The Cost of and Need for Adrian Gonzalez

Some of you have apparently gotten the idea, from the last two pieces, that I’m against acquiring Adrian Gonzalez from the Padres. Not so.

Far from it, in fact. All that I’m asking for – as always – is some perspective. Some examination of the economics involved, the mechanics of the transaction.

The Boston Globe’s Chad Finn, for example, a writer that I have a lot of respect for, is arguing for an acquisition of Adrian Gonzalez at, essentially, any cost:

If Theo has to part with Casey Kelly (is he closer to the next Frankie Rodriguez or closer to the next Zack Greinke?) or Ryan Westmoreland (are the injuries officially a concern?) or frankly, anyone in the organization with legitimate aspirations of playing in Fenway Park someday, he must do it.

Emphasis his. He reiterated this view ten days later, saying:

I’ve explained my feelings on this before, and nothing has changed: It is going to take a bounty of riches to get Gonzalez from the Padres, in part because he is a wonderful, underpaid player in the heart of his prime, and in part because new Padres GM Jed Hoyer probably has as much familiarity with the Red Sox farm system as anyone not named Theo Epstein. But I’ll shout it again: He is worth it. Give them Clay Buchholz, Ryan Westmoreland, Casey Kelly, and another SoxProspects.com favorite or two, and do not look back.

As you probably guessed, I do not subscribe to this view. Candidly, I think at best it’s the kind of pre-Theo regime thinking that led us to win nothing for eighty years. At worst, it’s a panic move.

Every asset has a cost, and not every cost is worth paying.

I’ve looked at Gonzalez twice now, so I won’t rehash my analysis of him. Suffice it to say he’s an outstanding offensive first baseman when he’s facing right-handed pitching, below average otherwise. Defensively, he’s an asset.

What of the other pieces to a transaction, however? What of the cost and the need?

Cost

As should be expected, Finn sets up his at-any-cost acquisition scenario with an ostensible reminder of the unpredictability of prospects.

Make no mistake: Gonzalez will bring, as Sports Illustrated’s Jon Heyman cleverly called it this summer when his name first showed up in trade rumors, the madre lode. And yet, chances are Gonzalez will prove worth whatever package the Red Sox part with. All prospects are essentially lottery tickets, even the truly elite. In the 2002 Prospect Handbook, Baseball America founder Allan Simpson rated his top 10 prospects this way:

  1. Josh Beckett, RHP, Marlins
  2. Mark Prior, RHP, Dusty Baker’s Arm ‘n’ Limb Meat Grinder Emporium
  3. Sean Burroughs, 3B, Padres
  4. Hank Blalock, 3B, Rangers
  5. Wilson Betemit, SS, Braves
  6. Ryan Anderson, LHP, Mariners
  7. Juan Cruz, RHP, Cubs
  8. Josh Hamilton, OF, Devil Rays
  9. Mark Teixeira, 3B, Rangers
  10. Carlos Pena, 1B, A’s

Joe Mauer was 14th, Marlins shortstop Miguel Cabrera — yes, shortstop; imagine that now — was 31st, one spot below KC’s Angel Berroa, and Gonzalez was 34th, one spot ahead of the Angels’ Casey Kotchman.

So, yeah . . . lottery tickets. Case rested.

Finn may rest his case, but let me have a crack at it. Personally, I look at that and see a pitcher that almost single-handedly won two world series titles ranked one, a pitcher that would have had a stellar career were his arm not abused two, and an eight-nine-ten that anyone would kill to have in their offense. Throw in the fact that Blalock had one .900+ OPS season and three north of .850, the fact that Betemit and Cruz are still playing, and I don’t think the list says what Finn thinks it says.

While it’s ugly and obvious, in hindsight, that Cabrera and Mauer should be near the top of the list and Berroa not on it, better than fifty percenty of the individuals on that list are, or were, successful major leaguers. And most of those performed at an elite level for at least a season in their careers. Not a bad success rate for an organization that knows nothing about the players but what they can glean from their performance and interviews with the staff.

My bet is that Theo, McLeod and co know a bit more than Baseball America about their players than Baseball America. With all due respect to that fine organization, of course.

So yes, prospects are unpredictable. But not that unpredictable. At least relative to their major league counterparts. Here’s what Baseball Prospectus said about Gonzalez in 2005, for example:

Once a Grade-A Prospect in Florida, Gonzalez came to Arlington as part of the Ugueth Urbina trade and is now far from a can’t-miss. He’s still only 23 this season, but he’s at a point where it’s time to pick it up with the bat if he wants to have a career as an MLB starter.

One problem with discussions of “prospects,” in general, is just that: it’s general. Let’s look at a more specific example, closer to home. One in which there was a premium player on the market that we were rumored to be interested in. One Johan Santana.

