Boston Red Sox: 10 Free Agents to Watch This Offseason

Matt SAnalyst IIIAugust 17, 2011

Boston Red Sox: 10 Free Agents to Watch This Offseason

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    Boston's version of a blockbuster trade at this year's deadline was acquiring Erik Bedard from Seattle in a three-team swap.  And while that addition cost the Sox very little and was a reasonably good decision, it didn't solve any long-term problems.

    The club is still faced with a rotation that is missing a fifth starter.  Theo Epstein and company must still make a decision on what to offer David Ortiz.  And, as always, shortstop remains a sore spot moving forward.

    Regardless of whether or not the Sox pick up Marco Scutaro's option, they'll be looking for middle infield help.  They'll also be thinking past 2012, given that Jacoby Ellsbury and Kevin Youkilis will both hit free agency after the season ends.

    The 2012 free-agent class includes some impressive names, and though Boston probably won't offer up another Carl Crawford-type deal (seven years, $142 million), none of us truly knows what will happen until the season begins.

    After all, who thought that Boston would ink Crawford himself after trading for Adrian Gonzalez? 

    Here are 10 names that the Sox and their fans should have their eyes on this winter.

No. 10: David Ortiz

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    Raise your hand if you think an extension will somehow get done over the next month and a half. Right.  Not seeing any hands, let's move on.

    Ortiz will become a free agent, and Boston will be forced to make a decision on whether or not to bring him back.  His demands are likely to be more than the team really wants to pay, and getting the Sox to go for a three-year deal will be a hard sell.

    In the end, odds are that Big Papi will be back in Boston, and that would be good for both sides.  He may have to take a little less money, and that third year will almost certainly be a team option.  But the deal should get done. 

No. 9: Wilson Betemit

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    The Tigers acquired Betemit at the deadline, and it's entirely possible that they'll attempt to keep him around for a while. But assuming he hits the market again, he'd be a solid add for the Red Sox.

    Looking back on 2011, it's easy to see why.  Shortstop has been a sore spot yet again, Kevin Youkilis has been hit with nagging injuries here and there, and there were moments when even second base could have used some depth.

    Betemit can play multiple positions, and while he's not a big, flashy name, he's a dependable player who won't hurt the club at the plate or in the field.  Moreover, his price tag is reasonable.

    However, Boston's decision on Marco Scutaro's option could impact the search for infielders.

No. 8: Ramon Hernandez

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    Jarrod Saltalamacchia has been a pleasant surprise for the Sox this year.  His bat is finally coming around, and he's played solid defense behind the plate.  In tandem with Jason Varitek, he's given the team some security at a position of need.

    But Varitek will be a free agent after the season, and at some point he simply has to retire.  Going on 40 years old, he should probably step away now, particularly if the Sox enjoy a successful postseason run.

    If that happens, Salty will need a veteran presence as a backup and as a teacher.  Ramon Hernandez has been a solid catcher for a long time, and it doesn't hurt that he's sporting an .832 OPS in 246 at-bats this year.

No. 7: Michael Cuddyer

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    Cuddyer is obviously talented enough to be an everyday player, so it doesn't necessarily make sense for him to come to Boston.  He'd be joining an increasingly crowded outfield—yes, J.D. Drew will be mercifully gone, but Josh Reddick and Ryan Kalish are both likely to see time in right.

    In many ways, Cuddyer would be a luxury purchase for the Sox, but he'd also be a smart one.  He can play numerous positions, even filling in at various infield spots as needed.

    It's a long shot, but with the way injuries have impacted the team in recent years, the Sox should at least consider trying to win him away from the Twins.

No. 6: Hiroki Kuroda

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    Kuroda was a popular trade-deadline target, but ended up staying put in L.A.  With the Dodgers' financial woes, it's possible that he'll be in a new uniform next year.  

    Kuroda's advanced age means a short-term deal is the most likely scenario, so L.A. could well bring him back for a reasonable cost. But if he hits the market, the Sox ought to try and persuade him to come east.

    Kuroda has been consistent and reliable throughout his MLB career and, at roughly $10-12 million per year, would be a sensible add.  He could push John Lackey to the back of the rotation while giving Boston a fourth arm to depend on.

