More than a few observations after a season of despair (Boston) and one of promise (Portland):

For all of the talk of Boston needing new players, it still has four starting pitchers returning: Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey and Felix Doubront. If they fail, the Red Sox don’t win.

Ben Cherington’s No. 1 priority is a top starter. I feel better if Doubront and Lackey come into 2013 as the Nos. 4 and 5 in the rotation.

Boston could use a couple of spot starters to fill in when needed. Franklin Morales and Alfredo Aceves can fill that role.

Yeah, I said Alfredo Aceves; assuming he has not incinerated all bridges with the Red Sox.

Do Junichi Tazawa and Andrew Bailey go into spring training competing for the closer’s job?

Daniel Bard, a full-time reliever? Do we have to ask that question?

If the starters do their job and pitch deep into games, then Boston’s bullpen could be power (only Lester pitched more than 190 innings this season, going 205).

Cleveland starter Justin Masterson pitched 206 innings this year. Just saying.

The dilemma at shortstop is whether the capable Mike Aviles comes back as the starter or if Boston gambles with the future golden glove of Jose Iglesias, who batted .118 in 25 games.

Want to know the possible future shortstop? Xander Bogaerts. Speculation is he’s not quick enough and he’ll grow out of the position.

But he looked fine in Portland and Sea Dogs Manager Kevin Boles said his footwork “will get even better” as he matures.

Bogaerts could be among a slew of prospects that reach Boston sometime in 2013.

But in the name of Lars Anderson, don’t start counting your major leaguers until they get there.

Speaking of Lars, don’t forget the pitcher Boston obtained when it traded Anderson. Steven Wright has a potentially devastating knuckleball.

Pitchers Stolmy Pimentel and Drake Britton, the only healthy 40-man roster guys not called up this year, have to begin 2013 in Pawtucket, right?

Think the expectations for outfielder Bryce Brentz will go through the roof since the Triple-A postseason? He had six extra-base hits (two home runs) in his first five playoff games.

There will be Will Middlebrooks comparisons but few players shoot up that quickly.

The next third baseman to come to Portland will be the once-again touted Michael Almanzar, 21. Signed with a $1.5 million bonus when he was 16, Almanzar floundered with a .229 career average until last season in Class A Salem (.300, 12 home runs).

Almanzar is one of the seven Red Sox prospects starting play Tuesday in the Arizona Fall League, with pitchers Brock Huntzinger, Chris Martin, Ryan Pressly and Pete Ruiz, catcher Christian Vazquez and Brentz.

With Almanzar’s expected promotion to Portland, what will the Red Sox do with third baseman Kolbrin Vitek, a first-round draft pick in 2010? He played only 46 games last year with Portland because of various injuries, batting .242.

First baseman Travis Shaw wasn’t sent to Arizona but he did get extra time in the Florida Instructional League. Shaw, 22, is now an interesting prospect because of his position and his .915 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging average) over the past two seasons

How cool is it that future major league outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. is spending his offseason back at school, working toward his degree at the University of South Carolina?

How about a Sea Dogs rotation in 2013 that begins with Matt Barnes, Anthony Ranaudo and Brandon Workman? Could that match the 2005 Portland group that had Jonathan Papelbon and Lester in the mix?

Barnes, Ranaudo, Shaw, Bogaerts, Almanzar, Bradley this Portland lineup looks entertaining next season.

Now for the important question. Do the Sea Dogs promote a Josh Reddick bobblehead doll next year?

The Sea Dogs have a huge void to fill in finding Dean Rogers’ replacement. His voice made Hadlock homey.

One place where the Sea Dogs could improve is their use of the video board. I understand that commercials pay the bills, but how about more Red Sox highlights? (And 93 losses aside, there were some highlights).

Congratulations to the Sea Dogs’ assistant general manager, Liz Riley, on her nomination for Minor League Baseball’s Woman Executive of the Year.

Riley, 30, a Thornton Academy graduate and soccer/softball standout at Colby College, just finished her sixth season with the franchise.

Now that onetime Marlins prospect Adrian Gonzalez has been entered into the Sea Dogs Hall of Fame, is it time for Red Sox-affiliated Sea Dogs to be considered? Youk? 

Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or: [email protected]

Twitter: ClearTheBases