Biggest Winners and Losers from Boston Red Sox's Offseason

Peter Panacy@@PeterPanacyCorrespondent IJanuary 17, 2014

Biggest Winners and Losers from Boston Red Sox's Offseason

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    General manager Ben Cherington and the Boston Red Sox have gone through a relatively quiet offseason.
    General manager Ben Cherington and the Boston Red Sox have gone through a relatively quiet offseason.Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    In the midst of a number of splashy moves made around the MLB, the Boston Red Sox have remained very quiet this offseason.

    Following its 2013 World Series crown, Boston could have been in a dire situation heading into spring training 2014.  The team had its share of free agents, including Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Napoli, Stephen Drew and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

    Two have already departed, and another may do so soon.

    The remaining free agent, Napoli, was one of the primary targets of the Red Sox this offseason. 

    In the wake of these free-agent departures—and since we're already this far into the offseason—Boston appears set to rely on its current roster with only a few minor additions from outside the organization.

    Will that work?  Only time can tell.

    While general manager Ben Cherington is likely happy with the team's chances of defending its championship, the fact remains that the Red Sox will again be faced with a tough challenge as the rest of the division—and the American League for that matter—have made significant adjustments to overtake Boston's reign.

    In this article, let us take a look at the biggest winners and losers from the Red Sox's offseason thus far.  Some guys got paid.  Others did not.  Boston is stronger in some areas while weaker in others.

Winner: Jacoby Ellsbury

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    Jacoby Ellsbury (left) inked a seven-year deal with the New York Yankees.
    Jacoby Ellsbury (left) inked a seven-year deal with the New York Yankees.Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    Following his 2013 campaign, it was a safe assumption that outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury was going to get paid this offseason.

    The only question was which team would fork out the cash.

    As things turned out, the New York Yankees were willing to front the bill, signing Ellsbury to a seven-year, $153 million contract to patrol the outfield in Yankee Stadium.

    Ellsbury joins a team that has been infused with top talent this offseason.  Other free agents, including catcher Brian McCann and outfielder Carlos Beltran, will help offset the loss of second baseman Robinson Cano and will surely have a large impact on New York's lineup.

    The Yankees' starting rotation is another matter for another time.

    Still, it is hard to overlook Ellsbury's contract, which is four times larger than fellow outfielder Brett Gardner's.

    According to Ellsbury's agent, Scott Boras, it was going to take a seven- or eight-year deal to sign him, per Rob Bradford of WEEI.com.

    That was money the Red Sox were simply not willing to deal out.

    As it stands, Ellsbury will take his career .297 batting average and 241 career stolen bases to Boston's biggest rival.

Loser: The Red Sox Outfield

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    With Ellsbury (left) gone, how will outfielders Daniel Nava (center) and Shane Victorino (right) supplement the offense?
    With Ellsbury (left) gone, how will outfielders Daniel Nava (center) and Shane Victorino (right) supplement the offense?Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    With Jacoby Ellsbury now wearing pinstripes, the Red Sox outfield is down one man who helped them win their third World Series in 10 years.

    An immediate in-house option was, and will most likely still be, the infusion of Jackie Bradley Jr. into a full-time role.

    More on Bradley later.

    Despite whatever hopes the Red Sox are pinning on Bradley, the fact remains that there will be a substantial drop-off in the wake of Ellsbury's departure.

    Early in the offseason, Boston appeared to recognize this and wanted to pursue options that may have ameliorated the loss.

    Chief among these was the pursuit of free-agent outfielder Carlos Beltran.

    Beltran and the Red Sox engaged in serious discussions, per NESN, yet the two sides were unable to come to an agreement—likely because Beltran's asking length was too much from Boston's perspective, as described by Alex Speier of WEEI.com.

    Instead, Beltran got what he wanted—a three-year, $45 million contract with the Yankees.

    Barring changes, the Red Sox outfield will employ Shane Victorino in right field, Bradley in center and combinations of Daniel Nava, Jonny Gomes and Mike Carp in left.

    Defensively, Boston may actually be better with Bradley over Ellsbury—which shall be expounded upon soon. 

    Still, it is hard to overlook this potential lack of production from the outfield, and this may be one of the Red Sox's significant handicaps in 2014.

Winner: Jackie Bradley Jr.

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    Jackie Bradley Jr. will likely enter 2014 as the Red Sox's starting center fielder.
    Jackie Bradley Jr. will likely enter 2014 as the Red Sox's starting center fielder.Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    It is time to focus on Jacoby Ellsbury's immediate replacement—Jackie Bradley Jr.

    To say that Bradley's prospects at the big league level inspire confidence is one thing.  Saying that will happen in 2014 is another.

    There is no overlooking the fact that Bradley is one of the top prospects within the Red Sox organization.  According to Baseball Prospectus, Bradley is ranked as Boston's No. 3 prospect and is a shoe-in to have a significant impact in the near future.

