Boston Red Sox: 16 Bold Predictions for Their Offseason
As Boston enters the Bobby Valentine era, questions and controversy still abound from the calamitous end to the 2011 season.
While team ownership and management are obviously aware that it’s necessary to right the ship, they don’t all seem to pulling in the same direction to accomplish that goal.
Part of this is a disconnect resulting from the vacuum created by the departures of Theo Epstein and Terry Francona.
Will the “better late than never” approach work, now that those voids have been filled? Will the Red Sox be ready to play championship-caliber baseball in April 2012?
Here are some predictions about what will take place between now and then.
1. Red Sox Run Risk of Entering Spring Training Without Dealing with 2011 Ghosts
Orioles celebrate after knocking Red Sox out of playoffs
Greg Fiume/Getty Images
Hiring Bobby Valentine is the application of lipstick to that pig.
His high-profile, volatile personality and relative accessibility will distract the media during the hot stove winter. Red Sox management, sensing a reduction in the flow of rumor, innuendo and criticism long prevalent in New England media (especially sports-talk radio), may think the 2011 problem has gone away.
But come spring, that will change, and the problem will manifest itself again, just like the thawing carcass of some frozen critter lying under your porch.
Reporters will get their first crack at most of the players since the 2011 collapse. If the sticky questions about the end of last season are still unanswered, they will be asked again.
The launch of spring training will become a media circus, with the focus being on the end of 2011 instead of the beginning of 2012.
This will be a major distraction from preparing for a new season.
2. Bobby Valentine Will Create a Major Controversy or Two Before Spring Training
Will the next argument be with one of his key players?
Unlike Terry Francona, Valentine shoots from the hip, and has no qualms about letting everyone know exactly how he feels.
While this approach may be refreshing for a while, it has the potential for backfiring if he repeats his history of criticizing his own players in public.
Former Red Sox pitcher Dick Drago is concerned that Valentine’s reputation for criticizing players will make it more difficult for him to accomplish what he needs to in that clubhouse.
"Tony La Russa, Lou Piniella and others were tough managers, but you didn't see them ripping their ballplayers in public the way Valentine has," Drago told me. "Whether it's deserved or not, Valentine has a reputation for being publicly critical of his players. If that does not change, he will not succeed in Boston."
Perhaps the most celebrated spat manager Valentine had with a player was in 1997, when he took on his All-Star catcher Todd Hundley.
Hundley was a leader of that Mets team, as well as very popular with the fans. Valentine told reporters that he thought Hundley was not getting enough sleep—implying that night life was affecting his play.
There is additional evidence to back up these concerns, such as the "Whartongate" incident in 2000, when as manager of the Mets, Valentine belittled some of his own players and took shots at management during a “business of baseball” speech to students at the Wharton School of Business.
As George Vecsey wrote in the New York Times this week, “Bobby V…was never shy about critiquing his own players.”
Who might be likely confrontation candidates in his new clubhouse?
As an ESPN analyst, Valentine took every opportunity to criticize mistakes, bad plays and what he considered to be poor judgment on the playing field.
According to the Boston Herald, Valentine criticized at least two of his key players on-air. During a Rays-Angels game in 2010, he criticized Carl Crawford's outfield play, saying, "I was probably a little faster, at least a half-step faster, than Carl, maybe a full step."
Later the same year, Valentine decried Josh Beckett’s glacial pace on the mound, saying, "That’s a half-hour added to this game of him standing around, and us sitting around, watching him do nothing."
I would not put it past Valentine to intentionally instigate such a confrontation in an effort to reinforce his standing as the “new sheriff in town” with the rest of the clubhouse.
3. Terry Francona Will Fill Bobby Valentine’s Now-Vacant Slot on ESPN
Terry Francona has proven to be very comfortable in front of a microphone.
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
While former Red Sox manager Terry Francona did not immediately land another MLB managing job, he may well swap places with Bobby Valentine on ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball”.
Even though he was mentioned in connection with both the Cubs and Cardinals opening, it’s not clear whether Francona truly wanted the stress of another field generalship so quickly after being booted out of Boston.
