The "Pursuit" of Hanley Ramirez Proves…What?

Hanley at The Stadium, originally uploaded by ohad*.

I know this wasn’t what you were looking for, and believe me, it’s not what I intended to write, but I can’t help myself. I just can’t fathom how Mazz – a professional writer of some distinction – can make some of the arguments he does. Today’s piece is yet another exhibit in my ongoing case against him.

I won’t even bother with his assertion that the signing of Bard makes it more likely – not less – that we resign Varitek. I’ve already said my piece there; you can choose which of us you believe, as I’m on record as arguing the exact opposite. According to Mazz, several years of not catching a knuckleball pitcher for San Diego has adequately prepared Bard for doing what he could not do last time: catching Wake.

Or something.

No, what really amazes me is how consistent Mazz is at not letting the facts get in the way of a good argument. Maybe you’d argue that’s a columnists job; I prefer to call that willful ignorance.

Mazz is using the rumored exploration of a trade for Hanley Ramirez to buttress his Teixeira [Nuclear] Fallout piece. Yes, the same one I was less than impressed with.

His basic thesis is this: the fact that we pursued the Marlins shortstop proves that the front office has grave concerns about our offense and is scrambling for other options. In Massarotti’s own words, “As for the news that the Sox approached the Florida Marlins about Hanley Ramirez, it only magnifies just how costly the Teixeira fallout is.”

Fine. In a vacuum – one where you knew nothing about H-Ram’s contract status – that would probably fly. But consider what Mazz wrote just after that.

Ramirez isn’t going anywhere after signing a six-year, $70 million extension that begins next year, meaning that the Marlins have him locked up at average salary of $11.67 million over the next six years. Further, because Ramirez’s annual salaries do not begin to explode until 2012 — his base climbs to $15 million that season — there is little or no reason for the Marlins to deal him before that time, at the earliest.

My question, then, is this: if I know this, and you know this, and even Mazz knows this, isn’t it safe to assume that our front office does as well? They are many things, Theo and his minions, but stupid generally isn’t one of them. If they knew, like everyone else in baseball, that Ramirez was going to stay put, why the hell would they even bother placing the call?

Mazz answers this question…poorly.

For the same reason they pursued Teixeira. They know their offense is going to slip in 2009. They know that shortstop, more than catcher, is the position where they can make the greatest offensive upgrade. And they know that they need a productive young hitter for the middle of their lineup after breaking up the tandem of David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez that served as the nucleus for their entire roster for nearly six years.

Translation: they attempted to acquire a player that they know to be unattainable…because, uh, they really need him.

I see. Mazz, in other words, is arguing that the Sox panicked.

Personally, I’m more aligned with Shysterball’s Craig Calcaterra, seeing as his explanation actually, you know, fits the facts. If indeed the Red Sox did pursue Hanley Ramirez – the simplest explanation here is still that this is yet another substance-free Hot Stove rumor – I wouldn’t be surprised if this was why:

The more I think about it, the more I believe that it’s a leak, the sole purpose of which is to make those Red Sox fans who care about such things think that their team is actually doing something this offseason besides being lapped by the Yankees.

But that’s just me and Calcaterra. You should, as always, make up your own minds. As you do, I recommend keeping the following in mind:

  1. The Red Sox front office is smart enough to know that Ramirez was likely to be unavailable
  2. Tony Massarotti has almost singlehandedly waged a campaign for Teixeira since the early offseason
  3. Tony Massarotti has a vested interest in not believing that the press was – or could have been – manipulated by the Red Sox front office in this situation

I know what I think. How about you?

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.”

Rumors of My Death Etc Etc

from the pressbox

So it’s been a while. But hear me now and understand me later, I needed the time off. And whether you know it or not, you did too. Even if you didn’t, what are you going to do about it?

Because either way, we’re back, baby, and a lot has happened since the last time you and I checked in. Which, in turn, begs the question: why are we wasting time talking about how many months it’s been since our last chat? Let’s just get to it.

Now.

Buchholz

In spite of the best efforts of the Boston media (read: Cafardo and Massarotti) to drive me completely insane, it would appear that the front office and I are on the same page with respect to Buchholz. Last week, the MLB.com Rangers beat reporter put it this way:

The Red Sox have made it clear that they aren’t interested in trading Clay Buchholz under any circumstances.

This week, Peter Gammons validated that while talking to our friends from Fire Brand:

I don’t think Texas will trade Teagarden, and their asking price for Saltalamacchia has been either Buchholz or Masterson and Bowden; not happening.

