Why the Boston Red Sox Don’t Need to Trade Yoenis Cespedes This Offseason

The Boston Red Sox have too many outfielders, too many corner infielders and not enough pitching.

Such was the case before the offseason began, and this sentiment rings even more true now after the signings of Pablo Sandoval to play third base and Hanley Ramirez to play left field.

The Red Sox have Ramirez, Rusney Castillo, Yoenis Cespedes, Shane Victorino, Mookie Betts, Daniel Nava, Allen Craig and Jackie Bradley Jr. among their MLB-ready outfielders.

Sandoval joins Will Middlebrooks and Garin Cecchini at third, while Mike Napoli blocks Nava and Craig at first base.

If you figure that the Red Sox will roster one backup outfielder and one backup 1B/OF type, that leaves 14 players for seven roster spots.

Assuming that four of those spots are guaranteed to go to Ramirez, Sandoval, Napoli and Castillo, the Sox are left with three open spots for 10 players, meaning trades and demotions are on the horizon.

In light of these developments, we've seen several rumors pop up indicating that Cespedes is being shopped. Even before the deals, The Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo reported that the Sox could move Cespedes in an effort to open up playing time for Betts.

More recently, we've seen Cespedes linked to the Mariners, per CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman, and the Padres, per MLB.com's Corey Brock.

If the Red Sox can get a solid No. 2 or No. 3 pitcher back for Cespedes, it certainly makes sense to deal him in light of their recent acquisitions. Especially since his inclusion in any deal would likely mitigate any loss of prospects the Sox would otherwise suffer in their attempts to trade for a good MLB starter.

However, the Red Sox shouldn't feel pressured to trade Cespedes, and if the perfect deal doesn't come along, they should be more than content to open the season with the former Home Run Derby champ on their roster.

There are many reasons why this is the case, but let's look at three of the most prominent reasons why a Cespedes trade shouldn't be a given for Boston in the coming weeks.

 

1) Yoenis Cespedes is good

Simple enough? Cespedes is a well-above-average player, and keeping his bat in what figures to be a potent Red Sox lineup is an appealing option.

Cespedes hit .260/.301/.450 in 645 plate appearances last season, notching 22 homers and 100 RBI in 152 games. His walk rate dropped to a career-low 5.4 percent, but Cespedes also posted the second-best strikeout rate of his career at 19.8 percent.

If he's your team's best offensive player, you're probably in trouble. But if he functions as a complementary piece, he's quite valuable.

Here's one projected lineup the Red Sox could roll with if they keep Cespedes in the fold:

2B Dustin Pedroia
LF Hanley Ramirez
DH David Ortiz
RF Yoenis Cespedes
1B Mike Napoli
3B Pablo Sandoval
SS Xander Bogaerts
CF Rusney Castillo
C Christian Vazquez

Cespedes is probably a better fit in left field than in right, and he's going to pile up the strikeouts. But he's right at home in the midst of so many talented hitters, and keeping him in the lineup would give the Red Sox one of the most powerful offensive cores in the game.

 

2) The Red Sox can reassess trading Cespedes at any point during the season

This is another simple reason, but given the false sense of urgency one detects when scrolling through Twitter, it's worth repeating nonetheless. The Red Sox have until July 31 to trade Cespedes, and they don't need to be in a particular rush to do so until then.

Right-handed power is one of the rarest commodities in the game today. If the Red Sox find themselves out of contention or needing to make room for a player like Betts later in the season, they can be virtually assured that someone will need a middle-of-the-order bat like Cespedes.

That's not to say the Sox have to wait until the year begins to trade Cespedes; if they come across a deal that makes sense now, they should pull the trigger.

But the worst thing that happens to the Red Sox if they start the year with Cespedes is that they own another talented outfielder, and they should be in no rush to usher him off the team.

This is especially true considering Cespedes already has a clause in his contract that prevents a team from making him a qualifying offer.

That means he wouldn't lose draft-pick compensation like other free agents-to-be who can be traded, as that lack of pick is already factored into his value.

 

3) Keeping Cespedes protects the Red Sox from injury and underperformance

Aside from the desire to acquire pitching, the most pressing motivation behind dealing Cespedes seems to be to free up time for Betts. This is reasonable, given that Betts hit .291/.368/.444 in limited MLB duty last season.

However, the Red Sox don't lose Betts if he doesn't start the year in the majors. In fact, keeping Betts at Triple-A would protect the Red Sox at four positions while allowing the 22-year-old to receive even more seasoning in the upper minors.

Consider the checkered health histories of players like Pedroia, Ramirez, Victorino and Craig. The likelihood that all of these players remain healthy for an entire year is slim to none.

Add in that Castillo is an unproven player, and it's easy to see how Betts could start the year in Triple-A and still amass 300-plus plate appearances.

Plus, the Red Sox saw last year how dangerous it can be to rely on young players without suitable backups. When Bogaerts and Bradley failed to perform well right off the bat, the Sox were unprepared to replace them with veteran options.

There's no guarantee that Betts will fail as Bogaerts and Bradley did, of course, but there's also no guarantee that his 200-plus plate appearances in the majors means he's completely ready for everyday duty in Boston, either.

Retaining Cespedes would allow Betts to prove that the minor leagues aren't a challenge for him anymore in Triple-A, and if he truly forces the issue, Cespedes or another outfielder can be moved down the road.

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Boston Red Sox’s Best Free-Agency Backup Plans If They Miss on Jon Lester

The Boston Red Sox have wasted no time taking an early lead in terms of hot-stove headlines.

According to The Boston Globe's Peter Abraham, they may not be done making some splashes, as the team is still very much in the hunt for Jon Lester.

Given how active Boston's already been in the free-agent market, that may be a bit surprising. First, the Red Sox re-signed closer Koji Uehara to a two-year, $18 million deal, securing the back end of their bullpen.

Then, in an out-of-nowhere signing, the Red Sox secured the services of Hanley Ramirez on Tuesday, signing the former Dodger and Marlin to a four-year, $88 million contract with a vesting option for a fifth year.

Finally, after weeks, if not months, of rumors, the Sox stunned us all by signing Pablo Sandoval to a five-year deal worth $95 million with a club option for the 2020 season.

There will undoubtedly be more moves in the coming weeks, as the Red Sox now have an abundance of offensive talent. While their lineup appears to be in good shape for 2015, their pitching staff still needs a major overhaul, and it's likely that some outfielders and prospects will be traded in order to bolster the rotation.

Signing Lester would go a long way toward revamping the rotation, but while it looks more likely that Lester will re-sign with the Red Sox now than it did a few weeks ago, it's still far from a sure thing, especially given how much money the Sox have already doled out this offseason.

With that in mind, let's take a look at four free-agent alternatives to Lester the Sox could pursue should they be unable to woo their homegrown lefty.

These solutions assume that if Lester is too expensive, Max Scherzer certainly would be, too.

 

Brandon McCarthy, RHP

One of the more popular middle-tier free-agent starters available on the market, McCarthy has the potential to return significant value thanks to his injury history and pedestrian surface numbers.

McCarthy's 10-15 record and 4.05 ERA from a season ago don't inspire a ton of confidence, but the sinkerballer posted a 3.55 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), according to FanGraphs, and was a different pitcher after he was traded from Arizona to New York. In 90.1 innings with the Yankees, McCarthy posted a 2.89 ERA and struck out 82 batters.

There are some red flags here, to be sure. McCarthy has consistently underperformed compared to his FIP, he's got a long, long injury history, and he's had trouble with homers when he's played in hitter-friendly parks. But there's still enough upside here for McCarthy to be a good No. 3 starter, and he shouldn't require a huge commitment.

According to ESPN Insider Jim Bowden (subscription required), McCarthy figures to receive a two-year, $20 million deal. That's the type of contract the Red Sox can still easily afford even given their recent spending spree, and if a McCarthy signing is paired with a top-of-the-rotation acquisition via trade, the Sox would go a long way toward rebuilding their staff.

 

Ervin Santana, RHP

Another pitcher who, like McCarthy, profiles better in the middle of the rotation than at the top of it, Santana presents another attractive option for the Red Sox should they fail to sign Lester even if he can't come close to matching Lester's production on a one-to-one basis.

Santana posted a 3.95 ERA in 196 innings with the Atlanta Braves last season, striking out 179 batters in 196 innings and slashing his homer rate from 2013. According to FanGraphs, his FIP was down a 3.39, and Santana has amazingly not lost significant velocity since 2009.

His consistent issues with the long ball and his fluctuating ground-ball rates make Santana more of a good pitcher than a great one, but he's pitched at least 170 innings every year since 2009, crossing the 200-inning mark three times during that span.

According to Bowden, Santana should be in line to receive a three-year, $42 million deal. That's pretty reasonable for a pitcher of his caliber, and adding 200-plus innings of Santana to the middle of Boston's rotation for the next several seasons would be a good thing.

 

Francisco Liriano, LHP

Whereas McCarthy and Santana represent pitchers with moderate upsides, Liriano is a higher-variance type of arm. Capable of dominating and frustrating alternatively between innings and starts, Liriano would be an interesting gamble for a team that desperately needs to add some top-flight talent to its rotation.

According to FanGraphs, Liriano sandwiched a 3.1 WAR campaign in 2013 between 1.5 and 1.6 WAR campaigns in 2012 and 2014, respectively. His walk rate is a huge issue, as he surrendered free passes to 11.7 percent of the hitters he faced in 2014, but he also strikes out plenty of batters and keeps the ball on the ground.

Liriano posted a 3.38 ERA last season and a 3.02 mark in 2013, and while you can expect those numbers to tick up a bit in the American League, he's still a capable No. 3 starter, albeit one with a long list of past injuries. Pairing him with Clay Buchholz would give the Sox two of the most perplexing pitchers in the game.

Bowden states that Liriano is in line to receive a three-year deal for $39 million, which is the type of reasonable gamble the Sox can take on a player of his caliber. He's not an ideal fit, but he's an interesting player nonetheless.

 

James Shields, RHP

Back in October, I covered three big reasons why Shields is a worse fit for the Red Sox than Lester, so I won't beat a dead horse here. However, if the Red Sox fail to sign Lester, Shields still makes a ton of sense.

