Boston Red Sox Armchair GM, Off-Season Edition: Matt Sullivan

Boston, this next championship is for you! - Jonathan Daniel

It's my turn to play Boston Red Sox GM and try to convince you, the reader, of my unrelenting deal-making, baseball-analyzing, team-building prowess. So, here it is, my plan for the 2013 Red Sox. Vote for my plan and America will have unparalleled economic growth, I promise.

After the mess of a season that was the 2012 Red Sox, there is a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done to restore this team to a place where they will compete year in and year out once again. Thanks to the real GM, Ben Cherington, and his Mega-Trade, the Red Sox have financial flexibility and some intriguing new talent in the system. Unfortunately, they also have glaring holes at shortstop, first base and in the outfield and a rotation that has one opening and four question marks. Hiring John Farrell, the one-time Sox pitching, could help the rotation, but adding talent there still needs to be a priority.

The first question that needs to be addressed is whether or not we are building a team that can compete in 2013. If I were planning on writing off this season I would trade Jacoby Ellsbury to the team offering the best young talent, ship off a substantial portion of our bullpen for prospects and take a chance on a few upside pitching signings. I believe the Red Sox can be competitive in 2013, however, and that is the principle I am operating on here. Given the huge factor luck played in the Orioles run and the very real possibility that the Yankees post-season woes were an early sign of a serious decline for their older players, I would even venture to say that the Red Sox could be the division champions next October if they were aggressive enough this off-season. I am not going to that extreme just yet though. I am building this team to compete and to be in a place on July 31, 2013 where they can be buyers should enough of those question marks work out well. I believe, in this new post-season/ CBA environment, that is the best strategy.

Let’s begin with the basics:

DFA Ryan Sweeney and Pedro Ciriaco

Sweeney was neither healthy nor productive in 2012 and with young players like Ryan Kalish around, he is not really needed. Ciriaco was a nice story this past season and I would love to keep him around on a minor league deal, but without options, I don’t want to burn a 40 man roster spot on a guy who is just up there guessing at the plate.

Re-sign David Ortiz and Cody Ross

David Ortiz is closing in on a two year deal with the team and I would certainly support giving him one. Ortiz may be at an age where sluggers typically decline, but he has not followed a typical aging curve at all. The contact heavy approach that began in 2011 is still working wonders for him and his power is as awesome as ever. If a 2 year/ $26M deal is needed here, I am signing off right away.

Cody Ross is less certain to resign, as the market for outfielders is thin after Josh Hamilton (who I am not going to be in on at all), but he should also recognize that Boston is a good fit for him. With Ross, I am getting a right-handed power bat with solid patience and a player that can handle all three outfield positions if needed. I think 2 years/ $15M is enough to keep him, but I could go as high as 3 years/$21M.

By Re-upping Ortiz and Ross, I am adding power to the middle of the lineup and locking down one outfield slot for 2013 and at least a fourth outfielder beyond that. These deals are no-brainers in my mind.

Protect the 4 B’s

Next on the to-do list is first base. Signing Mike Napoli is certainly not the worst idea, but the power-hitting catcher/ first baseman is coming off of a down year and with all the miles on his legs from catching, I am worried about giving him a deal beyond one or two years. I would sign Nick Swisher in a heartbeat if it did not likely mean having to beat out a Yankees offer for him. Given the lack of options for a free agent first baseman, I am going to look at the trade market. Right off the bat, I am telling teams to forget about Jackie Bradley Jr., Matt Barnes, Xander Bogaerts and Bryce Brentz. While Brentz is not a prospect on par with the other 3 B’s, he is the closet to the majors and his right-handed power is just too interesting to pass up. Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster are also basically untouchable in my mind. Unless someone losses their mind completely (hello, Mr. Colletti… you’ll give me what?), I am hanging on to these stars of the future even as I…

Trade for Ike Davis

Like Mr. Collins, I am strongly in favor of landing Ike Davis. He is young, cost-controlled and he has excellent plate discipline and lefty handed power. His glove will likely develop to average or better as well. He is a potential star and his floor is probably something like Mark Reynolds. I am also a Mets fan and I watched his early season struggles very closely. I think it was a matter or pitchers adapting to him and Davis struggling to adjust. He is fastball hitter who can be beat with good breaking stuff, but as the season went on, he was able to chase fewer bad pitches thanks to an excellent eye at the plate. He will always be something of a three-true-outcome guy, but with the talent in the lineup around him, I can live with that. His power will absolutely translate to Fenway and if he learns to make a bit more contact he could be a star.

