Talkin Sox with Dan

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

Archive for the tag “Mike Napoli”

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.

Red Sox Offseason Notes: Napoli, Carp, Ellsbury

Photo via csnne.com

We are only a couple of weeks into the Red Sox offseason. The World Series trophy is somewhere, presumably in New England–where it belongs. Qualifying offers have been made and turned down. All is right with the world.

Here are some brief thoughts on the Red Sox, free agency, and the 2014 season.

— I think too many fans are underestimating the hole that Jacoby Ellsbury‘s likely departure is going to leave in the Red Sox outfield. Most of us know that Ellsbury is an excellent player. But because the Red Sox have Jackie Bradley Jr. waiting to play center field, some fans believe that Ells won’t be missed as much. Ellsbury was close to a six win (5.8 WAR) player in 2013. It wouldn’t be hard to make a case for him as team MVP. Bradley makes it easier to not overspend on Ellsbury, but he certainly does not fill the void the Oregon native is going to leave.

— My outfield next year has Shane Victorino in right field. No matter what.

— I understand why the Red Sox didn’t give Jarrod Saltalamacchia a qualifying offer, but I think they made a mistake. No free agent in the two years this system has been in place has accepted a qualifying offer. 22 offers, 22 “no thanks.” The Red Sox can afford to be aggressive with their QO’s. They missed out here.

— I would try to find a way to begin the year with Brandon Workman starting baseball games. Ideally, it would be in Boston, but if it’s in Pawtucket, I’m cool with that.

— I owe Mike Carp an apology. When GM Ben Cherington traded essentially nothing to acquire his services from the Mariners, I said that I didn’t think he was very good at baseball. I was wrong. Carp brings legitimate power, a coveted asset around baseball. He slugged .523 in limited time last year. WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford has reported that clubs have inquired about Carp, but the Red Sox don’t want to move him. I don’t blame them.

Daniel Nava‘s OBP in 2013 was .385. Victorino, Nava, Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Mike Napoli are my ideal/realistic top five hitters on Opening Day.

— Where does Joel Hanrahan play next year? I wouldn’t be against bringing him back on a one-year, low cost deal.

Brian McCann should be a target of the Red Sox if he can be had for less than a five-year pact. It’s unlikely that he would sign a three or four-year deal, so I’m passing on him.

— The Red Sox should give Napoli a two-year deal with an option. Defense isn’t especially sexy, but the burly first baseman proved to be an excellent fielder in 2013. Power, on the other hand, is sexy, and Napoli provides plenty. Does he strike out a lot? Sure. But he sees a ton of pitches, gets on base, and fits in well here. Chicks dig the long ball, and I dig Nap.

— Napoli was at Tuesday night’s Celtics game in Boston. He was, reportedly, wearing a shirt.

A Timely Champion: How a game in April told us a lot about the 2013 Boston Red Sox

Photo via wcvb.com

The Red Sox won a game in early April on a cool, cloudy day against a division rival by a score of 3-1. It was one simple game plucked out of the first week of what is a long six-month regular season. There were no extra innings. There were no walk-offs.

Sitting in the right field bleachers on April 8, Opening Day at Fenway Park, I had no idea that the performance I was witnessing would, in many ways, come to epitomize the eventual 2013 World Series Champion Boston Red Sox.

I believe that the members of this year’s Red Sox team genuinely enjoyed each other’s company. Furthermore, I’m confident that the guys in that clubhouse truly cared about one another–a trait that Terry Francona often highlighted as being vital to any team’s success. There is no doubt that the 2013 Red Sox possessed a unique blend of character, camaraderie, and yes, chemistry. Sometimes, however, teams that are labeled as possessing good chemistry often have their talents overlooked. Teams bereft of talent that bulge with chemistry don’t win 97 games, and they certainly don’t win championships.

When an average pitcher does not have his stuff on a given day, there is a good chance that major league hitters will make him pay. Conversely, when a pitcher who is supremely talented, like Clay Buchholz, lacks his usual sharpness, there is still an opportunity to be successful. April 8 was one of those days for the slender righty. Against a relatively tough Orioles lineup that featured excellent hitters like Manny Machado, Chris Davis, and Adam Jones, Buchholz tossed seven frames, punched out eight batters, and earned his second win in as many starts. By all accounts, he was masterful on that spring afternoon in Boston. Here is what Buchholz said after that game: “I didn’t really have one thing that was working the whole day. [I] Was up in the zone, couple of balls hit early that would’ve gotten out stayed in the park. Other than that it was sorta a grind there for a little bit.” Must be nice, right?

