The Red Sox went from worst to first back to worst in the American League East. Can they make it back to first again as soon as next year? It won’t be easy.
The Red Sox took about five steps backwards this season. They shouldn’t have been as bad as they were. General manager Ben Cherington has admitted he didn’t do good enough of a job adding depth to the roster last offseason. Don’t expect him to make the same mistake this year.
Here is what Cherington should do:
Starting rotation: Johnny Cueto, Jon Lester, James Shields, Francisco Liriano, Joe Kelly.
The Red Sox need a complete overhaul in the starting rotation. This is where they should invest the majority of their resources. If Madison Bumgarner and the San Francisco Giants taught us anything, it is that you need an ace to win a championship.
Cueto is that ace. The Reds just picked up Cueto’s option for a cheap $10 million next year. The Reds signed pitcher Homer Bailey to a 6-year, $105 million contract last year. They’re also paying Joey Votto a boatload of money for the next few years. Can they afford another high-priced player (flop?)? I don’t think so. Cueto would be the second coming of Luis Tiant in Boston. He is only 28. He is the ace the Red Sox need and, yes, he is worthy of a six-year contract.
Jon Lester should have been locked up prior to the 2014 season. Now it will cost more– a lot more. Boston might have gotten him for five years, $100 million prior to the season. Now it’ll take at least six years, $150 million. Consider it a $50 million miscalculation.
Jame Shields saw his stock plummet in the postseason. That’s fine. The Red Sox should be able to sign him cheaper now. Shields is older and shouldn’t garner more than $17-18 million per year over four years. Shields is not an ace, but he would be a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter.
Francisco Liriano is a free agent who may want a short term contract to re-establish his worth. Again, the new Red Sox regime likes short-term contracts. Liriano has shown flashes of brilliance the last two seasons, but not consistently enough to warrant a big contract.
Joe Kelly is the only holdover from the 2014 roster that is deserving of a spot in the 2015 rotation. The Red Sox should be tired of waiting for Clay Buchholz to get his head together.
Bullpen: Andrew Miller, Junichi Tazawa, Edward Mujica, Rubby De La Rosa, Brandon Workman, Tommy Layne.
Koji Uehara will be 40 at the start of next season. He was horrible after the All-Star break. This week the Red Sox signed him to a two-year, $18 million extension. Huh?
Andrew Miller should be the closer. He wants to be in Boston. What’s the issue here?
The Red Sox declined the option on lefty Craig Breslow. Tommy Layne is the lefty arm in the bullpen. The Sox might want to look at Joe Thatcher or J.P. Howell as insurance.
De La Rosa’s days as a starter should be over. Ditto for Workman. Either one could develop into a closer down the road, or maybe even this season.
Outfield: Allen Craig, Rusney Castillo, Jay Bruce, Jackie Bradley Jr.
It is becoming apparent that Yoenis Cespedes doesn’t want to be here. Flip him in a trade and see what you can get. The Castillo signing was a bit of a head-scratcher in that the Red Sox had youngsters JBJ and Mookie Betts vying for playing time there. Granted, JBJ was a flop, but Betts may have been Boston’s MVP in September. If the Red Sox can package Castillo as part of a bigger deal, they should keep Betts.
Which brings us to Jay Bruce. Bruce and Cueto both play for the Reds and there is your potential blockbuster deal. Bruce had a down year, to say the least. But, he is only 27 and could provide another left-handed power bat (besides David Ortiz) the Red Sox have lacked.
Infield: ???, Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Mike Napoli.
Third base will be the hardest position to fill for the Red Sox. It is the biggest question mark, by far. If Middlebrooks is still in the organization next year — which he shouldn’t be — he starts the season at Pawtucket. Get ready to hear Pablo Sandoval’s name a lot. Sandoval is very athletic despite his robust girth. But his weight needs to be a concern as he enters middle age. He lacks power, but is a career .294 hitter.
There really are no free agent third basemen that will excite Sox fans. Chase Headley? Casey McGehee? Eric Chavez? Aramis Ramirez has always been a personal favorite and he has three days to accept a $14 million mutual option which the Brewers exercised on Friday. That will be a situation worth monitoring.
Dustin Pedroia’s name is notably missing above. Betts and Bogaerts should be manning the middle of the infield, as well as the 1-2 spot in the batting order for the next ten years. Period. See if Pedroia likes Cincinnati. But we all know Pedroia is not going anywhere. Does that mean Betts gets dealt? Big mistake if it does.
DH: David Ortiz
Super Utility: Brock Holt
Catcher: Christian Vazquez.
Vazquez’ catching and throwing abilities are too good. He is the second coming of Ivan Rodriguez and the Red Sox have him. He showed he can hit well enough to stick. That makes Blake Swihart a valuable trade chip.
Now here’s what the Red Sox will, probably, do:
Starting pitchers: Jame Shields, Cole Hamels, Clay Buchholz, Joe Kelly, Allen Webster
Closer: Koji Uehara
Relievers: Junichi Tazawa, Edward Mujica, Tommy Layne, Alex Wilson, TBD
Outfield: Yoenis Cespedes, Rusney Castillo, Shane Victorino
Infield: Pablo Sandoval, Xander Bogaerts, Dustin Pedroia, Mike Napoli
Catcher: Christian Vazquez
DH: David Ortiz