From my vantage point, I feel as if many Red Sox fans wish they could travel back in time and undo this offseason. Rick Porcello? No thanks. Justin Masterson? Nah. Pablo Sandoval? Maybe, but also probably not. While the Sox’s moves seemed examples of solid process at the time, the results on the field this season have not been overwhelmingly positive. To say the least.
Fortunately, ours is only one of many possible worlds. In some alternate dimension, the Sox made a series of equally smart — yet different — moves, and the team has won 60 games at this point after acquiring Max Scherzer and Josh Donaldson during the offseason. I’d like to take you on a journey to one of those alternate universes — one that is both painstakingly crafted yet painfully unreal, a world I did not create on my own. In November, SB Nation ran an offseason simulation, where — no joke — perhaps 100 people represented all 30 teams, free agent players, etc. and held their own offseason.
As a result of several events, I wound up playing Fake Ben Cherington in this simulation, in charge of the Red Sox’ offseason. Fellow BP Boston writer Ryan P. Morrison was my second-in-command, and a laundry list of Beyond the Box Score writers made up the rest of my front office. What happened afterwards … well, it was equal parts bloodbath and fireworks show, tied up in the bow of the most exciting offseason anyone could imagine. And now, with the real-life season half-finished, I’d like to see how things might’ve gone differently had our choices been the real ones.
Before you get too deep into this article, let me remind you of something: nothing you see is real. I deeply wish it was, but it is not. I mean, the time we put into constructing this false roster was real. The discussions I had with other fake GMs, that was real. The message board outrage was THE REALEST.
This is how life would be different, if life were different.
Declined option on SP Craig Breslow
Non-tendered UT Jonathan Herrera
Signed free agent SP Brandon McCarthy (three years/$42 million)
Traded OF Yoenis Cespedes to the Houston Astros for SP Collin McHugh, OF Jake Marisnick, SP Mike Foltynewicz
Traded UT Brock Holt and 3B Will Middlebrooks to the Miami Marlins for SP Nathan Eovaldi and RP Chris Hatcher
Traded 1B/OF Allen Craig, SP Brian Johnson, and $5 million to the Kansas City Royals for RP Greg Holland.
Signed free agent RP Neal Cotts (one year/$1.5 million)
Traded SP/RP Brandon Workman to the Cleveland Indians for C Tony Wolters, SP Luis Lugo, and SS Ronny Rodriguez.
Traded OF Jackie Bradley Jr. to the San Francisco Giants for SP Kyle Crick and SP/RP Mike Kickham.
Traded SP/RP Joe Kelly to the Cleveland Indians for SP Danny Salazar, OF Michael Bourn, and $10 million.
Signed free agent IF Asdrubal Cabrera (three years/$21 million)
Signed free agent RP Koji Uehara (two years/$18 million plus vesting option)
Signed minor league free agents C David Ross, 1B/OF Corey Hart, RP Brandon Kintzler, SP/RP Anthony Swarzak
Traded C Christian Vazquez, SP Henry Owens, SP Rubby de la Rosa, SP Allen Webster, 3B Garin Cecchini, OF Daniel Nava, OF Bryce Brentz, and OF Nick Longhi to the Miami Marlins for OF Giancarlo Stanton and OF/1B Mark Canha.
Traded RP Edwin Escobar to the Colorado Rockies for SP Jhoulys Chacin, C Michael McKenry, and $3 million.
Traded SP Collin McHugh, SP Jhoulys Chacin, SP Kyle Crick, and RP Edward Mujica to the Cincinnati Reds for SP Mat Latos.
And you thought the Sox had a busy offseason in the real world.
Here are a couple of observations about the thought process of the front office, before we get to what’s different if we were to play out the season with this squad.
- Going into the offseason, our primary goals were this: add a #1 starter via free agency, add a very good third baseman via free agency, and turn some of the team’s depth into long-term pieces. Thanks to the way the sim turned out, we totally whiffed on the first two, despite a lot of trying. Guys wound up going for astonishing sums to astonishing teams. Jon Lester went for seven years and $192 million. Max Scherzer went for six years and $200 million. Hanley went for five years and $130 million. Things escalated quickly, so we turned our attention to the trade market, but couldn’t get deals to work out.
- The simulation also allowed for the signing of a couple of Japanese players who ended up not coming to the U.S. — and we (as the Sox) spent a fair bit of money on one of them. We had picked up Kenta Maeda on a five-year, $60 million deal. Since Maeda never came over, we’re just assuming for the case of our alternate Sox that we couldn’t make the deal work, so the team has some extra payroll flexibility.
- We made a legit mistake in not acquiring more left-handed bats. It’s an issue for this team, no question. This Red Sox team is VERY righty-heavy.
