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.

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1-14-2011: The Yankees and Soriano, 2011 draft picks, Sox offseason pays off

The Yankees signed a pretty good reliever in Rafael Soriano yesterday, but curiously, I’m fairly positive about it. I’m happy because his 3-year, $35M deal (with TWO opt-out clauses) smacks of desperation. It’s like they were trying to copy what we did with Bobby Jenks, but botched it badly. Nobody pays this much to a setup guy, but somehow Scott Boras made the Yankees just look foolish. Brian Cashman had to directly go back on his word to sign Soriano, and they gave up their first-rounder to Tampa Bay in order to do it. They also ensured that we would get Texas’ first-round pick for signing Adrian Beltre. The Yankees haven’t improved this offseason, and they have some heavy payroll commitments coming up. I’m not saying that Soriano won’t make them better. He’s a very good player when healthy. But they could end up flushing quite a bit of change down the toilet on this deal.

We’ve done pretty well on gathering draft picks while also improving as a team (getting younger and more athletic). Only Tampa Bay has acquired more early picks, but I’m of the opinion that they will take a pretty big step back this year, so they’ll need them.

The Red Sox offseason has already paid off, as far as upper management is concerned. They are selling tickets like crazy, and ESPN has picked up four of their early games on Sunday nights. They are relevant again. They also have some ticket voucher giveaways coming right up.

Hideki Okajima has resigned with Boston for one year on the team’s terms. I still think he could be mildly effective, though we probably won’t see any more low-2 ERAs from him anytime soon. I feel somewhat comfortable with him and Felix Doubront as lefty options out of the pen, though even the righties don’t have terrible splits against lefties.

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Links 12-14-2010: More about Crawford, Lee signs with the Phillies, Blanton?, Rule 5

The Red Sox signing of Carl Crawford was a pleasant surprise for the Nation. After telling reporters that he was done with his major acquisitions, Theo Epstein went and snatched Crawford, who was all but ready to sign with the Angels. Hard to remember that just a week ago, we were trying to decide between Josh Willingham and Magglio Ordonez. Here are his contract details. Maybe the happiest Red Sox is Jason Varitek, who doesn’t have to pretend to try to throw him out on the bases anymore. The Sox could do this deal because of all the money coming off of the books, and because they have the young talent and draft picks to remain sustainable for the years to come.

Red Sox Beacon thinks that the infield grass at Fenway will hurt Crawford’s ability to get infield hits. I think it will lessen the number of grounders that make it through, but I think it might actually help him on balls that roll dead in no man’s land.

Where will Crawford hit? He doesn’t really like to lead off, but he’s willing. If Jacoby Ellsbury can return to form, my guess is he’ll hit either third or fifth, since Dustin Pedroia is locked into the two hole (and Terry Francona likes going lefty-righty at the top).

I’m actually excited about Crawford playing next to Ellsbury in the outfield. That’s the fastest outfield in baseball. While people say that playing him in front of the Green Monster is a waste, it allows Jacoby to shift over towards right-center. It makes everyone better out there; not too many balls will fall in either alley as a result.

And then seemingly out of nowhere, the Philadelphia Phillies came in and swooped up one Cliff Lee yesterday, leaving the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers open-mouthed and empty-handed. Lee signed for less guaranteed money then either the Yankees or Rangers were offering, so perhaps he wasn’t psyched about playing in either place (count the option, and it’s actually better). And this is yet another piece of good news for the Red Sox. For a team that is loading up on left-handed hitting, it’s a godsend that Lee, one of the top lefties in baseball, will not be playing in our division or even our league. The Rays lost Crawford to us (plus half their bullpen), and the Yankees have few options with which to boost their rotation. This is a huge shift in the balance of power in the AL East.

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12-9-2010: Why Carl Crawford is (probably) worth $20M per year

As I wrote my about the signing of Carl Crawford last night, lost in the ecstasy of the moment was the realization that we had just paid over $20M/season for a guy with a career .337 OBP and .444 SLG percentage. Like many others, this morning I started thinking: was it really worth it for us to spend like a drunken sailor on Crawford? And after doing some due diligence, I think the answer is yes. Let me explain.

Defense is underpaid in today’s game

Remember Moneyball, and how teams started signing players based on OBP after it came out? The real point of the book was not so much that on-base percentage was everything. Rather, it’s that you go after whatever is undervalued in the market to gain a competitive advantage. It has been suggested, and not by a few, that today’s undervalued asset is defense, primarily because it’s hard to measure and evaluations can be so subjective.

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12-6-2010: Gonzalez announced, who’s next?

Adrian Gonzalez was introduced at a press conference this morning, and he gushed all the usual things from a free agent who’s just signed a fat deal: it’s his (second) dream to play here, etc. He seems like a smart player, and knows that he needs to hit the ball in the air to be successful in Fenway. It seems that the Sox have an extension agreement in place with Gonzalez already, and it will likely be announced just after Opening Day. His agent says they’re finding a nice compromise, so I’d expect something along the lines of 6 years with a vesting option worth $130-150M.

