Friday, September 14, 2012

Roadmap To Relevance: Re-Tooling For 2013

Despite there being 18 games left in this pathetic season, it's not too early to start thinking seriously about the kinds of off-season moves that have to be made to make this franchise relevant again. It's clear that the NOG has moved away from the paradigm of signing big-ticket free agents to long-term deals. That's a good thing. It's also clear, however, they they need to make prudently large enough moves to convince the fanbase that they have a shot at a 2013 season that doesn't feature 80 losses on September 14th. To that end, we would suggest that the 2013 team reflect what John Henry termed the "deep depth" so cherished by former Orioles manager Earl Weaver. Basically, we need to solidify three areas: first base, starting pitching, and two outfield spots. Let's start with first base.

First base. Middlebrooks at third, Iglesias at short and Pedroia at second is more than acceptable. At first base, we need a player who can hit in the middle of the line-up with some power and also be a plus defender. The realistic choices are Mike Napoli, Adam LaRoche, James Loney and (wait for it) Kevin Youkilis. It's extremely doubtful that the Red Sox would shell out $13 million for Youk, and Loney is just not the answer. LaRoche has a $10 million double option for next year, and probably could be pried away from DC for $11-12 million. He has a 3.0 WAR, and has hit 29 HRs this year. Plus, he's already played in Boston (albeit briefly) and can defend. Napoli has had a down year for Texas, but can hit and be a credible defender at first and behind the plate. He now makes $9.4 million, is Super Two arbitration eligible and is a free agent in 2013. Our choice: LaRoche.

Starting Pitching. Assuming Zack Greinke is out of reach for both financial and personality reasons, there aren't many good options in the one area we absolutely need to improve. Cole Hamels will certainly command over $100 million, so he's out. James Shields is a gamer, knows the AL East and would be a perfect fit in Boston if he can be lured away from Tampa. Kyle Loshe and Annibal Sanchez are also-rans that should not be considered. Our choice: Shields.

Outfield. Barring an off-season trade of Jacoby Ellsbury at pennies on the dollar, Boston will 'only' need to nail down the other two outfield spots. One is easy: re-sign Cody Ross. For left-field, there are only a few good options: Arizona's Justin Upton, Jon Jay of St. Louis, Michael Brantley of Cleveland, and Minnesota's Denard Span. Upton is clearly the most attractive, but he won't be a free agent until 2016. He now makes $14.5 million and would require a trade of key prospects to get him from the Diamondbacks. Span, Jay and Brantley would require a trade as well, but come much cheaper in both salary and prospects. Our choice: Upton.

So, a possible 2013 line-up would be:

1.  Ellsbury, CF
2.  Pedroia, 2b
3.  Upton, LF
4.  Ortiz, DH
5.  Middlebrooks, 3B
6.  LaRoche, 1B
7.  Ross, RF
8.  Saltalamacchia/Lavarnway, C
9.  Iglesias, SS

And, a possible 2013 starting rotation would be:

1.  Lester, LHP
2.  Shields, RHP
3.  Buchholz, RHP
4.  Lackey, RHP
5.  Doubront, LHP

Not a perfect situation, but a team that could contend for the post-season at a reasonable cost.