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The Red Sox infield is where the offensive prowess lies, headlined by reigning American League Most Valuable Player Dustin Pedroia. Kevin Youkilis, another MVP candidate, helps to anchor the right side of the infield while the rest might not solidify until after the season begins.
Mike Lowell battled a hip injury to close out the 2008 season and David Ortiz (included here because he is a first baseman when he is not a designated hitter) is trying to rebound from a subpar season due to his bad wrist. Julio Lugo will return from injury and try to displace Jed Lowrie at shortstop. After a contentious offseason, Jason Varitek will be back with the Red Sox for at least one more season.
With Varitek returning to the club, the Red Sox lost no infielder of consequence, leaving the team only to deal with questions arising out of injuries. If Lowell and Ortiz specifically are healthy, the infield group should provide the pitchers with good run support. However, if they are not completely healed or the injuries are re-aggrivated, this group could look completely different. Youkilis or Lowrie could slide over to third in the event Lowell misses some games. Lowell or J. D. Drew would likely be DH candidates should Big Papi need a break.
It should be noted that the Red Sox are eyeing a reduced role for Varitek. He no longer will be catching every day except for Tim Wakefield‘s turn as he has begun to be hit with nagging injuries and his bat is no longer a threat. His batting average has dropped precipitously in recent years, down to .220 last year from .255 in 2007 and .296 in 2004.
His defense, ability to call a game, and prowess at managing the pitching staff, some of them young guys, make him a valued commodity to the Red Sox and he will look to impart that to backup Josh Bard, a veteran short-term answer, and rookies Dusty Brown and George Kottaras, should the Red Sox elect to keep one of them on the roster.
The team seems to like Jed Lowrie over Julio Lugo, who was injured last season and not consistent enough for the Sox’ taste. The loss of Alex Cora does sap some depth and defense from the middle infield. Pedroia and Youkilis are going to have to be rocks for this group most likely. When healthy, Papi, Youk, Pedroia, and Lowell could each hit 20 home runs and power the batting order. The measuring stick for how good the infield is going to be is how many games they play together.
Unlike the outfield or the pitching staff, there is not a lot of depth here, so the margin of error is smaller.