Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Monday, November 30, 2009

Miguel Tejada to Red Sox?

At 35, Miguel Tejada is no longer the fearsome power hitter he once was.

And his range at shortstop may be slipping.

However, the free agent is still a skilled hitter; batting .313 with 199 hits last season.

So, Tejada may choose to market himself as a better alternative to third baseman such as Adrian Beltre, Mark DeRosa and Pedro Feliz.

One National League executive told Fox Sports that he could envision the Red Sox signing Tejada to a multiyear contract, with the idea that he would be their shortstop in 2010 and third baseman in 2011, after Mike Lowell departs as a free agent.

"If I was Boston, I'd have interest in Tejada," the official said. "He's a winning player. He inspires a team and makes you better."

At this stage of his career, facing declining skills, Tejada would likely have to take a pay cut from the $13 million annual salary he earned with the Astros this year.

Despite his offensive drop off, Tejada has averaged 15 home runs and 78 RBIs over the past three seasons.

Last season, Tejada hit 14 homers, with 46 doubles and 86 RBI.

But, Tejada will be 36 in May – the same age as Lowell. So, he will not assist the Red Sox in their goal of getting younger and more athletic at third and/or short.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Alex Gonzalez to Toronto; What Will Red Sox Do Next?

You have to wonder if Theo Epstein knew Toronto was going to sign Alex Gonzalez and just let it happen, or if he was blindsided by it?

With the move, one of the Red Sox best short term options is now off the table.

The Red Sox were prepared to offer Gonzalez a one-year deal for $3M. But the veteran shortstop wasn't going to wait around for a potential offer, and took the sure thing instead.

You have to hope the Sox have a better backup plan than Marco Scutaro. He's coming off a career year at age 34, and won't likely replicate it.

Scutaro had a nice season in 2009 (.282/.379/.409), but it's hard to get excited about him since his career stat line is .265/.337/.384

In essence, he's a pretty average hitter who's coming off a career year, which just happened to be a contract year.

With Toronto having signed Gonzalez, it seems highly unlikely that the Jays will offer Scutaro salary arbitration, meaning the Sox could sign him without losing draft choices. That broadens his appeal somewhat.

Nonetheless, Red Sox fans have to hope that Epstein has a bigger and better plan.

However, the Red Sox probably don't want to engage any shortstop in a high-value, long term contract with Jose Iglesias waiting in the wings.

Iglesias is a 19-year-old defensive whiz from Cuba who tore up the Arizona Fall League this year.

The best guess is that the Sox offer Scutaro, or another experienced veteran, a one-year deal with an option.

It's tough to imagine the Red Sox investing big dollars in Miguel Tejada, or feeling enticed by the likes of Adam Everett, Bobby Crosby or Khalil Greene.

One possibility, in addition to Scutaro, is that the Sox will bring back old friend Orlando Cabrera on a short term deal.

The Red Sox were alleged to have been put off by some of his behavior during his brief stint in 2004, but it's unclear just what that was. However, Cabrera brought a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the team and was a fan favorite in Boston.

In a 2009 season split between Oakland and Minnesota, Cabrera hit .284/.316/.389 and his career line is .275/.322/..398.

So, he's not the kind of on-base machine the Red Sox prefer, but then again, neither was Alex Gonzalez.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Red Sox May Take a Step Back in 2010, to Take Two Steps Forward in 2011

In my estimation, the Red Sox are in a precarious position right now, and could very well return with essentially the same team next season.

They weren't good enough to beat the Yankees this year, and that may not change next year.

The Sox can only hope for the best from Mike Lowell and David Ortiz. Both player's salaries are essentially $12M in 2010, and both contracts expire at season's end. The Sox will live or die with this pair of veterans. They are stuck with both players, for better of worse, and will have to ride out those contracts.

When those pacts expire after next season, the Sox will have about $25M to play with in next year's free agent market. This year's crop isn't particularly enticing anyway.

The Sox have spots to fill at shortstop and in left field. Beyond that, they have young, affordable, franchise players that they would be loathe to trade (Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis), or overpriced, underperforming players that will be very difficult to trade (Ortiz, Lowell, JD Drew).

Look for the Sox to give Alex Gonzalez a low dollar, one-year deal, with the notion that Jose Iglesias is waiting in the wings.

You can forget the Marco Scutaro talk; he a Type A free agent and, assuming Toronto offers him arbitration, the Red Sox will not surrender two picks for a 34-year-old player of his caliber.