WHAT STAYS THE SAME – OFFENSE
On this Red Sox team, you’ll find that much has changed. However, some pieces are almost exactly what you might expect them to be. No self-respecting front office would have done anything with Dustin Pedroia or David Ortiz — they have seasons exactly the same as they do in the real world. In addition, Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts — although they were highly coveted by other teams — both remain with the Sox and at the positions where you know and love them.
… for the most part. Betts is forced to play some second base, because Dustin Pedroia’s injury requires him to move back to the infield. Betts manages to acquit himself well at second, and shifts back to center seamlessly when Pedroia returns. It’s certainly not the ideal situation, but this Red Sox team does not have a backup second baseman who would be a better fit than Betts.
Unfortunately, Mike Napoli is probably worth exactly the same as he has been, but our team has a decent backup plan at 1B going forward: a platoon of Mark Canha and Travis Shaw. By this time in the season, our fake world probably mimics the real world, with Napoli moving to the bench and Canha/Shaw starting to take over as starters at 1B.
Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Mike Napoli — WARP / PLAYING TIME ARE SAME AS REAL WORLD
So. Vazquez is gone, and the plan was to use Michael McKenry and David Ross as our catching tandem until Swihart was ready. That works out fine, but doesn’t look much better than the Hanigan/Swihart/Leon real-world Sox. Those three catchers have been worth 0.0 WARP, whereas McKenry and David Ross have been worth … 0.0 WARP. Granted McKenry would probably get a little extra burn than he’s gotten so far with the Rockies, and he’s probably been the best player of this bunch, but we’re looking at a wash here.
Catchers — WARP IS THE SAME
Now, let’s talk about third base and the backup infielders. Instead of signing Pablo Sandoval to come in and play third base, our team — after missing out on primary target Chase Headley, and whiffing on most other options (including an ill-fated attempt to acquire Joe Mauer and move him to third) — wound up with the best of a bunch of bad options: Asdrubal Cabrera. Given that the team dealt Brock Holt, Will Middlebrooks, and Garin Cecchini in deals to get Marlins players, there were no other internal options. And while Cabrera’s been okay-ish, this season, Sandoval’s been straight-up bad, at least according to BP’s WARP. Sandoval’s current WARP for the year is -0.8, while Cabrera’s been worth 0.3 WARP in similar playing time. Our fictional team earns about another win … and isn’t beholden to Sandoval on a long-term deal.
The bad news is that Brock Holt is gone, friends. He’s the All-Star second baseman for the Miami Marlins, packaged with Will Middlebrooks in an attempt to get pitching help. It did not go as well as planned. Holt’s been very good, and we can only assume that the player who would have racked up appearances in his place (Deven Marrero, Michael Bourn, Rusney Castillo) would have been way less good. Holt’s been worth 1.7 WARP this year in 305 plate appearances, and I think it’s fair to say the team loses out on two wins because they don’t have him.
SWAP ASDRUBAL CABRERA FOR PABLO SANDOVAL — +1 WIN
SWAP OTHER BACKUPS FOR BROCK HOLT — -2 WINS
That just leaves the outfield, which, well … that went considerably better.
Betts stays in center, but the addition of Giancarlo Stanton to the right field area is, as the kids say, tubular. Stanton posted 4.4 WARP before going down with a wrist injury. That’s wildly better than anyone the Sox have run out there, even considering Alejandro de Aza.
SWAP GIANCARLO STANTON FOR RIGHT FIELDERS — +4 WINS
As far as left field goes, that probably doesn’t take quite as well. Left field is probably a mishmash of whoever’s healthy and doing the best among Shane Victorino (fine), Rusney Castillo (not fine), Michael Bourn (definitely not fine), and Mark Canha (very little playing time in this scenario). Of course, this scenario might still be better than the Sox’s run with Hanley Ramirez in left. But since no one is any good at all, I imagine that — as he becomes available — the Red Sox still make the move to add left-handed hitting Alejandro de Aza, who is, as we know, surprisingly effective. He eventually becomes the starting left fielder, adding much-needed balance to the lineup.
SWAP LEFT FIELDERS FOR HANLEY RAMIREZ — +1 WIN
The current defensive composition is this, for our fictional squad: C Michael McKenry / David Ross, 1B Mark Canha / Travis Shaw, 2B Mookie Betts, SS Xander Bogaerts, 3B Sean Coyle, RF Giancarlo Stanton, CF Rusney Castillo, LF Alejandro de Aza, and DH David Ortiz. Get well soon, Pedroia and Cabrera.
That’s not bad, right? The offensive shifts made give the Sox an additional four wins or so, making the team better, but not changing the game entirely. It’s definitely a better defensive team, I’d say, at least when at a full complement of starters.
