Boston Red Sox: 8 Realistic Offseason Moves the Sox Should Consider for 2012
On Tuesday, there may be some relief from the paralysis that seems to have gripped Red Sox management since the disastrous end to the season.
Hopefully, the press conference to formally announce Ben Cherington’s assumption of GM duties from Theo Epstein will signal the beginning of a serious effort to refloat the good ship BoSox.
There is one festering sore that Cherington must immediately address.
Somehow, some way, he and the Red Sox must overcome the flow of rumor, innuendo and criticism that is dominating New England sports media. The local "Boys of Summer," the best players in MLB for four months, are being savaged in the press.
Boston area talk radio coverage these days sounds like what we might expect from a play by play of Christians vs. Lions in the Roman Colosseum.
The effect is compounded by an ineffectual response by the team: not just the players, but also ownership.
This is truly a PR disaster, and without being effectively blunted or refuted, it will fester for months like a dead critter under your porch.
Not until that is resolved will they be able to move on to actually resolve team (and eventually on-field) issues.
The best way to get a puppy to give up a chew toy is to tempt him with another one, and the same applies to reporters.
Here are a few suggestions that might give the media something else to talk about.
1. Don't Overreact and Blow Up One of the Best Teams in Baseball
When something bad happens, it's human nature to want to blame someone, or something.
The fact that a disaster may be an act of God or just an unfortunate accident or a perfect storm of bad luck is not good enough. We have to string someone up. Remember poor Steve Bartman?
Fans vicariously combine their own lives, joys and heartbreaks with the teams they support. Unfortunately, the media (talk radio especially) may sometimes fan those flames by blowing controversies out of proportion.
The Red Sox "chicken, beer and videogames" brouhaha is not "Sex, Lies and Videotape." The Red Sox did not collapse in September because three pitchers drank rally beers in the clubhouse. Get past it and move on, people.
More importantly, don't overreact. Make baseball decisions, not "holier than thou" social judgments. Remember that this WAS the best team in baseball for much of the season (and they were probably drinking rally beers during that stretch as well).
Ignore those frothing at the mouth to trade Beckett, get rid of Crawford, etc. Instead, unite around this team's strengths and do everything you can to get them ready to play in April. They can still be the best team in baseball.
2. Hire a Manager with Playing Creds. Sign and Pay Coaches of the Same Ilk
If a clubhouse problem—especially among veteran pitchers—led to Terry Francona’s inability to get the effort and results desired, how will that problem be solved by bringing in a no-name newcomer with even less street cred or clout than Francona?
Former Red Sox pitcher Dick Drago told me, "If the players did not step up, and there is a problem in the clubhouse, then they need a manager who was a former major league player with enough stature to at least get the attention of everyone in the clubhouse.”
As I wrote previously about potential managerial candidates, the Arizona Diamondbacks appear to have found such an individual in Kirk Gibson, who commands automatic respect for the way he played the game himself.
Gibson also surrounded himself with a coaching staff made up of former players, such as Don Baylor, Alan Trammell, Matt Williams, and Eric Young who could certainly provide clubhouse leadership as well as a link between players and management.
Soldiers going into combat felt better if their leaders had already experienced a taste of battle.
3. Cut the Ties with Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek
Jason Varitek joined the Red Sox in 1997; remember the trading deadline deal of Heathcliffe Slocumb to Seattle for Tek and Derek Lowe? Tim Wakefield arrived in Boston two years earlier, and both had a hand in the 2004 and 2007 World Series wins.
But this is 2011, and the team is clearly at a crossroads. Boston should gratefully acknowledge their past contributions, and respectfully bid adieu to these aging warriors.
This past season, Wakefield was not a clutch performer. With two outs and runners in scoring position, batters hit .306 against him. In "late and close" situations batters, hit .417 against him. He also posted a second-half ERA of 5.55.
The added stress on the catching stuff of corralling his knuckleball (which is clearly not as unhittable as it used to be) is simply no longer worth it.
Wakefield told Jon Paul Morosi of FOXSports.com that he wants to return in 2012 for a 20th season. However, Wake lost me with his untimely statement that he should be kept around so that the fans could see him become the winningest pitcher in Red Sox history. I don’t think those fans want to watch the Red Sox lose a dozen extra games trying to achieve that milestone!
Let's see, the knuckleballer is seven wins away from his goal. He went eight starts between his 199th and 200th career wins, so if he keeps that pace up it will take only 56 more starts (about 2 1/2 years worth at his recent pace) to get there. Time to cut the cord.
