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:

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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Post-2009: Potential free agents

The best way for me to get my mind off the fact that the Red Sox are no longer in the hunt while the Yankees are is to get thinking on the 2010 season before the corpse of 2009 gets too cold. It’s good to know that Epstein sees this team’s core as having one more year left to contend; could that mean we’ll have a bit more of a “win now” approach this offseason?

Bring ’em back?

First we should address the expiring contracts. The Red Sox need to decide whether they want to re-sign these players or let them go to free agency. Then we can examine what to do about any holes.

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24-17: Sox drop three in Minnesota

The Red Sox offense continues to lead the American League in team hitting by a huge margin (.294/.365/.454, compared to second-place Texas at .268/.346/.432), but has struggled to score a lot more runs as a result of stranding runners on base. They stranded 79 baserunners over four games, compared to the Twins’ 47. This is a regular thing with the Sox. While this is frustrating to no end, Boston did score 22 runs in the series, so you can’t really blame the offense. They were all pretty close games, and we could have easily split or taken the series.

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Sox finish contracts, Papelbon signs for $755k

The Red Sox finalized the contracts of 18 players today, including that of their closer. Things seemed to go smoothly, as the Sox didn’t have to renew anyone outright, which can be a bad sign of player/club relations.

Well, Jonathan Papelbon got what he wanted. By signing a one-year deal for $755,000 today, he became the highest paid pre-arbitration closer in Major League history. From the Sox’ point of view, I think it demonstrates how much they value Papelbon, and they did the right thing by not letting this become an unnecessary issue, especially over a few hundred thousand.

Why that number? Well, Mariano Rivera made $750,000 his third full year as a Yankee. It seems Papelbon’s got a stubborn insistence on comparing himself to the future Hall of Famer; that’s fine, as he’s been able to back it up thus far, but I think Paps needs to have a little more respect for those who have gone ahead of him. If you want to get technical, Mo’s contract was from 1998, so in inflation-adjusted dollars, Rivera made a bit more. But whatever. It’s symbolic.

He’ll be earning quite a bit more than his peers, but it’s kind of silly to turn this into a respect thing so early, before players have any say in their salaries, really. Here’s what Joe Nathan had to say about Papelbon’s earlier comments about “setting the standard” for closers his age. Bobby Jenks is perhaps his closest comparable right now, and he’ll be earning $550k in 2008. Whatever floats your boat, Paps.

Dice-K, Sox top Twins 8-3

It’s still early yet, but the Sox continued their Spring success against the Minnesota Twins yesterday. Daisuke Matsuzaka tossed two scoreless innings, needing just 12 pitches to dispatch the Twins. He did give up two hits, but two double play balls took care of that. Dice-K was able to get most of his outs on fastballs, which is a good sign, though again, it’s early yet for hitters. He’s admitted that he feels a lot more relaxed this year, without the media circus following his every move.
Kevin Youkilis and Jason Varitek went yard back-to-back in the 4th off Kevin Slowey, and George Kottaras hit a homer in the 9th and recorded two more hits. Coco Crisp, out to impress, had an RBI single and stole two bases in this one, including a steal of third off closer Joe Nathan.

The pitching staff was on its game, issuing just one walk. Hideki Okajima was sharp, throwing a scoreless inning, as was David Aardsma in his first Spring appearance.

The Sox will continue their spring series against the Twins this weekend.