Editor’s note: Welcome to Rebuilding the Red Sox: a new series here at BP Boston in which our various authors will put forth their personal suggestions as to how the Red Sox should retool their roster for 2016 and beyond. Please keep in mind that each proposed roster move comes from each author individually, and feel free to let your feelings be known in the comments. Enjoy!
During this debacle of a season one thing has been made abundantly clear to both Red Sox fans and upper management: changes need to be made for 2016.
There have been countless disappointments in 2015, but chief among them have been Boston’s two biggest offseason signings: Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. You know this by now, but Ramirez has proven to be the worst defensive outfielder in baseball (maybe in history), while Sandoval has underwhelmed at third.
With David Ortiz again showing that he is an ageless wonder, moving one of Sandoval or Ramirez to DH next year will be impossible. One of the two needs to go because the team cannot sustain such poor defenders at two positions again. We saw the results of this terrible defense manifeste in a team ERA that was ranked 28th in baseball while, as Matt Kory recently pointed out, ranking 12th in DRA and 14th in FIP. Sandoval is the easier of the two players to trade considering age, track record, and, the weakness of this year’s crop of free agent third baseman.
Sandoval has just turned 29 years old, and although he has been a nightmare defensively this season (-14.5 DEF, -16.1 UZR) he actually has a history of being a serviceable defender, posting positive marks in four out of his seven previous seasons. By all accounts his weight and conditioning has been an issue throughout his career with the Giants and their control over him was cited as a reason for his choosing the Red Sox. Well, it turns out Sandoval isn’t one for self-control and the Red Sox found that out the hard way as the hands-off approach the team took early in the year has manifested itself into a less athletic Panda than ever, despite his denial it has become a problem.
Still, Sandoval has played better of late and has a track-record of success, and teams are going to be hard-pressed to find upgrades at third in free agency this winter. In fact, this year’s “headliners” are the long-in-the-tooth Juan Uribe, the likely-to-retire Aramis Ramirez and the light-hitting David Freese. Instead of gambling on Uribe at 36 or Ramirez at 37-years-old, gambling on Pablo having a bounce back looks like a pretty attractive option. The offensive and defensive track record for Sandoval was strong enough to garner significant interest last offseason, pitting the San Diego Padres, Boston Red Sox and San Francisco Giants against each other in a bidding war for his services.
The Padres reportedly offered Sandoval five years and over $100M to come play in sunny San Diego, but he chose Boston. The Padres still need him and their plethora of good right-handed pitching is something that the Red Sox desperately need. Time to start Prellermania 2.0, where A.J. and Dave pick up the phones and make this one work.
Boston Sends: Pablo Sandoval, Jackie Bradley Jr., Brian Johnson and Sean Coyle
San Diego Sends: James Shields and Craig Kimbrel
Why the Trade Works for Boston
As I mentioned in the lead, Boston may be able to make one defensive liability work but having two is simply untenable. The return of Shields and Kimbrel won’t turn the Red Sox into a playoff team right away but it sure gets them on the right track. Thus far in 2015, the Red Sox have the third worst rotation ERA in baseball at a whopping 4.92. Their bullpen ERA is slightly less ugly at 4.30, but that’s still “good” enough for fourth worst in the league. Trading for Shields and Kimbrel would help to address both issues.
While Shields may not be a number one starter anymore, at 33-years-old he still seems to have a lot left in the tank. His ERA of 3.74 is his worst mark since his terrible season in 2010 but it masks a 3.43 SIERA, which is his best mark of the last three seasons. Shields is signed for $21M a year for the next three seasons with a team option at $16M for 2019. His high price makes sending money in the deal unnecessary, and he should provide No. 2/3 starter upside over the course of his deal.
Kimbrel may have taken a slight step back from his normal dominant self this year but that hardly condemns him as ineffective. Though his walks have risen this year the 27-year-old Kimbrel is still striking out 34.2% of the batters he faces, and since 2011 his K-BB rate of 31.8% trails only Kenley Jansen for the league lead amongst qualified relievers. He would help solidify a bullpen that, baring health and the realization that Joe Kelly is not a starter, could have a trio of Kelly, Koji Uehara and Craig Kimbrel for the 7-9th innings.
