Red Sox Blueprint Far From Complete For 2013 and Beyond
Cherington methodically implementing his plan for the Red Sox
After last summer’s trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers that cleared the cumbersome contracts of Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett off the books – and the expiration of Daisuke Matsuzaka‘s deal – Boston entered the offseason with enviable payroll flexibility.
Even with the recent additions of catcher David Ross (two years, $6.2 million) and outfielder Jonny Gomes (reportedly two years and $10 million) – and the re-signing of David Ortiz (two years, $26 million) – Cherington has an abundance of money available to acquire players via trade and free agency.
Red Sox ownership would like to remain under the $178 million luxury tax threshold set for next year. Currently, Boston has $68.2 million in payroll commitments for 2013 that count towards the luxury tax threshold, according to Baseball Prospectus.
Red Sox Payroll Commitments for 2013 include:
John Lackey ($15.95 million), Ortiz ($14.5 million), Jon Lester ($11.6 million), Dustin Pedroia ($10.2 million), Clay Buchholz ($5.75 million), Gomes ($5 million reportedly), Ross ($3.1 million) and Jose Iglesias ($2.06 million)
The Red Sox have arbitration-eligible players, but only one – Jacoby Ellsbury – will command a high number. The center fielder, who can become a free agent after next season, received $8.05 million in 2012.
Even though he batted .271 with four home runs and 26 RBI in 303 at-bats during an injury-plagued campaign, the 29-year-old Ellsbury will get a raise.
Beyond Ellsbury, only three of Boston’s arbitration-eligible players are projected to get more than $2 million for 2013, according to MLBTradeRumors.com. The site forecasts that reliever Andrew Bailey will receive $3.9 million.
Third baseman Will Middlebrooks, outfielder Ryan Kalish, catcher Ryan Lavarnway, utility infielder Pedro Ciriaco and first baseman/outfielder Jerry Sands (who was part of the package the Red Sox received from the Dodgers in the aforementioned trade) will likely be part of the team’s opening day roster.
Their presence adds to the club’s financial flexibility since they will receive the $480,000 minimum salary.
Red Sox detractors took pleasure in the team’s dismal performance last season. Boston ended the 2012 campaign at 69-93 and in the American League East basement.
The Red Sox have a formidable core of players
Baseball pundits are already saying that the club will not be a contender in 2013, but it is a mistake to etch in stone that it will be a bridge year in Beantown.
The Red Sox have a formidable core with a healthy Ellsbury, Pedroia, Ortiz and Middlebrooks. Ross will serve as an upgrade behind the plate because of his track record of solid defense and a strong and accurate throwing arm to control baserunning.
Lester, Buchholz, Felix Doubront and Lackey (who is fully recovered from Tommy John surgery and will be pitching with a healthy elbow for the first time since 2008) give the Red Sox a promising rotation that just needs an additional piece.
Farrell’s return and moving forward
The return of Farrell, who served as Boston’s pitching coach under former manager Terry Francona before becoming Toronto’s skipper before the 2011 season, should help Lester, Buchholz and even Daniel Bard, all of whom thrived with the new manager.
Though the Red Sox have money to spend this offseason, Cherington has repeatedly stated that the club will be more responsible and cautious after not getting the anticipated return from the contracts of Crawford and Gonzalez.
Boston signed the right-handed hitting Gomes, who rakes at Fenway Park and offers coveted right-handed power, to play left field. He will likely be platooned with Kalish, who has a high ceiling, bats left-handed and proficiently plays all three outfield spots.
Gomes and Ross provide a positive presence in the clubhouse and dugout. Impacted by the team’s tension and dysfunction in 2012, Cherington has also told the media that the Red Sox want to build a roster of players who want to be in Boston. Re-signing Ortiz was a priority for that reason, and because of his potent bat, of course.
With highly regarded prospects like Xander Bogaerts (who is currently at shortstop but could eventually find himself in left field), Jackie Bradley (who will likely replace Ellsbury in center field in 2014) and Bryce Brentz (who projects as a right fielder in the majors and was recently named to the Arizona Fall League Top Prospects Team), the Red Sox have an assortment of promising names who are almost Major League ready.
That is shaping Cherington’s vision for the 2013 roster.
More moves on the Horizon
The Red Sox are attempting to re-sign Cody Ross, who would likely serve as the team’s starting right fielder in 2013 if Kalish platoons with Gomes in left field. Ross fits the team’s desire for additional right-handed power and to stock the clubhouse with good citizens.
Mike Napoli, who is average at best on defense and batted just .227 last season when he battled leg injuries with the Texas Rangers, appears to be Boston’s main target for the first base opening.
Boston is hesitant to offer deals beyond three years this offseason, but it could give Napoli the fourth year he is seeking since the club does not have a Major League ready first base prospect, and the right-handed hitting Napoli could replace Ortiz as the DH in 2015.
Cherington has mentioned that the club is interested in acquiring young players under extended team control, meaning that they are at least two years away from free agency.
Since ESPN’s Buster Olney reported this week that rival GMs say the Red Sox would be open to trading Bailey (but they will likely keep him since his trade value is low), a deal with the Indians could be expanded to included closer Chris Perez.
Iglesias, Saltalamacchia, Ryan Sweeney, Brentz, right-handed starting pitching prospect Matt Barnes and any prospect not named Bogaerts and Bradley would be among the trade chips Boston would use with Cleveland.
Multiple media reports earlier this week indicated that a deal between the Red Sox and Kansas City Royals centered around Lester and uber prospect Wil Myers could happen.
Both teams are understandably hesitant, and for the trade to work for Boston, the Royals would likely have to include a top pitching prospect like Jake Odorizzi since Lester is a proven veteran and Myers has not played an inning in the majors.
Though the Red Sox are flush with cash, it is unlikely they will pursue Zack Greinke for the rotation. Anibal Sanchez is a possibility, though not at the six years he apparently wants. Masterson makes sense for what Boston is seeking, and the right-handed sinkerballer excelled under Farrell when both were with the Red Sox a few years ago.
A big splash coming?
Josh Hamilton remains a possibility for the Red Sox if he finds that no team is willing to offer him a contract beyond five years.
With Boston’s payroll flexibility, it could offer the slugger a two-year deal at $60 million, for example, or perhaps three years and $75 million to $90 million.
That would fit the club’s preference to stick with shorter term commitments and give the lineup a dangerous bat it has been missing since Manny Ramirez was traded.
Since Texas extended a qualifying offer to Hamilton, any team that signs him will surrender a draft pick. The Red Sox have the No. 7 selection in next summer’s draft, and that choice is protected, so they would give up their second round pick.
Cherington has told the media that, because the second round selection would be a top 50 pick, the Red Sox will be cautious about signing a player who has received a qualifying offer.
If the Red Sox trade Lester to the Royals for Myers, they would add $11 million to their available payroll for 2013 and sign two starting pitchers, like Sanchez and an arm that would be open to a short-term arrangement like Dan Haren.
The Lester trade might never materialize, but it is highly likely that Boston will make one or two significant trades this offseason to bolster its rotation and/or lineup.
Unless they make a splash with Hamilton, the Red Sox appear to be content with using free agency as a tool to upgrade the roster without locking themselves into long-term commitments.