Gas Out of the Bullpen: Not Exactly What I Had in Mind

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Danger, originally uploaded by Clearly Ambiguous.

So the bullpen’s been, um, run prevention challenged of late: tell me something I don’t know, you’re probably thinking. Well, ok smart guy, how about some numbers (courtesy of Inside Edge, courtesy of ESPN)?:

Red Sox bullpen — 2007 vs. 2008 (regular season, through Thursday)
2007 2007 MLB rank 2008 2008 MLB rank
ERA 3.10 2nd 4.56 27th
WHIP 1.21 1st 1.46 19th
Opp. batting average .226 1st .270 27th

The fact that the bullpen has cost us nine games already (NINE games, Mrs Bueller) is likely, as Tim notes, high on Theo’s radar.

Corey and Snyder are long since banished: the former for San Diego and the latter for Pawtucket. Tavarez was recently jettisoned, and according to Jason Stark the Brewers have some interest in the Crazy One. In the same piece, Stark mentions that both Aardsma and Lopez have been shopped – though individually – by our front office, seeking either a left handed relief pitcher or prospect. Though both have had their moments, I’m not going to be broken up if either departs (particularly Lopez).

Paps, outside of one Lugo blown save and one legitimate blown save, is still Paps: i.e. one of the best relievers in the league. His numbers, frankly, are inhuman. .560 OPS against? 23 Ks and 2 BBs in 18.2 IP? Screw the consecutive speed bumps, he’s fine.

Oki, for all the flak he’s absorbed for the admittedly hideous numbers with inherited runners, has been fine when not placed in exceedingly high leverage situations (bases loaded, no one out? c’mon). This assumes that the wrist injury doesn’t linger, of course. Apres that? Well, perhaps not le deluge, but close.

MDC has recovered somewhat from his late April string of four straight scored on appearances, but his 1 hit, 1 1/3 appearance today aside, he’s clearly not emerging as the relief ace that some had hoped for (and that I didn’t expect). Still, he’s here for the duration.

Timlin, as nearly as I can determine, is cooked. With the caveat that it’s an obviously small sample size, he’s been scored on in 50% of his last 6 outings, and has recently lowered his ERA to 9.00. The other metrics? In 10 IP, hitters are putting up a .405/.426/.714 line against him. That’s 17 hits in 10 IP, along with 3 HRs and 3 BBs and 10 ERs. Lefties are hitting him worse (OPS of 1.264), but righties aren’t exactly weak with the stick (OPS of 1.019). True, we all thought he was done last year – and he probably was – but nothing in his performance thus far indicates a bounceback is imminent.

Hansen, of course, was already up and effectively took Tavarez’ roster spot. On the surface, his numbers aren’t much better than Timlin’s in an admittedly small sample size – 8.44 ERA vs the aforementioned 9 – but his sample size is smaller and a closer look reveals some reasons to hope. First, he’s only allowing a line of .238/.333/.381, which is far from terrible. Second, he’s striking people out – 4 K’s in 5.1 IP. Unfortunately, Driveline Mechanics is extremely pessimistic about Hansen’s prospects: both in terms of performance and the potential for injury.

Help, we need. Clearly. But from whence shall it come?

Of the internal candidates previously discussed in this space, the news is mostly negative.

Masterson, since his electric debut in Portland and his outstanding spot start for the big boys, has been hit. His last outing on the 15th saw him give up 9 hits and 7 earned runs in 6 IP, though he only walked 2. Since April 30th, in fact, he’s given up the following in earned runs: 4, 4, 1, and 7. Haven’t heard what the problem might be, but he’s probably not going to be a boost struggling like that.

Richardson, if anything, has been worse. I saw him throw against Bowie down in Portland on the 9th, and he allowed 8 hits and 6 tuns in 5 IP while walking 3. None of the hits were cheap, either. His last five starts, by earned runs, are 3, 4, 1, 6 and 4. Which accounts for the 4.83 ERA. I don’t have the splits, so it’s possible his numbers left on left are better, but again, he doesn’t appear poised to help in the near term.

