Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Marco Scutaro Is A Bargain The Red Sox Should Hold Onto

There is persistent talk this offseason that the Red Sox may shop Marco Scutaro and that, at the least, they will receive inquiries from teams in need of a shortstop. The Giants, Padres, Orioles and the Pirates all fit that description.

Scutaro would be very affordable for any team, and he has only one year remaining on his current deal. He will make just $5 million next season, and there is a $6 million club option/$3 million player option, with a $1.5 million buyout, for 2012. That makes him a steal.

And he's more than just affordable.

Scutaro led all Major League shortstops with 38 doubles, even though he played most the season with a bum shoulder. The next closest shortstop had 33 doubles. And among Major League shortstops, Scutaro was second with 632 at-bats, second with 174 hits and third with 92 runs. He was also sixth in total bases, sixth in walks, 10th in RBI, and 17th in strike outs.

By these measures, Scutaro was among the best shortstops in all of baseball last season.

Scutaro's .965 fielding percentage was 12th best in baseball among shortstops with at least 500 total chances. Most of his 18 errors were throwing errors, the product of that troubled shoulder. The inflammation in Scutaro's right rotator cuff got so bad that it forced his move from shortstop to second base for most of September. All indications are that he will be healthier next season.

The bottom line is that Scutaro is a steal at what the Red Sox are paying him, and he is a gamer. The guy doesn't take days off; he just goes out and plays hard. He is the perfect bridge to either Jose Iglesias or Yamaico Navarro.

The Red Sox will be well-served to have Marco Scutaro as their shortstop in 2011, and perhaps even 2012.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Remove Dodgers From List of Potential Daisuke Matsuzaka Suitors

Earlier this offseason, there had been speculation that the Dodgers may have interest in trading for Daisuke Matsuzaka, and that the Red Sox would be even more interested in obtaining Dodgers' outfielders Matt Kemp or Andre Ethier.

Such a scenario seems to have been all but eliminated this week as the Dodgers reached an agreement with free agent Jon Garland.

The right-hander will join Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda and Ted Lilly to round out the Dodgers rotation.

Los Angeles came to terms with Garland on a very affordable $5 million, one-year, incentive-laden contract, which includes a club option that could be worth $16 million over two seasons.

Meanwhile, Matsuzaka is owed $10 million in each of the next two seasons.

Considering the similarities between the two pitchers, the Dodgers seem to have gotten themselves a relative steal.

Garland went 14-12 with a 3.47 ERA in 200 innings for the Padres in 2010. Matsuzaka went 9-6 with a 4.69 ERA in 153.2 innings for the Red Sox.

It's worth noting that Matsuzaka pitched in the tougher AL East, facing deeper lineups that wear pitchers out. Meanwhile, Garland pitched in the weaker NL West, which is dominated by pitcher-friendly ballparks.

That said, Garland is an innings eater, something that Matsuzaka simply isn't.

Garland has pitched at least 190 innings every season since 2002, his first full year as a starter. That's a nine-year streak.

Matsuzaka, on the other hand, has pitched at least 190 innings just once during his four years in the majors (204.2 in 2007). His next best effort was 167.2 innings in 2008.

Garland has also posted double-digit win totals in every season since 2002. Matsuzaka has accomplished that in just two of his four seasons.

Looked at from those vantage points, the Dodgers made a much wiser move by signing Garland than trading for Matsuzaka. In addition to the cheaper cost, the Dodgers didn't need to surrender a player to obtain Garland, as they would have for Matsuzaka.

Unfortunately for the Red Sox, and any of their fans who have grown tired of waiting for Matsuzaka to live up to his much-heralded hype, one potential trade partner has been eliminated.

It's reasonable to assume that Matsuzaka would fare better in the National League, with its weaker lineups. And it's been speculated that Matsuzaka might be more inclined to waive his no-trade clause to a West Coast team. There is the assumption that he would like to be closer to his native Japan.

Yet, given the 5,500 miles between the West Coast and Japan (not to mention crossing multiple time-zones), Matsuzaka may be just as unlikely to get back to Japan during the season as he is in Boston.

The one exception might be the All Star break, which Matsuzaka is as likely to enjoy as most other players.

