What’s Cooking on the Hot Stove for 2009?

Positions in Much Need of Attention


When Akinori Iwamura stepped on second base to record the final out of the ALCS, eliminating the Red Sox from the playoffs, the Rays also ended Jason Varitek’s career in Boston. In previous years, the Sox turned a blind eye to the limited offensive production the longtime Sox catcher provided at the bottom of the order because of his excellent game calling ability. Since signing a four year $40 million contract following the 2004 season, Varitek hit .256 (433-1693) with 64 homeruns, 236 RBIs and 448 strike outs. His best year was back in 2005 where he was 132-for-470 (.281) with 22 homeruns and 70 strike outs but since then he has gone down hill quickly. Varitek finished last season with a .220 batting average, .313 on-base percentage, .359 slugging percentage and a .672 OPS, all well below his career average.

Just like the quarterback position in football, trying to find a catcher who is a good game caller and adds some spark at the plate is nearly impossible. They are hard to come by, which is why there are only three elite catchers in Major League Baseball today, Russell Martin in Los Angeles, Joe Mauer in Minnesota and Brian McCann in Atlanta. And these players are all home-grown talent. The Red Sox have a great farm system but do not have any catchers who are ready or close to being ready to fill in the big shoes left by Varitek.

Heading into the 2008 season, the top catching prospect is Matt Wieters in the Baltimore Orioles organization. There is no way the Orioles will part ways with their number one prospect so the Sox are going to have to look else were. One solution is making a deal with the Texas Rangers’ catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. In the past the Red Sox had already expressed interest in the first year catcher and with Taylor Teagarden waiting in the wings, it makes Saltalamacchia expendable. After being acquired from the Braves for Mark Teixeira at the 2007 trading deadline, the Rangers used the rookie nearly as many times at first base as they did behind the plate (38 times at first, 47 at catcher). To make a deal for Saltalamacchia the Sox would have to part ways with either Clay Buchholz or Michael Bowden, probably leaning more towards Bowden with the way Buchholz pitched this year.

In a perfect world the Sox would sign Varitek to a one year contract to mentor the 23-year-old catcher. But with Scott Boras as his agent I do not see that happening any time soon. The Red Sox are in a similar predicament the Patriots faced in the first week of the season. Go with a stop gap veteran or go with the inexperienced.

Center field

If Jacoby Ellsbury really is the center fielder of the future, then this is the off-season to trade away Coco Crisp. His trade value will not get any higher so if the Sox are really looking into trading Crisp, now is the time to do it. Many expected Crisp to be traded before the end of the season but when the rookie struggled in the post-season was right there to step in and produce. In the post-season, Crisp was the Sox’s best hitter with a .417 batting average,a .517 on-base percentage, .500 slugging percentage and a 1.017 ops in seven games played. On the season the veteran outfielder, had his best season in a Sox uniform, with a line of .283/.344/.407/.751 at least ten points higher than his previous high in Boston (.268/.330/.382/.712 in 2007).

In his first full season in the big leagues, Ellsbury has not impressed the fans like he did in the 2007 post-season. Although he led the league in stolen bases with 50, the rookie hit .280 with nine homeruns, 47 RBIs as well as had an OBP of .336 and an OPS of .730. Not mention his 0-for-20 streak in the ALCS where he was replaced by Crisp in Game Five.


Biggest question here, is Jed Lowrie ready to be the starting shortstop for a full year? In half of season with the big club, Lowrie was just 67-for-260 (.258) with two homeruns, 46 RBIs, 35 walks and 60 strike outs. The first full year in the majors is always tough on young players as we saw with Ellsbury this past year so we do not know how Lowrie will respond with his first full season on a major league roster. After going through four shortstops in the last four years, the Red Sox need to take a different approach at the position. The Red Sox will most likely keep Julio Lugo on the roster and use him as an emergency plan should Lowrie look like he can not keep up with the physical demands of playing a full season in the majors, as what happened with Ellsbury.

#4 Hitter

Kevin Youkilis did an outstanding job as a clean-up hitter for the last two months of the regular season and playoffs but the Sox first baseman is not your typical #4 hitter. The Red Sox should make a concerted effort to sign Mark Teixeira to be their 2009 clean-up hitter. With Scott Boras as Teixeira’s agent, it will be difficult to sign the All-Star free agent but Theo Epstein has a good history with Boras and found ways of making the Super-Agent look foolish (i.e. Daisuke Matsuzaka).

If the Sox acquire Teixeira then the team has so many options. They can move Youkilis back across the diamond, because you do not know what Mike Lowell is going to be like following off-season hip surgery. Or if Lowell is healthy, they might entertain the option of using Youkilis’s low salary as trade bait for pitching. If the Sox do not acquire Teixeira, then all things are status-quo and they will go into the 2009 season with a .289/.385/.472/.857 hitter in Youkilis in the fourth slot in the order.

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