Upon dumping hundreds of millions of dollars worth of talent on the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Red Sox entered an epoch that will be defined by their ability, or inability, to balance two beasts. On one side of the scale is the need to leave behind an era of reckless spending. On the other sits the desire to remain a big player on the free agent market.
It is a tricky proposition, one which general manager Ben Cherington touched upon this weekend at Fenway Park:
“We can’t go out tomorrow or the next day and fill up the payroll flexibility we just created. There’s a clear commitment from ownership here. We are going to continue to have a significant payroll. We’re going to continue to spend money on players and were going to be committed to building the best team we possibly can. It’s up to us to make good decisions, make disciplined decisions and that’s … what’s led to our best teams.”
With that in mind, here are 10 of the top free agents (not currently with the Sox) based on area of need for Boston, and the percentages that they will sign here:
Josh Hamilton, OF: He may command more than $140 million for six years. Sox fans so happy to see the big-ticket items ushered out of town might cringe if Boston goes down that path again. But Hamilton is an exceptional talent when right and there will be a need for an outfielder.
Chances of signing: 15 percent.
Zack Greinke, SP: There will be an even bigger need for starting pitching, but Greinke could shrink in a place like Boston. He’s going to get money that indicates he’s great, but he was just once, back in 2009. Otherwise, he’s simply good, but risky and probably overpriced. Chances of signing: 8 percent
Nick Swisher, 1B/OF: He is making quite the contract push with an excellent second half in New York. Swisher helped transform the Yankees clubhouse into a more positive place when he arrived in 2009 and might be worth a hefty price tag for some club. He likes hitting at Fenway, is pretty durable and is a given 25-homer guy.
Chances of signing: 20 percent
Mike Napoli, 1B/DH/C: Take his production against the Red Sox away and Napoli is a lesser offensive player; he’s hitting 1.000 with a million home runs against Boston, or something like that. Also, Napoli has struggled most of this season and is trending heavily toward a full-time DH.
Chances of signing: 15 percent
Michael Bourn, CF: Here’s a great option if the organization makes another big leap and trades Jacoby Ellsbury. The Sox would rather go with the home-grown talent if they can.
Chances of signing: 5 percent
Ryan Dempster, SP: He dominated National League lineups, became a big name at the trade deadline and then hit some rough patches upon joining Texas. Dempster has been better in his last two starts but at 35 and with some uncertainty as to how he’ll handle American League pitching, he comes with risk. Chances of signing: 15 percent
Edwin Jackson, SP: This guy just cannot find a permanent home. Just 28, Jackson has already pitched for seven teams. The Sox could make it eight. Jackson is familiar with the AL East, makes 30-plus starts every year and has some room to improve.
Chances of signing: 25 percent
Shawn Marcum, SP: Another former AL East guy, Marcum, when healthy, is as consistent as they come; his ERA has sat between 3.19 and 3.64 in each of his last four seasons. The Brewers and Marcum have not discussed an extension, so he figures to hit the market as a fine No. 3 or No. 4 candidate.
Chances of signing: 20 percent
Jonathon Broxton, RP: One of the best bullpen acquisitions at the trade deadline (Cincy got him from K.C.), he’ll be sought after for those looking for relief help, which is all 30 teams every offseason. That’s the nature of the beast.
Chances of signing: 10 percent
Jamie Moyer, SP: Just wanted to make sure you were still reading. The soon-to-be 50-year-old will not be reliving the glory of 1996, when he went 7-1 in half a season with Boston.
Chances of signing: 100 percent (If I had my way)