Matsuzaka was originally projected as a No. 1 or No. 2 starter for the Red Sox. The reality is that, if not traded, he will be the team's No. 5 starter going into the 2011 season. In all but one of his four seasons, Matsuzaka has posted an ERA of at least 4.40.

Matsuzaka has been an enigma, at times showing flashes of brilliance, while at others exhibiting a maddening futility. It is not uncommon for him to have thrown in excess of 100 pitches by the fifth inning. His lack of command often results in consistently deep counts and excessive walk totals.

That said, he may be the best No. 5 starter in baseball. Even at $10 million per season, the Red Sox can easily afford him for two more years.

However, if any team makes an attractive enough offer, the Red Sox will surely ask Matsuzaka if he's willing to waive his no-trade clause.

At this point, that just might be the best scenario for all parties.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Losing Martinez Saves Red Sox Money, Creates Big Hole In Lineup

The Red Sox lost Victor Martinez to the Tigers because they were outbid by $8 million dollars over four years. That amounts to just $2 million per season.

While the Red Sox were willing to offer Martinez the four-year deal he wanted, they weren't willing to go to $50 million for him. But the Tigers were.

The Red Sox made two separate offers to Martinez; a three-year deal worth $36 million and a four-year deal worth $42 million.

Even though Martinez and his agents made it clear to the Red Sox on Monday night that he was prepared to accept another offer elsewhere, the Red Sox held their ground. In the end, Martinez accepted Detroit's four-year, $50 million offer.

Even the Orioles, who offered just $2 million less, outbid the Red Sox.

The Red Sox were unwilling to go to four years, $52 million with Johnny Damon, which ended up being a regrettable decision by Theo Epstein. They can only hope that their decision with Martinez doesn't end up being similarly regrettable in the next couple of years.

The Red Sox now have a gaping hole in the middle of the order that needs to be filled by opening day. Fortunately, that is more than four months away. There is time to find a suitable, or superior, replacement.

But one thing is for sure; the Red Sox won't get the same kind of production from their catcher next season, no matter who it is. Martinez is one of the two or three best offensive catchers in the game today, behind Joe Mauer, and along with Brian McCann.

Martinez is a career .300 hitter, which is especially impressive for a catcher. Excluding the 2008 season (in which he was injured), Martinez has averaged 18 homers and 83 RBI each year since he became a full-time player in 2004.

While those are nice numbers for a catcher, the RBI and home run totals are not particularly striking. In fact, Martinez has hit 25 homers just once and driven in 100 RBI just three times in his eight full seasons in the majors. As a first baseman or DH, those numbers would be rather pedestrian.

But Martinez's offense wasn't the Red Sox' primary concern. His age (32 next month) and defensive shortcomings were the things that gave them pause. Martinez threw out only 27 of 99 base-stealers last season.

And the Sox also had questions about Martinez's game-calling skills. Red Sox pitchers had a 4.28 earned run average throwing to Martinez. With other catchers, Sox pitchers had a 4.05 ERA. Additionally, opponents had a .738 OPS with Martinez behind the plate — just above the American League average — and a .706 OPS with other catchers.

The Red Sox felt that Martinez would only remain an effective catcher for perhaps the next two seasons and that he would then need to shift to first base or DH after that. While they felt he would be worth the price of a top-notch catcher for the first two years of the contract, they didn't feel he'd be worth $12.5 million per season beyond that.

However, it's interesting that the Sox are willing to pay David Ortiz (who can’t hit lefties) $12.5 million to DH when the going rate is $6 million — tops. They’ll also wind up paying Jonathan Papelbon nearly $12 million next season, despite his regression. And J.D. Drew will will continue to be wildly overpaid in 2011, making another $14 million.

Yet, the Red Sox deemed that Martinez — a switch-hitter who crushes left-handed pitching — was not worth $12.5 million per year for the next four years.

The money they've saved can be spent elsewhere to address other needs. While the Sox may go with an inexpensive platoon of Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek behind the plate, they will need to make up for loss of Martinez's offense somehow. And should they also lose Adrian Beltre, there will then be two gaping holes in the lineup.

