Saturday, October 17, 2009

Improving the 2010 Red Sox: Shortstop

Shortstop has been an issue for the Red Sox for several years. It seems that everyone who writes about the topic is required by law to mention the fact that since trading Nomar Garciaparra in 2004 the Sox have had a different starting shortstop every single opening day since then. Although Theo has stated that he thinks that Jed Lowrie still could be the shortstop of the future, I think the Sox need to explore other options.

One option would be to hang on to Alex Gonzalez, although a think a $6 million option is a bit steep. UZR/150 (Ultimate Zone Rating - generally considered to be the best defensive metric available. UZR/150 translates a players fielding value to a rate stat, so it can be compared between players with different amount of playing time) supports the idea that Gonzalez is an above average shortstop, but saving 8.3 runs with the glove doesn't make up for the damage he would do to the lineup if he repeated his 63 OPS+. In a lineup with question marks at 3B and DH I don't think the Red Sox can afford to put such a weak bat in the lineup. The free agent market is a bit thin at shortstop, with Marco Scutaro, Miguel Tejada, and Orlando Cabrera. All three players are Type A free agents, however Orlando Cabrera cannot be offered arbitration, so no draft pick would need to be forfeited to sign him. If either Tejada or Scutaro receive arbitration offers I don't think they're worth giving up a potentially valuable draft pick (thanks for the links Andrew). I won't get into any of them too in depth - Tejada bounced back nicely from a poor offensive year in 2008, although his glove is suspect at shortstop. Scutaro is a potentially useful utility infielder, but betting on a 33 year old coming off a career year is not a good way to run a team - just ask the Angels about Gary Matthews Jr. sometime. The time to sign Orlando Cabrera was probably 2004; after signing the 4 year, $32 million contract with the Angels he went on to provide $53.2 million worth of value, out earning his salary every single year. However, in 2009 he was only 0.7 wins above replacement and was below average offensively and defensively. Like Tejada, Cabrera is also 35.

The much more interesting candidates are trade possibilities. The Red Sox are looking to get younger and more athletic, and you just don't see players hit free agency before 30 very often. JJ Hardy, Stephen Drew, and Yunel Escobar have all been mentioned as potential trade targets. Below are their statistics from 2009, as well as mean statistics for 2007-2009.

2009 Statistics for Trade Candidates

Stephen Drew 0.261 0.32 0.428 0.748 90 2.8
Yunel Escobar 0.299 0.377 0.436 0.812 115 -2.3
JJ Hardy 0.229 0.302 0.357 0.659 74 6.1

2007-2009 Means for Trade Candidates

Stephen Drew 0.263 0.322 0.433 0.756 91 -6.3
Yunel Escobar 0.304 0.376 0.429 0.805 112 -0.5
JJ Hardy 0.263 0.323 0.433 0.755 96 9.9

JJ Hardy is expendable in Milwaukee now that Alcides Escobar is the starting shortstop. After a very good 2007 and 2008, Hardy fell apart, posting a .659 OPS. Hardy is also an excellent fielder. Thanks to a demotion for 2 weeks this summer, Hardy is now slated to be a free agent after the 2011 season, instead of 2010.

Stephen Drew is also a trade candidate for the cost cutting Arizona Diamondbacks, as he is about to enter arbitration for the first time and is under contract for the next three years. Drew recovered from a poor 2007 (.683 OPS) with a spectacular 2008 (.835), leading many to believe he was ready to approach superstar levels. Given the expectations, his 2009 was labeled a disappointment as his offensive production dropped across the board. Still, according to valuations done by Fangraphs, Drew was worth nearly as much in 2009 as 2008, mostly due to much improved defense. If Drew were to combine his offense from 2008 and his defense from 2009 he could be a real force in 2010. Of course, Red Sox fans made these same arguments regarding the left/right splits for Coco Crisp in 2006.

