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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11-3-2011: Replacing Papelbon

And now for part two of our free agent series. This time, we take a look at Jonathan Papelbon going forward. Paps had a really strong 2011 campaign, and he showed a new commitment to strength and conditioning which I believe reflected in his numbers: a 2.94 ERA and 12.2 K/9 against just 1.4 BB/9. His FIP was a miserly 1.53, easily the best of his career. His velocity did not slip at all from previous years, and if anything his fastball popped just a bit more, and he was able to locate his splitter down out of the zone, making it a hugely effective out pitch.

At the tender age of 30, he already has piled up 219 saves, and is quickly climbing the leaderboard in that category. Here’s what our projections see for him going forward, from ages 31-34:

Year IP HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 WHIP ERA
2012 67.3 0.69 2.95 10.38 1.16 2.95
2013 65.5 0.71 2.99 10.27 1.17 3.02
2014 63.0 0.73 3.05 10.13 1.19 3.11
2015 60.0 0.76 3.13 9.96 1.22 3.21

Papelbon actually looks like a pretty safe signing for the next 3-4 years. The question is, will that be enough? Most players will not outright tell you that they are out to break the bank – Papelbon has done exactly that, comparing himself to Mariano Rivera and insisting at every contract negotiation that he be paid more than any closer in history.

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The future of Jonathan Papelbon

Jonathan Papelbon just set the Red Sox record for saves with 133 for his career, passing Hall of Famer Bob Stanley at just 28 years old. The other numbers are pretty amazing too; Paps owns a 1.83 ERA. For his career. He’s struck out more than 10 batters per nine innings. For his career. In 25 innings of postseason play, he has 7 saves and has yet to give up a single run. The man just thrives on pressure situations in the pressure cooker of pressure cookers. And the accolades just keep piling up. He narrowly missed the AL Rookie of the Year in 2006, but he was just selected for his fourth All-Star appearance in his fourth full season. He is already recognized as one of the most dominant closers in baseball, and his dream of becoming the next Mariano Rivera appears to be coming true.

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2008 ALCS: The morning after game 7

First of all, congratulations to the Tampa Bay Rays on your World Series berth. You definitely outplayed us last night, and deserve the chance to crown this magical season with the championship trophy. You have outperformed everyone’s expectations, including mine, and I am very happy for your organization and fans to taste this kind of success after so many years of just existing.

I’m still proud of our guys, BTW. The Red Sox were pretty beaten up this year, but they played hard and showed some real mettle by pushing this series to seven games. I still gotta think that if Josh Beckett, David Ortiz and Mike Lowell and had been healthy, we’re going to Philadelphia. No excuses, though; we were outpitched and outhit in this ALCS. I won’t say that their defense or baserunning or “clutchness” was better, because they weren’t.

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Linkage: 2008 ALDS Previews

Alright, time to get your postseason on. I won’t give a full treatment here, since there are already so many excellent previews out there. Here are a few of my favorites:

Rich Lederer and Patrick Sullivan talk Boston-Los Angeles ALDS at Baseball Analysts.

Another article on key players and matchups over at Baseball Digest Daily Blog.

David Pinto looks at how this season’s games between the two clubs turned out.

If you’re looking for reasons to be optimistic as a Red Sox fan, there are a few over at The Hardball Times.

Baseball Think Factory’s got a good summary paragraph or two.

As for my thoughts: If we had a healthy Sox team, I’d say we win in 4. You can’t ignore the best run differential in baseball (by a big margin). But there are other factors. The latest I have heard is that J.D. Drew feels “100% ready” to go, while Mike Lowell can hit but is still hobbling a bit in the field. Add in Josh Beckett’s oblique strain and pitching just once in the 5-game series, and suddenly things aren’t so clear any more. The health of these three is critical to the outcome of this series. Read more of this post

15-9: Bullpen spoils Masterson’s debut, 7-5

Justin Masterson looked good in his Major League debut. Really good. He went a full six innings, showcasing his sinker, slider and changeup, and held a pretty good Angels lineup to just one run. He left the game set up for the win, the score 3-1, Red Sox. But the Angels pulled a “Boston Red Sox” and rallied for a four-run 7th, and added one more each in the 8th and 9th frames, punishing the Boston bullpen, resulting in a 7-5 loss.

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15-8: Short-staffed Sox come up short, 6-4

The latest casualty on the long list of flu-ridden Red Sox is Daisuke Matsuzaka. He was a late scratch form yesterday’s start, and lefty Jon Lester had to make his first start ever on short rest. While it was not a pretty performance, it was enough to keep us in the game. Reliever Craig Hansen (0-1) was called up from Pawtucket, and pitched fairly well for 1 2/3 innings, but ultimately was pinned for the loss, as he gave up the go-ahead home run to Casey Kotchman in the 6th inning. Given the Sox’ recent track record, I was almost expecting another late-inning comeback, but the Los Angeles bullpen shut the door on this game, 6-4.

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