Bard, on the other hand, might. The pitcher I’ve been notably skeptical of – he’s been walking better than a guy an inning professionally, remember – was recently promoted to good old Portland this week. Though old for the league, Bard dominated Greenville, striking out 43 of the 100 batters he faced over 28 innings, but more importantly only walking 4. The shift to the bullpen, it would seem, might be paying dividends; I’ll try to get to a few Portland games to see first hand. Will he be up? The last time they promoted a 22 year old in Hansen it set him back years, so I tend to doubt it. But with the bullpen in the shape it’s in, it’s not out of the realm of possibility. Particularly if he puts up numbers at Portland similar to those we’ve seen in Greenville.

Who’s left? Well, Gronkiewicz was throwing well, but is hurt. Michael Bowden, with Masterson one of the top starter prospects at Portland, is throwing well (2.57 ERA in 42 IP with 41 Ks and 12 BBs), but doesn’t necessarily profile that well in a relief role this season because he doesn’t have a single dominant pitch like Bard (fastball) or Masterson (sinker). Hunter Jones might have been a candidate, after the lefty struck out 26 in 22.2 IP at Portland, but his Pawtucket debut was rocky (3 H, 1 ER in 1 IP).

My dark horse? Buchholz. If Colon comes back and can take his slot in the rotation, Bucky could be a real weapon – not to mention a godsend – coming out of the bullpen, and it would help keep his innings down.

As for external candidates, well, it’s best not to speak of that. Not because of how poorly the Gagne trade turned out, but rather because there really aren’t any obvious Gagne’s to trade for at the moment. Give the front office credit: while their bullpen construction is suspect, they are creative when it comes to trades.

It may take not just a portion, but all of that creativity to find a solution to this year’s bullpen crisis. Because a crisis it most certainly is. Unless you’re happy with how those nine (NINE) games turned out.

Quick Links: New Radio Team, Why I Love Amalie, and More

mmm...Amalie

Or not so quick.

Anyway, another day, another new feature here at wicked clevah. Bringing you the news quickly. If not succinctly.

Bullpen Breakdown

Firebrand of the American League: I’ll be taking my own look at the roster – probably after we have more to go on, say midway through Spring Training – but in the meantime, Evan Brunell over on Firebrand of the American League has an interesting look at the battle for the final few bullpen roles. I think it under emphasizes slightly the role that roster status will play in the decision making process – I’d personally be shocked if any of the folks that don’t have to pass through waivers make the club from the outset – but it’s a good roundup of the candidates and their strengths and weaknesses.

One note worth adding: FBAL’s Dave B is not unique in his fascination with non-roster invitee Lee Gronkiewicz. Baseball Prospectus’ Joe Sheehan had this to say in his AL East preview:

Journeyman right-hander Lee Gronkiewicz has a 2.48 career ERA in the minors with nearly a 4:1 career K/BB. That ratio was 85/12 last year in 78 2/3 innings at three levels. There’s not much room in Fenway’s bullpen, but an injury to somebody could create an opportunity for the veteran to be this year’s Lee Gardner.

A long shot? Of course. But if there’s any front office that will give him credit for those numbers, it’s ours.

More Truck Day

Kelly O’Connor: Via Surviving Grady comes word of Kelly O’Connor’s Truck Day pictures. In case you, like me, can’t get enough.

New Radio Team Announced

Boston Globe: I’ll be honest: I never really cared for Jerry Trupiano, the long term radio partner of Joe Castiglione. His delivery was nothing to write home about, but the grating factor for me was his stale humor. A few summers back he had a running joke about some karaoke that Castiglione had done – Runaround Sue, I think it was – that became one of his running gags. It wasn’t particularly amusing the first time around, and to say it never grew on me was putting it mildly.

But neither was I big fan of Dave O’Brien (who other folks love) or Glenn Gefner (whom other folks most certainly did not). Most particularly, however, I didn’t like the transition back and forth between the two, and the obvious lack of chemistry between the boothmates, where chemistry = knowing who says what, and when, and who fills silences, and how.

Apparently, things are going to get worse in that department this season: not only are we not consolidating things in the booth, we’re adding a fourth. Castiglione remains, which is good, as does O’Brien, but when the latter is absent he’ll be replaced by a tag team of Dale Arnold or Jon Rish. I’ve heard both before, of course, in the context of their respective WEEI duties, and neither inspires strong feelings one way or the other.