To which I say: thank Jebus. It’s not that I’m unwilling to part with Buchholz under the right circumstances; it’s just that – as discussed – I think trading him now is the very essence of selling low.

Which, fortunately, it seems like our front office is smart enough to recognize. Now if only the media could see the light…

Lowe

As I said in one of the Fire Brand Roundtables, I’m all for bringing our own prodigal son dlowe back.

“Call me crazy, but I say DLowe – provided you can get him at reasonable (for the Red Sox) dollars for three years or less, and that you do your homework on his off the field status. Much as I’d love Teixeira, he’s going to get a massive six plus year deal from someone, and it won’t be us. Ditto for CC, and with him you have overuse/weight issues potentially complicating the back end of the deal. Burnett and Sheets, meanwhile, are terrific pitchers…when they take the field. Which isn’t often. Sheets hasn’t thrown 200 innings since ’04, and Burnett’s done it only twice in the last six years. Plus, they’ll command a significant premium as high strikeout pitchers. Lowe, meanwhile, has thrown 200 four out of the last six (and just missed in ’07), while keeping his ERA since leaving Boston comfortably under 4. Park effects have a lot to do with that, of course, but with his groundball ratio it’s less true than it might be with other pitchers. If you have some assurances that the pitcher wouldn’t spend every available evening at Daisy Buchanan’s, then, and he’s willing to sacrifice either years or dollars to play where he wants, I think you have to consider it.”

Not much has happened to change that opinion: if anything, Lowe has ramped up his “I’d love to play in Boston” rhetoric. I still think it’s a long shot, given what he’s likely to be offered elsewhere, but I take him over Sheets and even Burnett easy. As does Neyer.

Pedroia

What can you say, except: I can’t believe I singlehandedly turned El Caballito’s season around with this post and he’s offered me nothing? Ungrateful little pony…But otherwise, I couldn’t be happier. After what he went through early in ’07, when everyone was burying the tiny rookie with the big swing, this is a veritable storybook turnaround.

As much as I admire his play, however, I’m even more appreciative of his willingness to compromise and share a little risk with the club, sacrificing overall dollars in the process. We are unlikely to see this with our other young kids, with Pap looking to max his dollars and Ells having signed with Boras, but I admit to an unreasonable appreciation for Dustin’s willingness to take a hometown discount in return for security. The $40M+ guaranteed presumably doesn’t hurt, either.

Ramirez

I think we can file this one under a big miss for wicked clevah, since I saw Crisp as gone last…February. But the return here, I don’t think, was awful. A power arm for the middle innings is nothing to sneer at given our bullpen’s regular season struggles last year. Particularly if, as Gammons argues, the market for Crisp was weak overall:

The Red Sox surveyed what was a surprisingly small market for Crisp — Cincinnati was the other club with the most interest — and decided that with Jeremy Affeldt starting out the 2008 free-agent market by signing a two-year, $8 million deal with the Giants, it likely will be easier to find another outfielder than secure a low-cost power reliever.

That said, not everyone’s on board. Law thinks we could be disappointed in the return:

For the Red Sox, they save a good amount of cash by moving a superfluous player and get a cheap arm for their pen, albeit one with some red flags. Ramon Ramirez works primarily with two pitches — a 91-93 mph fastball that he pounds to his glove side and an upper 80s splitter (or split-change) with a very sharp downward movement. He’ll occasionally mix in a slider around 86-87 mph, but it’s not as effective as the splitter, which he throws almost as often as his fastball. Despite some violence in his delivery, he’s had around average control throughout his pro career (just 25 unintentional walks this year) and has a history of missing bats. The surprise in his performance is that he keeps the ball in the park; he doesn’t have great life or sink on his fastball, and his command of it is fringe-average, yet he has given up just 9 home runs in 156 career big-league innings, half of which came in Colorado. Between that and his moderate platoon split, it seems unlikely that he’s an eighth inning solution for the Red Sox.

Ultimately, while I was surprised – I anticipated Crisp being part of a trade with Texas for one of their catchers – I’m not disappointed in the return. Even if Ramirez is not an eighth inning solution, he gives us another useful, controllable arm, some flexibility in trading someone from the pen if necessary, and salary relief for a player we didn’t need – and who may have been less of a good soldier in his second year of not starting.

I’m cool with that.

