Why Did the Red Sox Sign A.J. Pierzynski? Power

A.J. Pierzynski

It’s been an interesting day. I count four trades, two signings and one rumored signing. While I was writing this, in fact, the Yankees signed Jacoby Ellsbury away for $150 million and change, which I need some time to process. And the night’s still young. Of those transactions, two concern the Red Sox. First, chronologically speaking, Boston has signed the most hated player in baseball, who also happens to catch, to a one year deal worth $8.25M. Several hours later, it seems that the last place Marlins have poached the World Series-winning catcher, who became a starter with us after Texas gave up on him.

The question of how all of this came to be is one that Red Sox fans are beginning to ask themselves in earnest, particularly those that were fans of Saltalamacchia’s. To answer this, let’s examine it in two parts. First, Part I: how – and when – did the Red Sox fall out of love with Salty?

Part 1

For Buster Olney, it was during the World Series:

And it’s certainly possible that he’s correct. Salty had a miserable postseason in general, putting up a .188/.257/.219 line over three series, but his 0-8 in the first two games plus a few game losing defensive gaffes put him on the bench for the duration. Which we’re told he was upset about, as if a starter angry about getting benched in the World Series counts as news. It seems exceptionally unlikely, however, that a club as progressive as the Red Sox would base any contract decisions off of a sample size of two games played. Regardless of how poorly he played. Or reacted.

One other possibility is that there is something in Salty’s medicals, as Olney had previously speculated – and his agent angrily denied. That seems at least plausible in light of the fact that the reported deal of 3/$21M is well south of the 4/$45M Fangraphs crowd-prediction, which are often surprisingly close.

In the end, however, the decision on Saltalamacchia – not to mention the hard pursuit of Ruiz – is best understood as a vote of confidence in their minor league talent. In an interview with WEEI in November, Assistant GM Mike Hazen discussed the possibility of going the minor league route as soon as this year should they not reach terms with a free agent catcher or trade for one:

I think we have three guys at the upper levels (Ryan Lavarnway, Dan Butler, Christian Vazquez) we feel pretty strongly about. To what degree they’re ready I think is more of a question. All three have options, which certainly provides you flexibility where if one guy gets off to a pretty good start or has a pretty good spring training, you go with that guy. He starts to tail off a little, league starts to catch up with him a little bit and he’s struggling for whatever reason, and another guy is doing well in Pawtucket, you can get that guy while he’s hot.

What this tells you is that the Red Sox feel that between Butler, Vazquez, Swihart – and to a lesser extent, Lavarnway, given the way he languished on the bench – they will have a major league catcher in the next two years. The $8M+ Pierzynski signing, meanwhile, indicates that they’re just not willing to bet on the internal route in year one. How all of this plays out will obviously be determined by the performances of the four catchers this year and moving forward, but it’s easy to understand why the club would prefer to have a minor leaguer with six years of control at low dollars to a multi-year free agent contract.

What it also tells you is that they feel that not only will they find a major league catcher, they’re betting that he’ll be better than Salty. There has been much confusion about how the Red Sox could show so little interest in a catcher with 20+ home run pop, but the bet here is that the Red Sox are valuing the player based on less obvious metrics. Salty doesn’t get on base, for example, but neither does virtually every other catcher in the league. No, I suspect the Red Sox have quantified issues with his defensive performance that limit their interest. If you’re skeptical, remember that the Yankees lived with a starting catcher who put up a .566 OPS last year in part because of his pitch framing skills.

Faith in their minor leaguers coupled with a lack of same in Saltalamacchia, then, can produce but one outcome. By all accounts Salty was a good teammate and I wish him well, but I won’t lose sleep over his departure. Which brings us to Part 2.

Part 2

If we accept for the sake of argument that the Red Sox are valuing Salty properly and that their refusal to seriously engage or guarantee a third year is appropriate, the next logical question is what’s next? While that question has been hanging over the club since Uehara punched out Carpenter, we finally have our answer: A.J. Pierzynski is your new starting catcher.

The con’s to this deal are many. He’ll start next season at 37. Never a patient hitter, he appears to be getting even less disciplined as he ages. Here are the percentage of pitches out of the strike zone he’s swung at the last five seasons: 2009 (38.1), 2010 (41.7), 2011 (42.5), 2012 (43.5), 2013 (49.6). Is he cheating because his bat’s slowing down? Who knows. In any event, it’s not good. His OBP last year was an abysmal .297, and he walked unintentionally nine times last season. Nine times.

Then there’s the mileage: while many are listing his durability as a plus, with 12 straight seasons of 120+ games caught, it’s worth asking whether what’s left in the tank for a 37 year old.

So what gives? Was there simply nothing else on the market? As it happens there was. Ryan Hanigan of the Cincinatti Reds was traded to the Rays in a three team deal, as part of which Tampa inked the catcher to a 3 year, $10.75M deal. Hanigan is coming off of a miserable 2013 campaign in which he put up a .198/.306/.261 line, so why all the fuss? It’s called buying low.

Hanigan’s no Buster Posey, but he is gifted at one thing offensively: getting on base. Lifetime, he’s at .262/.359/.343. So while he’s relatively punchless at the plate, he does have a reasonable eye. Some argue this is simply an artifact of his batting in the eight spot in National League lineups, but his lifetime .382 OBP in the minor leagues suggests otherwise. Defensively, he’s the ninth best catcher in the major leagues at pitch framing according to Baseball Prospectus, and he even outlined his techniques for Grantland this past spring.

In short then, Hanigan is five years younger than Pierzynski, has 30 points of on base advantage lifetime and is better defensively. How did we end up with Pierzynski, then?

