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A roster of issues

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  October 21, 2008 08:59 AM

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HIDEKI OKAJIMA
Contract status: Signed through 2009 ($1.75 million.)

Prognosis: As Epstein noted late during the season, Okajima's performance last season probably led to unrealistic expectations in 2008. Is he a dominating set-up man? No. But at $1.75 million, Okajima is one of the better middle relievers and situational set-up men in the game. Like Delcarmen, his performance improved after Masterson took over the eighth inning.

JONATHAN PAPELBON
Contract status: Under team control through 2011; eligible for arbitration.

Prognosis: One of the more dominating closers in the game, Papelbon would love a long-term deal. The question is whether the Sox are comfortable about giving him one. Given the relatively short lifespan of most closers, don't be surprised if the Sox opt to go year-to-year with him in much the same way the Los Angeles Angels have with Francisco Rodriguez.

MIKE TIMLIN
Contract status: Free agent.

Prognosis: Everyone expects Timlin to retire, and his exchanges with teammates and Sox personnel following Sunday's loss only reinforced that. At the end, he clearly wasn't the same pitcher he was when he arrived in Boston prior to the 2003 season. As it was, overall, he had six solid years here. Kudos to you if you ever thought he would be here that long.

TIM WAKEFIELD
Contract status: Sox hold club option for 2009 ($4 million).

Prognosis: Can everyone stop with the overreactions? So Wakefield had a bad outing in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series. So what? At $4 million per, Wakefield is still one of the best bargains in baseball. If the Sox bring him back and he can't pitch – which is doubtful – they'll still pay him half of what they paid Curt Schilling this year.

OTHERS
Presumably Schilling will retire. The Sox obviously have some promising but unproven pitching depth to deal (or keep) in the form of Clay Buchholz, Michael Bowden, and Daniel Bard, among others. Overall, the pitching staff is in good shape because the Sox have built great depth, which allows Epstein to operate from a position of strength.

POSITIONAL PLAYERS

JASON BAY
Contract status: Signed through 2009 ($7.5 million)

Prognosis: All signs point to the Red Sox exploring a contract option with him during the offseason, though there is also the possibility of a trade here if the Sox opt to take a run at, say, Matt Holliday. At the moment, the preferred option to improve the offense is a free agent (Mark Teixeira), but the Sox need backup plans. In any case, Bay proved that he is a great asset here.

SEAN CASEY
Contract status: Free agent.

Prognosis: A nice addition to the Sox clubhouse during the season, Casey saw Mark Kotsay pass him on the depth chart during the postseason. All indications are that Casey won't be back in 2009, which means the Sox need to find a backup corner infielder, particularly at first base. Of course, if they sign Teixeira, Kevin Youkilis can back up at first.

KEVIN CASH
Contract status: Under team control through 2011; eligible for arbitration.

Prognosis: Unfortunately for Cash, the situation with Jason Varitek has thrust him into a state of flux. If the Sox anticipate a reduced role for Varitek in 2009, Cash may not give them enough offense at the backup catcher position. If Varitek goes, the chances of Cash returning actually seem a little greater. Clearly he can handle Wakefield.

ALEX CORA
Contract status: Free agent.

Prognosis: Cora has lost a step or two in the field, but he still catches everything he gets to and he can still throw. Depending on what happens at shortstop, there is still the possibility he could be back. But if Lowrie and Lugo are both with this team next spring, it seems hard to imagine that the Sox could carry Cora, too.

COCO CRISP
Contract status: Signed through 2009 ($5.75 million) with a club option ($8 million) for 2010.

Prognosis: A year ago at this time, Crisp seemed like a lock to be traded. Instead, he was the starting center fielder for the final games of the ALCS. If the Sox want to trade him now, Crisp's value seems much higher given his play over the final months. The Sox have been rewarded for their patience here. A definite bargaining chip.

J.D. DREW
Contract status: Signed through 2011 ($14 million per season).

Prognosis: We've said it before and we'll say it again: Drew is not a superstar, but when he's on the field, he is fundamentally sound. The Red Sox overpaid for him two years ago, but they have the financial flexibility to absorb the contract without much penalty. Not many other teams could afford Drew at $14 million per, but the Sox can.

JACOBY ELLSBURY
Contract status: Under team control through 2013; ineligible for arbitration.

Prognosis: Two steps forward, one step back. Ellsbury was slumping again when the Sox bumped him from the starting lineup during the postseason. Still, Ellsbury is a dynamic young player whose skills and salary make him affordable to most every club, including the Red Sox. We said this last year, but aren't the odds that he or Crisp will be traded?

