This has to be the most exciting time in Ben Cherington’s career.
In one fell swoop Saturday, the Red Sox general manager lopped off more than $275 million in contracts (save for $11 million going to the Dodgers), wiping the slate clean. He now has practically a blank canvas on which to paint his own Picasso.
He can build the team around Dustin Pedroia in a dirt-dog image and no longer has to feed the monster so much that he has his hands bitten off.
The Dodgers took the burden of the world off his hands. The baseball gods gave him a gift. Now it’s up to Cherington to see what he does with it.
Cherington and Red Sox ownership blew it up, and that’s not easy to do. Normally, a team has to sell off individual pieces, and that can be time-consuming and costly. Coincidentally, Theo Epstein has had to do the same in Chicago, selling off predecessor Jim Hendry’s mistakes one by one.
Cherington was able to get a couple of excellent pitching prospects in Rubby De La Rosa, who will be one of the players to be named later in the transaction, and Allen Webster. De La Rosa is the prize. He idolizes Pedro Martinez and wants to be a star. Throwing 96-100 miles per hour, he may be able to do that.
Webster is more of a hard-sinker guy, but the fact is the Red Sox now have a reservoir of good young arms, which they desperately needed. The Sox may develop them or use them as trade chips for established players. That will be up to Cherington.
“Excellent move by Boston,’’ said Yankees GM Brian Cashman. “Unfortunately.’’
At his news conference to announce the nine-player deal Saturday, Cherington said he and his baseball operations staff are already looking for ways to rebuild the major league roster. Understand, the Sox have less than $50 million committed to payroll next season (though that doesn’t include arbitration-eligible players such as Jacoby Ellsbury, Andrew Bailey, Mike Aviles, and Alfredo Aceves), so they have the ability to add a significant amount of payroll if they want.
Cherington used the word “disciplined’’ in describing the approach of the front office going forward.
The Sox want young, enthusiastic, hungry players who run out ground balls, hustle offensively and defensively, and give you a good day’s work for the money.
The way it has been described to me, the Sox will look to fill needs mostly with trades. They will look at teams in middle to small markets that have players who perhaps are about to head north of that team’s price range, and pounce on them. How many of these players exist, who knows?
The Indians, for instance, have outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, who is earning $4.9 million this season and has one more year of arbitration before he becomes a free agent. This is the type of player the Red Sox would be looking at closely.
The Royals have outfielder Alex Gordon, whose salary escalates to more than $12 million a year through 2016. The Royals need a pitcher and Gordon has close ties to Red Sox vice president of player personnel Allard Baird, who signed him in Kansas City.
The Red Sox will continue to search for bargains in free agency. They were able to land Cody Ross on a one-year, $3 million deal, and Vicente Padilla for $1.5 million. Both have worked out.
The Sox would like to have Ross back, and he would love to stay here. Righthanded hitters with power are hard to find, and the Sox probably won’t let Ross slip away. The Giants recently inquired about Ross’s availability, but the Sox haven’t put him on trade waivers.
Ross will demand a three-year deal at around $27 million, and the Sox may consider it with their newfound financial flexibility. They will also make some type of push to re-sign Ellsbury this offseason, a year ahead of free agency, if agent Scott Boras is willing to listen. If he’s not, Ellsbury could become part of the house-cleaning, with Jackie Bradley Jr. not far from the big leagues. The Nationals have always been potential suitors for Ellsbury, and they have pitching to trade.
People will ask, will the rebuilding process take long? Doubt it.
While it’s seldom you see a team blown up like this with the admission of such mistakes, you won’t see a long process. The Red Sox want to field a contending team, and now it’s up to Cherington, as he pointed out in his news conference, to build “the next great Red Sox team.’’ It’s an overwhelming job, but an exciting one.
And what does this all mean for Bobby Valentine? It should buy him another year.
Valentine’s problems were with some of the players who are now gone. Kevin Youkilis and Kelly Shoppach were known to be against Valentine. Adrian Gonzalez was involved in the texting and complaining about the manager, despite his denials.
If Valentine has the type of players that suit his style — young and hungry — it could work. We’ll see if Cherington and ownership give him that chance, but every move that’s been made seems to enhance the chances that Valentine stays on.
There are parts of the remaining team that will provide a core. Pedroia, Will Middlebrooks, Ryan Lavarnway, Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Perhaps Ellsbury, Felix Doubront, Franklin Morales, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Bailey, and Aviles will be a huge part of that core.
They will need to extend Morales as a starter with a full spring training and get Doubront over the innings hump next season. They will have to add a bona fide starter by hook or crook, either a free agent or via a trade. And perhaps hope De La Rosa emerges as a superstar while Matt Barnes moves the ladder.
Ownership has heard from Cherington and Valentine that they don’t need $150 million players to win a championship. They need hungry players with the right attitude, a true team, to make it work. They have taken a big step toward that.
Now it’s up to Cherington to fill in the missing pieces.
When you make a deal like this, you can’t look back. Of course Gonzalez will be a terrific player in Los Angeles. Crawford may return from Tommy John surgery next season and be the Crawford of old in a more laid-back setting. Beckett may go to the National League West and be a good pitcher again against weaker lineups.
We will soon see what Cherington can do with a blank canvas.