The Next Backstop

Just what will the Red Sox do when Jason Varitek’s contract is up after 2008? JV is more than solid defensively, but his offense is on the decline.

Varitek’s OPS and OPS +
2001 – .860/123
2002 – .724/90
2003 – .863/120
2004 – .872/121
2005 – .855122
2006 – .725/83
2007 – .788/103

Definition of OPS+ can be found here. Essentially, Varitek has been a plus offensive catcher for his career, but his offense has tailed off since 2006. In 2006, he was just bad, while this past season he rebounded a bit, but was not a plus offensive catcher. This isn’t a knock on Varitek as catchers get old and they tend to age faster than other players.

The big question is what do the Red Sox do after 2008? George Kottaras? If it hadn’t been for a fantastic Juy, Kottaras would have been terrible in 2007. Unless he figures things out at AAA, I do not think he is a viable option in 2009. The key with Kottaras has been that his bat is good but his defense needs work. Well so far at AAA his bat has disappeared making his worth minimal.

The Red Sox could always extend Varitek another year or 2, but that comes with diminished expectations and it isn’t likely he will get better or even stay the same offensively. They need to find a catcher that can help in 2009 and beyond. High-A catcher Mark Wagner is intriguing, but you cannot get too excited about his offensive stats as he plays at Lancaster’s hitter friendly park. His home splits: .381/.454/.655 and his road splits: .251/.358/.398. In other words, he might be an ok hitter some day, but not a great hitter. Man those splits are extreme.

So keep your eyes open for the Red Sox to use Coco Crisp and a prospect to get a high ceiling catcher. Texas’ Jarrod Saltalamacchia is one idea, but he is probably the top catching prospect in baseball, so his cost might be steep. I’m not sure why Atlanta thought it a good idea for him to skip AAA ball. Why rush these guys? Regardless, my bet here is that the Red Sox make a play for the catcher of the future this off-season.

How Will This Work?

The Boston Globe (link via ESPN) is reporting that 11 players who are free agents will be named in the Mitchell Report. The story states that the players have been notified, but what about the GM’s?

We know that free agents can start signing with new teams next week, but are teams supposed to be bidding on guys who may have cheated without knowing it? Mitchell is apparently collecting evidence until Saturday and then finishing the report, but this looks like another mess for baseball. I guess we will know the reason if we see a free agent sign right away for less money than expected, but this seems like an odd way to run a billion-dollar business.

Lowell Offer

Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald is reporting that the Red Sox have made a “really strong” offer to Mike Lowell. The deal is 3 years guaranteed. This according to a club source. Let’s hope Lowell isn’t like Theo Epstein in that he doesn’t mind his contract negotiations leaked to the press.

Silverman continues to say that the Red Sox have also considered alternative players should they lose Lowell. One idea is to have Kevin Youkilis move to 3rd and promote Chris Carter to play 1st/dh with David Ortiz. Carter split time between the Boston and Arizona systems posting .324/.383/.521 (565 PA) at AAA Tuscon and .234/.308/.319 (52 PA) at AAA Pawtucket last season. He was acquired indirectly for Wily Mp Pena.

Carter isn’t supposed to be a defensive expert in fact his glove is a liability. So he might have to work with Ortiz at 1b. But, let’s face it, Carter is not the guy you want to mix into the line-up on a more that occasional basis in 2008. Carter projects to be a good player, but Lowell is better.

That’s what we know about Lowell. All the things I am reading and hearing are pointing to Boston re-signing Lowell.

The Other Free Agents

Counting the minor leagues, the Yankees currently have 12 free agents. And, while the first four (Posada, Pettitte, Rivera and a certain third baseman) have gotten plenty of ink, the other eight haven’t. Let’s look at each of them and talk about what the Yankees should do.

Since we are going alphabetically, Colter Bean is at the top of the list. Let’s face it, Bean never got a fair shot here and since he just came off of a 5+ ERA season, I think it is best to let him walk.

Jim Brower is next and he isn’t worth bringing back either.

