2008 saw a bitter end for the defending champion Boston Red Sox.
After falling down 3-1 in the American League Championship Series, the Red Sox staged an incredible comeback in game five, ultimately winning the game 8-7, and winning a tight game in game six, just to lose the clinching game seven.
This winter, the Red Sox have swiftly addressed many of the team's 2008 weaknesses, and 2009 needs. Mainly, by improving the bullpen.
First on the list, acquiring hard-throwing Ramon Ramirez from the Kansas City Royals for backup outfielder Coco Crisp. Ramirez is an aggressive pitcher, with a mid-90's fastball and an absolutely nasty curve ball. In 2008, he boasted an impressive 2.64 era in 71 innings of work.
Second, the Red Sox most recently traded two players to be named later to the Texas Rangers for right-hander Wes Littleton. Littleton isn't what one would call a household name, but he features a good fastball and a plus slider. He was less than fabulous in 18 innings of work this year, but in his defense he has a 3.69 era in 102 career innings.
Lastly, the Red Sox have most likely signed Japanese amateur pitcher Junichi Tazawa. Tazawa has bypassed the Nippon Professional Baseball Draft, and has formally declined the other offers from the Seattle Mariners, Atlanta Braves, and Texas Rangers. Tazawa is 22, he is only 5'11", and weighs 180-pounds. Tazawa mixes speeds well, boasting a mid-90's fastball, a high-70's curve, and a mid-80's slider.
These three pitchers should be marvelous replacements in the Boston 'pen next year over Mike Timlin, who is a free agent, David Aardsma, who was flat out terrible in 2008, and the hole left by Justin Masterson, who will be moving to the starting rotation next season.
However, despite these cheap additions to the roster, there are still more holes to fill in. The trading of Crisp has left a vacancy for a fourth outfielder spot, which cannot be filled by Mark Kotsay, who is also departing via free agency.
Rocco Baldelli is one man who has been rumored to be on the radar of Theo Epstein in the hunt for a new outfielder, if he is willing to sacrifice a starting job.
Also, clubhouse leader David Ortiz has been clamoring for the Red Sox to sign a 30-home run hitter this winter. The obvious choice would be to sign the switch-hitting masher Mark Teixeira, move Kevin Youkilis to third base, and trade Mike Lowell.
The only problem with that, is where to trade Lowell. The White Sox, Brewers, and Dodgers could be possibilities, if they are willing to take on an aging third baseman with a hip injury.
More importantly, Jason Varitek may have seen his last days in a Red Sox uniform. His agent, Scott Boras, is reportedly looking for a "Jorge Posada-type contract" for Varitek, who has long been the heart and soul of the Red Sox. The Red Sox have balked at the Texas Rangers' asking price for one of their catching prodigies in Taylor Teagarden or Jarrod Saltalamacchia; since their asking price is Clay Buchholz or Michael Bowden.
Despite the vastly improved bullpen, the 2009 Boston Red Sox have a very hard question to answer, which hopefully will be answered before Spring Training begins: who will be the catcher for the Red Sox in 2009?