Players — the actual guys who put on the uniform — routinely tell us about the importance of chemistry, so who are we to dismiss it simply because we can’t quantify it? Nevertheless, talent, for me, always wins out. Give me talent before anything else. And this Red Sox team provided us with plenty of it.

In 2011, the Red Sox possessed a talent-laden roster. On paper, they looked like an absolute wagon. Theo Epstein and Co. added Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez to a core group of quality players that was already in place here. For much of the season, things seemed to click. The vast majority of the 2011 campaign was actually wildly successful, but no one will ever remember the good days of that summer (on August 9, the Red Sox were 29 games over .500). Instead, fans will recall a dreadful September in which the team went 7-20, relinquishing a nine-game lead for the only Wild Card spot, and, of course, chicken and beer. All of those things may be true, but the focus shouldn’t be on Bud Light and Popeyes. The proverbial finger should be pointed directly at that team’s lack of depth.  Kyle Weiland started five extremely meaningful games (three came in September) for the Red Sox in 2011. The righty was, as you might expect, absolutely awful (7.66 ERA in seven appearances). He last pitched in a major league game in April of 2012. The fact that Weiland played a legitimate role in the Red Sox season and subsequent collapse is rather embarrassing. Ben Cherington, who was the assistant GM of the Red Sox in 2011, had a keen understanding of the importance of depth when he assembled this year’s squad.

On April 8, when Buchholz was finished baffling Orioles batters, he turned things over to Andrew Bailey who looked excellent in his first two appearances of the season. Bailey kept rolling, punching out two of the three batters he faced. Joel Hanrahan pitched the ninth inning of that game, allowing one run. It was clear that the Red Sox had identified their setup man and closer. Of course, no one knew that the pair of hard throwing right handers wouldn’t throw another pitch after July 12.

When a team loses its all-star closer to a season-ending injury, they’re usually not able to replace him with another former all-star who is a proven back end of the bullpen piece. But that’s exactly what the Red Sox did when Hanrahan went down with a torn flexor tendon, and they were able to turn to Bailey. Ultimately and somewhat unsurprisingly, Bailey was lost for the season and required surgery to repair his shoulder. John Farrell turned briefly to Junichi Tazawa before handing the keys to the car over to Koji Uehara on June 26. Uehara never gave them back as he accumulated 21 regular season saves and seven in the postseason. He made sure to collect hundreds of high fives along the way.

There is no doubt that Cherington knew what he was doing when he added Hanrahan and Uehara to a bullpen that already had two guys who possessed arsenals that lend themselves to the closer role. Bailey was a proven closer, and Tazawa is an excellent pitcher who rarely walks a batter and has the ability to throw in the mid-90′s. Heading into the season, a case could be made that there was some redundancy in the Red Sox bullpen, but, because of that depth, they were able to overcome attrition and turn what easily could have evolved into a weakness into a legitimate strength.

Depth is something that general managers can build. To a certain extent, they can control it. Could Cherington have splurged, gone out and signed a sexy free agent, like Josh Hamilton? You bet. But it would have limited his ability to infuse talent around the diamond and build depth in certain areas. David Ross, Jonny Gomes, and Uehara are three good examples of players who Cherington could have simply passed on without getting a ton of pushback from the fanbase. Timeliness, on the other hand, is a characteristic that general managers do not have much control over, but most good teams seem to find a way to come up large in big spots.

Wei-Yin Chen was matching Buchholz blow for blow, frame after frame. The Red Sox offense was essentially lifeless. Chen was dealing. Then Dustin Pedroia led off the bottom of the seventh inning with an infield single. Mike Napoli then jolted a ball to center for a double. Will Middlebrooks followed with a strikeout for the first out of the inning. Daniel Nava stepped in, batting from the right side. He took a ball and fouled off the next pitch. Chen’s third offering was clobbered by Nava. When the ball landed beyond the big green wall in left, it was 3-0 Red Sox. A game and an afternoon that had been a pitcher’s duel in every way suddenly and indelibly changed because of one well-timed swing.

Nava, the man who delivered the deciding blow that day, is a player who likely wouldn’t have been in the lineup that afternoon if David Ortiz had been completely healthy at the beginning of the year. Ortiz would have been the designated hitter. Gomes would have moved out of the DH role and slid into left field against the southpaw. But because of the Red Sox outfield depth, Farrell had the ability to use the versatile Nava in left that day. An undrafted former independent league standout, Nava’s talents are often overlooked because of his remarkable story. In reality, Nava is a very good ballplayer. He finished eighth in the American league with a .303 average, and his .385 OBP was good for fifth among AL hitters. And on this day in early April, Nava was incredibly timely.