Tazawa

First things first: the kid’s highly unlikely to make the major league roster out of the gate. And reports that he’s cranking 97+ with his fastball are – apparently – pure exagerration as he sits 90-93, from the more reasonable reports that I’ve seen. All of that said, I – shockingly – concur with Mazz that this Tazawa is, if nothing else, a hedge against the draft pick that we could conceivably lose:

Now that Junichi Tazawa is here, the smart thing to do would be to consider him as the Sox’ first-round selection in 2009.

Viewed that way, the signing makes a lot of sense, and it was at a reasonable expense as well: $3.3M. Here’s Law’s take:

He’s not major-league ready, having only pitched in an amateur industrial league in Japan, but he should be ready to start in Double-A and could see the majors in late 2009 if all goes well. His splitter (or split-change) should give minor-league hitters nightmares, but he’ll need to work on his fastball command. If his breaking ball doesn’t come along, he projects more as a plus two-pitch reliever than as a starter.

Another of the FO’s decisions that I’m more than fine with.

Teixeira

To address the question posed by Senor Frechette – what becomes of Lars Anderson should we sign Tex – the answer is: I don’t know. There seem to be three possibilities: 1.) he becomes trade bait, 2.) he’s worked into an infield/DH rotation beginning in late 09 or 2010, 3.) he’s inserted into left field following Bay’s departure after the ’09 season.

Here’s what we know:

  1. The Sox value him highly – he’s Baseball America’s #1 Sox prospect
  2. Anderson’s not projected to be ready until midseason at the earliest, with 2010 as a more likely arrival date
  3. Of the spots he could take on the current roster, Bay is up after ’09, Lowell ’10, Papi ’10 (club option for ’11), Youk ’11 (I think, based on his service time)
  4. We’ve got – potentially – a lot of money to play with this offseason, with $40M or so coming off the books

There’s an assumption amongst media members that we’ll take our current projected surplus and apply that to Teixeira, and this makes sense given the uncertainty and frequent inconsistency of our offense last season – particularly with Manny gone. But it remains to be seen whether or not he’s going to try and break the bank and shoot for $200M, even in this economy. If he that’s the case, I think we bow out. But stranger things have happened.

If he’s not signed, Anderson continues on track, I think, to take Lowell’s place (w/ Youk shifting to third) in the 2010 timeframe. If Tex does come on board, I think Anderson is retained if only to provide insurance depending on whether the Large Father a.) recovers adequately and b.) signs with Boston following the expiration of his contract. Given Anderson’s status as the top prospect in a still top shelf farm system, he’s not going anywhere except for a premium talent in return.

Varitek

One of the things that’s perplexed me this offseason has been the talk of securing Varitek – either via arbitration or a short term free agent deal – to train his replacement, to be obtained via trade. Gammons among others has mentioned this as a possibility, and while there’s nothing intrinsically odd about that, except for this question: who catches Wake? Theo addressed that in his comments today:

“We have to be mindful of the fact that Wake can be a challenge for some catchers,” Epstein said. “At the same time, I don’t know that even Wake feels we should limit our options at catcher because of any one pitcher. We just have to strike the right balance. [Varitek’s] caught him in the past. We’ll see. There’s no news on that front. He’s always been an option to catch him. He’s caught him in the past. It’s obviously something that [Terry Francona’s] stayed away from in recent years.”

With all due respect to Theo, this strikes me as pure posturing. If Varitek could catch Wake, there would have been no need for the panic deal that sent Bard – more on him in a minute – and Meredith out to San Diego for Mirabelli. Assuming that the Captain can’t catch him regularly, then, that would mean that the job of catching would Wake would either a.) fall to Varitek’s replacement, or b.) Cash, necessitating the extremely suboptimal three catchers on the roster. Frankly, the latter strikes me as a non-starter here in the Big Boy league, meaning that if Tek and a young catcher are acquired, the job of catching Wake is going to be the kid’s.

Not sure about you, but I don’t see that happening. I think either Tek is retained or we get a replacement, not both. Which, I couldn’t tell you, though we’ll know by Sunday whether or not the Captain has accepted arbitration.

Should be fun to watch.

And as a special bonus catching section:

Bard

Last I checked, Josh Bard – the catcher we shipped to San Diego after he proved unable to catch Wake – is available. Probably because in 57 games with the Friars, he put up an abysmal .202/.235/.333 line. Not a typo: he really was a .569 OPS player. That said, ’07 saw him put up a .285/.364/.404 in a tough hitters’ park, and Bill James’ ’09 forecast is .268/.342/.395. Which may not seem like much, until you remember that Tek’s 08 line was .220/.313/.359. And that Tek’s 09 projection is .238/.334/392. And that Bard is six years younger than Varitek.

