In two Northeast cities where rebuilding is never an option unless it's done very quickly, the Red Sox and Phillies have to piece it together again.
We asked executives in both leagues which team has the bigger job. The consensus was that Boston has more work to do than Philadelphia, which didn't gut its roster as much, but the Phillies' payroll is more challenging than Boston's. Can't remember when that sentence was last uttered.
"Both of these teams, I predict, will be back at the forefront of their respective divisions in no time," said an American League executive. "The Red Sox made a sensational, dream-come-true deal with the Dodgers, and now they have so much payroll flexibility that they're the envy of baseball. They can shape that team any way they want.
"The Phillies also cleared out [Hunter] Pence, Shane Victorino, and [Joe] Blanton and have a little more flexibility, so now we'll see how they handle adding another hitter or two to that lineup and revamping their bullpen a bit."
The Phillies will likely experiment the rest of the way with Chase Utley at third, just to take the pressure off his chronic knees. Ryan Howard is back at first, though when general manager Ruben Amaro saw the Adrian Gonzalez deal go down, he must have felt there was a market for Howard somewhere. But with a no-trade clause and serious money remaining on his deal, it figures that Howard stays put. He is also coming off a major Achilles' tendon injury, and his stock isn't quite as high as it once was.
The Red Sox probably won't find their future first baseman in free agency. They're keeping an eye on James Loney to see whether he could be their full-time guy or even platoon with a righthanded hitter. A major prize here would be a big righthanded bat like Mark Trumbo from the Angels, who are redundant with Kendrys Morales and Albert Pujols.
The Sox will also look at Twins first baseman Justin Morneau, who has a year remaining on his contract ($14 million) as well as Joe Mauer, who could platoon at catcher/first base. Mauer has about $142 million remaining on his deal; the Sox would have to have the Twins eat part of that and would have to give them very good compensation in either Ryan Lavarnway or Jarrod Saltalamacchia as part of a package.
One thing's for sure, the Sox are set at third for a while with Will Middlebrooks. While some have suggested moving Middlebrooks to first and using Pedro Ciriaco at third until Xander Bogaerts is ready to come up (he's a shortstop but may project to third), it appears that Middlebrooks will stay put.
The Phillies have a promising third base prospect in Cody Asche, who has had a big year splitting time in Single A and Double A (a combined .328, 12 homers, 68 RBIs), but he is at least a year away, likely longer.
That brings us to Utley, whose chronic knee problems make him a candidate to be repositioned. That would allow Freddy Galvis, who was suspended earlier this season for PEDs, to be the second baseman.
"I thought it could be an option for the future," Utley said. "It's way too early to have an opinion either way on how it goes. I might take some ground balls there in the future, but who knows what the future might have in store? But I think if I'm able to play over there, it creates more flexibility as far as the organization is concerned."
The Phillies' pitching wasn't able to get them over the hump early. Cliff Lee has had one of those "oh well" seasons that you chalk up to "that's baseball." He is 3-7 with a 3.67 ERA in 23 starts, with a WHIP if 1.163. That tells you he has had a lot of bad luck. But having Lee to go along with Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels at least gives the Phillies hope for next season.
The Phillies decided to keep their core pitching intact, while augmenting it with Kyle Kendrick, the injured Vance Worley, and Tyler Cloyd, who was the International League Pitcher of the Year after going 12-1 with a 2.35 ERA and a .210 opponents batting average.
But Cloyd's fastball tops out at 88 m.p.h., and there is considerable doubt in the front office that he has what it takes to get major league hitters out on a consistent basis. In his debut, he held the Mets to three runs on seven hits in six innings and took the loss. Suffice to say the Phillies are looking for a pitcher.
The Red Sox will have Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, and Felix Doubront as their big three in 2013. After that, it's mere conjecture. Franklin Morales and John Lackey could be the fourth and fifth starters. Daisuke Matsuzaka could be brought back for another season. Even Alfredo Aceves could be considered.
Also expect the Red Sox to trade for or sign a veteran starting pitcher.
If Hiroki Kuroda is on the market, the Sox may take the plunge. There's always the specter of Matt Garza being available from the Cubs, and Jake Peavy or Gavin Floyd from the White Sox, who are apt to deal off players if they don't get far in the postseason.
