With the arrival of the postseason for a quarter of MLB teams, comes an early start to the Hot Stove for the other three-quarters, including the back to back last place Boston Red Sox. There have been several quality articles put out in the last week by the plethora of Red Sox writers from John Tomase to Pete Abe to Brian MacP. Two prime areas that most writers have weighed-in on so far are the annual call for an ace to upgrade the rotation and the need to move Hanley Ramirez and/or Pablo Sandoval. Yesterday, Dave Dombrowski addressed the media about his plans for the off-season. With that in mind, here are a few ramblings from Cousin Jason on the winter ahead and the 2016 Red Sox.
During the Don Orsillo Farewell tour over the final month plus of the 2015 season, the Red Sox actually played pretty good baseball. This fact, in my opinion, has muddied the waters on the moves that Dave Dombrowski, Mike Hazen, and company can and should make this winter in an effort to avoid a fourth basement finish over the last half-decade in 2016. Players like Jackie Bradley, Jr., Travis Shaw, and Rusney Castillo played to a level, or showed flashes, beyond their profiles when the month of August began. The same can be said of Joe Kelly and Rick Porcello. Prior to August, Bradley looked destined to be moved this winter as an elite defender and 4A hitter. After his torrid August, the question in most circles has become does JBJ play CF or RF in 2016? Yet others want to see the Sox shop Bradley now that his stock has rebounded. Shaw was viewed as a prospect that may have plateaued at AAA. Now the question becomes can Travis Shaw be an everyday corner infielder and would you kick yourself if he turns out to be one after getting shipped out of Boston? I would answer no to both of those questions, although Shaw in the Daniel Nava role wouldn't be bad. Castillo is the $72.5 million dollar man that has showed great athleticism with a limited baseball IQ while being hounded by injuries. However, after he too put up great numbers in August the call for the BBC outfield began. To this Sox fan, Castillo will never become the great player we all dreamed of when he signed and this winter would be a perfect time to move him while his stock is still relatively high. Joe Kelly went 7-0 with an ERA in the 2's until being should down in early September. Do you pencil him into the rotation and hope you get 6 months of that in 2016 only to end up with the same 5+ ERA he put up in the early season? Which Rick Porcello will you get or does Dombrowski deal him for the second winter in a row? Certainly a quagmire for the front office to wade through, although not necessarily bad developments for the Sox.
The opposite can be said of Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, as their disastrous season's only got worse as the year went on, with both of them being non-existent in September. It will be next to impossible to deal either of them without eating a bankfull of money, although that probably would have been true even if both hadn't pulled a Harry Houdini in the final month. So currently, the plan is to have the two of them man the corners in 2016, with Ramirez at first and Sandoval at third. The consensus amongst the Sox writers is that the idea of Ramirez at first is not only a horrendous idea, similar to trying to make him a left fielder in 2015, but is also smoke and mirrors in that you can't come out in October and say this guy sucks in case you cannot trade him before Spring Training, even though you are actively trying to move him. Moving Ramirez would be preferable to many in Red Sox Nation, but because of his contract with 3 years and $66 million remaining, the fact that he continues to prove to be a cancer to teams, and what position can he play, where and how do you accomplish such a move? At a fan's glance, the market for Ramirez is very limited. He proved without a doubt that he cannot play the outfield and with his apparent love of weightlifting and his bulked up body he probably can longer play shortstop. Defensively, he is a reach at first or third so that leaves him as a DH. Based on my brief research, here are some possible landing spots for Ramirez. Cleveland: Would the Indians be interested in adding Ramirez's bat to be their DH, possibly as part of a larger package for a starter such as Carlos Carrasco or Corey Kluber? The Tribe might be interested in adding a bat but, the prospect of getting Carrasco or Kluber back would take the addition of Bradley or Castillo and a prospect or two. Tampa Bay: Here is another team looking for improved offensive production, would the Sox be willing to deal Ramirez to a team that they will face 19 times a year for the remainder of his contract and what do the Devil Rays have to offer in return? How about Ramirez for Jake McGee? Milwaukee: Would the Brewers be willing to take Ramirez as a third baseman? This might be a stretch defensively, but Ramirez has played the hot corner in the past. How about Ramirez for Matt Garza or Ramirez and Castillo for Garza and Francisco Rodriguez? Trading Sandoval might not be as difficult as but because of his contract, weight, and offensive decline, would there still be suitors for his services? Here is a look at some possible trade partners for Sandoval. Milwaukee: Would the Brew Crew take Sandoval in the same scenarios listed for Ramirez? Pittsburgh: After back-to-back Wild Card game loses, are the Pirates interested in re-shuffling their deck? Is there anything the Pirates have to offer in return? Both good questions, without much clarity. San Diego: This has been a much discussed possibility for the Sox to move Sandoval as the Padres were very in on Sandoval last winter. However, Yangervis Solarte proved himself to be an everyday player this year which might block such a move. Still, let's suggest Sandoval, Bradley, and Wade Miley for James Shields and Craig Kimbrel. Los Angeles of Anaheim: With David Freese a free agent, would the Angels look to take on Panda in exchange for a starter like Matt Shoemaker, CJ Wilson, or Tyler Skaggs? Oakland: Are the A's in full on rebuild mode and would Sandoval help this? How about Sandoval for Coco Crisp, as a 4th outfielder? I know much of Red Sox Nation is hoping that if the Red Sox make a trade with the A's it is to bring Sonny Gray back but, I just don't see the A's trading Gray. He is still under team control and while they do have a bunch of young arms, I don't see moving him helping the rebuild by the bay.
