Tim O’Sullivan: Red Sox better, but still not good enough
American League's Mike Napoli, of the Texas Rangers, hits a single during the fifth inning of the MLB All-Star baseball game, Tuesday, July 10, 2012, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Philadelphia Phillies' Shane Victorino slides into second after hitting a one-run double against the Washington Nationals in the third inning of a baseball game on Wednesday, May 23, 2012, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/H. Rumph Jr)
St. Louis Cardinals' Adron Chambers (56) crosses home plate after a bad throw from Atlanta Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons (19) as Atlanta Braves catcher David Ross (8) tries to make the catch during the seventh inning of the National League wild card playoff baseball game Friday, Oct. 5, 2012, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Oakland Athletics' Jonny Gomes warms up to bat during the first inning of a baseball game aaginst the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg, Fla., Friday, Aug. 24, 2012.(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
It’s already been a busy offseason for the Red Sox. There’s a new manager, a new contract for David Ortiz, two new $39-million veterans and a few new role players. Considering the 2012 debacle, somehow worse than the 69-93 record tells, Boston needed a lot of new.
The moves feel like steps in the right direction for the Sox. John Farrell should be better than Bobby Valentine. Mike Napoli ought to provide needed power. Shane Victorino and Jonny Gomes should improve the clubhouse atmosphere. David Ross and Koji Uehara add depth and flexibility.
But it’s hardly time to start planning a duck boat rally for Boston, or even a move out of the AL East cellar. The club may have been active, and it needed to be, but was it productive? The acquisitions were not wildly innovative or bold. They all come with varying sizes of red flags. And the most important moves, the ones involving starting pitchers and Jacoby Ellsbury, are still waiting to be made.
This offseason may prove to be a good one for the Sox, it just isn’t there yet.
The Napoli signing seems the safest and most sensible decision Ben Cherington, Larry Lucchino and the rest of the front office have made. The team needed a first baseman and some right-handed pop in the
lineup, and Napoli can bring both. The $13 million per year may be a bit high, but the three years seem fair, as does the total contract. Still, he’s not a great defensive first baseman and it’s worrisome when a team signs a player who has killed them in the past, like Napoli has done with the Sox, that there is some overvaluing in play.
Victorino received the same three-year, $39-million contract that Napoli got, and that’s the problem. Some thought Victorino would get a contract in the one-year, $7-million range considering he was coming off his worst offensive season (career low .704 OPS) and that some of his best skills (base stealing and defense) may start to erode at his age (32). Yes, Victorino gives Boston flexibility in the outfield, has the potential to be a solid offensive player (career .770 OPS), and comes with a reputation as a positive clubhouse presence, but the price was way too high.
The Victorino signing looks even worse when you consider the Gomes deal. Both of them are much better against left-handed pitching, which puts some major limitations on that outfield flexibility. Gomes is also known as a great character guy, but he’s not an everyday player, and the two-year, $10 million contract he got from Boston is too much for a platoon outfielder.
This isn’t to say the Red Sox should have spent $175 million on Josh Hamilton. The team just dumped massive salaries, it shouldn’t be adding any new ones. If Hamilton can be had for less money and years, that’s a different story, but the lineup, with these additions, has a chance to be decent. A decent lineup can win the World Series – San Francisco just did it – but it needs a great pitching staff to go with it, and Boston doesn’t have that. There are still free agents available and possible trades to be made, but the offseason maneuvering from the Sox regime doesn’t exactly inspire confidence that the team can land the arms it needs.
Once Zach Greinke signs, the market for the rest of the free agent starters should pick up. Boston could find a back-of-the-rotation veteran in free agency like Shaun Marcum or Joe Saunders, or maybe one of the higher-end starters like Kyle Loshe or Anibal Sanchez. But the Sox have been reportedly spurned by Dan Haren and Ryan Dempster already, which let’s you know Boston is less attractive to free agents than it was just a short time ago.
The club does have pieces to move if it wants to acquire starting pitching via trade. Ellsbury is at the top of the commodity list, but moving him for a top starter will be a delicate matter. Adding Ross does give Boston the option of including a big league catcher in any potential deal. And Uehara’s arrival means the Sox could also afford to deal any number of relievers: someone with closer experience (Andrew Bailey), a lefty (Franklin Morales or Andrew Miller), or even a high-potential talent (Junich Tazawa). The organization also has valuable pitching prospects like Rubby De La Rosa, Matt Barnes and Allen Webster to spice up a package for an established arm.
So there are trade options, and enough that the team should be able to hang on to top prospects Zander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley. But the question begs to be asked again – can Cherington and Co. make the right decisions? So far, the jury is still out.
(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3371 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)