So you want me to play Armchair General Manager and be Ben Cherington for a day? What would I do in fine tuning the 2014 Red Sox?
Well, the dust from the latest World Series title has barely settled but there is no time to wait. He who pauses misses the boat in baseball’s off season.
The first thing I’d do is not overspend on Jacoby Ellsbury. Make him a fair offer but when agent Scott Boras loses his mind, walk away.
It’s pretty clear from the Carl Crawford experience that overpaying a speed player is not the way to go. It will be tough to say goodbye to Ellsbury’s play making ability at the top of the lineup but this team will survive with either Shane Victorino or Dustin Pedroia leading off.
But in doing this I’m making Jackie Bradley, Jr. my everyday center fielder. I like Victorino in Fenway’s spacious right field so I’m giving Bradley every opportunity to win this job. He may need to refine himself at the plate a bit but defensively you would still have the level of defense you had this past season with Ells and Shane. In fact, some scouts say Bradley is better than Ellsbury with the glove.
The next thing I would do is not be tempted to trade for the Marlins Giancarlo Stanton. I know the Red Sox have a lot of young pitching in the majors and on the way but I don’t want to give up a truckload of arms for one player.
It seems that as soon as you think you have too much pitching, you don’t. Plus, Stanton has been nicked a bit early in his career with nagging injuries. That is odd for such a young player and is a red flag for me.
If you have Bradley in center and Victorino in right I’m still comfortable with the Daniel Nava/Jonny Gomes platoon in left. Nava is a very underrated player and the more he plays against righthanders, the more he will hit. It’s what he does.
If Victorino has the inevitable nagging injuries you can also work super sub Mike Carp into the outfield mix at times as well.
Next, I’d re-sign Mike Napoli to a 2-year $29 million contract. He wants to be in Boston, his defense at first is surprisingly above average and the reports on his hips are good. This is a no brainer.
Assuming Stephen Drew finds a multi-year deal elsewhere, and I believe he will, I’d insert Xander Bogaerts as my everyday shortstop and return Will Middlebrooks to third base. Let Will come to spring training with a clear head and see what he can do. I’m not ready to give up on a power hitting 25 year-old just yet.
At catcher, I’d let Jarrod Saltalamacchia go. He’s a player that really raised his stock in Boston, but he’s a bit too streaky for my taste and now his contract will probably exceed his true value. I would not try to sign Brian McCann, who is better defensively but will likely cost more than Salty for similar offensive production.
I’d try to sign Carlos Ruiz from the Phillies, who came on strong at the end of last season offensively to partner with David Ross and bridge the position until Christian Vasquez or Blake Swihart are ready. Ruiz is good defensively and if he has rebounded at the plate gives you another clutch hitter in the lineup.
Finally I’d scour the free agent market for insurance for closer Koji Uehara. He was sensational this season but he’s 38 and it is not realistic to expect that performance again next year.
I’d look at Edward Mujica of the Cardinals and Grant Balfour of the A’s as options and maybe even bring back Joel Hanrahan on a one-year deal to prove he is healthy again. He had the Tommy John surgery in late spring so maybe he is ready on June 1st?
As you can see, I would only make minor tweaks to this team. Do I expect 97 wins and for everything to go right again? Probably not. But this ball club has a solid core and Bogaerts and hopefully Bradley are being added to the mix full time so there will be significant change. I wouldn’t do too much more until I have to. I want to save the trade chips until the in-season deadline when prices are less expensive on the better talent.