The State of the Sox 2009
March 23, 2009 3 Comments
It’s time again for our yearly look at the Red Sox organization, to assess the overall health of the franchise and gauge its future prospects. Right now, things look pretty rosy.
The Red Sox may have missed out on Mark Teixeira, but what they did do was worth just as much to the team for the long-term. Instead of splurging a lot of money on second-tier free agents, Boston went out and signed veterans to one-year incentive-laden contracts. They got John Smoltz and Brad Penny for the rotation, and also Takashi Saito for the bullpen. Though all three come with some level of uncertainty due to injuries, they are all very solid to All-Star performers when healthy.
Jason Varitek also re-signed for short money, despite the best efforts of Scott Boras. This will ease the transition greatly, and buys the Sox enough time to acuire their backstop of the future.
At the same time, Epstein inked Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and Jon Lester to long-term contracts at significant discounts. This ensures that a young (but experienced) core of talented, gritty players will be around for the next 4-5 years. These guys are already fan favorites and will be the faces of the Red Sox for a long time.
The Sox unloaded Coco Crisp in exchange for Ramon Ramirez, and with the presence of Saito and Masterson, that bullpen is incredibly deep. Francona will have his pick of fresh, rested pitchers every game, and this will be one of the top bullpens in baseball.
To fill the fourth outfielder role, the Sox signed local boy Rocco Baldelli. Their insurance policy for the physically limited Baldelli consists of Mark Kotsay and Brad Wilkerson, which is not bad.
Boston’s lineup finished 2nd in the AL with 5.22 runs/game last year, this despite David Ortiz missing a month and Manny Ramirez dogging it for 4 months. While I don’t expect Pedroia and Youkilis to repeat their monster seasons, I think a healthy Papi will go along way towards remedying that. The balanced lineup lacks any big power threats outside of Ortiz, but it is an OBP powerhouse and will manufacture a lot of runs. Given a full season, I see Jacoby Ellsbury emerging as a very good leadoff man, sort of a Juan Pierre in his prime.
Jacoby Ellsbury .298/.350/.423 with 11 HR and 51 SB
Dustin Pedroia .314/.370/.460 with 13 HR and 67 RBI
David Ortiz .288/.410/.574 with 35 HR and 112 RBI
Kevin Youkilis .300/.392/.495 with 20 HR and 90 RBI
Mike Lowell .292/.354/.472 with 18 HR and 85 RBI
J.D. Drew .280/.398/.480 with 15 HR and 68 RBI
Jason Bay .278/.373/.499 with 27 HR and 91 RBI
Jason Varitek .242/.339/.400 with 11 HR and 41 RBI
Julio Lugo .259/.329/.373 with 5 HR and 33 RBI
Jed Lowrie .272/.363/.422 with 3 HR and 65 RBI
Rocco Baldelli .268/.309/.470 with 12 HR and 41 RBI
George Kottaras .219/.311/.410 with 10 HR and 24 RBI
Josh Beckett 193 IP, 12 W, 175 K, 3.84 ERA and 1.23 WHIP
Daisuke Matsuzaka 186 IP, 12 W, 178 K, 3.90 ERA and 1.35 WHIP
Jon Lester 174.1 IP, 11 W, 142 K, 3.98 ERA and 1.32 WHIP
Tim Wakefield 163 IP, 9 W, 96 K, 4.52 ERA and 1.35 WHIP
Brad Penny 147 IP, 9 W, 101 K, 4.26 ERA and 1.40 WHIP
John Smoltz 97.1 IP, 6 W, 84 K, 3.77 ERA and 1.31 WHIP
Clay Buchholz 82.2 IP, 5 W, 82 K, 3.96 ERA and 1.45 WHIP
Jonathan Papelbon 65.1 IP, 36 SV, 80 K, 2.06 ERA and 0.82 WHIP
Hideki Okajima 59 IP, 6 SV, 56 K, 3.18 ERA and 1.02 WHIP
Ramon Ramirez 52 IP, 2 SV, 49 K, 2.95 ERA and 1.19 WHIP
Justin Masterson 77.2 IP, 2 SV, 67 K, 3.92 ERA and 1.28 WHIP
Manny Delcarmen 57.1 IP, 53 K, 3.34 ERA and 1.17 WHIP
Javier Lopez 38.2 IP, 25 K, 4.43 ERA and 1.26 WHIP
The infield retains an excellent level of flexibility and depth. With Lowrie able to play at shortstop or third base, the Sox have insurance against injury or ineffectiveness. Youk is solid defensively at either corner, and they have an experienced backup catcher in Josh Bard. The defense on the right side of the diamond is top-notch, but the left side may suffer slightly as Lowell is a year older and has to deal with his mended hip.
As for the “positional battle” at shortstop, the conservative Francona will slot the veteran Lugo in there in April, and give him a chance to keep the job. If he isn’t satisfactory, Lowrie will step in. Either way, there is not a huge performance gap between the two players at this point; Lugo has speed and will probably provide more offensive punch, but Lowrie is more solid defensively and works the count better.