Next up is an interesting name, Roger Clemens. The Yankees made a mistake in 2003 by not offering arbitration, but this year the decision is already made for them. Clemens is not a type A or B free agent, so the Yankees wouldn’t get any compensation for losing him anyway. Enjoy the Texas sun, Roger.

Doug Mientkiewicz is a luxury the Yankees cannot afford. Doug had his best year since 2003, .277/.349/.440, but it would seem a foolish bet to expect him to do that again. The Yankees have four guys who could play first besides him on the roster now so the need isn’t there either.

Jose Molina would seem to be a no-brainer to return, but that is more a reflection on the catching talent available that anything. Molina put up .318/.333/.439 for the Yankees in 66 AB’s, but his career rates of .243/.279/.345 are much more reasonable expectations going forward. He does catch a good game and play good defense, so retaining him isn’t the worst idea, but the Yankees should aggressively look for a new backup catcher this offseason.

Wil Nieves makes Molina look like DiMaggio and the Yankees should be happy to let him go.

Conveniently, the next four names are the “Big 4″ so we can skip them and go right to Ron Villone. Villone ‘s one redeeming factor is that he is left-handed, but he doesn’t get lefties out anymore than he gets righties out. While Sean Henn hasn’t shown much either, the Yankees would be better off giving this bullpen spot to someone who can get outs, regardless of which side they come from.

And that brings us to the last name on the list, Luis Vizcaino. Throw April, May and September out of the equation and Vizcaino was absolutely lights out. Of course, you can’t do that, so what can we make of his body of work? You could make the argument that the first two months are due to adjustment to New York and the last month is due to adjustment to joe Torre. That’s fine, but perhaps the answer is just simply that Vizcaino’s numbers ended where they should have ended up. His ERA+ was 104 which is also his career average.

So, perhaps the best way to look at him is as a pitcher who is slightly better than league average. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have value to the Yankees, but I also wouldn’t hand him millions and a three-year deal. He made $3-million last year and is a Type B free agent. Offer him arbitration and maybe two years and $6-million would be my play.

Where We At?

c – Varitek
1b – Youkilis
2b – Pedroia
3b –
ss – Lugo
lf – Ramirez
cf – Ellsbury
rf – Drew
dh – Ortiz

bench – Crisp
bench – Cora
bench –
bench –

sp – Beckett
sp – Matsuzaka
sp – Schilling
sp – Lester
sp – Buccholz
sp – Wakefield
rp – Papelbon
rp – Delcarmen
rp – Okajima
rp – Tavarez
rp –
rp –

I just listed 20 names that are under contract for 2008. The Red Sox find themselves in an interesting situation. One of their most important players, Mike Lowell, is the last remaining significant player (and position) to be signed, but that’s it. If Lowell is not re-signed, there is a ton of work to do for Boston. The alternatives are few. ARod? Please, he is a terrible signing at the price his agent Scott Boros is suggesting. Trading for Joe Crede, he of the .305 career OBP and .446 slg? I hope not.

I say it is interesting because so little needs to be done to basically have the 2007 squad return. Unlike the 2004 Championship team that was essentially blown up (the infield and rotation especially), management seems content with the 2007 team returning. Of course we will probably see Jacoby Ellsbury take over for Coco Crisp whether or not Crisp stays a Red Sox, but aside from that, they will defend their title with most of the same players returning.

Notes: Word is that price isn’t the issue with the Red Sox and Mike Lowell but rather the length of contract. The Red Sox were scheduled to meet again today (Wed) with Lowell’s agent Lionel Hutz.

Schilling’s Contract

In another very interesting move, Curt Schilling made public his contract with the Red Sox.  In reality he is probably revealing only 1% of it as the other 99% is legalese and boiler plate.

$8mm base

$3mm in Innings Pitched Incentives

$2mm in bonuses for 6 seperate weigh-ins.

$1mm bonus for receiving a Cy Young vote (more on this later)

And some other things that he didn’t elaborate on.

First off, great deal for him as he is getting $8mm guaranteed.  The $2mm in weight bonuses is essentially a lay-up as if you hire some fitness freak to wake your rear end up at 8AM three times a week, you are going to make weight.  Heck, give the fitness person 5% of the $2mm bonus as salary and bring him/her on the road if need be.  Easy money for a pro athelete.

