Red Sox showing signs for another quick turnaround
Interest in Lester, Sandoval reflect desire to return to prominence
By Mike Bauman
The recent journey of the Boston Red Sox -- worst to first to worst -- makes the conventional description of "roller-coaster" seem truly feeble.
But the good news for Red Sox Nation -- or Red Sox Planet, to be truly global about it -- is that the organization seems to view this offseason as a chance to reload and regroup and get back to where it once belonged.
This is a club with enough young talent and enough resources to once again stand atop the baseball world as it did in 2013, as opposed to finding itself in the cellar of the American League East, as it did in 2012 and '14.
But the Red Sox are going to have to make some major additions to get from fifth place to first. In that regard, the fact that the club appears to be seriously bidding for two of the leading free agents on the market is an indication of a desire for a near-term turnaround.
The Red Sox have reportedly made an offer to free-agent lefty Jon Lester, who has been Boston's own for all of his Major League career with the exception of a few months in Oakland this season. And the Red Sox are preparing an offer to third baseman Pedro Sandoval, who tore it up again for the San Francisco Giants in the 2014 World Series.
The Boston Globe has reported that the offer to Lester was for $110 million to $120 million over six years. That is a marked increase over Boston's offer to Lester in March, which was $70 million over four years.
And yet, it still may not be enough. Lester is believed to be seeking a six- or seven-year deal with an average annual value of more than $20 million.
Lester will be 31 in January, and long-term contracts for pitchers in their 30s have not provided an endless supply of happy endings. But Lester, or somebody of his stature, is going to be necessary to transform the Red Sox into a genuine contender in a hurry.
Lester has been healthy. He has been extremely successful in Boston. So two major and typical concerns have already been successfully addressed. The Red Sox as an organization have been opposed to long-term pitching contracts, and wisely so. But this would appear to be the one time when an exception could/should be made.
And what a 2-for-1 coup for the Red Sox if they get Lester back in the fold. They deal him to Oakland for outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, and later that same year, they get him back. Life doesn't work out like that often enough.
The market for Lester has not yet become fully apparent. As one of the two top starting pitchers in a market that is short on pitching, he is in an ideal bargaining position. Do the Red Sox qualify for a hometown discount? That probably depends on what the rest of the market offers.
The Red Sox also need to solidify their situation at third base. And no, they did not do that by claiming Juan Francisco on waivers from Toronto. Francisco has some power, but he strikes out with frightening regularity. And his best position is designated hitter.
That brings us back to the Panda. Sandoval is reportedly seeking a six-year deal that will bring him a nine-figure return. He is just 28. People periodically want to be concerned about Sandoval's weight. He came to Spring Training this year in the best shape of his career, although he appeared to put on some weight over the course of the season. But he is a remarkably agile defensive player for someone of his bulk.
And, offensively, Sandoval does his very best work when the lights are shining most bright, in October. His slash line for 12 World Series games is .426/.460/.702.
Sandoval does not have the classic power numbers that can be hoped for from a corner infielder. But he has been a productive hitter for a team that keeps winning World Series in even-numbered years.
That kind of collective success helps drive up the prices of the individuals involved. One way or the other, Sandoval won't be available at a discount price, either. The Giants want to retain him, for all the obvious reasons. And they don't have to skimp, either.
The re-emergence of the Red Sox as players on the free-agent front is encouraging for fans of the Boston club who believe that the next step in the worst-to-first-to-worst progression must be, of course, first.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.