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Boston Today

The Red Sox sure have a way of surprising.  My thought going into this off season was to try to acquire a starting rotation.  But with offense down and pitching up in MLB, Ben Cherington has decided to do just the opposite.  One would assume he is acquiring the difficult to acquire asset with goals of moving some of that asset to acquire the supposedly easier asset to acquire in pitching.

If the season started today, here’s my line-up:

cf – Mookie Betts (R)

2b – Dustin Pedroia (R)

dh – David Ortiz (L)

lf – Hanley Ramirez (R)

3b – Pablo Sandoval (S)

1b – Mike Napoli (R)

ss – Xander Bogaerts (R)

rf – Rusney Castillo (R)

c – Christian Vasquez (R)

The obvious observation is that the Red Sox line-up remains heavy on the righties.  This kind of reminds me of when the Red Sox signed Carl Crawford, adding to lefty hitter with the Red Sox already extremely lefty in their line-up, especially their top 5 hitters (Gonzalez, Crawford, Ortiz, Ellsbury with only Pedroia being a righty).

But we are still several months away from spring training, let alone opening day.  With a stockpile of offense, albeit in, my opinion, not the best talent, the Red Sox do have chips to work with to acquire a starting rotation.  Namely if they can move a player like Cespedes and his salary, then perhaps Jon Lester fits in rotation as a free agent.  In addition, there must be room for the likes of Allen Craig, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Will Middlebrooks on other teams…um, when I write those names, I lose total confidence that anyone would provide 100 cents on the dollar for any of them.

So aside from Cespedes, the Red Sox might have to be willing to trade minor leaguers like Blake Swihart, Anthony Ranaudo, Matt Barnes, Garin Cecchini (where would he ever play? The Red Sox just signed 2 players in Ramirez and Sandoval to the 2 positions he plays.), Devon Merrero and a few others.

I would expect over the next 21 days the Red Sox to start to move the above assets in exchange for quality starting pitching and hopefully the signing of Lester.  And let’s hope other MLB teams are willing to play the game with Boston, lest they leave Cherington with all offense and no defense, I’ve heard that can leave a GM a dull employee.

A Team of Outfielders

This morning I’m left scratching my head.  Yes, part of it is my dandruff condition, but also the Red Sox now have 8 outfielders in the fold.  Oh yeah, and they are doing exactly what they said they wouldn’t do and that is sign 30+ year old players to big contracts.

Reports are flying around this morning that the Red Sox have agreed to terms with both Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval.  Both men have reportedly agreed to 5 year deals worth in the range of $90-$100m.  The Ramirez deal seems firm while there are suggestions the Sandoval deal isn’t a lock so let’s focus on the Ramirez deal.

With Ramirez, who will be 31 when the season starts, the Red Sox have perhaps a third baseman or a left fielder.  If Sandoval signs, Ramirez will be in left, if Sandoval doesn’t sign, Ramirez is your new third baseman.  Signing both would mean the Red Sox have the following major league outfielders on their roster:

Ramirez, Betts, Victorino, Cespedes, Castillo, Bradley Jr., Craig and Nava.  Holt played a few innings there too last season, but let’s leave him out of this discussion.

What are they going to do with all of those outfielders?  Really, what?  I think this means Cespedes is a goner.  He has 1 year left on his deal, has told the world he will test free agency and the Red Sox aren’t allowed to tender him meaning they would not get a draft pick if they lose him.  Yes he has power, but he produced a sub .300 OBP last year and despite having a great arm, doesn’t seem to have a glove.  There were also whispers, quickly refuted by the Red Sox, that he wasn’t a teachable player.

That still leaves a logjam, but it is a start at clearing it out.

Ramirez wasn’t popular amongst his Red Sox teammates when he was traded in 2005 but he is a good offensive player when healthy and 9 years later, perhaps he has tamed his attitude a bit and won’t cause any friction.  Signing him is a direct contradiction to proclamations last year that long term deals to older players is a mistake.  Perhaps that leaves me with hope that Jon Lester still might re-sign.

I guess I have nothing left to say as there are far too many holes in the Red Sox team for me to get excited over 1 or 2 free agent signings.  Someone still has to pitch and right now their rotation is a mess.

Kung-Fu Panda

ESPN is reporting that the Red Sox are “all-in” in an attempt to sign Pablo Sandoval.  While the free agency process is filled with posturing and interesting rumors, there’s no doubt Sandoval would be a useful addition.

