Welcome back to Read Sox. This week we look ahead to life without David Ortiz, examine the Red Sox’s approach to finding an ace and consider Pat Light’s impact on the 40-man roster.
The long-dreaded, yet inevitable, happened for the Red Sox last week — David Ortiz announced he will retire at the end of the 2016 season. The news came as little surprise.
Ortiz is 40 years old and, after hitting his 500th home run in September, has pretty much reached every possible career milestone. But it does leave the Sox with questions beyond 2016. CSNNE.com’s Sean McAdam asked perhaps the biggest one — where will the Red Sox’s power come from in the post-Ortiz era? That answer seemed clear entering spring training last season. The Sox signed Hanley Ramirez to a four-year deal with the expectation that he would DH when Ortiz retires and, at least partially, fill the power-hitting void left by Big Papi. That seems unlikely now. Ramirez hit 10 home runs in April and finished with 19 for the year in what was a dreadful season both in the field and at the plate. The best-case scenario is that Ramirez is traded and never seen in a Red Sox uniform again. Let’s pretend that’s the case for a minute and leave him out of the mix. So who’s next? (Before considering this answer, let’s remember there’s really no replacing Ortiz, who hit 37 home runs with a .280 ISO — good for sixth in all of baseball — at 39 years old last season, especially when we’re looking at it from a power-hitting standpoint.)
Right now it’s Mookie Betts. Betts hit 18 home runs, eight of which came in the final 58 games of the season, and finished second among qualified Red Sox players with a .188 ISO. The now-23-year-old struggled at the plate over the first two months before turning it around considerably. The idea is that he is only going to get better. The next-best options are unproven minor leaguers. First there’s Sam Travis. He’s big, strong and has a long swing, but that’s yet to translate into power hitting (he posted a .136 ISO in 281 plate appearances with Double-A Portland). Then, of course, there’s Andrew Benintendi, whom the Sox drafted in the first round last June. His 239 plate appearances between Lowell and Greenville is a small sample size, but his production — a .250 ISO in Lowell and .230 in Greenville — was no joke. The problem, however, is that he may be years away from being major-league ready. Perhaps we’ll see Ortiz’s true value once he’s no longer in the lineup every day.
This offseason isn’t the first in which the Red Sox are in pursuit of an ace. But, as Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald points out, the way in which they expect to do it is unfamiliar territory for both the franchise and Dave Dombrowski. The last 20 years show that the Sox have been most successful when acquiring elite starting pitching via trade. It’s how they landed Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett, all three of whom were instrumental to World Series championships. Their most recent ace, Jon Lester, was homegrown. This offseason, it appears the most likely way the Red Sox will land a No. 1 starter will be via free agency, whether they sign Johnny Cueto, Jordan Zimmerman, Zack Greinke or David Price. That’s something the modern Red Sox, and Dombroski, don’t normally do. The last top-of-the-rotation starter the Sox signed as a free agent was John Lackey. By then Lester was already in place as the No. 1. Other free-agent signings included Daisuke Matsuzaka and Matt Clement. Not exactly ace-quality right there.
Dombrowski’s Tiger teams were no different. Justin Verlander was homegrown, while Max Scherzer, Doug Fister and Price were all traded for. Why exactly are these such uncharted waters for the Sox and Dombrowski? Perhaps it’s the risk that comes with it. Just look at last season’s free-agent class. Scherzer signed with the Nationals for $210 million over seven years, while Jon Lester inked a six-year, $155 million deal with the Cubs. Both pitchers had solid first seasons with their new teams, but it’s how the coming years play out that’ll determine if the contracts were worth it. Meanwhile, James Shields had one of his worst statistical seasons in 2015 after signing a four-year, $75 million deal with the Padres. The Sox will need to spend Lester or even Scherzer money to land one of the top pitchers on the market. But first they need to determine who’s worth the risk.
MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith makes the case for Greinke as the Red Sox’s top pitching target. Greinke had perhaps his best season in 2015, posting a 2.79 FIP, 7.6 WARP and finishing second in the NL Cy Young race. Last season wasn’t a fluke, either. Greinke may have occasionally flown under the radar pitching in the same rotation as Clayton Kershaw, but his three years with the Dodgers were some of his best, as he finished with a 2.97 FIP and 8.3 K/9 over a combined 602.2 innings. The righty has proven he can also do it in the American League, where he pitched with the Royals over the first seven seasons of his career and won a Cy Young in 2009. The one potential issue with Greinke is his battle with social anxiety disorder. But that’s a moot point given he how he handled the pressures of pitching in the Los Angeles market, as Chad Finn of Boston.com pointed out.
Don’t think we’re done talking about starting pitching just yet. The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier wrote an interesting piece on when the right time to trade a back-of-the-rotation starter is. The Red Sox certainly have a bevvy of those kind of pitchers. That will become more apparent if and when they acquire a No. 1 starter. That means someone will have to go. Speier explains why the Sox may be best served waiting until the middle of next season to strike a deal, citing the Cubs’ July 2013 acquisition of a little-known Jake Arrieta in exchange for Scott Feldman as a reason to be patient.
Reliever Pat Light was one of three prospects added to the team’s 40-man roster last Friday. The 24-year-old righty has never been among the team’s top prospects since being drafted in 2012 and had an unspectacular 2015 season, especially in Triple-A where he posted a 4.28 FIP and an ugly 7.09 BB/9 in 26 relief appearances. But, as WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford writes, Light gives the Sox another hard-throwing arm out of the bullpen. Light’s fastball, which sits in the mid-to-upper 90s, is a commodity among pitchers that helped him average a 9.55 K/9 in Pawtucket. It appears to be an asset the Red Sox desire in their bullpen reconstruction after trading for Craig Kimbrel nearly two weeks ago. Unlike Kimbrel, of course, Light is young and unproven, just like Matt Barnes, who also lives and dies by a mid-90s fastball, was last season before finishing with a 5.23 FIP over 43 innings. That’s not to say Light will be like Barnes if he pitches in Boston next season. But you’ve been warned.
Not everyone was on board with the Kimbrel trade. The reason for that is the hefty batch of prospects the Sox were forced to give up in order to get him, most notably Manuel Margot and Javier Guerra. The Providence Journal’s Tim Britton analyzed what exactly the Red Sox lost in Margot and Guerra. Margot was one of the top-rated prospects in the organization last season. He’s a speedy, athletic outfielder with power potential, but his aggressiveness at the plate caught up with him in a disappointing stint in Double-A. The good news for Margot is he’s 21 years old and has time to improve his approach and reach his ceiling. Guerra was always touted for his defensive prowess at shortstop, but he was a pleasant surprise at the plate, where he finished with a .354 wOBA and 15 home runs in Low-A Greenville. The Red Sox, however, could afford to part ways with Guerra given Xander Bogaerts’ stranglehold on short for years to come.
It wouldn’t be Read Sox without a Roger Clemens reference, right? Rocket has an interesting place in Boston sports lore. He spent 13 stellar seasons as the team’s homegrown ace, but his most controversial moments came as a member of the Yankees with the rivalry at its peak. Then there was that whole steroids thing. If you’re under 25 (like me), you probably don’t like Clemens and see no place for him in the Hall of Fame. But if he were to be voted in, he’d don a Red Sox cap on his plaque — at least that’s what he said in a radio interview last week. Now that would be quite a sight.
Dave Roberts was named manager of the Dodgers on Monday. I bring this up as an excuse to relive the biggest stolen base in Red Sox history. Enjoy!