The issue here is cost. With the four B’s off the table, it will be hard to pry Davis away. Fortunately, we have many things the Mets need. Relief pitching was a major problem for the Mets so let’s start with Alfredo Aceves. The temperamental reliever could setup for Frank Francisco or become the Mets closer. Ace alone won’t fix that horrible pen, so I would add Andrew Miller or Franklin Morales, giving them the lefty option they desperately need. Because he can also start, Morales has a bit more value in this equation. Third, Juan Carlos Linares or Jeremy Hazelbaker. The Mets need a right-handed hitting outfielder with power, so Linares is a good fit, though the OBP-conscious Alderson might prefer to take a flyer on Hazelbaker. Either way, I am good with giving up one of these guys.

Finally, I am taking Jason Bay and up to $8M of his dreadful $16M contract off their hands. Bay was hurt most of last season and was firmly below replacement level, but his skills are not entirely gone. Even as dreadful as his 2012 season was, he walked at a better rate than most of the 2012 Red Sox and had a very solid 14.3% HR/FB rate in his 215 PA. The wild gamble that zombie-JasonBay can return to the friendly confines of Fenway and thrive in a part-time role is fine with me if it means getting Ike Davis without parting with more than Aceves, Miller, and Linares. At least I find it preferable to parting with an intriguing low level player like Blake Swihart or Gavin Cecchini to make an Ike Davis trade happen. That would be my plan B here, but I think the cost-conscious Mets would jump at the chance to unload Bay. He is a free agent after the season and even in the worst case scenario, this would still break down to paying just an extra $2M a year for four arbitration seasons of Ike Davis. He will have to waive his no-trade clause to make this work, but I think he almost certainly will.

Sign Angel Pagan

Angel Pagan is an underrated guy. He has very good contact skills, average on-base skills, average power and he is an excellent base runner and defender. With the spacious right field in Fenway, I think Pagan is an excellent fit. He will also give Boston a short term option in center should Jacoby Ellsbury leave after the 2013 season so they can be patient with Jackie Bradley Jr. Pagan is a switch hitter and he compares very well with players like B.J. Upton and Michael Bourn, who are likely to be more expensive. I think he can be signed for a deal very close to the one Cody Ross will sign. Let’s say three years and $26M. If the market goes crazy for him I could see as much as four years and $32M being needed, but I don’t think that will be the case. I like the flexibility he will give me and his price tag.

Sign Stephen Drew

I want Jose Iglesias to be the shortstop in 2013, but as he is one of just a few players with options remaining and his bat is still raw, I want him to start in AAA and be ready for the inevitable I-95 shuttle that players like Kevin Youkilis and Clay Buchholz have had to endure. To lock in some production and with an eye on a trade deadline chip (should Iglesias start to hit) I am signing Stephen Drew. I expect his one year $10M option to be declined by Oakland and to be able to land him at either 1 year/ $8.5M or 2 years/$15M.

A Plethora of Pitchers

Pitching depth is always an issue. The Red Sox might have Lester, Buchholz, Doubront, and Lackey already slotted into the rotation, but it is very unlikely that those four plus one free agent acquisition will be enough. I want a plethora of pitchers. Rubby De La Rosa is returning from Tommy John and should start in AAA to get back in the grove, so that is one. Steven Wright will join him throwing the knuckleball and trying to channel R.A. Dickey. De La Rosa is a very strong candidate to make the rotation by year’s end and Wright is an interesting wild card, but neither starts opening day with the big league club. I like Marc’s idea of adding Jake Peavy for one year but I think it might be a stretch. At three or four years, I want no part of Peavy and I think the market might be around that. So Anibal Sanchez is coming home. Sanchez and Edwin Jackson are actually kind of difficult to tell apart by simply looking at their numbers. Between the two, I like Sanchez better and I am willing to commit three years and $42M to him. If that isn't realistic, I would move on to Jackson at slightly less.

Two pitchers that might need to sign minor league deals thanks to injuries are dead center on my radar. First, up Brandon McCarthy. Yes, it is true, I have said I would acquire McCarthy in every Armchair GM piece thus far. Why stop now, especially when he is recovering from an awful injury and sudden obtainable with out committing to a major league deal? I would give McCarthy a $5M minor league deal with an opt-out in June (if he is healthy and not on the 25 man roster) and even another in July. I would add to that an extra $2.5M in incentives and a vesting option for $10M for 2014 if he makes 20+ starts or pitches over 150 innings at the major league level. If McCarthy comes all the way back from that devastating line-drive-to-the-head, I want him with us.

