Monday, February 24, 2014

Are qualifying offers broken or are free agents miscalculating their own value?

Nelson Cruz recently signed a one year, $8 million deal with the Orioles, Ubaldo Jimenez had to wait for ages to sign his 4 year, $50 million deal, and Stephen Drew and Ervin Santana remain unsigned. This has led to some claims that the qualifying offer system is broken, and the head of the players union, Tony Clark, is concerned about the system. The new system has teams extend a one year offer based on the highest salary for the top 125 players. The player can accept the one year deal, about $14 million, or decline it. If a different team signs that player, they forfeit their top draft pick, with the top 10 picks being protected. This new system has hurt some players, particularly ones who are not true stars.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Saving the Dempster money for a big splash?

The Red Sox have many options on how to spend the windfall, but the best one that comes to mind is acquiring Cliff Lee from the Phillies at some point this season. Acquiring Lee at midseason would use up the $13.25 million freed up by the Dempster semi-retirement. Thanks to the large amount of cap room, it wouldn't preclude other acquisitions as well. It would also give the Red Sox a true ace for the next 2.5 years that Lee would be under contract.

Despite their massive payroll ($170 million, 3rd highest in baseball), the Phillies are not expected to contend - ESPN ranked them as the second worst team in baseball. From the Phillies' perspective, dealing Lee would give them a great deal of additional financial flexibility in the next few years and would get them under the luxury tax threshold. The Lee's contract is one of the only large ones the Phillies could really move. The ink is still drying on the recent extensions to Cole Hamels and Chase Utley, and the deals to Ryan Howard and Jonathon Papelbon are pretty much unmoveable - Howard's contract was ranked at the third worst in the majors last season. Lee's contract is really the team could trade while acquiring real prospects.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Dempster decision simultaneously clarifies 2014, and opens up possibilities

Almost out of nowhere, Ryan Dempster has decided not to play this season. He stopped short of an official retirement, but coming off one of the worst seasons of his career and a lingering neck injury, it wouldn't be shocking if he didn't pitch again in the majors.

The move takes away the Red Sox pitching depth - prior to the decision Dempster was one of six pitchers competing for a spot in the starting rotation, with the 5th spot probably down to Dempster and Doubront. Now, the Red Sox starting 5 is set, and they still have good depth in the high minors with Brandon Workman, Allen Webster, and Rubby de la Rosa. This move probably impacts Workman more than anyone, given his success in the majors last year, both as a starter and a high leverage reliever. Now, he would be the first to step in to the rotation in case of injury or ineffectiveness (at least from Doubront), and the path to him staying a starting pitcher is much clearer. It also means he'll likely stay in the minors to start the season.

This also gives the Red Sox some substantial financial wiggle room. According to Scott Lauber, of the Boston Herald, the Red Sox had about $7 million of salary room before they'd hit the luxury cap threshold. If Ryan Dempster were placed on the restricted list, likely given his decision not to pitch this year, the Red Sox wouldn't be responsible for his $13.25 million salary, nor would it count against the luxury tax threshold. Now, the Red Sox have about $20 million to play with, allowing them to either resign Stephen Drew or give them the flexibility to make multiple major in-season acquisitions without surpassing the threshold.

Finally, best of luck to Ryan Dempster in his future endeavors. At 36 and dealing with nagging injuries, it is completely understandable that he is ready to put his family first. It is also remarkable that he is willing to give up $13 million because he doesn't think he can do an acceptable job pitching this year. He's already made almost $90 million in his career, so hopefully his family will be set for generations to come.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it

