It seems like since the offseason began, the opening in the Red Sox roster that has garnered the most attention has been who will be playing first and third in 2010. About a million rumors and 2 months later, a lot of fans feel that question is largely unresolved.
Anywhere you look on the internet, TV, or radio, everyone has their own opinion on what the best idea for the Red Sox would be in the coming year. These range from standing pat as we are now to trading anything they want and taking on $20 million a year for Miguel Cabrera. Lets just examine a few of these options and the pluses and minuses of each possibility.
The fact is, despite the uncertainty at this position, the Red Sox lineup as it stands today has a glut of corner infielders. Kevin Youkilis is probably the only one that makes every reasonable scenario's lineup as a corner infielder. Victor Martinez has been playing more first base lately, and some people feel that it is important to be able to keep him in the lineup in this position when he is having an off day from catching. Casey Kotchman has proven in the past that he can have an effective bat when played everyday, and everyone loves his defense. Mike Lowell is always an effective hitter and up until 2009, was a gold-glove caliber defender at the hot corner and since he requires minor surgery, it looks like we'll have trouble moving him this offseason. Though he hasn't played a ton of games there, in 2008, Jed Lowrie managed to post a UZR of 2.1 in just 45 games at third base, showing that he could be a great defender at the position.
With all this to choose from, why is everyone still clamoring for Theo to pay the big bucks or sell the farm for a new corner infielder?
There are divided opinion on what exactly is needed. Many people remember feeling helpless during the ALDS or a few other series (notably a Tampa and NY road trip) where the Sox could not hit the ball or score any runs. These people are scared that the loss of Jason Bay and the lack of adding any really significant offensive figures will ruin the club's chances for 2010.
Other people will point out that the Sox had the 3rd highest runs scored in baseball, including a more productive offensive year than in 2007 and feel that the real answer for the Red Sox in 2010 is to shore up the defense (which by pretty much all accounts was fairly atrocious last year). I tend to fall more in the camp of people in favor of strong defense, though no doubt the true answer is some happy medium of the two- while we need stronger defense in 2010, we can't sacrifice too much offense in the tradeoff or we'll be right back where we started, watching other teams fight for the World Series.
It's a given that the weakest defensive part of the Sox order was the entire left side- Bay was not a good defender, due to a recovering hip, Lowell was atrocious, and the rotating shortstops throughout the year were frightening to watch until Alex Gonzalez came over from the Reds. The outfield defense has been addressed, and should be strong for 2010. The shortstop position is solidified (knock on wood!) with the addition of Marco Scutaro.
This would leave third base as the one question mark, although because Youk is so versatile, the Sox have the freedom to decide whether a first baseman or third baseman would be a better addition to the club. So let's look at the options:
Adrian Gonzalez- Certainly the most rumored-about, and the player that has Red Sox Nation the most excited is San Diego first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. In addition to being a Gold Glove-caliber first baseman, he brings a bat that is capable of 40 homers even though half his games were at the cavernous Petco Park, and an away OPS of 1.045 in 2010. In addition to this, he is signed to a very team-friendly contract for the next two years. The downside? He will cost a TON in future talent, and with Jed Hoyer and Jason Mcleod being in San Diego, they are well familiar with the upsides and downsides of the Sox farm system, making a deal probably more difficult. Acquiring Gonzalez could also throw a question mark in our incredibly solid rotation, as Buchholz would almost certainly have to be a part of any deal.
Adrian Beltre- Through the years in Seattle, Beltre has proved to be one of the best defensive third basemen baseball has ever seen, making ridiculous plays seemingly with ease. Beltre would be a sure way to guarantee we had one of the best defenses through and through in 2010. His bat has suffered of late, although his splits away from the very pitcher friendly Safeco field are much more promising. At Fenway, he probably projects to have a bat similar to what Lowell has given the Sox in recent years, with probably a few more home runs. There are two downsides to him. First of all, he spent much of last year injured, and although they don't look like recurring injuries, it means that his performance is somewhat questionable. The second is that his agent, the much-maligned Scott Boras is asking for much more money than he is worth- something like 3 years for $13-15 million. It is likely that this will drop as no teams seem interested at that price, but will it drop enough that the Sox can afford it? As I examined in a recent article, the Sox are currently VERY close to reaching the Luxury tax limit for 2010, and it is very much in their best interests to stay under it if at all possible.
