The Boston Red Sox enter an off-season unlike one seen in a generation. After a September collapse the year before, the 2012 season added insult to the injured pride of Red Sox fans. At the trading deadline, the Red Sox front office made a clear statement that they are prepared to pay for and move on from their mistakes through their jettisoning over $200 million in salary commitments.
At the conclusion of the 2012 season the team also was willing to quickly acknowledge what many fans knew for months; that the hiring of Bobby Valentine was not the right fit for this team and turned to a familiar face in former pitching coach John Farrell to run the on-field operations.
With Boston's recent activities, there is anticipation that the team will look to build on their current talent base and move towards competitive relevance again. If full rebuilding efforts are in the plans, many of the team's current productive players may find themselves with new residences next season.
Going on the assumption that the Red Sox are building on their current roster, here is a look at existing Red Sox players who were active at the end of the season and possible scenarios for next year.
First Base: Mauro Gómez, James Loney (FA)
Second Base: Dustin Pedrioa, Iván DeJesús
Shortstop: Jose Iglesias
Third Base: Will Middlebrooks, Danny Valencia
Catcher: Jarrod Saltalamacchia / Ryan Lavarnway
Utility Infielder: Perdo Ciriaco
Left Field: Daniel Nava
Center Field: Jacoby Ellsbury
Right Field: Cody Ross (FA)
Utility Outfielder: Ryan Kalish
Designated Hitter: David Ortiz (FA)
With Will Middlebrooks in the fold, the team has a young stud player to fill one of the corner infield positions. Prior to his injury, Middlebrooks was performing well and there is no reason to expect less next season. Dustin Pedrioa continues to play hard and set an example on the field. His plate production improved in the second half of the season and will likely be manning second base again next season. If Danny Valencia proves to be more of the player he was with the Minnesota Twins in 2011 (.246 BA - 15 HR - 70 RBI) they may have a solid infielder on their hands. If he is more like the player he was in 2012 (.188 BA - 3 HR - 22 RBI) then they may retain him and send him to Pawtucket as injury insurance.
The team will need to decide whether 2013 is the season for Jose Iglesias at shortstop. His glove work is without question but his plate production left a lot to be desired. At one point in the latter part of the season, manager Bobby Valentine pinch-hit for Iglesias in the middle of an at bat. If he is not ready to play every day, another season in the minors would not hurt. The team could go with Pedro Ciriaco as a permanent shortstop since Mike Aviles was traded as compensation for Toronto to obtain manager John Farrell.
First base is an area where there is no immediate plan. The team could experiment with Ryan Lavarnway at the position when he is not catching or as the designated hitter. Boston could look to the open market to find a player who could come in at a modest salary and produce 20 home runs and drive in 75. Players like Lance Berkman or Lyle Overbay might fit the bill if the team feels that James Loney is not in their plans and Mauro Gomez is not ready to assume a greater role. If the team wants to spend moderate money ($8-12 million) players like Carlos Pena or Mike Napoli might come into focus.
One name that will also be out there that many fans would love to see in a Red Sox uniform is former first baseman Kevin Youkilis, whose team option for 2013 was not exercised by the Chicago White Sox. It is not sure whether the player and the team would be willing to forget the incidents that led to Youkilis' departure in 2012 and injury issues will remain with this former fan favorite throughout the remainder of his career.
If defense is a priority the Red Sox could look into free agency for a more prominent corner infield option as third baseman Scott Rolen could be utilized much as Kevin Youkilis had in season's past. By converting Rolen to first base, the team could guard against the injury issues that have plagued the former gold glove third baseman.
As the longest tenured remaining Red Sox player, David Ortiz was having a tremendously productive season before an Achilles injury shelved him for the season. The injury shed light on a growing concern with Red Sox management; namely a player of his advanced years (38) and his physical stature are more prone either to precipitous drops in production or frequent injuries. Currently Ortiz has been rumored to be negotiating a two-year contract to remain in Boston, with the team still considering a one-year deal in the neighborhood of $13 million.
