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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10-13-2011: Some random thoughts on free agents

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to leave all this clubhouse talk behind and start thinking about next year. We’ve got a number of decisions to make on our own guys, and I’ve heard lots of names bandied about, which I’d like to weigh in on and discuss.

David Ortiz, DH (age 36 next year)

The guy has been great for us, and he had a wonderful bounceback year. I expect he’ll be wanting a three- or even four-year deal, but I would like to see the Sox spend no more than 2/20 on him if he stays. Is anyone convinced that he will definitely duplicate his numbers next year? How about in two years? Three? Given his age and his recent comments, maybe we SHOULD let him go, take our draft picks and let Kevin Youkilis DH. We can sign a stopgap third sacker and let him compete with Jed Lowrie/Mike Aviles for the job until Will Middlebrooks is ready.

C.J. Wilson, SP (age 31 next year)

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Trade Manny to Who?

I’ve said that I still believe that Manny Ramirez is still a highly valuable player. But Manny managed to do it again, and this might be the one that broke the Manny’s back. After being cleared by team doctors to play, he pulled himself out of the lineup with a sore knee. The Sox clubhouse was closed to the media, and after a team meeting, Manny was back in the lineup. Turns out he would have faced a team suspension if he had not played yesterday. Theo Epstein told Tim McCarver yesterday before the game that if Manny Ramirez is willing to waive his 10-5 no-trade rights, he would try to deal Ramirez before the deadline. All of this adds up to some bad juju for the long-time Sox slugger.

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Time to explore other options at third base

Now that he’s officially a free agent, Mike Lowell has been offered a number of four-year deals, at least one of which falls in the $55-60M range. It is thought that the Yankees, Cardinals, Braves and Angels have all come calling. The Red Sox have not extended a better offer than their initial 3 years and $36M, and this all but ensures that Lowell will play with a new team in 2008.

It is very sad that we will be without Lowell’s leadership next season, but it’s not all bad. For Boston, this means that:

1) They will receive a first-round pick from the signing team and a sandwich pick for Lowell, who is a type-A free agent. You almost can’t blame Theo for choosing this route, given how well the Red Sox have drafted in recent years. Adding another Jacoby Ellsbury and Clay Buchholz to the organization would soften the loss of Lowell, yes.

2) We need to explore the free agent market or a trade to fill that hole at third. Here are three possible ways we could choose to fly:

Economy Class
There are a number of options the front office could employ to just plug the hole with what we already have. The Red Sox do not have anyone in their farm system ready to fill this hole. Jed Lowrie, a middle infielder, could be a possibility; but starting a rookie with zero experience AND moving positions on him? Oakland or Minnesota, sure. But I don’t see the Sox taking a risk like that.

The next best option would be to put Kevin Youkilis back at third base, and have Chris Carter and Brandon Moss compete for the first base job. This could work out, but it could also end up flopping big time. I don’t see a World Championship team with our payroll settling for this, either.

There are some third basemen available, but not good fits for our club. Among free agents, there is Mike Lamb (offensive option) and Pedro Feliz (defensive option). Lamb has the stick, but is just barely average at third, and hasn’t played there full-time since being a rookie in 2000. Feliz is a defensive genius and a right-handed batter with some pop, but his lifetime .288 OBP won’t fly in this organization.

Business Class
In a strange free agent year, there are realy no middle-class options at third this offseason, which means that Boston will have to look to trade. With the availability of a lot of big free agents in centerfield this offseason, it may take teams some time to realize that they aren’t going to be able to afford a Torii Hunter or an Andruw Jones. That makes Coco Crisp some mighty tasty trade bait, and he might fetch us one of these middle-of-class guys in return.

Scott Rolen was a perennial All-Star until injury severely limited two of his last three seasons. He’s got 3 years left on his contract at $12M/year (coincidence that this is exactly what the Sox offered Lowell?), which makes him scary to most teams, but not the Red Sox. The Cards are said to be averse to eating any money from his contract, and Theo would oblige if they lower the asking price just a bit. I like Rolen as a good match; he’s a right-handed veteran power bat who plays excellent defense. He’s a bit of a risk, but his lifetime .372 OBP is a nice fit, and he’s actually one year younger than Lowell. The Cardinals want starting pitching in return; would St. Louis take some package including Julian Tavarez, who is locked in for less than $4M, or would we consider dealing Jon Lester?

Some have suggested that Garrett Atkins might be available. While the 28-year old slugger poses an interesting option, at least two writers say that the Rox are not going to trade him this offseason (standard disclaimer here about being blown away by an offer).

