Friday, November 20, 2015

The Red Sox Will Really Miss David Ortiz When He's Gone

The Red Sox will really miss David Ortiz at this time next year.

How much?

Well, Ortiz posted a .913 OPS last season, leading the club at age 39. Meanwhile, Hanley Ramirez, the guy the Red Sox (and many others) expected to fill Papi's shoes once he retired, posted a .717 OPS.

Ortiz also led the Sox by wide margins in home runs, RBI, total bases, on-base percentage and extra-base hits.

Ramirez was second on the team with 19 home runs in 2015. That's a massive falloff.

In fact, it took the combination of Ramirez and Mookie Betts -- who finished third on the team with 18 home runs -- to equal Ortiz's 37 blasts. Think about that for a minute.

Ortiz's absence will leave a huge void in 2017.

The fact that Ortiz did all of this at the age of 39 is all the more astounding. He joined Barry Bonds as the only 39-year-olds to top 30 homers and 100 RBIs in a season.

Offensive firepower is hard to come by in today's game. The Sox mostly lack it throughout their minor league system, and that may haunt them in the post-Ortiz era.

Toronto's Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista will both be free agents after next season. The Red Sox may make a strong push for one of them in order to fill the gaping hole left in the wake of Ortiz's departure.

One way or another, the Sox will need to somehow make up for the lost power and production.

Then there's the matter of veteran leadership and presence. Players all around baseball admire and respect Ortiz for all he's done in the game, and for his cheerful personality.

Yes, the Red Sox will really miss David Ortiz when he's gone.

Me too.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Did the Red Sox Overpay for Craig Kimbrel?

Some are already asking if the Red Sox overpaid for closer Craig Kimbrel.

In a word, no.

Kimbrel is just 27 and in his prime. He has been an All Star four times in his four full seasons. In that time, he has been absolutely dominant, posting a 1.70 ERA and a 0.91 WHIP.

How good is Kimbrel?

Since 2011, he leads Major Leaguers in saves (224), ranks second in ERA (1.70), strikeouts (523), strikeouts-per-nine innings (14.37), and save percentage (90.7); is third in WHIP (0.91) and opponents' batting average (.160); and is fourth in hits allowed per nine innings (5.05).

While it's particularly difficult to part with the highly-talented Manny Margot, as a center fielder he was blocked by Mookie Betts for the next few years, at least.

Margot is 21 and highly athletic. He is a similar player, and possesses many of the same skill sets, as Betts. But he may never be as good at the major league level, where Betts has already proven himself.

The center fielder was promoted to Portland last season and only played 64 games at the Double-A level. He is projected to reach the majors by late next season, but given his limited exposure at the Double-A level, and that he has never played at Triple-A, that may be optimistic.

The Red Sox top three position prospects are/were Yoan Moncada, Rafael Devers and Margot. They still have two of the three.

Obtaining a closer of Kimbrel's caliber was going to have significant player acquisition costs, no matter what.

Margot was ranked third among Red Sox prospects by and shortstop Javier Guerra was rated sixth.

But Guerra was blocked at short by rising star Xander Bogaerts.

A reasonable critique of the Red Sox in this deal is that they could have used those assets to instead obtain a frontline starter.

The Sox desperately need to fill that void as well, but perhaps Dave Dombrowski and company felt they could more likely fill that need through free agency (David Price?) than find an elite closer.

Boston has control of Kimbrel for the next three season at a price that they can afford. They will pay him $11 million next season, $13 million in 2017, and they hold a club option worth $13 million in 2018.

Again, he is just 27-yaears-old.

As I've said many times, prospects are nice, but they are a gamble. You roll the dice with them every time.

Think about the faith the Sox once had in prospects such as Michael Bowden, Lars Anderson, Anthony Ranaudo, Drake Britton, Ryan Kalsih, Garin Cecchini and on and on.

The Sox also had great plans for Casey Kelly and Reymond Fuentes, who they sent to San Diego in 2010 (along with Anthony Rizzo) for Adrian Gonzalez.

Where are they now?

After undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2012, Kelly is still languishing in the Padres farm system as a converted reliever, while Fuentes is now toiling in the Royals' farm system.

In short, neither player panned out as projected. The Red Sox never missed them.

It's likely that Betts and Bogaerts are better than Margot and Guerra will ever be, and that's all that really matters.

If you're the Boston Red Sox, you take the elite major league closer over the minor league prospects any time. This is a team that is expected to compete for a championship every year. They have lots of young talent still in their system, and should remain competitive for years to come as a result.

In short, the Red Sox are much more likely to be thankful for this trade over the next few years (at least) than to regret it.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Red Sox Wrap 2015 Season and Begin Planning for 2016

The Boston Red Sox​ ended the 2015 season at 78-84, a .481 winning percentage.

The Sox finished 15 games behind division-winner Toronto.

This is Boston’s third last-place finish in four seasons, something some of us didn’t think we'd see for many, many years -- if ever.

Remember, even during the Red Sox epic 86-year World Series championship drought, the Sox rarely finished in last place in consecutive seasons, let alone three times in four years.

If you’re looking for a bright side, the Sox posted a winning record at Fenway Park this season, going 43-38 record at home. But the Sox went 35-46 on the road.

The Sox were also 6-4 in their last 10 games. Yet, the four losses were in the season's final four contests. Not a good way to end this terribly disappointing season.

The Red Sox got off to a decent start, finishing April with a 12–10 record — their first month over .500 since September 2013.

But it was all down hill from there.

The Sox only scored 82 runs in the month of May, and went 10-19 -- the worst record in the major leagues.

The Red Sox finished the month of June with an even record of 14–14, but then proceeded to go 10-15 in July.

However, Boston posted winning records in each of the season’s final two months under interim-manager, Torey Lovullo, finishing August at 15-12 and posting a 17-14 record in September/October.

Prior to the August 14 game in Seattle, manager John Farrell announced that he was diagnosed with lymphoma. Lovullo, his bench coach, was named interim manager for the remainder of the season.

Lovullo seemed to light a fire under the players and inspired them to be a much better team. The Sox’ turnaround was evident from that point forward, which makes the team’s decision to bring back Farrell for the 2016 season somewhat curious.

Aside from the Sox unexpected losing season, 2015 will be remembered as the year of the rookies and young, rising stars.

Pitchers Eduardo Rodriguez and Henry Owens both showed why they were viewed as top prospects, and both showed that they could be valuable parts of the Sox rotation for years to come.

The young duo became just the second and third Red Sox pitchers, respectively, in the past 100 years to record at least five innings while allowing one or no runs in as many as six of their first 10 Major League appearances, along with Dave “Boo” Ferriss in 1945.

‪Rodriguez became just the second Boston Red Sox lefty to win as many as 10 games in his rookie season going back to 1950, and the first Red Sox pitcher as young as 22 to win as many as 10 games since Mike Nagy’s 12-win campaign in 1969.

His win total was the most by a Red Sox rookie since Daisuke Matzuaka put up 15 in 2007.

Rodriguez finished with an 3.85 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP in 21 starts. He threw a career-high of 170 total innings between the minors and majors.

Owens finished with a 4-4 record, a 4.57 ERA and a 1.37 WHIP in 11 starts.

At this point, Rodriguez is clearly the more finished product. The Red Sox were 13-8 when he took the mound this season, and 5-6 when Owens started.

Blake Swihart hit .274 this season, which is outstanding for a 23-year-old rookie catcher. It was especially surprising given the defensive demands of the position, and the need for him to quickly become familiar with the entire pitching staff when unexpectedly called upon in May.

Swihart also smacked two home runs at Yankee Stadium in late September, becoming the youngest Red Sox catcher to have a multi-homer game since Mike Ryan on May 2, 1965.

But Swihart also showed solid blocking, throwing and game-calling skills. He could be a mainstay behind the dish for many years to come, and may force the Sox to make a tough choice between himself and defensive whiz Christian Vazquez, who will be returning from Tommy John surgery next season.

Mookie Betts‬ appears on the verge of becoming a superstar. He became the fourth youngest player in Major League history to reach 40 doubles, 15 homers and 20 steals in a season.

Betts joined Vada Pinson, Alex Rodriguez and Hanley Ramirez in achieving the feat by age 22 (Betts turns 23 on Oct. 7).

Jackie Bradley Jr. appeared in 74 games for the Red Sox this season, playing his customarily outstanding defense. JBJ has a knack for making difficult plays look routine, and may be the finest outfielder in baseball.

Bradley posted a .249/.335/.498/.832 slash line, with 10 homers, 43 RBI, 17 doubles and 4 triples. But his season was marked by extended hot and cold steaks. As a result, his capability as a big league hitter is still in question.

After the August 7 trade of Mike Napoli to Texas, Travis Shaw was given a chance to prove himself at first base.

Shaw, largely an unheralded prospect, performed admirably and surely opened some eyes, posting a .274/.331/.491/.822 slash line, with 13 homers, 10 doubles and 36 RBI in just 65 games and 226 at-bats.

Depending on whether the Sox are able to trade Hanley Ramirez this offseason, Shaw could be given some consideration as the starting first baseman next season.

The Sox have a number of roster decisions to make this offseason, and many will be determined by whether they can trade -- and get a reasonable return for -- Ramirez and/or Pablo Sandoval.

For example, first base comes into question if the Sox are indeed able to find a taker for Ramirez, yet decide that Shaw is not the answer there.

If Sandoval is traded, that leaves a void at third base. It’s not likely that the Sox see Brock Holt or Deven Marrero as their everyday third baseman.

