Saltalamacchia has made great strides this season in all facets of his game, and I think that he's proved he can be a nice long-term solution for the Red Sox behind the plate. The key is the comfort he has gained with the pitching staff. By this point, I'm guessing the Red Sox feel they would be better off trying to keep Salty so he can keep building those relationships, rather than break in somebody new. With David Ross under contract for one more year, the Sox could have real nice stability behind the plate by bringing Saltalamacchia back. At the plate, he has become a much more reliable hitter, where it used to be almost home run or nothing.
What are Boston's contractual obligations to Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey next season? Is it fair to presume that Koji Uehara now will have the closing job next season barring any injuries?
-- Mark V., Syracuse, N.Y.
Hanrahan is eligible for free agency, so the Red Sox have no contractual obligations there. The team does control Bailey for one more year, meaning Boston could offer him arbitration. However, it's all but certain Bailey would be non-tendered, given the fact he is likely to miss a good chunk of the '14 season due to shoulder surgery. Even if they non-tender Bailey, they could bring him back at a reduced rate with some sort of incentive-laden contract. Either way, Uehara will definitely be the closer next season. By having one of the best seasons of any relief pitcher in team history, I think he's earned that.
This 2013 team is full of what seems to be short-term characters. General manager Ben Cherington created a team that would be able to bounce back with charisma and wins, although not all of us expected this much, but many of them -- Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, Stephen Drew, Daniel Nava -- don't seem to be long-term fixes. The outfield is particularly interesting, with Jacoby Ellsbury a free agent. Curious as to what you think the lineup could look like three years from now. And with David Ortiz aging, Dustin Pedroia seems to be the only one I can see on our team in three to five years.
-- Kaleb R., Santa Barbara, Calif.
Well, three years feels like a long time, but then again, it will probably be here before you know it. From this year's team, Pedroia and Will Middlebrooks are two players you could very easily envision still being here. Also, Xander Bogaerts looks primed to man shortstop for a long time in Boston. If Jackie Bradley Jr. pans out in center field, I would imagine he will be there also. Other than that, it's hard to really say. Each offseason takes on a life of its own.
With all of the production and consistency from the bench this year, who is going to have the best chance at cracking the playoff roster?
-- Nick R., Stratford, Conn.
Assuming the Red Sox can go with 11 pitchers in the Division Series instead of 12, they would be able to carry five bench players. There would seem to be four definites: Gomes, Mike Carp, Ross and Bogaerts. That leaves one spot up for grabs for a speedster like Quintin Berry or a reliable and versatile defender such as John McDonald.
Do you think that the Red Sox will extend their target price for Ellsbury this offseason, given how productive he's been this season? It seems that this is the Ells that will give whoever signs him five or six years.
-- Jared M., Johnson, Vt.
Well, it's hard to know exactly what Ellsbury will be for the next five to six years. As they learned with Carl Crawford, signing an outfielder in his 30s who relies on his legs to a long-term deal can be risky business. I'm guessing the Red Sox would be more likely to keep Ellsbury if the contract is something like four years. Everyone knows what Ellsbury can do when he is on the field. The problem is that injuries -- even though a lot of them have been out of his control -- seem to find him.
How come no one ever talks about Alex Hassan? He is a .300-hitting outfielder on the 40-man roster who had a fine season in Triple-A. Yet he is never mentioned as a callup, nor in future-plan conversations. What's the deal?
-- Jonathan G., Brazil, Ind.
Hassan did have a really solid season when he was on the field, but injuries limited him to just 55 games at Triple-A this season. If he had stayed healthy, I think he would have had a legitimate chance at being a September callup. Hassan joins Bradley and Bryce Brentz as outfielders who are on the team's radar in the coming season.
How many successful Major League players have failed to make their high school team? Why isn't there more discussion about how Nava has been able to do this?
-- Bob S., Boca Raton, Fla.
I hear a lot of talk about Nava's unconventional path to becoming a solid Major League player. You heard a ton about this when he hit the grand slam on his first pitch with the Red Sox in 2010. By now, I think the focus -- as it should be -- is on the fine player he has become. Nava, when you combine his on-base skills and his defensive versatility, has been an invaluable part of this year's Red Sox.