By Jeff Louderback
If you believe general manager Ben Cherington, the Red Sox have learned their lesson of mimicking the Yankees and handing out an assortment of high-dollar, long-term free agent contracts. Instead, he says the team will take a similar approach to what it did in 2003 and 2004, bringing in Dirt Dawg style players who can thrive playing in the Boston market.
Players like Kevin Millar, Bill Mueller and Mark Bellhorn to name a few were not not flashy acquisitions, but they served pivotal roles in building a World Series contender. The Red Sox lineup can be an asset in 2013 if the club brings back David Ortiz and Cody Ross; Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia and Will Midlebrooks return healthy; and the catching duo of Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ryan Lavarnway hit with the power of which they are capable.
Still, the team has needs at first base and left field, and if Jose Iglesias is not deemed Major League ready at the plate and Mike Aviles is not considered the answer, then a void at shortstop also exists. At least at first base and left field, the Red Sox should fill these openings with productive players who will not require a outrageously long-term commitment or excessive annual salary.
For the left field vacancy, Ryan Ludwick would be ideal. The 34-year-old Ludwick had a solid season with Cincinnati, batting .275 with 26 home runs, 80 RBI and a .877 OPS. Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reported that Ludwick will decline his side of a $5 million mutual option he has with the Reds.
Like Ross – who can become a free agent five days after the World Series after playing on a one-year, $3 million deal in 2012 – Ludwick is seeking a multi-year contract. Two years with a team option for a third season would be ideal to offer both outfielders.
On paper, Nick Swisher seems like an ideal player for the Red Sox to sign, especially since he is a switch-hitter with power and can play first base and the outfield. His post-season struggles and his sensitivity to handling criticism from Yankees fans are concerns. After all, Boston is more demanding of a market to play in than even the Bronx. Multiple media reports have indicated that Swisher wants a long-term deal with a high salary. That is something the Red Sox are unlikely to accommodate for a player on the north side of 30.
At first base, the Sox could make a trade to acquire Minnesota’s Joe Mauer, who is owed $23 million a year through 2018. According to some speculation, the Twins might be willing to pay some of Mauer’s remaining contract to get his salary off the books. Mauer, who will be 30 next April, could serve as a first baseman, catcher and DH, and replace Ortiz as the primary DH when the latter retires.
An investment that would require less money, a shorter time commitment and no package of prospects would be signing Washington’s Adam LaRoche, who can enter the free agent market if he does not return to the Nationals. LaRoche, who will be 33 in November, is a defensively sound first baseman, a well-liked teammate and a productive bat who slugged 33 home runs, knocked in 100 and hit .271 with a .853 OPS this year.
The Red Sox could also pursue Mike Napoli, who like Mauer could serve as a catcher, first baseman and DH. LaRoche is a left-handed hitter while the soon-to-be 31-year-old Napoli offers right-handed power.
Likely, the Red Sox will make a major trade to acquire a big bat, and they will fill the remaining holes via low-key free agent signings a la 2003 and 2004. Ludwick and LaRoche are two moves Cherington and Red Sox fans would not regret.