The 2010 season for the Boston Red Sox appears to be down to its last 16 games, although I’m sure no one in Red Sox Nation has given up hope of a late-season slump by the Yankees or Rays that could still get the Sox into postseason play. But we all know that isn’t likely. The Sox will win about 90 games, maybe even 95 with a strong finish, but it won’t be enough.
Playoffs or not, I’ll remember this season as a gutsy effort by a team that had a dozen reasons to fold, and never did. No one can look at the lineups that the Red Sox are putting out there right now, and say that team has any right to win 90 games. It’s a tribute to the organizational depth of the Red Sox that they were able to do so. It’s a tribute to the Tampa Bay Rays and the New York Yankees that it hasn’t been enough.
So the Red Sox will likely go home on Oct. 4 and start planning for the 2011 season. Theo Epstein is in the unenviable position of having to try to figure out a way to win 100 games in baseball’s toughest division just to make the playoffs. Fortunately, the Boston organization is deep enough and (naturally) well capitalized enough to make it possible.
The first order of business will be to decide what to do with a group of players whose contracts are expiring at season’s end, or who have club options for 2011.
The Red Sox will probably look at 2011 in terms of maintaining some flexibility going forward. This year’s free agent class isn’t all that great; the best players available are probably Cliff Lee and Adam Dunn. The Red Sox won’t be bidding on Lee, as they already have too many starting pitchers. They might bid on Dunn, and I think they should, but that’s a story for a later article.
The 2012 free-agent class is where the team could make hay. There are three game-breaking hitters who will likely be available: Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and Adrian Gonzalez. We already know the Red Sox want A-Gon, and I think it goes without saying they wouldn’t turn away Albert Pujols. I suspect they’re skeptical of Fielder (as am I), but would gladly take him on a short-term rental at the 2011 trading deadline.
For this reason, I think the Red Sox will avoid any high-ticket, long-term acquisitions they’re not sure about. They’re going to exercise their one-year option on David Ortiz, since they can control the length of that expense. They’ll offer a long-term extension to Adrian Beltre because they’re confident in his long-term value. They won’t with Victor Martinez, because they’re not.
Mike Lowell’s $12 million salary is coming off the books, as is the last $9 million of the awful contract given to Julio Lugo four years ago. That $21 million gives Boston the freedom to consider an Adam Dunn, or a trade for an Adrian Gonzalez, coupled with a long-term extension, among other options.
Here’s a rundown on the question marks for 2011, and how I think it will play out with each:
Victor Martinez: The Red Sox recently offered V-Mart a two-year extension, which he understandably declined. He’s still an effective hitter, and he can catch, which gives him a lot of value. But he’s going to be seeking at least a four-year deal at $10 million or more per year, and he’s going to be in his age 32-35 seasons. He won’t keep hitting like he does as a catcher in his 30s. That makes him a first baseman, and as a first baseman, his offense is run of the mill, and hardly worth eight figures.
Verdict: The Red Sox will probably offer a third year in the off-season, but someone’s going to meet his demands, and give him four years guaranteed. The Red Sox won’t match that, and they shouldn’t. V-Mart is this year’s Jason Bay. He’s as good as gone.
David Ortiz: All indications are that the Red Sox will pick up Big Papi’s $12.5 million option for 2011 and that he will return as the DH next season.
Verdict: A $12.5 million salary is a little pricey for the level of production that Papi offers now, but not too outrageous. The effective one-year deal also gives Boston flexibility in deciding what to do a year from now, while retaining a player who is still capable of 30 homers and 100 RBI. Those don’t grow on trees, especially in the post-steroid era.
Adrian Beltre: The Sox want to keep him, and they are right to do so. Beltre is 31, but shows no signs of slipping. You never know about a player in his 30s, but Beltre is the kind of athlete who keeps himself in top form, and I think he will still be very effective in his mid-30s. With his defense, he’s a quality player if he hits .260 with 20 homers, let alone .320 with 30 homers. Furthermore, I don’t think his Fenway surge is all salary drive or a fluke. Safeco Field makes a lot of hitters look bad.
Verdict: The Red Sox would like to re-up him for three years. His agent is Scott Boras, who will want at least four and possibly five years, at up to $15 million per. He won’t get that much, but he won’t settle for three years, either. This is Beltre’s last and best chance to cash in. My guess is that Theo ultimately offers $50 million for four years. I give Boras a 50/50 chance to find someone who will pay more. As a side note, if Beltre stays in Fenway Park, he will make the Hall of Fame someday. If he doesn’t, he won’t. That should be worth more than a few extra bucks from a losing team in a less-favorable park.
Jonathan Papelbon: Sometimes we make too much of Papelbon’s meltdowns this season. He’s still a quality closer, although this is far from his best season. Pay not attention to anyone who says that the Red Sox should non-tender Paps this winter. That would be dumb. However, he is going to get a massive arbitration contract that will make him way overpaid. The Red Sox will likely look for a trading partner this off-season, who needs a closer and can deal with a bad short-term contract.
Verdict: The Red Sox are probably stuck with their overpaid closer in 2011, but there are a few teams that could use his services and are likely to be in the market for a closer, such as the Mets. I put his chances of being back in Boston in 2011 as 60/40 in favor.
Jason Varitek: A free agent again, two years after Scott Boras over-reached himself and cost the Red Sox captain several million dollars. Varitek is still a team leader and still valuable on the field for his experience, not to mention he can still crush a left-hander. I think the Red Sox will try to keep him around, as a platoon catcher and de facto player-coach.
Verdict: Varitek stays. I think the Red Sox will offer him about $6 million over two years, and he’ll gladly take the deal. Boras might get him a little more somewhere else, but I think Varitek wants to keep playing, and stay a Red Sox.
Bill Hall: Hall has a $9.5 million option for 2011, which the Red Sox won’t exercise. They would be interested in retaining Hall at a lower salary, but his 2010 comeback has made him a viable option for regular playing time elsewhere. The Mariners subsidized his presence on the 2010 Red Sox to the tune of $7.15 million, but they don’t have to pick up any tab for 2011. He’s probably gone.
Coming up soon, a run-down on the possibility of various players who might join the Red Sox for the 2011 season.