I’ll admit that a proposed catching tandem of Bard/Cash isn’t all that thrilling, but it could a.) save us from overpaying for the likes of Salty – who may not be able to catch long term anyway (the cat is huge), and b.) give the kids (Exposito, Wagner, et al) another year to develop and tell us whether or not our solution is in house after all.

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

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04-04-08-PawSox-02, originally uploaded by jasonandrewlayne.

What a difference a week makes.

Had we entered the break mired in second place, I would have made some statements to the effect that the standings at the All Star break count for little. So I’m little inclined to make too much of a half game lead. Particularly after a game in which Matsuzaka threw only 68 of 115 pitches for strikes and the offense left 20 men on base.

Still, first tastes better than second. It’s not often you make up five games in a week. And while it’ll ultimately be of minimal import, the fact that the Tampa kids are hearing footsteps is not terrible news.

Lest we get carried away, bear in mind that our club yet has serious problems. Even as we slightly underperform our Pythagorean expectations and Tampa outperforms theirs, as the Joy of Sox notes.

The bullpen is yet unreliable, as last night’s contest reminds us, and our offense – the explosions against the Twins and O’s this week aside – is streaky. Masterson should help the former and the Large Father the latter (knock on wood), but I assume that Theo and folks are working the phones.

Yes, Tampa just dropped seven games in a row, but should they, for example, pull off a Murton and Street trade, we may have a problem.

Anyway, on to this week’s ICYHBKUWCE…

Ellsbury

A number of you have suggested that Ellsbury’s struggles of late might be attributable to his June 5th injury; the diving catch that resulted in a sprained wrist. You may be right.

It’s not conclusive, but the before and after numbers leave open the possibility of a connection:

AB BA BB K HR
Before 190 .284 28 24 4
After 129 .256 5 22 1

Granted, it’s 60 fewer at bats, but still. Here’s hoping the break does the kid some good.

Lars Anderson

Though he hasn’t gotten too much ink here, Lars Anderson is, according to many, both our best power prospect and our best first base prospect. A couple of updates on his progress:

Baseball America:

Sending big Lars Anderson to the hitter’s haven that is Lancaster figured to produce some fireworks, and Anderson hasn’t disappointed. As hot as Anderson was in June, when he hit .360/.440/.490, he’s been even better in July. Anderson has already cracked four home runs in nine games this month, three of which have come away from Lancaster. He did more than hit for power this week, as Anderson reached base at least once in every game and strung together four multi-hit games. For the season, Anderson is batting .324/.416/.529, ranking him fifth in the league in average and third in on-base percentage.

John Sickels:

Anderson currently ranks seventh in the California League with a .916 OPS, with a complete line of .317/.411/.505, 18 doubles, 11 homers, 45 walks, and 57 strikeouts in 281 at-bats. The league OPS is .744, so his OPS is 23 percent above league context. A left-handed hitter, he’s destroying southpaws to the tune of .383/.462/.617. Against right-handers he’s at .290/.391/.460, an interesting reverse platoon split but one that likely indicates he won’t have to be platoooned at higher levels. I like the high walk rate along with reasonable strikeouts. His home run power may be a bit less than you’d expect from a 6-4, 215 pounder, although he’s obviously dangerous and his home run power is expected to continue to increase. He is still just 20 years old.

On the negative side, Anderson has a sharp home/road split, .359/.451/.579 at home in the friendly confines of Lancaster, .272/.365/.426 on the road. On the other hand, the home/road split has lessened of late. He spent some time on the DL with a sore wrist in May, and has been blistering hot since returning to action in June, hitting .369/.450/.533 in 30 games since returning from the wrist injury.

It’ll be interesting to see if the presence of Anderson influences our appetite for Texeira, if or when he becomes available as a free agent.

Lowrie vs Lugo

Five days ago, Allen Chace over at Over the Monster said this with respect to our shortstop situation:

I don’t think we’re going to see any changes real soon. Lugo is the starter for the time being. There are no terribly appetizing trade options, so until Lugo’s OBP goes down below, say, .330, we’re not going to see Lowrie brought up and given a shot.

At the time, I agreed. And we all know what’s happened since: Lugo strained or tore – depending on who you believe – his quad, and is out for four to six weeks. And just like that, Lowrie replaces Lugo.

The question is for how long? Probably four to six weeks. Particularly if Lowrie is as minimal a factor as he was in yesterday’s contest. Which could be a concern, as he’s been in something of a funk to open July, putting up a .176/.275/.294 down at Pawtucket in 9 games this month.

