Yesterday was not a good day for Boston fans. New England blew a ten point lead to Denver and Jonathan Papelbon, shockingly, blew a lead in a playoff game (at least the Celtics won their preseason game). Prior to yesterday, Paps had not allowed a run in twenty seven postseason innings. To all those Red Sox fans who want him traded (and presumably Bard installed as the new closer), shut up. Sure, Paps struggled early in the season, but in the second half of the year, he had numbers more in line with his career averages (5.83 K/BB and .897 WHIP). There is also the fact that Bard isn’t ready to close and he might not have the mental makeup to do it. Trading Papelbon would weaken the strong point of this team (bullpen) and probably wouldn’t add enough to jolt the lineup.
The real problem with this team is the lineup. It should be better next year, with a full season of Victor Martinez at catcher (picking up his option is a no brainer). Bay is a free agent and an option is held on Alex Gonzalez. Other than that, the starters are under contract. So what can be done to make the lineup more productive? Here is my plan to improve the lineup (as well as the defense).
I would pick up the option on Gonzalez and platoon him with Lowrie at shortstop. Offer Bay (and Wagner) arbitration and let them walk. Take the four picks and re-tool the farm system. If Tampa Bay declines their option on Carl Crawford, make a run for him to play LF. If that fails (or TB picks up the option), go after Chone Figgins to play left. Either one of them would be a great improvement in defense over Bay (especially away from Boston), and they would add another element of speed (along with Ellsbury) in the lineup. Yes, it takes some power away, but I have an idea for that as well. It is very possible that either Prince Fielder or Adrian Gonzalez could be available via trade this winter (no facts to back that up, just rumors that have been reported). Lars Anderson/Michael Bowden/Ryan Kalish/Stolmy Pimental could be a good base offer, maybe subbing in Daniel Bard for one of them (most likely Bowden); I would hate to see Casey Kelly get moved, but if it brought Gonzalez back, I’d do it. It would look like this would cripple the farm system; however, with Bay and Wagner leaving the Red Sox should be able to acquire two first round picks (maybe a second rounder at worst) and two sandwich picks to replenish the farm. This would leave a lineup of 1. Ellsbury 2. Crawford/Figgins 3. Martinez 4. Gonzalez/Fielder 5.Youkilis 6. Pedroia 7. Ortiz 8. Drew 9. Gonzalez/Lowrie.
The rotation looks set, as long as Dicek can come back healthy next year. Maybe take a one year flier (I know it didn’t work this year, but it never hurts) on a guy like Erik Bedard or Rich Harden to add some depth. That would leave a rotation of Beckett/Lester/Dicek/Buchholz/Wakefield and one of the recovering starters. With the bullpen, I’d like to see Saito stick around (pick up his option too). This would leave Paps, Saito, Okajima, Delcarmen, Ramirez and possibly Bard as the main men. The only thing needed would be another lefty, maybe Ron Mahay (external option) or Hunter Jones (internal option).
The team, constructed this way, would be able to attack pitchers a variety of ways – speed, power and ability to wear them out. The pitching staff would be just as good (maybe better if more progression is made by Buchholz, and Wakefield is able to comeback) as this season, especially if Papelbon is still closing games.