Monday, December 24, 2012

Competition?

Is there a new theme forming within the Red Sox offseason plan? Is Ben Cherington stealing a page from Bill Belichick's playbook?

So far this offseason the Red Sox "gameplan" has been quite clear:

  1. Protect your draft picks at all cost
  2. Target players who had down years in '12 but have a lot to prove
  3. Despite the down years, overpay for those players in order to get them on short term deals
  4. Improve the character of the clubhouse
Updated 12/27 *Here is a glimpse at another potential part of the offseason game plan from Brian MacPheron

With the not yet finalized, but seemingly imminent, trade for Joel Hanrahan we have to ask ourselves if there is a 5th part of this plan? Is Ben Cherington trying to create roster competition going into spring training? Or is this just the beginning of a plan that has not yet finalized and calls for several more players to be traded? As the roster is constituted right now one would have to say that there will be a lot of competition for jobs on this team.  

As further evidence that competition was a part of the offseason plan from the beginning we can take a look at some of Larry Lucchino's early offseason interviews.  In those interviews Larry Lucchino talked about having young players who were "hungry" as a key part of the team.  At the time we thought that he was talking about players like Iglesias, Kalish, Lavarnway, Middlebrooks and others.  What he may have been saying is that they want those players to be highly motivated to earn a spot on the roster and take away a starting job from a veteran like Middlebrooks did last year to Youkilis.  Giving players like Iglesias and Lavarnway a starting job is not an ideal way for a team to win a division or make the playoffs, but having them compete for jobs with veterans can create a winning team.  

Here is a look at a few of the spots that will feature competition during spring training: 

Catcher: When they signed David Ross at the start of the offseason it was widely assumed that Salty or Lavarnway would be traded. Perhaps they just wanted to create more competition at the position? Ross projects to play 60 or 70 games and hits better against LHP so Salty would be a better platoon partner because of his power from the left hand side of the plate.  Lavarnway has done everything there is to be done in the minor leagues and he is ready for big league action but he's going to have to earn a big league job and that's a good thing.  Mike Napoli may not see anytime at catcher if his hip problem is as bad as it appears.  If all players play well they could carry 3 catchers and use Salty as a part time 1B against tough RHP and to rest Napoli some.  If Lavarnway doesn't play well in the spring he starts the year at AAA. 

Shortstop: It was widely believed that Stephen Drew's acquisition spelled the end of Jose Iglesias' time with the Red Sox, but now that it appears that the Red Sox refused to include him in a deal for Joel Hanrahan so perhaps we were wrong.  One would assume that the Red Sox wouldn't pay Stephen Drew over 9 million to be a platoon or back up player, but that would be a bad assumption.  Again, it's going to come down to on field performance.  If Iglesias plays so well that you can't keep him off the field than he is going to play and the Sox will be a better team for it.  If he doesn't hit enough than he'll be at Pawtucket until they need him.  A 9 million dollar offer doesn't guarantee Drew a starting spot.  It's a one year deal so think of it as an expensive insurance policy if we need it, we have it, if we don't need it at least we can sleep at night knowing it's there.  The best case scenario is that Drew has a bounce back year like Adrian Beltre did with the Sox and Iglesias makes great strides as a hitter in Pawtucket.  Which would open the door for Iglesias in '14 and allow Bogaerts to change positions.  

Left Field/Right Field: It's my belief that the Red Sox plan to employ a partial platoon in LF with Jonny Gomes seeing most of the at bats.  I also believe that Daniel Nava should be his left hand hitting partner (Nava is a switch hitter but is a better hitter from the left).  The competition at this position comes from Ryan Kalish.  The Red Sox would love for Kalish to reach the potential he showed in 2010 and force his way into the line up with his play or do what Will Middlebrooks did, which was have a great spring training and then take advantage of an opportunity when an injury opens the door for more playing time during the regular season.  Ryan Kalish will also compete for the RF job with Shane Victorino.  If Victorino continues his downward slide than Kalish may see more time in RF than in LF, but right now the better opportunity seems to be in LF.  
      My sleeper for an outfield spot is Bryce Brentz.  He could come to spring training and force his way onto the team a la Shea Hillenbrand.  Brentz certainly is not a sleeper to knowledgeable Sox fans, but the surprise would be him earning a job out of spring training.  If he has a great spring and an injury opens the door he could start the year with the team maybe even as the starting RF.  Kalish, Nava and Brentz will be providing competition for the expected regulars Gomes, Victorino and Ellsbury. 

