By Matt Straub
With the GM meetings now underway, Major League Baseball has officially transitioned from celebrating its new champion to preparing for 2016. The gas on the hot stove is going to get turned up soon, but teams are already starting to work on the smaller moves which can make the difference for contending teams while laying the groundwork for the big deals which are typically consummated around the holidays.
So as the local teams start the process of making over their rosters, it’s time to help them with some friendly advice on who to keep and who to get rid of with a game of Pay or Slay.
The Red Sox are coming off another miserable campaign, one which cost Ben Cherington his job as the team’s GM. Dave Dombrowski is calling the shots now and is tasked with cleaning up the mess Cherington and Larry Lucchino left him. Lucchino is gone, meaning Dombrowski won’t have a meddling GM wanna-be in the front office getting in his way, so the Red Sox already have something going for them this offseason in a clearer chain of command. There are, however, several big problems which must be addressed.
The Red Sox created a huge albatross by bringing in Hanley Ramirez, a move we ripped them for endlessly here before he ever struggled in a game. He’s a DH at this point in his career, and a moody, inconsistent one at best. The problem is, the Red Sox already have a moody DH, so they tried Ramirez in the outfield, where he had as much experience as I do. It went exactly as you would have expected, provided you are not Ben Cherington. Ramirez can still be a solid offensive contributor, but finding a defensive position for him (first base?) is the key to the winter.
Boston also decided, much as they did when the computers first raided the front office in 2003, that if they got a bunch of decent pitchers they wouldn’t need a No. 1 starter. This worked out only slightly better than the Ramirez idea, and is a theory Dombrowski, who watches games with his eyes and not a calculator, has already gotten Boston way from. The good news is some of the young arms developed nicely and Boston found some back-end rotation guys to give them the depth they need. They must, however, get someone who they know will start Game 1 of a playoff series or the Wild Card game.
Defensively, the Red Sox have two very good outfielders and not much else. So, Boston enters the offseason in need of offense, defense and pitching. Other than that, all is well.
So what are the first steps in rebuilding the roster? Let’s take a look.
SLAY Hanley Ramirez: It’s going to be almost impossible to actually accomplish this, since the Red Sox would have to pay most of his salary, but it’s worth calling the Dodgers to see if they want to do something to help Boston again or the Mets, who will need a new hitter when Yoenis Cespedes leaves via free agency and someone gives Daniel Murphy an insane amount of money. There are always bad teams looking to make splashes as well, so there might be a taker for the right price. The Red Sox would have to pay a huge part of the contract and won’t get much back for him, but getting him off the roster frees up the roster, which might make it worth it.
SLAY Travis Shaw: I’m saying this with the expectation Boston is going to keep Ramirez and move him to first base. If so, then they can get something useful for a young first baseman who showed some power late in the year. Dombrowski won’t be afraid to trade some young players this offseason, which is a welcome change from the recent trend of hoarding minor leaguers and hoping they work out.
SLAY Jackie Bradley Jr.: Speaking of hoping kids develop, the Red Sox have been waiting three years for JBJ to become an everyday player. This year, he had an exceptional month which had everyone in Boston in a tizzy, even leading one talk show host to say he wouldn’t trade him for Chris Sale. If you look at his resurgence, however, it was one month, with about 10 good games (some of which were admittedly spectacular) which skewed his numbers. The guy got hot, he didn’t get good. He’s an amazing defensive player, but that makes him a 7th inning replacement outfielder, not an everyday player. Could you survive hitting him ninth and letting him play the outfield? Yes. But The Red Sox would be better off trying to see if someone else wants to take a shot at seeing if he’ll eventually come around. They can trade him now while his name is hot or wait until he struggles again next year and they have to make a change of scenery type trade for much less value next July.
PAY Mookie Betts: The one young player I wouldn’t trade is Betts, who is just as good as Bradley defensively and can actually hit a baseball. No one is untouchable, but Betts is the kind of productive young player teams actually build around, not the promising minor league type you hope turns into something. He should be the leadoff hitter for the next 10 years and the triangle in centerfield will eventually be Bettsville or something like that.
SLAY Dustin Pedroia: I got yelled at for saying this last year, so I’ll say it again. Of course I wouldn’t just give him away, but he’s living off past production and his name at this point. He’s never healthy anymore and isn’t a dominant offensive player who makes waiting for his return worth it. If there’s no good offer, you let him come back and hope he can help, but if someone wants him, I’m listening to offers.
PAY Pablo Sandoval: No, it didn’t work out this year, but I still believe in the Panda. The fit is too perfect, and he’s a postseason savant. Now Boston just has to get him there. Sure he has to lose some weight, but I’ve seen him play third as a big man and be good at it. He will be again. Also, with a year under his belt, he’ll be more comfortable. If he gets off to a good start the fans will love him again and he’ll be happy. This one I wait out.
PAY Brock Holt: He’s often the kind of guy involved in an under-the-radar deal, but Boston has too many question marks to get rid of a guy who can play every position you ask him to.
SLAY Xander Bogaerts: Again, this is only with the idea that he can be traded for a more valuable piece. He emerged this year as a good young shortstop, which we predicted would happen on this site for the last two years if the Red Sox just left him alone and let him play. If they leave him there and let him get even better, great. But if the rumors are true that a Bogaerts for Matt Harvey move is even a remote option, then you have to look and see what you can get for him. Boston has offense, it needs pitching desperately, and you have to give to get. Plus, shortstop is a relatively easy spot to fill, as evidenced by the dozen or so guys Boston has used there in the last decade.
SLAY Blake Swihart: I know he’s young and shouldn’t have even been up in Boston this year, but I wasn’t impressed. He’s one of the players most frequently mentioned in trade rumors, and if he can help you get pitching, do it.
PAY Rick Porcello: He got much better later in the year and his track record is too good to worry about one bad year. He’s been improving in recent years, and I expect the trend to resume in 2016. He’s not the ace they seek, but he’s going to be good again. He’d better be for $82 million.
PAY Wade Miley: After a miserable April, he was better. There were still rough spots, but he’s worth keeping around as a 4th starter. The problem is when you ask him to do more than that.
SLAY Henry Owens: I’ve seen him pitch in the minors. I’ve seen him pitch in the majors. I remain thinking he’s a decent at-best major leaguer.
PAY Koji Uehara: Even if Boston goes out and gets another closer this winter, keeping Koji around gives Boston depth in the bullpen. Making a new bullpen is Dombrowski’s biggest mission this winter after trying to unload Ramirez. Just ask the Royals what bullpens can do.
PAY Eduardo Rodriguez: I’m not ready to declare him a future No. 1 as some already are, but I know Boston needs to add pitchers, not get rid of them.
SLAY Junichi Tazawa: He looked washed up by the end of this year, and the only people who get old faster than relievers are boxers. I’m not willing to waste two months of 2016 waiting to see if he can get his old form back. Let him try to get on track again somewhere else.