Much has been made of Shields' postseason struggles, but don't lose sight of just how effective he's been in the regular season. Shields is among the most durable pitchers in the game, having thrown at least 200 innings every year since 2006, and he's posted an ERA below 3.25 in the AL three of the past four years.

Bowden believes Shields will get a five-year, $100 million contract, and while that may seem like a lot of money for a pitcher who will be 33 next season, there's no reason to think Shields won't be very effective for the next few seasons.

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Boston Red Sox Rumors: Pros and Cons of Top Offseason Targets

The hot-stove season is less than a month underway, but the Boston Red Sox have wasted no time stealing plenty of headlines.

The Sox figured to be active players in the market this year, and the early rumors surrounding the team haven’t disappointed. They’ve been linked to many of the most prominent free agents and players available on the trade market and seem serious about rebuilding for 2015.

Keep in mind that the offseason rumor mill is an industry unto itself, and that many of the rumors you hear will be contradicted by additional reports just hours after they hit Twitter, MLBTradeRumors.com or whatever resource you use. That being said, reports as to what the Red Sox have been up to so far are instructive in terms of letting us know what the team is planning and how they operate under Ben Cherington.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the three biggest rumors associated with the Red Sox over the past few days and weigh the pros and cons of each deal being considered.

 

Red Sox Offer Six-Year, $110-120 Million to Jon Lester

According to Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe, the Red Sox are legitimately pursuing Lester, offering the type of six-year contract that should at least bring the left-hander back to the table. Given that the Sox offered Lester a four-year, $70 million extension last spring, the team is clearly willing to spend more now to land its former ace.

 

Pros

The pros here are pretty obvious: The Red Sox need a top-of-the-rotation starter, and many fans and analysts alike are united in the belief that Lester should represent Boston’s top free-agent target.

Yes, $19-20 million a year is expensive, but that’s what pitchers of Lester’s caliber cost nowadays, and that’s on the low end of the spectrum. While investing in any pitcher is a scary proposition, Lester has the track record of health, performance and character you want to bet on.

According to Jeff Moore of Baseball Prospectus (subscription required), Lester projects as a top-end starter for the next three-to-four seasons. The Red Sox can live with whatever comes on the back end of the deal if Lester is truly that dominant through 2018.

 

Cons

The only real con here is the overall poor track record for long deals for pitchers in their 30s. Plus, adding Lester for $20-plus million per season will take a nice chunk out of the financial flexibility the Sox have built for themselves.

But assuming that acquiring Lester would indeed be a good thing, the real “con” associated with this offer is that it probably won’t be enough. ESPN Insider Jim Bowden (subscription required) predicted that Lester will receive offers in the six-year, $138 million range, and CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman even threw out a possible $189 million asking price for Lester.

That last number seems a bit crazy, and it’s hard to see a team truly going to those lengths for Lester. There’s no doubt that $110-120 million seems a bit low, though, and if that’s the Red Sox’s final offer, it would be surprising to see a Lester reunion this winter.

The good news, per WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford, is that the Red Sox are apparently willing to continue to negotiate. Plus, Lester’s agent, Sam Levinson, told WEEI.com that the Sox “showed great respect” to Lester through their recent offer.



Red Sox Make (or Prepare to Make) Offer to Pablo Sandoval

This situation is a bit less clear than Lester’s, as we’ve seen conflicting reports as to weather Sandoval has actually received an offer from the Red Sox to this point. Sean McAdam of CSNNE.com maintained early yesterday that the Sox were still waiting to get an offer out to Sandoval, while Cafardo stated that an offer’s already been made.

Either way, Sandoval was in Boston on Tuesday, and the Red Sox’s interest appears to be quite legitimate.

 

Pros

Sandoval would represent a massive upgrade over anything the Red Sox have had at third base for the past two seasons. He’s a good defender at this point in his career, brings a contact-heavy approach that the Red Sox lack and is an obscene postseason performer.

Adding Sandoval’s switch-hitting bat to, say, the fifth or sixth spot in the lineup would break up Boston’s litany of right-handed pitchers and would add depth and reliability to an offense that’s likely going to rely on four unproven players: Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Rusney Castillo and Christian Vazquez.

There are legitimate reasons to be concerned about giving Sandoval a long-term deal, but there’s no way to argue that he wouldn’t make the 2015 Red Sox much better.

 

Cons

ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick reported that Sandoval had discussed deals in the five-year, $90 million range with both the Red Sox and Giants. The money involved is fairly reasonable at that level, but it’s understandable why some won’t want to give Sandoval a five-year deal.

On Wednesday, the Providence Journal’s Brian MacPherson gave a phenomenal breakdown of the assumptions many make about Sandoval, and his conclusions give reason for pause when you think about Sandoval in, say, 2018 and beyond.

Most notably, MacPherson shows that if Sandoval has to move to DH in a few years, he’ll actually be a below-average offensive player. Further, he notes that Sandoval is really better as a down-the-order bat than a true middle-of-the-order impact hitter.

Still, MacPherson also rejects the notion that Sandoval’s weight is destined to hurt his career later on, and cites a five-year, $90 million deal as reasonable in today’s economic climate.

 

Red Sox Among Favorites for Yoan Moncada

On Tuesday, Baseball America’s Ben Badler broke down the market for Moncada, a star Cuban infielder/outfielder who could be cleared to sign with a major league organization fairly soon. Badler included the Red Sox among the eight teams he listed as most likely to make a play for the 19-year-old’s services, though the details as to when Moncada will even be allowed to sign are sketchy.

 

Pros

What’s not to like about a 19-year-old stud prospect who Badler writes has more upside than Castillo or Yasmani Tomas? Moncada would be a prospect more in the Jorge Soler mold in that he’d need some MiLB seasoning before making it to the majors. But the Cubs should be pretty happy with Soler right now, and if Moncada can also play the infield, it would add tremendously to his value.

Plus, as Badler notes, because the Red Sox have already blown past their international spending allowance by grabbing Anderson Espinoza and Christopher Acosta, they’re really not further penalized by doubling down and making a play for Moncada too.

Don’t worry about where Moncada would play or who at the MLB level could potentially block him; too much talent is never a bad thing. It would be great for the Red Sox to acquire Moncada and figure out where he fits in their long-term plans later.

 

Cons

None, really. The biggest con I can think of is that Moncada isn’t a No. 1 MLB starter who’s ready to pitch right now, as that’s Boston’s biggest need. But given that the Sox can’t be penalized more and can always use more prospects, signing Moncada would be a coup.

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Big Trades the Boston Red Sox Could Actually Pull off This Offseason

The Boston Red Sox figure to be active participants on the trade market this offseason.

Yes, they have plenty to spend and could sign several marquee free agents. But the Sox have holes in their rotation, in their bullpen and at third base, and given their glut of outfielders, first basemen and young, right-handed arms, they have the ammunition to make deals both major and minor.

There’s an argument to be made for hoarding all this talent, protecting against prospect attrition and injury alike. But you can also build a solid case that the Red Sox need more star power, as very few players on their roster right now are capable of serving as reliable above-average threats.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at three reasonable deals for majors players the Red Sox could swing this offseason:

 

Cole Hamels

It seems that as soon as the Red Sox dealt Jon Lester to the Athletics in July, the Hamels-to-Boston speculation began flying in at a startling pace.

At first glance, such a deal makes sense. The Red Sox need a front-line starter, and the Phillies badly need to rebuild. Boston has the type of young players and prospects the Phillies need, and the Sox could essentially duplicate Lester’s performance with Hamels.

The problem, of course, is that the cost in talent to acquire Hamels is likely prohibitive. The four years and $96 million still guaranteed on his contract are fairly reasonable by today’s standards, and it’s going to require a major package to get the Phillies to trade him.

There’s no dancing around this with a package based on Matt Barnes, Anthony Ranaudo or Allen Webster plus Will Middlebrooks. A deal for Hamels starts with Mookie Betts or Xander Bogaerts, or it probably starts with both Henry Owens and Blake Swihart.

As WEEI.com’s Alex Speier recently pointed out, there might not actually be a terrific incentive for the Red Sox to trade for Hamels rather than simply sign Lester. Yet if we’re looking at deals the Red Sox can make, this would top the list, as they join a select few—think the Cubs, Dodgers and maybe the Cardinals—who have the talent needed to acquire, and money needed to absorb, Hamels.

As FOXSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal reported earlier this week on Twitter, Hamels has a no-trade clause for 20 teams, and the Red Sox are on that list.

However, per The Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo, that hardly means the Red Sox can’t deal for him. Instead, it just means that Hamels has leverage and can essentially force the Sox to pick up his $20 million option in 2019.

The debate over whether the Red Sox should trade for Hamels is a reasonable one, but there’s really no doubting that if they want him, they have the pieces to get a trade done.

 

Mat Latos/Johnny Cueto

If the Red Sox don’t end up trading for Hamels, perhaps their most appealing next route would be to turn to Cincinnati, where the Reds have a plethora of pitching. Latos and Cueto are both very good starters, but both are slated to be free agents after the season ends.

Odds are the Reds will only be able to afford one, and that means they could be willing to ship off one strong arm this winter.

Cueto is coming off an incredible campaign and arguably the best season of his career. The right-hander threw 243.2 innings of 2.25 ERA ball, striking out 25.2 percent of the batters he faced while walking just 6.8 percent. The 28-year-old has missed time with injuries throughout his career, but when he’s healthy, he is a legitimate No. 1 or 2 starter.

Latos also has a checkered medical past, but like Cueto, there’s no arguing with his performance when he’s on the mound. The 26-year-old posted a 3.25 ERA in 102.1 innings in Cincinnati last season, striking out 17.9 percent of batters while walking 6.2 percent. His detractors point to diminishing velocity, but the results are still there.

The prospect of giving up significant talent to acquire a pitcher who’s spent time on the shelf is a scary one, but Cueto and Latos shouldn’t require the same type of megadeal any trade for Hamels would need. Forget about including Betts or Bogaerts here, because that’s not happening. And with Devin Mesoraco performing well last season, the Reds may not target Swihart, either.

