Welcome to the mid-point of January. It’s time to put on our heavy coats and gloves, stop griping about 2015’s failures and start focusing on the immense hope offered by 2016. The last time I drove down the Mass Pike past Fenway, my first thought was “boy, Pablo Sandoval was hot garbage last year.” This next time, I’m hoping it will be “boy, Mookie Betts could be an MVP candidate this season.” New year, new outlook!
It’s also nearing the point where we can stop haunting MLB Trade Rumors and Baseball Prospectus and Twitter, wishcasting on those big-ticket free agents. Most of the major offseason trades have likely taken place as well. Once Yoenis Cespedes finds a new home, the heavy-duty part of the offseason transaction mill will be done, and we’ll be left with the small pieces that fit in here and there.
The Red Sox are primed to make another go at it in 2016. With the acquisitions of David Price, Craig Kimbrel and Carson Smith, the team looks to have addressed some of the team’s biggest holes. But no roster is perfect, no franchise bulletproof. If we buy into the idea that there are no more large moves in the offing, we can ask ourselves the next logical question: what smaller moves could the team make in order to optimize the roster for ‘16 and beyond?
Having an awesome farm system and enough money to make Scrooge McDuck blush is a nice way to operate a ballclub.
Before I jump into this, the first thing I’d like to posit here is this: the Red Sox are actually a pretty deep squad. When doing my research, I fully expected to find two or three immediate low-impact wants that could be addressed. Most teams have those! Instead, I’ve found very few glaring weaknesses. Having an awesome farm system and enough money to make Scrooge McDuck blush is a nice way to operate a ballclub.
Nevertheless, every team could use some extra help at times. Here are the best places the team could make small moves to help win 2016.
Add another backup outfielder
Recently, the Sox inked Brennan Boesch to a minor-league deal with an invite to Spring Training, and it’s possible that he could fill this role on the team. But as I look at the current (projected) 25-man roster, I see a bench with a bit of a hole. Right now, you’d have to figure that the bench would consist of Ryan Hanigan, Chris Young, Brock Holt, and … maybe Travis Shaw? It’s gotta be Travis Shaw, right? The Sox are likely to roll with a small bench, but while Holt can play outfield (and pretty well), he’s the backup middle infielder as well as the fifth outfielder. It would be fantastic if the team had another outfielder who could come in if there’s a long-term injury and spell the team’s outfield starters if something happens. Bonus points if he hits left-handed, and can be stashed at Triple-A. (Like an outfielder Travis Shaw!)
Of course, that’s exactly what Boesch likely is. The problem with Boesch, as it is, is that he’s pretty terrible. Over the last four years, he’s been worth -1.6 WARP, he’s a rough defender, and his worst big-league cup of coffee came, well, last year. He posted a .148 True Average, and he did it in the hitters’ paradise called Cincinnati. Ick. So while he could be a decent option if everything breaks right, leveraging his once-useful power in the outfield, it’s much more likely that he’s now a Triple-A player who folds in the majors, playing out the string on the wrong side of 30.
I’d be thrilled if the Red Sox took a flyer on former top prospect Domonic Brown, instead of potentially leaning on Boesch. Is it possible that Brown is a garbage baseball player, one of the worst defenders in the outfield and a hacky hitter? Of course … he wouldn’t be available if he wasn’t. But, at the same time, Brown has shown more and better power and more recent success at the dish than Boesch. He’s left-handed, and he still carries a career TAv of .264 despite down years in 2014 and 2015. He’s also younger, and could perhaps be a change-of-scenery candidate after being jerked around so much in Philly.
Best of all, the looks he’d give Ruben Amaro Jr. every time he reached first base! Priceless!
Add a better backup third baseman
Ostensibly, Brock Holt is this team’s backup third baseman. But as mentioned before, Holt is also the backup for Xander Bogaerts and, more importantly, the increasingly fragile Dustin Pedroia. Holt will be great when pressed into duty, but invariably, the team could use another replacement on hand. Personally, I have deep reservations about Pablo Sandoval’s continued effectiveness on this team, and his injury potential remains high. So what happens if BOTH Pedroia and Pablo go down with injury?