Going after Adrian Gonzalez would gut the Red Sox farm system; Jed Hoyer will ask for the moon and stars, as he should. Clay Buchholz would certainly be required in any such deal, leaving a gaping hole in the Sox' rotation.

Junichi Tazawa and Michael Bowden are not ready for the Majors. Therefore, the Red Sox would need to acquire a free agent pitcher to replace Buchholz. There are few enticing candidates beyond John Lackey.

I'm skeptical that the Red Sox will sign a big star, other than Jason Bay. And if they lose Bay, don't be the least bit surprised if they acquire some lesser player, such as Xavier Nady, Rick Ankiel or Cody Ross, to platoon with Jeremy Hermida.

Prepare yourself for the distinct possibility of a very underwhelming replacement/acquisition. It won't likely be Matt Holliday.

The Red Sox have inquired about the Marlins' Dan Uggla, envisioning him as a potential replacement for Bay in left field. Uggla, 29, projects to earn approximately $8 million in arbitration. In four major-league seasons, he has averaged 30 homers and 90 RBIs.

So, Uggla has Bay-like numbers at less than half the cost. He would give the Sox more leeway to acquire another big-time hitter or pitcher.

One interesting possibility is that the Sox could still acquire the two-time All Star, even if they re-sign Bay. In that scenario, the Sox would move Pedroia, a college shortstop, back to his natural position, and have Uggla play second, his current position with the Marlins.

Expect Bay to be back with the Sox. It would be surprising if any team offers him more than four years, at $15M annually. He can't carry a team by himself, and he was very streaky this year.

Bay is 31, has hit .300 just once, and is coming off a career year. At this stage of his career, he won't get any better. You can only hope that his production remains consistent and that he doesn't decline during the contract.

Even if the Sox retain Bay, that won't be enough to get it done in 2010. It wasn't enough this year. More would still need to be done.

With Ortiz and Lowell aging/declining, plus a fairly weak free agent class, there is a distinct possibility that the Sox might not be quite so close to the top of the American League next season.

The club may choose to ride out the final year of Otiz' and Lowell's contracts and hope to retool after the 2010 season, when Joe Mauer, Carl Crawford, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee might all be free agents.

As much as we love Big Papi, the Red Sox will never again have such a one-dimensional player on their roster; all stick, no glove.

The Sox need a more versatile, multi-dimensional DH/position player going forward. Bay would provide the Red Sox the ability to play DH and the outfield, even if his defensive skills erode slightly during the course of the contract.

One interesting question is whether the Sox would possibly trade Josh Beckett, particularly if contract extension talks stall?

Obtaining a pitcher (like John Lackey) and hitter (Bay) through free-agency would be helpful because the Red Sox could then devote a package of young players toward someone like Adrian Gonzalez.

Becket may seem more appealing than Lackey, but he hasn't quite been the stud that the Red Sox were expecting when they traded Hanley Ramirez for him.

Since arriving in Boston, Beckett's ERA is 4.04, which is good, but not ace-like; his WHIP is 1.20; he's never struck out 200 batters in a season; and opponents have batted .300 against him.

Four years is a pretty good sample size. Beckett has been good, but not great. He's going to want a big-money deal after taking the hometown discount last time, and you have to wonder if the Sox might determine that money could be better spent elsewhere.

Lackey is not as desirable as Beckett, especially since his agent is seeking an A.J. Burnett-type contract (five years, $82.5 million).

Lackey will be an asset to any team's rotation; he has a career 3.81 ERA, all in the AL. He's reached 200 innings in four seasons, and 198 in another.

However, Lackey hasn't come close to 200 the last two seasons, missing a month-plus in each due to arm trouble. In 2008 he made just 24 starts, and this year he made 27.

The big Texan is 31 and has never won more than 19 games. Overall, he has won just 102 games in eight seasons – an average of 13 wins per year. And he has never struck out 200 batters in any season, though he did fan 199 in 2005.

The reality is that Lackey is worth about four years at $15M annually – tops.

Though he is not a true frontline ace, he would be a #1 on most teams and he would be a great #2 on the Red Sox.

Signing Lackey would also give the Red Sox the ability to leverage Beckett in a deal for more offense.

Acquiring Felix Hernandez will cost the farm; Lackey will only coast money, and the Sox have plenty of it since they didn't spend it on Mark Teixeira last winter.

After restructuring Tim Wakefield's contract, which will save the Sox $1.5 million on the competitive balance tax, Theo Epstein made an interesting statement.

"That's important because there's some things we want to do this winter and we don't have a ton of room under the CBT," Epstein said.

The tax threshold for 2010 will be $170 million; the Sox were around $122 million in 2009. Is Epstein really planning that much additional spending?

