Post-2009: Potential free agents

The best way for me to get my mind off the fact that the Red Sox are no longer in the hunt while the Yankees are is to get thinking on the 2010 season before the corpse of 2009 gets too cold. It’s good to know that Epstein sees this team’s core as having one more year left to contend; could that mean we’ll have a bit more of a “win now” approach this offseason?

Bring ’em back?

First we should address the expiring contracts. The Red Sox need to decide whether they want to re-sign these players or let them go to free agency. Then we can examine what to do about any holes.

Jason Bay, LF. Perhaps the most urgent free agent question for Boston. Showed he could play under the scrutiny of Boston fans and exceeded most expectations, posting a .267/.384/.537 year with 36 HR and 119 RBI. No one expected that he would come here and do a half-decent imitation of Manny Ramirez, hitting .274/.380/.534 in 1.5 years as a Red Sox. But perhaps the key word here is “expectation”. If we sign him EXPECTING this kind of season every year, I suspect we will be disappointed. Bay has said that he enjoys playing for the Sox, but they haven’t been able to reach a deal with him yet, despite two previous attempts this year. Epstein has commented that while both sides seem to want a deal, something is holding it up. For his part, Bay has said good things but is non-committal about who he wants to play for next year.

At age 30, Bay is primed for a fat, long-term deal, but there are issues. He’s never shown to be capable of sustaining this level of production, and his defense is just atrocious in left. At the end of any 4-5 year deal, you could easily be looking at a league-average player. FanGraphs says Bay was worth 3.4 WAR this year, ranked 9th best LF in baseball, very similar in value to Juan Rivera of the Angels (+3.5 WAR) and David DeJesus of the Royals (+3.3 WAR). I’d be willing to sign him at maybe $10-12M/year over 3-4 years; that cost basis would allow us to keep him in LF one more year, then move him to DH once David Ortiz leaves for free agency. However, I seriously doubt he’ll sign for that, so we should let him go to free agency. His .397 wOBA will be hard to replace, but adding even an average fielder should net +1 to +1.5 wins and help make up for that.

Billy Wagner, LHP. I’m glad that Wagner pitched well and seems ready to chase save records in 2010. He’s made it clear that he wants to close next season, and it won’t be with us. He is a type A free agent, so he’ll net us two lovely draft picks this season. End of story.

I’ve heard too many people suggest that we trade Jonathan Papelbon to make Billy our closer. Wagner is 37, coming off Tommy John, and his option is for $8M. So let me get this straight. You want to swap our epic-good closer for someone who’s 10 years older, also costs a lot and has little history with the team? All because he allowed his first postseason runs and blew the save in the playoffs? What, because he experimented with his throwing motion and walked 24 hitters this year? The Red Sox were one of the better teams this year, blowing only 18 saves all year long; Paps was responsible for just three of those. Who would you rather have, Jonathan Broxton? He blew 6 saves, and that’s in the NL. Joe Nathan blew 5 save opportunities for the Twins. Only Mariano Rivera was better, blowing just two saves this year (and he’s such a bargain at a paltry $15M each year!). To top it all off, Papelbon had a tremendous second half (1.86 ERA, 0.897 WHIP, .189 average against, 5.83 K/BB ratio). Stop overreacting, people. I’m not ready to hand the closer’s job to anybody else, Daniel Bard included.

Takashi Saito, RHP. Saito had a very nice year for us, and has proven he’s still got it. However, he was almost an afterthought in this excellent bullpen, and an expensive one at that. All told, he earned about $7.5M, and his option for 2010 would cost that much. If we aren’t ponying up $8M for Wagner, a rare power lefty, we sure aren’t paying Saito $7.5M to stick around for bullpen depth. Two more compensation draft picks for us.

Alex Gonzalez, SS. I’m as grateful to A-Gonz as anyone around here for what he’s contributed in Boston’s greatest times of need, and impressed that he hit .284/.316/.453 at the end of this year. But let’s remember that this is the Gonzalez who holds a lifetime .247/.294/.395 batting line (.263/.303/.412 in the AL), and he will be 34 next season. I am not so grateful that I would pay him $6M to stick around next year. He was good this year, but there are players who are equally good defenders out there who can hit just well for less money than the aging Gonzalez. We should bring in one of them to compete with Jed Lowrie for the spot next season. I’d rather use that money to hang on to our many players who are in arbitration this offseason and will require more money to re-sign.

Jason Varitek, C. With the Sox getting nearly the same production from George Kottaras this season, it’s safe to say the Red Sox will almost certainly decline his $5M option, but Tek also holds a $3M player option. With Victor Martinez in the fold, the Sox will allow him to stay through spring training, but he will likely be cut before or shortly after the season gets underway. Martinez is a great bat and semi-adequate behind the dish (he’s surprisingly good at blocking pitches), but he’s no Varitek at framing, and he couldn’t throw out my grandmother at second. I expect the Red Sox to go out this year and try to acquire the young catcher they failed to get last offseason.

Tim Wakefield, RHP. I’d love to have Wake stick around another year, but he’s having back surgery and we just have no idea about what his status will be come March. If he can give us 120 IP of 4.50 ERA starts, it’s worth $4M. It doesn’t even have to be in April; bring him in when someone else gets hurt. But I do hope he continues to pitch for the Sox in 2010.

Rocco Baldelli, OF. Baldelli was as good a 4th outfielder as there was in baseball this year – when he was available to play. He was injured quite often, but was a good contributor. I’d be fine with bringing him back if the price is right. Baldelli made $500k this season; if he is signed away, there are other options out there, so this isn’t a high priority to me.


One Response to Post-2009: Potential free agents

  1. Pingback: Post-2009: Roster locks and losses « Red Sox Talk

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