Red Sox can rebound easily

The Red Sox need finish only 4-3 to win 90 games. Remarkable when you think about it — and a terrific platform for next season.

Imagine if the Sox had not lost right-hander Josh Beckett, second baseman Dustin Pedroia, first baseman Kevin Youkilis, catcher Victor Martinez and outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron for huge chunks — or, even with all the injuries, if Beckett and righty John Lackey had not combined for a 4.99 ERA.

Some seasons just do not go according to plan. Next season will produce its own surprises. Even if the Red Sox bring back their top potential free agents — Martinez, third baseman Adrian Beltre and designated hitter David Ortiz — they might not win in ‘11.

But their chances would be good with that group — or whatever other combination they concoct this winter.

For starters, the Sox will explore their options with each of the Big Three while also entering the markets for the two big free-agent outfielders, Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth.

Beltre: The Sox want him back at the right price, but do not necessarily need him. They can move Youkilis to third, find a one-year stopgap at first, then go nuts for a first baseman after next season, when Albert Pujols, Adrian Gonzalez and Prince Fielder all could hit the market.

Beltre, 31, is certain to reject his $10 million player option, and likely will command a three- or four-year contract with an average salary between $12 million and $14 million.

The Angels figure to be involved, the Mariners and A’s could renew their interest and other teams will enter the mix. But if the Red Sox struck a deal that they deemed reasonable, they still could pursue one of the big first basemen after next season.

At that point they could trade Youkilis, who would have one year left on his contract plus a club option, or make him a DH (though Youk presently is a much better defender than Fielder, better than Gonzalez and at least comparable to Pujols).

Martinez: Interesting free agent. Most teams will not view him as a full-time catcher, yet Martinez’s offensive production is only slightly above-average for a first baseman/DH.

Martinez also offers intangible assets — he is a tremendous worker and clubhouse leader. He will not even discuss his pending free agency, saying, “I’m not thinking about it.”

If he is flexible about his position — and willing to catch only occasionally — the market for him could be enormous.

In the American League alone, the Rangers, Mariners, White Sox, Tigers and Orioles could pursue Martinez as a catcher/first base/DH hybrid. The Red Sox, meanwhile, lack an obvious replacement.

Martinez’s minimum price likely will be three years, $30 million, though Martinez could seek a deal similar to the four-year, $52.1 million free-agent contract that the Yankees awarded Jorge Posada after the 2007 season.

Posada was 36 then. Martinez turns 32 on Dec. 23.

Ortiz: He told WEEI last week that he wouldn’t feel “comfortable” playing under a one-year deal if the Red Sox exercised his $12.5 million club option next season.

Ortiz wasn’t as firm in that position when I spoke with him over the weekend, saying he didn’t want to sound rude or speak out of turn. But he also said, “I think I’ve earned the opportunity to ask for what I want” — meaning a multi-year deal.

The Red Sox will not give it to him unless he agrees to a paycut, so Ortiz needs to be realistic: He agreed to the club option. He turns 35 on Nov. 18. He probably would not command anywhere near $12.5 million on the open market.

Crawford/Werth: The Red Sox already are checking into both, knowing they could upgrade in left field. Ellsbury will return in center next season and Cameron could become a $7.25 million fourth outfielder, playing mostly against lefties.

Crawford, 29, is two years younger than Werth, the prize position player on this year’s market, an all-around wonder. He will cost more than Werth, who — as a more athletic version of Jason Bay — is no slouch himself.

Crawford is a left-handed hitter, Werth a right-handed hitter, but the Sox do not necessarily have a preference. For what it’s worth, two of their left-handed hitters — Ortiz, if he returns, and J.D. Drew — would be in the final years of their contracts next season.




At least at this point, the Yankees do not figure to be a major player for Crawford or Werth unless they plan to increase their payroll from $206 million to the $225 million range.

The Yankees already have $140.25 million committed to nine players next season. Re-signing closer Mariano Rivera, shortstop Derek Jeter and left-hander Andy Pettitte probably would cost at least $45 million in 2011 salary, free-agent left-hander Cliff Lee at least $20 million.

That’s about $206 million right there.

The Yankees could trade center fielder Curtis Granderson and save $8.25 million, but right-handers Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain are arbitration-eligible for the first time and the team also will need to fill other holes.

Of course, a poor performance in the postseason could lead to more dramatic change.


Girardi: ‘Attractive to anybody’


Yankees manager Joe Girardi surely would be in trouble if the team collapsed, but Sunday night’s victory over the Red Sox pretty much ended that possibility.

Girardi has not distinguished himself these past few weeks, but the Yankees’ split personality also reflects the input of GM Brian Cashman. The Yankees are more concerned with keeping their players healthy than winning the division title, and Cashman does not apologize for it.

As for Girardi’s future, some in the industry believe that he has irritated the Yankees’ front office and ownership by refusing to rule out the possibility of going to the Cubs. But such is not the case.

The Yankees created uncertainty for Girardi by taking the same approach that they do with free-agent players, delaying his contract talks until the end of the season. Thus, they cannot be upset with Girardi for keeping his options open.

“That’s the way the world works,” Cashman says. “He’d be an attractive candidate to anybody. I think anybody would want him managing their team.”


Starting pitchers: Can’t buy ’em, can’t trade for ’em


After Cliff Lee, the free-agent market for starting pitchers this offseason will not be especially deep.

The trade market might not be so hot, either.

Consider Royals right-hander Zack Greinke, a trade target of several clubs before the July 31 non-waiver deadline.

Greinke, coming off a Cy Young Award, is 9-14 with a 4.23 ERA. Two years and $27 million remain on his contract, but a rival executive doubts the Royals will sell low on him. Greinke’s trade value will be higher next July if he bounces back.