The Red Sox are trying to re-sign Cody Ross, which would give them a power righthanded bat. Jacoby Ellsbury is set to return for at least one more season, but the Sox will entertain offers for him if a long-term deal doesn't seem plausible. The outfield trade market will include Justin Upton and B.J. Upton, and Nick Swisher is one of the intriguing possibilities as a free agent.
The bullpens need some repair. The Phillies are set at closer with Jonathan Papelbon and the Red Sox will likely move forward with a healthy Andrew Bailey. After that, both teams need middle-relief remakes, though the Red Sox' choices seem much better than Phillies'.
So which team can fix itself quicker?
"While Boston is a blank slate and they have the resources to replenish quickly, it's not easy," said a National League GM. "What they're trying to do with trades requires giving up prospects, and I'm not sure Ben [Cherington] is going to give up his farm system in these deals.
Apropos of something
So where will the managerial openings be this offseason? There may be fewer than you think, but there will be some likely looking over their shoulder.
■ Tony DeFrancesco, Houston — He replaced Brad Mills on an interim basis, and while he could retain the position, the Astros may be looking for a teacher who can incorporate the metrics-heavy ideology of the front office into the mix. Jim Riggleman’s name has been floated out there quite often. The Astros won’t be good for a few years, so they need someone who can teach and work well with younger players. Riggleman fits that profile very well.
■ Bobby Valentine, Boston — Still a 50-50 proposition as to whether he stays. With the team gutted, Valentine should do well with grooming younger players for bigger roles. He’s done that with Pedro Ciriaco, for one, and had begun with Will Middlebrooks. Ryan Kalish could be the next outfielder groomed for a bigger role next season when he is completely healthy and over his shoulder surgeries. (Dustin Pedroia had the same shoulder issues as Kalish and said you don’t feel better until the following year.) Ownership is fair-minded and realizes that this mess was not Valentine’s fault. Most managers get more than one clean year to show what they can do.
■ John Farrell, Toronto — A season that went well at the outset has declined rapidly. Farrell lost three pitchers in rat-a-tat-tat fashion, and the roster was never improved. While it’s hard to blame Farrell, he may not be the long-term solution north of the border. Some of his moves have been ridiculed by the Toronto media. Farrell to Boston? The Sox tried last season, and the Jays wanted a ton of compensation. It may take less this time.
■ Manny Acta, Cleveland — The Indians — like the Nationals teams he managed — may reach 100 losses. There isn’t much hope in Cleveland, where attendance is low and there are few resources to make the team appreciably better. The farm system isn’t producing much either, so Acta is going to be in quite a lose-lose situation. So far, indications are that he won’t take the fall, but when players like Carlos Santana dog it to first base . . .
■ Charlie Manuel, Philadelphia — He has come under criticism with a team that has performed about as well as Boston. He had tough injuries to Ryan Howard and Chase Utley right off the bat. Manuel has been there a while, and change could be inevitable. It wouldn’t be shocking.
■ Bud Black, San Diego — With new owners, who knows if they have a different manager in mind? Black is a pretty smart guy who has always done well with what he’s been given.
■ Jim Tracy, Colorado — His lot has improved with a new lineup, a 16-win August, and the success of a hybrid pitching staff. The hybrids — relievers who back up the starters after 75 pitches — have combined for a 3.04 ERA, though they have taken their lumps a few times. In losses, they have been charged with 11 runs in 13⅓ innings, a 7.43 ERA. In wins, they have allowed 5 runs in 34 innings, a 1.32 ERA. Sounded crazy, but it’s actually worked and may have saved Tracy.
Apropos of nothing
1. What if the Dodgers spend all that money to acquire the Red Sox players and don't make the playoffs? It would be the ultimate story of a big-market team flexing its muscles and having it backfire because the players aren't that good.
2. The Mariners, one of the hottest teams in the second half, could indeed be spoilers. The White Sox went 8-1 against the Mariners. The Tigers went 1-5 against the Mariners. That's a difference of 5 ½ games in the standings. If the Tigers and White Sox never played Seattle, Detroit would be 2½ games ahead of Chicago.
3. Every time I see Tony La Russa at Fenway (he was there for the recent homestand), I wonder if he'd ever consider managing the Red Sox.
4. One thing MLB can just get right: Enforce the quick-pitch rule. Make it uniform that pitchers can't do it, because it endangers hitters and because it's being called so many different ways.
