NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

November 6, 2013

Red Sox have some major decisions to make

Lester, Napoli, pitching and Ellsbury up for discussion

On Pro Baseball
Christopher Smith

---- — BOSTON — We usually have a month or two to figure out who’s coming and who’s going in the Boston Red Sox clubhouse.

Well, due to some unforeseen circumstances — a World Series and a parade! — the Red Sox have a lot of decisions to make and they have to make them fast.

Aging but awesome

Start with Jon Lester.

He was money in the postseason and now he’ll make quite a bit of it.

The 29-year-old southpaw won both his World Series starts, allowing just one run over 15.1 innings. His 0.59 ERA was the best by a Red Sox hurler making multiple starts in a World Series since Hugh Bedient’s 0.50 in 1912.

The Red Sox picked up Lester’s 2014 team option worth $13 million. That was the easiest decision GM Ben Cherington and his baseball operations department will make this offseason.

Lester is eligible for free agency after next season and so it’s time to bring a contract extension into the discussion.

Right-hander Zack Greinke was 29 — the same age as Lester — last offseason when the Los Angeles Dodgers signed the then-free agent to a six-year, $147 million deal with an opt-out clause following his third season.

Lester likely will demand similar money considering his dominant career postseason numbers (2.11 ERA in 13 outings, 11 starts), his career World Series stats (3-0, 0.43 ERA, three starts) and his workhorse reputation (pitched more than 200 innings in five of the past six seasons).

At the time Greinke received his Dodgers deal, he had a 6.48 ERA in three career postseason starts and had pitched more than 200 innings in four of his previous five seasons.

Greinke has a 3.65 career ERA while Lester has a 3.76 career mark.

CC Sabathia — a left-hander like Lester — agreed to a seven-year, $161 million contract with the Yanks before 2009 and the deal included an opt-out clause after three seasons. The Yankees added $30 million and an additional year in November 2011, prompting Sabathia not to opt out.

That contract looks foolish now after Sabathia posted a career-worst 4.78 ERA this season.

That said, Cherington needs to think long and hard before giving Lester a Greinke- or Sabathia-like deal.

Lester rebounded quite nicely after posting a career-worst 4.82 ERA in 2012.

He started 38 games with a 3.45 ERA combined between the regular season and postseason in 2013.

Give Napoli his years

The Red Sox offered free agent Mike Napoli a $14.1 million qualifying offer Monday. Players offered a qualifying offer are given until 5 p.m. the following Monday to accept or decline.

Napoli originally agreed to a three-year, $39 million deal with Boston last offseason, but his physical revealed that he had avascular necrosis in his two hips. It is the same condition that derailed Bo Jackson’s career.

The Red Sox renegotiated with Napoli, reaching a one-year contract.

The medical staff monitored Napoli’s hips and have a good read on the condition, which didn’t cause Napoli to miss any time this year.

That said, it wouldn’t be outrageous if the Red Sox offered him a two-year, $26 million deal.

Deal Dempster, Peavy?

For the first time in a long while, the Red Sox likely won’t be looking to add a starter. They likely will be looking to trade one.

They have a great deal of starting pitching depth with Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Felix Doubront, Jake Peavy, Ryan Dempster, Brandon Workman, Allen Webster, Steven Wright, Anthony Ranaudo, Matt Barnes and Rubby De La Rosa, with the last five all likely beginning the year at Triple-A Pawtucket.

The Red Sox will be most willing to deal Dempster and Peavy, both of whom are eligible for free agency after 2014.

Boston needs to find an important role on the 2014 club for Workman, 25, who posted a 2.45 ERA in three starts for Boston during the regular season. He didn’t allow any earned runs in 8.2 innings out of the bullpen during the postseason after some struggles as a reliever during the regular season.

Workman is more comfortable as a starter, although he became more aggressive as a reliever during the playoffs.

Value system

Understandably, many Red Sox fans are fed up with Clay Buchholz’s durability and wouldn’t mind if he was traded. But Buchholz has ace potential and the Red Sox might not receive equal return if they trade him this offseason after he struggled with a shoulder injury for much of the regular season and then experienced shoulder fatigue in the playoffs.

On the other hand, John Lackey’s value is possibly at its highest after he posted a 3.52 ERA during the regular season and 2.77 ERA in five postseason outings.

Lackey might bring back a return more than his worth so it would be wise for Cherington to explore the market for the righty, who was the winning pitcher in the deciding Game 6 of the World Series.

Reconsidering Victorino

Signing Shane Victorino to a three-year, $39 million deal last offseason seemed to be a monster mistake. But now it looks like a tremendous deal.

Victorino batted .294 with a .351 on-base percentage, .451 slugging percentage, 15 homers, 61 RBIs, 26 doubles, 21 steals and a league high 18 hit by pitches.

While he played only 122 games because of some nagging injuries, he never went on the DL and was in the lineup almost every day during the stretch run. He played every game in August, through some pain, and batted .328 with a .392 OBP, .578 slugging percentage.

Victorino also had one of the most underrated beards of all Red Sox players.

Overlooked Ortiz

When you say the phrase “under the radar,” the last thing you think about is David Ortiz.

His offense production never goes under the radar, but sometimes his leadership does.

When we discussed leaders this year, we often mentioned Jonny Gomes, Dustin Pedroia, Shane Victorino and David Ross.

But Ortiz isn’t afraid to speak up in the clubhouse — and in the dugout, for that matter.

His Game 4 speech to team inside the dugout ignited the offense.

And how about his playoff stats? Not only was he money in the World Series, but he batted .353 with a .500 OBP, .706 slugging percentage, five homers, three doubles, 13 RBIs and 12 runs during this entire postseason.

Bye, bye Jacoby

If Jacoby Ellsbury leaves via free agency — which is the common perception — the Red Sox center fielder will have come full circle. He won a World Series in 2007 as a rookie for Boston and a title again in 2013, his last year with the team.

Bullpen greatness

My midseason Red Sox report was titled “Except for bullpen, Red Sox at the top of class.”

Well, the bullpen turned things around in a huge way behind Koji Uehara, who has gained rock star status in Boston.

Red Sox relievers combined for a 1.28 postseason ERA. That was the best playoff bullpen ERA of all teams that played more than one postseason game.

Follow Christopher Smith on Twitter @SmittyOnMLB