To kick off the free-agency season, ESPNBoston.com asked its two resident experts -- Gordon Edes and Peter Gammons -- five key questions about the building of the 2010 Boston Red Sox. What follows are their answers:
1. Do you think the Red Sox will sign Jason Bay?
Gammons: In the end, I think they will re-sign Bay, for somewhere in the four-year, $64 million range. It's difficult to read who will compete with them. The Mets won't go beyond that, although Citi Field is not a bad place for a right-handed hitter. I don't think Seattle will sign him because they'll use Dustin Ackley, Franklin Gutierrez and Ichiro Suzuki and have the best defensive outfield in baseball. The Angels? Maybe, but they have to deal with Chone Figgins and replacing John Lackey. The Giants -- with Edgar Renteria, Barry Zito and Aaron Rowand -- have signed some of the worst contracts the past few offseasons, but is a little extra worth it to Bay to go to a park and hit 15 homers? This is not about agents, it's about players. If the Sox don't sign Bay and cannot get Holliday, they may go for some combination of Xavier Nady, Jeremy Hermida and/or Rick Ankiel.
Edes: In the end, I do think they keep him, because I can't see anyone outbidding the Red Sox by so much that he feels compelled to leave. Unless some Madoff money turns up, I can't see the Mets blowing away the field, and they need a pitcher more (Lackey, perhaps?). The Giants could use the bat, though Bay's defense gets exposed on the Bay; Seattle might be tempted, but they've gone down this road before (Richie Sexson, Adrian Beltre) and Jack Zduriencik has other ideas. The Cardinals bear watching if they don't keep Matt Holliday.
2. What will the Red Sox do to fill the shortstop void?
Gammons: They can still sign Alex Gonzalez for $2 million; he could end up at $800,000 if he waits too long. The Red Sox believe Jed Lowrie can be an adequate defender with 50 extra base hits per season, but need depth -- Marco Scutaro perhaps.
Edes: The Sox passed on Gonzalez's option, but as Peter notes, they can easily keep him at a reduced rate, which I expect will be the plan, with Lowrie getting first call at the every-day job. No sense in making a long-term commitment to anybody else, not when the advance notices on the Cuban, Jose Iglesias, are so spectacular.
3. Do you expect the Red Sox to make a blockbuster trade?
Gammons: I think the only way they make a blockbuster is (1) if they get frustrated with the Josh Beckett contract extension negotiations and can get three prime prospects for him; or (2) they think they can get Adrian Gonzalez or Felix Hernandez without gutting their future. They are in a precarious short-term/long-term place right now, and realize 2010 and 2011 may be slight downturns until they retool for a big and long run beginning in 2012. I'm skeptical on a Gonzalez deal. "Jed [Hoyer] knows us too well," one Red Sox official told me earlier this month. "He's going to ask for Casey Kelly and Westmoreland, and they're the best we have and we're not trading them."
Edes: It wouldn't be a Theo Epstein winter without exploring the possibilities. The Sox would love Adrian Gonzalez, but does new San Diego GM Hoyer, a former Theo sidekick, trade away the one player who makes it worth being a Padres fan anymore? From a baseball standpoint, maybe it makes sense if Hoyer can pry away three or four pieces from the Sox, but I think it's a long shot. Another run at Roy Halladay looks more plausible to me for Boston.
4. Besides Bay, will the Red Sox add another big bat?
Gammons: Other than left field, I do believe they'll dabble in the bat world, depending on what they think they're hearing on the health of David Ortiz and Mike Lowell. There has been talk of moving Lowell to first and Kevin Youkilis to third, which would take pressure off Lowell, although he could be better physically 18 months off the hip surgery. They may go for a right-handed bat who can play center and right, and Florida's Cody Ross has long intrigued them; if the Marlins would do a Ross-Manny Delcarmen (whom they tried to get in July) swap, that could be a possibility.
Edes: For 2010, I believe the extra offense is projected to come from a full season of Victor Martinez, a healthier Mike Lowell and a bounce-back season from David Ortiz. The improvement otherwise will come incrementally, in pieces like Hermida.
5. Do you expect the Red Sox to add a starting pitcher in free agency? What's your projected rotation for next season?
Gammons: A rotation of Beckett, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield should open the season, barring a deal. I do think they'll make runs at Ben Sheets and Rich Harden, and they will closely monitor Junichi Tazawa and Michael Bowden in spring training to see if they've made improvements. Epstein is going to sit down with Kelly in the next month and make it clear they want him to pitch, and the way he is growing -- they think he's going to be 6-foot-4 and grow into a power pitcher with exceptional feel and command -- he could be in Boston by the end of the 2010 season. They think they will not be the high bidders on Aroldis Chapman but made a strong push for Boston being the place where he would want to locate. He would be given a lot of time or eventually be a closer.
Edes: Their track record would almost certainly suggest another low-risk, potentially high-reward move like they've made in the past with John Smoltz and Brad Penny, Curt Schilling and Bartolo Colon. Harden would seem to fit the profile, albeit a more expensive fit. The rotation is Lester, Beckett, Matsuzaka, Buchholz and Wakefield, with a supplemental piece or two.