Talkin Sox with Dan

Where baseball fans gather for commonsensical, opinionated Red Sox banter.

Archive for the category “Free Agency & Trades”

The Red Sox and the Offseason

Photo courtesy of bostonherald.com

“The key for the Sox is to entertain during the season, not the Hot Stove season.

To do both, it wouldn’t hurt if the Sox had some logs in the fire.

It’s been brr . . . boring this winter.”

That is an excerpt from Christopher Gasper’s column that ran in the Boston Globe on Friday. Often times, I find Gasper to be insightful, smart, and thoughtful. I enjoy listening to him on 98.5 The Sports Hub and reading his pieces in the paper. But on Friday, he couldn’t have been more off base.

In all fairness to Gasper, I understand segments of his argument. The Red Sox hit it big last year and won a World Series, and they shouldn’t sit back in the offseason, leaning on their new-found goodwill that they accrued over seven months of playing excellent baseball. I get that. I’m confident that Ben Cherington does too. The 2013 Executive of the Year has methodically augmented his bullpen by adding Burke Badenhop and Edward Mujica. The former is adept at inducing ground balls, while the latter is a legitimate strike-throwing machine who resembles a JV version of Koji Uehara. A.J. Pierzynski will serve as a stopgap while Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart cook a bit longer. Cherington shrewdly didn’t overextend to retain Jacoby Ellsbury who received a significant overpay from the Yankees. He inked Mike Napoli to a two-year deal worth $32MM, a contract that beautifully represents what the Red Sox philosophy is when it comes to free agency–allocate a higher number dollars to shorter term deals. Flexibility rules all.

For some scribes, like Gasper, and many fans, this is simply not exciting. I don’t get it. I honestly don’t. Jackie Bradley Jr. in center field doesn’t get you fired up because he didn’t look like a world beater in his first 95 major league at-bats? That’s how we’re going to judge our young, promising talent? You should be thrilled, Gasper. The Red Sox are World Series champions, and they didn’t have to supplement their roster by investing in high priced outfielders in their 30′s like Ellsbury, Curtis Granderson, or Carlos Beltran. Jhonny Peralta on a four-year, $53MM deal because you have a gaping hole on the left side? Nope. Not necessary. Your farm system has produced quite a fruitful harvest.

There is a very good chance that the Red Sox open the 2014 season in Baltimore with inexperience on the left side of the infield and in center field. Will Middlebrooks has a great deal to prove, but he is adequate defensively at third base and possesses a tremendous amount of power. Bradley will be a slight defensive upgrade in center. He will get on-base enough to hold his own at the dish. It is likely that Xander Bogaerts will take his lumps defensively throughout the course of his first full major league season, but he is just so damn talented.

Writers and fans should not be frustrated or bored with the Red Sox lack of activity this offseason. Instead, we should celebrate the success of the organization that has manifested itself in a club that can infuse young talent to an already strong core of players.

That is not brr…boring. That is exciting.

LaRoche Signs, Napoli still in Limbo

Photo courtesy of survivinggrady.com

Adam LaRoche is the latest free agent to fall victim of the affliction known as the qualifying offer. Players like LaRoche and Rafael Soriano have seen their free agent stock dip this offseason as teams shy away from relenquishing a first or second round pick, something they would have to give up if they chose to sign a player who received a qualifying offer from their former club. It kept the slick fielding first baseman from getting the three-year offer that he coveted.

LaRoche inked a two-year deal worth $24MM on Tuesday with the Nationals. The 33-year old first baseman enjoyed a career year in 2012 but found it impossible to squeeze a three-year deal out of a team, mostly due to the fact that a club, like the Red Sox, would have been giving up a valuable draft pick–in the neighborhood of 44 overall for the Sox. LaRoche’s return to the Nats is interesting in and of itself, but the ripple effect of the signing may be even more intriguing because it tells us a few things about where the Red Sox stand in relation to Mike Napoli and their increasingly glaring hole at first base.

