Missing Pieces the Boston Red Sox Could Still Land This Offseason

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Missing Pieces the Boston Red Sox Could Still Land This Offseason
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Red Sox GM Ben Cherington still has moves to make.

Once the Boston Red Sox figure things out with Mike Napoli—they may need to get the UN involved soon—all the big items on their offseason checklist will have been taken care of.

Some of the little items, however, will still remain. Napoli is the final piece of the puzzle for Boston's starting nine, but the club's bench looks a little imperfect. The same goes for the Red Sox's starting rotation, which isn't very deep beyond the starting five they have lined up for 2013.

The free-agent market is getting drier and drier every day, but there are a handful of good low-risk options the Red Sox could go for to round out their depth chart before pitchers and catchers report on Feb. 12.

And they are...

 

Lefty-Hitting First Baseman: Casey Kotchman

The Red Sox will have a good right-handed power source stationed at first base if they eventually finish their negotiations with Napoli, but it's in their interest to pick up a left-handed platoon partner for him.

Unless they want to trust that job to David Ortiz, of course. I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that they probably don't.

There's a small handful of lefty-swinging first basemen the Red Sox could target on the free-agent market, among them being Jason Giambi, Aubrey Huff, Dan Johnson, Lyle Overbay and possibly Bobby Abreu too if he's willing to give first base a shot at such a late stage of his career (not likely).

Jason Miller/Getty Images
Kotchman's OPS against right-handers was about 50 points higher than his OPS against left-handers in 2012.

The one guy who's still in the middle of his prime years, however, is Casey Kotchman, who spent some time on the Red Sox in 2009. He's only 29 years old, making him a pup relative to the names rattled off above.

Kotchman had a big season with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2011, hitting .306 with an even .800 OPS. That season looks like a pretty clear outlier, however, as Kotchman posted OPSs' in the low .600s in 2010 with Seattle and this past season with Cleveland.

These numbers obviously scream of very low offensive upside for Kotchman, but the appeal for the Red Sox is that they also scream of a very small salary. It's possible that he could be signed for less than the $3 million the Indians paid him in 2012.

The Red Sox could get decent offensive value for their money if they were to only play Kotchman against right-handers on days when Napoli is either behind the plate or taking a breather, which would presumably be the plan. In addition, Kotchman would give them solid defense at first base.

If Kotchman were to be brought aboard, the Red Sox could then look to give their outfield the lefty treatment too.

 

Lefty-Hitting Outfielder: Rick Ankiel

The Red Sox are currently slated to have Jonny Gomes as their starting left fielder, Jacoby Ellsbury as their starting center fielder and Shane Victorino as their starting right fielder.

This mix isn't likely to change unless the Red Sox find a taker for Ellsbury in a trade. And since that's not likely to happen, then their current outfield trio will be their outfield trio on Opening Day too.

One thing the Red Sox could do, though, is add a lefty-hitting outfielder who could back up Gomes, Ellsbury and Victorino. It looks right now like they're trusting that job to Ryan Kalish, but they're going to want an insurance policy in the event that Kalish's career continues to be stuck in limbo.

There's a fair number of lefty-hitting outfielders on the open market, but few of them can play all three outfield positions and even fewer of them, it seems, have live bats.

Rick Ankiel is an exception. He hasn't been seen or heard from since he was released by the Washington Nationals in July, but he's a guy the Red Sox should look into.

Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports
Ankiel has plenty of pop. The hard part for him is just making contact.

Ankiel's days as a solid .800 OPS guy are history, but he showed in 2012 that he still has some pop in his bat. In 171 plate appearances, he managed a decent .411 slugging percentage with five home runs. Per FanGraphs, his ISO (Isolated Power) was the highest it had been in years.

Ankiel could come to spring training and compete for a backup job with Kalish. If Kalish were to prove himself worthy, the Red Sox could part ways with Ankiel with no regrets.

If Ankiel were to prove that he's the man for the job, he would fit with the Red Sox as a left-handed platoon partner (.736 OPS vs. righties in 2012) for Gomes in left field, and he could also spell Ellsbury and Victorino on occasion if need be. He'd be a good power source for the bottom of their lineup, and he's always been a solid defensive outfielder with an excellent arm.

Speaking of arms, the Red Sox could stand to make a few more investments to shore up their starting rotation.

 

Rotation Depth: Jair Jurrjens

The Red Sox have Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Ryan Dempster, John Lackey and Felix Doubront penciled into their rotation, and Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe has reported that Franklin Morales will come to camp as a starter.

That's not a bad starting five, and Morales is a quality insurance option. But as the age-old book of baseball cliches tells us, you can never have enough pitching. That applies to the Red Sox.

Like they did with Aaron Cook and Vicente Padilla last season, it's worth it for the Red Sox to take a look at at least one pitcher with something to prove in 2013. There may be no pitcher on the free-agent market with more to prove than Jair Jurrjens.

It feels like Jurrjens has been around forever, but he's still only 26 years old (he'll turn 27 later this month). His career has certainly taken a dreadful turn for the worse, in part due to a decrease in velocity, but he's too young to be beyond saving.

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
Jurrjens hasn't been right ever since the 2011 All-Star break.

If there are no better offers out there, the Red Sox may be able to get away with offering Jurrjens a minor league deal with an invite to spring training. Were they to acquire him, they could turn him over to new pitching coach Juan Nieves and see what he could do.

Nieves may be able to work wonders with Jurrjens. He learned from one of the best in the business in Don Cooper during his years with the Chicago White Sox, and this experience could help him figure out what's wrong with Jurrjens (or simply what he needs to do better).

It's hard to imagine Jurrjens breaking camp as a member of Boston's rotation, but an opportunity would surely arise at some point. Pitchers break all the time, and the pitchers who replace the broken pitchers have a tendency to break too.

While we're on the subject of broken pitchers, one thing the Red Sox could do is take a chance on a guy who's already broken and hope for good fortune. Goodness knows they're owed some after 2012.

 

Worthwhile Injury Gamble: Dallas Braden

Even if the Red Sox do add Jurrjens to their pitching depth chart, it's a good bet that they'll find themselves looking for pitching by the time the trade deadline rolls around. Most teams usually are.

Instead of trusting that there will be options out there, the Red Sox could just pick up a player who will to be ready to roll around the trade deadline instead. 

That would be Dallas Braden. He's currently recovering from a pair of major shoulder surgeries, but he told the San Francisco Chronicle back in October that he's expecting to be ready by the middle of the season.

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
Braden had a higher WAR than Tim Hudson in 2010.

The health of Braden's left shoulder is certainly a concern, but it's not like he's a guy who has to worry about throwing 95 miles per hour again when he comes back. He was a finesse pitcher to begin with, and his shoulder woes may not keep him from continuing his career as a finesse pitcher.

The Red Sox could bring Braden aboard and, like with Jurrjens, turn him over to Nieves and put him on a program that would get him ready for the stretch run. By the time he is ready to contribute, he could be a sight for sore eyes.

When Braden was last healthy in 2010, he posted a 3.50 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP in 30 starts. He pitched five complete games, including a perfect game. He's been away for a while, but this level of talent may still exist somewhere inside him.

It's worth it for the Red Sox to find out.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted. Salary and payroll information courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts.


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