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Red Sox 2018 Offseason Primer

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Red Sox 2018 Offseason Primer

Dave Dombrowski has a lot of decisions to make this offseason

Dave Dombrowski has a lot of decisions to make this offseason

Dave Dombrowski has a lot of decisions to make this offseason

Dave Dombrowski has a lot of decisions to make this offseason

Joe Clark, Sports Editor

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With the start of the GM Meetings this week, the MLB offseason will officially be underway. In what could shape up to be one the craziest offseasons ever, the Red Sox figure to be major players. With a David Ortiz-sized hole in their lineup, the Sox have been linked to Giancarlo Stanton, JD Martinez, and Eric Hosmer to try to add some power to a team that had a major shortage of it last season. Below, we’ll look at some moves the Red Sox should (or shouldn’t make).

  1. Acquire a power bat

It’s no secret the Red Sox need power this offseason. If you’re looking for power, obviously Giancarlo Stanton would be the guy to target. However, I’m not so sure the Red Sox should trade for Stanton for a few reasons. First, this is what is left on his contract :2018: $25 million; 2019: $26 million; 2020: $26 million; 2021: $29 million; 2022: $29 million; 2023: $32 million; 2024: $32 million; 2025: $32 million; 2026: $29 million; 2027: $25 million; 2028: $25 million team option, $10 million buyout. He also has the ability to opt out after 2020, but it seems increasingly unlikely that will happen. With the Red Sox approaching the luxury tax, Stanton’s contract hinders what they’ll be able to do in both the free agent and the trade market in the upcoming years. Not only that, but he’s likely to regress after a 59 HR season, and there is virtually no chance he’ll be worth $32 million in 2024, 2025, or 2026. Finally, the price the Red Sox will have to pay for Stanton would be hefty, likely costing Jason Groome, Andrew Benintendi, and someone like Eduardo Rodriguez, if not more. The problem with Stanton going to the Red Sox is their young, MLB-ready talent is among the best in baseball, and outside of St. Louis, it’s the most any team pursuing Stanton has. Stanton has a no-trade clause, and it’s not known whether he’d accept a trade to St. Louis, so that makes the Red Sox the most intriguing option for Miami.

If Stanton was to get dealt somewhere like San Francisco, another expected suitor, the price they’d pay would be significantly less than what the Red Sox would have to pay. Dave Dombrowski has no problem trading away prospects, and for someone like Stanton, similar to Chris Sale last year, I would be ok if they traded away Groome, Michael Chavis, and another quality prospect or two. When you get into trading guys off the major league roster though, especially guys as talented as Benintendi and Rodriguez, it becomes a much harder sell. The problem is that if the Red Sox showed interest, Derek Jeter and the rest of the Marlins brass would likely demand at least one young, MLB-ready talent in order to move Stanton, despite their desperation to move his contract and rebuild from the ground up. Due to this, I don’t think the Red Sox will end up with Stanton, and I think it will end up being disappointing when we see the relatively minimal price a team like San Francisco will have ended up paying to acquire Stanton. This situation reminds me a little bit of the Celtics this offseason in their pursuit of Jimmy Butler or Paul George, where the Celtics were ready to pony up multiple top picks because teams demanded more from them due to their assets, only to see both of them get traded for a pretty small return. For that reason, I think it’s much more realistic the Red Sox go out and sign JD Martinez and stick him at DH and move Hanley Ramirez to 1B and have him split time there with Sam Travis when Travis is more polished. Dombrowski has familiarity with Martinez from his time in Detroit, and Martinez certainly provides power. He’ll be expensive, likely coming in around 5y/$180m, but his numbers (.303/.376/.690 with 45 HR, 104 RBI last season) certainly make him worth that, and a five-year deal is much less of a commitment than Stanton would be. Eric Hosmer is an option, but Hosmer doesn’t provide much power in comparison to Stanton or Martinez, and power is really what the Red Sox need. I personally really like Carlos Santana, but don’t see him leaving the Indians. Therefore, my prediction is that the Red Sox sign Martinez, and if they don’t end up getting him, they bring back Mitch Moreland.

UPDATE: Since I wrote this, it’s been reported that Stanton won’t accept a trade to the Red Sox.

  1. Acquire another starter

Right now, the Red Sox rotation has six capable starters: Chris Sale, David Price, Drew Pomeranz, Rick Porcello, Steven Wright, and Eduardo Rodriguez. Rodriguez will likely start 2018 on the DL after recently undergoing another knee surgery, Wright is a question mark, and who knows what the deal will be with Price this year regarding his health. Therefore, with not much depth in their farm system outside of Brian Johnson, who at this point looks like nothing more than a spot starter long term, Dombrowski would be wise to go out and get another starter. Doug Fister was capable last season, even earning a postseason start, and the smart play, in my opinion, would be to bring back Fister and have him either pitch in AAA if he accepted an assignment there or pitch as a long reliever. If they move on from Fister, there are a few moves they can make.