No. 5: Paul Maholm

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    If Boston wants to go younger than Kuroda, they should consider Maholm.  He's been getting the job done this year for the Pirates with a career-best 3.60 ERA and 1.28 WHIP.

    Granted, those aren't stellar numbers, and he'd likely see some attrition in the AL East, but as a back-end arm, he'd be a fine add.  And with a run-producing lineup behind him, he should be able to keep the team in games.

    Of course, all of this depends on whether the Pirates exercise their team option, which is right around $10 million.

No. 4: C.J. Wilson

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    Wilson's numbers are a bit rosier than they should be this year, and he has a tendency to allow too many baserunners.  His 2011 has been bolstered by a fairly soft schedule of starts, but there's no denying that he's a quality starter who can compete in the AL.  And he throws with power.

    Whether or not Wilson becomes a legitimate target will depend on several factors.  Will the Rangers look to re-sign him?  Will his demands be out of line in terms of money or years?

    Wilson is 30 years old and will be getting what should be the biggest contract of his career, so he'll want to make it count—three straight seasons with an ERA under 3.50 gives him a lot of negotiating power.

    If he is affordable, the Sox would be crazy not to consider him. 

No. 3: Heath Bell

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    Recent signs are pointing to Boston bringing back free-agent-to-be, Jonathan Papelbon.  Let's assume for a moment that he does indeed re-sign with the team.  Will that mean that the Sox are content to leave the bullpen as is?


    Remember that Tim Wakefield will likely be gone after this year, particularly if he's able to reach the 200-win mark before the end of the season.  When he's not spot-starting, Wake' has been the club's long relief option.  Someone else will have to slide into that role (Michael Bowden or Felix Doubront?), which means other vacancies open up.

    The Sox have to at least consider Bell, who is arguably the most dominant reliever out there.

No. 2: Koji Uehara

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    Uehara has a vesting option for 2012 that will almost certainly be met based on his stellar 2011 season, so talking about him may be moot.  However, if he is available, he's a guy who Boston would love to have.

    Uehara posted spectacular numbers in the AL East while pitching in relief for the Orioles.  With Daniel Bard and (possibly) Papelbon, he would represent a true lockdown trio that could handle the final three innings of any game against any opponent.

    His 1.84 ERA and 0.71 WHIP are microscopic, and deserve the attention of every contender this winter.

No. 1: Prince Fielder

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    The Red Sox are set for the foreseeable future at first base.  Adrian Gonzalez should be a fixture for the better part of a decade—but DH is another story.  Yes, Ortiz may be back, but if that falls through Boston will have to consider alternatives.

    One would be to have Kevin Youkilis split his time between DH and third, while bringing in another infielder. But another, glitzier option would be the Big Veggie.

    Remember that the Sox have roughly $52 million coming off the books next year, the biggest chunk being Drew's salary.  While they should spend that money on pitching, they have to at least look at a guy who could be the best, pure power-hitter in baseball.

    Fielder has a body tailor-made for the DH position and, while he may resist the change, Boston has to be interested in his future.  Will he really be a Red Sox?  Probably not, but it's fun to think about.

What About...

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    You may be asking: What about the prize of the free-agent class, Albert Pujols?

    What about a long-term option at shortstop in Jose Reyes?

    What about CC Sabathia, who will likely opt out of his current contract?

    What about Carlos Beltran who may or may not stick in San Fran?

    It's fair to wonder what will happen to these big name free-agents, but the reality is that Boston is unlikely to land them.  Sabathia will almost certainly renegotiate with the Yanks, carving out a new and more lucrative deal that will take him to retirement.  The Mets should keep Reyes, but if they don't, his price and skill set make him a bad fit in Boston. And Beltran is a little past his prime and too injury-prone to be considered a real option.

    Pujols is one name worth talking about, but only to a point.  Yes, he's the best player in the game, but would he really come to Boston as a DH?  I doubt anyone believes it will happen.  St. Louis would be crazy to let him escape, whatever his asking price may be.

    So, while dreaming of adding these powerful players is great for wiling away the winter hours, all of them will be playing elsewhere next spring.