Vent and vote: What now for Red Sox?

If you’re like most New Englanders, you woke up this morning wondering if what you witnessed Wednesday night -- and most of September, for that matter -- was just some horrible nightmare and you’ll log on to ESPNBoston.com and find the Red Sox’s upcoming ALDS schedule.

Alas. Reality bites.

We’ll spare you the gory details in this space. What we want to do is spin things forward a bit and get your take on what changes you’d like to see on this team going forward. Make no mistake, there will be changes.

Among the biggest decisions this team will need to make in the coming months is how to fill the now-gaping hole in the rotation. What once looked like a strength crumbled before our very eyes in September, so much so that we were openly wondering whether acquiring retread starter Bruce Chen from the Royals might be the best option for the Sox in a potential one-game playoff. Incidentally, Chen pitched for the Royals on Wednesday night, tossing eight shutout innings.

We’ll assume at this point that Jon Lester and Josh Beckett are locked into the first two spots in the rotation and will put their September woes in the rear view mirror. Let’s slot Clay Buchholz in at No. 3 as well. But who will fill out the rotation?

Will John Lackey, whose season-ending 6.41 ERA is the worst in Red Sox history, be back? You have to think he wants out of Boston after this miserable season. The problem will be that no one will want his bloated contract. He has three years and nearly $46 million left on his deal.

Will the Sox bring back 45-year-old Tim Wakefield, who wants to return for 18th season? You have to wonder whether the feeling is mutual.

We know it won’t be Daisuke Matsuzaka, who will be lucky to return by midseason after Tommy John surgery.

Anyone else? Expect the Sox to look on the free-agent market, as it doesn’t appear there are any arms in the farm system that are ready for prime time. If there were, we wouldn’t have had to endure so much of Kyle Weiland in September.

You have to expect J.D. Drew will retire. So who plays right field next season? Josh Reddick? Ryan Kalish, who is coming off a lost season due to injuries? The Sox could test the free-agent market here as well.

What about shortstop? The Sox (and the player) have an option on Marco Scutaro for next season. After the way he finished up, we wouldn’t be surprised if he is back as a reliable option (along with Jed Lowrie) until Jose Iglesias is ready for the majors.

The Sox will also have a big decision to make on David Ortiz, who is a free agent after making $12.5 million this season. He put up good numbers -- .309, 29 homers, 96 RBIs -- but faded late, hitting only one homer in September. Will the Red Sox bring back their 35-year-old DH and club icon?

And, of course, there’s Jonathan Papelbon. The cornerstone of the bullpen had perhaps his best season to date (his blown save in Baltimore aside, of course), showing dominating stuff. He’s been waiting for this shot at free agency and will demand a multiyear deal for mucho dinero. Will the Red Sox pony up? Or is Daniel Bard -- he of the 11.70 September ERA -- ready to inherit the role?

If the Sox let Papelbon go and make Bard their closer, who takes the primary setup role? Bobby Jenks? He’s a question mark, at best.

Another reliever whose contract is up is Alfredo Aceves, who was perhaps the MVP of the bullpen, especially in September. He made less than $1 million this season. He’s in line for a decent-sized raise.

We’d be remiss if we didn’t bring up the possibility of there being changes at the top. Can we count on Theo Epstein and Terry Francona to be back? On the surface it seems like a ludicrous suggestion considering their track record, but is it not now clear there were fundamental flaws with this Red Sox team?

There was speculation over the summer that Epstein might be a good fit in a president-level job with the Chicago Cubs (though he squashed it). Is it out of the realm of possibility that he leaves for greener pastures?

What about Terry Francona? The Red Sox have options for the next two seasons on Francona’s contract, but they have yet to exercise them. Is there a chance his days as Boston’s bench boss are done?

It’s all up in the air. It’s all on the table. Changes are coming to Boston. We just don’t know yet what form they’ll take.

Vote in the polls embedded here and share your thoughts on the changes you’d make to this Red Sox team in the comments section.