Inbox: How can Sox maximize Panda's value?

Beat reporter Ian Browne answers questions from Boston fans

Inbox: How can Sox maximize Panda's value?

If Pablo Sandoval loses the job at third base, will he still be valuable as DH?
-- @subfloor

It depends on how well Sandoval hits. After missing such a long time, it might take him a while to regain his hitting stroke. I think Sandoval will get ample opportunity throughout Spring Training to prove what he can do and win back the hot corner. If that doesn't happen, look for him to split time at third and DH. He still has three years left on his contract, so it would be best for all parties if he can get back to being a productive player.

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What's the plan for Blake Swihart next season? What's the catcher situation?
-- @Ed_White7

The first thing the Red Sox will do is assess Swihart's health when he reports to Spring Training. If he is 100 percent, I think there could be a wide-open catching competition among Swihart, Sandy Leon and Christian Vazquez.

Does anyone have a better case for 2016 American League Cy Young Award than Rick Porcello?
-- @1995ALMVP

Porcello has a strong shot at winning, but he faces fierce competition. Justin Verlander, Porcello's former teammate, had a tremendous season. Zach Britton had one of the best seasons in recent memory for a closer, but a lot of voters might be torn on whether a reliever is deserving of this award. Corey Kluber and Chris Sale also put up good numbers across the board.

Porcello's 22nd victory

Do you see Travis Shaw as a part of the 2017 Red Sox, mixing in at third base, first base and DH?
-- @1995ALMVP

That was the role the Red Sox had envisioned this year for Shaw, but he changed that narrative by winning the third-base job in camp. If Shaw can find a way to be more consistent at the plate, he would be extremely valuable at the role you outlined. It's also important for the Red Sox to get production from the left side of the plate.

I feel like we saw a change in approach at the plate by Mookie Betts in September -- lots of singles and not many extra-base hits. Any reason?
-- @mikeisverynice

It was noticeable how much teams started to attack Betts away in the last month of the season, knowing that his power was to left and left-center. I'm guessing that is one of the things Betts is going to work hard at this offseason is trying to develop more power to the opposite field to make pitchers pay for that approach.

Betts' 200th hit of the season

Do you see the Red Sox signing Edwin Encarnacion?
-- @Hodgebone

I think it depends on how fierce the competition is for his services. Encarnacion would be a perfect fit for Fenway. The one drawback is that he's a right-handed hitter. With the departure of David Ortiz, the Red Sox really could use another left-handed hitter with power.

What's the obsession with Encarnacion? He's an aging slugger and it would take a lot of money, especially compared to what Ortiz was making.
-- @bandinibaseball

The obsession is that he has huge power, hitting 34 homers or more in each of the last five seasons. Encarnacion's stroke would also play perfectly at Fenway Park, where he has 14 homers in 189 at-bats. He will be 34 years old when next season starts, so the age could be somewhat of a concern. But if Encarnacion stayed mostly at DH, the age might not be much of a factor.

Will the Red Sox try to bring back Rich Hill next year? How about Joe Kelly as the new setup man?
-- @hardball

That would be a great storyline. It's easy to second guess the Red Sox for not bringing Hill back as a free agent last offseason, but it was just a four-start sample size they had to go off. Now, Hill has proven he can pitch at a high level over a full season. The Red Sox do have David Price, Porcello, Eduardo Rodriguez, Steven Wright and Drew Pomeranz under contract for next season, so I'm not sure how much they'd invest in a free-agent starting pitcher. As for Kelly, it wouldn't surprise me at all to see him as the lead setup man in 2017.

Kelly K's Tulo, side in 8th

What should we make of this shakeup in the front office?
-- @craigmaccormack

Mike Hazen put himself in the position where he deserved an opportunity like the one he is getting in Arizona. The Red Sox still have Dave Dombrowski leading the front office, so I think they should be fine. I'm guessing that Hazen's replacement will have similar skills. The Red Sox have some very strong internal candidates, including Allard Baird and Amiel Sawdaye.

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.