One year ago, the Boston Red Sox made a number of splashy moves during MLB's winter meetings, heralding their offseason efforts to turn a franchise from a cellar-dweller into a team that could win a World Series championship.
Outfielder Shane Victorino and first baseman Mike Napoli headlined some of Boston's transactions that offseason and helped the team earn the October accolade.
After the 2013 season, however, the Red Sox have endured a much different situation.
This offseason has seen Boston lose nearly a third of its starting lineup from last year. Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia is gone, as is All-Star outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury—both departing via free agency. Shortstop Stephen Drew could also follow the same path.
In the wake of these changes, how have the Red Sox reacted and what should fans and analysts say about the work general manager Ben Cherington has put into place as he tries to keep his team at the same competitive level that it was last year?
Let us take a look at the transactions Boston has made thus far into the offseason, using the list provided by CBS Sports.
For starters, we will not grade free-agent departures. Rather, we shall include them into the listed grading criteria if relevant. We will also stick to major leaguers.
This criterion stands as such: First, we establish the importance of each signing to the Red Sox—for example, how crucial was it for Boston to bring in Player X?
Second, we take a look at the possible impact and side effects each move may have on the team in general.
It is also worth noting that some nonmoves—like Cherington's relative inaction at the 2013 winter meetings—also need to be evaluated.
Let us take a look.
Acquiring Relievers Burke Badenhop and Edward Mujica
We all know how important it is to have quality arms coming out of the bullpen.
Thus, both of these arms are lumped into one grade as Cherington looks to maintain the dominant bullpen Boston enjoyed in 2013.
The acquisition of right-handed pitcher Burke Badenhop is one such deal—traded from the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for minor leaguer Luis Ortega.
Badenhop is especially effective against right-handed batters, owning a career .254 batting-average against. In the last two seasons, righties are hitting only .234 against him, per Ricky Doyle of NESN.com.
Burke Badenhop Brings Great Control, Adds Depth to Red Sox' Bullpen at Reasonable Price http://t.co/BooogWVnBi— NESN (@NESN) November 22, 2013
Carter Roane of Rant Sports calls the move a brilliant one, especially considering the importance of quality arms down the stretch.
The same could be said of right-handed reliever Edward Mujica, who posted a 2.78 ERA with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2013.
Mujica signed a two-year, $9.5 million deal with the Red Sox on Dec. 6 and will also look to shore up an already-effective Boston bullpen.
What makes Mujica even more special is the fact that he has closing experience, which could prove vital if incumbent closer Koji Uehara struggles or suffers an injury in 2014. He could receive additional incentives if this winds up happening, per WEEI.com.
Red Sox right-hander Edward Mujica takes physical; could earn up to $2 million in bonuses for closing http://t.co/CFaLbmMEdy— WEEI (@WEEI) December 7, 2013
As a result, Cherington and the Red Sox earn a solid grade on these combined transactions. Bullpen effectiveness and depth are too important to overlook and it appears as if Boston understands this facet well.
Signing Catcher A.J. Pierzynski
Having a catcher who can effectively handle a pitching staff is almost as critical as having quality arms on the mound.
Cherington was faced with this situation early into the offseason when former Red Sox backstop Saltalamacchia was pending departure via free agency.
At the outset, it appeared as if Boston was eager to explore additional options—being rumored as having interest in former Braves catcher, now-Yankee Brian McCann, as well as Phillies veteran Carlos Ruiz, per Doyle of NESN.
Report: Red Sox Continuing to Talk With Free-Agent Catchers Brian McCann, Carlos Ruiz, A.J. Pierzynski http://t.co/udKbv07Bw1— NESN (@NESN) November 14, 2013
Once those two options signed elsewhere, and Saltalamacchia joined the Miami Marlins, Boston's options behind the plate dried up.
As a result—and perhaps out of some desperation—Cherington inked Pierzynski to a one-year deal, per Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.
aj pierzynski, red sox agree to a deal— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) December 3, 2013
Pierzynski brings veteran presence to the Red Sox, as well as a lifetime .283 batting average. That alone is an upgrade over Saltalamacchia's seven-year career .246 batting average.
Yet Pierzynski also comes with some baggage.
In 2004, when Pierzynski was a member of the San Francisco Giants, some of his teammates referred to him as a "cancer" in the clubhouse.