Of course Sean Coyle could be an option at second, or even Deven Marrero … and Travis Shaw is capableish of playing third base. But in a perfect world, the team might have another hand stashed away capable of filling in at third in case of a real emergency. Someone like Garin Cecchini … from two years ago. With Cecch off in Milwaukee, who could the team turn to as an emergency backup … or a potential right-handed caddy for the Panda?
There’s a pretty good chance that Rickie Weeks is done as a major leaguer, but I’d toss him an invite to Spring Training and a minor-league deal in case he feels as if he wants to give it a go, or likes the weather in Pawtucket in April. In 2015, Weeks basically stopped hitting the ball hard at all. His line drive percentage absolutely cratered, with about five percent of his contact going hard off the bat. His overall hard contact dipped dramatically as well, going from a career mark around 30% to a paltry 17% in his limited action with Seattle.
It’s possible that he’s just a ruined shell of his former self. It’s also possible that continued action in 2016 could see him up his numbers from last year. No one expects Weeks to return to the halcyon 5.1 WARP days of 2010, but giving him a shot in Spring Training could be a good fit for both he and the Red Sox. If he can figure out how to handle third base and maybe make a little more hard contact, he could be a decent backup plan in the case of the inevitable injury woes that hit every team.
Yet another reliever, please!
You literally cannot have enough relief pitching on a baseball team. Every team always needs another relief pitcher. No team is an exception. And while a team gets the most value out of their most-leveraged arms (an area where the Sox are looking pretty good!), having another hand ready is a great idea. In the case of the Sox, again … the projected bullpen looks chock full of guys on major-league deals, with names like Matt Barnes, Noe Ramirez and Heath Hembree perhaps starting the year in the minors. As such, whomever the Sox add to the bullpen mix probably needs either to have options remaining, or be a candidate for a minor-league deal.
Here, I’d hope to try to snag a left-hander, even with the team carrying Roenis Elias, Henry Owens and Brian Johnson in the wings. All of those guys are better served as starters (except maybe Elias), and they are more foundational pieces. I’d want someone who’s more off the beaten path, who the team can stash, use in case of emergency, and not worry about screwing with their path to starting.
I’d want Adam Loewen.
Hear me out. I understand that Loewen is currently a free agent. The pitcher-outfielder-pitcher-again had a remarkable strikeout rate last year in Triple-A, punching out more than 30 percent of hitters in 46 innings with Lehigh. The southpaw also saw real big-league time with the Phillies, and maintained a high strikeout rate in the big leagues too! That’s promising.
Of course, by now you’re probably checking his BP player page and seeing the other side of things: his control has completely gone away during his years attempting to be an outfielder. His walk rate is an unmitigated disaster, and he gave up a boatload of hard contact. He was, in a couple of words, Not Good.
But for the purposes of this exercise, he is Just Fine. After all, we’re working at the very, very ends of the margins of this major league team. The Red Sox are deep enough to be able to absorb some risk with these minor-league contract guys. Loewen actually carries some nice upside — he’s proven he can strike out big-league hitters, so if he can eventually find the strike zone, there’s enough potential for him to be a big league contributor. If not, hey, maybe he can run double-duty in Pawtucket as a lefty specialist/left fielder?
One of the real points of this exercise, for me at least, was finding out just how deep of a roster the Red Sox have built. The team has room to improve, for sure, but the best way to improve this team is take a couple of the couple-win players on the team (Rusney Castillo, Pablo Sandoval, Joe Kelly, etc.) and replace them with All-Star caliber guys, and that’s a difficult (and expensive) feat. That kind of performance is both unpredictable and costly.
The next thing could be to add marginal guys with a little bit of upside to fill in when a team needs 50 plate appearances or a few innings here and there. And while the Sox farm system is loaded, the close-to-the-majors talent appears to be concentrated mostly in left-handed starting pitchers. By adding a couple of vets on minor-league contracts, perhaps the team can sneak out a few runs here and there.
And anything has to be better than signing Brennan Boesch.
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