Boston can afford to give up Bradley due to Mookie Betts’ also elite defense and more advanced bat. As much as I love the idea of a defensive masterpiece of Rusney Castillo, Betts, and Bradley patrolling the outfield, having JBJ at a corner spot will simply not do. Brian Johnson is a strong prospect who profiles as a very solid 4/5 starter, but the Red Sox can afford to part ways with him to solidify the bullpen and rotation. The 23-year-old Sean Coyle took a step back in AAA this year but challenged for 20/20 in 2014 at AA while batting .295. The presence of Dustin Pedroia in the majors and Yoan Moncada in the minors make it dubious at best that he’ll find a role in Boston.
Why the Trade Works for San Diego
It’s clear now that the Padres’ one off-season turnaround plan has failed miserably, and perhaps the biggest reason for that was the gross miscalculation that Matt Kemp was a serviceable right fielder and Wil Myers was a real center fielder. The duo have so far posted UZRs of -11.9 and -9.7, respectively. These represent the worst and second worst marks on the team for players with over 200 innings and it has tormented their pitching staff all year.
Bradley Jr.’s arrival and the probably impending free-agent exit of Justin Upton will do wonders to cure this ailment. In 2014, when JBJ was given most of the year to hold down the starting center field job for the Sox, he had a 15.9 UZR and 17.3 defensive rating, making him on a game-by-game basis the best defensive center fielder in the league. His arrival will allow Myers to shift to right field where he belongs and allow the Padres to hide Kemp’s deficiencies in left field. JBJ’s ability to cover ground in the spacious outfield of Petco Park will cover up countless mistakes and turn this into a darn good outfield.
Pablo Sandoval will arrive to man third base and I bet that he will have a chip on his shoulder for two reasons: being jettisoned by the Red Sox and competing in the same division as his old ball club. If Preller can get him on an intense conditioning routine, he could provide a valuable offensive upgrade at third and solidify a huge weakness.
Johnson fits so well with the club mostly because the Padres have been trotting out a rotation of James Shields, Tyson Ross, Andrew Cashner, Ian Kennedy, and Colin Rea, all right-handers. If you look the DL and to the minor leagues there are no left-handed starters on the horizon unless you count 30-year-old and twice tommy john survivor Corey Luebke. I don’t count him and they shouldn’t count on him either. Left-handed starters have been increasingly effective over the last few seasons and the young cost controlled Johnson will spend most of his prime under team control. Johnson isn’t an ace but his pitchability is off the charts. His ability to display above average command and hit his spots should only play up in the spacious ballpark and refined outfield defense.
The money situation favors the Padres here as well, since Kimbrel and Shields combine for $28M in 2016, $30M in 2017, and $31M in 2018. It’s only when 2019 rolls around that San Diego will have to pay Sandoval $18M and Kimbrel and Shields may be off the books. This represents a three-year savings of $37M, which can be either banked or used elsewhere to improve the club. With the Padres aggressively shopping Jedd Gyorko, the severely blocked Sean Coyle could be a capable fill in as a long term solution is sorted out, too.
The deal helps the Red Sox and the Padres on many fronts and in different ways. The Red Sox solidify their rotation and their bullpen, their biggest sources of ire, while getting rid of a subpar defender at third base. This opens up either third base or first base for Hanley Ramirez, the former of which he has played before. It should be noted that Ramirez was seen taking grounders at first base today and confirmed the switch would happen later this year as they prepare to place him there full time in 2016.
There are plenty of internal options for fill-ins at third as well with Brock Holt, Travis Shaw and Garin Cecchini all coming to mind. It may not be pretty, but after this year isn’t anything better? The likeliest long-term solution at the position is the super-athletic Yoan Moncada who, after a rough start, is dominating in in Single-A Greenville. It’s not farfetched to imagine a 2017 Red Sox team with Moncada at third and Ramirez taking over at DH for the retired David Ortiz should first base not work out. This move sets the Sox on a path closer to contention for a problem that may not have a solution in just one off-season.
The Padres’ pitching depth and farther-off window to compete make trading the 33-year-old Shields a no brainer, and the luxury of an expensive closer in Kimbrel is one that a club without playoff aspirations doesn’t need. The in-house option of Brandon Mauer looks like a very good choice for a future closer.
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