I’ll reserve judgement until I hear the three pairings play out, but I’m not optimistic about the state of Red Sox radio in ’08. Which pains me in particular, because I don’t have TV set up in the cottage I live in in the summer (it’s in the one next door), meaning that radio is my primary medium whether I’m at home, on the boat or in the car.

Why I Love Amalie

Boston Globe: I’m far from alone in the massive crush I have on Amalie Benjamin – see the page footer over on the brilliance that is Surviving Grady – but a piece of hers today may win you over as well. In discussing Matsuzaka, she penned the following:

Matsuzaka, meanwhile, has turned his Mohawk from last season into something of a mullet. It’s definitely a party in the back.

Priceless, I think we can all agree.

But it’s even more valuable in the context of her competition: crusty old embittered white men. To me she’s a breath of fresh air in an increasingly stale medium. Also, there’s the hotness.

Merry Truck Day, and To All a Goodnight

Truck Day (courtesy of the Boston Globe)There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s the headlights of an 18 wheeler. But a good 18 wheeler, not like that one with the goblin head from the crime against film that was Maximum Overdrive.

I don’t care what that frigging groundhog said: truck day means spring is at hand. My people, baseball is but four days away. Let there be much rejoicing, but no eating of minstrels.

The Mayor Comes to Town

So we’re getting Sean Casey. While I can’t really say that I have strong feelings on the subject one way or another, it’s a Red Sox transaction and thus must be documented. In excessive detail. Here we go.

Q: What’s the nature of the transaction?
A: One year deal at $700K according to the Great Gammons. Edes says $800K. Doesn’t look like a minor league invite sort of thing, but the contract is apparently non-guaranteed.

Q: Who is Sean Casey?
A: A 1B/DH type, pretty much strictly, who’s played with Cleveland (briefly), Cincinnatti, Detroit, Pittsburgh in his career. While much beloved by fans, players and media, I’m probably faster than he is. Like, a lot faster. And I’m the slowest man alive.

Q: What’s with the much beloved bit?
A: Casey is rumored to be the most popular player in MLB. As the good folks over at Surviving Grady relate, in a survey of 464 major leaguers asked who the friendliest player was, Casey’s name was returned on 46% of the ballots. The runners up? Jim Thome and Mike Sweeney, at a whopping 7% a piece. Put more simply: you don’t pick up a moniker like “The Mayor” by being a dick.

Q: So he’s one of those rare players the ravenous Boston media won’t pick on?
A: Sure seems that way. Witness these tidbits, “a very popular and enthusiastic player,” “considered an outstanding clubhouse influence,” “excellent contact hitter,” “chosen for three NL All-Star teams,” “made a big impact with Detroit.”

Q: Ok, the Boston media is sold. How about you?
A: Meh. As I said from the outset, I’ve really got no strong feelings one way or another. He’s got some very useful skills, but lacks the versatility you’d expect from a bench player, as Allen Chace over at Over the Monster notes.

Q: Let’s parse that a little bit: what are his useful skills?
A: Dude, it’s the Red Sox front office. What do you think? Baserunning?

The guy gets on base. Lifetime OBP is .366, and last year was at .353.

Q: I’ve heard – via Nick Cafardo – that he’s a good pinch hitter as well. Is that true?
A: Well, Cafardo has him at 5-11 last year in that role. Which is good. ESPN actually has him at 6-12, which is also good. But given that his three year total of 21 ABs as a PH is the very definition of small sample size, I’m not ready to draw any firm conclusions off of that fact.

Q: Gotcha. So the OBP is good. What are the downsides?
A: Primarily, as discussed by Allen, there’s the lack of versatility. I’ve never been considered the world’s biggest Hinske fan, but at least he gives you the option in the outfield. As would have a Brad Wilkerson, before he signed with the Mariners.

Casey’s limited, but balancing that is Youk’s abilities at third. So though Casey is limited to first, given Youk’s versatility, The Mayor effectively represents relief at both first and third.

The other primarily limitation of Casey’s game is power. Put bluntly, it’s never really been a part of his game. Lifetime SLG is .450, and his last three years are .364/.408/.393. But in a bench player, that’s not really such a priority.