I've seen Yunel Escobar's name pop up a few different places, although I'm not sure how much faith I put in his inclusion here. Escobar is a player who doesn't have many faults - he's a solid contact hitter with a career .301 average. He has a very good eye, especially for a player who strikes out as infrequently as he does. Escobar also plays solid, if unspectacular defense. To top it all off, he is under club control for another 4 years, including the 2010 season at the bargain price of about $400,000. In short, I have no idea why the Braves would want to trade him away. While he lacks the ceiling of a JJ Hardy or a Stephen Drew, Escobar is as good a bet as any to outproduce both of them over the next two years.

Assuming an equal cost, I'd probably rank the three players Escobar, Drew, then Hardy; this is primarily due to service time. Unfortunately for the Red Sox, this list is the opposite of what I would expect each player to cost in a trade. However, it is still worth floating a few trade ideas to the Braves in particular to see if they undervalue the unspectacular, yet well rounded Escobar. Any thoughts on players I've overlooked? Who do you think would be the best value for 2010 and beyond?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Improving the 2009 Red Sox: Left Field

Because they're going to be constantly compared this winter, I think it makes sense to discuss Matt Holliday and Jason Bay together. Although many analysts have said that the Red Sox should offer Holliday and Bay the same contract and go with whomever signs first, I think Holliday is clearly the top position player in this years free agent crop. Holliday has several advantages over Bay.

First off, he is 18 months younger than Bay. Although this won't make much of a difference for 2010 or perhaps even 2011 both players will command long term contracts. Obviously if you have to sign Holliday to a 6 year deal, but Bay is available for only 4 that changes things a bit, but I think a west coast team may dangle 5 years for Bay. Also, Jason Bay has the dreaded "old player" skill set. Essentially, folks much smarter than I am have shown that players who rely on walks and power can decline precipitously. There are always exceptions, but the declines can be massive and abrupt. David Ortiz and Travis Hafner are two examples, and writers at USS Mariner have made comparisons between Bay and Richie Sexson just before Richie signed his massive deal 4 year, $50 million deal with the Mariners. Although the parallels aren't perfect, I think Sexson's size had a lot to do with his injury issues and he was coming off a season where he only managed to play 24 games, it is a bit ominous.

Finally, despite the horrendous play that cost the Cardinals a playoff game, Matt Holliday is a much better defender than Bay. With the exception of 2006, Holliday has been an above average left fielder for his entire career and posted 3.2 UZR/150 this season. Bay, on the other hand, is viewed as a well below average outfielder by UZR (-8.7/150, a substantial improvement from 2008's -18.2/150).

To top it all off, if Bay signs with another team the Red Sox will receive a first round draft pick, as he is a type A free agent. While all the other options I've outlined in left field are also type A free agents, depending on who signs Bay the Sox could actually move up in the first round. Because of the reasons I've outlined above, if the Sox want to spend the money on a top shelf left fielder this offseason, Holliday is the obvious choice. Holliday and Bay have produced similar value with the bat, but thanks to the large discrepancy in defense Holliday has "outearned" Bay $53.4 million to $28.5 million, according to Fangraphs valuations of marginal wins.

If the Red Sox do decide that neither of the top outfielders is worth it, I believe that Bobby Abreu is a solid fall back option. Abreu is a free agent after the season, and is coming off an excellent 2009 where he played for a mere $5 million. If you've watched any Angels playoff baseball, there is no doubt this fact has been beaten into your brain already. Abreu overplayed his hand last offseason, turning down a 2 year, $18 million deal with the Rays early in the offseason before settling with the Angels. Most of the concern was due to his horrid defensive play (-25.3 UZR/150) and declining offensive skills. Although Abreu hasn't been a great defender this year a move from right field to left wouldn't hurt, especially in Fenway. Abreu's biggest problem has always been an inability to move back on a ball; with the Green Monster covering him behind, that shouldn't be nearly as much of an issue. Despite being 35, Abreu also stole 30 bases, drove in over 100 runs, nearly 100 runs scored, all to go with a 115 OPS+ . Abreu recently turned down a two year, $16 million contract extension, which was similar to the offer he refused from Tampa Bay last offseason. Should things not work out with the Angels he could be a cheap, short term solution in left field. If the Sox really think they're not going to contend until 2012 or aren't willing to pony up the years for Bay or Holliday (I don't think the money is the issue) this wouldn't be a shocking move. However, Abreu would also require giving up a first round draft pick. For a Holliday type player that seems reasonable, but I'm not sure Theo is willing to give up a draft pick for a short term player.

