Footprints in the Snow is FanHouse's look at the paths to be forged by MLB teams this winter as they look ahead to 2009.
The Red Sox may have fallen short of the Rays in the AL East and in the ALCS in 2008, but despite the frustrating end to their season, they actually proved something quite significant and positive. The team that was once known mostly for a championship drought that spanned eight decades is now known as the premier franchise in baseball.
Boston has won the World Series twice since 2004 and been to the ALCS in four of the last six seasons. Perhaps more importantly, GM Theo Epstein has proven deft at mixing in new talent -- at providing stability while also keeping the roster fresh and young. Indeed, the Red Sox have won two championships with two almost entirely different groups of players.
That's going to be more important than ever going forward. The AL East has become a cruel beast and Tampa Bay, not Boston, has suddenly become the young, deep power in the division. With the Yankees looming as well, Epstein is going to have to keep working his magic. Get younger, Theo. Get better. Oh, and be a perennial World Series contender while you're at it.
Who May Leave?
Paul Byrd, SP, free agent
Sean Casey, 1B, free agent
Bartolo Colon, SP, free agent
Alex Cora, SS, free agent
Mark Kotsay, CF, free agent
David Ross, C, free agent
Curt Schilling, SP, free agent or retirement
Mike Timlin, RP, free agent or retirement
Jason Varitek, C, free agent
Julio Lugo and Coco Crisp could also be moved in trades
Much like the Rays, they don't really need to add anything else, save maybe a bullpen arm and a couple of bench players. But they are part of a three-team arms race in the AL East. When the bar is set at 95 wins, you have to keep getting better even if there doesn't seem to be an obvious place to do so.
What Should They Do?
Swallow hard and let Varitek go, for starters. The Red Sox aren't usually given to sentiment, but Varitek seems to be the exception to that rule. Still, it's time for him to go, just like it was time for Johnny Damon and Pedro Martinez to go in past seasons.
Unfortunately, that means they're probably going to have to make a trade for his replacement. A small catching market seems to have developed this winter, so they'll have options, depending on who they prefer and what they're willing to give up. Texas' Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Arizona's Miguel Montero would both fit the bill.
Boston has plenty of money to spend with approximately $40 million coming off the books, and it probably intends to use a good portion of it. Mark Teixeira is simply too good to ignore, especially with Mike Lowell's uncertain status coming off hip surgery. The Sox should sign Teix to bolster the middle of their order and probably add another starting pitcher like Ben Sheets or A.J. Burnett for depth. The crazy thing is, they probably won't have to increase payroll to do it.
Finally, they are going to have to at least explore trading Coco Crisp, Julio Lugo and Lowell (assuming they sign Teixeira). With Alex Cora gone, it might actually make sense to hold on to Lugo as a (very, very expensive) utility infielder. Ditto for Lowell, who will need to restore his value a little bit before a deal can be struck. But Crisp has re-established himself as a capable regular and the center field market is thin enough, that it seems like Boston may actually move him this time around after holding onto him through all of the last Hot Stove season.
What Will They Do?
Unless Varitek agrees to a short-term deal and a pay cut, this is probably going to be the end for him in Boston. Either way, the Sox seem likely to add a young catcher.
They do seem very serious about Teixeira. The rival Yankees don't seem quite as interested (at least not yet), so I do think he's going to end up in Boston. If you don't believe me, listen to Big Papi, who seems to want another big power threat in the lineup with him. The Sox will add another pitcher too -- the guess here is Derek Lowe because of the mutual interest in a reunion between the two clubs.
If the Red Sox add Teixeira, merely the best hitter on the market, and Lowe, maybe the best non-Sabathia pitcher available, they'll have to feel pretty good about themselves going into 2009.
They're already the early favorites to win the 2009 World Series. They have seemingly bottomless coffers and a farm system that is as deep as any in the game. Theo Epstein's vision way back when he took the reins in Boston has become a reality. The Red Sox are a juggernaut in just about every way, and that's not going to change any time soon.