The worries, however, start with the fact he is not a highly conditioned athlete and history shows that those types don’t generally have long-lasting careers.  Couple that with the fact he is at free agency for the first time and trying to make a financial score, and this might not be the best thing for the Red Sox to do.

He is only 28 years old but let’s consider other baseball players who aren’t/weren’t in tip-top condition:

Prince Fielder – 30 years old and in the middle of a massive contract.  He played in only 42 games in 2014 and while it is too soon to count him out, I’d be very worried if I were the Texas Rangers.

Cecil Fielder – He starred in his 20′s but as his last all-star season was at age 32.  He was out of baseball at age 34.

Greg Luzinski - Now I was young when Luzinski was playing, but I remember him as a large fellow.  Please correct me if I am wrong. His career was done at 33.

John Kruk – At his own admission, he is not a fitness freak and was out of baseball at 34 (although was reasonably productive in his last years).

Ryan Howard – Wow, am I picking on Phillies players or what here?  Ryan is 34 and posted a .690 OPS this year.  His last good year was at age 31 and his contract runs for a few more years so I’d not be optimistic if I were his GM.

Adam Dunn – Announced his retirement at age 34.  His last very good year was at age 30 when he posted a .892 OPS.

Now there are outliers like David Ortiz.  He is a very large man yet here he is at age 38 still being productive and this guy named Babe Ruth played well to age 39.  Also keep in mind, baseball-reference has Kruk still listed at 5′ 10″, 170 lbs.  Sure.  I guess my point is this exercise isn’t scientific but I hope it supports the idea that a 6 year deal at $90-$100m for Sandoval is crazy in my opinion.  His OPS has declined each of the last 4 seasons.  Perhaps you’d get 2-3 good years out of him but also 2-3 lousy years as well.

I’d pass if I were Boston.

 

GM Meetings

The Red Sox have the major task of building a starting rotation.  While they have a handful of OF talent to dangle in any trades, they also have a check book capable of paying some free agents.

2 names that have been discussed in Boston include Jon Lester and the Phillies Cole Hamels.  To get Lester, they need to match his asking price and even if he is offering a “home town discount” it’s still going to cost the Red Sox a great deal to land him.  Hamels, on the other hand, will require spending money (as in paying him his salary) and prospects.  Hamels is on the books for another 4 years at $22.5 each (and a 5th year that vest predicated on durability and good health).  So landing Hamels will mean they are only on the hook for 4 years guaranteed but they spend dearly by giving up prospects.

To me this is a no brainer, they should re-sign Lester.  Let’s say they can get him for 6 years and $120m and please, we all have ideas as to what it will take, but let’s use this as a starting point and acknowledge it could be higher or maybe even lower I if a home town discount is really possbile.  That allows the Red Sox to hold onto their prospects while the down side is an extra 2 years of liability for a pitcher who will be 31 in January.  Still I take my chances on Lester over Hamels.

Lester has proven he can pitch in Boston, not every pitcher can do it.

Now, that’s just one starting pitcher, they need another.  The GM meetings are when both trade and free agent ideas are floated and then the owners meetings are when things start to happen.

Red Sox Overhaul

In the 2 days leading up to MLB’s trade deadline, the Red Sox traded away 4 pitchers and one bat.

The Red Sox unloaded 60% of their opening day starting rotation, they unloaded a great situational lefty and they unloaded an overpaid shortstop. If you go back a full week they have unloaded 80% of their starting rotation as they also moved Jake Peavy.

Let’s start with the starters. In Jon Lester they got rid of the ace of their staff and in return received Yoenis Cespedes. Cespedes has great right-handed power, but little plate discipline and hits for a poor average, he is very good in the outfield however. Because they only control Cespedes through 2015, I don’t think the Red Sox got enough in return for Lester, especially when you consider all the work they’re going to need to do to be competitive in 2015. Cespedes could just walk after 2015, basically 1.4 year rental.

The Red Sox also moved John Lackey to the St. Louis Cardinals exchange for Allen Craig and Joe Kelly. Craig is having one of his worst seasons as a major leaguer and has a .437 OPS over the past 28 days. Joe Kelly’ has been working out of the bullpen although has made starts in his career, but I’m not sure he fits in the Red Sox rotation. Craig will also struggle to find a position unless the Res Sox out him in left and Cespedes in right.

For Felix Doubront, whom they traded yesterday, the Red Sox are receiving a player to be named later.

In return for trading Andrew Miller to the Orioles, the Red Sox received another left-hander I know nothing about but who is considered the O’s 3rd best prospect.

