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After missing playoffs, Red Sox focus on needs

After missing playoffs, Red Sox focus on needs

After missing playoffs, Red Sox focus on needs
The Red Sox found out all too well from the events of last season that pennants, World Series titles and even postseason berths are not captured during the Hot Stove season.

Still, you can expect new general manager Ben Cherington to be working the phones around the clock in an effort to upgrade the team wherever possible.

No matter what Cherington does, it will be hard to match the dramatics of last winter, when the Sox traded for Adrian Gonzalez and signed Carl Crawford (seven years, $142 million) in a 72-hour window in December.

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While Gonzalez thrived and Crawford slumped, the bottom line is that the Sox missed the postseason for the second consecutive season.

Cherington's mission will be to do whatever he can to stop that mini-drought in its tracks.

Expect Boston to be a player in both trades and free agency this winter. The last several years, the Red Sox have had one of the top three to four payrolls in the Majors. Don't expect that to change going into 2012.

The area that let the Red Sox down most in 2011 -- particularly in the late-season slide of historic proportions -- was the starting pitching. Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and John Lackey are all under contract for next season, though Lackey will be sidelined for the year after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

So, too, is Daisuke Matsuzaka, but he won't be ready until July or August at the earliest following Tommy John surgery. Look for Cherington to try to acquire at least one impact starter.

Other club needs depend heavily on what happens with free agents like David Ortiz and Jonathan Papelbon.

Contract issues

Free agents: David Ortiz, DH; Jonathan Papelbon, RHP; Jason Varitek, C; J.D. Drew, RF; Tim Wakefield, RHP; Erik Bedard, LHP; Conor Jackson, OF-1B

Eligible for arbitration: Jacoby Ellsbury, OF; Daniel Bard, RHP; Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C; Matt Albers, RHP; Rich Hill, LHP; Alfredo Aceves, RHP; Mike Aviles, INF; Darnell McDonald, OF; Scott Atchison, RHP; Jed Lowrie, SS-3B; Franklin Morales, LHP.

Club option: Dan Wheeler, RHP; Andrew Miller, LHP.

Dual options: Marco Scutaro, SS.

Non-tender possibilities: McDonald.

Areas of need

Right field: Whether or not Drew retires, there's no chance he will return to the Red Sox. Josh Reddick looked overmatched late in the season, calling into question his readiness to take over right field in 2012. Ryan Kalish, another highly-touted prospect, might have been ready if not losing almost an entire year of development with shoulder and neck injuries. With two left-handed-hitting prospects in the farm system, perhaps the Sox will look for a right-handed-hitting veteran to take over right field on a short-term basis.

Shortstop: The Red Sox have until Sunday to pick Scutaro's $6 million club option. If they decline, Scutaro has a $3 million player option he could exercise. With prospect Jose Iglesias still struggling with the bat and Jed Lowrie yet to show he can stay healthy for a full season, look for the Red Sox to add some depth at shortstop even if Scutaro returns.

Pitching: You can't just say rotation or bullpen. The Sox need additional pitching depth across the board. For the second consecutive season, a veteran-laden rotation didn't live up to expectations. Cherington will try to find ways of solving this. The bullpen needs another arm or two, regardless of whether Papelbon is retained. Is moving Bard to the rotation a possibility?

2012 payroll: For the past two seasons, the Sox have had a payroll over $160 million. Don't expect them to be far from that in 2012. The Sox paid a total of $37.5 million last year to Ortiz, Drew and Papelbon, who are now eligible for free agency. If those players leave, don't expect ownership to pocket the money. Instead, it will probably be repurposed for other impact players.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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