I think the Red Sox have lost a crucial part of the ball club: fun. Manny Ramirez doesn't seem to be Manny as of late, and everyone looks like they are more depressed with the game than having fun. What's your take on this?
-- Charles W., Great Falls, Mont.
My take is that winning creates fun; fun does not create winning. While it's true the Red Sox have lost some major personalities over the last couple of years -- Johnny Damon, Kevin Millar, Bronson Arroyo, etc. -- I don't think that's a significant reason for the decline of the club. If the Red Sox were postseason-bound, I think they'd be having a lot of fun right now.
Why is it that no one is discussing manager Terry Francona's job? I think there were some injuries, but I think players quit on him and I don't think they respect him. He would be better suited to go back to the National League where he can make 10 changes a game. He has not stayed with a set lineup all year even before the injuries.
-- Ryan N., Toronto
I couldn't disagree with you more. It's hard to fathom blaming Francona for anything that has gone on this year. Several players have performed well below expectations, others have been either injured or ill. How is this the manager's fault? If anything, Francona has kept players focused at a time where it would be easy to drift off and start thinking about winter vacation.
What are the chances of the Sox picking up a big free-agent starter in the offseason like Barry Zito or Jason Schmidt?
-- Chris P., Pittsfield, Mass.
I'm pretty sure that the Red Sox, from ownership down on to the front office, will be firm in their commitment this winter to take away the awful taste of watching the 2006 team struggle down the stretch. Whether that means the Red Sox will make a major move in the free-agent market or via a trade remains to be seen, but I have a feeling you will see some dramatic improvements for 2007.
With Trot Nixon's future in Boston uncertain, what are David Murphy's odds of joining the Red Sox next season? What role do you see him playing in the club's future?
-- Eric W., Milton, Mass.
Excellent question. Evaluating both Murphy and Dustin Pedroia will likely be a major priority of Francona's role over the next three weeks. If the club elects not to bring back Nixon, I wouldn't be surprised to see a Murphy/Pena platoon in right field next season.
I have been pretty impressed with the Sox infield. Will Mike Lowell and Mark Loretta be back next year? If so, where does that leave Alex Cora?
-- Paul A., Derby, Conn.
Lowell is under contract for next year, so I'd expect him back. Loretta is a free agent and it remains to be seen if the Red Sox will bring him back. Ditto for Cora, who might seek an everyday job somewhere else.
There is a lot of support going to Jon Lester right now in the situation that has been handed to him, and I would say that I am one of his largest supporters. I am 19 years old, and I am also a cancer patient. My form of cancer is one that most doctors will never see in their careers. I would just like to let Jon know that we all support him. Good luck and godspeed, Jon.
-- Thomas F., Kingston, NH
I'm sure that Jon Lester fully appreciates all the kind words of encouragement that have been coming in his direction. He is a fine young man, and I gained a ton of respect for him the with the way he carried himself during that press conference the other day. Just the fact that he came out and spoke about his situation, when nobody would have blamed him if he didn't, shows you the kind of character he has. I also wish Jon the very best and hope to see him in Spring Training in February.
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It seems to me that the second-half slump is much more than the injuries. An area I haven't heard much about is the bullpen this year. Outside of Jonathan Papelbon, the entire bullpen has not done their job. Mike Timlin seems to have had an off year. Do you foresee any major shakeups during the offseason or will it just be more of the same? -- Robert B., Nashua, NH
The biggest question heading into the winter will be Papelbon, and whether he'll be the closer again in '07 or if he'll join the rotation. If Papelbon leaves the bullpen, then finding an elite reliever will become the primary focus of the front office. Even if Pap does come back as the closer, upgrading the 'pen figures to be a major focus of Theo Epstein and Co. The one thing they never expected this season was for Timlin to take such a significant downturn. He had been so reliable for them in his first three years with the team. I'd expect the Red Sox to bring in at least a couple of significant bullpen arms this winter.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.