BANGOR — The temperatures outside may have been below zero, but Boston Red Sox radio play-by-play announcers Joe Castiglione and Dave O'Brien took the sellout crowd's minds off the cold and on to the boys of summer at the eighth annual WZON Hot Stove Baseball Night at the Bangor Civic Center Monday night.
A flurry of offseason activity landed the Red Sox slugging first baseman, three-time All-Star and Gold Glove winner Adrian Gonzalez; speed merchant, four-time All-Star and Gold Glove-winning left fielder Carl Crawford and a host of bullpen arms including Dan Wheeler, Bobby Jenks and Andrew Miller.
Castiglione called the week that the Red Sox acquired Gonzalez and Crawford the "most important offseason week in Red Sox history.
"The offense should be excellent, the outfield defense should be sensational and not receiving quite as many headlines is the rebuilding of the bullpen, which could be the most important thing," he said.
Castiglione said former Red Sox manager and Tampa Bay senior advisor Don Zimmer said Crawford is the "best left fielder he has ever seen. And he managed Yaz (Carl Yastrzemski)!"
"He'll be lined up next to (speedy center fielder) Jacoby Ellsbury, and they're going to be fun to watch. Ellsbury will be able to play more toward the triangle in right-center field," said Castiglione. "That (outfield defense) will really help the pitchers."
"And Gonzalez is a made-for-Fenway hitter," added Castiglione, referring to the lefthanded hitter's penchant for taking the ball to left field. "He'll be like Mo Vaughn and Freddy Lynn, guys who used the (left field) wall. He's a Gold Glove winner to boot. Defense is very, very important and it should be much improved."
He also said the Red Sox have never had the speed in the lineup they will have with Ellsbury and Crawford.
"They won't be the Lead Sox any more," he said.
"With all the moves they've made, I'm dying to see how quickly it comes together," said O'Brien. "I'm very anxious to get going. It's so much fun for Joe and me to be here for this event this evening. It gets us in baseball mode."
O'Brien agreed with Castiglione about the importance of the bullpen acquisitions.
"The bullpen should be vastly improved," said O'Brien. "Dan Wheeler is a terrific pickup and he's a local guy from (Warwick) Rhode Island and you've basically got two closers (Jenks and Jonathan Papelbon)."
"I really like what they've done," said Castiglione. "Jenks has slipped a little as a closer the past couple of years, so he has something to prove. He's hungry and he's a strikeout guy. Wheeler has been very durable as a setup man. He gets a lot of swings and misses with his high 87-miles-an-hour fastball. He has been very effective."
Castiglione, who will begin his 29th year behind the microphone for the Red Sox, said there should be a good bullpen battle between the lefties: former first-round draft pick (sixth overall) Andrew Miller, Rich Hill and recently re-signed Hideki Okajima.
Both said Josh Beckett's return to form will be a key to the starting rotation. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz evolved into an exceptional one-two punch at the top of the rotation, but Beckett and John Lackey struggled. Lackey was in his first season with the Red Sox after coming over from California.
O'Brien said Beckett had some health issues that he kept to himself and he tried to pitch through them.
"He did himself a disservice by not telling anybody about it," said O'Brien. "He has to have a huge year for the Red Sox, and I think he will."
O'Brien said Lackey needed a "whole season" to adjust to pitching in the American League East after pitching in the much-weaker AL West where he had some "layups."
"If he wins 16 or 17 games, we'll do cartwheels," said O'Brien.
The Bangor Senior League World Series team, which reached the championship game at Mansfield Stadium last summer, was honored. Coaches Ron St. Pierre and Jon Folsom introduced each player and gave a brief bio on each.
A 97-year-old Red Sox fan introduced by WZON personalities Dale Duff and Clem LaBree as "Margo from Hampden" asked the first question in the question-and-answer period and it had to do with the catching situation.
Castiglione said the Red Sox think Jarrod Saltalamacchia is "going to blossom" and noted that he has been working out with Red Sox bullpen coach Gary Tuck on his catching.
"And with their lineup, they aren't going to need a whole lot of offense from him," said O'Brien.
Veteran Jason Varitek will be back, and Castiglione said Varitek is like "another coach" while also proving last season that he can be productive in a limited role.
They thought the New York Yankees improved themselves by signing Tampa Bay closer Rafael Soriano, but they liked the fact Hank and Hal Steinbrenner overruled GM Brian Cashman.
"There is discord within the Yankees and we love that," said Castiglione.
O'Brien, who will be in his fifth season with the Red Sox, said the left side of the Yankee infield with 36-year-old shortstop Derek Jeter and 35-year-old third baseman Alex Rodriguez has very limited range and Jeter didn't deserve the Gold Glove he won last season.
O'Brien also does the Wednesday night MLB game for ESPN as well as college basketball. In fact, he'll call Tuesday night's Ohio State-Purdue game.