Boston Red Sox: Hot Stove League Outlook

red sox hot stove

Boston Red Sox 

2013 Results: 97-65, first in AL East, won World Series

It’s not very surprising why the Red Sox, who went from the outhouse to the penthouse in one short offseason, won the AL pennant and then the World Series title, when it is understood that they had a very good combination of hitting and pitching, especially, the hitting part. In 2013, the Sox were either the number one, or very near being the number one, team in almost every important offensive statistic. Their team slash line was (.277/.349/.446) which not only was the best in the AL but it was the best in the majors. Only their batting average was not a major league leader… it was the second best in the majors.

In addition to their excellent slash line, they scored/got more runs (853); more RBIs (819); more total bases (2,521); more hits (2521)  and hit more doubles (363) than, not only any other AL team, but, for all of MLB.  Plus, they had the second most walks (581) in he AL, third in the majors.  The only other categories worth noting, in my opinion, that they failed to lead the AL, or the majors, were home runs and stolen bases, respectively they were third in the AL (fourth in MLB) in pilfered sacks and fifth in HRs (sixth in MLB). But, worth noting about their stolen bases was that no team was better at not getting caught trying to steal than the Red Sox… 87% success rate. And, for all you stat geeks, there is the one final stat that may be worth mentioning:  they scored 182 more runs (aka run differential) than their opponents, and, yep, they led the majors in that, also.

But understand that they didn’t just bludgeon other teams into submission they also did it with a decent defense… only seven teams had less errors than their 80, and, they were tied for seventh in overall fielding percentage, .987, with three other teams.

And, their pitching, which, to put it kindly, was not the greatest during the 2012 season, while not spectacular in 2013 was certainly very good.  Their starters combined for 67of the teams wins; meaning that the bullpen had to come up with 30 of the teams league leading 97 wins (tied for most wins in the majors with the Cardinals). A reason for the bullpen registering that many wins was not that their starters were that bad, but, that if the Sox did have a weak link in 2013, it may have been that bullpen, who only had 33 saves as a team and blew 24 out of 57 save opportunities for a middling 58% save percentage.

Ben Cherington and John Farrell
Ben Cherington and John Farrell

General Manager Ben Cherington dumped Bobby Valentine as the Red Sox manager and signed John Farrell, a past Red Sox pitching coach (2007-2010), as Valentines replacement. Farrell proved to provide some stability to the Red Sox locker room, and, while, he sportspage-biggerwasn’t Tito Francona, he proved to know the ways of the Red Sox clubhouse and got his team to play some damn good baseball in 2013. Farrell became the fifth first year Red Sox manager to win the A.L. pennant as the Sox went on to win the World Series, going from worst to first under Farrell in just a year’s time.

Cherington, with his field manager set, then pulled off a mini-miracle when he suckered… cough, cough … was able to work out a trade with the Dodgers and shed some very albatross around the neck, long term and high salary contracts of some players who were either already past their primes or would be by the time their contracts were coming to a conclusion. And, whole some of those players actually helped the Dodgers in making the 2013 playoffs, in 2012 they didn’t do much more then help the Red Sox finish 69-93 and last in the AL East for 2012.

With the team freed from those onerous contract obligations, Cherington created financial room to explore the free agent market, and, to also resign some players he believed were essential to the Red Sox wit ht he intent being to improve on the disaster of 2012.  Critical of the re-signs were working out deals with David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia.

Then he added team friendly deals with the signings of Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, David Ross, Ryan Dempster, Jonny Gomes, Joel Hanrahan, Koji Uehara and Stephen Drew.

So what is a team that won MLB’s postseason tournament, and, in the process blew away most naysayers predictions about where the team would be in 2013, to do for an encore in 2014?

Needs: Besides shoring up that bullpen they do have a few spots that may need attention, specifically, centerfield, first base, shortstop and catcher. Each of those positions has starters that are now free agents, and, may not be with the Red Sox in 2014.  Particularly, Jacoby Ellsbury in center, Stephen Drew at short, Mike Napoli at first and Jarrod Saltalamacchia at catcher. All of the aforementioned players, except for Saltalamacchia, were given qualifying offers which were refused.  It is an essentially forgone conclusion that both Ellsbury and Drew will both be with other teams come spring training 2014, and, a strong possibility that Napoli and Saltalamacchia will also leave the Red Sox for greener pastures in 2014.

They also need to address their situation at third with questions surrounding exactly who will be playing there for not only 2014 but for the foreseeable future.

Finances: The Red Sox had salary expenditures of about $154,555,500 for 2013.  Between free agents and arbitration players the team has about $50.4 million coming of the books. And, due to whom the free agents are, and, given the fact that I believe Ellsbury, Drew, Napoli and Saltalamacchia will probably all be gone, I believe most of that money is going to stay off the books until it is replaced with the contracts of the needed new additions to the team.  And, since those players will be replaced by either players from the minors, free agency or trade, in all likelihood it will be at about the same cost, or maybe even a cheaper, replacement/alternative.  

