Free agency is great! It lets players have the option of moving to other teams for more money -- money they deserve, money they helped make for the business of Major League Baseball in the first place. What if Rob Manfred decided that no, free agency wasn't a thing anymore, though, and not only that, but every free agent had to go back to their original teams. And just to mess with things further, all those trades that have been made? Those are reversed, too. It would make for 30 pretty different looking teams than what we have today.
Grant Brisbee sorted through what this world would look like so we don't have to. That mostly means, for our purposes, that there is an opportunity here to benefit from his hard work. (Hey, don't judge me, I helped edit the thing before it went live.)
Here is the basic gist of what this looks like, courtesy Grant himself:
This is [Manfred's] idea: Every player in baseball has to return to their first team. David Ortiz has to go back to the Mariners, who signed him in 1992. He'll be joined by Alex Rodriguez. They'll have to split the DH. Maybe Rodriguez will play center field, I don't know.
Yes, this means we're in an alternate universe where David Ortiz has been ripped away from the Red Sox and the Mariners get to have a productive designated hitter. It's a strange and frightening world, yes, but we have to get used to life without Ortiz by the end of 2016, anyway, so we might as well use this as a practice run.
Also, the Red Sox lineup in this alternate universe is ridiculous.
There is one thing we should note: your standard free agency, earned through years of service time, has been voided. However, international free agency still exists, which is where the "original team" idea comes from. And please don't start getting all weird about compensation picks belonging to other teams because free agency has been reversed. This isn't a time machine. It's an executive order meant to bring mass chaos and/or joy into your life.
Thanks to Boston's recent influx of youth, there are plenty of faces you've grown (or are growing) attached to still around. Blake Swihart is still behind the plate, and he's backed up by Christian Vazquez -- Swihart was drafted by the Red Sox in the first round of the 2011 draft, while Vazquez was drafted out of Puerto Rico in 2009. Dustin Pedroia, selected in the second round of the 2004 draft out of Arizona State, remains entrenched at second base. Xander Bogaerts (international free agent, 2009) is still at shortstop, and Mookie Betts is the center fielder once more, thanks to being drafted in the fifth round in 2011.
There is one other current Red Sox hitter in this starting lineup, and he's Hanley Ramirez. His free agent signing with the Sox is an easy way to forget that he initially signed with Boston way back in 2000 as an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic. Why isn't he at first base? Well, if Ramirez is at first, then Anthony Rizzo doesn't have anywhere to play. Before Rizzo was one of the league's stars for the Cubs, he was on the Red Sox, and left the organization as the centerpiece in the late-2010 Adrian Gonzalez trade.
That deal has worked out for everyone except the Padres, as the Red Sox leveraged Gonzalez into the payroll flexibility that brought them a World Series in 2013, while the Cubs managed to swap the oft-injured and inconsistent Andrew Cashner for a budding MVP candidate. The Padres probably won't get much for Cashner however he exits the organization this year, and anything productive Casey Kelly or Reymond Fuentes do in the majors will come with other teams.
The Red Sox also get José Iglesias back, and the only reason he's at third base instead of shortstop is because Bogaerts has more than acquitted himself at short, while we know Iglesias is a fine third baseman. If you think they should be swapped, go for it: the important thing is they are both on the left side of the infield. Last, you've got Josh Reddick in right field, as his trade to the A's for Andrew Bailey has been reversed, and Jacoby Ellsbury in left field, because the Yankees no longer have rights to him under Manfred's decree. Ellsbury's bat might not be what it was, but an outfield with Ellsbury, Betts, and Reddick playing defense is absolutely absurd.
What's your lineup there? Maybe something like this:
- Mookie Betts
- Dustin Pedroia
- Anthony Rizzo
- Hanley Ramirez
- Josh Reddick
- Xander Bogaerts
- Jacoby Ellsbury
- Blake Swihart
- José Iglesias
It's okay. Take a moment to let it sink in. You deserve this.
The bench has additional help in the form of Jackie Bradley Jr. (2011 first rounder), Travis Shaw (ninth round, 2011), Jed Lowrie (2005, first round), and Brandon Moss (2002, eight round). If you prefer David Murphy -- Theo Epstein's first draft pick as general manager -- to Moss, then by all means. This hypothetical Sox team can withstand an injury or two either way.
Well, in the lineup, anyway. The rotation, thanks to Justin Masterson pitching himself out of the league, is not quite as attractive.
- Jon Lester (2002, second-round pick)
- Anibal Sánchez (2001, international free agency)
- Clay Buchholz (2005, first-round pick)
- Brian Johnson (2012, first-round pick)
- Henry Owens (2011, first-round pick)
There's still a lot of potential there, especially since Owens could become a mid-rotation arm and Johnson's ceiling is right about there, too. Sánchez is on the possible downswing, though, so this rotation probably needs one more arm. Then again, that lineup is stupid good, so whatever.
The bullpen should be able to compensate for any rotation-based deficiencies, too. Jonathan Papelbon (2003, fourth round) is the closer -- hey, you probably can't stand him, but you'll tolerate him if he's setting down lineups in the ninth inning regularly. Hunter Strickland, whom the Red Sox traded to the Pirates for Adam LaRoche back in 2009, was an 18th-round pick in 2007 for Boston who also happened to have a 2.45 ERA out of the bullpen for the Giants last summer. He would be joined in his setup role by Alex Wilson (2.19 ERA for the Tigers in 2015, second-round pick from 2009) and Junichi Tazawa (international free agent, 2008). Rounding out the bullpen are Casey Kelly (first round, 2008) and another piece of the Iglesias trade, Frankie Montas (international free agent, 2009).
If you don't want it to be Kelly, there are other options. Ryan Pressly (2007 11th-round pick) is one of them. Jason Garcia, whom the Sox lost to the Orioles in the Rule 5 draft before 2015, is another. There is also Stephen Fife (2008 third-round pick dealt in the 2011 Erik Bedard three-way trade). Regardless of your configuration, this pen should be able to make up for the lack of rotation depth, especially in conjunction with the absurd lineup.
Luckily, the Red Sox have a huge chunk of these pieces to themselves going forward, so you'll still get to enjoy them in their original uniform.