The club obviously has plenty of payroll space for Roy Halladay or some other superstar acquired via trade.

However, the Red Sox have a long history of going after talented – but previously injured – pitchers still seen as having a strong upside: think Wade Miller, Bartolo Colon, Brad Penny and John Smoltz..

The club deemed these acquisitions "low risk, high reward" since they were all signed to short-term contracts. Yet, not one of them worked out well.

Despite this, expect the Sox in on Ben Sheets, Rich Harden, Eric Bedard, and/or Carl Pavano.

If that doesn't seem inspiring, prepare yourself. This may be a very unexciting winter for Red Sox Nation.

Signing Jason Bay will not put the Red Sox over the hump, and the rest of the free agent field is thin.

While free agents only cost money (which the Red Sox have plenty of), trades will cost prospects, and the Red Sox do not have a lot of upper-level depth in their system.

Acquiring Felix Hernandez, Roy Halladay or Adrian Gonzalez would cost the Red Sox so much minor league talent that it could take years for the system to recover.

The Red Sox may instead wait until next year, when some of their big contracts expire, when the free agent field will be more attractive, and when more of their minor league talent is better developed.

In the meantime, they may look for bargains – the arbitration-eligible players that small-market teams can no longer afford. These types of players will either be traded (like Jeremy Hermida) or simply non-tendered.

Players of that variety may not be superstars or headline grabbers, but they are easily affordable options to a team like the Red Sox, who may take a step back in 2010 to take two steps forward in 2011.

Brace yourself for that possibility.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Farewell George Kottaras, We Hardly Knew Ye

The Red Sox released Kottaras today. The 26-year-old catcher was out of options and couldn't be sent to the minors again.

Kottaras hit .237 last season in only 93 at-bats, an exceptionally small sample size.

Playing once a week as Tim Wakefield's personal catcher gave him no chance to develop a rhythm and prove himself.

Then Kottaras was placed on the disabled list on August 2, after suffering back spasms.

That happened to coincide with Wakefield going on the DL and the arrival of Victor Martinez. In truth, it was more than coincidence; the club needed to make room on the 25-man roster.

And that's what Kottaras was up against again this time; not enough room on the 40-man roster.

It's still unclear how Kottaras would fare over a full season at the Major League level, and what kind of hitter he might yet become. The scouting report on Kottaras notes that he has "20-home run power potential and good plate discipline," and that he is a "hard worker."

Kottaras will likely find a job elsewhere, as catchers are in short supply at the Major League level.

If you remember, Kottaras was the player the Sox got from the Padres in exchange for David Wells. Kottaras was highly regarded in the Padres' system, and the Red Sox thought they were getting the catcher of the future, the heir apparent to Jason Varitek.

It's doubtful that Kottaras' release will change the Sox interest in any catcher outside the organization this year. They've already got $10M invested in two catchers (Martinez and Varitek) for the 2010 season.

If they need a third catcher, they'll turn to either Dusty Brown or Mark Wagner, who are already in their system.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Red Sox Mistakes: Goodbye Johnny Damon, Hello JD Drew

At the end of the 2005 season, Johnny Damon's agent, Scott Boras, was seeking a seven-year contract valued at $84 million for his client. That amounted to an average annual salary of $12 million.

However, Red Sox officials (absent then departed GM Theo Epstein) made the strategic decision that Damon was not worth more than $40 million over four seasons. That was their best offer.

But the Yankees placed a higher value on Damon. They had no qualms with the annual salary; they just made a shorter-term offer of four-years, $52 million.

At the time, Damon was 32 and had just completed his tenth consecutive season of playing in at least 145 games. He was the picture of consistency.

Yet the Red Sox, sticking to their formula of placing a value on a player and not going over that limit, made what turned out to be a lowball offer. Despite whatever affinity they had for Damon, they weren't about to let emotion get in the way.

Their view was that Damon was an aging player, with a poor throwing arm, who would begin breaking down. But he was exceptionally popular with the fans, and they had to at least make an offer for PR purposes. In retrospect, it seems that the Red Sox just didn't really value Damon after all.

However, it turned out that the Yankees got plenty of value for their investment in the durable and consistent outfielder. Over four years in the Bronx, Damon's numbers are strikingly similar to those in his four years with Boston.

Damon played in 576 games with the Yanks, almost the same as the 597 he played in his four seasons with the Red Sox. He has exactly the same .362 OBP in both NY and Boston. He has 21 more Yankee homers and three more Red Sox RBIs. He has 5 more Sox stolen bases and the same 21 times caught stealing. His Red Sox batting average was 10 points higher, but his Yankee slugging average is 17 points higher.

