Assuming the Red Sox don't renew Trot Nixon's contract for next season, and that seems quite probable, there will be at least one outfield position to fill for 2007. Of course there is the possibility that the team could choose to start either Coco Crisp or Wily Mo Pena in right, but Pena's defensive liabilities were glaringly obvious over the course of the summer. He's just as likely to cost the team a run in the field as he is to produce one at the plate. Pena revealed himself to be more comfortable in center during Crisp's absence, and shifting the two players may be considered.
But unfortunately, even after four big league seasons, Pena is still viewed as a "project" within the organization, failing to win the confidence of Sox management. Though his plate discipline did improve and he managed to hit .300, at times Pena still swung wildly at pitches well out of the strike zone, and embarrassed himself in the outfield on numerous occasions. The most likely scenario is that the club will keep Pena on the bench, use him as a reserve outfielder and pinch hitter, and hope he continues to develop.
With Crisp having the ability to play either center or right field, he provides the team with flexibility in their quest to replace Nixon. So who are the top candidates? There are a number of interesting possibilities, to be sure.
At the top of the list is Braves center fielder Andruw Jones. The five-time All Star will turn 30 in April, and is coming off of back-to-back 40-homer seasons. The Sox are known to have long-coveted the talented Jones, who is under contract to the Braves for 2007, necessitating a trade if the Sox are to acquire him. Aside from the player costs in securing Jones, signing him to a long-term deal would be expensive. With that in mind, the Sox may choose to go with a free agent instead.
But another intriguing possibility is Carl Crawford, who is also currently under contract to his present team, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The Rays are reportedly willing to shop Crawford, who plays left field but could slide into center. Crawford has four years remaining on a six-year, $31 million contract. That's a very reasonable price for a player with his talent and skill sets. The 25-year-old collected 183 hits this year, while batting .305, with 18 homers, 77 RBI and 58 stolen bases. Those are the kind of numbers the Sox thought they'd be getting from Coco Crisp this season, and it's possible that the two players are too similar to be in the same lineup. The Sox would prefer a power bat, so aside from the fact that acquiring Crawford would likely cost them young pitching talent, the Sox would then have to acquire a bona fide power hitter as well. That could get complicated.
Alfonso Soriano will clearly be one of the hottest free agents this winter. Soriano, who made $10 million this season, reportedly turned down a five-year, $70 million offer to stay in Washington. I'll do the math for you; that's $14 million per season, and it wasn't enough. Signing the 40-40 man is going to require some very deep pockets -- like the kind that go all the way down to the ankles. Though he's said he's willing to remain in the outfield and isn't determined to return to second base, it's reasonable to question if Soriano could handle Fenway's tricky right field. It would certainly be a costly experiment.
There have been reports that the Red Sox might be interested in Gary Matthews Jr., who hit .313 with 19 home runs and 79 RBI for the Rangers this year, earning his first All-Star appearance. Matthews is an excellent defensive player, who may earn his first Gold Glove, ending Torii Hunter's streak of five consecutive awards. The 6-3, 225-pound center fielder has a powerful arm, and is also a quality leadoff hitter who scored 102 runs this year. But Matthews is 32, has played 13 seasons, and is coming off a career year. He'll probably be looking for three-year deal at around $27 million, and the Sox may be looking for a younger hitter with more power.
Free agent Carlos Lee would fit the bill, and he'll also be a player of significant interest this offseason. The 30-year-old belted a career high 37 homers, and drove in 116 runs, playing for the Brewers and Rangers this season. But Lee also hit .300 while notching 187 hits and 102 runs, so he's more than just a bopper. Lee played in his second consecutive All-Star game this year and recorded his fifth consecutive season of 25-or-more homers. No doubt, he will have many suitors and will fetch a hefty long-term contract for his efforts. Could the Sox have an interest? If internal scouting reports reveal that Lee could fit comfortably in right, expect them to be a player in the bidding.
As stated, there are a number of interesting possibilities and candidates, and this promises to be yet another exciting and active Hot Stove season for the Red Sox. After such a disappointing summer, the club will surely want to stir things up in the free agent market and give the fans legitimate reason to be optimistic for a better 2007. A more potent and balanced hitting attack will surely be a focus, and the team needs to successfully address that need, among others.
Copyright © 2006 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.