First, let’s trade out all of Rick Porcello’s starts for one of the two pitchers we’ve added: Danny Salazar. Both guys have spent the whole season in a rotation, so they’re an easy swap. Porcello’s been worth about 0.1 WARP, while Salazar’s been worth about 1.0 WARP. Upgrade!
SWAP DANNY SALAZAR FOR RICK PORCELLO — +1 WIN
We can do the same thing for Wade Miley and Nathan Eovaldi. Miley hasn’t been half bad, he’s been worth 0.6 WARP. Eovaldi has been worth 1.8 WARP for the Yankees. WHAT!? Really? Huh.
SWAP NATHAN EOVALDI FOR WADE MILEY — +1 WIN
Joe Kelly (0.6 WARP) and Mat Latos (0.7 WARP) are in a virtual dead heat, which I would not have expected — and they’ve made the same exact number of starts this year.
SWAP MAT LATOS FOR JOE KELLY — NO CHANGE
Let’s assume Brandon McCarthy (-0.5 WARP) would replace most of Steven Wright’s (-0.5 WARP), and Anthony Swarzak (0.2 WARP) would replace Wright’s relief innings. We’ll round this one down.
SWAP MCCARTHY AND SWARZAK FOR WRIGHT — NO CHANGE
Last, but not least, we have the starts from Justin Masterson, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Brian Johnson. Johnson and Masterson don’t exist on this team, but Rodriguez does, and he probably plays exactly the same in this world. He comes up and fills in early when Latos is injured in May. And, instead of Masterson (about 0.4 WARP) and Johnson (0.0 WARP), our team has Mike Foltynewicz (-0.1 WARP).
SWAP MIKE FOLTYNEWICZ FOR JUSTIN MASTERSON AND BRIAN JOHNSON — -0.5 WIN
The starting rotation is upgraded by about a win and a half, but it also looks a little better for the future. We’ve now improved the team by about five and a half wins, before getting to the bullpen. (Oh, and the “current” rotation of Latos, Salazar, Eovaldi, Rodriguez, and Foltynewicz isn’t half bad, and it’s very young.)
Let’s get into the bullpen.
The biggest shift is adding Greg Holland, who matches up in innings (pretty closely) with Alexi Ogando if we combine him with another new addition, Chris Hatcher. Holland’s been worth about 0.5 WARP, Hatcher’s been worth 0.0 WARP, and Ogando has cost the Sox -0.3 WARP.
SWAP GREG HOLLAND / CHRIS HATCHER FOR ALEXI OGANDO — +1 WIN
The only other big addition to the bullpen is Neal Cotts, who we picked up on a one-year deal. We’ll take his innings and replace one guy who definitely wouldn’t have shown up on this squad: Craig Breslow. Cotts has been worth 0.2 WARP, Breslow has cost the Sox -0.5 WARP.
SWAP NEAL COTTS FOR CRAIG BRESLOW — +0.5 WIN
Last, we need to account for the fact that Robbie Ross and Edward Mujica never would have pitched for this team. In Ross’s case, that’s not a great thing, but losing Mujica doesn’t hurt. They’ve combined for about 50 innings this year, and we’ll assign those to Brandon Kintzler (seven innings), Heath Hembree (30 innings), and Noe Ramirez (13 innings).
SWAP BACK OF BULLPEN FOR BACK OF BULLPEN — NO CHANGE
And that’s about a win and a half to the bullpen. Our final tally is about a seven WARP upgrade, which could be imagined to be an increase of seven or so wins in the pythagorean standings … if not one or two more. That might make this team a winning team, and perhaps in the hunt for a wild card spot or competitive for the AL East title, but not a clear favorite.
The other good news is that despite adding Stanton, McCarthy, Cabrera, Latos, and the young pitchers, this team probably has less long-term money committed than what the real-world Sox has committed to Rick Porcello, Hanley Ramirez, and Pablo Sandoval. The team probably has enough payroll flexibility to add another starter and an infield piece, if they chose to.
Personally, my trade deadline plan would be to swap Napoli and Victorino to the Pirates for a prospecty piece or two, then flip that piece with Manuel Margot, Mike Foltynewicz, and any minor piece needed to Philadelphia and get Cole Hamels and Chase Utley for a playoff push.
Our simulated offseason was hardly a perfect one, as the money and assets spent on McCarthy and Latos could have been spent more wisely. The team still lacks a bona-fide ace, and third base is still a serious question mark. And, of course, dear Brock Holt is gone to Miami.
And yet … Giancarlo Stanton and Danny Salazar! No frustrations from Allen Craig, Joe Kelly, and Rick Porcello! And more wins! Perhaps this alternate universe is not the best of all possible worlds, but it wouldn’t be a bad trade-off from our 2015.
Photo by Steve Mitchell/USA Today Sports Images