KANSAS CITY, Mo. — While the Red Sox hope to play the role of spoiler over the last couple of weeks of the season, their scouts are out evaluating potential domestic and international free agents and trade possibilities for 2015.
Team pitching expert Eddie Bane was recently watching the Phillies (of course), while Gordon Lakey, one of the Phillies’ top evaluators, was checking out the Red Sox again.
The Red Sox have had multiple scouts and executives watch Hiroshima Carp righthander Kenta Maeda, including his most recent start. Maeda will be posted in November and it would be surprising if the Red Sox didn’t post the $25 million fee for the chance to negotiate with Maeda, who could fill one of their five rotation slots. Maeda is considered a smaller version of Masahiro Tanaka.
The Red Sox, who are in need of two starting pitchers, are looking for players everywhere.
They have dabbled in the Cuban market for Rusney Castillo and will likely make a decision on whether they’ll get into the bidding for slugger Yasmani Tomas.
With their number of infielders, it doesn’t appear they’ll be a player for power-hitting Korean shortstop Jung-Ho Kang, but when Tom Werner says the Red Sox have a lot of money to spend, you wonder where all of it will go.
There’s two weeks before the end of a miserable season. Mookie Betts looks good. Xander Boagerts has picked it up both at the plate and in the field. Jackie Bradley Jr. still looks awful at the plate.
Then there’s newcomer Allen Craig, once a feared hitter in the National League, who looks lost with the Red Sox. The coaches have asked him if his foot still hurts, and Craig has told them it doesn’t. So they’ve given him reinforcement in the form of, “If nothing hurts and you’ve had very good seasons in the big leagues, you’ll figure it out.”
“I think what Allen is finding is that they’re pitching him inside a lot,” Red Sox catcher David Ross said. “The pitching is different in the American League than the National League. In the National League pitchers work away and in. In the American League the pitchers bust you inside. I think that’s what he’s been going through.”
How long that takes to figure out is anyone’s guess. Craig is frustrated by it, and by the impression he’s made since being acquired. National League folks always thought of Craig as one of the toughest righthanded hitters in the league, and the Red Sox think he’ll be that.
One thing that could help the Red Sox in the long run is the possibility Craig could play third base. If he can, that would allow the Sox to figure out something for Betts or Shane Victorino to start in the outfield.
Of course, Betts could be Boston’s major trade bait. Scouts are asking a lot of questions about him. They consider Betts Boston’s most impressive young player, even supplanting Bogaerts. So you can see where teams will be asking for Betts this offseason.
If the Phillies or Reds were of the mind to move Cole Hamels or Johnny Cueto, the Red Sox pretty much know what the package has to include. Betts will be the most sought-after player. So the Sox have given those scouts a glimpse of Betts in center field, and now his second base, natural position. The Red Sox will have to decide whether any of the available pitchers are worth giving Betts up for.
And what is the Sox’ game plan when it comes to pitching? There’s still the feeling that Jon Lester could take a discount and return to Boston. Where this sounds like a pipe dream, we give the scenario more credibility, as we do signing James Shields, but less likely Max Scherzer.
The Red Sox seem to have a decent middle of the rotation with Joe Kelly and Clay Buchholz. Now the front end needs work. The back end could include one of their young pitchers. It’s been suggested that the Sox would seek one big-name starter and fill in the back end with two youngsters.
The Red Sox seem to be giving Brandon Workman a giant pass, believing his struggles are connected to last postseason’s workload. They believe in Workman because he pitched so well in the playoffs under the most stressful conditions. So they’re not ready to write him off as one of their potential starters next season.
There always has to be a leap of faith where young players are concerned. Last offseason, general manager Ben Cherington put his faith in Bradley and Bogaerts, and it didn’t work out. This offseason he may have to do the same with a couple of young pitchers, and determine whether he should go all out to re-sign Koji Uehara after his late-season struggles.
Baseball people always say not to make evaluations based on non-pressure situations in March and September because you’ll get your heart broken. While the Red Sox spent the weekend damaging the Royals’ playoff hopes, winning three of four, they are playing with no pressure.
Bogaerts is letting it fly. Betts is playing carefree.
While manager John Farrell said this is the only setting the Red Sox have to evaluate, they seem happy with the process. They probably won’t have all of their questions answered between now and the end of the month, but they’ll have something to go on.
With money to spend and young players to trade, the Red Sox, along with the Rangers, Yankees, and maybe the Phillies, will be the teams to watch as they rebuild this offseason.
Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.