Rays right-hander Matt Garza, for different reasons, also is unlikely to be moved.

Righty Jeremy Hellickson is ready to join the Rays’ rotation. But a potential surplus quickly could become a shortage if the team traded Garza or another starter.

At that point, the Rays would be one injury away from rushing a prospect or employing a six-year minor-league free agent to pitch in the AL East.

Garza, who is earning $3.35 million this season and has three years of arbitration remaining, already is drawing long looks from clubs with potential interest.

The Rays, however, are more likely to trade a starter after next season, when their next wave of pitching prospects will be closer to the majors.

Left-hander Matt Moore and righties Alex Colome, Nick Barnese and Joe Cruz all ended the season at High Class A, and one or more of them could reach Triple A next season.


Rangers’ preferred opponent: Dunno


The Rangers’ plan to start with left-handers Cliff Lee and C.J. Wilson in the first two games of the Division Series might not be advisable if they face the Rays, who are 36-19 this season when the opponent starts a lefty.

Then again, the Rays’ left-right splits are fairly even, and Lee’s 0-3 record and 4.56 ERA against them this season is somewhat misleading — he pitched well against them at the Trop on Aug. 16 until his defense failed in the eighth inning.

The Rangers, 38-42 on the road, are 0-3 at both the Trop and Yankee Stadium. Lee would be a reasonable bet to steal Game 1, just as he did against CC Sabathia in the opener of last year’s World Series. But the Yankees’ aura might be an issue for the other Rangers, most of whom have no postseason experience.


Which way Mets?


One option for the Mets as they plot their future is to hire an executive above general manager Omar Minaya, an accomplished veteran to restore credibility to their franchise.

Two execs drawing prominent mention, Pat Gillick and Gerry Hunsicker, are unlikely to give the Mets strong consideration, sources say. But a number of other candidates could fit.

Among them: Former Rangers and Indians GM John Hart, outgoing Nationals president Stan Kasten and former A’s GM and Padres CEO Sandy Alderson.

Alderson, currently heading baseball’s reform efforts in the Dominican Republic, did not rule out the possibility of rejoining a club.

“I currently have a very challenging assignment for the commissioner in Latin America,” Alderson said in an email.

“Beyond that, I can only say that I have no intention of retiring any time soon and hope to spend many more years working in baseball, whether that be with a club or Major League Baseball.

Alderson turns 63 on Nov. 22.


Which way Mets? (Part II)


Former Indians manager Eric Wedge is under consideration for vacancies with the Cubs and Blue Jays, and could emerge as a candidate for the Pirates and other clubs.

Why not the Mets?

One rival executive says that Wedge could make more of an impact with the Mets than any other team. Wedge is tough enough to handle the challenges of a major market, the exec says, and the Mets’ players would feed off his strength and consistency.

The Mets plan to resolve their GM situation first, then allow the GM to pick their next manager. If they indeed replace Minaya, it could be bad news for Bobby Valentine, whose strong personality would turn off many GMs, and Wally Backman, who might not appeal to a GM from another organization.


Kasten’s next move: Unknown


Don’t count on Kasten replacing Bob Dupuy as baseball’s No. 2 man under commissioner Bud Selig.

Kasten will resign from the Nationals at the end of the season and Dupuy soon will vacate his position, but the two moves do not appear to be related.

Asked flatly if Kasten will replace Dupuy, the source said, “highly doubtful.”

Said one exec who knows Kasten, “I don’t think anyone knows where Stan is going. I don’t think he has a plan right now.”


Farewell, Mike Lowell


At various points during the past two years, Mike Lowell’s Red Sox career seemed destined to end badly.

Instead, it will end with the Sox honoring Lowell this Saturday at Fenway Park.

Lowell says that his wife and two children will fly from Miami to Boston to watch him play for the final time, along with his parents, two brothers and sister.

He told his wife, Bertica, “Make sure the camcorder is fully charged.”

“I told my dad, ‘I’m getting a better sendoff than Griffey got,’” Lowell says. “He’s going to the Hall of Fame. I might go into my high school Hall of Fame.”

Lowell, 36, is too modest — he was a four-time All-Star, a Gold Glove winner, the 2007 World Series MVP.

One day, he could make an excellent coach. But he wants to spend more time with his family first.

“If something comes up, I’d be open to it,” Lowell says. “But it would have to be on a very limited basis, at least short-term.”


Next for F. Lopez: Anyone’s guess


The Red Sox acted shrewdly in signing infielder Felipe Lopez, a projected Type B free agent. But they are not assured of collecting a sandwich pick between the first and second rounds if they offer him arbitration.

Lopez, 30, will need to sign a major-league contract with another club for the Sox to collect the pick. That would not be a problem if it were solely based on Lopez’s ability. But his attitude often is an issue, and he is running out of teams.

Lopez’s next club will be his eighth, and he did not sign until Feb. 27 last offseason, accepting a one-year, $1 million major-league contract from the Cardinals.

Considering his downward spiral, his next step could be a minor-league deal.


Around the horn


• File this name for future reference: Hitoshi Tamura.

• The Pirates’ 2011 rotation is full of uncertainty, but their bullpen actually could be a strength.

Right-handers Evan Meek, Joel Hanrahan and Chris Resop are formidable, and the expected returns of Jose Ascanio and Kevin Hart from shoulder surgeries should make the bullpen that much stronger.

• If Kevin Towers had stayed with the Yankees, he would have scouted his former team, the Padres, as a possible World Series opponent.

Towers, who had served as a special assistant to Yankees GM Brian Cashman, was named the Diamondbacks’ GM last week.