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Daniel W. Drezner
I’m gonna be Theo Epstein for Christmas Eve
Baseball Prospectus has been running an off-season series entitled “GM for a Day” in which their staff suggests offseason plans for myriad teams (here’s what they did with the Yankees). In the wake of the Yankees acquisition of C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and M.C. Teixeira, much of Red Sox Nation is panicking, while others are ...
Baseball Prospectus has been running an off-season series entitled “GM for a Day” in which their staff suggests offseason plans for myriad teams (here’s what they did with the Yankees). In the wake of the Yankees acquisition of C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and M.C. Teixeira, much of Red Sox Nation is panicking, while others are contemplating Plan B’s. So, I’m gonna take a stab at what the Red Sox can do in the remaining bits of the offseason in order to best compete for the World Series. Here are my proposed moves:
- Don’t panic. The Yankees have made some great signings, no doubt. As I pointed out here, however, their track record on this front has not been all that promising over the past decade. Meanwhile, both Toronto and Tampa Bay should regress from the previous season. Things are still pretty promising for the Red Sox. The last time the Red Sox toyed with but rejected a swap of Mike Lowell for a high-profile first baseman, they won a World Series the next year. In 2009, the parent club should expect useful contributions from prospects like Daniel Bard, Michael Bowden, and Lars Anderson. BP’s Joe Sheehan is correct when he points out, “The Yankees have been active by necessity; the Red Sox have been quiet by choice.” As Bill Burt concurs in the Berkshire Eagle-Tribune, “That’s the beauty of the position the Red Sox are in. They did not need Mark Teixeira. He was a luxury, an expensive one.”
- Sign Kevin Youkilis and Jon Lester to long-term contracts. Two-time World Series winners tend not to get much sympathy from the rest of the world, but signing Youkilis and Lester (along with Dustin Pedroia’s recent contract) serves several baseball and PR purposes. It locks up Boston’s best three players from last year ; it highlights the fact that Boston’s strength is its home-grown talent (in contrast to the Yankees); and it keeps together a core that has clearly thrived in the hothouse that is Boston sports.
- Sign Rocco Baldelli to a three year, $18 million contract; sign David Eckstein to a two-year, $8 million contract. The Red Sox’ biggest flaw last year was a weak bench. There was no decent pinch-hitter in the group, in particular on the right-hand side. Sean Casey was a great guy, but he couldn’t field and I’m pretty sure that a 59-year old Bill Buckner could have beaten him in a foot race. So if the Sox are going to overpay, overpay for bench strength. Baldelli is a local New Englander, he can play all three outfield positions, and he is apparently less sick that previously thought. Give him what he likely craves, which is a long-term deal. He’s great insurance for the inevitable J.D. Drew injury or Jacoby Ellsbury slump. Eckstein is past his prime, but he can play both second base and shortstop, and is a pretty decent situational hitter when the need arises. No one will offer him a two-year deal, so this guarantees we get him.
- Trade Clay Buchholz and Manny Delcarmen to the Texas Rangers for Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Hank Blalock; resign Jason Varitek once he realizes the non-existent market for his services. The biggest weakness in the Red Sox lineup last year was at catcher, so deal with that. There are debates about whether Saltalamacchia will be able to stay at catcher, but the great thing about getting him is that it doesn’t matter. He can catch for the next few years, by which point one could sign Joe Mauer (or promote Dusty Brown) and move him to DH or first base. Varitek can be Saltalamacchia’s caddy/advisor. Blalock provides a corner bench player with some pop. Trades and player development have made both Buchholz and Delcarmen expendable while still valuable, and Lord knows the Rangers need pitching.
- Convert Justin Masterson into a three-inning closer. Here’s an area where the Red Sox can make in innovation, or retrovation; bring back the three-inning closer. Masterson would be perfect in this role, and helps to give the bullpen a guaranteed rest day. Let him pitch once every three or games, and you get 120+ innings out of him, while easing the pressure of the rest of the ‘pen.
- Trade Julio Lugo and David Pauley to the Oakland Athletics for a bag of balls Jerry Blevins. Lugo will be a distraction if he’s around Boston, and if anyone recognizes Lugo’s positive qualities, it’s Billy Beane. If the Sox offer to eat half his contract, then Beane will give up a decent lefty reliever in exchange for an inexpensive two years of a shortstop with an above-average OPS at his position. The Red Sox would get a backstop to Hideki Okajima and end the Javier Lopez experiment.
- Sign John Smoltz to a one-year contract. My wheeling/dealing leaves the Red Sox a little thin in the fifth starter/swingman/11th reliever category. Smoltz has started and closed in their career, so he can fit the bill if Bowden or Masterson or Ramon Ramirez falls short somehow.
So, the 2009 Red Sox would look like this: Lineup:
- CF Jacoby Ellsbury
- 2B Dustin Pedroia
- DH David Ortiz
- 1B Kevin Youkilis
- 3B Mike Lowell
- RF J.D. Drew
- LF Jason Bay
- C Jarrod Saltalamacchia
- SS Jed Lowrie
- OF Baldelli
- OF/INF Bailey
- INF Blalock
- INF Eckstein
- C Varitek
I’m pretty comfortable with that.