Coming into the season most people expected the Red Sox to be at best a middle of the pack team in the AL East, unlikely to compete for a playoff spot but capable of winning their fair share of games. Obviously this has not been the case as the Red Sox are currently sitting in 1st place in what is arguably the best division in the MLB. The best part about the current state of affairs for Red Sox fans is that they have managed this without sacrificing the prospect depth that they had intended on building around for the coming 2014 season and beyond. Not only this but they have managed to field their current playoff caliber team with a group of players best described as mercenaries, as no one signed in the offseason has a contract longer than 3 years and to fairly low sums of money even then.
Looking forward to the 2014 Red Sox (premature though it may be) it seems as though they are in a fantastic position for the future. Barring catastrophe the 25 man roster already looks to be nearly full, the only expected open positions this off season will be shortstop, catcher, center field, first base and perhaps third base and bullpen piece or two. Already three of those positions look like they will likely by manned for the foreseeable future by the likes of Jackie Bradley Junior (CF), Jose Iglesias (SS) and Xander Bogaerts (3B). The left side of the infield still has some variability to it depending on the continued success of both Iggy and Xander, not to mention the struggling Middlebrooks but it seems safe to say that the Red Sox will stick with a combination of two of these three players to start the season and let them find their footing in the majors in the majors rather than sign more stop gaps to fill the role. The presence of Garin Cechhini, currently doing very well in AA despite just being promoted, only reinforces this belief.
This leaves just first base, catcher and the relief corps as positions to be filled via free agency or trades. Considering all the cost controlled assets on the projected team Cot's Contracts projects us to have just $88 million in contract commitments going into next year. There will be a few raises from arbitration eligible players including third year guys Bailey, Aceves, Miller and Morales (Cot's also lists Uehera but that seems like its incorrect, any one know what the status is on that?) and first year guys Tazawa and Carp. Given that these are all relievers or bench players I feel confident setting a generous upper limit of $15 million in raises for this group, perhaps higher if one of them ends the year having spent significant time as closer.
The luxury tax threshold for next year projects to be about $189 million, with the Red Sox being a large market team with high revenue and considering their past excursions I would again think it safe to say that this figure accurately represents the Red Sox's budget for 2014. Subtracting the guaranteed money along with the projected arbitration raises there would be roughly $86 million left in the budget, though it should be pointed out that not all of that must be spent. Frankly, that puts us in a great position where we can choose to either sign a big name player or two or trade for them in order to fill our few needs for the future.
Let's take a look at that options available to us next season. At first base notable free agents include Hart, Kotchman, Morales, Morneau, Morse, Reynolds and Napoli if we wish to resign him. None of these players are huge acquisitions but then there doesn't seem to be anything significant available on the trade market either. The positive is that none of these players are going to cost significant money or years on a contract and most of them can perform reasonably well.
Catcher is a more interesting situation with the likes of Buck, McCann, Soto, Suzuki and of course Salty available this coming off season. With all the different defensive aspects going into the position, many of which have yet to be reliably quantified by sabermetrics it can be hard to get a read on which is the best option going forward. Personally as much as I hate to say it I see the Red Sox resigning Saltalmacchia on a reasonable contract. I think that they may like to go with a stop gap option until the likes of Vasquez and potentially Swihart are ready, but there seems to be very little in decent filler options available which along with how far away Swihart and to a lesser degree Vasquez are could be problematic.
If they follow roughly this plan or even if they make a big trade they should still have a good deal of money leftover to spend in the coming season. I expect that they will sign Pedroia to an extension, preferably one that increases his already contracted money for the next two years (while financial flexibility remains) in order to save some in the future years. Aside from Pedey there are no obvious candidates for extension and there will presumably be enough prospects blocked in the majors that I believe we should entertain the idea of a big trade, preferably for Stanton. I feel like something based around Cechinni with one of our top pitching prospects (either Webster or Ranuando in my opinion) and a few other marginal guys (Brentz and Mookie perhaps) could get it done. That's a good deal of value going back to the Marlins without costing us a whole lot because of players being blocked. The trade would be dependent on us locking him up long term of course but we certainly have the money to do that.