-- Carlos George V., Torreon, Mexico
I'm sure Epstein has discussed every conceivable trade scenario with general managers this winter, including ones we haven't thought of. I wouldn't rule it out entirely, but to get a star hitter like the two you mentioned, the compensation price could be pretty high. For instance, the Tigers wanted either Clay Buchholz or Jacoby Ellsbury in a potential deal for Curtis Granderson before the center fielder went to the Yankees.
So if Detroit wanted one of those two guys for Granderson, the price figures to be much higher for Cabrera. As far as Gonzalez goes, it sounds now like new Padres general manager Jed Hoyer intends on opening the season with him at first base. The fact that Hoyer knows the Red Sox farm system so extensively would actually make a deal with Boston harder. It stands to reason that he is going to want all the same prospects Epstein wants to keep.
As for what happens at third base if the Mike Lowell trade to Texas for Max Ramirez goes through, Youkilis is still an option there if the Red Sox were able to find a good first baseman on the market. As for Beltre, it all depends on what the cost is. He is an elite defender, but his offense took a big dip last year. Could Fenway Park revive him? Those are the types of things the Red Sox are evaluating right now.
I don't understand the trade with Lowell. Sending Lowell and $9 million to Texas? Epstein actually seems desperate to unload Lowell. He performs well. Sure, he now has limited range at third, but he's a leader in the clubhouse and fits nicely into the positions shift situation that works with Youk and Victor Martinez. Is there something going on that the nation isn't aware of?
-- Stephen P., Franklin, N.H.
From what I can gather, the Red Sox fear that Lowell's age and health issues will prevent him from being a full-time player going forward, and they'd like to have a defensive upgrade at the corners. Your points about his leadership and ability to platoon are understood. He is a respected figure on that team. However, Lowell was open about the fact late last season that the rotation system that was going on would not be something he would enjoy for a full season. The trade hasn't been completed yet because of medical issues. Saying that, it's hard to evaluate it fully until we see how the rest of Boston's moves unfold.
There has been much talk about the Sox aggressively pursuing Beltre as a replacement for Lowell. Do you think Epstein and Co. will shift their focus to Garrett Atkins now that he is officially a non-tender? I see him as a better fit for the Boston organization, a guy who has hit for average and power on a more consistent basis over his career, solid defensively and, after a down year, we could probably get him fairly cheap. What are your thoughts?
-- Cooper G., Ludlow, Vt.
I'm not sure why Atkins would be a better fit than Beltre, except for the fact he will come cheaper. The Rockies supplanted him at third base in the middle of last season because of declining production, and his overall numbers were very similar to the ones Beltre put up in 2009. It is certainly possible, but Beltre is a better defender than Atkins. The market is still playing out, so stay tuned.
Who are the next Red Sox Minor Leaguers expected to make a significant impact in the upcoming seasons?
-- Karl M., Clifton Park, N.Y.
Epstein has been pretty open about the Red Sox's farm system being at a point right now where their best prospects are in the lower- to mid-levels of the Minors. That said, I wouldn't bank on major contributions from prospects at the Major League level in 2010. Casey Kelly, Ryan Westmoreland, Jose Iglesias and Ryan Kalish are some of the names to monitor in the coming years, but not '10. As for Minor Leaguers who could spend some time at Fenway in '10, keep an eye on outfielder Josh Reddick, as well as pitchers Michael Bowden and Junichi Tazawa.
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As the Red Sox did last year, when they locked up Dustin Pedroia, Youkilis and Jon Lester for the future, has there been any talk about doing the same with Ellsbury this offseason? If so, do you foresee it getting done?
-- Bryan T., Bristol, Conn.
I'd be surprised, only because it's very rare for a Scott Boras client to sign a long-term deal in advance of free agency. By next year, Ellsbury will be eligible for arbitration, so he'll have the ability to maximize his earning potential each year until he becomes eligible for free agency. So to answer your question, yes, I'd be surprised if Ellsbury signs a deal this winter.
If the Red Sox trade for Roy Halladay or sign John Lackey, Tim Wakefield won't fit in the rotation. Could he be an option out of the bullpen?
-- Kenneth S., The Hague, Holland
Remember all that talk last year about how the Red Sox were going to be overloaded on the mound once John Smoltz came back from his injury? Well, we all remember what happened. Whether it was health woes by other members of the rotation or ineffectiveness, Boston never got into a situation where it needed a six-man rotation or had to shift someone from the bullpen. That's generally what happens with pitching. When you think you have too much, you don't have enough. I don't think Wakefield in the bullpen is much of an option at this stage of his career, particularly with his health issues.
I'm sure I'm not the only one wondering this so I'll ask: Why has Ellsbury changed his number? Is No. 2 significant to him in any way?
-- Lisa P., West Jordan, Utah
Yes, Ellsbury has chosen to move to the single digits -- going from 46 to 2. All I can tell you is that Ellsbury told me he has always wanted that number, so he pounced on it when it came available. Brad Mills, Terry Francona's former bench coach, had been wearing the number. Once Mills became the Astros' manager, Ellsbury got his number. I don't have any big details on what he likes about that number, but I'm sure I can find out for you during a slow day at Spring Training!
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.