If I’m suddenly dropped into the role of being the General Manager for the Boston Red Sox, I’d be probably the first to admit (privately, of course!) that I’m in way, way over my head. I’d also say that the 2012 season would be an attempt to apologize for 2011 (more on that below). I’d also have to find a willing mouthpiece, as being an pseudonymous GM doesn’t work quite so well if I have to appear in public to announce every move.
So what changes would I bring to the table as the new GM for the Red Sox?
I go with Pete Mackanin here. He’s worked in a big baseball market (Philadelphia), and has had a ton of experience working with younger players in the minors and has had enough interim experience to handle the job. The greater age gap between Mackanin and the team will be a positive development; the last thing the current clubhouse needs is Tito 2.0. (Note: this is not in any way a disparagement of Francona. This is instead just a statement that a different direction is needed.) Dale Sveum, Mike Maddux, and Sandy Alomar are out for that reason.
Jason Varitek has been suggested by many as a future coach and manager for years. It’s clearly time for Varitek to hang up his cleats and try out a new role. He’s already well-known for his work with the pitching staff, and his preparation against opposing hitters; such a move would allow him to continue to make a contribution in Boston, while also mentoring the two young catchers who will still be on the Red Sox staff.
Roster: Position Players
There isn’t a lot to do here: most of the position players are still under contract, or not yet free agents. No surprise that J. D. Drew isn’t being re-signed at this point, and there isn’t a lot that we can do about moving Carl Crawford, unless new Angels GM Jerry Dipoto is as clueless as his predecessor Tony Reagins. So, your new outfield will be the same as the old, with Jacoby Ellsbury in center (and will get between $8MM and $9MM in an attempt to avoid arbitration) and Carl Crawford in left, with some combination of Josh Reddick and Ryan Kalish combining to provide services at right field.
Marco Scutaro’s option has been picked up as well, and I will start the year with a left-right platoon at shortstop. Jed Lowrie, for all of his injury woes, is still a serviceable player, and with Kevin Youkilis not having played more than 136 games a season during the course of his current deal, it’s pretty clear that whoever the utility infielder will see a substantial amount of playing time.
Behind the plate, you’ll again have a platoon situation, with Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ryan Lavarnway splitting the duties. We’d need to see both guys handle all of the pitching staff during spring training to determine who’d catch for whom.
Therefore, the only major question is: to re-sign David Ortiz or not? At this point in Papi’s career, I’ll trade dollars for flexibility, much like the Sox did with Wakefield: I’d give him a two-year deal, 2/23, with about two-thirds of the money due next year (2012: $15MM, 2013: $8MM), with renewable options. It makes Ortiz harder to move in 2012, but a lot easier in 2013, because not as many teams are likely to balk at his contract.
I’d rather carry a swing guy than strictly carry a fifth outfielder, so Mike Aviles gets to stay, and Darnell McDonald is out of a job, at least in Boston. (Yes, I know that means an all left-handed outfield, except for Aviles. I’m okay with this—I think.)
Roster: Starting Rotation
Okay. John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka presumably no longer have a spot in the Red Sox’s 2012 plans. (And it’s been long enough since I’ve thought about Matsuzaka that I had to think about how to spell his name.) Clay Buchholz should make his way back in the spring, so combined with Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, that’s three of five starting rotation spots locked down. However, noting that the Sox lost two starters for most of the season, it’s pretty clear that they need to build a pitching staff that’s about eight starters deep between the Sox and Pawtucket.
As of this writing, the only minor-league pitchers who aren’t on the 40-man that I would at all consider Sox-ready are Scott Atchison and (perhaps) Junichi Tazawa. Atchison is a long-reliever, not a starter, so he’s out. Tazawa is still a question mark, but he’s a starter candidate. So let’s hold on to that.
Moving on to the 40-man, Michael Bowden is a reliever at this point; Stolmy Pimentel is a possibility, but is probably too green to see service except as an emergency starter in 2012; Kyle Weiland is most likely viewed in the same capacity as Bowden or Pimentel. The less said about Andrew Miller, probably the better.
Now that said, this still doesn’t leave us with a full set of options. Three locks, and a whole lot of question marks. For this reason, I think you still need to keep Tim Wakefield’s number on speed dial: there’s going to be a very high likelihood that you require his services during the season, and we know he can be had at a reasonable price if he’s still interested in pitching next year. (Note to Ben Cherington: Only Tim Wakefield decides when Tim Wakefield is ready to move on. Pittsburgh forgot that, and has been punished with losing seasons ever since they sent Wakefield down back in 1993. So please don’t let Timmeh put a hex on the Sox, too!)
Deals: Starting Rotation
So that means it’s on to the other teams; free agency or trade, or both. Some possible candidates from what is unfortunately a very thin market:
- Erik Bedard pitched more than cromulently last year (8 starts, 4.03 ERA with the Sox; 3.62 ERA overall). The Sox don’t need an ace at the moment—they need competent back-end-of-the-rotation guys, and Bedard would appear to fit that bill. So they should definitely try to pick him up on a medium-length, medium-dollar deal (2/$16, anyone?).
- Mark Buehrle: if he’s expressed willingness to go to the NL, then he’s a possibility for the Sox. The downside is, of course, that he’ll be 33 next season, so a long-term deal looks sketchy. However, he’s been remarkably resilient the last few years. I’d be inclined to offer him a mid-term deal. To make it relatively lucrative, I'd offer about 3/45, but front-loaded to avoid having another Lackey-like contract in the coming years. It's a little bit risky, but it's the best "other" move from the free agent pool. (Note: revised from original version, as wolf9309 pointed out Buehrle is not under CWS control.)
