When we introduced the Armchair GM series this time last year, the Red Sox were in a very different situation. Featuring a roster that had just produced one of the game's all-time worst collapses and a payroll that left little room for maneuvering, we tried to make what small moves we could within the tight restrictions placed on us. Arguably, even our most conservative effort didn't quite match the team's real-world frugality, but a spending spree it was not.
Enter 2012, a 69-93 record, and one massive trade that made everything much brighter in the long-run. Gone is the ridiculous Carl Crawford contract that threatened to weigh the team down for five more years. Gone is the uncertainty of Josh Beckett. And, yes, gone is Adrian Gonzalez, but with his departure, another $20 million opens up. If ever a team has wiped their slate clean for the upcoming offseason, it's the Boston Red Sox.
Still, that clean slate's not worth a thing without the work necessary to rebuild the roster, and that's the task at hand now. There's much to be done, so let's get to work.
There are a few clear holes on the team headed into 2013, but right away we can probably eliminate two of them: David Ortiz is almost back already, likely in at around $12 million per year, while Cody Ross should follow close behind. Ideally that would be a 2/16 contract, but 3/21 seems entirely possible too.
The obvious spots are at shortstop, first base, left field, and in the rotation, where ideally the Sox will be able to bring in a few good arms to bolster their very thin staff. I'd like to add to that, however, the position of catcher. We're two years into the Jarrod Saltalamacchia experiment now, and as likable as he may be, Salty just doesn't bring much to the team for a full-time starter with a .319 wOBA.
There are two directions to go in behind the plate. For years, the Sox have gone looking for legitimate bats behind the plate, leading them to the likes of Victor Martinez and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (one more successful than the other), but they've suffered defensively as a result, and done so at what might be the single most important defensive position in the game. The option always remains to go in the other direction.
Or we could go in both directions at once. First, there's David Ross. One of the premier defensive catchers according to everyone who's attempted to quantify the most difficult of positions to judge, Ross also happens to bring a more-than-solid bat against lefties and righties alike. At 36, he's not going to be a full-time starter, but that's alright, because the Sox don't need a completely full slate of games out of him by any means.
Or at least they won't if they add Mike Napoli to the mix. Coming off a down year in Texas, Napoli would be a perfect fit in a Victor Martinez sort of role. Even in this down year he was still a solid option at the plate, and if ever there's someone who has seemed to enjoy hitting at Fenway, it's Napoli. Ideally, the Sox would be able to sign him to something of a pillow contract, offering to overpay him for a couple of years in order to make him forego a longer contract elsewhere. They should be able to sell such a move as letting Napoli build up his offensive profile back to its previous heights while hitting in Fenway Park, setting him up for another solid deal come his next trip to free agency.
When not playing behind the plate Napoli can fill in at first base, but there still needs to be an everyday starter manning the position. Here I turn to the trade market, specifically Justin Morneau. A free-agent to be come 2014, the one-time MVP put the Twins in a bit of an awkward position by managing to produce the sort of season that makes it entirely unclear what he will do in the future. Better in 2012 than in his awful 2011 season, Morneau none-the-less was not his old self, falling short of a .800 OPS thanks to ending the season in a prolonged slump. Was this the start of his return-to-form, or is this the new top end of Morneau?
The upshot of this is that the Twins would be risking getting nothing back if they kept on Morneau. There's no guarantee, after all, that he's going to be worth a qualifying offer in 2014, and with Chris Parmelee waiting in the wings the Twins may want to go ahead and see what they have there instead. Add in Morneau's $14 million salary, and it doesn't seem like he would require too, too much to lure away. Ideally Jarrod Saltalamacchia would be used in some sort of three-way deal to help subsidize Morneau's price, hopefully with relatively little else added to the package--perhaps a Chris Hernandez type?
Making all these moves would leave the Red Sox with three men for two positions in Morneau, Napoli, and Ross, with Napoli providing the overlap. The typical everyday starters would be Morneau and Napoli, but with Ross effectively spelling Morneau against lefties by moving Napoli over to first. This would also make Ryan Lavarnway the first line of defense at both positions, since Napoli could simply start at 1B full-time if Morneau went down.
At shortstop, a rather simpler answer can be worked out. Here my primary target would be Stephen Drew. Having suffered through another injury-filled year that robbed him of his bat, Drew is the perfect target for a Beltre-style pillow contract. He's a risk to be sure, but the Sox are exactly the sort of team that should be taking risks right now. It might even be worthwhile offering him a higher 2012 salary if he's willing to throw on a reasonable team option or two.
The outfield is a rather trickier situation thanks entirely to the Jacoby Ellsbury situation, and how hard it is to figure out exactly how that's going to work. One popular option would be to shop Ellsbury with an eye to picking up Juston Upton, likely with some prospects and perhaps a third team thrown in.
Sadly, this deal would have been easier to swing last year, before Ellsbury was taken out of the 2012 picture by Reid Brignac. Still, Upton's coming off a down year himself, which should keep the deal within range. Perhaps Texas would be interested in providing the necessary value given their stacked system and Josh Hamilton's departure?
Even if Justin Upton comes on board, however, the Sox will still have to shell out for a center fielder. Unfortunately, the options here aren't quite so desirable. In the end, I settled on a name I never expected to come close as the most likely option: Shane Victorino. Expected to sign a two-year deal worth $25 million according to John Heyman, Victorino isn't exactly the first guy I'd want on the team, but for the Sox anything that effects just the next two years has to be explored with the likes of Jackie Bradley waiting in the wings.
