In the words of Happy Gilmore, it ain’t over yet, McGavin. The way I see it, we’ve only just begun.
The Red Sox put their money where their mouth is this week by reportedly giving Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez contracts totaling nearly $200 million. The moves undoubtedly boost Boston’s offense and reflect the organization’s commitment to winning, but they also raise questions for a team whose roster is even less defined now than it was at the beginning of free agency.
Common sense suggested the Red Sox would pursue either Sandoval or Ramirez this offseason while looking to solidify third base, which has been a black hole the last two seasons with Will Middlebrooks failing to build on his breakout 2012 campaign. As is often the case with the Major League Baseball offseason, common sense didn’t apply.
The Red Sox, who struggled offensively throughout 2014, instead decided to think outside the box and land arguably the two best offensive players available in free agency at a time when offense is down across the league. It’s hard to fault their open-mindedness, however unconventional the tactic might be.
Boston’s recent indulgence clearly is just the beginning, though. The Red Sox’s rotation remains unassembled, and it’s become increasingly obvious that Boston will need to trade players. The most likely scenario, of course, is that the Red Sox will parlay some of their current lineup pieces into pitching help, though Jon Lester remains very much in Boston’s crosshairs as far as free agency is concerned.
Sandoval is going to play third base. Ramirez’s role is more undefined, but his surprise reunion with Boston unquestionably is a precursor to a subsequent move(s). It’s a numbers game — both roster-wise and from a financial standpoint — and adding Ramirez without subtracting elsewhere is simply impossible.
In theory, Ramirez could play shortstop (his natural position) with Xander Bogaerts being shipped out as the centerpiece of a major trade. The Red Sox have high hopes for the 22-year-old, though, and his low cost is especially appealing in the wake of Boston’s recent splurge. Plus, Ramirez is a below-average defensive shortstop and a position change seemed inevitable even before he reportedly agreed to a four-year, $88 million contract with the Sox.
Thus, it appears Ramirez is destined for left field, adding to an already crowded Boston outfield. It already seemed inevitable that the Red Sox would leverage their surplus of outfielders on the trade market. Now, you could bet your mortgage on it and feel good about the wager.
Yoenis Cespedes’ name has been tossed around in trade speculation all offseason. While the Cuban slugger’s value might be capped to some extent by his impending free agency after the 2015 season, his immense power is in demand. A team looking for an offensive boost might be willing to part with pitching in exchange for Cespedes, much like the Red Sox did at this year’s MLB non-waiver trade deadline. Trading Cespedes also would free up $9 million, which the Red Sox could then use in addressing other needs (additional starting pitching, bullpen help and a backup catcher, to be specific).
Dealing Cespedes seems like an obvious domino, especially since a clause in his contract would prevent the Red Sox from netting draft pick compensation if he walked in free agency next offseason. It’s not a foregone conclusion, however, and Allen Craig, Shane Victorino, Mookie Betts and Mike Napoli represent other potential trade chips, though their respective inclusions in deals obviously would depend on the return.
The only real certainty at the beginning of free agency was that the Red Sox needed to revamp their roster in order to improve upon a dismal 2014 season. Nearly two months and $200 million later, the Red Sox can feel better about where they stand by virtue of adding two quality players in Sandoval and Ramirez.
But the work is hardly finished. In fact, some very heavy lifting still needs to be done.
Pablo Sandoval photo (left) via Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports Images. Hanley Ramirez photo (right) via Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY Sports Images.