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.

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.

MARCO…SCUTARO. MARCO…SCUTARO.

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Marco Scutaro, originally uploaded by Dinur.

True, I didn’t believe that Scutaro would end up here. But how likely was it, really, that a 34 year old shortstop coming off a career year would turn down a guaranteed third year from the A’s to come here?

To judge from the press conference this week, more likely than you’d think.

Anyway, it’s all over now but the crying. We’ve got our hundredth shortstop of the post-Nomar era, and at least my prediction that we wouldn’t see Pedroia move west across the diamond is holding up. For now.

The remaining question is simple: is this a good thing? The magic eight ball consensus is: cannot say at this time.

He’ll be better than our shortstop numbers from last year, I’m sure. Our shortstops last year put up a collective .234/.297/.358, so barring a return of his plantar fasciatis, Scutaro should easily better that line. Even with it, actually. Bill James says he’s good for .264/.347/.381 output in 2010. Defensively, he put up an eye-popping 20.3 UZR/150 at short in 2008, then came back down to earth with a 1.0 in 1252.2 innings last season, with his injury plagued August and September likely a negatively weighting factor. For context, Gonzo put up a 10.5 in ’09. Hardly world-beating, but given what I saw us trot out last year, I’ll take it.

In that sense then, yes, the Scutaro signing is a good thing. And the cost – financially – was eminently reasonable. I think Olney mixed up the player and team options here, but the $14 million maximum exposure is cost effective even if, as many suspect he will, Scutaro regresses. But let’s come back to that.

The loss of the pick, on the other hand, is significant. True, it’s offset by the choice we gained when Atlanta ponied up for Wagner, but two picks are always better than one pick. Particularly if the loss of Jason McLeod to San Diego negatively impacts our drafts. Here’s Law:

The worst part of the deal for the Red Sox is the loss of the first-round pick. Yes, the Red Sox got — or stole, if you’re a bitter Met fan — a first-round pick for Billy Wagner, but that pick was theirs whether or not they signed Scutaro or another Type-A free agent. Few teams have been as productive in the draft as the Red Sox have been over the past five years under recently-departed scouting director Jason McLeod, so the value of a first-round pick to Boston should be quite high, knowing how well they’ve converted those picks into assets.

What are we getting for that lost first rounder? Good question.

Edes – bless him – busts out the numbers:

Scutaro fits the profile of what the Sox like in a hitter. This past season, he batted leadoff for the Blue Jays, and he had an on-base percentage during the past two seasons of .362, second among American League shortstops only to Derek Jeter’s .385.

Look at some of the more exotic numbers measuring plate discipline, as calculated by FanGraphs.com, and Scutaro’s attractiveness to the Sox becomes even more apparent. He ranked first among American Leaguers in swinging at the fewest pitches outside the strike zone (12.3 percent), a category in which the Sox had three players (J.D. Drew, Kevin Youkilis and Bay) among the top 17. Scutaro also ranked first in the AL at making contact (93.3 percent), just ahead of Dustin Pedroia (93 percent) and second to Bobby Abreu for lowest percentage of swings taken (34.5 percent to Abreu’s 32.9 percent).

Law’s reasonably optimistic:

Even if Scutaro’s 2009 was — as it appears — a fluke year at the plate, his offensive advantage over Gonzalez well outweighs the small defensive disadvantage, leaving the Sox better off and with a player who, with some regression, will still represent a good value for his salary.

Scutaro did play the second half of the year with plantar fasciitis that required surgery when the tendon finally tore in September, and it’s possible that the injury affected him defensively; he played better with more range in the field in 2008 and the first half of 2009. He also spent time in Toronto working with coach Brian Butterfield, one of the best infield coaches in the game and the man who turned Orlando Hudson and Aaron Hill into Gold Glove winners (deserving ones) at second base. On the other hand, Scutaro is 34 and has never had great speed, so there’s reason to fear that age and loss of athleticism will start to bring his defense down over the life of the contract.

So’s Neyer:

This is a solid move, and the money — whatever it winds up being — is essentially irrelevant because the Red Sox can afford anyone on the market this winter, and anyway Scutaro isn’t going to bust anybody’s budget.

Gammons, meanwhile, relays word of the state of his injury, along with some perspective on his defense:

“In order for that injury to heal properly, it has to tear,” one Red Sox official said. “It finally tore the last week of the season, and he’s ready to play. Allard was very impressed.”

In mid-July, Scutaro’s defensive metrics — according to three teams’ valuations — were the best in the American League. Then the foot began bothering him, and the numbers were affected in August and September.

R.J. Anderson from Fangraphs is less optimistic:

Dave Allen penned a masterful breakdown of Scutaro’s game here, and there’s not much to add. He is 34 years old and coming off what appears to be an anomalous performance. His 2010 wOBA will probably land somewhere below league average and his defense is a mixed bag.

