I’ve been surprised by how little negative reaction there has been in Boston to Jacoby Ellsbury leaving the Red Sox and signing with the Yankees. Most of this seems to stem from feelings that Ellsbury was overpriced, and the Red Sox were wise to let him go.
While the Yankees may have overpaid in the long run, in the short term this deal makes the Red Sox weaker and a team they face almost 20 times a season stronger. Add this to losing Jarrod Saltalamacchia and replacing him with A.J. Pierzynski, and the Red Sox look to be weaker at two key positions in 2014.
Ellsbury and Salty had a combined WAR of 9.5 per Fangraphs in 2013. Even the kindest projections for Jackie Bradley Jr. and Pierzynski wouldn’t put them anywhere near that number. The Sox certainly saved money by letting Ellsbury and Salty go, but that doesn’t necessarily improve the product on the field.
So what options do they have to upgrade other positions in 2014?
Alex Speier posted in an article recently that the Red Sox have a budget of around $32 million this offseason. Close to $13 million of that has gone to sign Pierzynski and Edward Mujica. That leaves roughly $19 million to pursue available free agents.
One obvious move is bringing back Mike Napoli at first base. Napoli has confirmed he would like to play again in Boston. His original deal was for three years at $13 million per year, so that seems a likely amount to sign him for.
Signing Napoli would leave the Sox with about $6 million. That would seem to prevent them from entering the market for any of the high end free agent outfielders.
Of course, they could free up additional money by trading John Lackey, Jake Peavy or Ryan Dempster. All three are being paid like top of the line starters, when they are more mid to back of the rotation guys. Any of the three could leave this offseason to help ease budget concerns.
Rumors have the Sox exploring trading for Matt Kemp. This might look strange on the surface, as Kemp has a monster contract that pays him over $20 million a year through 2019. However, he’s younger than Ellsbury (29 in 2014) and it’s rumored that the Dodgers are willing to eat some of the money on the deal.
If the Red Sox included one of the starters mentioned above, this might balance out the dollars a bit. Trading for Kemp would be a risky move with his injury history, but his MVP caliber upside dwarfs what other players on the market could offer.
The Sox could also explore trading for Chase Headley. 2014 is his last season before free agency, so the Padres might listen if Boston offered Will Middlebrooks. Just those two players straight up doesn’t fit, as Middlebrooks has many years of team control left, and all the money would be coming to the Red Sox side. Still, the framework is there for a deal that would make sense for both teams.
The Red Sox would get a bit more certainty on the left side of the infield. With Middlebrooks and Xander Bogaerts as the current starters, there’s a wide range of possible performance outcomes. Even in a down season last year, Headley was a 3.4 WAR player, and has upside much higher than that.
The Padres would get a cost controlled starter for their future. The Red Sox would gain a steady performer at third base. They could then evaluate if they wanted to re-sign Headley after the season, or give Garin Cecchini a shot at third.
It’s far too early to panic or worry about the state of the 2014 Red Sox. There are still several months left (very LONG months) before Spring Training begins. Still, significant work remains to get the 2014 version of the club ready for another season of contention.