The Red Sox have been among the most active teams in baseball at the 2012 Winter Meetings, filling roster spots all over the diamond with medium to high-priced editions. After dumping the contracts of Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford on the Dodgers this past August, Boston general manager Ben Cherington came to Nashville with money to burn. He wasted little time this offseason handing out rather generous contracts to back-up catcher David Ross and outfielder Jonny Gomes before the Thanksgiving turkey was even on the table and now it appears to be more of the same with the signings of catcher/1st baseman/DH Mike Napoli and outfielder Shane Victorino. Boston now has a glutton of decent but not great catching options, an overload of outfield/DH type, and a serious lack of pitching at the big league level. And the worst part of all for Red Sox fans? None of these moves will help Boston make the playoffs. Hell, this roster probably isn’t any better than the one Cherington tore apart at the 2012 trade deadline.
At that aforementioned trade deadline Boston was able to shuck just over $56 million dollars worth of salary just off of the 2013 roster alone. But Cherington hasn’t made the most of all that space he created. Just look at the commitments he’s already made for next season. David Ross is owed $6.2 million over the next 2 years. Jonny Gomes will collect $5 million in each of the next 2 seasons despite the fact that he can barely hit his weight against righties. Napoli’s getting 3 year/$39 million as is Victorino. If you do a bit of simple math that means the Red Sox are committing somewhere around $34-36 million for this group of players. Does that make any sense? Would you want to pay somewhere between a quarter and a third of your total payroll for these four guys? Not that these are bad players, but does $36 million dollars make any rational sense?
Each of these players isn’t without flaws either. David Ross has never been a full-time catcher and has only played in more than 100 games just once in his career. He’s going to be 36 next year as well and he’s completely redundant a Red Sox team that has Jared Saltalamacchia and Ryan Lavarnway on the books. Saltalamacchia in particular is slightly cheaper, 8 years younger than Ross, and has flashed a similar ability to drive the ball out of the ball park. Why does Cherington need all these mediocre backstops? Aren’t they a little redundant? And that’s without mentioning Mike Napoli, who will wisely be spending a majority of his time at 1st base.
While the Napoli signing is easily the best move Cherington has made thus far, it’s also worth considering some of his flaws. The former Ranger/Angel has played more than 115 games in his career just once in 7 seasons and he has a bit of a strikeout problem. He’s also coming off of the worst seasons of his career and is now on the wrong side of 30. But Napoli is also a ferocious power hitter with a sweet swing that will make beautiful music off the Green Monster. He also fills a positional need as long as he’s at 1st base because the Red Sox allowed James Loney to walk. As long as he stays on the field, Napoli should hit well enough to make this deal look pretty smart.
Shane Victorino on the other hand probably won’t be so lucky. He’s going to be paid like one of the premier centerfielders in the game, which he was in 2011, although he will probably never reach that level again. Victorino is going to be 32 next season and he’s coming off the worst year off his career. He hit just .255/.321/.383 while splitting time in Philadelphia and Los Angeles. Since so much of Victorino’s value lies in his speed this probably isn’t a good bet from Boston’s point of view. Players with the Flyin’ Hawaiian’s profile often break down earlier in their careers than guys who rely a little more on power do.
And even if you set aside all of these players’ flaws, the worst part about all of this spending is that it hasn’t addressed Boston’s real problem: their terrible pitching staff. The Red Sox have put together solid offenses in each of the past two seasons only to be undone by horrendous pitching staffs. Boston allowed the 10th most runs in baseball in 2011 and the 4th most in 2012, and no matter how much hitting you have that’s not going to get you into the playoffs. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz have some rebound potential, and Felix Doubrant looks like a decent mid-rotation pitcher but otherwise that’s it. Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster, two of the prizes of the mid-summer trade with the Dodgers look to have some promise, but they are both under 20 years old and have 10 Major League starts between them. There is absolutely nothing else really worth considering for the 2013 season.
Now, maybe there is a trade in the works or Cherington has some sort of free agent plan for the remaining $20 million in savings left over from the Adrian Gonzalez swap. Jacoby Ellsbury could become expendable with the acquisition of so much outfield talent and he would probably net a solid pitcher in return, but he’s probably the only piece that can net anything back in value. Unless there is another GM out there who feels like overpaying for a low hitting/decent power catcher like Saltalamacchia, Cherington’s plan just doesn’t make sense. He’s blown most of his Adrian Gonzalez/Carl Crawford/Josh Beckett savings and the Red Sox aren’t any better for it.