Possible Replacements for David Ortiz in 2017

As almost everybody on the planet knows, David Ortiz will retire after this season. Big Papi is off to a hot start, which is great for all concerned. However, in professional sports, it’s never too early to look ahead, especially for front office personnel paid to shape David Ortizrosters and win championships. Therefore, Dave Dombrowski and the Red Sox should already be eyeing potential replacements for Ortiz, even six months before his retirement.

Since 2003, Boston has used the designated hitter spot as a regular position, with Ortiz filling the role full-time. Elsewhere in the American League, however, that isn’t always the case. A lot of teams refrain from signing a specific guy to DH and instead use the spot as a way of giving older players rest. Yankees manager Joe Girardi calls it a “half day off,” with guys unburdened from playing the field. Joe Maddon was an early proponent of the idea when he rotated several Tampa Bay Rays in and out of the DH slot to keep the team fresh.

The Red Sox could definitely go down this route in 2017 and beyond. In Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, they have two older, more athletically challenged players who could use the additional rest that comes with DH-ing every few days. Of course, either of those players could also benefit from succeeding David Ortiz in taking on the role full-time, especially with the emergence of Travis Shaw giving the front office added versatility.

Yet, Boston is a star town, and the Red Sox have always enjoyed a cast of power hitters. The future is pretty murky when it comes to Sandoval and Ramirez, so Dombrowski should at least consider other options. Also, it’s worth noting that we’re talking about replacing David Ortiz, not some ordinary veteran. Papi is one of the greatest hitters in Red Sox history, so I believe his heir should possess similar star power.

In all reality, the Red Sox aren’t going to trade for a designated hitter. The obvious lack of any defensive value from that position means that giving up a prized prospect simply isn’t worth it. However, if the front office could simply spend money on a top hitter for the position, there could be tremendous upside there.

So, who is available on the open market? Well, the main sluggers who stick out in the forthcoming free agent class are Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista, the twin anchors of a potent Toronto Blue Jays lineup. Sure, the former will be 34 next season, and the latter 35, but that’s still considerably younger than David Ortiz. Besides, both Encarnacion and Bautista are still exceedingly productive. They combined to slug 79 homers and drive in 225 runs last year, and both love hitting at Fenway Park. Other free agent options include Pedro Alvarez, Ryan Howard, Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran and Mark Trumbo, although not all of those veterans figure to be healthy and productive for much longer.

Therefore, if Dombrowski chooses to employ another full-time DH once David Ortiz rides off into the sunset, he should definitely target one of the Blue Jays’ core sluggers. The sight of either Bautista or Encarnacion in a Red Sox uniform, solely focusing on hitting every day as a full-time DH, would be scary for the league and incredibly fun for Boston fans. It would also weaken a division rival, and ensure that there will be little decline in production from a position this franchise helped revolutionize.

Where the Red Sox Stand as Truck Day Looms

Since capturing David Price in early December, the Red Sox have been awfully quiet. Admittedly, handing a 7-year, $217 million contract to a premium ace just weeks after acquiring an All-Star closer is cataclysmic in baseball terms, and Dave Dombrowski can be forgiven for taking some time to regain composure. However, this isn’t a complete roster by any measure, which means the Red Sox still have work to do as attention turns to Truck Day.

Red Sox

Without a doubt, adding Price and Craig Kimbrel made the Red Sox a much better team. In fact, Fangraphs projects Boston to have the best record in the American League this year. Yet, beneath the data, this is a team with several question marks and unsatisfying holes. Once again, the human reality casts doubt over the statistical romance, as fans are left yearning for more.

Quite frankly, when Clay Buchholz and Rick Porcello are currently slated to take the ball in Games 2 and 3 of a prospective playoff series, it’s difficult to be overly optimistic about the Sox’ chances. Similarly we have no idea what to expect from Pablo Sandoval or Hanley Ramirez, though initial reports indicate they’re working into better physical shape. And as for Jackie Bradley Jr. and Rusney Castillo? We saw exciting flashes last season, but whether they can take that next step into becoming regular stars remains to be seen.

Last year, the Red Sox won 78 games and finished in the AL East cellar, fifteen games behind the Blue Jays and eight adrift of a Wildcard berth. The introduction of Price and Kimbrel should help bridge those gaps, but there is no guarantee. The Yankees have also improved, theoretically, by trading for Aroldis Chapman and Starlin Castro, while the Orioles managed to retain a majority of their club, which looked to be falling apart at one stage. Again, we see that the Red Sox still have plenty of building to do.

