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Breaking Down the Boston Red Sox 2014 Offseason Thus Far

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Breaking Down the Boston Red Sox 2014 Offseason Thus Far
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
General manager Ben Cherington has the Red Sox moving through a relatively quiet offseason.

Saying the Boston Red Sox have had a quiet offseason thus far into 2014 is an understatement.

To be frank, the Red Sox have not exactly been active in targeting some of the high-profile free agents who have been available during the offseason.

We do know some of the significant moves Boston's general manager Ben Cherington has made thus far—re-signing first baseman Mike Napoli, bringing in some bullpen help, signing veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski and adding outfielder Grady Sizemore.

But when compared to some other teams' transactions this offseason—like those of the New York Yankees—the Red Sox's offseason plans certainly cannot be described as splashy.

The lack of action may also indicate to some, like The Boston Globe writer Christopher L. Gasper, that the Red Sox are doing too little this offseason.

So what can we make of all this?

As Boston's chief rival enjoys an offseason full of additions, the Red Sox have been far less aggressive.  Is this a cause for concern?  Perhaps, but it may also be an indication that Cherington is happy with the product Boston will put on the field in 2014.


Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
Jacoby Ellsbury signed a seven-year deal with the Yankees this offseason.

The Subtractions

Goodbye Jacoby Ellsbury.  Goodbye Jarrod Saltalamacchia.  Goodbye (most likely) Stephen Drew.

In hindsight, it was almost a foregone conclusion that Ellsbury would sign elsewhere after the 2013 season.  Eventually commanding a seven-year, $153 million deal with the Yankees, Ellsbury's departure to the team's chief rival looks much like the transaction that befell Johnny Damon years before.

More on that rivalry later.

That was money Boston had no interest in spending.  It also goes against almost everything that Cherington has practiced with this team over recent seasons—short-term, higher-priced contracts that do not inhibit the Red Sox's abilities to make future moves.

The same could be said of former Red Sox catcher Saltalamacchia, who joined the Miami Marlins on a three-year, $21 million contract.

The last of those key free agents, Drew, has yet to find a new home.  Indications are that Drew will not return to Boston, as pointed out by CSN New England Red Sox Insider Sean McAdam.

None of these were players Cherington was willing to sign to long-term deals.  As a result, they will move on.

So how can the Red Sox react?

First, one cannot overlook the in-house options Boston plans on utilizing in 2014. 

Chief among these is the emergence of infielder Xander Bogaerts, who is ranked as Boston's No. 1 prospect, according to Baseball America.

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Xander Bogaerts will likely fill the void left by the potential departure of Stephen Drew.

Bogaerts, who hit .296 with a .893 OPS in the postseason last year, is the primary beneficiary of Drew's pending departure. 

All signs point to Bogaerts being the real deal―perfectly capable of handling the reigns of being a starting shortstop.

This was described further by former Red Sox AAA manager Gary DiSarcina, who stated via Alex Speier of WEEI.com:

The one thing I really looked at with Xander was the ability to play the game in the sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth innings defensively.  What I loved about him is he stayed calm in the field, he made the plays.  He’s a little unconventional—he’s a narrow-based infielder, he’s tall, he’s going to be a big kid, he’s still growing. He’s got a great arm, he’s got great hand-eye coordination.  I’m excited for Xander to have that resource around for all of spring training.  I think leave him out there until he plays himself off the position, and I see no indication of that.

There are few reasons to assume Boston will be worse off with Bogaerts moving forward.

Yet it is a little tougher to assume the same with the Red Sox's future hopes in center field.  With Ellsbury gone, the job is Jackie Bradley Jr.'s to lose.

Ranked as the No. 3 prospect in the Red Sox organization by Baseball America, it is hard to assume Bradley will not play a vital role in Boston's future for years to come.

Will that happen in 2014, however?

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Jackie Bradley Jr. may endure a period of adjustment at the big league level.

Early indications from Bradley's limited 2013 campaign suggest that he may go through a period of adjustment at the big league level.  In 107 plate appearances last season, Bradley hit a mere .189 with a .617 OPS. 

Those numbers alone suggest Bradley has some tough days ahead of him.

What is promising, however, is that Bradley appears to have a very high ceiling—something that was pointed out by Jim Callis of MLB.com, 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.  I actually think, he’s not as fast as Jacoby Ellsbury, but I don’t think there’s really any question, I think he’s a better defender than Jacoby Ellsbury—and Jacoby’s pretty good.  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.

It is clear that the Red Sox are staking their hopes on Bradley moving forward.  After all, what is the use of having top prospects if they are not utilized in a substantial role?

The only question is whether Bradley will be able to grasp the pressure of being a full-time center fielder in 2014.  There were some indications of struggle last year, and the possibility of him having more growing pains in 2014 is highly plausible.

Boston seems well aware of this and addressed the need for a veteran center fielder by signing Sizemore.  More on him shortly.

Also pertinent to the Red Sox's plans for success in 2014 was the need for a backstop to replace Saltalamacchia behind the plate.

 

Tom Pennington/Getty Images
A.J. Pierzysnki will take over behind the plate for the Red Sox in 2014.

The Additions

With Salty gone, Cherington turned to Pierzynski to take over the starting job at catcher—signing him to a one-year, $8.25 million deal.