Yet Owens would seem to represent a reasonable starting point for both teams. It would take more than just Owens, to be sure, but if the Sox sweetened the deal with, say, Manuel Margot, Garin Cecchini or Barnes, plus a few lesser prospects, the Reds might be inclined to listen.

The Sox have the cash to extend either Cueto or Latos for several years, and while we’re seeing that this is an organization generally loathe to give big money and years to pitchers, the Red Sox likely wouldn’t have to give either Cueto or Latos the type of megadeal required to land a Lester or a Max Scherzer.

There’s a strong argument to be made that the Sox should simply pony up the money and not give away talent to acquire pitching. But if they decide to hit up the trade market for an arm, the Reds are an appealing partner—especially when you consider that both sides could opt for a lesser deal involving Mike Leake instead.

 

Jason Heyward

The Braves have done a great job locking down young players they want to keep. From Andrelton Simmons to Julio Teheran, Craig Kimbrel and Freddie Freeman, they’ve secured several key contributors for the next half-decade-plus, assuming some risk to protect themselves from losing key assets in bidding wars once free agency hits.

Yet the Braves have proven either unwilling or unable to sign Heyward to a long-term deal, and the 25-year-old outfielder is slated to hit free agency once the 2015 season ends. That’s led to plenty of speculation that the Braves could look to move Heyward this offseason, and it’s not hard to envision many teams lining up to acquire his services.

At first, Heyward appears to be an odd fit for the Red Sox, given their glut of outfielders. But if you’re willing to get a little creative, it’s still quite possible such a deal could work and make sense.

Considering he has just one year of control left, it’s unlikely the Braves would be able to wrestle Bogaerts or Betts away from the Red Sox. Also, like the Reds, the Braves own a promising young catcher of their own in Christian Bethancourt and may not have a ton of interest in Swihart or Christian Vazquez.

But Owens would seem to be a decent starting point, and if the Sox pair him with supplementary pieces like Cecchini or one of the young right-handers, the framework of a deal begins to appear.

That may seem like a lot to give up for an outfielder without explosive offensive numbers, but Heyward is very much a player whose true value doesn’t show up in counting stats. A career .262/.351/.429 hitter, Heyward is the type of all-around threat who impacts every facet of the game.

He’s a good baserunner capable of challenging for 15-plus steals a season. He has enough power to keep pitchers honest and at 25 there’s reason to believe more power could come. Heyward is an elite defensive right fielder who could be of immense value in Fenway Park. And he’s patient enough to fit into the high-OBP mold the Red Sox love.

Plus, if Heyward is acquired, the Sox can deal Yoenis Cespedes as part of a package to restock their system or acquire a cost-controlled arm to take the place of Owens.

Heyward may not fill the Sox’s biggest needs at first glance, but if the Sox can acquire and extend him, they’ll receive the rare opportunity to make a major acquisition of a player not yet in his prime. That doesn’t happen too often in today’s game anymore, and forming a long-term core around Heyward, Bogaerts and Betts is an enormously appealing notion.

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Picking the Ideal Free Agent to Fill Each of the Boston Red Sox’s Holes

The Boston Red Sox have several obvious holes they need to fill if they wish to be competitive in 2015.

They need to shore up their starting rotation. They need to add some arms to the bullpen. They could potentially look into acquiring a new backup catcher, and they may decide to splurge on a new third baseman, too.

There are many reasonable arguments to be made regarding where the Sox would be best off allocating their resources. Some think they should splurge entirely on the rotation, and let Will Middlebrooks, Garin Cecchini and Brock Holt figure out third base.

Others think more offense is needed and want to see Boston sign one of the premier third basemen on the market. You could also look at what the Kansas City Royals just did with a dominant bullpen and argue that the Sox should focus most of their efforts there.

Today, we’re not going to argue about resource allocation. Instead, we’re simply going to look at the perfect free-agent fit for each of Boston’s numerous needs, regardless of how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together.

These deals are meant to be considered independent of one another, and are not meant to be presented as likely acquisitions.

 

Top of the Rotation: Jon Lester

The Red Sox’s most pressing need is a top-of-the-rotation starter who can anchor their pitching staff for several years. Their only options are to sign either Jon Lester, Max Scherzer or James Shields, use their prospects to trade for an ace or to go quantity over quality, and sign several No. 3 starter types.

Let’s not overthink this: Lester is the best fit, both because he’ll only cost money, not talent, and because Madison Bumgarner just proved the type of impact an ace can have on a team late in the season.

The Red Sox know Lester can thrive in Boston. There will be no period of acclimation if he’s re-signed. He’ll be expensive but could potentially take a moderate home-town discount. And he projects to hold up well for several years, with Baseball Prospectus’ Jeff Moore recently projecting Lester to maintain his current ace status for three to four years.

It’s hard to overstate just how good Lester was in 2014. The left-hander posted a 2.46 ERA in 219.2 innings, striking out 24.9 percent of batters faced and walking just 5.4 percent of the competition. According to FanGraphs, he had the second-best year of his career, posting 6.1 fWAR.

The only issue here is the financial commitment. ESPN.com’s Jim Bowden (subscription required) recently predicted that Lester will receive a six-year, $138 million contract on the market. The Red Sox have the money to make such a deal but may decide they don’t want to commit six-plus years to any pitcher.

The good news for Red Sox fans is that ESPNBoston.com’s Gordon Edes recently reported via Twitter that the Sox do indeed intend to try and bring Lester back.

But aside from Boston’s intent, the goal here is to find the perfect free-agent fits regardless of likeliness of signing, and Lester fits the bit.

 

Middle of the Rotation: Hiroki Kuroda

Odds are the Red Sox are going to acquire at least one starter through free agency and one starter through a trade this offseason, but it’s entirely possible they could decide to try and grab three starters.

Only Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly are assured spots in the 2015 rotation, and while the No. 5 slot could be left to an Allen Webster/Rubby De La Rosa/Matt Barnes/Anthony Ranaudo competition, the Sox could also decide to move ahead with more reliable options.

That would require bolstering the middle of the rotation, and Kuroda is a sneaky-good, if unlikely, option to look toward. The 39-year-old right-hander posted another solid year in 2014, earning a 3.71 ERA in 199 innings. He’s not an ace, but assuming the Sox acquire a top-flight starter elsewhere, they wouldn’t need him to be.

While many have speculated that Kuroda is going to retire, New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman recently told USA Today’s Bob Nightengale that he thinks Kuroda will pitch in the majors or in Japan next year.

According to Bowden, Kuroda is likely to receive a one-year, $12 million contract. That’s well within the Sox’s budget, and would give their young pitchers another year to develop.

It would also be tempting to go with Brett Anderson here, though having two high-variance options with he and Buchholz would be a bit scary. Jason Hammel makes sense, too, as a lesser but younger version of what Kuroda could be for one year.

 

Third Base: Pablo Sandoval

You can argue that the Red Sox are better off allocating their resources to pitching, that Sandoval may be overpaid and that he might not be a third baseman for the duration of a five- or six-year deal. But there’s no arguing that Sandoval would make the Red Sox a better team in the short-to-mid term, even if his contract won’t net the Sox the most bang for their buck.

That’s why he gets the nod for “best fit” here, over the likes of Hanley Ramirez or Chase Headley. Sandoval can hit, he can capably defend right now and he brings a high-contact, switch-hitting presence to the middle of the order, serving as a perfect complement to right-handed bats in Yoenis Cespedes, Mike Napoli, Xander Bogaerts and Rusney Castillo.

It’s easy to overlook Sandoval because his counting stats often aren’t flashy, but the 28-year-old was quite good in 2014. He hit .279/.324/.415 with 16 homers in 638 plate appearances, and he has a long history of only striking out in between 13 to 14 percent of his at-bats.

The Red Sox have plenty of guys with patience, but the likes of Napoli, Cespedes and Bogaerts strike out plenty, too. Adding a different type of bat to the middle of the lineup is intriguing, and it would be fun to see what Sandoval can do going the other way and using the Green Monster.

There are obvious weight issues here, but Sandoval is a capable defender at third base right now and should be for at least a few more seasons. If he has to move to first base or designated hitter in the fourth or fifth year of a deal, then so be it. According to Bowden, Sandoval figures to receive a five-year, $90 million contract.

ESPNBoston.com’s Gordon Edes recently reported that the Red Sox are “all in” on Sandoval, and while no fan or analyst is completely thrilled by that news, there’s no doubt that Sandoval would make this Red Sox team better immediately.

You need to expose yourself to a little risk to benefit from rewards, and Sandoval is a good bet to remain productive moving forward.

 

Bullpen: Andrew Miller

This is the obvious, boring choice, but it’s the right one. Miller is among the game’s most dominant left-handed relievers, a man who saved his floundering career in Boston and one of the few relievers who’s probably worth a significant multiyear commitment.

Miller struck out a preposterous 42.6 percent of opposing hitters last season, lowered his walks to 7.0 percent and posted a 2.02 ERA in 62.1 innings. There’s no doubting his dominance.

Bringing back Miller to rejoin Koji Uehara would solidify one of the few strengths of the 2014 Red Sox—they finished third in bullpen WAR, according to FanGraphs—and would give the Red Sox insurance should Uehara go down with an injury at some point in the next two seasons.

The Miller/Uehara combo essentially has the ability to turn regular-season games into eight-inning affairs and late-season or playoff games into seven-inning contests. Plus, Miller’s grown into a nearly equally effective weapon against right-handers and lefties alike, meaning John Farrell and Co. don’t have to worry about late-inning platoon splits.

The problem, of course, is that Miller’s contract is likely to be huge. Bowden estimates that Miller will receive a three-year, $25.5 million contract, and the history of deals of that ilk for relievers is quite poor.

The Sox showed last year that it’s possible to assemble a bullpen via savvy, free-agent acquisitions, internal options and under-the-radar trades, and they may not want to tie themselves to a reliever for three or four years.

But it’s tough to argue that there’s a better fit on the market for the Sox than Miller, and if we once again consider the additional salary relief the Sox figure to see in 2016 and beyond, it wouldn’t be terribly difficult to accommodate his contract.

Risk mitigation in the bullpen is a legitimate strategy, but if the Sox want the cream of the crop, their search should end with Miller.

