David Ortiz

Read Sox: Castillo’s Contract, Ortiz’s Heir and Evaluating Espinoza

Welcome back to Read Sox. This week we look at the free-agent hitting market, and briefly fast forward to a potential 2016-17 offseason splash.

Going Deep

With an ace locked up and a revamped bullpen, the Red Sox could sit quietly until spring training and hear little complaints about their offseason work. But, as the Boston Herald’s Jason Mastrodonato writes, there’s still an opportunity for the Sox to make improvements with the likes of Chris Davis, Yoenis Cespedes and Justin Upton still available. Mastrodonato proposed three improbable, yet not unrealistic, moves the Red Sox could make to enhance their 2016 roster.

The first idea was to trade Hanley Ramirez and sign Davis. Yes, it’s unlikely Ramirez will have any suitors, but Davis, who had a respectable 5.7 UZR/150 last season, is a clear upgrade at first base. And with 47 home runs and a .390 wOBA last season, he’s also a better hitter. Same goes for Justin Morneau, whom Mastrodonato also proposed the Red Sox acquire as a stop-gap for Sam Travis if they can move Ramirez. Morneau has a career 2.9 UZR/150 as a first baseman and posted a .279 true average and .353 wOBA with the Rockies last year. He’d also come at a far cheaper price. Mastrodonato’s final proposal may have been the most unrealistic, but also the most irrelevant – trading Rusney Castillo and signing Alex Gordon. This can’t happen for two reasons. One, Gordon signed a four-year deal with the Royals on Wednesday. And two that would require a taker for Castillo, who struck out at an 18.7 percent rate last season. That’s without mentioning the millions he’s owed over the next five years.

If you thought that was too good to be true, wait until you see what ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick’s “Most Interesting People in 2016” story inspired. (Do I sound desperate for interesting things to write about?)

Two players who cracked Crasnick’s list were Toronto’s Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, both of whom are free agents at the end of next season. Crasnick suggested that one of the two could serve as the heir apparent to David Ortiz at DH. The Blue Jay Hunter’s Ian Hunter and Bluebird Banter’s Minor Leaguer took it a step further, plotting an all-out Blue Jays reunion in Boston with David Price, Bautista and Encarnacion in 2017. Crazy, right? Believe it or not, it could be done with a little luck and a willingness from the Red Sox to spend big next winter.

Individually, Bautista and Encarnacion are both capable of replacing the seemingly ageless Ortiz. Both players finished with higher TAvs and wOBAs, and hit more home runs than Big Papi in 2015 (Bautista also knows a good bat flip). The problem? One would have to field if both signed. Bautista is a respectable outfielder who would be an upgrade over Jackie Bradley Jr. or Castillo at the plate, and although Encarnacion isn’t known for his glove at third, a replacement for Pablo Sandoval is welcome. The biggest downside would be age. Bautista will be 36 and Encarnacion 34 during the 2017 season, so committing to long term contracts with both players would border on irresponsible. But hey, it’s OK to dream, right?

Quick Hits

As mentioned above, it’s January and many of baseball’s top free-agent bats are still available. The Boston Globe’s Nick Carfardo examines this situation and what it could mean for teams in need of offense over the next two months. The pitchers had their day in November and December. The expectation is the position players will get their big contracts next as plenty of teams are desperate for offense. But how far will some teams, such as the Orioles with Davis, go to sign these available players?

The Red Sox lost a pair of legends last week with the deaths of Dave Henderson and Frank Malzone. The Worcester Telegram’s Bill Ballou wrote about their permanent place in franchise history, as well as that of the many other former Red Sox players.

We’ve talked plenty about trading Castillo in this post, but not enough about what his value to the Red Sox will be in 2016. MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith does just that. Castillo has been a disappointment so far. He has a career .226 TAv in 329 major-league plate appearances, and has struggled to stay healthy. Next season will be an important one for the 28-year-old Cuban defector, who will be in the third year of a seven-year, $72.5 million contract. The Sox clearly see potential in him, and he’ll get his chance to finally reach that point as a probable starting left fielder next season.

MLB.com’s Jim Callis listed 10 prospects poised to surge in 2016 last week. Among them was right-hander Anderson Espinoza, a Venezuelan flamethrower in the Red Sox organization. Espinoza is a 17-year-old who is lauded for his upper-90s fastball (he can touch 100 mph) combined with plus secondary pitches and command. He made such a strong showing in rookie ball that he even saw 3.1 innings of work in Low-A Greenville, where he posted a 2.88 FIP and 10.80 K/9.

Speaking of prospects, Fangraphs released its KATOH projections for Red Sox prospects this week, projections that were kind to the likes of Rafael Devers (9.6 WAR KATOH projection through age 28 season) and Travis (7.3) after breakthrough seasons in the minor leagues in 2015. Espinoza was also highly regarded on the list, cracking No. 4 with a 6.2 WAR projection.

Pitcher Steven Wright participated in a tour of five overseas military bases last month with a group that included several notable celebrities. The Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham wrote about Wright’s experience.

Photo by Winslow Towson/USA Today Sports Images

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