A Boston Red Sox tweaking is needed, not a roster purge
By Rick McNair
The visceral reaction Boston Red Sox fans to disappointment are usually displayed by a knee jerk reaction to clean house. The change this team needs is minimal and not a cleansing.
This is a follow-up to a previous article that was a far more drastic gutting of the Boston Red Sox in what amounted to a wholesale departure of almost the entire roster – a baseball yard sale. Now a more realistic approach and that is a tweaking that one encompasses some potentially hard decisions, but not stripping to the foundations.
The offense is just fine and seems to run rather smoothly year after year. Statistically some of the numbers may be elevated by games that become prone to a Red Sox barrage, but they produce and the key element for improvement is not giving back – hence the focus should be on pitching, the farm system, and management of payroll to allow flexibility without exceeding the now line in the sand luxury tax. A certain challenge for a new inset creative title to lead the baseball operations.
From my exalted view, the main roadway to success is a rebuilding of the farm system or more precisely a method for developing pitching. The Red Sox prospect talent regarding pitching has been entrenched in the baseball endangered species list since George Bush was president. Is it bad luck? Lousy scouting? Development issues? Scouting mistakes? Possibly a blend of all four?
The tragedy of the payroll surfaces with the salary commitment to David Price, Nathan Eovaldi, Chris Sale, and soon to be Eduardo Rodriguez. That triumvirate will represent – pending E-Rod’s arbitration – $90 Million. How do you rectify this? The Red Sox certainly are not shy regarding developmental expenses, but the acquisition of pricey free agents needs to simply be contained. A fiscal diet.
The quick fix is to look for prospects/MLB talent elsewhere and that means trades. Unfortunately, the Red Sox have been somewhat inept in this adventure where a rubber arm mysteriously becomes a wooden arm. A cautionary approach, but one that occasional bears fruit.
The most enticing of all to get bang for the buck is Mookie Betts who has shown no desire to re-sign. Either Betts wants excessive money or a wish to earn his millions elsewhere. I happen to be of the let’s play it out with Betts and see what transpires after 2020. A risk, but now Betts is losing value based on impending free agency.
Jackie Bradley Jr. may be finished with the Red Sox who could finally cut ties with a 2020 free agent for a viable bullpen arm. And Andrew Benintendi could be moved since he apparently is stuck at the not quite a star level. The Red Sox have toyed with Sam Travis in left field so that defensive liability is a potential risk if the outfield is realigned. Travis is cheap and the Red Sox need cheap in a few places. Travis could also slip into first base since neither Mitch Moreland of Steve Pearce should be back.
Just who is sacred? The baseball untouchables on the Red Sox roster? Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts are the most pronounced. Toss in a team-friendly contract for Christian Vazquez. Michael Chavis may or may not suffice as a future bombardier with his right-hand power. A risky option at first base, second base, and even placed on border patrol in the outfield. Rodriguez has steadily improved and has rewarded the Red Sox patience and in 2019 was the staff leader. Will his stock continue on an upward trajectory?
The J.D. Martinez issue is a non-issue. The talented slugger is not going anywhere that will cough up $23 million for a DH. Martinez in the field has a unique ability to often give back what he has given with his bat. I fully expect his market to be limited to just Boston and Martinez will not opt-out since teams will be reluctant to invest in Martinez’s contract to match Boston. Martinez also has an opt-out inserted for the following two seasons and may just collect contractual dust and pick his exit time.
Back to payroll tragedy and the $153 million on the books for 2020. The good news is the Pablo Sandoval hit is a mere $5 million and Rick Porcello may return for baseball chump change – a one-year incentive loaded to rebuild value? Possible. But expect dark times as the Red Sox attempt to restructure.
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The bullpen is either a wreck or dominant and that means the only thing consistent is the inconsistency. The closer possibility is up for grabs and Brandon Workman – now arbitration 2 – has performed as has rookie Darwinzon Hernandez. The rest of the names have value, but just what value? With my rose-colored glasses, I can see Ryan Brasier and ill-fated – mostly self-induced – Steven Wright lending a positive arm.
Wright’s value – if he magically survives the offseason – may be in the rotation as the Red Sox now have a depth of four, but since this is another age, a five and not four-man rotation is necessary. Enter Jhoulys Chacin who is representative of just what type the Red Sox need for rotation depth. The Red Sox have to scour the flotsam of pitching for bargains since the days of adding a $20 million a year arm are gone.
To summarize, the Red Sox do not need a talent house cleaning since the core is valuable and most are in their prime years. Eovaldi, Price, and Sale are unmovable with arm issues, performance issues, and contracts that certainly may not represent a maximum on return on investment.
The farm system does produce some quality positional talent and that is seen on the roster. Chavis, Travis (a nice rhyme), Hernandez, and a surprising Josh Taylor represent low-cost options until contracts dissipate and the system produces. But the arms on the farm are certainly not of the quality of Jon Lester – the type the Red Sox need every few seasons.
The Red Sox have a solid team and certainly have the talent to reach the playoffs with a tweaking, but long-range the developmental group needs to get some magic scouting dust to ferret out arms of quality.
So the reaction that I am on the bully pulpit for is one of moderation and not one of wholesale changes based on disappointment. That also includes reasoning that the core of the rotation simply has too much talent to continue to crash. If a repeat happens in 2020 all the offense in the world will not get the ship righted.