It's time to pretend that Over the Monster authors are the GM of the Boston Red Sox
Starting today, Over the Monster's authors will once again get the chance to take their turn as the fake general manager of the Red Sox, unveiling their plans for the team's off-season. Even better, just like the real Red Sox, we'll have more than a few dollars to hypothetically work with this time around. Just like last time, you'll get to vote on your favorite fake GM plan at the end. First up, Marc Normandin.
It's less comforting to you or I than it is the actual Red Sox, but it still feels nice to be out from under over $250 million in future contracts before diving in to the off-season. That being said, the loss of those players also means the Red Sox have plenty of holes to fill in order to be up to snuff once again. Some of those holes have already been taken care of -- David Ortiz and Will Middlebrooks will both be back, and, like it or not, so will John Lackey. There's still plenty to work on, though.
The rotation is mostly set, but mostly isn't enough. The lineup is already better than it was in September thanks to the return of the above hitters, but could still use some work. The bullpen doesn't need any more help, because there are already too many options -- many of them useful -- to work with. That's about the only area that doesn't require tweaking or an overhaul from the outside.
The first two items on the agenda are simple enough: you can't rely on the return of David Ortiz if you don't have him under contract. With all of the added room in the budget, Boston can give Ortiz the two-year deal he's been clamoring for. The average annual value won't be so high that it gets in the way of the Red Sox finding a replacement, should health or performance dictate that as necessary. And it locks Ortiz up -- still productive to this point -- for what are likely to be the final two years of his career. Let's say two years at $26 million -- Ortiz gets his second year, and Boston gets to reduce the yearly rate slightly.
Then there's Cody Ross, who played well for Boston in his first year there. The park played a significant role in that, but thanks to Ross' defense, he's still useful, albeit less of a hitter, on the road. Like Ortiz, he can be had for a deal that, while keeping him in town for multiple years, won't be so expensive that it can't be eaten, should something go awry. Lock up Ross at two years for $8 million each, with a club option for 2015 for another $8 million. The cost is low enough that Boston could handle moving him to a non-starting role, should enough outfield prospects come up to push him from the outfield. It's also low enough that a replacement could be brought in from the outside, should it become necessary by the time he hits his mid-30s.
Adding Ortiz and Ross back to the fold pushes Boston's budget to around $67 million in guaranteed contracts, and, after accounting for arbitration and the rest of the 40-man roster, roughly $110 million. That's a huge chunk of change to work with, one that shouldn't be spent all at once. But there are places to use this money, starting with the rotation.
Currently, Boston has Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, and Felix Doubront as starting pitchers. The market is not loaded up with top of the rotation types, but it does have plenty in the way of mid-rotation arms. The plan would be to try to lure Jake Peavy -- whose option will be declined by the White Sox -- to Boston with a one-year, money-heavy deal with a mutual option for 2014. It gives Peavy another chance to show he's healthy and deserving of a long-term deal, rather than the kind of contract he might be forced to sign. Offering him a single season at $15 million with incentives built in for starts and innings is a good way to attempt to bring more upside to the rotation, and even if he ends up overpaid, as either more of a mid-rotation guy or thanks to injury, at least it's just the one year.
There's a good chance that someone out there will offer Peavy more guaranteed money, though, so backup plans are a necessity. Anibal Sanchez will be pursued by many clubs, but he could be easily worth the right deal. If he could be had for three-to-four years, at somewhere between $9 and $12 million per season, he could be worth having. Stability is worth an awful lot, and Sanchez has produced both stability and quality in his career, after some early injury scares. A rotation of Lester, Buchholz, Sanchez, Lester, and Doubront could be very, very good. As Sanchez cannot be given a qualifying offer, and won't cost Boston their second-round draft pick, there's even more reason to go after him. Peavy, on the other hand, will likely be given the offer, and cost a pick.