Q: What do the players think?
A: Given his reputation, they’re likely to be as fired up as Curt Schilling is. As an aside to Curt, who observed “I think he’s gotten the best of me more than I on him,” that’s not quite true. He’s at 6 hits in 19 ABs with 2 BBs, for a .316/.381/.474 line. Thus he’s hit you well, but not more often than you get him.

Q: What do the splits tell us?
A: One minor surprise: he’s better against lefties than righties over the last 3 years (.326/.380/.448 vs .284/.346/.387). Other than that, very little of significance: he hasn’t hit well at Camden Yard in 13 ABs (.445 OPS), hasn’t been much better at Fenway (.483 OPS in 30 ABs), and is worst at Yankee Stadium (.417 OPS in 21 ABs). He also hasn’t responded well to the DH role in a mere 26 ABs, hitting .192/.250/.308 in that role.

Q: A cursory glance suggests that Casey is like an older Youk. Is that reasonably accurate?
A: Well, they’re both first baseman with lower power profiles than you expect for the position, but Youk can handle third and gets on base at a slightly higer clip (.383 to .366 lifetime). Interestingly, though, Casey’s hit for a bit more pop over his career (.450 to Youk’s .434). I hadn’t known that.

Q: So what’s the bottom line on this deal?
A: Seems like a classic low-risk/moderate reward scenario. At worst, he’s a low cost (read: easily jettisoned) asset with the club who may make the clubhouse a better place. At best, he’s a good OBP bat off the bench that can spell both Lowell at third (by proxy) and Youk at first, which is important since the fomer is aging (33) and the latter tends to wear down (1st and 2nd half splits the last 3 years: .309/.410/.478 vs .249/.355/.384). Thus, I give the deal a thumbs up, even if I’m not dancing in the streets as a result.

Aardsma: Apart from the Alphabetical Advantage, What's the Deal?

I have to be honest, when the Google Alert arrived saying “red sox trade for pitcher,” David Aardsma‘s not exactly who I was expecting. To say the least. But Theo and the gang saw something in him, so I guess it’s worth a brief Q&A on the trade.

Q: Who the hell is David Aardsma?
A: A Chicago reliever, but you knew that. A Denver native – that you probably didn’t. As for the actually important stuff, he’s a former first pick of the San Francisco Giants, a 6 foot 4 Rice product. Regrettably, he appears to have been rushed, reaching the majors in 2004 after a mere 18.1 innings in the minors. The Scouting Notebook for 2005 (lord, how I miss those things) talks about him as a potential closer, but one suspects that such talk has abated in the wake of a couple of years of less than stellar performances. If my math is right, he’ll be 27 going into the season.

Q: What kind of pitcher is he?
A: A hard thrower, both by reputation and – to a certain extent – by results. The book says that he’ll touch 96-97, and while the 2005 scouter had him throwing a hard breaking ball along with his fastball, last year’s Baseball Prospectus claims that he’d narrowed the focus down to pretty much just the heater. Depending on the command of and movement on that fastball, of course, a single pitch repertoire can be a serious issue – unless you last name is Rivera and you hail from Panama. Aardsma at least has shown the ability to strike people out, however, with a lifetime 8.44 K/9 which spiked at 10.02 per last year.

Q: So what’s the catch?
A: Pretty much what you’d expect: control. Despite the attention to the fastball, Aardsma has yet to demonstrate acceptable control on a consistent basis. In 96 total MLB innings, Aardsma’s walked 55 to his 90 strikeouts. Not good.

Q: What did we have to give up to get him?
A: Two non-drafted young pitchers, Miguel Socolovich (21) and Willy Mota (22). I don’t have much on either kid, but they’re not among the BA Top 30 prospects and neither has made it to AA. According to Kevin Thomas, “Socolovich pitched 11 games in low Class A Greenville last year (2-2, 6.65) and 14 in short-season Lowell (5-4, 3.56). Mota was an outfielder for four years before converting to pitcher last season (5-3, 2.60 in 17 relief appearances with Lowell).” While you never know, neither of these kids has exactly lit it up.

