Thursday, October 11, 2012

One man’s attempt to fix the Red Sox

The Red Sox have an awful lot of work to do this offseason. They’re already on the right path thanks to the Bobby Valentine firing; no it wasn’t all his fault, but a good portion of it sure was. Here are some ideas that I think would put the Red Sox back on the path to being a successful franchise.

Step 1. Purge the Malcontents. No, we don’t need to exile them to Siberia, but maybe a baseball Siberia like Houston would be nice. Vincente Padilla and Alfredo Aceves were in the news far too often for all the wrong reasons. The Red Sox bullpen is actually quite deep, with potentially excellent relievers like Junichi Tazawa, Clayton Mortenson, Rich Hill, and Andrew Miller all splitting time between Pawtucket and Boston. Padilla is a free agent at the end of the year, so they just need to let him walk. Alfredo Aceves is entering his second arbitration year, so he is under team control for two years, so they should be able to trade him for a low level lottery ticket, like the Manny Delcarmen/Chris Balcom-Miller trade with the Rockies a couple years ago, OR…

Step 2. Kick the tires on Jake Peavy and Dan Haren. Both Dan Haren ($15.5 million) and Jake Peavy ($22 million) have expensive options that are expected to be declined. They also have substantial buyouts associated with them ($3.5 million for Haren, $4 million for Peavy). If the Red Sox sent a minor player, say, Alfredo Aceves to either of these teams, they would add a potential #1 or #2 starter without having to commit to a long-term, guaranteed contract. Haren and Peavy are interesting, in that they’re almost exact opposites of one another, except for their contract situation. Coming in to the 2012 season, Haren’s $15.5 million option seemed like a no brainer, as he’d averaged being a nearly 6 win pitcher over the previous four years, a model of consistency. However, 2012 was a disaster; hampered by back injuries and a declining fastball, Haren gave up boatloads of homeruns and posted the worst full season of his career. With the Angels already full of expensive arms with Weaver at $16 million and C.J. Wilson at $11 million, plus with the desire to resign Greinke, Haren and Ervin Santana are the odd men out. Peavy’s situation is the exact opposite – after several years of ineffectiveness, Peavy had a spectacular 2012, posting a 3.34 ERA and a solid 4.4 Wins Above Replacement. Despite that spectacular season, it isn’t enough for the White Sox to spend $22 million on him (well, $18 million, really), thanks to the brutal extension that the Padres signed him to, when they were banking on a return to ace form for him. For both Haren and Peavy, the injury question marks, Haren’s 2012 and Peavy’s extensive history of shoulder issues, mean that a multi-year contract is a terrifying prospect, but for one year on a team that could either surprise or spin that player off for prosects in a mid-season deal? Sign me up.

Step 3. Sort out the rest of the bullpen mess. The Red Sox are in the enviable position of having too many good bullpen arms, even after dumping Padilla and Aceves. They are also in the unenviable position of having most of those arms out of options, meaning the players need to be in the major leagues, or the Red Sox would need to expose them to waivers where they almost certainly would be claimed. A typical team carries six relievers at most. The Red Sox have: Andrew Bailey, Junichi Tazawa, Mark Melancon, Clayton Mortensen, Scott Atchison and Daniel Bard for right handers, and Craig Breslow, Andrew Miller, Rich Hill, and Franklin Morales for left handers. The easy solution is to trade the older, lower upside arms for low level prospects. No, one year of Craig Breslow or as many years as you want of Scott Atchison (he’s 35 and still pre-arbitration, odds are good that he’ll become ineffective before he becomes expensive) won’t net an elite player, but maybe you’ll get lucky and hit on someone who becomes a useful player. That still leaves two relievers on the bubble – perhaps some DL massaging for someone like Franklin Morales (coming off of shoulder issues), but there are still some rather difficult decisions to make.

Step 4. Rediscover their roots. The successful Red Sox teams were built on power and getting on base. The 2012 Red Sox continued a several year trend of declining on base percentage, to the point that they were 22nd in the majors in on base percentage in 2012, and 10th in the American League. A favorable home ball park inflated their run totals, which helps mask this inefficiency, but a new approach is needed. Jettisoning on base albatrosses Mike Aviles, Pedro Ciriaco, and Scott Podsednik would help. Aviles power is nice, so he’s probably worth shopping to a team that overlooks the O part of OPS in favor of the S. As a short stop with a bit of pop and two years remaining under team control, he ought to net something. Returning to a player like Marco Scutaro, a free agent but who might not return given he was traded away, would be a nice placeholder move for Jose Iglesias, or a solid fall back if Iglesias’ bat fails to develop. Ciriaco, despite his Yankee heroics and good glove, is a utility player who just doesn't do enough of anything offensively.  Take out a sky high average on balls in play, and he's even worse.  Ivan DeJesus, the utility player in the massive trade with the Dodgers, ought to be able to outproduce him starting in 2013.  It may be time to trade Jarrod Saltalamacchia as well. Saltalamacchia will be a free agent following the 2013 season. While his power is spectacular (25 HR in 2/3 of a full season’s worth of at bats), he’s brutally streaky and has a .288 OBP in his two years of regular playing time in Boston. That kind of power from a catcher is extraordinarily seductive, but that on base percentage is an albatross.

Step 5. Shop Jacoby Ellsbury. Ellsbury is in his final year of team control. As a Scott Boras client, he isn’t very likely to sign a team friendly extension, and given his injury history and inconsistent production, I’m not even sure what a team friendly extension would even begin to look like. The Red Sox have center fielders in the minors moving quickly, like Jackie Bradley Jr., so trading Ellsbury and signing a stop gap center fielder could improve the long term. Interestingly enough, it might be worth kicking the tires on Justin Upton, too. It seems odd to discuss trading away one under-performing center fielder while trading for another, but Upton is under team control for longer and may even have a higher ceiling than Ellsbury. Given the salary flexibility the Red Sox now have, they could easily add Upton’s salary ($38.5 million over the next three years) without missing a beat.

Step 6. Figure out a left field platoon. The Oakland A’s did a spectacular job of cobbling together massive amount of production from discarded pieces by using platoon advantages in their favor. Johnny Gomes, Brandon Moss, and Chris Carter all would be middling players given a full season of playing time, but by using them against the right type of pitchers, the A’s got an almost All Star level of production on the cheap.  With a big hole in left field, experimenting with big platoon split players is worth it.

Step 7. Resign Cody Ross and David Ortiz. This is easily the most important step. Both Ortiz and Ross sound like they would like to return. Ross and Ortiz were the second and third most productive offensive players. Equally importantly, Ross and Ortiz are steady club house presences; that’s something rather impressive in the train wreck of a season the Red Sox just had. If it takes going to two years with Ortiz, or a one year deal and a team option with a substantial buyout (say, $15 million plus a $15 million option and a $5 million buyout), they need to bite the bullet and get it done.

A few things I didn’t mention are free agents and the manager. I think the manager isn’t as critical as most people seem to think. Yes, Valentine was an unmitigated disaster, just as I predicted, but I think the front office has learned their lesson and will be going with a steady, low key manager in the mold of Francona as a replacement. I think the free agent market is going to be a mess this year, with an awful lot of players having massive question marks and a lot of teams with money to spend. If the Red Sox can be selective and pick up the players who represent a legitimate possibility to return value, rather than the best player out there, no matter what the cost, that’s great. If that means they end up sitting out the free agent market, despite their protected top 10 draft pick, so be it.

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