The Armchair GM: Ben Buchanan, Red Sox (Should Be Real) General Manager

By now, you should know the drill. With the offseason beginning, we here at Over The Monster are outlining how we would handle the construction of the 2012 Red Sox. You've heard from Marc, Matt Sullivan, and Artemis Matt Kory. Now it's my turn.

Step 0: Fire Ben Cherington, Hire Me

Unfortunately, the offseason has already been ruined. Who is this Cherington fellow? The superior Ben was passed over thanks to this sap already having an in! "Ooh, look at me, I worked alongside Theo Epstein and have years of experience," he says. Well I led my Red Sox in MLB: The Show to 5 straight championships, so hit the showers pal!

 

Step 1: Hire Pete Mackanin

Now that that's been taken care of...

It seems like a bit of a quick trigger finger to accept the first guy who interviews, but to be frank I don't see much about Mackanin that's not to like. Like Marc, I was pretty well won over by the statistical analysis line--generally speaking a man who not only understands but adheres to the numbers will not be the type to make bad mistakes.

But even beyond that he just seems like a perfect fit. He's got a personality that can keep his head above water with the Boston media and will hopefully ease his transition into the Red Sox' clubhouse, but all indications are that he'll not let that get in the way of telling a player what they need to hear when they need to hear it. When asked if he was a player's manager or a disciplinarian, Mackanin said "both," and that's what the Sox need right now.

Step 2: Go all-out for Dave Duncan

Tony La Russa is gone, and with that the most prized pitching coach in the game could be on the market for the first time.

It's going to be a difficult get, to be sure. Duncan has already said he'd be open to returning to the Cardinals, but that it would depend on the new manager and Duncan's freedom to do what he needs to in order to work his magic--in not so many words. If Duncan could be convinced to work elsewhere, the Sox absolutely have to go all-out to get him. It's always hard to say how much credit should be due a pitching coach, but Duncan is the lone man who receives universal acclaim, and for good reason. If there's one man in a sea of a thousand who can actually provide something extra at a position quite so ethereal, then he needs to be a priority.

If Duncan can't be nabbed, then I'd turn inwards and give Mike Cather a shot. He's acted as a scout for the team the last couple of years, but worked with players like Clay Buchholz and Daniel Bard as a pitching coach, and seems to be at least partially responsible for the recovery of the former after his disastrous first real season with the team. If nothing else, he'll be familiar with how the team does something, as well as a few of the most important arms on the team who seem to trust his advice.

 

Step 3: Say Goodbye To The Super-Vets

Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield are difficult to send off on one level, but all-too-easy on another level. Their time as effective baseball players seems to be done, and while it seems like it wouldn't hurt to give 'Tek the backup role knowing that Lavarnway is always just a phone call away, I think it's more important that the latter receive some exposure to major league pitching and that the former not be an option to allow guys like Beckett to force a black hole into the lineup. The security blanket needs to go.

 

Step 4: Dealing With The Other Free Agents

We already know what's going on with Scutaro, so let's move on to the other bunch of expiring contracts. For now, let's assume that free agent compensation will still be in play for the offseason--that seems like it's going to be the case for at least one more year.

Let's start small with Dan Wheeler. While it wasn't the best year for Wheeler, he was a decent bullpen piece when used correctly and--as a type-B free agent--warrants an offer of arbitration. He's not likely to see a raise if he accepts since it was a down year, and if he declines then the Sox will likely pick up a draft pick. When the worst case scenario is having him back at around $3 million, then it's a risk worth taking.

As for David Ortiz, he needs to be back, plain and simple. There's no reason to think that the down period was anything more than the now-healed wrist wreaking havoc. Ever since the second half of 2009, Ortiz has been on a rampage, and while designated hitters may not be the best investment for smaller teams, when you have a budget like Boston's, it can almost be a bargain to play that market. Give Ortiz the two years he wants--the best designated hitters have shown the ability to last up to 40--at $12 million if he can't be had for $10. I don't see it being a hard sign, really. Ortiz wants to stay, the Sox want him to stay, and he has to know he can't get much more with a Type-A tag attached. 

Erik Bedard is another good option to bring back, and while I'd prefer him in more of a 6th-starter role, that's not likely in his plans or our budget. So sign him up at around $5 million and hope he stays healthy.

