With the Red Sox beginning to prepare for their 2011 campaign, the front office is taking a look at its payroll strategy by virtue of its 25 and 40 man rosters. In the 2010 season, the Red Sox saw the introduction of Ryan Kalish, Lars Anderson and Michael Bowden, while saying goodbye to Mike Lowell and Jason Varitek, both of whom are likely to retire.

Additionally, the Red Sox have very important decisions which may affect the roster makeup for next year, as David Ortiz, Adrian Beltre, Victor Martinez, Bill Hall, Felipe Lopez and Scott Atchison are some of the free agents potentially coming off the Red Sox books, constituting $36.475 million in savings that may come off of Boston’s payroll ledger. Also, the Red Sox were on the hook in 2010 for 3B Lowell ($12.5 million), SS Julio Lugo ($9.25 million), C Varitek ($3 million), RP Bill Wagner ($1 million), and SS Alex Gonzalez ($500,000), which is another $26.25 million in savings.

For those keeping a budget scorecard, the potential savings from the 2010 free agent class totals $62.725 million. If you add JD Drew, Jonathan Papelbon, Tim Wakefield, and Jeremy Hermida’s contracts, the Red Sox will save an estimated (due to Papelbon’s arbitration eligibility) $30.5 million following the 2011 season.

If you factor that the 2010 luxury tax threshold was $170 million for its 40-man roster, it appears that the Red Sox are primed to elevate its minor league talents while making sound investments in the free agent market. Last years’ payroll for the Red Sox was $168,109,833, and can be reduced to roughly $105 million, not including an estimated $10 million in team benefits (health care, player perks).

If the Red Sox intend in spending up to $170 million for the 2011 and 2012 payrolls, and with Red Sox prospects coming into the fold, the Sox are well positioned to make serious noise in addressing team needs either through the retainment of players that have been on their roster or addressing their needs via free agency.

As it stands today, here are 33 players who constitute the Red Sox 40-man roster for the 2011 season (by highest salary per position; players bolded project to be on the 25-man roster):

SP – Beckett, Lackey, Matsuzaka, Lester, Wakefield, Buchholz
Bullpen – Papelbon, Okajima, Tazawa, Bard, Bowden, Coello, Doubront, Fox, Ramirez, Richardson
1B – Youkilis, Anderson, Bates
2B – Pedroia, Navarro
SS- Scutaro, Iglesias, Lowrie
LF – Kalish, Nava
CF – Cameron, Ellsbury, McDonald
RF – JD Drew, Reddick
C – Saltalamacchia, Wagner

Based on these projections, the Red Sox have holes at third base, left field, right field and catcher beyond the 2011 season, especially if you don’t consider Saltalamacchia, Kalish and Jed Lowrie as potential fits for next year at catcher, left field and third base, respectively. So what are the Red Sox to do?

Do they re-sign Victor Martinez and Adrian Beltre, stabilizing their catching and corner infield positions, and see if Mike Cameron is able to play 120 games next year in left or center field? The same can be said for Ellsbury when it comes to injury potential, which is why Nava and Kalish are crucial to the Red Sox outfield’s future.

This offseason, there are a number of potential free agents that should interest the Red Sox, considering the $50 million in potential savings from this year and an additional $30 million from the 2011 season. It appears that if the Red Sox are willing to roll with Saltalamacchia as their next catcher, then the Sox could go after either Adam Dunn or Prince Fielder this offseason through free agency (Dunn) or a trade (Fielder), while targeting Jayson Werth and Cliff Lee.

If this occurs, it provides an opportunity for Youkilis to move back across the diamond to 3B, while Anderson or Anthony Rizzo prepare to take over 1B in the next 2-4 years. It also provides an opportunity for the Sox to compete for Cliff Lee and remove Wakefield from the rotation for good, while shopping Matsuzaka as well.

But let’s think bigger.

The Red Sox can go after Prince Fielder and re-sign Victor Martinez.

If Ellsbury can stay healthy, the Red Sox can put Lowrie at third base, where he can be the quality on-base machine that he showed during the second half of the 2010 season, similar to what Wade Boggs used to be.

They could also pursue a trade for Andre Ethier, and make him a cornerstone of their future, since the Dodgers organization is a mess.

The Red Sox have the financial flexibility to make many moves this offseason because of the job that GM Theo Epstein and his past and present front office has been able to achieve through its amateur drafts.

They already have a setup man in waiting in Anthony Ranaudo, age 21, who pitched for the Lowell Spinners last year, and a starting pitching prospect in Casey Kelly, who pitched for Portland last year. And let’s not forget Ryan Westmoreland, the Red Sox’ prized prospect, who will start his comeback next year after missing the 2010 season due to a cavernous malformation from his brain stem, and is already working out and regaining his strength.

The future is bright for the Red Sox and they are well-positioned to make the two or three strategic moves needed to catapult the Tampa Bay Rays and get back into the playoffs for 2011 and beyond.

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