The Red Sox finished 7 games behind the Yankees and were swept out of the first round of the playoffs. How can they avoid a similar fate in 2010?
Boston’s biggest problem in 2009 was defense. They had the third-best run differential in baseball, yet ranked dead last in deff eff for much of the year. Their lineup, while certainly not bad, was not good enough. And their starting pitching, while good, was not good enough in the postseason.
Defense, offense, and pitching sounds like a lot (“Other than that, what did you think of the play, Mrs. Lincoln?”) but it’s actually not that bad. Boston has a pretty good team. Their biggest need this winter is the left side of the diamond. They could beef it up with one or more of the following acquisitions:
- Sign LF Matt Holliday. Theo Epstein has hardly dared to breathe Holliday’s name this winter, and insists loudly to all who will listen that he wants to re-sign Jason Bay. Methinks the gentleman doth protest too much. Of the two, Holliday is clearly the left fielder the Red Sox need, superior on both offense and defense to Bay. (Bay has only once posted a positive UZR; Holliday has only once posted a negative UZR. Bay was worth 33.7 runs on offense, while Holliday’s bat was worth 36. Though some have wondered if Holliday is somehow incapable of hitting in the AL, it’s worth noting that his “terrible” slash line for the A’s was .286/.378/.454. Move him to hitter-friendly Fenway, and I think his righthanded bat will feel right at home. However, it’s worth noting that the Red Sox are loaded up with outfield prospects, so they might not want to commit a lot of money and years to a free agent signing there. (Also, Fire Brand of the American League likes the Jeremy Hermida acquisition.)
- Sign 3B Adrian Beltre Beltre is another example of a righthanded hitter whose numbers would benefit from moving to Fenway Park, but I’m more interested in another aspect of his game: glovework. Beltre has been outstanding the last TK seasons as a third baseman, and the Red Sox desperately need to improve at third, where Mike Lowell, post-hip surgery, posted an UZR of -10.4. And while Kevin Youkilis can play third, his defense there is neutral, while his defense at first is actually a plus. (I don’t think it’s realistic to expect Boston to trade for a premier first baseman at this time.) If the Red Sox do sign Beltre, what happens to Lowell? I think the Red Sox just need to accept that, for 2010, they’ll have a very expensive DH platoon. To trade either Lowell or Ortiz, the Sox would have to eat a large portion of salary, and I’m doubtful about what they could get in return. Yes, a $25 million platoon is pricey. But those are sunk costs, and both players come off the books after next season — whether the Red Sox win or lose.
- Acquire a shortstop Theo Epstein already missed out on JJ Hardy, but a girl can dare to dream of Marco Scutaro. Theo supposedly spends his free time scheming of ways to bring Hanley Ramirez back to Boston, but that seems like quite a long shot. Other names that have been bandied about include Yunel Escobar and Stephen Drew (great, so Bostonians can have another Drew brother to dump on?). It’s also worth mentioning that the Sox have defensively talented Cuban defector Jose Iglesias in their system, who they signed to a big-league deal in September. However, he’ll only be 20 in January and has “a swing-at-anything approach” according to Baseball Prospectus.
I’d be remiss if we didn’t at least talk about Boston’s pitching needs. You can never have too much starting pitching, and the Red Sox have diligently inquired with John Lackey’s agent. However, I think it’s unlikely that they’ll make a big push for him. There are also plenty of Type B free agent pitchers and rehab projects on the market, and the latter will be almost irresistible to Theo Epstein. For the GM who signed Bartolo Colon, Brad Penny, and John Smoltz, it will be nearly impossible to layoff the reclamation project crack pipe. With Boston’s superb medical staff, if any of these pitchers can be had at reasonable prices, you can bet Epstein will be in on it.
The Red Sox have the deep pockets to make some free agent signings; plus, their current core of home-grown players — Lester, Youkilis, and Pedroia — are all signed to inexpensive, multi-year deals. If the Red Sox can add one of Holliday, Beltre, or Scutaro to beef up the left side of the diamond, and gamble on a good pitcher (or two) coming back from injury, they’ll have a decent shot at knocking the Yankees off their perch.