Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

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.

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