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Quick Trade Fixes for Each of the Boston Red Sox’s Biggest Weaknesses

The Boston Red Sox need to shore up several areas of their club if they wish to compete in the AL East in 2015.

While they’re rife with young, cost-controlled arms who profile as back-end starters or relievers, the Red Sox need to add starting pitching and impact relief arms. And while they boast talented young players like Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Christian Vazquez and others, they’ve been unable to solve third base via internal means.

Odds are, the Red Sox will take care of several of these deficiencies through free agency. The team already re-signed Koji Uehara to a two-year deal, and with big names like Jon Lester, James Shields, Max Scherzer, Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez and Chase Headley on the market, they’ll have a chance to add some star power to their club, too.

Yet the Red Sox are likely going to need to solve a few of their roster deficiencies via trade. And while it’s possible that they’ll pull off a blockbuster for an elite starter or cornerstone bat, it’s perhaps more likely that they’ll fill at least one or two holes with lower-profile moves instead.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the three areas the Red Sox stand to improve most—the starting rotation, the bullpen and third base—and explore smaller, quick-fix trades that could allow the team to allocate most of its resources to other parts of the club.

 

Starting Rotation

Red Sox fans, analysts and reporters alike seem fairly united in one front: The Red Sox need to sign one of the “Big Three” free-agent starters in Lester, Scherzer and Shields. After completely gutting their rotation at the trade deadline last season, the Red Sox lack anything resembling a rotation front man, and they have the cash to secure star pitching talent.

But Boston’s rotation woes go beyond lacking an ace, and they need to add two or three starting pitchers this offseason. While the Red Sox could choose to go back to the free-agent market to fill out their rotation, too, it’s very likely they use some of their depth to try to acquire a mid-rotation starter via trade.

Since we’re just looking at “quick fixes,” let’s ignore the possibility of a trade for Cole Hamels, Mat Latos, Johnny Cueto or a pitcher of that ilk, since such an acquisition would require a lot of moving parts. Instead, let’s focus on a lesser pitcher who can likely be had for a more modest price: Ian Kennedy.

A former top Yankees prospect, Kennedy has had an up-and-down career since breaking into the majors in 2007. Unable to cement himself as a starter in New York, Kennedy had more success in Arizona, where he enjoyed strong seasons with the Diamondbacks from 2010-12.

Arizona sold low on Kennedy during a rough 2013 campaign, and their trash turned out to be the Padres’ treasure, as Kennedy rebounded to have a very strong year in 2014. However, the Padres don’t figure to contend next season, and Kennedy will be a free agent after 2015, so he figures to be available.

Last season, Kennedy posted a 3.63 ERA in 201 innings with a 9.27 K/9 and a 3.13 BB/9. Petco Park helped to mute Kennedy’s homer tendencies, and his command took a step forward from where it had fallen during his poor 2013 season.

Yet, Kennedy would be likely to give up more gopher balls in Fenway Park. But he’s also capable of sporting an ERA below 4.00 and throwing 200 innings if he limits his walks, and the price to acquire him shouldn’t be astronomical.

The Sox would need to give up talent to acquire Kennedy, to be sure. But compare the price needed to pry him away from the Padres to what they’d need to get Hamels or Latos, and Kennedy starts to look more attractive.

Kennedy is not an ace, but the Red Sox don’t need him to be if they pair his acquisition with a front-line starter. Slotting him in the No. 2 or 3 spot in the rotation will add depth and upside to a group that badly needs both.

 

Third Base

The Red Sox can’t go into 2015 relying on Will Middlebrooks as their everyday third baseman. We have more evidence suggesting he’s not a starter than we have that tells us otherwise at this point, and we’re now two-plus seasons removed from his breakout rookie campaign.

Brock Holt provided a huge spark for the Sox in 2014, but he was exposed in the second half. He remains an intriguing utility player, but he shouldn’t be expected to play every day.

That leaves the Red Sox with three choices for next season: Start Garin Cecchini at third base, trade for a third baseman or acquire someone to man the hot corner via free agency.

Given the way they were burned by relying on youngsters in 2014, it’s tough to see Cecchini getting the nod right away. And, according to CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman, the Red Sox are interested in both Pablo Sandoval and Chase Headley.

Yet the financial commitment required to sign Sandoval, Headley or Hanley Ramirez is significant. The Sox may decide to allocate those resources to the rotation instead and simply trade for a third baseman.

Much has been made about the Red Sox and Mets potentially lining up for a trade involving pitching, but the Sox could turn to New York and acquire Daniel Murphy instead, as noted by the Boston Herald’s Scott Lauber.

An underrated player, the 29-year-old Murphy hit .289/.332/.402 last season, hitting nine homers and swiping 13 bags in 642 plate appearances. While he mainly played second base a year ago, Murphy has experience at third base, first base and in the outfield, too, and his left-handed swing and high-contact approach could bring some balance to Boston’s lineup.

Murphy is set to be a free-agent after the 2015 season, but acquiring him could give Cecchini or Middlebrooks another chance to prove they belong by mashing in Triple-A. Plus, Murphy’s status as an impending free agent lowers his price tag, and it’s not hard to see where the Mets and Red Sox could find common ground.

Perhaps the Sox can base a deal around Shane Victorino if the Mets are still looking for outfield help, or perhaps New York would prefer a package built around an Anthony Ranaudo or Allen Webster. Players like Deven Marrero, Bryce Brentz, Drake Britton and Brandon Workman would all be in play, too.

Both teams could also expand the deal, and we could see a package built around Yoenis Cespedes or see several prospects head to New York for Murphy and a player like Jon Niese or, if the prospects are elite, Zack Wheeler.

But even if the two teams stick to a simplified version of the deal, sending Murphy to Boston for a decent package makes a lot of sense, even if it’s not the flashy move many Red Sox fans desire.

 

Bullpen

With Craig Breslow’s option declined and Burke Badenhop and Andrew Miller on the free-agent market, the Red Sox have three or four spots to fill in their bullpen before the 2015 season begins.

Edward Mujica, Junichi Tazawa and Tommy Layne figure to join the newly re-signed Uehara in Boston’s bullpen, and additional players like Workman, Webster, Alex Wilson and Britton could figure into the equation, too.

That being said, the Red Sox could certainly stand to add another high-leverage reliever to their squad, and given the poor history of significant free-agent contracts for relievers, the smartest way to do so may be through a trade.

The Sox could opt to make an under-the-radar move for a solid depth piece, much as they did when they traded for Badenhop last year. But they also have the players needed to make a bigger splash, and trading with the Miami Marlins for Steve Cishek would make sense for all parties involved.

A 28-year-old right-hander from Falmouth, Massachusetts, Cishek has quietly excelled since he came into the league in 2010. Last year, Cishek allowed a 3.14 ERA in 65.1 innings, striking out 84, walking just 21 and saving 39 games.

The Marlins may be competitive next season if Jose Fernandez returns to form, but they need offensive help and are constantly looking for ways to decrease their payroll. Cishek is going to get more expensive as he hits arbitration, and Boston could provide Miami with a cost-controlled reliever, some offensive help or a prospect in return for Cishek’s services.

Could the Marlins be interested in a deal revolving around say, Daniel Nava, Wilson and a lesser prospect for Cishek? Perhaps they’d prefer to go younger, and the Sox could build a deal around Brian Johnson or Eduardo Escobar. If Boston eats some money, Allen Craig could be part of a potential trade, and Middlebrooks should be available, too.

Cishek could serve as Uehara’s primary setup man in 2015 and 2016, as well as insurance should the 40-year-old closer falter once more. Plus, Cishek won’t reach free agency until 2018, so he represents a long-term investment for the Sox.

Trading for relievers is always a scary proposition, but betting on a relatively young, consistent performer like Cishek would still be safer than doling out big money to one of the free-agent closers on the market.

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The 5 Most Important Prospects for the Boston Red Sox to Hold on to This Winter

The Boston Red Sox figure to be among the most active teams in both the free-agent and trade markets this offseason.

They need to fill at least two spots in their starting rotation. They need to solidify third base. They need to bolster their bullpen, and they could decide they need a new backup catcher, too.

That means that in addition to spending money, the Red Sox are likely to make some trades. With logjams in the outfield, at first base and in the Triple-A rotation, the Sox are well poised to make a splash or two in the coming months.

And while players such as Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Christian Vazquez, Allen Webster, Brandon Workman and Jackie Bradley Jr. all lost their rookie eligibility last season, there’s still plenty of talent in the Sox’s system that can be used to acquire prominent major leaguers.

That being said, let’s take a look at the five prospects Boston should try the hardest to hang on to this offseason. Any of these players are movable in a megadeal—a package for Giancarlo Stanton or Chris Sale, for example—but the Red Sox should be judicious in their willingness to include them in lesser packages.

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Unexpected Trades the Boston Red Sox Could Pull Off This Offseason

The Boston Red Sox are poised to make major additions to their team through free agency this winter.

They head into the hot-stove period with a ton of money to spend and a ton of roster spots to fill, and odds are they won’t be afraid to aggressively acquire players in order to compete once more in 2015.

Everyone fully expects the Red Sox to add a starter or two. The Sox may end up signing a third baseman and could use upgrades in their bullpen and bench, too.

Yet if the Red Sox are going to go from worst to first again, they’ll likely need to address some of the holes on their roster through trades. With logjams in the outfield and at first base, a bevy of young right-handed arms and a few blue-chip prospects remaining, the Sox are equipped to make all sorts of interesting deals.

We’ve all heard about Giancarlo Stanton and Cole Hamels ad nauseam, so let’s instead take a look at a few less obvious deals the Red Sox could explore this winter. Keep in mind that these ideas aren’t necessarily endorsements, but they do offer intriguing options for a team that needs major work.

 

Carlos Gonzalez

The Rockies shocked the baseball world by offering Michael Cuddyer a qualifying offer on Monday, according to MLB.com’s Thomas Harding, giving them an abundance of outfielders for the 2015 season.

This has naturally led to speculation that one or more outfielders will be traded, and a popular name that’s popped up, per ESPN.com’s David Schoenfield and others, is that of Carlos Gonzalez.

One of the most well-rounded players in the game, Gonzalez is just one year removed from hitting .302/.367/.591 with 26 homers and 21 steals in 436 plate appearances. He’s a capable defender in left field and would serve as the type of explosive left-handed hitter the Red Sox need to complement David Ortiz in a righty-heavy lineup.

