Distressing as it may be for the Red Sox Nation, the 2010 campaign died months before the season itself concluded. With heavy hearts, skeptical brows and gnawed fingertips, the Nation did its best to stomach a Sox-less October and look toward the 2011 season with growing optimism.
Shaking off the nasty sense of déjà vu 2010 has cast on Beantown will require some serious action at both the personal and franchise levels. Who would have thought the Red Sox could experience more horrific, season-derailing injuries than in 2006?
At least—most sports commentators contend—this should be a busy winter for general manager Theo Epstein as he looks to retool his Red Sox for a more successful “next year.” But will it indeed be a busy off-season brimming with possible mega deals and spotted with excellent free-agent signings?
This writer isn’t so sure.
While the major media outlets will surely keep the Faithful on their hopeful toes with heart-thumping “trade rumors,” a more pragmatic analysis of the Red Sox roster indicates that less flamboyant signings will figure prominently in Boston’s unfortunately long winter.
For what it’s worth, here then are one writer’s views and predictions for the upcoming Red Sox off-season.
The Red Sox spent approximately $173 million on the 2010 40-man roster with all its various fluctuations.
For 2011, Boston looks to shed Mike Lowell’s $12 million, Julio Lugo’s $9 million, Jason Varitek’s $3 million, and Billy Wagner’s $1 million. Additionally, there are about $2 million in deductions involving Boof Bonser, Carlos Delgado, and Alex Gonzalez.
Adjusting for appropriate raises and arbitration hearings, and assuming the Red Sox part ways with Hideki Okajima and Scott Atchison, the Red Sox have already committed about $133 million toward the 2011 payroll.
That number leaves open the questions of Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez. Resigning both would probably run the Sox approximately $30 million.
If they choose to keep all their potential free agents, the Red Sox will have committed about $164 million before adding any new components. That’s not to suggest that the 2011 Red Sox must sign new players, but the bullpen alone demands improvement.
Keeping everybody and improving the pen might force the Sox over the luxury tax threshold.
Bottom line: not a lot of room for “big” signings or expensive trades unless one of the free agents sign elsewhere.
Due to Boston’s contractual obligations, the 2011 Red Sox starting rotation essentially sets itself. Barring a major ski accident ala Jim Lonborg, the Red Sox will doubtless start Jon Lester on Opening Day and set their rotation roughly as follows.
- Jon Lester
- Josh Beckett
- John Lackey
- Clay Buchholz
- Daisuke Matsuzaka
Obviously, internal pitching politics come into play when one considers Beckett over Lackey or Buchholz in the lowly four hole, but the contracts and performances render the top four spots an interchangeable lock.
Lester deserves to lead the staff. Beckett’s reputation may earn him the number two slot in spite of his 2010 injuries and performance failings. If it weren’t for Lackey’s alpha-dog mentality and veteran status, he would certainly be following Buchholz rather than vice-versa.
Still, who starts when is largely academic.
Although many would rather see Tim Wakefield possess the fifth rotation slot and relegate Matsuzaka to long-relief duty out of the bullpen, several factors indicate that Matsuzaka will indeed make the starting rotation in 2011.
First, in spite of public perception, Matsuzaka has been more effective than Wakefield during the 2010 season. The Japanese import has surprisingly outmatched the knuckleballer in ERA, WHIP and sabermetric value. Nobody likes seeing Matsuzaka take the mound, but his 2010 performance is actually more similar to that of John Lackey than that of Tim Wakefield. (Is that good for Matsuzaka or bad for Lackey?)
Second, purely from the standpoint of financial investment, the Red Sox are more likely to start Matsuzaka. Wakefield may be more of a fan favorite, but his $2 million salary matches better with the bullpen than does Matsuzaka’s $10 million.
Third—and most importantly—Theo Epstein should be looking to deal Matsuzaka and his unremarkable mastery of the strikezone as soon as possible. In order to trade Matsuzaka, the Red Sox would surely have to eat most of his contract, but first and foremost, they must establish Matsuzaka’s value. The best Epstein can hope is that Matsuzaka will put together an excellent first half in 2011 and some sort of market will develop for the 29-year-old.
Of course, this is a best-case scenario.