The piece by Dave Allen he linked to is similarly tempered in its enthusiasm:

Scutaro is due for some serious regression to his offensive level, as is anyone who posts 2400 PAs at wOBA of .311 and then 680 at .354. But I think that, because the change is supported by the per-pitch level data, which is not immune from regression itself, we can temper that regression somewhat.

Scutaro can play average defense at second or slightly below average at short, is 34 coming off far and away a career year at the plate.

The net of all of the above? There’s almost no chance Scutaro’s will be as good as he was last year. He’ll still be better – significantly better – than what we ran out there every day last year. This improves the club, and if you can get beyond the loss of the pick, the cost is acceptable. Better, the years are perfect.

For next season, we have a major league shortstop that is assumed to be healthy, unlike Lowrie. The season after, the club will have options. If Lowrie has a healthy season under his belt, they can let the two battle it out for the starting spot with the loser relegated to a utility role. Five million is a bit much for a utility guy, even for the Sox, but it’s not going to kill you. If, by some chance, Iglesias is ready ahead of schedule, they have more options, including a trade.

If it seems like the signing of Scutaro screws Lowrie, that’s because it does, as Peter Abraham notes. You have to wonder whether Lowrie’s window with the club closed this week. It’s reasonable to assume that the front office is in regular contact with Lowrie this offseason, and if they thought there was any chance the wrist would be full speed, I think they would have been more reluctant to cough up the pick. The fact they didn’t speaks volumes about their perception of Lowrie’s current health, and his prospects going forward.

In all likelihood, he’ll be a big part of the Sox bench this year, but that’s well short of the club’s – and presumably his own – one time expectations. How they handle Lowrie’s future will in all likelihood depend on how Iglesias hits in his first professional season. If he shows progress and a reasonable approach, Lowrie’s probably bait. If the Cuban is a hacking mess at the plate, one imagines the Sox will keep Lowrie around as a hedge against a delayed arrival of the shortstop of the future, a decline/injury from Scutaro, or both.

Scutaro’s a bridge, then, to the future, rather than the future itself. And not a particularly expensive one. We’re a better team, defensively and offensively, with Scutaro than we were without him. How long that remains true is open to question, but given that we didn’t hand him an abominable Lugo-esque four year, big money deal, I can’t say I’m all that worried.

Plus, like everyone else, I can’t wait to play MARCO…SCUTARO this summer.

Lottery or Hedge Fund?

The moves by Boston prompted a rival executive to say, “It’s like the Red Sox are collecting lottery tickets — figuring that one of them is bound to pay off.’ ” – Buster Olney

The Red Sox have to spend some money this winter … but on what, exactly? If you think Jed Lowrie is good enough to play every day, the Sox entered the offseason set at every position. Sure, they could have wedged Tex in somehow. But they didn’t need him. They just needed to spend some money. With Teixeira gone, Theo Epstein was left to spend John Henry’s money on something else the Red Sox don’t need, and a future Hall of Famer and the next Joe DiMaggio fit the bill nicely.” – Rob Neyer

I’m not quite sure I agree with either assessment. While it’s true that we had roster holes to fill and thus were inevitably going to spend money, I’m not sure that the Teixeira signing is related. Theo and the gang have done an excellent job of not trying to answer that move by spending big dollars on a player that doesn’t deserve the contract.

Instead, we’ve purchased a number complementary parts whose risk and upside both range from minimal to substantial.

Are they all “lottery tickets?” Perhaps. But I think it might be more accurate to view them as small investments that are intended to serve as a hedge against injuries and fatigue. Penny and Smoltz in particular, I believe, are intended in part to keep Lester’s innings manageable considering that he jumped from 72.1 major league innings (postseason included) in ’07 to 236.2 in ’08.

And back to the subject of the money: how small are these investments, collectively? The base contractual commitments ($15.7M) – and I’m including Bard’s value though it’s reportedly non-guaranteed – amount to less than the Yankees will pay A.J. Burnett next year ($16.5).

Which is not to argue that Burnett is not a good signing; for a club with their resources, he’s a very high upside play. But for a club with greater financial limitations, such as ours, our spending indicates a diversification of risk on multiple assets with reasonable upside.

In other words, I like what our guys are doing.

How's Our Offense?

In the wake of the Mark Teixeira signing – and as an aside, does anyone else find it remarkable that Mazz is still arguing that the outcome could have been different, in spite of evidence like this? – and, to a lesser extent, the acquisition and signing of Matt Joyce and Pat Burrell by the Rays, many seemed to conclude that the Sox’ offense would necessarily compare less than favorably to our divisional rivals. Which of course is entirely possible.

But I thought it would be interesting to look at the projected average OPS of the anticipated lineups for the three AL East clubs to see how they fared relative to one another. For the comparison, I picked the CHONE projections, not least because they’re available by team. If anyone has the James or Marcel numbers batched I’d be happy to add them.

Anyway, here’s what CHONE sees for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2009:

Not bad. Joyce and Burrell are decent additions, and the lineup as a whole should have reasonable on base skills with the exception of the bottom of the lineup (they’re not ordered here).

