For the sake of this discussion, let's make believe I am general manager of the Boston Red Sox.
Yesterday was a day for reflection.
It was a "good" season that couldn't quite get to the "great" level. While the Red Sox seemed to have everything in place — pitching, defense and hitting — they never had that defining moment.
Enough reflection? I agree.
Let's get back to the matter at hand — "my" team. Unlike the past two or three off-seasons, this winter will be a busy one with some big names attached.
While GM Theo Epstein mentioned the possibility of keeping this unit together for one more season, I would do the opposite, and start planning for major changes.
While I don't have Epstein's cache of intricate statistics available, here are decisions I would make:
1. Keep Papelbon one season.
It's easy to dump on Papelbon. He couldn't get one more strike on three consecutive hitters and the Red Sox season ended abruptly. And yes, he had a very good year, but not a great year but, as Epstein said yesterday, Papelbon has set the bar so high that a very good year (only three blow saves out of 41 attempts) is sort of a let down. So what do we do with Papelbon? Nothing. The Red Sox own his services for two more seasons. Papelbon isn't the happy-go-lucky guy he was his first three seasons, which probably plays into the fact that he won't be here more than one season if Daniel Bard improves.
2. Don't extend Beckett.
Again, I would do nothing, which means I wouldn't sign him to an extension or trade him. Next year is a contract season and Beckett wants CC Sabathia money (in the $20 million range). His last deal — three years, $32.5 million — was a steal for the Red Sox. As we've seen, Beckett is ultra competitive. He realizes this is his time to, as Asante Samuel had tatooed to his arm, get paid. While Beckett has nearly won twice as many games as he has lost (65-34), he's really only had one Cy Young Award-like season. Beckett will probably go elsewhere, but I believe you will get his best in 2010.
3. Push Ortiz in off-season.
Wow. What would I do? I would trade Ortiz. The problem is there wouldn't be any takers because of his salary ($12.5 million) and the fact none of the rich American League franchises need him. Big Papi is no longer the guy we were accustomed to watching his first five seasons here. And his 25 homers and 99 RBI were, to be honest, very quiet. Yesterday, Epstein said "If he is going to be our DH, he needs to be a force." I'm not sure what that means, but I believe the Red Sox probably want to monitor his off-season program. His on-base percentage, a key stat with this franchise, was only .332. His walks are down (111 in '07 vs. 74 in '09) and his strikeouts are up (103 in '07 vs. 134 in '09). There really isn't anything the Red Sox can do except hope he is better in 2010.
4. Re-sign Bay.
Easier said than done. I'm not 100 percent sure Jason Bay really wants to stay. Whatever the case, it will cost the Red Sox to keep him. The issue here is the "market." The Red Sox would rather not go the four or five-year route that he is looking for. Three years would be more like it. But either way, it will cost the Red Sox about $13 million-plus. What he has going for him is that he is a good teammate. He can play in Boston. He's a decent left fielder. And, most of all, he is a consistent 30-homer, 100-RBI guy. He just turned 31, which means this is his shot at the big contract. He would be a commodity in the National League, too. I would probably go four years and $56 million.
5. Pick up Gonzalez's option.
Epstein has not given up on the oft-injured Jed Lowrie. I haven't either. But I'm not handing him the job. Alex Gonzalez has a one-year mutual option of $6 million for 2010. At 32, he'd like a two or three-year deal instead, but it's probably not coming. Gonzalez may not have been Victor Martinez's equal in terms of "saving" this season, but he was close. He stabilized a mess at shortstop. He committed only one error and went above and beyond the call of duty at the plate (.284 with 5 HRs).
6. Trade Buchholz.
I believe the Red Sox believe Clay Buchholz has great stuff but he is too fragile, mentally and physically, for this atmosphere. To his credit, he gave the Red Sox what they needed when he joined the team in mid-July. He was their third best starter. But at 25, with a cheap salary, he is a commodity for every team in baseball. The Red Sox need a power hitter in the middle of the lineup and they might be after another top-of-the-rotation starter if they deem Beckett's future beyond 2010 is elsewhere. Buchholz would be part of either package.
7. Try to sign Abreu.
Bobby Abreu is JD Drew with more power and durability. Abreu has a career on-base percentage of .404, which is important here in Boston, and he has never played less than 151 games since he become a full-time player in 1998. Abreu would be an option if Bay, Mike Lowell or Ortiz are not with the team in 2010. He could play left field. He could DH. Or he could probably move to first base. The problem is the Angels love him. And he could cause a mini bidding war. Also, he turns 36 in March. But he is an option, if at least for two years at maybe $12 million per. He doesn't appear to be in decline just yet. At worst, the Sox could draw up the price tag for a competitor, which the Angels are.
8. Give Bard eighth inning.
Let's be honest, he is the closer of the future for the Red Sox. But he appears to be another year away from taking over. Bard needs to be a dominant eighth-inning pitcher, before he becomes The Big Guy in the bullpen. He could use work on his curveball and might want to add a slider to his mix of pitches. The bottom line is let's allow him to develop.
9. Trade for a star.
Three names come to mind: Pitchers Roy Halladay and Felix Hernandez, and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. All will be available, expensive and each adds a different element. Halladay could be the eventual replacement for Beckett in the top two spots of the rotation. He turns 33 in May and has been one of the game's most consistent starters in the game averaging 230 innings and 17 wins the last four seasons. He also wants to win. Hernandez is 23 and might be the most talented pitcher (soon to be richest) in the AL, going 42-23 the last three season, including his 19-5, 2.45 ERA effort in 2009. Gonzalez would fill a need. He hit 40 homers and his .407 on base percentage fits the Sox approach. He will be 28 in May and might replace the Manny Ramirez Factor the Red Sox apparently miss. The point is the Red Sox could use some new blood. In every case, the Red Sox would have to deal away some top flight prospects as well as Buchholz.
10. Trade Youkilis.
Trade Kevin Youkilis? No, I'm not crazy. I admit, this would not be an easy thing to do. The fact that he has no fear of playing in Boston should not be negated. But he is an all-star and his value may never be higher.
This would also be contingent on several factors: re-signing Bay or signing Abreu, and acquiring one of the aforementioned stars. He is attractive to most teams because of his contract (four years, $43 million). His versatility would be missed and the fact that Lowell has one year remaining means the Red Sox would need to plan for a new third baseman for the future.
E-mail Bill Burt at email@example.com.