Will Varitek be behind the plate in '09?

For the third time in the past four seasons, the Red Sox won at least (in this case, exactly) 95 games. And they qualified for the postseason for the fifth time in the past six seasons. They lost the American League Championship Series in seven games to the Rays, a team they couldn't beat during the regular season (8-10).

Mainstays Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell and David Ortiz had down years interrupted by injuries.

Meanwhile, the right side of the infield -- second baseman Dustin Pedroia and first baseman Kevin Youkilis -- enjoyed breakout seasons that thrust them into MVP contention.

Primary needs

Catching is the one obvious position that needs upgrading. Jason Varitek is a free agent, but if he returns, it could be with a reduced workload. Setup relief might be something of a soft spot, especially if Justin Masterson returns to the rotation and/or Manny Delcarmen fails to achieve more consistency.

Some believe the post-Manny Ramirez Red Sox need to bolster the middle of the lineup, but the healthy returns of Lowell and Ortiz would go a long way in improving the lineup.

Free agents

C Jason Varitek, OF Mark Kotsay, INF Alex Cora, RHP Mike Timlin, RHP Paul Byrd, 1B Sean Casey

The Sox would like Varitek back, but for less money and a few years. Kotsay likely will seek an opportunity elsewhere to play every day. Cora is welcome to return and probably will. Timlin is expected to retire. Byrd and Casey likely will move on.

Trade bait

Coco Crisp can be had for the right price, having re-established his value with a strong second half. For the right package (a big bat or an established starter), the Sox could be talked into moving pitcher Clay Buchholz. Shortstop Julio Lugo can be had -- just ask.

Farm aid

The Boston farm system, having supplied four everyday position players and four pitchers in recent years, needs time to reload, but righty power pitcher Michael Bowden could be part of the rotation by June. Hard-throwing reliever Daniel Bard could help at some point next season.


The improved quality of the division will make the AL East more of a challenge, but the Red Sox are well positioned to compete for several years to come. Their core remains under control, and the young players developed in recent seasons are just now entering their primes.

Sean McAdam of the Boston Herald covers baseball for ESPN.com.