The end of the road is also here for the three-time All Star catcher, who also earned a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger award in 2005. His longevity has been due to his unquestioned ability to work with pitchers and his ability to call a game. However, the rest of his skills, both offensively and defensively, have eroded dramatically in recent years.
In 2011, Varitek hit .176 in the second half (.077 in September), even though he played in considerably fewer games than the first half (26 to 42). His ability to hit in the clutch has all but disappeared; in 14 chances with the bases loaded or runners on second and third, he did not get a single hit, and he struck out eight times.
This year he only threw out 14 percent of potential base stealers, half the rate of success he had in his best years.
4. Move John Lackey Out, Some Way, Somehow
And I don't say that just because he drank beer in the clubhouse, or even because he sometimes showed up his teammates on the field. He needs a new home because time after time, he just did not carry the mail in Boston.
This is clearly shown by his 6.41 ERA this year, the highest ERA in the history of the franchise for anyone who pitched 150 innings or more, and a whopping 34 percent worse than the league average.
There is also something to the argument that Lackey is the poster boy for the Red Sox failure this year, and if someone needs to be sacrificed on the altar of the baseball gods before good fortune returns to Fenway, well, then, Lackey should be that sacrifice.
In a WEEI (Boston) radio interview, Curt Schilling encapsulated the frustration Red Sox fans have with Lackey. Speaking of the possibility of starting next season with Lackey still in a Red Sox uniform, he said: "…can you imagine John Lackey jogging onto that field?… I'm saying, John is going to get a Yankee-like reception.''
During the September collapse, Lackey’s ERA was a preposterous 9.13. Even his 12 wins are misleading, because he won only one game all year when the Red Sox scored 5 or fewer runs. Batters hit .333 against him with two outs and runners in scoring position, and .364 in the seventh inning or later of close games.
In retrospect, it's easy to say that the Lackey signing was a huge mistake. However, at the time the deal was made, Red Sox fans were excited to have him. At the end of 2009, Lackey was one of the best pitchers in the American League.
From 2005 through 2009 with the Angels, he was 69-38 with a 3.49 ERA. That includes a great 2007 season, when he won 19 games with a league-leading 3.01 ERA. He made the All-Star team that year, and finished third in Cy Young Award balloting.
The point is that his career is not necessarily over; it's just over (or should be) in Boston. Get him out of Fenway, where his career ERA is 5.45, compared to 3.88 everywhere else and he might provide future value to another team. There have been reports that San Diego might consider taking him, where he would pitch half the time in the very spacious and forgiving PETCO Field.
He points out that Lackey's ERA in six career starts at Progressive Field is 2.79, which is his lowest ERA in any ballpark where he has had more than three starts. Going to Cleveland would take him out of the brutal AL East, where he fared especially poorly.
Eleven of his 28 starts this year were against the Yankees, Rays and Blue Jays. His ERA in those 11 starts was 7.39. If he joined the Tribe, he might face each AL East team once, but he could get close to 20 starts in the AL Central. Consider these career ERAs against: Detroit 4.01, Chicago 3.81, Minnesota 3.68 and Kansas City 3.36.
Some say there's no sense in trying to trade him; no one will pick up the salary. That may well be true, but if the Red Sox did a deal in which they packaged him with a player that the other team really wanted, something might get done. (Think of Mike Lowell coming to Boston as the throw-in on the Josh Beckett deal. How did that work out?)
Yes, they would have to pick up a large chunk of the $45.5 million left on his contract, but it may be time to acknowledge that Lackey coming to Boston was a mistake...for both parties.
Bottom line: Free up the roster spot. Cleanse the soul.
NOTE: On October 25, the Red Sox announced Lackey would undergo Tommy John surgery, which would cost him the 2012 season as well as part of 2013.
5. Papelbon and Ortiz: Make the Decisions Sooner Rather Than Later
Many of the moves the Red Sox might make are dependent on what they do with Pap and Papi. Yes, they should make decent offers to both, and make an honest effort to sign both. But they should not let it drag out. If they do, then the best available alternative options may no longer be available.
That's why they should re-sign Ortiz, and do it quickly. He's one of the few effective DHs who doesn't play in the field. There is no comparable replacement out there. He is also arguably the most beloved Red Sox player in the last 20 years.
On the other hand, there are a number of good closers available this year. If Papelbon wants to "set the market for closers" as he has said, the Red Sox might be better off signing a Heath Bell or a Ryan Madson for several (or many) millions less.
Make a fair attempt to sign Pap, but if you are too far apart, cut the ties. If you drag the negotiations out too long, those other prime closer prospects will sign elsewhere and you still may not end up with Pap.
It's important to make those decisions quickly; then the dominoes will fall into place.