Yet, Shaw was a third baseman in college and showed solid aptitude at the position this season. His positional versatility certainly increases his value to the Red Sox. He is also young (25), cheap and controllable.

Then there's Rusney Castillo, and what the Sox will (or can) do with him.

The Red Sox signed the Cuban outfielder to a seven-year, $72.5 million contract in August 2014, and haven’t gotten much in return so far.

Castillo played in just 80 games for the Red Sox this season, partly due to assorted injuries and partly due to spending time in Triple-A -- where he didn't impress.

During his 80 games with Boston (273 at-bats), Castillo posted an underwhelming .253/.288/.359./647 slash line, with 5 homers, 10 doubles, 2 triples and 29 RBI.

In short, he hardly looks like a major league player, much less a $72 million player. His signing may be nearly as regrettable as those of Ramirez and Sandoval.

Do the Sox trust Castillo in the outfield next season, or have they already seen enough to recognize that Ben Cherington and his staff made a big, expensive mistake?

If Castillo is not viewed as a viable option, then the Sox need to find an every day corner outfielder.

If they decide to keep both Swihart and Vazquez as their catchers, that would necessitate a trade of veteran Ryan Hannigan.

Then there’s the rotation. The Sox have a number of internal candidates vying for the five spots next season, among them: Clay Buchholz, Rick Porcello, Eduardo Rodriguez, Joe Kelly, Wade Miley, Henry Owens, Steven Wright and perhaps even Milton, Mass native, Rich Hill.

Let’s begin with Buchholz.

The Sox hold a $13 million team option on the righty for 2016, and it seems quite likely that they will soon exercise that option. Doing so would not preclude them from trading Buchholz, and one way or another, it’s a reasonable cost for a veteran starter. The Red Sox also hold a $13.5 million team option on Buchholz for the 2017 season as well.

Buchholz presents clear risks to the Red Sox, or any potential trade partner. The 30-year-old has never thrown over 189 1/3 innings in his nine-year career due to persistent injury troubles. Buchholz has been on the DL in seven of his nine seasons. He is fragile, to say the least.

My bet is that the Red Sox ultimately trade Buchholz this winter.

Porcello signed a 4-year contract extension worth $82.5 million that won’t go into affect until 2016, meaning he will certainly be back with the Sox next season. With that pact, he is virtually untradable (especially if the Red Sox don't want to eat a significant portion of his contract).

Porcello finished the season at 9-15 (leading the team in losses) with a 4.92 ERA and 1.36 ERA. After his start in Toronto on July 1, he had a 6.08 ERA, and it didn't drop below 5.00 until his final start of the season.

However, the righty improved considerably late in the year. After coming off the disabled list on Aug. 26, Porcello notched a 3.14 ERA over his final eight starts.

Like it or not, he will be in the Sox rotation next season.

Rodriguez is young (22), cheap, and very promising. He will surely have a rotation spot next season.

Kelly finished the season at 10-6, with a 4.82 ERA and 1.44 WHIP. However, the 27-year-old was so bad early on that he was demoted to Triple-A. While he rebounded fairly well, most scouts think he is best suited as a late-inning reliever, and possibly a closer. His high-90s fastball would play nicely in that role.

One way or another, the Sox will not begin the 2016 season with a bunch of middling starters, and that’s why I believe Kelly may ultimately end up in the bullpen next year.

Wade Miley finished the season 11-11, with a 4.46 ERA and a 1.37 WHIP. Everything about Miley seemed average, which is not a bad thing for a guy who was only expected to be a middle-of the-rotation starter.

However, American League pitchers had an average ERA of 4.01 this season, which means that Miley was actually below average. He is under contract for $6 million next season -- a perfectly reasonable price for a starting pitcher. Yet, that also gives Miley trade value, which may be more appealing to the Sox than seeing him in their rotation next season.

Owens may be viewed as too green to get a rotation spot out of spring training. Aside from his 4-4 record, 4.57 ERA and a 1.37 WHIP, the lanky lefty had 50 strikeouts and 24 walks in 63 innings. None of that overwhelmed anyone.

But the 23-year-old threw 122 1⁄3 innings with Triple-A Pawtucket and 63 more with Boston, for a total of 185 1/3 innings. That puts him in line for 200 innings next season, and the Sox may see enough value in that alone to give him a spot in the rotation.

Thirty-one-year-old Steven Wright showed some great flashes when called upon this season, and ended up with a 5-4 record, 4.09 ERA and 1.29 WHIP. The knuckleballer found an opportunity only because of the injuries and ineptitude that plagued the Sox rotation, but unfortunately his season was derailed by a concussion in August.

Wright is still more of a question than an answer, so its hard to imagine the Sox committing a rotation spot to him next season. He will likely serve as minor league depth and could get another shot at some point in 2016.

Hill is an intriguing story. His sudden revival seems nothing short of miraculous.

He was pitching in Independent ball and hadn't started a big league game in six years when the Red Sox signed him in August.

Yet, he made four late-season starts for Boston, and struck out ten batters in the first three of them.

Hill is the only AL pitcher in the last 100 years to record at least 10 strikeouts in each of his first three starts with a team. The only other Red Sox pitcher in the last 100 years to record 10 or more strikeouts and one or fewer walks in three straight starts at any point is Pedro Martinez in 1999.

Hill tossed a complete game, two-hit shutout in one start, and all four of them were quality starts.

In all, Hill posted a 1.55 ERA with 36 strikeouts and five walks over 29 innings.

However, he is 35 and has experienced more downs than ups in recent years. Though his story is a magnificent one, its hard to imagine the Sox giving him anything more than a non-guaranteed contract and an invitation to spring training. A guaranteed contract and the promise of a rotation spot seem unimaginable.

However, if the Red Sox don’t make him an offer, another team certainly will. Hill earned it, and he deserves it.

My sense is that Buchholz and/or Miley will be traded. I think that Porcello, Rodriguez and Owens are likely to get rotation spots, which still leaves two open spots. Surely, Kelly, Miley and/or Buchholz could also fill one of those spots, but it’s tough to imagine the Sox returning every member of a rotation that failed so miserably this season.

Of course, the Red Sox will be big players in the free agent pitching market this offseason. The organization learned a tough lesson about trying to compete without a bona fide ace atop the rotation, or at least a certified No. 1 starter. They had neither this season, and it cost them dearly. Every team needs a stopper, and the Red Sox did not have one this year.

That will change within the next couple of months.

David Price, Johnny Cueto, Jordan Zimmerman, Doug Fister, Hisashi Iwakuma and Jeff Samardzija will all be sought-after, free-agent starting pitchers this offseason. The Sox will certainly be front-runners for one of them, with Price and Zimmerman likely their top targets.

Then, of course, there is the bullpen, which will see a significant overhaul. Kofi Uehara, Junichi Tarawa and Craig Breslow are the most likely to return. Beyond that, the possibilities and outcomes are endless. Rest assured, there will be changes, and the pen will look quite different next season.

Yes, there are many questions to be answered, needs to addressed and positions to be filled.

To summarize, there could be changes at first base, third base, left or right field (depending on what the Sox do with Castillo), at least one rotation spot, and a good portion of the seven-man bullpen.

That’s a lot of flux for a team that has already seen significant changes in recent years (just seven players remain from the 2013 Red Sox team that won the ‪‎World Series)‬.

But then again, when a team finishes in last place three times in four years, big changes are needed — and deserved.

Hopefully, stability and success will become hallmarks of the Red Sox in the seasons ahead.

It will all begin in the coming months.

Monday, August 24, 2015

What Will the Red Sox Do With Hanley Ramirez?

Despite Hanley Ramirez looking like one of the Bad News Bears in left field, the Red Sox have been particularly stubborn about keeping him there all season long.

While it's entirely evident that the Rammer-in-left experiment has failed miserably, many have hoped that the Sox would try him at first base after Mike Napoli was traded to Texas.

Yet, just last week, acting manager Torey Lovullo had this to say about Ramirez:

"No, he’s not getting any type of work at first base at this point. Hanley Ramirez is our left fielder and I think we’re going to stay with that. We’re going to try and get him the necessary work and necessary reps and necessary innings out there to get him to the point he feels comfortable and we become a championship defense in the outfield. It takes time. He’s a converted infielder and it’s a tough process. He’s further from the ball and moving and traveling at different angles and I feel comfortable saying Hanley is doing the right thing, working as hard as he can to make it happen as fast as he can.”

Get that? After nearly five months of baseball, plus six weeks of preparation in spring training, Lovullo still wants to get Ramirez the “necessary work” and the "necessary reps" and the "necessary innings" to "get him to the point he feels comfortable" in left field.

When do the Red Sox cry uncle and finally admit that it’s over? The Ramirez in left field experiment has failed.

Ben Cherington, who signed Ramirez to a four-year, $88 million this offseason, was finally honest about that failure while attending the Saberseminar at Boston University last Friday.

“Nobody knew. We didn't know what he would be defensively in left field,” Cherington said to those at the event. “He'd never done it. So it's impossible to know. We made a bet based on history of what players look like moving from a middle infield position to another position. And there's data that can help us make an educated guess. He wanted to and seemed committed to doing it … It hasn't gone well.”

Maybe it's easier for Cherington to be honest now that he’s leaving the Red Sox. Ramirez is no longer his problem, but the "player without a position" is one of the messes that Cherington has left behind.

It’s now Dave Dombrowski’s problem.

Ramirez is widely viewed by scouts as no longer adequately capable of playing shortstop. So, it’s not likely that the Sox will find a trade partner with that position in mind for Ramirez.

