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Red Sox Should Invest in Youth; Look Beyond 2014

Shane Victorino is a valuable and expendable player for the Red Sox to trade before the deadline.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

What exactly was the 2013 season for the Boston Red Sox? A miraculous journey from Spring Training underdogs to bearded kings of October? A triumphant year of destiny inspired by the tragic events of the Boston Marathon? Hardly. The reality is that the 2013 World Series was purchased by the Red Sox, as free agents like Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, Koji Uehara, and even David Ortiz fueled their tremendous season.

Heading into last year, Boston was attempting to build a bridge to the future with these free agents. Players like Napoli and Victorino would only be sticking around for a few short seasons until the future of the organization established itself and prepared the Red Sox for long-term success–the true formula for the creation of a sports dynasty.

From prospects to major league talent

With the arrival of players like Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Rubby De La Rosa, and Christian Vazquez, the future begins now. With weeks remaining before the July 31 trading deadline, the Red Sox have the opportunity to go all-in on the future and prepare for a return to glory in 2015 and beyond by erasing the significance of what has been a disastrous year.

There are many teams who find themselves in the midst of a hunt for October approaching the deadline, especially with the additional wild card spots which have enabled teams hovering around the .500 mark to continue to question their status as contenders or pretenders. The Red Sox can take advantage of this situation by offering expendable components of this 2014 roster for continued growth in the farm system, along with financial flexibility to extend young players before they reach their full potential.

Why is it that when the rumors begin swirling about the Red Sox selling that the only notable name we hear is Jake Peavy? How much more does the injury-plagued Shane Victorino have to offer next season, when the Sox are struggling to find playing time for Brock Holt and Mookie Betts? And why would the Red Sox maintain the services of a 39-year old closer who is pitching lights out and is headed for free agency?

2015 starting nine already established

Offense is down across baseball. The Red Sox have two veterans in Victorino and Napoli in their early 30s who have the potential to make an impact in the top half of a lineup, and they’re each signed through the 2015 season, meaning teams won’t have to sacrifice a part of their future for a two month rental. The Red Sox need to seriously consider dealing one of these two, especially Victorino given the already crowded outfield.

Next year, the Red Sox can play Bradley Jr., Daniel Nava, Mookie Betts, and Brock Holt in the outfield. I would expect that both Bryce Brentz and Alex Hassan will make appearances, making Victorino expendable.

The future of the catching position began on Wednesday night when the Sox played Christian Vazquez in favor of A.J. Pierzynski, who was designated for assignment. Vazquez along with 22-year old Blake Swihart have been in the spotlight since the departure of Jarrod Saltalamacchia, as Pierzynski was only meant to “bridge” the position to this future.

We’ll still see Dustin Pedroia at second base and Xander Bogaerts back at his original shortstop, and it seems reasonable that Mike Napoli returns unless a tremendous trade presents itself, since the Sox lack a first baseman waiting in the wings. At third base the team can be happy leaving a spot open for Holt, or the comeback of Will Middlebrooks. However, there also exists the possibility that by the start of 2015, the position belongs to Garin Cecchini. The only hope for this scenario likely includes a fire sale that would clear space on the 25-man roster for Cecchini as soon as possible. It would probably be worthwhile for the Sox to pay a team to take the Stephen Drew experiment off their hands, for example.

Here’s a look at how remarkable the Red Sox starting nine could be in 2015, with their ages on opening day listed:

C Christian Vazquez (24)
1B Mike Napoli (33)
2B Dustin Pedroia (31)
3B Garin Cecchini (23)
SS Xander Bogaerts (22)
LF Mookie Betts (22)
CF Jackie Bradley Jr. (24)
RF Brock Holt (26)
DH David Ortiz (39)

The great thing about this group is that the same veteran core players will be relied upon to produce runs (Napoli, Pedroia, Ortiz) while the rest of the roster has room to blossom with regular playing time, which can begin this season.

Ranaudo, Owens, Barnes lead strong young pitching

The pitching staff is an interesting case, because the team can be in good shape with or without Jon Lester. Given the lack of true aces on the staff without Lester, it would seem best to keep the southpaw around for the next several years, especially if Boston benefits from any sort of hometown discount. Meanwhile, John Lackey will be the best bargain in 2015, with his league minimum club option set to kick in.

Beyond those two, the Sox will continue to look for Clay Buchholz to establish consistency as a major league starter. The team should expect De La Rosa to be a regular in the rotation given his tremendous work this season, along with Brandon Workman. From there, the Sox have extraordinary depth in their pitching staff. Henry Owens, Matt Barnes, Allen Webster, and Anthony Ranaudo could all make significant appearances later this season once players like Jake Peavy are removed from the formula. There is no doubt that the base of any baseball franchise will rely on strong young pitching, as the Atlanta Braves demonstrated with Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz. Do the Red Sox have a similar trio in the making? Time will tell, but that time can start sooner than later with a fire sale.

Since the status on Lester is up in the air, let’s assume he’s back next year. Here are the starters and their ages on Opening Day, with the expectation that Peavy will be dealt:

LHP Jon Lester (31)
RHP Clay Buchholz (30)
RHP John Lackey (36)
RHP Rubby De La Rosa (26)
LHP Henry Owens (22)
RHP Matt Barnes (24)
RHP Allen Webster (25)
RHP Anthony Ranaudo (25)
LHP Felix Doubront (27)

Teams like to begin a season with access to at least eight capable starters, and the Sox are poised for that to be a reality regardless of their offseason activity.

Money can be spent locking up the future

The Chicago Cubs recently signed slugger Anthony Rizzo to a team-friendly seven-year, $41 million contract. The Atlanta Braves extended shortstop Andrelton Simmons with a seven-year, $58 million deal to play gold glove defense at a bargain price. These teams were able to sign their young stars to such great deals because neither had reached their full potential, so Chicago and Atlanta gambled that the signs of early success would lead to cheap stability at the two positions.

The Red Sox can accomplish this after a fire sale by extending Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. to similar deals. These two have stuck out in the Sox youth movement, as Bradley Jr. has been hitting much better since changing his batting stance, and Bogaerts has October experience and should recover his offensive tools soon.

I do think that the Red Sox have the opportunity to return to glory as soon as the 2015 season. But if the front office pulls strings that promote the illusion that this team is going anywhere this year to promote ticket sales, the Red Sox won’t be able to audition their young players over the next few months. Regardless of the return, Boston should deal players like Jonny Gomes, Victorino, Drew, Peavy and Uehara sooner than later, and allow for the next generation to take their place as regulars on the roster.

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One comment for “Red Sox Should Invest in Youth; Look Beyond 2014”

  1. First off, let me say I agree with the idea. I think I would consider what are the more movable pieces… Victorino will not be one and Doubront should be (and has to be). Along with Gomes, Napoli, Drew, Lackey, Peavy, Breslow, Badenhop, Carp and Uehara. I’d also throw in Middlebrooks and Hererra as well. In temrs of veterans I would take by chances in free agency to plug the few holes. The real gamble with this is you could have 2 losign seasons before you start firing on all cylinders. Cheers

    Posted by SoxBrainTrust | July 10, 2014, 3:19 pm

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