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Thinking about the '10 Red Sox

Jeez. October's not even here, and Yawkey Way Academy's Troy Patterson is already worrying about next year:

    The Red Sox are facing a positional logjam heading into 2010. While later in the offse ason we'll be detailing replacement and reconfiguration ideas, a quick overview as this regular season winds down is an excellent way to start thinking towards next year. In particular, the Red Sox have two major concerns: defense and players that qualify at corner infield and DH.
    Their defense has been one of the worst in the league this year, ranking ninth from last in UZR/150 at -3.2; there's plenty of blame to go around. Only Dustin Pedroia and J.D. Drew have had UZR numbers totaling more than 10, which accounts for approximately 1 win via defense. Conversely, we have seen Mike Lowell, Jacoby Ellsbury and Jason Bay cost the team upwards of -10 UZR/150 each: an entire win per player!

    With the acquisition of Victor Martinez, we've seen Kevin Youkilis spend more time at third base than in recent years. His UZR/150 at third this year is -9. He used to be an extremely solid defender at third base, but his range has suffered as he began to develop more of a first baseman's frame over the past 1.5 seasons.

    --snip--

    How can you solve this one? All are under team control and only Youkilis has a deal for beyond 2010. Martinez has a team option for 2010, which is fairly cost efficient at $7 million dollars that will most likely be exercised. With a dreadful batting average and OBP this year, Ortiz would even be a tough sell to a non-sabermetrically inclined AL club.

    The solution here is not very clear. If you move Lowell, you have to fill third base. If you use Youkilis at third you might not be gaining much in defense over Lowell and losing at first base. If you acquire an outside player to fill that spot you are still stuck with too many players between first and DH. Unless Theo can drastically change the landscape of the infield, we may have one more year of dealing with a bloated configuration at the corners.

Since the All-Star break, Ortiz has a .253/.344/.500 line. Not great, but playable. I see him playing out his contract in 2010 as the Red Sox' No. 1 DH. Perhaps platooning with Victor Martinez, perhaps not (with Martinez often catching when Papi's DHing). Lowell's under contract next year, too: $10 million, so he's probably not going anywhere, either.
No, Lowell doesn't seem to be having a good season with the glove. Actually, he seems to be having a downright lousy season. But he's been pretty good before, and we might reasonably guess that with a little luck and a little health, he'll at least improve some next year.

If the Red Sox bring Varitek back next season, they'll have four players -- Varitek, Youkilis, Martinez, and Lowell -- for three positions. Considering that one of those guys can catch and play first base, and another can play first base and third base, this seems to me a manager's pleasure rather than a problem.

The only real question I see is left field. If Jason Bay re-ups, the Red Sox are simply stuck with his defense, which has been pretty lousy for a few years. If he doesn't, the Red Sox will just have to find a new left fielder, who would almost necessarily play better defensively than Bay. I do not agree with Patterson's suggestion that Jacoby Ellsbury take over in left field, with rookie Josh Reddick perhaps replacing Ellsbury in center.

Before this season, Ellsbury's numbers in the corner outfield spots were off the charts. In center, they were adequate. If those corner numbers are accurate, Ellsbury's valuable in left field ... but if those same numbers are accurate, there's no obvious reason to think he can't thrive in center field, too. Plus, Reddick doesn't hit enough to play every day in the majors. Not yet, anyway (he's only 22).

Ideally, the Red Sox would sign a star to play left field next season. But the biggest stars who might be available are probably Bay, Matt Holliday, and Hideki Matsui, all of whom are at least somewhat past their primes, with Bay and Holliday presumably looking for long-term and huge-money contracts.

There is one other, though: Carl Crawford. Crawford can hit, Crawford can run, and Crawford can play defense. He can really, really play defense. He's just turned 28, and figures to age well. Considering that the Yankees have no obvious need for a left fielder, the Red Sox' path to a new and exciting left fielder seems to be clear ...

Correction! I misread a list of potential free agents. Carl Crawford might be a free agent this winter ... but almost certainly not. The Rays have a $10 million option that they're sure to exercise, so Crawford will be a Red Sock next season only in the (exceptionally unlikely) event of a trade.