With the Minnesota Twins insisting on center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury in any trade for pitcher Johan Santana, the Red Sox have altered their offer and have told the Twins they are willing to include the outfielder.

But sources say the Red Sox have also told the Twins they will not trade left-handed pitcher Jon Lester and Ellsbury together in the package they are offering.

The Red Sox included Ellsbury in one of their proposals a week ago, but the Twins asked the Red Sox for two players among the group of three prospects — Ellsbury, Lester and pitcher Clay Buchholz. Boston then offered Lester, center fielder Coco Crisp, minor league shortstop Jed Lowrie and a minor league pitcher.

On the one hand, the article on the other serves to prove Finn’s point: were we really valuing Ellsbury’s 2009 .770 OPS and his -14 UZR/150 equally with Jon Lester?

On the other, it’s an accurate illustration of the cost of such trades. Would you prefer to have a.) Santana, or b.) your starting centerfielder, starting shortstop candidate, #1 and #3 starters and a bullpen arm (Ramirez via Crisp)? I prefer the latter, personally.

Which is why I’m less excited than Finn to give up “Clay Buchholz, Ryan Westmoreland, Casey Kelly, and another SoxProspects.com favorite or two.”

Need

The conventional wisdom says that the Red Sox are in deep shit, offensively. Let’s take a quick look at the projections for next season, assuming a.) no further trades or acquisitions (including no Bay) and b.) Lowrie as the shortstop:

CHONE projects our offense as a collective .274/.354/.441 offense for a .796 OPS. Bill James, meanwhile, is more optimistic, projecting a .280/.368/.462/.831. For context, the Yankees led the league in OPS last year at .839.

Now before you get excited, remember: the above projections are just for starters. They don’t include all the bench, roster filler – or worse, pitcher – at bats. If we just take the starters from last year, as an example, their OPS was .852. The actual? .806.

Still, the projections indicate that our offense – even without help – isn’t awful. Last year’s CHONE predictions, for example? .817 OPS.

In other words, we’re giving up 21 points of projected OPS to a year in which we scored the third most runs, had the second highest OBP, SLG and OPS. and hit the fourth most home runs.

Is there room for improvement? Undoubtedly. But neither can you, I think, build the case that we’re doomed absent a Gonzalez type. And yes, that’s even if we don’t resign J Bay.

The Net

Do I hope we can acquire a premium offensive asset, someone like Adrian Gonzalez? Yes indeed. The prolonged offensive slumps were, more than anything else, what held the club back this year. But am I willing to hand over four or five legitimate prospects for the privilege? I am not. Our top two prospects, a past number one prospect / #2/#3 starter (and potential ace at Petco), and another prospect is too rich a haul by far for two years of Gonzalez, in my opinion. Particularly since his value is only likely to decline from here, as he’s a.) unlikely to exceed his current performance levels and b.) he’s getting closer to free agency.

Acquisitions are essentially an equation. A complicated one, to be sure, but an equation nonetheless. Divided by the market conditions, the two sides – Padre’s needs (asset and financial) + Asset (Gonzalez) value and Red Sox needs and Asset Value – need to balance. The proposals I’m seeing thus far skew too far – way too far in my view – towards the Padre side of that equation.

We’ll see if Theo and co. agree.

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

It’s been a bad weak. Until the two Yankee wins, in fact, I was borderline despondent. And why not? A week ago today, Brian Moehler started against Josh Beckett, and we lost that game. Then Shields went out and beat Masterson, which could have been expected. Next Garza beat Wakefield, which was at least understandable. Wednesday, we scratched to a three run lead against Kazmir, who typically owns us, and then…the wheels came off.

That, put bluntly, was just a horror show. Easily the most painful bullpen implosion this season, and one that we’ll have to hope doesn’t come back haunt us down the stretch. Though it already is, as Tampa’s not only not faltering, but expanding on their cushion in the division.

The only consolation is that the Yankees are similarly miserable. Which, of course, is no consolation at all. Anyway, on to this week’s ICYHBKUWCE.

Odds

The ESPN gang took all the time and trouble to add odds to their standings page, so I’d feel badly if I didn’t take advantage. From here on out, we’ll snapshot the results each Sunday to gauge the Sox chances’ and my own sanity.

This week’s odds? 33.7% of winning the division, 30.9% of being the wild card, for a 64.7% chance of making the playoffs. Can’t speak for you, but I’m not terribly enthused by those numbers. Tampa’s odds? 59.1%, 21.9%, and 80.9%. Not joking.

Bullpen

In case you’re counting, now, the bullpen has cost us 15 games. Winning half of those would put us in the division lead. Same with a third of those. A quarter…well, you see where I’m going.

