So far this offseason, no team has been the subject of more attention than the Boston Red Sox.
Will they re-sign Bay or go after Holliday? Was signing Scutaro inevitable or should Dustin Pedroia have been pushed to shortstop? Will Adrian Gonzalez, Miguel Cabrera, or Roy Halladay be playing at Fenway on Opening Day 2010?
These questions have been posed and answered by countless analysts, writers, and idiots with keyboards since the Red Sox’s season ended two months ago.
While the doctors have prescribed a wide and varying range of strategies, almost all of them agree on one thing: Theo Epstein and company need to make a splash this winter. It’s a sentiment that’s sure to increase exponentially now that the Yankees have acquired Curtis Granderson.
But is it really true?
It’s understandable that Red Sox fans are antsy after the Yankees’ resurgence and the Angels’ upset in the ALDS. But a look at Boston’s roster shows that there really isn’t a need for drastic change on Yawkey Way.
Let’s start with catchers. A buzzer-beater deal at the Trade Deadline gave the Red Sox one of the best backstops in baseball, Victor Martinez. While he’s lost most of his offensive prowess with age (.703 OPS in 2009) at 37, team captain Jason Varitek still ranks among the top catchers in the league when it comes to working with young pitchers—Jon Lester’s 2008 no-hitter was the fourth Varitek has caught in his career, an MLB record.
And yet, rumors have surfaced that the Red Sox are hoping to land Ryan Doumit from the Pirates. A year removed from a .318/15/69 season, pursuing Doumit would be an excellent fit for many teams.
Unfortunately, the Red Sox aren’t one of them. It’s not just that he’s too good to be a backup catcher—it’s that Boston already has one. In order to secure Doumit’s services, the Red Sox would have to outbid multiple teams who value him as a starter.
Why would any citizen of Red Sox Nation support such an endeavor?
Next up is the infield. Pedroia and Scutaro have cemented themselves up the middle, and the only question about Kevin Youkilis is which corner spot he’ll take.
The problem, we’re told, is Mike Lowell, who is apparently too old to be the starting third-baseman. This despite the fact that, in 2009, he tied or beat his numbers in every major offensive category from the year before except for runs (by four) and walks (by five). It’s true that his defense took a turn for the worse this year, but how many other teams would be complaining about a .810 OPS at the hot corner?
To hear most analysts tell it, the obvious solution to the problem that doesn’t really exist is to trade for Adrian Gonzalez or Miguel Cabrera, then move Youkilis to third. That’s not good strategy; that’s a Steinbrenner solution.
If Martinez and Casey Kotchman aren’t enough insurance at first base, the Red Sox could go after someone with a significantly lower profile—say, Nick Johnson, or Nomar Garciaparra. (Remember him?) Adding another big bat would be nice, but it really isn’t necessary.
That takes us to the outfield. Jacoby Ellsbury is a lock in center field, but we’re told that the corner spots are a bit fuzzy.
It’s probably in both sides’ best interests for Jason Bay to re-sign with the Red Sox. If that doesn’t work out, Larry Lucchino will assuredly give Epstein whatever he needs to go after Matt Holliday. And if that falls through, believe it or not, it isn’t the end of the world. Randy Winn and Marlon Byrd could be good fits, and Boston already has Jeremy Hermida.
Heck, maybe Johnny Damon would renew his citizenship in Red Sox Nation.
Then there’s right field, where J.D. Drew is subject to the same kind of rumors as Lowell. The difference is, Drew is better, and has actually improved with age. This past season was his best in three years with the Red Sox. He hit 24 homers while slugging .522, and put up a .914 OPS (the latter two figures are higher than Victor Martinez has ever compiled in his career).
Meanwhile, he continued to display superb defense, with a UZR/150 of 15.7 in 2009.
Finally, there is the pitching staff, which manager Terry Francona has said is the team’s biggest area of need. To me, him telling Epstein to get another starter was reminiscent of Veruca Salt from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
If tomorrow were Opening Day, the Red Sox would have a rotation of Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz, Tim Wakefield, and Daisuke Matsuzaka. Most writers use Matsuzaka’s inconsistency and Wakefield’s tendency to get hurt to explain why Epstein should sign John Lackey or trade for Roy Halladay.
Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. If those back-end starters were the anchors of the rotation, then yes, you’d have a problem. But that’s why they’re back-end starters; that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Frustrating as they may be, Wakefield and Matsuzaka are much better than their counterparts on most other contending clubs.
There are at least two dozen other teams that would kill for the Red Sox’s staff. And that’s not even counting super-prospect Michael Bowden, who is almost ready to make a splash in the majors after four years of ripping minor league hitters to shreds.
Add to that a bullpen ERA of 3.80 and you don’t have much room for improvement.
So is Red Sox Nation’s obsession with making a big move this winter an attempt to address real areas of weakness?
Or would it just be a placebo, a response to Boston’s disappointing showing in the playoffs (where the best team often loses anyway)?
Sure, it would be nice to add Roy Halladay at the top of the rotation or stick Adrian Gonzalez in the middle of the batting order. But it would be completely unnecessary, and it would be foolish to trade our brightest future stars for a player who would be under team control for only a year or two, filling a hole the Red Sox don’t really have.
Our ability to win without desperately scooping up every big-name player available is what sets us apart from the Yankees. If Epstein thinks he needs to import a stud to make the Red Sox contenders, he might as well watch the games from Steinbrenner’s luxury box.