My bet is power. While Hanigan does many things well, hitting for power doesn’t happen to be one of those things. He’s giving up almost a hundred points of slugging percentage to Pierzynski, and sixty some odd points of Isolated Power (ISO). All things being equal, you’d probably still take Hanigan’s defense and on base skills, but all things aren’t equal. First, there’s the prospect cost. The named player, lefty Justin Choate doesn’t look like much with a 7.7 K/9 in low A as a 22 year old reliever. But Kevin Towers is also getting the Proverbial Player to be Named Later, which sounds more interesting than the typical PTBNL:

“Someone we value a lot as a prospect,” Towers said. “That’s not to take anything away from Mr. Choate, but I would say that probably is the key player in the deal.”

Even if the player cost ends up being neglible, however, my bet is that the Red Sox are concerned about the power up and down their roster. Ellsbury, as mentioned, is leaving for New York. ZIPS sees him slugging .425 next season. His likely replacement, Jackie Bradley Jr? He’s only forecast to put up a .375 SLG. And while Stephen Drew and his .443 number SLG may yet return given tweets like this, the Sox can’t bet on that. Instead they have to consider Xander Bogaerts their shortstop, who has considerable raw power but will also be taking his lumps as a 22 year old. ZIPS sees him putting up a .429, and that seems optimistic – though not as optimistic as his top comp, Troy Tulowitzki. Should Mike Napoli take Seattle’s money, meanwhile, or Miami’s, he and his ZIPS forecast .466 mark are most likely to be replaced by some combination of Daniel Nava (.384) and Mike Carp (.442). Even the players who are staying are expected to see some regression: Ortiz (.564 down to .552), Victorino (.451 to .420) and so on.

True, Pedroia’s expected to rebound from .415 to a more characteristic .425, but up and down the lineup the Red Sox can be expected to display less power. He’s no Ortiz, but the average major league catcher slugged .388 last year; Pierzynski has bettered that mark in 15 of 18 major league seasons, and owns a .428 mark for his career. Power isn’t everything, but with projected deficits from multiple spots versus last year’s roster, it has to be made up somewhere.
Throw in the fact that Pierzynski is left handed, and thus a better complement to the right handed Ross than right handed Hanigan, and you have a new starting catcher.

Is it the right move? Tough to say, but after last year I’m willing to go on a little faith here.

What Would Nick Do

DSC_0538

In today’s Boston Globe, senior baseball writer Nick Cafardo questioned the approach taken by Ben Cherington in the offseason towards constructing the 2013 roster. Specifically, he focused on the $60M freed up in the Dodger transaction – which is looking more and more like a coup, incidentally. Instead of pursuing the more measured approach of finding credible but second tier free agents to fill the multiple holes on the roster, Cafardo would have had us pursue higher profile talent. Here’s what he would have done.

Sign Josh Hamilton to a five-year, $125 million deal [Cafardo’s error: the actual contract value is $123M] (which he got from the Angels). Sign Adam LaRoche to a two-year, $24 million deal (which he got in Washington). Re-sign Cody Ross to a three-year, $26 million deal. Sign David Ross and Dempster.

That comes to about $62 million for 2013.

Instead of signing Drew, they could have used Jose Iglesias at shortstop. He is the superior defensive player, and the Sox actually would have been playing one of their prospects in the majors.

This approach proved popular with the segment of the population that calls into talk radio this morning; as one caller put it, “I look at that potential lineup and say WOW.” For both Cafardo and those who like his proposed roster, a few observations:

Josh Hamilton

  • Josh Hamilton’s first and second half splits last year: .308/.380/.635 vs .259/.323/.510
  • Hamilton’s average games played the past four seasons: 123
  • Hamilton’s salary as a 35 and 36 year old: $30M

Adam LaRoche

  • Adam LaRoche’s OPS the past three seasons: .788, .543, .853
  • LaRoche’s age for the contract: 33 and 34 years old
  • The draft choice LaRoche would have cost the Red Sox: #44 (valued at $1.16M in 2012)

Cody Ross

  • Cody Ross’ OPS the last four seasons: .790, .735, .730, .807
  • Ross’ line away from Fenway Park in 2012: .232/.294/.390
  • Ross’ line against right handed pitchers: .256/.308/.422

Jose Iglesias

  • Jose Iglesias’ projected line for 2012 (ZIPS): .251/.289/.311
  • Iglesias’ actual line for 2012: .118/.200/.191
  • Iglesias’ lifetime stats for AAA (189 games): .251/.302/.287

In other words, what Cafardo would have the Red Sox do:

  • Sign a 32 year old high ceiling player who fell off dramatically in the second half and has a history of both injury and substance abuse to a contract that would pay him $30M in his 35 and 36 year old seasons.
  • Forfeit a million dollars of draft budget and the 44th selection for a 33 year old first basemen who’s had an OPS below .800 two out of the last four seasons.
  • Commit three seasons at an above market rate to an outfielder who can’t play defense, can’t hit righthanded pitching and can’t hit away from his home park.
  • Install as the starting shortstop a player who is, for all intents and purposes, an automatic out at this point in his career.

Reasonable minds may differ, obviously, on the wisdom of the Red Sox’s course of action this offseason. But for all that I question Cherington’s valuation of players such as Gomes or Victorino, I’m very glad he rather than Nick Cafardo is responsible for putting together the roster.

I Said One Year, Ben, Not Three

Center Fielder, Shane Victorino

If Ben Cherington’s been reading this blog, it’s not too closely. While Victorino was a suggested target, the recommended contract length was one year, not three. But instead the Red Sox have bought themselves a new right fielder for almost the exact contract that Mike Napoli got.

The early reactions to the deal are, to put it kindly, not positive.

The most devastating review is probably Keith Law’s, however. In a post entitled “Victorino’s Deal Doomed to Fail,” he writes in part:

Shane Victorino’s three-year, $39 million contract with the Boston Red Sox vaults to the top of the rankings of the worst contracts signed so far this offseason, giving him virtually the same total dollars that Angel Pagan — a superior player — will receive in a contract that’s a year longer.