So please, no more talk of Sabathia, or AJ Burnett, or whomever: we need help in the pen, desperately. Yes, part of it has been starters – I’m looking at you Matsuzaka – that are throwing 100+ pitches just to struggle through five. But can you look me in the eye you feel good about turning a one or two run lead over to the bullpen after seven? I didn’t think so. When Delcarmen is your best strike thrower, Lopez is arguably your best setup option, and the return of Mike Timlin’s 6.75 ERA and .876 OPS against is a good thing, there’s no other supportable conclusion but that you’ve got problems. Serious problems.

Is it time to give up on the likes of Craig Hansen, as Rob Neyer is ready to do? Perhaps. Perhaps not. I could build the case either way.

Whatever you believe, it’s clear that we need help. It’s been said that the first few months of the season are used to tell clubs you what they need. If that’s true, Wednesday night was a Times Square size billboard saying, “NEED RELIEF ARMS STOP CAN’T STOP THE BLEEDING STOP RAYS ARE PULLING AWAY.”

We all know the story: Oki 08 is no Oki 07, Hansen can’t throw strikes as often as he can, and MDC is getting caught doing his best LaTroy Hawkins impression more often than is helpful. Etc etc etc.

Can Fuentes be the man? Who knows. But somebody has to step up. If the ‘pen costs us another 15 games in the second half, I can’t see how we’ll catch Tampa.

Personally, I’m somewhat perplexed as to why Buchholz hasn’t been brought up to start, and Masterson shifted into the pen. Almost makes you wonder if they’re showcasing the latter for a trade…

Cafardo

Frustrates me, I’ll admit. Clearly my least favorite of any of the Red Sox beat writers, I both rue and lament the day he was given the senior status over at the Globe. Not just because of things like his bizarre defense of his own slagging of Richmond, VA’s food:

Ripping Richmond dining provoked a lot of e-mails, except everyone suggested the same four or five places. That’s all you’ve got?

It’s mostly because I don’t believe he’s terribly diligent. Which, considering the fanbase, is not a forgivable sin.

Take his suggestion today that the Red Sox could effectively swap roster spots, Matt Holliday for Manny Ramirez (presumably in the offseason, though he doesn’t specify):

Is it out of the realm of possibility that Matt Holliday winds up with Boston and the Red Sox don’t pick up Manny Ramírez’s $20 million option? Both players are represented by Scott Boras.

This isn’t the first time Cafardo’s speculated on the subject; the last time he broached the subject was in the same article he mentioned his preference for Shelley Duncan over Jason Giambi.

So to answer his question, no, it’s not out of the realm of possibility. Holliday’s putting up a .990 OPS, and will command dollars with Boras as his adviser, but if Manny’s not picked up we’d have ~20M to find some power. But is it too much to ask – as I did the last time – that Cafardo at least bring up the home/road splits? He’s clearly aware that such things exist, as he cites Burrell’s Citizens Bank Park line as a reason he’s a fit for the Phillies.

If Cafardo concluded that Holliday’s last three year .281/.343/.466 away split would be worth the premium he’ll command on the market, ok. I personally don’t agree, because Manny even in a down year is besting that at .279/.379/.495, but the argument is there. Particularly if you factor in age.

But it’s never even come up. Which makes me wonder if Cafardo has even looked at the numbers before pontificating on the subject.

Law

This week’s Keith Law chat on ESPN was a veritable gold mine of Sox-related information. Among the items:

  • On Michael Bowden:
    Jim (Portland, OR): KLaw, what is your opinion on Bowden now that you’ve seen him?

    SportsNation Keith Law: Disappointed. He was 88-91, below average command, flashed a plus curveball that has a chance to be an out pitch. Barely used his change, which Red Sox people have told me is his best pitch. Ugly delivery. Never saw the 94 mph I’d heard he was dealing this year, and the pro scout behind me told me he’d seen Bowden twice before (in 2008) and never had him above 88-92.

  • On Masterson and Bard:
    Howie Rhody: Sox bullpen has been terrible lately. Time to bring up Bucholtz and Bard? Send Masterson to the pen with Bard?

    SportsNation Keith Law: Buchholz in the rotation and Masterson in the pen. I wouldn’t let Bard near the majors – yes, he hit 98 for me, but walked the first two batters, showed little command, and had a below-average breaking ball. He’s further away than I thought.

  • On the Draft Signings Progress:
    Andrew (Exeter): Have you heard any news about the Red Sox tough signs?

    SportsNation Keith Law: Sounds like Alex Meyer is less likely. Navery Moore has been throwing very well in Tennessee, back up to the mid-90s, and the Sox are monitoring him – could be a surprise signing there later in the summer. Reader Matt R told me that Ryan Westmoreland has joined the Facebook group for Red Sox prospects … hmmm [ed – I can confirm that Westmoreland is in the group – I looked]. Everyone expects them to get Hissey and Gibson signed. Haven’t heard anything on Cooper or Marquis.

