Mailbag: Who will start at second?

Mailbag: Who will start at second base?

What's going on with Mark Loretta? Maybe I just missed it, but I haven't heard anything about him. He had a great season last year and went to the All-Star Game. The Red Sox need a second baseman. Do you think they will go for Loretta, do what they can with Dustin Pedroia and Alex Cora, or get someone else in a trade or a free agent?
-- Cooper H., Wilton, Conn.

The Red Sox already have pretty much stated that the second-base job is there for Pedroia to win in Spring Training. They liked the job Loretta did for them last year, but they needed a couple of positions to save money at, and second base apparently is going to be one of them. They feel they can get similar production from Pedroia on both sides of the ball at far less money. Only time will tell if that projection is right.

With Roger Clemens on the market and no solid closers out there, why haven't the Red Sox considered asking Jonathan Papelbon to stay as their closer for one more season and signing the Rocket? After all, they should try to keep him away from the Yankees now that Andy Pettitte has signed with them. Also, the 2008 free-agent class has the potential to include much better pitchers, like Joe Nathan, Trevor Hoffman, etc.
-- Giancarlo B., Puerto Rico

There is only one reason Papelbon is moving to the rotation, and that is health. The Red Sox feel they would be jeopardizing his arm by asking him to close again next year. As you recall, Papelbon's arm started to wear down around the All-Star break and completely broke down on him by Sept. 1. The team's medical staff has determined that starting will take less of a toll on his arm.

The Sox seem confident and/or set in sticking with Mike Timlin, Julian Tavarez, Manny Delcarmen, Craig Hansen and Japanese acquisition Hideki Okajima to anchor down the bullpen. However, this to me seems like a mix of old age, inexperience and inconsistency. Instead of focusing on bringing more big bats (J.D. Drew, Julio Lugo) to the lineup, why not set forth a solid foundation for the bullpen as a No. 1 priority?
-- Nate L., Newcastle, Maine

The Red Sox dissected the market and didn't find the relievers out there who were worth substantial money. So they elected to spend their cash on position players they feel can make a significant difference. This isn't to say the Sox don't view the 'pen as a priority. They absolutely do. But in this particular winter, they think it is best to look for lower cost alternatives rather than overspending for mediocre relievers.

Why does Manny Ramirez hate it here? Is it the fans he dislikes so much? Does he actually hate the fact he is loved? I mean, if we treated him like a Yankee, would he like us or something?
-- Domenic M., Franklin, Mass.

Ramirez does the public a disservice by not talking to the media, because it forces people to guess how he feels about issues. For instance, you say that Ramirez hates it here. I would never presume to write that because Ramirez has never said that. Why does Ramirez get unhappy with Boston at times? How would we know? He's never expressed that publicly. Well, we know that when Ramirez is in the lineup, he produces. That's all we truly know when it comes to Ramirez.

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Is it true that the Red Sox are going to sign backup catcher Alberto Castillo? He is an excellent defensive catcher, he has a great arm and the most important thing -- he knows how to catch the knuckleball. He has been catching Jared Fernandez's knuckleball for three years and has never allowed a passed ball.
-- Mario F., Santiago, Dominican Republic

From what I've been told, the Sox have signed Castillo to a Minor League contract that includes an invite to Spring Training. I'm not sure when the Sox will announce their Minor League veteran signings. I think they usually wait until close to January to make those announcements. I think he might be a good alternative to back up Jason Varitek. I'm sure others will be in camp to battle for that role.

Is Jon Lester going to be a rookie this coming season? He had 81 innings last year. What is the standard to be considered a rookie? Also, what kind of role will he have in the rotation with Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, Papelbon, Tim Wakefield and possibly Daisuke Matsuzaka as the starting five?
-- Mike C., Council Bluffs, Iowa

Lester will not be a rookie in 2007. You have to pitch fewer than 50 innings to be considered a rookie the following year. As for where Lester fits in the rotation, that remains to be seen. It's great news that he apparently has recovered from cancer, but the Red Sox still don't want to rush Lester. They don't want to get him back into the rotation until his body is back at full strength, and there's no way to know exactly when that will be.

Ian Browne is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.