First pitch: Where do Red Sox go for power?

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First pitch: Where do Red Sox go for power?

ANAHEIM -- Across baseball, there has been almost universal acclaim for what the Red Sox accomplished last weekend.

By pulling off their nine-player megadeal with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Sox not only gave their clubhouse a colonic of sorts, but also purged more than 250 million from future
payroll obligations.

Along the way, not incidentally, the Sox managed to obtain two highly-regarded pitching prospects.

But there is a caveat for some. While unloading the onerous contracts of Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford, the Red Sox also had to include Adrian Gonzalez.

That leaves the Sox with a significant hole in their lineup for the forseeable future. And with David Ortiz set to be eligible for free agency, the Sox head into this off-season without having anyone under control who can be counted on to, say, knock in 90 runs next seeason.

"I understand why they did the deal,'' said one talent evaluator of the Sox. "But I'm not sure they understand how hard it's going to be to go and replace someone like Gonzalez. Guys like that are hard to find.''

And, he could have added, getting harder. Beyond front-line starters, run producers and power hitters have become the the most valued commodity in the game.

Thanks to more thorough drug-testing, power -- and offense in general -- is down throughout baseball. Now that widespread PED use is believed to be a thing of the past, so, too, are the inflated numbers they brought.

A 30-homer season is, once again, an achievement, and not, as it was a decade ago, the expected output of a No. 7 hitter.

First base is still regarded as a power position, but the Sox currently have no one on the horizon for that spot. James Loney is slilck-fielding and has an RBI in each of his first three games since joining the Sox, but he will be eligible for free agency in the fall and is unlikely to be retained.

Loney's career high for homers is 13 and after back-to-back 90 RBI seasons in 2008 and 2009, his RBI totals have dwindled.

Moreover, there's little in the minor league system at the position. Soxprospects.com features one first baseman among its list of the top 40 prospects in the system -- Travis Shaw, at No. 28, and Shaw is just 25 games into his Double A career, having spent much of his first full season in pro ball at Single A Salem of the Carolina League.

Even the most optimistic projection wouldn't have Shaw competing for a spot on the big league roster until 2014.

Of course, it isn't completely necessary to get power out of first base, especially if a team can get suitable production somewhere else in the lineup.

But here again, the Sox' system is thin. The best power hitting prospect is outfielder Bryce Brentz, and he still needs to make significant progress when it comes to making regular contact.

Free agency doesn't offer much in the way of power. Steering clear of a potential landmine like Josh Hamilton, there's no one whom the Sox could sign -- any any position -- who could reasonably expect to produce 30 homers and 100 RBI. And if such a player existed, he'd cost the Sox close to 20 million annually, the kind of contract they just strained to rid themselves of.

A more likely avenue is the trade route, but the Sox are likely to make finding a young front-line starter a higher priority. To get one of those, multiple high-end prospects will need to be sacrificed, leaving less to put in a deal for a power hitter.

Ortiz, in all likelihood, will re-sign with the Sox, either for a year or two. But Ortiz cannot do it alone. When the Sox have been an elite offensive team, they've done so with a one-two middle-of-the-lineup combo: Ortiz-Ramirez; Ortiz-Bay, or Ortiz-Martinez.

And finding the other half of that pair may prove to be almost as challenging as unloading all the salary the Sox shed last weekend.

Rask: Last season 'something to rebound from' personally

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Rask: Last season 'something to rebound from' personally

BRIGHTON, Mass. – While David Pastrnak, Tuukka Rask and David Backes are back from competing in the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto, that doesn’t mean you’ll see those players on the ice over the next couple of days. Perhaps the trio will practice on Monday in the fourth on-ice session at main training camp, but Bruins GM Don Sweeney confirmed that none of those returning players will suit up against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the B’s preseason debut at TD Garden on Monday night.

“Yeah…absolutely,” said Sweeney when asked if those three players have been ruled out for Monday night. “They’re going to get through the weekend here. Next week, we’ll evaluate [them] when they get on the ice. But, all those guys will not be on the ice until next week.

“It might be case-by-case for each guy. Those guys have been playing for a while at a high level. It’s unique for David Backes coming into the organization, so he’d like to integrate himself. I talked yesterday with all three of them just to get a read of where they’re at. But, sometime first of next week, they’ll be on [the ice].”

Both Pastrnak and Rask have checked in with the Bruins media over the last couple of days after returning from Toronto, and the Bruins goaltender, in particular, has plenty of motivation coming off a down statistical season. The 2.56 goals against average and .915 save percentage were well below his career numbers, and people like B’s President Cam Neely have pointed to Rask as somebody that needs to have a better season for Boston to rebound back into the playoffs this year.

“There were a couple of years where the standards pretty high, so obviously when they go down there’s something to rebound from. You kind of know where you can be. That’s where I try to be every year and I’m working on being there this year, and taking us to the playoffs and moving forward,” said Rask. “But every year is a new year where you’ve got to work hard, and set your goals to be at your best. More often than not you hope [being at your best] is going to happen, and I hope this year is going to be a great year for us.”

Clearly Rask wasn’t alone in his struggles last season behind a mistake-prone defense that allowed plenty of Grade chances, and that could be a repeating phenomenon again this season for the Bruins unless the defense is substantially upgraded along the way.

As far as the other three B’s players still taking part in the World Cup, it could be a while for Patrice and Brad Marchand as Team Canada has advanced to the final best-of-three series that could also feature Zdeno Chara if Team Europe is victorious.