Monday, October 12, 2009

Orders of business in the offseason

After a day or two to relax and recoup and process a stunningly swift exit to the postseason, Theo Epstein and his band of decision-makers will have to sit down and attend to the orders of business waiting for them in the offseason. This team, as constituted, never quite seemed like the World Series juggernaut of two years ago and likely would have bowed out at the hands of the Yankees had they pulled a miracle comeback a la 1999 or 2003.

(Hey, wait a second, that's what happened in 1999 and 2003.)

A few items on the agenda are more pressing than others. A few items are on the agenda require less debate than others. Among those items -- presented in some semblance of order:

1. Pick up Victor Martinez's option.
Epstein doesn't even have to discuss this one with his staff. He might already have taken care of this, one last thing to do before heading home on Sunday night. The catcher hit .336/.405/.507 in his two months with the Red Sox and is a .299/.372/.465 career hitter -- and his $7.5 million option for next season is barely half of what Jorge Posada will make.

Oh, and for those fans who want passion in their players: Not even Jonathan Papelbon sat at his locker with his uniform on, unable to get past the loss, longer than Martinez.

2. Offer Billy Wagner arbitration.
Done and done. The veteran closer almost certainly will not accept and instead will be off to Atlanta or Chicago or some other locale in need of a closer. Pass "Go." Collect two draft picks.

3. Figure out the Jason Bay situation
You can analyze it all you want -- and the analysis has already started -- but the truth of the matter is this: The Red Sox will place a value on Bay's services relative to what they expect him to be worth at the plate and in the field for the next four or five years, a value that probably will be close to the five years, $70 million for which they signed J.D. Drew. Bay then will shop around -- "I'm a little bit interested in going through the whole process, seeing what it's like and seeing what's out there," he said -- and if he gets an offer significantly better than that, he'll probably take it.

The Red Sox then will have to make a relatively aggressive offer to Matt Holliday -- whose HitTrackerOnline chart makes it look like he would love Fenway Park -- or, failing in that pursuit, probably settle for a one-year stopgap like Bobby Abreu or Mike Cameron with either Josh Reddick or Ryan Kalish taking aim at that job in 2011.

4. Make a decision on Alex Gonzalez
This isn't as important as the Jason Bay decision -- even with as much as credit as Gonzalez deserves, the Red Sox almost certainly would have made the playoffs had they stood pat at shortstop in August. But it is an easy call: He has a $6 million club option for next season, and given the uncertainty surrounding the wrist of Jed Lowrie, the Red Sox will snap that option right up. Lowrie has insisted that with a full winter of rest, his surgically repaired wrist should be fine in April -- but if that's the case, he could play shortstop part-time and third base part-time and be ready to take over the job all by himself in 2011 after he's demonstrated he's healthy.

5. Make a decision on Tim Wakefield
The knuckleballer will undergo surgery this week to repair a herniated disk in his back. The Red Sox still hold a perpetual $4 million option on his services -- and it still was a bargain this season even though Wakefield missed most of the second half.

The decision really will be up to Wakefield and how his back might feel about playing golf once a week rather than pitching once a week. If it was up to them, the Red Sox would exercise the option and go to spring training with the knuckleballer penciled in as their No. 5 starter -- a good omen if you believe in The Wakefield Theory -- because you can never have too much pitching.

(The Wakefield Theory holds that the Red Sox can tell how good they'll be in a given season simply based on where Wakefield stands in the rotation. He was the No. 2 starter in 1997. He was the No. 3 starter in 2003. He was the No. 4 starter in 2004. He was the No. 4 starter in 2007. He went into this season as the No. 4 starter but quickly became the No. 3 starter, the first sign the Red Sox might not be up to the task.)

6. Make a decision on Takashi Saito
The Red Sox signed Saito to an incentive-laden deal that ultimately will pay him $6 million this season, and that means they hold a $6 million option on him for next season.

On the one hand, that seems a little steep for a pitcher who never seemed to pitch in any high-leverage situations except as a last resort. On the other hand, the Red Sox probably can afford it -- and, again, you can never have too much pitching.