Ruben Amaro Jr. recently discussed the ill-fated Ryan Howard contract. It probably wasn't the most pleasant thing to have brought up in his interview with Ken Rosenthal, but given how the deal has backfired, it is understandably a topic of conversation. Of course, this isn't exactly surprising. The deal was fairly universally panned at the time, including in one of my earliest posts, for many reasons. Howard couldn't play defense, his skill set (often called "old player skills" - lots of walks, home runs, and strikeouts) tended to decline rapidly, he was rather old for his service time as he had been blocked in Philly by Jim Thome, and perhaps worst of all, it was made almost two full seasons before Howard was going to be a free agent. Ryan Howard's most similar players through that stage of his career were Cecil Fielder and Richie Sexson, both of whom flamed out fast and hard in their early 30s, and Howard was 30 at the time of the extension. Quite simply, there was absolutely no reason to make that decision at that point.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Revisiting the Red Sox' last great, MLB ready hitting prospect

There has been a lot of talk about Xander Bogaerts and his upside, and rightfully so. As a 20 year old he destroyed AAA, held his own in the regular season hitting .250/.320/.364, before becoming an onbase machine in the playoffs, posting a .412 OBP to go with his .482 slugging. Coming in to this year, Baseball America ranked him as the #8 prospect in the game. His spectacular season, coupled with some graduations and disappointments, has him in the running for the #1 spot overall. It has been a little while since the Red Sox had such a highly regarded hitter ready to contribute at the major league level, and I thought it would be interesting to take a look at past top prospects.

Who it isn't
As I made this only about hitting prospects, we can leave out Clay Buchholz (#4 in 2008) and Daisuke Matsuzaka (#1 in 2007, but he doesn't really count as a prospect anyway).  Jon Lester didn't even crack the top 20 at his peak (#22 in 2006). Recently departed center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury reached #13 in 2007, but failed to be a top 10 prospect. Nor is it anyone who is still in the Red Sox organization. Dustin Pedroia, perhaps the best player on the Red Sox team right now, topped out at #77 following the 2005 season. Baseball America would probably like to have that one back, but there were real concerns about Pedroia's size, ability to generate any power, and his rather unorthodox "swing as hard as I can but still make contact all the time" approach. I think those things led some folks to wonder if he could hack it against major league pitching. Thankfully, they were wrong.

Hanley Ramirez is probably the closest "obvious" name out there. He was ranked #10 by Baseball America for the upcoming 2005 season, but after scuffling in AA, I think it would be a stretch to call him a consensus major league ready player. Granted, he went on to be an instant star for the Marlins, but I don't think anyone saw that coming, maybe even the Marlins.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Sox sign Edward Mujica, Uehara lite?

Today, December 5th 2013, the Red Sox announced a 2 year, $9.25 million contract with former Cardinal closer Edward Mujica. This comes 364 days after the Red Sox signed former Ranger reliever Koji Uehara to a one year, $4.25 million deal with a vesting option.

A quick glance at Mujica's season statistics indicate some cause for concern. First, his strikeout rate in 2013 was below average, at a rather pedestrian 6.40. For comparison, all pitchers struck out 7.57 batters per nine innings, while relievers struck out batters even more frequently (8.29 K/9). Second, Mujica's shiny ERA (2.87) masks a Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) ERA of 3.71, precisely reliever average. Third, although Mujica recorded 37 saves in 2013, he imploded in September posting an 11.05 ERA and was a non-factor in the Cardinal's World Series run, throwing only 2 innings in the entire postseason.

However, I believe this is a solid signing for the Red Sox and Mujica could return a great value for them just as Uehara has. Why?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Sox pick the middle ground at catcher, waste money

I understand why some writers, such as Buster Olney, Tim Kurkijan, and Gordon Edes, and  are saying that the Red Sox made a good choice in sticking with a short term solution at catcher, leaving room for their prospects to make an impact in 2015. I don't have a problem with the decision to not block Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart, in fact I advocated it in an earlier post. However, Pierzynski is an $8.25 million lateral move from guys like Ryan Lavarnway or Dan Butler. To quote Keith Law (ESPN Insider only), "Pierzynski doesn't get on base, doesn't hit for power, and is a below-average receiver, now entering his age 37 season and looking slower than ever at the plate."