If Saltalamacchia ever delivers on the promise that so many scouts and talent evaluators have seen in him for so long, he will be quite a bargain for the Sox. His big body and swing make 18 homers and 83 RBI seem within reason. That would make up for the loss of Martinez for a whole lot less money.

The names Carl Crawford, Jayson Werth, Justin Upton and Adrian Gonzalez have all been mentioned as potential Red Sox targets. The reality is the the Red Sox may now need two of them — or two hitters of the same caliber — to maintain their high-powered offense.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Red Sox Let V-Mart Walk; Bigger Moves Must Be In Store

The Red Sox certainly had their chances with Victor Martinez. It seemed that his heart was in Boston all along.

After the final game of last season, Martinez made it clear that he wanted to remain in Boston.

"It’s no question, eyes closed, come back to here. This is a place that I really want to be," said Martinez.

Yet, it seems that Martinez wanted to return to the Red Sox more than they wanted him back. Once again, as is customary, the Sox put a value on a player and refused to exceed it.

Instead, Martinez will play for the Tigers next year and beyond, after agreeing to a four-year, $50 million deal with Detroit earlier today.

Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reports that that the Red Sox offered Martinez either three years and $36 million, or four years and $42 million.

But Martinez wanted a four-year deal and apparently the Red Sox didn't want him under contract for that long. After all, they offered him a mere two-year deal during the 2010 season. In the end, it seems that long term security meant more to Martinez than anything else.

Reportedly, Martinez was offered four years and $48 million by the Orioles and three years and $48 million by the White Sox. It's odd that he took $12.5 million a year from Detroit and passed up $16 million a year from Chicago. If that's accurate, Martinez could have made more money by hitting free agency again (albeit for a lot less money) in three years instead of four.

Though $12.5 million per season seems like a reasonable sum for a catcher of Matinez's stature, the Red Sox seem to believe that Martinez won't remain a capable catcher for more than two years, or so. And the Red Sox never seem comfortable committing themselves to long term deals with players in their 30s.

As a catcher, Martinez is an outstanding hitter. But as a first baseman or DH, he is far closer to the league average and would be overpaid at $12.5 million a year.

Martinez, who turns 32 on Dec. 23, is a below-average runner and below-average catcher. No doubt, he's an outstanding hitter and teammate. But his numbers, if he were a full-time first baseman, would rank him only slightly ahead of say, free agent Adam LaRoche.

The Red Sox clearly saw this possibility developing when they made a trade with Texas in July for 25-year-old catcher Jarrod Saltalamachia. At a minimum, that move was an insurance policy against today's news.

It also seems to signal that the Sox feel comfortable going forward with Saltalamachia at catcher next season, perhaps bringing back Jason Varitek as his backup and mentor. Both players are switch hitters, but Saltalamacchia is better against righthanders and Varitek is far better against lefthanders.

The Red Sox decision not to re-sign Martinez frees up a lot of money to sign a couple of free agents. The Sox still have roughly $40 million to spend if they are to reach their payroll of last season, and last week Chairman Tom Werner said the club may in fact exceed that amount.

It's reasonable to assume the Sox will be aggressive in the free agent market and in other efforts to improve a team that missed the playoffs last season. The team's NESN ratings declined in 2010, and it seems necessary to instill some excitement in the fans this offseason.

It's a good bet that the Sox will make serious runs at Carl Crawford and Jason Werth, though they may not want to go to six and five years, respectively.

Once again, the Red Sox will place a value on each player and they will not go above it. They will not let emotion get in the way and they won't get into unwise bidding wars, especially when it comes to players in their 30s.

The current compensation system is a mess. Players often hit free agency in their 30s and expect to be paid for past performance. But most guys start slowing down in their mid-30s, just when their contracts are at their peak. The Red Sox are very wary of this.

Players should instead be paid according to current performance, starting in their rookie year. If you excel, you get paid. If you don't, you don't get paid. Older players shouldn't be getting paid in excess of younger players just because of past performance.

But, at least for the present, this is the system that the Red Sox and everyone else will have to live with. The Sox will work within the confines of this system and improve their team.