Maybe the Sanchez market goes nuts because of this, causing Boston to look elsewhere. Jeremy Guthrie could likely be had on a short-term deal for manageable money, and he's had plenty of success in the AL East before. He's not the sexiest option out there, but Guthrie gets the job done, and could bring mid-rotation stability to Boston that hasn't been there for a few years now. Guthrie just made $8.2 million for his final year of arbitration, so he won't be making pennies, but two years at $8 million a piece, or a slightly heftier one-year deal, are worth discussing should Boston fail at reeling in a bigger fish. That might seem like too much money, but it's the cost of doing business on the free agent market, and Boston needs another starter. The cavalry from the minors is still too far away to avoid free agency or a trade.
Boston could still use some starting pitching depth, even if they acquire one of these arms. Checking in on the Brandon McCarthy market is a priority. If a minor-league deal with an opt-out clause is enough to bring him aboard, then it's necessary to be in on that. See what Carlos Villanueva is expecting for a role, and if he's fine with being a swingman type once more, start comparing figures. Rich Harden with a non-roster invite to spring training could be worth Boston's while. Bartolo Colon might be intriguing, assuming the league refuses to give him a guaranteed deal.
As for the offense, a first baseman is needed, and arguably, so too is a shortstop and left fielder. First base presents multiple options, not many of them attractive. Boston could attempt to bring Kevin Youkilis back once Chicago declines his option for 2013. As a first baseman, without the defensive rigors of third base breaking down his body, Youkilis might have one more productive year left in him in a Red Sox uniform. It's worth exploring, anyway. If not Youkilis, then free agency is likely a bust, and a trade will need to be worked out. Inquiring on the Nationals' Mike Morse couldn't hurt, if they sign Adam LaRoche. Morse posted a 130 OPS+ with the Nationals from 2009 through 2012, and while he has just one year left on his original deal, a single season beats not having a first baseman at all.
Either Youkilis or Morse would work for first base in 2013, especially if the Nats don't ask for any of Boston's top prospects. Boston's depth on the farm can work in their favor in two ways: either as members of the Red Sox, or to bring new players to Boston. If the Nats will bite on the upside of, say, Stolmy Pimentel and Brandon Jacobs, then that would work. If they are looking for more along the lines of Matt Barnes, Bryce Brentz, or Garin Cecchini, then there's no deal to be made. It all depends on how many other teams go after someone like Morse, should he be made available. Chance are good they'll expect a hefty return, and it'll force hypothetical Boston GM to say no thanks.
It's also worth asking the Twins about the last year of Justin Morneau's contract, but again, I'm hesitant to deal too much from the farm for a single season of a first baseman. In something of a bridge year, where the goal is to give the farm system another year while trying to stay in contention in a two wild card system, it makes more sense to be patient than to send too many chips out.
Then there's shortstop, where options are limited, but there are options. Kicking the tires on Stephen Drew would be a good idea, but there are sure to me many teams vying for the services of the one shortstop on the market who might actually hit. If Boston fails to get Drew, as painful as it might sound, handing the job to Jose Iglesias could be the right move. There are two ways this can go: Iglesias hits enough to justify the defense, and even if he isn't helpful in the lineup, he's still a productive player overall. Or, Iglesias continues to fail at hitting altogether, and Boston goes out mid-season to bring in a replacement shortstop for the last two months (or however long) of the year. Finding out what Iglesias is capable of before the next wave of shortstop prospects comes up is important, and it's in the spirit of the aforementioned bridge campaign. There has to be a balance between the future and the present.
As for left field, Boston has a few internal options. Ryan Kalish could be given the same kind of treatment as Iglesias, but it might be worth it to let him use his last option to right himself in Triple-A. Jerry Sands is a last resort at first base, but his bat projects much better in left field. And he might enjoy playing every day in Fenway, too, like many hitters have. Sands also has one option left, though, so it's not required he begin the year in the majors.
While both could get the job done, there's no reason to avoid free agency and the upside it might bring. Melky Cabrera at Fenway Park is intriguing, and he will be an easy sign for short years despite his performance, thanks to his mid-season bust for PEDs. Torii Hunter, like David Ortiz, could be searching for the last contract of his career. After a productive 2012 in a park that favors pitchers, getting Hunter in Fenway for a year or two at reasonable money (say, $8-10 million per year) could be a boost to the Sox. Trying to bring Ichiro Suzuki in could be intriguing, as defensively, he's still a positive, and his bat came alive after leaving Safeco and Seattle. There's also Angel Pagan, who might be a candidate for a multi-year deal, but it's possible he could be had for a significant enough one- or two-year contract.