The deal makes sense in a variety of ways.  First, the Red Sox are indicating that top catching prospect Blake Swihart will not be ready for the majors in 2014.

Second, the one-year deal is typical of what Cherington likes to do—short contracts, even if the money spent, in terms of per-year average, is higher than long-term deals.  If Pierzynski works out (he owns a lifetime .283 batting average and .850 OPS), Boston will be the primary beneficiary.  If he does not work out, the one-year deal makes the transaction a little easier to swallow and gives Swihart another year to develop.

Lastly, any indication of Pierzynski's clubhouse "issues" appear to be moot, as pointed out by Red Sox outfielder Jonny Gomes, via Ricky Doyle of NESN.com:

I’ve played against him a whole lot, and he’s a good dude.  He’s a champ.  His background’s well-documented.  I think he’s one of those guys, people talk about hating to play against him, but his teammates got his back all the time.  I think what’s kind of unique about how fast it happened is that this Red Sox clubhouse—Red Sox style of play—I think was stamped last year.  You can’t be a bad apple and come into this clubhouse.

It is hard to fathom Pierzynski's negative reputation being a factor in 2014.

What should be a factor is the addition of two quality arms to Boston's already venerable bullpen—Burke Badenhop and Edward Mujica.

Badenhop owns a lifetime 3.98 ERA over six seasons but has been most effective the last two.  Opposing righties hit only .229 against him in 163 plate appearances last season.

Mujica is also a reliable commodity, having closed for the St. Louis Cardinals for a sizable portion of the 2013 season.

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Reliever Burke Badenhop adds depth to Boston's bullpen.

While bullpen arms rarely generate any significant buzz during an offseason, one cannot overlook the importance of having quality relievers.  After all, how many games can be won, or lost, in the late innings?

The addition of utility infielder Jonathan Herrera also gives Boston some added flexibility.

The last significant addition from Cherington came when he signed Sizemore to a one-year, $750,000 deal plus incentives. 

Earlier this month, I wrote a piece describing three things Boston needed to do this offseason.  One of them was finding an insurance policy for Bradley.

After signing Sizemore, the Red Sox appear to have accomplished this.

Nick Laham/Getty Images
Grady Sizemore adds further competition to the Red Sox outfield.

Yet Sizemore does not come without concerns.  Yes, there are those, like Nick Cafardo from The Boston Globe, who would argue that Sizemore was Ellsbury before Ellsbury was Ellsbury.

Still, one cannot overlook Sizemore's injury problems.  He missed both 2012 and 2013 due to various ailments and is five seasons removed from his last full season without significant injury.

While he is a lifetime .269 hitter, questions surrounding his durability cannot be avoided.

But the Red Sox are likely not banking on him being the starting center fielder in 2014.  The only way for him to guarantee that role is if Bradley's eventual struggles are far too compounded for Boston to overlook.

As such, look at Sizemore as an insurance policy and nothing more.

 

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
Outfielder Carlos Beltran was a hot target this offseason, eventually landing in New York.

The Contrast

It is impossible to gauge the Red Sox's offseason actions without taking a look at their chief rivals—the Yankees.

With New York having inked a plethora of star players, including Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann—along with landing Japanese star pitcher Masahiro Tanaka—one might easily speculate that the Yankees won the offseason battle of addition.

The Yankees are, once again, looking like the Yankees after spending plenty of cash and signing players to lengthy contracts.  They have the money and are using it.

Still, in the opinion of this author, New York's starting rotation remains suspect after Tanaka—an unproven major league commodity—and CC Sabathia.

Koji Watanabe/Getty Images
The Red Sox stayed out of the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes. Tanaka eventually signed with the Yankees.

Pitching wins championships after all, and the Red Sox can boast plenty of that.

As far as the offense is concerned, the Red Sox look as though they are starting the phase of getting younger, which has been indicated by their apparent reliance upon young stars like Bogaerts and Bradley. 

Yes, they have brought in some older veterans, but these pieces should merely be viewed as supplementary and temporary.

While the Yankees appear to be reliant upon star-studded offense in 2014, the Red Sox will once again bank on Cherington's formula.  It paid off in 2013.

 

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Boston will pin a lot of its hopes on Bogaerts.

The Conclusion

Boston will still have plenty of questions moving forward into spring training and the 2014 regular season. 

Aside from talks of extending long-term contracts for players like Jon Lester—and more recently, those about David OrtizCherington's formula of short-term contracts appears to be paying off. 

Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Cherington has focused more on short-term contracts than long-term deals.

There will be some drop-off in a number of areas, most notably from the Red Sox leadoff position.  Bradley and Bogaerts will likely go through some growing pains this season, and the production, so potent offensively last year, may be slightly hindered in 2014.

Still, it is impossible to overlook the fact that Boston has most of its chips in place for the upcoming season.  The starting rotation is set, and the bullpen has been reinforced.  Defensively, the Red Sox should remain solid. 

Say it again—pitching and defense win championships.

Boston's offseason additions will not likely sell more jerseys or generate the same amount of hype that the Yankees have generated.

The moves were neither splashy, nor blockbuster.  They did not have to be.

It is a league where the biggest moves are not necessarily the best ones.  Cherington has proven that before and hopes to do so again.

All that remains is seeing how it all pans out.

 

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

 

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

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