What we do know is that he stepped into Tim McCarver’s shoes in the Fox postseason broadcasts and did an excellent job.
SI.com media writer Richard Deitsch tweeted that Terry Francona visited the ESPN offices in Connecticut on Dec. 3 to discuss a TV analyst position.
The swap makes a certain kind of diabolical sense. While it’s not in Francona’s nature to be as critical of players as Valentine was, I’m sure he would be able to make his points in a less confrontational way.
Such an ESPN gig would also keep him in the spotlight for any midseason managing opportunities that may arise.
ESPN would like the idea because the swap itself would increase interest in the broadcasts.
4. The Red Sox Will Make One Blockbuster Trade for a Starting Pitcher
Felix Hernandez is one of the best trade targets out there.
Brandon Wade/Getty Images
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.
Even including raises for Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez and a big arbitration bump for Jacoby Ellsbury, 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 Gonzalez firmly in place at first base, pursuing Fielder, Pujols or Votto makes little sense. A stud starting pitcher should be the Red Sox target.
I've advocated since the season ended that the Red Sox make an all-out effort to get the Seattle ace, Felix Hernandez. One scenario that might work involves the Red Sox also absorbing the burdensome contracts of Chone Figgins and Ichiro Suzuki, as described here:
Yes, I know that Seattle would want a king's ransom for Hernandez, but by shedding the burdensome contracts mentioned above, a lot of money would be freed up for them to pursue the left-handed bat they most covet, Prince Fielder.
If the Mariners won't budge on Hernandez, the next priority would be to come up with an equally creative scenario to pry Tim Lincecum or Matt Cain loose from the Giants.
Again, a deal that includes the Red Sox absorption of burdensome contracts (such as Barry Zito and Aubrey Huff) would have to be at least considered in San Francisco.
Yes, I understand that both these moves are highly speculative, but the Red Sox should test them out before moving on to trade targets that ARE clearly available (Matt Garza, Gio Gonzales, Gavin Floyd, John Danks, etc.)
5. The Red Sox Will Kick the Tires on Cespedes, but That's All
Cespedes connects during 2009 World Baseball Classic (Photo by Jose L. Anaya)
Before last summer, only the most avid fans of international baseball knew who Yoenis (sometimes spelled Yoennis) Cespedes was. In July, the 26-year-old superstar outfielder disappeared from the Cuban national team and reappeared in the Dominican Republic, ready to offer his services to the highest bidder.
His agent introduced him to the baseball world via an incredible, over-the-top promotional video, with Star Wars music and an opening suitable for a big-budget holiday movie trailer.
The 20-minute marketing package shows a lot of fitness routines and a little baseball, all accompanied by music from the likes of Li’l Wayne, Chris Brown and Busta Rhymes.
To be fair, Cespedes is a chiseled, incredibly fit specimen, who performs an incredible series of exercises including 45" vertical box jumps and leg pressing 1,300 pounds.
The video has to be seen to be believed. It's available on YouTube at this link.
Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus calls it "the most epic scouting promotional video in the history of the human race."
According to scouts, however, the right-handed hitting Cespedes is the real deal—a five-tool player who broke the Cuban record for home runs with 33 in just 90 games this past season.
Goldstein, despite his mixed reaction to the video, calls Cespedes "arguably the best all-around player to come out of Cuba in a generation."
His combination of power and speed make him particularly attractive to MLB teams, including the Red Sox.
Joe McDonald quoted Cherington on ESPNBoston.com: “I don’t want to comment on our own evaluation, but it was a good chance to get to know him,” Cherington said.
According to Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times, some 60 to 70 scouts also traveled in mid-November to get a closer look at Cespedes. Multiple reports say that a number of other team executives have made the same pilgrimage.
One factor that will give Cherington pause is the price tag: out of the box, Cespedes and his agent will be seeking a payout in the $45 million to $60 million range.
Despite the lure of his potential, I get the feeling that Red Sox ownership is not ready to leap into that financial minefield again, after their recent investments in Daisuke Matsuzaka and Carl Crawford.
The Red Sox will kick the tires on Yoenis Cespedes, but at the end of the day, they will not be a major competitor for his services.
