The offseason for the Boston Red Sox began with a bang. A late season collapse saw the exit of two-time World Series winning manager Terry Francona and general manager Theo Esptein, who were replaced respectively by Bobby Valentine and Ben Cherington.
The Red Sox' finish to last season needs little documentation at this point. Sox fans have heard all the ugly rumors concerning clubhouse chemistry—whether or not they were wholly true.
The historically bad September collapse did expose some major organizational flaws, however. During the final month of the season, the Red Sox posted a 5.84 staff ERA and a 7.08 starting ERA. Both figures were the worst of any major league team during that time period, and the organization's general lack of pitching depth was greatly exposed.
Despite all of this, the Red Sox still won 90 games—a figure which may have been good for a wild card or divisional title in another division, in another season—and they have a huge chunk of payroll committed to a generally young, talented core group of baseball players.
This offseason presents a unique set of questions to management. How much does it tinker with the team? How much in terms of player personnel needs to change? What is the most cost efficient way to improve the team?
The New York Yankees won the American League East with 97 victories last season. A large part of that was their accumulation of pitching depth.
Freddy Garcia—brought in for one year, $1.5 million—and Bartolo Colon—brought in for one year, $900,000—combined to start 51 games and post a collective ERA of 3.82.
On the surface, that might not seem like much, but the truly remarkable nature of the situation becomes evident when one considers that neither pitcher was heavily sought after in free agency, and both cost the high-budget Yankees almost nothing comparatively.
Their importance to last year's team is magnified by Phil Hughes' injury problems and another sub-par season from AJ Burnett. Both Hughes and Burnett were expected to be important figures in the Yankees 2011 rotation, but both were outperformed by a couple of "afterthought" signings.
The moral of the story is this: You can never have too much pitching depth. Things happen, starters get hurt, or underperform, or both (see: John Lackey).
The Boston Red Sox were ill-equipped even to begin the season.
They just didn't have enough pitching depth beyond their ace trio of Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and Clay Buchholz, and it showed last season when they were throwing the likes of Kyle Weiland, Andrew Miller and an ancient Tim Wakefield during the stretch run of the season.
So far this year, the Red Sox have signed Vicente Padilla, Carlos Silva and Aaron Cook to minor league deals. They'll join the likes of Andrew Miller, Alfredo Aceves and healthy Felix Doubrount and Junichi Tazawa to provide organizational pitching depth.
I'm not guaranteeing a Cy-Young season or an All-Star appearance from any of these guys; they just have to be solid, reliable and eat up innings. Like Colon and Garcia for last year's Yankees, that might make the difference between a postseason berth or another missed October.
The Red Sox have already brought in some good, buy-low starters, but they are guys who are not necessarily expected to perform. They are players whose low cost make them decent additions for depth purposes, but they are not players a team should feel comfortable relying on from the beginning of a season.
Last year's woes were representative for the Sox' need for another reliable starter capable of eating innings. They passed on Hiroki Kuroda and Edwin Jackson, who signed with the Yankees and Nationals, respectively.
Roy Oswalt is the biggest name available, but his type-A free agency status and his asking price (according to MLB Trade Rumors around $10 million), do not mesh well with the Red Sox' ideal signee. I wouldn't hold my breath that anything gets done here.
It's very possible that the Red Sox break camp with their current roster incarnation.
Jonathan Papelbon was the most consistent figure in the back end of the Boston bullpen last season, upping his strikeouts and cutting his walk rate by more than half of what it was just the year prior. But, the Red Sox were not willing to shell out the money he was looking for, and he left for the "greener" fields of Philadelphia.
It is extremely hard to replace a perennial All-Star and probably the most consistent closer—other than Mariano Rivera—over the last five seasons.
But, the Red Sox did pretty well for themselves by turning Jed Lowrie, Josh Reddick and some change into Mark Melancon and Andrew Bailey—two young, talented relievers with favorable contract situations and closing experience.
The Sox were able to replace the consistency of Papelbon and then some, strengthening last year's talented, albeit overworked 'pen.
In December, the Red Sox traded Jed Lowrie to the Houston Astros for Mark Melancon.
Following the move, the Sox sent Marco Scutaro to the Colorado Rockies for Clayton Mortensen, a move largely predicated by Boston's desire to clear up more budget space under the luxury tax, which they used to sign outfielder Cody Ross.
The only other shortstop left from last year's 25-man roster is Mike Aviles. His replacement-level defense and his below average bat don't leave much to be desired.
But, 22-year-old defensive wizard Jose Iglesias is an option, but his offense is nowhere near MLB ready. In 387 Triple-A at-bats in 2011, he batted .235/.285/.269, and his career minor league OPS is .624. With little plate discipline and power upside, Iglesias could struggle to bat above .200 if thrust into an everyday role.
There is no clear option for the Boston Red Sox at shortstop, and it remains to be seen what path they'll take.
I think it is important to note that there was no perfect candidate for the job.
Each potential manager the Red Sox considered had his flaws. There just was no logical successor to Terry Francona, an immensely popular figure and arguably the best manager in franchise history.
That being said, the Red Sox probably got it right with the hire of Valentine. Initially, I was skeptical of the hire, but it has grown on me for a couple of reasons.
Historically, first year Valentine teams have seen enormous spikes in wins. The 1986 Rangers saw an increase of 25 wins from the year prior during Bobby V's first full season. The 1997 Mets saw a 17-win increase.
Valentine is an energetic, enthusiastic figure. He is someone that struggling teams have historically responded well to.
Accountability and work ethic—characteristics the team lacked during the final portion of 2011—are likely to be major points in the clubhouse. Unlike his predecessor, Valentine is likely to take more of a hands-on approach to managing, making it harder for slacking players and clubhouse unease to fly under-the-radar.
And, unlike many of the candidates the Red Sox considered, Valentine is an experienced, big-market manager. Valentine has been around the block, and he's not intimidated by the big stage in Boston, even when he makes mistakes.