metafrantic (metafrantic) wrote in baseballblog,

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Looking ahead: Red Sox in 2009

Now that the stupid Manny saga is finally over, I thought I'd look at it a bit and then look further, since it affects at least the 2009 season as well.

The Manny Ramirez/Jason Bay trade

The 3-team trade broke down like this:

Red Sox SENT: Manny Ramirez & $7m (Dodgers), Craig Hansen and Brandon Moss (Pirates)
Pirates SENT: Jason Bay (Red Sox)
Dodgers SENT: Andy LaRoche and Bryan Morris (Pirates)

One thing that I haven't seen a lot of talk about is how the Red Sox also gave up two option years (at $20m each) on Ramirez. I know the other teams didn't receive them, but the Red Sox did lose them, so they are another asset the Sox had to give up to make the deal happen. And yes, they were expensive - but they were short-term commitments. Looking purely at the numbers a player like Ramirez is capable of producing, and the free-agent market, having essentially a 1-year deal, even at more money, would be a reasonable investment.

Simply looking at the value of the players given up (based on their current capabilities), it looks like the Red Sox got fleeced. Hansen's uninspiring numbers are partially due to his still recovering from Sleep Apnea, which he underwent surgery to fix this past off-season. He's still very young and could end up being a lights-out closer... he has great stuff. Plus he's under control for another 4-plus years. Moss is often regarded as a fourth outfielder, but he's shown signs of excellence and the Sox believed he could end up an everyday player. Add two months of Ramirez, plus the two option years, plus the two draft picks the Sox would have gotten had Ramirez gone and signed with another team, PLUS the 7 million... that's a LOT to give up.

So what did the Sox get for all that? Bay is a career .281/.376/.517 hitter. He's got 5 straight 20-plus HR seasons (including 2008 already), topping out at 35 in 2006. He also spent his entire career up until the trade playing in PNC Park, which is more of a pitcher's park; Fenway is more of a hitter's park, especially for a power-hitting righthander like Bay (which is a big part of the reason that Ramirez' numbers were so good while with Boston). The Red Sox have Bay through the 2009 season, and he is almost certain to be a Type A free agent, which means the Red Sox would get 2 1st-round draft picks if he left after 2009.

Just looking from an "assets" point of view, the Red Sox got the short end in this deal. But there's one other factor: Manny Ramirez's behavior.

It's impossible to quantify how the sideshow of Ramirez's childish behavior would have affected the Red Sox this year, or into the next years if the Red Sox exercised his options. One thing is certain, though: Ramirez did not want to stay, and made it obvious. The Red Sox had good reason to believe that Ramirez wouldn't play his best the rest of the year - they had good reason to believe he'd started dogging it years ago, really. The incident where he took three straight pitches for a K vs. Mariano Rivera in a close game was a solid indication that he'd use his talent as a weapon to get what he wanted. He said some very nasty things about the club, he had 2 physical altercations... In other professions, such behavior is grounds for firing and even criminal prosecution.

There came a point where Manny Ramirez had not-played and insulted his way out of Boston. He was, essentially, trying to blackmail the Red Sox into giving him what he wanted (i.e. declining his option years), and he was using his play as a hostage against that. The Red Sox refused to cave to his demands, he responded, and it went from there. At that point, not only could the Red Sox not count on Manny's production, but his misbehavior was causing a huge distraction in the clubhouse, and the Red Sox were slipping in the standings.

So the final question is: does the value of excising Manny from the club negate the lost value of assets given up in the trade? The Red Sox clearly thought so, because they went ahead with it. Personally, I'm ok with it; I think the Red Sox made themselves a weaker team this year, talent-wise (more because they lost relief pitching and OF depth than because of Manny), but they still have a good chance to compete, and more importantly, they can focus on the game instead of the bullshit that was going on in the clubhouse. If they don't win it all this year, there will undoubtedly be a lot of people saying "They should have kept Manny, then they would have won!"; but that would not have been a guarantee by any means. And the deal really addressed the long-term anyway.

Next Year

The trade arguably had a bigger long-term effect than it did for 2008. So let's look at the 2009 season.

25-Man Roster: Currently Signed

The Red Sox have as many as 20-22 spots for their 2009 25-man roster already filled. Here are the players already signed (salaries in parentheses: I put $0.5m for those earning league minimum):

SP1 - Beckett (10.5)
SP2 - Matsuzaka (8)
SP3 - Lester (0.5)
SP4 - Buchholz (0.5)
SP5 - Wakefield (4 - OPTION)

RP (CL) - Papelbon (ARB)
RP - Delcarmen (ARB)
RP - Okajima (1.75 - OPTION)
RP - Lopez (ARB)
RP - Aardsma (0.5)
RP - Masterson (0.5)
RP - Smith (0.5)

1B - Youkilis (ARB)
2B - Pedroia (0.5)
SS - Lugo (9)
3B - Lowell (12)
LF - Bay (7.5)
CF - Ellsbury (0.5)
RF - Drew (14)
DH - Ortiz (12.5)

OF - Crisp (5.75)
SS - Lowrie (0.5)

There are 22 players on the above list. They are all strong likelihoods for the 2009 roster. A few things to consider:

1) Wakefield's $4m option. Wakefield's contract has a perpetual $4m team option - every time the Red Sox exercise the option, it adds a new one for the following year. Wakefield is currently having his best season in 5 years; he's been helped by a low BABIP (.239) so he might see some correction before the end of the year. But he's doing what he always does; putting up roughly league-average or better numbers. He's 42 years old, but knuckleballers don't wear out their arms the same ways other pitchers do. Barring an injury or a complete collapse between now and November, exercising Wakefield's option is a no-brainer.