But what if the kid plays well? Lugo lamented his injury, claiming that he’d just “found his swing.” Which is interesting, since July was shaping up to be his worst month since April (.259/.323/.259). When he comes back, assuming he won’t be a hundred percent in the field, the only thing arguing in his favor for playing time will be the inexplicable $9M we’re paying him.

Odds are Lugo will get his job back. And those of you that have been around a while know that Lugo’s not exactly my favorite player. But I do think it’s worth questioning how far we’re going to go with a shortstop that was essentially terrible before he tore his quad.

Masterson’s Replacing…Who?

Last week, I expressed surprise that Buchholz hadn’t been brought up and Masterson shifted to the pen. Well, it looks as if I was a week early, because Bucky’s back and Masterson will be soon. And none too soon, though he’s not likely to help our walk numbers out there.

When I first heard the news, my first thought was – predictably – why not lsat week? My second, however, was the question Kevin Thomas is asking: “When Masterson returns to Boston, which reliever goes?”

Looking at the staff, I think the conclusion is obvious:

  • David Aardsma
  • Manny Delcarmen
  • Craig Hansen
  • Javier Lopez
  • Hideki Okajima
  • Jonathan Papelbon
  • Mike Timlin

Barring an injury, I think Hansen’s not long for our pen. If he was able to throw even a few more strikes, I might argue for a Timlin exit (as I’m of the opinion that there’s a giant fork sticking out of his back), but the young reliever’s not giving me a leg to stand on.

Couple Timlin’s marginally improved performance since his return from the DL (4 IP, 1 ER, 3 H, 3 K, 1 BB) with Hansen’s ongoing inability to throw balls over the plate (26.1 IP, 25 H, 18BB, 22Ks), and I can’t see anyone but Hansen being sent down.

Not least because he’s the only one that actually can be sent down, as far as I know.

Trade Chips

Given the abovementioned issues with the roster, the Sox front office is undoubtedly doing the due diligence on who’s available. While that subject is covered in detail elsewhere – MLB Trade Rumors is always my first stop – the question of who we’re likely to be asked for is less well documented. Fortunately, Sean McAdam’s broken that down for us. His list looks like this:

Elite Prospects

  • Michael Bowden
  • Lars Anderson
  • Josh Reddick
  • Ryan Kalish
  • Jed Lowrie

Next Level Down

  • Kris Johnson
  • Daniel Bard
  • Oscar Tejeda
  • Che-Hsuan Lin
  • Mark Wagner

Could Draw Interest

  • Brandon Moss
  • David Pauley
  • Chris Carter

There are probably a couple of other players that would be of potential interest – Michael Almanzar, Bubba Bell, or even George Kottaras – that’s a reasonably complete list.

The one thing I haven’t heard many people discuss: Bowden might be overvalued at the moment, his calf injury notwithstanding. Given his performance at Double A, he might be considered by other clubs an elite pitching prospect, but his ceiling is likely considerably lower than that. That doesn’t mean you trade him; pitchers of his caliber don’t grow on trees. But it may make him more of a tradeable commodity than he would otherwise be, particularly in a deal involving young catching talent.

Varitek’s Future

One of the conversations I’ve been having over and over concern’s Varitek’s future. On the one hand, he’s been absolutely miserable with the bat this season. Out of 19 MLB catchers that have seen 250+ ABs this year, Tek is 17th in average,16th in OBP, and SLG. That’s not good.

On the other hand, there’s his celebrated reputation for working with pitchers, his tenure and stature with the club, and the fact that catching around the majors is horribly scarce.

Between those two positions, you might think, lies a compromise path that would keep our captain in a Red Sox uni for the remainder of his career.

According to Hacks with Haggs, however, Peter Gammons is skeptical:

He’s a 36-year-old guy who has played his heart out for a long time. He was not exactly a gifted hitter. He really hasn’t had a good offensive year since 2005, so where is he at this point in his career. What worries me about this for the Red Sox is that this becomes ugly as it comes to the end of the year and he approaches free agency.

I know we have people saying you have to sign him no matter what, but if you have Jason Varitek for four years and $40 million or you have Brian Schneider for one-year and $3 million, there’s no question you take Brian Schneider for the $3 million in my mind.

