McAdam: Six free agents Red Sox might target

McAdam: Six free agents Red Sox might target
November 5, 2013, 2:00 pm
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Tuesday ushers in the start of free agency in Major League Baseball and all that entails.

The Red Sox won't be fully sure what their needs will be until they know which qualifying offers have been accepted and which haven't by Monday at 5 p.m.

Even then, the Sox will proceed cautiously. Their poor experience with long-term, nine-figure deals (Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez) will surely inform their approach.

But that doesn't mean the Sox can't find help on the free-agent market. After all, the team signed seven major free agents last off-season and many -- Mike Napoli, Koji Uehara, Shane Victorino -- played key roles in the team winning the American League East, the A.L. pennant, and eventually, the World Series.

Here, then, are a half-dozen free agents the Sox might target for 2014.

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If the Red Sox, as expected, get outbid for Jacoby Ellsbury, they'll need a replacement in the outfield.

One approach would be to have Jackie Bradley Jr. take over in center field, while keeping Shane Victorino in right, where he last month earned a Gold Glove.

Still another tactic could be shifting Victorino back to center -- where he played for much of his career -- and seeking a corner outfielder, one who could perhaps provide more production offensively.

Beltran will be 37 shortly after the season begins, but after some knee injuries slowed him down several seasons ago, he's proved to be pretty durable, averaging 148 games the last two seasons for the Cardinals.

He remains a solid defender, and while he can't, at this stage of his career, play right field at Fenway to the level that Victorino played in 2013, he wouldn't be a liability either.

Beltran compiled an .830 OPS last season and belted 57 extra-base hits. And should the Sox lose Ellsbury, they'll be relatively right-handed in their offense, with David Ortiz the lone lefthanded-hitting everyday player. Beltran would give them a switch-hitter who had a .315/.362./.509 slash line from the left side last year.

And, should the Sox reach the playoffs again, Beltran would give them another accomplished post-season performer.

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This would be a far different -- and far less expensive -- approach to re-stocking the outfield in the event that Ellsbury signs elsewhere.

Under this plan, the Sox could keep Victorino in right field, where he's better suited, and use Guitierrez as depth behind Bradley Jr.

Gutierrrez recently had a 2014 option for $7.5 million declined by the Seattle Mariners, making him a free agent. He's been severely limited by injuries and illness the last two seasons, with just 81 games played in 2012 and 2013 combined.

But healthy, Gutierrez is a plus defender in center -- he won a Gold Glove in 2010 for patrolling the spacious area at Safeco Field. He could either serve a mentor/backup for Bradley as the latter adjusts to the big leagues, or, potentially, a platoon partner to ease Bradley in. Over his career, Gutierrez has an .818 OPS against lefty pitching.

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If Jarrod Saltalamacchia leaves, the Red Sox will need someone to pair with David Ross who can provide some offense from the left side. Here's where Pierzynski comes in.

Only two years ago, he posted an .827 OPS while establishing a career high in homers (27). He signed a one-year deal with Texas last winter and still delivered decent production (17 homers, 70 RBI). And while he's not known as a defensive specialist, he was at least adequate in attempting to throw out opposing baserunenrs (26 percent, a tick below the league average).

The Sox could probably get Pierzynski, 37, on a one-year deal, which would buy additional development time for Christian Vazquez at Pawtucket and Blake Swihart at Portland.

One caveat: Pierzynki's personality tends to rub people the wrong way, and the Sox might have some doubts about how seamlessly he could blend into their clubhouse culture. But Pierzynski wouldn't need to assume a leadership role, and there are enough strong personalities on the club to keep him in check if necessary.

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Sure, the Red Sox already have six established major league starters. And sure, they have another half-dozen or so pitching prospects, led by Brandon Workman, just waiting for an opportunity to join the rotation.

But remember (all together now): You can never have enough starting pitching.

The Sox were fortunate that Clay Buchholz's shoulder was the only major injury to their stable of starters last year. They're not likely to be that fortunate again, especially considering that when mid-August rolls around, Felix Doubront will be the only starter under 30 years of age.

Santana isn't likely to be ready for the start of the 2014 season as he recovers from shoulder surgery, so he won't clog up the already cluttered rotation. But he should be able to contribute some by mid-season at a time when the Sox may be fighting a war of attrition on their pitching staff.

Why not have a proven winner, an experienced and relatively inexpensive hand to help out? It'a bonus that he's lefthanded.

Santana lives in Fort Myers year-round and the prospect of spending spring training -- and additional rehab time he needs -- at home would surely be alluring. He's already pitched for the town's other tenants, the Minnesota Twins, who aren't about to contend any time soon. So why not entice Santana with the option of pitching for a World Series contender?

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Wilson came back from a second Tommy John surgery late last summer and showed that he still has plenty of velocity. He's a New Hampshire native and though he may prefer the West Coast, would likely be attracted to a return to New England.

Wilson wouldn't be brought in to close, of course; that job belongs to Koji Uehara, who was merely sensation after being pressed into duty last June. But after Uehara pitched in 86 games combined between the regular season and post-season, the Sox will have to carefully manage his workload.

Wilson could serve as nice insurance behind Uehara and would be able to handle the ninth on nights when Uehara needs rest.

Plus, the beard thing makes him a natural, no?


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Should Napoli get a better deal elsewhere, the Sox will need a righthanded power bat to replace him as protection for David Ortiz in the lineup.

Hart missed all of last year with a series of knee injuries, so there's an element of risk here. But in the previous six years, Hart averaged nearly 25 homers and almost 80 RBI, numbers comparable to what Napoli gave the Sox in 2013.

He'd represent a step back defensively from the surprisingly proficient Napoli, but he wouldn't represent a huge liability with the glove. And because he's coming off a missed season, Hart wouldn't be in a position to demand much in the way of multi-year deal, meaning the Sox could make a short commitment.