Today, on the last day of the Major League season, at least according to the schedule, we kick off “Hirings and Firings,” our new, occasional series on what teams should do with its roster this offseason.

We begin with the Red Sox, who disappointed their rabid fanbase this season by (literally) limping to a distant third place finish in the always-competitive AL East and failing to win at least 90 games for only the second time in 9 seasons.

The good news is that the Red Sox have a very solid core, as shown by the fact that they still won 89 games despite serious injuries to almost all of their best players and having to rely on substantial contributions from no-name fill-ins like Daniel Nava, Darnell McDonald, and Scott Atchison.

They’ll have to rely on that core in any case, because all though some big contracts are coming off the books, most of the roster is locked up through at least next season already, and the Red Sox already owe the 2011 squad $100 million before they even make a single free agent signing or tender a single contract to their arbitration-eligible players.

So let’s have a look at where the Red Sox roster stands:

Free Agents
DH David Ortiz
3B Adrian Beltre
3B Mike Lowell (retiring)
C Victor Martinez
P Tim Wakefield
C Jason Varitek
2B Felipe Lopez
UT Bill Hall

Arbitration Eligible
OF Jacoby Ellsbury
C Jerrod Saltalamacchia
P Hideki Okajima
CL Jonathan Papelbon

Top Prospects Ready to Contribute Now/Soon
SS Jed Lowrie
OF Ryan Kalish
P Felix Dubront

The biggest free agent name on the roster is of course David Ortiz, but the Red Sox seem increasingly likely to pick up his 1-year, $12.5 million option. This makes sense, because after a rough start Ortiz really picked things up and was the most valuable member of the team over the last 6 months. Entering his age-35 season, he probably has at least one more productive year.

Ortiz, himself, of course, wants a long term deal, but this does not seem like a wise idea for the Red Sox. If they choose to go that route, they should make him give up annual value for added years, such as a 2-year, $20 million dollar deal, or at most 3 years, $25 million.

Assuming the Sox keep Ortiz, that leaves 3B Adrian Beltre as the biggest decision of the offseason for the team. Beltre actually led the team in WAR this season at 7.1, thanks to his usual outstanding defense combined with the second best offensive showing of his career.

However, there are several cautionary notes which must be sounded. Beltre’s two best seasons by far have come in his two free agent years (2004 and 2010), and his BABIP this year was a career high .335, suggesting that his offensive performance is not sustainable going forward. Not to mention that Beltre is represented by Scott Boras, who is sure to demand more than Beltre is worth.

That said, Beltre’s previous offensive output was heavily suppressed by his old home park of Safeco Field, which kills right-handed pull hitters. And boy, is Beltre nothing if not a right-handed pull-hitter. His swing seems tailor-made for ripping doubles off the Monster at Fenway, and indeed his 49 doubles this season led the entire Major Leagues, suggesting that Beltre has more value to the Red Sox than other teams, due to their home park.

So the Sox should definitely try to re-sign their 2010 team MVP, but only if they can get the right price. Beltre was easily worth his $9 million salary in 2010, but his value is likely to fall off as he heads into his mid-30s decline years. The Red Sox should probably not go more than 5 years, $90 million, and should do their best to get a 4-year deal or less.

The next question is what to do with catcher Victor Martinez. Martinez is perhaps the best hitter in baseball at the catcher position, and most Sox fans are clamoring for his return, but he is a huge liability defensively, and is only likely to become even more of one as he ages. Martinez already rejected a two-year deal, and has stated repeatedly that he is looking for a “team to finish his career with” (ie a very long-term deal), but the Red Sox are wise to try to get him on a shorter deal.

If the Sox plan to keep Ortiz only one more year, then they should sign Martinez to a 4-year deal or so, let him catch one more season, and then let him become their new, post-Ortiz DH. But if the Sox do extend Ortiz, then they they should either sign Martinez to a two year deal or less, or just cut him and use the money saved to go out and sign or trade for a catcher who can actually catch.

Finally, we come to the pitchers. My boldest demand here is that the Red Sox cut Jonathan Papelbon. His skills have eroded slightly, but enough that he is simply no longer worth the money he will command going forward. They should try to trade his rights to another team who is in love with the idea of a big-name closer, and failing that, simply non-tender him. They can then use the $15 million or so saved on his 2011 salary to sign 2 or 3 replacements to contend for the closer job.

Another candidate for cutting is Hideki Okajima, who is no longer even league average. Unless they can convince him to come back for about the same salary as before, they should look to trade him away while he still has some value.

A lot of people are suggesting Daisuke Matsuzaka as a candidate for a trade, but I don’t totally agree. His trade value has been run down to the point where he is probably more valuable to the Red Sox than anything they can get in return. Although Matsuzaka is not the superstar the Sox hoped he would be when they overpaid for him back in 2006, he remains an above-average major league starter, the Red Sox’s farm system does not have a replacement ready yet, and this years pool of free agent starting pitchers is thin. Not to mention that Matsuzaka has a no-trade clause, making it harder to get equal value. The Red Sox should only trade Matsuzaka if they can get something worthwhile in return, and also are able to land a decent free agent pitcher to replace him.

Finally, I definitely think the Red Sox should bring back Tim Wakefield. He is so cheap that there is no reason not to, even with the continuation of his ever-so-gradual decline as a pitcher. He is a great insurance option for the rotation, and the price is right.

Even if the Red Sox keep Ortiz, resign Martinez and Beltre, and keep Matsuzaka, as long as they cut Papelbon as I suggest, then they will still have about $25 million to spend on fixing the bullpen, filling out the bench, and maybe signing a free agent starting pitcher or outfielder. It seems to me that the Red Sox have to choose between going after Cliff Lee and getting a premier outfielder, and I think that outfield is the more pressing need. They should use the cash they have left to sign some quality relievers and go hard after Carl Crawford or possibly Jayson Werth.

Summary

David Ortiz – rehire
Adrian Beltre – rehire (if price not totally crazy)
Victor Martinez – rehire, but fire as catcher
Jonathan Papelbon – fire
Hideki Okajima – most likely fire
Tim Wakefield – rehire
Daisuke Matsuzaka – rehire
Carl Crawford – hire

4 Responses to “Hirings and Firings: What Should the Boston Red Sox Do?”

  1. Wake’s locked up. He restructured his contract last off-season, so they already have him for another year.

  2. I’m really curious to see what happens to Ellsbury and Veritek. Both have interesting relationships with the club right now in completely different ways.

    Also, another thing that has been tossed around is that if the don’t sign Beltre, then Youk can shift to 3B leaving room at 1B for Martinez, although I’d personally much rather see Beltre return in spite of the arguments against signing him.

  3. SoxBrainTrust says:

    Summary

    David Ortiz – fire
    Adrian Beltre – fire (we don’t have a shot)
    Victor Martinez – fire, we don’t have much of a shot)
    Jonathan Papelbon – fire (trade)
    Hideki Okajima – fire
    Tim Wakefield – retire
    Daisuke Matsuzaka – rehire or trade if someone can offer a prime prospect
    Carl Crawford – hire
    If i am going to gamble on Unproven farm hands, i would gamble with a catcher that can call a game so let Victor and Jason go and Big Pappy too, sign the best hitters you can, ala Crawford and Werth too if you can afford it, fill in a first and third as you can and sign some low risk relievers and hope to get lucky on a couple. I think you get hitters while they are available, after 2011 you lose OF’s too. I wouldn’t be too surprised that Lowrie could be an everyday 1B as well (yes i expect lots of comments on the post:)

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