So, what is left on the market for potential upgrades? Well, not a lot. The pool of adequate free agent starters has been reduced to Doug Fister, Yovani Gallardo, Mat Latos, Cliff Lee and Tim Lincecum, while the best remaining outfielders are Dexter Fowler and Austin Jackson. Of course, a trade is still possible, with the usual names lurking on the rumor mill, but the Red Sox may not be willing to use any more prospects as trade chips following the earlier blockbuster.

Ultimately, the Red Sox are now in their best position since October 2013. But, unfortunately, that doesn’t say much considering how bad the intervening years were. Boston can certainly rely on Price and Kimbrel to produce, and Mookie Betts, Blake Swihart, Xander Bogaerts and Dustin Pedroia are primed for big seasons, but a string of questions will need to be answered in the affirmative for Boston to truly rebound.

There’s still just over two months until Opening Day, so Dave Dombrowski has time to continue dealing. He inherited a core and has begun to build diligently around it. Perhaps those efforts just need to be accelerated, if the dreams of Red Sox Nation are to be realized soon.

Red Sox Add Kimbrel, Send Signal of Intent

When the Red Sox traded for San Diego closer Craig Kimbrel last week, shock waves reverberated around the baseball world. Such a trade can be viewed as a defiant signal of intent, a confirmation of Boston’s rekindled commitment to acquiring elite talent.

Red Sox add kimbrel

In Kimbrel, the Red Sox added a genuine star. The bullpen ace will turn 28 in May, but has already amassed 225 saves in five full Major League seasons. Only thirty-eight pitchers have ever saved more games in baseball history, which is indicative of Kimbrel’s prodigious ability. Given his relative youth, Craig figures to have a legitimate shot at 500 saves, a plateau reached only by Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman thus far.

Of course, the Red Sox didn’t want to give up dazzling prospects such as Manuel Margot, Javier Guerra, Carlos Asuaje and Logan Allen, but the opportunity to rebuild a woeful bullpen around one of the two best closers in the game was too good to pass up. Dave Dombrowski has often struggled to construct a strong relief corps, but Kimbrel gives him an enviable cornerstone.

Moreover, this trade was highly symbolic. From a philosophical perspective, it indicated that, after years of indifference and indecision, the Red Sox are ready to go all-in and recommit to investing heavily to win now, rather than just stockpiling assets for a tomorrow that may never arrive. Dombrowski is the ultimate win-now architect, and ownership has clearly granted him autonomy to reshape the Red Sox into a powerhouse.

So, what is his next move towards achieving that objective? As every baseball fan on the planet knows, the Red Sox need a bonafide ace, a bulldog to head the rotation. And, as Dombrowski indicated recently, that piece will likely be acquired via free agency. Accordingly, Boston figures to compete heavily in the market for David Price, who seems the perfect antidote to the franchise’s pitching problem. Alternatively, Zack Greinke may be a target, although his advancing age will test ownerships’ resolve, while Johnny Cueto and Jordan Zimmermann will also be worthy of consideration.

However, I think the Red Sox need two, not one, additional starters. At present, the perpetually inconsistent Clay Buchholz will start on Opening Day, while Wade Miley or Rick Porcello would likely pitch Game 4 of any potential playoff series. Quite frankly, that simply isn’t viable if the Sox hope to seriously compete for a world championship. Therefore, I expect Dombrowski to finally solve the ace problem before wading into the secondary market for a strong mid-rotation arm like Mike Leake, Doug Fister, Jeff Samardzija, or Mat Latos.

Hypothetically, a rotation of Price, Leake, Miley, Buchholz, and Eduardo Rodriguez would instantly improve the Red Sox beyond measure, and go a long way to redressing the balance between offence and pitching that was so distorted last year. Dombrowski could possibly offset the salary burden by working some kind of trade including Joe Kelly, Porcello, or, ideally, Hanley Ramirez.

At this point, speculation is the lifeblood of baseball fans. A lot can happen between now and Opening Day. However, with one trade, one sacrificing of homegrown talent in order to obtain elite external reinforcements, the Boston Red Sox made a new commitment to their fans, and fired a warning to their rivals. Dave Dombrowski wants to win immediately, and the journey to that end promises to be greatly intriguing.

