C.J. Wilson is most likely not walking through that door, and you also shouldn't be counting on the big Yu Darvish press conference.
The Red Sox pitching staff needs to be fixed -- in a variety of ways -- but unless one of the bigger contracts is moved, you shouldn't be holding your breath looking for that big-money solution. So save your photoshopping skills. The likelihood is that CC Sabathia won't be sized up for a Sox uniform if he opts out of his current deal with the Yankees, and that the Sox won't pursue the other big-money starting options (such as free agent-to-be Wilson or Darvish, who many expect to be made available to MLB teams via the posting process).
So, how is this mess fixed? (And when you're talking about a starting pitching staff that went 4-13 with a 7.08 ERA in September, that does classify as a mess.)
The first step is fixing the culture.
According to multiple sources, much of the discipline (workouts, in-between starts throwing programs) mandated by former pitching coach John Farrell had been left more in the hands of the pitchers. Evidently, the opportunity for the hurlers to accept added responsibility didn't take.
It is a dynamic that is far more important than worrying about starters drinking in the clubhouse on their off days. (Yes, it happened, and shouldn't have.) Implementing an overall productive routine and approach is the biggest issue.
There is also going to have to be an upgrade in terms of the back of the rotation, which, as we found out, can turn into the front of the rotation at a moment's notice. As previously noted, that fix isn't necessarily going to come from another unleashing of John Henry's checkbook.
If you're looking for one alteration that could change the image of the pitching staff (besides a trade of one of the top four starters), it's the potential move of Daniel Bard into the rotation. So, with that in mind, that's where we will begin when looking at what the future holds for this much-maligned pitching staff.
The good news for Bard is that he has qualified for "Super 2" status, starting his arbitration clock. The bad news, as we sit here, is that arbitration doesn't typically get too financially spicy if you're classified as a set-up man (even one of the best in game).
Bard wants to be either a starter or closer, and because of the circumstances facing the Red Sox, he very well may get his wish in the coming season. If Jonathan Papelbon is re-signed to be the closer for the Sox, there is a very real possibility you will find Bard in the starting rotation, potentially fixing the aforementioned back-of-the-rotation issue facing this team. There are no certainties, but it has been discussed within the organization, and figures to be a continued line of discussion this winter.
Bard threw his changeup in 2011 at a much higher rate than either of his two previous seasons, while also relying on his slider as an out-pitch more and more. (He actually got 11 more strikeouts on his slider than his fastball in '11.) All are signs that his maturation as a pitcher would translate into a quality starter.
As is the case with most of the Sox pitching staff, Bard still has to dig his way out of some lingering '11 perception. He suffered through his worst month as a pro in September, allowing 14 runs over 11 innings while striking out 11 and walking nine. Yet, judging by his body of work up until that point, it would seem that he remains more a solution than a problem.
Papelbon expressed his goal in spring training to be at the head of the closer free agent class. If he's not there, he's close. There are a few things that work in Papelbon's favor besides the matter of him having one of his best seasons.
He is hitting the market with perhaps his best overall stuff as a major leaguer, carrying the velocity of four years ago -- leading to significantly more fastballs than a year ago -- while having two any-count pitches at his disposal in the slider and split. But what also shouldn't be ignored is that no pitcher in the history of the Red Sox has managed to live the life of a closer for as long as Papelbon's six-year tenure.
Throughout his arbitration years, Papelbon said that he wanted to join Mariano Rivera in setting the financial standard for closers once he arrived at free agency. Well, now he's here, and while there won't be any B.J. Ryan or Billy Wagner five-year deals on the horizon, the Sox' closer certainly won't move the market backwards.
The thinking here is that those three straight hits in Baltimore won't be the last Papelbon throws in a Red Sox uniform. Because, at the end of the day, investing in a Francisco Rodriguez or Heath Bell for that situation simply doesn't seem like any sort of upgrade.
He has become the lightning rod for this team after the Sox' collapse, a dramatic change from a month before when he dove into September with a 12-5 record and 2.54 ERA. But September impressions, along with a healthy dose of finger-pointing, have altered the public's view of Beckett.
The starter didn't come up big when it counted the most in his last two starts, allowing six runs in each. To some, he was the poster boy for the starting pitchers' lack of discipline thanks to some perceived weight gain, along with the finger-pointing that came with 'Beer-Gate.' Beckett was always thought of as the leader of the starting rotation -- a notion the team sold when signing the righty -- so when the group started being singled out, so was Beckett.
The reality is that for most of the year Beckett exhibited the level of production the Red Sox so desperately needed, and at 31-years-old -- with three more years left on his contract -- the potential to continue down that path still exists.
