Red Sox

A Lackey Make-Over

Interesting article today on BostonGlobe.com regarding John Lackey.  Globe writer Peter Abraham does a good job giving us the back story on Lackey, and gives us a glimpse into how Lackey is trying to change, both on the field and off.

If this team is to get a postseason birth, it will require someone to step-up and do far more than we expect.  Lackey is as good a candidate as any.  Still though, I’ll believe it when I see it.

Truck Day at Fenway

Well, today is truck day for the Red Sox.  The day a big semi heads south with equipment, baseballs, juggs machines, advil, beer, fried chicken and various other baseball necessities for the 2013 Red Sox.

For Red Sox fans, we have a rough idea of which players will break camp with the team.  Here’s my guess:

  1. c – Jarrod Saltalamacchia (baring a trade)
  2. 1b – Mike Napoli
  3. 2b – Dustin Pedrioa
  4. 3b – Will Middlebrooks
  5. ss – Stephen Drew
  6. lf – Jonny Gomes
  7. cf – Jacoby Ellsbury
  8. rf – Shane Victorino
  9. dh – David Ortiz
  10. c – David Ross
  11. ut – Pedro Ciriaco
  12. ut – Brock Holt
  13. sp – Jon Lester
  14. sp – Clay Buchholz
  15. sp – Ryan Dempster
  16. sp – Felix Dubront
  17. sp – John Lackey
  18. rp – Franklin Morales
  19. rp – Koji Uehara
  20. rp – Andrew Miller
  21. rp – Andrew Bailey
  22. rp – Joel Hanrahan
  23. rp – Craig Breslow
  24. rp – Alfredo Aceves
  25. rp – Daniel Bard

That leaves Ryan Lavarnway, Junichi Tazawa, Clayton Mortensen, Daniel Nava and Jose Iglesias in the minors.  Of course there is a strong sense the Red Sox will move a catcher, most likely Saltalamacchia which would mean Lavarnway makes the club.

Things I like:  I like the Red Sox bullpen.  It is strong and well-balanced.  Andrew Bailey might get moved as, from this perspective, he doesn’t appear to take conditioning too seriously and still has value.

I’m ok with the rotation, but that really is assuming new manager John Farrell get light a fire under the likes of Lester, Lackey and Buchholz.

The line-up is a huge mystery to me.  There are guys who are tough at bats like Pedrioa and Ortiz, but there are also guys who give at bats away in Gomes, Saltalamacchia and Victorino (poor OBPs).  With luck, this team could produce some runs, but there really is no superstar element save for Ortiz, and he’s 37, and Pedroia who is a nice hitter, but can’t be counted on as a major run producer.

After the last 7 months of disastrous Red Sox baseball, it is difficult to get too excited  about this team.  Yes, they could make the playoffs, but I again will state that this team has 82-88 wins written all over it.

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Why Do the Red Sox Like the Drews?

Reports have it that the Red Sox have agreed to terms with shortstop Stephen Drew on a 1-year, $9.5mm deal. If a .657 OPS yields $9.5mm a year, then imagine what you’d get if you were a good player?

In fairness, Drew isn’t a career .657 OPS hitter, but he was last year, an injury filled campaign. Stephen isn’t an OBP guy, like his brother J.D., but he does have decent power for the shortstop position. If healthy, we might be lucky to see a .800 OPS.

I understand why they made this deal, Jose Iglesias isn’t ready to hit Major League pitching (or professional pitching) and he’d have been a void in the 9th spot. Drew buys him another year of offensive seasoning. I get that. But why shell out $9.5mm on a guy who hasn’t hit well since 2010? And he was injured last year. Wouldn’t $5mm have gotten it done?

See, the Red Sox have all of this payroll flexibility now and they are bringing in new players all over the place and because they want to keep the deals short, they are being forced to shell out higher average annual salaries as a result. Again the hope being that in 2-3 years, Red Sox minor leaguers are manning most of the positions and pitching staff slots. It’s a bridge.

The Red Sox now look like this:

c – Saltalamacchia/Ross/Lavarnway
1b – Napoli (reports say he failed his physical and the Red Sox don’t want to go 3-years on him anymore)
2b – Pedroia
3b – Middlebrooks
ss – Drew
lf – Gomes
cf – Ellsbury
rf – Victorino
dh – Ortiz

This is a line-up heavy on platoon players (all catchers, Gomes, Drew and Victorino), and some solid major league hitters (Ortiz, Ellsbury, Pedroia, Napoli and hopefully Middlebrooks).

