BOSTON (CBS) – Five quick thoughts on the Red Sox now that the dust is starting to settle in the aftermath of their sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Indians:
1. Subtly and through back channels, the Red Sox are already letting it be known that they probably won’t be making major changes before Opening Day 2017. Save for David Ortiz and some pieces in the bullpen, the Red Sox will likely be returning intact next spring, which is a good news-bad news proposition. The good news is that the Sox clearly have built something again. The bad news is that they’re not championship-caliber.
Ask yourself this question: if the Sox go into the playoffs next fall with Rick Porcello and David Price at the front end of the rotation, how would you feel about that? Certainly, fortifying the bullpen could make a huge difference. But remember that Porcello and Price couldn’t do enough to get to the bullpen, at least with a lead. So Dave Dombrowski would be advised to explore any and all deals for more starting pitching by dealing from a group of players that could include Travis Shaw, Blake Swihart, Jackie Bradley and others.
2. The Red Sox can spin it however they want, but sending John Farrell into next season without picking up the option on his contract for 2018 would make zero sense. As Alex Speier of the Boston Globe pointed out, the Sox failed to pick up Grady Little’s option before the 2003 season and Terry Francona’s option before the 2011 season. At the end of those seasons, both were fired.
Here’s the point: the 2016 Major League Baseball campaign hasn’t even ended and Farrell is already on the hot seat again. If the Sox have doubts about Farrell, replacing him now would have been the better choice. Finding a good replacement in-season is an impossibility in baseball, unless Dave Dombrowski already has Jim Leyland shacked up in temporary housing somewhere near Fenway Park.
3. At first glance, it appears that the Red Sox will have somewhere between $35-$40 million to spend on their roster based on the departures of Ortiz, Aaron Hill, Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa and Ryan Hanigan, among others. But don’t be fooled. The Red Sox have a bunch of arbitration-eligible players in line for raises, including Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley, Drew Pomeranz and Robbie Ross. That may not sound like much, but a couple million here and there adds up, which means the Sox don’t have quite as much flexibility as everyone thinks they do.
Oh, and don’t forget: the Sox always like to set some money aside for in-season pickups. This year, that group included Pomeranz, Hill, Brad Ziegler and Andy Abad, whose combined base salaries this year were about $20 million. The Red Sox were not responsible for that entire amount – maybe half? – but you get the idea.
4. From a pure Xs and Os and perspective, Ortiz leaves an even bigger hole than you think. It’s not that Ortiz had a historic season at age 40. And it’s not that he led the league in OPS. It’s that he’s left-handed, which makes replacing him all the more difficult. Plugging Edwin Encarnacion in the lineup seems like an easy fix – and the Sox may or may not be doing that – but finding a lefty to replace Ortiz would be the ideal scenario.
Remember: roughly 70 percent of major league pitchers are right-handed. And while the Sox have some right-handed batters who hit right-handed pitching – Mookie Betts, Hanley Ramirez – the Sox need more power potential from the left side, whether it comes from Bradley, Shaw, Swihart, Andrew Benintendi or Pablo Sandoval.
5. The Red Sox are still a few years out from this, but don’t forget that Betts, Bradley and Xander Bogaerts all will come up for free agency in a one- or two-year span. In the coming seasons, they’re competing against one another for to become the next centerpiece franchise player of the Red Sox – which means a big, big contract. The Red Sox obviously have the ability to sign more than one, but it seems unlikely they would commit to all three.
Ask yourself this: how do you feel about these three players relative to a year ago at this time? Betts’ value has gone up. Bogaerts’ has gone down. Bradley’s has probably increased, too, though not nearly as much as that of Betts.