Pierzynski has sinced shrugged if off, via Craig Calcaterra of NBC Sports:
[You] know, they have their right, and one of the things I was accused of was getting the other team signs. Anyone that knows me, I would never in a million years give the other team, tell the other team what’s coming.
Performance on the field aside, will Pierzynski be able to gel with the tight-knit Red Sox clubhouse in 2014? Will his negative reputation continue to be a factor?
A.J. Pierzynski Relishing Opportunity to Play for Red Sox, Says 'I'll Do Anything to Win' http://t.co/7oWGghC8kB— NESN (@NESN) December 5, 2013
Those questions will probably follow Pierzynski this season in Boston.
In addition, it is hard to overlook the fact that he will be 37 years old on Opening Day and the Red Sox are likely to pursue younger, long-term options.
As such, it makes sense that Cherington offered Pierzysnki just a one-year deal.
Still, I question this move. Perhaps Boston could have been more aggressive in some other areas. If the Pierzynski signing works out, it will be all that better for the Red Sox. If not, who knows what the ramifications will be.
Re-Signing Mike Napoli
This move, perhaps above all others, was the most crucial move Boston needed to make this offseason.
The story is well-known. First baseman Mike Napoli landed only a one-year deal in Boston after a degenerative hip condition was revealed in his physical before the 2013 season.
The ailment proved to be a nonfactor as Napoli went on to hit 23 home runs while driving in 92 RBI for the Red Sox over the season.
Napoli provides not only power and RBI potential, but he also serves as protection for Boston's biggest offensive threat—David Ortiz.
When he became a free agent after the season, one of Boston's biggest priorities was getting Napoli back.
Fortunately, they were able to do so by signing him to a two-year, $32 million contract.
This is a win-win scenario for both parties. Boston wanted him back and Napoli wanted to stay.
Napoli described how coming back was an easy decision via Alex Speier of WEEI.com:
After going through what I went through last year, it was definitely a relief just to go through this and it was easier than last year. Ultimately I’m happy to be back. I wanted to be in a place to be comfortable and in a place where I could win.
The only significant question is whether the hip condition will be a factor moving forward. Cherington felt, in the same article, that it would not be an issue and Napoli would be 100 percent healthy.
That is good news for Boston.
Napoli should continue to provide plenty of protection for Ortiz in the lineup. The Red Sox will need that moving forward.
Holding Out on Stephen Drew
This is one case where Cherington gets points for taking no action whatsoever.
Heading into the offseason, shortstop Stephen Drew was probably at the bottom of Boston's priorities and concerns with their pending free agents.
There was the need to bring back Napoli. There were the pending departures of Ellsbury and Saltalamacchia. Then there was Drew.
The first three players have all found homes in 2014. Drew is the last of those who is yet to land a spot.
One of the elements that are potentially thwarting a quick deal for Drew elsewhere is the fact that a team would likely have to give up a compensatory first-round draft pick if Drew were signed.
Drew's market is further described by Jason Mastrodonato of Masslive.com.
If Boston were to lose Drew, it would be a loss that would have plenty of silver linings. For starters, the Red Sox would likely receive a compensatory pick.
In addition, the team would also rely upon the young, and talented, Xander Bogaerts to take over the void at shortstop.
“We think we have a pretty good solution at shortstop,” Cherington said of Bogaerts via Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe.
Examining the situation from Boston's perspective, the Red Sox can afford to be patient. In the same article, Cherington entertained the possibility of Drew's return, but it is clear that the situation would be strictly on Boston's terms.
That is a good position to be in moving forward.
If Drew does return, that would likely mean Bogaerts shifts over to third base—competing for time with Will Middlebrooks. If Drew signs elsewhere, the team could get a compensatory pick and the door would be open for Bogaerts to enjoy a full-time role.
The only downside of bringing Drew back is that it could hamper the continued development of Bogaerts if he is forced into a platoon role with Middlebrooks.
Still, that is not a bad situation to be in.
Which move has been the best for Boston so far?
There is still plenty of time between the winter meetings and Opening Day in which the Red Sox could make additional moves.
It is plausible the team adds another bat this winter—perhaps someone to supplement the loss of Ellsbury.
Still, Cherington has to be satisfied with what the Red Sox have done thus far this offseason. They have not necessarily made the biggest moves, but they have certainly made a number of the right ones.
For that, the team should receive plenty of credit.
Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the Boston Red Sox. Follow him @PeterMcShots on Twitter.