- I’m reluctant to take either Hisashi Iwakuma or Yu Darvish off the international market, for the very problems that plagued Matzusaka are likely to affect either or both of these players as they make the transition as well: can they adjust to the American strike zone? Will the increased workload have an impact? (Seems more a concern for Iwakuma than Darvish, as Darvish has thrown 10 CG’s a season, on average, and had a career-high WHIP of just over 1 last year.) But if either of the above plans fell through, Darvish is the better candidate to go after.
Something important to keep in mind: Lackey presumably returns in 2013, so it's better not to get into a situation where you have both Lackey and Buehrle locked up long term at the same time. Although, as a GM, I'd be willing to entertain trade offers for Lackey at half-price (he might be worth $6-7 MM per year, if he's pitching in the NL, and if the GM that takes him is suitable gullible. Note to self: make sure compensation for Theo includes taking Lackey off the Sox roster and books. Afterwards send a
rancid bowl of clam chowder kind thank-you note for taking that burden off of us as he heads to Chicago. . . .)
The first domino to fall is one Mr. Jonathan Papelbon. He wanted to "set the bar" for closers on the open market: his collapses in 2009 and 2011, in combination with his personality, may give teams pause, and I think certainly has lowered his value on the market. I’d be willing to extend him at his current salary, as he seemed to correct many of the problems that were plaguing him in 2009 and 2010, but Papelbon may choose to test the waters. If he does, then he’s gone. Ultimately, if I’m the GM, I expect he ultimately signs elsewhere.
New closer Daniel Bard needs to be given more support. Of course, now that he’s not the staff fireman, that should ease up a lot on his workload. (And, while we’re at it, I would certainly see about putting him in some sort of protective cocoon-like or stasis-like environment between outings, to minimize any potential damage. I would also see about cloning him, ASAP—same goes for Lester and Pedroia.)
Alfredo Aceves is still under team control, and even though the Red Sox declined the options on Scott Atchison and Dan Wheeler, neither of them has pitched their way off the roster. So that provides half of the crew. Franklin Morales also did an acceptable, if not stellar job, and could be used to eat innings in games when the Sox are behind. Felix Doubront could use a little more polishing in Pawtucket. I’d be tempted to give Michael Bowden a shot—particularly because he’s out of options—except I think Matt Albers is probably the better long-term choice, and Bowden might be useful trade bait for the White Sox (see above).
- Ryan Madson would be a viable alternative, except that his numbers only look exceptional in the context of being an NL pitcher. If you tack on another half- to full-run for the NL-to-AL transition, suddenly he’s looking not so exciting, and certainly not a player I’d put Papelbon-sized money on. In addition, that puts us back in the Bard-as-fireman situation which I’d be really trying to avoid.
- Darren Oliver (Rangers) would be a good Billy Wagner-type candidate. More than just a LOOGY, he appeared in 61 games with a total of 51 IP, with up to two full innings some days. He had a more than respectable 2.29 ERA. His peripherals also look promising, averaging over 8 K/9, and a consistent 1.1 WHIP over the last three seasons. Unfortunately, he appears to be the only left-hander on the market who won’t cause heart attacks among the Fenway faithful every time he trots out to the mound. A one- or two-year deal wouldn’t break the bank.
- Other than that, I’d be praying that Rich Hill makes a full recovery and can be the guy that he was for a few weeks in early 2011 before his season was cut short.
While I would rather like to hold on to prospects, I can see the value of trading them for a Adrian Gonzalez-type talent. Of the players on the Pawtucket roster, the only ones I’d hold off on are Tazawa, Atchison, Ryan Kalish, and Will Middlebrooks (and maybe Drew Sutton and Che-Hsuan Lin). Anybody else in Pawtucket or lower is presumably fair game, at the right price (1B's, 2B's, and LF's, I'm looking at you!). I won’t trade Anthony Ranaudo or Drake Britton for the eighth-inning setup guy du jour, but they’re definitely on the block if Felix Hernandez suddenly decided he hates Seattle and wants to hang his sign outside of Fenway!
Opening Day Roster
Over the Monsterites, here is your 2012 opening day roster.
|SP1||Jon Lester||RP||Alfredo Aceves|
|SP2||Josh Beckett||RP||Matt Albers|
|SP3||Mark Buehrle||RP||Scott Atchison|
|SP4||Clay Buchholz||RP||Franklin Morales|
|SP5||Erik Bedard||RP||Darren Oliver|
|2B||Dustin Pedroia||CL||Daniel Bard|
|SS||Marco Scutaro/Jed Lowrie||IF||Lowrie/Scutaro|
|LF||Carl Crawford||UT||Mike Aviles|
|CF||Jacoby Ellsbury||OF||Ryan Kalish|
|C||Jarrod Saltalamacchia/Ryan Lavarnway|
As I said above, I think several things need to be done to apologize for the 2011 season.
* My first act as GM would be to lower the price of the bleacher seats by about 15 to 20 percent. (No increases in the main seating, and increases in the box and luxury seats to make up some of the shortfall.)
* To do something more productive with the money that we were formerly paying to Hideki Okajima, I’d institute Free Fenway Frank Fridays.
* Tim Bogar would be replaced with a stoplight at third base. It’d be just about as effective. Either that, or I’d let Adrian Beltre charge at him a few times during a Rangers series or two. (Or maybe both.)
* And finally, just for giggles, and because a GM can’t be all business, all the time, I’d offer Ben Buchanan a chance to win season tickets for life, if he can watch an entire game against the Cleveland Indians without leaving the room. The catch? He’d have to do it while sitting in a room filled with spiders. (Fear Factor, eat your heart out.)