Boston Red Sox's Complete Offseason Guide
As if winning three World Series titles in 10 years isn't enough, the Red Sox head into the offseason with an abundance of starting pitching, a very strong farm system and a good shot at retaining their own free agents. Or, at least, collecting a draft choice if their players sign elsewhere; they're expected to make qualifying offers to Stephen Drew, Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Napoli, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com.
Boston also has the financial resources to be active in free agency, although it just proved that it's not necessarily the biggest names from the previous offseason that are needed to build a winner.
General manager Ben Cherington will continue to identify which players are the best fit for his roster and is highly unlikely to get into a bidding war for an overpaid veteran and putting them back in the same boat as they were before the Dodgers kindly took on the mega-contracts of Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez in last year's blockbuster trade.
Don't expect a boring winter in Boston, though. Cherington does actually have a plethora of starting pitching and no roster spots for a handful of minor league prospects who are just about ready to make an impact in the majors. A trade or two is likely.
Here's everything you'll need to know before Cherington and the front office get started.
Twelve guaranteed contracts and a $3.9 million payment due to the Dodgers will cost the Red Sox approximately $120 million, including a team-friendly $12.5 million for star second baseman Dustin Pedroia, while they'll likely shell out $12-15 million to six arbitration-eligible players.
A solid season at the gates (34,979 per game) and a World Series title should give ownership plenty of incentive to boost payroll from the approximately $154 million they started the season with, according to Baseball Prospectus.
If they were to mandate a similar Opening Day payroll for 2014, they'd have about $20 million to spend. It wouldn't be a surprise, though, if they were closer to the Opening Day payroll of 2012, which was slightly above $175 million.
The Sox will need to make decisions on four key free-agent hitters, who are all in line to receive long-term deals this winter.
Center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury will land exactly the kind of risky long-term contract the Sox are trying to stay away from, which means he's likely to depart. Mike Napoli, on the other hand, could fit into the team's plans, but there's a good chance he signs with a team that has less concern about his degenerative hip condition and is willing to offer him a three-year deal.
Shortstop Stephen Drew could get a four-year deal on the market and the Sox have impressive rookie Xander Bogaerts ready to step into his spot. Bringing back Drew isn't out of the question, but it would make Bogaerts the everyday third baseman and Will Middlebrooks would likely slide over to first. I'm guessing it's not Boston's best-case scenario.
Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia could return, but only if the Sox don't land the best catcher available—Brian McCann. With several teams looking for catching help, though, Saltalamacchia could move on if the Sox don't act quickly.
Reliever Matt Thornton will likely have his $6 million club option declined and Joel Hanrahan, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery in May and is questionable to pitch at all in 2014, could take the Brian Wilson route and audition for teams once he's back to full health.
Holes to Fill
Unlike many teams, the Sox have viable options ready to step in for each of their free agents.
Jackie Bradley Jr. could take Jacoby Ellsbury's spot or Shane Victorino could move over to center field while some combination of Mike Carp, Jonny Gomes and Daniel Nava would play the corner outfield spots. Or they could pursue an impact hitter to play a corner spot.
As previously mentioned, Xander Bogaerts would inherit the starting shortstop job should Stephen Drew depart. If Drew does re-sign, however, Bogaerts would play third base and Will Middlebrooks could take over for Mike Napoli at first base.
Should Napoli and Drew each depart, Mike Carp could be in the mix for the starting first base job.
At catcher, the Sox are in good shape with David Ross starting 30-40 percent of the time, but it's not likely that they'll rely on young catchers Ryan Lavarnway or Christian Vazquez to take on the rest of the playing time in place of Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Expect the Sox to sign one of the top catchers on the market.
Potential Free-Agent Targets
Don't expect a repeat of last offseason when the Sox signed veteran free agents Ryan Dempster, Stephen Drew, Jonny Gomes, Mike Napoli, David Ross, Koji Uehara and Shane Victorino. It won't be quiet, though, as they'll try to fill at least one or two holes if any of their key free agents sign elsewhere.
Here's a look at some potential free-agent targets.
Brian McCann, C: Jarrod Saltalamacchia was very good in 2013, but McCann is even better. He'll be expensive, but with less holes to fill this offseason, the Sox could find his contract demands manageable.
Carlos Beltran, OF: It wouldn't take more than three years to sign Beltran, and they'd have the ability to move him to the designated hitter spot in Years 2 and/or 3 of the deal as he approaches his late 30s. But they'd have to pay a hefty price, likely in the $54-60 million range.
Nelson Cruz, OF: Like Beltran, Cruz likely won't command more than a three-year deal. He'd also come much cheaper than Beltran (likely between $12-15 million per season) and he'd give the team the needed right-handed power bat in case Napoli signs elsewhere.
Jesse Crain, RP: The Sox don't need a closer and they have plenty of left-handed relief. Adding Crain to be the primary right-handed setup man, however, would be an upgrade over Junichi Tazawa and would make the Sox extremely tough to come back on late in the game.
Pitching depth is important, but it would be a surprise if the Sox went into spring training with all six of their current starters. Their pitching depth in the upper minors is amongst the best in baseball, so if there is one team that can get away with trading a starter, it's the Red Sox. Felix Doubront, who just missed the salary arbitration cutoff by two days, is the most likely pitcher to be on the move.
Here are some players they can target in a potential trade.
Yasmani Grandal, C, San Diego Padres: The Padres can get by with Nick Hundley as their starter until top prospect Austin Hedges is ready in the near future. So if the Sox are willing to give up a top prospect or two for Grandal, the Padres could be open to moving him.
Mark Trumbo, 1B/OF, Los Angeles Angels: There may not be a better match between the Sox, who could seek a right-handed hitter with power to play first base or left field, and the Angels, who are seeking young, controllable pitching. The Sox have plenty of it and the Angels are reportedly willing to trade Trumbo to get it.
Chase Headley, 3B, San Diego Padres: Losing Stephen Drew and Mike Napoli this offseason (hypothetically), means Xander Bogaerts will play shortstop. But it doesn't necessarily mean that Will Middlebrooks will be the third baseman. Trading for Headley, who has one year left of club control, would be a cost-efficient move that might allow the team to spend big to bring in a catcher or outfielder.
Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Miami Marlins: If there is a team that can put together a good enough trade package for the Marlins slugger without totally depleting their farm system, it's the Red Sox. It's a long shot, but it's worth exploring for both teams.