One is who will play third base if Mike Lowell is traded. Perhaps that is the biggest issue after the left field question mark, but No. 2 is important as well: who's going to be in the bullpen next season?Sure, talking about bullpen arms isn't sexy like talking about power-hitting left fielders. But it's an important factor in the equation. After all, the effectiveness of the Red Sox's bullpen last season was one of the reasons they made it into the playoffs. The Red Sox's core six relievers -- Jonathan Papelbon, Hideki Okajima, Manny Delcarmen, Daniel Bard, Ramon Ramirez and Takashi Saito -- combined for a 3.07 earned run average in 363.1 innings.
Now, however, one of those relievers is gone (Saito), one proved very ineffective toward the end of the season (Delcarmen), one began to crumble underneath his workload (Ramirez) and Billy Wagner, who was a late-season acquisition, is calling Atlanta his new home.
With the Red Sox's current roster, here are the locks for the bullpen:
Jonathan Papelbon, closer
Let's say the Red Sox go with 12 pitchers on the roster, with seven of those coming in the bullpen. Right now the Sox are looking at two empty bullpen spots. Looking at internal options, who fills the spots?
A recent acquisition, Atchison provides more depth. And if the Sox have him on their Opening Day roster, he either a) blew the team away in spring training or b) there's plenty of injuries. The latter is more likely. So, if Atchison is in one of these two spots, we better hope it's because he's fantastic in the spring.
Bonser is the most likely candidate as he can both start and relieve. If Bonser is on the Red Sox's Opening Day roster, it will most likely be in a long reliever type role. If the Sox are getting blown out -- or better yet, blowing a team out -- Bonser can come out of the 'pen and pitch some good innings. It will also make for an easy transition if he needs to start any games.
Bowden is in an interesting stage right now. He's proven he can play in Triple-A. He's ready for something bigger and better than that, but he hasn't had much success at the Major League level. He also hasn't had a lot of time to prove himself, either. The Red Sox don't have a spot in the starting rotation for him, but he could fill a Bonser-like role if he wants to be a long reliever. The Red Sox could also try and convert him to a reliever if need be. Bowden wants to stick in the bigs; this may be the best way for him to do that.
Cabrera was quite dominate for the Pawtucket Red Sox in 2009. He struck out nearly one batter per inning while opponents hit just .208 against him. His WHIP was a nifty little 1.12 in 55.1 innings. His callup to Boston, though, didn't go as well. He gave up five runs in 5.1 innings, but he did strike out eight batters. Small sample size doesn't sway in his favor, but the 28 year old still can offer the Sox a decent bullpen arm.
Castro is historically a starter, but could see bullpen action -- if the Red Sox get desperate. He doesn't struck out many batters, but he walks a lot. Oh, and he gives up a lot of hits, too. So basically, he's not going to do much for the Sox unless he can figure out those three problems first.
Ramon A. Ramirez
The other Ramon Ramirez. RamRam II has a great history against lefties -- a .218 batting average against in more than 270 innings -- but that might be the only thing he has going for him. He's a decent arm but like Atchison, shouldn't sniff the bullpen unless there are some serious issues already.
Perhaps the sleeper of the group, Richardson made his name in 2009. After a rough 2008 season (he racked up a 6.33 ERA in 106.2 innings of work for Double-A Portland), Richardson came out and made easy work of his competition last season. He struck out 80 in 63.1 innings to start the year in Portland before a promotion to Pawtucket. He worked just 10.2 innings in Pawtucket, but he allowed just two runs and struck out 17. Between Portland and Pawtucket, he held batters to a .191 batting average against. He had a cup of coffee late in the season for the Red Sox (he gave up three hits and a walk in 3.1 innings). Perhaps the impressive 2009 will get Richardson a foot in the door come February.
The names aren't sexy, but they have arms that could potentially work within the Red Sox's bullpen. Of course, these are only internal options. We haven't looked at the external options yet, which don't give off many good vibes either.
What do you think? If you had to choose one of these internal options to be in the Red Sox's bullpen, who would you pick? Would you rather have an experienced pitcher like a Cabrera or Atchison, or a younger arm like Richardson? Should the Sox look in free agency rather than these internal options? Are there any trades you'd like to see the Sox make?