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AL East Hot Stove Preview

Posted: Wednesday October 31, 2007 10:58AM; Updated: Wednesday October 31, 2007 11:00AM
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Mike Lowell
Mike Lowell may have added another year to the Red Sox's contract offer by winning the World Series MVP award.
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By Nate Silver, BaseballProspectus.com

Winter madness is starting early this year, thanks to the Red Sox's World Series sweep and Alex Rodriguez's opt-out clause.

I've put together my predictions and suggestions on the general direction that each team is going to take, which can range from a "strong buy" (trading in cash and long-term assets to win in 2008) to a "strong sell" (just the opposite).

For each club, I've provided both a recommended and a predicted course of action; the latter is generally based on a top-level read of a team's behavior rather than any sort of insider information. There's also an abundance of information on long-term contracts, most of which is borrowed from the invaluable Cot's Baseball Contracts.

One quick note: the category for "key ready-now youngsters" is generally limited to players who have not yet broken into their team's everyday lineup, or who only did so in the middle of the 2007 season. The series starts with the AL East:

Boston Red Sox

2007 Record: 96-66, 1st in AL East
2007 Attendance: 3.0 million, 4th in American League
2007 Payroll: $143 million, 2nd in baseball
Key Free Agents (2007)
3B-R Mike Lowell
SP-R Curt Schilling
RP-R Eric Gagne
RP-R Mike Timlin
SP-R Matt Clement
1B-L Eric Hinske
C-R Doug Mirabelli
SP-R Tim Wakefield (club option)
SP-R Julian Tavarez (club option)
Key Free Agents (2008)
C-B Jason Varitek
RP-R Brendan Donnelly
INF-L Alex Cora
LF Manny Ramirez (club option)
RP-L Hideki Okajima (club option)
Key Long-Term Commitments
RF-L J.D. Drew, $14m/year through 2011
DH David Ortiz, $12.5m/year through 2010, plus 2011 club option
SP-R Josh Beckett, $10m/year through 2009, plus 2010 club option
SS-R Julio Lugo, $9m/year through 2010, plus 2011 vesting option
SP-R Daisuke Matsuzaka, $8.8m/year through 2011
CF-B Coco Crisp, $5.25 m/year through 2009, plus 2010 club option
Key Ready-Now Youngsters
CF-L Jacoby Ellsbury
SP-R Clay Buchholz
SP-L Jon Lester
OF-L Brandon Moss
SS-B Jed Lowrie
SP-R Justin Masterson
SP-R Michael Bowden
RP-R Craig Hansen
Needs: 1. 3B, if Lowell departs; 2. Perhaps SP, if Schilling departs.

What They Should Do: Weak Sell. The Red Sox can give away talent and still have the best 2008 club in baseball, perhaps along with the Indians. I would certainly re-up Wakefield, whose option is cheap, and make reasonable effort to re-sign both Schilling and Lowell. But there are reasonable contingency plans if they're asking for too much money. If Schilling departs, you could still have a very capable rotation of Beckett/Matzusaka/Buchholz/Wakefield/Lester. If Lowell leaves, you could move Kevin Youkilis to 3B, David Ortiz back to 1B, Manny Ramirez to DH, and go with an outfield of Ellsbury/Crisp/Drew. That would give up quite a bit of infield defense, but would make most of it back up in the outfield. Alternatively, if you re-sign Lowell, you can trade Crisp for a prospect, targeting a corner outfielder or a catcher. Either way, the Red Sox should be getting a little cheaper and a little younger, while at most marginally affecting the quality of the 2008 team. A more severe iteration of this plan would be to deal Julio Lugo and give Jed Lowrie the shortstop position, but the Red Sox will probably need to wait for Lugo to have a better season and regain some trade value before they can do that.

What They Will Do: Hold. I'd guess that in the wake of his World Series MVP, the Red Sox will be willing to apply the precedent they established for Jason Varitek, and give Lowell one more year on his contract than they might give him otherwise. I'd also guess that if Schilling goes -- and he's more likely to leave than Lowell -- the Red Sox will target some sort of No. 4 starter in the free-agent market. Both of these are perfectly defensible decisions.

Doing something drastic like going after Alex Rodriguez, on the other hand, is neither particularly defensible nor particularly likely. The Red Sox do well enough on the field, at the gate, and in player development that they have little reason to overpay for someone when there are palatable alternatives, and this is the one environment where I think concerns about A-Rod's clubhouse and media distractions are tangible enough to weigh into your decision.

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