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The final games of the Red Sox 2010 season are rapidly approaching. After a disappointing year, GM Theo Epstein will have a lot on his plate this winter.

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With the end of the 2010 season in sight, The Boston Red Sox will miss the post season for the second time under GM Theo Epstein’s reign. In a season plagued with injuries, 2010 seems to hurt a lot more than a comparable season in 2006. The sinking television ratings and the early departures from Fenway seems to display the fans’ confidence in this team.

The injuries obviously had a significant impact. When any team loses high-caliber players like Dustin Pedroia, Victor Martinez, Kevin Youkilis, Jacoby Ellsbury and Josh Beckett, the final product on the field will inevitably suffer. However, are the 2010 Red Sox a playoff team without the injuries? That’s debatable.

The glaring issue was the contradiction in the team’s philosophy. Last offseason was dedicated to building a team that preached run prevention. Yet, they currently rank in the middle-of-the-pack in both pitching and defense, and are near the top in offense. The red-flag was that, for the most part, the pitching staff was intact. The bullpen was dreadful and the starting rotation (excluding Buchholz and Lester) were flat out inconsistent.

As Tony Massarotti frequently points out on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s “The Baseball Reporters” (weekdays 6-7 PM), the Red Sox enter the most important offseason that they have had in years. Here are some stories to follow throughout the offseason.

1.) Need for Another Power Bat

Even though the Red Sox offense put up admirable numbers, this team has needed another impact bat for awhile now. With the pending futures of Victor Martinez, Adrian Beltre, and David Ortiz, they will further be in dire need of a power bat in the middle of their lineup.

Looking at the free-agent market, OF Carl Crawford, Jayson Werth, and Adam Dunn are intriguing options. Crawford seems unlikely due to the amount of money he will command (6-years, $130 million seems about right). Although Dunn is allegedly in talks with the Nationals about a contract extension, he could be a strong option to pursue. If Ortiz departs, he could split time between DH and the outfield. If Adrian Beltre doesn’t re-sign, Dunn could play first-base while Youkilis could shift over to third-base.

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Werth, who is on an absolute tear this month, is the Red Sox best asset to pursue. The 31-year-old outfielder is one of the more consistent hitters in baseball. Werth is a player who is capable of hitting 30 HR’s with 90-plus RBI. He has the swing that would put many dents in the Green Monster and in cars on Landsdowne St.

Werth could be had for a similar contract to J.D. Drew. If added, Manager Terry Francona would have to decide whether to shift Werth or Drew to man left-field and the Green Monster.

2.) Bullpen Help

Plain and simple, the bullpen was horrendous this year. You can bet that Epstein will completely overhaul the current staff, save for Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon. Yes, Papelbon did have his weakest season in his career as the Red Sox closer (3.92 ERA, 7 blown saves). But, if Papelbon is moved and Bard moves into the closer’s role, who will set-up Bard? The Red Sox simply do not have the assets to move Papelbon, at least for now anyways.

If the right deal comes for Papelbon AND Epstein can squander the market for a proven set-up man, then by all means, pull the trigger. It’s just that reliable set-up men are few and far between.

3.) Trade Dice-K?

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If there was one candidate that could be on the Sox trade list, it would be Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Dice-K is simply not cutting it in Boston. He has only one season where he has had an ERA under 4.00 (2008, 2.90 ERA). Additionally, he has only one season where he has surpassed the 200-inning plateau (2007, 204.2 innings pitched)

This is a classic situation where a change of scenery seems necessary for both sides, perhaps to the National league. Maybe packaging a prospect along with Matsuzaka (plus eating money, of course) would seem attractive to an NL team who could deal a right-handed bat in exchange.  The Astros’ OF Hunter Pence or the Dodgers’ OF Andre Either could be had in the right package with Matsuzaka.

4.) The Future of Jacoby Ellsbury

Shortened by broken ribs, Ellsbury’s season merely lasted 18 games, with 78 at-bats. Theories ran rampant throughout Red Sox nation regarding Ellsbury’s status. Whether he was truly injured, he had bad blood against the Red Sox medical staff, or simply being a soft player, one thing is for certain: only Jacoby Ellsbury knows what he truly feels. Until he states otherwise, we have to take his word that he was not healthy enough to play through it.

Without a doubt, Epstein will at least listen to offers. On 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Gresh and Zolak, SI’s Jon Heyman addressed the recent rumor regarding the Red Sox possibly moving Jacoby Ellsbury to the Mets in exchange for Carlos Beltran. Heyman noted that the rumors didn’t sound accurate, at least with Ellsbury being involved in a deal for Beltran. Ellsbury could also potentially be dealt for a strong bullpen arm, such as Maine-native Tim Stauffer of the San Diego Padres.

Ellsbury is still someone who can easily have an impact in the Red Sox lineup based upon his impeccable speed.  Whether that is at the top or the bottom remains to be seen.

5.) Who Re-Signs?

Three big pieces in Victor Martinez, Adrian Beltre, and David Ortiz hit the free agent market this winter. Who will Epstein try and bring back? Look for the Red Sox to re-sign two of the three, most likely Martinez and Ortiz. Beltre, represented by infamous Scott Boras, will look to get a big payday on the market.

Beltre’s year with the Red Sox has shocked many, perhaps even Epstein himself (.325 28 HR 98 RBI). The front office may in fact hesitate dishing out money to Beltre, mostly in part to what occurred the last time Beltre had a contract year. The last time the third-baseman had a contract year, he hit .334 with 48 HR and 121 RBI.

After the big pay day from the Seattle Mariners, Beltre his .255 with 15 HR and 87 RBI. Will his past trend worry the Red Sox? Or is Beltre simply built to dominate in Fenway Park?

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Martinez seems vital to re-sign due to his versatility between catching, first-base, and even DH. In all likely-hood, they may not have full confidence in running Jarrod Saltalamacchia behind the plate everyday. Additionally, Martinez is a feared switch-hitter placed in the meat of the lineup. More importantly, he allows the Red Sox flexibility if either Ortiz or Beltre depart. The Red Sox will likely look to bring him back for a two-year deal.

The odd man out could be the greatest clutch-hitter in Red Sox history. Sure, Ortiz has resurrected himself this season as the Red Sox DH (.259 30 HR 92 RBI). But, are the Red Sox confident that  35-year-old DH will continue his 30 HR pace?  If the Red Sox were to re-sign all three, Ortiz would have to come back for much less than his $12-million option.

This winter will be an exciting ride, presenting several new faces, stirring trade rumors, and possibly heart-breaking departures.

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What do you guys think? I know Red Sox nation loves to get creative when it comes to the offseason. Who do you want to see in a Sox uniform for 2011? Let’s hear it in the comments section below and I will address them in my next Sox entry.