The Boston Red Sox ended the 2014 season in last place in the American League East with a 71-91 record just one season after winning the World Series. The Red Sox still feature some established stars such as designated hitter David Ortiz, first baseman Mike Napoli, second baseman Dustin Pedroia, and closer Koji Uehara who should contribute significantly to the team again in 2015. The roster also has a number of young players and young veterans who should contribute to the team next year.
Despite their disappointing 2014 campaign, there is enough talent both young and old on this roster to get back into the playoff race with some strategic moves this off-season. The Red Sox have some interesting talent on offense such as Rusney Castillo, Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and Yoenis Cespedes, some intriguing arms in the rotation such as Joe Kelly, Allen Webster, and Rubby De LaRosa. However, the team has needs that need to be addressed this winter.
The Red Sox need at minimum two starting pitchers to add to their rotation. Going into the season with Clay Buchholz as your number one starter simply cannot happen. Buchholz finished 8-11 with a 5.34 ERA (all statistics from Baseball-Reference.com) and is at best a number three or four pitcher. The Red Sox traded away four-fifths of their World Series rotation as Jake Peavy, John Lackey, Felix Doubront and Jon Lester were packaged for prospects and salary flexibility going forward.
Last season the Red Sox had young third baseman Will Middlebrooks pencilled in at third base and paid the price. Injuries and ineffectiveness limited him to just 63 games last year after an injury plagued 2013. Middlebrooks has power potential but at age 25 is running out of time to show that the Middlebrooks who hit 15 home runs in 267 at-bats with an .835 OPS as a rookie in 2012 before a wrist injury ended his season. The Red Sox signed Stephen Drew and moved future star and 21 year-old shortstop Bogaerts to third base and contributed to his lack of confidence in the field and at-bat.
Finally, the Red Sox desperately need two or more relievers for their bullpen. Lefty Andrew Miller was traded away during the roster purge that emptied the rotation. In addition, the Red Sox have let lefty specialist Craig Breslow enter free agency as they declined his option last week. Unfortunately, disappointing set-up man Edward Mujica is still on the books for $4.75 million next season.
The Red Sox have multiple free agent targets such as former Boston starting pitchers Jon Lester and and Justin Masterson, former Tampa Bay Rays and Kansas City Royals starting pitcher James Shields, former Detroit Tigers starter Max Scherzer, and as a last resort former Los Angeles Angels starting pitcher Ervin Santana, former Pirates and Twins starter Francisco Liriano, and former New York Yankees starter Hiroki Kuroda.
The problem for Boston is that they are not the only team with money to spend. The top starting pitchers should have at least half of the teams in baseball are expected to be making a run for Lester, Shields and Scherzer who are the three gems in free agency. Not signing at least one of the three and possibly a second tier starter like Masterson, Santana, Liriano, or Kuroda would be a sign that Boston is another year away from competing again for a championship.
In the infield the top third baseman in free agency is San Francisco Giants infielder Pablo Sandoval. Sandoval would give Ortiz additional protection in the lineup . Chase Headley is a free agent as he turned his move to New York and the Yankees into a payday this off-season. With the lack of talent behind these two expensive options in free agency, the Red Sox could be crossing their fingers and hoping that Middlebrooks and top prospect Garin Cecchini can handle the load next to Bogaerts.
In the bullpen the free agency choices are headed-up by relievers David Robertson (good luck bidding against the Yankees for their closer), former Red Sox lefty Andrew Miller, former Mariners, Yankees, former Giants reliever Sergio Romo, and Washington Nationals closer Rafael Soriano. These players will commandeer top dollar and the Red Sox do not have a good history of spending on the bullpen which makes the decision to let Breslow hit free agency even more curious
The Red Sox may actually make the decision to go ahead and fill the gaps in the team with trades and unloading some of their deep minor leaguers. On the trade market they are most often tied to a deal with Philadelphia for Cole Hamels, former Cubs pitcher and current Oakland A’s starter Jeff Samardzija, or recently traded to Detroit starter David Price.
Whatever way they decide to re-stock the roster, the Red Sox have a lot of work to do and need to get started this off-season to build to a winning 2015 season.