Let me lead off with a caveat, or if you prefer, an immediate and cowardly wimping-out on the entire premise:
I’m not sorting everyone on the 40-man roster into these three categories — hell, you could argue someone like Yoenis Cespedes, a fun, flawed player with one year on his contract, belongs in at least two of them.
I narrowed it to five players per category. But considering that this team won 71 games, I was mildly surprised to find that there were far more players I’d prefer to keep than dump. I think that speaks to the general good health of the organization despite this lost, lousy season.
There is gray area for just about everyone, especially on a Red Sox roster that enters the offseason as fluid and flexible as any in recent history.
I hope they don’t trade Dustin Pedroia … but they should quietly shop him.
I hope they don’t trade Mookie Betts … but if Giancarlo Stanton is the eventual reward, you do it, and if you dispute that, I’m going to suggest you should familiarize yourself with the Marlins slugger beyond the occasional viral video of one of his mammoth home runs.
And really, anyone could be had for the right price. If Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo finally comes to his senses and offers Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg for Carlos Rivero, you have to think about it, right? I think you have to think about it. I think.
Anyway, before I turn completely into Peter King here and begin referring to Fenway as the “domestic team-space,” let’s break it down: keep, shop, dump.
I’ll hear your arguments on everything but this, which is indisputable: Xander Bogaerts is as close to untouchable as it gets.
Bogaerts: He’s 22 years old as of today. He might well be a shortstop. And over the last 25 games, after a summer that might have devastated a more established ballplayer, he hit .320/.324/.500 with four homers. They’re not trading him for Giancarlo Stanton. They’re pairing them, unless Theo Epstein ruins the best-laid plans.
Mike Napoli: Yeah, he had a tough year with runners in scoring position, hitting just .170, which is why he had just 55 RBIs in 500 plate appearances. He was also hurt, and aren’t we at the point where we recognize that playing through real injuries isn’t noble, but usually detrimental for all involved? He’ll turn 33 this month, but he’s relatively inexpensive, has coveted righthanded pop, and plays a fine first base. Why wouldn’t you want him?
David Ortiz: His .873 OPS was his lowest since his frustrating 2009 season (.794), when he was hitting .185/.284 /.287 on June 1. And yet that .873 OPS was good for ninth in the American League, and his 35 homers were his most since 2007. He’s going to get old sometime. But I’m done guessing when.
Daniel Nava: The lineup — as currently projected, anyway — is heavy with righthanded hitters. Nava hit .293/.372/.397 in 341 plate appearances from the left side against righthanded pitching. He’s a useful, inexpensive role player. I hope John Farrell recognizes that and doesn’t send him to Pawtucket in favor of a comebacking Mike Greenwell or Todd Benzinger next spring.
Rusney Castillo: Has anyone compared him to Ron Gant yet? You have? Gammons did weeks ago? And then everyone else? [Checks baseball-reference for Gant’s top career comps.] Say, does Castillo remind anyone of Reggie Sanders? Or how about Jimmy Wynn? …
Mookie Betts: I’m not saying trade him. I’m not, at all. I’m a believer — he has that rare combination of talent and charisma, he raked at two levels of minor league ball and kept it up in the majors, and he’s going to be an excellent player for some lucky team for a long time. But — yes, there’s a but — he has some flaws. His arm is inaccurate, and while he should hit for some power, he probably doesn’t have the franchise-player ceiling of Bogaerts. If he can bring a prime-of-career slugger in return, Ben Cherington is obligated to at least listen.
Joe Kelly: Did you have any idea he threw so hard? I didn’t, but he averaged 95.1 mph on his fastball this season. His career comps are very interesting, too, because the top three are pitchers of much higher perceived pedigrees: Chris Archer, Zack Wheeler and Gerrit Cole. Actually, I think I’m talking myself into believing he’s a keeper — what, he can’t be a free agent until ’19? — but foremost he looks to me like an enticing piece in a potential deal for Cole Hamels or Johnny Cueto.
Clay Buchholz: His best ERA in any month this season was 4.36 in August — which is 2.62 higher than his ERA during the entire 2013 season. He’s affordable if you believe he can be, you know, a good pitcher — he’s due $12 million next year, with team options for 2016-17. Let him become someone else’s enigma.
Pedroia: He can tell us in his charmingly cocky way, and we can talk ourselves into believing him. But we should know better. His best days are not ahead.
Brock Holt: Just in case there happens to be a GM who saw him during his Mueller-esque .327/.371/.463 first half and thought, “Now there’s a gritty, gutty scrappy little Ecksteinish gamer that I’ve just got to have.” I bet Ned Yost would bat him third and have him bunt four times a game.
Will Middlebrooks: Remember when we used to prop him up by saying, “Yeah, he’s flawed, but he averages 30-something homers per 162 games?” That was back in the olden days — last spring training.
Here’s where his 162-game averages stand now, after he averaged a homer every 117 plate appearances this season:
Report Created on Baseball-Reference.com
He’s going to be lucky to have Butch Hobson’s career, with one caveat: Hobson’s 30-homer season was real, not hypothetical.
Shane Victorino: Hoping they’ll find a taker for the remaining $13 million on the soon-to-be-34-year-old’s contract is less wishful than expecting him to a) come back healthy and b) accept being a fourth outfielder.
Koji Uehara: He had a 5.56 ERA in August and a 6.23 ERA in September, batters had an .813 OPS against him in the second half, he turns 40 in April, he’s a free agent … and I don’t trust John Farrell to use him in moderation. It’s not that I want to see him go. It’s that I want to remember him well, without memories of his decline getting in the way.
David Ross: It’s probably time. He seems to know it, too, given his postseason guest analyst gig on ESPN. If you want a stat that further confirms how feeble the Red Sox were at the plate this season, here’s one: Ross hit seven homers, which tied him for fifth on the team.
Allen Craig: He hit .128 for the Red Sox. John Lackey hit .133 for the Cardinals.