If you haven't heard, I'm almost ready. I'm putting the finishing touches on my time machine and preparing to go back to October 2007 to use the benefit of hindsight to fix everything the Boston Red Sox have done since that point. In Vol. I, I went over the obvious mistakes, identified some buy-low and sell-high candidates, and fixed the squads as best I could in 2008 and 2009. In Vol. II, I took time to review the amateur drafts that formed the primary source of talent flow to the organization. Now I'll pick up the temporal narrative of Vol. I with the 2010 season, when the draft revisions begin already to make their impact felt.The 2010 Season
So enough with the drafts and back to the major league club.
As iterated before: Noooooooooo John Lackey. And no Beckett extension before the season. Not even his club option for 2010 can be picked up. Even if you like Beckett -- and I like Beckett, personally (the media's vilification of him be damned) -- you have to acknowledge that with hindsight it would be foolish to extend Beckett before his 2010 season, when his bargaining leverage vanishes due to injury and resultant poor performance. And for the same reason the $2M buyout is preferable to the $12M option. Let him go and hurt his back for another team; then for 2011 he can be considered as a buy-low candidate, but we'll leave that for later (I don't think he'll fare well compared to other options). Before that, we have to replace Lackey and Beckett in the 2010 rotation.
We also have to give thought to the rash of injuries about to occur. Having Josh Hamilton's 8.5-WAR MVP season might not to be too great if Adrian Beltre destroys his body in an April collision. Seriously, though, we have to teach Beltre not to destroy his teammates -- and we need to teach Jacoby Ellsbury how properly to call off other fielders when he has a play on the ball. And also, when Dustin Pedroia hits three home runs in an interleague game, he sits the next day, no matter how nonsensical it seems or how vociferously he argues. Write it into his contract extension before the '09 season if you have to. I'm not as concerned about catcher injuries because by this time prospect Alex Avila -- Boston's fourth-round pick in the 2008 draft -- will be ready to fill in as back-up. Swisher can fill in for Youkilis at first, as there should be enough outfielders between Hamilton, Ellsbury, Bautista (also playing third), and Drew (Cameron will not be signed).
Avoiding all these injuries will be important for one big reason, and surprisingly enough it isn't offense, which was fine in 2010, but defense. Poor defense by fill-ins like Bill Hall and Daniel Nava made pitchers look worse than they were. Consider that John Lackey, despite a 4.40 ERA, actually had a 3.85 FIP and 4.1 WAR. (It is often forgotten that Lackey's 2010 wasn't so bad.) Clay Buchholz provides a strong counterexample to this, though, as his 2.33 ERA/3.61 FIP will be more difficult to replace than Lackey or Beckett.
All but four starts in 2010 were made by a total of six men, Lackey, Lester, Buchholz, Matsuzaka, Beckett, and Wakefield, and we're getting rid of all but two of them. When you start to look at replacements, you can begin to see the temptation to sign Lackey and Beckett that confronted Theo Epstein that winter. But for one new addition to our 2008 draft class, there's no help in the farm system. There's no clear alternative to Lackey on the free agent market. But there are, in fact, options.
When you look around the league to see who might be desirable and, perhaps, available, you can at least take heart that that year's best pitcher, Cliff Lee, has already been obtained. After that, the first stop is definitely Colby Lewis. After two years pitching in Japan, Colby Lewis that winter signed a two-year deal (with a third-year club option) with the Rangers, the team that originally drafted him in 1999. The price was very affordable at $5M total guaranteed, $8M if the option was picked up (which it was, incidentally). Knowing what a solid 200-inning contributor Lewis has been the last two years, especially the first year, after which he could be flipped (3.72 ERA/3.55 FIP), it would be easy to top Texas' offer. Heck, just give him an $8M offer for one year, and it would work out for both parties. But since he'd be a valuable trade piece after his 2010 performance, I'd go ahead and give him a two-year deal. (Lewis' 2011 season was more average in quality than his first back from Japan, his WAR diminishing by half from 4.6 to 2.3.)
