Every off-season, my friend Mike and I get together and formulate our plans for what we believe the Sox should do to improve their lot for the next season. For this year’s venture, we graded the Sox position by position, on a scale of 1-10, and then made suggestions as to what the Red Sox should do (if anything) to improve that position.
We began at catcher, where the Sox currently have a tandem of Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ryan Lavarnway. We rated that combination at a 4, but we also took in to consideration that there really isn’t much improvement the Sox could do in the free agent market. Mike Napoli, who was not extended a $13.3 million qualifying offer by last Friday’s deadline is a free agent, but he is likely to cost $12 million plus a season over multiple seasons. He’s only ever played more than 114 games in one season once (2010- 140 games), and at 31 years old, we don’t expect that to change. While his batting average was .005 points better than Salty’s, he had one less home run and three fewer RBIs. The only thing that increases with signing Napoli is the Red Sox payroll.
An intriguing play at catcher might be if the Sox could find a package to send the Twins for Joe Mauer. He is allegedly on the market, and would be the one guy the Sox could acquire that would improve the catching position. Sure, the money will be steep ($23 million per through 2018), but if there was one player the Sox were determined to blow their cash horde on, Mauer would be the guy I endorse. It’s not likely that he will ever bash 28 home runs in a season again as he did in 2009, but the friendly confines of Fenway should make him a consistent 15-20 home run guy. His exorbitant salary is the reason the Twins are willing to deal him, so the cost to the Sox should be minimal. Our max offer would be Lavarnway or Salty along with one top prospect. At that price, everyone wins. If not, the Sox can hold tight with where they’re at.
With first base, our decision was wholly dependent upon what happened with the catcher position. If the Sox make the deal for Mauer, they may not have the cash to go out and sign Youkilis or make a play for Adam LaRoche, but it would be alright in the end. Mauer should get more work at 1B than catcher, and his backup could learn 1B, too. We also would like to mix David Ortiz in there for perhaps a game a week, to keep his glove fresh, and to also allow for other guys to catch a break and DH. If the Sox are unable to acquire Mauer, my predilection would be to grab Youk, who should come at a far cheaper price than LaRoche. There may be less offensive support, but we looked to address that in the OF.
Second base we both are as happy with Dustin Pedroia as can be with any positional player the Sox currently have, and rated him a solid 9. He once again proved his toughness in 2012, battling through injuries and Bobby Valentine. We expect an uptick in production with a happier clubhouse in 2012.
It seems that the Sox finally have a solution at SS with Jose Iglesias. At least they would if he could hit MLB pitching. That being said, my opinion of his defense is so high that I gave him a 15 (on our 10 point scale.) Mike who is just as enamored with his glovework as I am, but is slightly more realistic in expectations, rated him a 2. Assuming he embraces his slap-hitting style and figures out how to hit just a smidge, he could approach the Mendoza line, and at that point his glove makes him an excellent choice at SS.
Will Middlebrooks was one of our bigger question marks, even though we both rated him a 5.5. Mike made the point that it’s not uncommon for hitters to come up, have a great couple of months, and then are never heard from again. I think a healthy Middlebrooks solidifies not only the left side of the infield, but provides some needed pop in the lineup. If it turns out the half season he put in last year was more fluke than talent, the Red Sox might find themselves with Pedro Ciriaco manning third base, which isn’t a horrible option, but leaves a huge, gaping hole in our plans for him as a super-sub that plays nearly every day to get rest to guys who need it.
The 2013 Boston Red Sox could have opened their season with Carl Crawford in left, Jacoby Ellsbury in center, and Josh Reddick in right. That is an outfield that would have had everything. Gold Glove-caliber defense, speed, power, and consistent hitting. Of course, the Sox gave Reddick away prior to the 2012 season for 15 1/3 IP from Andrew Bailey. Then they shipped Crawford out as part of their August fire sale, a move that many pundits thought was the proper one given his inability to consistently perform/stay on the field. I thought then and still think now that trading him was a mistake, especially given that the Red Sox went through more outfielders in 2012 than nearly any franchise in one single season in the history of MLB.
The Sox past ineptitude might allow for them to greatly improve their team, at least in the short term. The Texas Rangers made a $13.3 million qualifying offer to Josh Hamilton last week, but that by no means assures that he will return to the Rangers. He is going to earn far more than that in 2013, whether he plays for Texas or a new team. My initial instinct would be that for the Sox to be serious players for Hamilton, it would take something in the neighborhood of 8 years/$200 million. I based this on the thought that Texas might be willing to spend as much as $175 million over 7 or 8 years to retain him, and the Red Sox would have to significantly trump that. Mike presented an interesting alternative- a 4 year/$140 million offer. He would be grossly overpaid throughout the contract, but if he can stay on the field for the first two years, the Sox could slide him to DH in 2015 (assuming Ortiz has moved on by then), and conceivably get four highly productive years out of him, without tying up a roster spot and money on a longer term deal. I like this approach, and if the Sox are able to make this move, then we would rate their outfield at a combined 8, regardless of who plays RF (Cody Ross or Ryan Kalish would be the two leading candidates.) If not, as presently constructed, they might garner a combined 5.
We were much kinder with the pitching staff than was probably necessary, given their performances in 2012, but we were confident (hopeful) that the return of John Farrell will help settle down the ‘leaders’ of the staff. We rated Jon Lester and Clay Buccholtz at 6.5, Felix Doubront at 4.5, John Lackey at a combined 2 (0 from me, a 4 from Mike), and whomever they choose for their 5th guy (Allan Webster or Ruby De La Rosa may be in the running for that spot) at a conditional 3.5. If the Sox spend money on bats, they won’t have any money to go out and make offers to any upper echelon free agent pitchers, so it will be Farrell’s (along with newly hired pitching coach Juan Nieves’) responsibility to get their starters back in line.
The bullpen we didn’t spend much time worrying about, given how easily the Tampa Bay Rays seem to reshape theirs on a yearly basis. The Sox certainly have enough arms to construct a proper MLB bullpen, and again, that comes down to Farrell working his magic. If he’s not able to, 2013 might make 2012 feel like 2004.
How’s your team’s off-season going? Any thoughts for what the Red Sox should do?
Let me know: