Welcome to the 2017 Offseason Oracle, a brief series in which your favorite BP Boston authors will give their educated guesses as to how the Red Sox’s offseason will shake down. Every author will answer the following four questions and give a projected Opening Day roster. Will we all be wrong? Yep! Should it be fun? Yes to that, too. Enjoy!
With the American League East in flux the Red Sox probably don’t need to do a lot to reshape the roster to repeat as division champs, but here are my thoughts on some things they can do to really feel good about their status heading into 2017.
How will the Red Sox replace David Ortiz’s production?
This will be difficult, if not impossible, as Ortiz was a monster at the plate in his final season. Nevertheless, a combination of better production from third base, an everyday left fielder that allows bench players to return to more appropriate roles, and a big-splashy-trade will help the team fill the Big Papi-shaped hole in the lineup.
First, having Pablo Sandoval as the everyday third baseman should be an improvement on what the Red Sox got from the position in 2016. Last year, Red Sox third basemen were quietly bad. Their collective .238 TAv was the worst in baseball and not that much better than the .229 mark Sandoval posted in 2015; a season that was widely considered a disaster. It is unlikely that Sandoval will be that bad again. Some positive regression in BABIP and showing even just a little bit more patience in the batter’s box will help Sandoval get closer to his previous levels of offensive production. Gone are the days of .280+ TAv, but it is reasonable to expect him to be better than .230. PECOTA pegs him for .263, which, while not great, easily clears the low bar set by what the Red Sox cobbled together at the position last year.
Left field was another position the Red Sox were forced to piece together in 2016. In 2017 it will belong to Andrew Benintendi. The 2016 left fielder group was fine offensively, posting a .262 TAv, which happens to be exactly what PECOTA projects for Benintendi. So the offensive improvement from having him in left field everyday will come indirectly – although I do fanboyishly expect him to exceed PECOTA’s projection. Having Benintendi as the everyday left fielder allows Brock Holt to return to the part-time super-utility role that has worked well for him in the past, and refocuses Chris Young into the role he was signed to play: lefty-masher. Avoiding extending the roles of Holt and Young should keep them both fresh and provides John Farrell tactical advantages off the bench.
These internal improvements along with a trade for an elite hitter will keep the Red Sox’s offense as one of the best in the game, which leads me to…
Will the Red Sox trade more elite prospects? If so, for what/who?
Yes, for Paul Goldschmidt. While many are busy measuring Edwin Encarnacion for his red socks, I would rather focus on acquiring a younger, more well-rounded player. The caveat here is that any deal for Goldschmidt depends on how ex-Red Sox GM, now-Diamondbacks GM Mike Hazen assesses the near-term future of his team. If he thinks small adjustments on the margins of the roster will get them back into the mix in the NL West, then this trade never happens. However, if he looks and sees a flawed roster that has little chance of catching the Dodgers and Giants in the next few years then he is best suited to call his old boss in Boston and make a deal.
Goldschmidt is a complete player. He is an elite hitter, strong defender and above average baserunner. He is signed through 2018, but has a seemingly no-brainer team option for 2019. As such, getting three seasons of a player of Goldschmidt’s caliber will command a considerable package of players in return. Hazen knows the Red Sox system, so another wrong-Basabe-brother type deal with the DBacks is certainly out of the question. But a multi-player offer along the lines of:
Pick one: Yoan Moncada/Blake Swihart
Pick one: Rafael Devers/Sam Travis/Christian Vazquez
Pick one: Henry Owens/Trey Ball/Travis Shaw
Should be enough to get something done, or at least get most of the way toward making both sides happy.
How will the Red Sox bolster the bullpen?
While I would love to see Kenley Jansen in a Red Sox uniform for the next few seasons I suspect he ends up returning to Los Angeles on a five-year, lots-of-monies deal that is too rich for the Red Sox. Rather than chasing one of the other top free agent capital-C closers (Aroldis Chapman, Mark Melancon [6.20 ERA for the Red Sox in 2012!]) I think the best course of action for the Red Sox is to make a smaller move in free agency, continue to convert starters to relief roles, and ideally welcome Carson Smith back mid-season. With this in mind, the Red Sox should aim to sign Brett Cecil (e.g., 3yrs/$19.5MM). They have a need for a left-handed reliever, as Robbie Ross Jr. being the lone lefty option is not going to cut it, and Cecil is probably the second best lefty-reliever available on the free agent market, behind Chapman. He has been a really effective pitcher since converting to relief work for the 2013 season. Last year was Cecil’s worst season as a reliever, which might portend an alarming downturn in his utility, but it was most likely due to the triceps strain that forced him to miss time, and some bad luck (.344 BABIP, 20.0% HR/FB). He has recovered from the injury and the luck should even out, so he is still a player worth targeting. Cecil could slot in alongside Joe Kelly and Craig Kimbrel (and eventually Carson Smith) as John Farrell’s primary high-leverage options.
Will the Red Sox add to the rotation? If so, how?
No. The rotation is fine. In 2016, by RA9, they were the third-best group in the American League. For 2017, David Price should be better in the runs allowed department and Rick Porcello will likely be a little worse. Ideally Eduardo Rodriguez takes a step forward without immediately taking two back, and Steven Wright isn’t asked to steal a base in an interleague game in July. Price, Porcello, Rodriguez, and Wright is a good first four. Then there is the collection of guys available to fill the fifth spot; a spot that likely goes to Drew Pomeranz or Clay Buchholz. Piggybacking Pomeranz and Buchholz in that fifth spot is something the team should consider, as it would keep both players’ innings total down, keep them from facing a lineup too many times, and make it harder for opposing managers to construct lineups that consistently gain the platoon advantage. To me these positives outweigh the potential difficulty of slightly breaking from routine, but the routine thing likely carries the day and this idea never manifests on the field.
I understand the clamoring for Chris Sale, but while there is no doubt that Chris Sale is awesome, I think the prospect capital required to trade for a player like Sale should be used to make the team strength (offense) even stronger.
Biggest Acquisition: Paul Goldschmidt
Biggest Departure: Yoan Moncada (or Blake Swihart)
Biggest Surprise: Pablo Sandoval
2017 Opening Day Roster
Photo by Joe Camporeale/USA Today Sports Images