GM Ben Cherington has been a busy man this offseason.
While they haven’t chased any big names this offseason, the Boston Red Sox have still been quite busy signing free agents. Particularly compared to last year, this proactive approach has allowed the team to restock its MLB roster after a disastrous 2012.
While they have made several ancillary moves along the way, the Sox have signed five players who fans can expect to see on the MLB roster next season: David Ross, Jonny Gomes, Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino and Koji Uehara.
Some of the moves make plenty of sense, as the acquired player fills a vacancy at his position. Others are a bit more curious, as (at least for now) the team already has at least one person entrenched in that spot.
Undoubtedly, GM Ben Cherington is looking to put his stamp on the team this offseason now that he has the financial flexibility he lacked going into last year. He is faced with the challenge of building a team now that is both competitive and serves as a bridge to, as he put it, “the next great Red Sox team.”
Let’s take a look at how Cherington has done so far this offseason:
As the team’s first move once free agency opened, the signing of Ross was certainly curious. The Sox have Jarrod Saltalamacchia coming off of the finest offensive season of his career and Ryan Lavarnway seemingly poised to grab a larger role in 2013.
So why, then, would they go get another veteran?
The only logical explanation can be that the Sox plan on trading either Saltalamacchia or Lavarnway, with the former being the more likely candidate to go. Productive catchers are tough to come by, so the Sox would likely be able to get a nice package for their top home run hitter from last season.
Ross brings a very strong reputation with him to Boston. He is well known for his positive clubhouse influence, and he has always been very good defensively. As far as backups go, he is about as good as it gets.
The Grade: B
No matter how unlikable the 2012 Sox got, Cody Ross was always a player fans cheered. He played hard, said the right things and was very productive.
Unfortunately for the Sox, Ross was almost too productive to make his return realistic.
He wants (and deserves) a substantial raise from the bargain one-year, $3 million deal he got last offseason, and the Sox decided to look elsewhere to gauge alternatives. What they found was a huge steal in Jonny Gomes.
Gomes will fill the role initially envisioned for Ross: a platoon outfielder playing primarily against left-handed pitching. Like Ross, Gomes is monster against lefties (.894 career OPS) and a high-character guy who will be a positive clubhouse influence.
The value here is tremendous, and while it hurts to see Ross go, this was a wise allocation of the team’s resources by Cherington.
The Grade: A−
The Sox knew they needed a first baseman and a middle-of-the-order bat to replace the traded Adrian Gonzalez.
In Napoli, they got just that.
The former Ranger and Angel helps balance the Sox’s lineup with his excellent power stroke from the right side, having hit 20 or more home runs each season beginning in 2006. His lifetime 1.107 OPS at Fenway had to be tantalizing as well, although the sample size is small (just 73 plate appearances) and it was all against the lackluster Sox pitching staff.
Napoli will now shift to being primarily a first baseman after splitting time between there and catcher previously. He has only logged 118 total career starts and 1040.1 innings at first base, so Sox fans will need to get comfortable with the fact that he may struggle a bit initially.
While it remains to be seen if he can stay healthy for a full season while remaining productive, Napoli is a solid pickup.
The Grade: B
If it were 2009, this grade would probably be an A. Victorino had emerged as not just a dependable outfielder, but as a dynamic bat atop the lineup who could wreak havoc on the basepaths and energize his entire team.
Unfortunately, it’s not 2009, even if the Sox are paying like it is.
As happens with players who depend on speed when they hit the wrong side of 30, the Flyin’ Hawaiian has begun to decline. He posted career lows last season in most offensive categories, including an OPS (.704) that was a career-worst by over 50 points.
His cumulative WAR for last season (2.2) barely places him as a viable MLB starter anymore, and it’s unlikely that being a year older and in a new league is going to help grow that number.
$13 million per season is a lot of money, particularly for a team that is (allegedly) practicing fiscal restraint. If the Sox wanted to spend this much on an outfielder, there were many better options available.
The Grade: D+
Cherington must be wondering how he got so lucky with this one.
Uehara was one of the top relievers in MLB last season. He posted a 1.75 ERA and 0.639 WHIP, striking out 43 in 36.0 innings pitched. He only walked three hitters all season.
With numbers like that, it would seem likely that teams would be bowling the Japanese-born pitcher over with multi-year offers. However, Uehara’s age (37) apparently scared teams off, as did his injury issues the last two seasons.
When considering the Sox’s bullpen depth, though, adding Uehara is a huge boost. There are a lot of what-ifs among the returning Sox relievers, and adding such a steady performer (2.36 career ERA as a reliever) for such a reasonable price could prove to be the best move of the entire offseason.
The Grade: A