But the year after letting Damon defect to their arch rival, the Red Sox did something very strange; they made a 5-year, $70 million offer to JD Drew that raised eyebrows throughout the sport. At the time, Drew was 31 and had played in as many as 140 games just twice in his eight full seasons in the Majors.

But he was praised for his perfect swing, his intangibles, and his "potential."

After three years in Boston, we're still waiting for all of that to materialize.

Over the last three years of a contract during which Red Sox officials believed Damon would be overpaid, Damon has more hits (467 to 355), runs scored (295 to 247) and RBIs (216 to 196), than Drew. And Damon has a nearly identical home run total (53 to 54).

Yet, Drew has made an average of $1 million more per season (Drew: $14 million, Damon: $13 million) and is signed for two more years. Damon, on the other hand, is now a free agent.

If the Red Sox had signed him to the same deal the Yankees offered, they would be out from under that contract right now. But considering his high level of play, Damon will once again be sought after.

Drew, on the other hand, is still under contract for two more years.

It's worth noting that the Red Sox rank 13th among the 14 American League teams in on-base percentage from the leadoff spot since Damon departed. Damon eventually became the no. 2 hitter for the Yankees, but he certainly would have been the ideal solution for the Red Sox in the three years prior to the ascension of Jacoby Ellsbury.

Despite the lack of faith by Sox brass, Damon had yet another productive season this year, hitting .282, with 155 hits, 24 home runs and 82 RBIs. His 107 runs were tied for fourth in the AL. Damon also had a healthy .365 on-base percentage.

And it was the 14th season in a row in which Damon played at least 140 games, a testament to his durability. The only players who have done that more frequently are Hank Aaron, Brooks Robinson and Pete Rose (16 straight years) and Willie Mays (15).

On the other hand, Drew has played in 140 games in just one season for the Red Sox. And over the course of his 11-year career, Drew has averaged just 121 games per season.

This year, Drew batted .279, had 126 hits, 24 HR, 68 RBI and scored 84 runs,. If Red Sox fans weren't certain three years ago, they now know that Drew is not a premier hitter or run producer.

Drew reached 20 homers this year for just the fourth time in his career, but the first since 2006 when he was with the Dodgers. However, he has yet to drive in 100 runs, score 100 runs, or hit .300 as a member of the Red Sox.

Theo Epstein defends Drew by talking up his .879 OPS as a member of the Red Sox. But it's important to remember that Drew was brought to Boston to be a heart-of-the-order, no. 5 hitter.

Drew is a corner outfielder; and was not signed to simply get on base. Drawing walks is not the job of a no. 5 hitter. That job is to produce, to drive in runs.

Yet Drew does not do this particularly well; he has driven in 100 runs just once in his career, as a member of the Dodgers. Drawing a walk with men in scoring position doesn't cut it. Drew has never had 200 hits in a season, has drawn 100 walks just once, and scored 100 runs just once.

In August, Drew had his first ever two home run game, and just his second ever 4-for-4 game.

It makes you wonder what he'd ever done to earn, or deserve, his current contract from the Red Sox.

Though he came to Boston a year after Damon left, Drew hasn't made up for the loss created by Damon's departure.

Over the course of his 15-year career, Damon has 2,425 hits, 1,483 runs, 996 RBIs, 207 home runs, and 374 stolen bases.

Only five players - Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Rickey Henderson, Paul Molitor, and Joe Morgan - have compiled 2,500 hits, 1,500 runs, 1,000 RBIs, 225 home runs, and 400 stolen bases. Damon could very well join them next year.

While Damon makes a bid for the Hall of Fame, Drew will be remembered for his "perfect swing" and untapped potential.

Drew is a good fielder, who throws well and runs well. But he's never stolen more than 19 bases in any season, and that was 10 years ago. His offense, however, has been grossly over-rated by Theo Epstein.

And it's not just the relative absence of power either: Drew is a career .284 hitter; has never hit as many as 35 doubles in a season; never amassed 300 total bases; has drawn 100 walks just once; and has struck out at least 100 times in five seasons, including this year.

Over eleven full seasons, Drew has averaged 19 HR and 63 RBI. He simply isn't a serious run producer. Despite this, he is one of the highest paid outfielders in the game. And it was all predicated on a pretty slim resume.

Let's face it -- Drew just isn't a great player. One thing's for certain; he has always been over-rated, and he's certainly overpaid. Simply put, it's time to stop talking about his potential.

