Dave Dombrowski has major decisions ahead
Dave Dombrowski doesn’t strike me as the stand-pat type.
Not with a superstar designated hitter to replace. Not with a bullpen to rebuild. Not with a starting rotation that could use help.
This time, though, the Red Sox president of baseball operations is dealing from more of a position of strength.
In many respects, he could stand pat with a team that won 93 games, won the American League East, and by the pure bad luck of going into a slump offensively and on the mound at the worst possible time, bowed out of the playoffs. The Red Sox should have done well in the postseason.
So with savings that could reach $37 million in payroll — we believe Clay Buchholz’s option will be picked up — the Red Sox could add a big-ticket item or two.
Who might they be?
When Dombrowski said at his postmortem press conference last week that Hanley Ramirez could play both first base and DH, that’s probably because Edwin Encarnacion can do the same. You could have this pair alternate between DH and first base. Encarnacion likes to play the field. Like Ramirez, he’s a below-average first baseman but serviceable. The important thing is both are powerful righthanded bats, especially at Fenway Park.
The Red Sox would have to surrender a first-round draft pick to sign Encarnacion, who would likely want in the vicinity of what Ramirez makes (five years, $125 million), perhaps more. The Red Sox, who select 26th in the first round, could opt for cheaper options such as Carlos Beltran (who would give them a switch-hitting component), Mark Trumbo, Mike Napoli, and Jose Bautista.
Less exciting options are Adam Lind and Brandon Moss, but we’ve never known Dombrowski to settle for second best. Of course if they did stand pat, the Red Sox could rotate Ramirez and Travis Shaw at first base and DH, and perhaps Pablo Sandoval as well.
Since the Red Sox already have a decent rotation, why not go for the luxury model — White Sox lefthander Chris Sale. If he’s in play, why wouldn’t the Red Sox make a trade bid? They inquired about him during the season and this time the White Sox might listen if the package is good enough.
In talking to some of the White Sox pro scouting personnel, it’s obvious who they like and would want back from the Red Sox to make this blockbuster a reality. The White Sox have always coveted Jackie Bradley Jr., and they would also have to get an elite prospect back such as Yoan Moncada and/or R afael Devers. The Red Sox could make a deal for the following reasons: Andrew Benintendi has impressed enough that if he could become Boston’s center fielder to replace Bradley, Devers would likely stay at third base. Moncada could always move to left field if he’s not part of the deal. The Red Sox may also have the option of using Shaw in left field to add another lefthanded bat to the lineup. A Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, Eduardo Rodriguez, Steven Wright, Drew Pomeranz/Buchholz pool of starters would look pretty solid.
The White Sox might even want Rodriguez in a deal with Bradley. If that’s the case, would you do it?
Bradley is an interesting case. The Red Sox had to be concerned at the number of swing and misses he had the last few weeks of the season, and particularly in the playoff series against the Indians, during which he struck out seven times in 10 at-bats. It’s not that you judge a player based on just that, but the emergence of Benintendi gives you reason to consider whether Bradley is expendable.
Then again, it’s difficult to find a center fielder with power (26 homers). When you think more deeply about it, it could be too heavy a price.
There’s also Sandoval to consider. He’s 30 years old and should be in the prime of his career. Sandoval looked slimmer when we saw him during the final two weeks of the regular season, and he was ready to be activated if someone had gotten hurt. In the past, Sandoval has shown a penchant for gaining massive amounts of weight in a short period of time, so we can only hope that he will keep the weight off between now and spring training.
Sandoval had lost his starting job at third base to Shaw in spring training. Shaw had a good first half but slipped badly in the second half. Shaw hit .194 in his final 175 at-bats with 52 strikeouts and a .619 OPS. He hit .209 on the road and .187 vs. lefties.
Although Shaw performed well in the field, Sandoval could retake his position. Making $17 million per season could also mean he retakes his position.
Another interesting player to watch is Blake Swihart, who is returning after season-ending ankle surgery in August. Will Swihart come back as a catcher, outfielder, or both? It’s likely he starts next season at Pawtucket and works his way back.