Ramirez has never played first base, and he has started just 97 games at third base over the course of his 10 big-league seasons.

With David Ortiz coming back as the team’s DH again next year (his contract has already vested), that is not an option for Ramirez on the Red Sox.

If scouts agree that Ramirez is a defensive liability everywhere on the diamond, and is truly a player without a position, then he is only suited to be a designated hitter.

Aside from the Red Sox, there are only 14 other teams that use a DH, and not all of them want, or need, Ramirez.

That limits the trade possibilities considerably.

When it comes to figuring out what to do with Ramirez, Dombrowski will have his hands full this offseason.

There are so many problems with the player, and so few solutions.

The Sox would surely have to pay a significant portion of the contract to any taker and, assuming that Ramirez is only suited to play DH, it also means the Red Sox would be paying him to play against them -- and potentially beat them -- for a rival AL team multiple times a year for at least the next three (and perhaps four) seasons.

There is a rotation to fill, and bullpen to build, but the Hanley Ramirez problem will be among the most challenging for the Red Sox new President of Baseball Operations.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

If Red Sox Keep Winning for Torey Lovullo, What Becomes of John Farrell?

In the wake of Red Sox Manager John Farrell’s announcement that he has stage 1 lymphoma, I wondered how his team would react.

Would they respond positively to bench coach Torey Lovullo, who is acting as interim manager in Farrell’s absence?

There was a resounding answer.

The Red Sox crushed the Mariners in Lovullo's first game as acting manager. The Sox offense pounded out 15 runs on 21 hits, both season-bests.

After that outburst, on Friday night, the Sox offense outdid that stellar performance by accounting for 26 hits, including 11 extra-base knocks, in a 22-10 beat down of the Mariners on Saturday.

Two consecutive blowout victories for Boston.

The first concern is surely the health of John Farrell.

However, one has to wonder what becomes of him if this team goes on a late-season run in his absence.

This Red Sox team should be much better than it has been, given its assembled roster. It is a group of past All Stars, proven veterans, and top prospects.

Yet, they just haven't performed. There has been no sense of passion, pride, or urgency. There has to be an underlying reason.

Somehow, Farrell simply hasn't motivated this team.

When Farrell announced Friday that he was immediately leaving the team to seek medical treatment, the Red Sox were 50-64 -- a .439 winning percentage.

If Lovullo can markedly improve on that over the season's final 48 games, it will have to give ownership pause for consideration.

Over five years as a major league manager, Farrell has just one winning season -- 2013, the year the Red Sox won the World Series.

Overall, Farrell has lost far more games than he’s won, something that would, and should, normally cost a manager his job.

How the Red Sox perform for Lovullo in Farrelll's absence down the stretch will be telltale.

Were these blowout victories a tribute to Farrell, or a positive response — even an embrace — to Lovullo?

If these wins are any indication of things to come, Farrell’s job may be in jeopardy, and Lovullo could be in for a longer ride as manager than anyone expected.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Is a James Shields/Pablo Sandoval Trade a Possibility?

Padres righty James Shields has cleared revocable trade waivers, ESPN’s Buster Olney reports. This means San Diego is now free to deal Shields to any team.

What does this mean for the Boston Red Sox​? Well, maybe they could pursue a swap of bad contracts with the Padres, sending Pablo Sandoval to San Diego in exchange for Shields.

Teams routinely, and quietly, place players on waivers in August (especially high-priced veterans) to gauge the interest of other teams.

A big-league player must pass through revocable waivers before his team can trade him without restriction. These waivers last 47 hours. If no one claims him in that period, his team can trade him anywhere.

Given the size of Sandoval's contract, and his performance this season, it is highly unlikely that any team would claim him.

The Padres outbid the Red Sox for Sandoval last offseason, yet the free agent third baseman chose Boston anyway.

The Red Sox may prefer to have a high-priced, veteran pitcher (albeit an aging and overpriced one) anchoring their staff for the next few seasons, rather than an overweight, overpaid third baseman who is in longterm decline.

The 33-year-old Shields is owed roughly $2.25 million for the remainder of this season, and then $21 million in each of the next three seasons, plus a $16 million club option (with a $2 million buyout) for 2019.

This means Shields is guaranteed at least $65 million from 2016 through 2018.

The righty can opt out of his deal following the 2016 season, meaning that the Sox could make a move thinking they’d only be committed to Shields for little over a year.

However, Shields will turn 35 in December 2016, so he’s more likely to stick with his current deal since teams may be hesitant to pay a pitcher $44 million guaranteed for his age-35 and age-36 seasons.

Shields is battle-tested in the AL East, having pitched for Tampa for seven seasons (2006-2012).

Over 10 season, Shields has a 122-94 record, with a 3.72 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 1,786 strikeouts through 2,056.2 innings, amounting to 3.56 Ks per walk.

The 29-year-old Sandoval is under contract for the next four seasons, with a club option for 2020.

Sandoval is owed $17 million in each of the next two seasons, and $18 million per season in 2018 and 2019. There is a $17 million club option for 2020, with a $5 million buyout.

This means Sandoval is guaranteed at least $75 million through 2019.

San Diego needs a third baseman (Will Middlebrooks didn't pan out), and Boston needs a veteran starter.

Such a deal could make sense for both organizations.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

This Season is Already Over for the Red Sox, and the Immediate Future Doesn't Look Bright

Baseball's unofficial second half has begun, and the Red Sox answered the bell by reeling off four consecutive losses to the Angles.

Including their loss to the Yankees before the All Star break began, Boston has now dropped five straight games.

The Sox are in last place in the American League East, nine games out of first place, and are tied for 11th in the wild-card hunt, 8 1/2 games back.

But here's all you really need to know: The Sox are presently tied with Seattle for the worst record in the American League.

In short, the Sox' season is over before July has even ended. That's frustrating and highly disappointing.

After all, Boston has the highest payroll in club history ($184.3 million), and the highest ticket prices in baseball. Yet, the team is headed for its third last-place finish in four years.

Ask yourself this: Given the underperforming veterans with long-term contracts, and the young players the Red Sox are trying to build around, how different will this team look next season?

My guess is that, pitching aside, the anemic lineup will look much the same.

There will be a new first baseman, replacing Mike Napoli, but the infield will remain otherwise intact. The Sox are stuck with Pablo Sandoval and can only hope for a bounce back season in 2016.

However, Sandoval's OPS had declined for four consecutive seasons — and five out of the last six — before GM Ben Cherington signed him in the offseason. The steadily declining OPS was a flashing warning signal, and it should have given Cherington pause. But the GM went full steam ahead and signed the "Panda" anyway.

Sandoval's OPS has now declined for five straight seasons, and he's only 28. No other team wants the overpaid, overweight third baseman.

Furthermore, Sandoval already has 12 errors so far this season, and one more will tie him for the second most in his career. There are still more than two months to go.

The Sox are stuck with Sandoval and his $95 million contract for four more seasons, and they can only hope he finds some magic elixir to turn around his tumbling career.

The same can be said of Hanley Ramirez, who is nothing more than an overpaid DH at this point. The problem is, the Red Sox have David Ortiz under contract next season, leaving no room for the one-dimensional Ramirez.

Once again, Ben Cherington should have known better than to sign Remirez. The former Sox' prospect had lost too much range to still play shortstop, so the Red Sox attempted to convert him to a left fielder at the age of 31.

Simply put, this experiment has been an expensive disaster. Ramirez typically looks like a little leaguer in left; utterly lost and hopeless at the Major League level. He is neither agile or athletic.

Ramirez's only value is his ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark. He has 19 homers this season, which looks really good at first sight. But when you dig a little deeper, you realize just how truly one-dimensional he is.

Ramirez has just 80 hits this season, meaning that a quarter of his those hits are homers. To be clear, that's not a good thing. Ramirez has just 26 extra-base hits this year, and 19 of them are home runs. Did I mention that he's one-dimensional? If he's not hitting the occasional home run, he's useless.

Negative reputation aside, the Red Sox are stuck with Ramirez for three more years at $22 million per season, with a vesting option for 2019. Quite simply, he is an albatross.

Understand that no other team wants him. He is a position-less player, meaning he is suited only to DH. That means he's an American League player only, leaving just 14 other potential teams for his services.

Unless the Red Sox are willing to pay most of Ramirez's contract to have him play against them multiple times per year for the next three or four years, he is their problem for the rest of his ridiculous contract.

No matter what, you can cross off a number of AL clubs from the list of potential trade partners.

Ramirez carries a .261/.306/.474 slash line. His average and OBP are unacceptable for a player with his huge salary, and while the slugging percentage is decent, it is merely the by-product of having 19 home runs. A player with 19 home runs should have an OPS over .500, but Ramirez can't hit doubles.

Mookie Betts is a center piece of the Red Sox' future plans. He'll be back in center next season.

Shane Victorino will be gone, and he'll be replaced by either $72 million minor leaguer Rusney Castillo, or Alejandro De Aza in 2016.

De Aza has been a revelation this year, posting a .310/.352/.550/.902 slash line in 34 games with the Red Sox. Who wouldn't rather see him in left field every day instead of Ramirez?

But then there's Jackie Bradley, who was the Sox' starting center fielder for the entire 2014 season. While he struggled at the plate last year, to the tune of a grisly .198/.265/.266/.531 slash line, he's been a hot hitter in Triple A this season.

Bradley is hitting .315 with nine home runs, 27 RBIs and a .389 on-base percentage in 64 games with the PawSox this season. He has two multi-homer games in his last four contests. Bradley looks vastly improved and major league-ready.

