The last flicker of hope was all but formally extinguished in the Bronx last night, the Red Sox fittingly battling to the end only to be undermined by their bullpen in a 4-3, extra-inning loss to the New York Yankees. Only seven games remain now in the 2010 Boston baseball season. But questions abound.
So where are the Red Sox headed? That is an excellent question, but there will be plenty of time to examine that. This year, in fact, the Red Sox even will have an additional month to do so. But as you ponder the fates of David Ortiz, Victor Martinez, and Adrian Beltre, among others, here are five story lines to watch during the final week:
1. Jon Lester and the Cy Young Award. Lester currently is scheduled to make his final start on Thursday night against Jon Danks and the White, and there appears a great deal at stake. With a win, Lester could become the first Red Sox lefty in roughly a half-century to win 20 games in a season and he could position himself to win his first career Cy Young Award. Not so long ago, remember, he was diagnosed with cancer.
The Red Sox look better by the day with regard to their decision-making on Lester, and not solely because they resisted trading him for, among others, Johan Santana. Signing Lester to a five-year, $30 million contract now looks like one of the great steals in baseball. Lester made $3.75 million this year and will earn $5.75 million next season.
2. The Jonathan Papelbon situation. When you get right down it, did anybody hurt the Red Sox more this year? Maybe Josh Beckett. Maybe John Lackey. But Papelbon certainly is in the conversation. No reliever in the American League has blown more saves than Papelbon (eight), though it should be stressed that the Red Sox actually went on to lose only five of those games.
Regardless, Papelbon has had easily the worst year of his career and has lost more games (six) than all but two relievers in the AL. Among relievers with 60 innings, he ranks in the bottom half (18th of 29) in ERA. He was a big reason that Red Sox relievers this season were fourth worst in the AL in walks per nine innings.
Would the Red Sox consider closing with Daniel Bard this week, purely for the sake of experience? Interesting question. On the one hand, it would make sense. On the other, it would indicate a clear willingness to move on from Papelbon, potentially affecting trade value – if he has any to begin with. How many teams can take a $10 million closer who is eligible for free agency after the 2011 season, anyway?
3. Felipe Lopez and the shortstop situation. Does anyone else find it curious that the Red Sox would pick up a player like Lopez with basically a week remaining in the season? Maybe the Sox want Lopez as a utility man next year so they can trade Jed Lowrie. Maybe they want him as insurance given the shoulder woes of Marco Scutaro. Maybe they’re getting a look-see for all of the above reasons.
That stuff about draft pick compensation? Sorry, not buying it. Granted, it might be a nice ancillary benefit if it comes to that, but Lopez rejected the San Diego Padres (and the playoffs) for something more than issues of "comfort.’’ The best guess is that the Red expressed interest in having him be their shortstop, which might open up the chance to move Lowrie.
4. Victor Martinez and the catching situation. Of the trio that includes Martinez, David Ortiz, and Adrian Beltre, Martinez seems to have the best chance of remaining in Boston on a long term contract. Beltre is represented by Scott Boras. The Sox hold an option on Ortiz. That leaves Victor, who has great value given his ability to switch-hit and catch.
Or does it? Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia came out last week and essentially said Martinez won’t be in Boston next year. Curious, no? Recently, the Globe reported that the Sox made Martinez a two year offer, which seems like a pretty lame attempt to keep a middle-of-the-order bat. Whenever this plays out, it will be interesting to see why Martinez chose Boston – or why he didn’t.
And it will also be interesting to uncover the identity of the next Red Sox catcher. Is Jarrod Saltalamacchia really the answer?
5. The Seniors farewell tour. Already, the Sox have labeled Saturday night’s game against the Yankees as "Thanks Mike Night,’’ an appreciation for Mike Lowell, who is retiring. Lowell may not be the only veteran playing his final game in a Boston uniform. Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield are unsettled entering this final week, Varitek again heading toward free agency (and expressing a desire to continue playing – somewhere) while Wakefield operates in a role that doesn’t suit him.
Wakefield is signed for next year at $2 million, but Red Sox rotation will return intact. Over the next week or so, it will be interesting how – or if? – Wakefield and Varitek address their current situations because the final week for a non-contending team inevitably brings up an array of individual questions once a team is mathematically eliminated.
And the Red Sox have plenty of them.
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