It would be wonderful if the Red Sox could sign Chase Headley to a one-year, make-good deal a la Adrian Beltre in 2010. It would be excellent if Pablo Sandoval wasn't going to end up costing $100 million over five or six years, and the Red Sox could sign him to a more reasonable pact for half as much. There is almost no chance of the latter occurring, and one look at the rest of the free agent market for third basemen makes it feel as if the former is but a dream as well. Red Sox third basemen hit a combined .211/.272/.308 in 2014, however, so something needs to be done at the position. Could that something be prospect Garin Cecchini?
Before diving into Cecchini's credentials to find out, let's lay out the possible alternative scenarios: after all, an untested 24-year-old probably shouldn't be Plan A for a team already loaded with kids. Sandoval is basically a non-starter given what his price tag will end up being, so rule him out. Headley could sign a one-year deal, but there are so few alternatives at third out there that it's easy to believe a team will just take the risk and sign him to a long, rich deal upfront. Remember, Headley posted a 129 OPS+ from 2011 through 2013, plays a quality third, and was mostly unlucky during his last few months with the Padres. With the Yankees, Headley hit .262/.371/.398, a 119 OPS+, and managed to end up with an above-average season line by the time he was done. Any damage caused by the first half was likely undone in the eyes of offense-starved front offices everywhere.
Before 2014, Headley turned down a contract that would have extended him for three years for reportedly upward of $39 million. As he finished 2014 strong and the market for his position is barren, it's hard to think he won't be receiving offers of at least that much again, if not more now that someone besides the Padres can negotiate with him. Maybe he takes a year so he can prove 2014 was a fluke in the interest of earning even more money, but Headley will be 31 in 2015: the chances are even better that he'll want to grab as much money as he can now while he can, rather than bank on a perfect, healthy season to propel him to even more cash.
So, Headley is probably a no unless the Sox are going to commit long-term at third base this winter -- that's a legitimate option, but as with any free agent, it's not a guaranteed one. Sandoval is definitely a no, since he's unlikely to be better than Headley but will end up costing far more. After that, there's the possibility of reuniting with Hanley Ramirez and moving him to third base, but his bat makes him a great shortstop even with his glove, so you know someone is going to spend heavily for him at the position he prefers-- possibly even the Dodgers, who no one will compete with financially for a star. Things go downhill from there, unless you want to delude yourself into thinking Mark Reynolds is the answer to any question besides, "How do the Red Sox miss the playoffs again?" Alberto Callaspo, Chris Nelson, Kelly Johnson... it's ugly out there, people.
Headley revived his 2014 while in pinstripes. (Photo credit: Elsa)
That brings us back to Cecchini. He has obvious downsides, as his performance at Triple-A was not eye-popping, and he has all of 11 games of big-league experience to lean on. He has his upside, however. Cecchini's final month with Triple-A Pawtucket was strong, with a .333/.413/.500 line with a pair of homers and 10 doubles. His major-league performance was limited in scope, but he managed to hit .258/.361/.452 and hit his first big-league home run and three doubles in his 11 contests and 36 plate appearances. Neither of those by themselves suggest Cecchini is ready for the bigs, but he was a well thought of prospect heading into 2014, and it's not as if he's the end of the road should the Sox go that route, either.
Cecchini has options remaining, so he could be sent back down to Triple-A if his performance isn't cutting it. He'll only cost the league minimum, so the Red Sox will not feel the need to continue to play him as they might were he a costly free agent. In addition, they can use money saved by going with Cecchini at third base to bolster a rotation in desperate need of help both in the top and middle, and might even have some leftover cash to address third in-season through a trade if Cecchini proves incapable of manning the position.
The concern, outside of Cecchini's limited Triple-A success and even shorter MLB time, is that there will already be multiple kids in the lineup. Christian Vazquez might very well end up being the starting catcher, and while he's shown flashes at the plate and his glove is tremendous, he's no sure thing. Mookie Betts could end up suffering the same fate as Xander Bogaerts in year two, as the league adjusts to a potential phenom. Bogaerts himself needs to prove his ship is righted, as a solid end to 2014 is only that until he's shown the player everyone was excited about is back. Rusney Castillo isn't as young as this group, but the Cuban free agent will be in his first full year in the majors, and teams now know a little bit more about him than they did before he arrived.
There might not be much the Sox can do about all of that, though. Betts, Bogaerts, and Castillo are all integral pieces of Boston's future, and the Sox aren't going to sign a significant free agent catcher with Blake Swihart on the way -- there would also have to be a significant free agent catcher to sign, and Russell Martin is a man on an island in that regard. The rotation has its own issues with unproven and potentially unworthy kids, and as of now, Joe Kelly is its most reliable starter. Maybe Cecchini at third doesn't look like such a bad idea if the funds saved by that move are diverted toward avoiding a world where that last sentence remains true.
The point in all of this is that the Red Sox will spend some money this winter, but they might not be able to spend money at every position of need: there just aren't enough quality free agents worth the dollars the Red Sox have available to them. If Headley becomes an impossibility, Cecchini might be the answer Boston needs at third. Whether he's up to the task remains to be seen, but at least there is a viable Plan B in-house.