Yesterday brought reports of two more free agent signings, including the first big free agent deal of the hot stove season: Braves catcher Brian McCann to the Yankees for around 5 years 85 M ( including an option year which could bring the deal to over 100M). Late Saturday St. Louis reached agreement with Tigers SS Johnny Peralta for 4 years/52M. These moves follow the trades from earlier this week of Prince Fielder to Texas for Ian Kinsler and the Angels sending OF Peter Bourjos to the Cards for 3B David Freese. Other free agent signings that effected the Sox ( as do all of the moves listed above) at least indirectly were pitchers Jason Vargas to KC, Tim Hudson going to the Giants, and in a move that very directly effected Boston, the Phillies re-signed their free agent catcher Carlos Ruiz.
So where do the Red Sox fit in here and when do they jump in? Let's go around the diamond to exam where the Sox stand at this moment, two weeks before the winter meetings.
Catcher- We will start here because the moves made by other teams so far have caused the most issues for Boston. Brian McCann was reported to be the Sox top target by many accounts to replace their own free agent catcher, Jarrod Saltalamacchia. But it was also rumored that McCann would get a deal between 75 to 100M for at least five years, which he did. I never felt the Sox would or should invest in a contract of five years for McCann. Yes for about six years McCann has averaged 20 or so homers a year and considered a defensive upgrade over Salty. But for the last two seasons McCann and Salty have almost identical numbers for home runs, RBI, BA, OBP, and OPS. McCann has thrown out runners at a 24% clip, Salty around 20%. For the huge money thrown at McCann, I felt it made more sense to re-up Salty.
But I think the catcher the Sox really wanted was Carlos Ruiz, now off the market. Ruiz fit the free agent profile the Sox followed last winter: coming off a down year, but with strong seasons before, and a strong clubhouse presence. Plus, I think the Red Sox felt Ruiz could be had for two years, maybe for around 20M. The two years are important because the Red Sox seem to be building a bridge at catcher to last year's Sea Dogs catcher Christian Vazquez and/or next year's Portland receiver, Blake Swihart.
So without Ruiz as an option, now what? First is there a reasonable chance that Saltalamacchia returns? And can they get Salty to sign for only three years? With the inking of both Ruiz and McCann, there is no doubt Salty is the next best catcher left on the free agent market. Which is why I ask if the Sox can get Salty to bite on a three year offer, because there is no way in the world, he takes less than three after Ruiz got three and McCann five. In addition, the Red Sox chose not to make the 14.1M qualifying offer on Salty. making his services even more appealing to other teams. My guess the Sox may get Salty to take three years, but it would take around 36M total to get it done. At this point, I would peg the odds on a Salty Dog reprise at about 25% because several other clubs ( Texas, Jays, Rays, Twins, Angels, and maybe more) are also looking for catching.
Besides Salty, the other remaining FA catchers are AJ Pierzynski and Dionner Navarro. neither does much for me, but the Sox have shown at least a modicum of interest, and either would make an okay platoon partner for David Ross. If Salty leaves my guess would be, Ben Cherington trades for a Ross partner. The name heard overwhelmingly in Reds C Ryan Hanigan. Hanigan is available and is a strong defensive catcher with 40% rate of throwing out runners for his career. Hanigan is basically another David Ross, although about 6 years younger. His career OBP is .359, but that is the end of his offensive skills, he has no power at all, hitting few homers or doubles. He would fit the desire not to block the young catchers. If it is Hanigan the Sox MUST beef up the offense elsewhere.
First Base- This spot is still up in the air until the free agency of Mike Napoli is decided. This week's Fielder-Kinsler deal greatly impacted Napoli, as Texas was considered Boston's strongest competitor for Nap. The Rangers, Napoi's old team, may even have been the favorite. At least three other teams have been mentioned as interested in Napoli: Rockies, Mariners, and Mets. And there is a slight chance Texas is still interested as they are in the market for one more bat. But the Sox have to be seen as the favorite, all that may need to be decided is if the Sox can get Napoli to accept a two year ( or two plus an option) deal or will they give in and sign Mike for around 3 years for between 39 to 45M.
If by some chance Napoli leaves, the Sox have internal options. In order they are Mike Carp, Daniel Nava, and Will Middlebrooks. After hitting 9 HRs and and OPS of .905 in only 205 ABs, Carp is a hot commodity when other clubs call the Sox talking trade. The moving of Nava or Middlebrooks to first would be intertwined with other dealings involving their old positions.
If the Sox turn to external replacements for Napoli, there are two most often mentioned. First is free agent 1B/OF Corey Hart from Milwaukee. Hart hit 30 homers with 83 RI in 2012, but missed all of 2013 after surgery on both knees. He is apparently looking for a one year deal to revive his career. One trade possibility, according to Peter Gammons and others, is the Giants Pablo Sandoval, who is a free agent a year from now.
Most likely Mike Napoli is the 2014 first sacker for Boston.
Second base- Nothing to see here. After having surgery to repair his thumb, Dustin Pedroia will hopefully come back in 2014 with a even better offensive season to go along with his Gold Glove defense.
Shortstop/Third base- These positions are connected due to the ability of Xander Bogaerts to play either. And it is almost a certainty Xander will be in the 2014 Opening Day lineup at one position or the other, depending on the landing place of free agent Stephen Drew. A number of observers feel the Sox would very much like Drew back at their price, which would put Xander at third and Will Middlebrooks in limbo. If Drew leaves Bogaerts and Middlebrooks are the SS/3B combo.