Gonzalez is a star when healthy, but that “when healthy” part is quite the caveat. His injury history on Baseball Prospectus is longer than a Charles Dickens novel, and he played in just 70 games last season after playing in only 110 in 2013.

That being said, Gonzalez has just three years and $53 million remaining on his contract, meaning he can provide surplus value even if he doesn’t play 162 games a year. The Red Sox are one of the few teams financially equipped to take on such a risk, and they have the young players the Rockies would likely want in return, too.

Let’s get one thing straight: The Rockies aren’t going to just go for a pure salary dump here. Acquiring Gonzalez would likely either cost the Red Sox Mookie Betts, or perhaps Henry Owens and Blake Swihart. They’re not getting a potential superstar for Allen Webster, Will Middlebrooks and spare parts.

The Red Sox may very well decide such a cost is too steep for their tastes, which would be a reasonable decision based on their focus on building from within. But signing an ace, trading for Gonzalez and then flipping Yoenis Cespedes as part of a package for a No. 2-3 starter would be an interesting way to rebuild the Red Sox in short order.

 

Mat Latos

Of the "unexpected" trades listed here, this one is admittedly the most expected. The Red Sox and Reds have been linked together in trade rumors for a while now, as Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe has discussed, and the fit is an obvious one.

The Reds need to save money and have an abundance of pitching. They lack a strong third starter in the outfield, and their offense suffered with the subtraction of Shin-Soo Choo last season.

Both Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos are slated to hit free agency after 2015, and the thinking is that the Reds will need to extend one and trade the other, as they don't have the finances needed to secure both. That opens the door to a potential trade with many teams, but the Red Sox are as good a fit as any given what the Reds need.

Cueto is coming off a terrific season and very well could have won the NL Cy Young award in a world in which Clayton Kershaw didn't exist. But Latos also had a fine year after missing some time early in the season with arm troubles.

Latos pitched to a 3.25 ERA in 102.1 innings, and while his strikeout rate dropped precipitously from previous years he allowed fewer walks, too. He'll be just 27 when the 2015 season begins, and there's no reason not to expect a No. 2-starter-level performance from him for the next few years. Pitching in a hitter's ballpark clearly doesn't bother Latos, and he has the stuff to pitch in the AL.

There are two substantial barriers to pulling off a Latos trade, though, and they’re both significant enough to derail any potential deal.

For one, Latos’ velocity declined last season and has been in decline since he came into the league in 2009, according to FanGraphs. In some ways that’s to be expected, but if Latos keeps losing velocity, it’s entirely possible he’ll be less effective. Any team trading for him would need to be reassured that Latos is healthy and will hold up for five or six years.

Secondly, the cost of acquiring Latos is difficult to pinpoint, but it would likely be significant. Latos only has one year of control remaining, but whoever deals for him has the inside track on extending him to a multiyear deal. Add in his youth and high level of performance, and the Reds are going to want a significant haul in return.

If the Red Sox can center a deal around Cespedes, that’s one thing. But the Reds may want the conversation to start with Betts, which could be a deal-breaker. Still, Boston has enough talented young players and interesting young arms that a deal seems within reach if both sides show interest.

 

Zack Wheeler

You'd never know it based on all the repetitive trade rumors/ideas you see, but the Red Sox have more options this offseason beyond just trading for Cole Hamels or Chris Sale. The Red Sox match up well with any team that has excess pitching and needs young talent or outfield help in return, and the New York Mets fit that description to a tee.

The Mets finished 2014 with the 14th-best starters ERA in the majors with a 3.66 mark. They figure to return most of their rotation from a year ago, with Matt Harvey replacing Bartolo Colon. New York should have Zack Wheeler, Jacob deGrom, Jon Niese and Dillon Gee joining Harvey in the rotation and have prospects like Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero waiting in the wings.

Yet the Mets finished just 22nd in the league in runs scored last season, and their outfield was a big part of the reason why. Juan Lagares and Curtis Granderson figure to have roles in the outfield moving forward, but the Mets could use a starter with some thump and a platoon partner for Granderson to be truly effective.

The Red Sox may have the inventory the Mets are looking for. Between Cespedes, Betts, Shane Victorino, Daniel Nava and Allen Craig, the Mets would have plenty of outfielders to choose from should they decide to deal with Boston.

Both teams could settle for a boring swap involving, say, Craig and a prospect and Niese, but why not aim bigger? If the Mets make Wheeler available, the Red Sox would be compelled to give up real talent. And while trading for pitching is always scary, Wheeler would provide Boston with the type of young, high-upside arm it sorely lacks.

Wheeler has yet to blossom into a star, but the 24-year-old went through 185.1 innings with a 3.54 ERA last season, striking out more than a batter per inning and cutting his walk rate from 2013. Command will always be a bit of an issue, but he has the raw stuff to be a No. 2 starter, even in the American League.

It would likely be a little tricky to find an appropriate middle ground between the two teams for a deal centering on Wheeler. Starting with Cespedes likely wouldn't be enough for the Mets, and Betts may represent too steep a price for the Red Sox.

But it's certainly a deal worth exploring, as the Mets have the internal pieces to replace Wheeler, and the Red Sox need to shed outfield depth.

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5 Dream Free-Agent Pickups for the Boston Red Sox

The Boston Red Sox figure to be active players in the free-agent market, and they'll need to be if they hope to compete once more in 2015.

The Red Sox need to add significant pieces to their starting rotation. They need to shore up their bullpen. And they must seriously considering pursuing upgrades at the hot corner and at backup catcher, too.

With a glut of young talent, live arms and outfielders, the Red Sox can fill some of these holes by turning to the trade market. Yet more are likely to be filled through free agency, as the Red Sox have plenty of cash to work with.

In fact, by WEEI.com's Alex Speier's estimates, the Red Sox had about $52 million to spend this offseason. They've already spent $9 million of that retaining Koji Uehara, but that leaves plenty of cash left for one or two major acquisitions and some minor moves, too.

With that in mind, let's take a look at five free-agent "dream acquisitions" for the Red Sox. Keep in mind that these perfect deals exist independent of one another, and that they certainly represent best-case scenarios for the Red Sox.

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5 Dream Free-Agent Pickups for the Boston Red Sox

The Boston Red Sox figure to be active players in the free-agent market, and they'll need to be if they hope to compete once more in 2015.

The Red Sox need to add significant pieces to their starting rotation. They need to shore up their bullpen. And they must seriously considering pursuing upgrades at the hot corner and at backup catcher, too.

With a glut of young talent, live arms and outfielders, the Red Sox can fill some of these holes by turning to the trade market. Yet more are likely to be filled through free agency, as the Red Sox have plenty of cash to work with.

In fact, by WEEI.com's Alex Speier's estimates, the Red Sox had about $52 million to spend this offseason. They've already spent $9 million of that retaining Koji Uehara, but that leaves plenty of cash left for one or two major acquisitions and some minor moves, too.

With that in mind, let's take a look at five free-agent "dream acquisitions" for the Red Sox. Keep in mind that these perfect deals exist independent of one another, and that they certainly represent best-case scenarios for the Red Sox.

Begin Slideshow

Setting Odds for Boston Red Sox to Land Each of Their Expected Offseason Targets

If the Boston Red Sox are going to compete once more in 2015, they'll need to do some serious work when it comes to overhauling parts of their roster.

The Red Sox need more starting pitching. They need bullpen help. They may need a backup catcher, and they'll probably look into acquiring a starting third baseman, too.

This wide scope of needs has led to plenty of speculation as to who the Red Sox will target in the coming months, even as the World Series has yet to come to its conclusion. And you can expect the rumors to increase in intensity as the hot stove heats up.

While it's a bit early to handicap which players the Red Sox actually have a chance at acquiring, it's still a fun exercise, and it can also be instructive in that it will allow us to watch how our notions of who Boston will sign can change and develop over the length of an offseason.

With that in mind, let's take a look at the five free-agent targets the Red Sox are most frequently linked to and their respective odds of signing with the Sox before the 2015 season begins.

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Tracking the Performance of the Boston Red Sox’s Prospects in the AFL

The Boston Red Sox have a long history of supplying the Arizona Fall League with some interesting players. From Nomar Garciaparra to Dustin Pedroia to more recent additions like Mookie Betts and Christian Vazquez, the Surprise Saguaros have hosted many prominent Red Sox throughout the years.

That’s the case once again in 2014, as Rusney Castillo and a host of additional Red Sox prospects have flocked to Arizona to test their skills against varying levels of competition. The AFL features top prospects, recovering young MLBers and minor league journeymen on the brink of the majors, all playing against one another on one of six AFL teams.

Now, with 18 AFL games in the books, we can track the performance of the Red Sox who are playing in Arizona this year.

Keep in mind that the sample sizes are very small and the level of competition varies, so these stats truly hold next to no predictive value. That being said, we can still look for clues in certain scenarios in order to see if any of the Sox’s prospects have made progress with areas of personal development.

We’ll just keep this list to players who can reasonably be considered prospects, so with all due respect to Robby Scott and Madison Younginer, we won’t be tracking their progress here.

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3 Lessons the Red Sox Can Learn from the Royals and Giants

The Boston Red Sox have a lot of work to do if they plan to return to the promised land of the World Series in 2015.

They must rebuild a rotation that was gutted by midseason trades and a lack of development from their young starters. They must shore up a bullpen that stands to lose as many as four key contributors from 2014. And they will need to take a good, long look at third base and decide if an external force must be acquired to compete with or replace Will Middlebrooks and Garin Cecchini.

The Sox are no strangers to what it takes to compete at the highest level, of course. They are just one year removed from their 2013 title and have won three pennants in the last decade.

That being said, there’s still plenty that Ben Cherington and Co. can learn from this year’s World Series entrants, the Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants. And while pointers such as "defense matters," "speed kills," and "timely hitting is key" are all valid, there are subtler but equally important lessons to be learned from the AL and NL pennant winners. 

With that in mind, let's examine three broad strategies the Red Sox can follow to return to relevancy soon.

