Note: I started this article before several free agents were signed and/ or their options were exercised. I have denoted this by striking through their names.
For this exercise, I am taking the upside down approach. I am taking the list of free agents, assuming that no options are being picked up and constructing a team out of them. I tried to keep the average age right around 30. Then I will see which positions are downgrades and plugging in a current Red Sox.
The following are my choices.
First Option (Second Option) [Incumbant]
C Brian McCann (Carlos Ruiz) A.J. Pierzynski Russel Martin (David Ross) [Saltalamacchia]
1B Adam LaRoche (Mike Napoli, Kevin Youkilis) [N/A]
2B Jeff Keppinger (Kelly Johnson) [Pedroia]
SS Jhonny Peralta (Maicer Izturis, Ronny Cedeno) [Cedeno]
3B David Wright Jeff Keppinger (Kevin Youkilis) [Middlebrooks]
OF Josh Hamilton (Curtis Granderson) [Ellsbury]
OF Micheal Bourn (Angel Pagan) [Kalish]
OF Torii Hunter (Cody Ross, Ryan Ludwig) [Ross]
DH David Ortiz (Raul Ibanez) [Ortiz]
#1 SP Zack Greinke (James Shields) [Lester]
#2 SP RA Dickey (Shawn Marcum) [Buchholz]
#3 SP Kyle Lohse (Brandon McCarthy) [Doubront]
#4 SP Ryan Dempster (Hiroki Kuroda) [Lackey]
#5 SP Anibal Sanchez (Edwin Jackson) [N/A]
That team would compete. Now to bring it into a more realistic realm.
C- With the Braves and Phillies picking up the options of McCann and Ruiz, respectively, and Pierzynski being a head case, the best free agent catcher is Russell Martin backed up by David Ross. Niether of these options are more attractive than Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ryan Lavarnway.
Conclusion: Jarrod Saltalamaccia 2 WAR
(Note: I am indifferent to the Ross signing. It has the feel of giving trade flexibility more than signing the full time catcher of 2013.)
1B- LaRoche had a good year last year, putting up a triple slash line of .271/ .343/ .510 and did it despite having a BABIP eleven points below his norm. He is a switch hitter with pretty even numbers against lefties and righties. His 3.8 WAR eclipsed A-Gon’s 3.6 and his 33 home runs would certainly ease the pain of losing Adrian Gonzalez. The issue is going to be price. He just opted out of his $10M option and is one of the best options at first this year.
(Note: I think that the Red Sox may actually need to overpay for players in general over the next few years. This is based on the way that the Sox have done business over the last few years-- the clubhouse rumors, the unfair media attention, the pressure of playing in front of packed houses every night, player’s behavior being called into question, well respected players and managers being dragged through the mud on their way out, etc.)
Based on the Forbes formula of calculating a player’s worth at $5.9M per WAR point (=22.42), LaRoche could very well command $20+M from the Red Sox per year and would likely be looking for a multiyear deal. At 33, the smart GM doesn’t go beyond two years.
Napoli is another good option at first base and likely comes cheaper than LaRoche. Napoli has put up great numbers in Fenway and it would make sense for him to come to Boston for two years and build his value up after an off year where he didn’t really hit well anywhere except Fenway.
Then there is Youkilis. We all know the pros and cons there. Youk is an if player at this point, but I for one would love to have him back.
Conclusion: LaRoche 3.8
2B- Keppinger has bounced around quite a bit. He had a decent season last year with the Rays. Kelly Johnson is carving out a pretty nice career arc thus far. But this position is locked up by one of the very best in the league.
Conclusion: Dustin Pedroia 4.5
SS- Izturis or Cedeno are both slightly above replacement level players that do not offer much upgrade over our own slightly above replacement level players. That being said it is conceivable to sign Keppinger or Marco Scutaro to a short term contract. Scutaro is likely out. Keppinger is the anti-Iglesies at SS… he can hit but is not the best fielding shortstop (not that he is a Derek Jeter-esque liability at the position). The other intriguing part of Keppinger’s game is that he has MLB experience in every position except Catcher and Center. He also has good career splits vs. LHP.
Conclusion: Keppinger 2.8
3B- Keppinger is the best free agent option at third, too. Youkilis is out there as well, but I think his value is probably at 1B. Middlebrooks has all the makings of a solid MLB player.