Good, then. We have Lee, Lester, and Lewis fronting the rotation (it was Lee and Lewis that led the Rangers to the pennant that year), with Matsuzaka hanging around somewhere maybe contributing -- 25 starts, 153.2 innings pitched, 4.69 ERA, 4.05 FIP, 2.6 WAR is what Dice-K did in our timeline. Perhaps, though, not pitching in March 2009's WBC only delays his breakdown one season, and it's 2010 instead of 2009 that is largely lost to injury. We just have to know not to rely on him. Fortunately, there is back-up in the minors, our third-round 2008 pick Daniel Hudson. In July 2010 Hudson was called up by the White Sox to replace an injured Jake Peavy in the rotation, and then two weeks later was dealt to the Diamondbacks. In all, he started 14 games that year, pitching to marks of a 2.45 ERA and a 3.38 FIP. He'll be a great replacement for Dice-K mid-season.
Looking further in the market, you see that Francisco Liriano had a career year in 2010 after a poor showing in 2009. After a 5.80 ERA in 136.2 innings, he put up 3.62 ERA/2.66 FIP and 6.0 WAR in 191.2 innings. That would be a great addition, except you'd be adding a third lefty to a rotation in a park hard on lefties. I have no idea what the Twins would want for Liriano before the season; I at least hope he would be available. Maybe Beckett's option can be picked up, and then he can be flipped for Liriano. The deal wouldn't make sense for the Red Sox at the time, but it sure would in retrospect. We would also be capable of selling high on Scott Feldman who would be entering his first year of arbitration, but about to have a poor year in which he would eventually lose his spot in the rotation and then require knee surgery in the off-season. Of course, Liriano never has a good year again, but as in Feldman's case we could figure out what to do about that later.
Crazily enough, we would then have the three best left-handed pitchers in the game that year (by fWAR), Cliff Lee, Francisco Liriano, and Jon Lester, the latter being half a win better than Sabathia and a full win better than Kershaw. It's not a perfect fit for Fenway, but I think we'll make do. Lewis could be relied upon for the fourth spot in the rotation, and Hudson would provide depth behind Matsuzaka. If further depth is required and Feldman isn't needed for the Liriano trade, he could do that. His poor performance that year didn't exactly keep the Rangers from making the playoffs. I mean, we're already adding the 2010 versions of Josh Hamilton, Cliff Lee, Jose Bautista, Francisco Liriano, and Colby Lewis to an 89-win team, while preventing long DL stints for Ellsbury and Pedroia and having Alex Avila in Pawtucket to back up V-Mart and Varitek. And yeah, Adrian Beltre is still on the team. Nick Swisher is a friggin' utility man backing up Youkilis (102 games) and Drew (139 games) -- actually, check that, this is Swisher's career year (132 wRC+), and he should earn playing time over Drew (110 wRC+). But enough. Do I need to do anything more? Do I even need to address the bullpen?
I should probably address the bullpen. An argument could be made, that even with all the injuries, the 2010 Red Sox still could have made the playoffs had there been a shred of competence in the bullpen. Bard was good; Papelbon not as good, but still valuable -- it was his worst year in the majors. And after that there was nothing. Worse than nothing, the rest of the bullpen was nearly two wins beneath replacement level for the season. The Red Sox finished six games out of the Wild Card spot. If they could have just scraped the negative WAR out of their bullpen (Manny Delcarmen, Dustin Richardson, Robert Manuel) and added some decent, even average relievers, enough to make up 4 WAR, they could have possibly made the playoffs.
Now, our 2008 sandwich-round draft pick Craig Kimbrel will be ready to debut in 2010, but can only be counted on for about 20 innings, which is what he gave the Braves that year as a repeated call-up (allowing all of one earned run in that time). That's it for draft additions, so we'll need to look elsewhere in the league to build an effective pen out of nothing.
Do you know who built an effective pen out of nothing in 2010? The Rays did. Of course. Just as we should get Rodney before 2012 and Farnsworth before 2011, we should get Soriano before 2010. After the 2009 season the Atlanta Braves offered Rafael Soriano arbitration hoping to get a compensation pick when he left in free agency -- but he surprised them by accepting. When he did, Atlanta sold him for a song (Jesse Chavez) to the Rays, who with him as their closer were about to win the AL East for the second time in three years. With the various prospect capital gained in recent drafts, surely we can intercept this transaction, depriving the Rays and gaining a great reliever -- as well, perhaps, as the Yankees' 2011 first-round draft pick, much to Cashman's chagrin! (To do that, however, we'd have to make Soriano the closer over Papelbon for a season, which, though a good idea, would be a coup to say the least. I'm not counting on this draft pick scenario, but we should at least get a comp pick for a Type-B free agent.)
