With my brain more jumbled than a Peter Gammons butt tweet, it’s hard to process the events of the past three weeks at 4 Yawkey Way. However, the future waits for no one, so it’s time to look forward to 2012. Future General Manager Ben Cherington will be making the decisions that will determine the future of the Red Sox. But, as is my wont, I will assume the duties of Mr. Cherington and construct a roster for the 2012 Red Sox. And trust me, changes are coming.

Let’s start with a payroll baseline. The Red Sox have just about $127 million in salary obligations for 2012. I’ll assume that arbitration raises (most notably a well-deserved raise for Jacoby Ellsbury) will take a generous $13 million. So the baseline is $140 million. The luxury tax for 2011 was $172 million, and had raised $8 million per year each of the last three years (this assumes that the luxury tax will still be in place for 2012). So let’s say the luxury tax threshold for 2012 will be $180 million.

Starting Pitchers (5)

Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Alfredo Aceves, John Lackey

The Red Sox are locked in on John Lackey, whether we like it or not. After the worst season of his career, it won’t be easy to trade Lackey, no matter how much money John Henry, et al. would be willing to eat. Lackey’s trade value is at its nada. But he has to pitch better than last year, right? Right?

I think that David Ortiz was right – Alfredo Aceves belongs in the rotation. He might not have been right at the time, however. Aceves’ highest value in 2011 was in the bullpen but in 2012 it will be in the rotation. When Daisuke Matsuzaka returns from his injury he may become a starter with Aceves moving back to the bullpen. If Lackey can even show a modest improvement from the 2011 disaster and the rotation stays healthy and trim, this is a formidable five.


Relief Pitchers (7)

Heath Bell (Free Agent), Daniel Bard, Bobby Jenks, Javier Lopez (Free Agent), Franklin Morales, Junichi Tazawa, Michael Bowden (swing role)

You see what I did there? I’m afraid that tough decisions will have to be made. Jonathan Papelbon has stated that he wants to set the market for closers. Power to him, it is his right. However, Heath Bell (who made $7.5 million in 2011) could be signed at a few million cheaper per year than Papelbon will likely get in free agency and will do just about as good a job. I’m thinking that a 4 year/$48 million contract could get Bell, and what do you know, $12 million is exactly what Papelbon made in 2011. Free agent compensation will be a relative wash between the two.

Welcome back old friend Javier Lopez. Lopez is a premier bullpen lefty. Sure, his 2009 with the Red Sox was turrible, but before that, and afterward with Pittsburgh and San Francisco, Lopez was hell on left-handed batters, holding them to a .223 batting average against. Lopez made $2.375 million last year, so let’s say that 3 years, $4 million per (there or thereabout) could get it done. Franklin Morales will be the other lefty in the pen.

With health for Bobby Jenks, development from Tazawa and Bowden, and good years from the rest, this is a darned good bullpen. However, this means the end of the road for Tim Wakefield. I have grown to appreciate Wakefield’s service to the Red Sox over the years, but the writing is on the wall. Wakes doesn’t give the Red Sox “league average” pitching anymore, and catching the knuckleball is such a specialty (and Jarrod Saltalamacchia just doesn’t seem to have the ability to do it) that carrying a specialist catcher ends up taking two roster spots that can be utilized more efficiently. Red Sox Nation will miss Tim Wakefield but the future is now.


Catchers (2)

Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Ryan Lavarnway

Also getting a gold watch will be Jason Varitek. Varitek was great in his day, but that was then. Ryan Lavarnway deserves a chance to develop into a major league player, and Varitek’s leadership, which was so sadly lacking in 2011, won’t earn him a roster spot in 2012. This position is one of hope for the Red Sox. Saltalamacchia hasn’t lived up to his hype as a prospect but he’s good enough. If Lavarnway develops, however, what was once a weakness could be a strength.


