Ah, the offseason. A time for all 30 teams (or at least 26-or-so teams) to regain optimism. A time for rumors, whispers and arguments galore. A time for rampant #rosturbation, for MLB Trade Rumors, for @BadMLB and for Nick Cafardo’s trade ideas.
We don’t all admit this, but for some of us, the offseason is just as fun as is the time between Spring Training and the World Series. That’s doubly true when you’re pulling for a team like the Red Sox, whose financial situation, strong farm system and MLB talent combine to make them one of the most exciting and flexible teams in the game right now.
With that in mind, here’s a quick guide to the 10 rumors or storylines you’re going to see repeated most often over the next several weeks. Rumors appear in the inverse order of the frequency with which you’ll see them while on The Internets.
10. The Red Sox will trade for Carlos Gonzalez
This one hasn’t picked up a ton of steam yet, but as the offseason progresses and the elite free agents start flying off the board, I expect it to be talked about more often. Many think the Rockies are likely to trade Troy Tulowitzki this offseason – possibly to the Cardinals, who would be a natural fit – but they could instead move Gonzalez, who might be a more attractive piece to many teams.
Gonzalez is under control until 2017 at a very reasonable price, so it would take a hefty package to land him. Still, Colorado is starved for pitching and Boston could dangle, say, Henry Owens, Felix Doubront, Jackie Bradley Jr. and another prospect or two in an attempt to place CarGo in the outfield.
It’s unlikely to happen, of course, but the Red Sox are going to be linked to just about every major trade candidate this offseason thanks to their minor league depth. Speaking of which …
Provided they do something to mitigate the losses of Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Napoli, the Red Sox are going to be in good shape offensively next year. Yet while their pitching staff is deep, it lacks elite upside, with apologies to the hot streaks of Jon Lester and Clay Buccholz.
Two of the best pitchers in baseball are potentially on the block this offseason in Price and Scherzer. The Rays are unlikely to want to deal Price to a division rival, and the Tigers may not want to deal Scherzer to one of the few teams poised to challenge them in 2014. That being said, as mentioned above, the Red Sox are one of the few
organizations with the ability to pull these moves off. Short of Xander Bogaerts, they can trade everything.
8. The Red Sox will keep/trade Will Middlebrooks
Is there anyone on the Red Sox roster whose future with the team seems to be more in doubt than Middlebrooks? One year after being the lone bright spot on an abysmal team, we’ve seen WMB become almost an afterthought in the team’s long-term plans thanks to a mixture of injury and ineffectiveness. People who say he has character issues are off base, but the strikeout rate and inability to make adjustments are worrisome, as was his defensive play down the stretch.
The Sox are in an odd place with Middlebrooks right now, as some teams are likely to value him as a cost-controlled every day starter while others will see him as an up-and-down guy with power. I think and hope he’ll get one more shot to hold down the third base job for Boston, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him moved as part of a bigger deal this offseason.
7. The Red Sox will sign Carlos Beltran
Conventional wisdom, as we’ll discuss later in this piece, has the Red Sox losing Jacoby Ellsbury to another team this season, with Jackie Bradley Jr. taking over for him in center field. Yet if the Sox lose both Ellsbury and Mike Napoli, they’ll be pressed to replace some of that offense through a significant signing or a trade. In such a scenario, the perennially great Beltran makes a ton of sense.
Beltran’s best defensive days are behind him, but he could certainly man left field with Bradley in center and Victorino in right against righties, and could play right field with Victorino in center and Gomes in left against lefties. Nava could then play first base with the occasional Mike Carp cameo as well.
It’s just one scenario in which Boston pursuing Beltran makes sense. Get ready to hear his name a lot this offseason.
6. The Red Sox will sign Tim Hudson
If you asked me which player the Sox would be linked to most often in the early days of free agency, I wouldn’t have gone with Hudson. Yet here we are, with a team with six viable starting candidates apparently hot for a 38-year-old starter coming off of a significant injury.
That’s painting Hudson in the worst light possible, of course, Despite his age, Hudson has been worth at least two wins every season in which he’s stayed healthy wince 2005, and has retained his ability to generate ground balls at a high rate even late into his career. He’d be a solid fit as the No. 4 starter on the 2014 Red Sox, and there’s some noise that he wants to go to a competitive team in an attempt to win his first ring.
What a Hudson signing would really do, though, is give Boston the flexibility to be major players in the trade market for starting pitching. More on that in a moment …
5. The Red Sox will trade for Giancarlo Stanton
This will be one of the most fun rumors to follow this offseason, however unlikely it is to come to fruiting. For the uninitiated, Stanton is one of the better young players in the game and perhaps the game’s most powerful hitter. He plays for baseball’s most forlorn organization, the Marlins. The package needed to reel in Stanton would be enormous, but a financially sound team like the Red Sox could lock him up forever and assure themselves of owning a premier source of power for a long, long time.
Let’s get one thing straight: the Red Sox are not trading Xander Bogaerts for anyone not named Mike Trout. Refusing to include him very well could kill any deal for Stanton, and if that’s the case, so be it.