Another name that has been frequently mentioned is Brad Hawpe. Although the Rockies recently announced that they don't need or want to trade Hawpe, he clearly was the odd man out in the outfield rotation down the stretch and during the playoffs. Hawpe swings a very good bat (.285/.394/.519) which isn't substantially inflated by Coors Field, as he posted very similar numbers on the road (.890 OPS) and at home (.917 OPS). The problem with Hawpe is that the stat heads and the scouts agree - he's an absolute butcher in the field. He posted a -19.5 UZR/150 this season, which, while terrible, was actually a massive improvement from 2008's -46.6. While a move from right field to left field would help, as would the Green Monster, I'm not sure how Hawpe would fit into the Red Sox' plan to hang on to their upcoming talent and try and improve their below average defense. Unlike Abreu, Hawpe would require giving up prospects to acquire.

Overall, I think the Red Sox should take a run at Matt Holliday. Given his age and all around skill set I don't think a 6 year, $90 million contract is out of the question. With Jason Bay, anything beyond a 4 year deal makes me very nervous. A 2011 Red Sox team centered around a marginally effective David Ortiz, a 33 year old Jason Bay, and a 32 year old Kevin Youkilis scares the hell out of me.

Sox set to pick up Wakefield's $4 million option, pending surgery results

According to Rob Bradford at WEEI the Sox are planning on picking up Wakefield's option once back surgery has been completed. Assuming they'll continue to use him as a starter, that will fill the Red Sox rotation with Beckett, Lester, Matsuzaka, Buchholz, and Wakefield. Although they have options like Bowden in the minors, I'd expect them to add some veteran "lottery ticket" pitchers like last year such as Justin Duchscherer.

At $4 million, Wakefield still continues to be a steal. Even with the down free agent market, average starting pitchers can still pull in $10 million/year if they time their good season right, Kyle Lohse or Vincente Padilla for example. And even with the injuries and ineffectiveness down the stretch, Wakefield remains average overall. His ERA+ (which is a measure of ERA relative to league average ERA - 100 is league average) hasn't dipped below 100 since 2000.

Another big advantage of Wakefield compared to a free agent signing is the time commitment. At some point, Wakefield won't be able to pitch in the big leagues any longer. However, with the 1 year, $4 million dollar options in perpetuity, the Red Sox will never be on the hook for dead money. Although Wakefield hasn't been able to throw 200 innings since 2005, at $4 million I still think he's a steal. This isn't a huge surprise, considering Razy Jazayerli called it the worst contract ever from a player's perspective.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Red Sox outright Takashi Saito

Reports now say the Red Sox have not outrighted Saito, although they may yet still do it. The blog is off to an impressive start spreading misinformation!

According to Nick Cafardo of the Globe the Sox outrighted Takashi Saito this afternoon. Essentially, this means they sent him to AAA and have removed him from the 40 man roster. Because he has 3 years of major league experience Saito can refuse assignment and become a free agent. My initial impression was that it was some roster shenanigans to give the Sox some flexibility with their roster, but then I realized two things:

1. Despite a 2.45 ERA, Saito did not pitch all that well. ERA is a very volatile stat for a relief pitcher and has pretty limited predictive value. Saito's Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) , which is based on strikeout, walk, and home run rates, was 4.25, so he was a bit lucky.

2. Saito would make a lot more money next year than I realized. Although his base salary was $1.5 million this year, because he was on the opening day roster his base salary bumped up to $2.5 million. He also received a $1 million bonus for appearing in 55 games and $2.5 million bonus for being on the active roster for 150 days, bringing the grand total to $6 million. His contract calls for the 2010 club option to be whatever his salary was for the previous year. $1.5 million for a middle inning reliever isn't bad, but $6 million is obviously over paying.

Even though he is off the 40 man roster it wouldn't shock me if the Sox and Saito are able to work something much less expensive out, although he may opt for a role where the path to the closer job is much clearer.

Happy Spencer?

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