Theo Epstein mentioned in his comments that he would like to add a right handed outfielder. But with Jayson Werth signing a massive deal with the Washington Nationals yesterday, the question is who? Carl Crawford, the top free agent outfielder, is left-handed and his signing would arguably tilt the lineup too far to the left, making us vulnerable to strong lefties, like CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee, who could be teammates again next year. Also, we have to be thinking about the future, as players like Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz start earning real money. I’m not sure we can absorb another 6-7 year maxed out deal without letting everyone start walking in a couple of years. So maybe we want to shoot for a short-term option or a second-tier target (after all, we do have Josh Reddick and Ryan Kalish, who look just about Major League ready).

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12-5-2010: Red Sox trade for Adrian Gonzalez

It happened a bit faster than what I projected, but the Red Sox are reportedly close to completing a deal that would send Casey Kelly, Anthony Rizzo, Reymond Fuentes and a PTBNL to the San Diego Padres for one Adrian Gonzalez. According to many sources, he has passed his physical and it is a done deal. The Red Sox have until 2 PM today to negotiate a contract extension with Gonzalez, who has just one year left on his contract.

If they don’t extend him right now, the deal can still be completed and he can be extended later on, and that might actually be beneficial, points out Alex Speier. So don’t be shocked if no extension gets announced along with the trade.

What we are getting

Gonzalez is a bona fide superstar, having topped 30 HR each of the past four seasons and 100 RBI in three of those (he had 99 RBI back in 2009). Consider that the Padres offense as a whole has been abysmal, not even reaching 700 runs scored since 2007, so he regularly gets the Barry Bonds treatment (35 intentional walks last year alone). Add to that the fact that PETCO Park is one of the worst hitters parks for left-handed batters in all of baseball, and his track record there is just incredible.

Adjust for the transition to the AL, then playing half his games in Fenway against the AL East, and we get a conservative line of .279/.364/.509 for 2011. That’s more than 4 wins based on offense alone. Once you add everything else, we’re talking about a 5-6 win player.

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12-03-2010: Varitek re-signs, non-tenders, more Hot Stove

Varitek back for one more dance

The Red Sox brought back 39-year old team captain Jason Varitek on a one year deal worth $2M plus incentives. Given Tek’s lack of production the past two years, it’s safe to say that he would not have found that money elsewhere. But given the Sox’ catching situation right now, I think it’s a good idea.

I have Varitek projected at .221/.305/.377 for 2011, a wOBA of just .309. But historically, he has performed well at the beginning of the year. We could use a good April/May from him as we use that time to evaluate Jarrod Saltalamacchia a bit more. Let’s get something straight – Theo Epstein did not sign him to be our starting catcher. I also don’t think that we will enter 2011 with Saltalamacchia atop our depth chart. There will be another move because…

2011 Non-Tenders

This week was the deadline for teams to offer contracts to arbitration-eligible players, and a good number of them hit the free agent market yesterday. There are some catchers you might recognize on that list, including Russell Martin (former All-Star with the Dodgers) and Dioner Navarro. I think the Sox will be in on one of these guys. Just for fun, my 2011 projections for them:

Name AB H 2B 3B HR R RBI BB SO SB Avg OBP SLG OPS wOBA
Martin 492 132 22 2 11 72 60 70 77 11 0.268 0.366 0.387 0.754 0.350
Navarro 382 95 19 1 8 41 42 30 54 2 0.248 0.308 0.362 0.670 0.305

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Links 12-1-2010: The plan forming, Victor as a DH, compensation picks, trading Scutaro, Guerrier, Parraz, Spring Training schedule

It’s starting to look like a near certainty that the Red Sox will sign one of either Jayson Werth or Carl Crawford. As I’ve said before, I like the idea of adding Werth as a long-term right-handed bat with some punch, though Crawford would be a good add as well. Werth is pretty good on defense as well, while Crawford is stellar in that category. Signing either would go a long way towards replacing the offense we’ve lost from last year’s team.

Yes, it’s been a slow offseason so far, but before you start complaining about how the Sox never spend money, read this. They are simply waiting it out. Werth is a Boras client, so any offer made now would simply be used as leverage to drive up the price. Werth will almost certainly not sign before Christmas, and may even hold out until late January.

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Links 11-24-2010: V-Mart reactions, catcher

The news yesterday of Victor Martinez signing with the Tigers has ignited a lot of skepticism about the Red Sox for next season, but it’s still WAAAY too early to judge this offseason. It’s hard to keep perspective on the situation when Detroit’s winning bid was just $8M more than our best offer; for a team like the Red Sox, that’s easily absorbed over four seasons. They simply didn’t like him as their catcher for the long haul, and we have plenty of other needs to fill.

What do we do about catcher now? Everyone is agreed that we have some potentially good options in the pipeline, but we’ll need to sign someone for the short-term while we wait to see what exactly we have in Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Salty knows he needs to capitalize on this opportunity; let’s just hope he doesn’t pressure himself too much, because the fans won’t cut him much slack, I’m afraid. With the departure of Martinez, catcher could become our new shortstop, that seemingly unfillable position that leaves fans dissatisfied every year.

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11-19-2010: Crazy offseason scenario number 1

All of this Justin Upton talk has me thinking. The Red Sox need two bats to replace Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez, and it’s generally thought that we will likely sign a free agent corner outfielder (Jayson Werth or Carl Crawford) and a corner infielder. What if, instead of blowing $100M on two good but aging players, we fill those spots via trade for good young players, utilizing our top prospects? Stay with me here.

Step 1. Send Clay Buchholz, Daniel Bard and Josh Reddick to Arizona for Justin Upton

I know, you’re saying WHAT? But hear me out.

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