The financial picture: While Beckett, Lester, Matsuzaka, and Buchholz will all receive raises, Lackey earns less in 2011 than in 2010 due to a front-loaded contract. The 2010 rotation cost approximately $46 million, including $3.5 million for Wakefield. In 2011, those same six pitchers will earn about $49.5 million. However, if Wakefield is moved to the bullpen, the aggregate increase in the cost of starting pitching is just $1.5 million.
Papelbon will obviously begin 2011 as the Red Sox closer. Although many would like to see Papelbon and his declining numbers dealt for an impact bat or young prospect, the Red Sox can ill afford to part with such a dependable arm from an already depleted bullpen.
The best the Nation can hope is that Papelbon experiences a bounceback 2011 and yet becomes dispensible by the trade deadline. As ready as Daniel Bard may be to take over as closer, he'll have to settle for setup man a little longer.
Bard posted a 1.93 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP in 74.2 innings of relief in 2010. That's best in the American League and third among all Major League relievers with more than 70 innings of work.
Bard will be Boston's closer in the near future, but until the rest of the bullpen gets sorted out, Papelbon hangs on as a necessary evil, and Bard will remain his setup man.
As I discuss in the section on starting pitching, Wakefield makes most sense as a long-relief man for the 2011 Sox. Although Wakefield's coming off a subpar 2010 in which he notched a 5.34 ERA, he's affordably priced at a mere $2 million in 2011.
The Red Sox would never find a better long man on the open market.
The Red Sox need Downs, the top Type-A lefty free agent on the market. In 2010, Downs put up a 2.64 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP with a 3.43 K/BB ratio.
With the demise of Hideki Okajima and his lookaway Okie-Dokie, Boston desperately needs a dominant lefty out of the pen. Signing Downs is an offseason must.
In 2010, Richardson proved himself capable of being the Red Sox' other lefty reliever. Although he finished with a 4.15 ERA, his limited innings render that number a bit inflated. Richardson only pitched 13 frames in 2010, but throughout most of those innings, he shut down the competition.
While he walked batters at a rate of 9.69 per 9 innings pitched, Richardson also fanned batters at an 8.31 clip. If Richardson can limit his walks, he'll be an effective complement to the likes of Scott Downs in the 2011 bullpen.
You can never have too many lefties. Doubront has impressed the Red Sox staff enough that he's a strong candidate to make the 2011 relief corp. As with Richardson, Doubront's 4.32 ERA in 25 innings on the 2010 season doesn't tell the whole tale.
Doubront's K/BB ratio is an attractive 2.30, so his stuff seems better than that old earned run average. This spot is Doubront's to lose.
The Red Sox should go after Crain, whose Type-B status belies a near Type-A talent. Crain has been growing consistently during his time with the Twins, and his 2010 3.04 ERA and 1.18 WHIP don't smell of overachievement.
In terms of draft-pick compensation, Crain is one of the more attractive free agent options this offseason, but for the Red Sox and their pathetic bullpen, Crain is a must have.
Victor Martinez has caught his last game in Boston, for everything indicates the switch-hitting slugger and Type-A free agent will command a four-year deal on the open market, and as with Jason Bay, the Red Sox are more than reluctant to offer more than two or three years at most.
Indeed, it seems at the moment that the Boston front office will put their catching faith in the newly acquired Jarrod Saltalamacchia. This optimism seems specious at best. Saltalamacchia has hit just .248 for his career and the better half of that average came and went long ago.
Defensively, Saltalamacchia's fine, throwing out 20% of baserunners in his career and 25% as recently as in 2009, but he's hardly considered a strong game caller.
The plan seems to be to bring back Jason Varitek for another year, so he might tutor the young Saltalamacchia and groom him into a great defender.
First Base: Kevin Youkilis
Second Base: Dustin Pedroia
Third Base: Adrian Beltre
Shortstop: Marco Scutaro
Reserve Middle Infield: Jed Lowrie
Reserve Corner Infield / Designated Hitter: David Ortiz
With Youkilis, Pedroia, and Scutaro all locked up through 2011, and Jed Lowrie and David Ortiz under team control through the year as well, there isn't much wiggle room in the Red Sox infield. Obviously, whether the team chooses to resign Adrian Beltre will determine a great deal around the diamond.