 

Homegrown Talent Is Important …

Among the most obvious and important lessons the Red Sox should take home from looking at the Royals' and Giants' rosters is that it's incredibly important to draft, develop and retain homegrown talent.

The Royals feature the likes of Salvador Perez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alex Gordon, Jarrod Dyson, Billy Butler, Yordano Ventura, Danny Duffy, Brandon Finnegan, Kelvin Herrera and Greg Holland among their key homegrown contributors.

The Giants are reaping the rewards of player development in the likes of Buster Posey, Andrew Susac, Brandon Belt, Joe Panik, Brandon Crawford, Pablo Sandoval, Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum, Hunter Strickland and Sergio Romo.

Each team also features prominent imports, to be sure, but the cores of both the Royals and the Giants squads are comprised of young players who were developed through each team's farm system.

The Red Sox, of course, know of the importance of such an organizational approach. When they won the World Series in 2013, the likes of Dustin Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts, Will Middlebrooks, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Felix Doubront, Brandon Workman and Junichi Tazawa all played significant parts in their victories.

It's crucial, then, that the Red Sox continue to let their next wave of talent flourish and grow in the major leagues. Bogaerts and Mookie Betts have a chance to be franchise cornerstones, and players like Christian Vazquez, Garin Cecchini, Jackie Bradley Jr., Anthony Ranaudo and Matt Barnes may all serve as role players on first-division clubs, too.

Using a young, homegrown nucleus can allow the Red Sox to allocate significant financial resources to the areas of the club that need shoring up from the outside, and provides stability in terms of projecting out what needs will be in the future. The Red Sox may have been burned by going a little too young in 2014, but their general strategy behind team construction is still a good one.

 

… But Don't Be Hesitant to Make Trades

While it's true that drafting, developing and deploying homegrown players are keys for success in today's MLB, the Red Sox should also look at the Giants and Royals rosters and understand that at a certain point, it's OK to give up some young talent to add star power to your major league club.

For the Royals, the most obvious example of this strategy comes in the James Shields trade, a deal in which Kansas City acquired Shields and Wade Davis for stud prospect Wil Myers, plus Jake Odorizzi, Patrick Leonard and Mike Montgomery.

The move was widely panned for the Royals when it was made, as it seemed hard to believe that the Royals would give up 12-plus years of control of Myers and Odorizzi for two years of Shields and a swingman in Davis.

That trade very well may continue to haunt the Royals in future years, but no one in Kansas City minds that they made it right now. Despite his postseason struggles, Shields has been phenomenal for the Royals during his tenure, and Davis has blossomed into one of the game’s best relievers. Odorizzi has had an up-and-down career with the Rays so far, and Myers regressed badly in 2014 after impressing in 2013.

The Giants, meanwhile, have a broader history of giving up young talent to acquire accomplished veterans. Tommy Joseph was considered a decent prospect when they gave him up for Hunter Pence, and that move continues to pay dividends for San Francisco. And back in 2011, the Giants gave up Zack Wheeler for Carlos Beltran, and while the move didn’t pay off in a World Series championship, it did give the Giants a much better shot at competing next season.

Lesser moves such as the Royals’ trade for Nori Aoki and the Giants’ trade for Jake Peavy highlight the need to be willing to add complementary pieces, too, much as the Red Sox did in 2013 with their own acquisition of Peavy.

It’s difficult for an organization to strike a balance between nurturing their own talent and knowing when to give that talent away, but both World Series participants this season prove that there is indeed a time and a place to sell away young assets for more proven ones.

That doesn’t mean the Red Sox should be in a rush to trade a Bogaerts or a Betts, but if they have the opportunity to land a significant talent without completely mortgaging their future, they should feel free to roll the dice.

 

Dominant Bullpens

Finally, the Royals and Giants prove that while the Red Sox need to spend a significant amount of time and energy revamping their rotation this offseason, they must pay attention to rebuilding their bullpen, too.

The Royals finished with the majors' best bullpen, according to FanGraphs, and finished with the third-best ERA at 3.30. The Giants’ bullpen notched a 3.01 ERA to finish as the league’s fifth-best reliever corps by that metric, though FanGraphs had them as the third-to-least valuable bullpen in the game.

Still, with players like Greg Holland, Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera, Santiago Casilla, Jeremy Affeldt and Yusmeiro Petit throwing, the World Series is chock full of dominating, high-leverage relievers.

While 2014 was a tough year for the Sox, their bullpen was actually one of the few bright spots of the team. Boston’s ‘pen ranked 12th in the majors in ERA at 3.33, and they were the third-most valuable unit in the game, according to FanGraphs. Koji Uehara and Andrew Miller formed a devastating one-two punch for most of the season, and most relievers aside from Edward Mujica and Craig Breslow had decent seasons, too.

With Uehara and Burke Badenhop slated to hit free agency, Miller already gone and Breslow’s status up in the air, only Tazawa, Mujica and Tommy Layne figure to repeat as key bullpen performers in 2014. That means the Red Sox will need to either sign for or trade one or two prominent relievers in order to shore up that part of their 2015 roster.

As NESN.com’s Ricky Doyle reported in September, the Red Sox have professed an interest in retaining Uehara’s services. But even if they move in another direction, they should be active players in a free-agent market that includes Miller, David Robertson, Francisco Rodriguez, Luke Gregerson, Pat Neshek and several other intriguing options.

However, another point—and one that ties in nicely with the emphasis on young players covered above—is that many of the Red Sox's "failed" pitching prospects have a chance to thrive in the bullpen.

Brandon Workman has already demonstrated an ability to be an effective reliever at the MLB level, and one would assume the Red Sox will try him there again in 2015. Scouts have long wondered whether Allen Webster would be more effective in the pen than in the rotation, and Matt Barnes, Anthony Ranaudo and Edwin Escobar could all head to the bullpen, too.

Having several high-profile prospect names settle in as relievers may seem like a letdown, but odds are the Royals aren’t too disappointed with how Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis turned out.

The Red Sox have a chance to add a major infusion of youth and talent to their bullpen simply by shifting the roles of some of their prospects, and if they can shore up their rotation through free agency and trades, they could have several dynamic arms coming out of the pen in 2015.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

3 Lessons the Red Sox Can Learn from the Royals and Giants

The Boston Red Sox have a lot of work to do if they plan to return to the promised land of the World Series in 2015.

They must rebuild a rotation that was gutted by midseason trades and a lack of development from their young starters. They must shore up a bullpen that stands to lose as many as four key contributors from 2014. And they will need to take a good, long look at third base and decide if an external force must be acquired to compete with or replace Will Middlebrooks and Garin Cecchini.

The Sox are no strangers to what it takes to compete at the highest level, of course. They are just one year removed from their 2013 title and have won three pennants in the last decade.

That being said, there’s still plenty that Ben Cherington and Co. can learn from this year’s World Series entrants, the Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants. And while pointers such as "defense matters," "speed kills," and "timely hitting is key" are all valid, there are subtler but equally important lessons to be learned from the AL and NL pennant winners. 

With that in mind, let's examine three broad strategies the Red Sox can follow to return to relevancy soon.

 

Homegrown Talent Is Important …

Among the most obvious and important lessons the Red Sox should take home from looking at the Royals' and Giants' rosters is that it's incredibly important to draft, develop and retain homegrown talent.

The Royals feature the likes of Salvador Perez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alex Gordon, Jarrod Dyson, Billy Butler, Yordano Ventura, Danny Duffy, Brandon Finnegan, Kelvin Herrera and Greg Holland among their key homegrown contributors.

The Giants are reaping the rewards of player development in the likes of Buster Posey, Andrew Susac, Brandon Belt, Joe Panik, Brandon Crawford, Pablo Sandoval, Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum, Hunter Strickland and Sergio Romo.

Each team also features prominent imports, to be sure, but the cores of both the Royals and the Giants squads are comprised of young players who were developed through each team's farm system.

The Red Sox, of course, know of the importance of such an organizational approach. When they won the World Series in 2013, the likes of Dustin Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts, Will Middlebrooks, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Felix Doubront, Brandon Workman and Junichi Tazawa all played significant parts in their victories.

It's crucial, then, that the Red Sox continue to let their next wave of talent flourish and grow in the major leagues. Bogaerts and Mookie Betts have a chance to be franchise cornerstones, and players like Christian Vazquez, Garin Cecchini, Jackie Bradley Jr., Anthony Ranaudo and Matt Barnes may all serve as role players on first-division clubs, too.

Using a young, homegrown nucleus can allow the Red Sox to allocate significant financial resources to the areas of the club that need shoring up from the outside, and provides stability in terms of projecting out what needs will be in the future. The Red Sox may have been burned by going a little too young in 2014, but their general strategy behind team construction is still a good one.

 

… But Don't Be Hesitant to Make Trades

While it's true that drafting, developing and deploying homegrown players are keys for success in today's MLB, the Red Sox should also look at the Giants and Royals rosters and understand that at a certain point, it's OK to give up some young talent to add star power to your major league club.

For the Royals, the most obvious example of this strategy comes in the James Shields trade, a deal in which Kansas City acquired Shields and Wade Davis for stud prospect Wil Myers, plus Jake Odorizzi, Patrick Leonard and Mike Montgomery.

The move was widely panned for the Royals when it was made, as it seemed hard to believe that the Royals would give up 12-plus years of control of Myers and Odorizzi for two years of Shields and a swingman in Davis.

That trade very well may continue to haunt the Royals in future years, but no one in Kansas City minds that they made it right now. Despite his postseason struggles, Shields has been phenomenal for the Royals during his tenure, and Davis has blossomed into one of the game’s best relievers. Odorizzi has had an up-and-down career with the Rays so far, and Myers regressed badly in 2014 after impressing in 2013.

The Giants, meanwhile, have a broader history of giving up young talent to acquire accomplished veterans. Tommy Joseph was considered a decent prospect when they gave him up for Hunter Pence, and that move continues to pay dividends for San Francisco. And back in 2011, the Giants gave up Zack Wheeler for Carlos Beltran, and while the move didn’t pay off in a World Series championship, it did give the Giants a much better shot at competing next season.

Lesser moves such as the Royals’ trade for Nori Aoki and the Giants’ trade for Jake Peavy highlight the need to be willing to add complementary pieces, too, much as the Red Sox did in 2013 with their own acquisition of Peavy.

