All that said, let's examine the possibilities the Sox have to re-tool their roster next year.
1) First and most obvious is a potential trade of Manny Ramirez. It could infuse us with at least a little young talent and free up a ton of space for other potential moves. Now I'm not one that believes we're going to get too much of value for Manny - he's going to be 34 in May of 2006 and has declined slightly each of the last three years. Manny Ramirez is still an EXTRAORDINARY hitter. But he's a huge liability in the field and takes up a huge chunk of payroll and it's possible he could become a very large value sink in the last year or two of his deal. So if the goal is to win as many WS as we can over the next 5 year span, it might be prudent to see what we can get for him. The Mets will be willing to go to the table with us. New stadium soon, new TV station, and Minaya wants to make that splash. They have a limited window with Pedro and the pitching staff. They certainly don't need Manny, but I think they want him, and there's nobody out there either on the free agent market or on the trade market that can make the kind of impact Manny can. If the Sox need to package money to get talent in return, package money that all goes towards the 2006 salary, so that they are completely free of Manny's contract come the 2006 off-season. In an ideal world we would wind up with a package of Aaron Heilman and Lastings Milledge for the combination of Manny Ramirez, cash (5M, all up front?) and a couple of our B-level prospects (Moss and Shoppach perhaps). That could be a stretch, but it would fill our needs. Milledge is the guy they really need to target - getting a stop-gap CF and waiting for Milledge is the ideal kind of move in this re-tooling phase. If you can't get a package with this kind of value though, it's probably not worth trading Manny. You need talent in return, not just salary relief. The A-level players just aren't hitting the free agent market anymore, so you need talent in return for talent when you make these kinds of deals.
2) Letting Damon go is key, it would seem. It's hard to identify a real declining pattern in his stats, but one thing that I would put forth is that it's looking like Johnny's 2004 was a career year. His SLG and OBP were the best they'd been since 2000 in KC, and he's now on the wrong side of 32 as a slap-hitting speedster come November. It is likely that we're never going to see a repeat of his 2004 campaign. If the question of whether we should sign Johnny Damon was going to come up next year or the year after that, I'd probably be all for it if he was still 31. But this team is getting very old at many places, and adding more decline and injury risk is just not prudent. Injuries and decline, as we saw this year, will kill a team just as easily as a lower level of production will. So I'd let Johnny go unless he'll sign something like 3/30 or 4/36 - something where you'd be getting really good value from him. To replace him you need a stop-gap. Dave Roberts and his .282 EQA (to Damon's .280) seems like an ideal solution - especially given his local cult status. He'd come pretty cheap and, if we could snag Milledge in a Manny deal, would be the perfect bridge to a younger player. If we can't get a hold of Milledge, maybe you look at someone a bit more permanent - but still young and cost-effective (trade for Brady Clark, or taking a run at Juan Pierre are both tempting options).
3) Explore the trade market and dangle our veterans. Don't trade away every single player with more than a X salary for pennies on the dollar, but examine the market and figure out where we might be able to pick up some value (read: younger and cheaper, although perhaps less talented or unproven) in a trade. Guys I would look to dangle are Trot Nixon, Bronson Arroyo, and David Wells. They all have pretty marginal value right now, but I think we can still get something for each of them. Trot is an injury risk and a liability against lefties, but he's a damn good hitter when healthy. It was 2 years ago he posted that .974 OPS, but he's still only 32, and he's on a pretty reasonable contract (2 more years at 6.5M/year). I think there will be a few organizations out there willing to take the risk in order to try to make a run. Trot also has such a great dirt dog reputation that I think a lot of teams might value. Arroyo still has a ton of value, I think. Despite the declining peripherals, he's managed to post a couple seasons with ERAs of 4.03 and 4.51. To a lot of teams that's very respectable. Were he in the NL, I think he could post a mid-3s ERA and be a #3 or a bad team's #2. He has value. But he won't once his peripherals come back to bite him. Re-tooling years are when you sell high on your assets, and Bronson is one player you need to approach in that manner. Wells I think will be the hardest to deal. If you can find somewhere he wants to go, he's still only on a $4M deal with $5M in incentives I think (which he will likely earn if he actually performs - in which case he's worth it anyway). There are plenty of teams willing to take 1-year rentals like that in exchange for a B-level prospect. It'd be a good way to hoard some cash if they can find somewhere Wells would be willing to go (I know he doesn't have a no-trade, but nobody is going to trade for someone they know is just going to retire - it's like the old man's Gary Sheffield weapon). We've got to accept that Renteria and Clement aren't going anywhere just yet. It'd be selling low on both of them, and they're both just bad contracts that nobody wants at this point. We're going to have to stick it out a little longer. If we want to eat some salary when they only have 1 or 2 years left on their deals (like the other guys we're mentioning here), then that might happen. But not this off-season.
4) Trust the youth movement. Start the season with Papelbon in the rotation, Hansen and Delcarmen in the bullpen, and Youkilis and Pedroia starting in the infield. Resign Graffanino to maybe start the season as the 2B and yield the position by June. Keep him around as a super-sub the rest of the year - he seems well suited to the position. The youths coming through the system need some time to get broken in. Hopefully Sanchez and Lester show themselves ready by July or August and are given bullpen jobs, and potentially some spot starts here and there. Meredith and EMart can be given relief jobs as their progress merits as well. This all sounds crazy, depending on the kids for big chunks of production, especially in the pitching staff. But it has worked in the past for various teams - the Braves this year not being hte first. We can still be competitive in 2006 doing this. These kids are talented. But we need to break them in sometime, and next year is as good a time as any.
That's the plan. Lots of youth, stop-gap starters, and lots of money saved. This whole plan is really only worth it if they plan on going above the luxury tax threshold in the coming years - otherwise the money saved is just money pocketed, and the team never winds up improving more than the differenece in experience for the youth. So combine this re-tooling phase with some very free spending and dealing in the 2007 and 2008 off-seasons, and I think you have a POTENTIAL recipe for success. There are no guarantees, then again are there ever? It's possible that this is not the most prudent solution if you're trying to win as many WS as you can over the next 5 years. But then again maybe it is. The biggest problem I see is contingency. Re-tooling doesn't really work if it's half-assed, so they would need to execute all of these steps, or at least some reasonable alternatives, in order to be successful. And that's a lot of things that need to fall into place in terms of trades and free agent signings. But anyway, that's the idea. The practical (I think) way to re-tool this team - re-build into a younger, cheaper, and more talented nucleus, with the intention of adding on parts to create a powerhouse in 2006 and beyond. Thoughts? Questions? Flames?
Edited by ragnarok725, 10 October 2005 - 12:34 AM.