Lastly, and what I considered to be their best trade, they traded Stephen Drew to the Yankees in exchange for Kelly Johnson. A pure salary dump. The best part about this trade is that it allows the Xander Bogaerts to move back to shortstop. Apparently the Red Sox are sending money to NY to even up the money, and because Johnson is on the DL, he might turn out to be a player to be named later.

Where Cespedes will play, where Craig will play, and if Kelly Johnson will play, all remain a mystery. One thing is for sure, the Red Sox are done for 2014 and are clearly looking ahead. But given some of the veterans they acquired, it seems like they’re trying to make a run for next year but I really don’t think they can rebuild the starting rotation that quickly.

They do have a logjam of starting pitching prospects in the minors so they will probably end up packaging a few of those to get established major-league pitchers for the rotation for 2015.

For the rest of this year I see an infield of Napoli at first base, Pedroia at second base, Middlebrooks at third-base, and Xander Bogaerts at shortstop. In the outfield I like to see Craig in left field, Bradley in center, and Cespedes in right. With Vasquez catching and Ortiz DH.

The Red Sox New Beginning?

It’s being reported that the Red Sox have traded Felix Doubront. There are also rumors of them entertaining offers for Jon Lester and John Lackey.

I can understand trading Doubront as he seems to be a bit of a malcontent. But moving both Lester and Lackey, your respective one and two starters, means the Red Sox are apparently in overhaul mode.

Today ESPN’s Buster Olney wrote that he hopes the Red Sox have a Plan B. He couldn’t be more correct, the Red Sox are basically trying to unload 3/5 of their starting rotation (Felix started the year in the rotation) and if they also move Clay Buchholz, make it 4/5 (he’s the one starter I really won’t miss if he is moved).

Who’s going to start for the next year? One rumor has the Red Sox pursuing the Philidelphia Phillies Cole Hamels. I asked why not just re-sign Jon Lester? You know he can pitch in the American League East, and he’s a known quantity. And it won’t take any draft picks to sign him.

To echo Buster Olney, I really do hope they know what they’re doing.

Direction of the Team

Now that that Red Sox have acknowledge their circumstances, I think it important that John Farrell and management do everything in their power to embrace the young players and build their confidence.

An example of not doing this came Tuesday.  Jackie Bradley Jr. hasn’t hit to save his life this year but had, through Monday of this week, strung together a series of good at bats/games.  Why in heck would Farrell then bench him on Tuesday and break that string?  He came back to go 0-4 and then 1-3 in his next 2 games.  You never know with 100% certainty if the benching had anything to do with it, but if a player is gaining in confidence, why sit him and introduce a shred of doubt?  A small issue to be sure but an important one nevertheless.

Farrell obviously still wants to win and reinforce a winning attitude but he also needs to recognize the mentality of young players, especially a boatload of young players.  Time to let these youngsters strikeout of their own and stop pinch hitting for Xander Bogaerts late in games, let players play who are riding hot streaks,  do everything possible to show support for these kids.

Suddenly, watching the Red Sox has become fun again.

 

Hoist the White Flag

This is the earliest the Red Sox have given up on a season that I can remember.  The Nick Punto trade in 2012 happened in August and since the new ownership group and even back into the Dan Duquette era, the Red Sox were always sniffing at a playoff spot late into the season.

A.J. Pierzynski was DFAed today and Jake Peavy is rumored to be heading out of Boston.  These are moves of a team that has capitulated.  This also means the Red Sox are likely to deal Koji Uehara, Jonny Gomes, and maybe John Lackey (who is set to earn the major league minimum for veterans next season) as they might not want the headache of having a veteran playing for the minimum and publicly displaying his displeasure every pitch of the way.

Wednesday night’s game featured 5 rookies in the line-up, Jackie Bradley Jr. Brock Holt, Mookie Betts, Christian Vasquez (major league debut) and Xander Bogaerts and a rookie starting pitcher.  Unheard of in Boston but a very good thing for the future of the team.  I think perhaps Betts and Vasquez were brought up a bit early and risk being like the endless line of rookies the K.C. Royals rush to the big leagues, but otherwise this is valuable playing time for young players.

As a Red Sox fan, I am perfectly fine with a season like this.  A reload, a chance to give younger, future franchise players playing time is a good thing, as long as it isn’t happening every other year.  What begs the question is just what did management see in this team?  Did they think Pierzynski was going to be a major contributor?  Did the Red Sox really need to sign Stephen Drew for $10 million?  Obviously with hindsight, these both look like very dumb and very expensive moves, not that I pay the bills but we now can look forward to seeing the future of the Red Sox develop in front of our eyes, instead of in Pawtucket.

