MLB Free Agency: Predicting the Boston Red Sox Best/Worst Case 2011 Lineups

Adam MacDonaldAnalyst IINovember 22, 2010

MLB Free Agency: Predicting the Boston Red Sox Best/Worst Case 2011 Lineups

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    It is not crazy to say that without injuries to almost every major player, Boston would have made the playoffs last season. The team was a lot stronger offensively than people predicted and if Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Jacoby Ellsbury, Victor Martinez, Jason Varitek and Mike Cameron had been healthy all year, they would have made a serious run at the Rays and Yankees in the AL East.

    But they weren't, and they didn't. Now, with free agency leaving holes in their lineup, and the tantalising prospect of signing Adrian Gonzales next year to be taken into account, there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the 2011 lineup.

    Gonzalez' agent has said the slugger will test the free agent waters after next season and it is almost certain the Red Sox will be interested. That does create a rather awkward situation at first or third for 2011, depending on where Kevin Youkilis plays, and whom the Red Sox get as a bridge to Gonzalez.

Designated Hitter

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    Best: David Ortiz

    The Red Sox picked up Ortiz’ $12 million option for 2011, so the DH position is sorted. Ortiz has struggled in April and May, each of the last two seasons. He has turned it around from June onwards—he had a 30-100 season last year and came two HRs and one RBI away from it the year before, but another bad start could worry people again. Then you have to consider that he really struggles against lefties.  He is certainly on the decline—that is why GM Theo Epstein did not offer him a multiple-year deal—but he has shown that he still has some pop left in his bat. The Red Sox will need that if they are to return to the postseason.

    Worst: Anybody else.

    If someone else is the DH more than Papi, either he is injured, or terrible. In either case, the Red Sox will have reason to be concerned.

    Most likely: David Ortiz

Catcher

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    Best: Victor Martinez

    Really, there is no question here. Martinez is a free agent, and is by far and away the best catcher on the market. John Buck was the second-best option, but he has just signed a three-year contract with Florida. Boston must resign Martinez. Last season, with both he and Jason Varitek out, Sox catchers drove in two runs in four weeks. In the AL East, a repeat performance is unforgivable. Martinez is a priority.

    Worst: Jarrod Saltalamacchia

    Salty was acquired by Boston at the trading deadline last year, and after Kevin Cash went on the DL, he was called up, passing Yaz and Nomar for the longest-named Red Sox. That is pretty much the only notable thing Saltalamacchia achieved. In 10 games, he batted .158 with just one RBI. His career OPS+ is just 82. If he is behind the plate on opening night, something has gone wrong in the offseason.

    Most likely: Victor Martinez

    If Theo Epstein cannot see that this is the only viable option, and go all-out to get him back, he should not be a GM.

First Base

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    Best: Kevin Youkilis

    Youk has said repeatedly that he will gladly play first or third. That affords Theo some flexibility, as, if Adrian Beltre leaves, Youkilis can move to third and the front office can try to find a first baseman. The ideal scenario would be to keep him at first, though. You have one of the best defensive first basemen in the league; why move him if you do not have to?

    Tied best: Adrian Gonzalez

    The only reason this is not the best, is that, in order to get him, the Red Sox would have to give up a lot. Casey Kelly, Jacoby Ellsbury, Daniel Bard. That is where trade negotiations would start, and it would take more than that. If Boston land him, though, the top of their order would be fearsome.

    Worst: Lars Anderson

    There is nothing wrong with Anderson; he is a highly-touted prospect. But when one has Kevin Youkilis, and a fair number of decent first base options available, it would not be too comforting to see him starting. He might be the Red Sox’ power hitter of the future, or even a trade chip to land Adrian Gonzalez. What he is not, is their starting first baseman in 2011.

    Most likely: A bridge player, before going after Gonzalez at the trading deadline or in the offseason. Adam Dunn makes sense, as he could move to DH afterwards.

    Did someone say ‘bridge year’ again? It’s not ideal, but it does make a lot of sense. Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox’ has been spoken about for years, and the Red Sox have a good chance of getting him. The biggest mistake this administration made was allowing Mark Teixeira to don the pinstripes. Gonzalez would go a long way to fixing that.

Second Base

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    Best: Dustin Pedroia

    Dustin Pedroia might be the face of the franchise right now. Stellar defense, brilliant with the bat, Rookie of the Year, MVP, entertaining, relatable and great to watch. He might be the most irreplaceable player on the team, with the versatile Youkilis not far behind. He is signed through 2014, and that is a very good thing, indeed.

