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Since Theo Epstein was handed the reigns to the Boston Red Sox, the team has only failed to reach the postseason one time, in 2006. While the 2010 season is almost certainly going to become the second “failed” season for Theo’s team, it has been a year of understandable disappointment. Without Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and Victor Martinez for large parts of the season, the team was forced to field a squad with a number of quad-A players, prospects and bench players listed as starters.
With Adrian Beltre, David Ortiz and Victor Martinez facing free agency, Theo will have his work cut out for him in the offseason. Adrian Gonzalez, long viewed as the “break glass in case of emergency” acquisition, is on the surprisingly contending Padres and most likely will not be moved until the 2011 trading deadline if at all. Of the two impact bats available on the free agent market (Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth), Werth, freshly minted into the Scott Boras agency, has been linked to the Red Sox.
Originally taken by the Baltimore Orioles in the first round of the 1997 draft, Werth was traded to the Blue Jays, where he made his major league debut in 2002. Playing just 41 games with the Jays over parts of two seasons, Werth found himself traded to the Dodgers for Jays bullpen staple Jason Frasor. With the Dodgers, he showed some of his future potential and compiled a .247/.338/.426/.764 line as primary a bat off the bench in 2004 and 2005. Unfortunately, offseason surgery in 2005 to fix torn ligaments in his left wrist caused him to miss the entire 2006 season and eventually ended his west coast career. In December 2006, Werth signed a one-year deal with the Philadelphia Phillies and in 94 games in 2007, he hit .298/.404/.459/.863 with 8 home runs and 7 steals. As a .268/.355/.472/.828 hitter in 209 Triple-A games spread over four seasons, this was more like the Werth we are now familiar with.
His big break came in 2008 when injuries forced Shane Victorino to he disabled list and Werth was freed from his platoon with Geoff Jenkins. On the way to the Phillies World Series victory, Werth smacked 24 home runs and put up an .861 OPS. Werth has increased his OPS each full season he played in Philadelphia, moving up to .979 in 2009 and .910 so far through 2010. He also has a .524 slugging percentage (or very similar to the .527 mark David Ortiz is sporting right now) this year.
For the Red Sox, money is rarely an issue when they truly want a player. For J.D. Drew and Daisuke Matsuzaka, they broke their traditional limits on contracts greater than four years and were willing to pay the blind posting fee just to acquire negotiation rights with the Japanese superstar. As an outfielder though, Werth could be difficult to physically place on the field. Barring a trade, the Red Sox currently control five major league ready outfielders, including Ryan Kalish and Josh Reddick, either of whom would be ready to take over a starting job should the opportunity arise. Adding Werth to the mix would mean clearing one of the corners for him to patrol in 2011. While Werth has spent some time in center field, after the Red Sox decision to upgrade from Ellsbury to Cameron because of their internal defensive beliefs it seems unlikely the team would bring in someone whose natural position is not center.
With just one year left on his deal, Cameron, if healthy, could probably be moved without a problem but as we saw with Mike Lowell all season, older players coming off injured seasons can be tough sells. Even trading Cameron or Ellsbury, or much less likely, J.D. Drew, still only creates one opening, forcing both Kalish and Reddick back to the minors. As we’ve learned over the past few seasons, the Red Sox are committed to growing players for the major league roster and we can expect more Pedroia’s and Youkilis’ to make their way to Boston. Unless another need could be filled, such as third base, it is more likely that the Red Sox fill a hole in the outfield with one of their prospects than a free agent who will cost them money and a draft pick.
A move to Scott Boras is usually a good one for a player’s finances. Sure, Boras didn’t get Manny that 4-year $100 million deal he wanted, but you can’t argue that Manny still got paid well. The hype campaign has already started as Boras declared Werth to be more like Matt “$120 million” Holliday than Jason Bay, “an athlete who can play center field, run steal bases, be a Gold Glove type outfielder.” That may be true but it doesn’t sound like a formula to end up on the Red Sox. With catcher a giant question mark should Victor Martinez not re-sign, third base possibly vacant (unless Youkilis or Lowrie shift to the hot corner), and a lot of money committed to Josh Beckett and John Lackey, the team may not have the payroll flexibility to spend on a 31-year-old outfielder, even one as talented as Werth when outfielders are the one type of player they have managed to produce in spades.