Now we're officially in the offseason, here's a look at what the future might hold for the Red Sox' position players:
It shouldn't be downplayed what a good player Martinez is. He serves as a legitimate middle-of-the-order bat, having totaled the highest OPS of any catcher not named Joe Mauer in the past two seasons. And despite missing time with a thumb injury this season, no backstop has managed more plate appearances than the 31-year-old over that time.
In fact, there is only one true uncertainty when looking at the value of Martinez: Can he be an everyday catcher going forward? The answer will be what defines what type of deal the free agent-to-be garners in the coming months.
There is no question Martinez made progress, working with catching instructor Gary Tuck virtually every day. He finished throwing a modest 15 percent of the baserunners attempting to steal, but was markedly improved in his time to second as the season progressed. (It was an improvement put on display in the Sox' late-August series in Tampa Bay, tossing out 2-of-4 baserunners). The catcher also managed the pitchers adeptly, with the hurlers he caught totaling a respectable 4.38 ERA.
In his eyes, he's a catcher
“You look at my stats, and just because I play a few games at first base, it doesn’t mean that I’m a first baseman,” said Martinez. “I’m just going to go into the offseason, prepare myself like I always do, work hard, and come back next year, whatever I’m going to be, and play hard like I always do.”
While there are going to be doubts when it comes to Martinez' long-term future as a backstop, it would seem that he might have improved behind the plate just enough to warrant the opportunity to man the position while the Red Sox' uncover their catcher of the future. And once the heir apparent is identified, there figures to eventually be an opportunity to slide into either the DH, or even first base, spots once those positions start turning over (with Kevin Youkilis potentially moving over to third base, of course.) He is also considered a leader in the clubhouse, which certainly doesn't hurt Martinez' quest to find common ground with the Red Sox.
This is the deal: Even before this season, the Red Sox loved Adrian Beltre. So -- using his MVP-esque numbers, and an exemplary portrayal of toughness -- 2010 certainly shouldn't do anything to diminish the Sox' infatuation for the third baseman. But …
Beltre might not get more than the market's top free agent prize, Carl Crawford. But would anybody be shocked if the initial asking price was above and beyond anything discussed for the Tampa Bay outfielder, or any other free agent, for that matter? Will he transcend those other deals? Because of age (31), and lack of consistency over the years leading up to '10, probably not. Bu this much is true: With legitimate well-to-do suitors seemingly at the ready (Detroit, Angels), Beltre is lining up to become one of those "we can pay for him, but nobody else" type of offseason hauls.
Beltre wants to win. That is clear. But it would appear that all things considered he wouldn't mind setting up shop near his home on the West Coast. Soak in this comment from last week, for instance: "I'll see what's best for me and my family," Beltre explained. "This year I was selfish enough, coming to the East Coast, knowing my wife was pregnant and she would be away from me basically for the whole year. This year is going to be more a family thing. It's been tough. I haven't seen family like l wanted to. We're going to settle down, discuss it, and see what's best for us."
It doesn't seem to add up to a return to the Red Sox. But, perhaps the market thins out and Beltre returns as a piece of the foundation instead of simply part of the bridge.
The first baseman said that if the Red Sox had found their way to the American League Championship Series, there was a chance his broken hand would have healed enough to partake. Obviously, that doesn't matter. Believe or not, since Youkilis left the lineup on Aug. 2, the Red Sox were third in all of baseball in OPS. That said, it is obvious how important the cleanup hitter was to the Sox' lineup.
Perhaps the only question regarding Youkilis -- who will continue to work out in the area instead of his old haunts at Athletes Performance in Arizona -- is if he finds his way back to third base. He's ready, willing, and able.
The second baseman has it planned out: Cast will come off his broken foot on Oct. 15, and then be cleared for all activities on Nov. 26. By Jan. 1 he is hoping to be sprinting without hesitation.
