What Will the 2013 Red Sox Look Like?

The phrase “fire sale” has been frequently heard in the same sentence as “Red Sox” this weekend, as the trade that sent Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto to the Dodgers had the tenor of one that gutted the team, and looking at their starting lineup on Sunday only reinforced that notion. But while the rest of 2012 may feature a slide not seen in New England since “Joe Kerrigan, Major League Baseball Manager” happened back in 2001, things won’t be quite so gloomy for the ’13 incarnation of the Olde Towne Team.

The trade brought the Red Sox down to approximately $46 million in guaranteed contracts, and many of those players are key cogs in Boston’s mainframe. Aside from those players, the team has 12 arbitration-eligible players, and they figure to double the payroll. Conservatively, let’s say that brings the payroll to $95 million. Let’s also allocate a conservative $18 million to David Ortiz, based on the assumption that losing Ortiz would be one public relations disaster too many for John Henry and his cohorts to handle.

That would leave the team with a payroll of $113 million, and as many as six spots up for grabs on the 2013 roster. Here’s a projection for how the roster may look — in pencil, of course — when free agency opens this fall. The column on the left are players who can solidly be expected to be on the active roster, with the column on the right representing players who could find their way into the mix at some point in 2013:

Pos Player   Pos Player On 40-Man?
C Jarrod Saltalamacchia   IF Jose Iglesias Yes
1B OPEN   IF Danny Valencia Yes
2B Dustin Pedroia   IF Ivan De Jesus Yes
3B Will Middlebrooks   IF Mauro Gomez Yes
SS Mike Aviles   OF Ryan Kalish Yes
LF OPEN   OF Daniel Nava Yes
CF Jacoby Ellsbury   OF Che-Hsuan Lin Yes
RF OPEN   IF Xander Bogaerts No
DH David Ortiz   OF Jackie Bradley No
Ben Ryan Sweeney   OF Jerry Sands No
Ben Ryan Lavarnway   OF Juan Carlos Linares No
Ben Pedro Ciriaco   OF Bryce Brentz No
Ben OPEN        
      RP Daniel Bard Yes
SP Jon Lester   RP Rich Hill Yes
SP Clay Buchholz   RP Mark Melancon Yes
SP Felix Doubront   RP Pedro Beato Yes
SP John Lackey   SP/RP Clayton Mortensen Yes
SP OPEN   RP Scott Atchison Yes
SP/RP Franklin Morales   SP Drake Britton Yes
RP Andrew Bailey   RP Chris Carpenter Yes
RP Alfredo Aceves   SP Stolmy Pimentel Yes
RP Junichi Tazawa   SP Zach Stewart Yes
RP Andrew Miller   SP Allen Webster Yes
RP Craig Breslow   SP Rubby de la Rosa No
RP OPEN   RP Alex Wilson No

So, that is six open spots, but I’m not necessarily assuming that all six spots will need to be filled in free agency. In a perfect world, the last spot in the bullpen is filled by Bard, but if not him, one of the many pitchers listed should be able to fill that spot. Likewise, the last spot on the bench seems likely to be filled by one of the players in the right column as well.

Two of the starting roles could be filled by players currently with the team as well. De La Rosa, if he’s healthy, could fill the last starting pitcher slot. De La Rosa is essentially all projection at this point, as he has missed most of this season recovering from Tommy John surgery, but his FIP, as projected by ZiPS before the season, was identical to Buchholz’s. In left or right field, a platoon between Kalish and Sands, with a healthy dose of Sweeney mixed in just may do the trick. Nava could figure into the equation there as well.

Now, the question is, is the above a good team or a bad team? I would submit that it’s actually a pretty good team. Even during the worst offensive season of his career, Pedroia is still a top-10 second baseman, and both Aviles and Middlebrooks rank in the upper half of the league at their position this season. Ellsbury has shown that he can be a top-10 player in baseball, let alone a top-10 center fielder. When healthy, Ortiz has shown no signs of slowing down, and despite the best (or is it worst?) efforts of Melancon and Matt Albers this season, the Red Sox bullpen still sports an 88 FIP-, good for eighth-best in baseball entering Sunday. Catcher remains a concern, as does the starting rotation, but the structure of a good team still remains.

And that’s because the Sox really didn’t really have a fire sale. The four players traded away combined for 4.9 WAR this season, which as of Sunday, accounted for less than 15 percent of the team’s total. Whether or not Gonzalez keeps hitting like he did in July and August isn’t really the issue, the issue is replacing the production they provided this year, and there is no reason to think that is an unachievable goal. For starters, the Sox haven’t exactly received the production from their stars that they were hoping for this season. The three main players traded away fall into that category, but so do Pedroia, Ellsbury and Lester. None of those three has played to their capabilities this season, and Pedroia and Ellsbury also haven’t played full seasons. Rebounds from them will go a long way to making up that deficit.

Free agents will help as well. Here is a list of possible free-agent targets:

1B: Mike Napoli, Adam LaRoche, Lance Berkman, Scott Rolen
OF: Josh Hamilton, Michael Bourn, Cody Ross, B.J. Upton, Shane Victorino, Melky Cabrera, Torii Hunter
SP: Zack Greinke, Anibal Sanchez, Edwin Jackson, Shaun Marcum, Hiroki Kuroda, Kyle Lohse, Ryan Dempster, Francisco Liriano

Is that a robust first-base market? No, not really. But there are solutions there. And the outfield and pitching market is thicker than just Hamilton and Greinke. And keep in mind that is a) not an exhaustive list and b) only takes into account freely available options. There is no telling what the team could cook up with further trades. And while it isn’t a long list of players, it doesn’t have to be for a team that can hand out big contracts.

With the blockbuster trade, as well as injuries to Middlebrooks and Ortiz, the air has been let out of the 2012 Red Sox season. The team has a good foundation — even with everything that has gone on this season, the Sox still entered Sunday with the 11th-highest team WAR in baseball — and will have somewhere in the neighborhood of $60 million that they can play with in free agency (after re-signing Big Papi) without hitting the luxury tax. Should they not choose to spend that money and wait for players like Bogaerts, Bradley and Matt Barnes to graduate to the majors, things may look decidedly less rosy. Either way, the Red Sox are unlikely to be hailed as favorites heading into 2013. But that doesn’t mean they won’t be good.

Paul Swydan used to be the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for Boston.com and The Boston Globe. Now, he owns The Silver Unicorn Bookstore, an independent bookstore in Acton, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan. Follow the store @SilUnicornActon.

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10 years ago

You didn’t include Nick Swisher in possible FAs. Could he be a target?

Uh Oh Cordero
10 years ago
Reply to  Derek

Could fit in both 1B and corner OF too!

10 years ago
Reply to  Derek

He’d be a perfect fit, I would think.

10 years ago
Reply to  Derek

Yes please, that man needs to stop playing for all the teams I like least and come join one of mine.