Conclusion: Middlebrooks 2.1
OF- The Sox could run out this outfield next year: Bourn in CF, Pagan in RF, and Hamilton in LF which would be a collective 15.4 WAR
Bourn is the real deal and should be included in any free agent discussion. He is the best option out there. Please, please sign him to a large contract now. Since 2009, his third full season, he has never been valued less than 4.1 WAR.
Pagan is an impassioned player who Dave Cameron had this to say about (http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/the-most-underrated-player-in-baseball-2/):
However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized there’s one guy who fits the bill perfectly. He’s played for three teams in his seven year career, each of whom play in a major media market. He’s currently a vital cog on a first place team, and yet his performance has gone mostly overlooked. He’s one of the better available pieces in the often disparaged class of 2013 free agents, but MLBTradeRumors hasn’t written about him since June. He’s a really good player on a winning team who has spent his entire career playing in front of large audiences, and yet, he’s still off most people’s radar. In terms of production in environments where that should garner you some recognition, there is perhaps no player in baseball more underrated than Angel Pagan.
Over the last four years, Pagan has accumulated just over 2,100 plate appearances and produced +12.9 WAR, or an average of +3.7 WAR per 600 PA. Some other players in MLB who have averaged between +3.5 and +4.0 WAR per 600 PA over the last four years: Mark Teixeira, Jay Bruce, and Curtis Granderson. I think you might hear a little bit more about them than you do about Pagan.
Put Hamilton in front of the Green Monster and we have an outfield that will produce at a high level for the next four years at least. I like Ross, even for 3/$24M, I like our young class coming up, and I like Ellsbury, if he signs an extension, but if we can put together a proven group of player around 30 years old I say make it happen. We can do this with the available free agent outfielders.
Conclusion: Bourn, Pagan, Hamilton 15.4 (also acceptable are any mix of Ross, Ludwig, and Granderson)
(Note: I have heard a lot of general pontificating about the Sox getting back to their ‘ winning formula.’ Let me know if I am wrong, but the formula that the Red Sox used prior to 2004 to build that team was, in no particular order:
1. Sign the best hitter of his generation to the largest contract in baseball history at the time... Manny Ramirez.
2. Acquire the best pitcher of his generation and sign him to the largest contract in baseball history at the time… Pedro Martinez.
3. Sign the best available, most competitive free agent pitcher to a huge contract… Curt Schilling.
4. Make shrewd key acquisitions and pay them a little above market value… Bill Meuller, Johnny Damon, Kevin Millar, Kieth Foulk, etc.
If we follow this blueprint, we end up with a max contract offered to Hamilton, a mega trade for Felix Hernandez, Kyle Lohse, and a group of hard working good players like Jeff Keppinger, Micheal Bourn, and Angel Pagan.)
SP- Grienke 5.1, Lohse 3.6, Dempster 3.3, Sanchez 3.8, Kuroda 3.9 equals a WAR of 19.7. Or a full 10 wins better than the Red Sox starters last year.
I think that the starting rotation is the tightest situation. When he is on there is no one like Jon Lester. Buchholz has the nastiest stuff since Pedro, Doubront is a solid, young pitcher, and Lackey is a huge contract that will be difficult to move. That leaves exactly one spot open.
Allright. That gives the 2013 Red Sox lineup looking like:
Which leaves Ellsbury, Kalish, Nava, Ciraco, Iglesias, Lavarnway, and DeJesus as trade bait. Ellsbury should be moved no matter what. His unwillingness (or Scott Boras’) to negotiate an extension has left both parties at an impasse. He has almost no value at this point. Let him be another team’s center fielder and let’s sign Bourn in his place.
Here is the trade idea to acquire the top pitcher. Lester or Buchholz, Ellsbury, and Iglesias/ Bogaerts/ any-prospect-pitcher for Felix Hernandez.
SP Hernandez 6.1
SP Buchholz 1.9/ Lester 3.3
SP Lohse 3.6
SP Doubront 2.1
SP Lackey 1.5
With DeLaRosa/ Wilson/ Ranaudo providing depth.
Tazawa, Melancon, and Bailey anchor the bullpen.
Based on 2012 numbers the starting nine plus the changes in the starting rotation would create 40.3 wins above replacement versus the 13.7 WAR last year or almost 27 wins better. That would be a 96 win team.