If for whatever reason they decide to make a splash and bring in a legitimate top of the rotation starter, they’d be looking at overpaying for Yu Darvish or Jake Arrieta, who at this point are probably best suited for the middle of a rotation anyway. Lance Lynn is intriguing, but he isn’t enough of a significant upgrade over anything the Red Sox currently have to justify paying him what he’ll command on the open market. Shohei Ohtani is obviously incredibly intriguing, as he’ll likely be a very talented top of the rotation pitcher, will be cheap due to the new international signing rules, and he’s young. I’d be stoked if the Red Sox signed him, but I just don’t see that happening. I could be wrong, but I think Ohtani is going to end up with the Yankees or Rangers, as they have the most international signing bonus money left, and both have been active in Japan in recent years, with the Rangers signing Darvish and the Yankees signing Masahiro Tanaka. I could be wrong, and I hope I am because I think Ohtani is probably the best free agent on the market and would upgrade any rotation, but I’m not going to get my hopes up. That leaves three names that aren’t Doug Fister that I’d like to see the Red Sox potentially acquire. One is Chris Tillman. The longtime Orioles ace struggled mightily last season (1-7, 7.84 ERA, 6.93 FIP in 19 starts), but that means he can be had cheap. From 2012-2016, Tillman was 65-33 with a 3.81 ERA in 143 starts, making 30 or more starts four times in that span. He isn’t flashy in terms of strikeouts (career 6.7 K/9), but he usually gets the job done. It should also be noted that he’s 5-1 with a 2.39 ERA pitching in Fenway Park. Signing him to a one-year bounceback deal would be an incredibly savvy move in my opinion. Another guy the Red Sox could look to sign is Scott Feldman. Feldman’s pitched in the AL East before (5-6, 4.27 ERA in 15 starts with Baltimore, traded to O’s as part of deal that sent Jake Arrieta to Chicago in 2013, also pitched in AL East in 2016 with Toronto, 8.40 ERA in 14 relief appearances), and he’s the type of guy that can pitch fine out of the bullpen and fill into the rotation if need be. In 21 starts with the Reds last season, he went 7-7 with a 4.77 ERA in 21 starts. His FIP was slightly worse at 5.04, which can partly be attributed to playing for a bad team in a notoriously hitter-friendly park in Great American Ballpark. He’s serviceable, wouldn’t command a lot of money, and would fill a role. Again, not a real flashy pitcher but someone who would be a solid acquisition.

That brings us to our third potential FA candidate in Francisco Liriano. A one-time top prospect with high expectations, Liriano was largely a bust until he was acquired by the Pirates, where the legendary Ray Searage turned him into a legitimate top of the rotation pitcher. His last year in Pittsburgh, he struggled in the first half of the year, was traded to the Blue Jays in a rather puzzling trade (The Pirates included Reese McGuire, one of the top catching prospects in baseball, in the deal), and turned it around during the second half of the year with the Blue Jays. This past year, he almost followed that script to a tee, as he was terrible the first half of the year with the Blue Jays, then got traded to the Astros where he turned it around a little bit pitching out of the Houston bullpen. His inconsistency the last two seasons means he can also be had pretty cheap, and as a lefty, he could be a useful weapon out of the bullpen. I’m not sure how much gas he has left in the tank as a starter, but he can certainly start if need be, which is why he’s on this list. If he returns to his pre-2016 form as a starter, he could be a fantastic acquisition, but even if he doesn’t he could make a useful bullpen piece. I think bringing in Tillman is the smart play here, as he brings upside, health, and he won’t cost a whole lot. I don’t really like Feldman, but I wouldn’t be upset if they brought him in because he fills a role and would be serviceable, and Liriano could be intriguing not only as a starter but as a weapon out of the bullpen like Houston tried to get him to be. Signing any of those guys or bringing back Fister would be more than enough to address the rotation this offseason, and I really hope the Red Sox front office sees that and doesn’t try to make a big move.

 

  1. Find a reliable late-inning reliever

2017 was the first year in a while that the team that won the WS didn’t have a dominant bullpen, and that was due to the fact that the Astros had an unbelievable lineup. The Red Sox are probably going to see that lineup in the playoffs next season, and to counter it they need to improve their bullpen. I’d like to see them bring back Addison Reed, but he’ll command big dollars, and for better or worse, I’m not sure the Red Sox would want to pay what he could make. Even if they bring back Reed, I think they probably need someone else. Greg Holland and Wade Davis are the best options on the market, but I don’t see either of them signing with Boston, as they’ll command even more money than Reed. I like Brandon Kintzler, and he could be cheap due to the fact that he’s extremely unconventional in that he doesn’t generate many strikeouts at all, but his sinker generates so many ground ball outs that his lack of strikeouts doesn’t really matter. His FIP has consistently been in the high 3.00 range, which isn’t great, but certainly not bad either, and he has closer experience. He’d be an ideal 7th or 8th inning arm to bridge the gap to Craig Kimbrel. Another guy I like is Tony Watson, who’s been remarkably reliable since breaking into the bigs in 2011, as he’s never posted an ERA above the 3.95 he posted his rookie year, with the closest he’s even come to matching that number is a 3.38 ERA, which he’s posted twice. He might be the most underrated arm on the market, as he won’t command top dollar but he’ll provide top dollar value to any team that signs him. He’s never pitched in the AL though, which could be a concern but it certainly shouldn’t scare the Red Sox off from signing him. Outside of those two, no names really stick out, but Pat Neshek, Bryan Shaw, or Seung-hwan Oh ( an intriguing bounce-back candidate) could all be very good signings that wouldn’t break the bank.

