CURRENT 25-MAN ROSTER (2009 Salary)
C - ?
1B – Kevin Youkilis (ARB: 3)
2B – Dustin Pedroia (min.)
SS – Jed Lowrie (min.)
3B – Mike Lowell (12)
LF – Jason Bay (7.5)
CF – Jacoby Ellsbury (min)
RF – J.D. Drew (14)
DH – David Ortiz (12.5)
1 – Josh Beckett (10.5)
2 – Daisuke Matsuzaka (8*)
3 – Jon Lester (min)
4 – Tim Wakefield (4**)
5 – Clay Buchholz (min)
CL – Jonathan Papelbon (ARB: .775)
Justin Masterson (min)
Manny Delcarmen (min)
Hideki Okajima (1.75)
Javier Lopez (ARB: .84)
David Aardsma (min)
C - ?
1B/3B - ?
2B/SS – Julio Lugo (9)
OF – Coco Crisp (5.75)
* - If Matsuzaka places in the top 3 in Cy Young voting (an actual possibility), he will receive $2 million pay increases in each of 2009 and 2010
** - Tim Wakefield has a $4 million option for 2009. This is assuming it’s exercised.
That’s a total of 102.5 million, assuming $6 million each for Youkilis and Papelbon, and $1.5 million for Lopez. The Red Sox began 2008 with a 25-man payroll of $133.4 million; the Red Sox could spend $30.9 million to fill their holes and still not exceed their previous year’s payroll.
A quick list of some big contracts coming off the books from 2008:
M. Ramirez (20)
Bartolo Colon (1.2)
Okay, some of these we didn't pay all of. But we DID pay all of Manny's 20 million, PLUS almost half a year of Bay's 5.75m.
The Sox need a starting C, a backup C, a bench 1B/3B, and another relief pitcher. That's at the very least, so I'll address those first.
Starting Catcher - The Red Sox have 3 minor league catchers who could help the major league club: George Kottaras, Dusty Brown and Mark Wagner. Each has a problem: Kottaras has a good bat but is questionable defensively; Brown profiles as a backup catcher, not a starter; and Wagner is still a year or two from being major-league ready. Of the three, Wagner is the most complete, and profiles the best as a starter. Kottaras could get there but needs work on his defense.
The obvious choice here is to bring Jason Varitek back. The catching market is weak, and the Red Sox won't find any free agent who could call a better game than 'Tek. Sure, his bat's anemic, but they can work with him in the offseason; if he can give them league-average production and keep calling games like he does, he's worth it. But it depends on what 'Tek wants to do: his agent is Scott Boras, and he might prod 'Tek to look for a 2 or even 3-year deal, which would probably not be in the Red Sox' best interests. IF the Sox can get him for 1y/6m or so, maybe with a club option on the 2nd year, then that would work.
The other option for starting catcher would be to go look on the trade market. It's been rumored that one of Texas' C, either Gerald Laird or Jarrod Saltalamacchia, is available; very likely, considering that Texas also has Taylor Teagarden apparently ready. There are 2 problems with this: 1, it would cost the Red Sox a ton of top prospects, and 2, whoever they get might end up blocking Kottaras or Wagner in a year or two (of course, then the Sox could trade their excess C).
Backup Catcher - This is where Varitek would really earn his new contract. If the Sox retained him, then they could have either Kottaras or Wagner as their backup; Varitek could mentor them while catching 3/5 games, letting the backup catch 2/5, and gradually turn over control of the pitching staff to the new guy. Let the young ones learn to call games from one of the best.
If Varitek doesn't return, and the Sox bring in someone like Laird or Saltalamacchia, Then they can consider using Brown as their backup; it's really what he's looking like anyway, and that would allow Kottaras and Wagner to get more minor-league seasoning.
OTHER OPTIONS: The Sox have a $3.5m option on David Ross, who they acquired late in 2008. It's pretty expensive for a backup catcher, but considering the market, they may consider it. They could also see about re-signing Kevin Cash, who handled Wakefield's knuckleball extremely well in 2008. He's excellent defensively, but he's got a weak bat and may block one of the younger guys.
Relief Pitcher - Now things get interesting. The Red Sox are definitely not bringing back Mike Timlin next year; he's probably going to retire, his stuff is gone. So that leaves them a bit short in the bullpen. They do have a few minor leaguers that they could consider for next year: Daniel Bard, David Pauley, MAYBE Mike James or Beau Vaughan. But they do look thin, so I expect them to look to the free agent market for a cheap arm or two for insurance.
Another thing to consider is that, even though Masterson was terrific out of the bullpen, he's far more valuable as a Starter than a late reliever. The Sox were willing to let Papelbon switch, but a lights-out closer is a lot more valuable than a middle-late reliever. Masterson is too good to leave in his current position; he originally profiled as a dominent setup man, but now profiles as a #3 starter, which is FAR more valuable. So the Sox will have to consider how to use him going forward; although with their depth of young starters (Masterson, Buchholz, Bowden, etc.) they may be able to spare him for the 'pen anyway.