Still, that leaves the Sox with a good $25 million on the payroll from those two spots, and in my mind it might be better to go a simpler route and just grab Melky Cabrera in free agency. No, Melky hasn't exactly come out as the league's top character guy, but he should come relatively cheap in both dollars and years for all the potential he provides at the plate. That would save the Sox a good deal of cash to spend on pitching, not to mention any prospects that would be needed to complete the Upton deal.
That leaves the rotation. For me, there are five names worth focusing on here: Jake Peavy, Edwin Jackson, Anibal Sanchez, Dan Haren, and Brandon McCarthy. Of the four, Jackson seems the one most likely to fit with the Sox. He's young and consistent enough that the Sox can feel safe to actually offer him a few years, which should help convince him to come to Fenway. The market seems to be down on pitchers like him--certainly a long way from the awfulness that produced Lackey and Burnett--so the Sox should easily be able to afford him on something like a 4-year deal at $10-12 million per year. He's not going to light the world on fire, but he should provide a good mid-rotation arm.
Anibal Sanchez is in a similar situation, but unlike Marc before me I'm not nearly so optimistic about his market being affordable. He's the top young FA out there, and with a solid performance in the American League (including a strong playoff run so far) I think he's the one guy most likely to get up there towards Lackey money. The Sox would likely be better, then, to turn to one of Jake Peavy or Dan Haren.
Peavy's market is a bit odd given how up-and-down he's been, but it's looking more-and-more like he'll have to settle for short years, which is again gold to the Red Sox. The question is whether or not he'll come in at a reasonable dollar figure to play in Fenway. So long as the price stays under $15 million I'd say the Sox should turn to him, or possibly offer him a third year to keep him there if nobody else will.
If things get out-of-hand with Peavy, then they'll have to turn to Haren, and likely end up overpaying to get him to come to Fenway. Still, the Sox are a team that has to take risks, and he would be a pretty good risk to take.
As for Brandon McCarthy, that depends entirely on the market which develops. I'm with Marc in thinking that if teams are scared away by the brain injury the Sox should get him on a minor-league deal with an opt-out. While I would love to give him a major league job, however, the roster spot just isn't there.
You may notice that this has actually left us with six starting pitchers even with just two pickups. But that's kind of what the Red Sox need. It's nice to believe that Felix Doubront is the guy we saw to start the year rather than end it, or that Tommy John surgery is going to turn John Lackey around, but expecting any more than one decent option from those two is the sort of risk the Sox shouldn't be taking. The difficulty will be finding the roster room, but if that means hiding Doubront away as a spot starter/long reliever in the bullpen than so be it.
Here's my completed roster:
|C||Mike Napoli||SP||Jon Lester|
|1B||Justin Morneau||SP||Clay Buchholz|
|2B||Dustin Pedroia||SP||Edwin Jackson|
|3B||Will Middlebrooks||SP||Jake Peavy/Dan Haren|
|SS||Stephen Drew||SP||John Lackey|
|CF||Jacoby Ellsbury||RP||Andrew Bailey|
|RF||Cody Ross||RP||Craig Breslow|
|DH||David Ortiz||RP||Scott Atchison|
|C||David Ross||RP||Andrew Miller|
|IF||Pedro Ciriaco||RP||Franklin Morales|
|OF||Juan Carlos Linares||LR/SP||Felix Doubront|
The bullpen features some notable absences in Rich Hill, Clayton Mortensen, Mark Melancon, and Daniel Bard. Of those, only Bard has an option that will allow him to be safely stored away at Triple-A. Rich Hill will hopefully come back on another minor-league deal, but if not is not a huge loss. That leaves Mortensen and Melancon for one spot. My expectation is that we won't enter the year with a fully healthy pitching staff--whether that means bringing Doubront into the rotation to free up a spot or simply filling in one of those spots with Melancon or Mortensen remains to be seen.
Still, it would be wise to try and dump off one of the multitude of bullpen offerings for value either in a decent propect, or just as part of the aforementioned Justin Morneau deal. The lefties in Miller and Morales would probably top the list for me, depending on whether Morales still holds any of his value from looking like a strong starter in the middle of the season. Miller, on the other hand, isn't likely to gain much value anytime soon, and while he's ended up a solid LOOGY, he doesn't have the potential to build the same kind of value as Melancon and Bailey, who are currently at all-time lows.
Finally there's the bench. I've elected to go with Pedro Ciriaco as the utility infielder. Ivan De Jesus might have a bit more potential to surprise, but Pedro impressed me defensively last year, and really provides an excellent stolen base threat which can be quite valuable in late innings. Daniel Nava stays with the major league team after an impressive 2012 campaign marred by injury--he should get some decent time against righties on the road in place of Cody Ross--while Juan Carlos Linares makes his way to the majors to provide both a strong defensive glove in center field and an interesting if unproven bat.
So where do we come in financially? I actually managed to spend quite a bit more money than I expected to. $14 million on Morneau, likely $25 million on the two starting pitchers, $20 million resigning Ortiz and Ross, and then maybe close to another $20-25 million on Napoli, Drew, and Cabrera. That's $80 million, and only about 15% of it runs past 2014. Add that on to $46 million in guaranteed contracts, and probably about $30 million in arbitration and minimum contracts, and it comes out to an impressive $156 million. That's probably a bit off given the 40-man intricacies, and there's always the benefits and possible mid-season additions to take into account, but the average annual value calculations take it down a peg, and either way it should come in under the $178 million luxury tax threshold.