    Worst: Anybody else

    Pedroia is not going anywhere. The only reason someone else would be playing second is due to injury, and no matter whom the Red Sox get to replace him, he will not be as good.

    Most likely: Dustin Pedroia

Third Base

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    Best: Adrian Beltre

    The best, and most likely scenario would be to resign Beltre, and keep Youk at first. If the Sox do that, however, it takes them out of the Gonzalez sweepstakes altogether. Theo would not be averse to that; it means the team’s prospects stay right where they are, and gives Boston a great combination at the corners.

    Worst: Jed Lowrie

    He showed some promise with the bat late in the season, but he has been injured a lot, and is not going to win any Gold Gloves at short, his regular position, let alone third. However, if Beltre leaves, and Theo decides to go for Gonzalez in the 2011 offseason, having Lowrie play third and Youk first, is not that bad an idea. It leaves the door open for Gonzalez, and whilst Lowrie will not be great, he will not be a disaster, either.

    Most likely: Kevin Youkilis

    It is difficult to see Beltre returning, and there are not any strong FA alternatives at third base. Youkilis can play very well at third, and there are many more options open at first. The best option, of course, would be to trade for Adrian Gonzalez.

Shortstop

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    Best: Marco Scutaro

    Scutaro proved many people wrong with a solid 2010. There were still many who would rather have seen Alex Gonzales at short, but it would be very hard to criticise Scutaro for his 2010 campaign. He will be back in 2011 and there will not be many who say that is a bad thing.

    Worst: Jose Iglesias

    Iglesias is supposed to be the second coming of Ozzie Smith, and some say he is ready to make the leap to the Majors already. However, he is still at AA, and with a prospect as good as he, it would be a mistake to rush him.

    Most likely: Marco Scutaro

Left Field

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    Best: Carl Crawford

    Much of the debate this offseason has been about whom the Sox should pursue, Carl Crawford or Jayson Werth. Werth is a right fielder, and the obvious replacement for JD Drew in 2012. He has played almost a third of his career at left, so he could play in front of the Monster for a season, and shift to RF after that. However, when one looks at his numbers, he looks less and less promising.

    In the hitter-friendly confines of Citizens Bank Park, he batted .327 in 2010, on the road, .266. He has a lot of power to right-center. Anybody think that will work well at Fenway Park?

    Then you have Carl Crawford. He is not an altogether ‘can’t miss’ proposition either, since his offensive prowess is dependent on speed and could suffer a very sharp decline when that starts to go. He has not fared well at Fenway, either, and will demand a huge contract. That said, he is still the best available left fielder, and the Red Sox need one. Sorry, Darnell.

    Worst: Jacoby Ellsbury

    This is simply because if Ells is playing left, Mike Cameron is playing center, and that is a truly terrifying notion.

    Most likely: Jacoby Ellsbury

    Injuries to both Ells and Cameron meant that no one ever got to see how the new-look outfield would fare. Theo will probably conclude that Werth and Crawford are too expensive for what they are, and try the Ells-Cam-Drew outfield again.

Center Field

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    Best: Jacoby Ellsbury

    2010 was completely lost to injury. 2009, however, was phenomenal. That is why the decision to move him to left last year was so controversial. If you have a .300 hitter, who can steal 70 bases, and plays very good defensively in CF, you leave him there. Hopefully, Theo does just that in 2011.

    Worst: Mike Cameron

    Yes, he has a big contract. Yes, he has won three Gold Gloves. But he is not good at the plate. .250 BA, .750 OPS, 20 HRs, 80 RBIs, 160 Ks. Jacoby in CF and a FA signing in left is a far better option.

    Most likely: Mike Cameron

Right Field

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    Best: JD Drew

    It’s not that often that JD Drew’s name is mentioned next to the word ‘best’, but he has been a solid contributor in his four years in Boston. Not $14 million-worth, but still good. 2011 will be the final year of his deal, and then he might retire. Red Sox Nation should hope he does not, that he will slip into the standard ‘contract year’ mentality, and finally produce a season worthy of his paycheck.

    Worst: Any of: Darnell McDonald, Daniel Nava, Ryan Kalish, Josh Reddick.

    As with Pedroia, the only reason we will see any of these players on a regular basis will be injury. While Drew has never really been an offensive powerhouse, his glove would be sorely missed.

    Most likely: JD Drew