The Boston Red Sox  entered 2013 with little to no expectations. The season prior they lost 93 games, spent most of the year playing non-competitive baseball, and dumped salary by early August in Miami Marlins -like fashion.
A year later, things have changed. Now going into this off-season as the defending world champions, the Red Sox now have a different perspective. One they had in 2005, and one they had in 2008.
Win it again.
Or your season is a failure.
Look, it’s easy to say re-sign everybody and keep the 25 you had on the championship team–because you can’t get any better–but it doesn’t work that way. Major League Baseball is a business. Always has been, always will be. Some players have to go, and new ones have to be brought in.
The Red Sox have a number of difficult decisions to make this off-season, but I’ll trim it down to five, mostly for my own sanity.
Let’s get to it.
5. Let Stephen Drew Walk
Like every Scott Boras client, Drew becomes a free agent with a lofty price-tag attached to his name. Whether he deserves it is a worthwhile debate. Drew has a 162 game average of 16HR and 72RBI in his eight-year career and plays above average defense at a premium position, nothing to sneeze at. But he’s a career .264 hitter, and his postseason performance was abysmal (he hit .093 in 16 games).
The fact is: he can be replaced. Drew recently declined the Red Sox 1yr/$14.1million qualifying offer, and they should leave it at that. Get the Xander Bogaerts’ era going. It’s clear he’s ready. Get the top draft pick when another team signs him for his overrated services, and move on. Then smile like the Cheshire Cat. That’s all there is to it.
4. Resign Jarrod Saltalamacchia
Let’s do a little blind resume.
Player A in 2013 slashed: .256/.336/.451
Player B in 2013 slashed: .273/.338/.466
Player A was the consensus top free agent catcher this offseason, cost a fortune to sign, and lost you a top draft pick in the process.
Player A is Brian McCann.
And now he’s off the market (thanks Yankees).
Player B is–you guessed it–Salty.
Not only is Salty going to come cheaper, but contrary to popular belief, the numbers indicate he’s just as–if not more–productive as well. He also has a built-in relationship with every pitcher currently on the staff, and isn’t tied to draft-pick compensation. Basically, there’s no reason NOT to sign him. The Red Sox do have a couple prospects at the catcher position, but they’re still a few years away. Signing Saltalamacchia to a deal in the ballpark of 3 years/$30 million would be a huge win for everybody.
3. Trade Will Middlebrooks
I know what you’re thinking: let Stephen Drew walk, put Bogaerts at short, and then trade Middlebrooks. What is this guy crazy? Who would play 3rd base?
Hear me out.
The Red Sox have a surplus of starting pitching–a beautiful luxury in MLB–and they have chips to trade. Middlebrooks’ name has been floating around the ol’ trading block for a while now, and packaged with a arm like Felix Doubront could bring back a big bat the Sox can put under team control with a long-term deal (the widely available Mark Trumbo perhaps?).
Not saying it’s a given, but if I’m Ben Cherington, I’m making some calls this offseason, and putting Middlebrooks in the deal as a centerpiece knowing that I can get a one year rent a bat 3rd baseman and then hand the reins to 22-year-old hot corner prospect Garin Cecchini and his .417 career minor league OBP in 2015.
2. Sign David Ortiz and Jon Lester to “spend the rest of your career in the Red Sox organization” deals
I could throw out a bunch of statistics, regular season and postseason, but I’ll pass. You know the drill. Like what Dustin Pedroia got, these two need long-term deals and should spend the rest of their baseball playing careers exciting crowds at Fenway. They should get whatever they ask for: bobblehead days, dates with Cherington’s wife, anything they want.
Ben, make it happen dammit.
1. Tell Jacoby Ellsbury to take a hike
And Scott Boras for that matter.
You can’t be upset with Ellsbury’s seven year run in Boston. He led MLB in stolen bases three times, he contributed to two World Series teams, and even finished 2nd in the MVP voting in 2011 when he decided to hit more home runs in one season then he had in his previous four seasons combined.
Ellsbury has been valuable as a leadoff hitter and as a gold glove caliber center fielder, but it’s fair to say in this case, you have to take the good with the bad.
And there was plenty of bad.
Take the health concerns for example. Ellsbury has played in 384 out of a possible 648 games over the last four seasons, a miserable 59% rate. Sure, he’s been productive, but that’s when he plays.
Now the Red Sox are expected to dish out $20+ million a year for the next five years to an injury prone, soon to be 30 outfielder? Haven’t we watched this horror film before?
I think somebody called it “The Carl Crawford Experience.”
I’ll take my chances with Jackie Bradley Jr. in center for the foreseeable future. He’s just a younger, cheaper, and hungrier alternative that the Red Sox are lucky to have.
Don’t get cute with this one. Let Ellsbury go, get the draft pick, and use the money for something else.