The bullpen will not be easy to solve. Carson Smith (Tommy John surgery) won’t return until June or July at the earliest. The Red Sox are contemplating a return of Koji Uehara at a reduced rate from the $9 million he made. Junichi Tazawa appears to be a goner. They may want to retain reliever Brad Ziegler, but he could get better opportunities. Surely, Joe Kelly, Heath Hembree, and Matt Barnes could have bigger roles. But the Sox will be looking to add a veteran reliever like Joe Smith or Luke Hochevar or perhaps make a trade for Wade Davis or David Robertson.
TALE OF TWO PATHS
Miller, Bard went separate ways
Andrew Miller and Daniel Bard were college teammates at North Carolina, but how they were handled in the majors is like night and day.
Miller stopped being a starter with the Red Sox in 2011 because he wasn’t very good at it. In his last two starts he combined for 6⅓ innings with 13 hits and 11 earned runs. He was demoted to the bullpen, where he made three appearances before the end of the season.
By 2012, Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine decided Miller was going to stay in the bullpen permanently, while he fought management on Bard being a starter. Valentine was right on both counts.
“Larry Lucchino told me when I took the job that I needed to find a role for Miller because he was too talented to lose,” recalled Valentine. “In spring training that year, everyone had wanted to be a starter so I knew there wasn’t going to be enough innings to get that done. So I suggested to Andrew that he lose the windup, pitch from the stretch just to eliminate so many moving parts, and he was very receptive to it, tried it, and had success with it.
“I’ll say this, I couldn’t be happier for him. He’s one of the greatest kids I’ve ever managed. What a talent.”
Miller started to excel as a reliever. Bard, who had been one of the best relievers in baseball, began to lose his identity as a pitcher when he became a starter. He just wasn’t good at it. Bard should have been the heir apparent to closer Jonathan Papelbon, but for some reason he demanded to be a starter. The Red Sox said yes, much to Valentine’s dismay. Bard eventually experienced bouts of wildness, which led to his demise.
“When I took the job I envisioned Daniel being my closer, but once again, I was told that wasn’t going to happen, that Daniel has already decided that Daniel was going to be a starter. That was it. So he became a starter and it never really worked out,” Valentine said.
The two friends and former teammates took such different paths. Bard, you’ll remember, was the guy that John Farrell turned into what Miller is today — pitching the toughest innings out of the bullpen. Farrell started that with Bard when he was pitching coach under Terry Francona. When Miller came to the Indians, Francona turned Miller into his Bard.
Bard has tried unsuccessfully to make it back to form with stints with the Cubs, Rangers, Pirates, and Cardinals.
Apropos of nothing
1. Wondering what direction the Marlins will go in this offseason after the death of pitcher Jose Fernandez, who is impossible to replace. Management will meet soon with owner Jeffrey Loria to make that decision. Miami certainly has the offensive pieces in place to keep building, but the pitching staff needs major rebuilding from starters to relievers, and there isn’t a lot out there with which to do it. The Marlins have parted ways with Barry Bonds, who simply didn’t do the work required of a major league hitting coach. The Marlins also need to replace their bullpen and third base coaches. It appears former Sox first base coach Arnie Beyeler, who managed their Triple A New Orleans affiliate this past season, could be in the mix for a coaching job, as could former Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez.
2. Please, no more clocks in baseball. It’s not a clock sport.
3. The new $17.2 million qualifying offer salary shows you how well the sport is doing. It went up from $15.8 million last season.
4. It could be the Red Sox buy out Ryan Hanigan for $800,000.
5. We wonder if Chris Colabello will get a chance to compete for a job with the Blue Jays. He was banished to the minors after he served his 80-game suspension for testing positive for a banned substance. Colabello hit only .185 in Buffalo.
6. It would be great if the PawSox could refurbish McCoy Stadium and turn it into a state of the art facility while playing some of their home games at Fenway while construction is going on.
7. Allen Craig is due to make $11 million next season. It may be time for the Red Sox to do Craig a favor and cut ties and see if he can hook on elsewhere to salvage his career.
8. Sandy Leon and Christian Vazquez will start the season as Boston’s catching tandem, but it’s not etched in stone that Leon will wind up being the long-term starter. Leon’s offense started to fade over the last month, when he hit just .213.
9. Koji Uehara probably has another year left in him, but he has to be signed to a contract with incentives at age 41, doesn’t he?