Bench 1B/3B - Assuming Lowell comes back healthy, the Sox corners are well covered. Youkilis can play 3B (it was his original position), so he can backup Lowell. A backup 1B amounts to a backup 1B/3B for the Sox. Last year's guy, Sean Casey, could be re-signed; he was good, and he was cheap, but his defense is suspect. Mark Kotsay was solid at 1B as well as backing up the OF, but he's a free agent and wants to sign as a starter, so he probably won't be back.
The Sox also have one or two guys in the minors who they could consider. Jeff Bailey, maybe Aaron Bates. But Bailey has shaky defense and Bates hasn't played above AA. Ultimately, I expect the Sox to sign Casey or a similar type of player for this bench position.
Bench 2B/SS - This is an interesting case. Alex Cora's contract with the Red Sox is up; he's expressed a desire to return to the Sox, but they might not need him for one reason: Jed Lowrie. Lowrie took over at SS when Julio Lugo got injured, and was infinitely better; he played the position well and hit far better than Lugo. The Red Sox have already said that Lowrie will be their opening-day starter and that they will shop Lugo in the offseason.
However, moving Lugo and the 2yrs/18m remaining on his contract won't be easy. Even if the Sox eat most of his salary he wouldn't bring much of a return. In my opinion, unless they get a really good offer for Lugo, the Sox should keep him and use him off the bench as a supersub.
I know it sounds crazy; at $9m Lugo would be a ridiculously expensive bench player. But I look at it this way: the Sox will be paying that money anyway. If between their starting SS and their bench guy they pay 9.5m (assuming .5 for Lowrie), who cares how the money's distributed so long as the better player is on the field most of the time? Plus, Lugo can back up 2B, SS, 3B and even LF. He's a reasonable defensive replacement (I think all the 2008 errors were the result of his injury) and a great pinch-runner. Ignore where the money is, and Lugo is a valuable guy to have on your bench. As your starting SS, not so much.
NOW WHAT'S IT LOOK LIKE?
Assume the Sox:
1. Sign Varitek for 1y/6m, maybe with a $6-7m option for 2010
2. Use Kottaras as their backup, or resign Kevin Cash
3. Bring in 1-2 relievers on low-risk, high-reward contracts
4. Resign Casey or someone similar
5. Keep Lugo as a supersub
That only adds about 11-13 million to the payroll, leaving them at around $113.5-$115.5 million; still a good $18 million under the 2008 payroll.
WHAT ELSE SHOULD THE RED SOX CONSIDER?
The sox do have a few other potential weaknesses that they could address with that $18m surplus (and there's no reason they couldn't go over that too):
1. Strengthening the lineup - David Ortiz' wrist was never fully healed, no matter what he or the doctors said. So he shouldn't be written off as washed up just yet. We'll have to see how he does in Spring Training. However, it is cause for concern. In 2007, the Red Sox had healthy production from Papi and Manny; in 2008, they had an injured Papi and Manny was dogging it to get out of town. In 2009, they'll (presumably) have a healthy and productive Jason Bay, and... what? Take Papi's bat out and the Sox lineup, although still reasonable, isn't nearly as potent.
Plus, the Sox have to look to the future. Bay is only signed through 2009 (although there's talk of signing him to an extension this offseason). Ortiz is signed through 2010 (with an option for 2011), but if he continues to have trouble, the Sox are very weak in the heart of their lineup, especially after 2009.
So the Sox could try to bring in another bat. The problem is, where would they play him? The only positions that are potentially replacable are Catcher, where there aren't any good bats on the market, or possibly SS if you wanted to give Lowrie some more time in the minors. The Sox could try to sign Rafael Furcal, but he's an injury risk and I think he was fluky last year anyway. The Sox could go for Mark Teixeira, but they would have to trade Lowell and move Youkilis to 3B - not ideal. They could try to bring in Adam Dunn or Pat Burrell, but each of them and Bay aren't suited to any other position - MAYBE one of them could move to 1B or RF, but then you have the same problem as with Teixeira, or J.D. Drew is blocked. They could also try bringing in Rocco Baldelli or Jerry Hairston JR for CF, but why would they block Ellsbury AND Crisp?
The only other option would be... to bring in a big slugger like Teixeira or Dunn, and have them DH. And that's silly to consider now, unless they were sure that Ortiz' wrist would continue to be a problem. But unless they act fairly soon after the World Series, the major FA options will probably be gone. They need to do some careful and quick assessment (I'm sure they are).
Another thing to consider is that the Red Sox do have some strong hitting prospects coming up through the minors. Josh Reddick (OF), Bubba Bell (OF), Zach Daeges (LF/3B) and Lars Anderson (1B) are just a few of the names: the Sox have 5 or 6 potential sluggers who might be ready to contribute by 2010. If even one or two of them pan out that would take a lot of pressure off them. They might just want to stand pat, tough out 2009 with what they have (or a low-risk high-reward FA signing), and see where their minor leaguers are after another season. They could sign Bay to an extension anyway for insurance so they have at least him after Papi's contract runs out.