Scott Baker may also be available on a hefty minor league deal. Baker missed the entire 2012 season following Tommy John surgery and as a result he isn’t going to command much this off-season. Prior to the injury however, he was an extremely underrated pitcher with elite control and decent strikeout ability. He is an extreme fly ball guy but as righty, that is not a huge problem in Fenway. Minnesota declined his $9.25M option for next year and though he might still land a major league deal, a option-laden minor league one might work here as well. I would not give him the same vesting deal as McCarthy, but paying up to $7.5M for a pitcher that resembles 2011 Scott Baker would be well worth it. If he is not that guy, overpaying him as a minor leaguer is not an issue for me.

All of these pitchers won’t have a place if those four guys already on the team all perform well and stay healthy but that is a good problem to have. Dealing Felix Doubront when his stock is higher certainly appeals to me and by mid-season it just might be. A revived John Lackey could appeal to an NL contender at the deadline. Should Jon Lester fail to regain his 2009-2011 form, moving him while he still has value might be necessary. Even if this pitcher stockpiling means I need to run out a six man rotation temporarily, I am fine with that. What I want to do is stock up on pitching and then trade it for young players during the season, when teams are their most desperate. This means locking in deals that are not too outrageous to move and having major league ready depth. I think the Red Sox could fix there starting pitching and stock up on even more prospects if they use their financial advantages aggressively and intelligently this year. That’s my plan.

Bullpen by Farrell

Even with Alfredo Aceves and Andrew Miller gone, this should be a great bullpen next year. John Farrell gets to pull from Franklin Morales, Craig Breslow, Clayton Mortensen, Mark Melancon, Junichi Tazawa, Scott Atchison, Rich Hill and Andrew Bailey and he has Josh Fields, Chris Carpenter, Zack Stewart and Alex Wilson waiting in the minors should he need more options. Unlike last season, I am not going to pay for bullpen arms. This group has plenty of upside. In fact, the biggest issue here is that there are too many players for too few spots. The roster crunch will not allow me to keep all of these players. Mark Melancon could be a non-tender candidate if he can’t turn things around. Franklin Morales might bring back some talent in a trade thanks to his starting pitching abilities. Whatever the final arrangement is, I feel confident that a good pen is very achievable without any additional moves.

My 2013 team will look something like this-

Position

Player

Position

Player

C

Jarrod Saltalamacchia

SP

Jon Lester

1B

Ike Davis

SP

Clay Buchholz

2B

Dustin Pedroia

SP

Anibal Sanchez

3B

Will Middlebrooks

SP

John Lackey

SS

Stephen Drew

SP

Felix Doubont

LF

Cody Ross

CF

Jacoby Ellsbury

SP/RP

Franklin Morales

RF

Angel Pagan

MR

Craig Breslow

DH

David Ortiz

MR

Clayton Mortensen

MR

Mark Melancon

C

Ryan Lavarnway

SET

Junichi Tazawa

IF

Ivan De Jesus

SET

Scott Atchison

OF

JasonBay

CL

Andrew Bailey

OF

Ryan Kalish

I feel good about this team and I don’t think putting it together will mean a lot of long term commitments. There are one or two extra players here but that is by design. Some tough decisions will need to be made this spring. This team can absolutely compete for a wild card spot if the key players here stay healthy. Add to this one of Baker or McCarthy (or both) on a minor league deal and there is more than enough talent for a top tier pitching staff to emerge.

It is a team that has some calculated risks, to be sure. JasonBay could be utterly useless. If he is, it is just for one year and it is just the cost of getting Ike Davis. I am only expecting him to be an option against lefties and to spell Ortiz, Ross and perhaps Davis occasionally anyway. Stephen Drew might be beginning his decline phase, proving cringe worth at short and disappointing at the plate, but both Dejesus and Igelsias will be waiting in the wings.

All told, this team will cost a maximum of around $150M and leave plenty of room for adding talent mid-season by taking on salary. I would plan to do just that. This off-season crop of free agents doesn’t thrill me and except for Justin Upton, there is no one on the trade market right now that I feel justifies a package of elite prospects. The Red Sox have money to spend and I want to use that without making many major commitments. Ross, Sanchez and Pagan all look like strong value signings and the big score can still come later if this is not enough. If this team suffers injuries and underperformance setbacks, it will have players that can bring back value in trade. If everything goes right, we can be the buyers and load up for the stretch run with ease.

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