Worst-to-first-to-worst-to-first? If the Boston Red Sox want any chance to flip the script for 2015, they have work to do this offseason. But that’s really no different than in most offseasons. And by undertaking the great purge at this year’s trade deadline, they have far fewer free-agent-to-be decisions to make. Koji Uehara, Burke Badenhop and David Ross are the only guys from the current team who will hit the open market. If we use 2013 as a blueprint, the key to success will be deep depth, which means penciling in as many non-starters for AAA as possible. If they’re not traded, Garin Cecchini, Jackie Bradley Jr., Allen Webster, Anthony Ranaudo and Will Middlebrooks can all expect to start the season in Pawtucket. But what other moves do the Sox need to make to contend in 2015? Here are the four areas they should sort out for next year.
What do you do with a guy who’s ERA jumps up 3.60 points in one season? It was hard to figure out Clay Buchholz before this year, and it’s even tougher now. Is he the guy who posted a 1.74 ERA in 2013 or the one behind the atrocious 5.34 ERA in 2014? Based on current talent and performance, you can likely get by with Joe Kelly, Buchholz and Rubby De La Rosa (hampered by the innings workload late in the year) as your third, fourth and fifth best starters. That means Webster, Ranaudo, Matt Barnes and Henry Owens are among the many pitchers who can step in if there’s an injury. What about the two pitchers at the top of the rotation? Those will have to be either signed or traded for. James Shields, Jon Lester and Max Scherzer are the top three free-agent pitchers, and it appears Shields, the third best of that bunch, will be the Sox’ primary target. But the Sox also need to trade for another pitcher. Mat Latos, Cole Hamels and Jonny Cueto have all been mentioned, and it’s not crazy to think maybe Billy Beane would trade Jeff Samardzija before he hits free agency. Either way, the Sox have at least two premier pitchers to acquire.
Will Middlebrooks is certainly not the answer. Garin Cecchini likely needs another year in AAA to hone his defense (he didn’t tank on Derek Jeter’s last hit, he’s just a bad defender) and show he can replicate the offensive numbers he put up in the lower minor leagues. Brock Holt is better as a utility guy, and Mookie Betts doesn’t have the arm to play third base. That leaves free agency as the best bet, with Chase Headley and Pablo Sandoval the two prizes at this position. Headley on an incentive-loaded short-term deal is the most palatable, but either guy looks like he would be a welcome addition to the team. Giving a long-term deal to 28-year-old Sandoval comes with few question marks aside from his weight. Aramis Ramirez, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jed Lowrie and Hanley Ramirez all would be possible fits for the hot corner but disappointing in light of the better options. This is the easiest position for the Sox to upgrade this offseason. There’s a good crop of available free agents, the Sox have money to spend and an obvious need.
Rusney Castillo, Betts, Yoenis Cespedes, Shane Victorino, Daniel Nava, Allen Craig and Jackie Bradley Jr. It’s easy to think the Sox could find five guys from that lot to play next year. Plug in Castillo in center, Betts in right, Cespedes in left, with Nava and Victorino coming off the bench—and Craig coming off foot surgery? But the pieces don’t fit too perfectly. Castillo and Betts are likely certain for the outfield. But the rest of the players create a bit of a logjam. Victorino or Cespedes are the most obvious candidates to be traded since they will be entering the final year of their contracts. But they both also hold a lot of upside, so it won’t be easy to part with either. Perhaps Cespedes might be part of a trade to get that No. 2 starter? And what about the never-ending Giancarlo Stanton rumors? The Sox could stand pat here, but that’s what you do if you’re coming off a World Series title, not a last-place finish.
Two months ago, it seemed certain the Sox would offer Koji Uehara the qualifying offer after holding onto him at the trade deadline. But late-season struggles led to his removal as closer and left his future with the Sox in doubt. Still, it seems unlikely the Sox would discount his many months of greatness because he had a couple of bad weeks. Andrew Miller has been rumored to possibly return in 2015 as a lefty out of the pen, and Junichi Tazawa was his usual dependable self for most of this year. Tommy Layne and Alex Wilson were late-season surprises, while Edward Mujica’s “resurgence” was a bit overhyped. And, of course, some of those AAA starters might see their time as starting pitchers come to an end in favor of a prominent bullpen role: Brandon Workman, we’re looking at you. There will likely be a couple of minor additions (much like Burke Badenhop and Mujica last year), but I wouldn’t expect to see the bullpen undergo a massive overhaul.