After a long time away from the redsoxmaineiacs blog, thanks to life as a high school football coach from August to November, I have had some free time and my mind has started to think about the Red Sox hot stove season. For my return to the blog I want to take a look at the team’s needs and wants during the offseason. Then I will put together a road map that will lead the Red Sox back to postseason play.
I am going to break down the Red Sox needs by category. We will take a look at catcher, infield, outfield, DH, starting pitching, bullpen, bench, manager and coaching staff. We will explore several different ways for the Red Sox to acquire more talent and ways to improve the talent that they already have. There is already a vibe from the people who cover the Red Sox in the media that they are rebuilding for 2014, but in this day in age of 5 teams making the playoffs in each league there is no reason to throw away the 2013 season. I am going to put together a blueprint for Ben Cherington and John Farrell to follow that will give them a chance to make the playoffs this coming season without jeopardizing the opportunity to build an AL east champion by 2014.
Let’s start by taking a look at the manager and coaching staff. John Farrell may not be the best manager in the major leagues at this point in his career. His critics will point to two poor seasons in Toronto and the history of pitching coaches as managers. However, there is no disputing the fact that he is an upgrade over the previous manager (yes that was a deliberate omission, and I think we can all agree that we should never speak his name out loud again for the good of the franchise). That’s what this offseason should be all about upgrading the production of the team in all areas. The goal is to explore all possible avenues to upgrade the production without over paying for talent. Improving the communication between the coaching staff and between the staff and players certainly won’t hurt next year’s team. If nothing else the hiring of Farrell and his coaching staff will mean that the front office, coaching staff and players will all be on the same page and that’s a good place to start. The hiring of the rest of the coaching staff will be key to improving team chemistry. Here is how the coaching staff may shake down (an asterisk means they have already been hired)
Manager- John Farrell*
Bench Coach- Torey Lovullo*
3rd base Coach- Brian Butterfield** (Unless he is named manager of the Jays)
1st base coach- Arnie Beyeler (Will be 3rd base coach if “Butter” isn’t)
Pitching Coach- Charles Nagy (Sleeper, who will need to be pried away)
Bullpen Coach- Gary Tuck
Hitting Coach- Don Baylor
The pitching coach is the key hire and the fact that there isn’t a lot of talk about this spot tells me they are shooting for the moon. Nagy is a former teammate of Farrell’s, and he is employed by another team as a pitching coach, so it would be lateral move which isn’t easy to pull off. Rick Peterson is another candidate but I think he and Farrell are too different to work together. Pete Walker, the Blue Jays bullpen coach is most likely to be hired. This coaching staff will be the key to the turnaround in '13 because the quickest way for this team to contend is for the core players to play much better.
Ryan Lavarnway, Jarrod Saltalammacchia
Both of these players may be tossed around as trade bait, but if I was GM I would hold on to both of them and feel confident about my catching position going into spring training. Lavarnway really seemed to exert himself as a catcher who can handle a pitching staff, a la Jason Varitek, during the last two months of the season. Look for him to have a very solid rookie year as the #1 catcher. Salty will be a solid back up catcher with power who can also provide depth at 1B and DH. The need here will be for catching depth at Pawtucket unless of course one of them gets traded.
2B- Dustin Pedroia
Util- Pedro Ciriaco
Needs: 1B, SS
Here’s where the real retooling begins. The Red Sox have a glaring need at first base and an opening at SS. It’s hard to tell if the Red Sox are trying to pump up Jose Iglesias’ value for trade bait or if they truly believe he can be a major league shortstop. We know he can play the position, but can he hit enough? I hand the job to Iglesias and find out if he can or not. He will give you great defense and has the potential to be a second leadoff hitter out of the 9 spot. At first base there are many possibilities including Adam LaRoche, Kevin Youkilis, Nick Swisher and James Loney. My number 1 priority to play 1B is Nick Swisher. I think he can do for the Red Sox clubhouse what Kevin Millar was able to do in 2003 and ’04. Swisher is a free agent and signing him would give the Yankees a supplemental pick at the end of the first round. The biggest obstacle will be the contract, more specifically the length of the contract. The ideal contract for the Sox would be a two year deal, Swisher’s agent wants 4. Let’s meet in the middle with a 3 year deal for 27 million. The same amount we were planning on giving to Cody Ross. If that won’t get it done then they will look to go cheap with Loney or Youkilis. Mauro Gomez gives you insurance if you can get a lefty to platoon with him.