The 2013 Red Sox are going to be remembered as an unlikely champion, a group of guys who loved baseball and beards. But for those of us who watched this team everyday, we’ll recall them as a talented, deep collection of players who had a knack for getting the timely hit. Time after time after time after time.

Road Tripping

Photo via cbssports.com

After a 13-0 win, starting the season 4-2, and doing it against the Yankees and Blue Jays, it is tough to complain about the Red Sox. A team that desperately needed a positive start to the season, the Sox have certainly answered the call. I’ll be at the home opener on Monday, and I couldn’t be more excited to watch this team in-person.

After six games, here are some of my initial observations.

Jon Lester looks good. His outing against the Yankees was nothing write home about, but it certainly wasn’t a poor start. He minimized the damage when he got in trouble and gave his team a chance to win the game. The Red Sox offense staked Lester to a lead on Sunday, and he never let the Jays believe they were in the game. Lester is my MVP of the road trip. Here’s why: 12 IP, 10 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 13 K. Two wins.

— He went 0-5 in the season opener, but Mike Napoli has started to heat up. More importantly, he’s been showing off some of his impressive power. His hip condition seemingly has not affected his play. Nap will head to Fenway with two home runs on the season.

Shane Victorino has proven me wrong. I know that Spring Training (and World Baseball Classic) stats don’t matter, but Victorino was especially bad this spring. Since the start of the regular season? It’s be a 180 for the right fielder. After Sunday, Victorino has collected eight hits on the young season. He’s not slugging, but he’s contributing night in and night out.

Will Middlebrooks has to potential to be legitimate source of power for this team. It’s easy to say that after witnessing him go bridge three times on Sunday, but it was his opposite field home run off of R.A. Dickey that really impressed. He’s a strong kid.

— Don’t let Sunday’s power surge fool you, the Red Sox need David Ortiz back. I actually like the lineup from top to the bottom, but the middle of the order lacks the muscle of traditional Sox lineups. When Ortiz is ready to come back, he will not only help instill some pop in the middle of the order, but his presence will help balance things out as everyone will be able to move down a spot.

Jackie Bradley Jr.’s torrid spring has not spilled over into the regular season. He’s been good defensively is getting on-base, so it’s not like this experiment has been a failure. There’s been some chatter about sending him down to Pawtucket. This is what I wanted to avoid when the JBJ debate was at its peak. I don’t see why you’d want to treat a prospect like a yo-yo. When he is ready, bring him up. And when you bring him up, understand that struggles and slumps are unavoidable. Nevertheless, it’s likely he will be in Pawtucket at some point this season.

— So far this season, the Red Sox have won games started by C.C. Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Josh Johnson, and Dickey. It’s nice to do well against good pitching. They’ll get Wei-Yin Chen tomorrow at Fenway Park.

Motivation May Fuel Red Sox in 2013

Photo via espn.com

If you’re looking to gauge what the 2016 Red Sox will look like, the 2013 roster is not a good place to start.

GM Ben Cherington unexpectedly and creatively unloaded three lucrative long term contracts last August. Josh Beckett (signed through 2014), Adrian Gonzalez (signed through 2018), and Carl Crawford (signed through 2017) were suddenly no longer in the fold, leaving the Red Sox a roster bereft of talent but provided the organization with plenty of financial flexibility.

Improvement was undoubtedly needed, but they were not going to put their newfound fiscal flexibility in jeopardy this offseason.

That resulted in a revamped roster that includes several newly signed veterans who have experienced success in the past but are coming off disappointing seasons. Cherington exhibited discipline by staying away from the Josh Hamilton‘s and Zack Greinke‘s of the free agent world. Instead, he set his sights on players with less raw talent who were willing to accept shorter term deals–guys who have something to prove.

Acquisitions via trade and free agency, combined with a couple of team controlled, soon-to-be free agents, have left the Red Sox with several key players who will enter 2013 with a tremendous amount of — let’s face it — money riding on this season.

And we all know that there is nothing wrong with a small fire being lit under a player, even if the flame is fueled by the dollar bill. In fact, that is often when the results are the most fruitful.

