In a headline-grabbing two-fer, the Red Sox reportedly locked up Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez in a span of 24 hours. And with that, it’s on to the pitching, right? Almost. Here’s the 2015 Red Sox starting lineup after the reported signings:
1. Mookie Betts, RF (under team control through 2020)
2. Dustin Pedroia, 2B (under team control through 2021)
3. David Ortiz, DH (under team control through 2017)
4. Hanley Ramirez, LF (under team control through 2019)
5. Pablo Sandoval, 3B (under team control through 2019)
6. Mike Napoli, 1B (under team control through 2015)
7. Rusney Castillo, CF (under team control through 2019)
8. Xander Bogaerts, SS (under team control through 2019)
9. Christian Vazquez, C (under team control through 2020)
I hope you like this lineup, since aside from Napoli all the players are under team control for the next three years, at least. And only Ortiz is able to be a free agent before November 2019.
As of now, Boston’s extra outfielders will make $28.5 million next year (Yoenis Cespedes, $10 million; Shane Victorino, $13 million; Allen Craig, $5.5 million) and that’s before you get to Daniel Nava, who almost certainly stick on the roster because of his left-handed hitting. The Sox will likely trade Cespedes, nabbing a pitcher in return. The Hisashi Iwakuma rumor makes great sense for the Sox, saving them $4.6 million for luxury tax calculations and also gives Boston a legit No. 2 starter. Iwakuma’s K/BB ratio is off the charts. He was hurt in 2014, but he’s a year removed from finishing third in the Cy Young race. And the Sox will also likely trade either Allen Craig or Shane Victorino, since even having nearly $20 million in outfielders on your bench is a foolish investment when you have your entire starting outfield locked up for the next 5 years. Even a pure salary dump of simply Victorino, combined with the Iwakuma-Cespedes swap, puts the Sox luxury tax obligations for 2015 at $158 million (the tax kicks in at $189 million). That’s $31 million more to spend. More than enough to sign Jon Lester ($23 million per year) and Andrew Miller ($7 million per year). Say Lester signs elsewhere, then the Sox still could sign Miller, trade cost-controlled Joe Kelly as part of a package for Cole Hamels, and then sign low-cost lottery ticket Brett Anderson to fill Kelly’s spot in the rotation. Either way, the Sox positioned themselves for the long term by signing Ramirez and Sandoval, and they also set up the ability to make salary-shedding outfield trades that could really give them more financial flexibility to pursue pitching this offseason.
But that’s only the roster construction for 2015. Let’s examine the future of the Sox, with a few familiar prospects in mind. With the Sox set in the outfield for the next five years, Jackie Bradley Jr. either becomes an incredible defensive role player, or he becomes trade fodder, with the Sox needing to decide whether they’re better off trading him now or trying to increase his trade value by rediscovering his solid offensive approach in AAA. In terms of future bench players, Bryce Brentz (extra pop off then bench) fits more of a profile of a player the Sox are better off keeping. Will Middlebrooks also looks to have almost no chance of being back with the Sox. While Sandoval might not stick long term at third base, he’s a good defender there right now. But say he moves to first base when Napoli bolts, the Sox could turn to any number of players before Middlebrooks’ name was called. They could shift Bogaerts to third base and bring up Marrero to play short. They could bring up Garin Cecchini or Travis Shaw to play third base (although Sandoval might be a better defender than them both; maybe Cecchini or Shaw would be better at first base in that scenario), or they could even turn to utility players Brock Holt and Juan Francisco in the short term. Three years from now, Rafael Devers might be ready to contribute. As for the logjam of pitchers, you really can never have too much minor-league pitching depth. Some pitchers might be used as centerpieces of trades (for say, Hamels) and others might be used as sweeteners to deals (if the Mariners balk at Cespedes for Iwakuma, they might not be as opposed if they’re getting Allen Webster or Matt Barnes thrown in). Others will continue to toil away in Pawtucket, spot starting in Boston and perhaps competing for one open spot in the rotation this spring.
The offseason is less than a month old, and the Sox have all but solved their offensive questions with their weekend moves. The focus now turns to adding pitching and dealing from a position of strength in shedding the salaries of extra outfielders. The fireworks have begun, and the show is far from over.