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Boston Red Sox Armchair GM, Off-Season Edition: Matthew Kory

It's Halloween so we're all taking turns dressing up as Ben Cherington and fixing the Red Sox. Today Matthew Kory gets the mask. Boo!

Jared Wickerham

With the off-season upon us, it's time for OTM's now-annual series on fixing the Red Sox. We call it Armchair GM. Each author here at Over The Monster takes a turn writing their prescription for what ails the Sox, and at the end of the series you get to vote on which plan you liked the best, which, clearly, will be this one. Today Matthew Kory hops in the chair and hopes the others haven't already spilled too many Cheetos on it.

If you're reading this, and I sense that you are, you probably have a good idea of where the Red Sox are in the success cycle. But just in case you haven't been paying attention, the positive part of last season will come next season when Boston will pick seventh in the 2013 draft. So yes, it was a rotten season, complete with injuries, under-performance from star players, more injuries, even more injuries, and a trade of many of those star players to Los Angeles where star players can ride on airplanes, give the peace symbol, and miss the playoffs from the comfort of air-conditioned mid-century modern splendor, preferably with an ocean view.

But the good news is that with that Mega-Trade came an opportunity essentially unseen in today's baseball landscape. Rarely does a team get a chance to start over after signing so many long-term big-money contracts. That said, I don't see the Beckett/Crawford/Gonzalez trade as a general condemnation of big contracts. Indeed, winning requires talent (Baltimore Orioles aside), and acquiring talent often costs money, or prospects, or both. It's the cost of doing business. In a perfect world the Red Sox would develop all the talent they needed and more through the draft and international signings alone, but that's not reality for the Red Sox or for any other team. The issue at hand isn't avoiding big free agent contracts entirely, it's giving them out judiciously and only to the right people.

I've been reading and enjoying my fellow author's work in this series, but I've noticed a sense of resignation creeping through their off season plans. I don't mention this as a criticism. It's a seemingly common thought process as some Red Sox fans seem prepared to spend 2013 on the fringes of competition, thinking, 'If things break right, great, but if not, that's OK too. We'll get 'em in 2014.' For better or worse you won't find that here.

I think the Red Sox have an impressive young-ish talent base and with the right additions can be a major player in 2013. My goals were to put a team on the field this coming season that can win the AL East, but without sacrificing the team's competitive position in 2014 and beyond. I think I've done that. I hope you'll let me know whether or not you agree in the comments.

The first moves are the easier ones.

Shortstop: For reasons that will become clear, I'm sticking with Jose Iglesias. I hate hate hate his bat. It's awful, but I do think there is some growth potential there and the glove is beyond big league ready right now. It's whatever the level above big league is ready. No, he's never going to be an above average hitter (well, probably not, hope springs eternal!) but his glove will play now and, more importantly, the shortstops on the trade and free agent market are marginal upgrades at best. I'm not giving $10 million to Drew or whatever. Give it to Jose, give him the team's full support, and hope he learns on the job. If it's untenable there are Mike Avileses available around the deadline.

Catcher: Same deal here. I'm giving the job to Ryan Lavarnway. I know there are questions about his defense, but he can learn to call a game (that job is cerebral not physical) and if he hits enough the rest will matter much less. I'm confident he can hit enough. Jarrod Saltalamacchia will back him up, which isn't ideal for defensive purposes, but having a power bat like Salty's on the bench will be nice from time to time.

Re-Sign: David Ortiz (2 years, $27 million) - David Ortiz is more than a team icon. Last season he was the best hitter in baseball before getting injured. When he was hurt in mid-July he had the highest OPS (1.026) in baseball. And anyway, I don't have to argue for this one, I don't think. We all know Ortiz, we all know he belongs in Boston, and we all know he's likely going to re-sign to a two year deal. So let's just do this thing already.

Re-Sign: Cody Ross (2 years, $15 million) - As Marc has stated before, signing Ross is an easy decision to back away from if it goes badly. With that in mind, and though I like Ross quite a bit, I refuse to give Ross a third year. I want flexibility, so I'm willing to give him an extra million if need be on the deal to keep the years down. Hopefully the two year deal is enough, but if not, I'll take my chances with Ryan Sweeney, Ryan Kalish, and the dregs of the free agent market.

Now things get trickier. I'm looking for not just talent, but young talent. But not just young talent, I'm looking for cost-controlled talented young talent, and that's not an easy thing to find. When you do find it, it's near impossible to pry away. Doing so requires giving up big parts of the minor league system, and doing that can look bad. And it can even be bad if it isn't done right. But in this case, I think it's worth it.

