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Tuesday, 17 December 2013 02:11

What's Done and What Remains for the Boston Red Sox

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With Boston’s shopping list winding down this offseason, Ben Cherington and the Red Sox front office have been steadfast in their cost effective approach towards free agency and the trade market. While it may come across as “penny-pinching”, the Red Sox systematic approach to team building can be regarded as the most inventive method since the advent of money ball. But instead of looking for cheap diamonds in the rough, Boston has set a standard of giving high dollars, in return for short commitment contracts. Last year served as the maiden voyage for this philosophy. Six free agents in total--Mike Napoli, Ryan Dempster, Johnny Gomes, Shane Victorino, Koji Uehara, and David Ross-- were signed to deals that failed to exceed three years. In return for their willingness to sign a short term pacts, each player (except Mike Napoli due to a failed physical) received well above their market value. It turned out to be the ultimate mutualistic relationship for the two parties. The player gets more money than the market calls for, and the team gets to grow prospects while remaining competitive and unattached to veteran players. What looked good on paper last offseason, turned out to work like a charm on the field as well. As you know, Boston went on to not only remain competitive in 2013, but also finish first in the American League East, and polished it all off with a World Series championship. While a logical approach at the plate, superb pitching performances, and outstanding defense are what were truly responsible for a 2013 title, it can all be circled back to the front office’s offseason approach. This winter Boston hasn’t strayed from the course of action that brought them a World Series. The Red Sox have wisely treated the winter as a tune-up rather than an overhaul. While last season Boston fully cultivated a solid core of veterans and young players, home grown talent and trade acquisitions, and high pay, low commitment free agents, this year Ben Cherington has set his sites on parts to compliment what they already have. Burke Badenhop and Edward Mujica were two products of this thinking. Badenhop was acquired from Milwaukee in exchange for a minor league reliever. Mujica was signed in free agency to a very reasonable 2 year, $9.5 million dollar contract. But aside from being cost effective, both relievers have also shined over the past few seasons. Mujica holds a 2.91 ERA over the past two years and posted a 9.2 K/BB last year. Similarly, Badenhop also holds a solid 3.25 ERA over the past two seasons, while striking out 42 and walking 12 in consecutive years. The Red Sox even remained in their cost-effective mindset when dealing with the fan favorite, Mike Napoli. While assisted by the fact that Napoli wanted to return to Boston, inking the slugger for 2 years, $32 million dollars is a great value for what Boston’s overall plan is. Unlike last season, 2014 will start to show the fruits of the Red Sox minor league system on an every day basis. The highly touted shortstop, Xander Bogaerts, and the slightly less hyped, Jackie Bradley Jr., are both slated to become mainstays in the Red Sox line up. Perhaps unnecessarily rushed to the majors, Bradley showed early signs of immaturity at the plate in 2013. In 107 plate appearances, the 23 year old batted just .189/.280/.337. However his first 100 major league plate appearances hardly serve as an indicator of why Boston likes him so much. In three career minor league seasons, Bradley has an OBP of over .400 and an average that’s just below .300. Defensively the former first round draft pick was named the best outfielder in Boston’s system by Baseball America. While not as fast as his predecessor, Jacoby Ellsbury, Bradley Jr. does possess solid base running skills. Thus, Bradley fits Boston’s high on base philosophy, and can potentially mirror what Jacoby Ellsbury and Shane Victorino accomplished together in the outfield last season. Out of the two rookies that Boston is inserting into their line up, Xander Bogaerts seems to be thought of as the Red Sox ace in the hole. And for good reason, the 21 year old seemed unfazed during his first 50 MLB plate appearances, and seemed to only get more comfortable when batting in the postseason. Bogaerts breezed through the minors  after being drafted out of Aruba and quickly displayed a knack for getting on base as well as driving in runs. In four minor league seasons Bogaerts holds a .296/.373/.489 slash. While considered an average glove in the field, Bogaerts is a shortstop by trade but also began to develop as a third baseman as well. Digesting all the acquisitions