While Ortiz has been the face of this franchise, negotiations in the 2-3 year range and for dollars in excess of $10 million per season would be excessive and may be wise for Boston to move on. The trend in baseball has been to sign free agent designated hitters in the $2 million to $6 million range and the team may be better suited looking at players like Bobby Abreu, Johnny Damon (remember him?) and Hideki Matsui as cheaper alternatives if a deal for Ortiz cannot be reached.
The initial plan for left field should include an assessment of whether a platoon of Ryan Kalish and Daniel Nava would work. The 2012 results were not promising but in either case one of these players could be on the 2013 roster as a fourth outfielder. Given the team has just jettisoned an albatross contract in Carl Crawford, it would be utter stupidity to go out after a big name player this winter.
Big money is where the discussion now turns to Jacoby Ellsbury. The incumbent and oft-injured center fielder is approaching his last arbitration year, which means the team is at risk of losing him to free agency following the 2013 season. With Scott Boras as his agent, it is a virtual lock that he will test the open market. With Ellsbury not producing anywhere close to his MVP-caliber 2011 season, the Red Sox should not succumb to pressure to aggressively overpay him and would be wise to test the trade market to see what his services would return.
One of the more positive stories produced in this dismal season was the produciton of Cody Ross and the Red Sox would be wise to lock him up to a multi-year contract. He will not command a large salary and possesses a locker room presence that is sorely needed on the Red Sox. There have been preliminary discussions on a new contract for the hard-nosed outfielder and his signing would be a sound move on the part of the Red Sox, as Ross brings the leadership and intangibles that are sorely needed on this team.
One outfielder the Red Sox should consider signing would be Torii Huner. At 37, Hunter is no longer at the peak of his prowess but is still a good hitter and solid defensive outfielder who would not hold the team ransom for a long-term contract. Other options may include switch-hitter Nick Swisher, who could be a solution for the first base issue as well or aging veteran Shane Victorino or speedy centerfielder Michael Bourn, if either are available.
Clay Buchholz, Felix Doubront, Aaron Cook (FA), John Lackey, Jon Lester, Diasuke Matsuzaka (FA)
Simply put, none of these pitchers are currently set up to be the staff ace next season, although Jon Lester would come closest. The team would be best served using some of their new found fortunes on a quality starter via free agency or in a trade.
Of the pitchers on the roster, Lester has shown in the past that he is a great number two pitcher with a slight chance to develop into a staff ace. Clay Buchholz overcame early season struggles to post the team's best starting ERA. John Lackey will be back, in part because no one will want to trade anything of value to get a pitcher returning from Tommy John surgery and a large contract, unless the Dodgers have a few coins left. Doubront was solid most of the year but struggled in the second half of the season.
As a free agent, Aaron Cook might be an option for the Red Sox to retain due to his versatility, but his dependability as a rotation pitcher for next season as well as his contractual value would be low based on his 2012 performance. It is safe to assume that the Diasuke Matsuzaka era has ended in Boston. His only option to return would be if his price tag is very low. The former Japanese sensation may consider a return to Japan where he remains a national treasure if the MLB market offerings are slim.
In the open market, names that may potentially be available would include Dan Haren, Ryan Dempster, Edwin Jackson, Joe Saunders and James Shields. These pitchers are not automatically considered top of the rotation pitchers although Haren and Sheids have the potentially to be (Sheids has the temperament to be that type of pitcher but the Tampy Bay Rays have a team option to retain him) but might be sound acquisitions to bolster the rotation. If a trade is considered, the name that annually appears on the radar is Seattle Mariner Felix Hernandez. If the Red Sox feel that obtaining the perennial Cy Young candidate can be accomplished without sacrificing what little top minor league talent they have left, then it would make sense to do so. A trade for "King Felix" would certainly accelerate the team's rebuilding plans but would cost the Red Sox a lot in terms of building blocks for their future but would instantly turn a challenged rotation into a more respectable one with a pitcher of this caliber anchoring it.
