Free agency began yesterday as the 2012 baseball season came to a close following the Giants’ sweep of the Tigers in the World Series. While the Red Sox season lost relevancy back in August, they will have one of the most intriguing offseasons in a long time. With John Farrell in as the new manager and hundreds of millions of dollars in payroll off the books, the Red Sox can spend the Hot Stove season preparing to fix the team, which suffered its first losing season in over a decade.
Ben Cherington needs to be smart. Payroll as it stands now will probably be around 60 million assuming David Ortiz gets the two year 25-27 million dollar deal that’s near inevitable. The Sox do not have many players who will get big raises in arbitration so payroll commitments will be fairly low.
That doesn’t mean that the Sox should go out and raise the payroll to 100 million for 2013. The free agent crop is mediocre at best. Josh Hamilton and Zach Greinke are elite players, but they both come with substantial risks both on and off the field. Neither player is particularly suited for the tough media in Boston and should seek a more positive environment elsewhere.
The Sox do need a starter or two. Cherington needs to pony up for pitchers like Dan Haren or Ryan Dempster. Dumpster diving for players like Aaron Cook and Carlos Silva didn’t work and won’t work again. They don’t need an ace, they have three potential ones in Lester, Lackey, and Bucholz. They do need a stabilizing force in case one of them falter like they have for the past few years.
They need to be just as careful about hitters. For the first time in a long time, there’s no attractive first baseman on the market. The Sox should go after guys like Mike Napoli or Adam LaRoche only if the price is right. Neither one should be viewed as long term options.
The trade market has some interesting options. The Red Sox could try to trade Jacoby Ellsbury for some pitching. However, the Sox aren’t the only team that should be mindful of the poor free agency crop. They won’t be alone in any trade scenario and Ellsbury’s stock isn’t that great a year away from free agency. The trade market could be quite dangerous.
Another important thing to consider is the fact that rebuilding takes time. Yes, the Athletics and the Orioles made the playoffs. The Giants won the World Series without a legitimately feared hitter (Sandoval and Posey have since earned that, but neither was feared the same way that Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder are). But the Red Sox can’t count on that to happen.
The Red Sox have a lot of problems. They also have a lot of talent. While this offseason could net them the talent they need to be competitive in 2013, they need to be conscious of the fact that they dodged a bullet by unloading the contracts of Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Nick Punto (especially Punto, he’s terrible). There’s no reason to jump right back into that hole again. 2013 might not be the year that the Sox mount their comeback. And that’s okay. We’ve won two championships in the past decade, the first of which was the great comeback in baseball history that ended an 86 year drought. Things could be worse.