The Sox have now squandered a substantial amount of the payroll flexibility they obtained over the summer when they traded Adrian Gonzalez to the Los Angeles Dodgers just to rid themselves of two awful contracts, yet they have little to show for their recent spending spree.

Victorino is a platoon outfielder at this point, and paying him $13 million a year, even with the rapid salary escalation we’re seeing this offseason, is mad as pants. His bat speed was noticeably slower in 2012, especially later in the season, and despite being a switch-hitter, he doesn’t really hit right-handed pitching

Well, why don’t you tell us what you really think, Keith. And while his concerns regarding the “squandered” financial flexibility are probably overblown – Alex Speier for one believes the club has “plenty” remaining – it’s difficult to argue the point that Victorino is, in fact, a platoon player at this point.

Career, he’s an .881 player against left handed pitchers, .727 versus right handers. The recent numbers are even worse: 2010-2012, Victorino put up a .701. And while it’s true that there are a lot of left handed starters in the American League East these days, that’s not a good number for an outfielder, and it’s downright poor for a right fielder. Fangraphs’ Eno Sarris writes that, adjusting for the positional switch, Victorino becomes a two and a half win player instead of a three and a half win player. Meaning he’d be worth about $27M over three years, which in turn implies that the Red Sox overpaid him by $12M. Which is one reason rumors are beginning to circulate that this is merely a prelude to a trade of Ellsbury: Victorino’s bat is slightly less of a liability in center than it is in right.

Still, I’m a bit surprised at the depth of some of the criticism. For one thing, a $12M overpay means the annual penalty for Victorino’s contract is $4M per year, which is absorbable for the Red Sox. It might not even be that much, in fact. Torii Hunter, who is admittedly a better player than Victorino but five years older, is making the same annual salary. The Cleveland Indians, meanwhile, were reportedly willing to go to four years, albeit at the slightly discounted rate of $11M. As Peter Abraham put it, the market is the market.

It’s also interesting that even statistically minded analysts like Law are so profoundly negative on the deal, given his value on the basepaths and in the field. Since Victorino became a regular in 2006, he’s been worth 3.88 wins a season per Fangraphs. More interesting, he’s been worth on average $16.7M per season by their math over that span, and apart from his rookie year has never been worth less than the $13M he’ll be getting for the next three years. In other words, Victorino has been a valuable player in spite of the platoon splits. Much of his value comes from his defense, where he grades generally as well above average, but he adds value on the bases as well. He’s stolen 34 or more bases four out of the last six years, with 39 coming last season. Even acknowledging that his move to right field and the fact that he’s entering his decline years are likely to negatively impact his value, characterizing this deal as “doomed” seems slightly hyperbolic.

The dollars involved in this deal are not ideal, clearly. But unlike Swisher, the Red Sox do not have to sacrifice a draft pick, and more importantly the $1M allocation for that pick, to sign Victorino. And while it seems like a clear overpay, the contract is a rounding error next to what we unloaded on the Dodgers. If we’re talking about platoon players and doomed contracts, then, compare the newly signed Victorino to the recently traded Crawford. Victorino’s R/L career splits, remember are .881/.727. Carl Crawford’s are .810/.688. Victorino’s going to get $39M over three years; Crawford’s owed $102.5M over the next five.

Crawford’s terrible contract doesn’t mean Victorino’s is good, of course. But it does provide some context: if both are mistakes, the choice between them is clear. Even if Victorino is in fact a platoon player, and of lower value in right field than center, he still has value in other areas of the game. He’s signed for high dollars, but not prohibitively high, and provides an insurance policy in the event that Ellsbury is hurt or traded, as well as a hedge in the event that Bradley’s not ready to take over when Ellsbury leaves.

It’s not a great contract, but neither is it the disaster it’s being made out to be.

How I Would Rebuild the Red Sox

Construction Nightime Pano

In many respects, this is baseball’s real silly season. Every club has “interest” in every potential free agent, but unlike at the trading deadline, clubs lack hard data on the strengths and weaknesses of their roster. And so the market is long on rumor and short on actual facts. Yesterday’s David Ross signing is actually a good example of this: admidst all of the media speculation on how the Red Sox would fill their holes in the rotation, outfield, first or short, the club signed a third catcher.

Projection, then, seems a pointless exercise. Instead the focus here is on acquisitions and signings that would fit the twin goals of making the roster more competitive and being disciplined in their approach to the market.

Here’s what I would do this offseason.

SS: Sign Stephen Drew to a 1 Year Deal

Two seasons ago, Stephen Drew was a 5 win player for the Diamondbacks. An excellent fielding shortstop that hit 15 home runs and got on base 35% of the time, he was the definition of an asset. In between then and now, he suffered a catastrophic injury, came back too slowly for Arizona and played like a shell of his former self – a .2 win player. Presumably, Drew would prefer to be paid like a 5 win player rather than a .2 win player. The way to do that is a so-called pillow contract: a one year, reasonable money deal that allows a player to rebuild his value and re-enter the market on his own terms. What he needs is a club that needs a major league shortstop, even one with some injury questions, for a single season. Which is the Red Sox.

One of the more baffling narratives this offseason has been whether or not Iglesias is ready to assume the starting shortstop role offensively. He is not. There is no evidence to suggest that Iglesias could be even below average for a shortstop in the major leagues at present. As much as everyone wants to watch him play the position defensively, the club cannot afford an automatic out in the lineup. And while we have other interesting shortstop prospects – Bogaerts, if he can stay at the position, Marrero, and so on – they are at least a season away.

Signing Drew would give the Red Sox another season’s worth of at bats for Iglesias, as well as additional time to see what they have in Bogaerts, Marrero. Not to mention a season’s worth of production from a player who is strongly incented to produce and another season removed from the original injury.

