BOSTON -- Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington and manager John Farrell spent 40 minutes Monday afternoon breaking down what went wrong with the Red Sox in 2014 and what they intend to do about it, at least in general terms.
Here is what you need to know (Much of it you already knew):
• Adding top-of-the-rotation starting pitching is a priority. [The Jon Lester watch begins the day after the World Series ends, as that’s when he becomes a free agent].
• The Sox want free agent Koji Uehara back as closer.
• Who plays center field for 2015 and beyond? Having both Rusney Castillo and Mookie Betts is a good problem to have, and these things have a way of sorting themselves out. Castillo will take a couple of days off, then report to the Arizona Fall League where he will play through October, then on to the Puerto Rican winter league for about a month.
• Yoenis Cespedes, regardless of whether he signs an extension this winter, appears to be a key part of the 2015 plan.
• Christian Vazquez is ready to become the team’s everyday catcher.
• Some of the kid pitchers could end up in the bullpen.
• Lack of offensive production was the No. 1 problem, and has to get better. Yes, the game is changing, but the Sox have no plans to deviate from what has worked for them in the past: working the count, grinding at-bats, emphasizing getting on-base.
• A left-handed bat is a priority, but while third base would appear to be a logical place for the Sox to add one, the Sox feel both Will Middlebrooks and Garin Cecchini can be big-league third baseman.
• The Sox made some misjudgments in integrating young players into the lineup this season, but won’t back off from young players in the future -- they are the key to sustained success.
• David Ross is hardly a lock to return as backup catcher, but hasn’t been ruled out.
• No one is writing off Jackie Bradley Jr.
• No decisions have been made yet on the coaching staff, although it appears changes may be forthcoming, either by voluntary departure [hitting coach Greg Colbrunn may leave to spend more time with his family, Torey Lovullo and possibly Brian Butterfield could be hired as managers] or dismissal.
• Cherington will assemble his baseball ops staff next week to formulate a strategy, present it to ownership sometime this month, then fine-tune their plans to execute that strategy.
Taking these points, one by one:
Cherington: “We’d like to add to the rotation. There are different ways to do that.’’
There are three, really: Signing a free agent (Lester, Max Scherzer, James Shields), trading for one (Cole Hamels, Johnny Cueto, or Chris Sale, an admitted longshot) or going the Japanese route [Kent Maeda].
Cherington was asked whether the team would rule out giving a pitcher 30 or older a deal longer than five seasons.
“I think there’s a presumption that we would prefer to stay away from those, but that’s not a policy,’’ he said. “There’s a preference to avoid really long-term contracts with pitchers or position players in their 30s. But that’s not a hard policy. But it would guide us. Obviously, length becomes an issue as guys get into their 30s, certainly.”
Could be a deal-breaker for Lester and/or Scherzer, although Sox sources, both in and out of the clubhouse, believe the Sox will be serious contenders to re-sign Lester.
On Uehara, who turns 40 next April, being re-signed:
“I think we’ve been very clear that we’d like to keep Koji with us, and I’m confident we’ll make every effort to do just that,’’ Farrell said. “What he went through late in the season, we’ve been able to determine and see that he went through that previously when he was with Texas.
“While every elite pitcher, every pitcher, is going to have some stretches where their performance is less than -- we feel that has been the case with Koji -- and despite the age, he’s still a very good performer and a guy that we want to anchor the back end of the bullpen with.”
On figuring out how to fit both Castillo and Betts in the lineup:
“I think you’re assuming it’s a problem,’’ Cherington said. “I don’t think we can assume it’s a problem until it’s a problem, and in October it’s not a problem. If it’s a problem at some point, great. If we have too many good players for the spots we have, I guess that’s a problem and we’ll deal with it. We all know a lot can happen between now and next April; we’ll see where we are. We finished in last place. We need more good players, not less. So hopefully we’ll continue to build on that.’’
On how Cespedes, eligible for free agency after next season, fits into Sox plans even if he doesn’t sign an extension:
“As far as Cespedes is concerned, I think we sort of look at the baseline of him being on the team next year as a very good thing,’’ Cherington said. “Anything on top of that would be good if it makes sense for everyone. We just like having him on the team next year so there’s nothing conditional on [him signing an extension]. We look forward to having him in the lineup next year.’’
On how Vazquez has demonstrated he’s ready to be the everyday catcher in 2015:
“The best way I can answer that is if we added to our catching group with Christian as the lead catcher,’’ Farrell said, “I think what we've seen in 175-190 at-bats, whatever the total number of plate appearances have been, in addition to the impact he’s made defensively, I think we’d be very comfortable with him if nothing were to change.”
On how some young starters could be shifted to bullpen roles:
“Yes, we could envision part of that group, one of that group, whatever that number might end up being, being part of our bullpen,’’ Farrell said. “We have a couple of guys who have experience there -- Brandon Workman, Rubby De La Rosa. What the pitching staff ultimately looks like is going to be directly impacted on what we bring in, acquire this off-season. Yes, we can see some guys going to the bullpen and contributing in those roles.”
On addressing the offense:
“The game has changed,’’ Cherington said. “Offense has changed. Power, in terms of at least home runs, is down, and even on-base is down across the league. There are all sorts of reasons. We know we need to build a better offense to produce more. I think we have to be careful not to throw out the baby with the bath water. If we can see pitches, grind at-bats, get on base and still hit with power and hit with runners in scoring position, then I still think that’s a formula to score runs, and more runs than our opposition.’’
On adding a left-handed bat, and whether that could be at third base:
“There’s some interest in adding a left-handed hitter somewhere,’’ Cherington said. “There’s different ways of doing that, too.
“We have two young third basemen we believe can be very good major league players. I’m speaking about Will [Middlebrooks] and Garin [Cecchini]. And then we have Brock Holt, who was one of our better players over the course of the season who also can play third base. There are options there. Obviously in Brock’s case, with his performance this year, he’s given all of us the belief that he’s part of a winning team. Exactly how that plays out we’ll see. There’s time to figure that out. I think going back to what John said, we need to build a better offense, a more consistent offense.’’
On the impact of adding young players in 2014:
“Looking back on it,’’ Cherington said, “what we tried to do was build a team that would allow for that and where the young players were protected enough so we could still be competitive and winning and then get into a season and be able to make adjustments if we had to. That was our plan. I think it is certainly fair to say we didn’t execute the plan as well as we should have, so that’s what I look back on and ask myself is there a better way that I, or we, could have executed the plan, and I think clearly the answer is yes. The results are the results.
“So we need to execute better. That leads to better performance. I take responsibility ultimately for the performance. We’re not going to and we can’t shy away from the idea of committing to young players when they prove they should be committed to, because that’s still the best way we can sustain a level of success over a long period of time.’’
Farrell, on the same topic: “It’s been a roster of change and it’s one that’s building. And when you think about the young, talented guys that have emerged here this summer, it is exciting. It’s exciting because you can look on the field and see a couple of guys, or multiple guys, that could be together for a long period of time. That’s not to guarantee anything, but their early returns on the opportunities provided this year have been positive. And when you start to look at Mookie, Xander, Rusney, Christian, you start to get a number of names that because of their age and because of what they’ve done in the early stages of their career, it’s very promising.”
On whether a decision has been made to re-sign Ross, a free agent:
“No, I’ll have a chance to talk to David here in the coming days,’’ Cherington said. “With the season ending the way it did, I didn’t have a chance to catch up with him before he left, but I will sometime this week. We’re not making any determination right now on catcher, but we’re certainly not eliminating anyone either. David, I think when we signed him two years ago, what we were hoping to have happen with that position mostly happened. He’s done a lot for the organization.’’