Closer:  This will be much discussed in the next few days as the Hanrahan deal gets finalized (hopefully).  Who will be the closer Hanrahan or Bailey?  All things being equal Hanrahan will be the closer.  That begs the next question what to do with Andrew Bailey? Set-up man? Trade? Keep a DL spot warm? Brandon has some thoughts on employing a two headed closer system that he's going to be posting soon hopefully, so I won't get into that too much other than to say that it is conceivable that they keep both Hanrahan and Bailey.  Not only could they keep them both, but perhaps the Red Sox brain trust has a Tony LaRussa like revolutionary bullpen idea in mind.  Or perhaps they'll spin Andrew Bailey to Seattle for Justin Smoak or Mike Carp.  Plenty of teams need a closer so Bailey could certainly net you something good in return.  If they keep both pitchers this will be a major story line of spring training.  

Starting Rotation:  The Red Sox always try to be 10 deep with starting pitchers so there is bound to be some competition, but barring an injury I don't see a lot of spots up for grabs here.  The only possibility would be Rubby de la Rosa challenging Lackey or Doubront for a spot.  de la Rosa is perhaps the player I am looking most forward to seeing in a Red Sox uniform this spring.  Since he wasn't officially acquired until the offseason we haven't seen him yet like we did Webster and we'll likely never see Sands in a Red Sox uniform.  

Bullpen: Much like the rotation it is their plan to stockpile arms for the bullpen because they know that you need a lot of them to make it through the season.  We've already discussed the closer situation but there is plenty of other competitions within the bullpen.  Keep in mind that bullpen roles are simply titles and the important thing is to have good pitchers down there who can get people out consistently.  The main set-up role will be up for grabs between the old: Daniel Bard and the new: Junichi Tazawa.  Koji Uehara will also pitch in the late innings and Andrew Bailey may well end up being a set up man. The left hand specialists role will be fought for by Craig Breslow and Rich Hill(maybe). With Franklin Morales (if he's not traded to the Pirates) and Andrew Miller vying for the hard throwing left handed set-up role.  There's room for most of these guys on the roster, but the trick will be keeping as many of them in the organization as possible at the end of spring training.  


The Red Sox offseason is a long way from over, and there are more moves to be made.  But it's clear to me that they are building depth and creating competition within their roster.  Both of those things will be important in changing the attitude of the team from spoiled over paid whiners to hungry motivated baseball players.  This may be the most important part of the Red Sox offseason that no one is talking about.  I really like all of the moves that Ben Cherington has made, but we know that offseason moves don't mean much until the players get on the field and start to produce or not.  We know that some of the moves made will work out and others won't but if this team shows up motivated to compete every day than we will have a team that will be the most fun to root for since 2008.  

7 comments:

  1. The Hanrahan deal is official. Sox get Hanrahan and Brock Holt. Pirates get Jerry Sands, Mark Melancon, Stolmy Pimentel, and Ivan De Jesus.

    Holt is a 24 year old second baseman with a career .317/.381/.427 line and 49 stolen bases in four professional seasons. Holt got 65 at bats with the Pirates last season and hit .292/.329/.354. Not outstanding numbers, but could be young, hungry infield depth.

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  2. Barry, great job with this post. I'm impressed with your embedded video! I agree with the importance of competition and earning spots over being handed spots because of your paycheck. Not much to disagree with here. I'll work on that post about the closers later today.

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  3. It will be a long season in last place. Lost of empty seats and Ace Ticket will take a real beating at the resell table. Finally, Henry will put the team up for sale, there will be the proverbial fire sale and Mrs. Henry, the trophy wife will bid him adieu.

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    1. What you are saying is that we can get rid of the pink hats and that diehard Red Sox fans can have their team back? You may have a point with the trophy wife...forget Liverpool...things have really gone down hill since she showed up.

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  4. According to Pete Abe's Twitter feed John Farrell has already announced that Hanrahan is the "closer". Sox free up some 40 man roster space with this deal.

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  5. Barry, this is an excellent take on the Sox winter moves so far. An additional spin on the competition theme is there is still competition over the longer term between the players brought in this winter and the next wave of kids on the way ( including Bryce Brentz who you mentioned.) None of the Bogaerts, Bradley, Brentz et al. will be handed jobs in the next year or two, but they could certainly win their way into the picture.

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    1. I think that Ben Cherington and the Red Sox liked the way that Will Middlebrooks broke in with the team this year. Even though it created some tough roster decisions for them throughout the season and ultimately the trade of Kevin Youkilis, having young players force their way into the lineup with their play is the ideal situation. Although in some cases, like Dustin Pedroia, it is best to live with some growing pains early on and this is easier to do if you're confident that the player is a can't miss prospect. The only player in the current crop that may get that luxury is Xander Bogaerts.

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