6.Bobby Jenks Will Be the Team’s “Comeback Player of the Year”
Jenks, the forgotten man in the Red Sox bullpen, will come back with something to prove.
J. Meric/Getty Images
OK, so I'm really going out on a limb on this one. But here's the thought process.
Eyebrows were raised around MLB when the Red Sox signed former White Sox closer Bobby Jenks to a two-year, $12 million contract at the end of 2010. The impression at the time was that GM Theo Epstein had acquired both insurance and leverage with reference to Jonathan Papelbon's upcoming free agency.
I also seem to recall that Jenks was promised the opportunity to compete for the closer’s role when and if Papelbon departed; this is borne out by the fact that his contract includes incentives for games finished.
Although several teams had shown interest in Jenks, he jumped at the opportunity to join the Red Sox. “It wasn’t a matter of money or years. I wanted to play baseball for the Red Sox. I got that opportunity and I jumped on it,” he told Alex Speier of WEEI last April.
Jenks' signing was immediately followed by a well-publicized feud with former Chisox manager Ozzie Guillen. According to Scott Merkin of MLB.com, Jenks said: "Why would I come back to that negativity? I'm looking forward to playing for a manager who knows how to run a bullpen."
Both Guillen and his son Oney responded in kind, and the resultant feud was well-described by David Brown of Yahoo.com: "The soap opera divorce between Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen and right-hander Bobby Jenks—in which there seem to be only children and no parents—keeps deteriorating."
If for no other reason than to prove the White Sox made a mistake by non-tendering him, Jenks wanted to do well in Boston.
All those plans blew up, however. After being crucified by the fans and local media for his performance (15.2 innings, ERA of 6.32), Jenks went on the DL in July with an undisclosed back problem.
He was advised to have surgery, and in the process of being evaluated for that surgery in mid-September, he was diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism. This is a potentially very serious; it involves a sudden blockage of an artery in the lung.
The treatment starts with blood thinners, and no surgeon will operate on his back while he is taking that medication.
He is now scheduled to be evaluated again before the end of the year. If the blood thinners work, Jenks could be cleared for back surgery. If the blood thinners don’t work, he may face surgery to fix the embolism.
Even though his status for spring training (and the first part of the 2012 season) is very much up in the air, I have a hunch he will be a pleasant surprise.
Reading between the lines, I sense that the back surgery is not that complicated as surgeries go. Jenks himself insists that he will be ready for spring training.
“As far as the recovery, the doctors are talking about weeks and not months,’’ Jenks told Michael Vega of the Boston Globe in September.
Jenks is still relatively young, and assuming he comes through his medical issues without complications, there is every reason to hope that he could surprise everyone.
The 30-year-old right-hander still has a good arm and good stuff (Baseball Almanac reports that his fastball was clocked at 102 mph in Seattle in 2005). His career ERA of 3.53 with 173 saves is not too shabby, and there is one other intriguing possibility.
At the end of 2010, the Texas Rangers considered signing him as a starting pitcher. He started 142 games in the Angels minor league system between 2000 and 2004; it was not until the White Sox picked him up just prior to the 2005 season that he became a reliever.
This potential flexibility may be an ace in the hole for his future.
7. The Team Will Trade for a Closer Rather Than Sign an Overpriced Free Agent
Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan could be a good trade target for the Red Sox
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
The Red Sox should not be in a hurry to sign a free-agent closer.
In fact, they may be better off waiting for the buying frenzy to subside, then sign one or more of the remaining arms on their terms.
An even more attractive option might be to trade for a closer. Andrew Bailey of Oakland and Huston Street of the Rockies are two names most often mentioned in trade rumors, but JJ Putz of the Arizona Diamondbacks might be dealt as well.
My thoughts are that the Red Sox should consider three closers who are more low-profile than Bailey, Street or Putz—and who would be affordable as well. They would fit the "low risk, high reward" philosophy espoused by Ben Cherington in his initial press conference as Red Sox GM.
Matt Conner of SB Nation Kansas City writes, "…entering his prime, Soria is still millions below market value for the best closers on the market. Simply put, Soria is the best closer for the money on the market."
Still only 27, he has a career ERA of 2.40 with 160 saves.
