Thursday, October 22, 2009

Options thin for Red Sox in free agency

One of the quotes I best remember from an edition of Baseball Prospectus that I will ironically mangle right now is that if the market is only selling bananas, and you need to buy oranges, well, then you're S out of luck.

This is a key, key fact to remember about the Red Sox and this year's free agent market. The Red Sox could really use an under-30 power bat at catcher, first base, shortstop or third base. However, the market doesn't really have a good option for any of those positions.

Currently, the Red Sox have Victor Martinez, who can play catcher or first, and Kevin Youkilis, who can play first or third. David Ortiz and Mike Lowell are still under contract, and between them, you have a decent fill for the designated hitter and third base slots in the lineup. I say "decent" because both are in their decline phases, and on the wrong side of 30, and in Lowell's case, barely suitable for his position in the field.

It should also be noted that Martinez will be a free agent after 2010, when he will be 32, so he is not a long-term solution at catcher. At shortstop, the Red Sox haven't yet decided whether or not to pick up Alex Gonzalez's $6 million option. Although he did decent in a small sample size with the team, all he can really do is field, so that is a steep price. This year's left fielder, Jason Bay, is also a free agent, and also on the wrong side of 30 and probably looking for a decently long deal, four to five years, for $13 million to $16 million a year.

With this in mind, let's look at the free agent market, position by position, focusing on the Red Sox needs. All potential free agents are from this site.


The best players are Gregg Zaun, Mike Redmond, Josh Bard and Ramon Castro. Of course, maybe you prefer a "name" guy. In that case, the corpses of Ivan Rodriguez, Jason Kendall and Bengie Molina are available. You can pick through the debris and find a guy or two who exceeded expectations a bit, but there is no free agent available that immediately makes me think, "Wow, our catching problem is now solved!"


See: catchers. The best player is probably Nick Johnson [left], with the caveat that you can't count on him to play two games in a row, nevermind actually holding up for a 162 game season. (Or, in Boston's case, a 165 to 181 game season.) He didn't manage a full season this year, even with that sweet mustache of his. On a performance basis though, he is clearly the best bet, and similar to the Brad Penny and John Smoltz deals this past season, you might be able to get him on an incentive-laden deal. Russell Branyan, the ultimate three true outcomes guy, is also a free agent, although the fan base's past reaction to Mark Bellhorn suggests that his plate approach might not fly.

Once you get past Johnson, you have a few "reclamation" guys that are kind of interesting to me. The team already took a spin on the Adam LaRoche train, but he is out there. Once upon a time, Hank Blalock played third base, so he could be a poor man's - okay, more like a homeless man's - version of Kevin Youkilis. The "veteran names" at first base include Doug Mienakljklasjfas, Eric Hinske, NOMAH, Carlos Delgado and Miguel Cairo.


I don't think it's a big deal if the Sox pass on A-Gonz because there is a semi-flood of guys like him on the market this year. If you don't want to pay him $6 million, then you can try your luck again with Orlando Cabrera, or move on to Craig Counsell or Bobby Crosby or Khalil Greene or John McDonald or Marco Scutaro or Miguel Tejada or Jack Wilson. All of them are quasi-decent shortstops, depending on how hard you squint, and all of them aren't going to make more than $6 million. I'd rather roll the dice with one of them, plus Jed Lowrie (when / if healthy) and Nick Green, than guaranteeing all that cash to A-Gonz.


Chone Figgins is the "big" name out there at third. He is a poor choice for several reasons to me. One, his highest slugging was 432, and that was two years ago, in his age 29 season. He doesn't hit home runs, or doubles. Two, he's fast, but he's 31 now, and his speed has always been overrated on the basepaths because he gets caught so much. He had 42 steals this year... but also led the league with 17 caught stealing. And finally, his value is extra high this year because of his 101 walks, which is 36 more than his previous season high. Figgins is a decent player, but he needs to have a high OBP to be an asset as a full-time third baseman because of his lack of power. Since he could get a deal worth $10 million a year from some desperate team, I'd prefer the Sox stay away from him.

Adrian Beltre is a 12-year veteran, but is still only 30. This would matter more if he had hit better than 265 / 304 / 379 this year. For all the media craze about guys on the juice, you never heard his name bandied about, even though he has never come close to matching his utterly insane 48 HR year - in Dodger Stadium! - right before he became a free agent right after the 2004 season.

The other options at third also come with serious question marks. These players could redeem themselves, but they could be complete busts as well: Mark DeRosa, Joe Crede (rumored to be retiring), Troy Glaus (so hurt he only managed to appear in 14 games this year), Melvin Mora and Pedro Feliz (club options that will probably and foolishly be picked up), and scrubs like Aaron bleeping Boone and Adam Kennedy.


For simplicity's sake, I'm assuming a traditional right fielder or center fielder would be able to play left in Fenway. The Monster is an asset when it comes to hiding a horrible fielder - Ask Manny Ramirez, who was actually able to sucker some people in Boston into thinking he was a decent left fielder.

Anyway, the outfield has some decent options, even if you assume the Rays will act sanely and pick up Carl Crawford's option. In addition to the aforementioned Jason Bay, Matt Holliday is available. While he didn't do well in Oakland this year, he is a good defensive outfielder, and could probably provide about 50 to 80 percent of Bay's value at the plate.

I see three veteran longshots available as well - Vlad Guerrero, Bobby Abreu and Brian Giles. Guerrero and Abreu seem pretty happy with the Angels, and it wouldn't surprise me to see Vlad in particular take a pay cut to stay with the Halos. Abreu might be looking to cash in after a really good year, but the Sox seem an unlikely destination; I imagine they would want to offer him something incentive-laden, similar to what the Angels did this year. And Giles already rejected a trade to the Sox in the past, so I doubt he'd seriously consider signing with them as a free agent.

In the flashback category, Johnny Damon and Wily Mo Pena are free agents, but I doubt either will be back in a Boston uniform for personality reasons and quality reasons, respectively. The Royals have an $8 million option for Coco Crisp, so there is a good chance he could be available, but he can't hit well enough to play left in Fenway. Dave Roberts is technically a free agent; if the Sox were interested, they probably would have asked him to get a uniform a bit earlier than now.

There are a lot of "tweeners" in the outfield, actually. Meaning, guys who either 1) hit OK 2) but not well enough to be an All-Star and 3) aren't incredible with the glove either. The converse is also true, with some plus defenders who REALLY don't hit well. I'm looking in your direction, Marlon Byrd, Mike Cameron, Reed Johnson, Austin Kearns, Xavier Nady, Randy Winn and Emil Brown.


Hey, sorry for being the bearer of bad news, but the market isn't that strong when it comes to positions the Red Sox actually need filled. For most of these, the in-house candidates - Ortiz, Lowell, Lowrie, Bay - are comparable in quality to what's out on the market. If the Sox are going to radically improve their roster in the offseason, it's going to be via trade.

The Nick Johnson photo is from this blog. The market photo is from here. The picture of Mandy Moore is from here, and included because I find her incredibly foxy.

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