It’s safe to say that the Boston Red Sox might have more flexibility right now than any other team in Major League Baseball.
The Red Sox have a strong major league core, financial flexibility and a surplus of young talent coming up through the minor league system. General manager Ben Cherington can pick his spots in determining how the roster should be constructed, particularly in regards to 2015, 2016 and beyond.
The Red Sox Rookie Program kicked off at Harvard University this week. Ten players are participating in the event, which prepares minor leaguers who are considered to be on the cusp of reaching the majors — usually 12-18 months away — for the next step in their baseball careers. This year’s crop of participating minor leaguers is very intriguing, as a number of players could hold prominent roles on the Red Sox in the not-so-distant future.
The Red Sox’ 2014 roster is mostly set, although it’s possible that Boston could re-sign Stephen Drew or do some additional fine-tuning before Opening Day. Beyond 2014 is a little less clear, mainly because there are so many directions in which the Red Sox could go. It’s entirely possible that the Red Sox’ 2015 roster could be very similar to the club’s 2014 cast, but Cherington might also make a splash in the trade market or in free agency over the next 15 months.
So, how about we try to predict the Red Sox’ 2015 roster?
The safe play would be to pencil in everyone under contract for 2015 and go from there. In fact, the biggest questions surrounding the team are the futures of David Ortiz and Jon Lester, who are set to hit free agency next winter. Let’s try to get at least a little creative, though.
Here is my total, complete, absolute, caution-to-the-wind projected Red Sox roster for 2015. We’re dealing entirely with hypotheticals, and, obviously, this season will have a huge influence on the direction that Cherington and Co. take the club.
Shane Victorino, RF
Dustin Pedroia, 2B
David Ortiz, DH
Giancarlo Stanton, LF
Mike Napoli, 1B
Garin Cecchini, 3B
Xander Bogaerts, SS
Jackie Bradley Jr., CF
Christian Vazquez, C
Mike Carp, 1B/OF
Daniel Nava, OF
Bryce Brentz, OF
David Ross, C
Deven Marrero, IF
–Let’s start with Ortiz. Big Papi is slated to hit free agency next winter, at which point he’ll be turning 39. It’s reasonable to wonder how much he has left in the tank, although his impressive 2013 campaign suggests that the fuel gauge isn’t exactly nearing “E.” Ortiz already has expressed a desire to sign an extension with the Red Sox, and Cherington recently said the club will explore a potential deal throughout the 2014 season. It would be surprising if Ortiz finishes his career somewhere other than Boston, especially with him continuing to play at such a high level. My guess is that he signs another two-year deal with the Red Sox before calling it quits.
–The biggest head-turner in the lineup above undoubtedly is the addition of Giancarlo Stanton, currently of the Miami Marlins. Admittedly, this scenario might be a long shot — the Marlins have maintained all along that they’re going to build around the 24-year-old slugger rather than trade him — but the Red Sox have the pieces to construct an enticing deal.
The Fish certainly would want Xander Bogaerts in any trade, but there’s absolutely no way that Boston will trade the prized 21-year-old shortstop. That could cause the Marlins to balk, but a package centered on left-hander Henry Owens, whose stock continues to rise, might catch Miami’s attention. The Marlins already have a promising young rotation, and Owens would have the potential to be a No. 2 or No. 3 starter behind reigning National League Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez. Some package of Owens, Allen Webster (ready to make the jump to the majors), Will Middlebrooks (assuming he reestablishes his value in 2014), Felix Doubront (under team control through 2017) and/or Bryce Brentz (ready and full of power) could do the trick.
Personally, I’d be weary of trading Owens, because it looks like the 6-foot-7 southpaw has the goods. And maybe Middlebrooks will break out this season (thus making him untouchable) and Doubront finally will become consistent (thus making his contract extremely team-friendly). But, as mentioned earlier, this is a time to get creative and stimulate discussion, and Stanton is as an intriguing a trade target as you’ll find.
The Red Sox have more than $90 million coming off the books next offseason and could have about $50 million to play with if they re-sign Ortiz and Lester. The problem is that next winter’s free-agent crop — potentially featuring Hanley Ramirez, Chase Headley and Max Scherzer — is weak. Diving into the trade market and using the club’s organizational depth to land a perennial All-Star/franchise cornerstone like Stanton might be more tempting, especially since Stanton — whom the Red Sox then would need to sign to an extension — can replace the power that Boston eventually will lose when Ortiz exits.
–Determining the Red Sox’ 2015 leadoff hitter is difficult because we don’t even know the 2014 leadoff hitter. Jacoby Ellsbury‘s departure leaves a big hole, and Shane Victorino seems like the best in-house option to fill it because of his combination of on-base ability and speed. Jackie Bradley Jr. also might become a consideration if he makes strides this year, but we’ll go with Victorino for the time being.
