Just as quickly as the season began, the season has ended. For the Red Sox, it ended with a World Series title, but while Boston celebrates being at the apex of their sport, a careful eye must be placed on their approach to the 2014 offseason. This year, the Red Sox are set to let Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Napoli, Stephen Drew, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia test the free agent waters. Accordingly, Boston will need to address the holes left by those departing through internal and external means. Resign Mike Napoli: Even before the Red Sox and Mike Napoli agreed to a deal last offseason, baseball experts predicted that the two would be a perfect marriage. Turns out they were right. After Napoli’s original 3 year, $39MM deal was voided thanks to a degenerative hip condition found by the Sox medical staff, the two sides settled on a 1 year, $5MM contract. Napoli entered the 2013 season needing to prove his health through his performance if he wanted to collect a large deal on the open market in the following offseason. Not only did the 32 year old first baseman prove his health, he also meshed well with a clubhouse that lead a bearded rally to the acme of baseball. During the regular season, Napoli played in 139 games and hit .259/.360/.482, clubbing 23 home runs in that span. In addition to Napoli’s productive season at the dish, the Red Sox first baseman tallied a career high 38 doubles, 92 RBI’s, and 73 walks. While Napoli was a frequent strike out candidate, whiffing 187 times, his ability to consistently put up a competitive at-bat was made evident by seeing 4.59 pitches per plate appearance. 2013 also marked the first time Napoli served as a primary first baseman which he responded to extremely effectively and was even under consideration for the American League gold glove award. Napoli is set to receive a qualifying offer from the Red Sox that he will almost certainly reject, but that shouldn’t rule out a return to Boston for the second time free agent. Perhaps the Red Sox and Napoli’s camp will revisit the 3 year, $39 million deal that Napoli never officially inked last season. After a productive and generally healthy 2013 season such a deal would seem to satisfy both sides. Fill the void left by Ellsbury: For starters, nothing outside of actually bringing Jacoby Ellsbury back will totally fill the hole that he leaves the Red Sox. Boston’s drafted and developed center fielder turned superstar brought multiple tools to the table night and and night out, which explains why the latest projections have Ellsbury signing a 7 year, $150 million deal. But the Red Sox don’t seem like they’re willing to shell out a deal of that magnitude, even if it is their own product. Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington seems to want to stay away from lucrative, long term deals that got his predecessor, Theo Epstein, into trouble. Therefore, the Red Sox will need to explore all options internally and externally in hopes to fill the void that Ellsbury leaves. Some believe that the Red Sox will make a play to bring the 30 year old center fielder back to Boston. Proponents of this thinking point to the large sum of money that the Red Sox will have to play with this offseason and pair it with the fact that Ellsbury, when healthy, has been extremely productive in all facets of the game. Throughout his 6 year career, Ellsbury has stolen 50+ bases in 3 of the 6 seasons, swiping a career high 70 bases in 2009. Two seasons later, Ellsbury boasted a aspect of his game that was not seen before-- power. The center fielder drove out 32 home runs and drove in over 100 RBI’s during the 2011 season and finished second in MVP voting to Justin Verlander. While Ellsbury has not been able to replicate the power he showed in 2011, his speed and ability to get on base never wavered. This past season, Ellsbury had a very well rounded campaign, hitting .298/.355/.426 while stealing 52 bags. To some a 5+ year commitment seems risky given Ellsbury’s injury history. However, the two most significant injuries he sustained came in 2010 and 2012 and were both due to collisions with other players. Thus calling Ellsbury an injury threat, isn’t exactly accurate. Most of those uncomfortable with allocating the years and money necessary to retain Ellsbury look to the highly touted Red Sox prospect Jackie Bradley Jr. as a successor to Ellsbury. Bradley broke camp with the Red Sox this past season after an impressive spring training. Bradley stuck around for the majority of April but struggled to find any success at the plate, collecting just 3 hits in his first 31 at bats. His early season struggles prompted the Red Sox to demote him back to AAA towards the end of April. Bradley would go on to make 4 more trips to the majors during 2013 between Pawtucket and Boston. Bradley’s early exposure to MLB pitching could serve as a good thing to the 23 year old center fielder. Throughout his minor league career, Bradley has been a solid hitter, boasting a career batting average just under .300 and an OBP of over .400. While Bradley isn’t quite as fast as Ellsbury, he possesses above average speed. But perhaps the most “major league ready” asset that Bradley touts is his defense. The former 40th overall draft pick’s glove work is highly regarded in baseball circles and and translated during his early 2013 tenure with the Sox. Of course, there is alway the free agent and trade markets that the Red Sox can explore. Shane Victorino’s flexibility to play both right field and center field opens plenty of options for Boston. However, the free agent market isn't the most appealing option. The players worth negotiating with-- Shin-Soo Choo, Carlos Beltran, ect-- are estimated to be in high demand and will most likely price the Red Sox out of their market. Still, there are some intriguing options that wouldn’t totally “replace” Ellsbury, but could fit the Red Sox needs. David Murphy, Rajai Davis, and Chris Young are just a few names that make some sense. It’s also important to remember that Boston still has Daniel Nava and Mike Carp under contract, both of whom can play corner outfield spot, with Shane Victorino sliding over to center.
Who’s behind the dish?: The Red Sox are in an interesting spot at the catchers position. Last years primary backstop Jarrod Saltalamacchia is set to highlight this seasons free agent market and represent the youngest available player at his respective position. While he doesn’t offer the greatest defensive skill set, Salty’s offensive prowess was on display for the second year in a row. Since becoming the Red Sox primary catcher in 2011, the 28 year old has hit 55 home runs and collected exactly 180 RBI. With so many teams looking for a catcher, Salty figures to be a hot commodity during the offseason. But where does that leave the Red Sox? Boston still has David Ross under contract, who is an excellent defensive catcher but might not be able to handle a primary catchers workload. Earlier this season, Ross sustained 2 concussions that sidelined him for over 2 months. Pair that with the fact that Ross on the wrong side of 35 and it becomes apparent that the Red Sox should invest in another catcher. As with Ellsbury, the possibility to bring back Saltalamacchia is an option too. While the Red Sox didn’t extend a qualifying offer to Salty, some believe that Boston would rather retain him for a long term deal, with a less expensive AAV than 1 year, $14 million pact that a qualifying offer promises. Perhaps a 3 or 4 year deal, north of $25 million would keep Saltalamacchia behind the plate in Boston. However such a deal is expected to also be offered by teams such as the Chicago White Sox, Philadelphia Phillies, and New York Yankees. If the Red Sox are moving on from Saltalamacchia, they will most certainly have to be active in the catchers market. Early speculation links Boston and free agent catcher, Brian McCann as a match. The former Atlanta Braves backstop missed a chunk of time recovering from shoulder surgery this past season however he still managed to hit 20 home runs and drive in 57 runs over 102 games. The argument for McCann grows even stronger when one considers that he can succeed David Ortiz as Boston’s DH in the later years of his contract and allow one of Boston’s young catching prospects like Christian Vazquez or Blake Swihart develop and step in. But McCann won’t come without a fight from other clubs. The Rangers have long coveted McCann and the Atlanta Braves also would like to retain their drafted and developed product.
With the season having ended a week ago, the Red Sox front office will need to get right back to work in preparation to defend their World Series title. While some moves like re-signing Napoli seem like no brainers; others like filling the voids left by Ellsbury and Saltalamacchia come with more moving parts. This brief guideline for the offseason seems like 3 areas that the Red Sox will need to address the most drastically.