Alfredo Aceves, Matt Albers, Scott Atchison, Andrew Bailey, Daniel Bard, Craig Breslow, Rich Hill, Andrew Miller, Franklin Morales, Vincente Padilla (FA), Junichi Tazawa, Zach Stewart
What can be said for the initial plan for the post-Papelbon bullpen in 2012? End of game specialists Andrew Bailey and Mark Melancon each had disasterous 2012 campaigns. While Andrew Bailey ended up missing most of the season with an elbow injury, Mark Melancon imploded in the season's first month and never fully established himself as a reliable set-up man or closer.
Nearly the entire bullpen corps is arbitration eligible and Boston will likely tender many of them arbitration in order to retain their rights. Look for the Red Sox to give Bailey a raise based on his arbitration eligibility either by going through the arbitration process or through a pre-emptive effort to lock him up to a favorable one-year or long term contract. Going to arbitration could be the least attractive route since many players are awarded sizeable raises based on career performance as opposed to his most recent season.
Daniel Bard is a reclamation project and Farrell's return could have a positive impact on the young flame-thrower. In Padilla was respectable in his mop-up relief role but the team may look for other options before deciding to bring him back. Versatile pitcher Alfredo Aceves was inconsistent as a closer and later became a discipline problem. Whether the hiring of John Farrell would solicit a different attitude from the volatile righty will be a factor in determining his value to the team going forward.
After being obtained late in the 2012 season, Zach Stewart was nothing more than a mop-up reliever, and a bad one at that. He is arbitration eligible but would be only retained for minor league depth based on his 6.92 career earned run average.
Of all the relievers, I would start with a bullpen of Albers, Atchison, Bailey, Breslow, Hill and Tazawa. Of the available free agents, the Red Sox could take a gamble at signing former Detroit Tigers closer Jose Valverde, who fell out of favor in the Motor City. Valverde would likely be a high-priced signing and his 2012 performance dip would not be viewed as a sound financial investment.
How Bard is utilized next season will be a big decision since the team and player must agree to what his role will be in 2013 and beyond. Looking at the available alternatives for the Red Sox, the team may come to the realization that they would have been better off keeping Papelbon in the first place.
The Boston Red Sox enter a postseason unlike one seen in decades. The team's dismal 2012 performance has challenged fan loyalty and forced senior management to consider significant changes to regain the trust of Red Sox Nation.
With additional funds freed up from the Los Angeles Dodgers nine-player trade, the team will be expected to reinvest this money into personnel to bring the team back into relevance. Anything less will be unacceptable. The first move that the front office must make is to do a thorough assessment of the talent on the major and minor league rosters and determine if enough talent is in place to build with.
This winter will prove to be a pinnacle moment for this franchise, a time when the team can emerge as a playoff contender or fall further into obscurity. Now that the team has their manager in place, if the team feels they have the foundation players in place, focus will be placed on which players can be obtained to build on what they have. If the team feels that they are far from contending, they may be better suited to trade away core players in exchange for future franchise building blocks.
At this stage, it is safe to assume that no player is untouchable on this roster. As a fan of the team I will remain optimistic that there is talent in place that will perform better with a different manager in charge since it is difficult to imagine the collective efforts of the team being much worse in 2013. Some of the team's failings can be attributed to the managerial tenure of Bobby Valentine; who was a polarizing figure in the clubhouse and in the media. With a more respected manager in place, proper spending of newly developed financial resources, and an anticipated return to form of the regular contributors (Lester, Pedroia, Ellsbury), there is optimism that 2013 can be a year of resurgence at Fenway Park. In no ways am I implying that next year will result in a playoff berth, but there is a good chance that with the right player acquisitions this team can be on the road to respectability again.
Scott Duhaime is a Boston Red Sox fan for over 30 years; following the team's highs and lows culminating with two World Series titles in the 2000s
Follow Scott on Twitter: @Scott_Duhaime
Related Article: Red Sox Turn Nightmare Season into Promising Future: Fan's Take
- Sports & Recreation
- Red Sox
- Red Sox
- Red Sox
- Red Sox
- John Farrell
- John Farrell