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!
How will the Red Sox replace David Ortiz’s production?:
“Wheel of Fortune” is a living dinosaur at this point, but it remains the source of one of my favorite analogies. For years, the contestants negotiating the final puzzle got to choose five consonants and one vowel before having to 30 seconds to guess the answer; for years, they chose R, S, T, L, N and E a huge percentage of the time. Eventually, those six letters were automatically gifted to each contestant, who instead got to choose three consonants and another vowel on top of those.
Answering this question feels a little like choosing the final four letters. Every one of us in this thought exercise tackled the Edwin Encarnacion angle pretty early in our columns because it’s the simplest answer to the question. It’s also probably wrong, but understandably tempting. Replacing Ortiz’s 2016 offensive production seems unlikely, but if Encarnacion — or anyone — can provide 85 percent of it while playing the field, that could go a long way toward filling up the box score like Papi did. It did not escape me that this question asked specifically about replacing “David Ortiz’s production” rather than “replacing David Ortiz,” as the latter is obviously impossible, but insofar as Ortiz was larger than life, it’s tempting to look to someone like Encarnacion to fill the bill. It’s probably the wrong way to look.
If you take Dave Dombrowski at his word, though, per a recent Alex Speier piece, the Sox might look instead to improve incrementally across the board while waiting for Yoan Moncada, Sam Travis and even, yes, Pablo Sandoval to emerge/return, rather than making a splash on the Encarnacion-ian level, but Dombo could also just be negotiating through the press at this point. However it shakes out, the Sox’s strong core plus Moncada is a wonderful starting point. There’s not as much work to do as we might think. As Matthew Kory wrote, Carlos Beltran might be the perfect piece to complement the roster as-is, without forcing the Sox to break the bank, and apparently they covet him.
I also think Ben Carsley’s idea of a Todd Frazier trade makes a huge amount of sense, but I’ll add another name to the list: Miguel Cabrera. Maybe Dombo isn’t set up to work well with his former employer, but if he is, and could get the apparently extremely available Miggy in a package that kept Moncada in Boston, it would be a certified coup. Cabrera’s getting on in years, but he’s still friggin’ incredible, and Dombo knows it as well as anyone.
How will the Red Sox bolster the bullpen?:
Carsley’s proposed White Sox trade would also net the Sox Nate Jones, and while that seems perfectly reasonable, so do a lot of bullpen ideas that would be easier to pull off. The straightest-line plays would be for the Sox to sign Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen or Mark Melancon; my money would be on the latter, because it would be so much less of the Red Sox’s money.
I don’t see Brad Ziegler returning, but with Carson Smith waiting in the wings, I think Dombo continues to go the supplementary rather than foundational route in shoring up the ‘pen. Matt Collins, who thinks more about Red Sox relievers before noon on New Year’s Day than the rest of us do all year, says Neftali Feliz could be in the mix, and that sounds right. Chris Teeter thinks Brett Cecil could be a target, and given the Sox’s disproportionate dependence on Robbie Ross Jr. last year, another lefty would be a good addition, no matter how good Smith’s reverse splits have been.
Will the Red Sox add to the rotation? If so, how?:
I doubt it. They have David Price, Steven Wright, Rick Porcello, Drew Pomeranz, Clay Buchholz and Eduardo Rodriguez set to return. They technically don’t need another starter, but if they don’t break the bank for Encarnacion (or, you know, whoever), I, like everyone else, could see the appeal of re-signing a, or the, Rich Hill, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Of course, then there’s Chris Sale, Dombo’s white whale. Circumstantially, a Sale/Moncada et al. trade has never been likelier. The White Sox need help, Sale has been a pain in their butts, Moncada is a sure thing, Dombo likes trading prospects for bona fide superstars, and it’s not the middle of a productive season. Furthermore, Sale’s value might not be lower anytime soon — he wasn’t one of the three finalists for the AL Cy Young Award, even if he’s probably the AL starter you’d most likely pick in a win-or-go-home game. It’s all right there in front of us, but it just seems too obvious. I’m much more of Carsley’s opinion that Frazier would net a better return from the South Side in the short- and long-terms.
Will the Red Sox trade more elite prospects? If so, for what/who?:
Even independent of a potential Sale deal, I’d say: Probably. It’s Dombo’s calling card, and he’s been given a fat stack of prospects with which to work. If not a White Sox, how about Paul Goldschmidt? That was Chris Teeter’s take, and why not? Goldy is pretty dope, and the Sox have newly minted front-office connections in Phoenix to exploit. I guess my fear on that account is that it would seem a bit *on the nose* for them to turn around and deal one of the 10 best players in baseball to their former employers, even if it might, in theory, benefit the D-Backs in the long-run. The optics are probably just too bad to make it a possibility about which I’d worry too much.
I’m in on Jake Devereaux’s Joey Votto-ought-to-be-available theory, but I fear Votto isn’t really going anywhere. Dealing Votto might be the rational move for a franchise stuck in a rut, but if the franchise was all that rational in their decision-making they wouldn’t have gotten stuck in that rut in the first place. Votto hit approximately 1.200 in the second half, which is so good it’s impossible, and it makes it harder to trade him for a franchise short on star power. Plus, I’d rather have Goldie anyway. I just don’t see that happening.
Something will, though, and if it’s not Frazier I think it’s more likely to be a different good player in a crappy situation rather than a superstar we’ve thought of. If a move is likely, I think it would be for Frazier or Cabrera (or even Verlander, just to increase my chances of getting one right), and I think the prospects in any such deal would be good enough to trigger answering “yes” to this question. Even if the chances of such a deal are only like 1 in 3, .333 is pretty good in baseball, as we well know.
So much of this exercise feels less like trying to figure out what will happen than it does trying to stake out our turf for the future. Between the lot of us, we’ve staked out a lot of it, but much like the robots in Westworld that [SPOILER] literally can’t see a door in front of the if they’re programmed not to see it, we may just not have the privileges to see what’s really going on. And, like those robots, the more I see that expands of my field of vision, the more secret doors that actually open, the more I’ll be coming online.
Biggest Acquisition: Miguel Cabrera
Biggest Departure: Jackie Bradley Jr. (via trade)
Biggest Surprise: The Sox don’t even kick the tires on Edwin
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