Infielders (5)

Adrian Gonzalez, Dustin Pedroia, Jose Iglesias, Mike Aviles, Jed Lowrie

Yes, I’m trading Kevin Youkilis. With one year left on his contract (making $12.250 million), Youkilis is one of the few tradeable assets the Red Sox have (with which they might be willing to part). Trading Youkilis might be difficult, however, as he has missed 128 games over the last three seasons. I’ll tell you who I’m trading Youkilis for in the next section.

I’m not entirely certain that Jose Iglesiasis ready for the big time at the plate but all reports say he surely is ready in the field. And Iglesias won’t cost nearly as much as signing Jose Reyes would. I was impressed with Mike Aviles this past year and I think he will be a very good replacement for Kevin Youkilis at third base. If Jed Lowrie can stay healthy (don’t laugh, it could happen), this is a decent infield (although much better on the right side than the left).


Outfielders (5)

Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury, Ryan Kalish, Josh Reddick, Domonic Brown (acquired in a trade for Kevin Youkilis)

Philly has a lot, a lot of culcha dere, and now they have Kevin Youkilis. Ryan Howard‘s torn achilles tendon could keep him out for much, if not all, of 2012, and Kevin Youkilis can go back to playing first base, which will be much easier on his battered body. In return, the Red Sox will get Domonic Brown, who the Phillies seemed to give up on this year. Brown hasn’t developed as quickly as Philadelphia expected, but Brown will be given a chance to develop in Boston. One of Reddick, Kalish and Brown should be able to make the development leap and take over right field at Fenway.

As much as I would like to trade Carl Crawford(for Mike Trout *cough*), I’m not going to do it. First of all, his contract is quite onerous for many teams to take. Secondly, he just had the worst year of his career. However, I think that’s good news. I expect a big comeback year from Crawford, and I hope John Henry tells him that personally. The outfield is a bit short on pure power hitters but should be excellent defensively.


Designated Hitter (1)

Wait for it…

Wait for it….

Albert Pujols 

Yes, The Machine is coming to Boston. John Henry and Tom Werner will back the truck up for Pujols. It’s the perfect Red Sox signing – the biggest name on the free agent market, one of the two best players of this generation (I hate to say it, but A-Rod is the other), and a guarantee to keep Fenway full for years to come. It’s really a no-brainer (which makes it the perfect decision for me). Expect the signing to be announced, as is tradition, the day before tickets go on sale.

I know that Pujols has said that he doesn’t want to be a designated hitter and he won’t be, primarily. He and Adrian Gonzalez will share time at DH and first base, thus reducing the wear and tear for both of them. This should extend both of their careers, hopefully ensuring for each other that they maintain their value in the last few years of their contracts.

Speaking of contracts, what will it take to sign Albert Pujols? I think a starting point of 8 years, $28 million a year might get it done, 9 years and $29 million could seal it, 10 and $30 million per would make Albert walk to Boston.

But where does that money come from? Some comes from not re-signing J.D. Drew, some from trading Kevin Youkilis, and sadly, some comes from letting David Ortiz walk. Perhaps the best move Theo Epstein ever made, Big Papi will always be beloved in Boston. But as good as Ortiz has been, the future is now. Signing Albert Pujols is the better long-term move. Ortiz may have two more very good years in him, but Pujols is sure to have many more than Papi.

Red Sox Nation says goodbye to Tim Wakefield, Jason Varitek, David Ortiz, J.D. Drew, Kevin Youkilis, Jonathan Papelbon, Erik Bedard, Dan Wheeler, Marco Scutaro, Darnell McDonald, Conor Jackson, Felix DoubrontTrever Miller and Matt Albers. Our payroll baseline was $140 million. Taking Youkilis’s $12 million and change off the payroll makes $128 million. Pujols, Bell, and Lopez will cost approximately $46 million. The payroll of the 2012 Boston Red Sox is $174 million, $6 million below the expected salary cap. I like the 2012 Red Sox. A lot.