11-12-2011: Papelbon signs with the Phillies

Four years and $50M, that’s what it took for Jonathan Papelbon to bid adieu to the Red Sox. The deal reportedly contains a vesting option for a fifth year at a salary of $13M or so. GM Ben Cherington noted that the Red Sox were not really a match for Paps and what he wanted going forward, but he will be missed for at least the first couple of years, I would think. My suspicion is that the Red Sox shied away from any four year deal because of their ongoing concerns about his shoulder.

Papelbon was just a great, great player for this club at a time when we desperately needed a strong closer. His memorable performances and personality will be missed.

It’s not that Papelbon is irreplaceable – there are a lot of relievers out there who are closer material – but I would rather not be dealing with another unknown quantity coming into 2012. The scouts and the data suggest that Daniel Bard is the most ready option to take the ball in the ninth, and I’m glad that Bobby Jenks should still be around next year as well. We’ll still need two more solid arms back there, though.

The good news? Papelbon did not go to the Yankees or anyone else in the AL. Still, we could very well be seeing him in the World Series one day soon. I just hope that it’ll be later rather than sooner, because he is still a tough, tough matchup. Making a move to the NL is a great move for Papelbon, and he is likely to put up some staggering numbers there if he can stay healthy.

Thanks for the memories, Jonathan, and best of luck to you. At least until the World Series.

11-9-2011: Other areas of need and available free agents

Ben Cherington came out yesterday and suggested that the Red Sox were not likely to be big players on the free agent market this offseason. I think he’s being genuine, but even if they were, what good would it do them to come out and say that?

Here are the problem areas as I see them, and some free agent projections (all numbers assume a transition to the AL East).

1. Starting pitching

With so much money already committed to the rotation, I would be surprised if the Red Sox continued to throw money at this problem. Adding C.J. Wilson or Yu Darvish would be nice, but can we afford another $100M contract here, while our core players will be earning more and more every season? Signing a big arm to a long-term deal like that might mean saying goodbye to Jon Lester or Clay Buchholz once their current deals expire.

Name Age IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA WHIP
CJ Wilson 31 182.1 8.2 3.7 0.5 3.42 1.30
Roy Oswalt 34 161.6 7.1 2.4 0.9 3.93 1.30
Erik Bedard 33 64.2 8.7 3.5 1.0 3.94 1.36
Hiroki Kuroda 37 154.8 7.2 2.4 1.0 4.06 1.34
Mark Buehrle 33 189.1 4.9 2.1 0.9 4.10 1.39
Edwin Jackson 28 186.5 7.3 3.3 0.9 4.14 1.45
Freddy Garcia 35 109.2 6.1 2.7 1.0 4.27 1.40
Bartolo Colon 39 93.8 7.0 2.7 1.2 4.28 1.40
Javier Vazquez 35 167.3 8.0 2.7 1.3 4.41 1.33
Jeff Francis 31 123.2 5.6 2.4 0.9 4.58 1.46
Paul Maholm 30 161.2 5.5 3.2 0.9 4.68 1.54
Tim Wakefield 45 118.8 5.8 3.3 1.1 4.92 1.46

As you can see, bringing back Tim Wakefield really shouldn’t be an option; almost any free agent is likely to be better than him going forward. Erik Bedard has huge injury concerns, and that’s not what this staff needs. Hiroki Kuroda doesn’t seem likely to come out east. I think Roy Oswalt could be a fit if he’s willing to take a two-year deal at good money, and Buehrle would be a solid signing if we can get him for fewer than four years. Edwin Jackson scares me a little bit long-term, so I’d avoid offering him more than three years as well.

2. A closer/setup man (or two)

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11-1-2011: Replacing Big Papi

The two biggest expiring contracts we have to deal with this offseason are those of DH David Ortiz and closer Jonathan Papelbon. Even though we can’t imagine a Red Sox team without these two integral players, they are both Type A free agents. Letting them walk and signing a replacement would result in a net gain of one or two high draft picks, which is very tempting. Should they be replaced? Can they be replaced? And with whom should they be replaced are some of the biggest questions facing new GM Ben Cherington. Let’s look at the DH problem first. Paying less for a DH seems like a very good way to drop payroll, as no other team has been paying $12M/year for their DH (of course, no other team has been getting our production from the DH spot, either).

What will we be missing?

Ortiz has become THE definition of a prototypical designated hitter, producing a number of stellar seasons since being signed by Theo Epstein before the 2003 season. In his first 5 seasons with Boston, Big Papi produced slugging percentages around or exceeding .600, but has fallen to earth quite a bit since then. Entering his age 36 season, we face the tough choice of re-signing this face of the franchise, or possibly letting him go to a division rival.

Ortiz had quite a renaissance 2011, slashing .309/.398/.554 and smacking 29 home runs. He cut his strikeouts significantly, becoming a much more selective hitter in the process; he posted a career-best 83.3% contact rate. His .321 BABIP suggests that it wasn’t just lucky hits that inflated his numbers, but it was in large part actual performance. Even with the excellent year, here’s what we see for the aging slugger over the next three seasons:

Year AB HR RBI Avg OBP SLG wOBA wRAA
2012 543 27 97 0.266 0.354 0.488 0.374 29.9
2013 513 23 86 0.258 0.337 0.462 0.356 17.6
2014 475 19 74 0.249 0.320 0.434 0.336 6.0

Looking at these projections, you can see why a lot of people have been warning against anything longer than a two-year deal for Ortiz; it’s thought that he’s looking for three years. There’s a very good chance that his offensive value just crashes in 1-3 years, so I really would not sign him for more than two years plus maybe a team option. Read more of this post

10-26-2011: Lackey getting TJ surgery

At his inaugural press conference, new GM Ben Cherington announced that pitcher John Lackey will undergo Tommy John surgery and miss all of 2012.

Several take-home points from this:

  • Lackey’s poor showing in 2011 was likely due at least in part to his bum elbow; it wasn’t completely a change in talent level so much as it was an injury.
  • The front office should have secured another starter besides Erik Bedard, or at least had a better contingency plan.
  • The lost season means that Lackey’s option year kicks in for the league minimum (making him potentially tradeable towards the end of his deal).
  • The option year means that the AAV of his deal goes down to $13.8M, which helps in determining the CBT payroll.

The Sox will have to be in on one substantial free agent pitcher, or else swing a deal for one this offseason. What do you think is the right approach?

10-12-2011: Epstein to join the Cubs

If you haven’t heard it by now, Theo Epstein to the Cubs is pretty much a done deal at five years and between $15-20M. He will assume GM duties there, but he will be given basically free reign and report to only one person. It’s hard to blame him for wanting the opportunity Chicago offers, with a bigger market, a high-profile team, and a chance to make history – again. Still, if I were him, I don’t think I would want to leave a team like this, after the biggest September collapse in Major League history.

From what was reported, the front office was trying desperately to keep Epstein, but he’s had issues with them before about having more autonomy. On the bright side, the Sox stand to gain compensation for letting him leave a year early. It looks like it will be a high-profile prospect and cash, and names like RF Brett Jackson and SP Andrew Cashner have been mentioned. I’d be glad to add either of those guys to our organization; both of those are areas of need.

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