There are a lot of reasons why the Red Sox went from worst to first. Here's a vast compendium of articles that explore that theme. But one of the reasons was that the Red Sox were hyperactive in free agency.
Think about it -- how often does a team get almost half its lineup through free agency? It's not unheard of, but it's certainly not the easiest way to build a successful team. The Red Sox signed Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, Stephen Drew, Shane Victorino, Koji Uehara, David Ross, and Ryan Dempster, committing to just over $100 million in future contracts. Some of the acquisitions worked out better than others, but it was fairly cost-effective as spending sprees go.
So when asking which teams might "go Red Sox" in 2014, it isn't enough to list the six last-place teams and pick the one that's likely to be better next year. Instead, let's look for the teams that have the most obvious holes.
Before you say "Astros," also note that the Red Sox started with a certain baseline of talent, with Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, and David Ortiz, as well as Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. So the team that goes on the hypothetical spending spree will need to have something going for them if this is going to make any sense.
It also doesn't make sense to list disappointing teams like the Giants, Nationals or Angels, because they really don't have a lot of open roster spots. They need for their current players to play better more than they need a gaggle of free-agent reinforcements.
With that out of the way, here goes. Which teams could benefit most from replacing four or five lineup and/or rotation spots with external solutions?
Just imagine the phone calls from them to potential free agents.
Marlins robo-call: Hello! We are a team in South Florida looking to rebuild our tarnished image and win the World Series again. You are a prospective free agent of interest. Please stay on the line to see how we can work together.
Free agent: /click
Marlins robo-call: Hello! We are a team in South Florida looking to rebuild our tarnished image and win the World Series again …
Honest question: Who would sign with the Marlins after the Jose Reyes/Mark Buehrle nonsense? The Marlins went hard after Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, promising them mermaids and renamed city streets. It took six months of bad baseball to change course completely.
That written, the Marlins had a surprisingly effective pitching staff last year. Jose Fernandez was amazing, and Jacob Turner, Nathan Eovaldi, and Henderson Alvarez all showed varying amounts of promise, considering they were all 23 or younger. They also had a historically awful lineup. Just dreadful.
So they need hitting. The good news is the next wave of prospects are at the door, with Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, and Derek Dietrich all getting their feet wet last year, so they don't exactly need eight different hitters. Just four would do.
Suggested Red Sox spree:
A.J. Pierzynski - C
Jhonny Peralta - SS
Carlos Beltran - OF
Juan Uribe - 3B
Jason Vargas - RHP
Again … ain't no way Beltran is taking his talents to South Beach. This is all hypothetical. But the Marlins would be an interesting team with this bunch. Maybe not contenders, but if a few things went right, who knows? That's where the Red Sox were last year, you know.
The White Sox had a similar dynamic as the Marlins. All pitching, no hitting. The Giants overcame that after 2009 with a plodding Pat Burrell, a rejuvenated Aubrey Huff, and a free Cody Ross. Is there a way for the White Sox to rejigger their lineup on the fly like that?
Suggested Red Sox spree:
Jose Abreu - 1B
Brian McCann - C
Chris Young - OF
Omar Infante - 2B
If you're drunk, Robinson Cano would be a mighty fine fit in that lineup. If you're sober, this is probably spendy enough. The good news is the first player on the list isn't a hypothetical. Abreu's locked up. I'm not sure if there's another team that makes more sense for McCann other than the Braves, but if there is, it would be the White Sox, who have a hitter-friendly park, as well as a mostly intact and stable rotation. From the team perspective, McCann would make a tremendous amount of sense, too. Instant offense from a position that got nothing last year.
Chris Young's up there because I figured the White Sox should feel what it's like to have one of those high-strikeout/high-power guys just once, right? Can't get tired of those types.
Think of the Mariners last year. What went right? You're probably thinking pitching, mostly because of Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. Except the non-Felixes and non-Hisashis were horrrrrrible. Aaron Harang, Joe Saunders, and Brandon Maurer were all bad enough to knock the Mariners toward the bottom of the AL ERA+ rankings, just ahead of the Astros. Pitchers shouldn't be that bad in Safeco. They were.
Which means it's probably a good idea for the Mariners to stock up on pitching, right? Not really. The strength of the farm system is pitching, with James Paxton, Taijuan Walker, and Erasmo Ramirez all getting major-league experience last year (Danny Hultzen had major shoulder surgery in October, unfortunately). So a free-agent balance would probably make more sense, with a little hitting to pair with the new pitcher(s).
Suggested Red Sox spree:
Shin-Soo Choo - OF
Stephen Drew - SS
Mike Napoli - 1B/DH
Ricky Nolasco - P
Maybe the Mariners could work out a trade for Asdrubal Cabrera to pair with the Choo signing. Not sure if they have the middling platoon first basemen to get that sort of trade done, but it's worth a shot.
Just going through free agency, though, the best option for the M's is to go big for one outfielder, and figure the rest out later. Here we have Choo on the Mariners. MLB Trade Rumors suggests Jacoby Ellsbury might make sense. Curtis Granderson would be kind of hilarious, just because it would be incredibly hard on him to move from new Yankee Stadium to Safeco. But for a year or two, maybe it would work out?
Nolasco is on the boring side, so feel free to play around with that one. Bronson Arroyo? Phil Hughes? Bartolo Colon? Yeah, sure, put them in the cart. Whatever.
The common thread between all of those teams is that you don't look at the current roster, then the suggested free agents, then back to the roster and think, yeah, that's what it'll take. None of the players are elite. They don't make contenders out of also-rans on their own. All sorts of different things would also have to go right if those free agents were going to be the cavalry.
Sort of like what happened with the 2013 Red Sox. It's an imperfect analogy for any team, sure, but if you're looking for the teams that could improve the most with a $100 million infusion, the Marlins, White Sox, and Mariners would do pretty well.
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For more on the Mariners, please visit Lookout Landing.
For more on the Marlins, please visit Fish Stripes.