2. Adding SP - Last year I was an advocate of the Red Sox NOT acquiring Johan Santana. Not because I don't like him, but because they would have had to give up too much. And I feel my opinion bore itself out: the players the Sox were rumored to have considered trading (in various packages) - Jon Lester, Jacoby Ellsbury, Justin Masterson, Jed Lowrie, even Coco Crisp - all made significant contributions to the 2008 team (Ryan Kalish excepted), collectively worth FAR more, playing-wise, than Santana would have (I already pointed out in this post how Lester at league minimum, plus the contributions of all the other guys, was worth far more than Santana's at $19 million would have been).
However, this offseason there is one pitcher who could garner a similar (or even slightly bigger) contract than Santana did: CC Sabathia. And I think the Red Sox should aggressively pursue him.
The major difference is prospects. If the Red Sox signed Sabathia, they would lose 2 draft picks (1st-round: 29th overall, and a sandwich pick between 1st & 2nd rounds) in the 2009 June Amateur Draft to the Brewers. These are valuable picks, no question. But they are also not even close to sure things. With Santana, the players the Sox would have lost had all either reached the majors (at least a little) or were reasonably close. But with Sabathia, the picks they would lose could turn out to be duds anyway. The lack of a proven track record in pro baseball (even in the minors) makes them far less valuable. So if the Sox could sign Sabathia for about what Santana got, but give up only those 2 draft picks, I feel it would be worth it; the Red Sox' farm system is stacked enough that they can afford to skip two top picks for a year, especially if it means gaining a pitcher of Sabathia's abilities.
If they did sign Sabathia, what would it mean?
1. A rotation of Beckett / Sabathia / Matsuzaka / Lester, with Wakefield, Masterson, Buchholz and Bowden fighting for the #5 spot. That is quite possibly the best rotation I've ever heard of, with an insane amount of powerful depth. Matsuzaka/Lester at #3/#4 is as good as some teams' #1/#2. Plus, note that this front 4 is righty / lefty / righty / lefty. Nice.
2. Beckett is only signed for 2 more years... but even if he leaves after 2010, the Sox would still have Sabathia, Matsuzaka, Lester, Masterson, Bucchholz and Bowden each for at LEAST 2 more years after that.
3. Their opening-day 25-man payroll for 2009 would still be within $1-2 million of last year's.
4. Sabathia goes deep into games frequently. He would be a nice counterbalance to Matsuzaka (who often barely lasts 5 innings) and would give the bullpen some much-needed rest.
5. No one else would get Sabathia... especially not the Yankees.
6. This is possibly my favorite potential result of signing Sabathia: The Red Sox could put Buchholz in as their #5 guy, showing their confidence in him while taking pressure off him in such a stacked rotation. Then, they could leave Bowden in AAA, and let Masterson and Wakefield both work out of the bullpen. It's not crazy. Imagine the relief to both the rotation AND the rest of the bullpen, knowing that there are 2 guys out there capable of pulling long (more than 2 innings) relief. Both could spot start if necessary. Masterson could still be used as the setup guy if the Sox chose to, and they'd still have a long man in Wakefield. Assuming he gets on a regular pitching/warmup schedule, such a scenario might even help Wakefield stay healthy (he's missed time due to injury each of the last 3 years) because he'd be throwing fewer innings.
I don't know if the Sox would be able to convince Sabathia to sign. But if they did, their potentially weaker hitting (if Ortiz is hurt) would be far less significant, because their pitching would be far more likely to keep them in the game.
OTHER OPTIONS FOR SP:
1. Derek Lowe is a free agent, and has said that his top choice is to return to Boston. Lowe acheived fame here by becoming the first pitcher in history to record the Win in the deciding game of all 3 postseason series (ALDS, ALCS & WS) in 2004. Lowe is unfortunately a bit overpriced right now; 2008 was his best season since leaving the Red Sox, but he's 35 and will probably be looking for a 3 or 4 year deal. The Red Sox should not do that; if they're going to give a SP a longer contract than 2 years + an option, then it should be to Sabathia. If Lowe would sign something shorter and for no more than $10m/year, they could consider it. But that won't happen.
2. Ben Sheets or A.J. Burnett. Both are high-risk (injuries) high-reward. Neither are worth the money or years (5/75, probably) they'll be asking. Again, if the Sox give anyone a contract longer than 2 or 3 years, it should be Sabathia.
3. Short (1-year) deals. There are a few out there that could be worth it. But the Sox have Beckett, Matsuzaka, Lester, Wakefield, Buchholz, Masterson & Bowden - that's 7 guys. Assume Masterson stays in the bullpen and Bowden starts the year in AAA, they've still got a good full rotation. If they need extra SP help, why wouldn't they just call on Bowden, Masterson, Hansack, Zink, Haigwood...? Personally I'd rather see Masterson and Bowden get the extra starts and have the Sox sign a couple of insurance guys for the bullpen instead.
Overall, I think that the Sox are positioned just fine. They have a pretty solid team, and if they just make a few relatively minor additions they'll be in a position to compete. If they go out and snag a bigtime pitcher or slugger, they could be favorites again.