After going from a 69-win, last-place team in 2012 to winning the World Series in 2013, there was plenty of time for GM Ben Cherington to be proud of what he had put together in the winter of 2012-13 – a team of not necessarily the most talented players, but the right ones for the clubhouse and the atmosphere that the team desperately needed in order to return to winning.
But trophy has been hoisted, the confetti has fallen, the duck boats have returned to shuttling passengers around Beantown, and the 2013 season is officially over. Now, Cherington already has a full plate of issues to start dealing with now that the calendar has turned to November and free agency is set to begin. Here is a rundown of where the Red Sox could look to for outside help in defending their title in 2014.
During an appearance on a Sirius XM radio program, first baseman/outfielder Corey Hart said his agent has been in contact with the Red Sox.
The free agent missed last season because of knee surgery. Hart has spent nine seasons in Milwaukee, and is a career .276 hitter with 154 home runs and 508 RBIs.
Hart also said his agent has been in contact with the Rays, Rockies and Brewers.
A player that has been linked to many teams have been interested in is Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. Tanaka went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in 2013. Like other Japanese stars before him such as Daisuke Matsuzaka and Yu Darvish, an MLB team must pay a posting fee to even negotiate with Tanaka, with the Globe’s Nick Cafardo believing that the fee could be anywhere up to $70 million. The posting issues the Red Sox ran into after getting Matsuzaka may scare them away from Tanaka, but Cafardo says that a prominent agent, who asked not to be identified, believes that the Red Sox are indeed interested in Tanaka. The Yankees are currently seen as the most aggressive in trying to get a deal done, but their focus on Tanaka could hinder them from going after other free agents.
Besides Jacoby Ellsbury, the hottest name on the market for center fielders this offseason has been Shin-Soo Choo. Choo hit .285 with 21 home runs, 54 RBIs, and a .423 OBP for the Reds in 2013 and is looking to get a big pay day with the lack of many true stars testing free agency this winter. Choo has already been talked about in filling holes on the Yankees, Rangers, Tigers, Diamondbacks, and Astros, but if the Red Sox want to make a splash this offseason, it could be slightly cheaper than trying to bring back Ellsbury, who is Scott Boras’s biggest client this winter and is reportedly looking for a contract upward of $100 million.
Ellsbury may have some questions to answer before he signs the dotted line, however, as news of a severe hand injury Ellsbury played with has surfaced since the end of the World Series, with the center fielder even saying to team coaches before Game 6 that he had “no more bullets in the gun. We have to win tonight.’’
One downside to signing Choo is the Reds have made a qualifying offer, so any team that signs him would have to give up a draft pick.
Another option for the Red Sox would be to slide Shane Victorino over to center field and sign right fielder Carlos Beltran. Beltran hit .296 with 24 home runs and 84 RBIs for the Cardinals in 2013, but has been one of the best hitters of all time in the postseason, hitting .333 in 51 games with 16 home runs and 40 RBIs.
Beltran played well in right field at Fenway Park during the World Series, making a difficult catch into the bullpen on what would have been a David Ortiz grand slam in Game 1, a catch that eluded Torii Hunter in the ALCS. The Cardinals have shown strong interest in re-signing him and have made a qualifying offer. It is more likely, however, that the Red Sox keep Victorino, fresh off a Gold Glove, in Fenway’s expansive right field.
A second scenario that could see Victorino move to center field would be if the Red Sox decided to go after Nate McLouth. The 32-year-old outfielder was an All-Star with the Pirates in 2008 and provided the Orioles with a jolt after they got him at the trade deadline in 2012, helping them to their first playoff appearance since 1997. McLouth hit just .258 with 12 home runs and 36 RBIs in 2013, but stole 30 bases for the first time in his career.
Signing McLouth, however, would necessitate moving Daniel Nava to right field permanently and playing Jonny Gomes just against lefthanders, something John Farrell showed he was not willing to do in 2013. McLouth will most likely re-sign with the Orioles.
A sure-fire starter for the Angels a few years ago, Kendrys Morales’s career was set back after he suffered a broken leg while celebrating a game-winning home run in 2010, missing the rest of that year and all of 2011. He lost playing time in 2012 due to the signing of Albert Pujols, and spent 2013 in Seattle, hitting 23 home runs and driving in 80 runs while batting .277.
Morales is a switch-hitting first baseman who could garner interest in Boston if the Red Sox don’t re-sign Mike Napoli. With his injury history, Morales may best serve a team in the DH spot, which is an area the Red Sox have no need to fill.
A middle infielder on the market looking for a home is former Dodgers shortstop/second baseman Juan Uribe. Uribe may be 35, but he showed last year that he can still handle being a full-time player, hitting .278 with 12 home runs and 50 RBIs. The two-time World Series champion is known for his defense and could be a one-year option for the Red Sox if they decide to move away from Stephen Drew.
Uribe commanded contracts of $8 million over the past two years, but shouldn’t be able to get much more than that on the free market. It is still more likely that the Red Sox would re-sign Drew, to whom they’ve made a qualifying offer, than take a chance on someone like Uribe.
If the Red Sox are looking for speed on the market this winter, an option they could turn to would be Rajai Davis, according to the Globe’s Nick Cafardo. The outfielder stole 45 bases last year, and the Red Sox could be looking for speed if Jacoby Ellsbury does not resign with the team. He could provide some stolen bases off the bench and serve time as a backup outfielder, similar to what Quintin Berry gave the Red Sox down the stretch in their run to the World Series title in 2013.
Right fielder Nelson Cruz could be an option if the Red Sox move Shane Victorino to center field following the departure of Jacoby Ellsbury to the Yankees. Cruz, 33, hit .266 with 27 home runs for the Rangers last season. He served a 50-game suspension for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal.