While Big Papi will most certainly be back in Boston, who else fits in the Sox's plans for 2013?
Fans expecting the 2013 Boston Red Sox to sign a bunch of major free agents en route to winning the World Series are going to be very disappointed this offseason.
Despite having just $45 million currently committed to players for next season, Sox GM Ben Cherington will likely spend his available money quite judiciously this offseason. After unloading the bulky contracts of Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, the least thing the team is looking to do is to take on more long-term dollars.
Instead, they’ll look for value in the free agent market as they try to fill their (many) holes on the roster.
Even if both David Ortiz and Cody Ross are re-signed, the team needs at least one starter, a first baseman, at least one outfielder and several relievers (in no particular order). Several internal options are still a couple years away, so the Sox will need to find shorter-term options to help during this transition period.
Fortunately, there are many intriguing options on the market. Here are five players who, despite their defects, would fit the Sox’s plan for next season:
Despite a bit of a step back in 2012 after an outstanding effort in 2011, the burly utility man could nevertheless give the Sox a solid producer at first base and periodically handle a few innings behind the plate.
While he hit a mere .227 in 2012, Napoli did manage to post an .812 OPS while clubbing 24 home runs in just 352 at-bats. He also made his first All-Star team, winning the fan vote as the AL’s starting catcher.
What will also make Napoli an attractive option is his (relatively) modest price tag. The Sox would likely not have to make the kind of commitment in terms of annual dollars or years that got them into trouble in the first place.
Many teams will not go anywhere near the versatile outfielder, and with good reason. Cabrera’s suspension for PED use and subsequent fake website revelation show an alarming lack of good judgment or character, something the Sox could obviously use given the events of the past two seasons.
He is worth a look, however, because he has produced when on the field. At the time of his suspension, Cabrera was leading the NL with a .346 average and a .906 OPS. How much of this was, um, enhanced is difficult to measure; it’s worth noting that in 2011 with Kansas City he posted strong numbers as well (.306 average, .809 OPS).
While the Sox may ultimately decide to pass, even a one-year deal could be worth the likely low price it will take to bring Cabrera to Boston. With his ample AL East experience, he could be a valuable piece while the Sox wait for their young outfield prospects to develop.
The questions surrounding the 29-year-old McCarthy have never been about ability. As the owner of a 3.94 career ERA as a starter, he has clearly shown the effectiveness on the hill the Sox crave.
The problem with McCarthy is his inability to stay on the field. Only once in his seven-year career has he thrown more than 111.0 innings in a season, and it’s hard to forget the shot he took off the head in September.
Given his past injury issues, the Sox would likely be able to grab McCarthy for a pretty reasonable price. While they’d have to keep their fingers crossed about him staying healthy, his past success in the AL makes him a very viable option.
Another pitcher with demonstrated AL success, Marcum just spent the last two seasons in Milwaukee after coming up with Toronto. He enjoyed success in both stops, sporting a 3.85 ERA in Toronto followed by a 3.60 mark in Milwaukee.
While he would likely command slightly more money and years than McCarthy, Marcum also comes with a couple red flags in the injury department. After missing all of 2009 with Tommy John surgery, he missed over two months of this season with tightness in the same elbow.
Given the “bridge” the Sox are trying to build into the future, the 30-year-old Marcum makes sense if they can lock him up for three years or fewer. He would provide the team with a strong starter for a couple years, but would be easy to part with once younger prospects are ready to make the jump to the MLB.
While the Sox already have two left-handers in the rotation for next season (Jon Lester and Felix Doubront), Saunders is a low-cost option that could further help the team.
Saunders had a nice run with the Orioles in August and September, posting a 3.63 ERA over his seven starts. He also pitched well in the AL Wild Card game, earning the win after going 5.2 innings and allowing just one earned run against the Rangers.
Saunders also does not have the injury history of the other two pitchers mentioned, but this will end up costing whoever signs him. If the Sox are willing to pay, though, he could provide a stable presence at the back of the rotation.