Boston Red Sox: What now?

After a weird and wild deadline day, iSportsWeb’s Jay McAree and Alex Peters dry their eyes and sit down to discuss where the Red Sox will head next, after losing a third of their World Series-winning squad and re-setting for the 2015 season. 

AP: So that was crazy, right? Like really, really crazy.

First off, I just want to say that I was angry that the Red Sox wouldn’t pony up an extension for Lester, even taking into consideration the horrifying history of pitchers over 30 who just signed big contracts. I was frustrated that John Lackey would probably go if Lester did as well, as he’s been an absolute bulldog out there for the last 18th months. And it was sad to see Andrew Miller and Jonny Gomes go, who could actually be significant assets for a World Series contender. And I was sad to see Stephen Drew…anyway you get my point.

But once, you’d resigned yourself to the fact that, okay all of these players are going to be traded, it was only a matter of looking at the returns. And the returns were…fascinating. Were you surprised by the kinds of players the Cherington went after on Deadline Day?

JM: (*Pours out liquor for Jon Lester) In what was one of the busiest Deadline days I can remember in franchise history, there were certainly no shortage of surprises from the evil genius that is Ben Cherington.

oakland asWe knew he wanted to revamp a punchless outfield that has only managed 14 home runs as a group this season. And revamp he did. By grabbing Yoenis Cespedes (17 home runs, 67 RBI’s) and Allen Craig (7 home runs, 44 RBI’s), Boston totally altered their lineup for the better. Cespedes was obviously the headline deal here and I have to admit, I did not that see it coming. I figured any deal involving Lester would have to be centered around a package of prospects, guess not?

When you see what the Red Sox got for Lester in comparison to what Tampa Bay got for David Price, you have to feel pretty good about what Cherington is doing, right? I feel like fans are either panicking because Lester is gone, or calm and confident that Boston will get him back in the offseason. Curious to know where you fall? And how you see the rotation shaping up for the rest of the year without him?

 

AP: Well, as much as I’d love to think that this was all a huge Ocean’s 11-size long con that Ben Cherington and Jon Lester are pulling off, I just don’t see the Red Sox’ chances of re-signing Lester as any higher than 10%. I truly think that if the Red Sox offered a competitive market deal then he would take it in a heartbeat, he loves the city that much. But the Dodgers and Yankees are going to throw bananas deals at him, ones that the Red Sox would probably be best not to match. So while I wouldn’t count the Sox out entirely, I’m not betting on his return at all.

imagesThat being said, especially next to the Price deal, the return of Cespedes is fantastic. Yes neither he nor Craig have bad OBPs, yes both are fundamentally shaky. But here’s something that’s gotten lost in this disaster of a season: the Red Sox have gotten on base just fine, ranking 10th in the MLB with a .321 mark. The problem is, they absolutely can’t score the guys they get on base, their slugging percentage all the way at 23rd in the league (.373). This is where Cespedes and Craig come in, two big right handed bats who, when they make contact, will put dents in the Monster and score Holt, Pedey, Napoli, and Ortiz, who are all getting on-base pretty regularly.

As for the rotation…thank goodness the Sox aren’t trying to contend this year. I’m firmly behind Joe Kelly, dude’s got a really nice sinker, and can reach back for a hot fastball every now and again, he’s automatically the Red Sox’ most consistent starter (unless you count Buch’s continuous inconsistency as consistency). And then I would say Boston will try and give Brandon Workman and Rubby De La Rosa as long a leash as possible for the rest of the season. But outside of that, I think it’ll just be running auditions for a starting spot. Is there anyone in the farm you see as a possible surprise the rest of the way? We haven’t even mentioned Eduardo Rodriguez yet!

JM: Let’s just hope that Allen Craig — who is owed $25.5 million over the next three years — can rebound back after a down year. The career .291 hitter looks lost at the plate hitting just .237 this season with an OPS of .637 and an insanely high 56.5 GB percentage (12th highest in MLB and definitely not good for a hitter with minimal speed). You have to think he will return to form and post numbers closer to his career averages, but if he doesn’t, the Red Sox could be shaking their heads as they continue to search for outfield help in the offseason.

downloadIt was a telling sign of the plan moving forward that Boston went out and grabbed two quality major league outfielders in those deals instead of prospects. Cherington has repeated over, and over again how they want to contend in 2015. So by bulking up the offense now, it’s probably a pretty safe bet that Boston will be heavily attacking the free agent pitching market — one that will include Jon Lester, Max Scherzer and James Shields.

