There was expected to be some changes in Boston this coming season, with a handful of key contributors from last season's World Series-winning roster hitting the free-agent market and not all of them expected to be retained.
The biggest of their group of free agents was undoubtedly center fielder and leadoff hitter Jacoby Ellsbury. He found a new home on Tuesday night when he signed a seven-year, $153 million deal with the rival New York Yankees.
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports first reported that the two sides were nearing a seven-year deal, while it was Mark Feinsand of The New York Daily News that first broke that the deal was for $153 million:
The seven-year, $142 million deal that Carl Crawford signed with the Red Sox prior to the 2011 season was pointed to as a potential target for Ellsbury and agent Scott Boras to shoot for, and in the end, they were able to eclipse that mark by $11 million.
The question now is: where do the Red Sox go from here? They were expected to lose Ellsbury this offseason, but not to their biggest rivals, and they could look to make a similar splash in response in order to keep pace.
With a rotation that is essentially set and a solid back end of the bullpen, any significant move the team were to make as a counter measure would likely be to the lineup.
So first, lets take a look at how the Red Sox lineup would potentially look if the season were to start today:
|Potential 2014 Red Sox Lineup, as of Dec. 4|
|RF Shane Victorino||122 G, .294/.351/.451, 26 2B, 15 HR, 61 RBI, 82 R|
|SS Xander Bogaerts||18 G, .250/.320/.364, 2 2B, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 7 R|
|2B Dustin Pedroia||160 G, .301/.372/.415, 42 2B, 9 HR, 84 RBI, 91 R|
|DH David Ortiz||137 G, .309/.395/.564, 38 2B, 30 HR, 103 RBI, 84 R|
|LF Jonny Gomes||116 G, .247/.344/.426, 17 2B, 13 HR, 52 RBI, 49 R|
|C A.J. Pierzynski||134 G, .272/.297/.425, 24 2B, 17 HR, 70 RBI, 48 R|
|1B Mike Carp||86 G, .296/.362/.523, 18 2B, 9 HR, 43 RBI, 34 R|
|3B Will Middlebrooks||94 G, .227/.271/.425, 18 2B, 17 HR, 49 RBI, 41 R|
|CF Jackie Bradley Jr.||37 G, .189/.280/.337, 5 2B, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 18 R|
The team already addressed one area of need at the catcher position, signing A.J. Pierzynski to a one-year, $8.25 million deal. He replaces the departed Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who signed a three-year, $21 million contract with the Miami Marlins, per the AP (h/t USA Today).
That leaves their biggest remaining hole at first base, where re-signing Mike Napoli to a long-term deal looks like the best option by far. Re-upping with the slugger was pointed to as their No. 1 priority by Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe back in mid-November.
The 32-year-old ranked second on the team in home runs and RBI last season and provided a much-needed right-handed power bat to slot behind David Ortiz in the lineup. Something like the three-year, $39 million deal he originally agreed to before failing a physical last offseason seems reasonable.
Once Napoli is signed, that leaves two potential areas where the team could look to make a significant addition to their lineup: center field and third base.
Jackie Bradley Jr. broke camp with the Red Sox last season, as Jonny Gomes slid to DH and David Ortiz opened the season on the disabled list, but Bradley struggled to find his footing and wound up spending most of the season in the minors.
The 23-year-old hit .275/.374/.469 with 26 doubles, 10 home runs and 35 RBI over 320 at-bats for Triple-A Pawtucket last season. He has been viewed as the heir apparent to Ellsbury since being taken with the No. 40 overall pick in the 2011 draft, but there are certainly still some questions about his ability to step into an everyday role.
Moving Shane Victorino to center field and starting Daniel Nava in right field is another in-house option the team could consider if they don't feel Bradley is ready.
After hitting .288/.325/.509 with 15 home runs and 54 RBI over 267 at-bats as a rookie in 2012, Will Middlebrooks was viewed as a prime candidate for a breakout season heading into 2013.
Instead, he hit just .192/.228/.389 with nine home runs and 25 RBI through June 20, and he then found himself demoted to the minors.
He returned on Aug. 10 and served as the team's everyday third baseman the rest of the way, hitting .276/.329/.476 with eight home runs and 24 RBI over his final 41 games.
The 25-year-old certainly has the talent to be an impact bat at the hot corner, but after a poor showing in the playoffs and a rough start to the 2013 season, the team could certainly consider third base as a potential area to upgrade.
Potential Impact Targets
Sign Shin-Soo Choo
Most viewed Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo as No. 1 and 1A among the top outfielders on the free-agent market, so the obvious way for the Red Sox to counter the Ellsbury signing would be to sign Choo.
He could fill the leadoff spot in the team's lineup, and while he is not the defensive player or base-stealer that Ellsbury is, he brings some added power and better on-base skills to the team's offensive attack.
The 31-year-old will likely command a similar contract to the one Ellsbury received, though he could wind up signing on a six-year deal and for slightly less money when all is said and done.
Sign Carlos Beltran
The Yankees have been hot on the trail of Carlos Beltran all offseason, though his insistence on securing a third year has been a sticking point for a number of teams pursuing him to this point.
Even with the Ellsbury signing, the Yankees could still go after Beltran, either slotting him in the DH spot or even moving Ichiro Suzuki into the fourth outfielder spot after he continued to decline this past season.
Beltran would be a welcome addition to the middle of the Red Sox lineup, though adding him would mean moving Shane Victorino to center field, which would hurt the team's outfield defense. Still, it would be a nice pickup in direct competition with the Yankees.
Trade for Chase Headley
Had the Padres opted to trade Chase Headley last offseason—when he was fresh off of a blistering second half to the 2012 season in which he hit .308/.386/.592 with 23 home runs and 73 RBI in 75 games—he likely would have landed them a king's ransom.
Instead, they opted to hold onto him with the intent of re-signing the slugger if he matched his 2012 output. That didn't happen, however, as he hit just .250/.347/.400 with 13 home runs and 50 RBI this past season. Now, he'll come at a much lower price via trade.
The Padres may wind up holding onto him and hoping his value is higher come June, but for the right price, one would have to think they'd move the free-agent-to-be this offseason. If he were to produce somewhere between what he did in the second half of 2012 and last season, he'd still be one of the more productive third baseman in the league.
So while the Red Sox certainly won't look to make a move "just to make one" in the wake of the Yankees signing Ellsbury, these are three players they could look to acquire that would make sense for the team and at the same time send a message that they have every intention of repeating as AL East champs.