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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Link 10-12-2011: How it all went down in September

Finally, the sordid details of the problems in the Red Sox clubhouse have come out. The Globe’s Bob Hohler lays it all out for us. The lowlights include a dysfunctional and fractured clubhouse, a “me-first” attitude among most of the players, and a general spoiled brat, complaining attitude.

Looking at this, I have to place a big part of the blame on Josh Beckett. He’s the guy who should have stepped up and talked to these guys who were getting out of line. John Lackey was the new guy, and would have been ostracized if he had pulled this stuff on his own, and Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz are followers (though they didn’t have to be); they couldn’t have been like this without Beckett leading the chicken-and-beer-fueled charge. Instead we hear that Beckett was grousing that he fell out of contention for the Cy Young, and veterans like David Ortiz yakking about an RBI which should have been added to his stat line. Just disgraceful and disgusting. No wonder Terry Francona and Theo Epstein want to leave.

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10-6-2011: The year that was

Alright, now that the initial sting has worn off a bit, I can go back and actually try to analyze this past season with some objectivity. We’ll cover our predictions, what went right and what went wrong.

First up, we predicted that the Sox would take the division with 92 wins. While the win figure was not off by much, the Yankees took it with 97 wins (not 90), and of course the Rays edged us out in the final game of the season with 91 wins (not 83). We also had Baltimore with 79 wins and Toronto at 76. Oops.

OFFENSE

We projected Boston to be 2nd best in the AL East at 820 runs behind New York’s 830 runs. In actuality, we led all of baseball by scoring 875 runs compared to 867 for the pinstripes.

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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.

7-18-2011: What to look for at the deadline

The Red Sox are in first place and seem to be a lock for the playoffs. That part is great. And despite the struggles of J.D. Drew, our offense is the best in baseball right now. I don’t see acquiring a big bat to be the priority right now. However, we are facing some major instability in the rotation and other areas, which could require some smaller moves to be made. Looking over our current situation, I’d recommend three moves by this year’s trade deadline. Here they are, in order of importance.

Trade for a 4th or 5th starter. Importance: Medium

Jon Lester and Josh Beckett seem to be on track for now, and John Lackey has shown some signs of improvement, but there is still no timetable for Clay Buchholz to return to the rotation. Andrew Miller has been a pleasant surprise, but we don’t know how long he can keep it up, and Tim Wakefield, who hasn’t gone over 140 IP in a year since 2008, is already at 81.2 IP. Should Buchholz not be able to return, or Miller lose it, or Wake’s body break down, I really don’t want two months of Kevin Millwood up here. He’s fine for a few starts, but that’s it.

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5-17-2011: What we know about our pitchers by now

While several hitting statistics are starting to stabilize by this point in the season, pitching stats take quite a bit longer to mean something. At 150 batters faced, you can reference strikeout rate, GB rate and line drive rate, and at 200 batters faced, you can talk about fly ball rate and FB/GB ratio. Here’s a look at these numbers from our rotation:

2011 2010
Name BF K% GB% LD% FB% GB/FB BF K% GB% LD% FB% GB/FB
Lester 238 24.4% 55.3% 12.0% 32.7% 1.69 861 26.1% 53.6% 16.9% 29.6% 1.81
Buchholz 202 14.9% 47.0% 14.6% 38.4% 1.22 711 16.9% 50.8% 17.7% 31.5% 1.61
Beckett 195 25.1% 43.8% 16.4% 39.8% 1.10 577 20.1% 45.8% 19.0% 35.3% 1.30
Lackey 192 9.9% 33.6% 21.2% 45.2% 0.74 930 16.8% 45.6% 18.4% 36.0% 1.27
Matsuzaka 167 15.6% 31.6% 12.8% 55.6% 0.57 664 20.0% 33.0% 21.6% 45.5% 0.73
Wakefield 99 11.1% 37.5% 16.3% 46.3% 0.81 610 13.8% 37.0% 16.5% 46.6% 0.79

You can see that Jon Lester is his same dominant self, and that he is clearly the ace of this staff, boasting very high strikeout and ground ball rates. Josh Beckett is fully healthy, striking out hitters at the highest rate in the rotation and a lower line drive rate. Clay Buchholz is very solid in these peripherals, and so we should continue to see solid starts out of him, though he won’t likely reproduce that sub-3.00 ERA from last season.