—- I never thought Adam LaRoche was a real option for the Red Sox once the Nationals made him a qualifying offer. It was obvious that GM Ben Cherington and the Red Sox were targeting players like Shane Victorino and Ryan Dempster who were willing to sign relatively short term deals and did not force the team to give up a second round pick–and the money that comes with it. The report that came out a couple of weeks ago concerning the Red Sox speaking with LaRoche may have been true. But let’s be real. It was largely posturing on the part of the Sox. LaRoche was relevant enough of an option to keep him in the discussion this offseason, but he was not going to be playing first base for the Red Sox on April 1 in the Bronx. No way.

—- Argument A: LaRoche signing with the Nationals takes leverage away from the Red Sox. They do not have a viable backup plan any longer. Casey Kotchman, Mauro Gomez? Have fun.

       Argument B: LaRoche’s agreement with the Nats is further evidence to the idea that the Red Sox are confident that Napoli situation is going to be resolved, and he will be the Opening Day first baseman.

I will take the latter of the two opinions. The Red Sox and Napoli need each other. This gets done soon.

—- Mike Morse is expendable, but I don’t believe the Red Sox are a true fit. The reality of the situation is that this isn’t going to happen because Napoli will end up in Boston. But, for fun, let’s play along. Morse is a right handed power hitter who is not a defensively gifted first baseman. Same with Napoli. Morse will be 31-years old when he plays the 2013 season. Same with Napoli. The Red Sox would likely have to give up a left handed relief option as well as a decent minor league chip to nab Morse from Nats. I think it would take someone like Franklin Morales as opposed to Craig Breslow to pry the Nats’ power hitter away from the Nation’s capital. Morse is set to make $6.75MM in 2013, and Napoli, no matter how his contract is amended given his hip condition, will make substantially more. This offseason, Cherington has shown a willingness to overpay for free agents–in the short term–as long he is able to preserve and add to the pool of minor talent that awaits in the farm system. Ultimately, I simply don’t see the Red Sox extending themselves to acquire Morse. Look for the Rays, Yankees, and Mariners to pursue the big righty in a trade.

Power Plays

Photo via mlive.com

On Wednesday, the Red Sox officially addressed an area of surplus. They have a closer. Andrew Bailey is injury-plagued. There is no debating that. But he is a legitimate ninth inning pitcher, a former All-Star with 81 saves on his resume. The bottom line is that GM Ben Cherington did not need to bring in a proven closer this offseason.

But he did.

Joel Hanrahan was traded by the Pirates to the Red Sox in a six-player swap that will also send reliever Mark Melancon to Pittsburgh. The Red Sox still have not come to terms with free agent Mike Napoli, leaving a vacancy at first base. They remain shallow in the outfield with Jonny Gomes likely needing a platoon-mate that can do damage against hit right handed pitching. Clearly, Cherington still has several areas of need to address, yet he chose to actively pursue adding a late-inning arm to a bullpen that already has Bailey and Koji Uehara.

Why?

The answer has everything to do with Daniel Bard.

It wasn’t that long ago that the Red Sox possessed two of the game’s absolute best in the eighth and ninth innings. Bard and Jonathan Papelbon were a powerful one-two punch that helped former manager Terry Francona win more than a few games during the final segment of his tenure in Boston. Both Bard and Papelbon threw hard and threw strikes. The pair represented exactly what every team wants at the end of games.

In the offseason that followed the 2011 season, Papelbon left Boston for Philadelphia. Bard, who, despite fatiguing down the stretch for the Red Sox in ’11, seemed tailor-made for the closer role in 2012. His powerful stuff played well in the late innings of ballgames. Fans were used to watching him wiggle out of high leverage situations, using his fastball that consistently registered well above 95 MPH to blow away hitters on the regular.

But then the Red Sox got cheap, and Bard got a little greedy.

