11-1-2011: Replacing Big Papi

The two biggest expiring contracts we have to deal with this offseason are those of DH David Ortiz and closer Jonathan Papelbon. Even though we can’t imagine a Red Sox team without these two integral players, they are both Type A free agents. Letting them walk and signing a replacement would result in a net gain of one or two high draft picks, which is very tempting. Should they be replaced?┬áCan they be replaced? And with whom should they be replaced are some of the biggest questions facing new GM Ben Cherington. Let’s look at the DH problem first. Paying less for a DH seems like a very good way to drop payroll, as no other team has been paying $12M/year for their DH (of course, no other team has been getting our production from the DH spot, either).

What will we be missing?

Ortiz has become THE definition of a prototypical designated hitter, producing a number of stellar seasons since being signed by Theo Epstein before the 2003 season. In his first 5 seasons with Boston, Big Papi produced slugging percentages around or exceeding .600, but has fallen to earth quite a bit since then. Entering his age 36 season, we face the tough choice of re-signing this face of the franchise, or possibly letting him go to a division rival.

Ortiz had quite a renaissance 2011, slashing .309/.398/.554 and smacking 29 home runs. He cut his strikeouts significantly, becoming a much more selective hitter in the process; he posted a career-best 83.3% contact rate. His .321 BABIP suggests that it wasn’t just lucky hits that inflated his numbers, but it was in large part actual performance. Even with the excellent year, here’s what we see for the aging slugger over the next three seasons:

Year AB HR RBI Avg OBP SLG wOBA wRAA
2012 543 27 97 0.266 0.354 0.488 0.374 29.9
2013 513 23 86 0.258 0.337 0.462 0.356 17.6
2014 475 19 74 0.249 0.320 0.434 0.336 6.0

Looking at these projections, you can see why a lot of people have been warning against anything longer than a two-year deal for Ortiz; it’s thought that he’s looking for three years. There’s a very good chance that his offensive value just crashes in 1-3 years, so I really would not sign him for more than two years plus maybe a team option. Read more of this post

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Links 11-10-2010: Sox contact every free agent, offseason predictions, Crawford vs Werth

We should clear up something: just because the Sox have contacted Jayson Werth doesn’t mean they’ve targeted him as THE acquisition for the offseason. In fact, Theo Epstein tends to work like a shrewd hedge fund manager and plan for contingencies, diversifying his free agent portfolio. Basically the Sox have many possible plans of action, and which one they take is determined by the market. If the price for Werth climbs too high, they default to another plan with someone else. Accordingly, the Sox have contacted just about every major free agent already to try and gauge who would fit well and what their expectations are. This serves the double purpose of masking our true intentions, in case someone out there wants to bid us up.

Offseason predictions

The writers at MLB Trade Rumors have taken a stab at predicting where this year’s free agents will end up. Their consensus is that the Yankees will land Cliff Lee, and the Angels will nab Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre. I agree about Lee; after re-signing Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera to pricey deals, I think the Yankees will land him (at over $20M per season) and basically be done. The Halos need to make a big splash, and while they love speed and are in dire need of the outfield defense Crawford would provide, they have other big problem areas, most notably third base and the rotation. I find it unlikely that they will land both Crawford and Beltre, who will command upwards of $30M/year between the two of them. The Angels featured the worst third base production in the Majors last year, and they have no internal options there. They love their Hispanic players, so my guess is Beltre goes with them (he likes the West Coast anyway).

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9-14-2010: Looking ahead to 2011

Sorry for the lack of postings, but I haven’t really been too motivated to write about the Red Sox, with even their mathematical playoff chances circling the drain. Can you blame me? It’s kind of hard to get excited about Darnell McDonald and Yamaico Navarro on a nightly basis. Now I know how Kansas City fans feel!

What went Wrong

If you’ll remember, we came into 2010 with a lot of confidence, and projected for a close finish with the Yankees for the divisional pennant. If you ask me what happened to this year’s team, I’d certainly cite injuries, but beyond that, we got off to a terrible start in April, while the Yankees and Rays roared out of the gate. Yeah, Mike Cameron and Jacoby Ellsbury were on the shelf then, but we didn’t have an excuse to play under .500 baseball that month. Add Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia and Josh Beckett to that injury list, and you can see where even an incredibly hot May and June wasn’t enough to salvage the season. The bullpen was really bad, yes, but I think that’s more a function of the starters not doing well early on (4.86 ERA in April, 4.36 ERA in May) and burning out the bullpen. Hideki Okajima’s injuries and subsequent ineffectiveness was also a huge blow to this relief corps.

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6-15-2010: What moves could be made?

As we are now fully into the month of June, we know that the two-month “evaluation period” is over, and the Red Sox are looking for ways to improve their team. After a horrid start by Boston and a torrid one by both New York and Tampa Bay, it would be easy to discount the Sox, but the truth is that Boston has the best record of all three teams since May 1 and has climbed to within 4 games of the division leaders.

Team W L Pct RS RA Diff
Boston 26 16 0.619 250 186 64
New York 25 16 0.610 237 173 64
Tampa 23 17 0.575 189 160 29

And that’s been done with Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron missing a huge chunk of that time. So it’s not like anything is irreparably broken, but there’s always room for improvement, right?

Evaluating areas of need

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Links 4-28-2010: Embree called up, Castro down, Sox sign Rosario

Thanks to Clay Buchholz taking advantage of an impatient Blue Jay offense, lefty Fabio Castro was never needed in last night’s game. He was promptly optioned to Pawtucket in order to add Alan Embree. The move gives the Sox three lefties in the pen, but both Hideki Okajima and Embree can be used against RHB as well as PHB, so Terry Francona’s got some options. Embree had to be added to the 40-man roster, so the Sox designated IF Kevin Frandsen this morning as part of the move. Dustin Pedroia goes back to being the shortest player on the roster with Castro’s demotion.

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Links 2-2-2010: Sox bring in Nelson and Molina, the new strategy, looking ahead

The Red Sox signed reliever Joe Nelson to a minor league deal yesterday. Though he’s right-handed, Nelson is a fastball/changeup pitcher who has been more effective against lefties over his career (split over his total OPS is 85R/114L). He does walk too many RHB, but this is a nice, sneaky way to improve the bullpen against lefties without actually adding a lefty. This is a very solid signing, and my suspicion is that he will make the team in a low-leverage/LOOGY role; that’s how Tampa Bay used him last year. We have him projected for a 4.17 ERA over about 45 IP.

The Red Sox also signed catcher Gustavo Molina to a minor league deal last week. No, he’s not related to the Molina brothers, who are all Major League catchers. But he’ll provide some depth for us at Pawtucket.

Boston clearly has a new strategy for 2010 and beyond. Rather than OBP, it is now defense which seems to be undervalued around baseball. Good pitching and defense should be fun to watch.

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Hot Stove 2010: Lackey on board, Cameron next?

With the surprise signing of John Lackey today, the Sox may have decided to freeze out Matt Holliday and agent Scott Boras altogether. A signing of that magnitude would suggest no room to add someone with Holliday’s salary requirements. Ken Rosenthal now says that the Sox are in serious talks with CF Mike Cameron about a two-year deal. The power-hitting Cameron has maintained that he wants a full-time job in centerfield, and UZR suggests that he would be a huge upgrade (+10.0 runs in 2009) over Jacoby Ellsbury (-18.6 runs in 2009) there, even at age 37. Ellsbury would certainly be a dazzling defender in left field, and his limitations with judging balls would be minimized there.

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