Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

CRISP/RAMIREZ DEAL IS THE LYNCHPIN FOR NEXT DEAL

In a perfect world, Theo Epstein would have preferred to see where Mark Texiera lands in the free agency process before trading Coco Crisp. But, knowing Scott Boras' tactics and game-plan, the final outcome may not be decided until after the new year.

That would leave the Sox little time to address other issues. And the 25-or-so other teams not involved in the Texiera bidding won't be waiting around to act; they'll be busy addressing their own needs. As a result, critical pieces will be coming off the table in short order. So, Epstein felt compelled to act.

The conventional wisdom says that the acquisition of Ramon Ramirez means that Justin Masterson is headed into the Red Sox rotation. The speculation is that Ramirez will fill the spot otherwise held by Masterson in the bullpen. But, there is another possibility.

The acquisition of Ramirez may well be a precursor to a trade with Texas for a catcher. In any such deal, the Sox will likely be compelled to trade a young pitcher, generally anticipated to be either Clay Buchholz or Michael Bowden.

But it shouldn't be the least bit surprising if Masterson is the pitcher involved in any such deal. In that event, the Ramirez/Crisp deal takes on a different significance. After showing that he can start or come out of the pen, and showing a steely confidence as a rookie in high pressure playoff situations, Masterson's value has skyrocketed. Lots of teams would like to have him on their roster right now.

It all comes down to which young pitcher the Sox value more -- Buchholz or Masterson -- and who they think has greater Major League potential and value -- as a starter. Some scouts have said that they don't think that Masterson's arm angle makes him an ideal starter; they believe he'll eventually begin to break down.

Bowden has just one Major League start, so he's a completely unproven commodity. It's hard to imagine Texas agreeing to take him over Buchholz, who's already thrown a no-hitter in the Bigs, or Masterson. Yet, scouts say Bowden, who is presently projecting as a solid third starter at the Major League level, has a "top of the rotation ceiling."

It's said that pitching wins championships, but right now quality catching is much harder to find. To land either Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Taylor Teagarden, the Sox will have to part with a promising young pitcher. Thank goodness they've got three of them on hand.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Lugo for D-Train or Robertson?

A Boston/Detroit Swap Would Make Sense For Both Teams

After two years of waiting for their investment to finally pay off, the Red Sox are clearly hoping to find a taker for the highly disappointing, and highly overpaid, Julio Lugo.

The shortstop has been a liability both in the field and at the plate during his tenure with the Red Sox.

Defensively, Lugo has displayed little of the athleticism and range that prompted Theo Epstein to sign him to a four-year, $36 million contract two years ago. Lugo made 16 errors in just 81 games this past season, after making 19 errors in 145 games in 2007. Only six Major League shortstops made more errors than Lugo this year, but no one made so many in so few chances (292). In fact, no one else was even close.

But fielding isn't the only aspect of the game in which Lugo has been an abject failure. After being obtained by the Dodgers in a deadline trade with the Rays in 2006, the light-hitting infielder batted just .219. It wasn't a fluke; Lugo followed that by hitting just .237 in his first season with the Red Sox, before raising his average to .268 in limited action this year.

Ever the rally killer, Lugo (.139) was the worst hitter in baseball with runners in scoring position this year. To make matters worse for the Sox, Jason Varitek (.179) was fifth.

Yet Lugo, who just turned 33 today, may still have value in a salary-swap trade.

The Tigers are considering a deal with the Sox that would send either Nate Robertson (2 years, $17 million remaining) or Dontrelle Willis (2 years, $22 million remaining) to Boston in exchange for Lugo. However, some money issues are said to need resolution. With 2 years and $18 million remaining on Lugo's contract, the stickler could be this; a $9M option for 2011 that vests with 2,400 plate appearances from 2007-2010, and 600 plate appearances in 2010.

However, since Lugo had just 831 at-bats over the past two years, such an issue doesn’t seem to be of great concern. And going forward, limiting his plate appearances seems to be a mere formality. One of Lugo’s major problems is the fact that he can’t hit. That would likely move him to the bottom of anyone’s order, guaranteeing fewer plate appearances. It would be highly unlikely that any player could reach 600 ABs batting 8th or 9th. Furthermore, a team could sit Lugo in the final weeks of the 2010 season to limit his at bat’s and assure less than 600 plate appearances. This would prevent the option from kicking in.

Willis, who turns 27 in January, was 0-2 with a 9.38 ERA in just eight games with Detroit this year. After trading for what they expected to be a top of the rotation pitcher, the stunned Tigers quickly demoted the floundering lefty to the Minors on June 10. He returned to make three September starts, going 0-1 with a 8.53 ERA.

The 31-year-old Robertson was 7-11 with a 6.35 ERA in 32 games (28 starts) with Detroit. Also a southpaw, he recorded 108 strikeouts and issued 62 walks over 168 2/3 innings.

