So Boston's 2009 season ends without to much of a fight as the Angels unceremoniously dispatch the Sox in three games. Though Beckett and Lester didn't have their A games, they didn't pitch horribly. The real problem was the offense. The Sox hit .158 and scored a mere seven runs in the series, six of which came in the final game. Were these the same Red Sox that finished third in all of baseball in runs? It's hard to believe that this is the same team that started with such a flourish and such lofty hopes. Yes, they won 95 games, but the way things ended, it feels like only 75. The framework will be there for another run in 2010, but there are many questions as Boston heads into the off season.
The first thing that comes to mind is that this is such a potentially undignified way for Jason Varitek's career in Boston to come to an end; without so much as a plate appearance in the post season. His contract contains both player and team options for 2010, but my guess is that Theo will just choose to buy him out and let the captain seek his fortune elsewhere. This, of course, is the right thing for Epstien to do, and it would be the right thing even if Victor Martinez wasn't waiting in the wings. Varitek has become both a liability at the plate and in the field as base runners have consistently turned things into a track meet when Tek catches. If this is the way it ends for Jason in Boston, it's far from ideal, but for athletes, the end seldom is.
My next big concern is Jonathan Papelbon. His meltdown in game three was just the culmination of his struggles this season. Though Paps saved 38 of 41 games, anyone who watched him could see that he was toeing a very thin line all season. He walked more batters than he ever has since becoming the Sox closer (24 compared to an average of 12 the last three seasons) and his WHIP was over 1.100, not very good for a closer. His time of dominance may be coming to an end. It will be interesting to see how the Sox treat him in the off season. Will they avoid arbitration again?
Another big concern in the pitching department is Dice-K. They're stuck with him through 2012 and spent a boat load of money. I will be curious to see if he will develop into a legit ace or if he will join the ranks of Mike Hampton and Carl Pavano in the free-agent-pitching-bust hall of crap. I think next season is a make or break year for him.
Finally, will the Sox retain Jason Bay? The word on the street is that he wants to stay in Boston, but we all know money talks. I would love to see the Sox keep him. He fits in well and adds some much needed pop to the lineup. But I'm not sure if the Sox will want to match what he may command in the open market. What will the cost be? Four, five, six years? $80 million? The fact is that while Bay probably has several very productive years ahead of him he is 31 years old. That could mean production until 38, or he could be washed up by 34. You have to straddle that fence very carefully. He is probably more valuable to the Sox than anyone else. I would be fine with five years $70-$75 million.
At least the Sox have some very important pieces in place. Youkilis and Pedroia are firmly entrenched as leaders and the catalysts of the lineup. Beckett and Lester left little question that they are a formidable two headed monster in the starting rotation. And Clay Buchholz emerged as a solid number three. Ellsbury will remain a menace on the bases. There will continue to be age concerns with Lowell and Big Papi, but hopefully their production will be worth their inevitable time spent on the DL. On paper, the Sox will be contenders again, but one thing I just can't shake is that late season swoon, the seemingly apathetic approach to September baseball. Their biggest mistake was the belief in the fallacy that they could simply turn it on just as the leaves turn in October. The Angels were just hungrier. Complacence is dangerous.