Reassessing Boston Red Sox's Offseason Plan and What's Next
The Boston Red Sox entered the offseason by embarking on a World Series parade through the city of Boston. When the floats came to a stop, business picked back up for the 2013 champions.
Since the start of business this winter, the Red Sox have been active. Yet due to their aversion to handing out long-term contracts, the team hasn't held a huge media gathering at Fenway Park to introduce the newest star to Red Sox faithful.
Instead, led by general manager Ben Cherington, they have used a calculated approach to building a consistent winner, eschewing sentimentality and the need to bring back the entire 2013 team for one more run at the AL East crown.
Thus far, contributors like Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jacoby Ellsbury have been allowed to walk to the highest bidder. In those cases, the Marlins and Yankees, respectively, stepped up to offer more than Boston was willing to pay.
Led by the great Koji Uehara, Boston's bullpen has an anchor. That made the decisions to non-tender Andrew Bailey and decline a $6 million option on Matt Thornton easier to swallow. Within weeks, Edward Mujica was signed and Burke Badenhop acquired to fill setup roles in front of Uehara in 2014.
Although the team will miss the extra-base power of Jarrod Saltalamacchia, signing A.J. Pierzynski made sense for both the short and long-term plans in Boston. The new Red Sox catcher will thrive in the competitive environment of the AL East.
Of course, the most vital move thus far in Boston was re-signing Mike Napoli to a two-year, $32 million contract, per MLB.com. According to FanGraphs, Napoli was worth $19.5 million in 2013, making $16 million per year a very reasonable rate for his production.
Over the next few months, Cherington and the front office in Boston will have to continue to tweak a roster that is very capable of competing for a postseason berth next season. By following the plan laid out here, the Red Sox can ensure annual success at Fenway Park.
Here's what should be next for the Boston Red Sox.
*All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference, unless otherwise noted.
Wait out Stephen Drew's Market
Technically, the Red Sox don't have a need for Stephen Drew.
As the Scott Boras client traverses through free agency, Boston can fully move on from the shortstop who helped it reach the postseason and win a World Series. Yet if Drew's market doesn't materialize the way he and Boras hope, a return to the Red Sox shouldn't be ruled out.
Despite the presence of Xander Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks at shortstop and third base, Boston has options if it chooses to bring back the 30-year-old Drew.
As Bogaerts showed in the postseason, he's capable of playing third base. That makes Middlebrooks expendable in a trade that could possibly bring Boston a useful piece elsewhere on the diamond or in the farm system.
If Drew was willing to take a two-year deal in Boston, the 21-year-old Bogaerts could man third base for the next two years before taking over as a full-time shortstop in the 2016 season. The strategy would be similar to what the Baltimore Orioles did with Manny Machado, a shortstop by trade, playing third base until J.J. Hardy's contract expires.
Middlebrooks and Bogaerts would be a young, inexpensive left side of the diamond in Boston, but concerns would persist.
If Bogaerts failed in his first attempt at a full season of major league action, few options would be available early in the season. If Middlebrooks, off a stint in the minors last summer, doesn't show more plate discipline, he'll be a flawed hitter for the foreseeable future.
The Red Sox hold all the leverage with Drew. If he is willing to return on their terms, the team would be better off with Drew, Bogaerts and Middlebrooks in a rotation on the left side or dangling Middlebrooks in a deal to improve the organization's depth.
Re-signing Drew today would be foolish, but monitoring his market has merit.
Follow the Organizational Philosophy
Last winter, the Red Sox reversed course on their team-building philosophy. Trading away long-term commitments like Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford wasn't the change; it was how the team used the money saved.
Instead of pursuing Josh Hamilton or Zack Greinke, both of whom garnered over $100 million on the open market, Boston dove into the secondary market for free agents like Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli and Koji Uehara.
The result: a World Series parade in Boston.