7. Make a decision on Daniel Bard
If the Red Sox were willing to try to make Jonathan Papelbon a starting pitcher even after a rookie season in which he had a 0.92 ERA in 59 relief appearances, you'd better believe they're going to explore the possibility of making Bard a starting pitcher, too. He has the build. He has the velocity -- if he throws 100 miles an hour as a reliever, he's still probably going to throw 94 or 95 as a starter. He has the even-keeled mindset.

He has the understanding, too, that he's better off as a starter than as a middle reliever.

Maybe he'll end up right back in the bullpen the way Papelbon did. But it's certainly worth it for the Red Sox to have that discussion.

8. Make a decision on Casey Kotchman
The Red Sox swapped the power-hitting Adam LaRoche for the defensive-minded Casey Kotchman because Kotchman fit better as a bench player. Kotchman, though, is still 26 years old and not all that far removed from being considered one of the top prospects in baseball. The Red Sox have a history -- remember Dave Roberts? -- of acquiring bench players for the stretch run but accomodating their wishes to be a starter elsewhere after that.

Kotchman is young and relatively cheap and carries with him an impressive glove, and that might have value in trade to one of the few teams in the market for a first baseman this winter.

(This issue has been covered in more depth here.)

9. Go check out the market
Chone Figgins. Marco Scutaro. Roy Halladay. John Lackey. Bobby Abreu. Prince Fielder. Felix Hernandez. Adrian Gonzalez.

All are names you're likely to see bandied about in Boston this winter. All are players who might be good fits with the Red Sox at the right price.

10. Restock the bench
If the Red Sox bring back Gonzalez and Kotchman, they're likely all set along the infield. But Rocco Baldelli signed a one-year contract, and it'll be interesting to see if he tests the market, even with his mitochondrial condition, to try to find a job with more regular playing time. If that's the case, the Red Sox will have to find another outfielder or two to provide some depth.

1 comment:

Jim Monaghan said...

Brian -

1 - A no-brainer. Not even Omar Minaya would blow that one.

2 - Completely agree. And don't the Red Sox have a pretty good record with such draft picks?

3 - Holliday concerns me defensively (and that was before the dropped fly in left in the NLDS). Bay makes too much sense to let him go elsewhere, but my gut tells me that the Yankees sit and wait to see what Boston's offer is and then move in and trump it.

4 - Sorry, but I don't think this team would have made the playoffs with any combination of Lugo/Green at short. Gonzalez' presence had to ease the concerns of some of the pitchers who previously had been scared to death to have a ground ball hit to the left side of the infield. Short of some blockbuster move, bring back Gonzalez and let Lowrie heal without being rushed back.

5 - Wake is a sentimental favorite, but if he's not 100% healthy before Spring Training, it might be time for both him and the team to accept the inevitable.

6/7 - Based purely on gut, Saito concerns me less than Bard. Sure Bard throws hard, but I have doubts about his control. And if there are any real concerns about his ability to pitch under pressure, Boston might not be the best place for him to pitch.

8 - Is Kotchman really going to get any playing time? And if not, how will that sit with him? He's the 3rd choice at first right now behind Youk and VMart.

9 - Figgins is an interesting option, but see my 11. Halliday makes sense; King Felix makes even more sense, and I'd rather see either one of them in a Red Sox uniform next year than Lackey. Abreu in Fenway? Makes sense from an offensive standpoint, but defensively? For a guy who's afraid of walls, left field in Fenway might be traumatic for him.

10 - Not something I'm overly concerned about at this point in October.

11 - I think one of the biggest decisions is one you left out - Lowell/Ortiz. Much as I love both players, it's hard to ignore the feeling that one of them probably won't be with the team in 2010. Quite honestly, from the standpoint of trying to at least get to the World Series again I don't think the Red Sox can avoid the luxury of both of them.

If I'm Theo & Company, I'm looking for a catcher who can actually throw a runner out once in awhile while still doing the other things like call good game, work with the pitchers, and get a hit from time-to-time. I see VMart at first and Youk back at third. That's leaves Lowell/Ortiz at DH. Letting either one go is going to be a VERY tough decision.