WHIP continue to rise, but he still continues to save games like the best of 'em.
In 2010, Papelbon's ERA was 3.90 and currently his ERA sits at 3.93 but he still has 20 saves. It is very likely that he is going to want a contract similar to that of Francisco Rodriguez who received an annual salary of almost $11 million per season from the Mets (and was recently traded to the Brewers).
It is likely that the Red Sox signed Bobby Jenks in case they were unable to agree to a new contract with Papelbon. If that is not their plan, they could decide to go with young fireballer Daniel Bard as the closer next season.
While many agree that Bard is likely to be the closer, the biggest issue will be whether or not he can handle pressure situations. Here are a few numbers to prove that Bard cannot handle the big stage:
Career Away: 86 games, 1-8, 3.87 ERA, 103 K's, 45 BB, 9 blown saves
Career vs NYY: 22 games, 1-1, 4.26 ERA, 20 K's, 11 BB, 6 home runs allowed
Career w/ Runners on: 4.79 ERA, 81 K's, 31 BB
Career w/ RISP: 5.77 ERA, 53 K's, 25 BB
As long as Bard pitches at home and not against the Yankees, he is great, but its very possible that the Sox could play the Yankees in the ALCS, and do you want him on the mound in a Game 7?
One thing no one can deny about Papelbon is that he is a big game pitcher. His postseason ERA is 1.00 in 18 games.
The Sox could sign K-Rod if he becomes a free agent or perhaps Kerry Wood. However, I think it is very likely that the Sox make every attempt to re-sign Papelbon because even though he hasn't been the same pitcher the last couple years, he is still great when it counts.
Big Papi is back...but for how long?
After two years in a row with terrible starts to the season, to the point where fans were calling to release the slugger, Ortiz has bounced back with his best season since 2007. Through the first half, he has hit .304, 19 home runs, 55 RBI and a .391 OBP.
There is no doubt that Ortiz has turned back the clock and is showing once again how important it is to have a productive DH in the lineup. Ortiz has created great protection for Adrian Gonzalez, who is having a spectacular year, which has to be due in part to Ortiz's resurgence.
The biggest question will be what will Ortiz be asking for during the offseason?
Ortiz can point out that there are no other DH's that have been nearly as productive as he has been. It is likely that if the Sox don't give Ortiz what he is looking for, the Yankees will come in and make an offer, which not only improves their offense, it hurts the Red Sox at the same time.
The Red Sox on the other hand can say that Ortiz is only this productive because it is a contract year and that his age is a factor. However, are they willing to chance him going to New York?
I think Ortiz will resign probably for two years, with an option for a third. On the other hand, Epstein has shown he is not afraid to let key figures go (Pedro Martinez, Nomar Garciaparra, Manny Ramirez).
In my opinion, those are the top-10 issues the Red Sox face this offseason. What do you think? I am interested in hearing what everyone else has to say. Feel free to comment and tell me what I missed, or if you agree with what I have.