Can the Red Sox really bring back Josh Beckett next year?
Do the Boston Red Sox really have two more months to play in the 2012 season?
Several players in that clubhouse, along with the coaching staff and front office are probably ready to get this thing over with and proceed with plans for 2013.
Team president Larry Lucchino and general manager Ben Cherington really didn't do enough to clear out the bad apples in the roster basket after last season's collapse and the chicken-and-beer fueled scandal that came with it. The mistake was thinking that bringing in a new manager would provide a fresh start.
The clean-up effort has to scrub much harder and deeper than that. After the team's performance this year, the Red Sox front office surely realizes what needs to be done. Several players won't be back next season as management tries to change what's become a stultifying clubhouse culture.
Here are five players that likely won't be back in Boston next year. And before anyone types "John Lackey" in the comments, consider whether any team would show interest in trading for a pitcher coming off Tommy John surgery who's still owed $30.5 million over the next two seasons.
If there's one player the Red Sox don't bring back next year, it has to be Josh Beckett, right?
The man has clearly worn out his welcome in Boston this season. Beckett probably should have been dealt away after last year for being the presumed ringleader of the fried-chicken-and-beer follies. He looked arrogant and entitled when he played golf while missing a start due to a lat injury.
Making matters worse, Beckett sounded out-of-touch while attempting to defend his decision. He talked about how few "days off a year" baseball players get and that what he does on his off-days is his business. While he may be right about that, not acknowledging that his actions could lead to the perception that he wasn't really hurt showed his cluelessness.
Not surprisingly, Beckett was booed in his first start back after his injury. Giving up seven runs in two innings against the Cleveland Indians probably had something to do with that.
That was back in early May. Beckett was booed by Boston fans again on Aug. 8 after allowing eight runs in five innings versus the Texas Rangers.
Beckett has two years remaining on his contract worth $31.5 million. That's a lot of money to move, but some team (Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago White Sox, to name a few) will be willing to take it on, confident that Beckett can be their ace starter next season.
With "10-and-5" rights (10 years in the majors, five with the same team), Beckett can veto any deal. But the guess here is that he wants out of Boston too. The constant scrutiny by media and fans, along with the expectations of winning every year, has to be draining.
Obviously, Red Sox GM Ben Cherington has to find the right deal to the right place. But it would be a big surprise if Beckett was in a Red Sox uniform next year.
Seeing Big Papi in a different uniform next season is difficult to imagine. But would you have said the same thing about Kevin Youkilis?
Obviously, David Ortiz is the better offensive player and Boston would sorely miss him in the middle of their lineup next year. The Red Sox will surely attempt to re-sign him.
But Ortiz sounds like he's tired of the whole routine in Boston. He was insulted by the Red Sox offering him a one-year deal through arbitration rather than the two-year contract he wanted. (The Red Sox designated hitter actually used the words "humiliating" and "embarrassing" in an interview with USA Today's Jorge Ortiz.)
Ortiz also told reporters (MLB.com's Ian Browne among them) that he's "tired of dealing with the drama here. Every word a player or manager says is heavily scrutinized. Virtually every development surrounding the team is trumped up into a matter of national importance. National reporters hear rumblings of a toxic clubhouse.
Perhaps Ortiz wants to try playing somewhere less intense. The Baltimore Orioles would surely love to have Ortiz's bat in their lineup next season. Maybe the Toronto Blue Jays as well. Outside of the AL East, the Oakland Athletics, Seattle Mariners and Cleveland Indians might show interest in Ortiz too. What if the Dodgers were willing to give him a shot at first base?
If the Red Sox don't want to give him more than one year, Ortiz can find a multi-year deal elsewhere.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia is under team control through 2013.
There aren't many great catchers in baseball, so the Red Sox might want to keep a somewhat reliable backstop around with whatever he earns through the arbitration process next season.
But if Boston wants to save $3 million or so, they could decide not to tender Saltalamacchia a contract and give Ryan Lavarnway—who will be much cheaper and under club control through 2017—the starting catcher job.
However, Lavarnway didn't hit for as much power with Triple-A Pawtucket this season and has been off to a slow start since getting called up to Boston on Aug. 2.
Meanwhile, Saltalamacchia is batting .231 but has 20 home runs to show for the effort. While he's not very good at throwing out base stealers (14-of-61 this season), Saltalamacchia is good at blocking pitches and provides some experience behind the plate.
Of the players on this list, Saltalamacchia might be the most likely to return. But if the Red Sox decide they need to allocate resources elsewhere—like in the bullpen—catcher could be one place where they get some money for a reliever.
Getting players under team control for multiple seasons has become the hot pursuit in baseball.
So a 27-year-old reliever with a 20-save season on his resume whose rights are controlled through 2016 might be seen as an asset.
But Mark Melancon's first year with the Red Sox has been disastrous. After four appearances covering two innings to begin the season, Melancon's ERA was 49.50. He was promptly sent down to Triple-A Pawtucket.
Melancon was called back up in June, but his July performance showed that he still can't be a reliever for manager Bobby Valentine to rely on. In 12.1 innings, Melancon allowed nine runs and 11 hits.
This might be an example of a pitcher who can have success in the National League—as Melancon did with the Houston Astros—but just can't cut it against American League competition, especially AL East lineups.
Perhaps a strong end to the season could change the Red Sox's perception of him, but Melancon will almost certainly be traded during the offseason. A reliever who strikes out nearly eight batters a game and is under team control for another four seasons should be in demand.
Finding a regular shortstop has been a problem for the Red Sox over the years.
However, Mike Aviles has provided strong defense at the position. According to Fangraphs' Ultimate Zone Rating, he's the fourth-best defensive shortstop in baseball. That makes him valuable despite a .253/.280/.396 average this season. Aviles has also shown some pop, slugging 11 home runs with 52 RBI.
But with the emergence of Pedro Ciriaco this year and Jose Iglesias available at Triple-A Pawtucket, the Red Sox might try to sell high on Aviles. He's going to get more expensive with two arbitration seasons to come (though a raise over $1.2 million seems insignificant for a team like Boston).
Aviles will also attract interest from teams needing a shortstop like the Oakland Athletics and Milwaukee Brewers, and perhaps the New York Mets and Arizona Diamondbacks as well. Someone who can provide great defense at shortstop, crank a few balls into the seats and is under team control through 2014 will be a popular target.
Of course, those traits are also appealing for the Red Sox. Keeping Aviles around while Iglesias continues to develop for one more season might be a good idea. Besides, has Ciriaco really proven he can be a full-time major league shortstop?
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