The real test will be the IP bonuses.  If he gets all of the listed incentives/bonuses, he is at $14mm, $1mm more than 2007.  If you are the Red Sox, you should hope he gets all of the incentives/bonuses because that means he had a very good season and was in shape.

As for the Cy Young vote, man, that is genius.  He can just offer Tony Massarotti a nice dinner and get the vote that way.  I’m kidding, but you know if the local writers that get to vote feel he treated them well, he has a good shot at getting one vote.

Ok, Schilling is wrapped up, on to Mike Lowell (same feelings as Schilling if you read his post, a great read).

Schilling

Buster Olney of ESPN is reporting that Curt Schilling and the Red Sox have agreed to a 1 year deal with a base of $8mm.  Bill Burt of the Eagle Tribune indicates it is official but isn’t able to confirm the details of the arrangement.

I like this deal.

2008 rotation:

Beckett, Matsuzaka, Schilling, Buccholz, Lester and Wakefield

Yes that’s 6 starters, but remember when the Red Sox dealt Bronson Arroyo prior to the 2006 season only to need another starter?  You can never have enough starters.  Your grandfather said it and his father said it, you can never have enough starting pitching.

Also, give both sides credit.  The Red Sox said "no thanks" to signing Schilling to a 1 year $13mm deal in spring training and are now benefiting from that decision as they are likely to get him for less than that based on reports.  Schilling is also due a ton of credit for recognizing what is important to him.  I am only guessing here of course, but I have to assume he likes the idea of staying in Boston so he can run his other business, 38 Studios (formerly Green Monster Games, right?) located in Maynard, and for providing a very comfortable payday and family continuity.

Both sides win and this is good for the Red Sox.

Other storylines at the GM meetings:  What will happen with Coco Crisp, Johan Santana, Scott Kazmir, Torii Hunter, Andy Pettitte (declined his $16mm option, see Peter’s post below), Miguel Cabrera, Joe Crede for Johnny Damon and of course the dummest player on Earth, ARod.  If ARod get’s his $350mm starting price, he has essentially guaranteed himself a lousy team around him.  Enjoy ARod.

Ugh

Bad news on the Andy Pettitte front as he declined his option tonight.  It isn’t because he wants to pitch somewhere else, it’s because he doesn’t know if he wants to pitch at all next year.  So, the Yankees have told him he can sign a deal for $16-million at any time that he figures that out. 

That’s all well and good, but the Yankees can’t wait forever for Pettitte to decide.  Right now the rotation is Wang, Mussina and the three rookies.  Having Pettitte in there totally changes the makeup of the sqaud.  If he isn’t going to be there, the Yankees probably need to sign at least one veteran pitcher for insurance.  

But, the Yankees are now in a holding pattern and it might be a lengthy one.  

Report: Schilling and Red Sox Close

The Boston Herald’s Rob Bradford is reporting that the Red Sox and Curt Schilling are closing in on an incentive laden deal for Schilling to return for 2008.

The sources quoted did not provide much in terms of specifics.

More as news breaks.

Yankees West

ESPN is reporting what has been rumored for awhile, Don Mattingly and Larry Bowa are heading out to LA with Joe Torre.  I had forgotten that the Dodgers have one last season in Vero Beach, so there is a decent chance we might actually see Torre manage against the Yankees in Spring Training 2008.  There is also the All-Star Game and I hope Clint Hurdle names Torre a coach for the NL and that Torre accepts.

About the whole Torre thing, Bill Madden brought up a good point Sunday in his column (scroll down) about both Girardi and Torre acting dishonorably in their negotiations with the Dodgers.  Also interesting was the assertion that I read in a couple of places that the Dodgers contacted Torre before he met with the Yankees in Tampa.  I imagine the Yankees won’t make much of it, but if true, it is clearly tampering and the Dodgers should be punished by MLB in some way. 

But, I think everyone will move on and that is for the best.  GM meetings start today in Orlando, I will update as news/rumors become available.