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!
So far in our series we’ve seen incredibly exciting offseason possibilitis (trade for Joey Votto, Paul Goldschmidt or Chris Sale) and the extraordinarily mundane (sign Carlos Beltran and Brett Cecil, call it a day). I present to you an option somewhere in between:
How will the Red Sox replace David Ortiz’s production?
I thought about this one a lot. It’s true that the Red Sox should still have a very good offense in 2017, but I think people are selling short just how dramatic the loss of Ortiz will be. He was one of the best hitters in the game last season, brought a much-needed lefty bat to a very right-handed lineup and was one of only three sources of big-time power for the Sox. Dombrowski can’t just say “the young guys will get better” and leave it at that. And I don’t think he will.
Edwin Encarnacion makes some sense, but he’s right-handed, will cost a draft pick and will probably require a lengthy contract. Jose Bautista fits, but there were some pretty troubling signs in terms of his production last year. I liked Jake Devereaux’s idea of trading for Joey Votto, but that means adding another huge contract and would also require trading substantial prospects. I mulled over a trade for Carlos Gonzalez, but the Rockies might sneaky flirt with a Wild Card spot next season. I thought about Ryan Braun, but he’s also right-handed and will cost a lot to acquire.
So I think the Red Sox fix this one of two ways. First, they sign Carlos Beltran to a two-year contract. He’s a switch-hitter, he won’t cost a draft pick and he won’t need a long commitment. The downside is he’s no longer an elite bat, but he’s good enough to add more depth and balance to the lineup, and he can DH 90% of the time in Boston.
Second, I think the Red Sox make a trade for the White Sox, but not for who you think. I think they trade for Todd Frazier.
Yes, he’s right-handed, and yes, his average sank big-time last year. But we know the White Sox are in sell mode, the Red Sox have no idea what to expect at third base and Frazier is still good and young enough that he can be considered an impact bat — he did hit 40 homers last year, albeit with a bad OBP. He’ll cost a pretty penny, but nowhere near what Votto, Braun or CarGo would require. He also won’t block Yoan Moncada long-term, as he’s a free agent after the 2017 season; one the Sox can re-sign if things go wrong with Moncada, or one the Sox can attach a Qualifying Offer to if they’re ready to let him walk.
Who goes back to Chicago? Blake Swihart, for starters. It’s not what I would do, but it’s clear to me from the beat writers that Dombrowski does not have faith in Swihart’s ability to catch. I disagree, but this is what I think will happen, not my plan. Joining him will be Mauricio Dubon (sorry, Matt), Williams Jerez and Henry Owens. Also coming back to the Red Sox will be Nate Jones, who we’ll get to in a minute.
How will the Red Sox bolster the bullpen?
It’s tough to see the Red Sox going all-in on Aroldis Chapman or Kenley Jansen after giving up so much for Craig Kimbrel a year ago. I also don’t see a Mark Melancon reunion in the cards, though I’d be fine with it. Instead, the Sox will make the relatively minor move of re-signing Brad Ziegler to a two-year deal to be their seventh-inning guy.
The real big improvement will come in the form of Jones, who’s under an affordable contract through 2020 with a good team option for 2021. Jones has a troubling injury history and is older than you’d like, but he’s also coming off of his best season and has high-leverage abilities. He’s not perfect, but if he’s on the mound he’d be a big improvement over anything the Sox ran out in the eighth inning last year.
“No left-handed reliever,” you ask? I’d go get one, but I think Dombrowski tries Fernando Abad out again. I doubt he makes it past May, and I can’t wait to hear Red Sox Twitter complain about the lack of LOOGY for two full months, until Dave overpays for one at the deadline. Wee!
Will the Red Sox add to the rotation? If so, how?
Not in a major way, no. The Sox already have six reasonable options, plus a palatable Triple-A arm in Brian Johnson. I think they add some depth that can compete in Spring Training and then go to Pawtucket — let’s say Henderson Alvarez — but your rotation for next year will be David Price, Rick Porcello, Drew Pomeranz, Eduardo Rodriguez and Clay Buchholz, with Steven Wright heading back to the bullpen until Pomeranz or Buchholz inevitably gets hurt.
Chris Sale and Jose Quintana are tempting, but they’ll just cost too damn much. The A’s have no reason to sell low on Sonny Gray, the Indians no reason to sell one of their good young pitchers, etc. And the FA market … god is it bad. Dombrowski saw this coming, and that’s part of why they gave away Anderson Espinoza for Pomeranz last summer.
Will the Red Sox trade more elite prospects? If so, for what/who?
Given the current composition of Boston’s farm system, this really means “will they trade Moncada, Rafael Devers, Michael Kopech or Jason Groome?” I’m pretty confident the answer is no for Moncada — he’s too good and too close. Devers is the best bet to be moved, but in the situation I’ve imagined he doesn’t have to be. With the pitching prospects, who knows. It wouldn’t surprise me if Dombrowski thinks they’re untouchable or if he trades one of them for Tyler Thornburg. We’ll have to wait and see. It’s tempting to sell high on Kopech right now, but on the other hand some of the reports we’re seeing are ungodly.
What about Travis Shaw? It’s back to Triple-A for them, which means the Red Sox will actually have a little depth. That’s a good thing! Who will the third catcher be with Swihart gone? Let’s see if Chris Iannetta accepts a minor-league deal.
Heath Hembree? He’s the odd man out in this scenario. As a commenter pointed out below, he’s out of options, so he might be shopped for a C-level prospect. Alternately, the Sox could keep him and not re-sign Ziegler.
What does Pablo Sandoval do with Frazier aboard? Nothing, until he proves he can hit. If he does, he can work himself into a 3B/1B/DH rotation with Ramirez, Beltran and Frazier, especially against RHP. But counting on Sandoval for production is a fool’s errand. Anything he gives this team is a bonus.
Biggest Acquisition: Todd Frazier
Biggest Loss: Blake Swihart
Biggest Surprise: A White Sox trade, but no Sale/Quintana
Projected 2017 Opening Day Roster:
Photo by Rick Ostentoski/USA Today Sports Images