It is that time of year. The leaves have fallen, the air is crisp, and the final pitch has been thrown... It is Hot Stove Baseball Season!
At this time, every year, baseball fans in New England take time to reflect on the season that was, while looking ahead to the possibilities and opportunities that the next spring will provide. While the Sox have taken home two World Series titles in the past decade, the organization has been in sharp decline since the 2010 season. They hit their rock bottom (hopefully) in the 2012 season, under the direction of enigmatic Manager Bobby Valentine, posting a 69-93 record, the club's worst in over 40 years. There was a maligned clubhouse, led by the poor attitudes of Josh Beckett, John Lackey, and even the beloved Dustin Pedroia. Bobby Valentine, rather than dampening and suppressing the distractions, seemed to serve as a catalyst for the chaos.
State Of The Sox
So, let's take a look at where the Sox stand currently...
As soon as the last pitch of the 2012 season was thrown, Bobby Valentine was shown the door. The Boston brass knew exactly who they wanted, and spared no expense to secure the current Toronto skipper, and former Sox pitching coach, Jon Farrell. To accomplish this they needed to send infielder Mike Aviles to the Jays as compensation. The Sox were also able to retain the services of their franchise slugger, David Ortiz. The 36 year old DH was locked up for the next two seasons at over $13 million per year.
With the August trade of Becket, Gonzalez, and Crawford, along with the likely departures of Cody Ross and James Loney, there are some major holes to be filled.
First Base: This is a big question mark. Prospect Jerry Sands seems to be lined up to be the every day first baseman, but that is also for lack of better options. James Loney is likely moving on, and unless the Sox bring in a Free Agent such as Napoli or Carlos Pena, this will likely be a platoon position for the upcoming season.
Second Base: Despite his character issues that appeared in 2012, this is Dustin Pedroia's home for the foreseeable future.
Third Base: Will Middlebrooks emerged as an excellent hot-corner player. He is offensively gifted, and defensively serviceable. If he can stay healthy he will be consistent pillar in the middle of this lineup.
Shortstop: Jose Iglesias has struggled offensively, and has not quite performed to his potential as of yet. They do have another top prospect in the pipeline, Xander Bogartz, but he is not quite major-league ready. Look for Iglesias to split some time with the surprisingly productive Pedro Ciriaco next season.
Outfield: The Sox have some BIG question marks to address this off-season. The top priority has to be for them to determine the future of Jacoby Ellsbury. When healthy, this 28 year old center fielder is among the best in the game, offensively and defensively. However, he seems to spend more time recovering from injury than he spends on the field. As this is a contract year for Ellsbury, Ben Cherington needs to either make a trade, or fork over a nine-figure contract to this enigmatic player. Beyond Jacoby, the rest of the Sox outfield is also in flux. They are unlikely to retain Cody Ross, and their top outfielding prospect, Jackie Bradley is still at least a year away from seeing Major league action. Expect to see some sort of free agent action to address the corner outfielders. They have kicked the tires on veteran Torii Hunter, and will likely be in the bidding for Nick Swisher and Jason Bay. However the chips may fall, expect to see a very different outfield in 2013.
This should be the most interesting Hot Stove season in New England in quite a while, so stay tuned for more Sox On The Stove in the coming weeks.
- Kevin Aherne
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