Beyond that, he might be the best outfielder on the Red Sox, Shane Victorino notwithstanding. Bradley has an outstanding arm and takes the most precise routes to balls, making tough plays look routine. The defensive aspect of his game should not be overlooked.

Surely he has earned another shot in the majors this year or next, whether it's with the Red Sox or another team.

Whether its Castillo, De Aza or Bradley (or some combination of them) in right field next season, that means the outfield will still look mostly the same.

Are you getting the picture yet? Aside from first base and perhaps right field (unless De Aza wins the job), the roster will likely look very much the same next year. Yet, this is a group that simply hasn't gotten it done this season.

As of today, the Red Sox are 11th in runs, 11th in slugging, 10th in OPS, and ninth in home runs among the 15 AL teams.

That should worry every Red Sox fan, and every member of the organization.

The Sox will likely enter next season with a rotation that consists of Clay Buchholz, the disastrous Rick Porcello (who will be in year-one of a four-year, $82.5 million contract), and rookie Eduardo Rodriguez.

Perhaps the Sox can move Wade Miley and the roughly $13 million he is due over the next two seasons. While that's reasonable money for a fifth starter, Miley has a pitiful 4.49 ERA and 1.37 WHIP this year. Those numbers are barely acceptable for a fifth starter.

The Red Sox needed three starters to round out their rotation last offseason, and this winter they'll need at least two more — if not three. And while the Sox attempted to go into the season without a true No. 1, they have surely learned their lesson by now. That cannot happen again.

In short, it's tough to be optimistic about next year's team. Cherington has handcuffed the organization with a series of bad, inadvisable signings and trades (and I haven't even mentioned Justin Masterson, Joe Kelly or Allen Craig).

The Red Sox will likely be stuck with the bad contracts of bad players next year and beyond.

That's more troubling than anything that's transpired in 2015, a year that will surely see the Red Sox finish in last place for the third time in just four years.

The future doesn't look bright, and that surely must have owner John Henry's attention. And it must make him angry.

If baseball management is a meritocracy, Ben Cherington won't have a job with the Red Sox next year.

But some poor bastard will be left to pick up the pieces, and clean up the rather large mess he's made of this team.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Assessing the Red Sox at the All Star Break

After 89 games, or 55 percent of the 2015 season, the Boston Red Sox entered the All Star break at 42-47.

Somehow, being five games below .500 seems like a moral victory.

The Sox started the season fairly well, going 12-10 in April. But it was all down hill in May, when they went an abysmal 10-19. As bad as June seemed, the Sox went 14-14, and they're 6-4 so far in July.

As the break approached, the Old Towne Team seemed to have suddenly righted the ship.

They had won four straight games for the first time all year, and four straight series, before running into the Yankees last weekend. But the Sox proceeded to drop two of three to New York and lost all the momentum they had built over the previous two weeks.

Consequently, the next couple of weeks present a moment of truth for Boston.

The July 31st non-waiver trade deadline is now just two weeks away, What was unimaginable on Opening Day is now a reality: The Boston Red Sox​ are actually in a position to be sellers.

Boston has the highest payroll in club history, yet finds itself in the basement of the AL East. Though it's just a 6 1/2 game deficit, first place seems a long way off.

With that in mind, the Sox might be willing to listen to offers on just about anyone at this point.

The trouble is that all the dead weight — the players who have woefully under-perfomed — will be the hardest to move.

What team wants Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval or Rick Porcello, considering their on-field struggles and bloated contracts? Likely, no one. The only way to move those players would be to pay most, if not all, the remaining money on their enormous, long term contracts. That's an ugly prospect.

The two players the Sox received for John Lackey last July — Joe Kelly and Allen Craig — were so bad that they are now at Triple-A. They are likely untradable as well.

The players other teams will ask about are the young, homegrown talents the Red Sox project as part of a bright future.

Would the Red Sox be willing to part with Mookie Betts, Xander Boegarts, or Blake Swihart? Not likely. The Sox are trying to build for the future from within, and homegrown talent is cheap. It allows for the acquisition of higher priced free agents.

More than anything else, the Red Sox need a staring pitcher to help anchor the staff. Both Justin Masterson and Joe Kelly have lost their spots in the rotation this season, and Clay Buchholz is now on the DL.

Among the 15 AL teams, Boston pitching is last in ERA (4.44), first in earned runs (392), first in runs allowed (419), and second to last in opponents' batting average (.266).

It doesn't seem likely that the Sox will be interested in a short term rental, such as Cincinnati's Johnny Cueto, who will be a free agent at season's end. Cueto will be 30 next season, and we know how the Red Sox feel about free agent pitchers that age.

Will Cole Hamels be able to get the Sox over the hump this season? That doesn't seem likely, and the 31-year-old is owed big money over the next three to four seasons: $22.5 million in 2016-2018, with a $20 million club option for 2019 that includes a $6 million buyout. This means Hamels is owed at least $73.5 million, and up to $87.5 million, over the next four seasons.

Does Red Sox' management actually believe that a team with just one winning month this season is worth investing in even further? That seems dubious. But management is always thinking ahead.

Rob Bradford of reported that the Sox top priority heading into the trade deadline is to target younger arms that are under control beyond the 2015 season.

The Sox might be willing to deal Jackie Bradley Jr. and/or Deven Marerro from their farm system, and certainly Shane Victorino and Mike Napoli, whatever their limited value may be.

Sadly, despite the weakness of the AL East, this season may already be lost. Only New York and Tampa have records above .500, yet the Red Sox seem incapable of surpassing them, much less advancing in the playoffs.

The Red Sox could be headed for their third last place finish in four years, a prospect that most of us couldn't have conceived during spring training.

That said, anything management can do to improve this club next year and beyond would be welcomed.

Though we thought we were done saying it, Red Sox fans, there's always next year?

Monday, February 23, 2015

Red Sox Sign Yoan Moncada; World's Best Amateur Free Agent

The Red Sox have signed 19-year-o;d Cuban sensation Yoan Moncada for $31.5 million. However, because Boston exceeded its international signing pool allotment, it will pay a 100 percent tax on the signing, bringing the total cost to $63 million.

The Cuban teen was widely expected to land a bonus in the $40-50 million range, making this a steal for the Red Sox.

Moncada has been described as the best Cuban prospect in decades; better than Yasiel Puig, Jose Abreu, or Yoenis Cespedes when they left Cuba.

No Cuban player that age has "created so much hype among the Cuban baseball establishment since Omar Linares, the 1980s star widely regarded as the best talent ever from the island," wrote Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports last fall.

At 6'2", 200 pounds, Moncada has the body of a linebacker, but projects as a major league second or third baseman. While the teen played shortstop, second and third in Cuba, given his size and athleticism, he could probably play all three outfield spots in the majors too.

Moncada is a switch-hitter and has been described as a five tool player — a truly rare distinction.

Virtually every team in baseball coveted Moncada, who generated serious interest from a group that included the Red Sox, Yankees, Dodgers, Padres, Phillies and Brewers. The young phenom also had private workouts with the Tigers, Giants, Rangers and Rays.

The Yankees were viewed as the favorite to sign Moncada, making this a double victory by Boston.

Former Red Sox great, and Cuban native, Luis Tiant reportedly helped to persuade Moncada, who joins countryman Rusney Castillo as the second Cuban player signed by the Red Sox in the last seven months. Castillo signed to a seven-year, $72.5 million deal last August.

After leaving Cuba legally, Moncada has spent the last 14 months in baseball limbo. So, he will need to rid himself of the rust and rediscover his many skills.

As a result, Moncada will start his career in the minors, where he will likely spend the entire 2015 season. Once he arrives in the majors, he will be subject to the standard salary scale: three seasons near the league minimum, then three in arbitration. The $31.5 million is merely a signing bonus.

Moncada is known for his excellent bat speed and plus raw power. He also possesses plus speed, running the 60-yard dash in around 6.6 seconds.

Because the Red Sox went beyond the bonus pool allotment, they cannot spend more than $300,000 on an international amateur for the next two signing periods.

But, since they clearly believe that Moncada is better than any other player in the international pipeline for the next two years, he is worth the gamble.

After all, Moncada is viewed as a once-in-a-generation player.

In fact, Ben Badler of Baseball America writes that Moncada is now one of the top-10 prospects in all of baseball and ranks as the Red Sox’s top prospect, projecting him to become a power-hitting third baseman or second baseman.

The Red Sox, and their fans, may be celebrating this move for years to come.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Red Sox Should Retire Wade Boggs' No. 26; He Earned It

Wade Boggs finished his 18-year career with a .328 batting average, .415 OBP, 3,010 hits, 1,412 walks, 578 doubles, 1,513 runs, and 1,014 RBI.

Eleven of Boggs' 18 seasons were spent in Boston, where he posted the vast majority of those numbers.

Boggs place in Red Sox history is quite secure. Twenty-two years after leaving Boston, the left-handed hitter remains second in batting (.338), third in on-base percentage (.428), fourth in walks (1,004), fifth in hits (2,098), fifth in doubles (422), and sixth in runs (1,067).

Yet, despite his greatness, and all of his many achievements, Boggs' No. 26 still hasn't been retired by the Red Sox after all these years.

Starting in 1983, Boggs won five batting titles with Boston, including four in a row from 1985 to 1988. The only other players to win four batting titles in a row are Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, Rod Carew and Tony Gwynn.

Boggs also batted .349 in 1982, his rookie year, which would have won the batting title. But he was 121 plate appearances short of the required minimum of 502.

