The State of the Sox 2009

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.

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Links: It’s almost that time

Groundhog Day might have been a disappointment, but there are signs that baseball will soon be back. For the second straight year, pitcher Jon Lester has reported very early to Ft. Myers. Very different from some former players who you just never knew when they’d show up, eh? Just seeing this kid’s work ethic helps you understand one of the keys to his success (beyond his amazing physical ability to throw a baseball, of course).

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2008 Offseason: Red Sox sign Sean Casey

With Brad Wilkerson signing a deal with Seattle to be their full-time right fielder, it didn’t take long for Theo Epstein to sign the next man in line. 33-year old Sean Casey signed a one-year, $800k deal with the Red Sox to be the new Eric Hinske on this year’s squad. He hit .296/.353/.393 in 143 games for Detroit last year, when Chris Shelton didn’t work out at first base.

With over ten seasons of experience under his belt (and now a recent year and a half in the AL), Casey should make an excellent left-handed backup at first base. Like Mike Lowell, he’s known for being a consummate professional and a great teammate. Casey’s defense has been just a tick subpar in recent years, but he’s got more than enough veteran savvy to make up for it. His career .301/.366/.450 line means he will provide very good insurance against an injury to the hard-nosed Youk, who can get banged up playing dirt dog baseball. Casey can’t drive them out of the park so often anymore, but he uses the whole strike zone and the whole field to get on base. It also means the Sox can sit Youk more this year without worrying about a huge dropoff in offense. Youkilis seemed to wear down over the past two years, with his post-ASB offense suffering severely.

2008 Offseason: Replacing Eric Hinske

The Red Sox are purportedly seeking a reserve first baseman to spell Kevin Youkilis, someone who could also play a little bit of corner outfield in certain situations. The word is they want a left-handed bat off the bench to complement Youk, who hits righty. This role was filled by pretty capably Eric Hinske the last two seasons, but he has now signed with the Diamondbacks, so it is one of the areas of need right now.

Perhaps the most flexible option is Brad Wilkerson, who can play first base and all three outfield spots in a pinch. While his low batting average drags down his OBP, he is pretty patient and walks often. The former NL Rookie of the Year also provides some left-handed pop, which is useful for pinch-hitting situations. Some initial rumors said that Wilkerson was seeking a multiyear deal and a starting role, but that may be changing, according to a recent report. The oft-injured Wilkerson will be 31 this year.

Shawn Green is also a free agent, and fits many of the criteria the Sox are looking for, but he would almost certainly prefer to take a deal where he would get more playing time. Also, his career numbers and experience likely would demand a bigger contract than the other guys on this list (career .283/.355/.494 line). The 35-year old Green is still too good to play a reserve role at this point in his career. Or is he?

33-year old Sean Casey is one of the leading free agent candidates, as a veteran with very good OBP numbers (.366 lifetime and .355 the past three seasons). “The Mayor” doesn’t have much power, but he does hit a good number of doubles and filled a key role on the Detroit Tigers the last year and a half. Casey has been below average at first base the past few years, but he’s not terrible there. He does not play any outfield, but that’s kind of a luxury given his other abilities.

37-year old Ryan Klesko is also left-handed and sports a high .370 career OBP (3-year OBP is .355). He has some outfield experience, but hasn’t played much left field since a major shoulder injury that shelved him for basically all of 2006.

The 36-year old Tony Clark is a switch-hitting first baseman who has only appeared in one career game in left field. He doesn’t have the defensive flexibility of some of these other players, and doesn’t fit the high-OBP profile of most Red Sox players (lifetime .339 OBP and .332 the last three years), but he would provide some very good power off of the bench. He hits lefties well, and was .254/.314/.524/.838 off of left-handed pitching last year, in an otherwise bad year. My sense is he isn’t what Theo is looking for, so the Sox will pass on him.

The Sox can afford to spend money on reserves (Hinske made $5.6M last year, with about half of that paid by Toronto), which is a nice luxury many teams don’t have. If Green can be had, I like him, but Wilkerson and Casey are not bad options, either. Internal candidates would include Brandon Moss and Chris Carter, but the Sox are not ready to commit to either of them at this point.