A couple of givens for the 2016 edition of the Olde Towne team, Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and David Ortiz will all have a roster spot. Betts and Bogaerts were both tremendous in 2015 and are the future faces of the franchise. Big Papi continues to be the greatest DH of all-time despite turning 40 years of age (at least, you can never trust those Latino years). Another name that can be added to the list of guaranteed returners from this years' team is Eduardo Rodriguez. The views of Rodriguez after his rookie season, range from a potential future ace to a solid #3 starter, either of those view and anything in between would suffice. Regardless of the view, Rodriguez was dominant in half of his starts and very good in a few more. Of course, there were some hiccups along the way but that is to be expected of a rookie. At the very least, Eduardo can be penciled in as the Sox #2 or #3 pitcher heading into 2016. Beyond this group, the remainder of the roster should be open to evaluation and reconstruction. That is not to say that there will be major upheaval for the Sox this winter, but roles and roster status for all others should at least be evaluated.
Let's begin by cleaning house on the 40 man roster. First off, Craig Breslow and Rich Hill are both free agents. Good luck to both of them in their future endeavors as Cousin Jason sees neither of them helping next year. Next, let's list some names currently on the roster that can be replaced: Jonathan Aro, Edwin Escobar, Jean Machi, Roman Mendez, Garin Cecchini and Sean Coyle. A few other names to consider.: Josh Rutledge, Sandy Leon, Allen Craig, Anthony Varvaro, Alexi Ogando, Heath Hembree, and Ryan Cook. In the case of Rutledge and Leon, both showed some useful skills during the 2015 season. Rutledge offers big league experience and infield depth whether that is as a major league back-up or at AAA. Leon is certainly a very adept defensive catcher, however he couldn't hit water if he fell out of a boat. With the Sox currently having Swihart, Vazquez, and Hanigan all on the roster Sandy can be nothing more than depth at AAA. In regards to the 4 pitchers (Varvaro, Ogando, Hembree, Cook), all offer the possibility of being useful relievers but the Sox can probably do better. Lastly, what a sad story Allen Craig's career has become from an MVP candidate to completely done in just 3 years. The biggest reason Craig is not on the list of names to delete from the 40 man is the fact that he is owed $21 million for the next 2 years. Can the Sox eat that salary, especially if they need to eat much of Ramirez and/or Sandoval's?
Next, let's discuss the 2016 infield. One thing that we have already established, Xander Bogaerts will be the shortstop of the 2016 Boston Red Sox (and beyond). The other position that is established is Dustin Pedroia at second base. 2015 saw the return of Pedey's power that had been zapped by hand and wrist injuries in 2013 and 2014. That said health has started to become an annual issue for Pedroia. Given this information, it might be wise for the Sox to at least investigate moving the de facto captain this winter, although his contract which runs through 2021 might scare some teams off. However, if moving Pedroia improves the club going forward, perhaps to obtain the ace that everyone thinks this team needs, you at least have to consider it no matter the fallout with Red Sox Nation.