According to Alex Speier of WEEI in Boston, team president Larry Lucchino is planning on taking the organization in a similar direction this winter. Allowing Jacoby Ellsbury and Jarrod Saltalamacchia to leave for long-term deals shows the organization is committed to keeping contracts short.
Eschewing the asking prices, in both years and dollars, for Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann couldn't have been easy, but it was the right call.
As the rest of the market unfolds, the Red Sox should hold firm in their approach.
Chasing Masahiro Tanaka or Shin-Soo Choo would make the Red Sox a major threat to repeat as American League champions in 2014, but it could leave them cash-strapped, old and with a losing record down the line.
The Red Sox took a stand against ridiculous contracts last winter. When the dust settled, they were champions. When the same choices have to be made this year, the philosophy shouldn't be altered.
Offer Jon Lester a Long-Term Extension
When the 2013 season began in Boston, Jon Lester represented a question mark. When it ended, the 29-year-old lefty had reaffirmed his status as a building block for the franchise.
The 2012 season wasn't just bad for Jon Lester, it was the culmination of a three-year stretch in which a former star had seemingly lost his way. From 2009 to 2012, Lester's K/9 marks fell every year: 10.0, 9.7, 8.5 and 7.3.
If the Red Sox ace had continued to retire hitters at the same pace, few would have noticed. When his inability to limit runs overtook his 2012 season, questions persisted. After posting an ugly 4.82 ERA in 2012, along with that declining K/9 rate, it was fair to wonder if Lester would be with the Red Sox after the 2014 season.
Now, that question is in play for an entirely different reason.
Lester rebounded in 2013, posting the most innings of his career (213.1), raising his K/9 rate from 2013 (7.5), cracking the 3.0 WAR threshold for the fourth time and posting a SO/BB mark (2.64) reminiscent of his best days.
After dominating through October (34.2 IP, 1.56 ERA), Lester is a hero once again in Boston.
He's also on course to be one of the most sought after starting pitchers on the free-agent market next winter.
Along the path of this offseason and into spring training, the Red Sox must find out what it will take to keep their home-grown southpaw. As baseball fans see every year, the free-agent market sends prices soaring out of control. By locking up Lester now before a potentially excellent 2014, they can secure his services for a reasonable rate.
Although the team doesn't want to hand out long-term deals to free agents, Lester, under team control since the 2002 draft, should be an exception.
Since the start of the 2008 season, Lester has posted a 120 ERA-plus across 1,232 innings pitched. That figure ranks 11th among starters with 1,000 innings during the six-year span. Among the 10 pitchers above him on that list, only Jered Weaver signed a long-term deal for less than $20 million per season.
When factoring in Lester's durability, bounce-back 2013 and postseason genius, a five-year, $100 million deal should be on the table in the near future from the Red Sox.
Shop a Starting Pitcher
Starting pitching depth is vital to success, especially in the American League East.
The prospect of trading away capable starting pitching before spring training begins isn't usually a tactic used by contending teams.
Yet with the prices for free-agent starters skyrocketing by the year, the Red Sox can use their surplus of starters, from both the majors and minor leagues, to enhance their long-term viability.
According to MLB Depth Charts, the current Red Sox rotation features Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Jake Peavy and Ryan Dempster.
Behind that quintet: Felix Doubront, Brandon Workman, Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa and Anthony Ranaudo.
Boston shouldn't actively shop starters like Peavy and Ryan Dempster, but if a contending team isn't enamored with the asking prices on Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana, the surplus of Red Sox starters could be used to facilitate a deal.
According to Cot's Baseball Contracts, Peavy ($14.5 million) and Dempster ($13.25 million) are expensive options for 2014 but hold no long-term commitment. Both are free agents at the end of the 2014 season.
It seems like a major starting pitcher is lost to injury every spring training, leaving the suffering team without an attractive route to turn to on the outskirts of the free-agent market. If a trade doesn't commence before then, Boston should be on the hunt for a team it can exploit in February or March.
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