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

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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Links 12-7-2010: State of the Sox, bullpen, right-handed bat, Gonzalez, Miller, depth signings

Theo Epstein delivered his yearly “State of the Sox” address yesterday, and noted the need for relief pitching and possibly adding a right-handed bat. He didn’t mention catcher, though I’m sure he’ll pick one up if the right opportunity presents itself.

I still think Scott Downs is the top option available, primarily because he’s pitched successfully in the AL East for a long time. He’s also a solid lefty who can get righties out as well, a la Hideki Okajima, ca 2008. Other names that have been mentioned include Koji Uehara, Brian Fuentes, Matt Guerrier, and Ron Mahay. Notice there are a lot of lefties named here. I think two quality lefty relievers is a must in this division.

The Red Sox are indeed showing interest in both Magglio Ordonez and Josh Willingham, right-handed hitting outfielders who could handle left field and fill in for J.D. Drew when he is out.

As we surmised, it seems the Sox have an agreement in place with newly-acquired 1B Adrian Gonzalez which would extend him for 7 years and $154M. For those of you who just can’t get enough Gonzalez Kool-Aid, here’s an interesting post featuring Katron.org’s batted ball park projector.

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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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Hot Stove 2010: Options to fill LF

The offseason is all about choices, especially for a big market team like the Red Sox. What choices give you the best chance of winning, while preserving value and organizational depth? Filling a hole by getting the best available player now may not be the best move, because it could leave you hamstrung somewhere else. As a team with a number of needs this offseason, let’s take a look at some of the options to fill left-field and compare them.

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Manny a match for the Marlins?

Hearing some of the players’ comments about Manny Ramirez today, I’m convinced that this time the Sox really do want to get rid of him. However, it is looking like all the aforementioned suitors have dropped out of the Manny sweepstakes; but at the last minute, there has appeared a dark horse- the Florida Marlins. Say what? The Marlins whose whole payroll makes less than Manny does? Yeah, those guys. WEEI 850 just reported that the Sox and Marlins are trying to hammer out a deal as we speak. Not that it’s close or anything, but it could happen. It’s actually not THAT crazy, as they signed Carlos Delgado and have been in on big names in the past, like Alfonso Soriano.

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