    Yet fans caught a glimpse of what Bradley may be like initially during the 2013 season, where Bradley hit a lowly .189 with a .280 on-base percentage.

    While those numbers are by no means an indication of what Bradley's career will likely become, they do warrant a sense of caution about this upcoming year.

    Bradley will certainly endure a period of adjustment in what will probably be his first full season at the big league level.

    Can he handle the pressure?

    Jim Callis of MLB.com thinks he can, as he stated via WEEI.com:

    I think Jackie’s ceiling is pretty high.  I think he’s a potential Gold Glove center fielder.  I think he’s going to be a high on-base guy.  And I think he’s going to be a 10-15 home run guy.  He’s not going to steal as many bases as Jacoby but in the long run I think he can have a higher on-base percentage than Jacoby.  And with the exception of that one 32-home run year, he might have a little more pop than Jacoby.  I know this sounds crazy, and it’s not a lock, but I think he can be a better player than Jacoby Ellsbury in the long run.

    The key words in Callis' comment? 

    Long run.

    Bradley may frustrate some Sox fans this season while he adjusts to life at the big league level.

    So why is he a winner?

    That is simple enough to answer.  Bradley is being given the chance to showcase his talents and earn his accolades without the pressure of having to compete for a starting job.

    This could change over the course of the season, yet the fact remains that Boston is fully confident in Bradley becoming the type of player Callis think he can be. 

    He has the opportunity.  All Bradley needs to do is seize it.

     

Loser: The Red Sox's Leadoff Slot

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    Shane Victorino will likely take over as Boston's leadoff hitter in 2014.
    Shane Victorino will likely take over as Boston's leadoff hitter in 2014.Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

    Here is another slide directly related to both Jacoby Ellsbury and Jackie Bradley Jr.

    Is it getting redundant?  Perhaps, but one cannot overlook the significance of Ellsbury's departure and Bradley's subsequent promotion.

    Bradley may very well be Boston's leadoff hitter in future years.  He is an excellent on-base guy and should have no problem setting up the offense for the bigger bats behind him in coming seasons, per Andrew Martin of Yahoo! Sports.

    Yet to say that Bradley will assume this role in 2013 is pushing expectations upon him a little too soon.

    Still, Bradley is listed by Martin as one of three potential leadoff hitters the Red Sox may employ in 2014, the other two being Shane Victorino and Daniel Nava.

    Out of those three, Victorino appears to be the front-runner in this competition, which may not be totally decided until Opening Day.

    Victorino does have plenty of experience leading off from his tenure with the Philadelphia Phillies.

    Red Sox manager John Farrell hinted that Victorino or Nava are prime candidates, via Ricky Doyle of NESN.com:

    A couple of guys quickly come to mind.  Obviously, it’s [Victorino] and it’s Nava.  Both guys hit in the leadoff spot sparingly this past year.  We’re not going to replace 50-something stolen bases by Jacoby, so I think the biggest thing is who’s our best on-base percentage guy, to keep that individual in front of [Dustin Pedroia], David [Ortiz] and [Mike Napoli].  Those are the two guys that quickly come to mind right now.

    While Victorino is a nice option to have atop Boston's lineup in 2014, there is still a considerable concern regarding the drop-off in production.

    At 33 years old, Victorino is no longer the speedster he once was—21 steals in 2013 compared to 39 the year before—and the absence of his bat from deeper within Boston's lineup may cause additional problems.

    This facet was pointed out by Rob Bradford of WEEI.com who wrote:

    The Red Sox have said they prioritize on-base percentage in their leadoff spot.  [Not] only were the Sox tops in the American League for OBP in the lineup's top spot, but with Ellsbury the likelihood was that if he got on first, second wasn't going to be far behind.  Now it will primarily most likely be a combination of Victorino and Nava.  Probably good enough, but undoubtedly different.  In 140 plate appearances by leadoff men not named Ellsbury the Red Sox totaled three stolen bases in '13.

    It is as simple as this—the Red Sox's leadoff situation may be fine in 2014, but it will be nowhere as good as it was the year before.

Winner: Boston's Pitching Staff

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    Jon Lester enters a contract year in 2014.
    Jon Lester enters a contract year in 2014.David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    If Boston's leadoff situation is something to be concerned about in 2014, one element that does not cause concern is its formidable pitching.

    Pitching, both out of the rotation and the bullpen, is a primary reason behind the Red Sox's success in 2013.

    If divisional rivals' offenses got stronger during the offseason, Boston's pitching staff certainly did not get any weaker.

    In 2013, the Red Sox enjoyed a team 3.79 ERA with a 1.30 WHIP.

    The starting rotation, led by ace of the staff Jon Lester, is talented and deep—potentially having six guys who can start over the course of the season.

