BOSTON — The best part about the coming offseason for Red Sox fans is they can wonder how the team will try to repeat.
That, as opposed to last offseason, when an ugly 2012 provided little hope nor interest in what the Red Sox were cooking up for 2013.
Funny what a World Series title will do. There’s interest. Hope renewed. And confidence in what General Manager Ben Cherington decides (well, to a point; this is baseball and this is New England and, well, let’s just say there are a few opinions out there).
So what decisions need to be made?
Let’s take a look:
Starting pitching: A blessing of abundance. Unlike 2005 when the Red Sox had not re-signed World Series pitchers Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe, Boston has everyone back, and then some.
Six starters return. Is that a problem?
One thought is to have all six come into spring training. Injuries happen and Boston could be covered. If all six come through spring training healthy, then one becomes a long reliever/spot starter, not to mention insurance for later.
But who would that be? Ryan Dempster, 36, and Jake Peavy, 32, are candidates, but it’s doubtful either would embrace the role. Felix Doubront could be the guy, although he will be too valuable as a starter if his development continues.
The other thought is a trade, shipping off Dempster or Peavy.
Of course, Boston is loaded with pitching prospects, including Brandon Workman, Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa.
Bullpen: Joel Hanrahan is a free agent and probably won’t be ready until at least May, coming back from Tommy John surgery. Boston declined an option on lefty Matt Thornton, who wasn’t good enough to make the postseason roster. Everyone else is under contract.
Catcher: Jarrod Saltalamacchia enjoyed a fine season, slumped in the World Series and was replaced by David Ross. Saltalamacchia is a free agent, leaving several options.
Sign Saltalamacchia and keep him and Ross for one more year. That might leave Ryan Lavarnway on the trade market, although he does have a minor league option for 2014.
If Boston lets Saltalamacchia go, then it could be Ross and Lavarnway. Or Boston could go after another catcher (Brian McCann?).
First base: Mike Napoli is a free agent, and his agent reportedly wants a multiyear contract. Napoli also has said as much. So Boston won’t get away with a one-year deal this time.
Option one is to sign him. If Napoli goes, then Boston could go after another first baseman or piece the position together with what they have – Daniel Nava, Mike Carp and maybe even Will Middlebrooks (depending on the shortstop/third-base situation).
Second base: We can skip this one.
Shortstop: Stephen Drew, 30, is a free agent. He hit well enough during the season and his defense is superb, which figures to have his agent, Scott Boras, asking for the moon.
If Drew comes back, then Middlebrooks and Xander Bogaerts compete for the third-base job.
If Drew leaves, Bogaerts and Middlebrooks could occupy the left side of the infield.
Third base: See shortstop.
Outfield: Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes, Nava, Carp and Quintin Berry are back, as is Jackie Bradley Jr., who didn’t make the postseason roster.
Jacoby Ellsbury, 30, is a free agent. He is an elite player and his agent is Boras. That combination usually means a mega-contract. Boston may pass.
If Ellsbury leaves, Bradley Jr. could be thrown into center. Victorino could play there, but Boston would hate to lose his defense in right. Gomes and Nava can share left.
So all in all, it doesn’t look like a huge roster shakeup. Cherington and crew likely have targeted who they want to keep and who to let go.
Let the offseason begin.
Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or: [email protected]Twitter: ClearTheBases