Okay Boston Red Sox fans, time for a pop quiz. What should the BoSox do this offseason to make sure the 69-93 debacle the team suffered through in 2012 doesn't happen again next year? Should they A) Do their best impression of Brian Cashman and go get anybody and everybody that's on the free agent market? Here we come Josh Hamilton, Nick Swisher, Zack Greinke, and Mike Napoli!
Or should the Red Sox B) Say goodbye to all the big names except Dustin Pedroia, keep the young players, and let the farm system do the rest of the work?
The answer of course is option C) Sign some free agents and keep some of the guys who are already on the roster, both veteran and youthful (Don't worry if you answered incorrectly. It will not count against your final grade).
Why won't signing lots of big names work? Think about it like this: If there's one thing the New York Yankees accomplished this postseason, it's showing that spending huge isn't always the key to acing the final exam and winning the World Series. The Yanks are now stuck with high-profile players that are no longer of great use to them and that no one else wants because they're owed way too much money. Alex Rodriguez' guaranteed salary for the next five years is $118 million, and there's a good chance he'll get more for breaking various home run barriers. He's just 13 taters away from tying Willie Mays for fourth on the all-time home run list, for example, and will receive a $6 million bonus for reaching that milestone. While there's no doubt the Red Sox shouldn't be frugal, there's no reason they should throw their money around haphazardly either.
There are also players within the organization that should be able to help the team, so the BoSox don't have to go out and buy everything they need. Pedro Ciriaco is a decent enough shortstop to be able to play on the big league level while also producing at the dish. And if Xander Bogaerts, a shortstop for the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs who was recently listed by baseballamerica.com as the Red Sox' number-one minor league prospect, turns out to be the real deal, then there's no doubt the squad has a shortstop for the future too. The 20-year-old's numbers in 23 games with the Sea Dogs are impressive: a .326 batting average and a .948 OPS (on-base percentage added to slugging percentage). So perhaps he could be a bright star shining in the club's future.
But at the same time as the Red Sox shouldn't go spending a ton of money and have some good players within their organization already, it's not exactly prudent for them to wave goodbye to all the studs and start over from scratch either. James Loney certainly won't do at first, and there isn't a first baseman in the organization's top ten prospects as listed by baseballamerica.com. And who is really able to play third? Ever notice that Will Middlebrooks' fielding percentage at the hot corner is only .949? Nothing to actually start jumping up and down about. So the Sox' roster could definitely use some upgrades for the time being in the form of, say, Jeff Keppinger or Eric Chavez at third, and maybe a guy like Nick Swisher or Adam LaRoche at first.
Keppinger is a sneaky-good for-average, good OBP kind of hitter who might fit in to the Red Sox lineup as a leadoff or number two hitter. And after his 2012 season with the Washington Nationals (33 home runs, 100 RBI), LaRoche could be the third or fourth guy in the batting order, and would definitely be an upgrade over James Loney. Just think about how many times LaRoche might be able to go yard in the Lyric Little Band Box.
Plus, while the Sox might have to shell out some dough to get a player like LaRoche, Keppinger isn't a household name and his salary hit just over $1.5 million last season, so he'd likely come relatively cheap.
There's also no reason not to re-sign guys like Cody Ross and David Ortiz, two power hitters who can help the club compete right here and right now. Ross can be a solid sixth man in the batting lineup after hitting .267 with 22 homers last season. And even though Big Papi is getting old and might not be in the majors for too much longer, he is still extraordinarily effective when healthy. In 90 games last season he hit 23 home runs and had an OPS of 1.026. He also struck out just 51 times, which would add up to a mere 91 whiffs if he were to play every single outing of a 162-game season.
Yes, the Boston Red Sox should walk a middle ground this offseason. Don't go out and spend money like there's no tomorrow, but don't rely only on the players within your own organization. Either extreme will result in a team that's not as competitive as it could be. With a few tweaks here and there, though, the team should be able to pass the test of making the postseason in 2013.