Ben Cherington has a lot to do. We at Ted's Army thought we'd take a shot at giving him some options for a game plan. This week we'll take turns explaining our steps to righting the proverbial ship. First up: Scott Priest.
I think we can all agree that the Red Sox are terrible.
But not long ago, things weren't so bad. I don't necessarily mean last year -- that appeared to be fool's gold. But for the better part of the last decade, the Red Sox have had a clear plan and have executed on it. Since 2002, look at these win totals: 93, 95, 98, 95, 86, 96, 95, 95, 89, 90, 69.
(It's still crazy to see that last one.)
Many players came and went, but for the most part that leadership had a steady plan and they followed through on it. As far as I can tell, the plan hinged on three things: Hitters with plate discipline, an ace at the front of the rotation, and believing in pedigree.
Hitters with plate discipline is self-explanatory, but just to prove it to you, these were their OBPs for the same period I mentioned above: .345, .360, .360, .357, .351, .362, .358, .352, .339, .349, .315. You don't to be a genius to see what I'm getting at. The team lost its way at the plate at the same time it lost its direction to the playoffs. I'm not saying it's the end-all, be-all, but it sure helps.
An ace at the front of the rotation, is, again, self-explanatory. In 2004, the Red Sox top player in WAR was Curt Schilling. In 2007, it was Josh Beckett. Gee, what was common in those years?
Believing in pedigree. This gets at what really happened this year, which was that the organization simply broke down. When Theo and Tito were running things, they both believed in pedigree. Theo believed in reclamation projects -- our own Jarrod Saltalamacchia being a great example, along with some hits and misses (Jeremy Giambi, Andrew Miller, etc.). Tito, meanwhile, believed in it in a slightly different way: He kept the lineup steady day in and day out, famously sticking with players who fell out of favor in key spots (Mark Bellhorn in the '04 playoffs, for example.
It's not so much that any of these elements is the key for a turnaround, but they all speak to the idea of having a plan. The 2010-2012 Red Sox were not put together with a plan in mind. I don't care to point figures, but it's just true. They overspent on free agents that didn't solve the above needs (Carl Crawford is no OBP champ; John Lackey is no ace) and failed to develop talent after the influx of Pedroia and Ellsbury.
Larry Lucchino needs to give Ben Cherington the reins -- or find someone else he believes in. Similarly, they need to hire a manager who agrees with the GM's philosophy. Not that Theo and Tito had to be best of friends, but they obviously had a good working relationship. The same needs to happen with the new manager.
My advice for a plan would be a tweak on what's above with an emphasis on youth. We're not going anywhere next year. We're just not. So it's time to fish or cut bait on the current class of prospects. Is Jose Iglesias going to flourish like Josh Reddick or flame out like Craig Hansen? There's only one way to find out, and that's to give a few of the young guy's a legitimate shot at their jobs in a year that is quite clearly not headed for October.
Who to keep
It's a short list. The guys I would make sure are on this team next year are David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester...and that's it. Everyone else is in play.
Now, that said, I would still like a number of the rest back. I've argued for Cody Ross at a reasonable term before, and I still believe in it. Two or three years at $5-7/per is acceptable for a guy with power who can handle (and probably thrive) in the Boston atmosphere.
I would start Iglesias, Ryan Lavarnway, and Ryan Kalish next year. As I said above, I believe it's time to see what we have, and I believe September wasn't enough to show. Along with Middlebrooks, if you can hit on two of those guys as cheap starters through their early prime, that's great news from a baseball and a financial perspective.
There's not a lot.
From a prospect perspective, it sounds like Matt Barnes, Jackie Bradley, Jr., and Xander Bogaerts are off-limits. To me, that's a lot of off-limits equity, so I'd make the next segment of guys readily available in potential moves.
I think Jarrod Saltalamacchia is a good candidate as well. Teams always like power out of catchers. But in sticking with my OBP focus, I'm just tired of watching Salty hack at 57' breaking balls. I like Lavarnway, and have no problem with a retread backup behind him. Salty could bring us back some pitching help, some more prospects (to be used in deals or just to develop), or even help at another weak position (such as first base) if you could find the right team.
The elephant in the room is Jacoby Ellsbury. I won't even bother linking to all the times I've said we should trade him, but as time passes I find myself changing my view on it. I still think a long-term deal for Ells is out of the question. But I also don't know what kind of return he could really net. Scott Boras won't allow him to sign a long-term deal without testing free agency, so would a team give up all that much? I would definitely test the market, but unless we get a huge haul back, I'd probably be satisfied starting him for one more year before the JBJ era begins.
Last, I would not rule out Will Middlebrooks. Middlebrooks was a good prospect and all, but didn't really hit most people's radar until 2011. This is not some kind of Mike Trout phenom situation; Middlebrooks is the best guy to come up for us in a few years, so his talent might be over-magnified. I'm concerned about his lack of plate discipline, and I think it's fair to be worried about durability at this point too. I'm not saying run out and trade him; I'm saying don't hang up if his name comes up in the right deal.