The other great reliever the Rays scored on that year was Joaquin Benoit. As a Texas Ranger, Benoit tore his rotator cuff and missed the entire 2009 season. The Rays picked him up on a minor-league contract, but we should do that instead. In 60 innings that year (not debuting until the end of April), his K/9 was 11.19, his BB/9 1.64, his FIP 2.43, his ERA 1.34. When Benoit left for Detroit as a Type-B free agent, he garnered for Tampa Bay the 52nd overall pick in the sandwich round of the 2011 draft. With that pick, or indeed with the one for Soriano's departure, the Red Sox could get the talented Texas prep outfielder Josh Bell who only dropped to the second round (#61) for signability reasons. The Pirates gambled and did in fact sign him for a hefty $5M bonus. In this his first year in the minors he has missed a chunk of time due to knee surgery, but he remains a good player. Sickels had him at 49th overall before the season, but #73 now. He'll turn twenty next month. But we need to get back to the bullpen, for it is so bad in 2010 that we need to add more than two guys.
In 2010 Matt Belisle, for one, had an excellent year for the Rockies, who signed the former Cincinnati Red on a minor-league contract a year prior, before the 2009 season. With a little foresight he could be a Red Sox. He pitched 92 innings out of the bullpen (in 76 games), offering a 2.93 ERA and a 2.68 FIP. Compare that to Bard's numbers that year: 74.2 innings in 73 games, 1.93 ERA, 3.37 FIP. By fWAR Belisle is noticeably superior.
We also need a good lefty, as former stalwart Hideki Okajima was replacement level in 2010 (why, oh why did you give him that 2011 contract, Theo?). The Cubs' Sean Marshall had something of a breakthrough season in 2010. Originally brought up as a starter in 2006, Marshall struggled with ineffectiveness and a bum shoulder. Then, after eight hit-or-miss starts in April-May 2009, he was made a full-time reliever, putting up 3.23 ERA/3.74 FIP out of the bullpen for the season, with average strikeout and walk numbers. In 2010, both his first year of arbitration eligibility and his first full year operating strictly out of the pen, Marshall vastly improved in all statistical categories, especially K/9 (over 10) and HR/9 (formerly a problem), and thus had a nice 2.65 ERA/2.28 FIP.
The Red Sox missed out on Sean Marshall once when in 2003 they drafted his twin brother Brian a round before him. They should not miss him again. Some time before 2010 there has to be found a window when the Cubs would be willing to deal. The non-waiver trade deadline in 2009 would not have been that time, as the Cubs were seven games over .500, very much in the NL Central race, and coming off a very hot month. Your only hope would be that maybe for some reason they would prefer Okajima, who at that time was very nearly the same pitcher as Marshall. In August, however, the Cubs fell back down to near .500, and maybe a trade could make it through the waiver wire. Otherwise, you're hoping to make it work in the off-season. Clearly the Cubs didn't mind paying him an elevated salary in his first year of arbitration eligibility because that's what they did. They would have to be persuaded with a return.
Sean Marshall would be an excellent pick up, because unlike the others I've named, he could provide value for the Sox on the mound both in 2010 and in every year since. And as a lefty out of the pen, that is extremely helpful for roster construction. But just for 2010, if you were to add Soriano, Benoit, Belisle, and Marshall to Bard and Papelbon, you would make a gigantic difference in the playoff race, even in our own timeline without Hamilton and Bautista and with injuries to Pedroia and Ellsbury.
The 2011 Season
We just crushed the 2010 season, taking an 89-win team and improving it beyond measure. But what we're about to do to the 2011 season is nothing short of a total transformation. Not even counting Cliff Lee, for rotation depth we'll have from our 2008 draft Daniel Hudson, Brandon Beachy, and Vance Worley. Also we'll know to pick up Ryan Vogelsong. Dice-K's Tommy John surgery, which at this point I'll just take as inevitable, will only help clear space for a superior arm. Starting pitcher will be such a position of depth that we'll be able to sell high on Jon Lester at the trade deadline, at which time we can even pick up Doug Fister if we want. We'll be spending Daniel Bard along with Lester, so we should be able to get a nice return whatever it is. For I'd rather do without Bard's five meltdowns after the trade deadline, and there'd be Kimbrel to replace him, with Addison Reed and Ryan Cook on deck for 2012. I certainly wouldn't have tried to convert Bard to a starter the following year, but I don't want to deal with his ambitions to do something other than set-up, nor his latent Steve Blass Disease.