Cherington and the rest of baseball operations understood the potential payoff of converting Bard to a starter. Let’s face it — Bard made roughly $1.6MM in 2012. Good luck getting Hiroki Kuroda to pitch for your team for that salary. At the same time, Bard knew that starting pitchers do not need to pitch at the level of a Justin Verlander or a Clayton Kershaw to get paid. Pick up the phone and give Edwin Jackson a buzz. He will tell you all about his four-year $52MM deal that the Cubs gave him last week.

It was a perfect storm. Bard wanted to start, and the Red Sox saw it as a cost-efficient opportunity to fill a vacancy in the rotation.

Bard performed miserably as a starter. His outing on Sunday June 3 in Toronto was the breaking point of the experiment. In an inning and two-thirds, Bard walked six Blue Jays and plunked two others. It was like watching the goriest of horror movies, when one is only able to catch a glimpse of the television screen between fingers as their hands shielded their face. It was that bad. The whole thing was an unmitigated disaster that ultimately earned Bard a demotion to Pawtucket and a question mark when it comes to where he fits on this team in 2013.

The Red Sox subsequently spent their second straight offseason looking for ways to plug the gaping holes left by both Papelbon and Bard. Had the latter embraced the role of closer in the same fashion the former did, the Red Sox would likely not be participating in the annual game of bullpen pick ‘em. If Cherington and Co. had recognized that Bard’s stuff as well as his mentality is best suited at the end of ballgames, Hanrahan may not have been a trade target this offseason.

Removing Bard from the bullpen created quite a large void for the Red Sox–one that was only amplified by his abject failure as a starter. Since then, Cherington has been searching for that power arm that is almost always needed at the end of games. Simply put, swing and miss stuff limits the amount of balls that are put in play, and Bard certainly racked up a great deal of punch outs as a set-up man.

The addition of Hanrahan is yet another example of how poor baseball decisions can negatively impact a club for years down the road. Hanrahan’s performance in 2013, good or bad, will serve as a reminder of how sorely Bard is missed in the Boston bullpen and how desperately Cherington has searched for someone to anchor it.

Where the Hell is Mike Napoli?

Photo via nashuatelegraph.com

On December 3, the Red Sox agreed to a three-year deal with free agent Mike Napoli. That’s right.

The third.

Seventeen days later, Napoli has yet to sit in front of the fake brick Red Sox/Dunkin’ Donuts overlay, donning the home white while GM Ben Cherington and Company introduce him to the media. No one is saying much of anything. Mum is most definetely the word.

“There’s really nothing to comment on. As with any free agent, until it’s done, it’s not done. We continue to work on different ways to improve the team. I’ll comment on it as soon as I can, but I can’t right now. We’ve had some more dialogue. I wouldn’t classify it as one way or the other,” Cherington said at Ryan Dempster‘s introductory presser on Tuesday.

Well, that was very Belichickian of Cherington. But really, what do we expect? It’s a sensitive situation that affects both the Red Sox as a team in 2013 as well as Napoli’s value as a free agent. It benefits no one to discuss the snag.  Nevertheless, it certainly doesn’t stop us from dissecting what is approaching a post-agreement disaster.

What this means for the Red Sox

In the end? Probably nothing. Napoli will likely still sign with the Sox for either two years or three years with a well-defined injury clause similar to John Lackey‘s. Will Carroll of SI.com recently reported that Cherington and the Red Sox are in fact looking to have Napoli and his agent agree to reduce the pact to a two-year agreement. I’m sure that there is some validity to that. We know one thing for sure: If Napoli is a member of the Red Sox in 2013, the Red Sox will be well-protected against any sort of injury.

I’ve heard the theory that this is just another case of Red Sox doctors fouling up a situation involving a player. The next quasi-logical thought is that this process, especially if it ends with an unhappy Napoli, will deter future free agents from looking Boston’s way in the future. I will never buy the argument that free agents are going to go to other teams because the media in Boston is tough, the clubhouse can be a rough place to be, or the medical staff has a bad rep. Just follow the money. In the end, nothing else really matters.

