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Inbox: What are chances Bay, Youk return to Sox?

Inbox: What are chances Bay, Youk return to Sox?

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Inbox: What are chances Bay, Youk return to Sox?
What are the chances that Jason Bay might be on the Red Sox's radar to fill in the void in left field, now that he's been released from his contract with the Mets? I know he is coming off three miserable seasons in the Big Apple, but he put up some monster numbers in a Sox uniform, and did a pretty admirable job, given his unenviable task of being the player who replaced Manny Ramirez.
-- Buddy D., Grimshaw, Alberta, Canada

I agree that Bay could be the perfect example of a low-risk, high-reward situation for the Red Sox. We all know he can handle the market and he fits well at Fenway. The question is whether Bay still has good baseball left in him.

Bay's numbers the past three seasons weren't just bad -- they were dramatically bad. But it could be the case of a person who, as you say, was a bad fit for the team he was playing for. Plus, head injuries can be very tough to deal with, and Bay had a couple of them.

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If you sign Bay, I don't think you could bank 100 percent on him being your left fielder for next season. But if you signed him and had a pretty good Plan B, I would go for it.

What are the odds that Kevin Youkilis will be back in a Boston uniform for the 2013 year and beyond? He was great defensively and had pretty good numbers. Considering Bobby Valentine is no longer in the mix, is this something that GM Ben Cherington would pursue?
-- Zach M., Guilderland, N.Y.

Things sure have changed since the Red Sox traded Youkilis. When that deal was made, the Sox thought Adrian Gonzalez would be their first baseman for the next several years. And at the time, the Sox had a manager in Valentine that Youkilis had absolutely no use for.

Now, there is an opening at first, and Youkilis has history with manager John Farrell. The first-base market is pretty weak this winter. I would think the Red Sox will pursue Adam LaRoche and Mike Napoli, but beyond that, there aren't many options who offer more upside than Youkilis. Stay tuned.

What possible starting pitchers do you see being signed by the Sox this offseason?
-- Mike M., Hartford, Conn.

The one name I would cross off the list is Zack Greinke. He is obviously the most talented pitcher on the market, but the cost is going to be very high, and with his social anxiety disorder, I'm just not so sure a place like Boston is the best fit for him.

That being said, I think Hiroki Kuroda and Dan Haren are two pitchers who could fit their needs nicely. Kuroda is obviously getting up there in age, but he's coming off a terrific year with the Yankees. If you can thrive in New York, you can probably thrive in Boston. Haren has dominant stuff when healthy, but the Red Sox would need to make sure his back isn't going to be a big issue going forward.

Junichi Tazawa has pitched well during the 2012 season in relief. He was originally slotted to be a starter. Do you think he'll be given a chance to start in the future?
-- Ken P., Jamaica Plain, Mass.

Tazawa was so dominant as a setup man last year that I think there has to be a strong temptation to just keep him right there. Every winning team needs a lockdown pitcher in the eighth inning, and Tazawa sure seems primed to be that guy. Starting could be an option for him again at some point, but I think he would be more valuable to the 2013 Red Sox in the bullpen.

What are the Sox going to do about the vacant outfield spot? Are they going to let Daniel Nava or Ryan Kalish try their hand at big league action, or will they try to go find someone on the market?
-- Jon D., York Harbor, Maine

In light of the trade of Carl Crawford and the free-agent status of Cody Ross, the Sox certainly will look outside the organization to supplement their holes in the outfield. Kalish could be a nice option going forward, but he's yet to prove he can stay healthy. I think Nava is more of a backup candidate.

You recently mentioned building the future team around an existing core. The notable name you didn't include was Jacoby Ellsbury. Do you think, with the recent trimming of the budget, the Red Sox will try to keep him or trade him before his contract expires?
-- Bart W., Corvallis, Ore.

I look at Ellsbury the same way I looked at Jonathan Papelbon for many years. With Papelbon, I always figured it was inevitable he would leave as a free agent once he was eligible. Ellsbury has one more year in Boston before he hits the market. Coming off an injury-plagued season, I doubt the Red Sox will trade him this offseason, because his value is down.

I remember one thing that Theo Epstein said early in his tenure as Boston's general manager, when he was asked about going through the season with a bunch of guys who could be free agents at the end of the year. Epstein said, "Never underestimate the value of a season." In other words, if Ellsbury has a monster 2013 season, that could benefit the Red Sox far more than anything they would receive for him in a trade. If Boston falls out of contention in '13, I would expect Ellsbury to get traded during the season. I just don't think Ellsbury and the Red Sox will find common ground on a long-term deal, so I suspect he will play somewhere other than Boston in 2014 and beyond.

We hear of all the infielders and outfielders in the Sox's farm system, but nothing about pitchers. Who are the top pitching prospects?
-- John B., Swanzey, N.H.

Matt Barnes, the team's top pick from the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, is the guy to keep an eye on. The righty has lived up to all his billing, and the Red Sox hope he can be the type of front-line starter they haven't developed since Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. Rubby De La Rosa, one of the pitchers acquired in the Dodgers blockbuster, is another farmhand with star potential. I'm looking forward to getting a look at both of these guys in Spring Training.

Lester has not been the same the last two seasons. Every so often, we get a glimpse of the Cy Young Award candidate he was. Does it come down to something being different in his workouts or something?
-- Mike B., Simsbury, Conn.

One of the best side benefits in getting Farrell back in the organization -- this time as manager -- is that nobody knows Lester better. It was under Farrell that Lester pitched the best baseball of his career. Farrell was adamant a few years back that the Sox didn't trade Lester for Johan Santana, and the organization benefited from that confidence.

Farrell noticed flaws in Lester's delivery from the other dugout last season, so I'm sure he'll bring those things to the lefty's attention right away. I'm guessing that Lester will have a rebound season under Farrell and new pitching coach Juan Nieves.

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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