Brett Gardner represents one potential free-agent target. However, the Red Sox likely would only pursue Gardner if things don’t go swimmingly for either Victorino or Bradley in 2014.
—Daniel Nava shifts to the bench in this hypothetical 2015 lineup, but he’ll get opportunities as long as John Farrell keeps playing matchups and using an empty-the-bench approach.
Keep in the mind that the lineup above isn’t taking into account certain platoon splits and is simply a prediction for what a typical Red Sox lineup card could look like.
–Middlebrooks might be the Red Sox’ third baseman for many years, although he’ll need to show improvement in 2014. Choosing between him and prospect Garin Cecchini for the purpose of this crystal ball experiment essentially is a toss-up. This season — as well as other teams’ interest in each third baseman — could dictate who mans the hot corner on Opening Day in 2015. It’s a good problem to have.
—Christian Vazquez gets the nod at catcher. The Red Sox were unwilling to offer a multiyear contract to a catcher in free agency because of their confidence in Vazquez and Blake Swihart. Swihart has a higher offensive ceiling, but he’s likely looking at a 2016 arrival. A.J. Pierzynski will bridge the gap to Vazquez, whose rocket arm should be on full display in 2015.
—Mike Carp could generate trade interest, but he’s under team control through 2016. The Red Sox probably will keep Carp and Nava around unless an alluring offer gets tossed their way.
–The Red Sox are well-stocked at catcher. Currently, they have Ryan Lavarnway and Dan Butler in addition to Vazquez and Swihart. David Ross has a good thing going in Boston, though, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he is re-signed after the 2014 season to help groom along the Red Sox’ young backstops.
—Deven Marrero‘s 2013 invitation to spring training suggests that the Red Sox feel like he could soon contribute at the major league level. Marrero could become a nice utility player who sees a decent chunk of playing time behind Bogaerts and Cecchini, in particular.
Jon Lester, LHP
Clay Buchholz, RHP
John Lackey, RHP
Brandon Workman, RHP
Anthony Ranaudo, RHP/Matt Barnes, RHP
–Let’s start with Lester. Now that Clayton Kershaw has signed a seven-year, $215 million contract with the Dodgers, Lester could be in line for an even bigger payday than he originally anticipated. While Lester isn’t on the same tier as Kershaw, the Dodgers ace’s contract was a win for all starting pitchers, especially those hitting the open market relatively soon. If Lester decides to test free agency next winter, he might be the best starting pitcher available. Scherzer also is set to hit free agency, but the Tigers might use the money that they saved in the Prince Fielder–Ian Kinsler deal to lock up the reigning American League Cy Young.
It’s possible that Lester will command something close to Cole Hamels‘ six-year, $144 million contract, which the Red Sox might decide is too rich for their blood. Lester has performed well on the big stage within a big market for years, though, and Boston likely will make a strong push to re-sign the two-time All-Star. My guess is that Lester returns on a deal carrying an average annual salary north of $20 million.
—Clay Buchholz is under team control through 2017, and John Lackey will earn the major league minimum in 2015 because of the Tommy John surgery that forced him to miss all of 2012. Let’s toss their names in there.
—Brandon Workman is an interesting case because he thrived both as a starter and a reliever in 2013. Workman’s bulldog mentality would make him a solid successor to closer Koji Uehara, but there’s obviously more value in a young pitcher capable of providing 200 innings. Plus, who’s to say that Uehara will leave after this season? (More on that later.)
–The fifth spot could be dictated by what happens at the minor league level in 2014. Anthony Ranaudo, Matt Barnes, Rubby De La Rosa, Drake Britton, Webster and Owens all are names to watch — although my hypothetical deal for Stanton eliminates a few.
Closer: Koji Uehara, RHP
Junichi Tazawa, RHP
Edward Mujica, RHP
Rubby De La Rosa, RHP
Craig Breslow, LHP
Drake Britton, LHP
–Uehara will be a free agent next offseason, but another strong season could encourage the Red Sox to re-sign the energetic right-hander. Sure, he’ll turn 40 during the 2015 season, but his effectiveness stems from deception rather than breaking radar guns. He might stick around for a few more years.
—Craig Breslow has a $4 million club option for 2015. That will be a no-brainer if he pitches like he did in 2013.
–De La Rosa might figure into the Red Sox’ rotation plans, but his overpowering fastball also could translate to a late-inning relief role.
–Britton, like De La Rosa, could factor into the Red Sox’ rotation plans. But right now, there are just too many potential starters ahead of him on the hypothetical organizational depth chart. Britton would be a nice second lefty alongside Breslow if the Red Sox don’t re-sign Andrew Miller and add another external reliever.
Photo via Facebook/Giancarlo Stanton