As you know, we have lots of catching depth, just not top-tier talent in George Kottaras, Dusty Brown and Mark Wagner. The Sox have very good organizational depth at 1B/LF with Brad Wilkerson, Paul McAnulty, Chris Carter, and Jeff Bailey (again). Nick Green, D’Angelo Jimenez, Gil Velazquez and Josh Wilson are the primary middle infield backups, and should be just fine in that role.
The outfield is talented, but not quite as deep as it could be. J.D. Drew reported to camp with stiffness in his back, and is already receiving cortisone injections, which is definitely not a good sign. Should he go down for an extended period, the options in right are not dazzling. Baldelli is a talented 4th outfielder, but we already know he’s not cut out for every day duty.
Wilkerson, Carter, McAnulty and Bailey are all competing for the reserve 1B/LF bench spot, at least until Mark Kotsay can return healthy, and Jonathan Van Every remains the CF backup. Baldelli and Wilkerson can play in center, but not regularly. That makes center the weakest position in the organization. Still, the Sox can field a passable outfield, even if two of their regulars goes down for any extended period of time.
Boston features the deepest rotation in the Major Leagues this year. Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Lester, Wakefield and Brad Penny form a pretty strong front five, and that’s even before we get to John Smoltz, Clay Buchholz, Justin Masterson or Michael Bowden. Given his recurring back issues, Wake will probably have to ramp down his innings every year, so this depth is a very good thing.
Behind all of these guys will be Charlie Zink, Devern Hansack and Dustin Richardson. So we will not get a repeat of 2005. I think this rotation will easily finish among the top 5 in the AL, and has the potential to be much better than that.
There is a lot of quality in this bullpen. Jonathan Papelbon is the closer, and Hideki Okajima, Ramon Ramirez and Masterson are all good enough to set up. Manny Delcarmen is the strikeout guy and Javier Lopez is the lefty specialist. That means Tito can call upon a good, fresh arm every night, which will translate into overall team success.
And if that isn’t enough, the Red Sox can call on Daniel Bard, Hunter Jones or Junichi Tazawa if catastrophic injuries strike. All three of those guys could be holding down Major League jobs on another team, IMHO. The depth here is kind of ridiculous, which is why they will be so good (so good! so good!). Mark it down, we will be one of the top 2 bullpens in the AL.
All signs point to Lars Anderson being ready to play 1B/DH as early as this summer, but I don’t expect him to start getting any real playing time at Fenway until 2010. With Youkilis inked long-term, the ideal situation has him shifting back to third at the end of Mike Lowell’s deal after next season to make room for the young slugger. Pedroia has the keystone corner nailed down, but expect the Sox to be a player for a new shortstop again after this season is over (I don’t really see Lowrie starting there for the long term). One of their really young prospects could pan out here too, but you can’t really count on that.
Boston still lacks that elusive “catcher of the future”, but it remains to be seen what happens to Joe Mauer, who is due to become a free agent after the 2010 season. The Twins would like nothing better than to extend the All-Star, but budgetary concerns may cause them to offer him up as trade bait next offseason, a la Johan Santana. We certainly have the prospects to lure them into a deal, and the Sox’ inaction this offseason may signal that this is the plan.
The Red Sox have a couple of talented, athletic young outfielders on the cusp in Josh Reddick and Zach Daeges. One of them could grow into a starting corner job, but I expect the other to be traded eventually. How they develop from here on out will determine their fates.
With Michael Bowden ready to come into his own in a year or two, the Sox boast a strong plan for their pitching staff for years to come. Smoltz and Penny (and possibly Wakefield) will vacate their slots next season, and Bowden, Buchholz and Masterson will be ready and able to fill them. And it appears the Sox have reloaded through the draft for the next generation of starting pitchers. The bullpen has a good contingency plan in Daniel Bard, who could make an impact this year if there is a need due to injury.
There are a number of exciting younger prospects, not the least of which is Junichi Tazawa. I think he might be ready to compete for a job as early as 2010, if he can adjust well.
The Boston Red Sox are called the MLB’s model organization for a reason. Of course, it helps to have a big budget, but they have assembled a team of talented grinders who want to win and play the game right. They’ve managed to win over a die-hard fan base and attract a glut of new fans as well over the past five years; they’ve invested in the Red Sox brand and Fenway Park, and increased the value of the team with everything. The Red Sox are an empire that will be around for a long time, from the looks of it. So go ahead, it’s safe to buy that Red Sox jersey/hat/etc.
The Sox have outstanding depth and good talent throughout the organization, from prospects to scouts to coaches. They’ve managed to hold on to talented personnel like pitching coach John Farrell, even though he has been wooed by other organizations. Theo Epstein’s team has built a scouting system which is adept at drafting (and signing) top-tier talent. Boston’s player development system is top-notch, as is their medical team, giving our players every chance to succeed. Now if only they could learn how to trade and play nice with other franchises. It seems like only the Padres will even give them the time of day come Hot Stove time.