Conner also points to Soria's very favorable contract situation. There is a $6.5 million club option for 2012 that the Royals already exercised. In 2013 it becomes $8 million and in 2014, $8.75 million.
Another thing working in the Red Sox favor would be the perceived devaluation of a closer on a 90-loss team. Soria may be viewed elsewhere as a setup man, particularly in light of the fact that he relies on four pitches instead of an overpowering fastball to get batters out.
Brandon League has performed well out of the Seattle bullpen (37 saves in 2011 with a 2.79 ERA), but, as with Soria, some people think that a closer on a team buried in the cellar isn’t pitching under pressure.
The Mariners also know that League would be viewed elsewhere as a setup man, thus reducing his trade value.
Hanrahan might be the most intriguing option of all. For one thing, the Pirates appear to be aggressively trying to improve their team this year.
Tim Williams of PirateProspects.com writes, "The Pirates currently have needs at catcher, first base, and shortstop. They have a third baseman who had a horrible season in 2011, and no one really knows what they’re going to get from the young outfielders…"
The Red Sox match up well in all those areas except catcher. Kevin Youkilis might be part of a multi-player trade, and he would make a nice first-base option for the Pirates. Either Josh Reddick or Ryan Kalish could strengthen their outfield.
Hanrahan is under team control for two more years, Even though his 40-save performance in 2011 will earn him a nice bump in arbitration, he would still be affordable at the $4 million number projected by MLB TradeRumors.com.
8. Red Sox Will Take a Flier on Former Top Yankee Prospect Andrew Brackman
The multi-talented Brackman was also a basketball star at North Carolina State.
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Andrew Brackman, formerly a member of the Yankees "Killer B's" group of pitching prospects, is now a free agent—released recently by New York, who declined to pick up a $1.5 million option.
The Yankees signed Brackman out of NC State as their first round pick in 2007, even though his college career had been curtailed by an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery.
Brackman signed a very lucrative four-year contract—with at least $4.55 million guaranteed, according to Mike Axisa of fangraphs.com.
"Various escalators could have pushed the total value of the deal to $13 million, which would have been the richest in draft history [up to that time]," wrote Axisa.
Even though the signing has been a bust in retrospect, Baseball America (subscription required) had ranked Brackman as the seventh-best prospect in the entire 2007 draft, ahead of young stars such as Jason Heyward and Madison Bumgarner.
The powerful right-hander never regained his college form after rehab, and struggled greatly in the low minors with his mechanics and control. However, he did reasonably well in 2010 after being converted to a reliever.
Going into the 2011 season, Baseball America ranked Brackman as the third-best prospect in the Yankees system. Last year, however, he regressed again, with a poor strikeouts-to-walks ratio to go along with his highest-ever rate of HR allowed.
In one instance reported by Marc Carig of the Newark Star-Ledger, Brackman was warming up in the bullpen to come in as a reliever. He threw so many fastballs over the bullpen catcher's head and onto the field of play that the umpires had to stop the game.
With his 6'10" frame, Brackman has a Randy Johnson-like presence on the mound. Yes, he would be a project, and the Red Sox would need to be patient with him while he sorted out his mechanics, but the potential upside is huge.
Brackman would be another perfect fit for GM Ben Cherington's "low risk, high reward" acquisition philosophy. And then, there's always the opportunity to stick it to the Yankees…
9. Kevin Youkilis Will Be Traded for Pitching
His need to DH or play first to extend his career makes him an excellent trading chip for Boston.
Joel Auerbach/Getty Images
Youkilis has serious credibility; at the start of last season he was 35th on the Sporting News list of the 50 greatest current baseball players.
But he also poses a dilemma for the Red Sox.
The way he plays the game has taken a toll on his body, as the series of recent injuries shows. Long-term, he needs to play first base or DH to keep his body from breaking down.
He won't be playing much first base in Boston with Adrian Gonzales there. Assuming the Red Sox re-sign David Ortiz as DH, Youkilis doesn't really have a position to play full-time.
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.
No one plays the game harder than Youk, and I would hate to have to play against him. But Youk is the best (and most expendable) trade chip the Red Sox have.
