September 26, 2010

On Baseball: Big changes may be in store, or not

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Adrian Beltre, David Ortiz and Victor Martinez rank 1-2-3 in RBI for the Boston Red Sox, and Ortiz and Beltre are the only Boston players with more than 20 home runs.

All three players could be gone in 2011.

Beltre and Martinez, both 31, are free agents and seeking rich, multiyear deals. Boston has a $12.5 million option on Ortiz, the designated hitter who turns 35 in the offseason.

But without those three, where does Boston get its pop?

Beltre is a Scott Boras client, so forget about looking for any discounts. Likewise, free agent slugging outfielder Jayson Werth of the Phillies just signed up with Boras.

Boras' forte is getting clients overpaid for seasons beyond their prime (ex: J.D. Drew).

Martinez said he's already rejected a two-year deal offered by Boston. The Red Sox must know it will take more than that.

As for Ortiz, he came back from a horrible start to get to a .261 average before the weekend, with 31 home runs and 96 RBI. Ortiz has shown signs of decline. Beside his slow starts the past two seasons, his numbers against left-handers keep diminishing (.205, two home runs, 21 RBI this year).

That said, Boston likely brings Ortiz back, at $12.5 million or a reworded deal for less money, but adding an extra year.

As usual, the Red Sox have some decisions to make.

Depending on who, if anybody, leaves, the Red Sox will know how much money they have to spend. There is already $21 million available with Mike Lowell retiring and Julio Lugo finally coming off the books.

Here is what we know (pending any unforeseen trades):

THE STARTERS will be Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Josh Beckett, John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka. All are under contract or club control at least through 2012 (Matsuzaka's last year). 

PART OF the bullpen is secure with Jonathan Papelbon and Daniel Bard. Papelbon becomes a free agent in 2012, which could be a good time to move Bard into the closer role.

THE OUTFIELD has J.D. Drew, Mike Cameron, Jacoby Ellsbury and Darnell McDonald under contract. Cameron will be 38 next year and may move to left, with Ellsbury returning to center. Against left-handers, McDonald can sub for Drew, who is hitting .201 against left-handers this year.

Ryan Kalish has been impressive since his call-up July 31, but Boston might still be patient with him. If any injury occurs, Kalish will be summoned immediately from Pawtucket. Kalish could replace a veteran (Cameron or Drew) in the second half if production is needed.

MIDDLE INFIELD features Dustin Pedroia back at second base, with Marco Scutaro still holding down shortstop until Jose Iglesias is ready (later 2011 or 2012). 

Here is what we don't know: 

FIRST BASE likely will feature Youkilis, unless Beltre bolts and Boston can't find a suitable replacement, necessitating Youkilis going to third base. Martinez could become the first baseman.

THIRD BASE depends on Beltre. He's a West Coast guy and his agent is Boras, so don't count on him staying. Youkilis is a possibility. The only other in-house option is Jed Lowrie.

From the minor leagues, Yamaico Navarro could develop into the role, but pushing for April of next year is not realistic. Will Middlebrooks is a prospect, but he hasn't seen Double-A yet.

CATCHER: Jarrod Saltalamacchia is the one sure thing, and he has only 250 games of major-league experience.

He could back up Martinez (who also can play first base or DH), or be the No. 1 catcher with Jason Varitek (39 next April) as the backup if Boston re-signs him.

That Saltalamacchia-Varitek tandem could be a reality if Martinez leaves or moves to first base.

(Continued on page 2)

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