When it comes to the maneuverings of Theo Epstein, expect the unexpected. Something big may be in store. He clearly wants a young star who is entering his prime, and who the Sox can keep for the long term while he is most productive.

A big trade may be as likely as a free agent signing, and it may also come in addition to such a signing. Adrian Gonzalez and Justin Upton are the most obvious candidates, but Theo could surprise us all.

One way or the other, expect the Red Sox to make a splash and improve a team that did not finish in first or second place in the AL East for just the second time in 13 seasons.

Theo and the rest of the Red Sox front office are fully aware that that is not good enough in Boston. To the fans at least, it's simply unacceptable.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

In Andrew Miller, Red Sox May Have Found Diamond In The Rough

The Red Sox may have found a diamond in the rough in their acquisition of power pitcher Andrew Miller from the Marlins.

Miller was Detroit's first-round draft pick in the 2006 amateur draft, going to the Tigers with the sixth overall selection. He was so highly touted that he was chosen one pick ahead of Dodgers' rising star Clayton Kershaw and four picks ahead of the Giants' Tim Lincecum, a two-time Cy Young Award winner.

Miller, a 6-foot-7 lefty, was the National Collegiate Player of the Year at the University of North Carolina that year. However, he never found that kind of success at the professional level.

With almost no development time in the minors, Miller made his major league debut the very year he was drafted. Miller wasn't a late-season call up either; he was promoted to the big leagues just three weeks after inking a four-year, $5.4 million deal.

The projections for Miller were so good that the Marlins insisted that he be included as part of any package that Detroit put together for Miguel Cabrera in the winter of 2007.

But Miller became a major disappointment in Florida, going 10-20 with a 5.89 ERA.

The Marlins identified Miller's problem as a failure to repeat his delivery due to a tendency to throw across his body.

However, Daniel Bard, Miller's college teammate at UNC, said that the Marlins seem to have tinkered with Miller's delivery too much and that it had a negative effect on him.

"I think they just changed a lot of things and it kind of took away from the pitcher he was when he was drafted," said Bard. "He looks quite a bit different than his 2006, college version. It seems like [his delivery] had changed gradually ever since then."

Despite those issues, Bard thinks that Miller will turn out to be a good acquisition for the Red Sox.

"I think it will be good, change of scenery, good organization. I think it will be a positive thing for him," said Bard. "All the tools are still there. Nothing has changed."

The Red Sox starting rotation appears to be set. Even if the Sox trade Daisuke Matsuzaka, it is highly unlikely that Miller would be the answer. The would certainly look for a starter with much greater Major League success than Miller.

What is more likely is that Miller will be given a chance to earn a spot in the bullpen out of spring training. Given that the 25-year-old is out of options, both he and the Red Sox have a lot riding on this experiment. Miler would first have to clear options to be assigned to Triple A.

However, Miller has a four-pitch repertoire, including a four-seam fastball that has touched 99 mph, plus a 12-to-6 curve, a slider and a change-up. He's even said to be working on a cutter.

That assortment of pitches will make him an interesting, if not irresistible, project for new pitching coach Curt Young. As a reliever, all those pitches could make him tough on hitters — if his mechanics are refined and his delivery is consistent.

More than anything else, Miller may just need a confidence booster and the knowledge that he has the support of his pitching coach and the organization.

Miller was such a highly regarded prospect when the Tigers drafted him that the consensus was they had a future ace on their hands. It would hardly be surprising if Miller feels that he let a lot of people down, not the least of which is himself.

Being projected as a future superstar is quite a burden for any young player. The Red Sox will be happy if Miller simply becomes a successful, consistent power lefty out of the pen next season.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Red Sox Pick Up Ortiz's Option; Best For Player And Team

The Red Sox chose to pick up David Ortiz's option because they want the iconic player back next season and they didn't want negotiations to get messy.

As a result, it is obvious that the Red Sox overpaid for a one-dimensional hitter who cannot play defense.

Ortiz wanted the security of a longer-term deal that would give him the comfort of playing out his days in Boston, a city he has come to embrace as much as it has embraced him.