From 1983 to 1989, Boggs had seven consecutive seasons with 200 or more hits, an American League record. However, Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki later surpassed this mark, with 10.

Boggs' ability to hit the ball bordered on freakish.

In 1985, Boggs had 72 multi-hit games, a club record.

That year, Boggs also hit .390 with the count 0-2. Think about that for a moment.

In 1986, Boggs faced 3,059 pitches and swung and missed just 46 times.

In fact, Boggs struck out only 470 times in 7,323 plate appearances as a member of the Red Sox. That's just 6 percent of the time, which is simply amazing.

Yes, the man had hawk eyes.

The third baseman went to eight consecutive All Star Games with Boston, and 12 consecutive overall.

Considering all of the above numbers, how did it come to pass that Boggs ever played for another team? Well, the Red Sox simply let him walk away as a free agent.

Boggs batted a career-worst .259 in 1992, and the Red Sox didn't want him back. So, the free agent signed a three-year, $11 million deal with the Yankees in December of that year. New York offered him one more year than the Dodgers, who were also interested.

The perennial All Star quickly proved he wasn't washed up. As a member of the Yankees, he went on to make three straight All-Star appearances, had four straight .300-plus seasons, and even collected two Gold Glove Awards for his defense.

In 1996, Boggs helped the Yankees win their first World Series title in 18 years, which would ultimately be his only world title. The image of him riding around Yankee Stadium after Game 6 — on the back of an NYPD horse, with his index finger in the air — is burned into the minds of many Red Sox fans.

Boggs ultimately spent five seasons with New York, and then two with Tampa Bay, before retiring. But those seven cumulative years were still four less than the eleven he spent in Boston.

In fact, Boggs is enshrined in Cooperstown, wearing a Red Sox cap. Yet, his No. 26 has yet to be retired by the organization. Despite this, the Red Sox inducted Boggs into their Hall of Fame in 2004.

According the Red Sox' criteria, a player must end his career with Boston, among other things, for his number to be retired. Yet, that stipulation won't likely keep Boston from retiring Pedro Martinez's number this season.

Moreover, Carlton Fisk — who retired as a member of the White Sox, and played more seasons with Chicago than Boston — had his No. 27 retired by the Red Sox.

I think that any reasonable person would concur; it's finally time for the Red Sox to do the right thing and retire Wade Bogg's No. 26 this season.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Red Sox Roster Has Undergone Vast Changes Since 2013 World Series Winner

Considering that the 2014 Red Sox went 71-91, we all knew that big changes were in store.

This offseason, Boston has added a number of new players, including Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, Justin Masterson, Wade Miley, and Rick Porcello.

At last season's trade deadline, the Red Sox added Joe Kelly and Allen Craig. Mookie Betts was called up at mid-season, and Cuban Rusney Castillo debuted with the Sox in September.

Gone from last year's club are Chris Capuano, Mike Carp, Rubby De La Rosa, Felix Doubront, Stephen Drew, Jonny Gomes, John Lackey, Jon Lester, Will Middlebrooks, Andrew Miller, Jake Peavy, A.J. Pierzynski, and David Ross, among others.

In short, the 2015 Red Sox will look quite different from the group that broke camp last spring. Yet, this is almost an entirely different team than the one that won the World Series just 15 months ago.

In that time, the Boston roster has been almost completely overhauled. The scope of the makeover is rather stunning for a team that won it all so recently.

To follow is a look at all of the players from the 2013 Red Sox who are no longer with the team:

Alfredo Aceves
Andrew Bailey
Daniel Bard
Pedro Beato
Jose De La Torre
Ryan Dempster
Felix Doubront
Joel Hanrahan
John Lackey
Jon Lester
Andrew Miller
Franklin Morales
Clay Mortensen
Jake Peavy
Matt Thornton
(There are even more, but they were bit players: Rubby De La Rosa, Brayan Villarreal, Allen Webster, Alex Wilson)

Ryan Lavarnway
David Ross
Jarrod Saltalamacchia

Mike Carp
Pedro Ciriaco
Stephen Drew
Jose Iglesias
Josh McDonald
Will Middlebrooks
Brandon Snyder

Quintin Berry
Jacoby Ellsbury
Jonny Gomes

If you weren't counting, that's 28 players who were on the roster just over a year ago and are now elsewhere.

So, what will the Boston roster look like on Opening Day 2015?

It's safe to assume that the Red Sox will carry the customary 12 pitchers: five starters and seven relievers.

Barring another trade or free agent signing, Clay Buchholz, Joe Kelly, Wade Miley, Rick Porcello and Justin Masterson will comprise the rotation.

Craig Breslow (L), Tommy Layne (L), Edward Mujica (R), Junichi Tazawa (R), Koji Uehara (R), and Anthony Vavaro (R) will likely constitute six of the seven bullpen spots. Drake Britton (L), Zeke Spruill (R), and Brandon Workman (R) will probably compete for the final spot.

Consequently, the Sox will also likely carry the customary 13 position players. The starting lineup appears set.

Manager John Farrell has indicated that Mookie Betts will probably bat leadoff this season, followed by Dustin Pedroia in the second spot. Newcomers Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval will likely to slot into the heart of the batting order.

Farrell says he likes the idea of left-right balance in the middle of the order, with lefty David Ortiz batting third, followed by Ramirez (right-handed), Sandoval (switch-hitter) and Mike Napoli (righty).

Rusney Castillo, Xander Bogaerts and Christian Vazquez will likely bat in the last three spots.

But the batting order accounts for just nine players, who will get the bulk of the playing time. At least one bench role remains unclear.

The trade of Yoenis Cespedes helped to clear an outfield logjam, but there are still at least six outfielders vying for five spots. Assuming that Jackie Bradley starts the season in Pawtucket, another outfielder still needs to be moved (Allen Craig?). The Sox currently have Ramirez, Castillo, Betts, Victorino, Craig and Daniel Nava (six players) contending for five outfield spots.

Here's a look at the projected lineup:

DH David Ortiz

C Christian Vazquez, plus backup Ryan Hanigan
1B Mike Napoli
2B Dustin Pedroia
3B Pedro Sandoval
SS Xander Bogaerts
Utility Brock Holt

RF Shane Victorino / Mookie Betts
CF Rusney Castillo
LF Hanley Ramirez
OF/1B Daniel Nava / Allen Craig

That amounts to 14 players for 13 available roster spots.

Something has to give. The Sox will likely allow Craig and Victorino to showcase their talents for other teams during spring training, allowing the veterans to prove that they are both healthy and productive. Each player could be in line for a big bounce back season. The Sox could get more value by holding onto them for another couple of months and letting their values rise.

There is no rush to make a move. Pitchers and catchers report to Fort Meyers on February 21, while position players report on the 25th. Boston opens the regular season on April 6 in Philadelphia.

So, unless Ben Cherington has a plan for a No. 1 starter, the only real questions at this point are the seventh bullpen spot and the fifth outfield spot.

One way or the other, the Red Sox 2015 roster will be quite different from a year ago, and wildly different from the squad that shocked the baseball world in October 2013.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Red Sox Remake Lineup With Signings of Ramirez and Sandoval

Apparently, the Red Sox have gone hog wild in signing both Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval to five-year contracts worth roughly $100 million apiece (Ramirez will reportedly receive $88 million over four years, with a $22 million vesting option for a fifth year).

Ramirez rejected the Los Angeles Dodgers' $15.3 million qualifying offer earlier this month and became a free agent. That means the Red Sox will surrender a second-round draft pick for signing him. The Red Sox’ first-round draft pick (No. 7) is protected. That's good news.

But are these sound baseball moves? Let's start with the fact that Ramirez will be 31 next month and Sandoval is 28.

Sandoval is 5' 11", 245 lbs. That's a lot of weight for a guy that height, and it has led to concerns about how the Kung Fu Panda will age. Clearly, if people are comparing you to a panda, fictional or otherwise, you are large.

At age 28, Sandoval has already been regressing for four consecutive years.

Here are Sandoval's slash lines from 2011 to 2014:

2011 .315/.357/.552/.909
2012 .283/.342/.447/.789
2013 .278/.341/.417/.758
2014 .279/.324/.415/.739

That's worrisome. But the belief is that the switch-hitting Sandoval will use the wall at Fenway to his advantage as a left-handed hitter. The Sox desperately need another lefty bat in their lineup; they're far too right-handed at present.

Sandoval has struck out only 13% of the time during his big league career, and has never whiffed as many as 100 times in a season. He topped out at 85 Ks in 2014. Clearly, he has excellent plate discipline, something the Red Sox value greatly.

Despite his weight, Sandoval is still a good defender at third, and more mobile than a similarly built guy like Prince Fielder, who plays first. Additionally, adding a player who was instrumental in earning three World Series Championships is a bonus.

Ramirez is the best pure hitter in this year's free agent class. He won the NL bating title in 2009, and led the NL with a 1.040 OPS in 2013, a season in which he also hit .345 with 20 home runs in just 86 games.

The assumption is that the Sox will move him to left field. Given his defensive decline at shortstop in recent years, it's hard to imagine the Sox trusting him there next season.

However, Boston already needed to deal an outfielder (Yoenis Cespedes) to solve their outfield logjam. If the plan is to play Hanley in left, the Sox are back where they started even if they trade Cespedes. That would necessitate yet another trade of an outfielder.