Dempster, Uehara and How Things Look

The Red Sox are rumored to have agreed to a 2-year, $26.5mm deal with Ryan Dempster pending a physical. Normally the physical would be a formality, but given the fact Mike Napoli has yet to ink his deal, you never know.

By all accounts, Dempster is a great clubhouse guy and can also pitch. But, let’s not get carried away, the lifetime 124-124 pitcher has a career 4.33 ERA having pitched almost entirely in the National League. I think the best thing about Dempster is that he has been a workhorse over the past 5 seasons. I like this deal and expect something like 12-14 wins with a 4.50 ERA, assuming he can stay healthy.

Of course there is the Harry Caray impression, that is never a bad thing.

Dempster offers depth and allows the Red Sox to put Franklin Morales into the bullpen at the ready to start if need be.

The rotation looks like this:

Lester
Buchholz
Dempster
Dubrount
Lackey

Having decent starting depth in the bullpen is a great thing as opposed to having AAAA starters in Pawtucket making those emergency starts.

Dempster’s signing is again an attempt by the Red Sox to compete in 2013 and 2014 but he isn’t a game changer. None of their new players are game changers. The Red Sox are trying to buy enough time to allow their minor leaguers to blossom complemented by a better free agent class in a year or two.

2015 projected line-up (guess work):

c – Lavarnway
1b – Bogaerts
2b – Pedroia
3b – Middlebrooks
ss – Iglesias
lf – Bentz
cf – Bradley Jr.
rf – Victorino
dh – Napoli

The Red Sox also signed Koji Uehara. At $4.25mm, he ain’t cheap, but for the pitcher with the best career K/BB ratio in MLB history, you have to ante up (I get it, a very small sample size). Great signing, if he stays healthy, he is an absolutely dominating pitching to add to the back of the bullpen.

I still maintain this is an 82 to 88 win team but if John Farrell can get Lester and Daniel Bard back to their old ways and if Middlebrooks can do again what he did in 2012 (minus the broker wrist part), Ellsbury has a 2011-like year, Ortiz doesn’t regress, and Napoli and Victorino earn their contracts, then they could nudge their way into a wild-card spot, but that’s a lot of “ifs.”

Carbon Copy Deal

The Red Sox have also sign Shane Victorino to the same deal Mike Napoli received, 3-years, $39mm.

Victorino is a fine player, but not a superstar. I think it is important to look at some crucial things:

1.) The Red Sox probably aren’t going to be very good next year, I’m thinking 85-88 wins if lucky.

2.) They are trying to put a decent product on the field for 2013 with the hopes of “bridging” the gap to 2014 and beyond when players like Jackie Bradley Jr., Bryce Bentz and Zander Bogaerts are ready.

3.) These recent contracts aren’t going to hamstring the Red Sox in terms of future financial flexibility, so if an expensive option comes along, they will still be able to jump at it.

4.) This free agent class just isn’t very good. Yes, Josh Hamilton is a great hitter, but he comes with a boatload of baggage, same with Zach Greinke. Signing Napoli and Victorino might not be considered exciting, but they can play baseball and will probably make this team better than it was in 2012.

All I can hope is that Ben Cherington is laying the foundation for something much better than what we have on the 25-man roster today. My guess is that the Red Sox are still 1-2 years away from beeing a compelling team.

Napoli Reportedly On-Board

Word on the street is that Mike Napoli is going to get $13mm per season for 3-years from the Red Sox. That’s a ton of scratch for a .227 hitter (in 2012) who isn’t very good defensively. Still, I like this deal. 3 years isn’t a ton and while it is more than I’d like to pay, the Red Sox don’t have anyone internally nearly is capable as Napoli to play first base.

Napoli has power (career 507 SLG) and on-base potential (career .354 OBP). He strikes out a bunch, but otherwise isn’t a pushover in the line-up. Ideally Napoli would be in the 6th spot, but with this team, he could be a 5.

Even though he isn’t particularly gifted in the field, he can catch and play first base, which means almost certainly Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Ryan Lavarnway will be moved, otherwise you’ll have 3 full-time catchers (David Ross) and a part time catcher on the roster. That’s, you know, too many catchers.

The other reason I like this is because Napoli has killed the Red Sox in the past as I alluded to 2 months ago.

So here is the line-up if the season started today:

c – Salty
1b – Napoli
2b – Pedroia
3b – Middlebrooks
ss – Iglasias
lf – Gomes
cf – Ellsbury
rf – Kalish
dh – Ortiz

It doesn’t inspire fear, but it’s a start.

Gomes

Update: Done deal, Gomes on board for 2 years at $10 million total.