As mentioned above the Sox are currently penciling Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval in as the starting 1B and 3B in 2016, yet much of the Nation is clamoring for them to not even be on the roster. So where does that leave the Sox with regards to the corner infield spots? If not Ramirez, where history shows that Ramirez profiles as a bounce back candidate offensively, then who plays 1B? Travis Shaw displayed power well beyond his AAA numbers in his extended look this season, which sets him up for a regression to the mean 2016. However, there is no doubt Shaw is the superior defender. With that information, I believe the Sox should view Shaw as prime trade target. A versatile left-handed bat that could be part of a package to obtain an ace and/or fix the bullpen. Another internal option, which has been referenced, is to move Sandoval across the diamond. Defensively, you have to think this would be better than playing Ramirez there. However, Sandoval's offense numbers in 2015 were career lows and not the prototype for a MLB 1st Baseman. So that leaves the Sox to look at free agents, Chris Davis is a name that has been mentioned by some as a possibility although that would certainly make the Sox more left-handed in the middle of the order. Beyond Davis the pool is pretty shallow with Mike Napoli the only other name worth consideration. However, a name that I will throw out there is Matt Wieters. Wieters is a catcher by trade, however he is a year removed from Tommy John surgery. Like Napoli in 2013, would the Sox be willing to bring in the switch-hitting Wieters and make him a first baseman or is it better to try Ramirez if you are going to experiment? I think Wieters is at least a name worth watching. Third base profiles similarly to first for the Sox. Sandoval struggled in 2015 to put it lightly. Again though, Sandoval's history sets him up to be a bounce back candidate in 2016. Is that good enough or do they need to look elsewhere? Travis Shaw's name has also been mentioned as a possibility to play third should the Sox move Sandoval to first or out of town but I've already given my thoughts on Shaw. The free agents at third base are also weak with David Freese the only name worth a look. So after all of this, it is probable that the Sox begin Spring Training with Sandoval and Ramirez manning the corners.
Looking at the catcher and back-up infielder positions, the Sox on paper have solid options for both. Brock Holt was the Sox lone All-Star in 2015, although Bogaerts certainly warranted making the team. Holt's ability to play both infield and outfield along with his team controlled contract make him a very nice piece to have. However, over the last 2 seasons he has worn down in the second halves, proving his limitations. If the Sox could get to a set-up where Holt does not have to play everyday but rather is the super sub a la an NBA 6th man, Holt probably thrives for the entire season. There is also the school of thought that now would be the perfect time to trade Holt and transition Deven Marrero into the back-up infielder spot. This does have some merit and certainly you would get more in return for Holt than Marrero as both of them cannot be on the roster. However, Marrero's inability to play the outfield and Holt's better offensive capabilities would seemingly make Marrero the odd man out. Travis Shaw is the other probably back-up infielder. At the catcher spot the Sox have to make a decision with regards to Blake Swihart, Christian Vazquez, and Ryan Hanigan. All three cannot be on the roster and the two kids have nothing left to prove at AAA. There are really two options, keep Swihart and Vazquez to platoon although this would appear to limit the Sox ability to utilize either Swihart's bat or Vazquez's defensive ability. There is also the matter of Vazquez coming off Tommy John surgery. The other option is to keep either Swihart or Vazquez while trading the other to improve the club and pair him with Hanigan, who has proven to be a useful back-up catcher over his career. Certainly, trading Swihart would net a larger return that Vazquez but are the Sox willing to make such a move. Lou Merloni has even offered up Swihart for Sonny Gray as a proposition. Lastly, what the Sox do at the catcher spot may have repercussions on the pitching staff as well. Vazquez is a top shelf defender, while Hanigan is also an accomplished framer of pitches. Swihart's defense proved to be a work in progress during 2015. That is not to say he will never be a great catcher but, it certainly is a factor worth noting.
Moving onto the outfield. The Sox appear to be committed to the BBC outfield, which would certainly be one of the best in baseball defensively. The group of Betts, Bradley, and Castillo most assuredly played a role in the second half 180 that the pitching staff made. Betts put up a tremendous 2015 and was viewed by some as perhaps the team's MVP. As mentioned above Bradley and Castillo both were tremendous in August. Therein lies the question mark, can JBJ and Castillo perform at a high enough level offensively (and stay healthy) to play everyday? The other question with this outfield is what alignment will they play due to the intricacies of right field at Fenway. Most believe that Castillo will man left but where to play the other two remains a mystery. As discussed previously, this fan believes that looking to move Castillo and Bradley might be in the best interest of the club. A couple of other items pertaining to the outfield is the free agency of Jason Hayward, who Deacon Art projected as a Red Sox target last winter. It is believed that the Cardinals will re-sign Heyward, however it is at least worth monitoring. Signing Heyward, who is only 26, would give the Sox flexibility to shop their youngsters minus Betts or give them 4 solid outfielders. Dombrowski seems committed to the BBC but stated that he would like to add outfield depth. Some free agents to keep an eye on to fill this role are Rajai Davis, whom Dombrowski brought to Detroit, Austin Jackson, whom Dombrowski also had in Detroit, and Dexter Fowler. All three would not only add depth but also offer a degree of speed as a pinch runner. One final free agent name to monitor is Justin Upton, whom Sox fans clamored for a couple of winters ago.
