How About Them Red Sox?

The Red Sox entered the 2012-2013 off season in a bit of an interesting situation. Thanks to the Punto trade, the Sox actually fell below the luxury tax limit for 2012, and had a boatload of room under the limit for 2013. They also had several players who could conceivably perform at a near MVP/Cy Young level, David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Dustin Pedroia on the offensive side, and Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz on the pitching side.

Of course, with each of them there is also a pretty good chance that they don’t. Ortiz is getting old, Ellsbury has really only had the one great year, Pedroia has had several injuries the past few years, Lester was just terrible last year, and Buchholz has never put up a single season where he was consistently excellent for the whole season.

At the same time, there were utter vacancies in left field, right field, and at first base. Also, the incumbent at short, Jose Iglesias, has yet to prove he can hit at the minimum required level.

I argued at the time that the Sox should pursue a strategy of signing non compensation free agents who are good but not great. The general idea was that if the players mentioned above have good seasons, the Sox could win the World Series, even if the talent brought in is fairly mediocre.

Meanwhile, there is a boatload of talent with some AA experience Jackie Bradley, Jr. and Xander Bogaerts are the headliners but there’s also Bryce Brentz and Allen Webster. In addition, there’s Rubby de la Rosa who should be mixed into the major league roster at some point during 2013.

The goal, then, is to compete as well as possible while not messing up the talent that is almost major league ready.

I think they did a pretty good job of doing that. The largest contract they gave out was for three years and thirty-nine million to Shane Victorino. There’s two ways to look at this. One, getting Victorino provides a potential alternative to Ellsbury in center, which would allow the Sox to trade Ellsbury if he’s having a good season and the team isn’t. On the other hand, should the Sox end up signing Ellsbury in the next off season, Victorino would have 2/26 left, and be an excellent trade candidate to clear some dollars for Ellsbury and the roster spot for Jackie Bradley, Jr.

Other signings include Ryan Dempster for 2/26.5. With Lester, Buchholz, Doubront, and Lackey cemented in the rotation, the idea candidate would be one who could be counted on for enough starts that Rubby de la Rosa didn’t have to be counted on for thirty starts, and should be tradeable enough that he doesn’t block de la Rosa from the 2014 rotation. I think Dempster fits that bill. He’s unlikely to be terrible and he’s unlikely to be excellent. Nobody is going to care if the Sox trade him at the deadline and promote de la Rosa.

Stephen Drew came in on a one year make good deal at short, and that’s fine. I don’t think anyone is ready to hand the job to Iglesias, which was my fear going into the offseason, and it’s clear that Bogaerts isn’t ready for the big club. A year of Drew gets us closer to the Bogaerts era, and that’s a good thing.

Mike Napoli on a one year, incentive laden deal? That’s probably the bargain of the offseason if he stays reasonably healthy. This is a bit of an iffy situation for the Sox as they have no other good options at first. Mauro Gomez can play the position, but not well and the team should be on the lookout for some AAA options there for depth if nothing else.

Jonny Gomes is getting a bit overpaid for his talent level. I rather suspect the Sox are hoping Ryan Kalish takes that position. If not, a Gomes/Nava platoon in left wouldn’t be terrible.

The Sox also brought in David Ross to play catcher, presumably in some sort of rotation with Ryan Lavarnway, which means Jarrod Saltalamacchia will likely find himself a new home sometime soon. One of the problems the Sox have had recently is a lack of the grinder mentality that leads to tough at bats and higher on base percentages. Salty’s value came from his power, and that’s not a bad thing, but the switch to Ross and Lavarnway should mean an increase in on base percentage.

The most interesting deal of the offseason is, I think, the deal for Joel Hanrahan. It’s not terribly interesting in itself. The Sox sent a bunch of mostly fungible parts for something they didn’t need. The Sox were already in pretty good shape at short relief with Andrew Bailey, Junichi Tazawa, and Koji Uehara. The addition of Hanrahan means the Sox should have a really excellent bullpen with these four, Franklin Morales, Craig Breslow, and, conceivably, Daniel Bard.

Here’s the marble that’s bouncing around in the back of my brain. Relievers are often traded at the deadline. It is entirely possible that the Sox bought Hanrahan with the express intent of trading him at the deadline, effectively turning Mark Melancon, Stolmy Pimental, et al for some real prospects.

It’s also more than conceivable that a simple injury makes room for someone else, or that someone goes in trade with Saltalamacchia for some kind of first base depth.

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