Friday, January 6, 2012
The Red Sox offseason so far
Ben Cherington had his work cut out for him this offseason, with regard to the pitching staff. Lester, Beckett, and Buchholz were locks for the rotation, but beyond that very few pitchers had a set role. With the trades for Mark Melancon and Andrew Bailey, the Red Sox pitching staff is starting to take shape. We're also getting a good idea of how Cherington will operate as a GM, with his willingness to wheel and deal, but not with the top prospects.
1. Daniel Bard will be given every opportunity to start. I am still not convinced this is the best course of action, but you don't trade for two late inning relievers if you're keeping Bard in the pen and have two gaping holes in the rotation. Given Bard's issues with repeating his delivery, which has led to some terrifying walk rates in the minors and rough patches in the majors, his complete lack of success as a starting pitcher at the professional level, and his shallow repertoire (93% of the time he throws a fastball or slider, and his third pitch, a change up, is average at best), this seems like a disaster in the making, but the Red Sox seem committed to it. Getting 200 innings out of a pitcher rather than 60 is a no brainer, assuming the performance is remotely similar, but I'm not convinced that Bard will stick in the rotation. Even if he does, it wouldn't shock me to see the Red Sox go some form of a six man rotation in June when Matsuzaka comes back from Tommy John surgery.
2. Andrew Bailey is the closer, but expect Mark Melancon to get at least five saves.
Bailey has a better pedigree, whether it is ERA, strike out rate, or walk rate, than Melancon, but he's missed time in each of the last two seasons. Also, don't expect Bailey to continue to post ERAs in the twos. Pitching in Oakland, Bailey benefited from one of the largest parks in the league, both in terms of fair and foul territory - he won't have that luxury in Fenway. Bailey's expected FIP, which normalizes the home run per fly ball rate to league average, is a rather modest 3.40 for his career.
3. My gut feeling is that whoever ends up logging the bulk of the time in right field, he's already in the system. The inclusion of Sweeney in the trade is a nice one; he can play all three outfield positions and has an above average batting eye. Scouting reports say he has natural power that hasn't translated into games, so there is some upside there. His salary of only $1.6 million (est.) this season means the Red Sox means he only needs to put up half a win before he's turning a profit for the Sox. The fact that Sweeney is a solid opposite field hitter will certainly help him in Fenway, too. That said, the Red Sox should still be on the lookout for a right handed hitting outfielder - Ellsbury, Crawford, Sweeney, and Kalish are all left handed. Andruw Jones might have been a nice addition, given his ability to mash lefties, but it sounds like he always wanted to resign with the Yankees. The nice thing is improving on last year isn't exactly the most difficult thing in the world. 2011 Red Sox right fielders hit for a whopping .233/.299/.353, which makes Sweeney's Colisseum depressed .720 OPS seem downright Ruthian.
4. Cherington is willing to trade away mid-level prospects in order to keep payroll costs under control. What is most impressive to me is that despite $26 million in contracted raises and about $13 million in expected raises through arbitration, the Red Sox have stayed salary neutral this offseason. He was able to add two closer worthy arms without trading away either of the top two prospects the Red Sox have - Will Middlebrooks and teen phenom Xander Bogaerts. None of the MLB ready players the Sox gave up will be missed - Reddick looks like a second division starter, given his lack of plate discipline; Lowrie can't hit right handers (.625 career OPS) nor stay healthy, two fairly important skills; and Kyle Weiland profiles as a back of the rotation arm at best. Miles Head and Raul Alcantara, both included in the Bailey deal, are wild cards who are far away from the majors. Head was a bad body first baseman, who the A's are going to try at third. The bat may be real (22 home runs in A ball last season), but to be a real first base prospect you need to have an elite bat. Alcantara is a very projectable teenage arm, who sits in the low 90s and touches 95, despite only having 180 pounds on his 6'3" frame. His control is spectacular for a teenage pitcher, walking only 12 in 65 innings last year, but the strikeouts aren't quite there yet (6.9 K/9). At his age, projection is usually much more important than production, but he's still an unknown quantity.
At this point, I think we're pretty much done with major moves for the Red Sox. They still need to dig up a starter or two, and maybe a few minor league invite arms for the back end of the bullpen, but the salary room just isn't there to make a big splash this year.