As Sox plot course forward, changes will be in store
GM Cherington remaking club after third straight season out of playoffs
BOSTON -- Wait 'til next year? That became the philosophy of the Red Sox weeks ago.
When general manager Ben Cherington made that blockbuster trade with the Dodgers on Aug. 25, he made no secret about the fact he was already lining up his ducks for the best chance of a rebound in 2013 and beyond.
After the tedious exercise of being forced to play out the string -- a highly unfamiliar occurrence for the Red Sox -- Cherington is ready to pounce on the offseason and get his team back in the position to contend.
And once again, Boston is searching for a new manager. Bobby Valentine was relieved of his duties the day after a 69-93 season finished.
For the first time since 2000-02, the Red Sox have missed the postseason three years in a row.
No longer can the club brag about the glory of the not-so-distant past. Fact is, the Red Sox need to be fixed.
"No question," sad Red Sox slugger David Ortiz. "Another year that I'm not in the pennant race. It's a disappointing year. Hopefully, it gets better the following year."
Count Ortiz among those who think Cherington can put a contending team back on the field in short order.
"You know, there's always options in baseball," Ortiz said. "Choices. And this team has plenty of reason for good choices. We'll see."
Cherington has vowed that the Red Sox won't simply throw money at their problems, but instead make smart baseball decisions.
"I think the key is we are absolutely committed to building the best team we can in 2013 and beyond, and we're going to do that in the most disciplined way possible," Cherington said. "When we've been at our best, we've made good decisions, disciplined decisions. [We've] found value, whether it's in the free-agent market or trade market. And that's our job to do that. We have a core of players here, still, very talented core of players here still, that will be a part of our next great team, and we'll do whatever we can to put together the best team for 2013."
Catcher: Jarrod Saltalamacchia continued to be streaky at the plate, but his power is a nice asset at a position generally not known for offense. Ryan Lavarnway didn't put up good numbers while getting the chance to play in September, but Dustin Pedroia also had paltry numbers as a September callup. In other words, Lavarnway could be ready to hit the ground running in 2013, especially when he can spend an entire Spring Training getting to know the pitching staff. Saltalamacchia-Lavarnway is a tandem that could complement each other nicely. If one of them wants to step up enough to be the primary catcher, the Red Sox won't complain.
First base: Just when you thought Adrian Gonzalez was going to play this position for the better part of a decade in Boston, he was traded to the Dodgers. James Loney, one of the players acquired for Gonzalez, is a free agent. Loney didn't dazzle in his cameo with the Red Sox, but he is at least one of the team's options heading into '13. Mauro Gomez looked good with the bat, but it's questionable whether he can play enough defense to become an everyday player. The most likely scenario is that the Red Sox will go outside the organization to fill this spot.
Second base: Dustin Pedroia once again proved why he was the heart and soul of the Red Sox. Even when his team fell out of contention, Pedroia never stopped producing. And earlier in the year, when a right thumb injury impacted his production, Pedroia never made excuses. He has two years left on his contract, plus an option year for 2015. Perhaps Pedroia can become one of those rare players in this day and age who plays his entire career for one team. Pedroia embodies the Red Sox.
Shortstop: What would a winter be without the Red Sox having question marks about this position? It has been that way ever since Nomar Garciaparra was traded in 2004. Jose Iglesias has proved emphatically that he can be an elite defender at the Major League level. However, Iglesias struggled mightily with the bat, making it a real dilemma for the Red Sox if he can be the shortstop starting in 2013. Mike Aviles did a nice job holding down the fort for most of the season and played better defense than people expected. He has some pop in his bat, and the Red Sox could do worse by giving him the job again in '13. Then there is Pedro Ciriaco, who was a revelation with his bat, speed and legs, but might be best suited as a utility player.
Third base: Two words: Will Middlebrooks. The right-handed-hitting slugger proved to be a stud before breaking his right wrist in August, and he should occupy Boston's hot corner for years to come. Middlebrooks can do it with the bat and glove, and could emerge into the team's next star.
"He just came in a couple of months after the season started and he showed everybody what he's got," said Ortiz. "He belongs here. Hopefully, his hand gets better and he comes back next year and do what he was doing."
Outfield: Jacoby Ellsbury seems to be the one sure starter heading into next year. Entering the final season of his contract, Ellsbury will try to bounce back from another injury-plagued year. Cody Ross was a breath of fresh air as a one-year free agent, and there appears to be a strong possibility he will be re-signed. Ross not only has the type of personality that is suited for Boston, but he has a swing built for Fenway.
Daniel Nava had some good moments in 2012, before having wrist problems, and could be part of the team's outfield solution next season. Ryan Sweeney regrets breaking his wrist from punching the clubhouse door after a bad at-bat, and hopes to make amends next season. Sweeney is a plus defender, but hasn't shown any power the last couple of years. Ryan Kalish was never healthy this season, and it showed with his play. The young outfielder hopes to bounce back and become a cornerstone in '13.
Starting rotation: This area of the team was wildly inconsistent for the second year in a row. Jon Lester had a down year, but there wasn't a big dropoff in his stuff. The key thing is that Lester appears healthy, meaning there's no reason he can't rebound going forward. A disaster in April, Clay Buchholz was easily Boston's best starting pitcher in the second half. Perhaps 2013 will be the year Buchholz evolves into an ace. He certainly has the arsenal.
Lefty Felix Doubront did a lot of good things in his first full year as a Major League starter, but he needs to be more consistent to hold down a rotation spot for a championship-caliber team. John Lackey will be back next season, after a full year rehabbing from Tommy John ligament transfer surgery. If Lackey can get back to being the type of pitcher he was for the Angels, this could be a big lift for the Red Sox. Franklin Morales will spend the winter preparing himself to start full-time. The six-year Daisuke Matsuzaka experiment will come to an end. Also, it's highly unlikely that sinkerballer Aaron Cook will return.
Bullpen: Andrew Bailey was lost for most of the season but returned in time to prove he should be more than adequate as the closer for 2013. However, the closer's role is one of the only things set. Alfredo Aceves imploded late in the season, both on the mound and with his behavior. The jury is out on whether the team retains him. Mark Melancon was woefully inconsistent for most of the season, after being projected as the ace setup man. Can he regain his confidence before next season?
Speaking of confidence, Daniel Bard will also be on a mission to get his back. After a failed experiment in the starting rotation, Bard went back to the Minors and had a hard time getting his mechanics together as he transitioned back to the bullpen. Bard was an elite setup man for nearly three years, so the Sox hope he can approach that level again. Lefty Andrew Miller found a niche in his first full year as a reliever. Clayton Mortensen gives the Red Sox a dependable swingman.