Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Red Sox May Be Forced to Spend; But on Who?

Japanese sensation, Yu Darvish

It's mid-December and the Red Sox still need a right fielder, a closer and two starting pitchers. The problem is that they've already committed about $170 million in payroll for 2012.

Many Sox fans likely feel that ownership should just suck it up and spend the necessary money needed to address the rotation and bullpen. Perhaps the club can go cheap in right field with Josh Reddick and Ryan Kalsih, but they'll need to spend to acquire pitching.

However, even if the Sox decide to throw caution to the wind and eclipse the luxury tax threshold, there's still a serious problem that even bundles of money cannot address.

Hardball Talk ranked the 111 best free agents available this offseason. Here's a list of the remaining free agent pitchers (starters and relievers). As you can see, it's hardly an exciting or enticing bunch.

9. Edwin Jackson (Cardinals) 14. Ryan Madson (Phillies) 15. Hiroki Kuroda (Dodgers) 18. Roy Oswalt (Phillies) 20. Javier Vazquez (Marlins) 21. Paul Maholm (Pirates) 24. Francisco Cordero (Reds) 34. Joel Pineiro (Angels) 36. Jason Marquis (D-backs) 41. Bartolo Colon (Yankees) 52. Darren Oliver (Rangers) 57. Brad Lidge (Phillies) 65. Kerry Wood (Cubs) 66. Rich Harden (Athletics) 70. Jon Garland (Dodgers) 74. Brad Penny (Tigers) 77. Chad Qualls (Padres) 78. Jeff Francis (Royals) 85. Mike Gonzalez (Rangers) 88. Livan Hernandez (Nationals) 93. Fernando Rodney (Angels) 94. Jason Isringhausen (Mets) 97. Kevin Millwood (Rockies) 100. Ben Sheets (N/A) 04. Aaron Cook (Rockies) 106. Guillermo Mota (Giants) 108. Zach Duke (D-backs) 109. Dan Wheeler (Red Sox) 111. Chris Young (Mets)

Given the dearth of available talent, perhaps the Red Sox will instead attempt to make a trade for pitching — and they needs lots of it. More on that in a moment.

According to the Boston Herald, the Red Sox remain interested in White Sox pitchers John Danks and Gavin Floyd, as well as the Oakland A’s Gio Gonzalez and the Houston Astros’ Wandy Rodriguez. The Sox are also still interested in Athletics closer Andrew Bailey.

The question is, after trading away some of their best minor league talent to acquire Victor Martinez and Adrian Gonzalez in recent years, what's left in the Sox farm system that other teams might covet? When it comes to top prospects, the Red Sox cupboard is largely bare.

Kevin Youkilis, who will be 33 at the start of next season, who has not played in more than 136 games in any of the last three seasons, and whose numbers have also been in steady decline? Clearly, the Red Sox would be selling very low.

According to FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, the Rockies have expressed interest in executing a trade for Marco Scutaro. Perhaps the Sox could secure a pitcher in exchange for the veteran infielder. Though Scutaro is older and costlier, he's also tougher and better defensively than Jed Lowrie. Scutaro has a lot of heart and grit. He's given the Sox much more than anyone could have reasonably expected over the last two seasons. The Sox need more guys like him, not less.

Surely the Sox have been shopping both Lowrie and Josh Reddick. However, neither has established himself as a solid everyday major leaguer. Even in a package, the pair would have limited trade value.

Michael Bowden? Who wants him?

Felix Doubront? Don't the Red Sox already have a shortage of pitching?

Which brings us back to the other problem — aside from money.

The Red Sox typically carry 12 pitchers on their roster; five starters and seven relievers. At present, the Sox have Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Daniel Bard, Alfredo Aceves, Bobby Jenks, Matt Albers, Franklin Morales and Andrew Miller on their roster. That's nine pitchers, no matter how you assign them.

