The ways to improve the Red Sox suggested in this space June 21 were acquiring an ace, trading Clay Buchholz at his highest value (too late), slowing down on the Cuban invasion, hiring a president of baseball operations and a senior adviser, better balancing the analytics and scouting departments, better evaluating who can play in Boston and who can’t, finding a permanent spot for Brock Holt, trading veteran players at the deadline (too late), and considering kicking John Farrell upstairs and bringing in a new manager.
We’ve since added hiring a pitching guru to scout the best hurlers to bring aboard. Now we move on to what offseason moves the Sox should consider.
Over the last seven days, we have received input from baseball executives, scouts, and coaches as they look at the Red Sox from afar. A few things to ponder:
■ Take advantage of the Mets’ situation. The Mets may not be able to solve their offensive problems through free agency because they are not likely to spend the money. So, they may have to use their pitching depth to do so.
One suggestion offered: Would the Red Sox be able to obtain Matt Harvey for Xander Bogaerts?
The downside for the Red Sox would be they’d lose an up-and-coming player but would gain one of the top young pitchers in the game. A potential replacement for Bogaerts would be Deven Marrero. There’s also Holt, who has played well at shortstop. It would be a good move for the Mets, who need a young star in the infield. Bogaerts has hit only three home runs this season, but you can project more power from him. The argument against it would be that Bogaerts is becoming, or already is, Boston’s best hitter. But one young superstar for another.
■ Pablo Sandoval for James Shields. Two bad contracts. Around the deadline there was speculation this had been discussed. “It makes too much sense, so it won’t happen,” said one veteran scout. The Padres wanted Sandoval last offseason and offered more than the Red Sox and Giants. Third base is a tough position to fill, so why wouldn’t the Padres still have some interest? The Red Sox would get a veteran starter who has had success in the American League East. Shields is not a No. 1 (he’s 8-4 with a 3.75 ERA but has allowed 24 homers), but he’s a veteran who knows what he’s doing. He doesn’t have a great record at Fenway Park (2-9, 5.42 in 13 starts), but in his last three starts there he is 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA, allowing just one home run. The Sox would obviously need a third baseman. Maybe here is where they’d plug in Travis Shaw or Holt.
■ Sign David Price. He’ll be 30 when he hits free agency this offseason, but he will be the only true game-changer among the free agent pitchers. Use the $29 million saved on Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino or the $13 million option on Buchholz to contribute toward a true ace. Price may not want to come to Boston given his other options, but give it the old college try. It would be a true sign to fans that the Red Sox are serious about 2016.
■ We’re going to see a lot of Rusney Castillo the rest of the way. The Sox are on the hook to Castillo for $62.5 million after this season. Can the Red Sox really afford to take the chance that he’s their right fielder? Suggestions by those we spoke to included dealing for Cincinnati’s Jay Bruce or Oakland’s Josh Reddick, or signing Justin Upton (not my personal choice).
■ David Ortiz is performing well in garbage time after vanishing when it mattered most. So, he’ll return for another season, which means Hanley Ramirez will remain in the field. The consensus is to keep Ramirez in left because he’d have to learn first base, and that could be fatal for the Sox’ infield. Our experts think free agent Chris Davis and his lefthanded power would be ideal, creating an Ortiz-Ramirez-Davis middle of the order.
■ In rebuilding the bullpen, some of our experts feel the Red Sox have enough to get Aroldis Chapman, but the price at the trade deadline was considered prohibitive. More realistic possibilities are middle relievers such as Luke Hochevar, Jim Johnson, and then a decent lefthander.
■ Do nothing. It may be the most realistic option. Sell fans on the exciting kids from the farm system. Put your faith in Henry Owens and Brian Johnson, and hope Rick Porcello rebounds and that Buchholz doesn’t go on the disabled list for a seventh straight year. Sell it as transition time. The Phillies, another big-market team, are doing it.
■ A few of our experts brought up trading Dustin Pedroia, but I’m not buying it. Their reasoning is age and a buildup of injuries. But this would be wrong since he’s the leader and someone who has taken the last two years to heart more than anyone on the team. One suggestion was a deal with the Angels that would include a pitcher such as Andrew Heaney or Hector Santiago.
A LOT OF MISSES, FEW HITS
More expected from Mariners
The Mariners have made many of us prognosticators look bad. They were considered the team to beat in the AL, but they mirrored the Red Sox in so many ways.