1B: Sign Mike Napoli to a 2 Year Deal

Napoli reportedly wants to remain at catcher, which is logical because his market value is higher if he can credibly claim to be an option at the position. But the question that the Red Sox should be asking his representatives is whether that assumption is in fact true. Napoli’s calling card is now and always has been his offense. As a catcher, his defensive ratings have ranged from barely average to very poor. And as a larger player on the wrong side of thirty, it’s almost certainly true that his continued work at catcher is depressing his offense.

If the Red Sox were to move Saltalamacchia, they could approach Napoli with the following: the opportunity to primarily man first base, but to periodically work in with Lavarnway and Ross to keep their innings manageable. And should Lavarnway fail to produce in his third major league trial, to catch even more. Averaging out his last four seasons, including 2012’s down year and 2011’s explosion, Napoli’s been worth $14.55M per season according to Fangraphs. If the Sox approached him with a two year deal at close to that annually – say a twin of Ortiz’ 2/$26M – he’d have to consider it. He might get a longer deal elsewhere, but he’s probably not going to get more per year.

Setting aside the question of what Napoli might ultimately require financially, there’s the question of whether it’s worth signing him in the first place. Napoli’s 2011 campaign – .320/.414/.631 – has been revealed to be an outlier, and he gave up ground in average, OBP and SLG last year at .227/.343/.469. But given that the average major league first baseman, let alone catcher, put up a .257/.330/.436, Napoli remained well above average offensively even in a down, injury marred year. And while it’s possible to go overboard with his splits, over the 73 at bats he’s had at Fenway, he’s put up a .306/.397/.710 line. I joked at one point that we should pay Napoli not just to play for us but to stop playing against us, and in truth I was only partially joking. Just for fun, too, it’s worth noting that Napoli’s even better at the new Yankee Stadium: .375/.531/.625.

Napoli comes with questions: age, injury and his willingness to fill the role we need. But I think the first two are overplayed, and the last is a solvable problem with the right offer.

SP: Sign Dan Haren to a 1 Year Deal

No player this offseason has lost more value than Dan Haren. When the Angels failed to complete the transaction with the Cubs for Marmol, the obvious if as yet unconfirmed conclusion was that Haren’s medicals blew up the trade. The Angels ended up dumping him for no return, and it’s not as if they have a rotation surplus. As Keith Law notes, Haren wouldn’t be the first pitcher to lose his career to back problems. It’s possible, of course, that Haren is done.

But if he’s damaged goods, it should on some level be apparent in his numbers. The logical manifestation of a chronic injury like a back would probably be decline; as the damage accumulates and the pain worsens, his numbers should suffer as a result. Except that’s not what we see. Here is his OPS allowed by month from April/March through September/October: .716, .672, 1.018, .855, .763, .697. His strikeout to walk ratio, same period: 6.0, 4.0, 2.11, 2.00, 3.2, 6.2. What those numbers seem to indicate here is a pitcher who was injured and then recovered to pitch effectively.

On a long deal, the risk here would be entirely unacceptable. But given the collapse in Haren’s market value in the wake of the failed Cubs transaction, it seems at least possible that he would be open to a higher dollar, single season pillow contract similar to the one Drew is undoubtedly seeking. And if he was signed and did break down in mid-season, it’s possible that De La Rosa or one of the other minor league arms would be ready to step in by that point.

OF: Sign Shane Victorino to a 1 Year Deal

This might be a stretch, as Victorino is likely to field at least one if not multiple multiple year offers. But the question he’ll have to ask himself: at what average annual value? Your 31st year is not the ideal time to post a career worst OPS, particularly if you’re seeking a new contract. But that’s exactly what Victorino did, seeing his OPS drop by nearly 150 points between 2011 and 2012. His track record will earn him multi-year offers, but they will presumably price in a discount based on the down year. It doesn’t seem impossible, therefore, that the Red Sox could offer Victorino a higher annual salary for a single season, offering him the chance to rebuild his value in a major market then seek one last big free agent contract next offseason.

He’d be worth having if he could be convinced. Even in a down year offensively, Victorino was nearly a three and a half win player thanks to his contributions in the outfield and on the bases. His ability to play center would be of value, thanks to Ellsbury’s difficulty in staying on the field the past few seasons.

The End Result

If the Red Sox could complete these moves, this is what the roster would look like come spring training next year.

C: Lavarnway / Ross
1B: Napoli
2B: Pedroia
SS: Drew
3B: Middlebrooks
LF: Sands / Nava (Sands career OPS vs LHP is .904, Nava’s vs RHP is .768)
CF: Ellsbury
RF: Victorino

SP: Lester
SP: Buchholz
SP: Haren
SP: Doubront
SP: Lackey

To my eyes, that is a respectable roster. And while it assumes that Saltalamacchia is moved, it does not factor in a return.

The offense has the potential to get on base and score runs, and the pitching – assuming a regression to the mean for Lester and Buchholz, at least – would keep the team in games more often than not with real upside to the first three spots in the rotation. The roster carries a not insubtantial amount of risk, principally in the form of the injury or underperformance potential of some of the players, but this is true of every club. Defensively, if Drew continued to recover from his injury, the club would feature average to above average defenders at second, short, third, center and right field, while catcher, first and left field would be problem areas.

Most importantly, all of the above could be accomplished while avoiding the kinds of long term deals that the club has had a mixed at best track record with. This is important not only because of the risk inherent to longer term deals, but also because the club does not want major commitments to block the next wave of prospects likely to arrive in Fenway Park. One outfield spot remains open in the event that Kalish returns to form or one of Jackie Bradley Jr and Bryce Brentz pulls a Middlebrooks. Three outfield spots open the following season, and shortstop will be available for the best performer out of Bogaerts, Iglesias or Marrero. As for the starting pitching candidates like Barnes, De La Rosa or Webster, injuries will create openings for the would be starters: they always do.

As none of the above is particularly likely to occur, however, it will be interesting to see what the actual plan of attack is from the front office.