6. Make Daniel Bard a Starter
It's a lot harder to develop (or find) good starting pitchers than it is to find relievers. A top-four rotation of Beckett-Lester-Buchholz-Bard is pretty strong, and the No. 5 spot can be filled by trading for or signing one or more veterans, such as Gavin Floyd or John Danks from the White Sox.
Let’s not forget Daisuke Matsuzaka could be back by the middle of the year, and his salary is already on the books.
If Alfredo Aceves can't fill the eighth inning role, then perhaps someone like Brad Lidge or Grant Balfour could.
7. Trade Kevin Youkilis for Pitching and Catching Depth
(Note that this is the first move to involve other teams. The first six moves the Red Sox should make for 2012 are all internal.)
Youk will be 33 in March, and for a player of his caliber, he is relatively affordable at $12 million for 2012. This the fourth and final year of a contract he signed in 2009, although there is a $13 million team option for 2013 with a $1 million buyout. He also has serious credibility; at the start of last season he was 35th on the Sporting News list of the 50 greatest current baseball players.
Everyone knows that Youkilis plays the game as hard as anyone, and his style of play has caused him to beaten up pretty well the last couple of years. He will probably last longer as a first baseman moving forward, but teams desperate for a good third baseman (such as the Rockies) could certainly get a couple of decent years out of him at that position.
Reliever Huston Street is available, and the Red Sox might be able to pry away another prospect or two for Youk, such as their top-rated minor leaguer, catcher Wilin Rosario, and/or the erratic but talented LHP Tyler Matzek.
Youkilis is certainly no slouch as a first baseman, either; after all, he holds the major league record for most consecutive errorless games (238) at first base.
While Cleveland does not match up well as far as the Red Sox needs go, there is one player who might be the key to a deal. That’s pitcher Justin Masterson, who went the Indians from the Red Sox in the 2009 trading deadline deal for Victor Martinez. Add catching prospect Chun-Hsui Chen to the deal and Youk may be headed for Cleveland.
Another Ohio option might be Cincinnati, Youk’s hometown. While he has expressed a desire to play there at some point, there is a logjam at first base (Votto and Alonso), and the Reds’ interest in him would depend largely on Scott Rolen’s ability to rebound from injury.
As he has shown throughout his career, Youkilis is no slouch with the bat, either. That could make him an attractive option for the hitting-starved Giants, Mariners or Athletics, all of whom have pitching to offer.
Or you could use Youk as part of a package to…
8. Go After Dodger Matt Kemp with Everything You've Got
To help overcome the bitter taste in the mouths of Red Sox Nation, the Red Sox should make a play for at least one highly ranked star. J.D. Drew and his five-year, $70 million deal will finally come off the books this year.
Factor in raises for Pedroia, Gonzales and a big arbitration bump for Ellsbury, and the Red Sox should still be about $52 million better off this year salary-wise than last year, so there is conceivably room for at least one big acquisition.
With Adrian Gonzales firmly in place at first base, pursuing Fielder, Pujols or Votto makes little sense.
The Red Sox need a right-handed-hitting outfielder, so why not go after the best? Kemp sported a .963 OPS this season to go along with 39 HR, 113 RBI, 40 stolen bases and a .320 batting average.
Yes, I know, it's unheard of to trade a player likely to be named this year's NL MVP. However, the Dodgers face serious financial difficulties due to the contentious divorce of owner Frank and Jamie McCourt.
This past week, Dodgers GM Ned Colletti expressed concern about the team’s payroll after Frank McCourt agreed to pay Jamie McCourt $130 million in exchange for her dropping any ownership claim to the team.
If McCourt does not make that payment, he may have to sell the team, and then all bets would be off.
As a result, while the Dodgers consider Kemp and pitcher Clayton Kershaw to be the cornerstones of their franchise, they may not be able to resign both. The payroll situation is further complicated by the bloated contracts of Juan Uribe, Ted Lilly and Chad Billingsley. The pending free agency of Andre Ethier adds to the financial pressure.
Kemp is entering the final year of his contract. He earned more than $6.9 million in 2011 and is arbitration eligible this year, which means he's due for a huge raise. Even if the Dodgers can swallow the arbitration bump, it may be impossible for them to sign Kemp to a new contract next year, so they should at least listen to offers.
The Red Sox might be able to land him with a pre-emptive strike involving truckloads of cash, Kevin Youkilis, a front-line pitching prospect such as Felix Doubront and either Ryan Kalish or Josh Reddick.
Youkilis could be the key to the deal, since the Dodgers seem unlikely to exercise Casey Blake's $6 million option. Cash from the Red Sox could enable the Dodgers to re-sign Ethier as well.