Welcome to the offseason, which means I will try to take time once each week to answer all of your questions. Here is the first of what should be many installments over the next few weeks.
I heard a recap of the Red Sox season, and they said that Jonathan Papelbon could be traded. Could this be a possibility with Daniel Bard becoming closer?
-- John B., Pearland, Tex.
I think that it's natural for there to be some over-reaction for this simple fact: Everyone's last recollection of Jonathan Papelbon is that he couldn't hold down what seemed to be a sure win in Game 3 of the American League Division Series. But the Red Sox aren't going to be that shortsighted. Papelbon has been the closer for four years, and has been an All-Star -- and deservedly so -- in all of those years.
For whatever reason, this season was more of a grind for Papelbon than the past three, though his numbers were still impressive. I think the Red Sox would much rather work with Papelbon to try to get him back to his 2006-08 form than trade him away. Bard could well be a closer in the making. But right now, the best team the Red Sox have is probably the one that has Bard setting up and Papelbon working the ninth.
Do you think it would be conceivable to bring back Billy Wagner as a closer next year and let Jonathan Papelbon be the fifth starter? Paps already has the record as the club's saves leader. I was thinking he could give starting a try and possibly come back to closing games at the end of his career.
-- Alan B., Providence, R.I.
No, that's not a scenario that is in play. Papelbon made it very clear in the spring of 2007 that he is a closer at heart, and that's what he wants to be for the rest of his career. As for Wagner, he's not even sure he will pitch in 2009. If he does, look for him to seek a closer's job somewhere.
In recent years, it seems to me that the Red Sox have had one of the best -- if not the best -- farm systems around. Who do you think could be the next player to make an impact on the Sox coming from the farm system. I'm hoping Junichi Tazawa will prove himself next year in the Major Leagues, but what about people from our farm system?
-- Moss R., New Orleans
General manager Theo Epstein was pretty frank at his season-ending press conference that the best prospects in the organization are currently lower-level Minor Leaguers. It could be two to three years before you see the next batch of Pedroias, Ellsburys, Papelbons and Lesters work their way through the system. Here are some names you should become familiar with and follow their development during the next couple of years: P-SS Casey Kelly, OF Ryan Kalish, OF Ryan Westmoreland, 1B Lars Anderson and 1B Anthony Rizzo.
Have a question about the Red Sox?
E-mail your query to MLB.com Red Sox beat reporter Ian Browne for possible inclusion in a future Inbox column. Letters may be edited for brevity, length and/or content.
I see the Sox signed Cuban defector Jose Iglesias to a four-year deal in August. What are the chances come Opening Day that we see him starting at shortstop for the Sox, or could we see Alex Gonzalez return after all his success in his second run with us to take the job for a year or two?
-- Joe D., Scratham, N.H.
I've heard a lot of good things about Iglesias, and he could well be Boston's shortstop of the future. But it might be a little ambitious to slot him at that spot on Opening Day of 2010. As for Gonzalez, there is a mutual option for $6 million. I think he would welcome a return to Boston. But the Red Sox will probably try to gauge the rest of their lineup first before deciding if Gonzalez is the right fit to be the everyday shortstop.
Do you think the Red Sox will try to acquire Adrian Gonzalez next year? If this is so, what will happen in the lineup and the defense with Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz, Mike Lowell and Victor Martinez also there? Thanks.
-- Roal T., Chihuahua, Mexico
The Red Sox will be after an impact bat this winter, and Gonzalez figures to be at or near the top of their list. The problem is going to be finding an offer compelling enough to make the Padres bite. As for how the other pieces would fit on the team once Gonzalez got there, the Red Sox will gladly deal with that problem if it happens. Until then, Epstein and his crew will be more consumed with finding a quality slugger rather than figuring out how that person fits into the landscape of the current roster.
Will Jason Bay stay with the Sox?
-- David O., Methuen, Mass.
Way too early to tell. I think the Red Sox would definitely love to have Bay back. Left fielders who are good for 30 homers and 100 RBIs every year don't grow on trees. That said, they also come at a price, especially in a free-agent year. In previous attempts to make a deal, Bay and the Sox could not find common ground. Someone is going to have to give -- or maybe both sides need to give a little -- if it's going to happen now. I think all sides would be happy if they can come to an agreement.
Does it not make sense for the Sox to look for a new catcher for next year and move V-Mart to first, Youk to third and make Lowell our designated hitter?
-- Kurt P., Philadelphia
The Red Sox have a goal of trying to put as many players who are above league average, offensively, at each position. That said, it is very hard to find catchers who are well above the league average, which is why I think Martinez stays behind the plate the majority of the time. That said, Boston will give Martinez his share of time at first and DH to keep him fresh.
After his first full year in the Minors, where does Casey Kelly stand in regards to his ultimate position?
-- Paul Z., Hamburg, Mass.
Kelly is currently playing shortstop in the Arizona Fall League. In about a month or so, the Red Sox and Kelly are expected to sit down and determine what the best plan is for him going forward. I think it's still more probable that he will wind up a pitcher. The scouts love his poise and arsenal from the mound. While Kelly is very gifted defensively, it's still unknown what kind of hitter he can be.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.