——

Jacoby Ellsbury is the most obvious and the most important player that falls into this category. The 29-year old center fielder recently agreed to a one-year deal worth $9MM, successfully avoiding arbitration during his final year of eligibility. Following the 2013 season, Ellsbury will be a free agent and quite an enigmatic one. We know the damage he inflicted on opposing pitchers in 2011, a year that saw him post a .321/.376./.552 line. Ellsbury was a hardware hoarder that year as he appeared in his first All-Star game, took home the Silver Slugger Award for his position, and nabbed his only Gold Glove. Do you want to make a case that he, not Justin Verlander, was the American League’s Most Valuable Player? Good. Do it. You can certainly make a sound argument. Scott Boras definitely will when Ellsbury officially hits free agency.

But he has a lot to prove. Ellsbury’s critics will point to 2010 and 2011 and claim he’s injury prone. And if he’s not injury prone, he is certainly a slow-as-molasses healer. It would be hard to debunk that theory. When healthy, the talented center fielder has the ability to carry a team for a long period of time. Barring any ailments during the spring, Ellsbury will enter 2013 with the opportunity to solidify himself as a legitimate candidate to receive a nine-figure deal in free agency. Should he spend a great deal of time on the disabled list or simply struggle to produce at the top of the Red Sox’ lineup, it will further muddy the water on Ellsbury’s value as a free agent. It is officially put up or shut up time.

Like Ellsbury, closer Joel Hanrahan is entering his final year of arbitration eligibility and is eyeing a big payday next offseason. Hanrahan was traded to the Red Sox from the Pirates earlier this winter in a swap that cleared some clutter on the 40-man roster for Boston, while giving Pittsburgh some salary relief. The power righty has already been given the keys to the car by manager John Farrell who swiftly and shrewdly made his decision to unseat Andrew Bailey as the closer apparent in favor of Hanrahan. That is good news for a player entering the most important season of his career. It also comes with added pressure. Bailey, as injury prone as he may be, is a proven commodity. He can close ballgames. If Hanrahan struggles early, Farrell may look to make a change. He is keenly aware of how badly the bullpen meltdowns of yesteryear affected the Red Sox in April. The pressure and spotlight are on Hanrahan. The stage is Boston. His response will dictate whether or not he receives the fat, multi-year contract offer he will undoubtedly seek next offseason.

Hanrahan’s likely battery mate, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, will have plenty of motivation this season to build on his 2012 campaign. The soon-to-be 28-year old switch hitter had a breakout year of sorts last season, establishing himself a legitimate power hitting backstop. Saltalamacchia is hardly a player without warts, however. He managed to post a .288 on-base percentage in each of the past two seasons, a miserable, yet consistent feat. He strikes out too much and is starkly better when hitting from the left side of the plate. Despite his flaws, Saltalamacchia is a catcher who has pop, and that’s valuable. If he can find a way to not fade as the season wears on, retain his power, and improve his on-base skills (even marginally), Saltalamacchia could be in line for a multi-year deal from a team following the season.

Saltalamacchia isn’t the only player with catching experience on the Red Sox who will be looking to parlay a productive 2013 into a big contract next offseason. Last week, Mike Napoli officially signed a one-year deal worth $5MM, a far cry from the original three-year, $13MM agreement the two sides agreed to on December 3. The reason for the hold up and subsequent $34MM reduction in guarunteed salary? Avascular necrosis–a condition that destroys bone due to lack of blood supply to the specific area. It sounds bad, and it is. But it was caught early, and according to doctors, should not get worse. Still, it cost the 31-year old a ton of dough this offseason. Naturally, Napoli will look to respond with a productive 2013 and prove to clubs that he deserves a multi-year deal. He is in the right lineup and the right ballpark to bounce back.

Stephen Drew is looking to repair his stock as a free agent that, like Napoli, has been marred by injury. Drew, a Boras client, agreed to a one-year deal with the Red Sox that will pay him $9.5MM in 2013. Once a top level performer at his position, Drew, due to a vicious ankle injury that occurred in July of 2011 and forced him to miss the first three months of 2012, did not garner a great deal of interest in free agency. With a strong performance in 2013, Drew will almost certainly see more teams bid on his services next time around. As long as Drew leaves camp healthy, it is hard to envision a scenario where he will not be the Red Sox’ Opening Day shortstop. He will have an opportunity — not unlike Adrian Beltre in 2010 — to capitalize on the ever-intense baseball environment in Boston. His ankle issues seem to be behind him. Health and productivity at a shallow position are all that stands between Drew and a much more memorable crack at free agency.

Cherington and the Red Sox are hoping to take advantage of the motivation that comes naturally with a player operating on a one-year deal. One-year pacts are essentially wagers entered into by both the player and the team. If the bet works out, the player almost always has a big payday waiting, and the team receives the benefit of a playoff run.

