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!
We finally got through a full calendar year of Dave Dombrowski running the Red Sox. By most accounts, it’s been a successful arrival for him. The Sox made the playoffs, the outfield is amazing, and there’s a lot to look forward to. That being said, I don’t think this offseason is going to be as exciting and surprising as the last couple have been. The Red Sox have very few holes, and they’re obvious: a flexible bat to help make up for the loss of David Ortiz’s production, and a solid reliever or two. It’s not going to be an exciting winter, because the Red Sox are not going to sign a top-tier starter or two third basemen. Instead, they should really look into what they already have, invest in the youth on the team and bet on a few guys coming back from lackluster years.
How will the Red Sox replace David Ortiz’s production?
The most obvious and most expensive solution here is Edwin Encarnacion. He can still crank out homers like it’s going out of style and play first base adequately, so Hanley Ramirez can take a breather. Problem solved, right? Not really. Encarnacion will be 34 by the time Opening Day rolls around, and he reportedly wants something in the neighborhood of a five-year, $125 million contract. Another big contract would kill whatever payroll flexibility the Sox have, and that can’t seem attractive to a team that doesn’t need offense that badly.
The two guys that should garner interest from the Red Sox are Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday. Neither of them should see the field that much, and if they do, it’ll be masked by Fenway’s left field. Beltran is obviously the safer of the two, and he’s a switch-hitter so you don’t have to stack up on right-handed batters every game. Holliday would be cheaper, but he’s riskier, seeing as he’s only played 183 games over the last two years, and saw his plate discipline erode last year. Still, it’s worth seeing if he’s got anything left in the tank. I do think the Sox get Beltran on a two-year deal, and they’ll explore the trade market, but not make a big move.
This is probably hopeful thinking, but seeing as the Red Sox were far and away the best offense in the American League in 2016, I think they’ve afforded a sizable margin of error to let their young guys and potential rebounds try and make up the rest of the production. A full year of Andrew Benintendi should be fun, and getting anything out of third base is already a lot more than what we had last year – because last year was two months of Travis Shaw going bonkers and four months of nothing. Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr were really underwhelming in the second half, and they’re both such good hitters that I can’t imagine that continuing.
How will the Red Sox bolster the bullpen?
This is where the big bucks will be spent, because I expect them to get either Kenley Jansen or Mark Melancon. Thanks to the departures of Koji Uehara, Brad Ziegler, and Junichi Tazawa, there’s an opening or two for late-inning work in the Red Sox bullpen.
Joe Kelly’s Great Stuff finally got him great results as a reliever, so he’s probably a lock for that. Craig Kimbrel is entrenched as the primary closer. Carson Smith probably won’t return until after the All-Star break at the earliest, but at least we’ll have his tweets. There’s very little in terms of internal options here, so there has to be a move for a major bullpen piece in free agency. Maybe they’ll bring Ziegler back, but with all the “he’s really open to coming back to AZ” articles that came out after the trade, I’m not too sure about it.
Jansen is obviously the preferred option of the two I mentioned, but with Aroldis Chapman teasing a $100 million contract, you know Jansen will be almost as expensive as Chapman once the market is set. He’d be the most consistent option, but would also require a lot more money than Melancon, who has been quietly very good since 2013. He’s not going to be spectacular like Jansen, but instead merely great, and probably $10 million cheaper if we’re going for a three- or four-year deal. But we all know Dombrowski, and he’s doesn’t shy away from going big with a major deal. Jansen is my guess on who will be in a Red Sox uniform come January.
That leaves some concern over left-handed pitchers in the bullpen. Robbie Ross is fine, but I really don’t expect him to have a 0.33 HR/9 again, and if you’re worried about not having a guy who could be death to lefties, I’d like you to know that Robby Scott was superb in that role, albeit in a very small sample size. Plus, his windup will make you feel like Andrew Miller is back on the Red Sox, without, y’know, the whole getting-right-handed-batters-out thing. And the best-reliever-in-the-game arguments. Look, I really kind of miss Andrew Miller.
If the Red Sox do more than just Jansen/Melancon, the Miami Marlins’ bullpen has some nice pieces you could get for a pretty penny. A.J. Ramos would be a nice addition, Kyle Barraclough is intriguing, and David Phelps looked revitalized in a relief role in 2016.
Will the Red Sox add to the rotation? If so, how?
This doesn’t seem likely to me. Price-Porcello-Rodriguez-Pomeranz-Wright/Buchholz is a decent rotation with a lot of upside in Rodriguez, a modest rebound candidate in Price, and a solid gamble in Pomeranz. I don’t think Porcello is Cy-Young-Award-contender good – and neither does Craig Goldstein, for good reason – so there’s going to be some regression there. If Steven Wright stays doing what he did last year, that’s a great boon to this unit, and if not, well, you could do a lot worse than Clay Buchholz.
The Red Sox will probably look to add a little depth to stash behind Henry Owens, Roenis Elias, and Brian Johnson, but I don’t see a major addition here.
Will the Red Sox trade more elite prospects? If so, for what/who?
I don’t think so, no. The most likely one to be traded is Blake Swihart, and I can’t see him traded right now. The Red Sox need to take a long, hard look at their catcher situation, and see if Sandy Leon can keep hitting, Christian Vazquez can go back to playing stellar defense, and if Blake Swihart can improve his defense. Swihart should start the year in Triple-A to get his feet back under him, so they have time to evaluate everything here.
Yoan Moncada is untouchable. Rafael Devers’ bat is so good that I think he’s kept himself in the Red Sox’s plans for now. I don’t even think they consider swapping Michael Kopech with anyone unless they’re overwhelmed, because he might end up being the first good starting pitcher to come out of the Red Sox’s system in nearly a decade.
Third base is going to be hell again. Remember that black hole that inhabited the Red Sox’s shortstop position for roughly a decade? It’s back. It just moved one spot to the left. Travis Shaw was little more than a warm body once May had ended, Brock Holt just isn’t a good enough hitter to start there (or anywhere, for that matter), and Pablo Sandoval didn’t even get to hit last year. On top of that, there’s not a readily available platoon option to pair with Shaw. So I see Sandoval getting the job out of Spring Training. The Red Sox really have nothing to lose by going to him, and they didn’t get much of anything out of third base in 2016, so it’s worth a shot.
I like Heath Hembree, but the guy is always the odd man out in the bullpen, so I can’t see him on the 25-man roster with Jansen and Buchholz being in there. Poor guy. Odds are another team will show interest.
It’s not exciting that I see the Red Sox doing what seems to be very little, but I’ve touted the positives of being conservative before, because the next two offseasons are going to be insane in terms of the talent hitting free agency. If they want to have a shot at guys like Yu Darvish, they need to play it relatively safe.
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