Should he struggle again at the start of next season, or at any time time, Ortiz hoped not to deal with the constant pressure and scrutiny from the media and fans alike, and all the questions of whether he may finally be released.

The heft of his 2011 salary alone now makes that somewhat less likely.

But Theo Epstein knows that, despite his solid season in 2010, Ortiz is a player whose best years are now clearly behind him. The reality is that, on the open market, Ortiz would command a salary of about half what the Red Sox will pay him next year.

Yet, the Red Sox still overpaid. Epstein didn't want to be saddled with a longer term pact based on sentimentality or nostalgia. So the easiest, cleanest thing to do was to pick up the option. Perhaps the team will benefit from having a highly motivated Ortiz playing for another contract next year.

The good news is that Ortiz finished the 2010 season batting .270 (which he finally reached in the last game of the season), with 32 homers, 36 doubles, 102 RBI and a .529 slugging percentage.

On the other hand, Ortiz struck out 145 times in 2010, fourth most in the AL. It was also a career high for the Red Sox DH, breaking the previous high he had set in 2009.

Yes, Ortiz has whiffed an awful lot the last two years for a guy who was once a very good hitter, not just a slugger.

Strikeouts are an example of futility and are the worst kind of out. Since the ball isn't even put into play, it doesn't stand a chance of producing a hit or scoring a run, as in the case of a sacrifice or reaching on a fielder's choice.

Of even greater concern, Ortiz was positively inept against lefties last season, hitting only .222, notching just two of his 32 homers, and slugging a mere .324 in repeatedly futile at-bats.

Ortiz will be greatly disappointed to learn that he will often sit against lefties next season. Whether or not he expects it, he'd better learn to accept it. And the truth is, if Ortiz doesn't expect it, he is delusional.

Great players are always the last to accept their decline. They are always the last to realize that their skills are diminishing. They always think they can still make the big play, get the key hit, and come through in the clutch, just like they always used to.

The unfortunate thing for the Red Sox is that, at $12.5 million next season, Ortiz takes up too much salary space for them to go out and get another solidly capable right-handed hitter to complement him.

For that price, the Sox should have been able to employ a combination of left-handed and a right-handed hitters who could both DH and adequately field their positions.

Ortiz's defensive shortcomings are also a liability to the team, and his lack of ability in the field clearly limits manager Terry Francona's options.

But Ortiz still murders right-handed pitching, and the Sox hope that continues in 2011.

It should be a milestone season for the Sox' slugger. Already fifth in team history with 291 career homers, next season Ortiz will join the likes of Red Sox legends Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice and Dwight Evans in the 300-homer club.

What's more, Ortiz will begin 2011 with 932 RBI, and should become just the sixth player in team history to surpass 1,000 RBI.

Yes, the Red Sox overpaid Ortiz by picking up his option. But they wanted to avoid an ugly, protracted negotiation with him in which they would have to point out all of his shortcomings.

Nothing good comes from telling the greatest clutch hitter in team history that he has slipped considerably, even if it's true.

As much as anything, the Red Sox have accepted that they are indeed paying for past performance. Ortiz holds a special place in Red Sox history, and in the hearts of the fans. He is a two-time World Series winner with the Sox, and he is a leader both in the clubhouse and in the community.

Ortiz now has seven seasons with at least 25 home runs for the Red Sox. Only Jim Rice (7) and Ted Williams (14) have accomplished that feat. And Ortiz now has six 30-homer, 100-RBI seasons with the Red Sox.

Those six 30-homer seasons tie Ortiz with Manny Ramirez for second most in franchise history behind Ted Williams, who did in eight times. And only Williams (9) and Rice (8) had more 100-RBI seasons than Ortiz in Red Sox history.

The Sox determined that it is better to overpay Ortiz, keep him happy, satisfied, and upbeat, yet hungry and motivated for another contract in 2012. A disgruntled Ortiz would have been bad for team chemistry.

Over the past two seasons, the images of him moping back to the dugout after yet another strike out, and then sulking about it on the bench, were both sad and disappointing.

The Red Sox can only hope that there are more of the highs and fewer of the lows in 2011. And that will likely be the case as long as Ortiz plays against righties and sits against lefties.

Count on it.