Q: Where does he fit in the bullpen mix?
A: Presumably he’ll audition for a 6th or 7th inning role, with a theoretical upside of hard throwing right handed set up man.

Q: Anything interesting in his splits?
A: Well, he came out of the gate quickly last year. In April, he held a 1.72 ERA, and had K’d 23 in 15.2 innings, only (for him) walking 6. They also tell us he shouldn’t be used against the Cubs: in 1.1 innings against them, they’ve hit .667 of his offerings scoring 9 runs in the process. Also of note: he was much better at home than away last year, 2.08 ERA/.210 BAA vs 11.40/.382.

Q: Is he more effective facing lefties or righties?
A: Don’t have the career numbers in front of me, but last year it was six of one, half a dozen of another. Lefties hit him for less power, but got on base a ton (.448), while righties walked less but tatooed him to the tune of a .560 slugging percentage.

Q: All in all, what do you make of the trade?
A: A fairly harmless transaction, with a modest
potential upside if Aardsma matures as he closes in on 30 as some pitchers do.

Q: Will it work out better than the last swap with the White Sox, which exchanged serviceable if burnt out David Riske for Javier Lopez?
A: Who knows. It is worth noting, however, that while Riske has generally outpitched Lopez, he’s been better than four times as expensive. And that in an admitted 20+ fewer innings, Lopez allowed exactly the same BAA as Riske. The latter strikes more out while walking fewer, however.

Catching Up

By now, you’ve all probably seen that the good folks over at Baseball America rated our farm system second to Tampa’s stellar stable. So we’ve got that going for us. Which is nice. And while my enthusiasm is tempered by the realization that should the Santana trade be completed we’d slide back south of 10th, it’s still an achievement worth recognizing and appreciating.

In looking over the list of our Top 30 Prospects, however, it’s a stark reminder that when it comes to the catching position, we’re not exactly stacked. Pitching, we have. Fortunately. And though we’re a bit light in the power department (what with Anderson maturing slowly and picks like Jason Place not having panned out yet), we’ve got credible candidates in both the outfield (Ellsbury, Kalish, Moss, etc) and infield (Anderson, Lowrie, Tejeda, etc).

Then there’s the catching spot.

As far as I can tell, that’s going to be a bit of a problem. An untimely one, as well, with both the presumed current catching tandem of Mirabelli and Tek up for free agency after this year.

From the sounds of it, a reupping of Tek at $10M+ per could be in the works, and Mirabelli’s future – as always – is in the hands of one Timothy Wakefield.

Should they both depart, however, this is what we have on hand:

  • Dusty Brown:
    Known primarily for his defense, Brown showed enough offense last season in Portland to justify a spot on the 40 man. True, .268/.344/.453 in 250 AA AB’s for a 2000 draftee isn’t exactly lighting it up, but the Sox seem enthused about his abilities behind the dish. Farm director Mike Hazen said of Brown, “We really like his ability behind the plate. There’s just not a lot of good catching across baseball. We just feel like Dusty is a good catcher.” A bit of a back-handed compliment, perhaps, but with the state of catching generally and our organization specifically, we’ll have to take what we can get.
  • George Kottaras:
    The catching prospect sent over by San Diego in return for a month or two of David Wells, seems to have hit a bit of a wall and dropped right off of the Top 30 list this year. A defensive work-in-progress generally better known for his offense – his on base skills in particular, Kottaras posted .241/.316./.408 line at Pawtucket last year. Not awful, particularly for a catcher, but given his defensive lack of excellence, not particularly reassuring either. One thing worth noting: Kottaras’ was weighed down partially by a poor start – .196/.272/.304 in the first half – but rebounded nicely with a .318/.389/.582 line in the second.
  • Mark Wagner:
    The owner of the 20th spot in on this year’s Top 30 list, has generally been rated by John Sickels as a Grade C prospect. For context: Sickels doesn’t give out D’s or F’s. In Wagner’s defense, however, he’s still young and has been solid since turning pro, handing in a cumulative .291/.378/.460 in 3 minor league seasons. True, one of those seasons was at the launching pad that is Lancaster, but a .939 OPS at any level is still an accomplishment (Manny’s ’07 number? .881). Even better? Offense isn’t his only trick, as he BA tabbed him as our Best Defensive Catcher.