Now how about the big, bad Yankees?

I might quibble with a few of the projections, but basically it shows what you’d expect: substantial on base ability top to bottom, with consistent power through the first six spots.

But what of the good guys? Are we completely outclassed in this winter of media discontent?

Not exactly. What we give up in power, CHONE expects us to make up in OBP. Which is all the more interesting, as one common criticism of OPS is that it undervalues OBP.

Does this mean everything’s sunshine and lollipops for ’09? Hardly. First, it’s just a projection. Two, it doesn’t factor in benches. Three, it can’t anticipate injuries. And so on.

But it is worth remembering, I think, that the conventional wisdom that we wanted Tex while the Yankees needed him is looking pretty accurate by CHONE’s numbers.

You Heard It Here…First?: Josh Bard

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Josh Bard, originally uploaded by ewen and donabel.

For the first time in recorded history, you may actually have heard it here first. The Josh Bard news, that is.

Back on December 4th, I wrote this:

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.

Twenty-five days later Sean McAdam has this news for us:

Moving to improve their depth on the mound and behind the plate, the Red Sox have agreements in place with right-hander Brad Penny and catcher Josh Bard, according to an industry source.

I’ll get to the Penny news later – tomorrow if I’m not too lazy – but I’ll be honest: I like the Bard signing.

True, Bard is no Martin, Mauer, or McCann. He’s not even a Flying Molina Brother (at least of the Bengie variety). But there are several things arguing in this deal’s favor, most notably the fact that it’s short money and short term, and doesn’t cost us prospects. Our risk, therefore, is minimized and our flexibility to either deal for or develop a long term solution is preserved.

We’re buying low on Bard because, as mentioned, he had an abysmal ’08. Still, he’s only a year removed from this PECOTA commentary:

After Bard took to being knuckleballer Tim Wakefield`s personal catcher like a duck takes to being repeatedly poked with a fork, the Red Sox panicked and flipped him to San Diego for his predecessor, Doug Mirabelli. They never could have anticipated he`d hit like he did in San Diego, just as there`s no reason for the Padres to expect him to do it again. Still, Bard`s a true switch-hitter, solid against both righties and lefties, and PECOTA expects him to maintain his new-found plate discipline, so he`ll still be one of the better players at his position. Although properly considered the better-throwing alternative to Mike Piazza on last year`s Pads, Bard didn`t surpass him by much. Throwing out only 18 percent of opposing baserunners isn`t very special, but, in Bard`s defense, he`s done better before; perhaps Pads pitchers need to work on holding runners as much as their catchers need to work on throwing.

And – remember, he’s six years younger than Tek – the projections all look ok.

AVG OBP SLG OPS
Bill James .268 .337 .392 .729
CHONE .254 .338 .369 .707
Marcel .266 .342 .395 .737

Like I said: no Mauer. But compared to Tek’s .672 OPS last season, even CHONE’s pessimistic forecast looks acceptable.

And speaking of Tek, I have to think this pretty much means he’s not back. Not just because McAdam says that the Sox “have all but given up on re-signing” him, but because of the Wakefield factor.

Initial speculation considered the possibility of Bard backing up a resigned Varitek, but while I suppose that’s not impossible, haven’t we tried that before? That would leave us with two catchers that have more or less demonstrated that they cannot catch one of the pitchers we’re throwing every five days.

From this signing, then, I conclude not that Bard will be the unchallenged starter, but that the second catcher will be someone who can catch Timmeh – i.e. not Varitek.

Could it be Kottaras, perhaps? Evan over at Fire Brand had a nice piece looking at this a couple of days ago and built a fairly credible case that Kottaras could be a bigger factor than we might have expected in the catching equation. The signing of Bard, if anything, improves his chances, as he’s now one of the few catchers in the organization with experience catching a knuckleball (in case you missed it, the Yankees signed Cash away from us).

Is a Bard/Kottaras tandem the long term solution to our catching needs? Obviously not. But could it provide us with a credible stop gap until such time as we can find one? Seems at least possible. If both hit only to their James projected OPS, in fact, they would have placed 6th and 7th respectively amongst qualifying catchers last season – such is the state of big league catching these days.

How you deploy them could ultimately be determined by their play, as well as the pitchers’ comfort level with each. If you weight his experience, and think Bard is more the .285/.364/.404 player from ’07 than the .569 OPS of ’08, you could start him four days a week and designate Kottaras as Wake’s caddy.

But given that James projects more offense from the rookie than the vet – an anticipated .765 OPS to Bard’s .729 – it might be wiser to platoon them to some extent. Which could work nicely, because while Bard switch hits, his lifetime OPS is eighty points higher against lefties than righties (.785 to .705). Kottaras, meanwhile, hits from the lefthand side, and his splits show it: career, his OPS is 46 points better vs righties than lefties (.808 to .762).

Are Bard and Kottaras the tandem for ’09? Hell, I don’t know. The point here is that if they are, we might not be in terrible shape.

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.