Projecting Theo Epstein's 2012 Boston Red Sox Roster
J. Meric/Getty Images
As the Red Sox surge through the summer, validating preseason predictions and putting a 2-10 start well behind them, GM Theo Epstein is focused on stitching together the final components for Boston's stretch run. With all eyes on the prize of postseason play in 2011, what better time for premature, fruitless speculation over 2012?
Spring Training is only seven months away!
This offseason holds several intriguing roster decisions for the team. The Red Sox have not seen such a huge potential for turnover under Theo Epstein since the exodus after the 2004 World Series. More than a quarter of the 40-man roster is in a walk year, or has only option years left on their contracts. Moreover, several key cogs at the Major League level have likely seen their last summer in Beantown.
Apropos of nothing, and based purely on speculation, I believe Theo and Co. will look internally to come up with some surprising solution for the lineup, the rotation and the bullpen.
Starting Lineup No. 1-3
Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
- Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
- Dustin Pedroia, 2B
- Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
If it ain't broke, don't fix it. This slide is the only no-brainer—with career years from Ellsbury and Gonzalez, and a scorching hot Dustin Pedroia, making the decision is easy to keep the top three intact.
Aside from the meat of St. Louis' order, it's impossible to suggest that any trio in baseball is more dangerous than the Red Sox opening attack. Their average OPS sits at .899, and combined they are on pace for over 600 hits and 300 runs scored.
Starting Lineup No. 4-6
Carl Crawford, LF
- Kevin Youkilis, 3B
- Carl Crawford, LF
- Ryan Lavarnway, DH
Let the debate begin. After Youkilis, who has quietly posted the seventh best OPS in the league, David Ortiz is noticeably absent from this projection. As tremendous as David's season has been thus far, that fact may ultimately be what takes him away from Boston.
If Papi's contract demands in the offseason include salary in the $15 million range, and multiple years guaranteed, there is a considerable chance that the Red Sox will let him walk, having shown reluctance under Theo Epstein to offer big contracts to players after 35.
Heading into a winter where hitters will command a premium for a change, Ortiz could get what he wants from a West Coast team looking for left-handed power. The Giants, Angels and Mariners come to mind.
I also think Carl Crawford's real value to the team hasn't been realized in 2011, and the peak of his skills lay considerably above this year's performance. For the DH, there's an outside shot for Ryan Lavarnway's pure hitting ability to play at a position where his sub-standard catching skills are moot. Moreover, this order keeps the left-right-left pattern intact, which makes it exceedingly difficult to manage against in late innings.
Starting Lineup No. 7-9
Josh Reddick, RF
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
- Josh Reddick, RF
- Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C
- Jose Iglesias, SS
The Red Sox will not be re-signing J.D. Drew. I'll give you a moment to wipe away the tears. I could be convinced that Ryan Kalish, and not Josh Reddick, is the right-fielder of the future for Boston. I haven't forgotten what he meant to the Sox in 2010. It would take Reddick regressing to 2009 levels and (knock on wood) Ryan Kalish blowing away the competition in Triple-A down the stretch for that to happen.
Reddick has all but stolen Drew's job out from under him. His astounding slash line of .378/.432/.671 is unsustainable, but even if he can maintain something in the .275/.350/.450 range, I think the Red Sox will take it with his plus range and arm in the field.
Salty has not exceeded expectations behind the dish. Looking closer at the metrics though, we can see a guy with potential, shining through moment to moment. His caught-stealing rate has been steadily rising this summer, and he has only one error on the season. Since April, he hasn't failed to slug at least .475 every month. He strikes out too much, particularly against breaking balls, but his OPS is in the top five among all catchers since the opening month. In the era of the pitcher, I'll take it.
Optimistically, Jose Iglesias will be a .250 singles hitter with sparkling defense. Good enough. Throwing Iglesias into the mix at the Major League level is an instant upgrade at shortstop defensively. The revolving door for the Red Sox needs to stop, and he'll be a crowd-pleaser with his web gems.
Jason Varitek, C
J. Meric/Getty Images
- Che-Hsuan Lin, OF
- Jed Lowrie, IF
- Jason Varitek, C
- Eric Hinske, Bat
Three catchers? Why not? Varitek's career has been given a lift by not expecting everyday play out of the captain. If the Red Sox view Ryan Lavarnway as a catcher of the future, it would be a boon to the club to have 'Tek and Lavarnway play on the same team, even for a summer.
I stuck up for Lowrie in a preseason article advocating his role as the starting shortstop. To be frank, Lowrie has, in 3-plus seasons, been way too inconsistent health-wise for me to keep playing that broken record. But he has experience at all four infield positions, his plate discipline is still solid and, until he's an unrestricted free agent or his trade value exceeds his role on the team, keep him.
Che-Hsuan Lin is right-handed contact hitter in Pawtucket with, by all accounts, the best outfield range and arm at any level in the Red Sox organization. If not for his lack of run production, he'd probably have a shot at Gold Gloves throughout his career. He offers next to nothing in the way of power, but Lin has legitimate base-stealing speed, plate discipline beyond his age (22), and he is difficult to strike out.