Should they resign Beltre, the Red Sox will have categorically denied the possibility of acquiring either Adrian Gonzalez or Prince Fielder, two much-rumored trade candidates.
However, questions remain beyond Beltre and the hot corner. Will Marco Scutaro's rotator cuff repair adequately? Will Jed Lowrie find himself the starting shortstop? Will the Red Sox exercise David Ortiz' club option?
Certainly, the first base situation depends heavily on the Red Sox ability and desire to resign Adrian Beltre at third. That said, the Red Sox have little reason to seek a change at first.
A freak thumb injury aside, Kevin Youkilis has been a workhorse offensively and defensively at first base. In fact, despite his high-level of production, Youkilis continues to fall somewhat below the radar among the many star first basemen. In 2010, Youkilis hit for a better average and a higher OPS than Adrian Gonzalez, Ryan Howard, and Prince Fielder. Youkilis also struck out at a lower rate than those three sluggers.
Defensively in 2010, Youkilis ranked seventh best in the majors among players with at least 800 innings at first base.
One has to ask if there really is good reason to pursue an Adrian Gonzalez or a Prince Fielder when the Red Sox already have a dominant first baseman affordably locked up through 2013.
Obviously, Dustin Pedroia will play second base for the Red Sox in 2011. He's no Mark Bellhorn, but the former MVP posted an 860 OPS in only 75 games in 2010. The Gold Glover has everything it takes. If he and Youkilis can stay healthy, at least one side of the infield will be an offensive and defensive powerhouse. That's probably why Theo Epstein locked up both of them in long-term deals. Pedroia's runs through 2015.
Third base is the real question mark on the Red Sox infield. Despite speculation that the Red Sox could trade for either Adrian Gonzalez or Prince Fielder and move Kevin Youkilis to third, the Red Sox' best option is one Theo Epstein has already hinted at: resigning Adrian Beltre.
Defensively, Beltre remains one of the top five third basemen in all of Major League Baseball. He's essentially irreplaceable in the near future, and although Youkilis is an above-average defender at both corner infield spots, he's a shadow of Beltre at the hot corner.
Beltre's 2010 production, some may argue, is a contract-year fluke. However, Beltre's .321 average, 919 OPS, 28 homeruns, and 102 RBI could also be the signs of a reinvigorated competitor.
Twice in his career has Beltre played for a playoff contender: in 2004 and 2010. Think about it.
Beltre is only 31. He will be 32 next April. Signing him for another four years is hardly a repeat of the Mike Lowell extension.
Allowing that this is Drew’s walk year as much as it is Cameron’s, the real question for the Sox is who will roam right when Drew inconspicuously fades from Fenway?
Marco Scutaro was supposed to have this job locked up through 2011 at $5 million, but down the stretch in 2010, Scutaro's rotator cuff presented significant defensive problems. While his offense nearly maintained his career numbers from 2009, Scutaro's UZR/150 dropped dramatically, and his ability to get the ball to first became an inning-by-inning adventure.
Simultaneously, up-and-comer Jed Lowrie seemed to finally put it all together during the nearly meaningless second half of the 2010 campaign. By season's end, Lowrie had out hit and out fielded Scutaro in every category.
Lowrie hit .287 with a 907 OPS and posted an even UZR/150 at shortstop in 176 innings.
Whether Lowrie is ready or not, he should own the starting job in April. Marco Scutaro should find himself riding the pine.
Reserve Middle Infield
Marco Scutaro couldn't provide a better backup option at middle infield.
As the whole Nation is now aware, the Red Sox elected to exercise David Ortiz' option for 2011 and will pay him $12.5 million to hit next year. While many considered this price too high for Ortiz' services, overpaying Ortiz slightly in 2011 allows Boston the roster flexibility necessary to trade for a Prince Fielder or an Adrian Gonzalez.
Keeping Big Papi short-term was the right call.
Left Field: Jacoby Ellsbury
Center Field: Mike Cameron
Right Field: J.D. Drew
Reserve Outfield: Darnell McDonald
With unchanging salaries due Cameron and Drew and only modest raises expected for Ellsbury and McDonald, the 2011 outfield will require roughly the same financial commitment as did the 2010 version.
