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Saturday, June 28, 2014

Boston Red Sox Face Major Free Agent Questions

This piece was originally published on

Following their capture of the 2013 World Series trophy, the Boston Red Sox have limped into 2014 the tune of an uninspiring 36-44 record that has them sitting in fourth place in the American League East. Other than a seven-game winning streak in late May, the team has won as many as three consecutive games just one other time.

The lackluster performance has stifled high hopes of another postseason run this autumn. Although the season cannot be chalked up as a lost cause just yet, the slow start will likely be a determining factor next offseason when the team decides what direction it wants to take. However, the biggest questions will come from the slew of players set to become free agents, and the decisions Boston will have to make on whether they should be retained as part of the future.

Let’s take a look at the Red Sox players in their contract year and review how they may or may not fit into long-term plans.

Starting Pitcher Jon Lester: The reported wide gulf in previous negotiations between the veteran left-hander and the team has been widely discussed. The fact of the matter is Lester is in his prime, has proven his ability to lead a rotation in Beantown (winning two World Series) and has been extremely durable (well on pace for his seventh consecutive season of at least 191 innings). The Red Sox don’t have another pitcher behind him with his experience, ability and track record, so if he is allowed to leave, there will be an enormous hole to fill this offseason.

Verdict: A must to re-sign unless the dollar amount gets too out of hand.

Catcher A.J. Pierzynski: The 38-year-old receiver is hitting .250 with four home runs and 31 RBIs in his first season with Boston. He has drawn just seven walks, has a disappointing 75 OPS+ (100 is league average) and has caught just 21 percent of base stealers. If you throw in his higher veteran salary and the questions that have come up regarding his compatibility with the pitching staff, it seems likely he won’t have an extended stay in Boston. With highly-regarded catching prospects Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart getting steadily closer to being MLB-ready, it would be a surprise to see Pierzynski return.

Verdict: Do not re-sign.

Starting Pitcher Jake Peavy: The former National League Cy Young winner is a combined 5-7 with a 4.57 ERA since joining Boston in a mid-season trade last year. The once overpowering right-hander is primarily an innings eater at this stage of his career. With youngsters like Brandon Workman and Rubby De La Rosa having strong showings with the big league team in 2014, Peavy doesn’t have the upside and low salary to be kept around.

Verdict: Do not re-sign.

Outfielder Jonny Gomes: The heavily bearded and tattooed slugger has been a beloved member of Red Sox Nation since joining the team prior to last year. He personifies a team-first atmosphere but has hit just .243 with 18 home runs in 176 regular season games with Boston. About to turn 34, and with defensive skills that can be charitably called adventurous, it’s hard to imagine him having a large role with the team beyond this year.

Verdict: Love him, but unless he signs a minimum contract and earns a spot in spring training it’s probably time for him to go.

Shortstop Stephen Drew: Thought to be gone after not re-signing with the Red Sox last offseason, the 31-year-old veteran ended up returning on a pro-rated contract last month. Although he is still working his way into mid-year form, he has barely made a blip in 2014, hitting just .135 (including a recent 0-for-29 stretch) with one RBI in 15 games since his return. Since Xander Bogaerts has held his own at the MLB level this year, he will continue to be groomed as the shortstop of the future and force Drew to find a new home in 2015.

Verdict: Do not re-sign.

Relief Pitcher Craig Breslow (Team holds a $4 million option or must pay a $100,000 buyout): After a stellar 1.81 ERA with Boston in 2103, the 33-year-old lefty has seen that figure jump to 4.39 in 27 2014 games, along with an unsightly 6.1 walks per nine innings. He has not locked down lefty hitters (.765 OPS against him this year), so it seems the team would be able to find a younger and cheaper replacement once his contract expires.

Verdict: Do not re-sign.

Relieve Pitcher Burke Badenhop: The right-handed pickup from last offseason has been a revelation, posting a 1.77 ERA in 35 appearances—often spanning more than one inning. He consistently keeps the ball in the ballpark, and with rising salaries for relievers, he stands to make good money on his next contract. The Red Sox certainly have the money to keep him around but may be better served rolling with a cheaper option.

Verdict: Re-sign if the price is right.

Relief Pitcher Andrew Miller: The former top starting pitching prospect finally found his niche in the Boston bullpen as a shutdown southpaw reliever. He has struck out over 14 batters per nine innings during the past two years, and is holding left-handed hitters to a ridiculous .453 OPS in 2014. While paying big bucks for relievers is always an iffy proposition, Miller has emerged as one of the best in the game.

Verdict: Re-sign even if it costs a little extra.

Catcher David Ross: The 37-year-old backup has slipped this season, hitting just .174 and throwing out only 19 percent of base runners in 27 games. An outstanding teammate and handler of pitchers, those qualities alone are worth keeping him around to help groom the young receivers coming up through the system.

Verdict: Re-sign.

Relief Pitcher Kohi Uehara: The 39-year-old right-hander has been essentially historic since joining the Red Sox last year. In 107 regular season games, he has a 1.15 ERA, 37 saves and 11.94 strikeouts per nine innings. Throw in a 2013 ALCS MVP, and he has been one of the team’s best players in recent memory. Despite his age and past injury issues, he is not a flame thrower, so he may be able to sustain his success a bit longer. It’s unlikely he will get a monster offer from another team, making a return to Boston all the more probable (perhaps one a one or two-year deal) as long as they can find common ground. As the old adage goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Verdict: Re-sign.

Statistics and contract information via

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