What if we don’t retain Tek? None of the kids are projected to be ready in ’09, so we’d probably have to go the free agent route. Tim Dierkes over at MLB Trade Rumors has suggested Kenji Johjima as a potential target, but I was surprised to discover that he gave up a couple of homers and better than 40 points of OBP to our current backstop. Surprised is precisely what I should have been, however, given Joe-mama’s performance against us: .375/.464/.708. David Ortiz, in other words.

Outside of Johjima, I’m not sure what the options are. But ultimately I think the Sox will look to lock up Tek, as the Yankees did with Posada, because Hazen’s right: there just isn’t much catching around.

Matsuzaka's Strikeout Rate: The Splits

Over lunch today, I happened to mention to Alex that after looking at Matsuzaka’s strikeout rate, I was reasonably optimistic that the Japanese pitcher would step up and perform closer to the level of a #2 starter. At which point he asked the question I should have: what were his first half/second half splits?

That, ladies and gentlemen, is why I don’t do this for a living.

Anyway, it’s always interesting to see what the league makes of a pitcher the second and third time around the league, after the players have the chance to see his stuff in person and the scouts have the opportunity to observe in detail his patterns, strengths and weaknesses. Particularly with a pitcher like Matsuzaka, who brings more than the usual arsenal of pitches to the table.

So without further delay, the numbers:

Time Innings Ks BBs K/9 BB/9
Pre All-Star 119.2 123 38 9.29 2.87
Post All-Star 85 78 42 8.26 4.45
Season 204.2 201 80 8.86 3.53

From which we can see that he did indeed tail off in the second half, but not as much as I expected, frankly, given the brutal nature of a couple of his second half starts. Frankly, if he does nothing but sustain the second half K/9 rate, I’m happy, though the walks need to come down. All in all, for a pitcher navigating his second turn around the tougher of the two leagues, it wasn’t bad at all.

In short, a closer look at the splits – as I should have done from the start – doesn’t dissuade me from my initial optimism. I think he’s poised for a step forward; maybe even a big one.

Can We Drop the Whole "The Red Sox Are the New Yankees" Thing Now?

Following the $100M+ the Red Sox shelled out for Daisuke Matsuzaka last offseason, I – like many Red Sox fans – was besieged with claims from (jilted) Yankees fans that “we were just like them.” That by virtue of that single capital expenditure, we were at once on equal financial footing with the Evil Empire. The media, true to form, picked up on this theme, debating such brain teasers as “would it be as fun to win now,” or “have we sold our souls?” Which obviously, I’ll ignore.

Herculean as my efforts were, however, I was entirely unsuccessful in persuading Yankees fans and good people alike that the two clubs remained quite distinct, in fact, in financial terms.

For while it’s convenient for fans of small market clubs like the A’s and Twins to lump all of the big market teams into a single bucket, the fact remains that we weren’t within hailing distance of the Yankees in terms of payroll numbers (the Matsuzaka posting fee aside, which I’ll get to in a moment). This inclination is understandable, given the respective payroll deltas. According to an AP report today, the gap between our roster and Tampa’s last year, for example, was $123.6, against the $62.9 million the Yankees spent above and beyond our costs.

So how are we different, in light of those numbers? Well, fortunately Allan Wood over at the Joy of Sox answered that question for you this past August:

Meaning you could take the Red Sox’s current payroll, add the salaries of

Ichiro Suzuki
Miguel Tejada
Kevin Millwood
Barry Zito
Albert Pujols
Dontrelle Willis

and still be about $1 million shy of the Yankees’ current payroll.

And that was with a payroll differential of $66M, not $62M.

We spend more than most every other club, it’s true. But please, can we drop the fiction that we’re the same as the Yankees?

Oh, and that monster posting fee which doesn’t get counted against officially reported payroll? Well, amortizing the fee over the 6 year life of the deal, I come out with a figure of $8.5 million per season. A hefty chunk of change for you and me, but not one that alters the above argument meaningfully.