But regardless of what they say now, Miami might look good and hard at an offer of, say, Owens, Bradley and Cecchini and Middlebrooks for Stanton. Some Red Sox fans would be loathe to give up that much talent, and there are good arguments to be made against doing so, but Stanton is special.
The odds of this happening are slim. But along with the Rangers, Cardinals and maybe the Pirates, the Red Sox are on of the few teams who could realistically pull off a trade for Stanton.
4. The Red Sox won’t resign Jacoby Ellsbury
This seems like a forgone conclusion to many, and the odds of Ellsbury returning to Boston are indeed poor. Someone – most likely Seattle – is going to pay Ellsbury superstar money, and there’s considerable evidence that while Ellsbury is very good, he’s not a superstar.
Ellsbury is represented by Scott Boras, and resigning him would seem to conflict with Ben Cherington’s philosophy of avoiding the types of major deals that got the Red Sox in trouble in 2011 and 2012. Boston also has a suitable replacement in Jackie Bradley Jr.,
who can probably provide 60-70% of Ellsbury’s value at a 5% of the cost. If the market for Ellsbury fails to materialize, expect Boston to jump back into the fray, but that’s unlikely.
You will be reminded that Ellsbury will be departing at least once a day until he ultimately signs elsewhere, so prepare yourself accordingly.
3. The Red Sox will trade a starter
This speaks to Rumor No. 6 on the list and Hudson, and it makes some sense. We’re
looking at a market right now in which Ricky Nolasco is asking for $80 million and Ervin Santana asking for $100 million. While those players are unlikely to reach such lofty totals, they’ll probably be paid more than we think they should be paid. That’s in part due
to salary inflation we can expect from the new TV deal revenues, and partially because teams are locking up good players before they get to free agency like never before.
Consider, too, that players like Price and Scherzer, who we covered above, are going to require huge returns to acquire. Trading for starting pitching isn’t always much cheaper than signing starting pitching, especially when players are only under contract for one more year, a la Scherzer.
This puts the Red Sox in a remarkably good position this offseason. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz aren’t going anywhere, but John Lackey, Jake Peavy, Felix Doubront and Ryan Dempster can probably all be had for the right price. While trading Dempster would do the least damage to the 2014 team, it would also bring the least return. But trading a young, cost-controlled started like Doubront could potentially bring a significant piece
back Boston’s way, and the Red Sox are well equipped to replace Doubront with or without the likes of Hudson or another free agent starter.
Boston has Brandon Workman and Allen Webster likely ready to step into an MLB rotation at the start of 2014, and has Anthony Ranaudo and potentially Matt Barnes and Henry Ownes not terribly far behind. At some point, the Red Sox will need to act on all that
pitching depth, and this offseason could be the perfect time.
2. The Red Sox will resign Mike Napoli
A few weeks ago, it appeared as though this was the most likely reunion to occur between Boston and its four major free agents. Napoli had a very solid year in Boston, provides rare right-handed pop and became a huge fan favorite, with his massive power, shirtless escapades and clubhouse celebrations. He’s a better defensive first baseman than anyone thought, and he’s going to land a multiyear deal somewhere.
The Red Sox made him such an offer, but widespread reports have Napoli deciding to check out the free agent market first, rather than simply re-upping with the Red Sox. Is this just a negotiating ploy to get Boston to cough up more years or money? Perhaps: Napoli has previously expressed a desire to remain with the Red Sox.
But despite his popularity, Napoli isn’t a player the Red Sox should be signing for more than three years. If someone really fell in love with him this postseason and wants to make him a cornerstone of their franchise, expect Boston to rightfully move on to Plan B.
That being said, I still expect Napoli to be our starting first baseman next April.
1. The Red Sox will sign Brian McCann
Want to start a fight with fellow Red Sox fans this offseason? Bring up McCann. If you like him, you seem to think he’s the second coming of Carlton Fisk. If you don’t like him, you seem to think that preferring him to Jarrod Saltalamacchia is THE WORST IDEA EVAR.
That he’s become such a divisive player among Red Sox fans is somewhat odd. McCann is one of the best backstops in baseball. He produced 2.7 fWAR in only 402 PA in 2013, hitting .256/.336/.461 and playing above average defense. He’ll be 30 when next season begins, and is probably going to command a four- or five-year deal, with a six-year deal not entirely out of the realm of possibility.
Saltalamacchia produced 3.6 fWAR last season and would undoubtedly be cheaper than McCann, both in term s of years and AAV. That’s the basic argument for keeping Salty, which of course entirely ignores the fact that 2013 was far and away the best year of Salty’s career and is probably a fluke (.372 BABIP).
If you want to argue that Salty is a wiser investment than McCann because he’ll cost less, fine. If you want to argue that Salty “isn’t that much worse” than McCann, I think you’re silly. I also don’t understand the argument that McCann will suddenly lose the ability to catch in three years, but I digress …
The Red Sox have been linked to McCann pretty heavily so far this offseason, and some have suggested that Boston didn’t offer Salty a QO because it’s McCann they are truly after. I think it’s a bit early to make that leap, but Boston is probably one of the four or five most likely landing spots for McCann, and it’s not unreasonable to think they’re more likely to walk away with him this winter than they are with Ellsbury.
If nothing else, it will make for great debate.