In Case You Haven't Been Keeping Up With Current Events

Papi on Deck

We just got our asses kicked, pal. The 2012 Red Sox were 69-93. Anyone see that coming? Admittedly the “just” is a bit of a leap, as the end of the season is a month plus behind us, but you wouldn’t know it from this space: the last post here was September 2nd. And a few things have happened in between now and then. Herewith is a brief examination of a few of said things.

Bobby Valentine

There was no comment here on Valentine’s exit because, really, what commentary was necessary? While the talk show hosts will claim that everyone is stunned that Valentine didn’t work out, that’s not accurate. It was obvious to a great many people – including yours truly – that Bobby V was a bad fit for this job even before he’d really gotten to work. The only real surprise was how swift and total his failure was. All of the anticipated flaws – his inability to relate to players, his need to communicate via the media, his BobbyV-ness – were on permanent display last year, which will presumably be the last time we’ll see them in a dugout. As was said in this space in April, Valentine was nothing more or less than a classic management blunder: an emotion driven over-rotation away from a manager perceived to be a problem, in spite of eight years of unprecedented success.

The only good news about the damage he did during his tenure is that it was so extensive that bringing him back was completely untenable. And so, mercifully, he’s gone.

John Farrell

I have no idea whether Farrell is going to be a good manager: Keith Law, at one point, implied that the Red Sox had dodged a bullet after watching Farrell throw away a game for the Blue Jays. But he’s got one very important thing going for him: he’s not Bobby Valentine.

Given the higher quality of the managerial candidates this time around, it is a bit perplexing that Cherington and company felt compelled to pay the Blue Jay ransom of Mike Aviles (and don’t even get me started on the rumor that Bailey was the other potential trade item). Aviles is quite clearly a player with significant limitations – his liftime OBP is .308, and he missed that by 20 points last season – but in a market bereft of legitimate shortstops, he was an asset with value. His subtraction leaves Iglesias as the only realistic starting shortstop candidate, a season after ZIPS projected him to put up an Ordonez-an line of 251/.289/.311 and he underperformed that, hitting .118/.200/.191 in 77 at bats.

But with Cherington’s job reportedly on the line in the wake of last season’s disastrous finish and two deals that blew up in his face (the Reddick and Lowrie trades), paying Toronto’s premium for an asset they themselves appeared to have mixed impressions of apparently became more palatable. Ausmus et al may have dazzled in their interviews, but all ultimately lacked what Farrell offered: familiarity. Having worked with him extensively for years, they knew who Farrell was. With the would be contenders, they would be guessing.

So while I’m ultimately ambivalent about Farrell’s prospects, it is simutaneously difficult to fault the process. And at the very worst, he’s not Bobby V.

Juan Nieves

The one thing that everyone agrees on with respect to the upcoming season is that the starting rotation is, as ever, the key. And the best improvements that Red Sox can make in that area aren’t likely to be in external additions – although Cherington has said those will be necessary – but in restoring their pitchers under contract to past levels of performance. Farrell’s clearly expected to play a role in that, having been the pitching coach when both Buchholz and Lester enjoyed their finest seasons. But ultimately, the responsibility ultimately will be the new pitching coach’s.

It’s difficult to assess new hire Juan Nieves in that regard, because he’s been the bullpen coach for the White Sox. But the White Sox join the Cardinals as one of the clubs commonly regarded to have the ability to repair and restore pitchers on the decline. So if the Red Sox believe a little of Cooper rubbed off on Nieves during his tenure with the White Sox, this decision has my full approval.

David Ortiz

This exchange on WEEI last week summed up at once my frustration with sports radio in general and fan ignorance of contracts specifically.

sports radio caller: this ortiz signing is awful. it’s just too much risk: the achilles injury changes everything.

sports radio host: ok, but let me ask you: if he hit free agency and the rangers signed him for 2 years @ 24M, would you crush the red sox next august for not signing him?

sports radio caller: [long pause] yeah, well, that’s why i’m just a fan.

Besides trying to have it both ways, this misreads both the market and Ortiz’ actual value. According to Fangraphs, Ortiz was worth $13.3M in 2012, playing 90 games. His contract for the next two years is that times two. Tough to fault the front office for the move. In a perfect world, of course, the Red Sox would go year to year. And writers have (comically) implied that if Theo were still here, Ortiz would not be handed this two year deal. They base this assertion on the fact that Ortiz has been year to year for a few years now. This conveniently ignores both the realities of the market – there was a much greater scarcity of power threats on this year’s market relative to his previous periods of free agency – as well as his actual performance. It was natural to be cautious with Ortiz in 2009 or 2010, because he was not far removed from a period in which it looked like his career was nearly over. In 2012, Ortiz is coming off of two consecutive years of putting up an OPS better than 900.

There are risks to this deal, as with every deal, but they are more than acceptable – particularly given the short duration of the contract. This fits with the new Red Sox mantra: pay the premium for contracts of shorter duration. Kuroda will be an interesting next test of this philosophy.

David Ross

Boston’s best beat writer Alex Speier summed up the consternation following the signing of David Ross best:

The Red Sox need a starting pitcher, first baseman, two corner outfielders and perhaps a shortstop this winter. So naturally, their first move of the winter was … to sign a catcher, David Ross.

But as he explains, it’s a deal that actually makes a great deal of sense. Although the speculation by Ken Rosenthal and others in the wake of the signing was that this meant that Lavarnway was headed back to Pawtucket, count me among those who believe that this is a prelude to a trade of one of our two catchers.

And if pressed on which would be headed elsewhere, my bet would be on a transaction involving Salty. Neither Lavarnway nor Ross could reasonably expect to approximate Saltalamacchia’s power – 25 home runs last year – but both would project to be an upgrade on one of the biggest problems our offense had last year: getting on base. The Red Sox were 22nd in OBP in 2012, one season after being first. Salty’s lifetime OBP is .302, and in 2012 he was at .288. Ross’ lifetime OBP is .324 (.321 in 2012), and while Lavarnway was abysmal in 2012 at .211, Assistant GM Mike Hazen was stressing this week on WEEI’s excellent weekly Hot Stove show that it was important for the club to trust its player development personnel and the player’s minor league performance. Lavarnway’s OBP over five season in the minors? .376.