A number of teams need corner infielders, and I could see Youkilis involved in a trade for pitching with clubs such as the As, Braves, Giants, Rockies or Pirates.
10. Daniel Bard Will Join the Starting Rotation
Daniel Bard was drafted out of North Carolina as a starter.
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
I've been beating the "Bard as a starter" drum since the season ended.
Point one: It's a lot harder to develop (or find) good starting pitchers than it is to find relievers.
Point two: I doubt Daniel Bard has the makeup to be a closer.
After all, he was 2-9 for the year, and his eighth-inning appearances (56 of them) are not as overpowering as many think. Yes, he had that lights-out midsummer stretch, and for the year, batters hit only .205 against him.
However, Bard allowed 22 runners to score, in addition to giving up 25 runs of his own, with a very average eighth-inning ERA of 4.38.
His disastrous September (ERA of 10.64 with nine walks in 11 innings pitched) adds to the concern.
What many forget is that the Red Sox drafted Bard as a starter, and he made 44 starts (with admittedly terrible results) in 2007.
Bard himself has said that starting wasn't the problem; he just was not pitching well that year, and the results would have been the same no matter what inning he pitched. At the start of the 2011 season, he expressed an interest in returning to a starting role.
To those who have suggested that the Red Sox should pursue C.J. Wilson, I remind you that Wilson was a reliever for five years before transitioning to a starting role in 2010.
I also believe the market will pay Wilson far more than he's worth, which is why I think it's a much shrewder investment for the Red Sox to make Bard a starting pitcher.
The Rangers have signed Joe Nathan so that they can convert their closer, Neftali Feliz, into the starting rotation—so there are two recent precedents for you.
One of the perceptions of Bard is that he is a one- (or at most two-) pitch pitcher. That's not true. If you go back to Bard's scouting report at redsoxprospects.com, it says: "Bard also mixes in an 80-82 mph slider with some nice bite. His slider really keeps hitters off balance. It can also dip down to about 76-78 mph with more slurve action. He also has a few other pitches in his arsenal that aren't used very often, including a high-80s cutter, a low-90s two-seamer, and a circle change."
The Red Sox will need to revamp the bullpen again this year, and if Bard can succeed in the rotation, they can plow the starting pitcher free-agent money they will save into the pen, and perhaps into a right-handed hitting outfielder.
Bard is arbitration-eligible, having earned $505,000 in 2011. Even with an arbitration bump, the Red Sox are not going to be able to find many starters with Bard’s stuff available at that price.
Let's face it, a top-four rotation of Beckett-Lester-Buchholz-Bard would not be bad.
The low-risk, high-reward potential seems to fit right in to GM Ben Cherington's plan.
11. Red Sox Will Sign Little-Known Matt Murton as Fourth Outfielder
In 2011, playing for Hanshin, Murton broke Ichiro's Japanese record for most hits in a season.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Matt Murton, who has played the last two seasons for the Hanshin Tigers in Japan, was drafted 32nd by the Red Sox in 2003, three slots behind Carlos Quentin and ahead of Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Adam Jones and Andre Ethier.
Murton played just 155 games in the Red Sox organization before the trade, but during that time, he exhibited the ability to get on base that has been the hallmark of his career.
In 2006, Murton became the Cubs' starting left fielder. He finished the year with the second-highest mark on the team in batting average, at .297, with 13 home runs and 62 runs batted in.
Unfortunately for Murton, the Cubs were seeking more power in their outfield; bringing in Cliff Floyd and Alfonso Soriano left little room for Murton.
According to Anna Katherine Clemmons of ESPN.com, Murton believed that if he could play full time, getting at-bats every day, he could show what he could do. So, in 2010, he signed with the Hanshin Tigers of the NPB, the highest Japanese professional league.
As a rookie in Japan, he became only the fourth player in Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) history to have a 200-hit season. On Oct. 5, 2010, Murton broke Ichiro Suzuki's single season hit record with his 211th hit.
Not surprisingly, he won the NPB batting title that year with a .349 average, He also contributed 17 home runs and 91 RBIs, to go along with an on-base percentage of .395, a .499 slugging percentage and an .894 OPS.