Ramirez was said to be immature and a divisive clubhouse presence in Florida, where he wore out his welcome. It's not common for a team to give up on a young superstar, so it very telling that the Marlins shipped him to LA in 2012, during his age 28 season. We can only hope that at age 31, he has finally matured and will fall in line with the Red Sox.

Most worrisome, perhaps, is that Ramirez hasn’t played a full season since 2012. His injury history is reason for concern as he enters a five-year deal at age 31.

So, where do these signings (assuming they are officially announced) leave the Red Sox budget this offseason? After all, they still need to add two starting pitchers, and one of them could be Jon Lester, who was reportedly offered $110-$120 million by the team.

According to WEEI's Alex Speier, the Red Sox had roughly $45 million to spend after re-signing Koji Uehara. Let's say that Sandoval and Ramirez account for $39 million next season, that leaves $6 million to play with. Of course, there is no spending cap in baseball, but the Sox would still like to remain under the $189 million luxury tax threshold.

Evidently, the Sox aren't done dealing yet, and they will clear some salary to obtain Lester, or some other star pitcher (James Shields?).

How the signings of Ramirez and Sandoval pan out remains to be seen. Clearly there is a lot of risk given the years and dollars involved, as well as Ramirez's durability and Sandoval's weight.

But these deals represent going-rate, free market prices for players of their caliber. San Francisco and San Diego reportedly offered similar deals to Sandoval, and If the Red Sox didn't offer that five-year mega deal to Ramirez, some other team surely would have (i.e. the Yankees).

The Sox struck quickly to shore up their left side infield defense with Sandoval, and they have surely improved their lineup as well. In a typical season, Ramirez bats .300, with 25 home runs. The only guy presently on the Sox roster that can do that is David Ortiz, and he's 39. In other words, that can't be relied on much longer.

Undoubtedly, the Red Sox can afford these contracts. But they still have lots of work to do.

Now they need to go out and get Jon Lester, and perhaps Cole Hamels too. Don't be surprised if Boston packages Xander Bogaerts in a deal to obtain the Phillies' star lefty.

According to Nick Cafardo, the Red Sox have already turned down a couple of trade proposals from the Phillies involving Hamels, and the two teams will likely reopen trade talks.

That would amount to a truly amazing offseason for Boston.

Friday, November 14, 2014


Yoan Moncada, a 19-year-old, switch-hitting middle-infielder from Cuba, is "the most intriguing free agent in the world," according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports.

Moncada is a greater sensation than either Yasiel Puig, Jose Abreu, or Yoenis Cespedes were when they left Cuba.

In fact, no Cuban player that age has "created so much hype among the Cuban baseball establishment since Omar Linares, the 1980s star widely regarded as the best talent ever from the island," writes Passan.

At 6-foot-2, 200-pounds, Moncada is a fast-twitch athletic machine that has big league scouts salivating.

At a showcase in Guatemala on Thursday, Moncada displayed excellent bat speed and plus raw power. He also showed his plus speed by running the 60-yard dash in around 6.6 seconds.

The Red Sox, who are believed to be among the front-runners for Moncada's services, had a big group at the showcase, led by vice president of player personnel Allard Baird.

In all, there were around 80-100 major league scouts on hand to see Moncada, including several top-level evaluators.

Moncada has played shortstop, second and third in Cuba, though scouts say he is less likely to play shortstop in pro ball.

The young Cuban is expected to fetch between $30 million and $40 million once he hits the open market.

Under baseball’s current collective-bargaining agreement, international free agents under 23 years old with fewer than five years’ experience in a professional league fall under the purview of MLB’s international bonus pool. This means that for every dollar a team goes beyond its allotted budget to sign international amateurs it must pay a 100 percent tax.

Houston has the highest allotted budget this season, at $4.94 million. The cost of Moncada is expected to greatly exceed that.

So, if a team offers Moncada $30 million, it will actually pay $60 million, since it will have to pay MLB an additional $30 million (100%) tax penalty for going over their allotted budget.

On top of that, if a team goes 15 percent beyond its pool, it cannot spend more than $300,000 on an international amateur for the next two signing periods.

The Red Sox have already exceeded their allotment by 15% (remember Rusney Castillo?). Going all in for Moncada would be a gamble. But if the Sox believe that he's better than any other player in the international pipeline for the next two years, they may throw caution to the wind and take that gamble.

MLB is trying to give the weakest teams a chance to compete for the best international free agents, not just the biggest spending, big market teams, such as the Red Sox. Yet, Boston may be willing to incur the above penalties to obtain a once-in-a-generation player.

Major League Baseball officially declared Moncada a free agent over the weekend. The next step before he can sign with any team is for the Office of Foreign Assets Control to unblock him. At that point the bidding will begin, and it is expected to be frenzied.

Moncada is viewed as the best amateur player available — better than any draft-eligible high school or college player in the country.

For that, the Red Sox may break the bank and pay heavy penalties.

If not, another team surely will.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Red Sox Remake Roster With Eye on 2015, and Beyond

Yoenis Cespedes is the newest Red Sox slugger

What Ben Cherington and the Red Sox' baseball operations team pulled-off on Thursday —in a six-day span really — was nothing short of extraordinary.

The Red Sox stunned the baseball world, and their legion of fans, perhaps, by trading Jake Peavy, Felix Doubront, Jon Lester, Jonny Gomes, John Lackey, Andrew Miller and Stephen Drew in quick succession.

That amounted to 28% of the Boston roster dealt in less than a week, which is simply amazing.

The Red Sox traded four Opening Day starters in the span six days, which may be unprecedented.

This much is certain: No team has ever traded three starters, and four pitchers total, from the previous World Series winner.

While the magnitude and scope of the deals may have been jaw-dropping, the fact that Cherington sought to remake the roster was not.

When your team is 48-60 (12 games below .500) and 12.5 games out of first place on July 31, you have to start planning for next season. Cherington did just that, and he did it wisely.

Rather than add additional prospects that might make the Red Sox better in 2016, 2017 or 2018, Cherington sought proven big league players who could impact the club immediately, making the esteemed Red Sox organization competitive again as soon as next season.

The Sox netted two All Stars — Yoenis Cespedes and Allen Craig — plus Joe Kelly, a 26-year-old righty who posted a 3.53 ERA in 2012 (16 starts), and a 2.69 ERA in 2013 (15 starts).

Moreover, Kelly isn't eligible for salary arbitration until after next season and is controllable through 2018.

Yes, for the cynics out there, each player has endured struggles.

This year, Cespedes is hitting .256 with a .303 OBP and .464 slugging mark, plus 17 homers in 101 games. Last season he put together a slash line of .240/.294/.442.

An OBP averaging .296 over two seasons doesn't fit the Red Sox' organizational philosophy of a patient plate approach geared toward getting on base regularly.

However, Cespedes, 28, has exceptional power from the right side of the plate, which should play well at Fenway Park. He averaged 25 homers a year in his first two seasons in Oakland, which has an enormous ballpark.

He's also the guy who won the last two All Star Game Home Run Derbies.

Additionally, the outfielder possesses an excellent arm and should hold plenty of hitters to singles, while keeping others from scoring.

Craig, a 29-year-old outfielder, has 7 homers and 44 RBI this season, while slashing .237/.291/.346/.638 in an off year.

However, in 2012, his breakout season, Craig hit 22 homers, 35 doubles and had 92 RBI. Last season, he had 13 homers, 29 doubles and 97 RBI, and was selected to the NL All Star team.

Even when his struggles this season are included, Craig has a career slash line of .291/.343/.460/.803 over parts of five seasons.

That's the kind of guy the Red Sox want in their lineup every day.

Kelly has a 4.37 ERA, 6.4 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 0.77 HR/9, and a 54.3% groundball rate in 35 innings for the Cardinals this year. He won the team’s fifth starter job out of spring training, but injured his hamstring in mid-April and missed nearly three months.

Yet, no one should forget that this is a 26-year-old who posted ERAs of 3.53 and 2.69 over the last two seasons, respectively, and who has World Series experience. Kelly pitched in five post-season games over the past two seasons, posting a 3.68 ERA in the process.

All told, Cherington and his baseball operations staff added two power hitting outfielders (something they are sorely lacking at the minor league level) to the Boston roster, as well as a very talented and controllable young righty.

Then there's the matter of the prospects added in these deals.

In exchange for Jake Peavy, the Red Sox received minor league pitchers Edwin Escobar and Heath Hembree, ranked the No. 2 and No. 7 players in the Giants' system. Escobar was also ranked the No. 56 prospect in the game by Baseball America.

For Andrew Miller, the Red Sox received minor league pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez, who might prove to be the best minor league player Boston netted in all of these deals.

Rodriguez entered the 2014 season as the No. 3 prospect in the Orioles' organization and the No. 65 prospect in MLB, according to Baseball America. The 21-year-old was ranked the league’s No. 6 left-handed pitching prospect, with Baseball America suggesting he projects as a back-end starter.

Baltimore had Rodriguez on a fast track to the big leagues and, according to other projections, he profiles as a middle-of-the-rotation arm. The left-hander could potentially impact the Red Sox starting rotation as soon as 2016.

Boston sent left-hander Felix Doubront to the Cubs in exchange for a player to be named later. The player will be sent to the Sox after the December Rule 5 draft. It's impossible to determine just what kind of talent that might produce, but we shouldn't count on much.

It was a minimal return for a 26-year-old lefty who is coming off two consecutive double-digit win seasons. But that's how far Doubront's stock has fallen this year. The Venezuelan is 2-4 in 10 starts, with a 5.22 ERA and a 1.48 WHIP. In 58.2 innings, he struck out 43 while walking 24, which are both poor ratios.

