Boston Red Sox: An Early Free-Agency and Offseason Primer

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Boston Red Sox: An Early Free-Agency and Offseason Primer
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
Koji Uehara has struggled of late, will he be back in Boston in 2015?

The Boston Red Sox are all but mathematically eliminated from the playoff race and are now setting their sights on next year.  Boston began a massive reconstruction by dealing away a number of players at the July 31 trade deadline, but there is still much work to be done this offseason.  Here are three of the most glaring issues the club must address heading into 2015.

 

An Overabundance of Outfielders

With the signing of Cuban star Rusney Castillo, the Red Sox could have as many as eight players competing for outfield positions next season: Castillo, Yoenis Cespedes, Allen Craig, Shane Victorino, Daniel Nava, Brock Holt, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts.

The 21-year-old Betts may not be ready to be a full-time big leaguer just yet, and Boston could also shift him back to the infield—the former second baseman only began playing in the outfield a few months ago.  Similarly, Holt has taken the field at every position besides pitcher and catcher in 2014 but is an infielder by nature.

That still leaves six players vying for three starting outfield spots, so it seems quite likely that trades will be made.  Victorino recently spoke with WEEI's Rob Bradford on the possibility that he could be playing somewhere else in 2015:

I mean, obviously, you look at what’s starting to happen. With the signing of Castillo, I mean, obviously, with that contract, he’s going to play every day. Cespedes is going to play every day. Where are you going to factor in everybody else? Like I said, I still have every intention in my mind to be the right fielder every day. I have no desire to be anything else. But, as I said, we all understand that this is a business...I don’t care what uniform I put on. Honestly, I have every intention to being the right fielder in Boston. That’s my mindset, I’m focused on that, but who knows what the front office has in mind.

Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com suggests Cespedes, along with Bradley Jr. or Betts and a top minor league prospect or two, could be used in a blockbuster deal this winter. Edes writes,

The Sox may be better-positioned than most to match up with the Miami Marlins should they elect to trade 24-year-old slugger Giancarlo Stanton this winter.

Or, should Boston choose, put together a package for White Sox left-hander Chris Sale. Or -- don't laugh -- perhaps both.

The idea of moving Cespedes, the back-to-back Home Run Derby winner, to acquire a potential ace makes sense given Boston's starting pitching situation at the moment.

 

The Lack of Established Major League Starting Pitching

With Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront all shipped out of town at the deadline, Clay Buchholz is now the only Red Sox starter with more than two full years of major league experience.  In the month of August, Boston has started four different pitchers (Brandon Workman, Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster and Anthony Ranaudo) who've spent significant time in Triple-A this season.  

Looking ahead to next year, The Boston Globe's Chad Finn writes:

All we know right now regarding the Red Sox' collection of young arms is this:

They are set up to make a trade. They almost have to make a trade.

There are opportunities obviously in the big league rotation, but the Red Sox will not go with four kids and the ghost of Clay Buchholz. Even with the certain attrition among supposed pitching prospects, there is organizational redundancy now. They can trade for a top-of-the-rotation starter without draining the farm system to the point that there isn't enough left to go get an elite slugger (if only if I could come up with a name) when one becomes available.


Finn and ESPN's Buster Olney (subscription required) are among the number of writers who expect the Philadelphia Phillies' Cole Hamels to be a prime target for Boston in the offseason.

Rather than dealing for a top starter, the Red Sox could elect to pursue one via free agency instead.  The two biggest names on the market are Max Scherzer and Lester, the latter publicly stating that he would be open to returning to Boston.  James Shields and Ervin Santana are nice alternatives who will be available as well.

Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Don't be surprised to see the Red Sox also bring in a lower-priced free agent who can add a veteran presence in the middle or back end of the rotation.  Some intriguing possibilities include Edinson Volquez, Jason Hammel, Jorge De La Rosa and Justin Masterson, who began his career in Boston.

Besides getting their starting pitching sorted out, the Red Sox also have uncertainty with their closer.

 

What to do with Koji Uehara?

Koji Uehara is the only player of significance on the Red Sox roster who will be a free agent this offseason.  When Uehara survived the carnage at the trade deadline, it was assumed that the 39-year-old fit into Boston's plans for 2015.  Tim Britton of the Providence Journal explains:

The Red Sox could consider extending a qualifying offer to Uehara this winter in an attempt to lock him in for one more season. While the price — which projects to be just over $15 million — would be very high for a closer, Boston should have the financial room for it and has shown a willingness to pay more upfront in exchange for shorter-term deals.

Extending the qualifying offer to Uehara would seriously depress the number of suitors for the closer, as few teams would figure to be willing to sacrifice a draft pick for a 40-year-old reliever.

This appeared to be the right move at the end of July, as Uehara was cruising along through his second consecutive dominant season as the Red Sox's closer.  However, Uehara has not been the same pitcher lately.

His ERA for the month stands at 5.56, and he's given up at least one hit in nine of 12 appearances.  Uehara's August WHIP is 1.59, almost double his career number of 0.84.  In his last three outings, the reliever has recorded two losses and two blown saves.

Elise Amendola/Associated Press

These numbers reflect a small sample size, and they may just be an anomaly rather than a sign of Uehara's decline.  But they have to give the Red Sox cause for concern as to whether or not extending the $15 million qualifying offer for next year is a smart decision.  Should it choose not to, Boston could be able to retain Uehara for significantly less but then would also run a much greater risk of him signing elsewhere.

Having grown accustomed to success with three World Series titles in the past decade, the Red Sox will certainly go to great lengths to bounce back strong in 2015.  Considering the current state of the team, Boston fans can look forward to a very eventful offseason.

 

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com, with contract information via Spotrac.com.

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