and promotions that this offseason has brought about, it could be safe to assume that Boston is close to completing their 2014 product. But that’s not to say that the front office isn’t still exploring different options. One avenue that would make sense exploring would be the center field market. While Jackie Bradley Jr. does warrant a lot of promise and has the minor league record to back it up, handing a rookie a full time work load could fully expose a young players growing pains. This is why it would make sense for the Red Sox to explore possible platoon and/or insurance options in centerfield. Before they ultimately found new clubs, it would have made perfect sense for Ben Cherington to sign a free agent like Chris Young or Rajai Davis. As right handed batters, Young and Davis both perform extremely well against left handed pitching and would have complimented the left handed hitting, Bradley Jr., nicely. But now that Davis has signed with Detroit and Young with New York, the center field free agent market seems to be more recreation projects than viable options worthy of a 25 man roster spot. It doesn’t seem like the Red Sox have interest in trying to rebuild the once promising careers of Grady Sizemore or Franklin Gutierrez. Instead, Boston could look to the trade market for a center fielder. One name that could intrigue Boston is Chicago White Sox outfielder, Alejandro De Aza. While De Aza has played all over the outfield over his 6 year career, the bulk of his playing time has come in centerfield. Defensively, De Aza does not possess the glove that Bradley Jr. does but still has an average ceiling. Unlike Young and Davis, De Aza is a left handed hitter but could still provide the same platoon results. While it would be an unorthodox platoon, De Aza has a .276/.342/.408 career slash in 364 plate appearances against left handed pitching, which suggest he could be valuable against a tough left hander. In acquiring De Aza, Boston would be adding an outfielder that has played in over 230 games in back to back season, therefore the Red Sox would need to decide if they’re willing to do an almost equal split with Bradley Jr. While center field seems like an position that could be improved upon, the area that Cherington has been the most vocal about strengthening is the left side of the infield. As was highlighted earlier, Boston is set to use Xander Bogaerts in a full time role this season. However, his position has yet to be defined. Most believe that Bogaerts would best be used as a shortstop, but his ability to quickly adapt as a third baseman opened up doors for the Red Sox. One of which involves the return of Stephen Drew. Drew signed a one year deal with the Sox last year and appeared in 124 games during the regular season. At the plate Drew hit .253/.333/.443 and tied his career high in RBI’s, collecting 67. Although his performance at the plate has been understated by many, his value in the field was widely accepted. Drew played a gold glove caliber shortstop night in and night out, and was ultimately why he kept his starting position during the playoffs. When the offseason first began Drew was though to have a handful of suitors like the St. Louis Cardinals and the New York Mets. Subsequently, Drew declined the qualifying offer that Boston extended to him. However, Drew’s market quickly shrunk, as the Cardinals and Mets both spent their money on other options. Now Drew remains unsigned, with virtually no market. Perhaps the main reason that the 30 year old remains a free agent is because no team has been willing to part with the first round draft pick that is attached to him. But at any rate if Boston were to re-sign Drew it would have to be on their own terms. Right now Boston’s left side of the infield features Will Middlebrooks at third base and Xander Bogaerts at shortstop. Therefore, if Boston were to bring Drew back, they would shift Bogaerts to third, play Drew full time at short, and Middlebrooks would be the odd man out. This leads some to believe that Boston could use the Mark Trumbo deal as a stencil from which to trade the 24 year old Middlebrooks. Although unlikely, another possibility could be that Boston uses Middlebrooks last remaining player option and stashes him in the minors. While the offseason appears to be just about finished for the Red Sox, there’s still markets for Ben Cherington to evaluate. So far they have done a terrific job of not fixing what isn’t broken. Instead of going out and spending the reserves they have on lucrative deals, the Sox front office added pieces to their already strong core of players. While it would make sense to add insurance in places of vulnerability, as its currently constituted the Red Sox seem set to field a competitive product for their defense of the World Series title.