Doubront has always had problems with motivation and conditioning, and showed up to spring training completely out of shape multiple times. The Red Sox gave him every opportunity to succeed, including a rotation spot in each of the last three seasons.

Doubront responded with a 4.47 ERA and 1.46 WHIP in 69 career starts. He's never made as many as 30 starts, or thrown as many as 165 innings, in three years as a starter.

The Red Sox also received another draft pick when the A's included their competitive balance pick in the Lester deal. Since the Red Sox will lose the ability to offer a qualifying offer to Lester and receive a draft pick when it is rejected, the A's competitive balance pick will help to offset this.

As a former international free agent, Cespedes is not subject to the same rules as other upcoming free agents and cannot receive a qualifying offer from the Red Sox when he becomes a free agent after the 2015 season.

The Red Sox had no plans to bring back Peavy, Gomes, Drew or Doubront next season, so moving them now made perfect sense.

While the team may have had an interest in retaining Lackey on his $500,000 contract clause, there was no guarantee that the veteran wouldn't decide to simply sit out the season instead.

In exchange for Lackey, the Sox added a younger, cheaper starter and a corner outfielder/first baseman with above-average offensive skills.

The Sox would surely love to employ Lester and Miller next season, but both pitchers may be priced beyond the Red Sox' comfort zone in free agency.

The Sox now have an even greater wealth of minor league talent to use as trade chips in an effort to secure a frontline starter this winter. But they can also turn to the free agent market and seek a reunion with Lester.

However, given how negotiations went when there were no other teams involved, that seems less than likely.

It's a good bet that the Sox will make a run a Royals' starter James Shields when he becomes a free agent this offseason. The righty is AL East battle-tested and might be had on the same four-year, $70 million offer that Lester rejected.

One way of the other, the Red Sox surely won't enter next season with a rotation consisting of the enigmatic Clay Buchholz (who has never thrown 200 innings or made as many as 30 starts in a season), Joe Kelly, and three largely unproven quasi-rookies.

In the meantime, the Red Sox will use the season's final 54 games for player evaluation, to determine what exactly they have on their hands, and how they will construct the 2015 roster.

They will now be able to assess some of their top minor league pitchers.

Anthony Ranuado, Allen Webster, and perhaps even Matt Barnes, will be filtered into the rotation (along with Brandon Workman and Rubby De La Rosa) in a low-pressure, non-playoff atmosphere. How each of them responds will go a long way toward resolving next year's rotation questions.

For most of them, there's not much more to prove in the minors. They're either ready for the majors now, or they may never be.

Lastly, by trading Drew, the Red Sox have freed up the shortstop postion for Xander Bogaerts once again, while allowing the rehabbed Will Middlebrooks a shot at his former position at third base.

Though each has roughly a season's worth of major league experience, both players are essentially auditioning for their roles going forward.

In short, it's time for both of them to deliver on all that promise.

These trades make what's left of the 2014 season (54 games) so much more interesting. The fans would rather watch rookies struggle, rather than seasoned veterans making millions of dollars annually.

We all want to see the stars of the future and, most importantly, the players who will comprise the Red Sox roster next year and beyond.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Red Sox Trade of Jake Peavy to Giants Looks Like Grand Larceny

Despite being in the midst of the worst season in his 13-year career, Jake Peavy proved to be an excellent trade asset for the Boston Red Sox.

On Saturday, Boston sent Peavy to the San Francisco Giants in exchange for minor league pitchers Edwin Escobar and Heath Hembree, both of whom were in Baseball America’s top 10 preseason ranking of the Giants' prospects.

That's an amazing return for a veteran pitcher who appears to be well into the downside of his once-great career.

Peavy has been struggling for most of the season, and that's reflected in more than just his 1-9 record.

Consider the following:

• The righty's 4.73 ERA is his highest in any season in which he's made at least 20 starts.

• His 1.43 WHIP is the worst of his career.

• He is averaging 7.3 strikeouts per nine innings, his lowest since 2003.

• His 3.3 walks per nine are also his worst rate since 2003.

• His 20 home runs allowed are the most in the American League.

And then there's Peavy's win-loss record, which is not entirely his fault.

Peavy is winless in his last 15 starts — the second-longest such streak in Red Sox history, behind only a 16-game drought that Jim Lonborg suffered in 1969.

However, Peavy has been the victim of poor run support this season; the Sox are averaging just 2.76 runs per game in his starts, the lowest figure for any qualifying starter in the American League.

No matter, the Red Sox got a tremendous return for a pitcher who is clearly having the worst season of his career, and who appears to be in a steady decline.

Furthermore, Peavy is scheduled to be a free agent after this season.

Though the Red Sox won the World Series with Peavy last season, his limited contributions were not a primary reason.

Over 10 starts and 64.2 innings with Boston in 2013, Peavy went 4-1 with a 4.04 ERA. He also managed 45 Ks and 19 walks in those 64.2 innings.

It was a decent performance, but Peavy was hardly a difference-maker, much less a dominating starter.

Since arriving in Boston at the 2013 trade deadline, Peavy has looked like a shadow of the pitcher who won the NL Cy Young Award back in 2007, while also winning the pitching Triple Crown.

The fact that the Red Sox received two upper-level minor league pitchers — one a right-handed reliever, one a left-handed starter — in return for pending free agent is remarkable.

The St. Louis Cardinals expressed an interest in Peavy, but were primarily focused on picking up the remainder of his 2014 salary (approximately $5 million). The Cards didn't seem inclined to give up premium talent for a two-month rental of a fading pitcher.

That the Red Sox were able to extract two top-tier prospects from the Giants is a credit to the negotiating skills of Ben Cherington.

In the end, the two teams agreed to spilt the remaining $5 million on Peavy’s $14.5 million contract as part of the trade.

Peavy was not part of the Red Sox' 2015 plans, so there was no way they were going to extend a $14 million qualifying offer to him after this season.

Furthermore, Peavy wasn't helping the Sox this year. It was time to give Peavy's rotation spot to Brandon Workman and see what the 25-year-old can do over the season's final months. The Sox need to know if they can entrust a rotation spot to him out of spring training next year.

With all of that in mind, it was time to cut bait with Peavy. Yet, the Red Sox used that bait for a tremendous, and rather unexpected, haul.

Hembree was ranked as the Giants’ seventh-best prospect entering the year, and he was described by Baseball America as a potential late-innings arm.

The 25-year-old right-hander has a 3.89 ERA with 10.5 strikeouts and 3.0 walks per nine innings in 41 Triple-A relief appearances.

Escobar entered the season ranked No. 2 in the Giants system and No. 56 in the game by Baseball America.

However, the 22-year-old has struggled this season. Escobar is 3-8 with a 5.11 ERA, 7.8 strikeouts and 3.0 walks per nine innings in 20 starts for Triple-A Fresno.

Ultimately, the Red Sox got two of the top-10 players in the Giants' system for a two-month rental of Peavy, which is nothing short of stunning. Such an outcome was previously unimaginable.

Kudos to Ben Cherington. He was able to simultaneously plan for the future, while not hurting the team in the present.

Peavy is a great competitor and, by all accounts, a great teammate. He gave the Red Sox everything he had every time he took the mound.

The problem was, that just didn't add up to much anymore.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

With a Deep Pool of Prospects and Lots of Payroll Flexibility, Red Sox Well Positioned to Rebuild for 2015 and Beyond

When the Red Sox made their blockbuster trade with the Dodgers in August of 2012, they shed hundreds of millions of dollars in payroll obligations, as well as three All Star players.

At that moment, the Sox were entering a rebuilding phase and planned on using the immense talent in their farm system as a "bridge" to the future.

The Sox suddenly had ample money to spend as they saw fit. The future looked bright. But building a World Series winner appeared to be a process that would require at least a few years.

So, when the Red Sox instead won the World Series the very next season, they shocked the baseball world. Everything that needed to go right for the team did. Virtually every player performed at the top of his abilities and had a career year.

As amazing and improbable as last year's team was, this year's is just as confounding.

Even after winning three straight games — just their third winning streak at least that long this season — the Sox still find themselves nine games below .500 and 9/12 games out of first place.

The good news is that the Sox have 2 1/2 months to see what a roster full of rookies can do. This will provide time for players such as Mookie Betts, Christian Vazquez, and Rubby De La Rosa, for example, to adjust to the majors and prove their worth. They'll get over the rookie jitters and get used to the greater amount of travel, press and the higher level of competition.

Boston still has a number of highly valued prospects in the minors, and lots of payroll flexibility for next season. This will make building the next Red Sox World Series contender a fascinating process.

The contracts of Jon Lester, Jake Peavy, Stephen Drew, Jonny Gomes, Koji Uehara, David Ross, Craig Breslow, Burke Badenhop and Andrew Miller all come off the books after this season.

That leaves the Sox with less than $75 million in payroll obligations next year.

Mike Napoli and David Ortiz are each due $16 million. Shane Victorino will make $13 million, with Dustin Pedroia paid $12.6 million and Clay Buchholz $12.25 million. Edward Mujica is on the books for $4.75 million.

That's a total of just $74.6 million in commitments.

The rest of the roster will include five arbitration-eligible players — Junichi Tazawa, Daniel Nava, Felix Doubront, Mike Carp and Jonathan Herrera — none of whom are due large raises.

Another half-dozen players — Jackie Bradley Jr, Xander Bogaerts, Christian Vazquez, and, as a result of smart negotiating, John Lackey — will make the minimum salary or slightly more.

