Unless you've been sleeping, hungover, or flat out of the loop, the Boston Red Sox have been busy little Yawkey Way bees. They've spun off several players in deals (Renteria and Mirabelli), have flirted with trade proposals including Trot Nixon, Matt Clement, Bronson Arroyo, Kevin Youkilis, and most obviously, Manny Ramirez. They've shaken up the GM situation by naming Ben Cherington and Jed Hoyer "Co-GMs", thankfully removing Jim Beattie and Jim Bowden from contention.
The team has been upgraded, but there are still concerns and questions about the team that will take the field in 2006. Assuming that the Red Sox will not trade Manny Ramirez (the latest rumors have the Mets and Baltimore in a three-way deal that involves Miguel Tejada coming to Boston) and will resign Johnny Damon. That puts our potential starting lineup as such:
The first seven spots in that lineup are ironclad, and full of run-producing talent. The Red Sox COULD go with Kevin Youkilis at first base, though many have said that his range and ability is limited there, an interesting thought considering he's really a third baseman?? Unfortunately, He appears headed for a platoon situation there. Like many Sox fans, I'd love to see what Youk can do a 500+ at-bat season, but it's not looking too good in that sense. Of course, it's more likely that he'll be traded this off-season while he has more value, especially if he's not in the plans long-term. Ken Huckaby has been signed to a minor-league contract, presumably to back up Varitek and catch Wakefield, though I personally believe that it's going to be Shoppach. Kelly has much more power in his bat, is younger, and should be Varitek's successor.
Shortstop is the other real sticker. The Red Sox could pursue free-agents Royce Clayton, Alex Gonzales, or even Pokey Reese to fill the hole for a year. Of these three, none sound like a winner. Clayton hit .270 last year and had only two homeruns. Gonzales batted .264 last year and made 16 errors, and Pokey was hurt. The other option is to bring Dustin Pedroia back over from second base to shortstop and plug the hole with him next year. It's a cheaper, in-house solution to a problem. While the Sox are less likely to rush Pedroia now that Mark Loretta is in at second, there's also a need for him. Pedroia was a stand-out shortstop in all three years in college, and into the minor leagues. I'd much prefer this option than another stop-gap.
In the future, however, Boston has a lot of choices to make. Mike Lowell is blocking Andy Marte, and Mark Loretta is blocking Dustin Pedroia, both are players Boston wants to get to the majors as quickly as possible without spoiling them. Let's assume that Boston goes with a stop-gap at shortstop for a year, giving Pedroia a year at shortstop in Pawtucket. Mike Lowell gets the start this year, and Marte gets another year in AAA (he's only 22). Youkilis will play 1B this year and platoon with Petagine. After 2006, Youkilis is traded to allow Lowell to play 1B in 2007, as Marte takes over. Pedroia takes over at SS. Loretta stays. For 2008, Jed Lowrie takes over at 2B for Loretta, Boston finds a new first baseman (or keep Lowell, who will only be 34 by then), and your infield includes Marte, Pedroia, and Lowrie.
The Red Sox still have options, however, when it comes to deals for the rest of this offseason. The following starting pitchers remain under Boston's control for 2006:
Wade Miller (must tender a contract by 12/20)
It's never a bad thing to have too much pitching. Wade Miller could be signed to an incentive deal, but David Wells is likely to be traded. He has some value, and Boston would be able to afford his departure. Even so, Either Papelbon or Arroyo is likely to start the season in the bullpen, which is not such a bad thing. Currently, the pen looks like this:
Boston could probably use a solid lefty reliever, but the bullpen is looking pretty good, especially if Timlin's load can be lessened by Mota/Van Buren/Hansen. Bronson Arroyo seems like a much better longman than John Halama too.
All in all, the team looks pretty good. The holes are there, but there's nothing that is a big problem. Damon will re-sign, and the shortstop situation will be resolved by Christmas. I'm confident that the 2006 Red Sox will be a very exciting team to watch. Spring Training couldn't seem farther away.