Pedroia will be working out once again with former NFL player Keith Poole (along with Andre Ethier of the Dodgers and perhaps teammate Darnell McDonald), a regimen he partook in last offseason. It seemed to work. Once the infielder got through some serious pain in his right knee (a condition that is now fully healed), he truly found his stride. In the 13 games leading up to the moment he fouled a ball off of his foot, Pedroia was hitting .500 (25-for-50).
A few weeks before the end of the season, Scutaro carried some optimism. While the shortstop's shoulder continued to bother him, it had leveled off to the point where he actually felt as good physically as at any point of the season, dating back to spring training. But as the season drew to a close, the wear of the tear of playing everyday caught up to the 34-year-old, leading to taking the season's final weekend off.
Last offseason was the first time since Scutaro turned pro that he didn't play winter ball, with the Red Sox discouraging participation due to his plantar fasciitis surgery. With all of his aches and pains, this year doesn't figure to be any different. Scutaro will workout near his Miami-area home, implementing the shoulder strengthening program presented by the Sox.
Lowrie went a long way to reclaiming his stature as a potential major league starter thanks to his play in the season's final two months. He finished hitting .287 with nine homers in just 171 at-bats. More impressive was the fact the switch-hitter hit .324 with a .425 on-base percentage against right-handed pitching from Sept. 13 until the end of the season. It was all a product of Lowrie's rediscovered health in his surgically-repaired left wrist, along with his continued improved health after a bout with mononucleosis.
After making a stop down to the Progressive Medical Center in Atlanta (where he had turned to when recovering from mono), Lowrie will continue to work out in Toronto with a former Maple Leafs strength and conditioning coach. If everything keeps trending like they have for Lowrie, he suddenly becomes a valuable piece of the Sox' puzzle (perhaps even as an option at third base, where Red Sox manager Terry Francona suggested was where the infielder played his best since coming back).
Hall performed admirably, if sometimes erratically, while playing his super-utility role. He hit 18 homers in just 344 at-bats. the problem was that there were far too many strikeouts (104) and too few walks (34) to ingraine too much confidence in the 30-year-old's ability to play everyday.
It is highly unlikely that the Red Sox would entertain the idea of picking up Hall's $9.25 million option for '11, but, to his credit, the utilityman has put the time in Boston to good use. A major league guaranteed contract should be coming his way, a notion that was anything but guaranteed prior to this season.
The problems with the broken ribs have been well-documented, as has the drama that has accompanied said injury. Now, Ellsbury is looking ahead. He will head back to Athletes Performance, and is scheduled to begin baseball activities on a regular offseason schedule.
As for whether or not Ellsbury will be with the Red Sox next year, the guess here is that he will. He'll be headed to arbitration for the first time, but shouldn't break the bank. But while that might make him affordable in the short-term for a prospective trade partner for the Sox, the injury doesn't exactly put the outfielder's trade value at an all-time high. Simply put, it would seem -- despite whatever uneasiness is left over from his medical drama -- Ellsbury is worth more to the Red Sox on the team, rather than on the trading block.
It was undeniably a down year for the outfielder. He played in two more games than a year ago, yet hit 24 points lower, had an on-base percentage of .341 compared to his '09 total of .392 (drawing 22 fewer walks this time around), and saw his OPS drop from .914 to .793.
As both Drew and general manager Theo Epstein explained it, the strike zone really threw the lefty hitter for a loop, never finding the kind of groove he typically discovers at some point during a season. This he will have to fix, there's no way around it. Drew insists he's never played better defensively, which might be true. At his rate, and playing the position he does, the Sox' lineup simply needs more production out of the 34-year-old.
Drew thinks there is a possibility next season might be his last, suggesting that family might win out over continuing his baseball career. But if he is to have options approaching that befitting a top tier free agent in his free agent year ('11), Drew will have to pick up the pace.
