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Join Staff writer of &, Kevin Burgoyne, on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturdays as he reviews each of the major league organizations to see what is to be expected from the 2008 season. Each article will break down the “Roster Decisions”, “Down on the Farm”, “Where to Next”, and “Fantasy Keepers & Sleepers”.

MLB Hot Stove: Boston Red Sox

Roster Decisions

Recently Departed

There were several players that departed from the Red Sox this off season, but the two that names really stand-out are starting pitcher Matt Clement and setup/closer Eric Gagne.

Matt came to the Red Sox in '06 with many expecting him to continue throwing "gas" while working out his pitch selection and pitch control under the tutelage of All-Star and team captain Jason Varitek. This, however, was not the case. He struggled mightily, eventually going to the disabled list due to a nasty line drive to the head. Matt was recently offered and agreed to a 1-year contract with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Eric, on the other hand, had all ready struggled through injuries and re-established himself as a promising closer in 2007 in a Texas Ranger uniform. The Red Sox made a deadline trade for the once prominent closer and installed him in the role as setup man, to assist Hideki Okajima in setting the table for All-Star Jonathan Papelbon. Unfortunately for Gagne and the Red Sox, like so many other stars that have come and gone through Fenway, it appeared as though the demands of playing in Sox Nation were simply too much for him. To say that he imploded would be an understatement. The Red Sox appeared more than happy to receive Milwaukee Brewers’ first round draft pick in the 2008 draft when the Brewers agreed to a one-year, $10M contract in December.

Many of the other players that have not been either picked up by another major league roster or re-signed to the Sox organization include 2B Royce Clayton, RHRP Brendan Donnelly, 1B/RF Eric Hinske, RF Bobby Kielty, and Tim Wakefield’s battery partner, C Doug Mirabelli.

Sticking Around

The Red Sox received two considerable hometown discounts as they came to terms on a new contract with 2007 World Series MVP, gold glove toting 3B Mike Lowell. Mike agreed to a 3-year, $37M contract that all but secures that he finishes his illustrious career in a Red Sox uniform. This is a considerable discount when you take into account that he had turned down a 4-year $50M contract to return to the Yankees organization, of which he was originally drafted, to become their starting first baseman.

The second discount received not only a discount financially from Curt Schilling, but a self-induced incentive clause based upon his weight/physical fitness. Curt Schilling has already secured a place in Red Sox history with his often referred to “bloody sock” performance in the 2004 World Series, but he has gained even more respect from Sox fans for inducing the “weight” clause to show that he does not intend to just siphon money out of the Red Sox payroll. Do not expect him to be the flame-throwing right hander that he was prior to the 2005 season, but you can place a healthy enough expectation that he will win you 14 – 17 games, which is all that you can ask from a projected third starter.

The Red Sox continued their run of excellent contract decisions by executing the contract extension options of the ageless Tim Wakefield and his inning-eating knuckleball, and Julian Tavarez and his ability to play the utility role for the pitching staff (23 games starting, 11 games in relief).

New Additions

Now here is a subject that is “all the buzz” around the MLB Hot Stove. The Red Sox are one of only a few that can afford AND has put up an offer that can be “considered” for arguably the best pitcher of this era, Minnesota Twins’ LHP Johan Santana.

Theo Epstein and the Red Sox Organization have put forward two player packages that include either top prospect/starting World Series CF Jacoby Ellsbury or World Series starting pitcher Jon Lester. Included in most packages are CF Coco Crisp (when Ellsbury is not included), and minor league prospects of note, RHP Justin Masterson, RHP Michael Bowden, SS Jed Lowrie, and LHP Dustin Richardson, all who are among the Sox’s Top 10 prospects list.

To date, the Minnesota Twins seem content with sitting on their hands and for the most part, the Red Sox organization and Sox Nation are as well. Most fans are unwilling to depart with either of the two headlining young talents (Jon Lester, Jacoby Ellsbury), but the slogan heard all around Sox Nation is “In Theo we trust”.

Beyond that, there really does not appear to be too much in the free agent market that the Red Sox cannot comparatively pull from their minor league system, therefore I do not foresee them making any major deals but maybe a few hit or miss attempts for a situational relief pitcher.

Down on the Farm

To say that the Red Sox have reformed their “Yawkey Foundation” ways is an understatement. Like the Oakland Athletics, New York Yankees, and Los Angeles Dodgers, the Boston Red Sox have trusted their abilities to properly scout and draft excellent college and high school talent.

If you disagree, I simply ask you to turn to the 2007 World Series roster where you can find several names that jump out at you, most with fantasy impact. We will start with the 2007 AL Rookie of the Year, Dustin Pedroia. Although he got off to a rocky start, skipper Terry Francona stuck with this talented second baseman and rightly so, as he put up an amazing .317 batting average with 39 doubles, and on OBP of .380. He all but insured that David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez had the opportunities necessary to generate runs batted in, game in, and game out.

Names like Kevin Youkilis, who not only transitioned from 3B to 1B in his first full season, starting 135 games at 1B, but more importantly NEVER had an error, as well as starting pitcher Jon Lester who started in the series-deciding game in the divisional series, as well as an outstanding performance in the final game of the World Series. We also need to consider CF Jacoby Ellsbury who was a late September call-up, batting .353 in 116 at bats and 9 stolen bases, posting an impressive .417 batting average in the World Series. We cannot mention talent from the farm system without bringing up the name of the flame-throwing, furrowed eyebrow-staring, right-handed closer Jonathan Papelbon who in his first two full seasons secured two back-to-back 40 save seasons while having an astonishing 1.62 ERA in the process.

