It's just 24 hours since the end of the Red Sox' 2014 season, but Ben Cherington isn't wasting any time in getting to work on the 2015 team. Speaking to the media today, the Red Sox' general manager laid out the team's general plans headed into the offseason.
The team's first priority should come as no surprise: starting pitching. After unloading both Jon Lester and John Lackey at the trade deadline, the Red Sox have plenty of arms, but none that can really be trusted with a top rotation spot. Clay Buchholz fills that role when healthy, but as we've seen in the past few years, that's hardly a guarantee.
The good news on that front is that the free agent market is replete with starting pitching options. The Sox could elect to bring Lester right back off the open market, or to sign another top option like Max Scherzer or James Shields. There are plenty of other mid-range options available too for a team that could certainly use more than one body, to say nothing of who the Sox might find on the trade market.
Priority number two is a left-handed bat. The Red Sox were more-or-less just as bad against lefties this year as righties. But looking at the current Red Sox roster, only David Ortiz, Daniel Nava, Garin Cecchini, Brock Holt, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Jonathan Herrera bat lefty. Given that only one of them can be assured of their starting spot in 2015, it would make sense for the Red Sox to find a lefty bat to add to the mix, perhaps at third base where Will Middlebrooks' role as starter is in serious jeopardy, if not simply gone.
To that end, the most obvious options are likely Pablo Sandoval, who produced a line of .317/.364/.461 as a left-handed hitter during the regular season, and Chase Headley, who is just two years removed from a 7 WAR season, plays excellent defense, and has historically been quite capable from the left side of the plate. Headley would prove especially tempting for the Red Sox if he was open to a short-term, high-dollar deal along the lines of the one Adrian Beltre once signed with the team in order to get his value up for a future contract.
The third priority: the bullpen. Here the Red Sox actually had relatively few problems in 2014. In fact, given that they had to pitch so many innings to make up for the starters, the Boston pen was the third most valuable in baseball. But Koji Uehara is a free agent, and coming off a late-season slump that raised questions about his reliability going forward. Andrew Miller was sent to the Orioles midway through the season and is set to hit the open market as well. Ditto the quietly reliable Burke Badenhop.
The 2015 Red Sox bullpen may well end up looking quite similar to the bullpen at the start of the 2014 season (minus a few less productive arms), but if that's the case, it's going to take a fair deal of work to get there.
There's other work to be done too, of course. The Red Sox simply have too many bodies and too few roster spaces right now. Given that, we can expect a particularly active offseason in the trade market. There's also the question of what the Red Sox will be doing behind the plate. The team wasn't willing to rule out a return of David Ross to back up Christian Vazquez, but chances are the veteran will not be back, replaced by either another backup or perhaps even a starter, keeping the weight of the starting job off Vazquez' shoulders this early in his career (and perhaps also allowing for an easier segue into the Swihart era, should it come).
Whatever the case, the Red Sox have a lot of work to do to turn this 2014 mess into a contender in 2015. But they've been here before just two years ago, and proved more than up to the task then.