Red Sox 2012 Offseason Outlook: Boston's Options from David Ortiz to Jose Reyes
They say if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
The 2011 Red Sox certainly broke, but there is much debate as to how much fixing actually needs to be done before the start of the 2012 campaign.
Boston's September collapse left many in Beantown calling for heads to roll. General Manager Theo Epstein and Manager Terry Francona have since left the organization and several prominent free agents have decided to test the market.
Boston must decide whether to bring back closer Jonathan Papelbon and designated hitter David Ortiz, while monitoring the free-agent class and trade market as we enter the offseason's most crucial period.
The High-Profile Hitting Options
Former Mets' SS Jose Reyes could command a contract in the range of $110-130 million over six years on the open market; a price Boston seems unlikely to approach. The Sox already have similar offensive players in Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford, making the allocation of another $100 million to a speedy, top-of-the-order type hitter unlikely. The interest in Reyes would seem to fall more into the category of "want" than "need."
If David Ortiz isn't retained, former Brewers 1B Prince Fielder would seem to be an ideal replacement for the slugger. His power, on-base percentage and youth (still only 27 years old) make Fielder one of the most coveted free agents in the class.
However, his body type (perhaps best described as "rotund") and potentially extremely high price tag have many questioning how much he is really worth. Though they will likely have interest, in the end, Boston figures to shy away from spending $20-plus million per season on a DH for the next seven to eight seasons.
Boston's September collapse can't be blamed on the offense, as they led all of baseball in 2011 in runs scored, hits, on-base percentage and slugging percentage for the season. They retain the contractual rights to every starting position player from last season for 2012 with the exception of right fielder JD Drew and designated hitter David Ortiz.
Ortiz has elected to test free agency and figures to draw interest from a number of American League teams. His value is capped by his inability to play the field, and due to his folk-hero status in Boston, he may be worth more to the Sox than anyone else. Look for the two sides to come together on an agreement in the two-year, $25 million range.
Boston elected to exercise SS Marco Scutaro's option for next season, leaving right field as the only position Boston may look to upgrade for 2012. However, with the strong play of Josh Reddick in 2011 and Ryan Kalish in 2010, Boston may be better off letting their two young outfielders battle for the starting job in spring training, rather than pursuing veteran options like Carlos Beltran or Michael Cuddyer.
The Starting Rotation
Boston can safely slot incumbent starters Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz into the top three spots of their rotation in 2012, but it's anyone's guess as to who will follow them.
The free-agent crop is thin this year in regards to top-flight starting pitching, which likely means teams will have to overpay for mediocre talent.
Rangers lefty C.J. Wilson is in line to receive something in the range of $85 million for five years; a price that Boston should be reluctant to meet.
Cardinals right-hander Edwin Jackson has been inconsistent but very durable over his career. The 28-year-old Jackson could be in line for a four-year contract in the range of $50 million, which makes him an attractive second-tier option this offseason. As a No. 4 starter, Boston could do much worse.
Recently, the Red Sox have been content to go into spring training with a number of options for their final rotation spot who would vie for the job. Though they may elect to do the same this year, I wouldn't rule out the possibility of bringing back Eric Bedard on an incentive-laden one-year deal or adding another veteran via trade.
Closer Jonathan Papelbon has decided to test the free-agent market, leaving the team with uncertainty at the back end of their bullpen for the first time in years. The Sox could opt to re-sign Papelbon, but it will cost them.
Widely regarded as a superior option to Phillies Closer Ryan Madson, who is reportedly close to inking a four-year, $40-million-plus contract to remain in Philadelphia, Papelbon could be in line for $50-million-plus on the open market. If Boston loses the Papelbon Sweepstakes they will look to secure the rights to another established closer; likely entering the bidding wars for closers Francisco Rodriguez, Heath Bell and Joe Nathan.
Boston can't count on Bobby Jenks to come back strong in 2012, so they must look to add at least one setup man as well. Young fireballer Daniel Bard will likely return to his familiar role in the eighth inning, but adding someone like Frank Francisco to handle the seventh inning would be ideal.
The Trade Market
The Braves have made right-hander Jair Jurrjens available through trade and Boston appears likely to exchange names with Atlanta. Given Atlanta's need for an outfielder and eventual replacement for Chipper Jones at third base, Boston may be able to entice the Braves to part with Jurrjens for some combination of Jed Lowrie, Reddick, Kalish and third base prospect Will Middlebrooks.
The Reds have a surplus of young arms and may look to deal one this offseason in an attempt to free up a rotation spot for left-handed flame thrower Aroldis Chapman. Boston could try to entice the Reds to trade youngsters Johnny Cueto or Edinson Volquez by offering third basemen and Cincinnati native Kevin Youkilis. Though Sox fans would hate to see him go, trading Youk for young pitching before he enters his mid-30s may benefit the team both in the long and short term.
Though he is testing the free agent market for the first time since becoming a Red Sox in 2003, DH David Ortiz seems destined to return in 2012, likely agreeing to a two year contract.
Closer Jonathan Papelbon may find a team willing to give him the record-setting contract he desires in free agency, but at the end of the day I think he returns to Boston on a four-year deal. If he isn't retained, look for Francisco Rodriguez or Joe Nathan to become the team's closer in the short-term, as Daniel Bard is groomed for the role in a year or two.
Boston may be reluctant to hand out another five-year contract to a pitcher in his 30s following the John Lackey disaster, and may look to cheaper alternatives. Ultimately, I think they sign Mark Buehrle or Edwin Jackson to serve as the team's #4 starter, while acquiring another starter via trade.
Adding offense doesn't figure to be a major part of Boston's offseason plan, and in the end I think they let Josh Reddick and Ryan Kalish compete in Spring Training for the job in right field.
Remember, this team barely missed out on the playoffs despite a historical collapse in September, so overreacting with major spending in free agency doesn't seem wise. With a bounce-back season expected from Carl Crawford and an improved starting rotation, Boston could approach the 100-win mark in 2012.