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Sox make list, check it twice

Posted by Maureen Mullen November 13, 2008 05:56 AM

The hot stove will fire into high gear Friday, when organizations can begin discussions with other teams’ free agents. Although general manager Theo Epstein has said the Red Sox will be “selective shoppers” this off-season, they will likely be at least as active as they were in the last off-season.

“We’re at a point now as an organization where we’re not desperate to improve in any one area,” Epstein said. “We can bring back the same group in any one area and be solid and have all of our bases covered. We can now pick our spots and look for areas to improve. Last off-season was great, because we didn’t have to be desperate. I think that’s the same approach we’ll take this year.”

One area they will likely consider is starting pitching. Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Tim Wakefield will be returning to the rotation in 2009. Clay Buchholz, Justin Masterson, and Michael Bowden could vie for the fifth spot.

“We can bring back our starting corps. We can make minor tweaks and still be solid,” Epstein said. “That said, is there an opportunity to improve our starting pitching? Absolutely. We’ll probably spend a great deal of our time [this off-season] trying to figure out how to improve.”

The Sox have several options for that fifth spot, including left-hander CC Sabathia and righties A.J. Burnett, Ryan Dempster, and Derek Lowe. Then there’s Paul Byrd, who helped stabilize the rotation down the stretch, and two Japanese right-handers, Junichi Tazawa and Kenshin Kawakami.

Three scouts weighed in on available pitchers who could fill out the Sox’ rotation.

First scout
“I really like Dempster. Of the guys I saw, he was the best every time out, including Sabathia. I saw him four times this season, and he looked really good every time. I would take Dempster over Sabathia based on what I saw. Lowe would be a nice one, but I don’t know if the Sox would want him back. A.J. Burnett can help anybody. But I’m sure they’ll all get a big check from somebody.”

Second scout
“Ryan Dempster. I think Derek Lowe would probably go back to the Red Sox, but I really think Ryan Dempster would be a good fit. I think his style of pitching would be good for those guys. But those guys leaving the National League, it’s kind of an iffy thing. You just never know. But anybody’s better in the National League, if you really look at it. I just think in Fenway he would be a good fit, because anybody who can pitch in Wrigley Field can pitch in Fenway. And he’s been real good. They’re going to have to answer with something, because the Yankees could get Burnett. Ben Sheets, I wouldn’t think they’d want him, with his arm, and he could be a National League guy, too. He’s got great stuff but here’s a guy who’s never pitched in the American League. And you worry about his health, also. But I like Dempster. Oliver Perez could be another guy for the Red Sox. A lefty in Fenway Park, when he’s throwing it over and keeping the ball down, he doesn’t give up a lot. … To me Dempster is No. 1 on my list. I put CC and Burnett on the top, but I don’t think they’ll get them, and I put Dempster, Andy Pettitte, Derek Lowe, kind of in the middle tier. I’d put Ben Sheets on the top tier, but health-wise, you just don’t know with him. I could see the Red Sox possibly making a run at [Jake] Peavy, but I don’t know if the Sox want to give up a bunch of guys for him, and that’s what it would take.”

Third scout
“CC. I don’t like Burnett’s makeup. He could fall totally apart in Boston with the pressure. CC doesn’t care. Dempster, I think he’s a National League pitcher. He had a hell of a year, but I think that’s it. I don’t see that happening again. If it does, it’ll happen in the National League. The American League I think would tear him up. Paul Byrd you saw. He’s OK. He’s just a fifth-type starter. He’s a usable guy, good guy on the team. Lowe, he’s been there before, knows the thing … But personally I think CC’s the best. He’s one of the elite pitchers of the game and he’s always been solid in the American League. And the thing is, even with his body, this guy makes every start and goes to the post all the time. I think he’s a durable guy and I wouldn’t be afraid to give him a four-year deal.’’

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

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