One of the neat things about having a group of writers here at Over the Monster is that we don't always agree on how the Red Sox should operate, or who is the most or least valuable, or who should never see an at-bat again. That's why, this week, we'll be running the Armchair General Manager series, where we'll all take a spin as something of a GM for the day, giving you a chance to see our similarities and differences for yourself outside of the comments. At the series' conclusion, you'll get a chance to pick your favorite plan, too. Who knows, maybe we'll even send the winning plan along to Boston's real GM, Ben Cherington, and when he uses that as a blueprint and the Red Sox don't win, you'll have no one to blame but democracy.
The Coaching Staff: First thing's first -- the Red Sox are without a manager, and that's likely the first major area to be filled somewhere besides in-house. There hasn't been a lot of word over who it is Boston will be placing in the manager's seat in 2012, although there was mention of interviews for at least two candidates this past weekend, but that doesn't matter, as this is my fake tenure as GM, meaning I can hire whoever I want. I've already cast a vote for A.J. Hinch, who didn't have a very successful first run in Arizona, but has the background as a player, front office guy, and manager that gives him the ability to understand everyone he is responsible for or to:
Don't judge him based on his record with the D'backs -- had the Red Sox done just that with Terry Francona based on his time with the Phillies, he never would have managed here. Someone like Hinch, who looks to be somewhat of a Renaissance Man baseball lifer, would be an intriguing fit. And hey, he's a former catcher, something that could possibly benefit both the pitchers and a developing catcher like Ryan Lavarnway.
My only other thought on the coaching staff is to move Tim Bogar back to first, and sign Not Tim Bogar to work third base. (Hey, at least my blood lust doesn't involve firing, just shuffling the Bogar around.)
Options: The Red Sox have a few players with options, one of which was already picked up this weekend, making Marco Scutaro a member of the 2012 team. For the sake of completion, I would have picked up Scutaro's option as well -- in his two years with Boston, Scutaro has 1140 plate appearances and a line of .284/.343/.401. He's likely not an everyday player given the little nagging injuries he ends up with, but neither is Jed Lowrie, for the same reasons. The two of them combine to form one shortstop, and when both are healthy, you get a productive utility infielder in the mix as well. The $6 million, when he already had $1.5 million due to him were the option declined, is a no-brainer.
Dan Wheeler is the next option up, and the reliever is owed $3 million for 2012 if it's picked up. Wheeler was much better than his 4.38 ERA indicates, as he rarely walked anyone (1.5 per nine, 1.9 per nine over the last three years) and owned a 4.9 K/BB ratio. Homers, as always, were a problem, but if Wheeler is limited to facing righties as much as possible, then he can be effective. (For whatever reason, Wheeler faced 78 lefties out of 201 total batters in 2011 -- that should never happen with his very clear splits.) Wheeler might seem like a luxury at $3 million, but the need for effective bullpen arms is one that never goes away, and as mentioned his 2011 was solid and expected. Option picked up.
The last of the three options is Andrew Miller. There is room for him in Pawtucket, and if the baseball gods are merciful, he won't need to be in the 2012 rotation. But, given that there was already one open rotation spot before John Lackey went down, the Red Sox are in need of pitching depth. Decline the $3M option and work out a new deal for him for less money, and stick him in Triple-A once more.
Arbitration Cases: Most of the Red Sox arbitration cases are for small amounts of money: Matt Albers, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Alfredo Aceves, Mike Aviles, Daniel Bard, Darnell McDonald, Jed Lowrie, and Franklin Morales are either in their first year of arbitration (and therefore still cheap, but with an extra digit tacked on to their salary) or are, like Albers, limited in their success, and therefore still inexpensive. All told, this group isn't looking to make much more than $8 million or so, or, the same that Jacoby Ellsbury can expect to get on a deal to avoid arbitration in his second year of eligiblity. Combine the arbitration player's raises with the options and money already in place, and the Red Sox are at around $151 million in total payroll. In 2011, they spent just under $164 million.
Red Sox Free Agents: Boston doesn't have a long list of free agents, but the ones they do have are generally important players. J.D. Drew is pondering retirement, and his skills have clearly deteriorated, so he is not to be re-signed. Conor Jackson walks and Trever Miller leaves too, as there is only room for them in a September-style roster with 40 roster spots. As for the others...
Jason Varitek hit .221/.300/.423 splitting time with Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and while his defense is still there, he hasn't thrown out runners well for years now (just 14 percent in 2011, and 17 percent from 2009-2011), will be 40 years old, and, except for when it comes to homers, is an almost automatic out against right-handers (.277 OPB against in 2011, .207/.296/.396 from 2009-2011). With Ryan Lavarnway destroying Triple-A, it's time to let go. Lavarnway doesn't have the same defensive chops as Varitek, but he has little if anything left to learn offensively in Triple-A, and would benefit from a more permanent exposure to catching instructor Gary Tuck.
The Red Sox need pitching depth, so it's tempting to bring back Tim Wakefield for one more year. The thing is, though, Wakefield wasn't much better than Andrew Miller last season, thanks to 1.5 homers per nine and an inability to pitch deep into games more often than not. Wakefield still has a K/BB of 2.1 over the last two seasons, but he's become hittable with a pitch that is supposed to defy BABIP conventions, and many of those hits end up in the bleachers. Wakefield is on the record as wanting to be the all-time Red Sox wins leader, but if he's given enough opportunities to do so, then something has gone awry once again. He's been below replacement level the past two years -- like Varitek, it's time to say goodbye, as they can do better than this.