And packaged together before the 2011 season, what would Francisco Liriano and Colby Lewis garner in return? C.J. Wilson from the didn't-just-win-the-AL-pennant Rangers (Lee, Lewis, and Hamilton won it with Boston)? I'd certainly do that with foreknowledge, and I think the Rangers just might do it without. But then it would be nicer to have someone under control past 2011, so maybe Madison Bumgarner from Sabey-Sabes. Or Ian Kennedy from the Diamondbacks, though he's had problems this year. Or we could get Justin Masterson back from the Indians, just in time for his breakout season (perhaps a career year, though). Madison Bumgarner would be my pick here, and I'm going to assume that with all our resources we could make that happen. But Masterson wouldn't be a bad second choice, and even Wilson would be acceptable given our many options for 2012.
Oh, and we need either to buy low on Colon and Garcia, or to recommend them strongly to a friendly NL GM like Jed Hoyer, whatever it takes to keep them from the Yankees. They both signed minor league contracts, so if they're willing I say sign them. There's no reason why we can't make the PawSox better than the Yankees; in fact, I think that is a worthy endeavor just for the pure joy of it! Seriously though, Colon has an opt-out clause at the end of spring training, so in order to control where he goes, you either need to make room for him in your major league plans, or strongly recommend him to a friend outside the AL East. I can't find evidence that Garcia had a similar clause in his contract; maybe he can be signed.
Either way, Terry Francona will be swimming in such a wealth of abundant talent, he won't be needing any painkillers. But to think through the rotation more clearly, it would be Lee, Hudson, Bumgarner (or Masterson), Lester till the trade deadline with Fister following (we can make that happen), and rookies Beachy and Worley filling it out. I can't see Colon fitting in because I know I won't be able to count on him down the stretch. Garcia as well is of too much uncertain value. But for the Red Sox that is a rotation that will compete with the Rays' homegrown squad of Shields, Price, Hellickson, Niemann, and Davis. With such a superior offense, we won't have to worry about making the playoffs, and hopefully we can beat the Yankees for the AL East crown. But it's time to stop putting off discussing the Gonzalez trade.
The Adrian Gonzalez Trade and the Infield
In December 2010, the Red Sox traded Casey Kelly, Anthony Rizzo, Reymond Fuentes, and a PTBNL (Eric Patterson) to the Padres for the last year of first-baseman Adrian Gonzalez's first multi-year contract. In doing so, the Red Sox and Gonzalez first agreed upon the loose framework of what would become a seven-year $154M extension beginning in his age-29 season. As recently as this spring (on the occasion of the Votto extension) the deal has been praised for its value to Boston, given the market for elite first basemen.
But halfway through a surprisingly mediocre and near homerless season, with six years to go, doubt has suddenly infected that assessment. Now it must be noted, Gonzalez's 2011 season was a career-best year for him -- in wOBA and WAR and even nearly in SLG thanks to all the doubles (home runs were a bit down). Because of this, and despite his recent back spasms, I don't want to give up on Gonzo.
But there's Rizzo to consider. After struggling under Jed Hoyer and the Padres in 2011, Rizzo found his swing with Theo, Jed, and the Cubs, bursting onto the scene this past month in Chicago. It might be fair to presume that had Rizzo stayed in one place under Epstein in Boston the whole time, he might have been ready earlier, perhaps at the beginning of the 2012 season. If we're willing to say, and this is a big if, that Rizzo is ready to provide elite production at first base beginning in 2012, then that is a big argument against trading for Adrian Gonzalez.
And Rizzo wouldn't be all we're sacrificing, either. Sure, we don't miss Casey Kelly and Reymond Fuentes now, seeing that Kelly's stock has dropped and Fuentes hasn't had enough time to develop yet. But to make the trade happen we would miss what we would otherwise be able to do with those draft picks. For if you planned to go ahead with the deal, it would change the way you draft in 2008 and perhaps 2009. In the first round of 2008, you would pick Kelly over Lynn because you would need Kelly's high prospect stock in December 2010 to make the deal go through. If you didn't pick Fuentes in the first round of 2009, where I recommended Kipnis or perhaps Skaggs instead, you would be betting on being able to complete the trade with another prospect, which might end up being someone who is ultimately more valuable like Jason Kipnis or Brandon Jacobs -- though hopefully with our wealth of prospects we'd be able to avoid that.
