For their first real attempt at it in a long while, the Red Sox seem to have done a pretty good--if unorthodox--job of selling.
For most teams, being sellers of this magnitude would not suggest a quick return to contention. A couple years at the earliest, probably looking more towards three, as the prospect received mature to hopefully form the core of a championship-caliber team.
The Red Sox, however, are in a bit of a different scenario from the traditional seller. For one thing, there's another playoff spot now. One which has really opened the field right up in 2012 as evidenced by the crazy races and the unexpected participants. Also, they are going to have lots of money. Lots and lots and lots of money to spend. If the Sox enter 2013 with a payroll even 75 percent the size of this year's, they're still going to need to drop something like $40 million in free agency.
Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not saying the Sox are going to or should fall right back into the same pitfalls that brought them to this point. I'm just saying that one of the reasons they may have been willing to make this trade was the idea that contention in 2013 could be in reach.
Yes, the roster is barebones right now, and will be even moreso after free agency begins, but there is a core there with serious potential. Lester and Buchholz in the rotation, Ellsbury in the outfield, Middlebrooks and Pedroia in the infield, and an already-impressive bullpen lined up.
Even with the massive salary dump, the Sox' payroll likely won't dip that far beneath $90 million given arbitration bumps, league minimum contracts, and the few remaining big contracts in Jon Lester, Dustin Pedroia, John Lackey, and Clay Buchholz (who is still below $6 million next year).
Still, that's around $70 million to work with, which can bring a lot in.
Start off with a David Ortiz and Cody Ross, for instance, costing somewhere between $17 and $22 million probably. Down to 48. Let's say Jerry Sands gets a shot at an outfield role, and the Sox fill in backup roles relatively cheap with the idea that Ryan Kalish or Juan Carlos Linares gets the nod for longer absences. Kalish first, presumably. That leaves an infield and a rotation to take care of.
The secret becomes finding the right deals. Reasonable guys on reasonable money, or short-term bargains from veterans or players hoping to get their value up after an off year, Beltre-style.
There's no guarantee that the Sox will be able to get the talent they need to compete, but the possibilities are out there. Perhaps the Chicago White Sox would be interested in offers on Jake Peavy's one-year option? $22 million is an awful lot to pay a guy like Peavy, but this is one year where the Sox can really afford to just drop a chunk like that so long as it doesn't impact 2014.
Or maybe Mike Napoli to replace Adrian Gonzalez at first? It might be difficult to get him away from Texas, but the catcher/first baseman has to be looking back at 2011 and wishing that was his last arbitration year rather than his injury-riddled 2012. Given that the Rangers could have the corners locked up by Mike Olt and Adrian Beltre, it might also make more sense for Napoli to seek out a location where he could play more of a Victor Martinez role. It probably doesn't hurt that Fenway is basically Napoli's own personal happy place, where he holds an OPS well over 1.000.
That's a bit of perfect-world, which can certainly be ruined by an aggressive Texas, a content Napoli, an ambitious Chicago, or a well-placed no trade clause from Peavy, demanding an extension be part of any deal. But there will be other options available. In fact, with so many mid-level pitchers flooding the market, the Sox seem entirely likely to end up with a chance to do last offseason's scenario over again, taking advantage of a market that hopefully plummets with time and swooping in to pick up the choice remnants either with a promise of a chance to re-enter the market in 2014, or a longer term deal for reasonable money. If they're going to give up a few years, that's the place to do it this year: starting pitching.
It's possible none of this happens. It's possible that the Red Sox view 2013 as a rebuild full-on and decide to simply stay low and let the young guys get their shots. It's possible that they haven't even learned from their lessons and are preparing a pitch to Josh Hamilton for $200 million right now. Only time will tell, but don't look at this 2013 offseason as a throw-away, because it's not. The 2013 Sox could be good. Not incredible, but enough to potentially buy themselves a roll at the craps table that is the postseason. Even if it is just for the one game.