He continued to hit well in 2011, his option year, and Hanshin wants him back. There are also some recent reports out of Japan that he will re-sign with Hanshin.
But every indication is that Murton hopes that his performance in Japan has earned him another shot at MLB. There are a lot of similarities with Wade Boggs—another talented hitter who languished in the minors for several years before being given his chance.
Bottom line: He's an on-base machine, and he would not require a large contract. He earned $1.5 million in Japan this past year. I can see the Red Sox going after him.
12. Daisuke Matsuzaka Will Make a Major Contribution in the Second Half
Daisuke could be back from Tommy John surgery by the All-Star break.
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Daisuke underwent Tommy John surgery in June. He began playing catch at the beginning of October, and his recovery seems to be on schedule.
He could be back by the middle of 2012, and if he can overcome his frustrating inconsistency (brilliant one start, shaky for the next two) he could be an internal solution to the problem of starting pitching depth.
In the “What have you done for me lately?” category, Matsuzaka falls short. Over the past three seasons, he has compiled a 16-15 record with a 5.03 ERA. In 2011, he posted a 3-3 record and a 5.30 ERA before his surgery.
However, let’s not forget his 2008 season, when he went 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA. While there’s no way to tell if he can ever regain that form, the Red Sox have invested so much in him already that it’s silly not to try to find out.
Despite his frustrating tendency to nibble, thus elevating his pitch count, he has averaged almost six innings per start during his Red Sox career, with an above-league-average ERA.
He is entering the final season of his six year, $52 million contract. His salary is already on the books, and he’ll get it whether he returns to the Red Sox rotation, so it makes sense to hang on to him.
Wouldn’t you have preferred to see Dice-K pitching every fifth day down the stretch this year, instead of the likes of Weiland or even Bedard?
I think he will prove to be another pleasant surprise.
13. Tim Wakefield Will Finish His Career in the National League
Wakefield shows the grip on his famous knuckleball.
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Wakefield is the oldest active player in the majors (he turned 45 on Aug. 2), and is the longest-tenured Red Sox ballplayer. He wants to return to Boston for an 18th season.
On Dec. 3, Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe quoted Wakefield as saying, “I have a strong desire to pitch one more year for the Red Sox.”
Abraham added that GM Ben Cherington "has been cautious in discussing Wakefield, saying only that the team owed it to him to explain exactly what role he could fill next season — if indeed any."
The problem is that his once-fearsome knuckleball has lost much of its flutter, and American League batters are getting more familiar with his stuff—at least as familiar as a batter can ever get with such an unpredictable pitch.
Complementing his 65 mph knuckleball is a 73 mph fastball (he has usually led the league in slowest average fastball). and a curveball that usually chugs up to the plate at less than 60 mph.
After the 2011 season, Wakefield is the Red Sox career leader in innings pitched and nine other pitching categories–some good, some bad.
He is also second in games pitched (behind Bob Stanley) and also second in strikeouts to Roger Clemens. He is third in wins, six behind Clemens and Cy Young.
In addition to being well-regarded in the clubhouse, Wake is also one of the most generous and community-minded players in the game.
The Red Sox nominated him eight times for the Roberto Clemente Award, presented to the player who best reflects the spirit of giving back to the community. He finally won it in 2010.
But from a baseball and a business perspective, it does not make sense for the Red Sox to bring him back.
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 staff of corralling his knuckleball (which is clearly not as unhittable as it used to be) may simply no longer be worth it.
Wakefield also 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!
It is quite possible that Wakefield could play a year for another team, however, especially in the National League. Abraham wrote that Wakefield nodded affirmatively when presented with that option.
I think that is what will happen.
14. Jason Varitek Will Sign Elsewhere to Finish His Career
Chances are that Varitek will finish his playing career somewhere other than Boston.
Varitek joined the Red Sox in 1997 in the famous trading deadline deal of Heathcliff Slocumb to Seattle for Tek and Derek Lowe. He played a key role in the 2004 and 2007 World Series wins, was a three-time All Star, and also earned a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger award in 2005.
