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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1-24-2011: Papelbon and Ellsbury sign, looking at the recent AL East moves, SS controversy?, the farm system

Warning: long post ahead! If you get bored, check out the countdown to the pitchers and catchers report date here.

Sox avoid arbitration with Papelbon and Ellsbury

Never fear arbitration, Red Sox Nation – Theo Epstein is here. Jonathan Papelbon and Jacoby Ellsbury both agreed to new one-year contracts last week, avoiding arbitration despite what were seen to be complex cases. Epstein did the right thing by both players, finalizing the payroll and letting us move on to the more important questions.

For Papelbon, he’s accumulated elite closer stats at a young age, but there are indications that he’s losing his dominance in recent years, and reports that the Sox considered trading him this offseason; that didn’t prevent him from getting a $12M deal for his last year under team control. Should Papelbon leave via free agency after this season, he will almost undoubtedly be a Type A free agent. But those two compensation picks are not guaranteed, since Paps is someone who might actually accept arbitration should the Sox offer it. One look at this year’s reliever deals (apart from Rafael Soriano’s deal), and you’ll see why making $13-15M with the Sox for one season might look better than signing elsewhere, especially if the Yankees (currently with two closers under contract for 2012) are out of the running. Not to mention that several other big-name relievers could hit the market for 2012, including the Dodgers’ Jonathan Broxton and the Padres’ Heath Bell. This has led to speculation by some that the Sox will try to trade Papelbon during this season, so as to get something for him rather than let him walk for nothing. I think that if the Sox do as well as we all think they will, they will keep him on the squad, and he can walk. It’s worth it if he pitches well.

Then there’s Ellsbury, who looked to be on the up and up until the “unstoppable” Adrian Beltre derailed him for basically all of 2010. With a possible rift between him and the team, questions about his toughness and ability to play regularly, some were arguing that the Sox should try to lowball Ells. That would have been a bad move, and will not work with Scott Boras. As it is, he’s satisfied for now and will try to reestablish his value for next year’s arbitration negotiations.

Manny, Damon and Vernon Wells…

The Rays, Jays and Yankees all made some moves recently in what looks like a bid to catch up with the Red Sox. In what seems like a bad joke, Andrew Friedman reeled in both Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez this week. Damon gives them someone who can play left and give Desmond Jennings a chance to take his time, and he can even spell Dan Johnson at first. Manny will probably be the first legitimate DH they’ve ever had.

Name Pos PA AB H 2B 3B HR R RBI BB SO SB Avg OBP SLG OPS wOBA
Damon LF 622 559 151 30 7 13 87 60 61 90 20 0.271 0.344 0.422 0.766 0.351
Ramirez LF 459 397 114 23 3 18 61 65 56 87 3 0.288 0.384 0.491 0.875 0.391

Damon is still a very solid hitter (though the defense is a problem), and with Manny, they may not even feel the loss of Carlos Pena. Both former idiots are aging players and Manny has got his team chemistry issues, but winning solves all ills, so it could work out well for them at a very low cost.

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Cuckoo for Coco Crisp?

With the emergence of Jacoby Ellsbury this season, the Red Sox are sitting pretty with Coco Crisp as a fourth outfielder. Crisp is too good to be a fourth outfielder, but the Sox have the budget to carry him as such if they can’t get the price they want in a trade. His manageable salary makes him attractive to a lot of smaller market teams, and with so many centerfielders hitting the free agent market, his name has come up early and often. The list of suitors includes (but is not limited to): Atlanta, Minnesota, San Diego, Texas and Washington.

What do the Sox want/can they get in return? Let’s look at a team-by-team breakdown.

Atlanta Braves
With the loss of Andruw Jones, the Braves are getting hit doubly hard. They lose their top defender AND a huge bat. They’ve addressed the offense by getting Mark Teixeira at the 2007 trade deadline, but they need someone to step in and cover centerfield. Atlanta has always liked Crisp, though John Schuerholz is out now as GM. There was some talk of the Sox being interested in Kelly Johnson, though I’m not sure where he would play. The Sox more likely would be interested in a plus bullpen arm; they were said to be going after Mike Gonzalez last year, though I’m not sure the Braves would give him up now.

Minnesota Twins
Torii Hunter had a career year in 2007, and the Twins made a run at the playoffs before flaming out. Now they need to move on and try to squeeze every penny if they want a shot at extending Johan Santana past 2008. The consensus is that they’d like to try for either Crisp or Rocco Baldelli, but the price has been too high, especially with so many bidders. Look for them to reconsider once the big free agents start to get situated, and the pressure gets on to find a starting centerfielder. What could the Sox want from the Twins? Epstein has inquired about Jesse Crain in the past, but maybe they’d like to get someone like Pat Neshek or Matt Guerrier. Maybe even Kevin Slowey or Glen Perkins.

San Diego Padres
With the pending departure of Mike Cameron, the Pads need to sign someone who can cover the vast expanse that is PETCO Stadium. Who better than someone like Crisp? I know that Chase Headley must have come up, but even I would be shocked if they’d give him up. What about getting a solid setup guy, like Heath Bell?

Texas Rangers
The Rangers need someone to man centerfield for them, and they have some good spare parts to offer. The Red Sox are said to have inquired about Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Gerald Laird, both capable of starting at catcher at the big league level. Texas will likely stick with Salty, leaving the 27-year old Laird, who has a great arm and is a good catcher, though inconsistent at the plate. Looks like perfect protege material for Jason Varitek, if you ask me. The other name that’s being bandied about is Hank Blalock, who has been on again and off again of the trading block for a couple of years now. He’d only make sense if we can’t sign Mike Lowell to a reasonable deal.

Washington Nationals
The Nationals tried out a string of players in center this past season with no luck. Failing to sign one of the big names to a one-year deal, acquiring Crisp from the World Champion Red Sox would help them stabilize this team somewhat and start on the road to credibility. Without a doubt, relievers Chad Cordero or Jon Rauch are in this discussion as a return for Crisp.

Epstein will keep asking for a lot; it’s still very early in the offseason. Once Andruw, Torii and Mike find homes, it’ll be easier to gauge what we can get for Coco. Who knows? Other bidders may emerge as the offseason goes on. Then it’s just a matter of who is the highest bidder.