December 10, 2012

'Tis the Sox offseason to rebuild and reload

Among the chores: Find at least one starting pitcher and figure out what to do with Jacoby Ellsbury.

By JOHN TOMASE Boston Herald

BOSTON - The winter meetings are over, and the Red Sox were certainly active.

Jacoby Ellsbury
click image to enlarge

Jacoby Ellsbury is nearing free agency, and if the Sox can’t contend, they could dangle him as trade bait.

The Associated Press

Since the end of the season, the Sox have added four players who project to play significant roles in 2013, all on offense: catcher David Ross, left fielder Jonny Gomes, first baseman Mike Napoli and right fielder Shane Victorino. And let's not forget designated hitter David Ortiz, who re-upped for two years.

The Red Sox have also met with free agent outfielder Josh Hamilton, considered offers for center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury and starter Jon Lester, and bolstered the back of the bullpen by agreeing to a deal with Koji Uehara.

And yet, much work remains.

"We've been trying to add to the team without taking away from the team, and we're keeping our core young talent in place, so hopefully we've made some steps toward that," General Manager Ben Cherington said. "We still have some more work to do. Clearly we've got to add some more things and we'll have the rest of the winter to do that."

The to-do list is longer than the already-done list. Here's a look at what awaits the Red Sox between now and the start of spring training. 

1. Acquire a starting pitcher, preferably two.

When the offseason started, the team's biggest need was starting pitching, and it remains that way. The Red Sox addressed their offense first in part because that's how the market shook out, with players like Napoli sifting through multiple offers early in the offseason, and outfielders like Victorino and Angel Pagan coming off the board as well.

The Sox have masked their intentions on the starting pitching market, which has developed slowly while free agent Zack Greinke nears a deal with the Dodgers.

Outside of Dan Haren, who signed with the Nationals, most of the pitchers we expected the Red Sox to pursue remain available, whether it's Shaun Marcum, Brandon McCarthy or perhaps Francisco Liriano.

The X-factor here is Ellsbury, who is the one tradeable player worth a significant pitcher in return. Which brings us to ... 

2. Figure out what to do with Ellsbury.

The former All-Star center fielder is in line to cash in with a strong season, his last before he enters free agency. Knowing this, the Red Sox may simply be content, as Cherington has stated, to start Ellsbury in center and worry about the future later. The team would always get a draft pick if he leaves as a free agent.

But if the Sox are unsure of their ability to contend, then now would be the time to trade Ellsbury, particularly if he brings back a young pitcher in return.

The Minnesota Twins did as much, shipping center fielder Ben Revere to the Philadelphia Phillies for Vance Worley. That deal complicates Ellsbury's market, since Philadelphia was considered one potential landing spot. 

3. Get more left-handed.

The majority of pitchers in baseball remain right-handed, though you wouldn't know it from the current lineup.

Ross, Gomes and Napoli are all right-handed mashers who murder left-handers. Even the switch-hitting Victorino is far superior from the right side.

With Ellsbury and Ortiz, the Sox feature a pair of left-handed bats. For all intents and purposes, switch-hitting catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia makes three, since he hits much better from the left side, though he could end up being traded.

That still leaves the Sox in the market for a left-handed-hitting outfielder to potentially platoon with Gomes, and if that player could man some first base in relief of Napoli as well, all the better.

Oh, and until he signs, we might as well throw this out there, too: Hamilton hits left-handed. 

4. Is Jose Iglesias the answer?

As things stand now, the Red Sox lineup looks pretty deep. If the Red Sox decide to leave Dustin Pedroia in the No. 2 hole, where he has always been comfortable, then that could drop Victorino as low as sixth or seventh in the lineup.

The question is if they feel the lineup is deep enough to let the pitcher hit, effectively, because that's all the offense Iglesias has provided thus far in his brief big league career, hitting .135 with a .413 OPS and just three extra-base hits in 83 at-bats.

If the Sox add one more big bat -- in a perfect world, Hamilton -- then Iglesias can probably hide in the No. 9 hole and get by with masterful defense. But failing that, they're going to expect him to hit, and there's no evidence yet that he's even Brendan Ryan or Adam Everett, two defensive wizards who hit just barely enough to remain starters.

If the Sox are looking for an established shortstop, they could go for Stephen Drew, although he plans on signing somewhere as a starter, which could rule out Boston.

 

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