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In the market for hitters

I am not going to dwell on the debacle that was the ALDS. The Sox couldn't hit against two good-but-not-great pitchers (Lackey and Weaver) and then Papelbon blew game 3. That said, the Sox were and are a good team. They have some great young players (Pedroia, Ellsbury, Lester, and Paps) and great prime-of-career players (Beckett, Youkilis, and V-Mart).

The first thing I'll say is that Papelbon is far from done and is still one of the elite closers. You should look at the closers out there. Rivera and Nathan are maybe better - though guess who blew game 2 for the Twins this year and guess who Dave Roberts scored against a few years back. Paps is also 28 years old, as opposed to Nathan's 34 or Rivera's 73 years of age. For young guns, I'd only consider 25-year olds Jonathan Broxton (Dodgers - blew the last playoff game), Andrew Bailey (A's), or Joakim Soria (Royals) as having even a chance of being as good as Paps is at his worst. Lastly, Daniel Bard is not at all ready and will not be for a few years. And even at that point, he might simply not translate into a closer - ask Kyle Farnsworth, his 100 mph gas, and his 27 saves in 10 solid years.

With that, let's chat about the hitters. I'll take on the rest of the pitching staff later.

The Starting Nine

The Sox can upgrade at a few positions, but only if they move from good, to great players. They could possibly upgrade at four roster spots: Papi, Lowell, Gonzalez and maybe Bay. Papi ended up playing pretty well for the season as a whole but was maddeningly inconsistent. With Papi and Bay in the lineup you have two guys who can hit 30 homers while spending months as an easy out. Go figure.

Lowell too had a decent year and should be better next year with added recovery time from his hip injury. That said, Lowell and Papi had, respectively, a .208 and .144 slugging differential between home and away. The Sox struggled with streaky hitting and terrible production away from the Fens. These two are the biggest culprits of the regulars in a slugging drop off once they leave the friendly confines (though Peddy wasn't much better unsurprisingly).

Bay was at times great. He carried the team and was very good in nearly every aspect of the game. Though, like the others I just mentioned, he's the ant-Youk and V-Mart. When he's not playing well he would bounce out on a Wakefield "heater." They don't seem to give you good at bats when they're not hitting. When Papi, Lowell and Bay are all struggling, you should hope your pitcher throws a shutout.

At short, Gonzalez was a beautiful fielder who surprised a bit with his bat. However, he has limited range and has a track record of being a terrible hitter. There are definitely better shortstops out there but I'm not sure we'll get one.

The Sox have limited high-level offensive prospects they can count on for anything next year so don't look to Pawtucket or Portland for a savior in the lineup. Josh Reddick is the closest to ready any hitter is and he's not there yet. Aside from him, outfielder Ryan Kalish, shortstop Yamaico Navarro, and first baseman Lars Anderson are the only prospects with much of any chance to sip coffee next year. Part of me wants the team to let someone like Navarro - or completely untested, 19 year old Cuban ex-pat Jose Iglesias - sink or swim at shortstop. I always wonder about these slick fielding, super raw, young infielders: really, I say to me, what would you lose with them running around like Rey Ordonez but hitting like... Rey Ordonez. Isn't that sort of what Gonzalez gives us - with less range but fewer errors? Anyway, I'm sure Tito knows best on this one but I had to share that.

At short, the Sox should either resign Gonzalez for a year, or go after Marco Scutaro - the 33 year old career utility guy had a breakout year for Toronto. He can hit and field, and he should not cost a ton since he's 33 and has a scant record as an everyday player. But, worse case scenario, he's a great backup and can play more positions than Gonzo. Lowrie still might be very good someday, but they have to have a plan A and make Jed force them to play him.

To upgrade from Lowell, the Sox would have to make a trade for a first baseman and move Youk to third full-time. The best candidates I can see who might be tradebait are Prince Fielder, Adam Dunn and Derrek Lee (who has a no-trade clause). All three will be in the last years of their contracts.

The other option I love is to somehow convince the Angels - yes, those Angels - that they should trade us third baseman/shortstop Brandon Wood. He's only 24 but for this is the third year in a row the Angels did not give this young slugger a regular spot in their line-up. This isn't going to happen but I'd love to put him at third.

As for left field, the Sox pretty much need Jason Bay. No way Matt Holliday is coming back to the American League and the free agent pool for outfielders is weak at best. The other options are that you could let Reddick or Aaron Bates learn out there, pray for Rocco and a back up, make a trade, pay for Carl Crawford if the Rays don't exercise their $10 mill. option, or sign someone like Myron Byrd, Andrew Jones, or Xavier Nady - yeah, those are pretty much the choices.

So, the Sox lineup could use some improvement but there aren't too many options out there. Epstein has shocked us before so maybe he'll pull a crazy one out of his hat.

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