As much as I really like Varitek, he’s at the point where you really worry about where he’s going to be. Two years at $7 million is fine, but I think that Scott Boras is going to convince someone out there that he’ll make the difference with the pitching staff. And you’ve always got the Mets. They offered Jorge Posada five years at the age of 36, which is one of the most laughable offers of all time. I think if they get down to the end of the year and there’s no progress and Scott is looking for those four years. Jason is a very loyal guy to Scott and it could create a chasm between Varitek and the club that could be a problem coming down the stretch.

It’s not so much that I’m wedded to the idea of having Varitek; it’s more that I don’t know who we’d replace him with.

Lastly

Farewell, Bobby Murcer. Though a Yankee, you were by all accounts a classy individual and a credit to your city and club. RIP.

Lugo: The Question, Not the Answer

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Lugo on Second, originally uploaded by Eric Kilby.

In that other blog I write, disclosure usually revolves around commercial relationships we have with various commercial entities. Here on wicked clevah, they’ll most often reveal personal biases I have either for or against players.

Yes, I do have biases against certain players, even Red Sox. I don’t believe in booing our own players under any circumstances – what happened to Mark Bellhorn was, in my view, just plain wrong – but I don’t have quite the same affection for each and every one of them that I do for, say, my Navajo brother.

Naturally.

So, full disclosure: on the current edition of the Boston Red Sox, the player I’m least fond of is one Julio Lugo. Besides his play in the field, I haven’t been terribly impressed by his attitude, either in interviews or when asked to fill in in left.

I’m hardly the only one guilty of being less than fond of our current starting shortstop, of course, but I was under the impression that I was leading that campaign until I read Sarah Green’s post over on UmpBump. Sweet lord.

I’m not quite that bad.

But I am not a fan, and the front office’s obsession with Lugo absolutely mystified me. Theo and the gang first tried to pry him away from the Rays prior to his trade to the Dodgers, next he was a rumored piece coming back in return for Andy Marte at one point, and once he hit the free agent market they couldn’t throw $36 million at him fast enough.

Which I never understood. He was a nice player, certainly. And we did have an opening at shortstop at the time. But $9 million? After the 2006 season, when we signed him, he was a lifetime .269/.335/.386 player. And offense, you’ll remember, was his strength.

Was he an upgrade, offensively, over Alex Gonzalez? You’d think so. And if your metric is OBP, the answer is yes. Barely, even though Gonzo was positively allergic to walks. Lugo was not, however, an upgrade in the power department. Gonzalez’ line in his single season with us?
.255/.299/.397/.696
And what has Lugo done is his season plus?
.259/.323/.341/.664
Not, I’d argue, an upgrade worth $4,625,000 (the delta between Gonzalez’ and Lugo’s ’08 salaries: I’m not even factoring in the rest of the deal).

And if offense was why he was brought in, what of his defense? Well, actually, until this year, it was better than advertised. As a shortstop, his Fielding Percentage was a tie for the fourth best of his career and he only made 19 errors, though his Range Factor was the third worst and his Zone Rating was the fourth worst.

But this year? Though it’s early, it’s the worst year of his career in a couple of categories: Fielding Percentage (excluding 2006’s 8 games at SS) and Range Factor. It’s his third worst in terms of Zone Rating, and he’s on a 46 error pace.

Things are bad enough, in fact, that Tito has taken to replacing Lugo in the late innings with Alex Cora. The same Alex Cora that several of the SOSH folks believe to be the inferior fielder. As an aside on that subject, Cora’s career numbers at SS are superior to Lugo’s in both Fielding Percentage (.971 to .964) and Zone Rating (.858 to .844), and Lugo’s edge in range factor is slight (4.57 to 4.52).

The question now is what comes next. 40 error shortstops putting up a .664 OPS for $9M+ are not the most marketable of commodities. As has been noted elsewhere, the Red Sox are unusually willing – a benefit of enlightened ownership, no doubt – to recognize a sunk cost when they see one and correct the situation, but I think a solution this season is unlikely.

To me, much depends on whether or not the club feels Jed Lowrie can handle shortstop on an everyday basis (no, I’m not a believer in Omar Vizquel, even if the rumor did originate with the great Gammons). Chad Finn, for one, is convinced that he can’t, while a scout that Baseball America spoke to was more positive (though the Eckstein comp is damning):

“Lowrie definitely profiles at the position,” the scout said. “He’s one of those guys that moves up a level and makes the big wigs go, ‘God, this guy just does everything so easy–he just does it and does it.’

