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While Theo Epstein holds that the Red Sox will not make any moves in what is shaping up to be the quietest winter meetings in years, there are certainly holes to be filled during the offseason. The Red Sox have already locked up American League Most Valuable Player Dustin Pedroia to a multi-year deal and may do the same with Kevin Youkilis.
The Red Sox also imported another arm from Japan, signing 22-year-old amateur Junichi Tazawa, who made waves by opting not to pitch in the Japanese professional leagues at all. He will, of course, join fellow countrymen Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima, and is a starter by trade, but there is no word on his role when he joins the big club with a potentially crowded rotation. The Red Sox do have three primary needs this offseason that Theo and company will need to address: a catcher, a power-hitter, and relief pitching.
First, Jason Varitek is a free agent, potentially leaving a void behind the plate. Varitek appears set to command a higher salary than the Sox may be willing to play for an aging catcher who is beginning to show wear and tear and reduced offensive output.
David Ross, the veteran backup acquired last season was also a free agent, but has since signed with Atlanta. He did not appear to be the full time answer anyway. Nor was Kevin Cash as the Red Sox set their sights on the plethora of Ranger catchers.
Texas just traded Gerald Laird to the Tigers, but have three young ones left: Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Taylor Teagarden, and Max Ramirez. With their surplus, a trade here would make sense for both teams. An interesting possibility is a short term signing of former Yankee Ivan Rodriguez to bridge the gap to a younger backstop.
The second need is power. With Manny Ramirez gone and injuries to David Ortiz and Mike Lowell reducing the offensive output of the club, the Red Sox appear to need a bonafide power hitter. If Big Papi is healthy again after this offseason, that in itself will be a big boost, but he would need some protection in the batting order. Youkilis, J. D. Drew, Jason Bay, and even Pedroia showed the home run stroke, but none are prolific or consistent RBI guys.
If the Red Sox do decide to deploy some cash this offseason, Mark Teixeira is the place to do it. He is one of the game’s elite hitters, hitting .308 with 33 home runs and 121 batted in for Atlanta and Los Angeles of Anaheim in 2008. In his six-year major league career, he has hit fewer than 30 home runs once, in his rookie season (26). He has a .290 career batting average and has topped .300 each of the last two seasons, which shows he is improving.
For all the positives of a Teixeira acquisition, something has to give as he would supplant Youkilis at first presumably. If Youk goes to third, suddenly Lowell is an expensive pinch hitter or he displaces someone in the outfield. The logical move would be to trade Lowell if the Red Sox can convince someone else he is healthy.
Finally, relief pitching was the weakness on this team in 2008. Fortunately, there are no questions about the ninth inning and the Red Sox could avoid the Francisco Rodriguez–Brian Fuentes derby. However, middle relief, like most teams, has lots of question marks. Okajima went from a rock solid setup man in 2007 to a starter’s worst nightmare in 2008, as he seemed to allow every inherited runner to score. Mike Timlin was far from the old reliable he had been for years and will not be back. Justin Masterson was a nice late season addition to the bullpen and may be slotted back there again, assuming the Red Sox find a fifth starter.
The Red Sox have already started to shore this up, getting 27-year-old Ramon Ramirez from Kansas City for Coco Crisp. Coco was an extra outfielder at this point, so the price was right. Ramirez has a 3.62 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, and strikes out nearly one per inning so far in his young career. Rumors had circulated around Fuentes last season as a set up man and that would not be a surprise if they could make it work. Will Ohman is a name that has surfaced surrounding the club. The former Brave has a 4.16 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, and strikes out just over one per inning.
The major presents have just begun to be opened this offseason with K-Rod signing in Queens and CC Sabathia set to put on pinstripes. With the Yankees also upping their offer to A.J. Burnett to include a fifth year, they may have secured a second starter for their beleaguered rotation.
There are still plenty of directions for the Red Sox to go and the front office has not failed to make something happen yet, but they cannot stand pat this off-season.