What I want to happen this offseason is see the Red Sox bring back Reed or sign Watson, and then pair that with the signing of Shaw, who has pitched in a remarkable 378 games the past five years for the Indians. Terry Francona used him so much that the blog Let’s Go Tribe wondered what would happen if every player on the Indians was Bryan Shaw. Shaw should get paid a lot because he’s been extremely reliable with a ton of usage since joining the Indians, but I think he’ll still end up being pretty cheap compared to what the top relievers will make. If the Red Sox sign both Reed and Shaw, they could end up with a bullpen that features Kimbrel, Reed, Tyler Thornburg, Carson Smith, and Shaw, and that’s without mentioning Matt Barnes, Heath Hembree, Joe Kelly, or Fister/Feldman/Liriano/Tillman. If they signed both Shaw and Reed, they could trade one of their existing relievers and go with an eight-man bullpen. They really don’t need to sign two guys, but Shaw is an upgrade over most of their current bullpen. It’s certainly a luxury signing if they sign him (which they probably won’t) but it would be a good move to strengthen a questionable bullpen. Even if they don’t sign Shaw, I think the Red Sox should at least experiment with an eight-man bullpen early in the season. Employing an eight-man ‘pen and limiting the innings their starters have to throw will help reduce the wear and tear they face throughout the year and help their rotation stay fresh late in the year. We saw Chris Sale struggle late last season and that carried into his playoff start. Going with an eight-man bullpen could really pay dividends late in the year when having healthy, fresh starting pitching could be the difference between a World Series win and an ALDS exit. Just look at how much Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander pitching late into games helped the Astros win this year. More arms in the bullpen could give the Red Sox that same luxury come October 2018.  Obviously, they need more quality in the bullpen in order to do this, which is why I’d advocate signing both Reed and Shaw, but there’s a reason Dave Dombrowski is running the Red Sox and I’m not, so I’ll trust whatever moves he decides to make.

 

  1. Get Insurance for Dustin Pedroia

Dustin Pedroia battled through injuries for much of 2017, and after undergoing knee surgery on October 25th, his status for the beginning of 2018 looks murky at best. For that reason, the Red Sox need to find someone who could start the season at 2B and play a utility role throughout the year. They happen to have someone like that in Eduardo Nunez, but Nunez is poised to hit the open market and cash in on his successful stint with the Red Sox. I don’t think the Red Sox will pay Nunez starter money to primarily come off the bench, so assuming he leaves, there are a few names that could fill this role. The first, and most likely in my opinion, is Howie Kendrick. Kendrick is still a good hitter (.315/.368/.475 in 91 games with the Phillies and Nats last season, hasn’t hit below .255 in a season), and he can play the outfield as well after Pedroia comes back. While not as talented, he would fill the role that Marwin Gonzalez played for the 2017 Astros and that Ben Zobrist filled for the 2016 Cubs as a utility infielder that could shift over and effectively play the outfield. I personally really like what Kendrick would be able to offer the Red Sox and think he’d be a more than capable fill-in for Pedroia. If it doesn’t work out with Kendrick, Chase Utley could provide a solid veteran presence, and with a young locker room that’s had its fair share of issues over the years, a veteran like Utley could be useful in more than just an on-field role. Utley wasn’t great at the plate last season, but for a month or two I would be comfortable with him as the Red Sox starting second basemen. If Utley or Kendrick don’t work out, the next tier of second basemen include a group headlined by Alexi Amarista, Darwin Barney, and Stephen Drew, so the Red Sox should really try to either retain Nunez or sign Kendrick or Utley. The fact of the matter is that they need to sign someone because if Pedroia’s knee takes longer than a month or two into the season to recover, I’m not sure how far the Red Sox could go with Deven Marrero starting at second base every day.

It’s a new era in Boston with Alex Cora replacing John Farrell, and it’ll be very interesting to see what they do this offseason. The last two offseasons have been highlighted by major acquisitions (David Price, Craig Kimbrel, and Chris Sale), and with this team coming off a second straight ALDS exit, it will be interesting to see if Dombrowski decides to make another big move or make smaller moves to add depth to a team that could really use some. Either way, this will definitely be an offseason to watch for the Red Sox.

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