Both free agent signings of yesterday effect the Drew situation. Many people ( me included) felt St. Louis would be the team to sign Drew. The only reason I can think of for the Cards taking Peralta instead is the QO draft pick loss attached to Drew. This may limit Drew's market to the point where Boston will have the best offer on the table for him. The Pirates are still one team I would expect to show interest. But the McCann deal also could impact the Drew market. The Yankees have been heavily rumored to have interest in Drew. In fact, they offered him more money than Boston last winter, but Drew took the team with more likely playing time in Boston. The Yanks still want him as Jeter insurance or maybe even as a third base option. The reason McCann's signing matters is the Yankees now have all ready given up their first round pick. If they sign Drew they would only lose their second round pick. Watch this situation.
I think the chances of Drew retuning are about 33%, and it is likely Bogaerts and Willie Middle man the left side of the infield. The only other possible action here this winter would be even if Drew goes, the Sox acquire a veteran third sacker, like Aramis Ramirez and include Middlebrooks in a bigger deal. But I think the kids will be at short and third.
Left Field- The most likely scenario here is another season of platooning Daniel Nava and Jonny Gomes. Although, like Carp, Ben Cherington is getting tons of calls asking about trading Nava. Free agent Carlos Beltran name is high on the Sox wish list reportedly, and at his age could not be expected to handle right field at Fenway, if he signs, Beltran would have to play left. He is looking for maybe three or four years, and at his age, Boston would not go there, plus loss of draft pick is tied to Beltran. The most likely reason the Sox would need to a make a big change here would be to offset loss of offensive due the loss of all ( or most) of their free agents. One other free agent mentioned on occasion for LF is Curtis Granderson ( again with loss of draft pick), would the Sox go there??
If the Sox feel a need to trade for more offense here is there a chance to deal with Oakland? The A's have a history of dealing players ( usually pitchers) unexpectedly. Could Boston acquire Coco Crisp or even Yoenis Cespedes for a package of kids?
Center Field- Still feels like Jacoby Ellsbury is leaving town for a huge payday some where else. Reportedly the Red Sox are still interested and might go for something like 5 years 90M. Might. Agent Scott Boras is looking for Carl Crawford type deal of 7 years 142M or so. Still seems to me Jackie Bradley, Jr. is the 2014 center fielder. Despite JBJr's struggles in April in the bigs, he put up a solid AAA year, with his typical plus-plus defense and a OBP around .370.
A real plus for the Sox is having Bradley and Bogaerts at major league minimum salary ready to step in for Ellsbury and Drew. This could potentially allow the Sox to swing a big money deal for another player. One example of this type of player is Matt Kemp. In recent days reports have surfaced ( mostly by Nick Cafardo, so take it for what it is worth) LA and the Sox have discussed Kemp. He has 7 years and 126M left on his deal, so the Dodgers would need to eat a significant chunk to make a deal happen. More concerning than his money is his injury history of the last two years. Kemp is only 29, but will his injuries derail the rest of his career? Kemp could be an option to boost the offense, but he would be a risky one.
Right Field- Two things to mention here. First since Shane Victorino had been a center fielder until 2013, everyone assumes Vic is a candidate to replace Ellsbury is center. But Victorino put up a Gold Glove season covering the rugged terrain of Fenway's right field. With the presence of Bradley, Jr. for center, the Sox seem better served to leave Shane in right. Unless.....
Secondly, will/can the Red Sox convince Miami to trade 24 year old right fielder Giancarlo Stanton. First off a deal breaker would be having to include Xander Bogaerts. The whole idea of the a trade would be to team Xander and Stanton in 3/4 holes of the Sox lineup for a decade or so to come. But the price would be very steep, some speculation is along the lines of Felix Doubront, Middlebrooks, maybe Bradley, one of the AAA pitchers ( Webster, Ranaudo, Barnes) maybe even Henry Owens and Mookie Betts. One of Vazquez or Swihart maybe instead of Bradley or Betts. You get the idea, 5 or 6 of all the top prospects except Bogaerts. Would it be worth it? Probably.
DH- David Ortiz. The only thing to maybe see here is this week word came out that Papi is hinting he would like an extension this winter. Supposedly as part of last winter's two year deal, the sides agreed not to revisit until this deal was over next winter. Expect to hear more on this.
Bullpen- With a likely desire to move Brandon Workman back to starting ( at Boston or AAA), the Sox could use another arm or two. One is hopefully a returning Andrew Miller, and the Red Sox may have obtained another this week. The picked up Burke Badenhop, a 30 year old righty from the Brewers. The former Ray is known for throwing lots of ground balls and walking very few batters.
Rotation- The main question here is do the Sox keep all six veteran starters as John Farrell implied at a post World Series presser. Two reasons that I feel they trade at least one of them. First, I know the old saying you can never have enough pitching, but they do have six not five plus Brandon Workman and Franklin Morales. In addition to about 6 or 7 starters ready for Pawtucket. At some point they have to make room for one or two of the kids..Workman, Ranaudo, Webster, Barnes, De La Rosa, even Henry Owens.
The other reason, and going all the way back to the beginning of this post this is why the Jason Vargas signing matters to Boston, you can get valuable pieces for pitchers. If Vargas is worth 32M, Ryan Dempster at 13M or Jake Peavy at 14.5M for next year are going to have a viable trade market. As would John Lackey since he is due to pitch for minimum wage in 2015. And as I mentioned in regards to Stanton above, even one of the other starters could go in a blockbuster.
So even though none of Boston's free agents have signed anywhere, nor have the Sox pulled off a trade of note yet the hot stove is lit and in the next two weeks leading up to the winter meetings, you can expect the Sox to join the fun.