by Benjamin St. Pierre
The Red Sox have three main issues to address this offseason: solidifying the starting rotation, solving the third base dilemma, and managing the outfield overload. For free agent starting pitchers, Jon Lester is the obvious fan favorite, though he would likely command a deal of over six years and perhaps over $150 million. While the Sox have the funds to commit to such a deal, they are hesitant to commit to the years aspect, as the rapid declination of starting pitchers in recent years (chiefly, C.C. Sabathia of the Yankees) is a respectable cause for concern.
However, Lester was low-balled during spring training with a four year, $70 million offer from ownership; that tabled extension talks at the time. Now his price is likely double that, as a result of his stellar season. The Red Sox, if they do not open their wallet and pay the man, will likely have to trade top prospects (Blake Swihart, Henry Owens and Deven Marrero) and young, budding, Major League-ready, potential superstars (Mookie Betts in particular) to get Cole Hamels of the Phillies or Johnny Cueto of the Reds, or someone similar. That should not happen, and it may even still happen on top of signing Lester.
The Red Sox are not a poor team, and while being financially cautious and farm system-driven is admirable, at times like these, it is okay to hand out a huge contract if it means signing Lester, or even (not likely) Max Scherzer, to lead the rotation. The Red Sox 2015 (and beyond) rotation, is, bluntly, barren of established talent, besides Joe Kelly, as Clay Buchholz is still quite enigmatic, and the youngsters with MLB experience (Rubby de la Rosa, Allen Webster and Anthony Ranaudo) are largely unproven.
James “Big Game” Shields cannot be counted on to lead a (hopefully) playoff-bound team like the Red Sox into the postseason – his career postseason ERA (5.46) is not exactly ace material, but he would be a solid number two starter, behind Lester, if that were financially possible. Scherzer is likely out of the question, as he will demand more money than Lester, and Lester is already at a nearly-unattainable level for the Sox, unless a fair hometown discount can actually be worked out so he can come home.
At third base, Brock Holt was a fan favorite super-utility underdog story – he’s a lefty (which the Sox need in their lineup), he’s a dirt dog, he plays passionately and he’s a winner. Except he will likely not start; he nor Garin Cecchini nor Will Middlebrooks. Instead, the Sox may pursue switch-hitting, slick-fielding Chase Headley, brilliant hitter Pablo Sandoval, slugging Pedro Alvarez (from the Pirates being unable to pay his arbitration) or even young Lonnie Chisenhall of the Indians (who would also be only acquirable through trade). There are even talks of playing Betts at third, though he should remain in the outfield, or at second base, but the team’s heart and soul plays there. Unless a no-doubt starter free agent third baseman is signed relatively quickly (or traded for), the job will be a toss-up until the Opening Day lineups are announced, or at least Spring Training.
Now, perhaps the most interesting aspect of the 2015 Red Sox: the absolute glut of outfielders. Yoenis Cespedes, Rusney Castillo, Betts, Daniel Nava, Allen Craig, Jackie Bradley Jr., Shane Victorino, and Holt are all players who could be viable starters, except they cannot all start. There will be no seeking external help for the Sox outfield, unless Marlins superstar Giancarlo Stanton is suddenly made available, or the Sox pursue Cuban Yasmani Tomas. But on Opening Day the outfield should be Cespedes in left field, Castillo in center and Betts in right, with Nava and Craig on the bench, with JBJ in Pawtucket, and Victorino somehow traded. Holt will undoubtedly remain as a valuable super-utility man.