CF- Jacoby Ellsbury
RF- Ryan Sweeney
Needs- at least one starting corner OF
Here lies the biggest opportunity to make an impact on the ’13 team and beyond. The only way the Red Sox sign Josh Hamilton is to a one-year deal like they did with Adrian Beltre. This will only happen if the market for Hamilton falls a part. Don’t hold your breath waiting for this scenario. The more likely scenario lies with a trade. The Diamondbacks Justin Upton is a name that’s been out there for a couple of years and he would be a great fit for the Red Sox in RF. He has the range and arm strength to play the position and the right-handed power that fits Fenway Park. It will take several top prospects to pry him away. However, the goal for the Sox right now is to find the next Justin Upton not give up prospects for him. Again don’t hold your breath. Would you trade Bryce Brentz, Matt Barnes and Deven Merrero for Upton?? I wouldn’t and neither will Ben Cherington. This offseason is about making shrewd upgrades not big splashes. It’s looking more likely that Cody Ross will not re-sign with the Sox. There is also a strong possibility that the Sox will trade Jacoby Ellsbury this offseason. As you can see the outfield position is a fluid situation. My whole premise for this piece is to be the GM so I’ll stop being so wishy-washy. Here’s my plan, keep Jacoby Ellsbury and trade for Josh Willingham from the Twins to play LF. Which won’t be easy by the way, it will probably take at least one good prospect to get him. I would trade Brentz and Andrew Bailey for Willingham. Willingham is signed for two more years at a total of $14 million. So he's affordable and he's short term which is appealing and also why he will be hard to pry away from the Twins. Not feeling overwhelmed by Josh Willingham? Look up how many HR's he's hit the last two years (hint: it's 64). Ryan Sweeney and Ryan Kalish will share RF.
Need: A starting pitcher who can give you 175-200 quality innings
I know, I know every team is looking for that type of starting pitcher. I encourage you to check out the Deacon’s post on the main page for a break down of available aces this offseason. I would love to see the Sox acquire Cliff Lee or Roy Halladay from the Phillies. However, I don’t think an “ace” is in the cards for the Sox, unless of course it is Rubby de la Rosa! The other way to turn the Red Sox staff around is to send a quality SP out there every night. You don’t need an ace to make the playoffs if you get good SP on a consistent basis. I think we can all agree that Lester, Buchholz and Doubront can be a part of that type of staff. John Lackey is another story, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he has a strong bounce back year. I like the Red Sox starting pitching depth with Morales and de la Rosa as well as a second group that includes Allen Webster, Steven Wright and gulp Zach Stewart. The key to improving production from some of these pitchers who have contributed to the problem the last one and a quarter seasons is the coaching. The coaches can’t make the pitches but they can make a difference and that’s what we are counting on. The one need that exists is for someone to beef up the rotation and push Doubront and Lackey back to the 4 and 5 spots. I’m opening up the checkbook for Dan Haren. If he gets a 5 year deal from someone then so be it, but I would sign him for about 3 years and 45-50 million and even include an incentive based option for a fourth year. He has been an ace but is no longer one. What he is is a fairly durable pitcher who has pitched 200 innings or more several times in his career and the majority of those innings will be quality ones. If you can get 200 innings out of him for the first two years of the deal it will be worth it.
Andrew Bailey, Junichi Tazawa, Mark Melancon, Craig Breslow, Rich Hill, Andrew Miller, Daniel Bard, Scott Atchison, Clayton Mortensen and Chris Carpenter
Not all of these pitchers will be on the opening day roster, but the pieces for an excellent bullpen are all there. John Farrell already said he felt like the bullpen is the strength of the team and I agree with him. The recovery of Daniel Bard will be key to this group as well as the integration of hard throwing young pitchers like de la Rosa and Chris Carpenter. Another key will be if Junichi Tazawa can duplicate the year that he had in ‘12. As far as needs I don’t see any glaring ones, but I would go after free agent closer Rafeal Soriano, who had a great year replacing Mariano Rivera with the Yankees and with Rivera announcing his intention to return I’m sure Soriano wants the chance to close and what better way for him to show up the Yankees than signing with the Red Sox. Premier closers don't come on to the market very often I have a sneaking suspicion that the Red Sox will make a hard push to sign him for 3 years at 40 million.
Designated Hitter: David Ortiz
Mauro Gomez and Salty provide a little depth in this department in case Papi doesn’t get back to full strength from his Achilles injury. There are no needs at this position now that Papi is signed for the next two years.
Bench: Salty, Ciriaco, Kalish, Nava, Ivan de Jesus, Jerry Sands
The Bench and spare parts are sure to change throughout the course of the season. There are no particular needs for this group.
Final Synopsis: After not writing anything on this blog for the last 3 months I’ve clearly gone a little overboard with the length of this piece. I gave a little thought to breaking it up into different segments and breaking each position down one week at a time, but by then moves will have been made which will change the entire outlook of the offseason.
The map to an improved team:
Hire a new manager and coaching staff. Done and almost done.
Improve the pitching staff by signing Dan Haren and Rafael Soriano.
Acquire outfield and infield help. Lots of options here but I trade for Josh Willingham and sign free agent Nick Swisher.
Count on two young players to fill key roles up the middle of the field. Ryan Lavarnway at catcher and Jose Iglesias at SS.
The free agent signings above all hinge on these players being a good value to the Red Sox. Not just for cheap dollars but more importantly for short years (Less than 4 years).
This lineup doesn’t blow your doors off, but remember the key to the whole turn around will be the starting pitching.
(I predict Franklin Morales and Rubby de la Rosa will have key roles in the rotation at some point this year)
(Bailey and Aceves get traded. Hill, Atchison, de la Rosa, Mortensen and Carpenter get stored at Pawtucket)
There you have it. The road map back to competitiveness…Good Luck John Farrell