Boston Red Sox: The Offseason Priorities Position by Position

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Boston Red Sox: The Offseason Priorities Position by Position
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General Manager Theo Epstein announced a few years ago that he had signed a new deal. The terms of that deal were never disclosed, but it’s safe to say that whatever he is making, this offseason will be a test to see if he’s worth the money.

He wasn’t to blame for Boston’s missing the playoffs, but in a way, the GM is always culpable. The team is full of free agents and Epstein will have a lot to consider, as he attempts to build a side which can compete in baseball’s toughest division.

 

Catcher

Look at the AL East and name the five best starting pitchers this year.

The Red Sox had two: Clay Buchholz (17-7, 2.33) and Jon Lester (19-9, 3.25). The Yankees had two in CC Sabathia (21-7, 3.18) and Andy Pettite (11-3, 3.28). And the Rays had one in David Price (19-6, 2.72).

Four of them are left-handed.

With the exception of Andy Pettite, they are all under contract for 2011. Even if he leaves, however, it is likely that the Yankees will pick up another great lefty—Cliff Lee. If he stays, New York’s three best pitchers will be left-handed.

In 2010, Martinez led all Major League hitters in batting average against lefties. He’s a career .300 hitter, will hit 20-25 home runs and drive in close to 100. He’s shown he can be durable, too. Apart from his two injury-hit seasons of 2008 and 2010, he’s played over 140 games every year since becoming the Indians’ starting catcher in 2004.

If he can be brought back for three years, the Red Sox should do it. If they have to go to a fourth, be prepared for much of 2014 to be spent between first base and the DH spot.

As for the backups, Jarrod Saltalamacchia was signed to a one-year deal, but really, one would like to see Jason Varitek back. He is probably the best backup catcher in the AL and did a good job as captain of the team, despite missing much of the season with a broken foot.

 

First base

Kevin Youkilis’ ability to play great defense at first and third gives the Red Sox two options. Either they can keep the 2007 Gold Glove winning first baseman where he is—in which case they can go after a third baseman or re-sign Adrian Beltre—or they let Beltre go, move Youk to third and try and land a first baseman.

Earlier this month, ESPN’s Gordon Edes reported that the San Diego Padres will pick up Adrian Gonzalez's $6 million option for 2011. After that, they will likely be financially unable to keep him with the club. A September stumble cost them a playoff berth, and if the Padres don’t contend for the postseason next August, look for him to be dealt.

Boston has coveted Gonzalez for a long time and will go hard after him. If he isn’t available at the deadline, he almost certainly will be in the offseason. He and Prince Fielder will be targets one and two, respectively, for teams seeking a first baseman. The Yankees will not be any competition to the Red Sox, though, as they have Mark Teixeira.

They could also take a look at someone like Derrek Lee. He struggled last year, but after a midseason trade from the Cubs to the Braves, he performed much better. His defense is good, and he wouldn’t be too expensive. Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko are also available, but they will be seeking more years than Lee.

Minor Leaguer Lars Anderson is a top prospect with AAA Pawtucket. He played poorly after his September call-up, but then again, so did Dustin Pedroia in 2006, who languished below the Mendoza line. In 2007, he was AL Rookie of the Year, so don’t discount Anderson yet. If Epstein somehow manages to stumble to Spring Training without landing anyone to replace Youkilis at first, Anderson is decent as a last resort.

 

Second base

I think the Sox are sorted here, aren’t they?

 

Third base

In the event that the Red Sox opt to keep Youkilis at first, this will represent the toughest spot for Theo Epstein to fill. Beltre underwent an offensive rebirth in Boston, and now Epstein will have to decide whether that was down to the new ballpark and surroundings, or the fact he was playing for a contract.

If you were to take out his ridiculous 2004 campaign, in 2010, Beltre set career highs in: hits (200), doubles (29 higher than ’04), home runs (28), RBIs (102), average (.321), on-base percentage (.365), slugging percentage (.553), weighted on-base average (.390), isolated power (.233) and wins above replacement (7.1). He also struck out 82 times, the third-lowest figure of his career.

In a lineup where merely staying healthy was an achievement, Beltre stayed productive, and put together a great year. MVP Awards have been won with less. He did what he came to Boston to do, and he will be rewarded with a big contract. The question is where.

For once, neither New York team will be in the hunt; the Yankees have the highest-paid player in Major League history in Alex Rodriguez, and the Mets have David Wright.

Regardless, there are more than enough teams with money to spend on Beltre to keep his agent Scott Boras happy. The Angels, Tigers and White Sox could all be in the race, spurred on by a desire to make a return to the postseason. Also, the Braves and Giants, who made the playoffs this year,

Beltre will probably find someone to offer him five years; if a team does, it will almost certainly price the Red Sox out of the market.

