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Another regular season in the books, another Red Sox team left with gaping holes, managerial search controversies, and rumors of character problems. Hey, when you don’t follow good advice, what do you expect? With everyone tired out by underperforming super stars and no particularly enticing free agents to lure Boston into repeating the same mistakes, things look pretty bleak. Several seasons of rebuilding doesn’t seem unreasonable. But it does seem unnecessary.
What if I told you that the Red Sox could be competing in the World Series as soon as next year? That’s right, it’s the second annual “How to Fix the Red Sox this Off Season” post. If Ben Cherington listens to me, the Boston Red Sox will be back to winning like it’s the early 1900’s. As always, the following plan is championship guaranteed, but I take no responsibility in the actual results.
While the Red Sox don’t necessarily have to go into rebuilding, they definitely need to do some core-building. Right now Boston’s core consists of Ellsbury, Pedroia, Lester, and Buccholz. That simply isn’t good enough and, in all honesty, will be very difficult to add to in one year. With that in mind, every move Cherington makes should have the core in mind.
That means no contracts over five years in length or $100 MM in value (With a weak free agent class, I think they can even avoid contracts longer than three years). It means no Josh Hamilton or Zack Greinke. It means it’s time to see if any of the younger players can be a part of that core or if it’s time to cut losses. It means signing amiable, not-alcoholic, semi-talented veterans as stop-gaps to fill the holes and keep the team competitive. If the 2012 season has taught us anything, you don’t need 15 all-stars to be a winning a team (unless you’re the Yankees). And with appropriate judgement, constraint, and luck, it can be done. With that in mind, let’s fix this mess.
Oh, and before we start, let’s just give David Ortiz his overpriced two-year contract instead of dragging it out for two months and risk another PR disaster resulting in the face of the franchise playing for New York. Add him to core.
Second Base is set with Pedroia and that’s about the only sure thing. If Will Middlebrooks can play a full season at the level he did this year, add him to that core (and don’t trade him for an overrated starting pitcher because that’s totally going to happen). While Mike Aviles and Pedro Ciriaco would make an awesome bench, this isn’t Kansas City so I want them nowhere near this starting lineup. That being said, it’s “No Way (I can hit at the Major League Level)” Jose Iglesias’ time to shine…the Red Sox can afford one black hole on offense, but only one. If it doesn’t work, Xander Bogaerts is allegedly a few years away and we can continue to perpetually rotate mediocre utility players while waiting for the shortstop of the future.
At catcher it gets more difficult. Ryan Lavarnaway only hit .157 in his time in the big leagues this year and while Jarrod Saltalamacchia had 25 bombs, the 139 strikeouts is nowhere near ideal. But is leaving these guys to hash it out a better option than overpaying for a Mike Napoli? I say probably. There just aren’t many good catchers, so the Red Sox have to deal. If they can trade one of the two for something not terrible, go ahead, but I’m smelling a platoon.
First base is even worse. The James Loney 2012 stat line of .249/.293/.366 is not going to cut it. Bringing him back is unacceptable. That being said, the available free agent first baseman aren’t much better. Carlos Pena? Gross. Kevin Youkilis? Been there, done that. Adam LaRoche was surprisingly good for 33 home runs, 100 RBIs, and .271 batting average. Unless the Red Sox can trade for Ike Davis without giving up anything worthwhile (unlikely), LaRoche might be the best option. The best, underwhelming, creepy unibrowed option.
Hypothetically, the Red Sox need between one and three outfielders. Cody Ross wasn’t terrible and it sounds like he’s coming back. There are some productive veterans that seem to be available free agency such as Nick Swisher, Shane Victorino, and Torii Hunter, among others. For the right price, any of them would be useful. If the Cubs eat Alfonso Soriano’s salary, that’s an option. If the Angels eat Vernon Wells’ salary, that’s a terrible option. Additionally, you have Ryan Kalish, but I think even if you sign Ross and one other guy, he’ll still get enough playing time.
That leaves the Jacoby Ellsbury problem. He was amazing in 2011, but the obvious question is: is he worth the big money contract he is going to receive in free agency? Even without all the injuries, I think the answer is no. If the Sox get blown away with a trade offer they should absolutely pull the trigger. Personally, I’m always in favor of waiting for a desperate team to do something regrettable at the trade deadline.
For reasons that go without saying, this is probably what the Red Sox need to improve on the most. Unfortunately, the only surefire way to do this is to acquire an indisputable, top-5 starting pitcher and those don’t really seem available right now. Nevertheless, the Red Sox can still tremendously improve their pitching situation if they follow one piece of advice: Do not pencil Jon Lester and Clay Buccholz as the No. 1 and 2 starters. They are both No. 2 guys at best and clearly are not worth the gamble anyways. If you expect them to pitch like Justin Verlander and Felix Hernandez, you will be disappointed. It’s time to accept that and move on.
Luckily, there’s a whole crop of free agents who can be productive starters (and by that I mean not consistently allow 8 runs a game). Sign two of them and don’t pull another Cherington (and by that I mean stand in shock and not sign anyone). I vote personally for Jake Peavy and Dan Haren–that way you have four guys who can be a No. 2 or 3 guy. They’ll all require to be paid, but nothing near Lackey territory. I’m all in favor of one experiment spot, so let John Lackey and Felix Doubront and whoever else duke it out. Several playoff teams, this year, were built on worse.
The bullpen was relatively okay, so it only needs some minor tweaking. Andrew Bailey was hurt, so give him another chance. Successfully, reconvert Daniel Bard into a setup man and you have another piece to that core again. I’m all in favor of keeping Alfredo Aceves..he was one of the only players on the team this year who actually cared about what he was doing. If someone coming off an injury like Joakim Soria or Ryan Madson is available, do it, but don’t go crazy.
The importance of the new manager is going to be significantly overrated. As long as it’s not another egotistical sociopath, Boston will be fine. That being said, I’m skeptical of John Farrell even before compensation talks come into the picture. Was Farrell really that good of a pitching coach? Did Jon Lester or Clay Buccholz or Josh Beckett or anyone else truly pitch dominantly for an extended stretch of time under his watch? Did he have any success whatsoever as a head coach in Toronto? Am I missing something?
When it comes to selecting a new manager, the Red Sox can’t do worse.
I think I hope. But here are some names, that I’m sure people find interesting: Dave Martinez, Sandy Alomar Jr., Bill Mueller, Gabe Kapler, anyone who played catcher at some point in their MLB career.
If any core-building is going to occur, it will probably be happening internally. Any and all offseason acquisitions will be stopgaps to cover up that process. The result will be a team that is good enough to compete now, with financial flexibility in the future. Last offseason, Ben Cherington seemed paralyzed and trigger-shy and that simply can’t happen again.
With all that in mind, my ideal team in April looks like this:
Rotation (In no particular order):
Manager: Dave Martinez
Cue the duck boats or start the riots. I’m fine with either.