They were supposed to be a good hitting team, like the Red Sox, and instead they’ve been a disaster. The Mariners have hit .220 with runners in scoring position, which ranks 29th in baseball. They have had horrible individual seasons with the exception of Nelson Cruz, who is vying for the batting title to go along with 32 home runs, 68 RBIs, and a .988 OPS. The guy who really cares and plays hard every day is third baseman Kyle Seager, but even he’s at just .269, although he has 16 homers.
Their $240 million man, Robinson Cano, is hitting only .268 with 12 homers, 50 RBIs, and a .737 OPS, and he’s signed through 2023. They have a catcher, Mike Zunino, who has hit .174 and hasn’t nudged .200 in two years. Logan Morrison is hitting .222 and Brad Miller is at .245. Dustin Ackley was a bust and was traded to the Yankees. Austin Jackson has been disappointing.
The Mariners’ bullpen had a league-best 2.59 ERA in 2014, and it’s now at 3.87. Closer Fernando Rodney has imploded with a 5.56 ERA and a major league-leading six blown saves.
Felix Hernandez is performing as expected (13-6, 3.13 ERA), but the Mariners have suffered injuries to Hisashi Iwakuma, who has made only 10 starts, and promising lefthander James Paxton, who has made only 10. A little more was expected from Taijuan Walker, who is 8-7 with a 4.67 ERA.
Whose fault is it? General manager Jack Zduriencik certainly thought he put a good team together. In signing Cruz, he hit a home run, but the pitching woes, both in the rotation and the bullpen, forced them to be sellers after the All-Star break.
Zduriencik and manager Lloyd McClendon are on the hot seat, according to a Mariners insider. Zduriencik is an excellent talent evaluator, but it was a team that didn’t come together, much like the Red Sox.
If the same management team is in place, Zduriencik will have to find creative ways to fix the pitching and figure out what happened to what he thought was the best bullpen in baseball.
Apropos of nothing
1. Cubs catcher David Ross says Jon Lester has developed a “frontdoor two-seamer” he did not have while with the Red Sox. “It’s been a great pitch for him,” Ross said. “He’s really pitching well. He’s been outstanding on and off the field as the leader of our staff. He’s pitched a lot better than the record [7-8] has indicated.” And when Lester pitches well, his throwing yips to first base don’t show up.
2. Hideki Matsui is one of the classiest men ever to play for the Yankees. Now as a special assistant to GM Brian Cashman, Matsui is taking his role seriously. So seriously that he goes above and beyond his contractual obligations, working a lot with the young hitters in the Yankees’ system.
3. Major League Baseball has closed its Scottsdale, Ariz., office, wanting to streamline its operation under new commissioner Rob Manfred. Joe Garagiola Jr., vice president of on-field operations, and Laurel Prieb, director of marketing, will be moving to New York.
4. Loved listening to Lee Mazzilli stories at Yankee Stadium this week. The former Orioles manager works for the Yankees, but he should be on the field. There are a lot of examples of true baseball men whose jobs have been taken by more analytically oriented, and not necessarily baseball-savvy, people.
5. If he doesn’t become president and the Steinbrenner family ever thought about selling, wouldn’t Donald Trump be the closest thing to George Steinbrenner you’ve ever seen?
6. If Tony La Russa and White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf ever get their way and there are coaches elected to the Hall of Fame, Tommy Harper has my vote. He made many Expos better during his years as hitting and outfield coach. He also taught the art of base stealing like no other. Ask Jacoby Ellsbury how Harper helped him.
7. Red Sox and Cardinals catchers are tied with a major league-low two homers.
8. Never thought Wade Miley and Rubby De La Rosa would be neck and neck in performance after the Red Sox-Diamondbacks deal that also sent Allen Webster to Arizona. De La Rosa is 4-0 with a 2.42 ERA in his last four starts, and 9-5 overall with a 4.56 ERA and 1.284 WHIP. Miley is 8-9 with a 4.68 ERA and 1.402 WHIP. Both the Dodgers and Red Sox couldn’t figure out whether De La Rosa was better suited to be a starter or reliever. The Diamondbacks are convinced he’s a starter, one with a terrific upside.
9. Come to find out that Ted Williams left some of his favorite hunting and fishing equipment to Wade Boggs in his will.
Updates on nine
1. Joe Torre, vice president of baseball operations, MLB — Upon seeing Torre at LaGuardia Airport the other day, I asked him if he’d ever work for a team again. He said he wouldn’t rule it out but it would have to be the right situation. As a competitor, Torre misses the action. He didn’t specify managing again, but perhaps a role like friend Tony La Russa, who oversees baseball operations for the Diamondbacks. Torre nearly became the Red Sox’ manager in 1988 after John McNamara was fired. Torre, who was broadcasting at the time, accepted the job, but Joe Morgan won 12 straight, so the Sox decided to keep him. Would Torre be a president of baseball ops candidate for the Red Sox?
