-- Alex S., Boston
I think that Wakefield will definitely be back next season. If he had a long-term back issue, it might be a different story. But doctors have assured him that all he needs is a very simple procedure that would have a short recovery time. He has a $4 million option that is highly affordable to the club, even if he misses half of the season, as was the case this year. He also continues to pitch at a high level.
And the other reason I think Wakefield sticks around is that he has milestones he wants to achieve in his career. With 189 victories, he could very easily win his 200th game next year. And at 175 wins with the Red Sox, Wakefield is 18 away from passing Roger Clemens and Cy Young for the club record. I think those milestones mean a lot to Wakefield, and they should. As far as where he ranks in club history, he has been one of the most dependable, durable and classy players to wear a Red Sox uniform.
With all of the recent success that Brad Penny and John Smoltz have had since moving to the National League, is there a chance that John Farrell is not as effective as a pitching coach as previously thought, or is the National League just that much weaker?
-- Kristine R., Mobile, Ala.
I think you made your own point when you said, "National League." It is a whole different world right now pitching in the NL over the American League. Not only is there one less hitter with no DH, but there's a different mind-set. NL teams manufacture runs and move runners over. They play for a run. AL teams play for the big inning, and their lineups are built as such.
Also, pitching in the pressure-cooker of Boston is different than the situations Smoltz and Penny are in now. I think in Smoltz's case, he was putting a little too much pressure on himself to be "John Smoltz" because he knew the rabid Red Sox fans were expecting nothing less.
As far as Farrell is concerned, he puts in as much preparation time as any pitching coach I have ever seen, so I have a hard time believing he contributed to the problems of Smoltz and Penny. I'd be shocked if either pitcher said that.
Can you see Victor Martinez taking over for Jason Varitek possibly next year? Are the Red Sox planning to split time between Varitek and Martinez like they did with Coco Crisp and Jacoby Ellsbury? Can you see V-Tek retiring at the end of this year? I hate to say it, but I feel that Martinez is the better player.
-- Moss R., New Orleans
The Varitek situation is an interesting one. The club holds a $5 million option, which I'd be surprised if it exercised given that Martinez will also be back next year. Varitek holds a $3 million option that he can exercise on his own. Will he do so? It depends how comfortable he is continuing to play a reduced role on a team he has been the captain of -- officially and unofficially -- for a long time. I could see 'Tek exploring other options this offseason. No matter what Varitek decides, he has had a great career in Boston, backed by countless accomplishments that don't appear in the stat sheet. I suppose Varitek could retire, but he loves the game so much that I don't think he will.
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It was great to see Junichi Tazawa win a couple of starts. What are the chances we will see him as a regular member of the Red Sox's rotation in 2010?
-- Cho K., San Bukkake, Japan
Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Clay Buchholz and Wakefield certainly seem like the projected rotation for next year, but you never know what might happen. Tazawa and Michael Bowden are both pitchers who will try to make an impression next spring. Tazawa showed some poise in the heat of the pennant race, but the club doesn't want to rush him too much. He is still in his first year of professional baseball.
Do you think Kevin Youkilis will eventually wind up playing third base full-time for the Red Sox?
-- Dan A., Merrimac, Mass.
The beauty of Youkilis is that there is no reason the Red Sox need to make that decision or projection right now. Obviously if they had landed Mark Teixeira last offseason, Youkilis would have been the third baseman for a long time. But that didn't happen. Now, the Red Sox can go on a year-by-year basis and decide what is best for the club. Youk's ability to play third has never come in handy more than after the Martinez trade. It is huge for Martinez to be able to rest his legs and play first multiple times per week. The flexibility of Youkilis to play both positions without complaint is something the Red Sox value greatly.
I'm pretty sure that once a player returns to the Minors, they cannot be called back up to the Majors for at least 10 days. How did the Red Sox work around this rule with the recall of Buchholz back in July?
-- Michael B., Farmington, N.H.
Good observation and you are right for the most part. The exception is if that player replaces a player who goes on the disabled list. In the case of Buchholz, they had him replace Wakefield on the roster.
So much has been said about Varitek and his intelligence and ability to manage the Sox's pitching staff so well. What do you think are the chances that he will remain with Boston as a coach after he retires as a player?
-- Bill C., Poquoson, Va.
As with most players, I bet Varitek will take a year or two off from the game before he throws himself back in full-time as a coach or a manager. Because of his baseball intellect and love for the game, I'm guessing that Varitek will coach down the line, as many catchers have done over the course of time. Whether that opportunity comes with the Red Sox or not, it's way too soon to tell. Obviously he has always had a good relationship with this organization, so that wouldn't hurt his chances.
When a player is designated for assignment, then released, what happens to his contract if he ends up signing with another team? Do the Red Sox still have to pay Julio Lugo's salary if he signs a new contract elsewhere in the next two years?
-- Sara M., Stoughton, Mass.
Yes, if a player is on a guaranteed contract, as Lugo was, the Red Sox are responsible for his full salary. That's why nobody picked him up off waivers. If they had claimed him, then that team would have had to pay Lugo.
What is your prediction of how Manny Ramirez will be received when he first sets foot back at Fenway? Are we talking a Johnny Damon response, something worse or better?
-- Doug S., Newton, Mass.
With the NL West in the Red Sox's Interleague rotation for 2010, there's a very good chance Ramirez will make his return to Fenway. He could also do so this October if there is a Red Sox-Dodgers World Series. Because of his ugly breakup with the team, I suspect Ramirez will get treated very harshly by the fans. I think it could be harsher than Damon.
And as I've said in this space many times, I am still perplexed by the animosity towards Damon. All that guy did while he was in Boston was play hard and play hurt every day for four years, and perform. I realize he said he would never play for the Yankees and then he did so. I also realize that a lot of athletes have changed their mind over time. I hope that one day, Red Sox fans will look back at what Damon did to snap an 86-year World Series championship drought.
Ramirez, of course, played a big role in multiple championships. But his exit from the team -- which was all but forced -- is one of the ugliest in team history.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.