1-24-2011: Papelbon and Ellsbury sign, looking at the recent AL East moves, SS controversy?, the farm system


Warning: long post ahead! If you get bored, check out the countdown to the pitchers and catchers report date here.

Sox avoid arbitration with Papelbon and Ellsbury

Never fear arbitration, Red Sox Nation – Theo Epstein is here. Jonathan Papelbon and Jacoby Ellsbury both agreed to new one-year contracts last week, avoiding arbitration despite what were seen to be complex cases. Epstein did the right thing by both players, finalizing the payroll and letting us move on to the more important questions.

For Papelbon, he’s accumulated elite closer stats at a young age, but there are indications that he’s losing his dominance in recent years, and reports that the Sox considered trading him this offseason; that didn’t prevent him from getting a $12M deal for his last year under team control. Should Papelbon leave via free agency after this season, he will almost undoubtedly be a Type A free agent. But those two compensation picks are not guaranteed, since Paps is someone who might actually accept arbitration should the Sox offer it. One look at this year’s reliever deals (apart from Rafael Soriano’s deal), and you’ll see why making $13-15M with the Sox for one season might look better than signing elsewhere, especially if the Yankees (currently with two closers under contract for 2012) are out of the running. Not to mention that several other big-name relievers could hit the market for 2012, including the Dodgers’ Jonathan Broxton and the Padres’ Heath Bell. This has led to speculation by some that the Sox will try to trade Papelbon during this season, so as to get something for him rather than let him walk for nothing. I think that if the Sox do as well as we all think they will, they will keep him on the squad, and he can walk. It’s worth it if he pitches well.

Then there’s Ellsbury, who looked to be on the up and up until the “unstoppable” Adrian Beltre derailed him for basically all of 2010. With a possible rift between him and the team, questions about his toughness and ability to play regularly, some were arguing that the Sox should try to lowball Ells. That would have been a bad move, and will not work with Scott Boras. As it is, he’s satisfied for now and will try to reestablish his value for next year’s arbitration negotiations.

Manny, Damon and Vernon Wells…

The Rays, Jays and Yankees all made some moves recently in what looks like a bid to catch up with the Red Sox. In what seems like a bad joke, Andrew Friedman reeled in both Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez this week. Damon gives them someone who can play left and give Desmond Jennings a chance to take his time, and he can even spell Dan Johnson at first. Manny will probably be the first legitimate DH they’ve ever had.

Name Pos PA AB H 2B 3B HR R RBI BB SO SB Avg OBP SLG OPS wOBA
Damon LF 622 559 151 30 7 13 87 60 61 90 20 0.271 0.344 0.422 0.766 0.351
Ramirez LF 459 397 114 23 3 18 61 65 56 87 3 0.288 0.384 0.491 0.875 0.391

Damon is still a very solid hitter (though the defense is a problem), and with Manny, they may not even feel the loss of Carlos Pena. Both former idiots are aging players and Manny has got his team chemistry issues, but winning solves all ills, so it could work out well for them at a very low cost.

The Blue Jays pulled off a real coup this week, sending the remains of centerfielder Vernon Wells and his albatross contract to the Angels for Juan Rivera and Mike Napoli. The Sox showed some interest in acquiring Napoli in the past, but it was mainly as a 1B/DH and not as full-time catcher (thank God). Just to give you an idea of how bad this trade looks for the Halos, here are our 2011 projections for the three players:

Name Pos PA AB H 2B 3B HR R RBI BB SO SB Avg OBP SLG OPS wOBA
Wells CF 620 576 154 34 4 22 78 79 42 79 10 0.268 0.321 0.455 0.776 0.347
Napoli C 432 381 96 19 1 22 56 61 43 107 4 0.252 0.339 0.484 0.824 0.367
Rivera LF 470 437 116 21 2 18 56 65 31 57 2 0.264 0.316 0.442 0.758 0.337

Hey, a CF who can post a .347 wOBA is nothing to sneeze at. But Wells is not a centerfielder anymore. You have to look at him as a corner guy now, so that number doesn’t look as good. The Angels improved in left field, but only marginally, if you look at Rivera’s projection, and they are going to pay like crazy to do it. Toronto has added a very useful 1B/DH/C with good power and a strong 4th outfielder. Give Napoli more at bats, and he could pretty easily slug 30 HRs, which would help make up for any regression with Jose Bautista. Take into account that the Blue Jays can finally play someone in center based on ability rather than reputation, and they haven’t gotten much worse, and they could be better. And by shedding Wells’ contract, they look all set for the future as well.

The pinstripes signed outfielder Andruw Jones, who I view as sort of a Mike Cameron proxy for them:

Name Pos PA AB H 2B 3B HR R RBI BB SO SB Avg OBP SLG OPS wOBA
Jones RF 307 269 60 12 2 14 38 38 35 69 5 0.221 0.318 0.430 0.748 0.339

A strikeout machine, Jones still has good power and can play a little defense in the corners and in center in a pinch. The good news for them is that they now have a decent right-handed insurance policy for Brett Gardner’s regression in left and against any injury to Nick Swisher in right. The addition of Soriano gives them a pretty dynamite bullpen, and also the option to push Joba Chamberlain to the rotation, should their rookies falter.

SS controversy?

With Terry Francona’s declaration that Marco Scutaro is still his starting shortstop (were you expecting something else?), the question has been raised again – who should start? Jed Lowrie continues to insist that he thinks of himself as “an everyday player”, which sounds like he thinks he should start over Scutaro. It’s true that Scutaro didn’t exactly distinguish himself last season, but he was not healthy the whole year, so I’m reserving judgment a bit.

Lowrie looks to be the better hitter thanks to his gap power, projected at .252/.333/.411 (.336 wOBA) for 2011, while I have Scutaro down for .267/.339/.372 (.327 wOBA). Alex Speier makes the case that a platoon might be the way to go, at least until one of them wrests away control of the job. Look for Scutaro to get the early playing time, but Lowrie to have ample opportunities later to force Tito’s hand.

The farm system

Director of scouting Mike Hazen points out that despite the loss of three top prospects, the Red Sox farm system is still strong and deep with lots of potential, thanks in large part to the influx of talent from last year’s draft. And the glut of early draft picks we collected this offseason certainly won’t hurt in rebuilding our minor league system.┬áIt’s almost as if they knew that they would be trading a bunch of guys for Adrian Gonzalez this offseason. Hey, wait…

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