While we find ourselves in the midst of the Winter Meetings frenzy, the Stove is currently as Hot as it has been all offseason, with no signs of cooling ahead. Now that a certain starting pitcher has left for windier pastures, it is time for the Red Sox to move forward with their off-season plan. While it is true that the team is still in desperate need of multiple quality starters, a need also exists in the bullpen for a quality late-inning guy. The Red Sox did extend Koji Uehara at the very beginning of the offseason, but he probably should not be expected to hold down the back of the bullpen on his own. Enter Sergio Romo.
There have been recent rumors that the Red Sox have, in fact, been interested in Romo this offseason (along with the Giants, Dodgers, and Yankees). This interest is merited since: 1) Romo has been very good throughout his career, and 2) the Red Sox have a need in the back of their bullpen. Romo is a good fit because he spent the first part of his career, and even parts of 2014, pitching in the eighth inning as a very valuable setup man. Since Uehara will most likely be pitching in the ninth (at least to start), it would be important to sign a reliever who has experience setting up and can move between roles as needed. His additional experience closing games (78 career Saves) over the past two-plus seasons with the Giants adds another valuable element: that Romo can slide into the closer’s role should Uehara decline or fatigue (again) in 2015.
With reports new acquisition Hanley Ramirez will move to left field, here’s how the Red Sox depth chart as it currently stands. Note the Red Sox outfield. It’s hard to believe that only two out of a total nine were on the 2013 championship team roster.
Cherington sure has his work cut out for him in the coming months…. time to trade an outfielder or three for some quality starting pitching.
Hot stove coming in hot!
The past several weeks have put the Red Sox through the free agent rumor mill like we have not seen for quite some time. There are multiple sources that reported how the Red Sox are positioned to spend significant money on the free agent market this offseason, and they appear to have made offers to several big names on the market. One of their early targets is said to be former Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who could provide good defense and help balance the Red Sox’ righty-heavy lineup. However, when one takes a step back from all of the hype and excitement, they can objectively ask themselves: do the Red Sox really NEED Pablo Sandoval? The Red Sox are definitely a team that can afford to pay top-of-the-market rates for free agents, but Sandoval might not really be a legitimate need for the Red Sox.
Sandoval might be more of a luxury than a necessity
The first question to ask is does Sandoval fit into the Red Sox’ culture and is he the kind of player that the organization values? The Red Sox are a team that openly values hitters who take a selective approach at the plate, take pitches, and work the count. This is significant because it is an area in which Sandoval struggles greatly. Over the course of his career, Sandoval has swung at 45.7% of the pitches he has seen outside of the strike zone, and at 58.3% of the pitches he saw overall. The top three Red Sox hitters, Dustin Pedroia (career 26.1 O-Swing%, 43.2 Swing%), David Ortiz (career 22.2 O-Swing%, 44.8 Swing%), and Mike Napoli (career 24.6 O-Swing%, 42 Swing%), swing far less often. These are the kinds of guys that the Red Sox want hitting in the middle of their lineup, and preferably over the rest of it too. While it is true that the Red Sox already have a similar player to Sandoval in Yoenis Cespedes (career 37.4 O-Swing%, 50.9 Swing%), his contract is up following the coming season and his stay in Boston is far from guaranteed. In addition, there are reports that Cespedes fell out of favor with Red Sox coaches due, at least in part, to his unwillingness to change his approach at the plate. The Red Sox do not value free-swinging players as much as advanced hitters who work the count, which is something that Sandoval absolutely does not do.
Let’s start with the disclaimer that I do understand that I am the glass half-full type of person that tends to take the optimistic outlook on things. I realize that The Cubs’ (or any other teams’) dollars are worth just as much as the Red Sox’, and that the Red Sox cannot really bank on much of a hometown discount at this point. Popular rumors say that the Red Sox are one of at least six teams that are intensely interested in signing Lester from the open market, and Red Sox ownership reportedly has a meeting scheduled with Lester and his agents. However, the simple fact that they traded him should not rule the Red Sox out as a serious bidder for Lester’s services on the free agent market. Obviously the team has the resources to compete with just about any team on the open market, so the dollars should not be an issue. Red Sox fans should not exactly expect that Lester will definitely return to Fenway this winter, but they can expect a realistic shot at signing him.
There is something to be said for the comfort factor here. Lester was drafted, developed, and enjoyed tremendous success with the Red Sox organization, and this cannot be ignored completely. Additionally (and possibly more importantly), Lester has a great family life in the Boston area. His wife and children are comfortable here and have their whole lives centered around this area, so coming back to the Red Sox would be a seamless transition as far as the community is concerned. Lester has said before that one of the key factors in his free agent decision will be how comfortable his family is in a particular community, which should be an area in which the Red Sox have a sizable advantage over the rest of the market.
The Red Sox offseason seems to be developing a trend early on in the process. Ben Cherington appears to possess a great deal of flexibility with his current roster, and the outfield is a major source of it. There are currently at least seven outfielders in the mix for outfield playing time in 2015 (not including super-utility guy Brock Holt), with several moves likely coming out of that group. The good news for the Red Sox is that many of these players are starting caliber, so there is a good deal of quality depth in the Red Sox’ current outfield.
Victorino could provide a spark in 2015
At the conclusion of the 2014 season, the Red Sox managed to be missing every single one of the outfielders that were on the field for the final out of their 2013 World Series championship; Jonny Gomes and Jacoby Ellsbury departed to other pastures with Shane Victorino still stuck on the Disabled List. Victorino figures to be back in the mix for 2015, and could provide a strong veteran presence, assuming he can stay on the field. After a season of questionable outfield defense for the most part, it will be refreshing to have Victorino’s golden glove back in right field in 2015. Victorino could also play centerfield in a pinch, but this would not be ideal. Daniel Nava could also see some time in right, though he will likely be a fill-in at every outfield spot in 2015 (in addition to some first base), where his value can be maximized through platoon (career .585 OPS vs. lefthanders, .813 vs. righties). Allen Craig might play some right field in 2015, though his defensive shortcomings might be best deployed in left field (or, ideally, first base). However if Craig shows any of his previous offensive skill from his time with the Cardinals (.794 OPS), the Red Sox will probably be glad to trade worse defense for better offensive production.
The infield should be a major strength for the 2015 Boston Red Sox, if for no reason other than there are options aplenty. There will be the usual locks, like Dustin Pedroia and Mike Napoli, but there should be competition in spots for playing time that will benefit the entire lineup. There are rumblings that the Red Sox could be looking to upgrade their infield in free agency, and if that happens it will likely be a singular, high-impact event. There is lots of returning stability in the infield, but there is also room for improvement.
Pedroia is the gold standard at the keystone
The Red Sox are fortunate enough to have their middle infield locked in for 2015. Pedroia is automatic to start virtually every game, and he is the best second baseman in the game when healthy (and sometimes when he isn’t). We are also operating under the assumption that Xander Bogaerts will not be impeded from starting at shortstop (we learned our lesson last season), because he flashed his considerable potential in September (.313/.317/.490). Brock Holt will likely be the Red Sox super utility guy in 2015, but he now has experience at every single infield position, which will be immensely valuable to the Red Sox. The best move here is to allow Bogaerts the time to continue his development at short, while Pedroia sets the tone for the entire infield. There is room for improvement for Bogaerts, but playing next to the Red Sox’ best defender will help make up for the learning curve.