Add in the fact that Ross was apparently told he would be “more than a backup,” and the tea leaves seem to forecase the end of the Salty era in Boston. Potential trading partners would include the Mets and White Sox, and theoretically even the Braves who just lost Ross and have McCann coming off of surgery.

All in all, what seems initially a surprising move is actually more likely to be the Red Sox creating an artificial surplus in an area of league need at a reasonable cost from which to deal for required assets. Which seems like sound strategy here.

Mazz: Still Pissed at the Sox

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Rangers vs Mariners 9-29-06 104, originally uploaded by Mark Sobba.

If it seems like all I do is rage against the Boston sportswriters these days, that’s probably because all I do is rage against the Boston sportswriters (Sean McAdam being the notable exception) these days. Things were not always thus; don’t even get me started talking about those halcyon days when Gammons was hurtling towards the Hall of Fame, cranking out his must read Sunday Notes columns that got me out of bed – hangovers notwithstanding – to walk six long blocks down to Columbus Circle to pick up the Globe.

Scott Berkun’s piece might explain to you why presumably smart people like Tony Massarotti defend bad ideas, but I can’t. I can offer no rational explanation for why the professionals make some of the arguments they do, when the evidence is stacked against them.

But then I’m not a professional, merely one of those Mom’s basement bloggers Tony doesn’t have time to read.

Anyway, because I think Mazz is entirely wrong – again – with his latest piece discussing the Teixeira deal, I felt duty bound to give him the FJM treatment, as those worthies have sadly hung up their swords.

Teixeira fallout


The Mark Teixeira obviously struck a nerve in all of us, but let’s make something clear here: The Red Sox had a chance. Any suggestion that the Sox could not (and can not) compete for free agents with New York is utter nonsense because the Sox have signed free agents in the past.

No one, to my knowledge, is suggesting that we can’t compete. The Red Sox are a club with significant financial resources that can aggressively pursue the type of free agents that other clubs are simply unable to. What I, and others, have argued, rather, is that we cannot go punch for punch with the Yankees when it comes to contract offers. Because while we have substantial financial resources, we’re not even in the same ballpark as the Empire.

For a moment, let’s look at the cases of Daisuke Matsuzaka and J.D. Drew, the former of whom, admittedly, was not a true free agent.

And the latter of whom was not a target of the Yankees, and is thus more or less irrelevant to this discussion.

Still, when the Sox bid for Matsuzaka’s rights, they blew away the field with a bid of $51.11 million that was 30-40 percent higher than any other offer. Why is this relevant? Because the Sox did the same for Drew, flattening him with a $70 million offer that left him with little choice but to sign.

I say we discard the Drew example here, for the simple fact that as just discussed, the Yankees were not involved in contract discussions with the player. Which leaves us with Matsuzaka, and the difference between our bid for the posted player and theirs.

My read on that delta is that the Red Sox “blew away the field” (read: overbid) because they a.) valued the player more highly than did the Yankees (consider that the Mets also outbid the Yankees for Matsuzaka) and b.) were willing to pay a premium for the posting fee to gain the rights to negotiate with the player absent competition. Competition like the Yankees.

In other words, the Red Sox felt compelled to go all in in the posting phase, because they felt that they could ammortize the cost of the fee over a multiple year, below market contract (which is more or less what’s happened).

Not to mention the ancillary marketing benefits.

To put all of this more simply, Mazz’s two examples – 1.) a player who was not subject to an open market bidding process and 2.) a player in whom the Yankees had essentially no interest – do little to convince me that the Red Sox are on equal footing with the Yankees when it comes to dollars.

With Teixeira, the Sox were not nearly as aggressive.

Personally, I would hope that they wouldn’t be 30-40% more aggressive when the total contract value is greater than 3X what the posting fee was. 40% of $30M being different than 40% of $170M and all that.

The bottom line is that other teams (excluding the Yankees) were in the same neighborhood, which allowed Teixeira to drag out the process. Had the Sox come out of the gate with, say, an eight-year offer for $184 million, maybe they could have gotten the deal done.

You know – because Boras has a history of taking the first offer that comes his way, and little inclination to talk to the Yankees in an effort to obtain top dollar for his paying clients.

Maybe it would have taken $192 million. But if the Sox came out strong — very strong — and gave Teixeira a short window to accept, their chances might have been better.

$192M, $170M – what’s the difference? Who doesn’t want to pay a first baseman whose OPS last year was .004 better than Youk’s $24M per? For 8 years.

If Teixeira then had balked, the Sox would have had their answer: Teixeira never wanted to come here.

If Tex had balked, I think it would have said more about him assuming he could get more money elsewhere than him not wanting “to come here,” but maybe that’s just me.

And if he didn’t, we’d be paying him $24M per year, or 1/6th of our payroll last year (vs 1/9th of the Yankees’). I find it interesting that Mazz accounts for only two possibilities: Tex accepts the offer, or he doesn’t. No mention of said offer being shopped to, say, the Yankees to match.

Instead, the Sox left the door open for the Yankees to swoop in, which created an array of issues. Most notably, by the time Teixeira made his decision, CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett both had signed with New York, making the Yankees a more attractive destination; earlier on, that was not the case. By allowing the process to drag, the Sox enhanced New York’s position.

Obviously a deadline would have worked. It clearly did for the Angels. Right?

When you want a free agent, you knock him over. You give more than anyone else to eliminate all doubt. If he doesn’t accept, he doesn’t want to play for you.

That, or you determine ahead of time what you believe a player’s value is, and you bid until you reach that threshold, and then move on to Plan B when said threshold is exceeded so that you don’t wind up paying more for a player than the budget can sustain.

Indeed, there is always the possibility agent Scott Boras used the Sox here.