I am sorry to say this is not a simple question. As I mentioned before, I hesitate to come to a conclusion on my own. Not having Gonzalez would leave a very big hole to fill in 2011. But he costs us two excellent and much cheaper players in Lynn and Rizzo beginning in 2012. In December 2010 the Red Sox weighed the risks and decided to go through with the deal. Would knowledge of the subsequent year and a half tip the scales in the other direction? That is also the month (the week, actually) that they decided to sign Carl Crawford, so maybe they weren't weighing risks properly at the time, as Theo would later admit.
Just the advantage of roster flexibility, combining freedom from a seven-year contract with a very healthy crop of prospects seems to tip the scales against the deal. In the pipeline we have Brandon Belt, Matt Adams, and Miles Head at first base if Rizzo doesn't pan out, as well as plenty of guys like Mike Olt that could move there. But if we didn't have Gonzalez, what are our alternatives for 2011? Youkilis could play first until the trade deadline, when it'd be necessary to sell high on him. So we'd need one corner infielder, as well as a second one to complete the year. Or in house we have Nick Swisher to play first with Youkilis at third. Then someone covers for him after July. What are our other options?
Not much. Casey Kotchman was a good pick up for the Rays, but his 2.8 WAR with a 125 wRC+ was built entirely on Tampa Bay voodoo. Carlos Pena did no better (2.6 WAR, 119 wRC+), and he cost the Cubs $10M. Corner infielders were just too hard to come by.
For 2011 Gonzo was definitely the best first baseman available. It would be a simple thing, I think, to keep him from participating in the Home Run Derby by asserting this desire from the beginning of the season when his shoulder was still rehabbing. Getting derby captain David Ortiz on board with it shouldn't be a problem. Gonzalez swore that the Derby didn't affect him, but hitting coach Dave Magadan believed it did. Either way, I don't think it is what's causing his troubles this year.
If I were to lean towards acquiring Gonzalez, however, I might also consider the effect on the clubhouse of a seven-year contract. And then I could take that issue as an occasion to talk about David Ortiz's 2011 option and further put off making a decision about first base. Ortiz has openly expressed his envy of teammates' contracts, and I doubt he's the only one that feels that way. The clubhouse created by the big 2011 contracts is a volatile one that actually may have been affecting the team's winning percentage, though there's certainly no way to prove it. Not signing a wretched underperformer like Crawford obviously will relieve a lot of this tension, but there remains the question of how Gonzalez's contract alone would change things.
As far as Papi goes, the Red Sox picked up his $12.5M club option before the 2011 season, when he openly wanted a multi-year extension. He was awesome in 2011 and after what he called a "humiliating" arbitration process has been even better in 2012. Clearly the Red Sox could save some money by at least offering him a three-year contract for 2011-2013. Perhaps the Red Sox know something I don't, however, about Ortiz's psychology, that he needs the motivation of an expiring contract to perform well. It would be a shame if on account of the cushy three-year deal he didn't go to all the effort to lose the weight that he did this past off-season. His new conditioning has produced such great results. Unfortunately it raises the question, why hasn't he done this sooner? One suggestion I've heard is that he put forth such great efforts to get in shape specifically to expand his market to National League teams that might view him as a first baseman. He certainly wouldn't have that incentive this year if he were signed through next year. I'd let the Red Sox know all this information, including Ortiz's bitter dissatisfaction with them, before they made their decision.
So what were we talking about again? Shortstops? Well, besides Scutaro and later Aviles (whom I wouldn't mind trading Navarro for again), we could easily have J.J. Hardy's fine season. In December 2010, the Orioles got him, and infielder Brendan Harris, from the incompetent Twins for pitchers Brett Jacobson and Jim Hoey. I'm sure we could muster some better options for them, and hopefully they'd be competent enough to recognize it. (I'm still bitter over the Garza-Young trade.) Meanwhile he returned to his excellent 2008 form in 2011, playing good defense and registering a .343 wOBA, 113 wRC+, and 4.8 WAR. Who needs corner infielders?
Oh yeah. Well, Aviles can play some third in the second half, at least. That will ease Youkilis' departure, when we trade him to the Giants for Zack Wheeler. How much value would Swisher give us at first base in 2011? In WAR he had a 3.8 season, compared to Adrian Gonzalez's 6.6-WAR season. Hopefully the difference can be made up in the outfield of Josh Hamilton (4.2 WAR in 121 games), Jacoby Ellsbury (9.4 WAR, which I hesitate to count on being quite so high, probably because I still don't believe it -- 9.4!), and Jose Bautista (8.3 WAR). And J.J. Hardy's 4.8 WAR at short, an improvement over Scutaro and Lowrie's combined 3.2 WAR, also helps.
