Looking into the post season - past the drama of the manager search and media-fueled blame game - it's time to start speculating about the players we'll see on the field next year. Let's look at a few areas by position:
- Not changing: first base, second base, leftfield, centerfield.
- Catcher - The Sox should be very happy with Jarrod Saltalamacchia behind the plate. The man his 16 homers in 103 games and became a much better catcher by the end of the year. That, and he's 26 years old, massive, has tasted the bitterness of failure, and switch hits. That said, the Sox want to find a place for Ryan Lavarnway. There's a good shot they don't invite Tek back and they go with these two. My ideal is that they teach Lavarnway to play third in addition to catcher and first, but that seems unlikely. They could also keep all three catchers and not Papi. They then rotate Lavarnway, Gonzo, Youk and others through the DH spot. That said, I expect Salty and Tek to start the season on the roster with Lavarnway forcing his way up early on due to an injury.
- Short - The Sox will likely enter the season just as they did last year. They will resign Scutaro to a one or two year deal, hope that Lowrie forces his way onto the field, and that this year is the year that Jose Iglesias learns to hit. After this year, they will have to decide if Lowrie will every be healthy and if Iglesias will ever hit. Scutaro could be a solid sub for a few more years but they'll need more soon.
- Third - Youk didn't look the same last year. He's 32 years old and hasn't played a full season either of the last two years. He doesn't strike anyone as the type of athlete who will play third into his late 30s. The Sox should try to get one more year out of Youk with Lowrie (or Mike Avilies) as a solid backup. They will hope that Will Middlebrook develops at Pawtucket and is ready to compete with Youk in 2013. By that point, Youk will either be struggling to keep a job or he'll be ready to move toward the comfy armchair of DH. I hope for the former but frankly expect the later. If Middlebrook looks years away, Lavarnway can't try 3B, and there's no good reason to expect Youk to improve, there's a decent chance that the Sox look to move on from Youk this off season.
- Rightfield - JD Drew is likely to retire and, even if he doesn't, Cherington isn't going to take the heat that would come with bringing back "Nancy." So, that leaves us with Ryan Kalish, Josh Reddick or J.C. Linares as the possibilities in right. The Sox will have to sign someone to compete with these guys. I'd love to see Kalish take it but it's unlikely - and a good problem to have. This is the position most likely to be taken by a new acquisition.
- Starting Pitching - the Sox clearly need a 4 and 5 starter. There's an outside chance that a youngster will grab one of those spots, but Doubront, Tazawa, Alex Wilson, and Weiland don't look like quality major league starters at this point. The Sox will have to be busy in this market.
- Relief Pitching - this is where I am most concerned because losing Pap means Bard will likely be the closer. We don't know how he'll do there. Assuming he does well, we have a massive hole in the set up role. I have a hunch that Michael Bowden might be a great reliever, but that's pretty much baseless. The Sox will have to get a few solid free agents here and give some shots to the aforementioned youngsters. It's not looking good.