The importance of Beckett maintaining his previous form will be one of the most important pieces of the Red Sox' makeover.
The image of Lester is one of an ace. He walks like an ace. He talks like an ace. But, judging by what transpired in '11, the lefty still isn't quite there yet.
Like Beckett, the perception of Lester heading into the offseason is based on what he didn't do in much of September when the Sox needed him most -- produce. The Red Sox lost each of his last four starts, and five of the final six. He finished at 15-9 with a 3.47 ERA, but carried a 5.40 ERA in the final month.
All things considered, the 27-year-old is still one of the most valuable starting pitchers in the American League. HIs contract is hardly any kind of albatross, having paid him just $5.75 million this season with the number going to $7.625 million in '12. (The highest it gets is a $13 million club option in '14.) His stuff is as good as anybody, and he put up solid numbers (15-9, 191 2/3 innings, 3.47 ERA) once again.
Still, like the rest of his rotation-mates, Lester is left with something to prove heading into '12. Simply put, he needs a pillar-to-post type of season, which will allow that 'ace' accolade a whole lot easier to throw his way.
It isn't untrue that Lackey was well-liked in the clubhouse. In the current situation, however, that won't matter. Neither does the notion that, as one big league voice put it, he was going through the "perfect storm" of off-the-field obstacles.
When you make 28 starts and come away with a 6.41 ERA -- the highest in the major leagues -- it shouldn't matter that you make $15.25 million per season. There has to be a fish-or-cut-bait moment, because each of those appearances could be filled by somebody who can most likely do better.
Lackey needs a fresh start, some how, some way. Perhaps the Red Sox can find a way to deal the pitcher (although with the package including more than just on-the-field production, such a maneuver seems unlikely). Maybe the elbow issue needs to be tended to.
If he does return, the first step would be some sort of mea culpa on Day 1, and then some sort of reliability the rest of the way. Can that happen? Right now it would seem to be a reach. But there aren't a whole lot of other options.
When Buchholz pitches he is usually good. And nobody was blaming him for the time missed due to the fractured vertebrae in his back. In fact, the 27-year-old should be commended for putting himself in a position to potentially pitch if there were postseason games for the Sox.
But, fair or not, he is a starter on this team, and that is a group that is coming under fire more than most. Just like his counterparts in the rotation, all eyes will be on Buchholz regarding how he approaches the '12 season, and what type of durability his regimen translates into.
If the Red Sox ever did want to make a Felix Hernandez-type overture in the offseason, Buchholz would surely have to be mentioned as part of the package. His contract is small-market-manageable, maxing out at $12 million guaranteed money in '15 before heading into two $13 million club options in '16 and '17.
But, like Ellsbury last offseason, the player most likely has more value to the Red Sox than any potential suitor. And, also like Ellsbury, there is a very real possibility Buchholz finds himself as an anchor when '12 is all said and done.
For a good part of the season's first half, Wakefield gave the Red Sox exactly what they needed -- a pitcher who could slide into the rotation and win more games than he lost. Upon entering the starting rotation at the beginning of May, the knuckleballer went 4-3 with a 4.50 ERA in his first nine starts of the season. Not spectacular, but along the lines of what the Sox were looking for.
But from July 1 until the end of the season, Wakefield would allow five runs or more in 10 of his 14 starts. Not what the Red Sox were looking for.
Wakefield has stated he wants to come back, but it would seemingly have to be even lower on the starting pitching depth chart than in '11. The reality might be hitting that the 45-year-old's value, and remaining starts, will be siphoned by another organization.
Aceves, who is remarkably heading into his first year of arbitration eligibility, wants to start, and he may get his wish. The Red Sox plan on bringing the 29-year-old into camp as a starter, adjusting as spring training evolves.
The value of Aceves was undeniable. No matter what the role, he was simply one of the team's best pitchers. The righty also showed a resilience rare among any group of hurlers, pitching the last four games of the season while even returning for his final appearance after an hour-long rain delay.
It will be interesting to see how Aceves bounces back from a season in which he threw more pitches than any reliever in the American League. The starting scenario would be appetizing if he could translate what he did out of the bullpen into the rotation. But it shouldn't be ignored that in his four starts in '11, he totaled a 5.14 ERA with the team going 1-3 in his appearances.
It might be that, partly to Aceves' dismay, his best spot continues to be that of a late-inning presence out of the bullpen. (Batters did manage just a .105 batting average against the righty in the seventh inning.) Regardless, he has become a nice option for the Red Sox to go to when trying to solve their pitching predicament.
