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When Theo Epstein and company make their way to the General Manager and Winter Meetings, in addition to a reunion with new Padres GM Jed Hoyer, they will be pondering the Red Sox 2010 merry-go-round at first base, third base, catcher and designated hitter.
Boston heads into the off-season with Kevin Youkilis, Mike Lowell, Casey Kotchman, David Ortiz, George Kottaras, and likely Victor Martinez, Jason Varitek or both, to occupy four positions each game…and that is without a potential trade for Adrian Gonzalez.
Since taking over as the Red Sox first baseman in 2006, Youkilis appeared in at least 125 games per year at first base through the 2008 season. In 2009, with the injury to Mike Lowell, acquisition of Victor Martinez, and his own short stint on the disabled list, Youkilis appeared at first base in just 78 games.
Martinez, who was coming off an injury plagued 2008 season, appeared at first base in 70 games in 2009 during his time with the Indians and Red Sox.
Casey Kotchman appeared at first base in 135 games in 2008 and 114 in 2009. He had been the starting first baseman for the Angels and Braves in the 2007 and 2008 season before arriving in Boston as a bench player.
Red Sox fans have grown accustomed to Jason Varitek suiting up nearly every day to go out and handle the pitching staff, but with the Victor Martinez acquisition, the front office signaled a changing of the guard. While he appeared at catcher in 108 games in 2009, Varitek donned the mask in 131 and 125 games in 2008 and 2007. By comparison, Martinez caught in 85 games in 2009, 55 in his injury-plagued 2008 campaign, 121 in 2007 and 133 back in 2006. Both the Red Sox and Indians limited Victor’s time behind the plate this year, using him frequently at first base. Martinez’s most likely partner is Sox backup catcher George Kottaras, who hit .237/.308/.387 – for a .696 OPS compared to Martinez’s .303/.381/.480 line for an .861 OPS. Assuming the Red Sox handle Martinez the same way next year, Kottaras could see more playing time and become a target as the weak spot in the lineup.
Mike Lowell was a stalwart at third base in 2006 and 2007, appearing in 153 and 154 games, respectively. However, those numbers dropped to 110 and 107 for 2008 and 2009. In addition to the Victor Martinez pickup, this reduced availability paved the way for Kevin Youkilis to set a career high in games played at third base (63), his natural position.
Jed Lowrie, a likely candidate for the shortstop job, appeared at third base in 45 games during the 2008 season and four games in his injury-shortened 2009. Lowell appeared in another eight games as the designated hitter though Ortiz dominated the playing time with 138 games as the DH.
The Red Sox enter the offseason with at least five players who could start at four positions, with Youkilis and Martinez capable at two each. Should Varitek return, they would have six players, all accustomed to starting. An Adrian Gonzalez acquisition could increase this number to seven. Gonzalez has been a rock at first base, appearing in at least 155 games per season the last four years.
Depending on how Ortiz fares in 2010, Martinez could see more of his non-catching games at DH rather than first. When you also consider that Youkilis could fill in for Bay or his replacement in left and then move to third in 2011 when Lowell’s contract expires, things can get interesting.
The first two scenarios are the most likely. A lot depends on who the backup catcher is: Kottaras, Varitek or another player yet to enter the discussion. How much playing time the backup receives could push Martinez back over the 100-game mark or give the Red Sox the flexibility to keep his bat fresh and his innings in a crouching position limited. However they work it out, there are a lot of options to consider.