Offseason In Review: Boston Red Sox

The new-look Red Sox aim to return to the postseason in 2012 after an offseason of trades and restrained free agent spending.

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Tony Pena, Jesse Carlson, Rich Hill, Pedro Ciriaco, Scott Atchison, Brandon Duckworth, Carlos Silva, Aaron Cook, Vicente Padilla, Max St. Pierre, John Maine, Ross Ohlendorf.

Trades and Claims

Notable Losses

Draft Picks Gained or Lost

  • Obtained 31st overall selection from Phillies for Papelbon. Also obtain supplementary first round pick. 

In their final offseason under Theo Epstein, the Red Sox signed Carl Crawford, traded for Adrian Gonzalez and generated an unprecedented amount of hype. The first offseason under Ben Cherington was far more subdued, but the 2012 Red Sox have the makings of a playoff contender nonetheless.

"After two straight offseasons filled with significant contract commitments we knew this one would look a little different," GM Ben Cherington told MLBTR. "We made moves that we hope give us a more balanced roster and give us a chance to come up with good pitching solutions."

The Red Sox traded for relief help and strengthened their bench after making their biggest offseason addition: manager Bobby Valentine. Cherington initially seemed to favor younger candidates such as Sandy Alomar Jr. and Torey Lovullo, but ultimately opted for the experience and energy of Valentine. From a strict sabermetric standpoint managerial hires matter less than player moves, but there’s no denying the importance of this decision. Following a 2011 season that skidded out of control under Terry Francona’s watch, the Red Sox needed new leadership.

After much discussion and speculation, the Red Sox obtained relievers Chris Carpenter and Aaron Kurcz from the Cubs for Theo Epstein. Chances are Epstein will make a bigger impact on the Cubs than Carpenter and Kurcz will on the Red Sox, but Red Sox ownership seemed to lose leverage once Epstein started working for the Cubs. At least they got something for letting their longtime GM go. 

Credit Cherington for offering Papelbon arbitration then letting him sign with the Phillies as a free agent. As successful as Papelbon’s tenure in Boston was, $50MM for a reliever represents a luxury item even the Red Sox should pass on. 

Instead, the Red Sox traded for right-handed relievers Andrew Bailey and Mark Melancon, two pitchers whose stuff and makeup impressed Cherington from afar. The Red Sox surrendered some valuable pieces in the process, but the big league team wasn’t counting on Jed Lowrie, Kyle Weiland and Josh Reddick in a major way. Not only are Bailey and Melancon relatively affordable, they're under team control through 2014 and 2016, respectively. 

The acquisitions of Bailey and Melancon freed up reliever Daniel Bard, who has been preparing for the season as a starter. Perhaps the successful conversions of Rangers relievers C.J. Wilson and Alexi Ogando inspired the Red Sox to make the change. 

The Red Sox showed interest in free agents such as Roy Oswalt, Edwin Jackson and Hiroki Kuroda and trade candidates such as Gio Gonzalez, but ultimately passed. The team was painfully thin on rotation depth during last year’s collapse, so I expected Cherington to add at least one established starter this offseason. The Red Sox would have done well to acquire an above-average starter to slot in behind Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz. Unfortunately, it's not that simple.

"The acquisition cost of proven starters via trade or free agency just wasn’t to our liking," Cherington wrote in an email. "Therefore we are trying to come up with solutions out of a pool of guys who are less proven. It carries more risk but also more upside as there is an opportunity to build value."

Cherington added some interesting names on minor league deals, and perhaps they will prove just as productive as Yankees starters Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia did a year ago. Non-roster invitees such as Carlos Silva (since released), Aaron CookVicente Padilla or Ross Ohlendorf were candidates for the final rotation spot, though left-hander Felix Doubront may get the nod for now. 

As it turned out, Cherington’s biggest free agent signing was not Jackson, or Oswalt or Yu Darvish. Cody Ross and Nick Punto share that distinction after signing for $3MM each. Ross, who can play all three outfield positions and hit left-handed pitching (.912 career OPS against lefties), makes perfect sense for a Red Sox outfield that includes left-handed hitters Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Ryan Sweeney. Punto, a candidate for regular playing time on the infield, provides defensive versatility. Kelly Shoppach, another free agent addition to the bench, offers strong defense in a reserve role.

David Ortiz accepted the team's offer of arbitration, and will play for $14.58MM in 2012. The Red Sox did well to retain Big Papi, the top DH in baseball, without committing to him on a multiyear deal. No team in baseball outscored the 2011 Red Sox, and Ortiz is a critical element of their offense.

It’s not completely surprising that the Red Sox traded Marco Scutaro after exercising his option, but it’s puzzling that they waited so long to complete the deal. If they had made Scutaro available earlier on, they could have engaged teams such as the Brewers, Pirates and Giants and might have obtained more in return than Clayton Mortensen. The trade appears to have been motivated in part by ownership’s interest in avoiding luxury tax penalties. The Red Sox remain a big-market team by just about any measure, but even baseball's most aggressive spenders are now sidestepping the luxury tax.

There's no mistaking this team for the 2011 Red Sox. Gone are Epstein, Francona, Papelbon, Drew and Scutaro. Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield both retired after long careers with the Red Sox, making Ortiz the team's longest-tenured player. Despite the devastating way in which Boston's 2011 season ended, this team is poised to contend in 2012 as long as the back of the rotation pitches as well as the Red Sox think it can.

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