“He’s kind of like David Eckstein with a lot better tools. You sit there and say to yourself, ‘That guy’s an everyday shortstop.’ He makes the plays–nothing necessarily real flashy, but he’s going to get it done. He’s made some flashy plays so far this year, but I think he was kind of playing out of his butt a little bit. I know going to the hole to get balls has been something where people have killed him in the past, but I saw him get three or four average runners to above in the first two series. He can go get it.”

Whatever the answer is on Lowrie, however, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that Lugo is not the answer he felt he would be.

Which I probably could have told Theo, had he but asked.

Cashing Out Mirabelli

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Best Catching Tandem in the Majors, originally uploaded by sogrady.

Let me get the first question out of the way: no, I have no idea what prompted this morning’s shocking-for-Sox-fans release of Dougie Parm. If you deduce from that that I don’t buy the simplistic “Kevin Cash is a better defensive catcher” explanation, well aren’t you just the genius?

It’s not that I doubt that Cash actually is Mirabelli’s superior defensively. I’m quite sure that is, in fact, the case. Cash impressed with his work with Wakefield last year, and I confess that I was a bit surprised that Mirabelli was actually retained this past offseason because of that, even at the low guaranteed dollars. Apparently Jed Hoyer hesitated similarly, before ultimately bringing the backup backstop back.

No, the question here is the timing. If, as Epstein said, this “was a debate early in camp,” why release him before the game? Maybe there’s no good time to release a veteran like Mirabelli, who has a long history with the club, but just prior to a game? A game that he was scheduled to start? I’m with the crowd that smells something piscean.

In any event, Mirabelli is gone. True, we thought that before only to be proven wrong (that link is absolute comedy), but if forced to bet I’d say he’s gone for good this time. Assuming that he’s not going to be ferried back to the park by police escort any time soon, however, the question is what now?

I see two possibilities.

One, the team intends to carry Cash as its backup indefinitely. Defensively, Cash is better than Mirabelli in most respects with the exception of his handling of Wakefield. But even there Cash is capable in way that, say, Josh Bard was not, though it will be interesting to see how the pitcher reacts to having his personal caddy dumped. Rather unceremoniusly.

Offensively, Mirabelli is not even a shadow of his 2004 self when – as the picture argues – Tek and Dougie Parm combined to be the best catching tandem in the majors. But even at his reduced levels, he’s a better offensive option. PECOTA sees Mirabelli putting up a .214/.294/.354 line this year, against Cash’s .206/.278/.327. It’s true that neither one was likely to be any kind of offensive factor, due to the limitations of both skills and playing time, but Cash is essentially a zero at the plate. When you’re giving up 20 points in projected OBP and 30 points in projected SLG to Mirabelli, you’ve got problems. As Allan Wood points out, one of the SOSHers has noted that Clemens has a better lifetime OBP. Yes, Roger Clemens, the pitcher.

Anyone think Kevin Towers is on the phone with the cut catcher as we speak, hoping to pry loose another Meredith?

Anyway, the other obvious possibility is that Cash is nothing more than a placeholder, keeping a seat warm for an asset to be named later – whether that’s via a trade or the progression of one of the kids (Brown or Kottaras, presumably). The former strikes me as the more likely, not only because neither Brown nor Kottaras is ready for the show yet (no, I’m not getting too excited vis a vis Kottaras after 10 spring training ABs), but more because it seems unlikely that you’d break in a rookie catcher with…Wake.

Even with the move made, however, I’m still surprised. I’m not quite as pessimistic as Rotoworld, who reacted as follows:

It’s a very surprising move that they’d risk upsetting chemistry and take Tim Wakefield out of his comfort zone in order to go with Kevin Cash as their No. 2 catcher. Cash is an excellent defender and he did impress while catching Wakefield during Mirabelli’s DL stint last year, but he’s one of the very worst hitters at the upper levels of the game. Maybe it’s an upgrade for Boston, but the difference in performance shouldn’t be worth even one game in the standings. Depending on how Wakefield reacts, it might be necessary to drop him in draft lists.

But I am surprised. More than you’d expect with the departure of a 37 year old number 2 catcher coming off a .638 OPS season, because it’s not just him we’re talking about of course. His roster spot has been entirely dependent on Wakefield’s for years now, and you have to wonder whether or not this has implications for the knuckleballer in ’09. As Neyer puts it:

Obviously, not a lot of games are won and lost by backup catchers. But as much as I love Tim Wakefield, one can’t help but wonder if his contribution is worth all this fuss.

But for now it’ll be interesting to watch. While Dougie waits by the phone.

