What are the chances of the Red Sox going out and trying to get Jair Jurrjens, Edwin Jackson or Roy Oswalt to fill the rotation for 2012? -- Nick C., Portsmouth, R.I.
Oswalt intrigues me quite a bit. I think he would be a great fit for Boston. He has always had the mentality of wanting the ball in a big game. However, it all depends on the years and the dollars. I don't see the Red Sox giving him more than a year, and I also don't think they will break the bank in that one year. It seems to me that Oswalt is one of those players the Red Sox are waiting on to see if the market breaks just right for them.
In the meantime, general manager Ben Cherington is stocking his shelves with some low-risk alternatives like Aaron Cook and Carlos Silva, both of whom have signed Minor League deals. Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz give the team a nice front three to the rotation, and Daniel Bard is a bit of a wild card at this stage, not knowing for sure how he will translate in his move from the bullpen. In light of what happened last year, look for Cherington to stock his Spring Training roster with as many starting pitching candidates as possible.
Do you see the Red Sox signing a right-handed-hitting outfielder to platoon with Ryan Sweeney? If so, who? How about Cody Ross, who has always hit lefties well?
-- Anton L., Milton, Mass.
There are a couple of in-house candidates who might be able to fill that spot -- Mike Aviles and Darnell McDonald. However, Ross would be ideal if he fits into Boston's budget. Not only would his swing fit nicely in Fenway, but he obviously proved a couple of years ago that the big stage isn't something he would shy away from.
What affect do you think having a new Spring Training stadium built like Fenway Park will have on getting the team ready for the season?
-- David A., Sarasota, Fla.
It can't hurt. For instance, Carl Crawford can spend some extra time this spring getting more acquainted with the replica Monster at JetBlue Park, a luxury he didn't have a year ago. And for some of the newcomers to the team, such as Ryan Sweeney and Nick Punto, it's a chance for them to gauge how well their swing will fit with the Monster.
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Is there any chance -- if not this year, perhaps next -- that Kevin Youkilis could be traded in order to make room for Will Middlebrooks?
-- Kyle W., Elmira, N.Y.
I don't see Youkilis being traded this season. He is a key cog for this team with his on-base ability and his power. However, there's at least a chance Youkilis could become a free agent after this season. The Red Sox hold a $13 million club option for him in 2013. It will be interesting to monitor Youkilis this season to see if he makes the decision to pick up his option a no-brainer.
What is the status of the compensation in regards to Theo Epstein? How could he be employed by the Cubs for so long now with nothing received in return?
-- Steve W., New Haven, Conn.
I agree that it is a little perplexing for this to have taken so long. I think the biggest hurdle is that Epstein and Cherington are both much more focused right now on upgrading their rosters before the start of Spring Training. Once these guys can come up for air, I'm sure that compensation will finally be resolved. It's hard to imagine it won't be done before pitchers and catchers report to camp.
With Marco Scutaro coming back at shortstop, Youkilis playing third and Dustin Pedroia at second, what roles will Aviles and Punto play this season?
-- Branden S., Pittsfield, N.H.
Both players have good versatility and makeup, and they give the Red Sox a good bit of depth. Aviles not only plays all over the infield, but he got some more experience playing the outfield in winter ball. If he becomes a good option out there for manager Bobby Valentine, Boston might have found its right-handed-hitting outfielder to supplement lefty starters Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury and Sweeney. Punto is an excellent defender and can also be a tough out. He can also move around the infield.
Do you expect fan enthusiasm and/or attendance to drop because of the Red Sox's 2011 meltdown?
-- Robert C., Jewett City, Conn.
I really don't. If anything, I think last season's massive underachievement creates greater intrigue going into 2012. How will they respond to the epic collapse? What type of impact will Valentine make? Can Andrew Bailey replace Jonathan Papelbon? Will starting pitchers like Beckett and Lester have a greater chip on their shoulder after their shaky finishes last year? There is a lot to watch with this team. And let's face it -- there are a whole lot of folks who just love going to Fenway Park in the summer.
Why aren't people more excited about Sweeney? He may not be right-handed, but he's young, he's got size, he plays fantastic defense and has showed an ability to hit for some average, having batted between .280 to .300 for three consecutive years before his 2010 injury. He seems like a guy who has the potential to be a pretty solid MLB starter.
-- Tim S., Durham, N.H.
I agree that Sweeney could make a nice impact. It reminds me of when they signed Bill Mueller all those years ago. Nobody really knew much about him and he wasn't the type of player who wowed you with his stats. Sweeney is very much a grinder, and he's also a pretty good hitter. He could definitely sneak up on some people.
Has Ellsbury lost a step? He had an amazing year in 2011, but he also was caught stealing more than in any previous year and had fewer attempts. Since he was on base so often last season, one would think he would have more stolen bases.
-- Brandon P., Barrington, R.I.
Ellsbury seems to get stronger each year, and perhaps that did take away a small portion of his speed. But he hit 32 home runs. You can't steal a base when you go deep. The Red Sox will easily take that tradeoff. He also won a Gold Glove in center field. On the list of concerns the Red Sox have, any speed Ellsbury might have lost ranks somewhere in the hundreds.
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.