11-19-2010: Crazy offseason scenario number 1


All of this Justin Upton talk has me thinking. The Red Sox need two bats to replace Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez, and it’s generally thought that we will likely sign a free agent corner outfielder (Jayson Werth or Carl Crawford) and a corner infielder. What if, instead of blowing $100M on two good but aging players, we fill those spots via trade for good young players, utilizing our top prospects? Stay with me here.

Step 1. Send Clay Buchholz, Daniel Bard and Josh Reddick to Arizona for Justin Upton

I know, you’re saying WHAT? But hear me out.

All signs are that Upton is really on the block. Why the Diamondbacks would want to trade a cost-controlled 24-year old All-Star is beyond me, but new GM Kevin Towers is looking to make a big splash right away. It’ll require a lot of talent to pry him away, of course. Dave Cameron puts his surplus value conservatively at $70M over his remaining 5-year deal, which is equivalent to 2-3 top prospects and change.

If Arizona is going to turn things around, they are going to have to have cheap, young players. With a payroll of just $57M last year, Towers needs good players who are making very little money so that he can save every last dollar to sign necessary free agents. This trade works because these three players are making no money yet, and they fill big holes for the Dbacks – Buchholz gives them a high-ceiling starter, Bard is their new closer and Reddick can play right in place of Upton (they already have their first baseman of the future in Brandon Allen).

What the Red Sox get is a player that they can almost never get through always drafting late in the first round – a true potential superstar. Upton is the whole package – good approach at the plate, power, speed, defense, right-handed bat. And he’s going to be 24 next year. He’s signed 5 years at about $10M per season. That’s ridiculously valuable.

Step 2. Send Casey Kelly, Ryan Kalish, and Felix Doubront to San Diego for Adrian Gonzalez

Everyone is wringing their hands over whether we’ll be able to re-sign Adrian Beltre, but I think he’s gone. He wants to play on the West Coast and Scott Boras will get him crazy money based on his MVP-type season. Whoever signs him will undoubtedly overpay and live to regret it – maybe not in 2011 or 2012, but certainly by 2013. Moving Kevin Youkilis over to third only makes sense if we get a true superstar at first base, and this fits the bill.

The Pads were close to winning their division last year, but their collapse showed some major issues. I think Jed Hoyer knows they need to bring in more high-ceiling talent, so that’s why a package including two top guys like Kelly and Kalish could convince him to pull the trigger. Kelly could step into their rotation this year, and Kalish would provide some insurance for Cameron Maybin, in case he doesn’t blossom in California.

Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox has been rumored for at least two years. This just needs to happen. The Sox love his talent and makeup, and as a power lefty who plays defense and uses the whole field, he’s just a perfect fit for us. He makes just $5.5M this season, but will likely require something along the lines of $20M a year to keep. Which is fine by me.

Step 3. Sign a free agent catcher, starter, LHP Scott Downs, and another quality reliever

There are some big holes left by this approach. For one, we haven’t addressed catcher. But with a lineup like this, you can play Jason Varitek or sign a defensive guy to complement Jarrod Saltalamacchia. After moves like this, we need to plan on filling this position from within in the future.

Filling the starting rotation is a bit more problematic. With the money you’d be figuring to commit to Gonzalez, I think you have to forget about Cliff Lee (we have too much financial commitment in the rotation already anyway). After the front three, you could go with Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield and sign a short-term reclamation project or two, like Brandon Webb, Justin Duchscherer or Erik Bedard. It won’t be dominant, but I don’t think it’ll be much worse than last year.

The bullpen certainly won’t get better by subtracting Bard. But you still have Jonathan Papelbon and hopefully a better Hideki Okajima. You’ve got some upside arms in the back of the pen with Scott Atchison, Andrew Miller, Matt Fox, etc. I’d definitely sign Scott Downs as a setup guy, and one more solid righty to fill out this bullpen.

Step 4. Restock the farm using supplemental picks

These two trades would leave our farm system in shambles, I admit. Shipping out 4-5 of our top prospects would set us back years in terms of top talent and player development. But prospects that don’t pan out (which is perhaps 75% of even top prospects) don’t get you anything. Maximizing their value also involves trading them if/when it makes you better.

And consider this: with Upton being 24 and Gonzalez just 29, we wouldn’t need much of anything from the farm system except one starter in 2012 (to replace Wake/free agent guy), one starter in 2013 (to replace Dice-K), one outfielder in 2012 (to replace Drew) and maybe some bullpen arms. Keep in mind the back of the rotation is always addressable through free agency as well (though we’d probably be limited to short-term guys).

Also, don’t forget that we would still have players like Kalish, Ryan Westmoreland, Jose Iglesias, Anthony Rizzo, Sean Coyle and Kolbrin Vitek in the system. We’d also retain arms like Anthony Ranaudo, Stolmy Pimental and Junichi Tazawa in the system. And, with Martinez and Beltre leaving as Type A free agents, we get 4 compensation picks in June, which we could use to reload the farm.

Conclusion

IF: Adrian Gonzalez, Pedroia, Scutaro/Lowrie, Youkilis
C: Varitek/free agent, Saltalamacchia
OF: Justin Upton, Drew, Ellsbury, Cameron
SP: Lester, Beckett, Lackey, Matsuzaka, Wakefield, Webb/Duch/Bedard
RP: Papelbon, Downs, Okajima, Atchison, Miller, Fox, TBA

I’ll be the first to admit, this scenario is crazy. But so is this proposed team. Crazy good. This is one of those go-for-broke moves that would suddenly put an amazing lineup on the field every day. Upton and Gonzalez balance the lineup and that group of guys would provide headaches for pitchers all over baseball for years. They are young, play good defense and hustle, so our run prevention would be good as well. And the ratings would be through the roof. Think about it, management.

You have to admit that this will set the rotation back significantly, but any rotation with Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and John Lackey in it can’t be that bad. I fully expect the latter two to bounce back and turn in solid seasons.

The bullpen will likely still be an issue, but you deal with the bullpen as you can, and adding the right free agent arms will help make up for the loss of Bard (though we’ll all miss him tremendously). With a stellar offense, good defense and a solid rotation, we can make do here until we find some solutions.

Finally, don’t worry, Sox fans. This scenario has just about a zero chance of ever happening. I’d expect this kind of zaniness from Ken Williams, but not Theo Epstein. But it’s an interesting one to think about, nonetheless.

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