Miguel Cabrera- is probably not available, but is worth a mention because some fans would love to see him here. He is one of the best hitters in baseball and his defense at first has actually been improving over the years, despite what some people would have you think. The downside is he would add $20 million/year to the payroll for 6 years, and because the Tigers have $60 million coming off their payroll in 2011, any team would need to pay up in prospects as well to acquire him. This is to say nothing of his questionable behavior which may have well cost his team last year an AL Central title.
Miguel Tejada (aren't we getting a little repetitive with first names??)- this former MVP shortstop has so far resisted switching to third base, but with more teams questioning his range for shortstop, his thirst for winning may be able to bring his solid bat and solid glove to the hot corner in Boston. Though his range has declined, he is a very solid fielder and would probably provide good defense at third. He also brings a good bat for average with some pop to the lineup. He's not one of the more exciting names on the market, but is a great all-around player with a thirst for winning who will probably come cheaper and for a shorter time commitment than options like Beltre (and as we've since, this could be the difference makers.
Mark Derosa- I hope not. Derosa has been linked to the Sox, though his declining fielding, weakening bat, and outrageous asking price make him fairly unattractive.
Mike Lowell- We all are well aware of how he performed last year and the struggles he went through. At the same time, his bat remained solid, if unexceptional. We have been unable to trade him because of the minor surgery he requires and at that point, stuck with his $12 million for 2010 and with very little breathing room under the Tax limit, maybe it is the Sox best option to see how he recovers and give him one last shot in Spring Training to see if he is back to the Mike Lowell that won RSN over in 2007. He has claimed that he has been able to do his full lower half conditioning this year, which he was unable to last year, and feels like that was a lot of the reason for his struggle. The doctors have also said it takes a full year for the hip to heal from the surgery it had, which would place him as healed in time for this year. Even if his hip is better, he is increasingly more and more injured- is he too much of a risk for the club to bring into the season?
Casey Kotchman- Casey Kotchman is an exception defensive first baseman and at his peak, has been an acceptable everyday offensive first baseman. He has the advantage of already being in the teams' plans for not too much money and like I said, excellent defense. Personally I don't think that having him in the lineup is worth putting Youk at third, where he is defensively weaker.
Jed Lowrie- though he's my pick for utility infielder, Lowrie is most likely to have to pick up slack at third base and, in 2008, proved he can do that quite effectively. His bat (when healthy) is probably a little weak for third, though that may improve with more ABs. There is always the eternal question of when he will possibly be healthy and ready to play full-time again.
Victor Martinez- OK so he's the everyday catcher for 2010, but he is an important piece of the puzzle so he needs mention. His defense is fine for first, but nothing great. His bat is also good at first, but again, nothing exceptional.
How do I think this will play out:
Personally, what I see as the most likely scenario is Lowell coming into ST as our third baseman with Youk as our first baseman, like last year. If Lowell cannot perform well enough to help the team, I expect him to be dropped or traded for peanuts to someone who needs a field-less bat, with Kotchman stepping in at first and Youk moving over at third.
I imagine the Red Sox seeing how this plays out, if the improved pitching and defense can carry the weakened offense, and if it looks like a struggle, making a strong play for Adrian Gonzalez at midseason, when the Padres are more likely to be willing to move him and he will still be able to help us down the stretch.
In this scenario, I also imagine Varitek's role will be catching against lefties, where his bat is not so bad. On those days, Martinez will probably DH instead of Papi if Lowell is in the lineup, playing to everyone's strengths, or play first if Kotchman is in the lineup.
My personal favorite scenario is somehow finding the money to sign Beltre, but after taking a solid look at the Red Sox finances for 2010, I'll be the first to admit this is unlikely.
What do you think? Is there anyone I missed? Is there a scenario you think is more likely?
And congrats if you made it through my long-winded post.