The piece of the puzzle that will receive the most attention this winter is the pitching staff. Dombrowski admitted yesterday that the goal is to upgrade the bullpen and find an ace. As Sox fans well know, the rotation is currently made up of back of the rotation guys which offer depth and the opportunity to be a strong group of starters if you can find that number 1 to lead them. It appears that the Sox are in a position to be able to spend on one of the frontline starters on the free agent market this winter. Much has been made of the Sox going after David Price. He has a track record of success in the AL East and Dombrowski made a trade for him in 2014. While others view him as a prime target for the hated Yankees. Price should be an interesting story going forward this winter. Other aces on the open market include Johnny Cueto, who has flounder with the Royals since being acquired at the trade deadline, Jordan Zimmermann, who may profile more as a #2 than an ace, and the possibility of Zack Greinke, who would need to opt out of his deal with the Dodgers and whose anxiety issues probably makes him a high risk in Boston. There are a number of other solid starters that could fill a void in the Sox rotation but without an ace would leave the Sox in a situation similar to 2015. Names to at least consider include: Brett Anderson, who finally had a season without health issues for the Dodgers, Wei-Yin Chen, who has been consistently successful in the AL East for the Orioles, Doug Fister, who Dombrowski had in Detroit, Yovanni Gallardo, who was a big reason the Rangers won the AL West, Scott Kazmir, who pitched well for both the A's and Astros, Jeff Samardzija, who was inconsistent for the White Sox, Hisashi Iwakuma, who regressed a bit in 2015 for the Mariners and is also 35. A couple of other names include Rich Hill, who performed tremendously in September and does not have the number of innings on his left arm that other 36 year olds do, and John Lackey, who was tremendous in St. Louis this year. Beyond bring in a front-end of the rotation arm or two, the Sox would still have numerous arms on the roster. It is believed that the Sox will pick up Clay Buchholz option. Although it is unclear if he would be the Sox #2 or #3 or if they will look to move him. Wade Miley and Rick Porcello are both under contract and would be solid #3-5 starters. Eduardo Rodriguez, as previously mentioned may be an ace in the making. A rotation of Price, Buchholz, Rodriguez, Porcello, and Miley would be very solid. That leaves Joe Kelly and Henry Owens without a spot and very much trade chips. Of course the Sox could also look to the trade front to upgrade the rotation with some names such as Sonny Gray and Tyson Ross mentioned frequently. A team to watch may be the Washington Nationals, after collapsing in 2015, what course of action do they take and could a starter like Stephen Strasburg or Gio Gonzalez be had?
Without a doubt the weak link to the 2015 Red Sox was the bullpen. This is the greatest concern going forward for me, as the current bullpen sucks and Dombrowski has a track record of putting together poor bullpens. To start, the Sox will get Koji Uehara back from his broken wrist and is currently the closer but at 41 will 2016 be the year he finally loses his effectiveness. Junichi Tazawa will presumably be back, although some think the Sox should look to move him as his workload may have caught up to him. Robbie Ross, pitched effectively in a variety of roles this season and will presumably be back. Tommy Layne, is a true weapon against lefties however he was called upon to be more than that in 2015, bringing him back to be a lefty specialist would be a help. Matt Barnes and Heath Hembree appear to be power arms that could thrive out of the pen but they both struggled at times in 2015. Other internal options include Noe Ramirez or bringing back some of the 40 man roster members such as Alexi Ogando and Anthony Varvaro. Externally, some names on the free agent market to consider, left-handers who have all had success in the past include Antonio Bastardo, Eric O'Flaherty, and Tony Sipp and right-handers with past success who could be power arms including Neftali Feliz, Tommy Hunter, Tyler Clippard, Darren O'Day, Bobby Parnell, and Joakim Soria, whom Dombrowski brought to Detroit. Additionally, there are some closers that could be had via trade allowing Koji to move back to his set-up role and taking some of the strain off both himself and Taz. Craig Kimbrel of the Padres, he has been an outstanding closer over his career and the Padres seemingly need to make a new plan going forward. Would they be willing to move Kimbrel for a package including Henry Owens and Rusney Castillo? Another team sure to get calls this winter about their closer is the Cincinnati Reds and Aroldis Chapman. No one throws the ball harder than Chapman and the Reds are in a bit of a rebuild mode. Could a deal of Clay Buchholz and Blake Swihart get the Cuban flamethrower? Another name that is intriguing is Jonathan Papelbon. The Nationals obviously have to do something as a result of the incident between Papelbon and Harper, and they are not going to move Bryce Harper. While Papelbon comes with plenty of baggage, it is believed that a return to Boston would negate much of that as players like Pedroia and Ortiz would be able to keep Papelbon in line. Bringing back Papelbon might be nostalgic but I believe it would be an upgrade and might bring some swagger and toughness back to the Sox pen that seems to be lacking both.
So there you have it, days worth of thoughts, turned into this tremendously long ramble about the Sox moving into the Hot Stove season. I hope you enjoyed reading and I look forward to seeing the comments this generates. Go Sox!