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September 30, 2010

Kiss'Em Goodbye

Boston Red Sox

by Jay Jaffe, Kevin Goldstein and ESPN Insider

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Kiss 'Em Goodbye is a series focusing on MLB teams as their postseason dreams fade—whether in September (or before), the League Division Series, League Championship Series or World Series. It combines a broad overview of this season from Buster Olney, a take from Baseball Prospectus, a look toward an immediate 2011 move courtesy of Rumor Central and Kevin Goldstein's farm system overview. You can find all the teams on one page by going here.

Now, it's time to kiss the Boston Red Sox goodbye.

The overview

It was as if the baseball gods broadsided the Red Sox clubhouse with a flyswatter, given the disabled list carnage. Boston lost its two best position players, Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia, to season-ending injuries, and Victor Martinez went down at a time the Red Sox desperately needed him, while trying to keep pace with the Rays and Yankees. Beyond that group, Boston didn't get the expected production out of Josh Beckett, John Lackey or Daisuke Matsuzaka, who languished in mediocrity for most of the summer—for a price of about $45 million—and closer Jonathan Papelbon posted the worst ERA of his career, losing six games and blowing seven save chances. Boston's strength was supposed to be its pitching, and instead, the Red Sox entered the final two weeks of the season ranked 21st among 30 teams in ERA.

Clay Buchholz, though, evolved into a Cy Young-caliber pitcher, teaming with Jon Lester to give Boston an excellent 1-2 righty-lefty combination at the front of its rotation. Free agent Adrian Beltre had an excellent season, and David Ortiz—who was nearly released in May— recovered so well that he'll finish the year with his usual 30/100 type of season. Daniel Bard became one of the most dominant set-up men in the majors, and because of the injuries, the Red Sox were able to give some young players like Ryan Kalish extensive opportunities.

The Red Sox have some extraordinarily difficult choices to make in planning for 2011, and if they get them wrong, it may be a few years before they move back into the elite teams in the AL. They could re-sign some of their free agents, but they run the risk of becoming an older, expensive team if the players they keep regress. The Red Sox have to decide whether to bring back Beltre or pursue a younger player like Carl Crawford or Jayson Werth, and the Red Sox need to correctly assess the futures of Matsuzaka and Papelbon, who seem to be nearing the end of their respective tenures in Boston. And above all else, the Red Sox have to have better luck in 2011, because their margin for error in the brutal AL East doesn't allow for that many DL losses.—Buster Olney ESPN Insider

Baseball Prospectus' take

What went right: The Sox did rank second in the AL in scoring. Beltre had an outstanding season at the plate (.320/.366/.555), Ortiz enjoyed a modest rebound (.265/.364/.527, 31 homers) and Youkilis ranked fourth in the league in True Average (.332) before his season ended due to a thumb injury. Lester reeled off an even better season than his stellar 2009, and Buchholz put together a full campaign that lived up to the hype he received as a prospect by ranking second in the league in ERA (2.33).

What went wrong: Injuries is the easy answer, but honestly, the rotation behind Lester and Buchholz was not great. Lackey (4.47 ERA, .474 SNWP) has pitched as though the minor arm woes he experienced during his final two years in Anaheim have taken their toll; his strikeout rate (6.3 per nine) is the lowest since his 2002 rookie season. Beckett (5.77, .401) and Matsuzaka (4.72, .476) both missed time due to injuries, combining for just 44 starts. Ageless knuckleballer Tim Wakefield (5.56, .390) was of absolutely no help as a rotation patch. Furthermore, Papelbon (2.1 WXRL, 4.33 Fair Run Average) put up by far his worst season as the Sox closer.

The key number: 4.99. That's the ERA of all Red Sox starters not named 'Lester' or 'Buchholz' in the 98 starts not made by one of those two aces.

What won't happen again: The Sox are quite arguably the third-best team in baseball, or at least they were before injuries; they played .647 ball outside the division. Neither the biblical plague of injuries nor the poor-beyond-peripherals performances of their mid- and back-end starters are particularly likely to recur, and it's quite possible they'll have a new closer come springtime in Bard.—Jay Jaffe, Baseball Prospectus

Rumor Central: 2011 options

'Werth' the price: The Red Sox will miss the playoffs for just the second time in eight seasons, but that might be due more to playing in the ultra-competitive AL East than the constant stream of injuries. GM Theo Epstein will be busy, even though the team may have maxed out at a payroll of $170 million. The lineup will undoubtedly be different with Martinez, Beltre and Ortiz hitting free agency. The belief is that the Red Sox will bring back Ortiz, either by picking up his option or working out a multiyear deal at a reduced rate. As Buster notes above, word is the Sox are already looking at both Werth and Crawford as free-agent catches. Werth seems to fit the Epstein mode perfectly since he takes a lot of pitches and is superb defensively. With the Yankees not expected to be in on Werth, the Red Sox could land him with a reasonable offer. If that is the case, Mike Cameron can become an expensive fourth outfielder.

Closing the deal: Epstein insists that Papelbon is staying put, even if the Red Sox have a viable alternative (Bard) waiting in the wings. Keeping Papelbon around for his final arbitration-eligible season gives them more options. Bard has had just one full season in the major leagues and would benefit from another year of seasoning as a set-up reliever. An intriguing question for the Red Sox will be the role of 22-year-old left-hander Felix Doubront, who was drafted and developed as a starting pitcher but worked as a reliever this summer for Boston. The bullpen ERA ranks a distant 12th in the AL, so Epstein will look for more veteran help. A solid free agent would be Jon Rauch, who filled in as the closer in Minnesota before the arrival of Matt Capps and is willing to accept a set-up role.—Doug Mittler, ESPN Insider

Organizational future

While rookie Lars Anderson is getting his first taste of the big leagues, many scouts feel that Anthony Rizzo has passed him when it comes to Red Sox first base prospects and will be getting those at-bats come next year. A sixth-round pick in 2007, scouts always saw plenty of power potential in Rizzo's 220-pound frame, and it finally showed up in games this year. He led the system with 25 home runs, more than double last year's total. He sacrificed some batting average to find those home runs, but this is a common path for power prospects. If his track record of high batting averages returns in 2011 with the power intact, he has star potential.—Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jay's other articles. You can contact Jay by clicking here
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

Related Content:  Boston Red Sox,  Red Sox,  The Who

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