Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Red Sox Are Facing An Off-Season Of Major Changes

Change is coming to the Red Sox organization, both on the field and in their management structure.  That's what happens when an organization is facing a third last place finish in four years.  After waiting the first 23-years of my life for a Red Sox World Series championship, I am loathe to simply write off the 2013 World Series team but it is hard to consider that anything more than a fluke of a season when it is bunched in with the losing teams that have taken the field in 2012, 2014, and 2015.

Larry Lucchino's resignation as the Red Sox President and CEO is the first of many dominoes to fall at 4 Yawkey Way.

Here are a few areas to keep a close eye on the next few months:

1. What will happen in baseball operations?

The first question to ask is whether or not general manager Ben Cherington will keep his job.  It's hard to tell but Lucchino's departure might mean that Cherington is getting a chance to run the baseball operations of the Red Sox without the oversight of Lucchino.

Cherington might stay on as GM but the team may also look to add a baseball operations boss.  While Sam Kennedy will be taking over as President of the Red Sox, he is a business man.  Team owner John Henry needs to add a veteran baseball man to be President of Baseball Operations for the Red Sox to provide Cherington's department with a boss that has final say over player personnel decisions.

For that purpose, I will be rooting for the Cubs this Fall.  Remember that Theo Epstein left Boston to take over the Cubs back in 2011 as President of Baseball Operations.  That promotion, which he could not receive in Boston due to the presence of Lucchino, led the Brookline native to abandon his hometown team for the North Side of Chicago.  It was also a clash with Lucchino that led Epstein to briefly resign as Red Sox general manager in the 2005-2006 off-season.

With Larry Lucchino out, could Epstein be brought back to Boston to be the "Godfather" of baseball operations and serve as co-President with his Brookline High School classmate Kennedy?  It's a long shot but if Epstein's Cubs could pull off what seems like the impossible - 106 years and counting since their last World Series title - then maybe he could be wooed back to Boston.

Another name that may be more realistic is Dave Dombrowski of the Tigers.  Dombrowski's contract expires at the end of this season and he would be an excellent candidate to take over baseball operations and act as a mentor to Cherington.  He has a history with John Henry, working as his GM with the Marlins in the late 1990's.

2. Is John Farrell going to continue as manager?

The answer is no and it's more a matter of when than if when it comes to Farrell's departure as Red Sox manager.

Farrell obviously started his tenure as Red Sox manager with a bang, leading the 2013 team to a World Series championship.  However, since then the team is 118-150 and is on it's way to a second straight last place finish in the division.

The Red Sox have made many mental mistakes this season in the field and on the base paths and while the responsibility for those mistakes does lay with the players, Farrell has simply stood by and watched without making changes.  I understand that in a market with as much pressure as Boston that a manager needs to avoid calling out his players in the media - it was a skill that Terry Francona mastered and that Bobby Valentine seemed allergic to - but Farrell has not taken away playing time when players have made base running mistakes or have forgotten how many outs there were while in the field.

With the Red Sox not due back in Fenway until Friday, August 14, I think that Farrell has managed his last game at Fenway Park.  My guess is that the team will hand the job over on an interim basis for the rest of the season to either bench coach Torey Lovullo or third base coach Brian Buterfield before looking for a new skipper after the season.

Veteran major league coaches Alex Cora, Joey Cora, and DeMarlo Hale would be excellent candidates and former Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek could also be in the mix.

3. Who will be on the field in 2016?

At this point, the only player who has any say over his future with the Red Sox is David Ortiz.  The Red Sox have a $10-million team option on Ortiz, which they will almost certainly exercise as his chase for 500 home runs will help sell tickets, and because he has 10-5 rights he can't be traded without his consent, which he has stated will not be granted.

Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval will be difficult to move due to the large contracts they were handed this past winter.  There was some speculation that the Padres had interest in Sandoval at the trade deadline but nothing came of those rumors.  I believe the Red Sox would be open to dealing both players, even knowing that they would have to assume a portion of the money that the players are owed.