2) Okajima's $1.75m option. This is by no means a no-brainer; Okajima was untouchable in 2007 but has been pretty average this season. However, he does eat innings, he's a lefty bullpen arm and he might regain some of his composure from last year; plus, $1.75m for a reliever is damn cheap nowadays. I say this one's 90% likely to be exercised.

3) 4 Arbitration players:
- Youkilis is earning $3m this year (his first of arbitration eligibility), which looks like a steal considering the year he's having: his hitting is better than ever, and he's putting up gold glove defense again. He could double his salary next year in arbitration.
- Papelbon's first year of arbitration could be expensive. The closer isn't as lights-out as the previous two years, but he's still good; he could make $6m off the bat.
- Delcarmen has slumped this year, but he's still young and has huge potential. He's earning $421,000 this year; I'd epxect him to get no more than $1m-$1.2m next year.
- Lopez has been okay, but not great. He's earning $840,000. Best guess for next year: $1.4m-$1.5m.

4) Edgar Renteria. We just can't get rid of this guy. Renteria has an option year for 2009 which the Tigers are unlikely to exercise: If they don't, the Red Sox have to pay the $3m buyout.

But here's the amazing thing: All of the above contracts, including estimated arbitration numbers, option years and Renteria's buyout, still only TOTALS $107 million. That's down from $143 million in 2007 and $133 million in 2008. That means that the Sox could spend $26 million to fill their holes and still start 2009 with the same payroll as the year before... or they could go cheaper and actually lower their payroll again.

So what holes will they need to fill? Assuming the above 22 players were on the roster, there are 3 spots to fill:

1) Starting Catcher. Jason Varitek's contract is up after 2008. He still catches a great game, but he can't hit at ALL any more. The Red Sox will have to decide what to do here; however, the free agent catcher market next year isn't inspiring. Considering this terrible hitting year he's having, Varitek may agree to a shorter deal; if the Red Sox can get him for 2 years at 6-8m per year, they'll do it.

2) Bench Catcher. Kevin Cash is on a 1-year contract ($395,000) this year. He's producing his typical pathetic hitting, but he's a solid defensive catcher. I can see the Sox giving him a 1 or 2-year deal for maybe $1m per year. Again, the free agent catching market for next year is weak, and Cash is adept at handling Wakefield's knuckleball. Another option would be to give AAA catchers George Kottaras or Dusty Brown the backup job; both have handled knuckleballs from AAA SP Charlie Zink.

3) Bench Middle Infielder. Lowrie and Lugo can both backup 2B, SS and 3B, but they need another for insurance. Alex Cora's contract is up this year, and in truth he's slowed down a bit in the field. He could be re-signed, but the Sox could pursue someone like Mark Ellis as a utility man.

All of the 3 above positions could be filled easily at $8-$10 million, leaving the Sox still only at $115m-$117m.

What about bit free agents?

With $15m-$20m in spare payroll (plus the Sox have never been afraid to raise payroll if necessary), the Sox could easily make a run at the big free agent names. Their lineup is pretty much set, but they might decide Buchholz isn't ready, or that they need a big-name to add to the bullpen. Here are a few possibilities:

1) CC Sabathia. The 2007 Cy Young winner is having another spectacular season, and will be looking for a HUGE (Johan Santana-esque) deal. Still, he'll only be 28, so a 6-year deal MIGHT be worth it - it worked out when it was Pedro Martinez.

2) Ryan Dempster. The Cubs former closer is having a great season; assuming he doesn't fall apart from all the innings, the 32-year-old will probably look for a 4-year, $55-60m deal.

3) Ben Sheets. The 30-year-old is FINALLY staying healthy (*knock wood*) and having a solid year. He could look for something similar to Dempster, or maybe even 5 years.

4) Brian Fuentes. The Rockies closer was someone the Sox pursued before the trade deadline, but they found the cost prohibitive. Fuentes will probably look for a Closer gig, so he's a long shot.

5) Brandon Lyon. He's been pretty solid as the Diamondbacks closer, and we had him before. But he might also want a Closer role somewhere.

6) Kerry Wood. Ditto from Fuentes and Lyon.

Really, I think the Sox will only get in on these free agents if they feel they can get a discount. Remember that most of the above guys will be Type A players, which means that if the Red Sox signed any of them, the team would sacrifice its 2009 1st-round draft pick. They won't make a move for the sake of it, and it may be they look at their team and decide it's just fine. There's no reason to think they can't make another playoff run next year with only a few minor additions.
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