free agency

Plouffe may yet plug Red Sox' hole at third base

Plouffe may yet plug Red Sox' hole at third base

OAKLAND -- A's third baseman Trevor Plouffe said Saturday that the Red Sox were a finalist for him this offseason, when he signed a one-year, $5.25 million deal with the A's as a first-time free agent.

What brought Plouffe to Oakland was an opportunity the Sox just couldn't offer -- playing time at third base. Not initially, anyway, considering they had high hopes for Pablo Sandoval. Or at least some hopes.

"I wanted to play third base and [the A's] came and right away and expressed their interest in that, and to me it was kind of a no-brainer," Plouffe said . "I was going to come here and get a chance to start at third. Kind of after last year, not being able to play a ton of games, prove that I can stay healthy again -- that was kind of the real selling point for me."

Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski publicly noted in the winter the difficulty the Sox had at times luring veterans because of a lack of playing time available.

"I mean, we had good conversations with [the Sox] and they were one of the last couple teams that we were talking to," Plouffe said. "Ultimately, I think there was opportunity in Boston, but I think the opportunity here was just greater. Where I'm at in my career, I needed to have a place to come play."

A knee injury to Sandoval later, Plouffe could have had it with the Red Sox. First base might have been an option for playing time too, occasionally, in Boston, but his preference is third base.

Plouffe entered Saturday hitting .252 with six home runs. Since May 7, he's hitting .405 with a .450 on-base percentage, .676 slugging percentage and a pair of home runs.

Who knows? Maybe the Sox and Plouffe wind up a pair later this season.

The A's, who were in last place in the American League West entering Saturday, have no qualms about dealing away players -- particularly those on one-year deals.

"Of course. You can't be naive about that fact," Plouffe said when asked if he arrived in Oakland knowing he could be dealt. "But you know, what I'm really thinking is, we come here and win. Then we add and we don't subtract. [In spring training] I saw the guys we had and the young starting pitching that we have, and it really excited me.

"The bullpen has been injured, I think when we need 'em they're going to be there. That was my thinking. I want to come here and add, not come here and subtract. Obviously I was aware of the history."

Haggerty: This time around, Bruins need to stay away from free agency

Haggerty: This time around, Bruins need to stay away from free agency

Cam Neely doesn't anticipate the Bruins being very busy during NHL free agency, and that should be a very good thing. 

"We'll see what transpires over the course of the offseason, but I don't envision [a busy free-agent period]," the Bruins' president responded when asked if general manager Don Sweeney would be busy when free agency begins on July 1. "We have to take a hard look at our roster and see if we can add. It doesn't necessarily have to be a veteran player. Maybe it's a younger player with some experience rather than a player with no NHL experience, but we do have some players in Providence at the pro level that we're looking to see as well. Are they ready to contribute at the NHL level?

"We've had an opportunity to see what we have coming up, and maybe it gives us an opportunity with those prospects to add somewhere else [via trade]. It's in a sense where we're getting a young [NHL] player but with some experience, we may have the assets to be able to do that."

It will be a prudent departure from the last two seasons, when the B's signed high-profile forwards Matt Beleskey and David Backes to five-year contracts for pretty good chunks of money. The two met team needs in the areas of size, strength and grit at the time of their signings, but Boston received mixed results from both.

Beleskey had a good first season, but -- due to his conditioning, and a knee injury -- he trailed off last year to the point where he was a healthy scratch for three of the Bruins' six playoff games.

Backes was pretty good in a top-6 role in his first season with the B's, and played some of his best hockey during the playoffs. But he also had nights during the regular season where he was a big, plodding winger who wasn't much of a factor physically or offensively, and, at age 32, it stands to reason there will be more, not less, of those kinds of games going forward. Clearly, Backes has excellent leadership characteristics and his toughness is something the Bruins badly needed, but the $6 million-a-year price tag feels like it's going to be problematic. 

"David had a hard time adjusting," said Neely. "He mentioned that at the end of the year that it was more of a challenge to come to a new city and a new team and get to know 22 to 24 other players. That took a while for him to get adjusted."

Overall, however, Neely defends the Backes signing.

"I feel like David is really built for the type of playoff hockey you have to have and play to go deep," Neely said. "I feel he's a great leader. He's helped the young kids a ton. If he can pick up a little bit of a step in his game, which he's going to work on in the offseason, I think that's going to be beneficial for him and us. But, I like his physicality. I like the fact that he'll stand front of the net and pay the price to be there. I think offensive-wise, we got kind of what we expected from him. Would we like a little more? Yeah. But, all the things that he brings, I thought that whole package was a welcome addition."

Both Backes and Beleskey, however, should serve as warnings to Neely and Sweeney as they attempt to strengthen an young, exciting team with a bright future ahead. The best weapons in Boston's quest to become "a deeper, more talented team" won't be found in free agency, where there are imperfect fits at premium prices. The Bruins should avoid being big players in free agency, whether it's a left winger for David Krejci or a top-4 defenseman on the left side.

Instead it sounds like the Bruins are leaning toward trades, and that's an encouraging development for a team that shouldn't overpay for anything right now. Both Kevin Shattenkirk and Karl Alzner are set to receive massive contracts as the best two free-agent D-men on the market, and names like Ron Hainsey, Dmitry Kulikov, Andrei Markov, Kris Russell and Michael Del Zotto shouldn't inspire the B's to go running for their checkbook.

Instead the Bruins should wait for things to settle down with the expansion draft and free agency, then utilize some of their treasure trove of prospects to swap for a left winger like Gabriel Landeskog or a left-side defenseman like Cam Fowler.

