Too little? Too much?
It’s always the dilemma the year after a World Series championship.
As the Red Sox work on finishing touches to their year-after team, there’s no right or wrong answer to the question. Those who have been through it recently — such as Giants general manager Brian Sabean and Theo Epstein when he was with the Red Sox — will say that you just react normally to personnel needs.
Ben Cherington has done that after a season of near-perfect moves.
Sometimes it’s good enough, sometimes it isn’t. Repeating is hard to do anyway. Not since the Yankees ran off three straight from 1998-2000 has a team been able to repeat in baseball.
It’s all about having a strong core of players and then making the right adjustments around it. With Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz plus a new core of Shane Victorino, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, and Koji Uehara, the Red Sox seem to have that core, even though it is now missing Jacoby Ellsbury, an impact player.
Sometimes in the year after, things go wrong. What if the key players who were healthy during the run suddenly suffer injuries?
The key is depth.
Cherington built that depth — especially with his bullpen — last season, and it proved to be where ultimately the Red Sox won the World Series title. The discovery of Uehara, especially, was monumental.
There’s also the hunger factor. Teams start the next season with the best of intentions, but things happen. It can be difficult to duplicate that same enthusiasm after a year when everything went right. Even the things that went wrong — injuries to closers Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey — eventually turned into something good.
The Red Sox so far have taken the approach that there isn’t much that needs to be fixed.
They added bullpen pieces in Edward Mujica and Burke Badenhop for depth, which was their formula for success last season.
They have a team that’s getting younger, for sure.
They can create some excitement with Xander Bogaerts manning either shortstop or third base, Jackie Bradley in center, and the still young and powerful Will Middlebrooks in the mix. There will be growing pains with young players, but at some point, they must show whether they’re ready for prime time. And the season after a championship is as good a time as any.
Epstein always said that it’s impossible to bring back the entire championship team and have everything go according to plan. Let’s face it, seven free agents worked out very well in 2013, and midseason trade acquisition Jake Peavy also pitched in.
One worry is the extra innings pitchers had to work in the postseason. That shortens the offseason and can be troublesome the following year. That’s why manager John Farrell and pitching coach Juan Nieves are talking about easing up on their pitchers early in camp.
Cherington also built the depth in the outfield. Because of that, nagging injuries to Victorino were covered because of the presence of Daniel Nava and Mike Carp, who both had very good seasons. The Red Sox were also able to use their depth to make a major trade — giving up Jose Iglesias, the best defensive shortstop in baseball, for Peavy. Stephen Drew was there to play shortstop, with Bogaerts on the way.
So the rest of the offseason will be, as Cherington said, “keeping an open mind” about the possibility of something bigger. He has had chances to do bigger things but has played it conservatively. The possibility of acquiring Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp has been talked about around the league, but nobody really knows how he’ll respond from ankle surgery.
The Red Sox would love to be a team that addresses its needs from within a majority of the time.
The introduction of Bogaerts as a full-time player should give the team a spark early in the season, much as Iglesias did in 2013. Bogaerts also might lessen the loss of Ellsbury in terms of production. He is obviously not a 50-plus stolen base talent, but he could be a grind-it-out hitter with a high on-base percentage with some power in an up-the-middle-position.
The Red Sox are hoping Bradley can be a reasonable replacement for Ellsbury. He’s not an accomplished base stealer, which is where someone like Tommy Harper really could help in spring training.
The Red Sox have thought about a righthanded complement to Bradley, but they have too many outfielders to see that through. They already will have a different look at catcher with A.J. Pierzynski replacing Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Pierzynski is not the prototypical Red Sox hitter
The important thing is that the pitching is intact, from 1 to 12. There’s a deep veteran presence with a smattering of youngsters waiting to knock down the door down, which means a veteran could go in a deal.
On paper, the Red Sox are still in a strong position. The Yankees have improved their lineup but not their pitching staff. The Rays remain on their normal path and acquired a strong catcher in Ryan Hanigan, but they may have to deal David Price, who is a year closer to being out of their price range. The Orioles have a strong core but also two or three missing pieces. The Blue Jays haven’t done much other than sign catcher Dioner Navarro, which should help their offense.
The Tigers rid themselves of Prince Fielder’s big contract, added Ian Kinsler, traded Doug Fister, and signed Joe Nathan to be their closer. The Rangers, Angels, and Mariners improved. The Indians still have a little work to do, and the Royals could be a force this season.
The Athletics seem like a strong team, worthy of being the 2014 preseason favorites.
As we start the second phase of offseason transactions, the Red Sox seem to think that less is more. They like their team and their chances. If everything goes right again.