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Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Updated: January 20, 9:27 PM ET
Pressure on Ortiz, Martinez

By Gordon Edes
ESPNBoston.com

With Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein seemingly done with his offseason shopping, barring a minor tweak or two, ESPNBoston.com's Gordon Edes is looking at the team position by position. Today, Edes breaks down the designated hitter, catcher and bench.

His father was seriously ill, and he didn't want to talk about it, even as he went the first six weeks without hitting a home run. His name was connected to the list of 100-plus players testing positive for use of performance enhancers in 2003. His reputation, and optimistic nature, took a fearsome tumble. He was a nonfactor in the postseason for the second straight year (1-for-12 versus the Angels), and failed to drive in a run in a playoff series for the first time in his career. David Ortiz turned 34 in November, but has the expiration date on Big Papi already passed?

The Red Sox's offense will be in a bad way if it has. "When David hits,'' manager Terry Francona said. "We're different. When you have a guy who is a full-time DH, he has to hit. He's kind of the rock in our lineup.''

Another player who had been a rock for the better part of a decade is taking a seat on the bench: Jason Varitek, the captain, becomes the backup to Victor Martinez. Varitek turns 38 the first week of the 2010 season. He has been behind the plate for nearly 1,400 games. It wasn't the knees that went first, but the bat.

Martinez came to Boston at the trading deadline and in late August launched a 25-game hitting streak. His bat is vital to the Sox's offense … but behind the plate, he's no Varitek. Will it matter to this star-spangled pitching staff? Check back in October.

The bench? No sign of Julio Lugo, a capital upgrade by itself.

2009 performance. Fangraphs.com, one of those 21st century stat dispensaries, has a category it calls "Dollars," which roughly measures the value of a player if he were a free agent, based on how many wins over an average replacement player he produces. Sounds complicated? It is, but it's not without merit. In 2007, when Big Papi was still at the top of his game, Fangraphs determined he was worth $27 million, more than twice what the Sox were paying him that season. Last season, the worst of Ortiz's tenure with the Red Sox, his "Dollars" value was $3.1 million, or less than a quarter of what the Red Sox paid him. Lots of bucks, no bang. He struck out a career-high 24.8 percent of the time; his home run-to-fly ball ratio was 13.4 in 2009, or just over half of what it was in 2006. After three straight seasons (2005-07) of having an OPS over 1.000, he was down to .794 in '09. All of these numbers point to a hitter in decline. Ortiz calls it a bad year, but if he expects the Red Sox to exercise his option in 2011, he will have to resurrect at least a reasonable facsimile of the old Papi.

Victor Martinez
Victor Martinez's bat was a welcome addition last season, but when he was behind the plate Red Sox pitchers had a 5.22 ERA.

Varitek hit .157 after the All-Star break, putting him in the company of the game's worst hitters. Whatever cumulative effect the multitude of injuries he has played with over the years has had on his bat, he wasn't saying. He didn't have to. His days of being a productive hitter are over, although the Sox will spot him against left-handed pitching, since he can still do some occasional damage from the right side. One other thing he couldn't do was throw out baserunners. He caught just 16 of 124, or 13 percent, and that number includes six caught by the pitcher. And yet: The staff ERA of 3.87 when Varitek was behind the plate was much better than when his successor was back there (5.22 with Martinez). Martinez split his time between catching and first base; by the end of the season, he was the everyday catcher. Still just 31, he'll benefit from working with coach Gary Tuck, and in a contract year, he can be expected to put up big numbers at the plate.

It was a sweet story for Rocco Baldelli, the Rhode Island kid, to come back to play for his hometown team. Bittersweet when the Sox went day to day uncertain whether Baldelli's health would allow him to play. The revolving door of shortstops -- Nick Green, Lugo and Jed Lowrie -- underscored just how erratically the Sox have managed the position in the Theo Epstein era; only Lowrie, assuming he can overcome his wrist issues, will be back. Joey Gathright was the hired speed gun last season; he stole one bag in 17 games. Dave Roberts, he wasn't. And George Kottaras, the Canadian kid once heralded as a possible successor to Varitek, was released. His 98 at-bats will stand as the return the Sox got for dealing David Wells to the Padres in '06.

Departures: INF Green refused outright assignment and became a free agent; OF Baldelli became a free agent; OF Gathright refused outright assignment and became a free agent; SS Chris Woodward became a free agent; C Kottaras was released; OF Brian Anderson was nontendered and became a free agent; 1B Jeff Bailey left as a minor league free agent and signed with Diamondbacks; 1B Casey Kotchman was traded to the Mariners.

Newcomers: INF Tug Hulett was acquired by trade from the Royals. OF Jeremy Hermida was acquired by trade from the Marlins. INF-OF Bill Hall was acquired by trade from the Mariners.

DH upgraded over 2009? It better be.

Catcher upgraded over 2009? Offensively, without a doubt; defense could be an issue.

Bench upgraded over 2009? Yes.

Hall, who hit 35 home runs and played every day at short for the Brewers in 2006, hasn't hit since, but his versatility in playing both the outfield and infield is a nice chip for Francona to have. Hermida is one of those high-OBP, long-on-patience hitters that the Red Sox love; he could prove to be a useful left-handed bat, especially when J.D. Drew and Mike Cameron need time off. Hulett will provide depth in the minors. For now, one bench spot is taken by Mike Lowell, but that won't last. Once he's moved this spring, figure Epstein to make one more move to bolster the bench.

Gordon Edes is ESPNBoston.com's Red Sox reporter. He covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Ask a question for his next mailbag here.