What's Colon Got Left? A Q&A

Look, if Sean Casey got his own Q&A, I can’t very well not produce one for a pitcher that won the Cy Young three seasons ago, can I? Even if it’s a non-guaranteed, minor league deal?

Exactly.

Q: So what’s the deal with Colon?
A: ESPN is reporting that the deal is minor league in nature, including no guaranteed money. Fire Brand of the American League puts the potential cash outlay should Colon make the major league roster at around a million.

Q: What kind of pitcher is Colon now?
A: Colon came up essentially a fireballing workhorse. Though my 2004 Scouting Notebook lists him at 5 foot 11, it also lists his weight – conservatively – at 240. Earlier in his career, he essentially was a one pitch pitcher, pumping in high 90’s fastballs with good and occasionally exceptional control. For show, he’d also feature a changeup and a hard breaking ball, but Colon was a fastball pitcher most nights.

In recent years, however, all of the innings – he averaged 215 per for 8 seasons beginning in 1998 (a year in which he went from 98 IP to 204, interestingly) – appear to have caught up with the big righthander. Heading into last season, he was rehabbing a partially torn rotator cuff, and the results of that rehab were not promising. A 6.34 ERA in 99.1 IP for the Angels, during which he coughed up 15 HRs and 29 BBs, while striking out 76. The strikeout numbers aren’t terrible, and may indicate that he’s got something left. The problem is the batting numbers against, which are terrifying. Opposing hitters put up a .320/.366/.490 against him in 412 ABs. Essentially, every hitter in the lineup was Kevin Youkilis. Not good.

Also not good were the scouting reports from winter ball: Rotoworld reported that he was working mainly in the 88-91 range when giving up 2 runs in 4.1 IP against Venezuela. If you’re Pedro, you can make that work, but, well, you know where I’m going.

Q: How about the projections?
A: They’re actually not as bad as you might predict. PECOTA sees him putting up a 4.77 ERA in 92.3 IP, striking out 62 and walking 26. Bill James calls for a 4.24 ERA in 20 fewer IP, predicting 51 Ks and 22 BBs in 70.0 innings even.

For what it’s worth, however, PECOTA was significantly optimistic last year. It forecast a 4.77 ERA in 121 IP. The actuals, again, were 6.34 in 99.1 IP.

Prediction is a tough science.

Q: So you’re against the trade?
A: Not at all. Frankly, for a fifth starter, I’d be fine with even the PECOTA projection to slightly worse. And frankly, we could use 90+ innings of credible major league pitching.

Besides, with no guaranteed money on the table, it’s essentially a zero risk move for the club. So I’m positive on it.

Q: Why make the move?
A: It’s a hedge against the Schilling injury, obviously. As Theo and company have said multiple times, no one was counting on Schilling for a 200+ inning season this year, but neither were they forecasting zero which appears to be a distinct possibility at this point.

While everyone expects both Buchholz and Lester to pitch and pitch effectively on the major league roster this year – and certainly I’d expect both to give us superior innings relative to Colon – the fact is that neither should be expected to give us a full starters workload. Buchholz and Lester both were around ~150 IP last year – 146.6 and 153.2 IP, respectively – and expecting them to take that to 200 is a stretch. Not to mention that it might compromise their playoff availability, should we be lucky enough to make it that far.

So in short, we need innings. The higher quality those innings the better, obviously, but we’re going to need innings.

Q: How do you expect him to be deployed?
A: It depends on how he’s throwing, of course, but ultimately I think Evan Brunnell over at Fire Brand said it best:

Colon should be a safey net. If Buchholz or Lester completely blows up in April, you bring Colon up. If Colon is still with the club after May 1 (I’m assuming he has the standard May 1 opt-out clause if he’s not in the major leagues) and injury strikes, you call him up. If the Red Sox want to send Buchholz down in July just to limit his innings and Schilling’s not back yet, you call Colon up.

I expect the Sox to get him in to see what they’ve got, then use him tactically to control and keep manageable our young starters’ workloads.

Q: What is the value of Colon relative to some of the other available options?
A: Significant. Unless you’re excited by the likes of Eric Milton, Jeff Weaver, Kyle Lohse, Rodrigo Lopez or Russ Ortiz – a few of whom might require not only guaranteed deals but multi-year ones at that – Colon is a good risk/reward play. The only other pitcher I would have been interested in from the list of rehabbing players would have been Freddy Garcia, who I think will make a contribution somewhere in the second half.

Should we expect much from Colon? Certainly not. But does he have some upside as a candidate for innings at the back end of the rotation? Sure.