Hunter might be the most intriguing balance of price, performance, and as much as we might hate to say it, clubhouse culture on the list. Players seem to love Hunter universally. He's not a center fielder anymore, but he's more than able to handle left at Fenway. He should be available in the same way Ross is, on a short deal for decent, but not crippling, money. Unlike Ross, though, Hunter's price will come because of his age (37). A Hunter/Ellsbury/Ross outfield, with Kalish and Sands waiting in the wings (and the Ryan Sweeney/Daniel Nava combination on the bench) could do a lot of good for the Red Sox while they await the development of a couple of prized prospects.
Otherwise, the lineup is set. Let's look at a projected Opening Day roster, with the preferred setup (also known as, the one I think most realistic from my stated options):
|C||Jarrod Saltalamacchia||SP||Jon Lester|
|1B||Kevin Youkilis||SP||Clay Buchholz|
|2B||Dustin Pedroia||SP||Anibal Sanchez|
|3B||Will Middlebrooks||SP||John Lackey|
|SS||Jose Iglesias||SP||Felix Doubront|
|CF||Jacoby Ellsbury||SP/RP||Franklin Morales|
|RF||Cody Ross||MR||Craig Breslow|
|DH||David Ortiz||MR||Andrew Miller|
|C||Ryan Lavarnway||SET||Junichi Tazawa|
|IF||Ivan De Jesus||SET||Scott Atchison|
|OF||Ryan Sweeney||CL||Andrew Bailey|
Jerry Sands, Rubby De La Rosa, Ryan Kalish, and Daniel Bard all begin the year in the minors, courtesy of options. If Ryan Sweeney can be moved or non-tendered, with Kalish the other outfielder on the bench in his role, that's also acceptable. Ivan De Jesus takes over as the bench infielder for Pedro Ciriaco, who will be non-tendered in the hopes of bringing him back on a minor-league deal. There are plenty of relievers waiting in the wings, should Melancon fail to produce, or anyone succumb to injury. A spot needs to be found for Clayton Mortensen, who is out of options, but there are ways to temporarily use 13 pitchers in the majors if necessary to sort that problem out.
The changes might not be dramatic, but remember: Boston is rebuilding from what they looked like in July, not what they looked like in September. That roster of the final month lacked two of Boston's best hitters, and the return of those two combined with adding Torii Hunter might honestly be enough to get the offense to where it needs to be, especially if Kevin Youkilis can be coaxed back into town. The rotation, likewise, should receive a bump from Lackey, who is far enough removed from Tommy John that he should be capable of a full-season's workload. As much as 2010 was disappointing relative to his paycheck, Boston has missed that kind of mid-rotation production in each of the last two seasons. Combine that with Sanchez, and either more of the same or some improvement from Doubront, and you've got yourself a rotation worth talking about. Assuming Buchholz and Lester continue to build from their individual setbacks, anyway. But there's not much to be done by the front office in that regard: that's up to the pitchers and the coaching staff.
This isn't Boston's best roster by any means, but it gives them one that can fight for one of the wild card spots, and without sacrificing the strong farm system. If things go south, maybe I would be tempted to shop Jacoby Ellsbury mid-season in order to help build the next great Sox team, but for now, seeing what he can do in order to help this iteration of the Red Sox is important, especially in this situation, where Anibal Sanchez was locked up to fill a rotation spot for the next three-to-four years.
After signing Youkilis ($8 million), Hunter ($10 million), and Sanchez ($12 million) to go along with re-signing Ortiz and Ross, Boston's payroll is at $140 million. That's still hefty, but it's not what it's been the last two seasons, leaving the Red Sox with plenty of flexibility moving forward, even if Hunter costs a few million more per year than that. And, except for Sanchez, none of them present long-term commitments. This represents Boston's staying competitive, but not betting everything on free agency. It's a return to player development as the real key, with the complementary parts coming through the use of Boston's financial advantage.