It looks like the Bruins are curbing the instinct to overpay in free agency as they did with Beleskey and Backes. That's another step in the right direction for a Black and Gold group that may be starting to get it. 
 

McAdam: A look at the Red Sox' offseason shopping list

McAdam: A look at the Red Sox' offseason shopping list

Beginning Tuesday, free agents can begin signing with teams, marking the official start of baseball's offseason.

This one figures to have far fewer dramatic moves than last year, when, among other moves, the Red Sox handed out the biggest contact in team history (David Price) and landed a front-line closer (Craig Kimbrel) in exchange for two of their best prospects.

Which isn't to suggest there aren't significant needs for the 2017 Red Sox.

To begin with, they must somehow find a replacement for the irreplaceable David Ortiz.

Upgrades would also be welcome in the bullpen, and perhaps, the starting rotation, though the latter is more likely to come via trade with such a thin free-agent market.

A look at the needs and some potential targets/solutions:

DESIGNATED HITTER

Let's state the obvious: Ortiz can't be fully replaced. The combination of his consistent production, ability to deliver in the clutch and his leadership skills make him a once-in-a-generational talent.

But somewhere, the Sox need to find a middle-of-the-order force to maintain their offensive might. The Sox led the majors in runs scored last year and it's difficult to envision them maintaining that perch without adding a elite run producer either by free agency of trade.

Top option: Edwin Encarnacion

Little known fact: The Red Sox had a trade in place in 2010 that would have sent Mike Lowell to Toronto in exchange for Encarnacion. But when Lowell indicated he would retire rather than report to the Blue Jays, the deal was shelved.

If the Sox are to make a deal for Encarnacion this winter, it will come at a significantly higher cost. Expectations are Encarnacion will get, at minimum, a four-year deal with an average annual salary in excess of $20 million. It would also cost the Red Sox their first-round pick next June as compensation since the Jays will undoubtedly present the slugger with a qualifying offer.

In spite of the cost, there's little dispute that Encarnacion would be a huge addition. He's actually hit more homers (193-163) and knocked in more runs (550-502) than Ortiz over the last five seasons.

As an added bonus, Encarnacion could be more than just a DH, with an ability to split playing time at first with Hanley Ramirez.

Next level: Carlos Beltran; Jose Bautista

Beltran was a trade target of the Red Sox last July, but making a deal with the rival New York Yankees proved problematic. A switch-hitter, Beltran would give the Sox some balance to the lineup and could, at least occasionally, fill in in left field. At 40, he would likely command no more than a one-year deal with an option for 2018.

Bautista had the misfortune to have a dropoff season in his walk year. His .817 OPS, while hardly diastrous, was his lowest since 2009. He's lost range in the outfield, but could still contribute occasionally. The one benefit to his disappointing 2016 is that he'd come at a cheaper price than teammate Encarnacion. He's has a huge backer in manager John Farrell, who had him for two seasons in Toronto. And more than any other free agent DH available, Bautista would fill Ortiz's leadership void.

Others: Mark Trumbo, Matt Holliday, Mike Napoli

Trumbo represents a pure power bat. He led baseball with 47 homers, but that was something of an outlier since he'd hit 36 homers in the previous two seasons combined. He's also is all-or-nothing hitter, with 170 strikeouts and a propensity for slumps.

Holliday is more of a pure hitter, who hasn't hit as many as 30 homers since 2007, when he played in Coors Field. At nearly 37, he would also represent a shorter investment.

Napoli, of course, is no stranger to the Red Sox, having been a big contributor to their 2013 championship. Well-liked by teammates and the staff alike, he found himself in 2016 after his wildly uneven 2015. Like Trumbo, he's streaky. Unlike Trumbo, he could contribute in the field, and might come with no strings attached since the budget-conscious Indians might not give him a qualifying offer.

BULLPEN

The Red Sox stand to lose two relievers from their playoff roster (Koji Uehara and Brad Ziegler), both of whom they could try to retain.

Uehara will be 41 on Opening Day, meaning a one-year deal at a salary far below the $9 million he earned last year. Ziegler can probably command a multiyear commitment and may want to go somewhere he can serve as closer again.

There are a number of top-flight closers (Kenley Jansen, Mark Melancon, Aroldis Chapman) on the market, but it's hard to envision the Red Sox wanting to commit the money necessary to land one, especially with Kimbrel on the books for next season at $13.25 million, with an option year after that.

TOP OPTION: Greg Holland

After undergoing Tommy John surgery and missing all of last season, Holland is ready to throw for teams this week and the Red Sox plan to be in attendance. He has closing experience, but presumably wouldn't be averse to setting-up Kimbrel -- if the money were right. Holland has averaged 12.4 strikeouts per nine innings in his career and could give the Sox another swing-and-miss weapon in the late innings.

OTHER OPTIONS: Luke Hochevar, Fernando Rodney, Santiago Casilla

Hochevar has had injury issues the last few years, missing 2014 with Tommy John surgery and undergoing thoracic outlet surgery last August, making his availability to start the season a question. But Hochever has multi-inning capability and might be worth a gamble.

Casilla saved 88 games over the last three years, though he lost the closer's job with the Giants in the second half of the season. He still has good stuff (averaging a career-best 10.1 strikeouts in 2016) and could be worth a gamble.

Rodney, too, represents a gamble. He was brilliant with the Padres last year, then disastrous with Miami after a mid-season trade. He has a history with Dave Dombrowski in Detroit, and at nearly 40, wouldn't be in position to demand much in the way of salary.