In 2013, the Red Sox will gladly go all in.

News on Baseball, the Red Sox

Photo via boston.com

Ahhh. That’s better.

After an absolutely brutal Sunday evening, it is important to remember that life goes on. You’ve got to be able to go out there and get ‘em the next day. So today, that’s what we’re going to do.

Mike Napoli and the Red Sox made their deal official last week. It consists of $5MM guaranteed for one year. The powerful right handed hitter will have the ability to make up to $13MM as long as he does not spend any time on the disabled list due to a hip injury. Expect the Red Sox to add some insurance at first base in case Napoli breaks down. A bit more on Napoli later.

Craig Breslow successfully avoided arbitration (and then some) as he and the Sox came to terms on a two-year pact worth $6.25MM on Saturday. The Red Sox possess a team option worth nearing $4MM for the 2015 season. Breslow was acquired by the Sox at the trade deadline last season from the Diamondbacks. The lefty specialist is a Yale graduate and a Connecticut native.

— Courtesy of the Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham, here is the list of players that the Red Sox reached agreements with, avoiding arbitration:

OF Jacoby Ellsbury: $9 million
RHP Joel Hanrahan $7.04 million
C Jarrod Saltalamacchia: $4.5 million
RHP Andrew Bailey: $4.1 million
RHP Alfredo Aceves: $2.65 million
RHP Daniel Bard: $1.8625 million
LHP Franklin Morales: $1.487 million
LHP Andrew Miller: $1.475 million

— A couple quick notes on the arbitration process: Headlines are often misleading, especially for those who are not familiar with the the process. (As an aside, if you’re not well-versed in the stimulating world of salary arbitration, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Seriously.) For example, “Ellsbury signs one-year deal with the Red Sox worth $9MM.” That is true. He did. But it makes it seems as though he could have signed elsewhere. I saw a few people on Twitter who are fans of other teams saying things like “we easily could have gotten Ellsbury if the Red Sox only gave him a one-year contract!” Players who are eligible for arbitration are also under team control–they’re not free agents–it’s just a matter of negotiating salary for a one-year deal, like Ellsbury, or a multi-year agreement, like Breslow.

— Despite the fact that it took well over a month for the Red Sox and Napoli to finalize the deal that they first agreed to, in principle, on December 3, I never thought the two parties would go in different directions. The Red Sox needed Napoli to fill a gaping hole at both first base and in the middle of their lineup. As it turned out, Napoli needed the Red Sox to serve as a landing spot to rebuild value as a free agent. The Rangers approached Napoli about returning to Arlington but were ultimately turned away–not because he didn’t want to return to Texas but because he will have more of an opportunity to play day in and day out in Boston. Nolan Ryan and Co. do not have an obvious need at first base or catcher. It is easy to see Napoli spending 2013 here, experiencing success, and subsequently leaving in free agency, but I wouldn’t make that assumption. Napoli isn’t represented by Scott Boras, and 2013 could easily be the first year of a nice little marriage between the former Ranger and the Red Sox.

Francona: The Red Sox Years hits shelves on Tuesday. From everything I have heard/read, I think this book is going to be real good stuff. I wouldn’t expect Tito to expose John Lackey, Jon Lester, and Josh Beckett for drinking beer and acting completely unprofessional in the clubhouse during the 2011 season, but I would anticipate some great stories from the eight years he managed in Boston — some of which will be funny and entertaining while others make John Henry and Larry Lucchino look quite bad. No matter what, it will reaffirm what we already know–managing in Boston is not easy. The two book covers below illustrate that point. Long live Tito.

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.

Quick Hits

winter meetings

  • The Red Sox inked Mike Napoli to a three-year $39MM deal on Monday. An excellent signing for GM Ben Cherington. Some will say that the Sox overpaid for the right handed hitter, but who cares? Seriously. It’s about the number of years, not the number of dollars. Rejoice, Red Sox fans.
  • Towards the end of the last offseason, the Red Sox were restricted by their payroll. They couldn’t offer enough to entice Hiroki Kuroda or Edwin Jackson to come to Boston. Thanks to the Dodgers, things have changed. Look for Cherington to be patient in regards to the free agent pitching market. A guy like Shaun Marcum will be an interesting option come January, if he’s not signed earlier. I believe the Red Sox will find a quality starting pitcher or two after Christmas.
  • Despite the fact that Cherington acted relatively quick in signing Napoli, Sox fans should still expect their team to exhibit patience as the free agent market unfolds during the winter. Typically, that’s how the diamonds are found in the rough.

Post Navigation

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.