Top 5 Red Sox Books to Read this Winter

The offseason can be a difficult grind, but I always pass the time by reading good books, especially about baseball, a sport with an unrivalled literary footprint. In particular, the Red Sox have arguably been the focus of more quality books than any other sports team in the world. Therefore, I present five recommendations for your winter reading list.Red Sox books

 

1) Faithful
This classic by Stephen King and Stewart O’Nan is essentially a diary of the legendary 2004 season. This was the first book I simply couldn’t put down, and have re-read it five or six times through the years. Even today, the 2004 Red Sox are a captivating story, and this wonderful book grants you box seats to relive it all. Faithful is perfect for a lazy weekend in poor weather. You’ll breeze through the pages and never want it to end.

2) Feeding the Monster
For this opus, Seth Mnookin was granted unprecedented access to the Red Sox front office and ownership. He sat in on executive meetings and conducted exclusive interviews with key personnel. The result is an engrossing book that delves deep into the Red Sox’ philosophy, and delivers a behind-the-scenes look at how The Olde Towne Team morphed into a flagship juggernaut of North American sports.

3) It Was Never About the Babe
As every Red Sox fan knows, the team was long overshadowed by the Curse of the Bambino, a concept that went mainstream following Dan Shaughnessy’s eponymous book. However, while the curse mushroomed into pop culture ubiquity, it was of course totally fiction. The real reasons why Boston didn’t win a World Series for 86 years are documented in exquisite detail by Jerry Gutlon in It Was Never About the Babe, which cites cronyism, racial bias and a fear of modernization as chief rationale for the infamous drought. Riveting reading.

4) ’78: The Boston Red Sox, a Historic Game, and a Divided City
In this fascinating commentary, Bill Reynolds uses the 1978 one-game playoff between the Red Sox and Yankees as a prism through which to explore a complex era in Boston societal history. That summer, civil unrest over racial busing festered in Massachusetts, creating a unique context for one of the greatest games in sports history. Reynolds does a masterful job of explaining how the Red Sox are intrinsic to Boston culture, and how, in turn, that culture affects the beloved baseball team.

5) Ted Williams: The Biography of an American Hero
When it comes to Red Sox history, no player stands out more than the Splendid Splinter, Teddy Ballgame. He was, quite simply, the greatest player in franchise history, and we’ll be extremely lucky ever to see hit like again. In this definitive biography, Leigh Montville digs deep into the man and the myth; the hero and the human. Ted Williams was more than a Red Sox immortal, more than a baseball God. He was an American icon who served his country with distinction, and who created a compelling story at every turn. Retrace his complex life and immense legacy with this compelling biography, which includes everything you would ever need to know about The Kid.
Happy reading, folks. Not long until Truck Day.

Can the Red Sox Salvage Pablo Sandoval?

When the Red Sox signed Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez for a combined $183 million last winter, I was actually excited. At the outset, those acquisitions signaled an intent on the part of ownership to spend big on marquee superstars once again, which is something I love. However, following a dismal season from the two new sluggers, it’s strange to think that Red Sox Nation was once enthralled by these enigmatic signings, who crashed and burned into the most overpaid, under-performing albatrosses in baseball.

Red Sox

Ramirez hit just .249, got on base at a .291 clip, and hit just 19 home runs in 105 injury-besmirched games. Furthermore, he was the worst fielder currently employed by a Major League team, and displayed an attitude of indifference that rankled many fans. Even with three years still remaining on his contact, Ramirez is pretty much a lost cause at this point; his lack of a defensive position coupled with a staggering loss of agility making him essentially valueless in a roster-building sense.

However, with Sandoval, I at least feel a small sense of distant optimism that he can rebound into a serviceable big league ballplayer, even though he is paid more than Ramirez and was arguably even more of a disaster in 2015. Sandoval had a .245/.292/.366 slash line this season, with 10 home runs and 47 RBI. His defensive WAR was -15.1, with the next-worst third baseman at -8.7. Such an awful performance was made worse by Sandoval’s chronic inability to manage his weight, and the scandal which saw him using Instagram during a game. Essentially, it was difficult to find a worse everyday player in all of Major League Baseball this year than the Kung Fu Panda.