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MLBTraderumors is reporting that they Red Sox and Jonny Gomes are set to sign a two year deal.

Gomes, who is going to replace Cody Ross, doesn’t have overwhelming numbers. He has decent power, but lacks plate discipline and hits for a mediocre average. Ideally he’ll be used in a platoon as he has hit lefties at a .894 OPS vs. righties at a .732 OPS in his 10-year MLB career. I say he will replace Ross, but you never know they might end up signing Ross too.

This isn’t a major signing (assuming it comes to fruition) but Gomes can be a useful player for the Red Sox in 2013.

OBP

Remember when the Red Sox line-up made life difficult for the opposing pitcher? Remember? Red Sox/Yankee games would last 4+ hours because neither team gave away an at bat.

The Red Sox line-up that ended the 2012 season was not that kind of line-up. They did give away at bats and didn’t know how to battle as a whole. It is this reason I believe the Red Sox are poised to trade Jarrod Saltalamacchia away. Salty provided some nice pop last year, but his sub .300 OBP was a virtual blackhole in the line-up. With the signing of David Ross to a two-year deal yesterday, the Red Sox have the depth to move Salty.

Now while giving the catching duties to Ryan Lavarnway and Ross is a bit risky, both players will make like more difficult for opposing pitchers than will Salty. Lavarnway struggled in his call-up last year, but his minor league hitting suggests a batter who has much better plate discipline than we say in 2012.

Ben Cherington’s co-main goal this off-season should be to improve the overall OBP of this team (the other being starting pitching). While OBP is down around the league over the past few years, the Red Sox .315 team OBP was good for 21st in the Majors. 21st. The Yankees were 2nd at .337. The Red Sox had OBPs of .349 in 2011, .339 in 2010, .352 in 2019 and .358 in 2008, all good for top 4 in baseball or better.

OBPs in 2012:

Ortiz – .415
Pedroia – .347
Middlebrooks – .325
Ellsbury – .315 (it’ll be very interesting to see how Boros spins this come free agency for Ellsbury)
Ross – .326
Gonzalez (while here) .343
Crawford (while here) .306
Aviles – .282
Saltalamacchia – .288
Ciriaco – .313
Loney – .264

In fact it is amazing to see how they could have had such a poor team OBP with Ortiz getting on at a .415 clip. Wow. No matter what they did last year, the 2013 Red Sox have to get on base more. And the next batting coach(es) will play a role in that.

The Red Sox need to be hard to pitch to and need to get the starting pitcher out of the game by the 5th or 6th inning each night. Sadly, without some major moves, the Red Sox probably don’t have the horses to get this done next season, but I’ll let Cherington surprise me with his moves as he too much surely know things can’t stay the same.

David Ortiz

The Red Sox wrapped up David Ortiz for 2 years at $26mm. That is a big price to pay a player who just hits and is 37 years old. But the Red Sox have the financial flexibility and Ortiz was very productive when healthy past year.

It is a risky signing, especially since Ortiz’s motivation to come to camp in great shape has been greatly diminished seeing as this could be his last deal. Given the lack of free agent alternatives I have no problem with this deal.

There are rumors swirling that the Red Sox might make an offer for Dan Haren. One scenario had the Red Sox swapping bad contracts with the Angels in Vernon Wells for John Lackey with the Red Sox sending whatever else is necessary to pry away Haren.

To echo Peter’s thoughts, all the best to those who got clobbered by Hurricane Sandy. If you haven’t already, please give generously to the Red Cross. www.redcross.org.

The New Skippa

The Red Sox are set to announce that John Farrell will be there next manager. I’m glad the Red Sox did this relatively quickly and now can focus on next season.

The Pros:

– Farrell knows several Red Sox pitchers and hopefully will get guys like Bard and Lester back on track.

– Farrell knows many on the team and in the organization and they know him. Farrell is an intimidating presence and the “inmates running the asylum” should be a thing of the past.

The Cons:

– Pitching coaches aren’t generally considered managerial material. Joe Kerrigan was the last one in Boston and that didn’t turn out so well.

– Farrell’s record with Toronto wasn’t good. Part of that is on the GM and financial strength of the Jays, but some of that has to be on Farrell, right?

– Farrell’s addition doesn’t mean much unless Ben Cherington’s can cobble together far more talent than exists today. It wi be very difficult to make the 2013 Red Sox very competitive unless most free agent signings click and a handful of minor leaguers step up.

A good first step (or second if firing Valentine was step one). Now on to filling out the rest of the 25 man roster.