Dave Dombrowski is now in charge of putting the Red Sox’s roster together, and we are expecting a lot of changes. Part of that is due to his aggressive style in the past, a style that helped him land guys like Miguel Cabrera and Doug Fister. The other part of that is because the Red Sox need a lot of help, and likely the only way to rebuild this roster into a contender for 2016 is to be at least moderately aggressive. Because of all of these holes, everyone is putting together to-do lists for Dombrowski. It makes sense. There’s a lot to do! There are also plenty of things that shouldn’t be done, though. So, Dave, because I know you’ll be reading this, here is your “what not to do list.”
1. Don’t Go Conservative in the Bullpen
Of course I’m starting in the bullpen. Deal with it. But seriously, there’s a lot of work to be done here. As it’s currently constructed, this group is bad. Only five bullpens in baseball have a higher ERA, only five have a lower K/9, and just 12 have a lower K/BB. If any area of the roster needs a complete overhaul, it’s here. Right now, Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa are likely the only ones with a guaranteed spot next year. The former is going to be 41, while the latter has thrown approximately four million innings over the last three years. So, yeah, not a great start. In an era in which bullpens are becoming more and more important, Dombrowski can’t try to get cute here. Sure, he can fill the lower-leverage spots with cheap, buy-low options. But he needs to add at least one, and probably more, proven reliever with a solid track record. Whether that means dealing some prospects for a Craig Kimbrel or Aroldis Chapman, or paying for Tyler Clippard or Darren O’Day in free agency, there needs to be a big name added to this group. Teams like the Royals and Yankees have proven how valuable it is to shorten games with an elite back-end, and the Red So need to get on that train.
2. Don’t stop the rotation rebuild with an “ace.”
Matt Kory outlined the reasons that the Red Sox don’t need an ace heading into next season on Monday, and he’s right. However, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t get one. There’s no doubt someone like David Price or Johnny Cueto would help a rotation that really lacks a true building block. The problem is, that won’t fix the rotation all by itself. If they want to jump up to a top-10 rotation, which should be the goal at some point, they’ll need more than one good arm. Last month, I looked at some of the second-tier free agent options, and they still remain viable options. Some of them could actually be relatively cheap as buy-low options. If you pencil Porcello, Buchholz and Rodriguez into next year’s rotation, and add two additions to them, you’re all of a sudden looking at a solid group. That means you have to try to trade Miley this winter, but he’s cheap enough that someone will take him. Getting an ace will be tremendous for such a pitching-starved team, but Dombrowski can’t stop there.
3. Don’t let Clay Buchholz walk
Buchholz has been with the Red Sox for the entirety of his nine-year career, and is reaching the team option portion of the contract extension he signed back in 2011. After the World Series ends, Dombrowski will have to decide whether or not he wants to pay him $13 million in 2016. On the surface, it seems like declining that option is a better idea than looking to trade Miley, but nothing is ever that simple with Buchholz. The health concerns are obvious, but when he’s healthy, we’ve seen that he can be a legitimately awesome pitcher. In 113 innings this season before getting hurt, he put up a solid 3.67 ERA with fantastic peripherals. His 2.65 FIP is tied for fourth among all pitchers with at least 110 innings. His 75 DRA- is tied for 15th with Carlos Carrasco and Scott Kazmir. His 80 cFIP is tied for 8th with Madison Bumgarner, Jake Arrieta, Michael Pineda and Danny Salazar. For $13 million, that kind of performance is a steal even when you consider the injury risk. This becomes especially true if guys like Henry Owens, Brian Johnson and Steven Wright are still in the organization serving as depth. If you’re trying to rebuild a broken pitching staff, letting the player with the highest ceiling walk would be a huge mistake.
4. Don’t fall in love with first impressions
Dave Dombrowski has been in baseball for a long, long time. He’s a lot smarter than you, and he’s certainly a lot smarter than me. With that being said, he’s still vulnerable to basic human instincts. One of those things that everyone does is let first impressions stick with them for too long. Dombrowski can’t let what he’s seen in his first couple weeks here influence too many of his decisions. Jackie Bradley, Rusney Castillo and Travis Shaw immediately come to mind. There are certainly arguments that they should’ve gotten consistent major-league at bats before this, but some of that is on them. To this point, they certainly had never earned that kind of playing time. Now, they’re playing extremely well and forcing people to dream of a Bradley-Castillo-Mookie Betts outfield in 2016. As fun as that sounds, it’s far too early to hang your hat on that dream. Bradley is still a guy with a career .222 TAv. A big part of his production in this small sample has been a .277 ISO, something that surely won’t stick around. Castillo has less of a track record — good or bad — to work with, but we’re still dealing with small samples with him as well. Putting both of them in the outfield brings a lot of uncertainty to that outfield. Obviously, you have to wait to see what they do the rest of the year, but right now there’s not enough of a track record to hand 2/3 of the outfield to those two bats. As for Shaw, he doesn’t have the sample size nor the minor-league track record to hand him anything more than a bench role in 2016.
5. Don’t sell low on Pablo Sandoval or Hanley Ramirez
For a good portion of this summer, the conventional wisdom was that the Red Sox needed another Punto trade to rid them of the Sandoval and Ramirez contracts. This is an entirely differently situation, however, and they shouldn’t sell low on them right now. We’ll start with Sandoval. There was a good portion of this season in which he looked completely lost, both at the plate and in the field. Lately, however, he’s looking like his old self. There could be two reasons for this. First of all, he may just be getting comfortable in Boston. He’s a human being, and just made a big change. It would make sense that there’s some adjustment period here. The other explanation is that he’s a streaky hitter. In fact, I wrote about that very topic earlier this year! This is just the type of player he is, but in the end, he always turns out to be a solid player at a position the Red Sox have struggled to fill. Ramirez has been a totally different animal. We’ve seen the flashes on offense that we expected. For the first month of the year he was one of the best hitters in the game. On defense, however, he’s made Jonny Gomes look like a Gold Glover. They’ll be transitioning him to first base, though, and it’s worth seeing how that goes. Either way, there’s too much potential for an elite middle-of-the-order bat to get rid of, and with David Ortiz getting older and older, he’s great insurance on that front. In both players’ cases, their trade value is as low as possible. It’s hard to see them bringing back more than what they can contribute in 2016.
Dave Dombrowski has a lot of work to do on this roster, and we’re heading towards a very busy offseason. He shouldn’t get too cute, though. As long as he avoids the scenarios I outlined above, it should be a successful winter for the new front office.
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