When I look at those numbers for 2011, which admittedly can only be rough estimates of actual value, and consider the roster flexibility and potential value of Anthony Rizzo starting in 2012, I must at last conclude that Adrian Gonzalez should not be made a Red Sox in our new timeline. But that should not be mistaken as a critique of the deal as it currently stands. If you have players like Nick Swisher and Brandon Belt to bridge the gap to Rizzo, while others like Josh Hamilton and Jose Bautista contribute offensively, there just is no reason to acquire Adrian Gonzalez.
September 2011 and the Aftermath
Without Beckett, Lester, Lackey, Bard, and others there is no danger of repeating the historic collapse of September 2011. Sooooo much evil is therefore avoided, but really the root of that evil is avoided in the first place when we keep the front office from losing its way after 2008 (starting with the bidding on Teixeira, though thankfully in that case they did finally relent). I do worry about Francona's managerial effectiveness for 2011, due to his personal problems. But with so much winning instead of losing in the years leading up to that point, it is hard to know what problems will be avoided or not. There's going to be a lot of new guys in the mix; the selling off of Lester, Youkilis, and Bard will be hard to understand at the time. There are going to be a lot of challenges in the clubhouse. We'll have to hope Francona can handle it, because as I imagine the seasons unfolding, it will be impossible to get rid of him.
Epstein, however, is another story, as he had his internal clock determining his lifespan with the franchise no matter what the results on the field. Negotiating this huge new stream of information I'm giving him may renew that clock and make him want to stick around a little longer. And if he avoids all those mistakes he made, maybe he'll be less inclined to leave town and start over. It is not certain how this mix of motivations will be affected, but everyone will know ahead of time about the opening in Chicago at the end of 2011. If he still wants a transition, it can be arranged to go much more smoothly. The compensation fiasco won't happen, nor will Ben Cherington as the new general manager make so many mistakes out of the gate. We'll see if we can't avoid trading away so many position players for relievers who don't work. Everyone will have advance knowledge of the new CBA years ahead of time, so there will be less of a learning curve.
I want now to take stock of the 2012 roster and farm system, but first there's one more source of talent that I haven't discussed yet.
International Free Agents
This area is wide open in many respects. There is no draft or spending cap (not until most recently). All players signed after October 2007 are available to us now. A 17-year-old signed on July 2, 2008, however, would only be 21 years old today and likely still a prospect, so our choices here will be of less certain impact. Also many of these free agents were the objects of bidding wars, guys like Miguel Sano and Luis Heredia, and would thus not be the most efficient expenditure of money. Cuban stars Aroldis Chapman and Yoenis Cespedes also fall under this category. Chapman received a 6-year, $30M contract, but might just be a reliever; Cespedes in his first year has spent too much time on the DL. No thank you.
Yu Darvish I would love to have, but the posting fee of $51.7M plus a 6-year/$56M contract (what the Rangers paid) is exactly the kind of thing I'm trying to avoid here. It's Dice-K's contract all over again, except if things go bad we won't be able to build around Darvish with the benefit of foreknowledge. Other than Darvish, no newly acquired Japanese player comes to mind as being a worthwhile investment during this period. I do like Junichi Tazawa, and I'd sign him again. Of course, Tazawa had the wits to skip the NPB altogether and sign with a MLB team on a minor-league contract -- no posting fee and a reasonable signing bonus.
As for the rest, looking at the prospect sheets, here are some names available to us:
On March 29, 2008, the Chicago Cubs signed South Korean shortstop Hak-Ju Lee for $1.15M. Then two off-seasons ago, they included him in a package to Tampa Bay for Matt Garza, and he is now one of the Rays top prospects, ranked 79th overall by Sickels. Currently in Double-A at age 21, Lee isn't hitting particularly well, but whatever his future, he could at the very least be a good trade piece before this season. Or if team evaluators really like him, he can be kept.
The Cardinals signed Dominican outfielder Oscar Taveras on November 25, 2008 for $145,000, a pretty sweet deal. He is currently a top-10 prospect for Sickels, top-20 for Baseball America.
One of the best deals you could find here is right-handed pitcher Yordano Ventura of the Dominican Republic. The Royals signed him for just $28,000 on October 8, 2008. At the time his fastball was high 80s. Four years later he hits 100 as a 21-year-old in High-A ball.