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

Well, I don’t even know where to start. You’re screwed. You missed 1.) a sweep of Tampa, 2.) a brawl with Tampa, 3.) a brawl between Manny and Youk (not joking), 4.) an injury to Ellsbury, 5.) progress from Schill, 6.) held breath on Papi, 7.) two more good starts from Masterson and so on.

Oh, and the draft was this week.

So good luck catching up on all of that. But I’ll tell you what, we’ll try for you anyway.

The Brawl

I’m with the SOSH folks on this one: I’m not sure I can defend Coco here. Maybe on the hard slide – that’s debatable, but not in charging the mound. Shields – to his credit – hit him in exactly the right way, not dialing it up and not shooting for the head. True, he was an idiot for doing it in the second inning, but he handled himself well, while Coco – in my view – did not.

Either way, I’ll take the sweep.

The Bullpen

One of the brighter spots in the past week to ten days has been – shockingly – Boston’s bullpen. Tito seems to be easing Hansen into a MDC-in-’07-like 7th inning role. The onetime bust out of St John’s is unscored upon in his last five apperances, and over 5.2 IP has K’d 5, walked 2 and given up just one hit. Speaking of MDC, you know who also has exactly the same numbers over his last five appearances? That’s right. MDC. Throw in the potential of Masterson down the stretch, and we may not have to do too much to reconstruct our once leaky pen.

One minor down note: Daniel Bard, he of the 100 MPH fastball, got lit up today against Akron. In 1.2 IP, he coughed up 4 hits – 2 of them homers – and 4 runs, striking out only one. On the plus side, he didn’t walk anybody.

The Draft

Lots of takes on the club’s haul in the draft, and obviously the signing process for these kids will be lengthy, but I’m encouraged not just by the reports but by the fact that it would appear that we’ll be ignoring the commissioner office’s slot recommendations once again. As we should.

Here’s Baseball America’s page (sub req’d, sorry), but, better, here‘s Keith Law’s take on our draft class:

Boston bet it all on red, taking one high-ceiling player after another. Apparently, they’re willing to worry about the signability of these players later on. Casey Kelly is a first-rounder as a pitcher or position player, but his bonus demands and commitment to play quarterback at Tennessee scared off potential suitors. Ryan Westmoreland’s bonus demands ($1.6 to $2.1 million) and commitment to Vanderbilt had him viewed as completely unsignable all spring, even though he was a top-40 talent and had performed well over the summer with a wood bat. Bryan Price was totally misused at Rice, and was one of the best reliever-to-starter conversion opportunities in the draft. Derrik Gibson and Pete Hissey are both athletic, projectable tools players with the chance to play in the middle of the field (Gibson as a shortstop/second baseman, Hissey as a center fielder); both also have commitments to strong college programs (North Carolina and Virginia, respectively). Even if the Red Sox don’t sign all four of those high school talents, signing Kelly and one of the others would be an impressive haul of talent — and we know the Sox have the resources to sign more than just two.

So the class is good. But good as in better than the Yankees? Law says yes:

Steve (Clemson, SC): Hey Keith, Sorry but I have to ask: Better 2008 draft, if they sign most of their picks, Red Sox or Yankees?

SportsNation Keith Law: Red Sox.

We can only hope.

The Fight

At the SeaDog brewpub down in Brunswick, they have HD. Which is good. They don’t have audio, which is bad. So I had no idea what the hell was happening when M-Ram and Yoooook had to be separated in our own dugout. Neither, I learned later, did anyone else, but still.

If the reports are accurate, and that this centered around the (potentially widely held) perception that Youk is putting his own concerns in front of the teams by tearing apart the dugout post an at bat in games where we’re up comfortably, then I’m glad this came out now. Better to let it out now, ugly as it appeared, then let it fester.

Besides, the guys are Surviving Grady are spot on, it was worth it just to hear Tito’s one line summary:

I think they were just exchanging some views on things.

The O’Brien Factor

I’ll acknowledge up front that this could just be me. I’ll also acknowledge that I don’t particularly care for Dave O’Brien (I’d prefer to have a Sox only play by play announcer), even while I’ll concede that he’s a well regarded national broadcaster. But there is one thing he’s doing that is making me insane: he’s ignoring, completely, generally accepted rules against jinxing games, performances or players.

Jon Lester’s no hitter? He was discussing it freely in the fifth. We’re poised to take the third of three games against Tampa? He’s calling it a sweep before the game is ended. Masterson’s the pitcher of record in a game we’re winning by a run? O’Brien’s word choice is “will win.” Not the conditional “would,” but “will.”

I’m not saying that this is anything but trivial. I’m also not saying I’m sane. But listen to a game he broadcasts and see if you notice: he has no sense whatsoever with his tenses or conditionals. None.

And it’s driving me crazy.