Of course he did. That’s his job. As Gammons so eloquently put it:

Boras doesn’t want to be the good guy, and doesn’t care who gets burned as long as his clients get the best deal; didn’t Edward Bennett Williams do the best he could for Joe McCarthy and Sirhan Sirhan?

To give you an idea of what Team Boras can be like to deal with, a source on Boras’ side of the negotiations recently suggested that the Red Sox had a chance to close the deal with an offer of $176 million, a mere $6 million more (over eight years, meaning $750,000 per season) over the Sox’ final offer of $170 million.

If Boras took that offer without giving the Yankees the opportunity to outbid – which they did – when his client wanted top dollar, he would have (and should have) been fired.

What Boras’ side failed to disclose was that the same offer included vesting options that would have taken the deal to $220 million over 10 years, something that scared off Sox owner John Henry, in particular. (Pretty sneaky, eh?)

Wait. Doesn’t that contradict Mazz’ whole argument thus far?

As for the Sox, it will be interesting to hear how this story evolves over time. Certainly, the Red Sox had the money to make this work. (Unless, of course, Henry or ownership has financial difficulties of which we are not aware.) There is certainly reason to wonder whether general manager Theo Epstein had difficulty convincing ownership to increase the offer to Teixeira, which went from $168 million to $170 million at the very end.

Is it possible that the Red Sox have some financial difficulties? Sure. But I think it’s far more likely that they didn’t want to pay Mark Teixeira what the Yankees would and could. As Mazz himself put it, the “[Yankees] spend more than the Sox only because they have more to spend.”

At least Mazz and I agree on something.

To suggest that the Red Sox never had a chance here is terribly simplistic and nothing more than an attempt by fans (and the Sox) to rationalize their failure in acquiring Teixeira. Nothing is ever that cut and dried — at least not when people are involved.

Did the Red Sox have a chance? Absent context, sure. Teixeira’s a Boras client, which roughly translated means he’s going to the highest bidder. Had the Sox bid more money than the competition, then, it’s likely that he’d be calling Fenway home. $200 million would probably solve whatever problems his wife had with my pseudo-hometown.

But $170M+ decisions are not made absent context. What Mazz doesn’t really discuss is what the player is actually worth, to us or to the Yankees. Whether he ignores that deliberately or by accident is unclear; either way, it’s a startling omission. The simple, inarguable fact is that $24 million means something different to their club than it does to ours. If the Yankees valued him highly, therefore – and there are 180 million reasons to conclude that they did – he was theirs for the taking. All the more so if his wife preferred New York all along.

To argue anything different is, dare I say it: “terribly simplistic.”

Things Are Never As Bad As They Seem, Though They Could Be Better

It’s not all good and it’s not all bad
Don’t believe everything you read
” – Mr. E

Mark Teixeira agreed to terms while I was somewhere over the Atlantic, I think, barreling down to JFK at five hundred miles an hour at thirty thousand feet. In spite of their DirecTV service, however, I didn’t hear about it till we touched down, the cellphone reconnected and the text messages flooded in.

My first reaction, as documented by Twitter, was probably similar to many of yours: “every text message I get notifying me that the Yankees signed Teixeira is like a kick in the crotch from Santa.” The majority of you I’ve heard from remain angry, to go with grim, depressed and pessimistic. And who knows, you could well be right to feel that way. But with the initial shock worn off, I’m far more au fait than I expected to be at this point.

Consider that, in retrospect, this is perhaps the least surprising thing that could have happened.

We knew the Empire would be flexing their financial muscles in an unprecedented fashion, given the twin realities of a shiny new park (built, in part, with tax dollars) and a distinct lack of postseason play for the to be retired House that Ruth Built.

And even if we knew that John Henry’s parting words – “we will not be a factor” – to Boras and Teixeira this week were oh-so-carefully crafted to avoid closing any doors (even as they proved accurate), we also knew that the owner was concerned about the impact the financial crisis would have on baseball and that he would therefore have limits to the Red Sox financial commitments. Not to mention that provisions like the no-trade the Yankees granted him go against our (intelligent) policy.

You know what? I think the club is right here.

The Red Sox identified a player that they wanted, they pursued him aggressively – offering, until the Yankees showed up, the highest AAV – and they came up short. To a team with greater (limitless?) financial resources. Where’s the shame in that? If we can all agree that every player should have a cost ceiling – and we should, at least, be able to agree on that – why should we agonize when we lose players because they fall outside of it?

No one’s saying you have to like it. But to conclude – as many in the media are doing right now – that this is an outright failure on the part of our front office or ownership group is a rather egregious misunderstanding of the situation. In my opinion.

In the opening paragraph to his piece “Did Yanks win … or did Sox just lose?,” the Globe’s Tony “I’d-trade-Buchholz-in-a-minute” Massarotti said the following:

They ultimately lost Mark Teixeira to the Yankees for maybe $1 million-$2 million a year, roughly 1 percent of their 2008 payroll.

Intended or not, the obvious implication to this reader is that the Sox lost because they were cheap. Which strikes me as not only incorrect, but shockingly naive.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the Sox extended themselves beyond the already staggering sum of $21M per year they were offering to someone playing first base. Let’s also say, again, for the sake of argument, that Teixeira didn’t prefer the Yankees all along – as has been claimed. Is Mazz really going to argue that the Yankees couldn’t have simply upped the price tag again? And again? That they couldn’t, ultimately, afford to outspend us? Or, alternatively, to stretch us to a point at which, even if we won, the contract would be unreasonably burdensome?

Of course they could.

That, my friends, is how Boras plays clubs. And our refusal to play his game is but one reason I remain glad that Theo, John Henry and the gang are running this club as dispassionately and rationally as possible. Because we’ve seen how running the club by catering to public sentiment works: we have eighty long years of history that tells us it’s the wrong way to do things.

