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09/29/11 8:15 PM ET

Getting Lackey back on track 'big priority'

BOSTON -- Red Sox right-hander John Lackey's visible display of frustration was consistent with his performance on the field for most of the 2011 season.

When he was pitching poorly, it showed. His arms were often flailing if a fielder didn't come up with a perfect play, and he occasionally gave manager Terry Francona long stare-downs as the skipper made his way to the mound.

But this is what general manager Theo Esptein and the Red Sox signed up for when they gave the 32-year-old pitcher a five-year, $82.5 million contract last December.

"That's nothing new," Epstein said Thursday. "John, he's always been kind of emotional on the mound. He's always been demonstrative. And it always kind of looks bad on the field. It looks as if he's showing up his teammates.

"It was that way in Anaheim, too. We knew that when we signed him, and we also knew that he always apologized the next day, that he's always a great teammate except for those times that he's rolling his eyes, as you said. His teammates forgive him. They understand. He's tried to change, and it's just something you can't change. It's an emotional reaction."

With all the finger-pointing that is sure to follow the Red Sox historic September collapse, Lackey might find himself on the other end. While the rotation was in dire need of consistent pitching, specifically in the final month, Lackey was only adding to his crooked season totals, setting new career highs in ERA (6.41), WHIP (1.62) and opponents average against (.308).

"As far as rehabilitating John Lackey, it's a big priority for obvious reasons," Epstein said. "And we have to attack it from the physical perspective, see if there's things we can do different with him physically to put himself in a better position to have success on the mound ... There obviously are things we can do different with him fundamentally to get his stuff and his command back to where it was. And then, from a mental standpoint [as well]."

Epstein said starting pitching will be one of the most analyzed areas of the offseason, and that the organization might have to reevaluate their position on large financial commitments to individual players.

"Our decision-making process on expensive free agents, big-ticket free agents, has not been satisfactory -- not at all," the GM said. "That's another area we have to address and look in the mirror and dig deep into the process and see what we're doing wrong, because the results demonstrate that that's not an aspect of the organization that's functioning at a high enough level to meet our standards."

Epstein wants to keep Papi, Papelbon in fold

BOSTON -- There has been less than 24 hours to let the reality of it all sink in, that a team that was supposed to be built for the World Series didn't even qualify for the postseason -- for the second straight year.

But for Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, there are some big decisions to be made as the club makes a sudden switch into offseason mode.

Perhaps the two of most significance for the GM, aside from deciding the fate of manager Terry Francona, will be whether to bring back closer Jonathan Papelbon and designated hitter David Ortiz.

Ortiz, as Epstein said on Thursday, has been the face of the Red Sox's franchise for nine years. The 35-year-old slugger just finished perhaps his best season since 2007, hitting .309 with a .398 on-base percentage and .953 OPS. He fell one home run shy of hitting 30 for his seventh time in a Boston uniform.

But Ortiz just finished a one-year, $12.5 million extension of a four-year, $52 million contract that he signed in '06, and he'll likely be the most coveted DH on the free-agent market, joining Vladimir Guerrero, Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon on the list of aging hitters with limited defensive abilities.

"I can't say too much about that now, except the general and the obvious," Epstein said Thursday about re-signing Ortiz and Papelbon. "We'd love to have both guys back, if there's a way to do that. They've been huge contributors here not only on the field, but as leaders. David's been that way for a long time, been the face of the franchise and an instrumental figure in our clubhouse."

The 30-year-old Papelbon, meanwhile, finished his one-year contract worth $12 million and will likely command an annual salary near that amount next season, though he could be seeking a multiyear deal.

For all the preseason talk about Bobby Jenks and Daniel Bard threatening to take the ninth-inning role, Paplebon turned in one of his best seasons. He set a new career high in strikeouts, fanning 87 over 64 1/3 innings, while blowing three saves in 34 chances and collecting just one loss -- though it was certainly a big one, coming in the season finale.

"I actually told Pap earlier today, I think he took his overall game to a new level this year," Epstein said. "Not just on the field, but again demonstrating some leadership capabilities. There was a time earlier in his career that I never thought I'd say that about Pap. He really matured, he grew up as a Red Sox and I was proud of him the way he took that next step to lead by example a little bit. We'd love to keep those guys if we could."

Crawford out to rebound from 'rough' season

BOSTON -- Carl Crawford's first season with the Red Sox had a fitting end on Wednesday night, coming up short on a sliding catch in the ninth inning that could have preserved a tie game and eventually led to a one-game playoff with the Rays.

But it wasn't to be, and while Crawford said he did everything he could to make the catch, the result had already been decided.

Crawford's first season of a seven-year, $142 million contract came to a crashing halt, and his .255 batting average and, even more telling, 18 stolen bases were a disappointment to not just the 30-year-old outfielder, but his boss, too.

"That's another significant priority for us, as with [John] Lackey," general manager Theo Epstein said. "Getting Carl back to what he's been previously in his career is a requisite for us this winter. We've spent an awful lot of time thinking about it, and we're going to spend more time thinking about it. We'll get together with him, put our heads together and see what can be done."

If there was something for Epstein to take out of Crawford's year, it was the responsibility and ownership that he took for his subpar performance.

"It was a tough, rough season for me," he said. "I didn't play as well as I would like to play. But hopefully next year I come back and play better. I'm just going to try to take everything I learned from this year and try to get better at it. Make a few adjustments I need to make and go from that. There are more disappointments right now. I'm going to go home, try to work on that, and get better in areas I need to get better at."

After getting out to a rough start, hitting .155 in April, Crawford never seemed truly comfortable in his new home. Manager Terry Francona flirted with the speedy outfielder in every position in the batting order other than cleanup and the nine-spot, but nothing seemed to work.

"I think early in the season, I would have been wrong to continue to hit him at the top of the order," Francona said. "We were starting out as a team struggling so bad and he wasn't getting on base, we tried to protect him a little bit, too. With all the players, we tell them, wherever they hit, just play their game. Whether he's hitting fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, second, ninth, just play your game, and we'll fit it into what we're doing."

Said Epstein, "The next step is 'What are you going to do about it?' We're not going to abandon him. We're going to work with him, if it takes all offseason or if it takes backing away and then addressing it later on in the offseason. We'll do whatever it takes to get him back to being the player that he was. That's going to be very important for us going forward."

Jason Mastrodonato is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.