I've spent a lot of time lately looking back on previous seasons, and while nostalgia has its place, I think it's time to look ahead... I don't know about you, but I'm looking forward to pitchers and catchers already (even as I root for the Phils in the Fall [Almost Winter?] Classic).
People are already talking about next year as a "rebuilding year," seeing as we have some aging pieces and a limited free agent market to work with. This fits with what we know of Theo: he would happily sacrifice a year now for a sustained run of success later. However, this is where Theo and his former mentor, Larry Lucchino, disagree... Lucchino wants the sellout streak to continue: he doesn't want to wait, but to have success NOW (sounds familiar, doesn't it *cough*Steinbrenner*cough).
It will be interesting to see how this plays out, because the free agent class this year is positively anemic, and if Jason Bay wants the highest payday, he won't be playing in front of the Green Monster next season. If the aging players on the team (Lowell, Papi) can't produce, we're in big trouble. However, we do have the chips to land something big on the trade market, if Theo wants to pull the trigger... If you ask me, it won't happen, unless old friend (and new Padres GM) Jed Hoyer wants to talk Adrian Gonzalez.
That particular scenario is interesting, as Hoyer has extensive knowledge, not only of the Red Sox farm system, but what Theo thinks each prospect is worth. This could be detrimental to a possible trade, as the Sox try to sell high, but it could become one of those rare deals that works out well for both sides (Hanley Ramirez for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell, anyone?).
Anyway... Here's my guess (wish) at what the lineup might look like on Opening Day next year:
Ellsbury (CF) - A no-brainer... even if there's another unforeseen leadoff option, Ellsbury will be manning the outfield at Fenway next season. Hopefully he continues to build off a successful sophomore season (and works on his plate discipline).
Pedroia (2B) - If I was ever comfortable making a promise on the presence of a player, it's here. Pedroia is a great player and clubhouse presnece, and he's signed on short money for the foreseeable future. As an established star and fan-favorite, Theo would be a fool to trade him for anything short of Albert Pujols.
V-Mart (C) - Though it hasn't happened yet, the Sox will pick up Victor's 2010 option. Hopefully he works on throwing out baserunners, and makes the majority of starts behind the dish (please Varitek, swallow your prode and retire).
Youk (3B) - Youkilis is another player I feel will definitely be with the team next year: between his flexibility, consistently sparkling defense, and offensive numbers (he has a reasonable contract as well), Youk isn't going anywhere.
Adrian Gonzalez (1B) - This one is wishful thinking... But just what would it take to pry him out of San Diego? Casey Kelley? Daniel Bard? Clay Buchholz? Luis Exposito? Some combination, I'm sure...
Lowell/Ortiz (DH) - The Sox cannot trade David Ortiz unless he wants to go, as he is a 10/5 player... They would also have to eat a LOT of Lowell's contract to ship him somewhere, and he had the better numbers of the two. Hopefully, at least one of them will be able to produce.
[Bay/Reddick/Damon?] (LF) - Here's the mystery. The inimitable Chad Finn suspects that Bay will sign elsewhere, and he's usually pretty shrewd in his assumptions (he was the only major writer that predicted Teixeira to New York). People are throwing around Damon as a possibility, as his contract in New York is up, and if all else fails, I wouldn't be shocked to see Theo toss Reddick out there, though in my humble opinion he needs a little more seasoning in the minors.
Drew (RF) - For all the abuse JD gets, he's relatively consistent (and he was even mostly healthy this year!). Drew can carry a lineup when he gets hot, and has pitch recognition second to none (he's just quieter than about it than Youk). It IS strange that he's our team's highest paid player, though, at $14 million.
Alex Gonzalez (SS) - If the Sox can't find an upgrade, I could live with another year of Alex's defense (he just makes shortstop look so PRETTY), and if he swings the bat nearly as well as he did down the stretch, it's worth it.
That's what I think... Do you agree with me? Think Theo will pull together a blockbuster? Some thing like Buchholz, Ellsbury, and Casey Kelley for Prince Fielder? Let me know in the comments.