The Red Sox would acquire either pitcher with the hope that John Farrell, and a change of scenery, could somehow straighten him out. Willis, though possessing the fatter contract, would still seem to be the better value. Not only is he more than four years younger than Robertson, he also won 22 games for he Marlins in 2005. And prior to this year, Willis had averaged nearly 14 wins and a 3.78 ERA over the five previous seasons.

On the other hand, since becoming a full-time starter in 2004, Robertson has had just one winning season, to go along with a 4.87 ERA.

Naturally, there are risks with both pitchers, and the Red Sox would surely be concerned about the long-term health of Willis. But Lugo has played his way out of Boston and has a prohibitive contract for a bench warmer. If not for the possibility of swapping two equally bad contracts, the Red Sox would likely have to eat as much as two-thirds of Lugo's remaining pact while potentially settling for little more than a mid-level prospect in return. That won't help in 2009, if at all.

The Sox would be better served to take a flier on Willis than to let Lugo play behind Jed Lowrie, or pay him to play for the opposition. The Tigers need a shortstop, and considering the similarity of the contracts in play, they would assume no more risk than they already face at present.

Copyright © 2008 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author’s consent.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

SOX NEED AN IMPACT BAT

Even David Ortiz says the Red Sox need another power bat. "You definitely need to find another guy who can produce here," the Sox resident slugger said recently.

Mark Teixeira is the obvious No. 1 choice, but he will be had at great cost. And even if the Sox have a "sky's the limit" mentality in pursuing him, as a free agent, Teixeira has the privilege of going wherever he wants. The player has all the power in this instance.

Whoever is targeted, it's clear that the Sox need more thump in the lineup.

Kevin Youkilis had a career year and cracked 29 homers, 13 more than his previous best in 2007. And Mike Lowell, though on the disabled list twice and playing in just 113 games as a result, still hit 17 homers. The third baseman says his rehab is going well, and that he feels pain free for the first time in quite a while.

Doctors were pleased to see that his hip was in better condition than they had originally anticipated and called his surgery a complete success. He is expected to be fully recovered and ready for spring training. A healthy Lowell could likely be counted on for at least 20 homers next season.

However, the other side of the coin is that Lowell will turn 35 before spring training begins, and there's no guarantee that he'll recover quickly, or fully, at his age. He will remain a question mark until he proves otherwise.

There is a total power outage at shortstop; Julio Lugo and Jed Lowrie combined for a whopping three home runs this year—hold your hats, everyone! And the Sox also lack power in the outfield. Jason Bay is the only bona fide power hitter in the bunch, averaging 29 homers over the past five seasons. In fact, Bay has hit less than 25 homers just once in that span (21 in 2007).

For the 2008 season, the Bill James Handbook projected that Jacoby Ellsbury would hit six home runs. The light-hitting center fielder ended up surpassing the projection, barely, by hitting nine. No one in baseball foresees Ellsbury developing into a power hitter, and a 15-homer season would surpass all reasonable expectations. He is a base-stealer, not a power threat.

Coco Crisp, whose value is higher than at any time since he came to the Red Sox, hit seven homers and will likely be traded. J.D. Drew never was, and never will be, a power hitter. Drew hit just 19 jacks in 2008, and 11 the previous year.

The four current Red Sox outfielders accounted for 66 home runs last year—an average of 16.5 apiece. Thank goodness for Bay; excluding him, the remaining three averaged just 11.7 apiece. That's obviously pretty weak.

The Red Sox were 12th of 30 teams, with 173 home runs in 2008. Just one homer separated them from the middle-of-the-pack. So another power hitter would certainly improve the 2009 team. The Sox were good at manufacturing runs this year through bunting, sacrificing, stealing, and hitting; they finished third in baseball with 845 runs.

But there's no doubt that the addition of Teixeira would spark the offense and perhaps get the Sox over the hump they simply couldn't vault this year. After Tex and Manny Ramirez, the ranks of good free agent power bats gets pretty thin.

Adam Dunn has hit 40 or more homers in five straight seasons, and drawn 100 walks or more walks in four straight seasons. But he strikes out mercilessly, can't hit for average, and plays poor defense. That's not the type of player the Sox covet.

There are older outfielders that the Sox probably wouldn't invest in, such as Moises Alou (42), Luis Gonzalez (41), and Garret Anderson (37). And the free agent ranks are filled with re-treads and washed-up or past-their-prime players like Cliff Floyd, Jay Payton, and Trot Nixon, all of whom have already played in Boston.

Yes, there are more productive, and more expensive, free agents, such as Pat Burrell and Bobby Abreu, but it doesn't seem the Sox would follow such a path.

So, a trade would seem more likely, with Crisp and the underwhelming Lugo being available. But the question is, who else? All teams will be interested in the Sox young and deep pitching talent, such as Clay Buchholz, Justin Masterson, and Michael Bowden. To get Teixeira, a true impact bat, will only cost dollars. Getting an impact bat via trade will cost young players, as well as dollars.

It's the Sox move.

Copyright © 2008 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author’s consent.