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

Link 10-5-2011: Top 50 pitching prospects

John Sickels at Minor League Ball gives his take on the top 50 pitching prospects and how they fared in 2011.

You have to go all the way down to number 46 to find Anthony Ranaudo, the only Red Sox prospect on the list. Not good for a team with some major questions about the rotation, not good.

To be fair, I don’t think that John Lackey will be this bad again in 2012, and with Clay Buchholz returning, we will have a strong rotation once more, but our number five is 43-year old Tim Wakefield right now, and if Lackey continues to struggle, we could be in big trouble going forward.

9-8-2011: Pitching prospect projections

And now for the pitchers in our stable:

Felix Doubront, SP (99.1 IP, 3.5 BB/9, 6.6 K/9, 4.51 ERA)

Doubront has a really live fastball, but his command and secondary offerings could use some polish. While he was healthy early on, this 23-year old showed the ability to really pitch well at Triple-A, so he’s likely ready for the next challenge. I think there’s still a chance he can stick as a back-end starter, but it seems as if the Sox like him in relief, so we’ll see what happens.

Alex Wilson, SP (105.4 IP, 3.4 BB/9, 6.8 K/9, 4.59 ERA)

If Doubront is the most ready, I think Wilson may have the most potential of this group as a starting pitcher. A big guy who throws a good sinking fastball, Wilson could come up here and contribute next season. If he can continue to grow as a pitcher and be consistent, we’ll see him up here in mid- to late-2012.

Kyle Weiland, SP (124.3 IP, 3.7 BB/9, 6.7 K/9, 4.64 ERA)

Weiland had a great 2011, but the 24-year old  hasn’t really shown enough to really be a good pitcher at this level. Given his track record and age, it’s likely we are looking at a swingman-type player.

In addition to these three, Andrew Miller and Alfredo Aceves are still vying for a starting role next season. The depth we have at this position means that we will likely get one or two of these guys to pitch well enough to replace Tim Wakefield when he retires (whether it’s this offseason or next year sometime).

Michael Bowden seems to have successfully made the transition to reliever, and I think he could see some significant time in our bullpen next season. And don’t forget we still have Junichi Tazawa at Pawtucket as well, though heaven only knows what we’ll see from him at this point.

9-7-2011: Just how good are these prospects, anyway?

The Red Sox had a lot of their top prospects succumb to injury or slump in 2011, but not all the news is bad. Once these guys get up to the Double-A and Triple-A levels, it becomes possible to project what their batting lines might be based on their component rates (how often they walk, strike out, hit home runs, etc.).

Here’s a quick look at what we might get out of these guys next year, based on their track record so far (all numbers assume starting roles for the Red Sox next season, adjusted for Fenway Park).

Josh Reddick, RF (.261/.321/.433 with 35 doubles and 18 HR in 557 AB)

Reddick finally got healthy and got the chance to open some eyes this year with his bat, his glove and energetic play. While he had a great season, most of his batting average came from an unusually high rate of singles, as shown by his high-ish .329 BABIP. His projected 7.6 BB% and 20.9 K% rates for next year suggest that he might be on the cusp of a starting role. It’s worth noting that it won’t take much to better the .232/.304/.360 the Sox got out of their right fielders this season. I fully expect the Sox to give him a shot at the job in the offseason, but they should bring in a short-term veteran for him to compete with.

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8-16-2011: Sox have another successful draftee signing deadline

The Red Sox had a number of unsigned draftees the day of the signing deadline, but it was a general trend throughout baseball, as there were a rash of signings last night before midnight. The Sox signed seven more of their top picks, giving them success on nine of their top eleven selections. Only second round pick OF Williams Jerez and 8th rounder OF Senquez Golson did not sign from that group.

Theo Epstein managed to sign both first rounders and both first-round sandwich picks, who we profiled here. RHP Matt Barnes received a $1.5M bonus, while C Blake Swihart signed for $2.5M, LHP Henry Owens got $1.55M and OF Jackie Bradley got $1.1M. Pretty reasonable, since the Pirates had to shell out $13M on their top two picks. 3rd round C Jordan Weems had already signed last month, and 6th round LHP Miguel Pena signed shortly following the draft in June. Also signing with Boston yesterday were the following:

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7-13-2011: What about trading for Carlos Beltran?

J.D. Drew and our lack of production out of right field is concerning, I’ll grant you. One of the possible solutions has presented itself this week. The New York Mets, already 11 games back in the NL East, are trying to unload 34-year old Carlos Beltran and his weighty contract by the trade deadline. Beltran himself notes that he would approve a trade here.

Is he worth getting?

You may not hear as much about him these days except for his injury updates, but let’s get something straight – when healthy, Beltran is still an All-Star-level player. The last three years, he has posted a .292/.381/.482 triple slash line and a 135 OPS+. The problem is that he’s only managed 234 games in that time. If you have a problem with Drew never playing, you haven’t met Beltran yet.

That being said, he’s been healthy so far this year, and put up some great numbers (.382 wOBA and 146 wRC+). Beltran is a switch-hitter, which would help balance the lineup, and while he draws walks at a high rate, he strikes out far less than most power hitters (about 15% this year).

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