Young core keeps window open in Boston

Red Sox face life without Ortiz, but future looks bright

Young core keeps window open in Boston

BOSTON -- What does the immediate future look like for the Red Sox minus their Big Papi? In truth, pretty good.

While replacing David Ortiz's production in the middle of the batting order will be the most pressing task for president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski this offseason, Boston has a strong, young core returning for 2017.

Mookie Betts, who had a monster season that could land him the American League MVP Award, will again be a centerpiece. Jackie Bradley Jr., Xander Bogaerts, Craig Kimbrel and Steven Wright represent four other All-Stars who should be back. Dustin Pedroia now vaults into the role of the longest-tenured Red Sox player, and he's signed through 2021.

Game Date Matchup Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 6 CLE 5, BOS 4 video
Gm 2 Oct. 7 CLE 6, BOS 0 video
Gm 3 Oct. 10 CLE 4, BOS 3 video

The starting rotation will have the front two back in Rick Porcello and David Price. Lefties Eduardo Rodriguez and Drew Pomeranz -- who are entering the prime years of their careers -- should also return.

In fact, Ortiz took time after the game to tell his teammates the future of the organization looks bright. He reiterated some of those thoughts in his postgame news conference.

"We took a big step going from last place to winning the division," Ortiz said. "That's a good sign. That's a good sign. And I know this organization, Dave Dombrowski and the rest of the squad is going to get the pieces to be able to compete next year and do better at this stage."

Statcast: Pedroia's diving stop

So who else besides Ortiz might not be back?

For the second straight offseason, Dombrowski has to decide whether to exercise Clay Buchholz's $13.5 million option. There seemed no chance of that in the middle months of the season, when the righty was bounced from the rotation numerous times.

But as Buchholz has done before, he had a revival and proved useful both as a starter and a reliever down the stretch.

"You can learn from the good and the bad. It's why baseball is the greatest game on the planet," Buchholz said. "You can always learn from things that you've done wrong regardless of how bad you did. And you can learn from the things you did right in that time. It's tough to swallow right now, but everybody in this clubhouse will get over it, move forward and have an offseason and get ready for next year."

The 41-year-old Koji Uehara, who seemed almost as ageless as Ortiz late in the season, is also a free agent. Will the Red Sox try to bring him back? Uehara has given no indication he wants to retire.

Joe Kelly, who is eligible for salary arbitration, could be poised to replace Uehara as the team's primary setup man in front of Kimbrel. Kelly dominated both in September and in the AL Division Series against the Indians.

Brad Ziegler, a sidewinder who was invaluable after being acquired in July, is a free agent. He sounded open to a return.

"I loved it here," Ziegler said. "It was a lot of fun. Fans were great. The organization was great. Teammates were great. I had zero complaints."

The Red Sox expect to be viewed as a top contender by the time Spring Training starts in mid-February.

"We made a ton of steps this year," Pedroia said. "We're in good shape. I think, especially what David did leadership-wise with a ton of guys, you know, he's leaving us in good shape. We'll be all right."

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.