Updates on nine
1. Mike Dee, former CEO, Padres — Different stories about his demise in San Diego. There are reports that Dee’s departure had nothing to do with the A.J. Preller 30-day suspension for hiding medical records from the Red Sox. But there’s also a sentiment that Dee might have given his blessing to the practice. It was an abrupt end to his reign with one year to go on his contract, so it had to be something dramatic. One wonders if the Padres’ ownership might consider Larry Lucchino for a return engagement. The Padres have had 10 CEOs since Lucchino left the franchise in 2001. He still has a home in La Jolla.
2. Jonathan Papelbon, RHP, free agent — The Red Sox were interested in Papelbon during the season, so there’s no reason to think they wouldn’t be interested again this offseason. With the potential to lose Brad Ziegler, Koji Uehara, and Junichi Tazawa, the Red Sox will be looking for an experienced reliever for a setup role. Papelbon could be looking for a closer stint, but that may not be available to him. His only remaining former Red Sox teammate is Dustin Pedroia, who remains a close friend.
3. Ryan Braun, OF, Brewers — There wasn’t much action on him at the trade deadline, but the Dodgers’ interest could still be in play depending on how they make out in the NLCS. Braun still has a reasonable contract for a high-end player. He’s owed another four years at $80 million (which includes a $4 million buyout in 2021). The Brewers need someone to draw fans, but they are still in rebuilding mode and it may take a while to take advantage of a player of Braun’s caliber.
4. Mike Trout, OF, Angels — The Angels always say never when it comes to dealing the best player in baseball. But it won’t mean that teams won’t try. Teams with rich farm systems — the Red Sox, Dodgers, Cubs, etc. — will take their shot. The Angels need major reinforcements for their major league team and farm system. But right now they don’t see Trout as a means to that end.
5. Wade Davis, RHP, Royals — He could be a target of multiple teams, including the Red Sox and Blue Jays. Davis missed some time with a forearm issue, which precluded a trade deadline deal. He has an affordable $10 million option that the Royals will pick up, and then they will likely listen to offers. Davis should be in demand from other teams such as the Giants, who desperately need to revamp their bullpen, and perhaps the Dodgers. The Royals could be looking for a younger, controllable starting pitcher or an outfielder in return.
6. Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Marlins — Like Trout, it would take a major haul to take Stanton away from the Marlins, especially now that he’s the biggest name on the team after the death of Jose Fernandez. There’s always the thought within the Marlins organization to deal him off and get a haul of players, especially young, controllable pitchers. But Stanton, if he can avoid the injuries that have plagued his career, might be ready to fully blossom and embrace a leadership role with the team.
7. Mike Napoli, 1B, Indians — There have been no contract talks between the Indians and Napoli. Napoli can become a free agent, and it’s not known whether the Indians will make him a $17.2 million qualifying offer. Given his 34-homer production this season, they likely would. Napoli has indicated that he’d like to stay in Cleveland, but the Indians are always pinching pennies in an effort to keep their payroll in check, so his return is not a given. He could be a fit in Boston or Toronto as well.
8. Torey Lovullo, bench coach, Red Sox — With John Farrell returning next season, Lovullo is free to seek managing jobs. There are openings in Colorado and Arizona, but Lovullo’s name has not been linked with either so far.
9. Yoenis Cespedes, OF, Mets — He is expected to opt out of his contract with the Mets to see if he can land something better than the $23.75 million he’s owed in each of the next two seasons with the Mets.
From the Bill Chuck files — “David Ortiz was not a good ninth-inning batter. He hit only .230 in the ninth inning in his career and that includes hitting .300 in 2016. Ortiz hit three ninth-inning homers in 2016, the same as he hit in the prior five seasons, 2011-15, combined.” . . . Also, “No batter hit more homers than Curtis Granderson (30) without hitting a three-run homer; Charlie Blackmon had 29.” . . . Happy birthday, Josias Manzanillo (49) and Tim McCarver (75).
The Cubs’ first 100-win season in 81 years was powered by a pitching staff that led the majors in ERA (3.15), WHIP (1.11), and batting average against (.212). Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester also finished 1-2 in the ERA race, only the 10th time since 1920 that teammates who had made at least 20 starts turned the trick.