The reality is that Red Sox' pitching is really thin right now. So, even if the Sox somehow have faith in all of those guys (which seems dubious), they'll still need some combination of three more starters and relievers, depending on what they do with Bard and Aceves.

At this point, how can the Sox possibly rely on the up-and-down Jenks, who just had minor back surgery yesterday in Boston?

Anyone want to roll the dice with Kyle Weiland again? No? Me neither.

How about Junichi Tazawa, a pitcher who has a 7.31 ERA in nine big league appearances over two seasons? The 25-year-old had reconstructive surgery on his pitching elbow in April, 2010 and missed the rest of the season.

After rehabbing, Tazawa returned to the minors last season and posted a 4.61 ERA in 22 games played between Salem, Portland and Pawtucket.

Tazawa may be useful to the Sox at some point next season, but not in the first few months.

Given the unpredictability of Jenks, Albers and Morales, the Sox might actually need to add five or six pitchers before spring training. That's a tall order.

Given the Red Sox apparent payroll limitations and the absence of highly coveted prospects (Jose Iglesias, anyone?), the Red Sox will face some serious challenges in filling the numerous holes in their rotation and bullpen.

Boston will take $52.70 million off the books this winter. But about $33.20 will be added back in due to player raises. That leaves approximately $20 million to use in building the roster. However, by accepting arbitration, David Ortiz will probably eat up about $14 million of that.

That's a tough position for the Sox to be in; they need multiple pitchers and the new year is right on the horizon.

Yu Darvish, anyone?

After all, it's only money.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

While Red Sox Dithered, Other Clubs Improved Their Rosters

Although the Red Sox managerial search could be described as thorough, deliberative and methodical, it could also be described as dithering.

It was first reported that Terry Francona would not return as the Boston manager on the night of Sept. 29. The Red Sox and Bobby Valentine reached a verbal agreement on Nov. 29. That means the Boston front office spent two months searching for a manager.

While the Red Sox were dithering with their managerial search, they weren't focused on filling out their roster. Meanwhile, other clubs were busy addressing theirs.

The Sox lost Jonathan Papelbon and now find themselves without a closer. Even if Daniel Bard is chosen for that task, the team will still need more bullpen reinforcements — including a setup man.

Heath Bell, who would have been a really nice addition to the Sox, has agreed to a three-year, $27 million deal with the Marlins.

The length of Bell's contract is one year less than the deal Papelbon got from Philly. And the annual value of Bell's pact is less than the $12 million Papelbon made last year with the Red Sox, and the $9.35 million Papelbon made in 2010.

That would have made Bell a steal for the Sox.

Bell managed a 2.36 ERA and 1.16 WHIP over the past three seasons in San Diego, a span in which he also saved at least 42 games annually. Bell is the kind of reliever that would have softened the blow of losing Papelbon.

It's been reported that the Sox talked to Bell's agent before he signed with the Marlins, but weren't willing to engage in similar contract terms.

However, it's fairly easy to draw the conclusion that the Sox missed the boat on this one and were caught unprepared because they were preoccupied with a managerial search that should have been completed a couple of weeks ago.

Valentine was the right guy all along. So, it's reasonable to ask, what took so long?

While the Marlins, White Sox, Cardinals and Cubs all acted quickly and decisively, the Red Sox vacillated.

The Boston front office wasted valuable time and now needs to turn its attention to the starting rotation and the bullpen — not to mention right field.

At this point, the Sox have just three starters; Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz.

Beckett has thrown 200 innings in just one of the last four seasons. Since becoming a full-time starter in 2002, Beckett has been beset with assorted injuries. Consequently, he has never finished better than ninth in innings pitched. Beckett is not what you would call a workhorse or an innings eater.

Buchholz has never thrown more than 173.2 innings in his career, and after suffering a stress fracture in his back, managed just 82.2 last season. Since there is no precedent for it, Buchholz clearly cannot be counted on for 200 innings next year.

