With Valentine gone, now the most important part of the off-season — rebuilding the roster

Now that Bobby Valentine has been fired and nightmare of a season is over, now the hard, and most important part begins – rebuilding the roster. After their worst season in more than 45 years and the events which took place, there was no question of if Valentine would be fired, just a matter of when.

Although the new manager is a major part of the 2013 team, what is most important is the players themselves. With the needs the Red Sox have, and financial flexibility, it certainly will be a busy, very important offseason.

The only players virtually guaranteed to return are Dustin Pedroia, Will Middlebrooks, Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester, Felix Doubront and John Lackey. The team could trade away players currently inked to contracts including center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury. But, that isn’t a bad group of players to build around to say the least.

General manager Ben Cherington has already stated resigning David Ortiz and Cody Ross are a top priority this off-season and this needs to happen.

Despite his age, Ortiz continues to produce year in and year out, and as much as people don’t want to admit it, his connection with the fans does play a role, especially with the state the team is in right now. It is just a question of what kind of contract does he get, a one-year deal? Or the two-year deal Ortiz has demanded in the past?

To me the Red Sox should do anything in their power to get a one-year deal, but Ortiz does have the leverage and could very well demand a two-year deal or nothing. With the position the Red Sox are in they would be in a tough position and most likely have to give in to the slugger.

Bringing Ross back will be much easier than Ortiz. There has been mutual interest coming from both sides and Ross shouldn’t demand much more than the $6 million he made this year. With the outfield as unstable as it is, having a player like Ross penciled in, as an everyday starter is just what the Red Sox need.

Furthermore, Ross is an outstanding clubhouse guy, even in a trying season like this year. He always makes himself available to the media after every game and is a type of player every team would want in their clubhouse.

The catching situation has become a bit of an issue of late. Jarrod Saltalamacchia had a good season in terms of power, by hitting 25 home runs, but overall he wasn’t that great. He hit only .222 and struck out a career high 139 times. Ryan Lavarnway wasn’t too impressive in his time with the big club during the last two months of the year.

There is no question Lavarnway will be with the team in a backup role for 2013 as he is a very coveted prospect. While Saltalamacchia is under contract, the team could look to improve at the position and go after a free agent such as Mike Napoli, who has outstanding numbers at Fenway.

The infield is set at second and third base with Pedroia and Middlebrooks. The current first baseman James Loney is a free agent and hit just .230 with two home runs during his time in Boston. The Red Sox don’t have anyone ready for the big leagues in the minors, so they will have to look elsewhere for their first baseman next year. There isn’t much in the free agent market with the biggest name being Adam LaRoche, so a trade might be the route to take.

Shortstop is a major question mark. Mike Aviles likely isn’t the guy as he saw his playing time drastically cut at the end of the year in favor of younger players like Pedro Ciriaco and Jose Iglesias. Iglesias has been the shortstop of the future for some time now in the eyes of the Red Sox, but yet offensively he hasn’t come around like the organization had hoped. In 68 at bats this year he only had eight hits. Could it be time to move on, and possibly include him in a trade to upgrade shortstop and other positions? It’s possible.

Ciriaco isn’t a full-time player as his numbers drastically fell as the season went on, but he is a very good utility man as he can play a number of positions and provides speed off the bench. He should be a player to hold on to for 2013.

As was said before, the outfield is up in the air. Jacoby Ellsbury will be a free agent following next season, and with Scott Boras as his agent, he will certainly be seeking a big-money, long-term deal for his next contract. Ellsbury hasn’t proven he can stay healthy, or can consistently put up the numbers he did last season. The team could look to move him, or let him play out the final year of his contract. Personally, the Red Sox should let him play out the final year of his contract, as he will have something to play for with him being in a contract year. Then, when he becomes a free agent deal with it then, especially with top prospect Jackie Bradley Jr. being roughly a year away, could make that decision a little easier.

Left field is a major concern. Daniel Nava is a serviceable fourth outfielder, but not an everyday one. This will be another position where the Red Sox will need to look outside of the organization to fill. They will be tempted to sign free agent Josh Hamilton, which is something they may have done in the past, but if they stick to their word they will remain “disciplined,” and not be tempted by a big name like Hamilton.

The starting rotation has several key parts in place with Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Felix Doubront along with John Lackey, despite what some people may think. Although there is not a clear ace among the group, Lester and Buchholz are a solid 1a and 1b. There are a few free agents available as possible fifth starters, but the team should also look to add a pitcher for the top of the rotation.

Something to explore early next season should be a six-man rotation for a few reasons, as you can never enough too much starting pitching, which has been something the Red Sox valued until this year. Having a six-man rotation would benefit the team in case of an injury to one of their starters, which always seems to happen. Also, it would help with limiting Doubront’s innings. This year he pitched a career high 161 innings and seemed to level off as the year went on. Monitoring his innings early on in the year would certainly benefit both him and the Red Sox in the final months of the season.

The bullpen did see some players have outstanding seasons earning their place on the roster next year. Andrew Miller will most likely be back as their lefty specialist, and Junichi Tazawa certainly will have a role. Franklin Morales pitched well enough to earn a long-relief role along with Clayton Mortenson. With everything that took place with Alfredo Aceves during the course of the year, one would expect he will be released and not return. The most important part of the bullpen is obviously the closer, which Andrew Bailey did not have the first year in Boston that he was hoping for, but one would expect him to be the closer to at least begin 2013 and allow him to prove himself.

Another key piece to the bullpen will be Daniel Bard and seeing how he comes back for 2013. For obvious reasons being a starter was an epic failure and he will return as a full-time set up man, but can he comeback like he was in 2011 as one of the best in the league? He will be a major piece of the bullpen next season and the Red Sox need him back to his old self. The bullpen looks to be one of the strong points next year as long as Bard and Bailey pitch like they are capable of.

Clearly, there is much to be done during the off-season, but that’s what normally occurs when a team has its worst record since 1965 and finishes in last place for the first time since 1992. Following the blockbuster trade in August, the team has the money to spend to make the team better, but it all comes down to how they spend that money.

One thing that is certain is no matter who the Red Sox hire as manager, if the organization can’t put together a winning roster, the new manager means nothing as the players are the ones on the field competing day in and day out, not the manager.

Questions and comments are welcomed. Email me at [email protected] or on Twitter @hannable84

  • HighWireNickEsasky

    I really don’t think you can classify either Lester or Buchholz as a #1. Lester’s best quality is that he is incredibly reliable, making 30+ in each of the last 5 seasons. That makes him valuable, but he’s not an ace, especially after this disastrous campaign. Maybe a 2. Buchholz is more like a 3 or 4. He’s never reached 30 starts in a season and has had one good (slightly overrated) year. He is not reliable and is only six months younger than Lester. At 28 he may have some good seasons ahead of him, but it is alarming he hasn’t put it together yet. But he is fairly cheap and signed through 2015 so they will likely keep him. I think another top starter is critical though there isn’t much on the market.