This deal, as far as I’m concerned, came down to one thing: the Yankees have more money to spend. Nothing more, nothing less.

And no, I’m not going to cry foul about that.

Because it’s true that even with C.C., Burnett and Tex, the Yankee payroll will still be less than last year. Which is, it should be noted, something of a comment on the lack of correlation between payroll to performance as measured by record. But we’ll leave that argument for another time, not least because the Yankees have spent more wisely this trip around.

Is the following also true?

Even before their latest spending spree, the Yankees finished 2008 with a record payroll of $222.5 million, according to figures sent to clubs in recent days by the commissioner’s office. The $75 million gap between the Yankees and the next-highest spender, the Red Sox ($147.1 million), was more than the payroll of nine teams.

Sure. And I will undoubtedly be throwing that at my Yankee fan friends all season long, to best exploit their Puritanical guilt at having the top four salaries in the sport aggregated on their roster. Three on the infield alone.

But I’ll also be mindful of the delta between our payroll and that of the Rays. Not least because of how those guys played last year.

Few of the beat writers I’ve seen, meanwhile, have actually looked at what this means; they’re writing mostly about this feels. Fortunately, Law and Neyer – as writers with no connection to the club – have done what was necessary. Here are their reads.

First up, Law.

Give the Yankees credit: They’re not some nouveau riche team throwing their money around on whatever shiny baubles they come across in free agency. Signing three of the top four free agents on the market is a sign that they have excellent taste, even if they don’t seem to have a credit limit.

The signing of free agent Mark Teixeira fills a hole that has glared more and more every year of this decade at first base.

He’s probably the best defensive player relative to his position on the Yankees now, and could be one of only two or three who are above average depending on how the rest of the roster shakes out. He adds significant power to a lineup that had just two players slug over .500 this past year, and his .410 OBP in 2008 would have led the Yankees by 18 points.

Coupled with the loss of Jason Giambi, the signing of Teixeira means a net gain to the Yankees of four to five wins, considering both his bat and his defense. He also eliminates the need the Yankees had for a right-handed caddy for Giambi, since Teixeira is a true switch-hitter with power and patience from both sides of the plate. The Yanks still have to find a solution in center field, unless they decide to give Melky Cabrera the job again and live with the consequences if he continues to struggle. However, if they re-sign Andy Pettitte, they’re just about done.

[snip]

The Red Sox were in on the Teixeira chase until the last moment, and I have to wonder if they feel that they were used to drive up the price for the Yankees. Still, Boston is in good shape offensively and defensively without him. The Red Sox are still hoping that Mike Lowell returns at least mostly to form, but they’re set at first base in the short term with Kevin Youkilis and the long term with top prospect Lars Anderson reaching Double-A this year at age 20.

Not good news, but nor is the sky falling. Neyer’s view is a bit less good for us.

And just like that, the equation has changed.

Just like that, the conventional wisdom is now going to be that the Yankees are the team to beat.

You know what, though? I’m here to tell you that the conventional wisdom … is, as usual, exactly right. Of course the Yankees are the team to beat. The Yankees won 89 games this past season, and they’ve added the best pitcher in the majors and the second-best first baseman. They’re also likely to get more production next year from Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada, and Chien-Ming Wang is probably going to (roughly) double his eight wins of this year.

[snip]

A week ago, the Yankees were merely another of the fine teams in the American League East, no worse but no better than the Red Sox or the Rays. Today, though? If you pride yourself on holding unconventional views, then by all means, you should predict one of those other teams will win the East. Just don’t bet good money on it.

Given that they know the math better than I do, I’ll take their word for it. But you’ll forgive me if I don’t write off the 2009 season as a lost cause in December.

Giambi in 145 games in 2008 put up an .876 OPS. Teixeira put up a .962. So that’s an upgrade for them, clearly. They’re getting Giambi circa 2005 to replace Giambi circa 2009, but one that can actually play defense.

How’s he compare to Youk, tho? Well, the Greek God himself spotted the Sox with a .959 in 08. Not too shabby, even by Teixeira standards. And for those arguing that it was a career year for He Whose Beard Frightens Children, you may well be right. But here’s his career progression: .780, .805, .810, .843, .959. Looks reasonably like progress to me. And given that he’s 29, he’s still got a few good years ahead, I think. But who knows. And yes, of course, it would be nice to have two Teixeira’s instead of one.

But at least we have the one.

No, I’m with the Press Herald’s Kevin Thomas who says:

Mark Teixeira has signed with the New York Yankees and … if you listen to some media folk, the Red Sox have failed miserably and are in trouble.

Hmm.

Hmm indeed (though I’d feel better if he hadn’t cited Steve Phillips in that piece, as I think…little of him).

While Mazz would apparently suggest that by claiming anything other than “we’re doomed…DOOMED!” I am “perpetuating organizational propaganda,” I think we’ll have a pretty good club in 2009. The Yankees may well win the 95 games the Red Sox front office projects them to every year, but there’s a long way to go between here and there. Or maybe you knew the Rays would take the division last year?

Anyway, in case you’re still in need of it, the Top 5 Reasons to Be Happy We Didn’t Sign Teixeira:

5. Keeping Lowell gives us premium gloves at third and first (assuming Lowell is reasonably healthy), instead of premium at first and average at third.
4. Eight years is a long time in an uncertain – even for NY – economy. Particularly with a no trade.
3. Our best positional prospect, Lars Anderson, plays the same position as Teixeira.
2. Even with a banged up Lowell, a month and a half without Papi and a few months with a half-Papi, we were second in the league in runs scored. The Yankees, with the two previous highest contracts in the game manning the left side of their infield? Seventh.
1. The spectacularly irritating and fact-free will-he-or-won’t-he-sign saga is now over. For at least eight years.

So we’ll see what ’09 brings. If this doesn’t get the Yankees over the top, we may yet see a repeat of their 2003 strategy, as documented by The Onion. And who wants that?

If nothing else, the rivalry is back.