12-16-2010: Sox sign Jenks and DiNardo, talking with Wheeler

Now this is the way an offseason is supposed to go. The Red Sox are striking early and often, inking two more stalwarts for the bullpen today. The Sox got former closer Bobby Jenks on a two-year deal worth $12M, and 31-year old lefty Lenny DiNardo on a minor league/split deal. Jesse Crain just signed a 3-year contract with the wrong color Sox (they love their hard throwing relievers over there in Chicago).

What’s Jenks got left?

Jenks is a classic case of a thrilling young arm that burst on the scene, was overused, and has experienced a decline as closer the past few years. Here are his last few seasons and what we project for him in Fenway for 2011, if he can stay healthy: Read more of this post

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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24-17: Sox drop three in Minnesota

The Red Sox offense continues to lead the American League in team hitting by a huge margin (.294/.365/.454, compared to second-place Texas at .268/.346/.432), but has struggled to score a lot more runs as a result of stranding runners on base. They stranded 79 baserunners over four games, compared to the Twins’ 47. This is a regular thing with the Sox. While this is frustrating to no end, Boston did score 22 runs in the series, so you can’t really blame the offense. They were all pretty close games, and we could have easily split or taken the series.

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Cuckoo for Coco Crisp?

With the emergence of Jacoby Ellsbury this season, the Red Sox are sitting pretty with Coco Crisp as a fourth outfielder. Crisp is too good to be a fourth outfielder, but the Sox have the budget to carry him as such if they can’t get the price they want in a trade. His manageable salary makes him attractive to a lot of smaller market teams, and with so many centerfielders hitting the free agent market, his name has come up early and often. The list of suitors includes (but is not limited to): Atlanta, Minnesota, San Diego, Texas and Washington.

What do the Sox want/can they get in return? Let’s look at a team-by-team breakdown.

Atlanta Braves
With the loss of Andruw Jones, the Braves are getting hit doubly hard. They lose their top defender AND a huge bat. They’ve addressed the offense by getting Mark Teixeira at the 2007 trade deadline, but they need someone to step in and cover centerfield. Atlanta has always liked Crisp, though John Schuerholz is out now as GM. There was some talk of the Sox being interested in Kelly Johnson, though I’m not sure where he would play. The Sox more likely would be interested in a plus bullpen arm; they were said to be going after Mike Gonzalez last year, though I’m not sure the Braves would give him up now.

Minnesota Twins
Torii Hunter had a career year in 2007, and the Twins made a run at the playoffs before flaming out. Now they need to move on and try to squeeze every penny if they want a shot at extending Johan Santana past 2008. The consensus is that they’d like to try for either Crisp or Rocco Baldelli, but the price has been too high, especially with so many bidders. Look for them to reconsider once the big free agents start to get situated, and the pressure gets on to find a starting centerfielder. What could the Sox want from the Twins? Epstein has inquired about Jesse Crain in the past, but maybe they’d like to get someone like Pat Neshek or Matt Guerrier. Maybe even Kevin Slowey or Glen Perkins.

San Diego Padres
With the pending departure of Mike Cameron, the Pads need to sign someone who can cover the vast expanse that is PETCO Stadium. Who better than someone like Crisp? I know that Chase Headley must have come up, but even I would be shocked if they’d give him up. What about getting a solid setup guy, like Heath Bell?

Texas Rangers
The Rangers need someone to man centerfield for them, and they have some good spare parts to offer. The Red Sox are said to have inquired about Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Gerald Laird, both capable of starting at catcher at the big league level. Texas will likely stick with Salty, leaving the 27-year old Laird, who has a great arm and is a good catcher, though inconsistent at the plate. Looks like perfect protege material for Jason Varitek, if you ask me. The other name that’s being bandied about is Hank Blalock, who has been on again and off again of the trading block for a couple of years now. He’d only make sense if we can’t sign Mike Lowell to a reasonable deal.

Washington Nationals
The Nationals tried out a string of players in center this past season with no luck. Failing to sign one of the big names to a one-year deal, acquiring Crisp from the World Champion Red Sox would help them stabilize this team somewhat and start on the road to credibility. Without a doubt, relievers Chad Cordero or Jon Rauch are in this discussion as a return for Crisp.

Epstein will keep asking for a lot; it’s still very early in the offseason. Once Andruw, Torii and Mike find homes, it’ll be easier to gauge what we can get for Coco. Who knows? Other bidders may emerge as the offseason goes on. Then it’s just a matter of who is the highest bidder.

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