Even if the Sox re-sign Lester to a long term deal with an average annual value of $20 million per season, that would still leave the team an enormous amount of flexibility. The luxury tax threshold will remain $189 million in 2015.

So, while the 2014 season appears to be a loss, and perhaps a great disappointment, the Red Sox are well positioned for the years ahead.

By November, if not by the July 31 trade deadline, Ben Cherington and Co, will set about building the next World Champion team.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Red Sox Desperately Need a Shakeup

Mike Napoli says the Red Sox offensive woes this season are the result of being a very different lineup from last season.

"I mean we're not the same team as last year. We're different. We're just not the same," said the Red Sox first baseman. "Everyone keeps on comparing us to last year, but it's different guys in here. We've just got to figure it out."

However, in large part, the Sox are indeed the same team as last year's World Series winners — on paper at least.

Let's go around the diamond:

David Ortiz is back at DH.
David Ross is back at catcher, albeit in a backup role.
Napoli is back at first base.
Dustin Pedroia is back at second base.
Stephen Drew is back at shortstop.
Johnny Gomes is back in left field.
Daniel Nava is back in left and right fields.

The Sox lost Jacoby Ellsbury and Jarrod Saltalamacchia to free agency, and Shane Victorino to the DL. But seven primary members of last year's lineup are still in place.

The Red Sox' problem is not the loss of Ellsbury and Salty; it's the abysmal performances of the guys that are still in the Sox lineup this season.

The Red Sox will be exactly halfway through the season after tonight's game, and most of the lineup's batting statistics are downright pathetic.

Just look at the numbers:

Napoli has just 9 homers, 11 doubles and 30 RBI.

Pedroia has 4 homers, 27 RBI and a slash line of .262/.334/.372.

Xander Bogaerts has 6 home runs, 19 RBI and a slash line of .254 /.334/.384.

Though David Ortiz has been the lineup's best run producer, with 19 home runs and 49 RBI, he has a slash line of .254/.355/.479, The former and the latter are well below his career averages.

A.J. Pierzynski has just 15 extra-base hits, to go along with a slash line of .250/.279/.353.

Jonny Gomes has just 11 extra-base hits and a slash line of .235/.335/.361.

Daniel Nava has just seven extra-base hits, five RBI and a slash line of .223/.313/.308.

Jackie Bradley Jr. has 17 extra-base hits and a slash line of .209/.289/.298.

David Ross has eight extra-base hits, five RBI and a slash line of .174/.237/.337.

The above numbers look like the stats of A-ball hitters trying to play in the majors.

Brock Holt, a minor league player that most fans were hardly familiar with prior to this season, is the team's best hitter.

The Sox rank 26th in the majors in scoring. Their .367 slugging mark is the worst in the AL, and is 28th in the majors.

Napoli (and perhaps some of his teammates as well) is in denial. The Red Sox problems have nothing to do with the guys that are no longer with the team and everything to do with the ones that still are.

To be clear, the Red Sox have just three players slugging over .400, which speaks volumes about how pathetic this lineup is.

We're halfway through the season, and just one Sox hitter has more than nine home runs.

Just two Red Sox hitters are batting above .262.

Need I say more?

Last year, almost every hitter in the lineup had a career year. Success bred more success. It became contagious.

This year, failure and ineptitude have bred more of the same. They have spread like viruses through the Sox lineup.

The Red Sox have been stricken by apathy and complacency. This team needs a trade to break the spell of listlessness that afflicts them.

It may be too late to make a playoff push, but, at the least, upper management should allow John Farrell to field a team each night that possesses some passion, fire and competency.

The current lineup is an embarrassment to this great franchise. Surely, the Red Sox' dedicated fans deserve a team worth rooting for down the stretch — even if it is playing for nothing more than self-respect and genuine competitiveness.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Remembering Roger Clemens' 20-Strikeout Game: April 29th,1986

Roger Clemens shows off the ball he used in his 20-strikeout game.

On the night of Tuesday, April 29, 1986, 23-year-old righthander Roger Clemens took the mound at Fenway Park to little fanfare. It was just the 18th game of the season, and a mere 13,414 fans were sprinkled throughout the ballpark.

They had no idea that they were about to witness history. Nor did anyone else.

In fact, there was just one photographer stationed in the photographers' well on the first base side to record what was about to unfold.

There was good reason that no one was expecting anything special from Clemens that night; he was making just his fourth start since having arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder only eight months earlier.

The right-hander's torn labrum had healed quite well, but no one knew it at the time.

Midway through the 1985 season, Clemens's career was in danger of being derailed. His shoulder was hurting so much that he could barely lift his pitching arm, which limited him to pitching in just 15 games that season.

In August, Dr. James Andrews was enlisted to remove cartilage near Clemens' rotator cuff via arthroscopic surgery, which was a relatively new procedure at the time.

No one knew what would become of Clemens when the 1986 season rolled around.

But on this night, it was immediately clear that Clemens' shoulder was healthy and fully healed.

The hurler struck out the first three Mariners he faced, all swinging, and then fanned two of the three in the second inning.

Bob Costas recounts that magical evening here.

When it was all said and done, Clemens threw a complete game, allowing just one run on three hits.

But the main thing all 13, 414 fans in attendance would remember was that Clemens blew away the Mariners' hitters all night long.

The right hander made history that night, becoming the first pitcher in Major League history to strike out 20 batters in a nine-inning game.

Watch Clemens recount his history-making performance here.

But the fans weren't the only ones who were impressed that evening. Even the officials were amazed.

"Home plate umpire (Vic) Voltaggio told a batboy after the seventh inning, 'This is the best pitching performance I've ever seen,'" wrote Columnist Leigh Montville in Sports Illustrated.

Kerry Wood and Randy Johnson are the only other pitchers to strike out 20 batters in nine innings. But Clemens was the first, and he also accomplished the feat twice.

More than 10 years after his 20-strikeout mastery of Seattle, Clemens matched his legendary accomplishment on September 18, 1996 against Detroit, at Tiger Stadium.

This second 20-strikeout performance occurred in Clemens third-to-last game as a member of the Red Sox.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Red Sox May Seek Starting Pitching Despite Dwindling Playoff Hopes

The Red Sox could be without at least three members of their 2014 starting rotation next season.

Both Jon Lester and Jake Peavy will become free agents when this season concludes, and John Lackey may choose to sit out the 2015 season rather than play for the Red Sox at the league minimum.

The Red Sox had language inserted into Lackey's contract stipulating that in the event he missed extensive time due to an elbow problem, the team would get control of him for an extra year at the league minimum (roughly $500K).

At age 30, Lester will earn $13 million this year, the most he has made in any season. The Red Sox need to ask if he will get better and be more valuable in his 30s than he was in his 20s. Is he worth $20-$25 million per season over at least five years?

The Sox reportedly made Lester a four-year, $70 million offer earlier this season, which he promptly rejected.

Yes, the Red Sox can afford Lester. But is such an expensive, long-term investment in a pitcher in his 30s prudent?

Peavy will make $14.5 million this season, meaning he will be overpaid. Next year's major league qualifying offer will be in the range of $15 million for a one-year deal. The Red Sox have to determine if they think that Peavy is worth that much, or if any team will offer him a high-dollar, long term deal.

In my estimation, he is not worth that cost, and he belongs in the National League.

On the open market this winter, Lackey would likely get at least two years (maybe three) at $15 million per year. If he decides that pitching for the minimum is not worth the injury risk, and would potentially jeopardize a long term deal beginning in 2016, Lackey might just choose to sit out the 2015 season.

It would be a reasonable decision. Why take the risk?

With all of that in mind, the Red Sox are thinking beyond this season in their quest for controllable starting pitching. That's why the Sox could still be buyers at the trade deadline, even if they are out of playoff contention.

According to multiple reports, the Sox have been scouting Cubs' pitcher Jeff Samardzija, who is 2-6 this season with a 2.77 ERA. The 29-year-old has struck out 82 batters over 91 innings of work.

It's been reported that the Cubs previously offered Samardzija a five-year contract in the $60-million to $65-million range, which he rejected. However, it may not be all about the money.

The pitcher is also said to be concerned about the Cubs' timeline to become competitive again. Chicago has endured four straight losing seasons, and is well on its way to a fifth.

Samardzija is controlled through the 2015 season via arbitration. He will be highly coveted at the deadline and will likely have big price tag. The Sox will probably need to part with at least three top prospects to land him.

But, Samardzija will be 31 after the 2015 season, when he is scheduled to become a free agent. Why would the Red Sox be inclined to give him a big payday at age 31 if they won't give one to Lester at age 30?

Additionally, there has long been speculation that the Sox have interest in Phillies' starters Cliff Lee (age 35) and Cole Hamels (age 30).

Lee has a large contract and isn't healthy at the moment. He is owed $25 million in 2015, and there is a $27.5 million club option for 2016, with a $12.5 million buyout. That's $27.5 in guaranteed money, and it could be as much as $52.5 million over two years.

If Lee is traded this season, it would most likely be a post-waiver deal since he’s unlikely to be healthy enough for a trade before the July deadline.

Hammels is owed $22.5 million each season through 2018, totaling $90 million. There is also a $20 million club option for 2019, with a $6 million buyout. This means that any team acquiring Hamels will be on the hook for at least $96 million over four more seasons, and up to $110 million for the next five.

The Red Sox will have some difficult, yet interesting, choices to make in the coming months. But, one way or another, they need to address their starting rotation for the long term. And they may begin doing that as soon as next month, despite their dwindling playoff hopes.