Who to target
I have three guys in mind.
1. Josh Johnson. Felix Hernandez is not walking through that door, so our best shot at acquiring an ace is Johnson. Anyone else who has shown several years of ace-quality play is either unavailable or Cliff Lee (who's a million years old and due close to $30 million a year for each of the next three).
Johnson's got a number of question marks, no doubt. He was just pretty good last year, after being hurt the year before. He was all-world before that, but that was playing in front of 16 people in Miami. Can he handle Boston?
Assuming the organization thinks his make-up can hold up to the pressure, I would make a run at him. The Marlins are once again burning it to the ground and starting over, and Johnson is only on the payroll through next year. Meanwhile, he's about to get expensive going into his age-29 season. I have a hard time figuring out the market for Johnson, but I think one stud prospect along with one or two decent ones could get the job done. He's the best available option for obtaining a guy with ace potential, so the Sox need to explore it.
I'd like to see them do what they did with Beckett -- acquire since he appears to be available, even though it didn't exactly match the team's trajectory (since Beckett and the team disappointed in '06). But if he's the right guy, sign him to a long-term deal to make sure we have him in place for when the next run happens, which could be as soon as 2014 if the organization can get its act together.
One thought: Could a deal involving both Ellsbury and Johnson be of interest to either side? The Marlins get an impact bat with the same contract situation, the Sox get the ace they need and maybe a shot at signing him? Could be worth a phone call.
2. Shaun Marcum. I love the idea of going after Marcum as a back-end-of-the-rotation guy. He doesn't have blow-you-away numbers, but he's consistent, and he's proven he can do it in the AL East since he was with Toronto before spending time in Milwaukee. He excels in my favorite stat, WHIP, where he registered three straight years below 1.20, surrounded by a 1.24 and a 1.26. Don't put guys on base, and they can't score.
Again, he's not an ace guy, he's a back-up plan. If we can't get a true ace -- or the organization (mistakenly) thinks Lester or Buchholz can hang with the likes of Sabathia and Verlander -- Marcum would be a great addition. Lester-Buchholz-Lackey (yes, Lackey)-Marcum-Doubront could be an above-average rotation. Really.
3. Somebody to play first base. I admit, I don't have a great answer here. Alex Speier covered how weak the market is in a piece last month, basically baiting fans into longing for a return of Kevin Youkilis. Yes, Bobby V is gone, but I'm not sure it's the right move. I can't believe I'm saying it, but I wouldn't totally oppose a return of Carlos Pena on a one-year deal. He's not what he was, but he still works counts, and that's what I'm looking for.
Absolutely do not...
Sign Josh Hamilton or Zack Greinke. I don't need to belabor the point -- they're both the colossally wrong fits for Boston. Stay away, stay away, stay away.
So what do we have?
A relatively similar lineup to this year's, because, again, I don't think this is a one-year turnaround. I would use this year to see what the young guys have, which ones are worth keeping, and then in 2014 look to bring in the next big slugger for the middle of the lineup. I can't at this moment see a good option available, and we need to be 100% sure that the next slugger we acquire is more Manny Ramirez than Adrian Gonzalez.
LF Ross (Kalish being the better OF)
1B Pena/FA stop-gap
* This obviously assumes that my throwaway Ellsbury/Johnson idea is not the one that is actually executed. In that case, Cherington could enter the free agent OF market and try to find himself another Cody Ross.
It's not perfect, but it eliminates the OBP nightmares of Salty, Mike Aviles, and Pedro Ciriaco. Lavarnway has a better reputation for plate discipline, registering a .376 OBP over five minor league seasons. It's not Kalish's strong suit, and obviously Iglesias won't be any better at it than Aviles was, but it heads us in the right direction.
For the rotation, it would be Johnson-Lester-Buchholz-Lackey-Marcum, who I'd be happy to splurge on even if Johnson was acquired. I would basically not touch the bullpen beyond sending Alfredo Aceves to the other side of the planet; I'd like to see a full season of Andrew Bailey, and I trust Cherington's ability to fill in the rest.
What you have there is not a championship team, or perhaps not even a playoff team. But it's headed in the right direction. At the very least, it would allow the Red Sox to head into 2014 knowing they had an ace leading a solid rotation, solid major-league players in Pedroia, Ortiz, and Ross, verdicts on whether Middlebrooks, Lavarnway, Iglesias, and Kalish could join them, Bradley and Bryce Brentz ready to come up, and still have money to make a run at a slugger to bring the lineup together in the middle. And if 2013 really looks like it doesn't have a good shot at producing a World Series, giving us a step toward one -- using a well-thought-out plan -- should be considered a productive year.