The Boston Red Sox lost 91 games last season after an unexpected gift of a World Series in 2013. This offseason will absolutely test the fortitude of Red Sox Owner John Henry, who all but proclaimed the death of long-term, big money contracts to “out of house” guys last offseason. This team has always had the capability of being a high-payroll organization, but will the scars left by Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez leave a permanent hesitancy to reach into the owner’s wallet? It doesn’t appear that way, as the Sox took the two best hitters off the market on Monday, threatening for more in the weeks and months to come.
Pablo Sandoval – Third Base – 5 years, $100 million
The long drawn out courting process of the Panda to Boston is finally over, as Sandoval agreed to a five-year deal that will make him a Sox until he is 33. According to several reports, Sandoval took the Sox’ offer over an identical one from San Francisco due to his discontent with the World Series winning franchise. Sandoval’s career slashline – .294/.346/.811 – speaks to the reasoning behind the Sox’ interest, especially given the massive hole at third base. Yet where Sandoval has set himself above the other hitters in the current market and increased his value is his postseason performance. The Panda has a .324 career average in the postseason – the highest ever among hitters with 150+ at bats.
This move makes a lot of sense for a Sox team in desperate need of third base production. With an enigmatic, young shortstop with potential alongside him in Xander Bogaerts, the defensively solid Sandoval will help shore up that side of the infield. Sandoval is a professional hitter and will add a solid approach to a team that scored jut 634 runs last season – its lowest total since the 1994 season. I don’t buy into the notion that the hefty Sandoval will decline heavily during his contract; he is just 28, and the Sox have him in his prime years. I also find it difficult to believe this move was made with an eye toward moving Sandoval to first base when Mike Napoli’s contract expires next season. They are paying him $20 million per year to roam the hot corner on a nightly basis for five years. While any free agent will be overpaid (as is the nature of free agency) the 5/100 isn’t egregious for the Sox front office’s “guy.” What’s truly puzzling about this move was the corresponding one…
Hanley Ramirez – Shortstop, Left Field? – 4 years, $88 million (vesting option for a fifth year)
It’s just fitting to have a “Ramirez” playing in front of the Green Monster again. The former top prospect in the Red Sox organization apparently reached out to GM Ben Cherington about his interest in playing in Boston, not the other way around. Starting with the good: HanRam flat out rakes when he is on the field. He has a career slashline of .303/.393/.852 away from home, which was too tantalizing for Cherington to turn down. A player of his caliber usually finds a deal longer than four years in free agency, but the 30-year-old brings loads of baggage to Fenway. Ramirez has missed 185 games in the past four seasons due to injury and has hardly been a solid defensive player. It’s always a bad sign when your team makes no effort whatsoever to resign you, and Hanley hasn’t exactly been the most popular guy in the Dodger clubhouse.
While the risk inarguably exists, I find it encouraging that he reached out to the Sox front office, with a desire to join the organization. With a stable clubhouse around him, I’m far less worried about Hanley’s off-field antics as I am with his injury history. At 30, Ramirez could make this deal look really bad if he cannot find the field. Not to mention the Sox aren’t even sure where he’ll play next year. This is the type of high-risk, high-reward move the Sox have tried to avoid since, *gulp*, Carl Crawford. If healthy, though, this lineup has an argument as the best in the American League.
1) Trade Cespedes for pitching and play Hanley in Left Field
This seems like the most logical scenario given the surplus of outfielders and Cespedes’ desire for a contract extension. Cherington acknowledged that Cespedes would be moving positions (if he remains on the team), and the writing is on the wall for a trade. The Red Sox need pitching. A rotation of Buchholz/Kelly and three young guys will kill this team’s playoff hopes despite the stacked lineup.
I find it impossible the Reds would be willing to deal Johnny Cueto for Cespedes + prospect, but that should be the first call Cherington makes. A year of Cueto as a Sox for a year of Cespedes and a purgatory-bound pitching prospect (i.e. Matt Barnes, Anthony Ranaudo, Allen Webster, etc.) would be a steal for the Sox. Other options include: Jeff Samardzjia, Cole Hamels (a larger prospect return would be necessary – NO THANKS), Hisashi Iwakuma, Mat Latos, etc.
2) Trade Xander Bogaerts for Chris Sale and play Hanley as shortstop
Slowwwwww down, internet. Chris Sale would be a fantastic addition to the Sox, carrying a great contract and an even better left arm. First and foremost, however, why would the White Sox have any desire to trade this young star? He is one of the best pitchers in baseball, under team control for several more years. Meanwhile, Xander Bogaerts should not be traded under any circumstances (unless for names Kershaw, Felix Hernandez or Mike Trout). Thrust onto the scene as a starter in the World Series, Bogaerts heightened already lofty expectations with his strong performance to lift the Sox in 2013. Though he fully experienced the lulls of the tumultuous season last year, he finished the season strong with a .313 batting average in September. Xander is going to be a star in this league, and signing a 30-year-old, defensively challenged Hanley Ramirez should not under any circumstances compel them to trade Bogaerts. Stop.
3) SIGN JON LESTER, PRETTY PLEASE
So, the lineup might be ready for spring training, but the rotation – and bullpen, to an extent – is far from it. This may be completely unrelated to the signings and other scenarios, but Jon Lester absolutely must be a Red Sox next season in order to even entertain the notion that this offseason was a remote success. Lester himself told reporters that he won’t necessarily be searching for the highest contract this offseason, and 6 years, $140 million should do the trick. No, James Shields won’t cut it, nor will Max Scherzer, and they most certainly cannot settle for paying Cole Hamels’ contract AND the prospect return. It must be Jon Lester, or the $22 million/year John Henry will be doling out to Hanley will look foolish. The only way to rectify the abhorrent handling of the contract negotiations in the spring would be to bring him back to be our ace. Having won two Series’ as the go-to guy in Boston, Lester holds the key to their hopes at another one any time soon. Outbid the Giants, outbid the Cardinals, and make sure you outbid the Cubs. Pay this man what he wants, John Henry.