Also, due to some players actually making less in 2014 than they did in 2103 due to how their multi-year contracts were written (see David Ortiz: $14 million in 2013/$11 million in 2014), and, others making more in 2014 since they were added in midseason at a prorated cost but will get a full years pay in 2014 (see Jake Peavey: prorated $9.65millio in 2013/$14.5 million in 2014), the actual estimated Red Sox payroll is probably going to be between last year’s $154 million, give or take $5 million to about $10 million plus.

At this point, I peg the Red Sox 2014 commitment at about $102 or $103 million without Peavey. Add Peavey’s salary in and then the estimated payroll for 2014 is right now about $116 to $117 million.

Pending Free Agents: SS Stephen Drew, CF Jacoby Ellsbury, RHP Joel Hanrahan, SS John McDonald, 1B Mike Napoli, C Jarrod Saltalamacchia, LHP Matt Thornton.

Saltalamacchia
Saltalamacchia

Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia: Presently, the rumors are that the Red sox have offered Saltalamacchia two years at $10 million per year. However, Salty is looking for a three year deal, with, as of right now, unspecified money per year. I am not sure the Red sox will go there, in years or higher in dollars, and, in my opinion, I don’t think they should. I think Saltalamacchia will be elsewhere next year. Therefore, his salary (for now) is deleted from the Sox’ 2014 payroll commitment.  

Shortstop Stephen Drew: Boston media reports that the Red Sox are not out of the conversation of re-upping with Stephen Drew. However, Drew is probably looking for a nice payday plus the security of some years and the Sox’ have alternatives presently on staff.  That means they will not break the bank for Drew, and, he will get what he wants… elsewhere. Therefore, his salary is deleted from the Sox’ 2014 payroll commitment. 

Centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury: Ellsbury will be signed for a sizable contract from some team this winter. Why? Primarily, because he has uber-agent Scott Boras out and about doing what he does best and that’s stirring up the waters and touting his client by visiting all who are interested and will listen. Know that, due to the fact that he is an agent, Boras knows he works for the player. And, if Ellsbury decides that he is comfortable in Boston and wants to work out a deal with the Red Sox then he, and he alone will dictate that to Boras and Boras will approach the situation accordingly. However, I don’t see Ellsbury doing that, especially since during the recent GM meetings Boras was very actively promoting Ellsbury. Rumors already say that maybe as many as eleven teams are, at least on some level, interested in signing Ellsbury.

Ellsbury
Ellsbury

Ellsbury will not be with the Red sox in 2014. Therefore, his salary is deleted from the Sox’ 2014 payroll commitment.

Relief pitcher Joel Hanrahan:  Hanrahan had Tommy John and flexor tendon surgery in mid-May and he was projected to be out as long as 16 months, putting him in line for a midseason return. Some people say he is way ahead of schedule and will be back in spring training. But, I don’t see him starting with the team when spring training breaks. He will probably be back somewhere between those two estimates for his return.

Rumors indicate he will be amenable to accepting a setup job as he rebuilds his value as a closer. I think its 50-50 that he is resigned by the Sox. Therefore, at this point, it is assumed that his salary is deleted from the Sox’ 2014 payroll commitment. Also, see Andrew Bailey.

First baseman 1B Mike Napoli: Napoli wound up having to settle for a one-year deal after concerns about a chronic hip injury arose, but he had a nice year and stayed healthy in 2013. Napoli’s play at first base by most scout’s accounts was an “eye-opener”. Expect, Napoli to cash in big this offseason. Early reports are that the Texas Rangers, Colorado Rockies and Seattle Mariners are very interested in signing Napoli.

He will not be with the Sox in 2014, unless, they open up the payroll purse strings, plus, give him some years. I am not sure that happens. Therefore, at this point, it is assumed that his salary is deleted from the Sox’ 2014 payroll commitment.

Relief pitcher Matt Thornton: The Red Sox have declined LHP Matt Thornton’s $6 million option for 2014. He gets a $1 million buy-out and is a free agent. His season (47.1 innings/3.74 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 30/15 K/BB ratio) was a somewhat disappointing season but he will find a job somewhere this offseason, just not with the Red Sox. Therefore, his salary is deleted from the Sox’ 2014 payroll commitment.

Shortstop John McDonald: He is bench help only, and, will probably be resigned for essentially what he made in 2013, or, not be with the 2014 Red Sox. My opinion? Unless the Red Sox get too deep at shortstop, he will be resigned. Therefore add $1.5 million to the Sox’ 2014 payroll commitment.

Arbitration-eligible: RHP Andrew Bailey, Andrew Bailey , LHP Franklin Morales , LHP Andrew Miller , RHP Junichi Tazawa , 1B/OF Mike Carp.