If they can’t get Beltre, the best option would be to move Youkilis across the diamond. Dunn, Konerko and Lee are more attractive options than Melvin Mora, Miguel Tejada and Wilson Betemit.

 

Shortstop

Marco Scutaro, who had a very respectable first year in Boston, will be back in 2011. The Sox will have to make a decision during or following the season, though, about the future.

The position has been Epstein’s Kryptonite as GM. For that reason, the Scutaro deal will make him very happy. He’s performed well and will still be with the team next season. After that, the front office might look to Jed Lowrie, who had a very good end to 2010, as a bridge to highly-touted youngster Jose Iglesias, who finished the year with AA Portland.

 

Outfield

J.D. Drew is in the final year of his contract in right field, so it’s only left and center with which Theo needs to concern himself. Jacoby Ellsbury missed almost the entire year with a rib injury, and there is talk of him being traded in the offseason—something which would have been unthinkable just a year ago, after he stole a Sox single-season record 70 bases. If he stays with the club, the Red Sox will have only one spot to fill.

The most viable option is free agent Jayson Werth. If Beltre doesn’t sign, whatever the Red Sox offer him will be enough to land Werth. A more expensive alternative is Carl Crawford. As great as he is, there is some doubt about him, as he will want a long-term deal, and since most of his offense derives from his speed, it is a possibility that his decline would be sharper than most players.

Werth’s career OBP is 30 points higher than Crawford’s, and he has more power. Conversely, Crawford is a better fielder, and certainly better in left. Werth is more suited to playing in right, but with Drew there, he would have to switch to play in front of the Green Monster. He has played more than 200 games in LF, so it’s not out of the discussion.

Also, it is unlikely that the Red Sox would have two of the game’s best stolen base threats on the team. That’s not to say it wouldn’t work, but if Ells is still with the team, Werth will make the most sense to the front office.

 

Designated Hitter

David Ortiz once again struggled in April. Once again, he bounced back. 2010 saw him put together his first 30-100 season since 2007 and a wOBA 40 points higher than the year before. He has a club option for $12.5 million. The Red Sox should pick it up. Papi won’t be happy, but it’s the safest road to go down.

Boston would probably be fine with giving him a two-year deal, but he will be looking for more. When you start talking about still having Ortiz in 2013 and beyond, you start getting worried about how he’ll hold together.

Ortiz struggles mightily against left-handed pitching, but if the Red Sox brought back Martinez, he could DH against lefties over Papi, and Salty or Varitek could be behind the plate.

 

Starting rotation

The top of the rotation is set for the next three years. Buchholz, Lester, Lackey, Beckett all have their contracts sorted. One could argue that the latter two should be making the salaries of the former pair, and vice versa, but it’s beside the point.

As for the fifth guy, the Red Sox have Daisuke Matsuzaka, who pitched increasingly well towards the end of the year. Don’t be surprised if they traded him, however. He could be very attractive as a trading chip as part of a package. He is only making $8 million, and that’s not bad money for a guy with a very big upside, even if his downside rears its head more often than one would like.

If they do trade him, Tim Wakefield could be the rotation’s No. 5. He had a bad year, yes, but he’s bounced back before and he can do it again.

Unlike most positions, the most interesting story coming from the starting pitching will not be free agent signings or trades. Rather, it will be whether or not Lackey and Beckett can live up to their huge contracts.

 

Bullpen and Closer

This is the biggest concern. When the Red Sox managed to claw their way into a lead late in a game, the bullpen would far too often choke it away.

Closer Jonathan Papelbon blew a career-high eight saves, and his ERA skyrocketed by more than two runs from the year before. This led to many calling for Daniel Bard to be moved into the closer’s role. Bard had a great season, posting a sub-2.00 ERA, but Terry Francona was right to keep him as the set-up guy.

Next year is a different matter. Bard may become the closer, but it’s unlikely. Papelbon will be a free agent after the 2011 season, and then he will probably be gone. Papelbon had a bad year, but he should rebound somewhat from it, even if he never again reaches the potential he showed early in his career. He’s not the main worry in the relief corps.

Scott Atchison did an admirable job, but when your team is reliant on him as often as Boston was, things are not as they should be. Many chastised Epstein for not getting a reliever at the trade deadline, but the asking prices were too high. It’s a different story in the offseason, so one would expect Epstein to be able to bring in new arms.

Boston would have been a competitive team in 2010 except for the injuries. There is a good chance the team will change drastically between now and Spring Training, but if things go well in the winter, the team could be set up nicely for a postseason run.

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