Oct 30, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli hits a RBI single against the St. Louis Cardinals in the fourth inning during game six of the MLB baseball World Series at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Armchair GM: Conor's Take

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Last offseason, the Red Sox strategy was to sign mid-level free agents to short-term contracts and create a buoyant team atmosphere. That plan worked to a tee as the Red Sox turned in a marvelous season to win the 2013 World Series, and I see no reason that the Red Sox should not continue to execute that plan as best as possible. So let’s go through the 2014 team position by position and check out what needs improvement during this offseason.

Oct 23, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Ryan Dempster (46) throws against the St. Louis Cardinals during the ninth inning of game one of the MLB baseball World Series at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

The Rotation: The Red Sox starting pitching was a pleasant surprise in 2013 as Jon Lester (109 ERA+), John Lackey (116 ERA+), Clay Buchholz (234 ERA+), Jake Peavy (101 ERA+), and Felix Doubront (94 ERA+) all turned in solid seasons. With Ryan Dempster (8-9, 4.57) on the outside looking into next year’s rotation, I would expect a trade of Dempster at some point this offseason. I would not expect much in a trade, but teams like the Angels, Orioles, and Giants may be willing to surrender a mid-level prospect in exchange for a back-of-the-rotation veteran like Dempster. A reasonable trade would be Dempster in exchange for Angels’ prospect Mike Morin, a relief pitcher who posted a 1.93 ERA and 7.60 K:BB ratio between High-A and Double-A in 2013.

The Bullpen: The Red Sox bullpen was decimated by injuries in 2013, as the Red Sox lost Joel Hanrahan, Andrew Bailey, and Andrew Miller to season-ending surgeries. However, if all of the pitchers currently on the Red Sox’ roster can come back healthy, the Red Sox should have a strong ‘pen. The Red Sox would have Koji Uehara anchoring the closer role with Andrew Bailey, Craig Breslow, Andrew Miller, and Junichi Tazawa anchoring setup duties. Beyond that top tier, the Red Sox have a multitude of arms that will be in limbo between Pawtucket and Boston next year and between the previous five arms and Drake Britton, Rubby de la Rosa, Franklin Morales, and Brandon Workman, the Red Sox will be able to piece together an effective bullpen.

Sep 2, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz (51) hits an RBI single during the ninth inning against the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies defeated the Nationals 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Catching: Workhorse starting catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who played in 121 games and posted a .273/.338/.466 slash line, will be a free agent this offseason. Without a suitable replacement on the active roster, the Red Sox will likely have to expand to free agency or the trade market to find an everyday catcher. The Red Sox could, of course, simply re-sign Jarrod Saltalamacchia but with Salty seeking a four-year deal and with prospects Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart in the not-too-distant future, that may not be the best move. I would search for a stopgap option who could serve as the starting catcher for the next year or two and the perfect candidate for that role in free agent Carlos Ruiz. Ruiz is widely regarded as an excellent defensive catcher, and though his 2013 season was not terribly impressive, he is a .274/.358/.368 career hitter. Brian McCann is another possibility for this role, but at the cost and years he will command, he may not be worth the price. As armchair GM, I sign Carlos Ruiz to a 2 year/$12 million contract.

The Infield: The infield is likely the area that will be most shifted around year-to-year. The Red Sox are potentially losing Mike Napoli and Stephen Drew to free agency. The Red Sox have an obvious replacement for Drew in Xander Bogaerts, who shone on the world’s biggest stage in the World Series and will likely start at shortstop in 2014. However, with no clear replacement for Napoli on the team or in free agency, I would re-sign Napoli to a 2 year/$28 million contract. That would leave the Red Sox will an infield of Napoli, Dustin Pedroia, Bogaerts, and Will Middlebrooks. However, it’s risky to turn over the entire left side of the infield to rookies, who could have variable performances. Thus, I would attempt to sign a utility infielder that could back up at all four positions and start in a pinch. The perfect candidate for that role would be Juan Uribe, who had a career year in 2013 as the Dodgers’ starting third baseman, slashing .278/.331/.438 with top notch defense. Uribe has played at every infield position in his career and would fit perfectly into this role, meriting a 1 year/$8 million contract from me as Armchair GM.

The Outfield: The Red Sox already have too many outfielders even without Jacoby Ellsbury, and for that reason and the likelihood of an unreasonable contract, I would let Ellsbury walk. The Red Sox will still have the platoon on Daniel Nava and Jonny Gomes in left, stalwart Shane Victorino in right, and rookie Jackie Bradley Jr. in center field. The corner outfield spots should be solid, but Bradley Jr. is a risky move– he hit just .189/.280/.337 in limited time this year, but did seem to heat up as the year went along. In a pinch, Victorino could start in center field, moving Nava to right field. In any case, however, the Red Sox have their bases covered in the outfield and do not need any moves there.

Wrap-up: As Armchair GM, I would trade Ryan Dempster and commit $48 million to free agents, and just $28 million for next season. That would keep the Red Sox securely below the luxury tax and give a contending team in 2014 to boot. If this was how things went, the Red Sox would have a somewhat risky team, with three players 25 or younger in their opening day lineup. However, it would be an interesting team to watch and would likely not mess with the chemistry or togetherness of the 2013 team.

 

Tags: Boston Red Sox

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