Eighty-nine wins, in most places, is hardly anything to sneeze at. But in this modern era of Red Sox history, when the playoffs are all but a birthright, 89 wins simply are not good enough. Eighty-nine wins leave you on the outside looking in, even if it does qualify as the fifth-best record in the American League.
So, instead of asking yourself what went wrong with the Red Sox, maybe the better question is this:
How can they get better?
Injuries obviously played a significant role in the Red Sox’ departure from postseason play this year, but anyone who suggests that was the only reason for the team’s ultimate failure is oversimplifying things. The Red Sox had other issues, too, and they will have even more once Victor Martinez and Adrian Beltre file for free agency, beginning am offseason during which general manager Theo Epstein has a good deal of work to do in an assortment of areas.
So, what would you do? Think long and hard about. But before you start tossing around outrageous trade proposals – Jed Lowrie for Hanley Ramirez, anyone? – here is a realistic, five-point plan for getting the Red Sox back to the 95-win neighborhood while adhering to payroll and trade limitations.
1. Sign Victor Martinez.
Um, what exactly are the Red Sox waiting for here? Last month, the Globe reported that the Red Sox offered Martinez a two-year deal that the player promptly rejected. Want to know why? Because according to a source, the proposal was worth $18 million over two seasons, an average of $9 million per. With all due respect for those who toil away to pay their mortgages, that offer is a joke.
If the Red Sox are serious about re-signing Martinez – and let’s hope they are – a three-year offer in the range of $40-$45 million would be a good place to start. They need his bat. He’s a switch-hitter. He can catch. If and when Martinez is no longer an option behind the plate, he can play first base or designated hitter. All of that gives whoever signs him ample flexibility, which is something the Red Sox love.
OK, so he’s not a great defensive player at any position. Fine. But the guy hits from both sides and he hits good pitching. Stop diddling around.
2. Sign two players from the following list: Adrian Beltre, David Ortiz, Adam Dunn, Jayson Werth, Vladimir Guerrero, Derrek Lee, Carlos Pena.
The obvious connection here is that all but Werth are corner infielders and/or designated hitters who hit for at least pretty good power, which will be a priority with the potential losses of Martinez and Beltre. If you think the Sox should go after Carl Crawford, have at it. But Crawford is not as important as a power bat who can hit between third and fifth.
Obviously, there are lots of moving parts here. The Red Sox hold a $12.5 million option on Ortiz, which they certainly may exercise. But if they can get someone like Dunn on a contract like the one the player has now – two years, $20 million – he’s a better option. All of the other candidates on the list are appealing only on short-term contracts, but remember: this isn’t a great market.
Obviously, balance is important here. As things stand, the Red Sox’ starting outfield next year could be entirely left-handed. Keep that in mind when deciding what the best pairings are.
3. Sign Scott Downs.
Assuming the Red Sox do not make any blockbuster trades – more on that in step five – Downs may be the best setup man available on the market. Just as importantly, he’s left-handed, with strikeout power, and good control. If the Red Sox believe that Felix Doubront is a reliever in the making, that’s great. But for now, Doubront would have far more value as the second lefty in the bullpen.
Here’s another thing: because he is left-handed, Downs would have great value against the Yankees, especially in New York. This year, in 7 1/3 innings, the Yankees hit .125 against him. Yes, Downs is 34 and signing relievers to long-term deals can be risky, but the cost for a good setup man falls in the area of $3-$4 million annually. This year, the Red Sox paid Julio Lugo $9 million. 'Nuff said.
4. Sign at least one reliever from this list: Jason Frasor, Matt Guerrier, J.J. Putz, Octavio Dotel, Jon Rauch.
Of course, this group is entirely righthanded. But if the Red Sox can secure Downs while keeping Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon, the nucleus would include two power arms at the end of the game, Downs and a righthander who specializes in righthanded batters. Again, terms and value depend on the player, but you get the idea. The Red Sox need a righty who can get righties out.
Asked about the performance of his relievers this season, Epstein recently spoke of "rebuilding" the entire bullpen. Picking up two capable, veteran arms would help do that. The Red Sox then could fill out the pen with people like Doubront and Scott Atchison, etc. But the first four guys are the obvious foundation in area that failed the Red Sox badly this year.
5. Explore trades by offering up Jonathan Papelbon, Jacoby Ellsbury, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jed Lowrie, Michael Bowden, and Dustin Richardson, among others.
Before someone blows a gasket, nobody is suggesting that anyone be given away. Matsuzaka is expendable. So are Bowden and Richardson. Lowrie has played exceptionally well for the better part of the last two months, but if the Red Sox thought he could be their everyday shortstop, they wouldn’t have picked up Felipe Lopez. Lowrie also has proven to be injury prone, so move him while his stock is high.
In the case of Papelbon, a trade is unlikely. But if someone is willing to take a chance on him - particularly if Papelbon is willing to sign long-term with a new team – move him. As for Ellsbury, keeping him and Ryan Kalish seems a bit redundant, especially with former first-rounder Reymond Fuentes in the minors. If Ellsbury can help fill a hole, the Red Sox could benefit from it.
After all, they have plenty of holes to fill.
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