The Boston Red Sox this Season: The 10 Most Pressing Issues in 2010

Keith TestaCorrespondent IJanuary 6, 2010

BOSTON - OCTOBER 11:  David Ortiz #34 of the Boston Red Sox hits a single in the eighth inning against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in Game Three of the ALDS during the 2009 MLB Playoffs at Fenway Park on October 11, 2009 in Boston,  Massachusetts. The single by Ortiz was his first hit of the series. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

It's certainly been an offseason full of intrigue for the Boston Red Sox, as a handful of high profile—if not creative—moves have kept the hot stove burning and the talking heads talking. By signing John Lackey to a longer-than-expected deal and retooling the lineup in favor of defense the Sox have undergone something of a complete makeover, pushing away from power to a game plan relying on pitching and catching the ball.

Such a wild winter is the perfect lead-in to what is sure to be a compelling campaign. There are certainly plenty of questions facing the Sox as they chase their third World Series in the last seven years, many of which could determine Boston’s fate in October—if not before.

In the interest of creating any sense of drama, the following list of issues is presented in countdown format, with No. 1 being the most pressing concern.

10) Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon

There were plenty of trade rumors swirling around Papelbon this winter, unfounded though they may have been. But the fact remains that Bard is the closer-in-waiting, and the Red Sox have been hesitant to give Papelbon an expensive long-term contract due to his previous shoulder concerns and the short shelf life of a closer. It’s conceivable, if Bard continues to emerge, that Papelbon could be trade bait—and attractive trade bait at that—by the time July rolls around.

9) Jacoby Ellsbury’s Adjustment To Left Field
There’s little concern about his physical adjustment to the position—after all, he proved during the 2007 season he could play both corner outfield spots, and his arm is probably more suited to left anyway. This is more of a mental question, given that he was supplanted in center by a 37-year old short-term rental. Personally I agree that Mike Cameron is the better centerfielder, but it can’t be easy to come off a successful campaign and be told to move a few hundred feet over. Terry Francona admitted in the press conference announcing the switch that Ellsbury sounded disappointed, believing the move to be a demotion. A hot start in April will quickly make this a non-issue, and Ellsbury could very well benefit from a few years under Cameron’s expert tutelage, but until the team takes the field there’s no way to know how this will shake out.

8) Contract Extensions for Josh Beckett and Victor Martinez
Both are due to hit free agency after the upcoming season, and both would be significant blows if lost. The clues point to both wanting to remain in Boston, but Jason Bay said the same thing and everyone knows what happened there. Given the way the Bay saga came to a close there will be pressure on the Sox to resign both during the season, something they’ve been reluctant to do in the past, in order to prevent an ugly bidding war.

7) The Mike Lowell Situation
This could end up being higher on the list, but the guess here is it will be resolved by the end of spring training or early in the regular season, one way or the other. Lowell can’t be feeling too warm and fuzzy about the Sox after the Beltre signing and yet another aborted trade attempt—one in which the Red Sox were willing to pay Texas to take him while receiving only an out-of-shape, non-prospect catcher in return. For all his character and class, Lowell has had a tendency to grumble in the media when feeling unhappy at times, and a platoon situation or reserve role likely wouldn’t appease the proud veteran. The likelihood is he won’t be on the roster for long, but if the season gets rolling and he’s still fighting for playing time this could bear watching.

6) Is the Pitching As Deep As It Appears?
With the addition of Lackey the Sox appear to have one of the better rotations in baseball. But many felt the same way last season, and by July the Sox were forced to seek meaningful innings from Junichi Tazawa. Heck, things got so bad that Paul Byrd even took the hill a few times in September. The health of Tim Wakefield is always a concern, and as it stands now the Sox don’t have an established starter behind the veteran knuckleballer, leaving them six starters after a season in which they used nearly twice that many. And then of course there’s …

5) Daisuke Matsuzaka and Clay Buchholz
The strength of the rotation will depend largely on the performance of these two, both of whom enter with significant question marks. Matsuzaka followed up a solid 2008 with an ’09 campaign that was a complete loss, thanks in large part to the World Baseball Classic and an out-of-shape beginning. Buchholz, meanwhile, put things together at the end of the season, but has yet to show he can handle a Major League workload for an entire year. Beckett, Lackey, and Jon Lester can no doubt carry much of the load. Buchholz appears to have turned the corner, and all indications are that Matsuzaka is in the best shape he’s been in since arriving in Boston, but the Sox won’t make much noise if they don’t get consistent contributions from this pair.

4) Production from Mike Cameron/Adrian Beltre/Marco Scutaro
With the loss of Jason Bay, the Red Sox will need to find 40 dingers and 120 RBI from other sources, and the aforementioned trio will be largely responsible for that load. What’s more, all three bring question marks. Cameron has a tendency to whiff, Beltre is coming off an injury-plagued campaign that produced ugly numbers, and Scutaro will be forced to replicate an anomaly season at age 34. Fenway Park should provide all three a boost, particularly Cameron and Beltre, who could see a bump in their home run totals; but it will take solid seasons from all three if the Red Sox lineup is to improve, or even duplicate last season’s production. Speaking of which …

3) Team Offense vs. Good Pitching
The Sox finished in the top 10 in the league in total offense last season, but those stats were padded by games like the 19 against Baltimore. The suggestion all along was that the Red Sox beat up on bad pitching but crumbled against good arms, a hypothesis that was essentially proved during a silent postseason in which the bats never showed up. By not adding a legitimate slugger, Boston has prolonged the discussion until it proves it can handle solid hurlers. The lineup appears deeper than it was a season ago, with the new additions and a full season of Victor Martinez, but the Sox will have to prove they can hit good pitching in order to get anyone’s hopes up for a realistic postseason run.

2) The Pursuit of Adrian Gonzalez
Gonzalez’s name dominated the headlines as far back as last July’s trading deadline, and he was once again front-and-center this offseason. The signing of Beltre was Boston’s version of waving the white flag for now, but the fact that Beltre’s contract is essentially for one year leaves the door open for a move either this July or at the conclusion of next season. If the offense continues to struggle, pressure will most certainly be on to acquire a feared slugger like Gonzalez, and the guess is the trading deadline will bring a feverish pursuit of the Padres first baseman. Either way his name will continue to surface frequently every time the offense slumps. This is certainly a story that won’t go away until Gonzalez is either traded or signed long-term.

1) David Ortiz
So much of the offense hinges on Big Papi. He turned in a truly confusing season in 2009, sandwiching a torrid hot streak between two monumental slumps. By season’s end he had produced roughly 30 homers and 100 RBI, but he was in no way the feared hitter he once was. Heading into the offseason Theo Epstein challenged Ortiz to be a “force” once more, and Ortiz maintains that he can return to form. If he can, Boston’s search for a middle-of-the-order bopper will be satisfied within the confines of its own dugout. If he can’t, the pressure will mount until the Sox do something about it. A healthy and productive Ortiz changes the entire offensive dynamic for the Sox, which makes his performance—be it resurgent or regressive—the single most critical factor in determining whether the lineup can significantly outperform last season’s squad.


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