Put Your Insomnia to Work

By now, most people are aware of the brutal start times for our season opener – which are, for marketing reasons that I don’t happen to agree with – being held in Japan. The A’s/Sox contests over there will begin at 6:07 AM, which is bad for the Boston folks, but positively brutal for those of us on Mountain Time. 4:07 AM? Seriously?

The Pacific Time folks actually have it easier, as they can just stay out late.

Now comes word that the remaining single game season tickets – you know, the ones left over after I was completely shut out of the last ticket sale – go on sale Saturday morning. For the lucky East Coast dwellers, the start time is 10 AM. But those of us saddled with MT baggage are facing a steep 8:00 AM Saturday wakeup.

Ugly, but possibly a chance to use my insomnia for good, rather than evil.

Why I Don't Want Johan Santana, But Would Be Fine With Him

Look, if we end up with Johan Santana – and sign him – I’m not going to complain. Pick your metric, he’s been the best pitcher in the league for several years now…by a wide margin. And of course I’m just as geeked about the possibility of slotting Beckett/Santana/whomever in a potential playoff series as the next guy. Maybe more so, given my self-admitted “problem” with baseball. But at the end of the day, I hope he ends up with the Mets. Seriously.

The problem with this position is that if or when you take it, the uninformed or superficial assume that you’ve gone koo koo for cocoa puffs, where cocoa puffs = Red Sox prospects. That you haven’t considered the matter logically, but rather have a weird and deeply confusing mancrush on Jacoby Ellsbury.

My Navajo brother aside, there are two very good reasons to be at least concerned about a potential trade for Santana. The first is that it doesn’t seem to make economic sense:

For the Red Sox, a trade is even more difficult to rationalize, driven by the lower free-agent valuation of Santana in a sold-out Fenway Park. Santana’s financial value to the Red Sox is in the range of $18 million to $20 million versus his annual value of over $30 million to the Yankees. Starter Jon Lester’s value may be lower than Hughes’ value because Lester has fewer years remaining until free agency, and outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury’s value is likely less than Hughes’ due to the premium paid to starting pitchers. However, neither of these facts changes the reality that the free-agent cost of Santana alone is likely more than his worth to the Red Sox. It may be that the only reason they are involved in trade talks is to bid up the acquisition price of Santana for the Yankees.

That whole piece is excellent, incidentally.

Just as important as the cost, is the predictability of the returns on that cost: i.e. the injury risk. Like many, I’m concerned by his late season fade (check his September splits). I seriously doubt that he forgot how to pitch, meaning that the most logical conclusion is that he wasn’t entirely right. Keith Law seems to share those concerns, saying:

“I haven’t read any of the others (I was on vacation), but I’d take A-Rod, Beckett, and Sabathia (because I’m a little concerned about how Santana finished 2007).

The good news is that I trust our front office – as I would not trust some others, say Houston’s – to have thought about all of this in far more detail than I ever would or could. As Seth put it:

I will, however, say this: I’ve always been reticent about jawing off when I have no real idea what I’m talking about…and such is the case with all of the sundry Santana trade permutations. I don’t mean the specifics of a possible trade — no one knows those except for Theo, Bill Smith, and Brian Cashman. I mean that I don’t know enough (and what’s more, haven’t done the work) to be able to make any kind of responsible or intelligent observations about whether this or that scenario makes sense. I don’t have the drilled-down numbers on Jacoby; I haven’t run the projections on Santana; I sure as hell don’t have any sense of what the pool of pitching talent is like in next few amateur drafts; I don’t know where else the Sox (or the Yankees) would spend that $130 mil or so it’ll likely take to lock up Santana…well, you get the idea. And even if I did have all of this info and even if I had done all of this work, I still would be so many light years behind where the Sox front office is in terms of brainpower, man hours spent hunched over spreadsheets, cumulative knowledge, and on and on, that it would be silly for me to start soapboxing about why this or that scenario makes sense.

It’s important to know what you don’t know, and in my case vis a vis Santana and the possible trade permutations, that’s just about everything. But neither will I concede that trading for him is an open and shut “hand over whatever the Twins ask for.” That’s just the kind of thinking that kept us out of the promised land for decades, so let’s skip it. Though some might lament the invasion of the game by the guys with “pocket protectors,” I don’t happy to be one of them. But then, I like winning World Series.