In 2009, shortstop Xander Bogaerts was a fantastic find by the Red Sox on the island of Aruba. It will be interesting to see how to replicate his discovery when we have foreknowledge of it. After all, scouting is not just a matter of knowing whom to sign but ingratiating yourself with the player and his family. It was international cross-checker Mike Lord that was the point man for this task, as detailed in this column by Alex Speier.
On another note, in September 2009 the Red Sox gave Cuban defector Jose Iglesias a 4-year major league contract and placed him on the 40-man roster. The total cost was $8.25M. Would they have done this if they knew that three years in, he's not ready to contribute to the big-league club and suffers from a bevy of minor injuries? I don't think so, not even to trade him a year and a half ago, considering his signing bonus was $6M. Cuban defectors have just not been worth their contracts, probably because of their short supply. Hak-Ju Lee could take Iglesias' place on the farm, and not be nearly so expensive.
The Yankees signed catcher Gary Sanchez as an international free agent on June 20, 2009 for $2.5 million. He was the subject of hype at the time, and that's a pretty big bonus. But since he is currently the Yankees' top prospect, snatching him would have extra value to the Sox.
The Rangers signed Curaçaoan shortstop (also a pitcher at the time) Jurickson Profar on July 2, 2009 for $1.55 million. He is now a consensus top-3 prospect (along with Wil Myers, whom we will have drafted before the Royals in 2009). I think it would be worthwhile to offer him a larger signing bonus. (Profar and Myers are ours.)
On December 9, 2009, the Royals signed Dominican outfielder Jorge Bonifacio (little brother of the Marlin Emilio) for just $135,000. He is now a 19-year-old doing very well in Single-A, and evaluators are beginning to take notice.
Again it's the Rangers signing Venezuelan shortstop Rougned Odor on January 1, 2011, for a signing bonus of $425,000. That is not a bad deal for Sickels' current #75 top prospect.
Inventory of Our Fortunes, 2012
On our major league roster this year, 2012, we have for outfielders Josh Hamilton, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jose Bautista, and Josh Reddick. With them out there and Brandon Belt and Anthony Rizzo at first, I think we can forego picking up Nick Swisher's option. At second base there's Dustin Pedroia, backed up by Jason Kipnis. At short, J.J. Hardy is the incumbent, but Andrelton Simmons will be ready (and wearing finger guards on the base paths). I say harness Aviles' hot start and then replace him with Simmons when he's ready. Hardy along with Alex Avila and Doug Fister will be great trade bait in the off-season, which maybe can help us fill third base as I am presently annoyed with Middlebrooks' hamstring problems. The following is just an idea, but we could wait for Reyes to sign with the Marlins and then target David Wright and have the best third baseman of the year -- with a club option for 2013 if that's the direction you want to go. At catcher Saltalamacchia, who would have been Avila's back-up in 2011 (Varitek's Red Sox career ending a year early), will be fine with Kelly Shoppach, as Ryan Lavarnway learns to be a starting catcher at Triple-A.
For the pitching staff, Cliff Lee would still be the ace, as I'd be sure to extend him at least this far as soon as I acquired him at the end of 2007. If I'm trying to avoid suspicion maybe I wait to extend him till sometime during the 2008 season, but to control costs it should be before he wins the Cy Young at the end of that year.
I'll know not to rely on the elbows of Daniel Hudson, Brandon Beachy, and Vance Worley for this season, which is rather unfortunate. Hopefully with the benefit of foresight we can head off some of these roster problems by detecting the injuries before the season. Beachy's excellent April and May, however, suggest the problem was sudden, and though that performance would be nice to have, it creates roster problems for 2012. Hudson, on the other hand, was continually being hit hard this year before eventually landing on the DL. That leads me to believe that arranging a TJS for him before the season might be more feasible than in Beachy's case. Worley is more of a back-of-the-rotation arm; he had a bone chip in his elbow and has missed only a couple weeks so far.
So among those who wouldn't need TJS, we'd have on the depth chart Lee, Madison Bumgarner (or Justin Masterson), Ryan Vogelsong, Lance Lynn, Worley, Felix Doubront, Franklin Morales (not until a couple months in). That looks to me like an upgradeable rotation, and I'd seek to do that via trade. I wonder if in the off-season we can't do a big trade with the Mets, who were vulnerable at the time. Send them Hardy, Avila, and Fister for David Wright and R.A. Dickey. That the Red Sox would be big winners of that trade would not be apparent at the time. Whether you want to do that deal, though, would depend on what you make of Dickey's most recent lackluster starts, as well as what you'd want to do with Middlebrooks.
