Before we move on from this awful, awful season, I thought it would be helpful to take a look at what Ben Cherington did last offseason to build towards the 2014 season. It wasn’t an overly busy winter, as much of the team was already constructed, and Cherington just had to fill in a few blanks. Before I get started, it’s important to note that all of these moves are being looked at with the benefit of hindsight. At the time, it could have been tough to see some of these moves work out the way they did, and that could be seen as a bit unfair. On the other hand, life’s tough, get a helmet. Now, on to the moves.
Traded Luis Ortega for Burke Badenhop
Cherington’s first move of the offseason was an easy win. Before arriving in Boston, the big right-hander had played for the Marlins, Rays and Brewers, and had shown remarkable consistency in that time. In 2014, he had arguably the best season of his career, posting a 2.29 ERA (169 ERA+) with a 40/19 K/BB ratio in 70-2/3 innings. While his strikeouts dipped down to a career-low 5.9 strikeouts-per-nine-innings, he counteracted that by keeping the ball in the ballpark and on the ground, posting career-best marks in both home runs-per-nine-innings and ground ball rate. On the other end of the trade, the Red Sox don’t figure to miss Ortega in the future. The 21-year-old struggled in rookie ball this year to the tune of a 9.44 ERA. Badenhop is a free agent at the end of this season, and all signs point towards the Red Sox working hard to retain his services.
Signed A.J. Pierzynski to a one-year, $8.25M contract
Fairly or unfairly, when we look back at the failure that was the 2014 season, A.J. Pierzynski figures to be the face of that failure. Finding Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s replacement was one of the bigger story lines from last winter, and it was clear by their approach that they were looking for someone on a short deal to bridge the gap to Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart. Pierzynski ended up being the choice, and of course, it didn’t work out. The 37-year-old hit a measly .254/.286/.348 (79 OPS+) in 274 plate appearances with Boston with poor defense behind the plate, and was eventually designated for assignment and released in July. Meanwhile, Kurt Suzuki, who also signed a one-year deal, flourished in Minnesota. Whether you feel they should have went after him, or maybe even matched Saltalamacchia’s three-year, $21 million contract with Miami, it’s clear that signing Pierzynski was a mistake.
Signed Edward Mujica to a two-year, $9.5M contract
After relying almost completely on Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa and Craig Breslow in the 2013 postseason, it was clear last winter that building a deeper bullpen was a priority for Cherington. Mujica was an interesting signing, as he had spent the year before closing in St. Louis, and was set to accept a lower role with Boston. In his first month with the Red Sox, he threw nine innings in ten appearances, compiling a 10.00 ERA and an opponents’ batting line of .341/.400/.537. That first impression lasted all season, but he didn’t perform as poorly as some may let on, finishing the year with a perfectly average 100 ERA+. After May 1, he tossed 51 innings in 54 games, putting up a 2.82 ERA and a 37/10 K/BB. While he still didn’t show enough to step into the closer role if Uehara does not return, he still figures to play a prominent role in next year’s bullpen.
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Re-signed Mike Napoli to a two-year, $32M contract
It seems a little weird to think about now, but there was a significant portion of last offseason where it was far from a given that Mike Napoli would return to Boston. After putting together a phenomenal 2013, it was easy to envision his market getting too rich for the Red Sox’s liking. Instead, he took a little less money to stay in town, and it worked out. The righty played in 119 games and put up a .248/.370/.419 (122 OPS+) line in exactly 500 plate appearances. His power is a welcome complement to David Ortiz’s presence in this lineup, and his personality fits perfectly with the city. The only negative with this move is that they could have signed Jose Abreu instead, who will likely be taking home the American League Rookie of the Year. On the flip side of that, Corey Hart was the other option at first base, and he flopped in Seattle. Overall, Napoli will continue to hit in the middle of the order next year, and we should expect some extension talk during the 2015 season.
Traded Franklin Morales and Chris Martin for Jonathan Herrera
This is one of those boring trades that happens every offseason but doesn’t have much of an effect either way. The Red Sox weren’t happy with their major-league depth in the infield, and didn’t have a spot for Franklin Morales, who was out of options. Herrera fit right in to the utility role, and although he was challenged by Brock Holt in spring training, he one the job and began the year on the major-league roster. However, he never really found his footing here, hitting just .233/.307/.289 (69 OPS+) before being sent down in favor of Holt. Of course, we all know what Holt did after that. One could make the argument that Herrera’s presence forced Holt back to AAA, where he gained the confidence to put up the numbers he put up in Boston in 2014. In Colorado, Morales continued to be who he is, a fringe major-league pitcher with big stuff and bigger control problems. Martin split the year between AAA and MLB, and could end up being a solid relief piece for the next few years.
Signed Grady Sizemore to a one-year, $750K contract
After opting to not re-sign Jacoby Ellsbury and let him go to New York, it was clear that the Red Sox were optimistic that Jackie Bradley Jr. would be able to take over the every day center fielder job at some point. Still, they did want to give him some insurance, and that came in the form of Grady Sizemore, who hadn’t played in about two-and-a-half years. While his name had been linked to Boston for a while, it was still a bit of a surprise he signed a major-league deal. It was a bold move that had the potential to pay huge dividends given his past success in the league, and the optimism only grew during his hot spring training. Unfortunately, things went downhill pretty quickly, as he managed just a .216/.288/.324 (72 OPS+) with some shaky defense in center field. He was eventually released in mid-June, and finished the year in Philadelphia. It was a classic high-risk/high-reward type of move, and this time it didn’t work out.
Signed Chris Capuano to a one-year, $2.25M contract
This was Cherington’s last move of the offseason, and it came right after Ryan Dempster announced he would not be pitching all season. It left a void on the pitching staff, as they had lost their long relief/sixth starting pitcher. It was a role that easily could have been handed to one of the AAA pitching prospects, but Cherington decided to give them more time in the minors and sign a veteran. Capuano got off to a wonderful start, throwing 15 consecutive scoreless innings to start the year with a 15/3 K/BB ratio. After that, however, he fell off a cliff, finishing his time in Boston with a 4.55 ERA (86 ERA+) and a 29/15 K/BB over 31-2/3 innings. At the end of June he was designated for assignment, and eventually released. While his final numbers weren’t great, he did have a period of success, and did his job of allowing the younger pitchers to get more seasoning in Pawtucket, although that last part didn’t exactly show itself in their performances in Boston.
Overall, it was a boring offseason that wasn’t riddled with giant mistakes, but also didn’t have too many big wins either. A.J. Pierzynski was clearly a bad move, and Burke Badenhop turned out to be a tremendous acquisition, but neither played a big enough role to explain last season, despite the narratives. Instead, it was an offseason that, if anything, would be defined by it’s lack of moves. Specifically, constructing a lineup dependent on all of Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Will Middlebrooks. This winter is set up to be much more eventful - more in the mold of the 2012-2013 offseason - and despite this year’s disappointments, there is plenty of reason to have faith in Ben Cherington to successfully build the roster.