So, can anything be salvaged from Sandoval, who is under contract through 2019? Well, the cynical answer would be a flat no. Yet, I feel that, if Pablo can solve some of his external problems, his performance on the field could be greatly improved. Firstly, he must maintain a decent weight, to aid agility and health. Secondly, he must get accustomed to playing in Boston for the Red Sox, which can be a great experience for superstars who deliver. Thirdly, he must return to switch-hitting, to take greater advantage of Fenway’s left field wall. And finally, he must keep a low profile, work hard, and do the job he is paid to do: play solid baseball for the Red Sox.

On the field this year, Sandoval had a 22% Line Drive rate, which was down 4% on 2014, but right in line with his career average. However, his Batting Average on Balls in Play was just .270, compared with .300 in 2014 and a career mark of .307. This may be illustrative of more aggressive shifting, but Sandoval hit the ball to the opposite field 30% of the time in 2015, which was 17th best in baseball. Accordingly, we may conclude that Pablo encountered some misfortune and that, while his general approach is fairly good, his execution of that approach is often awry, as judged by him swinging at 48.6% of balls outside the strike zone.

So, ultimately, I think that, beneath the surface, there is still plenty to work with here. If I was the Red Sox manager, I would have Sandoval commit to a new diet and work ethic; and if I was the Red Sox hitting instructor, I would have him be a little more selective at the plate to accentuate the positive of his willingness to hit the ball to all fields.

Those sound like solutions in theory, but whether Pablo Sandoval has the discipline and desire to cooperate remains to be seen. We can only hope that he wakes up to the greatness of his opportunity before it’s too late.

With New Red Sox Veteran Core, Prospects May Excel

red sox veteran

During the public autopsy on the disastrous 2014 Red Sox, plenty of theories were offered as to why the team just totally fell apart. Persistent injuries, under-performing coaches and World Series hangovers were all cited, but one important factor was often overlooked: Boston’s lack of a star veteran core.

Previous Red Sox teams always had a nucleus of superstars on which to rely for Red Sox Veteranleadership. In 2004, it was Schilling and Martinez. In 2007, Ortiz and Ramirez took center stage. In 2013, how about Pedroia and Lester? Traditionally, these Red Sox veteran players provided a cornerstone around which the front office could build; a bedrock in which fans could believe; and a framework to which rookies could adhere. In essence, they were the heartbeat of the Boston Red Sox.

However, once Lester was traded and Pedroia got hurt last year, The Olde Towne Team found itself short of bona fide stars for the first time in living memory. Yes, Big Papi was still around, launching homer after homer, but even the most ardent sentimentalist must admit he is no longer among the elite. Thus, the Sox found themselves in a bind.

The lack of star power not only hurt the team commercially, but also in philosophical and leadership sense. After years of consistently developing homegrown Major League stars, the system spluttered somewhat in 2014, with Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Will Middlebrooks and Anthony Ranaudo all struggling to adjust to the big leagues. This, I believe, can be largely attributed to the lack of a robust veteran core in Boston for the first time since the 1990s.

Previously, raw rookies could venture to the Majors and blend into the background somewhat, growing acclimated while the established Red Sox veterans—stars—soaked up attention and carried the burden of production. For instance, when Pedroia was promoted, Josh Beckett, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz were there to inform and advise, promote and protect. Similarly, Jacoby Ellsbury felt less pressure due to the presence of Jason Varitek, JD Drew and Kevin Youkilis. In both cases, the young guys weren’t expected to be immediate superstars, because the Sox already had that covered.

However, last year, who could Bogaerts learn from? Who could Bradley Jr. look to for advice and guidance? Aside from an increasingly surly Papi and an increasingly injured Pedroia, there was nobody to teach the neophytes, nobody to deflect the overbearing scrutiny, and nobody to lead a rudderless ship.

Thus, in 2014, the Sox had a galaxy of homegrown stars but, unlike years gone by, there was no sun about which it could orbit. Accordingly, the planet fizzled and died a horrid, 91-loss death.

Therefore, it was pleasing to see the Sox address their dire need for star power this winter, acquiring Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval to effectively re-grow the Red Sox veteran core and erect a new frame of reference for the team’s philosophy. Now, with genuine superstars attracting much of the attention and doing a majority of the heavy lifting, perhaps Bogaerts, Betts and Swihart will be afforded a little more breathing room. Liberated from the instant need to provide leadership and create drama, perhaps they’ll finally flourish as prospects, becoming stars in their own time and fashion, just like Ellsbury and Pedroia before them.