Ryan Dempster made headlines yesterday with his announcement that he take the 2014 season off and forgo the approximately $13MM that he was owed. After the initial goodbyes, the ramifications of this move on the Red Sox’ roster and payroll could wind up being significant. Formerly brushing up against the luxury tax threshold, the Red Sox now have more than $13MM saved for a last-minute acquisition, if need be. However, they should not spend that additional money on their payroll. Not now, anyways.
In many ways, Dempster’s likely retirement is actually a blessing for the Red Sox. Not only will they save those $13MM, but his departure also clears up a logjam that the Red Sox had at the sixth starter/long-man role. His vacancy will likely be filled by promising 25-year old Brandon Workman, who posted a 4.97 ERA and 3.13 K/BB in 41.2 innings last season.
That Workman, who impressed in his cup-of-coffee last year, would have been pushed to the minors at all is a testament to the depth of the Red Sox’ pitching staff. Dempster would not have likely played a big role anyhow, and would have simply been taking up space on both the roster and the payroll, both of which have now been alleviated.
The Red Sox’ pitching depth is well-known, but couldn’t the Red Sox use that money to upgrade the offense? Again, they could. But there’s really no need. Of course, the name that fans will jump to is shortstop Stephen Drew, who spent the 2013 season giving the Red Sox unspectacular but solid production at shortstop, slashing .253/.333/.443 with 13 home runs and 67 RBIs in 124 games. While that’s all well and good, the Red Sox already have two options on the left side of the infield that will likely approach or surpass Drew’s production in 2014 at a fraction of the cost.
Those two players are of course Xander Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks. Hardly anybody is arguing that Bogaerts will develop into an excellent player, possibly as soon as next year. However, he would be that much better if he was providing his trademark excellent hitting (career .296/.373/.489 hitter in four minor league seasons) from shortstop rather than third base. And at third base, the Red Sox already have Will Middlebrooks, who posted a disappointing .227/.271/.425 slash line in his sophomore season of 2013. However, there’s a good chance that Middlebrooks will bounce back in 2014, and even if he doesn’t, he will be paid the league minimum and the Red Sox still have Garin Cecchini waiting in the wings.
Looking at the big picture, there’s really no way the Red Sox could spend this added money that could guarantee, or even enhance the likelihood of a superior team in 2014 for the cost. Keeping that in mind, the Red Sox would be best served to save this money for either the trade deadline or next offseason. That way, the Red Sox could afford to make a splash if Middlebrooks struggles or if their pitching depth somehow proves insufficient. Looking at 2014 for what it is, a bridge year of sorts, the Red Sox should start the 2014 season with their current roster and save Dempster’s $13MM for a rainy day, or whatever the forecast is for July 31.