Trade: Jacoby Ellsbury, Matt Barnes, and Brandon Workman to Miami for Giancarlo Stanton - I should note the Marlins have shown no inclination towards dealing Stanton, and with good reason, as it's clear to me that Stanton is a premier player, a guy to build a team around. But there are several reasons that I think they might be inclined to do it. Here they are in bullet form:

  • Despite last year's off-season spending spree, Miami is perpetually looking to cut salaries (I know Ellsbury isn't cheap, we'll get to that). Stanton is about to get expensive and dealing him now means the Marlins can get out from under the potential obligation that his salary will become.
  • Trading Stanton now will help restock their farm system for the next great Marlins team while adding a super star in Ellsbury to mollify the fanbase (should they elect to keep him).
  • The Marlins are kinda crazy.

It's a lot to give up but frankly it might not be enough. The Sox might have to substitute Garin Cecchini for Workman, or just put him into the deal as well. Obviously as GM you try to give up the least amount of talent possible, but for Stanton that's a trade I'd make.

The reasoning behind the players I'm sending to Miami:

  • Workman is a fine pitcher and could be a decent back end of the rotation guy or a high end reliever. He's probably a major leaguer, but this isn't a guy to quarrel about losing. He's not an ace.
  • Barnes could be an ace. He's got the stuff and the composition (personality-wise) to take on that role. Losing him is huge. I get that. But here's the thing. If I want Stanton, I have to give up one of the Sox big prospects and maybe more than just one. I'm picking Barnes of the big three because he's a pitcher and young pitchers, while very valuable, are far bigger injury risks than position players. Thus there is a much better chance that Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley, Jr. reach their ceiling as there is a far greater chance Barnes gets hurt. I don't believe that difference in risk is reflected in the player's trade value however, and I intent to take advantage of that. Also, keep in mind that the Red Sox acquired two young potential mid-rotation starters when they made the mega-trade with L.A in Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster. Adding those guys makes dealing Barnes a little bit less painful.
  • Cecchini, should he have to be included, is a potential starting third baseman on a championship level club. But the Red Sox already have one of those in Will Middlebrooks, so unless the team doesn't believe in Middlebrooks or plans to move him off third base (unlikely at best) then Cecchini, who will be 22 years old (definitely) and in Double-A next season (probably) doesn't fit with the Red Sox. He has value while he has that ceiling (i.e. now) but if something happens to reduce his ceiling his trade value will fall. In short, if you believe in Middlebrooks, and I do, then this is a good time to deal Cecchini.
  • Ellsbury is an odd choice for this deal, I admit, but I'm including him here because I envision this trade as a three-way deal. The Marlins would acquire Ellsbury and then flip him elsewhere for prospects. Alternately they could keep him and get the draft pick, or even extend him, but I'm thinking he doesn't play a game in a Miami uniform.

    As to the merits of dealing him, they've been discussed elsewhere so I don't really want to get into it here except to say his contract is up at the end of the year and it seems likely that he'll be with a different team in 2014. With that in mind if the right deal comes along (and Giancarlo Stanton qualifies under that umbrella) then that's a trade you make. (I'm aware that in previous posts I've advocated keeping Ellsbury and in general my position hasn't changed. But I've always advocated for dealing anyone if the right deal comes along, so this is consistent with that.)

As for Stanton, he's 22 years old this season. He'll be 23 next. He's seven months older than Matt Barnes, a year and a half older than Cecchini, and a year and three months younger than Workman. Last year in Miami he slugged .608. On the road it was .629. Over his career, which started when he was 20, he's hit .279/.350/.553. Imagine what he'd do in Boston between the ages of 23 and 26 (though hopefully the Red Sox could extend him beyond that.) It could be sick. It would be sick. But sick in a good way. The best way.

But he's not just a slugger. He's learning to get on base, he has very little platoon split, and he's a good fielder. He's the total package.

In the end it's a tremendous amount to give up, especially if you have to give up Cecchini as well, which you probably do. But to get the next great Red Sox left fielder, a player who hits for tremendous power in a time of decreasing power, a guy who could be a legitimate MVP candidate over each of the next six or so seasons, it's worth it. This is a trade not just for a great player, but for a great young player, a great young and extremely talented player.

Of course, if you make that deal there is nobody to play center field next season. So...

