The Boston Red Sox didn’t reach the postseason in 2010, which doesn’t sit well with the team or its fans. So, heading into the offseason, what does Red Sox management do over the winter to find a way to get past the Tampa Bay Rays and the New York Yankees in the American League East and get back on the path to another World Series?
The question marks surrounding the Red Sox roster this offseason revolve mostly around free agent decisions. The first was answered recently when the Red Sox exercised their $12.5 million on designated hitter David Ortiz for 2011, keeping him off the free agent market.
But general manager Theo Epstein and the Red Sox have to make decisions on a pair of free agent players that led the team in 2010. Depending on whether they can keep those players in Boston uniforms moving forward, the Red Sox will then have to decide how they will use their considerable resources to pursue other teams’ free agents, or whether they’ll try to build from within with young players of their own.
Here are the key players in the Red Sox free agent planning this offseason.
Adrian Beltre – 3B
Epstein made one of the smartest free agent moves of last offseason by signing the former Mariner to a low-cost one-year contract. Beltre responded with a 28 HR, 102 RBI season and played his customary stellar defense to reestablish his value on the free agent market. Now what? Do the Red Sox make a long-term commitment? Do they move Jed Lowrie to third after his impressive late-season performance? Much will depend here, as is usually the case with Red Sox free agent negotiations, on what offers are forthcoming from other teams. There are rumblings that Beltre only wants to play on the west coast. Boston may not be willing to commit to the number of years that a team like the Los Angeles Angels might.
Victor Martinez – C
The free agent catching market is thin this year, and Martinez is definitely the cream of the crop. The red Sox may have doubts about his defense, or his ability to remain at catcher as he ages. They like his versatility, but have a bit of a logjam at his other positions – 1B (Kevin Youkilis) and DH (Ortiz). This may also come down to whether the Red Sox can get Martinez on a three-year deal or whether another team – like Detroit or Colorado – offers a longer-term deal. If Epstein can’t sign Martinez, the Red Sox may take the draft pick compensation they’d receive if the free agent signed elsewhere and go with Jarrod Saltalamacchia and veteran Jason Varitek instead.
Depending on the resolution of negotiations with Beltre and Martinez, the Red Sox could set their sights on other high-profile free agents.
Cliff Lee – P
He’s the top free agent by any measure, but Lee is perhaps the least likely big name to end up in Boston. After committing to long term contract for free agent john Lackey and veteran Josh Beckett last year, it is unlikely that the Red Sox would spend what it takes to lock up Lee.
Carl Crawford – OF
Crawford is considered the top free agent hitter available this year. The speedy Tampa Bay Rays star would be a solid number-three hitter in the Red Sox lineup and a defensive upgrade in left field. But he’s a left-handed hitter with decent but not outstanding power, and may not be the best fit for the Red Sox’s needs. They have cheaper alternatives who are projected to put up similar numbers – like Ryan Kalish, who was impressive after his late-season call up. Crawford may command more money that the Red Sox want to spend and not address their greatest need.
Jayson Werth – OF
Much of the same rationale against signing a free agent outfielder applies to Werth. However, he’s a right-handed hitter who would benefit from Boston’s Green Monster. He’s more of a pure power hitter than Crawford, though he would be a comparable defensive upgrade in left field. He might also be a significantly less expensive free agent than Crawford, and therefore more appealing to the Red Sox.