It’s difficult for an organization to strike a balance between nurturing their own talent and knowing when to give that talent away, but both World Series participants this season prove that there is indeed a time and a place to sell away young assets for more proven ones.

That doesn’t mean the Red Sox should be in a rush to trade a Bogaerts or a Betts, but if they have the opportunity to land a significant talent without completely mortgaging their future, they should feel free to roll the dice.

 

Dominant Bullpens

Finally, the Royals and Giants prove that while the Red Sox need to spend a significant amount of time and energy revamping their rotation this offseason, they must pay attention to rebuilding their bullpen, too.

The Royals finished with the majors' best bullpen, according to FanGraphs, and finished with the third-best ERA at 3.30. The Giants’ bullpen notched a 3.01 ERA to finish as the league’s fifth-best reliever corps by that metric, though FanGraphs had them as the third-to-least valuable bullpen in the game.

Still, with players like Greg Holland, Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera, Santiago Casilla, Jeremy Affeldt and Yusmeiro Petit throwing, the World Series is chock full of dominating, high-leverage relievers.

While 2014 was a tough year for the Sox, their bullpen was actually one of the few bright spots of the team. Boston’s ‘pen ranked 12th in the majors in ERA at 3.33, and they were the third-most valuable unit in the game, according to FanGraphs. Koji Uehara and Andrew Miller formed a devastating one-two punch for most of the season, and most relievers aside from Edward Mujica and Craig Breslow had decent seasons, too.

With Uehara and Burke Badenhop slated to hit free agency, Miller already gone and Breslow’s status up in the air, only Tazawa, Mujica and Tommy Layne figure to repeat as key bullpen performers in 2014. That means the Red Sox will need to either sign for or trade one or two prominent relievers in order to shore up that part of their 2015 roster.

As NESN.com’s Ricky Doyle reported in September, the Red Sox have professed an interest in retaining Uehara’s services. But even if they move in another direction, they should be active players in a free-agent market that includes Miller, David Robertson, Francisco Rodriguez, Luke Gregerson, Pat Neshek and several other intriguing options.

However, another point—and one that ties in nicely with the emphasis on young players covered above—is that many of the Red Sox's "failed" pitching prospects have a chance to thrive in the bullpen.

Brandon Workman has already demonstrated an ability to be an effective reliever at the MLB level, and one would assume the Red Sox will try him there again in 2015. Scouts have long wondered whether Allen Webster would be more effective in the pen than in the rotation, and Matt Barnes, Anthony Ranaudo and Edwin Escobar could all head to the bullpen, too.

Having several high-profile prospect names settle in as relievers may seem like a letdown, but odds are the Royals aren’t too disappointed with how Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis turned out.

The Red Sox have a chance to add a major infusion of youth and talent to their bullpen simply by shifting the roles of some of their prospects, and if they can shore up their rotation through free agency and trades, they could have several dynamic arms coming out of the pen in 2015.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

3 Lessons the Red Sox Can Learn from the Royals and Giants

The Boston Red Sox have a lot of work to do if they plan to return to the promised land of the World Series in 2015.

They must rebuild a rotation that was gutted by midseason trades and a lack of development from their young starters. They must shore up a bullpen that stands to lose as many as four key contributors from 2014. And they will need to take a good, long look at third base and decide if an external force must be acquired to compete with or replace Will Middlebrooks and Garin Cecchini.

The Sox are no strangers to what it takes to compete at the highest level, of course. They are just one year removed from their 2013 title and have won three pennants in the last decade.

That being said, there’s still plenty that Ben Cherington and Co. can learn from this year’s World Series entrants, the Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants. And while pointers such as "defense matters," "speed kills," and "timely hitting is key" are all valid, there are subtler but equally important lessons to be learned from the AL and NL pennant winners. 

With that in mind, let's examine three broad strategies the Red Sox can follow to return to relevancy soon.

 

Homegrown Talent Is Important …

Among the most obvious and important lessons the Red Sox should take home from looking at the Royals' and Giants' rosters is that it's incredibly important to draft, develop and retain homegrown talent.

The Royals feature the likes of Salvador Perez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alex Gordon, Jarrod Dyson, Billy Butler, Yordano Ventura, Danny Duffy, Brandon Finnegan, Kelvin Herrera and Greg Holland among their key homegrown contributors.

The Giants are reaping the rewards of player development in the likes of Buster Posey, Andrew Susac, Brandon Belt, Joe Panik, Brandon Crawford, Pablo Sandoval, Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum, Hunter Strickland and Sergio Romo.

Each team also features prominent imports, to be sure, but the cores of both the Royals and the Giants squads are comprised of young players who were developed through each team's farm system.

The Red Sox, of course, know of the importance of such an organizational approach. When they won the World Series in 2013, the likes of Dustin Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts, Will Middlebrooks, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Felix Doubront, Brandon Workman and Junichi Tazawa all played significant parts in their victories.

It's crucial, then, that the Red Sox continue to let their next wave of talent flourish and grow in the major leagues. Bogaerts and Mookie Betts have a chance to be franchise cornerstones, and players like Christian Vazquez, Garin Cecchini, Jackie Bradley Jr., Anthony Ranaudo and Matt Barnes may all serve as role players on first-division clubs, too.

Using a young, homegrown nucleus can allow the Red Sox to allocate significant financial resources to the areas of the club that need shoring up from the outside, and provides stability in terms of projecting out what needs will be in the future. The Red Sox may have been burned by going a little too young in 2014, but their general strategy behind team construction is still a good one.

 

… But Don't Be Hesitant to Make Trades

While it's true that drafting, developing and deploying homegrown players are keys for success in today's MLB, the Red Sox should also look at the Giants and Royals rosters and understand that at a certain point, it's OK to give up some young talent to add star power to your major league club.

For the Royals, the most obvious example of this strategy comes in the James Shields trade, a deal in which Kansas City acquired Shields and Wade Davis for stud prospect Wil Myers, plus Jake Odorizzi, Patrick Leonard and Mike Montgomery.

The move was widely panned for the Royals when it was made, as it seemed hard to believe that the Royals would give up 12-plus years of control of Myers and Odorizzi for two years of Shields and a swingman in Davis.

That trade very well may continue to haunt the Royals in future years, but no one in Kansas City minds that they made it right now. Despite his postseason struggles, Shields has been phenomenal for the Royals during his tenure, and Davis has blossomed into one of the game’s best relievers. Odorizzi has had an up-and-down career with the Rays so far, and Myers regressed badly in 2014 after impressing in 2013.

The Giants, meanwhile, have a broader history of giving up young talent to acquire accomplished veterans. Tommy Joseph was considered a decent prospect when they gave him up for Hunter Pence, and that move continues to pay dividends for San Francisco. And back in 2011, the Giants gave up Zack Wheeler for Carlos Beltran, and while the move didn’t pay off in a World Series championship, it did give the Giants a much better shot at competing next season.

Lesser moves such as the Royals’ trade for Nori Aoki and the Giants’ trade for Jake Peavy highlight the need to be willing to add complementary pieces, too, much as the Red Sox did in 2013 with their own acquisition of Peavy.

It’s difficult for an organization to strike a balance between nurturing their own talent and knowing when to give that talent away, but both World Series participants this season prove that there is indeed a time and a place to sell away young assets for more proven ones.

That doesn’t mean the Red Sox should be in a rush to trade a Bogaerts or a Betts, but if they have the opportunity to land a significant talent without completely mortgaging their future, they should feel free to roll the dice.

 

Dominant Bullpens

Finally, the Royals and Giants prove that while the Red Sox need to spend a significant amount of time and energy revamping their rotation this offseason, they must pay attention to rebuilding their bullpen, too.

The Royals finished with the majors' best bullpen, according to FanGraphs, and finished with the third-best ERA at 3.30. The Giants’ bullpen notched a 3.01 ERA to finish as the league’s fifth-best reliever corps by that metric, though FanGraphs had them as the third-to-least valuable bullpen in the game.

Still, with players like Greg Holland, Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera, Santiago Casilla, Jeremy Affeldt and Yusmeiro Petit throwing, the World Series is chock full of dominating, high-leverage relievers.

While 2014 was a tough year for the Sox, their bullpen was actually one of the few bright spots of the team. Boston’s ‘pen ranked 12th in the majors in ERA at 3.33, and they were the third-most valuable unit in the game, according to FanGraphs. Koji Uehara and Andrew Miller formed a devastating one-two punch for most of the season, and most relievers aside from Edward Mujica and Craig Breslow had decent seasons, too.

With Uehara and Burke Badenhop slated to hit free agency, Miller already gone and Breslow’s status up in the air, only Tazawa, Mujica and Tommy Layne figure to repeat as key bullpen performers in 2014. That means the Red Sox will need to either sign for or trade one or two prominent relievers in order to shore up that part of their 2015 roster.

As NESN.com’s Ricky Doyle reported in September, the Red Sox have professed an interest in retaining Uehara’s services. But even if they move in another direction, they should be active players in a free-agent market that includes Miller, David Robertson, Francisco Rodriguez, Luke Gregerson, Pat Neshek and several other intriguing options.

However, another point—and one that ties in nicely with the emphasis on young players covered above—is that many of the Red Sox's "failed" pitching prospects have a chance to thrive in the bullpen.

Brandon Workman has already demonstrated an ability to be an effective reliever at the MLB level, and one would assume the Red Sox will try him there again in 2015. Scouts have long wondered whether Allen Webster would be more effective in the pen than in the rotation, and Matt Barnes, Anthony Ranaudo and Edwin Escobar could all head to the bullpen, too.

Having several high-profile prospect names settle in as relievers may seem like a letdown, but odds are the Royals aren’t too disappointed with how Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis turned out.

The Red Sox have a chance to add a major infusion of youth and talent to their bullpen simply by shifting the roles of some of their prospects, and if they can shore up their rotation through free agency and trades, they could have several dynamic arms coming out of the pen in 2015.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Boston Red Sox’s Guide to the 2014-2015 Free-Agent Pitching Market

The Boston Red Sox need to acquire starting pitching help this offseason if they want to compete in 2015, and they need to acquire a lot of it.