Hinske is a pure pipe dream. The Braves have a 2012 option for him worth $1.25 million, and there's no reason they wouldn't exercise it. I just love his power, and the versatility to play corner infield, and fill in for corner outfielders when needed. He's a popular player with fans, and in the clubhouse.
Starting Rotation No. 1-3
Josh Beckett, SP
J. Meric/Getty Images
- Jon Lester, SP
- Josh Beckett, SP
- Clay Buchholz, SP
No real surprises here either. Despite Josh Beckett having the superior statistical season thus far, I still see Lester as the ace of the staff—2011 notwithstanding, he's probably the most durable guy on the rotation.
Health has become an increasing concern with the pitching staff this year, which largely is the only mark against the top three. Clay Buchholz, in particular, raises alarms because he has not yet had a disabled list-free season at the Major League level.
Starting Rotation No. 4-5
John Lackey, SP
Darren McCollester/Getty Images
- John Lackey, SP
- Felix Doubront, SP
Love him. Hate him. Lackey will be the No. 4 starter for a few more seasons yet. His contract makes him untradeable at this point, and considering the health concerns up and down the rotation, I doubt the Sox are even taking offers.
Felix Doubront has payed his dues. I have zero confidence in Dice-K making it back for anything approaching a full season next year, and Felix is the most Major League-ready player. Kyle Weiland clearly needs more seasoning, and Andrew Miller is a threat to walk the ballpark at any point. Two lefties also make it very uncomfortable for certain lineups in long series.
Bullpen: Closer, Setup
Daniel Bard, RP
Tom Pennington/Getty Images
- Daniel Bard, Closer
- Matt Albers, Setup
- Bobby Jenks, Setup
It shouldn't be a surprise to many if Jonathan Papelbon doesn't return in 2012. I don't think Pap' is quite worth the $12 million he's getting now, and I'm certain he's as unwilling to take a pay cut as Theo is unwilling to give him Mariano Rivera money.
Bard, statistically speaking, has been far and away Boston's best reliever for two seasons. His 46/12 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2011 is phenomenal, and in terms of pure nastiness, no one under contract for the Red Sox is more suited to close out games than he is.
Matt Albers has been an unsung hero for the bullpen this year, and credit goes to the Red Sox scouts who saw potential in him despite some ugly seasons in Baltimore. If he maintain his performance, there's no reason he can't be a permanent seventh inning guy, with occasional eighth-inning duty.
Bobby Jenks makes the list simply because he's under contract and there's no one else on a 40-man roster with late-inning experience. This is one area the Red Sox may look externally for solutions this offseason. If someone along the lines of Nate Robertson, Mike Adams or Aaron Crow becomes available in the next several months, I'd expect Boston to jump at the chance for setup help.
Bullpen: Long, Middle, Lefty
Alfredo Aceves, RP
Rob Carr/Getty Images
- Alfredo Aceves, RP
- Dan Wheeler, RP
- Franklin Morales, RP
When it comes to overall value for the money, it would be difficult to dispute Alfredo Aceves' importance to the 2011 team. In much the same long relief role as Tim Wakefield has had for so many years, Aceves has shown a keen ability to step up as a starter when needed, and to chip in solid outings on short rest in relief too.
Dan Wheeler, though statistically underwhelming, has been very good of late and has a clean health record. He may have the best command of his pitches of anyone in the bullpen, and comes at a pretty low price.
Franklin Morales has impressed in his small sample size in Boston. His stuff is great, and lefties are sporting an anemic .188 average against him. I could be convinced there are better options available externally, but Morales far exceeds the other left-handed options in the Red Sox system right now.
Payroll and Free Agency
GM Theo Epstein and Manager Terry Francona
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
For those paying attention, this projection totaled 24 players, and I leave the door open for a seventh relief pitcher or another utility position player to take it, depending on the Red Sox's needs. The 25th spot tends to fluctuate in this manner, taking into account pitching staff workload and injuries to the team.
Under my 2012 roster scenario, even with pay raises the Red Sox will cut about $35 million from the current payroll. This doesn't take into account arbitration raises, which will include a couple of relievers, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jacoby Ellsbury. Giving their respective 2011 salaries, I don't think that will add more than about $10 million after arbitration.
Assuming a starting point around $140 million, that will signify a surplus of $25 million over the 2011 payroll. While fiscal restraint certainly has to be in the general manager toolbox, I wouldn't bet on Theo Epstein to remain dormant this winter. If there is a lights-out arm available that would be a clear upgrade in the bullpen or rotation, count on the Red Sox to show interest.
Likewise, while the possibility of Jose Reyes coming to Boston has all but dimmed, if there is a bona fide shortstop available who would succinctly improve the team over Lowrie or Iglesias, Boston will be sure to make an offer.