What Sox should and shouldn't have done over offseason
What Sox should and shouldn't have done over offseason
The off-season will soon be effectively over and the start of spring training -- if not quite the same as the start of spring itself -- will signal that the baseball season isn't far away.
But before we move forward to 2016, a look back at what took place this winter with some evaluation on what the Red Sox accomplished and didn't accomplish.
1) Signed Mookie Betts to a contract extension
The Red Sox' other potential franchise piece -- shortstop Xander Bogaerts -- is represented by agent Scott Boras, and as such, was unlikely to sign away any salary arbitration or free agent years. Boras has always advocated that his players go year-to-year, maximizing their earning potential even it means forgoing some contractual security.
But Betts was under no such directive from his representatives. The Red Sox could have gotten Betts signed to, say, a six or seven-year deal, buying out a few arbitration seasons and a year or two of free agency. That would have secured a foundational player for the foreseeable future, while likely saving the Sox the headache of costly arbitration seasons and delaying the day when Betts is free to sign elsewhere.
Having to go to arbitration -- or settle beforehand -- won't bankrupt a club like the Red Sox, given their resources. But delaying free agency would have extended their window.
In theory, there's still time to get this done, with position players not scheduled to report for almost three weeks. But time is getting short, and unless there's been some talks already in progress, it would seem too late to get a deal of this magnitude done before spring training gets underway.
2) Obtained another lefty reliever
Credit Dave Dombrowski for big improvements to the bullpen. Landing closer Craig Kimbrel and elite set-up man Carson Smith greatly enhanced the Red Sox pitching staff. The Red Sox now boast an elite ninth-inning option who can make hitters swing-and-miss, and in Carson, the Sox bolstered their depth in getting to Kimbrel in the ninth.
Add in Koji Uehara - now pushed back to the eighth -- and Junichi Tazawa -- slotted for the sixth or seventh -- and the Sox have the kind of deep bullpens that contenders must have.
But with one more bullpen arm, the Sox could have really built a dominant relief group. Robbie Ross Jr. is a useful, versatile piece and with Smith, Uehara and Tazawa in place, Tommy Layne can be used almost exclusively as a lefty specialist. Last year, Layne limited lefties to a .418 OPS; where he got into trouble was trying to regularly face righties (.950 OPS).
Had the Sox signed, say, free agent Tony Sipp, they would have been a step closer to the monster pen built by the New York Yankees (Andrew Miller, Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances) or the Kansas City Royals.
As it is, the Red Sox relief corps is good, but not great.
3) Taken advantage of the free agent outfield market
Even after the start of the new year, some of the top free outfielders remained on the market. Yoenis Cespedes (Mets) and Justin Upton (Detroit) didn't sign until a month before camps open.
That presented the Red Sox with an opportunity to capitalize on a down market. Imagine adding either righty power bat to the Red Sox offense?
Would the Sox have been able to get a deal done for less than nine figures? Perhaps. Cespedes signed a three-year deal for $75 million, with an opt-out after the first year. Upton got six-years, $132.75 from the Tigers.
Surely, the Red Sox could have matched the Cespedes deal -- opt-out and all. And what if they had gotten creative with Upton, offering a higher AAV (average annual value) for a shorter term, perhaps with some opt-out language?
On one hand, it's easy to understand why the Sox are placing their trust in Rusney Castillo and Jackie Bradley Jr. The Sox have invested time and money in both, and at 29 and 25 respectively, it's time to see what they have, once and for all.
But imagine a lineup that featured Upton in left, Betts in center and a platoon of Bradley and Castillo in right? Or deciding on Castillo in right, with Bradley available to play any of the three outfield spots?
1) Banked on Hanley Ramirez to be their first baseman
Admittedly, cutting ties with Ramirez after just one season would have been an expensive proposition. Ramirez has better than $60 million remaining over the next three seasons and given how poorly he produced in 2015 -- in the field and at the plate -- the Red Sox would have been forced to take back the majority of his remaining deal just to move him.
But relying on Ramirez -- especially at a position he's never played -- is equally risky. Put aside any concerns about Ramirez's offense for a minute and focus just on his defensive liabilities. Ramirez has vowed to make the commitment to first base, but he muttered the same platitudes about going to the outfield a year ago, and we know how that turned out.
Add in the potential for disruption -- the Sox played far better in the final six weeks with Ramirez sidelined than they did with him -- and it's clear that keeping Ramirez is a huge gamble.
2) Allowed Christian Vazquez to play winter ball
It's relatively rare for position players to undergo Tommy John surgery and rarer still for catchers to do so. But the most recent example illustrates the dangers.
Baltimore's Matt Wieters rushed back from the procedure and saw his recovery pushed back after trying to do too much, too soon. The Sox had Vazquez serving as DH -- wisely, he was prohibited from doing any catching and wasn't allowed to throw -- about nine months after undergoing the surgery.
Vazquez reported he was symptom-free a week ago and has begun throwing in Fort Myers with no ill effects. But given that the Sox have Blake Swihart and Ryan Hanigan, it might have been more prudent to put the brakes on Vazquez's timetable and have him wait until the start of camp for any real baseball activity.
3) Made Arnie Beyeler a scapegoat
Beyeler was the only coach from last year's staff not invited to return for 2016, Band there was never much of an explanation given for his dismissal beyond the need for "making some changes.”
As the club's outfield instructor, Beyeler made great strides with Mookie Betts -- an infielder by trade -- and helped Rusney Castillo make the transition to left.
If he was blamed for Ramirez's poor outfield play, that's unfair. Beyeler pushed Ramirez to put in the time, but couldn't get Ramirez to commit.
In Ruben Amaro Jr., the Red Sox have an intriguing choice as Beyeler's replacement. Amaro was a major league utility man and later became a GM, so his background alone is unique for a first base coach.
But Beyeler, who had loyally served as manager in both Double A and Triple A before joining the major league staff in 2013, deserved a better fate.