Fortunately, according to WEEI.com’s Alex Speier, the Red Sox should have around $52 million to spend this winter and spring, should they so desire. They may need to allocate some resources to third base and the bullpen, but most of that money should go toward fixing up their rotation.

On Tuesday, we took a look at five potential trade candidates for the Red Sox to pursue in order to improve their rotation. Here, we’ll look at five free-agent additions the Sox could chase in an attempt to compete again in 2015.

There are a few notable omissions here. For one, it’s tough to see the Red Sox pursuing Max Scherzer after neglecting to sign Jon Lester to an extension, so he’s not listed. We’re also omitting players like Edinson Volquez and Francisco Liriano, because the role of staff enigma already goes to Clay Buchholz.

The Sox are also likely to take a gamble on one lower-tier arm, like a Gavin Floyd, Wandy Rodriguez or Aaron Harang. But for now, let’s focus on legitimate, middle- or top-of-the-rotation starters whom  Boston can acquire in the coming months.

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5 Potential Pitcher Trade Targets for the Boston Red Sox

If the Boston Red Sox are going to compete next season, they need to undergo a serious overhaul of their starting rotation this offseason.

In 2014, the Red Sox finished 26th in the league in starter’s ERA with a 4.36 mark, according to ESPN, and that’s including the positive contributions made by Jon Lester and John Lackey, both traded in July. After the deadline, quality starts were few and far between for the Sox, as they allowed many of their young starters to take some lumps in the major leagues.

Fortunately, the Red Sox face a fairly robust starting pitching market with Lester, James Shields and Max Scherzer at the top and some intriguing middle-of-the-rotation names too. But given their glut of outfielders and young pitchers, the Red Sox could also be looking to trade for a starter this winter, and they certainly need to add more than one starter before 2014 begins.

Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts are likely untouchable, but the Red Sox have no shortage of attractive pieces to deal nonetheless. With that in mind, let’s take a look at five targets who make a lot of sense for the Sox to pursuit this offseason.

One final note: A trade needs to make sense for both sides. There’s truly no reason for the Chicago White Sox to trade Chris Sale, and there’s no reason for the Seattle Mariners to trade Felix Hernandez. The players who follow are meant to represent realistic targets.

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5 Impact Prospects Who Could Make the Boston Red Sox’s 2015 Roster

The Boston Red Sox kicked off a youth movement for the ages in 2014.

Players such as Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Allen Webster, Brandon Workman, Christian Vazquez and Alex Wilson all lost their prospect eligibility, as the Red Sox turned an eye to the future at the trading deadline. And a whole host of additional prospects got their first cup of coffee in the major leagues.

The 2015 season promises to provide less of an across-the-board opportunity for prospects, as the Sox have said time and time again that they plan to compete once again next year. But there are still many holes on Boston’s roster, and the Sox still boast an impressive host of prospects in Double- and Triple-A, ready to contribute at some point next spring, summer or fall.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the five minor leaguers in Boston’s system most likely to make a mark on the 2015 team.

Prospects are listed in order of projected 2015 impact, not overall ranking, and players must meet MLB rookie eligibility requirements (under 130 AB, 50 IP) to qualify. In order to enforce the spirit of the law as well as the letter of the law, Rusney Castillo isn’t eligible, either.

 

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St. Louis Cardinals vs. SF Giants: Keys for Each Team to Win NLCS Game 3

The St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants will face off in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series on Tuesday with the series tied at two games apiece.

The matchup between the two Senior Circuit heavyweights figured to be an even one, and it’s lived up to that billing through two games so far.

The Giants took Game 1 on the back of a dominating performance from Madison Bumgarner, shutting out the Cardinals in St. Louis. Then, the Cardinals enjoyed a walk-off solo homer from Kolten Wong in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 2 to even the series.

For Game 3, the Cardinals will throw Boston Red Sox import John Lackey against the Giants’ Tim Hudson in San Francisco in a battle of two veteran right-handed starters. It’s another fairly even matchup in what promises to be a very competitive series.

With the Cardinals and Giants so evenly matched, what does each team have to do to gain an edge in Game 3? Let’s take a look at a few keys for success for both teams, as well as what the NLCS has taught us about the Cards and Giants so far.

Begin Slideshow

Three Reasons James Shields Is a Worse Fit for the Red Sox Than Jon Lester

If the Boston Red Sox are going to compete in 2015, they're badly in need of an overhaul to their pitching staff.

After trading away Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront at various points in the 2014 season, the Red Sox are left with few proven options in their rotation. Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly figure to be locks for the starting five in 2015, and it's possible that one of the youngsters in the group with Rubby De La Rosa, Brandon Workman, Matt Barnes, Anthony Ranaudo and Allen Webster will be given a shot, too.

But that still leaves Boston in need of two or perhaps three new starters it must acquire this offseason, including one capable of fronting a rotation.

Fortunately for the Sox, three such pitchers—Lester, Max Scherzer and James Shields—exist in this year's market. And according to WEEI.com's Rob Bradford, one—but not two—of these pitchers very well could wind up atop Boston's rotation next season.

Yet early speculation suggests that it's not Lester who's most likely to end up in Boston, but rather Shields, who's still leading the Kansas City Royals in their postseason surge. We've seen speculation that the Red Sox will be in the hunt for Shields for months now, and just last week, The Kansas City Star's Andy McCullough labeled Boston as "the early favorite" to land Shields.

There's no question that signing Shields would be a boon to the Red Sox rotation. The 32-year-old pitched 227 innings with a 3.21 ERA in 2014 and has been one of the most consistent starters in the game over the past six or seven seasons. He doesn't belong in the elite tier of starters in the game, but he's a legitimate option to front a rotation for a playoff-caliber team.

But when you consider each player's history, perspective contract and additional contextual factors, it starts to look more and more like Lester would be a better fit than Shields for the Red Sox in 2015 and beyond:

 

1. Age vs. Length of Contract

One of the most obvious reasons Lester figures to require a more significant contract than Shields is age. Shields will be 33 for the entire 2015 season, while Lester will be 31. Because of this, we've seen reports that Shields will be in line for a four- or five-year deal, per CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman, while Lester's deal could be six or seven years, also per Heyman.

But as Ben Buchanan at Over The Monster pointed out last week, it's not quite that simple.

For one, McCullough gives a range of $80 million to $110 million for Shields, which is an incredibly wide gap. Back in July, Heyman painted the range for a Lester comment at between $125 million and $189 million—an even more absurd range.

Let's assume for a moment that Shields, bolstered by his postseason run, will get closer to the max five-year, $110 million deal that some think is possible. Then, let’s give Lester seven years but opt for a median salary estimate of $155 million.

Is Lester worth $45 million more than Shields in a vacuum? Probably not. But as Buchanan notes, when you compare such contracts, what you're really giving is $45 million for Lester's age-31 and age-32 seasons. Then, you’d have Lester for $110 million through his age-37 season; just as you'd give Shields through the high end of his market evaluation.

That's painting Lester's contract in generous terms, to be sure. Under such a scenario, the Sox would still be agreeing to pay a pitcher more than $22 per year through 2021, and the odds of Lester being worth that much money from 2018 and beyond are slim.

But if you think Lester can at least turn into a serviceable No. 3 or 4 starter in his later years, rather than decline to the point where he's not even worthy of a roster spot, the extra years represent a gamble worth taking in exchange for his age-31 and age-32 seasons.

 

2. Draft-Pick Compensation

Another reason the Red Sox should prefer Lester to Shields is that the former doesn't come with draft-pick compensation attached to his name, while the latter does. It's difficult to quantify exactly how much that will impact the two contracts; it's another feather in Lester's cap.

As we saw last offseason, MLB teams take the loss of draft picks quite seriously. That's why Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales ended up without contracts until June, and it depressed the market for Ervin Santana, too.

Because the Red Sox finished so poorly in 2014, their first-round pick in the 2015 draft—No. 7 overall—is protected. That means they'll only lose their second-round pick should they sign Shields, Scherzer or another marquee free agent.

Still, second-round picks are quite valuable—once upon a time, Lester himself was chosen in the second round—and the Red Sox, with their emphasis on building from within, are likely loathe to give such a pickup.

They won't have to if they re-sign Lester, and while a second-round pick isn't a deal-breaker in this scenario, it's not trivial, either.

 

3. Familiarity

This is the least meaningful reason to choose Lester over Shields, and it's not the type of motive that should significantly tip the scales one way or the other. But if the Red Sox are going to splurge on a free-agent pitcher, it would make sense for them to invest in a pitcher they already know well.

John Farrell's ability to get the most out of Lester shouldn't be underestimated—you only need to look at Lester's 2011 and 2012 seasons to see why—and aside from the brief, overblown chicken-and-beer fiasco of 2011, he's been a model citizen in Boston.

The Red Sox know Lester can thrive pitching in Boston. They know he has a history of pitching well in big games. And they know that Lester can thrive pitching in hitter-friendly ballparks in a majority of his starts.

None of this is meant to denigrate Shields, who also has experience pitching in the AL East, has a tremendous reputation as a leader on a young Royals team and who could very well succeed in a big market like Boston, too.

But while pitchers are never sure things on a year-to-year basis, Lester's long track record of success with the Red Sox makes him something of a known quantity if health is on his side. And considering Lester's been on the DL once since his bout with cancer in 2006, there's no reason to think he'll break down soon.

To be fair to the Red Sox, it's entirely possible they know something most of us don't, and their lackluster offer to Lester during the regular season is indeed due to their familiarity. Perhaps for some reason they don’t think Lester will age well, or there's some health issue to which the general public isn't privy.

If we assume that's not the case, though, it makes little sense to introduce new variables into the equation with Shields. Instead, the Red Sox can turn to one of their most reliable pitchers in recent history to lead their rotation once again.

There are plenty of scenarios in which signing Shields makes more sense than Lester, from money to length of contract and beyond. If Shields' contract ends up closer to $100 million and Lester truly does end up closer to $175 million, for example, the various advantages of signing Lester don't outweigh the huge additional cost.

But there are more scenarios in which signing Lester instead of Shields is the safer and higher upside play for the Red Sox. While the Sox need to know when to walk away from the negotiating table, they should make a serious play to reacquire Lester.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com