Until last season, when he threw 191.2 innings, Lester had thrown at least 200 innings for three straight years. He is the only one of the three that appears to be built to last.

That makes the four and five spots in the Sox rotation very important. The Red Sox require both talent and depth. They need tough, durable starters who will stay healthy and give them lots of innings, taking pressure off the bullpen.

Given his back issues, Roy Oswalt is not that guy. Red Sox officials are expected to meet with Bob Garber, the agent for Oswalt and CJ Wilson, this week.

Reportedly, the Red Sox have also expressed interest in free agent Mark Buehrle (who has already thrown nearly 2,500 innings in his career), Japanese star Yu Darvish, Astros' starter Wandy Rodriguez, A's hurler Gio Gonzalez and White Sox starters John Danks and Gavin Floyd, among others.

Yet, Boston has other pitching needs to address, above and beyond their need for two starters.

The Red Sox bullpen had just three consistent, reliable components last season; Jonathan Papelbon, Daniel Bard and Alfredo Aceves. Having opted to sign with the Phillies, Papelbon will not return to the Sox pen in 2012. That's left a big hole which must now be filled.

There has been much talk about moving either Bard or Aceves to the rotation in 2012.

However, last season, Aceves threw a career high 114 innings. How can anyone reasonably expect him to toss anything close to 200 innings in 2012? And taking either Bard or Aceves from the bullpen would create even bigger holes in a relief corps that already has lost Papelbon, creating as much doubt about the pen as the rotation.

Who's counting on Bobby Jenks at this point?

The Red Sox could pursue Oakland closer Andrew Bailey, Colorado closer Houston Street or Kansas City closer Joakim Soria via trade.

However, dealing for Adrian Gonzalez and Victor Martinez in recent years has left the upper ranks of the Sox farm system depleted of the kind of talent that other GMs covet.

Signing a free agent requires only dollars. However, trading for an impact player often requires the kind of prospects the Red Sox just don't have at this point. Players such as Jed Lowrie and Josh Reddick will generate limited interest and little return.

The Sox could also try to deal the versatile Kevin Youkilis for a pitcher. But, due to injuries, Youkilis — who will be 33 at the start of next season — has averaged just 111 games over the last two seasons and hasn't played in more than 136 games in the past three. That will affect his trade value.

The Red Sox could make a low dollar, one-year offer to Erik Bedard. But he has a long injury history and cannot be relied on. In seven seasons, Bedard has yet to throw 200 innings.

However, when healthy, Bedard is very effective, as his 3.70 career ERA and .97 strikeouts per inning will attest.

The Sox could also make a similar offer to Andrew Miller, who holds a 5.79 ERA over six seasons. But, at this point, the jury is in; Miller just isn't a very good Major League pitcher.

The Sox could also go the inexpensive, in-house route with Junichi Tazawa or Felix Doubront. But both pitchers are unproven at the Major League level and would amount to nothing more than a risky experiment.

However the Red Sox choose — or are forced — to address their pitching needs, there is plenty of work to do this offseason. And some of that work will begin this week at the Winter Meetings in Dallas. At the very least, the groundwork for free agent signings and/or trades should be laid there.

The Yankees got lucky with low risk contracts for Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia last offseason. Maybe the Red Sox could be similarly lucky this winter.

However, the Red Sox have tried that route many times — to no avail — in recent years, with Wade Miller, Joel Piniero, Brad Penny and John Smoltz, to name a few.

It's one thing to take a flier on a fifth starer. It's entirely another to do so with two-fifths of your starting rotation.

The Red Sox have many needs this offseason. But given the amount of time squandered searching for their manager — who was underneath their noses all along — they now have a lot less time to address all those needs.

This week's meetings in Dallas will be both revealing and important. In large part, the Red Sox are built to win now and need a few critical pieces.

That makes this offseason — and this week in particular — critical to the organization's goals, and the fan's expectations, for the 2012 season.