A quick scouting report on the young positional players:

Vasquez – Advanced defensively, with ability to handle a pitching staff and a very good arm.  His offense is a work in progress and doesn’t project to be much more than mediocre.

Betts – 4 tool player with potential to be a 4.5 to 5 tool player if his power rounds out and depending on where he settles on a position.  Command of the strike zone is top shelf.

Bradley Jr. – Elite defensively with good eye at the plate and 10-12 HR power projection.  Offense improved with with more time at each minor league level.  The hope is that he is getting ready to take off offensively.  His defense this year has been outstanding.

Holt – A career minor league average of .307 with a .410 OBP makes his 2014 success not a major surprise but is countered by the fact he is 26.  Old for a rookie but some players take longer to mature.  Defensively he isn’t great anywhere but has proven the ability to player anywhere with competence.  He’s played LF, CF, RF, 1B, SS and 3B this season year all the while hitting .313.  When Holt was included as an apparent throw-in in the Joel Hanrahan deal, I remember thinking there must be something wrong with this kid personality-wise as he had good minor league numbers.

Bogaerts – He was doing well until Stephen Drew arrived.  Seriously, the minute Drew was added to the 25-man roster, Bogaerts started slumping.  That also was when he was moved from SS to 3B.  He is only 21 and has a bright future ahead of him, but I wonder if the Red Sox will try to move Drew (is that possible with him hitting .131?) and give the SS position back to Bogaerts.

If the Red Sox can trade a few more assets for additional future growth and with their financial clout, they might just be gearing up for a prolonged run at success

 

Sizemore Wins

John Farrell announced today that Grady Sizemore has won the centerfield spot over Jackie Bradley Jr. Sizemore is slated to hit 5th or 6th in the line-up while Bradley Jr. will be taking buses to and from games in Pawtucket.

Sizemore was signed to a major league dealing meaning they had to either keep him or cut him (or trade him).

I said early in Spring Training that my preference was for Bradley Jr. to win the job and given today’s news I’m disappointed that Bradley Jr. (To be abbreviated as Bjr from here on out) won’t be with the club and that he’s had such a dreadful spring.

Trying to see a silver lining here, I hope Bjr gets his hacks in at Pawtucket and that perhaps later in the season he gets the call-up.

Sizemore’s accomplishments are amazing so far. His injury record is lousy and he’s really has been out of baseball for 2 years so his playing well and winning the job is a great story. That said, I think it a long shot that he stays healthy all year meaning Bjr could be in Boston before you know it.

Bjr is the future and it’d have been nice to have him in there with Bogaerts and Middlebrooks, 3 young and promising players.

Center Field in Boston

Unlike the Yankees, the Red Sox have a question mark in center field.  How did that happen?  Didn’t they have a really good center fielder last year?  Oh, that’s right…I remember what happened.

Rookie Jackie Bradley Jr, Shane Victorino and Grady Sizemore are vying for the starting nod.  Victorino will most likely start the season in right which really means Sizemore and Bradley are the candidates.

Sizemore hasn’t played since 2011 and hasn’t put in a full season, if you consider 106 games a full season, since 2009.  2 microfracture surgeries later and he is back in baseball.  When Sizemore was healthy, he was a high-impact player, a great combination of power and speed and could even draw a walk.  But, that was a long time ago.  At age 29 (turning 30 on July 21) I think he is a longshot to be a contributor of consequence this year.

Bradley, on the other hand, is 23 (turning 24 on April 19) and is just starting his major league career.  So far in the minors he has shown the ability to play excellent defense, get on base and be a 1-2 and maybe even a 3 hitter in a line-up.  His .404 minor league OBP and .876 OPS suggest he has much to offer in the majors, but until he does, it is just speculation.

My hope is that Bradley wins the job.  He is young, healthy and has significant upside.  While I hold no ill will towards Sizemore and I hope his career flourishes, he hasn’t provided anything in basically 4 seasons.  If Bradley can establish himself, the Red Sox have a fantastic defender playing center who is under team control for many seasons to come.  Obviously I hope Sizemore can contribute and heck, ideally has a boffo year.  But if he does, he is free to walk and will have proved to be just a one year help.  Bradley having a boffo year will give them an option in center for a least 6 years.  I’ll take the long-term success vs the short-term one.

Either way, the Sizemore signing was an intriguing one.  I like it and hope he can help.  Victorino will inevitably get hurt and the Red Sox will need help in right at some point.