The Boston Red Sox are coming off their worst season since 1965.
The 2012 MLB regular season saw Boston finish in last place in the American League East with just 69 wins. It marked the third straight year that the team has missed the playoffs.
General manager Ben Cherington is looking to turn things around this offseason. Trading Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett to the Los Angeles Dodgers signified the end of the Red Sox run in 2012, but should help the team make moves in 2013. Payroll flexibility will enable Boston to acquire some big name players through free agency and trades.
The Red Sox have a lot of holes to fill. They struggled with their hitting and pitching, and must revamp their roster if they hope to turn things around next season.
Boston has a few players on their radar that could help them compete in the AL East. At the top of that list is Mike Napoli.
There have been rumors for a few years that the Red Sox have been trying to acquire Napoli. In 2010, they reportedly claimed him on waivers, but were unable to work out a trade with the Los Angeles Angels. Now, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reports that he is the team’s first choice in free agency.
After dealing $262 million worth of contracts to the Dodgers, the Red Sox are not looking to add an enormous salary to their payroll. Stars like Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke are likely out of the team’s price range.
A player like Napoli is exactly what Boston is looking for. He has been productive over the past few years, and won’t demand an extremely lucrative contract. Napoli has already met with the Red Sox and Seattle Mariners, and also plans to speak with the Texas Rangers.
Last season, the catcher/first baseman hit 24 home runs in 108 games with Texas. He struggled at times, hitting for a career-low .227 batting average. In 2011 he was perhaps the best catcher in the league. Napoli hit .320 and 30 homers in 113 games, and might have been named the MVP of the World Series, if the Rangers had beaten the St. Louis Cardinals.
Napoli fits the mold of the typical Red Sox player. He isn’t known for having a high average, but he gets on base at a high rate and hits for power. If he signs with Boston, he would likely split time at both first base and catcher.
The right-hand hitter's numbers at Fenway Park have piqued the interest of Red Sox management. In 19 career games in Boston, Napoli has seven home runs and 17 RBI. Last season, he hit .462 at Fenway.
If the Red Sox can’t land Napoli, a former member of the New York Yankees might become the team’s top priority. Free agent Nick Swisher’s days in the Bronx may be numbered, and Boston could certainly use his services.
The outfielder has been a very consistent player over his career. In four seasons with the Yankees, he always hit at least 23 home runs with an on-base percentage upwards of .359. He can play the outfield and first base, two positions Boston has to fill.
The Red Sox just signed outfielder Jonny Gomes, and likely won’t pay him $10 million over two seasons to sit on the bench. However, he won’t solidify a Boston outfield that is in desperate need of some pop. Swisher’s ability to play first base also keeps him in play for the Red Sox.
Swisher’s final days in New York might make him an undervalued commodity. After another solid season, Swisher struggled in the postseason, and was benched in the ALCS. Having not made the playoffs since 2009, Boston is more concerned about the way Swisher will perform in the regular season.
If Swisher and Napoli want to play for the Red Sox, the two players will likely suit up for Boston in 2013. Those signings, however, would only address one of the team’s needs. In order to improve their pitching, the Red Sox will likely have to make a trade.
After their blockbuster deal last summer, the Red Sox have a few minor leaguers that they can trade for a quality arm. Boston’s starters failed them more than anything in 2012, finishing the season with a 5.19 ERA. If the Red Sox are willing to take on an overpriced pitcher, they have the pieces to upgrade their rotation.
The newest rumor is Jon Lester being dealt to Kansas City for 21-year-old outfield prospect Wil Myers, who hit 37 home runs in the minors last season, and is considered among the best prospects in baseball.
Boston still has a lot of work to do to become a playoff team. The Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays are always playoff contenders. The Baltimore Orioles were a surprise postseason team last year, and the Toronto Blue Jays just made a major trade to improve their club.