Relief pitcher Andrew Bailey: Bailey had both his labrum and shoulder capsule repaired in July, and, he is expected to be sidelined a minimum of 12 months while recovering from the surgery, and, figures to be a non-tender candidate this winter. On November 4, the Red Sox activated RHP Andrew Bailey from the 60-day disabled list, but, that is probably nothing more than a formality at this point and the Sox will still non-tender him.

The interesting situation is that The Red Sox have two former All-Star closers in Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey. Both had season-ending injuries. Added to this situation is the excellent season Koji Uehara had after he settled in as the Sox’ closer. So, does it make any sense bringing either of these guys back? Or, do the Red Sox make one or the other, or, maybe both, bargain basement offers with incentives as insurance considering Uehara’s age (38) and durability in respects to the wear and tear of closing over an entire season?

At this point I would consider Bailey’s salary deleted from the Sox payroll commitment.

Relief pitcher Franklin Morales: Morales was another of the Sox bullpen folks who at one point in the season was on the DL. In June he was diagnosed with a pectoral injury placed on the Dl and then returned in August. My guess is that he avoids going to arbitration and is resigned for the same salary he made in 2013, $1.48 million. MAybe a slight bump upwards.

Relief pitcher Andrew Miller: And, Miller was yet another reliever who went under the knife in 2013. In July, he underwent season-ending surgery to repair ligament damage in his left foot. He should be ready to go for 2014 spring training.  On November 4, the Red Sox activated LHP Andrew Miller from the 60-day disabled list. He is almost last on the bullpen depth carts but will probably be offered the same salary, $1.47 million, he made in 2013 to stay with the Sox.

Tazawa
Tazawa

Relief pitcher Junichi Tazawa: Tazawa was replaced by Uehara as the closer and is the number two man out of the bullpen. He will, in all likelihood, be retained as he is cost friendly and is still potentially capable of fulfilling the closers role if Uehara falters in 2014. He probably gets bumped from his 2013 salary of $815,000 to about $1.5 million

First base/OF/DH Mike Carp:  Is a good outfield option and has plenty of worth as a fill-in at first as well as being a decent DH alternative. He probably avoids arbitration and gets a raise from his 2013 salary of $508,500 to about $1.0 to $1.5 million.

Take the salaries above that are coming off the books, and, then assume the team replaces that money with a like amount of money, add in the small raises here and there, and, that then puts the estimated 2044 payroll at about $166 to $167 million for 2014. And, that might give the Sox a chance to splurge a little if ownership OKs the expenditure for an extra certain free agent or two that might be available who fits a specific need.

The multi-million dollar question is how do the Sox replace those contracts that are coming off the books as well as fill in the holes that are being left by those departing contracts?

Position by position analysis: 

Starting rotation: If an analysis of the Red Sox offseason plans starts with that part of the team that requires the least amount of concern then go no further than the Red Sox starting five. And, as indicated above the starters may not have been excellent but they were very good. The team is set at this position with six established pitchers that they can start at any given time in Jon Lester, Clay Bucholz, John Lackey, Jake Peavy, Felix Doubront and Ryan Dempster.Sox pitchers

There have been some rumblings that Peavy’s stay with the Red Sox could be limited to the three months he had with the team after the White Sox sent him there in a three-team trade that cost Boston shortstop Jose Iglesias, and, landed Chicago 22-year-old right fielder Avisail Garcia from Detroit.

Multiple reports from the recent General Managers Meetings in Orlando, Fla., suggested that the Red Sox GM Ben Cherington had floated some starters names around to see what interest might be out there, and, if those GMs, who were interested, had any players that would fit the Sox’ needs. But, I believe Cherington is simply performing his due diligence and Peavy, as well as Lester and Bucholz, will not be traded… unless, somebody comes with an offer that Cherington literally would be a fool to refuse.

Lester (left), Lackey (center) and Farrell (right)
Lester (left), Lackey (center) and Farrell (right)

However, if some team is interested in John Lackey, Felix Doubront or Ryan Dempster, I could see any of those pitchers being moved, especially since Boston has prospects Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster, Anthony Ranaudo and Drake Britton lined up in the minors waiting for a chance to break into the Big Show.

Lester had his option exercised by the Red Sox, and, expect them to try and get him under a three to four year deal sometime this spring training session. Lester rebounded from a poor 2012 to be arguably the ace of the staff, and, if he is not the ace, then, he is one of the better number two pitchers any team could have in its rotation. And, he has history with the team, as he was an integral part of the team’s titles in 2007 and 2013.

Bucholz before he got injured (which was why the Sox traded for Peavy) was on his way to a possible Cy Young year. He is only 29 and if he can stay away from injuries he might just win one of those awards in the next year or so. I don’t see him going anywhere.

And, while Peavy will be a free agent after 2014, and, he may want to get that last big contract before he retires, it is probably mutually beneficial for him and the Red Sox to come to some sort of a contractual agreement to keep him in Boston. While staying healthy and putting up innings can sometimes be an issue for Peavy, he has a very nice career ERA of 3.52; WHIP of 1.177 and K/W rate of 3.2 to 1.

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