The 2013 Red Sox are serving two masters. The first is this year's team, the 2013 Red Sox who you've been reading about all off-season. They represent the organization's obligations to win now. The second master is the next great Red Sox team. (Sadly there is a difference between the two.) When will the next great Red Sox team take the field? I'll answer my own question with a question: who can know the answer to that question? Nobody, of course, but we can take a kinda semi-educated guess by looking at the way the organization has behaved this off-season and the state of Boston's farm system.
GM Ben Cherington has made it clear by words but mostly through actions that the team's future won't be compromised by its present. Signing free agents costs spending power that could be used elsewhere. Signing certain free agents costs draft picks and, though the Red Sox seventh overall pick is protected, spending power in the draft. Juxtapose that with the opposite approach. Coming into the off-season there were holes in the Red Sox roster. Not signing free agents meant having to fill out the roster with players unlikely to make positive contributions towards winning. That, in essence has been the internal battle of the Red Sox off-season: present vs. future.
The depth chart you see now is the result of that in-house struggle. But more interestingly, the executed plan reveals when the next great Red Sox team will take the field, or at least when the front office hopes that will happen. The Sox signed five free agents (counting David Ortiz) to deals longer than one year. None got deals longer than three years. So there's your window. The papering over of the Red Sox roster, to use a rude term, ends after the 2015 season. That's when the last contracts expire on this year's spending spree. After the 2014 season, only Shane Victorino will be left. After the 2015 season, all will be gone. So 2016. There's your answer.
The idea is that by then, the Red Sox should have developed enough talent internally that they'll be 1) competitive based on that talent, and 2) able to fill in the gaps through free agency and trades COUGH Giancarlo Stanton COUGH. I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the endpoint of that goal. Or I could just drink a bunch of beer not write anything and get fired. Naaaah, let's check out that end point!
Obviously we can't predict everything or really anything, but we can look at the major and minor league rosters and see where the organization will be after this off-season's spending has expired. I'll take this position by position and then comment at the end. Also, because of the tenuous nature of this exercise I'm going to ignore the bullpen and bench and focus on the starting lineup and starting rotations.
1. Clay Buchholz
2. Matt Barnes
3. Felix Doubront
4. Rubby De La Rosa
5. Allen Webster/Brandon Workman
Buchholz's contract technically ends after the 2015 season but he has two team options at $13 and $13.5 million, respectively, that are cheap enough I don't think it's a stretch to expect him to be here. He's also the only player making any money in this make-believe rotation. The strength of this rotation though comes from the current crop of minor leaguers. Barnes, De La Rosa, Webster, and Workman are all distinct possibilities to make their way to the Red Sox permanently in the next two seasons. By at point their average age will still be under 25 years old.
Depending on the quality of the four young guys, Felix Doubront could slot in just about anywhere. With a few modest leaps in pitching quality it wouldn't be outrageous to see him as a three, but if a few of the young guys can max their talent out then he can drop a few slots to the back end of the rotation. Or if each of the four guys proves worthy of a rotation spot, Doubront could be moved to the pen or traded.
It's impossible to say how good a rotation that is, but at least right now it's fair to say that there is good talent there.
Catcher: Ryan Lavarnway
First Base: Will Middlebrooks
Second Base: Dustin Pedroia
Shortstop: Jose Iglesias
Third Base: Xander Bogaerts
Left Field: Bryce Brentz
Center Field: Jackie Bradley
Right Field: Ryan Kalish
It isn't clear whether or not Lavarnway can stay behind the plate. I remain optimistic about his chances though so I put him there. Despite my optimism, catcher could be a spot where, depending on his development and that of Blake Swihart who is further down the organizational ladder, the Red Sox look to upgrade from outside the organization in one fashion or another between now and 2016.
The infield is a bit messy, but in a good way. Much hinges on the development of Jose Iglesias's bat. If he can hit enough to warrant a starting spot, the Red Sox will probably move Xander Bogaerts off of shortstop. They could move him to the outfield, but considering his arm strength and body type, third base seems a reasonable bet. That position is already occupied, but the trades of Anthony Rizzo (to get Adrian Gonzalez) and Adrian Gonzalez (to get rid of Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford) have opened an organization-sized hole at first base. Moving Middlebrooks there would solve that problem.
I cheated at second base and kept Dustin Pedroia there. His current contract will have expired by then (it ends after the 2015 season) but with the rumblings of an extension and the sheer terror that picturing him in another team's uniform brings, it's hard to imagine he won't be in Boston in 2016.
Compared to the infield, the outfield is wide open. Jackie Bradley will be in center, but beyond that is anyone's guess. Brentz has much work to do to reach the level of 'everyday player in Boston' and Kalish is about to go under the knife yet again. Beyond that the pickings are slim. The upside to this is that these are the spots to focus on when bringing free agents or trade candidates into the organization COUGH COUGH oh you know what I'm thinking of.
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This, the above lineup and rotation, is the goal. There is one long-tenured and thus big money player anchoring each section of the roster, but after that it's home grown talent all the way. Whether or not that group of guys is good enough to win a World Series we can't know, but putting them all on the field is the goal. Those are your (tentative) 2016 Boston Red Sox. That's the future. Now we just have to get there. Fortunately, getting there is the fun part.