Drew has been in the Majors for over a decade and he's nearly 34 years old. The Red Sox have invested star money in a player who clearly isn't a star, and never will be. At this point he is what he is; an average player with an out-sized, undeserved contract.

So, the Red Sox and their fans are stuck with mediocrity for the next two years. That is, of course, unless the Red Sox are willing to eat some of his hefty salary after convincing some other team to give him more "time to develop."

Damon was not expected to be a power-hitter with the Sox. He was expected to get on base and score, which he did with regularity.

Drew, on the other hand, was brought to Boston to be the no. 5 hitter and to drive in runs. He was expected to be a productive offensive weapon, who would help drive the offense. This he has not done.

It's abundantly clear that the Red Sox would have been better off with Damon in their lineup these last four years, despite his weak arm. The money spent on Drew would have been better off allocated elsewhere.

Damon since 2006
576 games, 77 HR, 296 RBI, 1042 TB, .285 AVG., .457 SLG., 93 SB

Drew since 2006
532 games, 74 HR, 296 RBI, 872 TB, .278 AVG., .491 SLG. 12 SB

Damon since 2007
427 games, 53 HR, 216 RBI, 756 TB, ..285 AVG. .449 SLG., 68 SB

Drew since 2007
386 games, 54 HR, 196 RBI, 624 TB, .276 AVG., .488 SLG., 10 SB

Thursday, November 05, 2009

The New York Yankees: The Best Team That Money Can Buy

The Yankees' 27th World Series title is a testament to what money can buy.

The Yankees bid farewell to high-priced (but aging or diminished) players like Mike Mussina, Carl Pavano, Jason Giambi, and Bobby Abreu last offseason, and then replaced them with younger, fresher free agents.

The team signed CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett in a $423.5 million offseason spending spree. It's the kind of money few other teams had the capacity to spend. The three players were immediately amongst the top five highest paid players on the Yankees' very expensive roster.

With their $201.5 million payroll, the Yankees were in a class by themselves.

On Opening Day, the difference between the Yankees (No. 1 in payroll) and the Mets (No. 2 in payroll) was nearly $66M. That was greater than the entire payrolls of the Twins, Rays, A’s, Nationals, Pirates, Padres, and Marlins.

And the Yankees' payroll was bigger than the bottom four teams combined.

Since their loss in the desert to the Diamondbacks in 2001, the Yankees have spent more than $1.6 billion on player salaries in an effort to regain the World Series crown.

Indeed, the Yankees spent their way to their 27th title, the most in North American sports. The next closest Major League teams are the Cardinals, with 10 WS victories; the A's, with nine; the Red Sox, with seven, and the Dodgers, with six championships.

While nine seasons without a championship would seem like a short spell for most teams, for the Yankees—who view the title as a birthright—it was almost an eternity. The gap was the third-longest stretch without a championship for the Yankees since their first one, following gaps of 17 years (1979-95) and 14 years (1963-76).

The Yankees' aging roster defied the odds.

The previous seven World Champions had used a combined total of only seven starting everyday players who were 33 or older, including just four players who were playing past their 35th birthday.

The Yankees, with their cast of high-priced veterans, bucked that trend by starting Alex Rodriguez , 34, Derek Jeter , 35, Hideki Matsui, 35, Johnny Damon , 36, and Jorge Posada, 38.

No team had even won the pennant with a 35-or-older shortstop since the 1956 Brooklyn Dodgers with Pee Wee Reese. Only two of the 240 teams to make the postseason since then used such an old shortstop: the 1996 Orioles (Cal Ripken) and 1981 Phillies (Larry Bowa).

The Bombers will face some interesting decisions with that lineup this winter, and in coming years.

Matsui and Damon are both free agents. Given Damon's durability, base running prowess, and ability to still play left field, he seems more likely to return than Matsui, the World Series MVP.

Andy Pettitte, who won all three clinching playoff games for the Yankees, is a free agent once again. Where does he fit into the team's plans? Does he just want to ride off into the sunset and enjoy the glory of his accomplishments?

Captain Derek Jeter becomes a free agent after next season. It's impossible to imagine him playing elsewhere. And with the team's all-time hits leader having another strong season and approaching 3,000 career hits, the club will surely want to extend him. But for how long, and where will he play? Jeter will be 36 at the end of his current contract, and his range at short will be an issue in the near future.

Team management will worry about these things later. For now they will bask in the afterglow of their accomplishments. They are truly the best team that $201.5 million can buy.

Right now, the Yankees are in a class all by themselves. And, financially, they are in a league of their own.