Erik Bedard should be re-signed, and he won't cost a significant amount of money. He signed with Seattle for one year and $1 million in 2011, and while he will command more than that given his successful (but injury-shortened) season, the cost won't be extravagant, especially when placed next to the production -- let's say one year at $6 million, with incentives (or even an option) built in to pay the man if he stays on the mound. That gives the Red Sox four starters and a need for injury backup, sure, but scanning the free agent market for pitchers should tell you Bedard is a priority given his upside.
Jonathan Papelbon is up next, coming off a year where he made $12 million through arbitration. Papelbon depends entirely on the market -- I wouldn't offer him more than three years, $30 million, and that's at the max; I would rather attempt something like two years at $24 million, or two years and $20 million, as reliever contracts make me nervous. It's likely that the former will be what it takes to get him, though -- assuming he doesn't cost more than that, then he's a Red Sox for the next few years on this hypothetical squad.
Last we have David Ortiz. A deal for one season and $12.5 million would be the first offer, giving him the same he earned in 2012. That's more money than any other DH is going to make this winter, and is likely more than any other team is willing to pay for a 36-year-old hitter-only. Ortiz might want multiple years, but someone else is going to have to give it to him for my offer to increase. Two years, $20 million is as far as I'm willing to go, more than fair given how other DHs are paid these days, as well as his age, but I'm sticking to the one-year offer until I no longer can.
Re-signing Ortiz, Papelbon, and Bedard at these prices would put the Red Sox somewhere between $177M and $181 million. That would easily be the most money this team has ever spent ($168 million was the previous opening day high). The cap limit for the luxury tax in 2011 was $178 million, and will be higher in 2012 (another bump of five percent on the ceiling would mean $187M), meaning Boston can afford to do this without going into the penalty. For that reason, it's safe to assume that Boston can sign these checks if necessary. (Huge caveat here: the current collective bargaining agreement expires before the 2012 season, but it's likely the luxury tax system will remain in place.)
Free Agents: That doesn't mean Boston can sign everyone, though. And even with Bedard in tow, the team still needs another starting pitcher. That's why Carlos Beltran is only an option as the right fielder if David Ortiz or Jonathan Papelbon sign elsewhere, as the money it would take to sign him would be on par with those two, and there just isn't enough room in the hypothetical budget. If those two do re-sign, then it's more Josh Reddick and Ryan Kalish for the lot of you, not that that's a bad thing, especially since their low costs helps the rotation fill out.
Wandy Rodriguez might be too expensive, but the Astros placed him on waivers in August, and are clearly willing to make a deal to be rid of the remaining $23 million and two years on his contract. The 2014 option becomes a player one if he is dealt, but those sorts of things can be negotiated, either by voiding that decision, or by forcing the Astros to pay a chunk of 2014 should Rodriguez take it. Exploring a trade for him would be a solid plan, as, if the price is right in both prospects and dollars, then Rodriguez would fit in nicely, and would likely pitch as well as Boston expected John Lackey to (and at a lower price, too).
If that doesn't work out -- it's the Astros, so no guarantees here -- then to the free agent market Boston goes. There is very little to choose from there: Mark Buehrle, Ryan Dempster, Jon Garland, Edwin Jackson, and Javier Vazquez all stick out, but might turn out to be too costly (or possibly be retiring, in Vazquez's case), or are an AL East disaster waiting to happen.
On top of signing any one of those pitchers to a one-year deal at the appropriate (read: low) cost, the Sox are going to need more depth at Pawtucket, so that Aceves isn't responsible for every spot start all year by himself. The problem is that, like last year, most of the borderline types (Freddy Garcia, Bruce Chen, Justin Duchscherer, Rodrigo Lopez, etc.) should be able to get full-time big league jobs, too. Unlike last year, though, Boston will need to convince someone -- even a replacement level starter, as that would be an upgrade on Wakefield -- to spend the year at Pawtucket in case they are needed.
Ideally, you are looking at a roster like this on Opening Day, 2012:
|C||Jarrod Saltalamacchia||IF||Jed Lowrie|
|1B||Adrian Gonzalez||UT||Mike Aviles|
|2B||Dustin Pedroia||4OF||Darnell McDonald|
|3B||Kevin Youkilis||C||Ryan Lavarnway|
|LF||Carl Crawford||SP6||Alfredo Aceves|
|CF||Jacoby Ellsbury||RP||Daniel Bard|
|RF||Josh Reddick||RP||Dan Wheeler|
|DH||David Ortiz||RP||Felix Doubront|
|SP1||Jon Lester||RP||Matt Albers|
|SP2||Josh Beckett||RP||Franklin Morales|
|SP3||Clay Buchholz||CL||Jonathan Papelbon|
Doubront has to be on the major league roster, as he is out of options. Albers' sudden ability to strike people out makes him tempting for another go-round, and there are enough options at Pawtucket (Kyle Weiland, Junichi Tazawa) that if he fails to replicate his first half of 2011 even a little, he can be dismissed. Should Aceves be needed in the rotation for any stretch, Scott Atchison can once again fill in as the long reliever, spending the rest of his time in Pawtucket (It has been pointed out to me that Atchison is out of options, so, unless he clears waivers, that up-and-down trick would work just once.) Aviles is something of the fifth outfielder and utility infielder, until such time where Boston needs to recall Ryan Kalish or summon Juan Carlos Linares to fill things out. Things move around a bit if Ortiz or Papelbon doesn't sign, but as I said, this is the ideal roster for opening day.
Remember, we'll be spending this week looking at the roster like this through the eyes of different authors, so check back to see what the rest of the group has in store for their turn up. And, of course, thanks to Cots Contracts for existing.