Sign: Angel Pagan (3 years, $26 million) - I'm quite willing to give the Matt Sullivan deal to Pagan, who should be able to hold down center during the entirety of the contract. To quote Matt, "He has very good contact skills, average on-base skills, average power and he is an excellent base runner and defender." He's kind of the guy Carl Crawford was supposed to be. Depending on how quickly Jackie Bradley, Jr. develops Ross might get shunted to the bench or dealt, which would be fine, especially if I'm able to keep his contract to two years.

I like the idea of trading for Ike Davis. I think he could blossom in Fenway, but after making the Stanton deal, I'm not eager to deal anyone else out of the Sox system. While Matt Sullivan's idea of taking on Jason Bay is an intriguing one (I love creative solutions), ultimately I don't think it's workable. Bay has been sub-garbage since going to New York and with his injury issues and complete inability to play the field, he's now a back-up DH which the Red Sox don't need. Instead, I'm going to...

Re-Sign: Kevin Youkilis (1 year, $10 million, with a reachable option for 2014) - I'd give Youk two years if necessary, but I'm guessing it won't be. The irony is I like Youk not just for his bat but for the very reason the Sox got rid of him: his intensity and seriousness. He's a guy I want in my clubhouse, dammit, and now that Bobby V has taken his BMX and exited stage left, I'm hoping Youk will come back on a larger money one year deal to rebuild some value back home in Fenway.

I know this has gone on too long, but there's one more big deal to discuss. The Red Sox biggest problem last season was their pitching and we're 2,000 words in and I've failed to mention it. In fact, I dealt away the team's best minor league starter. Not promising. But here's why. Well, Stanton is that good, but also this. The Red Sox need an ace. Apparently Jon Lester isn't that guy and neither is Clay Buchholz. Both can be #2s or #3s if things break right, and they'll need to for the Sox to contend, but the Red Sox need more than that. They need an ace. A number one. And guess what? There is an ace starting pitcher available on the free agent market! What luck!

Sign: Zack Greinke (5 years, $115 million) - Greinke hasn't got the best of reputations, but I'm struggling to figure out why that is. Last season by Fan Graphs WAR he was more valuable than C.C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and R.A. Dickey. He was the fourth most valuable pitcher in baseball. The year before he was 25th and in 2010 he was 12th. Over the course of that entire three year period, Greinke was the seventh best pitcher in baseball. Greinke gets strikeouts, he keeps walks under control, his ground ball percentage has gone up every year since 2009 and he hasn't posted an FIP above 3.75 since 2005, his second year in the league. You might also note that he's done it almost entirely in front of some pretty lousy defenses in Kansas City and Milwaukee. The Angels were quite good defensively last year, but he only pitched 13 games for them.

Jeff Fletcher of the OC Register crunched some numbers to see what Greinke would cost and he came up with the figure above that I'm prepared to offer. Five years is a long time, but it's for a pitcher who will be 29 when he signs (assuming a five year deal) and 33 when his contract ends. That's hardly ludicrous, and while it is a lot of money, as Fletcher shows, that's what top of the rotation guys make nowadays. It's the cost of doing business. Is there risk here? Yes. Absolutely. Is it untenable risk? No, I don't think it is. This guy is an ace and the Red Sox need an ace.

With that, here's my roster for the 2013 season.

Position Player Position Player
Catcher Ryan Lavarnway Starting Pitcher Zack Greinke
First Base Kevin Youkilis Starting Pitcher Jon Lester
Second Base Dustin Pedroia Starting Pitcher Clay Buchholz
Shortstop Jose Iglesias Starting Pitcher Felix Doubront
Third Base Will Middlebrooks Starting Pitcher John Lackey
Left Field Giancarlo Stanton
Center Field Angel Pagan Relief Pitcher Andrew Bailey
Right Field Cody Ross Relief Pitcher Junichi Tazawa
DH David Ortiz Relief Pitcher Andrew Miller
Relief Pitcher Mark Melancon
Bench Ivan De Jesus Relief Pitcher Craig Breslow
Bench Jarrod Saltalamacchia Relief Pitcher Franklin Morales
Bench Jerry Sands Relief Pitcher Rich Hill
Relief Pitcher Scott Atchison

By my calculations, the Red Sox total salaries come in at just under $140 million (assuming Greinke's deal isn't back-loaded). This roster gives Boston premium young talent for the long term in Stanton through maximizing value present in the minor league system and cashing out the value of a player unlikely to stay long term. It adds an ace starting pitcher to a team desperate for one, and it fills out the roster with strong free agents with upside who can add value on contracts that won't kill the organization's budget long term no matter what happens.

In short, this roster construction gives the Red Sox a great chance to win the AL East in 2013 as well as to both add players and stay in the hunt in future seasons.