But this is 2011, and the team is clearly at a crossroads. Boston should gratefully acknowledge his past contributions, and respectfully bid adieu to this aging warrior.
I believe the Red Sox will make him a good-faith contract offer out of respect for his years of past service, but it will be lower than what he might make elsewhere.
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 only one of 20 base stealers in September. For the year, he threw out 14 percent—half the rate of success he had in his best years.
Some have suggested keeping him on the roster to mentor the younger catchers. However, that would eat up another valuable roster spot; he could mentor younger catchers by agreeing to coach.
Michael Cuddyer's Intangibles Will Cause Some Team (not the Red Sox) to Overpay
Michael Cuddyer's versatility and leadership will price him beyond what the Red Sox feel he’s worth.
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Right-handed hitter Michael Cuddyer has spent his entire 11-season major league career with the Minnesota Twins, and is now exploring free agency.
Although the Twins will offer him arbitration, he is one of the Type A free agents that will not cost the signing team a draft pick. He made $10.5 million last year.
During his time as a Twin, he has been a consistent hitter with decent power who has played five positions and has become a real leader in the clubhouse. He was selected to his first All-Star Game last season.
He has drawn quite a bit of interest from a number of teams, including the Red Sox, because of his leadership skills and his versatility.
Cuddyer usually plays right field, but has also played center and left as well as the infield. Cuddyer has played 210 games at first, 171 games at third and 79 games at second in his career.
Critics point out that the fact that he has played all those positions doesn't mean that he is proficient at any of them. He is also deaf in his left ear, which makes it more difficult for him to play third and left field.
One of the nuggets he presents is that his career OPS is more than .100 points higher against lefties than righties; he had a .311/.403/.589 stat line against lefties in 176 plate appearances last year.
As an added bonus, Cuddyer is a career .338 (25-for-74) hitter in 22 postseason games.
In 2011 Cuddyer had his best season since 2006, and was selected to his first All-Star team.
At Fenway, he has hit .276 with 1 HR in 82 plate appearances.
Cuddyer is still only 33, so he can be expected to be an effective producer for several more years. He could probably extend his career by becoming a DH, although his versatility is what will make him attractive to a number of teams looking at roster flexibility.
The demand will be for him to play in the field, and due to his perceived intangibles, he will probably receive offers well beyond what his objective value might be, and beyond what the Red Sox would hope to pay him.
16. After Passing on Quentin and Willingham, Red Sox Will Sign Carlos Beltran
As a switch hitter, Beltran would be a dangerous addition to the Red Sox lineup.
Ralph Freso/Getty Images
Switch-hitting outfielder Carlos Beltran is the fourth-best hitter on the free-agent market behind Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and Jose Reyes. He’s also the only one of those four who might be obtainable for less than several boxcar-loads of cash.
For the injury-prone Beltran, going to the American League will be a better fit, because he could probably reduce the wear and tear on his body by slotting in as a part-time DH.
Beltran will be 35 next year, but he is still an all-around performer who can produce. However, knee injuries cost him parts of the 2009 and 2010 seasons, which may make some teams cautious about a multi-year deal.
Beltran, who came up with Kansas City in 1998, has hit 302 HR with a lifetime BA of .283 over 14 seasons. His 2011 numbers were particularly encouraging; he hit .300 with a slugging percentage of .551 and an OPS of .920—all well above his career averages.
Just as importantly, he played in 142 games—his highest number of appearances since 2008. Any lingering questions about his wearing down or his full recovery from the knee problems were answered by his performance in San Francisco.
He hit .323 with nine doubles, four triples and seven home runs in 44 games for the Giants.
In Fenway Park, he has a .327 career average with four HR in 110 plate appearances. He has also hit relatively well against the other Beasts of the East, the Yankees and Rays.
Beltran’s 2011 salary was $18.5 million, and given his age and injury issues, it is more likely that he will sign for under $15 million per year if he can get a multi-year deal in a situation that is to his liking. Boston—where he would have a real shot at a World Series—would seem to fit the bill.
Yes, it seems that Beltran would be a perfect fit for the Red Sox. As a powerful switch-hitting outfielder who can still play well in the field, it is likely that the Red Sox will try to sign him to fill their right-field void.