I haven't posted since Game 162. I crawled under a rock as Evan Longoria took a blow torch and set Red Sox Nation ablaze. Fumed as ownership sacrificed Tito Francona. Watched in awe as anonymous sources poured gasoline on the fire, Theo fleeing into the distance. But I'm going to ignore the lingering drama and try to look toward 2012.
Red Sox ownership has yet to make the official announcement, but it seems that Ben Cherington has been tabbed to replace Theo Epstein as general manager. No need to elaborate on Cherington's background and qualifications--Alex Speier did a very thorough job. It's tough to envy the Fenway Park train wreck that Cherington's been handed, but the team is in capable hands, and this is the first positive Red Sox news to break since August.
From a strictly business side--let's table the clubhouse drama discussion--how can Cherington efficiently rebuild the roster (manager excluded) to contend in 2012? In no particular order:
1. Out with the old guard David Ortiz, Jason Varitek, Tim Wakefield and Kevin Youkilis (a September call-up) are the last remaining pieces from the 2004 World Series squad. It's time for Tek and Wake to go, but Cherington has a much tougher situation surrounding Ortiz.
David is looking for a multi-year contract, with an annual price tag equal to or exceeding his $12.5 million salary in 2011. He's a local hero and had a fantastic season, but the front office should dig in for this battle. The list of AL-only suitors for Ortiz at his asking price is almost nonexistent. Regardless of recent rumors, the Yankees do not have a free DH slot.
Let Ortiz test the market. Best case scenario: He returns, either taking a pay cut over two years or accepting a one-year offer. Worst case: The Red Sox free up $25-30 million to help sign Jacoby Ellsbury to a long-term deal.
That leaves us with Kevin Youkilis...
2. If Ortiz stays, trade Kevin Youkilis If the Red Sox are able to find good value, Cherington should seriously consider moving Youkilis, who by all accounts became more and more of a malcontent as he broke down in 2011. At third base, Youk is becoming fragile and a defensive liability, but he could be an excellent first-base option elsewhere.
Youkilis could be transitioned to DH if Papi departs, but it wouldn't be mandatory--Boston has Ryan Lavarnway primed to fill a 25-HR role immediately. The team has a glaring lack of pitching depth and an under-performing farm system, and Youkilis is one of the few tradeable assets. A young power arm and a right-handed outfield prospect, maybe?
Top prospect Will Middlebrooks is nearly major-league ready, and some sort of Jed Lowrie platoon could bridge the gap to an early-season call up. Middlebrooks might be a little raw, but it certainly feels like Red Sox Nation could use a youth infusion.
3. Resign Jacoby Ellsbury This could get messy. After an MVP-caliber year, Scott Boras has every right to ask for the moon for Jacoby, given that negotiations on the open market could START at the seven-year, $142 million contract given to Carl Crawford. Why wouldn't they? It will be tough to sign Jacoby to a new, team-friendly deal, but if there's anyone that the Red Sox should pull out all the stops for, it's him.
4. Remove John Lackey, keep Josh Beckett Doesn't matter how. Just get Lackey out. If the method is by rocket ship, please be sure to include Dan Shaughnessy.
Beckett, on the other hand, needs to stay. Managing personalities has always been a part of professional sports. Forget the post-season mud slinging and look at Beckett's numbers. If he can condition himself properly, he's one of the best pitchers in the league.
5. Avoid the big free agents After the disastrous end to 2011, the temptation will be to throw money at the problem. Unfortunately, this year's free agent class offers no immediate help.
Albert Pujols? He's not coming here to be a part-time DH.
CC Sabathia? Let the Yankees deal with that. He'll opt out and earn another toxic A-Rod contract (how does six more years of Rodriguez at $27.5 million/year sound right now?)
CJ Wilson could be a possibility. He'd fit nicely in the rotation, but as the clear top pitcher on the market, he'll command a bidding war that Cherington may not want to touch right now. Ditto for the injury-prone Jose Reyes. Plus, how would you construct a lineup with Reyes, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford and keep them all happy?
Rather than subjecting another risky mega-contract to Boston scrutiny, I'd like to see some cheaper alternatives complementing a core of Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, and Adrian Gonzalez. Pick up Marco Scutaro's option. For the love of God, find some better bench options than Darnell McDonald. In right field...
6. Choose Josh Reddick or Ryan Kalish, trade the other (and send Lars Anderson with him) Time's up on this project. Injuries to Kalish spared management from having to choose this year, but both players will enter 2012 as legitimate starting right fielders who both bat from the left side.
The window for trade value is closing; the Sox need to get a return for the player that is deemed redundant. Lars Anderson, the prime example of a prospect blocked from the majors, should also go in this deal. His value has diminished greatly in recent years, but he could still help to net a starting pitcher.
Although partial to Kalish, I'd be fine with either route Cherington pursues on this, even if it's platooning one of them with a Michael Cuddyer-type. Life would be much easier if Kalish or Reddick were right-handed, but they're still probably the best options available.
7. Dealer's choice on Papelbon The Red Sox don't HAVE to resign Jonathan Papelbon, who seems truly infatuated with the idea of an auction for his services. Someone will give him at least $15 million a year, which is an enormous amount of money for a closer that is not Mariano Rivera. Don't get me wrong, Paps had a great year and deserves a raise. It wouldn't be a mistake to bring him back.
However, the market is full of viable closers and set-up men: Francisco Cordero (if the Reds don't pick up his $12 million option), Matt Capps, Francisco Rodriguez, Ryan Madson and Heath Bell. Even Jonathan Broxton, coming off arthroscopic elbow surgery, could be a candidate for a cheap, one-year deal.
Gordon Edes' Papelbon alternative: For the same price as Paps, sign any two of the pitchers listed and convert Daniel Bard back to a starting pitcher, solidifying the rotation.
The more I think about this option, the more it makes a lot of sense...
Based on the perception of the current Red Sox, Ben Cherington has the fans' blessing to stir things up. Let Big Papi walk? Maybe, it'd be validated by his recent comments, or lack thereof. No more Youuuuk at Fenway? He hurt the team culture. There are tough decisions to be made, but this is Cherington's team now.
Time to create a club that Boston can support again.