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Needful things

Posted by Maureen Mullen November 20, 2008 05:57 AM

Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein said the Red Sox would be “selective shoppers” this off-season in the free agency market. It appears other teams are taking the same approach.

While waiting for the hot stove to heat up, and with center fielder Coco Crisp traded to Kansas City for right-handed reliever Ramon Ramirez, a trio of scouts familiar with the Sox evaluated the roster. Speaking before the Crisp deal, they weighed in on what they saw as the team’s biggest needs:

First scout
“Their biggest hole was probably their bat behind the plate. I think they were missing [Jason] Varitek’s offense a little bit. It just seemed like he was always coming up with guys on base for some reason.

“Another thing is probably another front-line starting pitcher. You had [Daisuke] Matsuzaka, [Jon] Lester, and [Josh] Beckett. The other ones, it was kind of a flip of a coin. [Tim] Wakefield, to me, has always been that guy that’s eaten up a lot of innings for them, whether he goes .500 or not, and he didn’t do that this year. He wasn’t the same Wakefield as he’s been in the past. So, I think they need another quality starter.

“They could use one arm in the bullpen, but now that you’ve got [Justin] Masterson out there, he’s a tremendous value to that club in the bullpen. They probably thought early on he was going to be the guy to fill one of the rotation spots, but they saw he was better for the team in the bullpen.

“When you have [Jonathan] Papelbon, Masterson, [Manny] Delcarmen, and [Hideki] Okajima, holy cow, what else do you need out there except maybe a long guy to suck up a couple of innings here and there.”

Second scout
“I would have to say their biggest hole is probably catcher, because their pitching is pretty damn good. If [Mike] Lowell’s healthy, they’re fine at third. And [Kevin] Youkilis is at first. They’ve got [second baseman Dustin] Pedroia. They’ll be fine with [Jed] Lowrie at short. You’re not going to go into the season bad if you’ve got [an outfield of Jason] Bay and [Jacoby] Ellsbury and [J.D.] Drew. …

“But I would have to say probably catching is their biggest need, and if they don’t bring back Varitek, where would they go? I’m saying that because if they don’t get him, they’ve got a whole staff that’s got to learn a new guy all over. You’ve got Daisuke, who does his own thing, and the new catcher’s going to be driven nuts. Lester knows how he wants to work with Varitek. You just have so many guys in there that like to work certain ways with Varitek.”

Third scout
“I think what turned out to be a hole was Ellsbury. They entrusted him with the job, and he wasn’t ready to do it. I think that hurt them to a degree. But then when Crisp came back in he helped the ballclub. He became a big force.

“[Shortstop Julio] Lugo, I never cared for. I like Lowrie at short, but I don’t think he’s going to be their All-Star shortstop yet. I like him at short, but he’s got some work to do. I think Ellsbury in the long run wasn’t ready. He’s got the tools to be a hell of a player, but I don’t think he was quite ready, because the club is in the run for the roses every year, and I don’t think he had enough experience to be a contributing factor to a club that’s making a run.

“I don’t think they gave him enough time to really solidify himself. There were a couple of [difficult] spells in there, and they kept hoping by playing him he would react. That’s a way of doing it, but you’ve got to know the individual you’re using that psychology with. I think they were asking him to bite off a hell of a lot more than he could chew. But I still think he’s going to be a hell of a ballplayer. …

“[Drew] is another thing that hurt them. He had a run there of about a month I thought he was outstanding, and then after that he went on the fritz again. You can’t trust him. To me, that’s a weakness and they’ve got to suffer with it.”

Maureen Mullen covers the Red Sox for OT and can be reached at mmullen@globe.com

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Charles P. Pierce writes for the Boston Globe Magazine. A long-time sportswriter and columnist, Pierce is a frequent guest on national TV and radio.
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