If nothing else, the 37-year-old is motivated. He is intent on coming back next season, fully-recovered from sports hernia surgery, and showing Red Sox fans why the team committed a two-year, $15.5 million deal to the outfielder. He said that when it comes to retirement, he will be basing his decision solely off of what transpires in 2011. One aspect of Cameron's game that was put on display in '10 which should be noted is his ability to hit left-handed pitching (.357 in 48 plate appearances). Even if the Red Sox go out and get another outfielder, the right-handed hitter could be a valuable piece of the equation, serving as an option in right field if Drew doesn't fix his issues against southpaws (.208).
Here are Ortiz' OPS month by month after his horrific April: 1.211, .928, .848, .855, .923. Home run totals: 10, 6, 5, 5, 5. The point? He was consistent and didn't drop off.
Another feather in Ortiz' cap was the fact that he seemingly figured out some issues regarding facing left-handers later in the year, hitting .429 in the season's last 10 games.
While Ortiz clearly prefers to get a multi-year deal instead of having the Sox pick up his $12.5 million option. But what once was considered well above market value, the 32 home runs and .899 (8th-best in the American League) might just come close to warranting such an investment in the open market. It's why activating the option seems much more likely than it did a few months ago.
It is almost certain that the Red Sox will tender McDonald a contract. Amazingly, despite turing 32 in Nov., the outfielder won't have three years major league service time. What he does have is a really solid year under his belt, having finished '10 hitting .270 with nine homers and nine stolen bases.
McDonald proved to be a very valuable piece of a major league team's puzzle, not only offering speed on the basepaths, solid defense at all three outfield positions, an above-average ability to hit lefties, and the skill to lay down a bunt better than most. (He notched 12 sacrifice bunts in 17 attempts, the seventh-most in the majors.)
Nava was a great story, but he did come down to Earth after his storybook start, hitting .244 with just the one, legendary, home run. He is somewhat limited in which outfield position he can play, and has to get better hitting from the right side (.207).
But the fact is that Nava now has a chance at a major league career because of what he showed in his 60 games with the Red Sox, a notion that is supported by the fact that agents actually have started wooing him after not previously returning his phone calls.
The 22-year-old will head back to Athletes Performance this offseason carrying a lot of confidence. Despite just so-so numbers (.710 OPS, 4 HR, .252 batting average), Kalish made the most of his 53 games. Perhaps the biggest aspect of what the rookie showed in his time in the majors was the ability to play center field. If he continues down the same road, he would seemingly be a good fit to man right field once Drew's contract expires following next season.
Could Varitek be back for his 15th season with the Red Sox? Sure. Is it likely. it wouldn't seem so. We know that Jarrod Saltalamacchia is going to get a shot at being the catcher of the future, and if that's the case it is unlikely the Sox' insurance policy for Salty's progression would be Varitek. Even if Victor Martinez isn't re-signed, the likes of John Buck and A.J. Pierzynski will be out there as free agent options (although locking in on Pierzynski for multiple years wouldn't leave much flexibility if Saltalamacchia steps up).
Varitek should be commended for the work he did in the first two months of the season, heading into June with a .286 batting average and seven home runs. Unfortunately for the 38-year-old, due partly to the broken foot he suffered June 30, he finished hitting .163 without a home run and just four RBI the rest of the way.
Some would look at the 25-year-old's two-month stay with the Red Sox as a disappointment, with Saltalamacchia only getting to play in 10 games since being acquired on July 31 due a leg infection and injured thumb. But the fact is that he showed just enough to offer some optimism. For example, he turned in the best time throwing on an attempted steal of second, in his first game with the Red Sox, of any Sox catcher this season. It wasn't a lot, but it was a step in the right direction.
Saltalamacchia is one of six Red Sox players who will be arbitration eligible, joining Jonathan Papelbon, Rich Hill, Hideki Okajima, Kevin Cash, and Ellsbury. With his left thumb expected to not present any kind of roadblock to being ready for spring training, he will jump ahead in line to get a crack at becoming the Sox' catcher of the future.