MARK KOTSAY
Contract status: Free agent.

Prognosis: Forget the batting average. Kotsay is a solid, sound professional who could help the Sox in number of areas, as he proved during the postseason. His play at first base will only improve his marketability. Kotsay wants to play everyday and the likelihood is that he will end up elsewhere, which means the Sox will have a hole on the bench. Think Trot Nixon can play first?

MIKE LOWELL
Contract status: Signed through 2010 ($12.5 million per season).

Prognosis: The Red Sox seem optimistic that Lowell will return to full health after hip surgery, but there is concern nonetheless. Lowell is a solid player and a true professional, but the Sox seemed reluctant to re-sign him last offseason. If the Sox can sign Teixeira, don't be surprised if they try to trade Lowell – though they may have to eat some money.

JED LOWRIE
Contract status: Under team control through 2014; ineligible for arbitration.

Prognosis: Defensively, we know he can play shortstop everyday. Offensively, we're not entirely sure yet. Lowrie looks like he would make a great utility player – the Sox have considered working him some at first base – but he obviously has far more value as an everyday shortstop. With Cora and Julio Lugo involved, there are lots of moving parts here.

JULIO LUGO
Contract status: Signed through 2010 ($9 million per season) with a vesting option for 2011.

Prognosis: In Boston, the shortstop position will heretofore be known as The Money Pit. Lowrie is a better shortstop and Lugo doesn't seem to have either the defensive skills or versatility to be a particularly good utility man. If the Sox want to trade him, logic suggests they will have to eat at least $10 million of the $18 million remaining on Lugo's contract. The Sox could be stuck here.

DAVID ORTIZ
Contract status: Signed through 2010 ($12.5 million per season) with a club option for 2011 ($12.5 million).

Prognosis: Ortiz obviously suffered through some injuries this year, but we now have to wonder whether he is the same offensive player anymore. Can he still help the Red Sox? Of course. Will he be here in 2009? Almost certainly. But if Ortiz is in fact on the decline, the Red Sox need more thunder in the middle of the lineup. Hence their interest in Teixeira.

DUSTIN PEDROIA
Contract status: Under team control through 2012; ineligible for arbitration.

Prognosis: Pound-for-pound, what we have here is one of the very best players in baseball. Pedroia has no contract leverage at the moment, but don't be surprised if the Sox try to lock him up by buying out his arbitration years. At the same time, don't be surprised if Pedroia takes the Kevin Youkilis route and turns them down unless he gets what he's worth. Which is a lot.

JASON VARITEK
Contract status: Free agent.

Prognosis: Here's a tip: Prepare now for the spin control as this could get nasty. The Sox want him back, but on their terms. Meanwhile, despite the slip in production and Varitek's age -- he'll be 37 in April -- agent Scott Boras is likely to enter negotiations with unrealistic demands. If the Red Sox turn him loose, they need to find a replacement. But where?

KEVIN YOUKILIS
Contract status: Under team control through 2010; eligible for arbitration.

Prognosis: A year ago, the Sox approached Youkilis about a long-term deal and he turned them down because both he and his agent (Joe Bick) felt the club's offer was unfairly low. Then he went out and had an MVP-caliber season. For all the money the Sox have thrown at players like Drew and Lugo, they haven't been quite as forthcoming with their own. Big game of chicken here.

OTHERS
In the last three seasons, the Sox' farm system has produced Pedroia, Ellsbury, and Lowrie, all good players, The only void has been a true power hitter, which the Sox believe they have in someone like first baseman Lars Anderson. This year, in a time split between Single A and Double A, Anderson batted .317 and slugged .517. But if the Sox sign Teixeira, is Anderson trade bait? Or is he a long-term replacement for Ortiz?

Tony's Top 5

Favorite blog entries

5
The final chapter on Teixeira and How Red Sox pitchers work the strike zone Jan. 7, 2009 and July 17, 2009. Some actual reporting – an obsession with Mark Teixeira and the art of pitching.
4
For 2011 Red Sox, there was plenty of blame to go around Oct. 1, 2011. The disgraceful collapse of the Red Sox stoked the fire in all of us.
3
Behind Garnett and James, Celtics and Heat are digging in June 4, 2012. Improbably, the Celtics pushed the Heat to the limit.
2
Thrill is back for Patriots Jan. 30, 2012. Another Super Bowl has even Bill Belichick musing.
1
You’ve got to believe June 15, 2011. On the morning of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, we all had reason to believe.
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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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