It seems inevitable to me that Carlos Beltran plays for the Red Sox someday. Let's just hope it occurs before his first knee replacement surgery.
The Red Sox have been linked to the Cardinals star in the recent past -- trading for him was Plan B if they couldn't sign Carl Crawford after the 2010 season, and they nearly signed him before he went to St. Louis two seasons ago.
Now comes the unsurprising news that they've already contacted the 37-year-old free agent this offseason.
I ask: Would you be on board with signing Beltran to play right field, with Shane Victorino moving to center, presuming Jacoby Ellsbury moves on? I'm wary of his defense and durability at this point, but I'll answer it with this affirmative: I'd be fine with the Red Sox signing someone who is essentially David Ortiz's equal in destroying baseballs and pitchers' psyches in October.
To put it another way: I don't know about you, but I'm convinced he was going to do some damage in Game 4 had Kolten Wong not been picked off for the final out.
Ultimately, I'm not sure if this time around is when Beltran actually ends up in Boston. But as we wait for the hot stove to start smoking, here are six predictions I do believe will come true this offseason.
1. The Red Sox will seriously pursue Giancarlo Stanton: Covered the bases on this yesterday, so no need for a lengthy rehash of his merits here. Just let me say this: The suggestion that the Red Sox won't and shouldn't pursue a player of Stanton's promise and accomplishment because Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez (to a much lesser extent) faltered here is foolish. Stanton is 24 years old, has no character concerns, and they will do their due diligence on how he might fit in a market like Boston. But the suggestion, which found its way past the half-formed idea filters into my inbox multiple times yesterday, that the Red Sox should no longer pursue star-caliber players because some have faltered here recently boggles my mind. Manny Ramirez worked out OK. So did Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, and at least in the 2007 championship season, Josh Beckett. And it's not as if the 2013 Red Sox, for all of their everyman appeal, were devoid of stars this year. They just happened to be familiar ones who had bounce-back seasons -- David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, and Jon Lester. I wouldn't bet that Stanton ends up here -- other teams, such as the Rangers or Dodgers, may be willing to pay a steeper price, and the Marlins are fully capable of being irrational in their demands. But if he does, you'll be lucky to become familiar with him. This is not Carl Crawford. This, potentially, is Manny with his head screwed on straight.
2. Stephen Drew re-signs on a multi-year deal: John Farrell wants him back. Dustin Pedroia wants him back. And the Red Sox pitchers surely want him back. It looks like he'll turn down the $14.1 million qualifying offer, and he will have suitors in the free agent market. (The Cardinals would be a perfect fit.) But he did enjoy it here, and the bet here is that he sticks around on a three-year, $40-ish million deal. Oh, and stop sweating the bat: You know how many shortstops had a higher OPS than his .777 in 500 or more plate appearances in 2013? Three. Troy Tulowitzki, Jed Lowrie, and Ian Desmond.
3. If Will Middlebrooks isn't part of a package for Stanton, he'll be traded for pitching: There are a couple of things to really like about Middlebrooks. His power, a scarcer commodity these days, is legit, with 32 homers in 660 career plate appearances. And he seems to have a genuine appreciation for playing in Boston, which is always nice to see. But he also has significant flaws -- defense in general, sliders away -- that may not be curable. He's 14 months older than Giancarlo Stanton, and four years older than Xander Bogaerts, who has already made pitch-recognition adjustments that continue to elude Middlebrooks. If Drew sticks around, Bogaerts is going to do the Manny Machado thing at third base, and that leaves Middlebrooks in professional limbo, particularly with Garin Cecchini ascending through the Red Sox system and up the prospect lists. If he doesn't go in a package for Stanton, he'll bring a proven reliever or two.
4. Jake Peavy is traded back to the National League: With his hilarious "C'mon, Peave!" rage on the mound, he was a blast to watch -- at least when the stakes weren't all that high. But given the issues he had in his postseason starts against the Tigers and Cardinals, I don't think we would have been particularly comfortable watching him take the mound for Game 7 had the Cardinals been able to force one. He had a decent season overall -- 12-5, 4.17 ERA between the Red Sox and White Sox -- and that will have some appeal to a National League team that remembers him from his Padres heyday, before he lost about 3.5 miles per hour off his fastball. The Red Sox need to find room in their rotation for Felix Doubront and perhaps one of the promising arms, and Peavy, with a $14.5 million salary next season and a player option in '15, is a decent combination of effectiveness and affordability.
5. Ryan Lavarnway is traded for organizational depth: Yes, this is my cop out on how the catching situation will shake out. I'd still like to see Jarrod Saltalamacchia return -- as exposed as he was in the World Series, he did have his moments in the postseason (Game 1 against the Rays, Game 1 against the Tigers), and over the long haul of the regular season, a durable catcher with an .804 OPS, 54 extra-base hits, and the growing respect of the pitchers is very valuable. I just can't gauge where he ranks among Brian McCann and Carlos Ruiz in terms of priority. I'll tell you who should sign him, then demand he hit from the left side exclusively: The Yankees. As for Lavarnway, he's not going to be the platoon partner with David Ross. He's 26 now, has a .585 OPS in 291 major league plate appearances, and catches like he's auditioning to be a career designated hitter. A fresh start would serve him well before he's officially passed by Dan Butler, Christian Vazquez and, eventually, Blake Swihart.
6. Mike Napoli re-signs for two years and $29 million: Right player, right time, right city, right team. Maybe the average annual value seems a bit high, but it's not completely out of line for what he gave the Red Sox in 2013 on a one-year deal: a true power threat to protect David Ortiz, someone who can hit top-shelf pitching when he's locked in, much better than expected first base defense, and genuine leadership. Actually, at that rate, he may well be a bargain -- FanGraphs had him at a 3.9 WAR player this year, putting his value at $19.5 million.
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.