As for the farm system, my god is that thing loaded. They have starting pitching just oozing out of McCoy Stadium, including the man who started in place of Lackey, Anthony Ranaudo. The 24-year-old first round pick back in 2010 made his major league debut against the Yankees and I have to say I was impressed. After hearing whispers about him over the last couple years, it was nice to finally see what this kid could do. He has the potential to be a very good major league pitcher (12-4, 2.41 AAA), so I guess this will be one of those running auditions.

images (1)As for the pitcher you alluded to, Eduardo Rodriguez was an interesting acquisition in the Andrew Miller trade. I guess Cherington has a man crush on Venezuelan lefties if you factor in the newly acquired Edwin Escobar from the Giants as well. Rodriguez was the ranked the No. 68 prospect by MLB.com before the season started and has some huge upside. He throws a hard sinkerball and could pan out to be a No.3 starter, but he’s only 21 so it’s a little too early to really tell. The one guy I think will surprise people this season is going to be Heath Hembree. The closer-to-be was acquired from the Giants in the Peavy deal and has electric stuff. He throws in the high-90’s and struck out 11.2 batters per 9 innings in the minors. He’s had some major league experience already so I think he could really prove to be a candidate to replace Miller.

There were also some smaller moves made by the Red Sox including the departure of Felix Doubront and Stephen Drew. What are your thoughts on those moves? And how do you think it trickles down and effects guys like Xander Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks?

AP: Felix Doubront clearly wanted out of Boston, his play and his recent attitude all but cementing his being traded. The Red Sox won’t get anything of note back most likely, but hopefully his absence will clear the way for some opportunities for younger pitchers. And as for Stephen Drew, who I admit I was starting to come around on, he just didn’t make sense on this basement-dwelling team, not when you’ve got a low pressure chance to see how Xander Bogaerts can handle playing short and whether Will Middlebrooks can stay healthy and somewhat consistent at the plate.

Like you said earlier, I think all of this sets up Boston to have an interesting winter in terms of free agency. But, because they traded expiring contracts for established (or at least semi-established) talent, while preserving their farm system, it also sets them up as a really interesting trade partner for the winter. I mean, at this point, there just isn’t enough room for all of these pitchers to vie for a rotation spot. And now, with the additions of Cespedes and Craig, Mookie Betts doesn’t really have a place to play in the long term. If they wanted to, along with adding a big piece in free agency (the other guy, along with Lester, that they’ll go after is absolutely going to be James Shields), they could put together some of the stronger packages for the top trade targets: Troy Tulowitzki, Giancarlo Stanton, Carlos Gonzalez, Cole Hamels, and the like. Is there anyone you want to see them go after? Or do you think Ben Cherington will actually stay the course, and give his farm another year?

JM: I think I speak for almost every Sox fan when I say that I would love to see Giancarlo Stanton with the Boston lettering across his chest. The imagery of him channeling his inner Darnell McDonald, hitting bombs over the Green Monster and shattering some poor soul’s windshield is too good to pass up. I’m not sure if the acquisition of Cespedes changes that considering his skill set is similar, but if something transpires between the two clubs involving Stanton, Cherington has to be ready to move the entire farm. With the exception of Henry Owens, Trey Ball, JBJ, and Christian Vazquez, I would say everybody else is fair game, no? There is way too much talent in Pawtucket and Portland to stand pat.

download (1)As for James Shields, if you can get him for the right price he should be an absolute priority as you mentioned. He’s a proven winner in the AL East and if they can pair him with another top of the line starter (ie: Jon Lester or Max Scherzer), Boston should find themselves back in contention for 2015. The only thing to be weary of is his age. He turns 33 in December so a shorter year contract would be the only way I go near him if I’m Cherington.

It was a hectic Trade Deadline to say the least. Almost a third of the roster from the 2013 World Series Champions are gone. Every starter who touched the baseball in the Fall Classic last year, also gone. If you had to grade all the moves as a whole, what are you giving the Red Sox?