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4-17-2011: Adrian’s extension

I’m a couple of days late on this one, but Adrian Gonzalez made it official with the Red Sox this week, signing a seven-year contract extension worth $154M that goes from 2012 through 2018. The always competent Theo Epstein-led front office saved quite a bundle by announcing the extensions of Clay Buchholz and Gonzalez after the season began, due to the way the 2011 competitive balance tax salary (CBT, or luxury tax number) is calculated.

What can we expect going forward?

Gonzalez is a perennial All-Star, and a hard worker and role model to boot. Already his leadership qualities are being extolled, after just a couple of months with the team. Given the way he’s looked following off-season shoulder surgery this year (.250/.368/.396 with solid defense and some aggressive baserunning), he’s a good bet going forward.

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4-11-2011: Buchholz signs a 4-year extension

The Red Sox announced a contract extension yesterday, but not for the player you might have expected. Young Clay Buchholz has signed a 4-year deal worth a reported $29.945M which buys out his arbitration years and one year of free agency. The deal is pretty similar to the extension they signed with Jon Lester last season, though for one less guaranteed year. Boston will also hold two club options on Buchholz for the 2016 and 2017 seasons. The year-by-year breakdown is given by The Full Count Blog here:

Signing bonus: $1M
2012: $3.5M
2013: $5.5M
2014: $7.7M
2015: $12M

2016 option: $13M with a $245k buyout
2017 option: $13.5M with a $500k buyout

There are some standard bonus clauses for Cy Young finishes.

I wouldn’t worry about Buchholz’ slow start to 2011 (not yet, anyway). His 7.20 ERA is inflated by an incredible 31.3% HR/FB rate, which is roughly three times his career average, and about six times higher than what he did last season. I think after he works through some early season stuff and gets comfortable working with Jarrod Saltalamacchia, we will see some solid pitching out of him.

Good contract or bad?

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4-8-2011: Yankees series predictions, Aceves called up

If there was any inkling of overconfidence by these Red Sox coming into the 2011 season, it’s gone now. The defensive and baserunning miscues we saw this week showed a general lack of focus and preparedness, and those need to be dealt with, NOW. Our boys limp into Boston 0-6 on the year, having been swept in embarrassing fashion by the Rangers, and now even the rebuilding Indians at the Jake. I don’t think any less of this team talent-wise, but I do think that there’s a comfort level which has to be reached, and it will only happen after we win our first game.

Game 1: Phil Hughes vs. John Lackey

Normally, I’d say that Hughes is a better pitcher, but you have to take into account the beating that he took in his first start against Detroit. Don’t discount the fact that his fastball was clocking in at only 89 mph, whereas it’s normally about 3-4 mph faster. I think Lackey surprises us with a pretty solid outing (say 2-3 runs over 6 innings) and we finally win our first game here.

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4-4-2011: Separating the real worries from the imaginary

Try not to get swept away (pun intended) in the collective madness that is Boston fandom and sports media. I think the Sox got taken in by the sky-high expectations and all the preseason love. When everyone except Hank Steinbrenner picks you to win your division, and people start talking about 100 wins in a division like the AL East before a single pitch is thrown, it doesn’t matter how focused you say you are, it will affect you. In an ironic twist, they experienced a bit of what the Yankees went through every year for so long, and they flunked the test with flying colors.

Baseball has this way of making things look better or worse than they really are. The Sox are very much still contenders, but they are starting from an 0-3 deficit now (so is Tampa Bay, BTW). Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get down to some real baseball, what do you say, guys?

Things that shouldn’t worry you yet

Jon Lester didn’t strike out a single Ranger in his start.

It’s hard to explain what happened, but it just wasn’t Jon’s day. The fastball velocity was a little lacking, but that’s not unusual at the start of the season. Lester has always been a slow starter, for whatever reason. He’ll get into his usual streak of 5-6 shutdown starts by the beginning of May.

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