The Chicago White Sox have two players who can play third in Joe Crede and Josh Fields, and Crede’s name has come up in trade talks already this offseason. The 30-year old righty plays excellent defense, and has demonstrated some power, though he missed most of last season with an injury. His career .259/.305/.446 line is not that encouraging, but he did have a great 2006 and the White Sox could be interested in Crisp. Crede made about $5M in 2007, is arbitration eligible and under control of Chicago.

Yet another player that has been mentioned is Texas’ Hank Blalock. The Rangers are seeking a good return on the 27-year old, who has one year left on his contract at $6M, and a $6.2M option for 2009. Blalock has a .273/.337/.462 career line and has been about league average on defense the past three years. Texas is another team that has shown a lot of interest in Coco.

First Class
Then there are the big names, the ones who will cost us, either now or in the future.

Alex Rodriguez needs no introduction. The guy has said so many things about what he wants and who he wants to play for that I don’t care what he says anymore. The only thing that hasn’t changed is his egomaniacal need to become the highest paid athlete ever. First the Yankees wouldn’t touch him, but then neither would anyone else at $350M, so the Yanks have come crawling back on their hands and knees. Word is he’s nearly ready to sign a new 10-year, $275M deal with a lot of incentives to stay in pinstripes. If the price had come down to 8 years and $225M or so, I think the Sox should have got him. But, I’m also kind of relieved he won’t be playing here.

Then there’s Miguel Cabrera, the 25-year old phenom who hits everything and eats everything in sight. He’s got two more years under control (at about $11M and $15M), and then would become a free agent. The Marlins are asking for four premium prospects in return for Cabrera, and they’re likely to get two and a half or three from either the Angels or the Dodgers. Cabrera is a butcher at third, and would play at first base if he came to Boston. However, with the Fish asking for Buchholz, Ellsbury AND Lester, I am not optimistic.

Outside the box
If the Sox choose, they could pursue first basemen with the idea of shifting Youk to third. This opens up a huge realm of possibilities, including Richie Sexson, Carlos Pena, Conor Jackson and some old Epstein favorites, including Todd Helton and Ryan Shealy.

UPDATE: Could Lowell come back?
Multiple reports have surfaced suggesting that all those four-year offers never really were offered, and with the Yankees ready to re-sign A-Rod, Lowell could indeed come back to Boston. The Yankees say that they would consider putting Lowell at first base if they sign him, but I don’t see why they want him that badly. I think they are just trying to up the price for the Red Sox.

On the Horizon: Chris Carter, 1B/LF

Chris Carter is a 25-year old left-handed hitter who has learned to play first base and left field. Sound familiar? That sounds a lot like what free agent-to-be Eric Hinske currently does for the Red Sox. And that’s no surprise, because Carter will get a chance to fill that role next season, competing with Brandon Moss. Carter was once ranked 2nd in his draft class for raw power by Baseball America, but it looks more like he’s got middling/gap power. A thinking man’s hitter, Carter shows a lot of patience for a young hitter (.390 career minor league OBP), and he’s tough to fan (one strikeout per 7.32 AB over 4 minor league seasons). At 6′ 0″ and 210 lbs, he’s smallish for first base, and his defense still needs a lot of work. Probably better suited to playing 1B or DH in the American League. Lots of scouts have pegged him as a triple-A/insurance-type player, but he has outperformed expectations before.

Carter was very highly touted out of high school in California, and went to Stanford, an excellent baseball program. However, he hardly got to play due to a torn labrum in his right shoulder his freshman year. Drafted in the 17th round by the Diamondbacks, Carter shot up through their system and was playing at triple-A within two years. He led their whole farm system in 2005 with 31 HR and 115 RBI. However, with superstar Conor Jackson ahead of him on the depth chart, it wasn’t likely he’d see much playing time over there. Scouts pegged him early as a platoon-type who couldn’t hit lefties, but Carter has really closed that gap over his minor-league career.

Carter boasts great numbers (try .310/.390/.519/.909 over four minor league seasons), though to be fair, he has played in a lot of hitter-friendly ballparks. He already had 60 XBH this year when he was traded to the Red Sox as part of the Wily Mo Pena deal. He wasn’t as successful at Pawtucket after the deal: .234/.308/.319 in 47 AB, but given the small sample size, I wouldn’t worry too much. His hitting should be pretty solid, and as a player with all his minor league options intact, he’s quite valuable as a backup or as trade bait for a team hungry for a DH (Minnesota Twins, anyone?).

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