Friday, January 13, 2012

The Red Sox play the waiting game

Right now there are three solid starters on the free agent market - Edwin Jackson, Hiroki Kuroda, and Roy Oswalt.  According to ESPN's Keith Law, they are the 11th, 13th, and 22nd best free agents coming in to this offseason, and the 2nd, 4th, and 6th best starting pitching free agents, not counting Yu Darvish, who had to go through the posting system.  Coming in to the offseason, Jackson was looking for $15 million per year over five years, Kuroda for $15 million for one, and Oswalt for $8 for one.  Quite simply, the market has not been there for any of them, and now, according to ESPN's Buster Olney, the price for all three has dropped substantially, to the point where even Jackson maybe considering a one year deal.

All three have their issues.  Jackson has bounced around between many teams, and the knock against him is that his results have never matched his stuff.  Nevertheless, he's been unbelievably consistent, posting a WAR of 3.6, 3.8, and 3.8 over the last three years.  Oswalt had an injury shortened 2011, thanks to some back issues.  However, down the stretch Oswalt's fastball velocity and strikeout rate bounced back to his high standards and he showed better results, as Dave Cameron of Fangraphs has pointed out. If the injury is behind him, Oswalt is a potential steal. Finally, Hiroki Kuroda is not drawing a lot of attention due to his age (37 in February)and his price tag, but Kuroda too has been very effective over the last few years, with an xFIP between 3.4 and 3.6 in all three.  Finally, none of the three would require draft pick compensation - Jackson and Kuroda are both type B free agents, and while Oswalt is a type A free agent, the Phillies did not offer arbitration, so they forfeited any rights to compensation.

This plays perfectly into the Red Sox hands.  They desperately need one more reliable starter in order to avoid having to rely on contributions from scrap heap signings like Aaron Cook or the rumored Vincente Padilla.  However, they do not have the money in the budget to make a major move.  Instead, all they have to do is wait.  The longer these players remain unsigned, the lower their price will drop.  As Adrian Beltre showed, Boston can be the perfect spot for a one year deal to reestablish value, before moving on to a multi-year deal the following off season.  If I were Ben Cherington, I'd go after the last of the three to sign, who ought to be the best value.  To mean, they're all very similar pitchers.  I might go with the pedigree and lower price tag of Oswalt, but any of them could be a very valuable, cost conscious addition to the 2012 rotation.

It has been a very interesting offseason.  After the crazy money doled out to Albert Pujols (10 years, $250 million), CJ Wilson (5 years, $77.5 million), Jon Papelbon (4 years, $50 million), Heath Bell (3 years, $27 million), Jose Reyes (6 years, $106 million) and Mark Buerhle ( 4 years, $58 million) early in the offseason, the free agent market has cooled considerably.  Prince Fielder is left out in the cold and won't come close to matching Pujols' haul, Ryan Madson had to settle for one year, $8.5 million after Boras misread the Phillies' situation and turned down 4 years, $44 million, and the three previously mentioned starters all remain unemployed.  All three will be in a starting rotation come spring training, and whoever ends up with them will likely find a very nice deal.

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