    One can never have too much pitching.

    Boston's venerable bullpen also received reinforcements thanks to the additions of relievers Burke Badenhop and Edward Mujica.

    Let us get back to the starting rotation for a moment.

    Lester will enter the final year of his five-year, $30 million contract in 2014.  While Lester and the Red Sox have not yet discussed a contract extension, per Ricky Doyle of NESN, it is reasonable to assume that Lester will earn high in 2015.

    A good indication of that is the seven-year, $215 million contract just offered to Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw.

    That alone should supply Lester with plenty of motivation to perform well in his contract year, and subsequently well if an extension is offered.

    Another starter who should post solid numbers in 2014 is righty John Lackey.

    After missing 2012 because of Tommy John surgery, Lackey rebounded nicely in 2013 and capped off his comeback during the postseason.

    As stated by Andrew Martin of Yahoo! Sports, Lackey is a workhorse and is slated to become one of the more improved players on Boston's roster in 2014.

    These are all reasons to presume the Red Sox pitching staff in 2014 will be just as effective as it was last year.

     

Winner: Mike Napoli

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    Mike Napoli will stay with the Red Sox through 2015.
    Mike Napoli will stay with the Red Sox through 2015.Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Bringing first baseman Mike Napoli back to the Red Sox had to be one of Ben Cherington's top priorities this offseason.

    The reason is simple: Napoli provides the lineup protection necessary to keep David Ortiz from getting the "four-finger salute."

    Napoli's story with the Red Sox is well-known.  After initially signing a three-year deal before 2013, a degenerative hip condition forced Napoli to settle on a one-year contract.

    The hip condition proved to be a non-factor as Napoli went on to post 23 home runs and a career-best 92 RBI in 2013.

    After the season was over, Napoli made it clear that he wanted to come back, as described by Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com.

    "Ultimately, it came down, I told my agent [Brian Grieper], 'I want to come back to Boston and play there,'" Napoli said.

    The only question was whether or not another team could lure Napoli away.

    As it turned out, Napoli stayed and got the type of contract he wanted—two years for $32 million.

    Not a bad payday.

    Napoli will continue his role as Boston's first baseman and primary protectorate of Ortiz in the Red Sox lineup.  He will also continue to be an excellent clubhouse personality and team leader.

    Nothing wrong with Napoli being a winner here.

Loser: Stephen Drew

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    Stephen Drew's days in Boston appear all but over.
    Stephen Drew's days in Boston appear all but over.Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY

    While the Red Sox were intent on bringing Mike Napoli back, the same does not appear to be true for shortstop Stephen Drew.

    Drew is a loser on this list mostly because of his situation.

    For starters, if Drew signs elsewhere, Boston would receive a compensatory first-round pick—something that has surely thwarted the interest from other teams around the league.

    Despite reports that the Red Sox were interested in retaining Drew, Boston is in a perfect position to move forward without his services.

    This is thanks, in large part, to the blossoming of another Red Sox prospect—Xander Bogaerts.

    More on Bogaerts later.

    Drew, who hit .253 in 2013 with a .777 OPS, appears to be the odd man out in Boston's future plans.

    Further complicating Drew's desire to land a sizeable contract is the fact that his agent is Scott Boras—an agent known for getting the majority of his players large deals.

    There has been zero discussion between general manager Ben Cherington and Boras since the holidays, per ESPNBoston, and Cherington noted the lack of interaction by saying:

    We've kept a dialogue going, and frankly haven't had a conversation in a little while now.  It was probably just before the holidays.  I don't have any doubt that Stephen has opportunities out there.  He's a good player.  He's a healthy player.  He's going to be someone's shortstop this year.

    He will likely not be Boston's shortstop, however.

    What this means is pretty simple.  Boston is perfectly content to move on without Drew.  It has made that clear.

    Furthermore, the market on Drew is drying up thanks to the compensatory pick associated with signing him.

    Drew will assuredly find a job in 2014, although the lack of definitive interest indicates just how little attention Drew is drawing from around the league.

     

Winner: Xander Bogaerts

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    Xander Bogaerts should anchor the left side of Boston's infield for years to come.
    Xander Bogaerts should anchor the left side of Boston's infield for years to come.Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

    Let the Xander Bogaerts era in Boston begin.

    Well, it has already begun thanks to his impressive performance during the 2013 postseason—hitting .296 in 34 postseason plate appearances.

    There are plenty of reasons to like what Bogaerts may amount to.  His ranking as the No. 1 prospect within the Red Sox organization according to Baseball America speaks volumes to his potential.

    Oh, and he was ranked as the No. 4 overall prospect according to the same midseason report last year.

    Listing all the reasons why Red Sox fans should be excited about Bogaerts would make this slide far too long for an easy read. 

