Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

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.

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