Albers became an example of the Red Sox' collapse, simply falling apart for all of August and some of September after proving to be an extremely valuable arm for the season's first four months. Up through July 31, the righty appeared in 35 games, totaling a 2.09 ERA, striking out 43 and walking 18. After that, from Aug. 1 until Sept. 15, Albers struggled to a 12.18 ERA in 17 appearances, fanning 18 and walking 12.
The 28-year-old seemingly figured some things out by season's end, finishing fairly strong in his final four outings, giving up a run on two hits over 3 2/3 innings. By the time the regular season finale rolled around, he had re-emerged as the Sox' fourth option out of the bullpen.
It was mentioned many times that Albers hadn't lost his stuff throughout the rut, with his velocity actually going up a tick. But, according to the pitcher, that was the problem, with each errant outing resulting in overthrowing, resulting in the disappearance of sink on his two-seamer. It all led to trouble for the reliever.
Regardless of the uneven nature of Albers' first season with the Red Sox, he remains part of the team's plans in '12, heading into the offseason eligible for arbitration.
When Wheeler walked out of the Sox' clubhouse after the Sox' season-ending loss, he surmised he was about a week away from returning to action due to the forearm injury that had sidelined the righty since Sept. 7. It was an injury that offered a frustrating ending to what could be largely construed as a frustrating season for the Rhode Island native.
After a slow start, Wheeler had a tough time cracking Terry Francona's reliever rotation in high leverage situations despite going on a fairly decent run through the middle portion of the season. For three months, from May 21 until Aug. 21, the righty totaled a 1.42 ERA in 29 games, striking out 26 and walking seven while allowing hitters just a .177 batting average.
The Red Sox have a $3 million team option on Wheeler for '12, which would have been guaranteed if he pitched in 18 more games.
Things didn't quite workout as Bedard or the Red Sox planned after the lefty was acquired at the non-waiver trade deadline. The pitcher showed flashes in his eight starts, finishing with a 4.03 ERA. But, due to a persisting MCL injury in his knee (which he said wouldn't need surgery), along with a lat issue, Bedard wasn't a factor when the Red Sox need him most in September.
The 31-year-old would throw just 12 innings in September, never making it past 3 1/3 innings in either of his final two starts.
By all accounts, Bedard didn't exhibit any of the concerns those in Seattle warned of when the Sox acquired the pitcher, seemingly fitting in with the rest of the clubhouse while handling the media in a fair enough manner. The issues about the injuries, however, were a reality that didn't go away.
He will now head to his home near Ottawa, spending much of the offseason hunting in the wilds of Canada while awaiting a new team to sign with. That team doesn't figure to be the Red Sox.
At one point in August Francona said that, despite Miller's struggles, pitching coach Curt Young believed the lefty would be part of the Red Sox' rotation in '12. That could be the case, but if the prediction is to come to fruition there is significant work to be done.
In 12 starts in '11, the 26-year-old never went beyond six innings, totaling a 5.55 ERA. The control issues never completely went away either, with Miller striking out 38 but walking 35 as a starter.
The likely scenario for the Sox is to bring the arbitration-eligible left-hander back in '12 considering Miller's upside, even it is out of the bullpen.
Matsuzaka threw this week for the first time since undergoing Tommy John surgery, continuing down a path that could conceivably have him back on a major league mound sometime in the middle of the '12 season.
While many might roll their eyes regarding a return by the pitcher in the final season of his Red Sox' contract, it isn't inconceivable that he ends up providing some always much-needed pitching depth for the stretch drive. Then again, there should be some concern that the last thing to return for any pitcher returning from Tommy John surgery is command, not velocity. For a pitcher who has had as many issues with control as Matsuzaka, that is a red flag for at least the upcoming season.
After being acquired from Colorado in May, the lefty exhibited many of the qualities the Red Sox were smitten with, with Morales throwing 96 mph or better 76 times in '11. But along with the promise of the swings and misses came continued bouts of wildness.
Through it all, the 25-year-old emerged as at least a fairly reliable option out of the Sox' bullpen against both lefties and righties, most notably while earning a win in a critical game in New York on the final weekend of the season. He will be arbitration eligible this offseason, heading into '12 as seemingly a piece of the Sox' bullpen puzzle.
Doubront could be somewhat of a wild card heading into '12. He was the one pitcher whose condition coming into camp offered a setback for the entire season, with the lefty struggling through injuries for much of the first half. It was hard to remember at times the optimism surrounding Doubront heading into '11.
Now he finds himself out of options, making a quick start in Fort Myers even more important. The Red Sox will bring him to camp as a starter, stretch him out and then go from there (like Aceves).