    Instead, let us check out what general manager Ben Cherington said about him, via MLB.com:

    I mean, he certainly looks like he's ready to play in the big leagues.  We've obviously thought very highly of him for a long time.  You don't know exactly when the stage is going to arrive, but he looked very comfortable on it when he got on it.  We're glad he's on our side.

    Signs point to a premium role for Bogaerts in 2014.

    Let us evaluate the what-ifs. 

    If the Red Sox elect to sign Stephen Drew, Bogaerts would likely be forced into a platoon role at third base alongside Will Middlebrooks.  This was the scenario late last year and into the postseason.

    If Drew signs elsewhere, the door is open for Bogaerts to enjoy a full-time role in Boston as the team's primary shortstop.

    Much like Jackie Bradley Jr., Bogaerts now has the perfect opportunity to showcase his talents over the course of a full season. 

    While nothing at the big league level is guaranteed, Bogaerts is in an excellent position to thrive in this new role and become a future star in the Red Sox organization.  

Losers: Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ryan Lavarnway

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    Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia goes from a first-place franchise to a cellar-dweller.
    Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia goes from a first-place franchise to a cellar-dweller.David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

    Readers can get a doubleheader of catching losers here.

    Okay, so former Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia is technically not a loser after inking a three-year, $21 million contract with the Miami Marlins over the offseason.

    That was money Boston was not willing to spend, nor was it the length of contract the Red Sox were interested in for the seven-year veteran backstop.

    Yet Saltalamacchia goes from being a World Series champion to a last-place Marlins team that is in the depths of failure and frustration.

    Sure, the Marlins have some talent—Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez stand out as Miami's top players—but there are few reasons to think that the Marlins will be anything better in 2014 within the NL East.

    While Saltalamacchia will enjoy being close to his native home of West Palm Beach, it is difficult for any player to go from a premier franchise to a cellar-dweller. 

    Another more significant loser is catcher Ryan Lavarnway.

    Lavarnway, who was drafted in the sixth round of the 2008 amateur draft, has seen the majority of his major league tenure in a backup role.

    While flashing some promise in 2013—hitting .299 with a .758 OPS in 82 plate appearances—it is safe to assume that Lavarnway's chances of breaking into a prominent role in Boston are coming to a close. 

    He has spent considerable time at the Red Sox's Triple-A affiliate in each of the last three seasons.

    After the Red Sox inked veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski to a one-year contract, and appear to have a continued reliance upon David Ross as the positional backup, Lavarnway seems destined for the team's scrapheap.

    Also thwarting Lavarnway's chances is the fact that the Red Sox are likely to develop catching prospects like Blake Swihart to take over as the eventual starting catcher in coming years.

    A major concern about Lavarnway is his defensive liability, something the Red Sox have certainly not overlooked.

    As pointed out by Rob Bradford of WEEI.com, the best plausible scenario is for Boston to find another spot for Lavarnway to call home.

Winner: Ben Cherington

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    Ben Cherington has done tremendous work with the Red Sox during his tenure.
    Ben Cherington has done tremendous work with the Red Sox during his tenure.Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

    Could general manager Ben Cherington have done more to improve the Red Sox this offseason?

    Perhaps.

    Should he have made more moves?

    Perhaps not.

    If the phrase "don't mess with prosperity" has any meaning, Cherington needs to receive plenty of credit for turning this Red Sox franchise around.  No wonder he received The Sporting News' MLB Executive of the Year Award in 2013.

    It worked that season.  Can it work again in 2014?

    That remains to be seen.

    Christopher Smith of the Eagle-Tribune describes Cherington's approach this offseason:

    Thus far, Cherington has forgone signing any big-name free agents to longterm deals.  He has added depth to the bullpen.  He re-signed first baseman Mike Napoli and continues to place top value on building a roster with high character players who all want to play in Boston.

    Cherington also recognized the benefits of not overpaying players like Jacoby Ellsbury and Stephen Drew with expensive contracts.

    That money will be best spent elsewhere.

    Instead, Cherington continues his focus on the more subtle attributes to building a championship franchise—solid pitching, good defense and players with good character.

    They may not be the splashiest of moves, but they are the right ones.

    Cherington is also opening the door for young talent to take on premier roles with the organization in coming years.  While players like Jackie Bradley Jr. and Xander Bogaerts may not necessarily thrive instantly, there are few reasons to assume they will not become cornerstones in the coming seasons.

    As such, it is safe to assume that Cherington is working towards building a dynasty made from a solid core of talent instead of trying to put together a team of high-priced free agents.

    Yes, Cherington could have been more active, but only if the situation was right for the Red Sox.

    He has used great discretion thus far in determining what works best for this team.  There is no reason to assume that same formula will not work again in 2014 and the years to follow.

     

    All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise indicated.  Contractual information courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts.

     

    Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the Boston Red Sox.  Follow him @PeterMcShots on Twitter.