There are a few other names to look out for, primarily two that have a significant chance of making the roster at some point in the 2008 season, LHSP Clay Buchholz and SS Jed Lowrie.

You may recall Clay Buchholz during his cup of coffee in the majors in the 2007 season; after all, it is hard to forget a rookie making only his second start in the majors throwing a no-hitter. Only the 17th time in Red Sox history, this young right handed shot up to the top of every team’s wish list after becoming only the third major league pitcher since 1900 to throw a no-hitter in his first or second major league start. I assure you that he has the “untradeable” marked next to his name on every piece of paperwork in the Sox organization.

As for the young shortstop Jed Lowrie, he too has high expectations placed on him. Like Pedroia before him, Lowrie has shot up the minor league farm system, receiving an invitation to the 2008 Red Sox spring training and likely to get the call-up if anything happens to Julio Lugo or any of the middle infield players. Expect Lowrie to get a shot or two before September and will most assuredly to be added to the big leagues when the team expands to a 40-man roster.

Where to Next?

With a starting rotation that has Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Curt Schilling, Tim Wakefield, and Jon Lester, you can expect that the early season buzz is going to be about the team being primed for a repeat.

With the core of their batting lineup returning, especially David “Big Papi” Ortiz, Manny “Just being Manny” Ramirez, and the late season emergence of Jacoby Ellsbury and J.D. Drew, you can bet that this team is thinking the same thing…repeat!

When you consider that all three starting outfielders had essentially career lows statistically (Ramirez, Coco Crisp, Drew) and likely to turn themselves around AND the addition of Jacoby Ellsbury, that the team his little to worry about beyond the infield diamond.

The infield positions are also very much in place with Lowell, “Last out” Lugo, Pedroia, and Youkilis all returning, and utility INF Alex Cora still under contract. There really is not too much concern here either.

The two spots that need some beefing up is the back-up catcher role and the bullpen.

Jason Varitek is not getting any younger and there is not a clear cut prospect like they had in the past with now Cleveland Indian Kelly Shoppach no longer waiting in the wings, so the team will definitely need to do some hunting this off-season.

The bullpen, lead by All-Star setup man Hideki “Okey Dokey” Okajima and closer Jonathan “Wild Thing” Papelbon still need some spots filled. They have exercised the contract on Julian Tavarez and re-signed the timeless Mike Timlin, however, they appear to be relying on youth rather than free-agency or trade to solidify their bullpen. Manny Delcarmen has shown some flashes of brilliance, displaying a mean fastball near the mid-90s and the talk is that Clay Buchholz may be billed as a relief pitcher for the ’08 season, but they are still an arm or two short and I do not think that pitchers like RHP Kyle Snyder and LHP Javier Lopez are to be totally relied upon.

If the Red Sox do somehow coerce the Minnesota Twins into a trade for Johan Santana, there will be no doubt that they would be favored to repeat in 2008, which leads me to believe that the Twins will hold out as long as they can for the NY Mets to pull together enough talent to trade Johan to the National League and not have to worry about getting stung by their decision to trade him away.

Fantasy Corner

3 Fantasy Keepers:

1. Josh Beckett – After seeing how poised he was throughout the season, avoiding all but one blister problem and relying on his off-speed stuff more and relying less on simply trying to blow the ball past pitchers, it appears he is primed for many great years to come.

2. Jacoby Ellsbury – What this kid did in the World Series was nothing short of remarkable and easily put his name on the fantasy map. Expect him to start regardless of whether or not Coco Crisp is in a Sox uniform. He has 30-30 written all over him.

3. Clay Buchholz – It is not often that a pitcher is this heralded when he made less than four major league starts in his career, but Buckholz is one of them. You simply cannot throw a no-hitter and not be considered worthy of adding to a keeper league roster.

3 Fantasy Sleepers

1. J.D. Drew – Long known for his batting average (and consistent back problems), J.D. and his bat came to life at the most critical time for the Red Sox and showed why they rendered him such a lucrative, long term contract. With his up and down play throughout his career, he is not valued as high as he should be. He is playing in a ballpark that favors lefties, especially those who have pop at the plate, speed on the base paths, and can spray it to all fields.

2. Manny Ramirez – Now I am not suggesting that you wait till the 10th round to snag him in your fantasy league draft, however, I am saying that there is such hype around younger players and his appearance for declining statistics and slow starts gives you the opportunity to snag him as your second or third outfielder, making you look like a drafting genius come draft day. Many fantasy managers have short term memory and will likely not pay attention to the work that Manny is putting into this off-season. Expect him to blow up to his prototypical 40-100-.300 numbers that you expect from him.

3. Daisuke Matsuzaka – Yes, he had a second-half swoon and yes, he demonstrated that he really does not have a “gyro” ball, but when you consider that he regained his confidence towards the end of the season and has never before been in a five-man rotation, going for as long of a season as the majors has, you have to expect that type of growing pains. He will get drafted in some leagues higher than he should, however, he will likely be drafted far later than he should in most leagues.

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