As for the bullpen, we'd have Craig Kimbrel, Alfredo Aceves, Addison Reed, Ryan Cook, Sean Marshall, Nate Eovaldi (who could also spot start if needed) -- and I still would have sought out Andrew Miller before 2011; I just wouldn't have messed around with him as a starter so much. I also would have made room for Franklin Morales in 2011; that was a good deal that only cost us the roster space. I have to say I'm pretty pleased with this bullpen. In fact, I think it's incredible.
And the farm system would be far and away the best in the majors. Looking down John Sickels' current top 120 prospect list, the Red Sox would have #1 and 2, seven of the top fourteen (!), seventeen of the top fifty, and thirty total of the top 120. So yeah, we're pretty good. The names:
Of the top 14:
Jurickson Profar, SS
Wil Myers, OF
Taijuan Walker, RHP
Oscar Taveras, OF
Xander Bogaerts, SS
Zack Wheeler, RHP
Andrelton Simmons, SS
Of the top 50:
Nick Castellanos, 3B
Carlos Martinez (formerly Carlos Matias), RHP
Christian Yelich, OF
Gary Sanchez, C
Jackie Bradley, OF
Mason Williams, OF
Mike Olt, 3B
Matt Barnes, RHP
Eddie Rosario, 2B-OF
Taylor Guerrieri, RHP
Of the top 120:
Henry Owens, LHP
Brandon Jacobs, OF
Now, I don't want to hear any complaining about no Bryce Brentz or Garin Cecchini. These guys are better. Imagine the cumulative effect this many good players would have on our minor league teams. Because the lineups will be stacked, the fringier players will get better pitches to hit and everyone's value would be boosted. Players who are not prospects can more easily be made to look like prospects, and with our special knowledge of what guys do in different historical contexts, we'll be able to sort things out like no one else can.
Of course, with draft order re-shuffling and international scouting not as easy as me-want-me-get, it may happen that not every one of those names is obtained. But oftentimes in the draft, if it's not one guy it's another, as in the Barnes/Wong scenario. Any way you cut it, operating with nearly five years' worth of foreknowledge buys the franchise great fortunes in talent and sets them up for a long time to come, even once the well of foreknowledge runs dry.
A projection of the 2015 Boston Red Sox:
A rotation of Taijuan Walker, Zack Wheeler, Carlos Martinez, Matt Barnes, and Lance Lynn -- all righties, but that's okay for now. If Felix Doubront or Franklin Morales pan out, one of them can be the lefty. Deeper in the rotation pipeline are Taylor Guerrieri and Henry Owens. In the bullpen, Craig Kimbrel, Addison Reed, and Ryan Cook would all be in arbitration, but it's silly to spend time projecting relievers.
I'll list the position players now, and as I do, keep in mind that a designated hitter can be culled anywhere from among the superfluity of names. Around the infield we'd have Anthony Rizzo at first, Jason Kipnis or Eddie Rosario at second, Jurickson Profar or Andrelton Simmons at short, and Nicholas Castellanos or Xander Bogaerts at third. I'd like to see it be Profar and Bogaerts so they could confuse their opponents by communicating in Dutch; expect the island of Bonaire, though, to petition the Red Sox for their own representative in the infield. Mike Olt (unfortunately not from Bonaire) could be on the bench or DH.
In the outfield, pushing out the fading star of Josh Reddick would be some combination of Wil Myers, Jackie Bradley, Oscar Taveras, and Christian Yelich. Other options include Mason Williams and Tyler Austin, current Yankee top prospects being on but the fringes of our super-team -- except perhaps catcher Gary Sanchez. He's as young as Blake Swihart and so like him might not be ready by 2015, but he remains a better prospect today than the one who will be starting in 2015, Ryan Lavarnway.
So there we have it. My well of foreknowledge will have officially gone dry at this point, and thus my use to the team will be over. My only hope is that in gratitude the owners give me some kind of pension to live on. I don't require much. Maybe I can be the guy in the Wally the Green Monster costume. But that's no matter. If you've read down this far, I'd like to know what you think, and if you have any improvements on my plan. The machine is almost ready. I just need a few more layers of tin foil in the helical chamber, some stiffer cardboard to reinforce the inner walls of the cab, and some car tires around the outside to cushion the landing. This is getting real. This is going to happen. THIS IS GOING TO HAPPEN!!!