5. During Cody Ross's tremendous postseason with the Giants in 2010, he wore No. 13. He now wears No. 7. Reverse luck?
6. Methinks the Coliseum in Oakland has seen better days. And me also thinks that a good season in Oakland means nothing toward accelerating the process for a new venue.
7. Things that mean something: The A's have allowed the fewest walks in the American League. The Nationals have the highest pinch-hit average in the NL (.318 in 148 at-bats, with 3 homers and 21 RBIs).
8. Can't imagine being around teams like this year's Red Sox for 15 or 20 consecutive years like the Orioles and Pirates were. Every day is a "who cares?" day.
9. Not sure which is the bigger disgrace, fan-wise — Orioles fans, who haven't had a winner in 15 years, or Rays fans. Let me say this: The fans who do turn out for both teams are passionate, but there aren't that many of them.
Updates on 9
1. Carlos Pena, 1B, Rays — He picked a fine time to stink, with another free agency year ahead. Manager Joe Maddon now platoons him with Jeff Keppinger. Pena is the highest-paid position player on the roster at $7.25 million. Could he be the worst player in the majors? Entering Saturday, he was hitting .190, lowest of all qualifying big leaguers.
2. Mike Aviles, SS, Red Sox — He could buy himself another season with the Red Sox with the jury still out on Jose Iglesias and Xander Bogaerts still a couple of years away. The Sox were correct in their assessment that Aviles would give them what Marco Scutaro gave them a year ago. It was surprising that two teams in need of shortstops in late August — the A's and Cardinals — didn't pay a price to obtain Aviles.
3. Erik Bedard, LHP, free agent — He was the Pirates' Opening Day starter but wore out his welcome and was released. Bedard went 7-14 with a 5.01 ERA in 24 starts after being signed to a one-year, $4.5 million contract last December. He was tied with San Francisco's Tim Lincecum for the major league lead in losses. "We tried various methods to get him to a more consistent place," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle. "Sometimes we all work in the same direction but don't get the results. He was professional going out the door." He usually is.
4. Corey Hart, OF/1B, Brewers — Always an interesting name for teams (like the Red Sox) looking for an outfielder and/or first baseman, but if he's traded from Milwaukee, he'll go kicking and screaming. He loves it there. Hart is in the second year of a three-year, $26.5 million deal.
5. Alfonso Soriano, OF, Cubs — The fact that he didn't get traded by Friday's postseason-roster deadline was a bit surprising. Soriano hasn't always lived up to his contract ($36 million remaining after this season), but this season he has. And with Theo Epstein willing to pick up the majority of the money, it seemed like a no-brainer for a team like the Rays.
6. Roger Clemens, RHP, free agent – Clemens, 50, makes his next start next Friday for the Sugar Land Skeeters. The feeling among scouts is that his velocity will continue to rise as he gets into better shape (he looked really heavy in his first start) and that he will likely make a start for the Astros after that if all goes well. Clemens obviously is trying to push back the clock on his Hall of Fame eligibility by five years in hopes that the public view of him, especially among voters, will be more positive then.
7. Marco Scutaro, INF, Giants — He has given the Giants quite an offensive lift since joining them. He has hit .328 in 33 games, with 8 doubles, 2 homers, 20 RBIs and 16 runs. GM Brian Sabean has had a knack for finding the right guys at the right time. But on the flip side, Hunter Pence has been awful (.230, 2 homers, 22 RBIs).
8. Buck Showalter, manager, Orioles — Robin Ventura of the White Sox is the sexy choice for AL Manager of the Year, but take a more in-depth look at what Showalter has done in Baltimore, competing with the Yankees, and tell me why he doesn't deserve the honor?
9. Brad Mills, former Astros manager — After managing through the worst possible situation in Houston and getting fired for no reason, Mills will be atop the managerial lists this winter — along with Terry Francona, Jim Riggleman, DeMarlo Hale, and Joey Cora.
From the Bill Chuck files: " Adrian Gonzalez and Adrian Beltre each batted .321 in their Red Sox careers." Also, "Josh Beckett had 89 wins for the Red Sox. So did Babe Ruth." . . . Happy birthday, Jeff Russell (51).
Nick Cafardo can be reached at Cafardo@Globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.