First baseman Mike Napoli is a free agent at the end of the season and is a likely candidate to be moved before the August 31 waiver trade deadline.  Napoli's disaster of a season in 2015 likely means his time in Boston is finished regardless is he's dealt this month.  It will be a tough exit for a player who was so vital to the championship run in 2013.

Catcher Ryan Hanigan is under contract through 2016 with the Red Sox holding an option for 2017.  He could be moved to a contender needing catching depth but with young catchers Blake Swihart and Christian Vazquez - who should be recovered from Tommy John surgery by next season - on the roster it might make sense to hold on to Hanigan to provide a veteran presence.

Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts seem to be the future cornerstones of the franchise.  Swihart is also likely part of the future unless he would help the team acquire a much needed starting pitcher.  Outfielder Rusney Castillo will get the first shot at right field and Jackie Bradley Jr. could also be in the mix unless he is traded and given a fresh shot at competing for a starting job somewhere else.  Brock Holt offers the team great versatility in the infield and outfield and also is likely to return in 2016.

Rick Porcello will be in the starting rotation unless the Red Sox agreed to eat all of the $83-million he is owed over the next four years.  The Red Sox need to hope he can put the dumpster fire of a 2015 season behind him and pitch at least close to what he did for the Tigers in 2014 when he went 15-13 with a 3.43 ERA.

Wade Miley has a team friendly contract - roughly $26-million over the next three years, which inlcudes a $12-million team option for 2018 - and has not been the worst starting pitcher so he's likely back for 2016. Clay Buchholz, injury history be damned, will also likely be back as his $13-million team option for 2016 and $13.5-million team option are very affordable.  Both could be trade bait but on a team where starting pitching is the biggest problem, Miley and Buchholz are more likely to be part of the solution than they are to be dealt away.

Rookie Eduardo Rodriguez is a lock to be in the rotation unless he is traded for a more established starter.

If we count Buchholz, Rodriguez, Miley, and Porcello as starters for next season, that leaves one spots to fill. Prospects Henry Owens and Brian Johnson will both get looks and the Red Sox will be expected to be in on free agents like David Price and Johnny Cueto or to explore trades for a pitcher such as Sonny Gray.

A move for the 25-year-old Gray would be intelligent.  The A's would expect a hefty return on Gray but the Red Sox could package Rodriguez and Owens with outfielder Manuel Margot and shortstop Devin Marrero to acquire the 2015 All-Star who is under team control through 2020.

If they can't pull off a trade for an established ace of the staff, then Henry will be forced to open the cash vault for a Price or Cueto if the team hopes to contend in 2016.

Beyond closer Koji Uehara and set-up man Junichi Tazawa, the bullpen is likely to be completely rebuilt for 2016.

4. Wait, what about Dustin Pedroia?

I have been a fan of Pedroia during his time with the Red Sox but with his 32nd birthday just two weeks away and a recent history of injuries, the team's biggest change could be trading away their All-Star second baseman.

Pedroia has the kind of credentials that would suggest that the team's second round pick in the 2004 draft would end his career in Boston.  World Series titles in 2007 and 2013.  The 2007 A.L. Rookie of the Year and 2008 A.L. MVP.  A four-time All-Star and Gold Glove winner.

The issue is that the team needs to make a change and dealing away Pedroia - who is very affordable with six-years and $84-million on the remainder of his contract - would signify that change.

A trade of Pedroia would likely net the Red Sox some young, major league ready pitching.  The Mets, for example, could use an upgrade at second base and in their lineup and have plenty of young pitching to move to achieve that goal.  I wonder who would say no if a deal of Zack Wheeler, who is coming off of Tommy John surgery, for Pedroia was offered?

Pedroia's position could be taken over by Holt until top prospect Yoan Moncada is ready for the big leagues sometime around 2017.  Betts could even move back to his original position of second base, which would help solve some of the log jam in the outfield.

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