2. Larry Lucchino, outgoing president and CEO, Red Sox — Does Lucchino want one last run? As competitive as he is, the feeling by those who know him best is that he wants a next challenge. Two places to keep in mind — Toronto, where one of his best friends, Paul Beeston, is winding down as team president and CEO, and Washington, where if things keep spiraling out of control and the Nationals don’t make the playoffs, there could be changes. Lucchino has deep roots in the D.C. area.
3. Chase Utley, 2B, Phillies — Utley is off the DL and now subject to a possible waiver deal. The Angels, Cubs, and Yankees have been interested at various times. Utley has 10-5 rights, and while he’s often said he won’t waive them, with the Phillies irrelevant there’s a strong chance he could be persuaded to change his mind. Utley’s contract is essentially up, as he won’t make enough plate appearances to kick in a vesting option.
4. Al Avila, general manager, Tigers — The baseball world is happy for Avila, a guy who did it the hard way and the right way. Nobody earned his promotion more than Avila, who wasn’t handed the job after minimum sacrifice like so many others. He worked under a sometimes demanding Dave Dombrowski for many years. Avila comes from a rich baseball background. His father, Ralph, was a legendary scout, responsible for signing many of the top Latin players, including Pedro Martinez.
5. Yoenis Cespedes, LF, Mets — Being one of the few bats available in the free agent market will have its advantages for Cespedes, who has had a good season. His four-year, $36 million deal was a success for the Athletics. In fact, Cespedes currently makes as much as Rusney Castillo — $10.5 million. So, what will Cespedes get on the open market? A five-year, $100 million deal isn’t out of the question, according to one agent, especially after Hanley Ramirez’s four-year, $88 million payday and option for a fifth year, which makes the deal worth $110 million. Cespedes, who will be 30 in October, plays better defense but his career OPS is .788 compared with Ramirez’s .864. However, Cespedes is trending better than Ramirez. It doesn’t appear the Mets would pay it.
6. A.J. Pierzynski, C, Braves — The player who keeps on ticking. While it’s not assured yet, the Braves want Pierzynski back for another season if the price is right. Pierzynski is making $2 million this season and has produced a .302/7/36/.785 line in 77 games. He’ll turn 39 at the end of December, and if he comes back it’ll be his 19th season primarily as a starting catcher.
7. Doug Fister, RHP, Nationals — His recent demotion to the bullpen and injuries will cost him dearly in free agency, but he’s already being considered by some evaluators as a possible bargain pickup. Fister is 4-7 with a 4.60 ERA, clearly a bad time to have his worst year. The same fate Justin Masterson faced last season and Kyle Lohse is facing this year.
8. Francisco Rodriguez, RHP, Brewers — K-Rod could be moved before Aug. 31, depending on his waiver situation. After all, he’s converted all 25 of his save chances this season with a 1.41 ERA. The one issue is his 2016 salary of $5.5 million and a 2017 club option of $6 million that would require a $4 million buyout. Doesn’t seem like much for a top closer. Only 33, he has 373 career saves and doesn’t seem to be slowing down.
9. Jerry Dipoto, former general manager, Angels — There’s been a lot of talk about Dipoto’s next stop. He once worked as a scout for the Red Sox. But the team that comes up most with him is the Mariners.
From the Bill Chuck files — “Since June 1, Xander Bogaerts, Blake Swihart, and Jacoby Ellsbury have each walked five times, while Joey Votto has drawn 51 walks.” . . . Also, “Dustin Pedroia has played just six games since June 25, and since that time Brock Holt has hit just .243 with two doubles, no homers, and seven RBIs in 30 games.” . . . Happy birthday, Matt Young (57), Bill Campbell (67), Buddy Hunter (68), Jerry Moses (69), and Roman Mejias (85).
Not all winning pitchers are created equal. Just look at the Yankees’ Nathan Eovaldi. In his first season in New York, he has a pedestrian 4.30 ERA in 21 starts, but behind the third-best run support per start in the majors has posted an 11-2 record. Last season with Miami, he put up a nearly identical 4.37 ERA, but saddled with the 12th-worst run support, finished 6-14. Below, five pitchers in 2015 who have ERAs over 4.00 but run support greater than 5 per start, and four more who have ERAs under 3.50 but run support of 3 or lower (through Friday):
Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.