Jacoby Ellsbury may or may not have abandoned the Red Sox for the sunny Southwest after fracturing his ribs to start 2010, but he definitely openly expressed his frustration with the Red Sox medical staff and hit only .192 in limited plate appearances.
While a healthy, productive 2010 might have earned him a sizeable raise in arbitration, Ellsbury now looks toward only a modest pay increase, thus enhancing his value to the 2011 Sox and rendering a trade less likely.
Although he struggled somewhat defensively in center field, Ellsbury’s defense remains well above the league average for left fielders.
The Red Sox will not sign Carl Crawford this winter. The Yankees have loudly announced their infatuation with Tampa’s left fielder, and a bidding war for the 29-year-old speedster isn’t exactly in the Sox’ financial cards.
Besides, why pay one speedy outfielder more than $20 million per season when you already have one near the MLB minimum?
Under contract through 2011 at an unchanging salary of $7.25 millionn, Mike Cameron is a lock to start in center field next season. The 37-year-old has been injured for most of 2010, but over 48 games he hit .259, slightly above his career mark.
Should he recover well from surgery to heal an abdominal tear, Cameron could bring to the 2011 Sox the kind of upgraded defense he was expected to provide in 2010.
The real question for the Red Sox is who will take over when Cameron walks next year?
While that’s really beyond the pervue of this article, Ryan Kalish seems the best bet given his exceptional glove and improving offense. Kalish has a 46.3 UZR/150 in center field so far in 2010, and he has hit at essentially the same clip as Cameron.
J.D. Drew’s $14 million yearly salary may seem excessive to many casual baseball and Red Sox fans, but Drew is actually paid appropriately for what he produces.
The real problem with Drew is that he seems always to do only what he must. He’s the kid that does just enough to get a solid B but never seems interested in actually doing his best, actually fulfilling his potential.
Whether that problem is perceived or real, Drew’s statistical value unquestionably supports the theory. During the life of his five-year, $70 million contract with the Red Sox, Drew has so far produced $58 million in sabermetric value and has been paid $56 million.
J.D. Drew is neither an under achiever nor an exceptional contributor. Drew is “exactly what we thought he was,” to hijack a phrase.
Defensively, Drew is still one of the best right fielders in the game, so his spot in right is all but assured. Only a possible trade for Andre Ethier could shake up Drew’s positioning, but that’s another article.
Allowing that this is Drew’s walk year as much as it is Cameron’s, the real question for the Sox is who will roam right when Drew inconspicuously fades from Fenway?
Daniel Nava v. Ryan Kalish v. Darnell McDonald
Disregarding recent wild speculation that the Red Sox might sign a Carl Crawford or Jayson Werth and relegate Mike Cameron to the fourth outfielder spot, this is realistically a three-horse race.
Daniel Nava may have solidified himself as a fan favorite with his underdog story and first-pitch grand slam, but that homer was Nava's only one in 188 plate appearances this year. In the ensuing months, Nava managed a pedestrian .242 average and a 711 OPS. What's more, Nava's glove left much to be desired. Over 380 innings in left field, Nava posted a -18.8 UZR/150. There are better options within the organization, but Nava should continue to garner interest and support at Triple-A Pawtucket.
Ryan Kalish could be the next big thing in the Boston outfield, particularly given his developing defensive prowess and speed on the basepaths. In 179 plate appearances this season, Kalish hit for a .252 average and a 710 OPS.
Unfortunately or fortunately, those numbers were essentially equivalent to those of Mike Cameron, whose defense brought him to Boston. Having demonstrated above-average defense, particularly at the corner outfield positions, Kalish would make an appropriate replacement for Cameron at the end of 2011, but not before. Kalish needs more seasoning, particularly with the bat. Another year at Triple-A Pawtucket should reveal much.
Former flashy draft pick and Oriole Darnell McDonald should be Boston's fourth outfielder in 2011. In 2011, McDonald hit .270 with a 766 OPS. Yes, he's weak defensively in center and right field, but McDonald ranks well above average in left, and he doesn't need to play all well to be the reserve. Unless multiple outfielders go down to injury, Darnell should prove more than adequate defensively.