For now, Cherington has to keep his options open. I don’t believe the agreement will end up falling through, but as a GM, one must be ready for any situation he is thrust in to. That means not losing touch with guys like Nick Swisher or Adam LaRoche. Lesser first base options like Mark Reynolds and Kevin Youkilis have signed with Indians and Yankees, respectively. Trade targets, like Kendrys Morales, will not hang around, waiting for Napoli’s three week long doctors appointment to come to an end. It benefits the Red Sox to get this wrapped up as soon as possible.

The same can be said for Napoli.

What this means for him

The bulky right handed hitter set out to do two things this offseason: Establish himself as a free agent catcher, not a first baseman, and come to terms on a four-year deal. He missed on both. The Red Sox, like other teams, evaluated Napoli as a full-time first baseman who possesses the ability to catch here and there when needed. As soon as it was reported that the former Texas Ranger was looking to land a four-year deal, the Sox immediately let their foot off of the gas pedal. They seemingly drew the line in the sand at three-years. Their decision proved fruitful as they netted Napoli for three-years and $39MM, plenty lucrative for a player who is looking to rebound after a below average, injury plagued 2012 campaign. Napoli’s goal of a guaranteed four years could easily be cut in half should the negotiations following his physical lead to his camp and the Red Sox agreeing on a two year guaranteed contract with an option, for example.

There is, of course, a chance that Napoli finds himself on the open market yet again. His value would naturally be much lower than it was before he agreed to the three-year deal with the Red Sox. I cannot see a team offering anything more than a two years, and even that may be a stretch.

Ultimately, the Red Sox need Napoli as much as Napoli needs the Red Sox. I would expect this to be resolved on either Wednesday or Thursday of this upcoming week, just before the beginning of 2013.

—–

Update: According to Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com, the snag is concerning an issue with one of Napoli’s hips. Local reports are indicating that the deal could easily fall through. Based on Rosenthal’s report, I believe that is a bit overstated. You can decide for yourself. Here is the link. I still believe this deal gets done.

Some Advice for the Offseason

There is no doubt that this offseason is an important one for GM Ben Cherington and the Red Sox. Barring some sort of unforeseen massive trade or two, coupled with a flurry of quality free agent signings, the Sox will not be on any expert’s list to win much of anything next season. For now, it’s important for this team to target players who are willing sign short term, short money deals. Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke are excellent players, but they simply do not fit in Boston–not this year.

The Red Sox, however, have plenty of vacancies. They need help at first base, shortstop, in the outfield, and on the mound. Cherington has absolute ton of money to play with as well. So what does this mean?

A few things…

  • They will be linked to almost every free agent or trade candidate. It doesn’t matter if it’s a 33-year old Adam LaRoche who flashed nicely in Washington last season, slugging 33 home runs or if it’s Justin Upton, a nice young player who would require a team to unload major league ready talent as well as a slew of quality prospects.
  • It is wise for every agent to include the Red Sox as a team interesed in their client. In theory, the Sox possess the resources to compete for literally every free agent on the market. From Hamilton to Greinke to Jeff Keppinger, agents wants other teams to believe that the Red Sox are in on their guy. It will simply drive the price up, whether the Sox have legitimate interest or not.
  • Keep this in mind as the offseason unfolds. Don’t get too excited if reports indicate that the Red Sox are pursuing Player X. Boston has both a ton of holes to fill and a ton of dough to spend, and that likely means they’ll be “in” on nearly everyone. It’s beneficial for almost all of the parties involved to have the Red Sox show up on the list of teams ready to throw cash at a free agent.
  • Bottom line: Given where the Red Sox currently stand, if a player is looking for anything more than a three-year deal, they’re likely not extremely interested.

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