AP: Well this is the tricky thing about Boston’s deadline action, and I think the issue that most Red Sox fans are struggling with right now.

I don’t want to like the trades, because I don’t think they should have gone down in the first place. I think that Jonny Gomes and Andrew Miller would’ve been integral parts of a 2015 World Series run. I think, with the team bringing up some young pitchers, John Lackey would’ve been the perfect #2 pitcher in his final contract year.

images (2)And most of all, I am baffled with the Red Sox brass’ refusal to give Jon Lester something close to a market-value extension. Yes, the history of 30-something pitchers signing extensions is horrifying. Yes, the specter of the Beckett/Gonzalez/Crawford contracts looms heavy in our collective memory. But if there was ever a player to extend, next to Dustin Pedroia, it’s Jon Lester. No pitcher better embodied the Red Sox spirit, no pitcher in team history was as dominant was Lester was in the 2013 playoffs. He was a beloved teammate and leader, and one who stepped up when times were at their worst. And he was ours. We brought him up, we marveled at his conquering lymphoma, his winning Game 4 of the World Series against the Rockies in his rookie year. We cheered and stomped during his no-hitter against Kansas City. We watched him grow up. And he loved and thrived playing in Fenway! How many left-handed pitchers can you say that about? Sox fans aren’t exactly an easy group to win over, but if there’s one thing to come out of this trade, it’s just how apparent it was that we loved him and devastated that contract talks never came together. To see him traded away midway through his best year seems cruel.

But, once you accept that they were going to be traded, and you’re purely grading the return, it’s hard not to give Ben Cherington and co. an A for their deadline day performance. They turned their expiring contracts into a group of players who will contribute immediately in 2015 and beyond, from Cespedes and Craig, to Hembree and Kelly. Unlike most teams who trade away stars for prospects, hoping to develop their cheap talent down the line, the Red Sox made a statement, announcing their contending intentions for next year and that there is a plan to accomplish that. Which is pretty refreshing, especially after this hellhole of a season. What do you think?

JM: I won’t add much to the Lester situation because I think you absolutely nailed it. But when you have an ace who’s been one of the most impactful and influential pitchers in franchise history, you should do everything in your power to hold onto him. Ben Cherington gravely disappointed a fan base by low balling Lester in Spring Training. (A move I still don’t quite understand based on Boston’s payroll and Lester’s performance). In the end, why not extend one of your own? Why let a pitcher of that quality go just to head out in the offseason and replace him with somebody lesser? I may never understand it and I think a lot of Red Sox fans feel the same exact way.

Aside from the obvious, the guy I hated seeing get dealt the most was Andrew Miller. Boston saved his career by transitioning him into the bullpen where he flourished. In a Red Sox uniform he grew into a top-tier reliever with a probable future as a major league closer. I may be alone in this thought, but why not keep Miller for the future and try and work out a trade for Koji Uehara instead? Miller is 29, Uehara, who has been nothing short of brilliant in his time in Boston, will be 40 next season. Probably could have pulled the same return for both players, but what’s done is done.

download (2)In echoing your thought, despite everything, I still thought Cherington did some A+ work once he decided they were going to hold a fire sale. Most importantly, he stuck to his word about trying to contend in 2015. However bitter you feel about the players that left, you still have to acknowledge the talent that was brought in. Cespedes, Craig and Kelly will all contribute immediately, and guys like Hembree, Rodriguez and Escobar will all either be developed talent or key trade pieces in the future.

This definitely wasn’t the season that we all expected, but it’s the season we’ve been dealt. For the true baseball fans out there, the remaining 52 games are not a wash; they may even be MORE important than the first 110 were. We are going to get to see a ton of the young guys come in and get a chance to prove their worth for 2015: Catcher Dan Butler has just been called up to replace David Ross, and Christian Vazquez is already a lock to stay behind the plate for the next two months; top pitching prospect Anthony Ranaudo notched his first victory last night; Rubby De La Rosa and Brandon Workman should both be mainstays in the rotation; and we should be able to get a decent look at outfielder/infielder Mookie Betts.

2015 here we come.

You can find Jay McAree on Twitter at @JayMcAree

You can find Alex Peters on Twitter at @isportspeters