Moving on to the big gun in the bullpen, it's surprising, but Papelbon has managed to reassert himself as almost a must-have piece in the bullpen. Unfortunately, he's not one the Sox can afford. Already between Ortiz coming back, Scutaro's option being picked up, and some decent arbitration bumps for guys like Ellsbury and Bard, the Sox are already on the verge of matching their 2011 payroll. Not only that, but the Sox have to be concerned over whether or not he'll keep playing up to par when his contract isn't on the line. He's openly admitted he's in the game to make money--it's time to let him go do that somewhere else.

 

Step 5: Outside Acquisitions

Now down a closer, with an untenable right field situation, and a rotation still lacking a fifth arm and depth, the Sox have about $10 million to spend. Maybe a bit more if Henry and co. are again willing to invest to restore confidence.

The situation is far from ideal, but let's try and make the best of it.

First thing's first: I tab Ryan Madson to play the role of closer. As much as I think Bard could play the part, the Sox need a lot of bullpen help, and Madson seems to me like the odd man out after Bell and Papelbon are sold off. A backloaded deal of $24-27 for three years of work should get the job done while saving a few important dollars.

In right field, I think Grady Sizemore makes perfect sense for the team. The Indians already declined a relatively cheap option, so his price will be low. Fenway is the sort of place he--like Adrian Beltre before him--can prove his worth while the Sox have viable backup options in Reddick and Kalish to insure themselves against his health. Give him an incentive-laden contract and hope.

Still, the Sox are in need of at least one real starting pitcher, and relatively cheap as well. One interesting target is Ricky Nolasco. Consistently underperforming his peripherals in front of an often dreadful Florida defense, it would be very interesting to see what Nolasco could do with some great gloves behind him. The Marlins are willing to let him go for a small price to get rid of his contract, but I would try to toss in a slightly better package including Felix Doubront and a strong lower-level prospect (not Bogaerts. Never Bogaerts) to weedle one of their better relievers out of them too. 

Beyond that, I'd like to see the Sox hit the bargain bin for real reclamation projects. Justin Duchscherer, Ben Sheets, and Scott Kazmir have been essentially off-the-radar since 2010, and could possibly be lined up as backup options in Triple-A. It'd be nice to rely on guys like Alex Wilson to provide the necessary depth, but after being burned this year I would expect the Sox to at least try to line up a few guys who have had some previous success in the MLB and see if they can't pull a Yankees

That should just about do it. Really it's an unusual offseason for the Sox, who find themselves in a position where they need to be somewhat miserly. I considered trying to shed payroll by trading Kevin Youkilis, but it's way too soon to assume we won't have 2010 Youk back good as new next year, where he'd be a complete bargain.

If there's one other thing I'd like the Sox to do, it was what Matt Sullivan suggested yesterday with Brandon McCarthy. The Sox are loaded in the lower minors, and have a few top prospects who seem expendable in the face of impact talent. While I wouldn't expect anything here--trades like these are always difficult to pull off--it's something to keep an eye out for.

Without further ado, I give you the Red Sox:

Position Player Bench  Player
C Jarrod Saltalamacchia IF Jed Lowrie
1B Adrian Gonzalez UT Mike Aviles
2B Dustin Pedroia OF Josh Reddick
3B Kevin Youkilis C Ryan Lavarnway
SS Marco Scutaro
LF Carl Crawford LR Alfredo Aceves
CF Jacoby Ellsbury RP Daniel Bard
RF Grady Sizemore RP Bobby Jenks
DH David Ortiz RP Marlins Reliever
SP1 Jon Lester RP Matt Albers
SP2 Josh Beckett RP Franklin Morales
SP3 Clay Buchholz CL Ryan Madson
SP4 Ricky Nolasco
SP5 Erik Bedard

Jenks and Albers' positions in the pen likely ride on spring training performance. I'd have Kyle Weiland spend the time getting ready to go as a reliever with the understanding that the two spots are basically an open competition.

As has already been said elsewhere, the Sox really don't need a big influx of new players, they just need the plan from last year to work out better. Rotation depth remains an issue, but the real difficulty there is finding players who are willing to sit it out in the minors and wait. If Bedard were open to that, I'd suggest targeting, say, Maholm, but that just doesn't seem terribly likely.

Ultimately the biggest factor in having the 2012 Red Sox be different from the 2011 Red Sox is just a matter of having players stay healthy and perform like they should. Imagine having the addition of the Carl Crawford of yore, or a working Bobby Jenks? Or how about having their win total match the ~60 fWAR the team as a whole managed to produce? All the talent was already there. Now they just need to actually perform.

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