Red Sox players may be enjoying their off-season, but for the men and women who work in the front office, there is much to do. This time of year, when free agency is in full swing and trade rumors are rolling, is called the “hot stove.” In Boston, the hot stove season is always exciting as management tries to improve the team. Since the new owners took over in 2002, the Red Sox have had the resources to add almost any player they wanted.The 2006 off-season saw the Sox acquire Japanese superstar Daisuke Matsuzaka. Principle owners Larry Lucchino, John Henry and Tom Warner put up a $51 million posting fee, just to get exclusive rights to talk to Matsuzaka.
After the negotiations were complete, Dice-k was signed to a six-year $52 million contract. This proved the Red Sox owners would stop at nothing to acquire a player that they thought could help the team.
The crème of the free agent crop for this off-season is switch hitting first baseman Mark Teixeira. There is no surprise to anyone around baseball that the Red Sox are putting a plan in place to offer Teixeira a record setting contract. In order to sign him, the Sox brass would need to pay $150-200 million over at least the next six-eight years. To put this in prospective, the entire Tampa Bay Rays ball club has a payroll of just under $44 million dollars. That’s 25 players that cost a third of what it would take to sign the 28-year-old Teixeira. Luckily, the Red Sox have deep pockets and don’t mind spending money on a player in the prime of his career.
It is important that the Red Sox land Teixeira, because their organization is full of great young prospects, but not many that provide power at the plate. In 2008, while playing for both the Braves and Angels he hit .308 with 33 home-runs and 121 RBIs. This is definitely a huge impact hitter the Red Sox are looking for, boosting a line-up that will be in its first full season without Manny Ramirez. There is no question that the Sox would be better off if they added another power hitter in the middle of the line-up, but some fans don’t think offense should be the focal point of the off-season. Sox season ticket holder Mark Salerno thinks the team should focus on other areas especially behind the plate. “The Sox biggest need is a catcher that can hit. Varitek is a black hole in a line-up that scares opposing teams. We can’t have a catcher that hits .220 and looks awful at the plate.” Good news for Mark, the Sox have been looking into this situation and have come up with a few solutions, all coming out of Texas.
They say everything is bigger down in Texas and that includes 6’4” switch hitting catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Along with teammates Gerald Laird and Taylor Teagarden, Saltalamacchia is being looked at as a potential replacement for an ageing Varitek. The 23 year old, out of Palm Beach Fla., has all the offensive tools to be an everyday player in the big leagues. He has the ability to hit for power and drive in runs at a consistent rate, but is inexperienced defensively. If the Sox were looking for defense, they would be hard pressed to take a long look at Teagarden. The 25 year old is way beyond his years in his ability behind the plate, but would not give you the same offense as Saltalamacchia. All this could be a moot point, if the Sox decide to bring back Varitek. They would need the captain to sign a short-term contract for a reduced salary, something his agent Scott Boris would be completely against. Since there isn’t much interest on the open market for Varitek, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him back in a Red Sox uniform next season.
If the Sox fail to sign top free agent Mark Teixeira, they will need to look elsewhere to improve their offense. Short-stop is a revolving door for the Red Sox and six different players have had significant time at that position in the last four years. Most recently, rookie Jed Lowrie was seen last playing short and doing a formidable job. Lowrie projects to be a good defensive short-stop who can hit for average with occasional power. Fans have different opinions on Lowrie being the Sox long term-answer at short, or do they need to go out and acquire a proven player.
Todd Jensen is a Boston native who writes a sports blog for Today.com. He believes that the sox need to find player that can provide consistant offense, while Lowrie learns the ropes in the major leagues. “J.J. Hardy of the Milwaukee Brewers, would be a perfect fit at short-stop for the Sox. He can hit around 25 home-runs a year and catches everything he gets to. The one problem is he’s not a free agent and the sox would have to trade a few good prospects to get a player of his caliber.”
Through good scouting and wise draft picks, the Red Sox have stockpiled many young prospects in their minor league system. These prospects can be used in trades for major league ready players like J.J. Hardy. Another route to improve the team would be to spend the seemingly endless amount of money that the Red Sox have on free agents. Either way, expect the sox to improve a team that was one game away from the World Series in 2008. Just when sox fans thought the season was over, things are just starting to heat up.