As the clock struck midnight on November 7th, this marked the beginning period of the 2011 free agency period for several Red Sox players, including Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez. Both have at least a good chance of returning next season, however it is still unknown as to whether or not they will be back.
The offseason needs for the Sox remain: bullpen, third base (if Beltre departs), part-time catcher, and outfield help. The free agent pool this offseason is headlined by Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford, and Jayson Werth, along with Adam Dunn, Rafael Soriano and Carlos Pena.
With the Red Sox likely set in their starting pitching department, I believe they need to either re-sign Beltre, pursue one of the outfielders, and sign an effective left handed reliever or re-sign Martinez, pursue a big first baseman, and sign an effective left handed reliever (more emphasis on choice one).
Here is how I see Theo Epstein and the Red Sox management prioritizing the offseason with their top-5 targets:
- Adrian Beltre - Ok I have to admit that the Beltre signing was the best deal from last offseason in terms of timing for him. Beltre, as expected, declined his 10 million dollar player option and has decided to enter free agency. In his one season in Boston, Beltre hit over .300, leading the team, and was voted to the American League All-Star team. Even though he made a lot of errors at third base, Beltre is a clear defensive upgrade to any other option on the market and no one needs him more than the Red Sox. It is a clear-cut choice that Beltre needs to return.
- Jayson Werth - The big news came out Monday that Red Sox management has contacted Werth and agent Scott Boras to begin possible contract negotiation. I see it that Werth is, right now the Red Sox number one target on the outfield market. Werth can give the Red Soxaround .293 with 25 HR and 80-90 RBIs a season with above average defense. Some see Werth as a good target because of his ability to play the whole outfield. Werth could play left field next season and switch to right field if and when J.D. Drew departs.
- Scott Downs - When you read that Scott Downs is higher than say Adam Dunn or Carlos Pena, you probably ask "say what?" However, here is why Scott Downs is on my list: Last season for the Blue Jays, Downs established himself as one of the elite left-handed relievers in the game, going 5-5 with a 2.64 ERA in 67 appearances for the Jays. The Red Sox have needed a pitcher like this since we dumped Alan Embree and bought into the Hideki Okajima hype in 2007. Downs could be number one on many other lists, but the fact of the matter is that the Red Sox lost many close games due to bullpen struggles (except with Papelbon and the Yankees, that was just his fault). A combination of Downs-Bard-Papelbon (in a contract year) could become baseball's best back end of the rotation.
- Carl Crawford - Crawford by far is the biggest hitter on the open market this offseason. He could potentially become the first hitter to land a 100 million dollar plus contract with no 20 homer season. The reason I rank Crawford lower is because Crawford already has known suitors in the Angels and Tigers who have a lot of money to spend this offseason and a bigger hole in the outfield than the Red Sox do. Crawford could provide the glove the Sox have been looking for in left field, but I just don't know if the Red Sox will be able to afford Crawford and Beltre.
- Victor Martinez - Even though he is faced with the same bad comments about how he can't throw base runners out or he can't handle the Red Sox pitching staff, V-Mart proved to be a very valuable middle of the order offensive option for the Red Sox. Although his horrid caught stealing percentage would be rid of if the Red Sox chose to let Martinez walk, they would miss his .302 batting average, 20 home runs, and 80 RBIs he contributed to a short-handed Red Sox team last season. Also, the Red Sox could simply re-sign Martinez to play first base if Adrian Beltre signs elsewhere and the team just switches Kevin Youkilis to third base. You won't find a better switch hitting catcher in the game today than Martinez.
*Note that targets one and five and targets two and four are unlikely to co-exist.
Let us know what you think the Red Sox should do this offseason!