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!
The Red Sox are in a great position headed into the 2017 season with only two areas of concern to address–the bullpen and replacing David Ortiz. With the latter a near impossibility they will look to add the best bat they can and may have to tap into the farm to do it. The bullpen is where it gets trickier; do they try and resign their own guys in Brad Ziegler and Koji Uehara or do they look for something better? If they do it could cost them some serious cash, so another trade may be more palatable, much to prospect-huggers’ dismay. After all what are prospects for if not to improve the big league club?
How will the Red Sox replace David Ortiz’s production?:
My first look at the issue of replacing Ortiz brought me to the conclusion that of all the free agent bats on the market, Edwin Encarnacion makes the most sense. While I stand by this remark, recent comments by Dave Dombrowski make it seem like he is skeptical about replacing Ortiz with an aging option that provides him limited flexibility and requires a massive financial commitment. Encarnacion has been talked about as the heir apparent to Ortiz for much of the year and his prowess vs. RHP and ability to closely replicate Ortiz’s production make him very tempting. His issues are his age and a spike in strikeout rate vs. RHP, which could add up to some really bad years on a 4-5 year contract.
All of this leads me to believe that the best course of action is to replace Ortiz’s bat via trade—the Red Sox should go and get Joey Votto. As a left-handed generational talent, Votto provides the most perfect offensive solution that the Red Sox could imagine to replace Ortiz. Last season, Votto batted .330 with 24 home runs vs. RHP with an OPS of 1.033, while Ortiz managed a slightly more productive .315, 33 home runs and an OPS of 1.075. These numbers are really close. Votto has also hit lefties far better than Ortiz over the entirety of his career and has the profile of a hitter that will age very well. The Reds are in a position where they could cash in with a package of prospects headlined by Rafael Devers, while the Red Sox can afford eat the majority of Votto’s massive contract.
How will the Red Sox bolster the bullpen?:
Mark Melancon? No thanks, been there done that. Aroldis Chapman? If Dave was concerned in the off-season last year about off the field issues then why would this year be any different? Kenley Jansen? Why on earth would the Dodgers let him go when they have the money to give him a huge deal? All of this leads me to believe the best place for the Red Sox to get another impact arm is via trade with the Miami Marlins. The Marlins have two talented arms at the back of their bullpen in A.J. Ramos and Kyle Barraclough, which opens up a trade to be made.
After the loss of Jose Fernandez the Marlins need another starter to go along with their talented starting lineup. I propose the Red Sox trade Clay Buchholz, Sam Travis, and Henry Owens for Barraclough and Tom Koehler. Barraclough has back-of-the-bullpen stuff having struck out 113 batters over 72.2 IP last year. He is also just 26 years old and won’t be a free agent until 2022. The Marlins should be plenty enticed by good Buchholz in their home park, a talented young fly ball pitcher in Owens, and a potential first-division regular Sam Travis.
A minor signing of Brett Cecil will also bolster the bullpen from the left side.
Will the Red Sox add to the rotation? If so, how?:
Does Tom Koehler count? Koehler provides some much-needed depth to replace Buchholz, albeit with a lower ceiling and cost. The Red Sox are pretty set at this position and if they make any moves expect it to be for additional depth. Price, Porcello, Pomeranz, Rodriguez, and Wright are locked in as the starting five if Buchholz is dealt and that rotation is good enough to win the division again. Brian Johnson should be ready to contribute to the big league club provided his health issues are behind him. The development of Michael Kopech has also gone very well to this point and it wouldn’t be very surprising to see him in Portland early next season with a chance to contribute in some capacity down the stretch.
Will the Red Sox trade more elite prospects? If so, for what/who?:
To get Votto, even with taking on most of the money, they will need to pony up some big chips. Rafael Devers makes the most sense as the best Red Sox positional prospect who has yet to see any time with the big league club. Cincinnati is a power hitter’s paradise and should play well for Devers’ left handed power swing. Although improved defensively at third, Devers could someday move to first base and even if he doesn’t, Eugenio Suarez’s presence will not stop a club like the Reds from acquiring a talent like him. The Red Sox can afford to deal Devers because while third base represents the biggest weakness of the club at the big league level the trio of Yoan Moncada, Bobby Dalbec, and Devers represents the biggest strength at the minor league level.
Unfortunately, Devers will not be going alone and will be joined by Maurico Dubon and Roniel Raudes. Dubon has played well enough recently to be in the conversation to replace Zack Cozart after his contract expires at the end of 2017. He is also more than capable of filling as super utility role with the club. Raudes provides yet another arm to add to their stable of talented young starters. This package may be a little light for Votto as currently constituted and it may take more to get him. The Red Sox do have the ability to eat his entire contract if need be which makes this more attractive to the Reds.
Biggest Acquisition: Joey Votto
Biggest Departure: Rafael Devers/Clay Buchholz
Biggest Surprise: Biggest free agent grab is Brett Cecil!
2017 Opening Day Roster Projection
Photo by Charles LeClaire/USA Today Sports Images