As David Ortiz slumped, Jason Varitek was as inconsistent as expected from an offensive viewpoint. Lauded as a great leader and fair defensive catcher, Varitek did many intangible things to help the team win. Nevertheless, the Red Sox wanted offense from the catcher position and got it when they sent several prospects to the Cleveland Indians for Victor Martinez who will be the starting catcher in 2010. Varitek will return by virtue of utilizing his player option for $3m and incentives after the Red Sox passed on using theirs.
The Red Sox run the risk of losing slugging left fielder Jason Bay to free agency. A loss that will be difficult for the Red Sox faithful (an unsabermetricly inclined crowd to say the least, despite the clear beliefs of the teams management) to understand. Most analysts believe that signing Bay to the rumored deals that include several years and over 100 million dollars would be a colossal mistake. Granted, it is a mistake the Red Sox can afford to make. Unlike the rival New York Yankees, the Red Sox have avoided including extra years into contracts as incentives to sign. But Bay is an aging player (who some describe as a Three True Outcomes type) who is mediocre at best defensively and a perhaps a future designated hitter. Paying full price for Bay seems like something the Theo Epstein Red Sox would never do but then you hear things. Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe reports on the Extra Bases Blog this series of events:
So we're talking to Theo Epstein Monday afternoon and he mentions that restructuring Tim Wakefield's deal will save the Sox $1.5 million on the CBT, which is GM-speak for the payroll luxury tax, or collective bargaining tax. "That's important because there's some things we want to do this winter and we don't have a ton of room under the CBT," Epstein said. The tax threshold for 2010 will be $170 million. Are the Red Sox actually planning to approach that? I mean, zowie. They were around $125 million this season. Keeping in mind that is an extremely rough estimate, I have the Red Sox committed to approximately $109 million for next season. That's figuring arbitration raises for Jonathan Papelbon, Jermey Hermida, Hideki Okajima and Ramon Ramirez and $500,000 each for the assorted 0-3 service-time players. Let's say they sign Jason Bay for $18 million. So now they're at $127 million. Where is that extra $43 million coming from that Theo seemed concerned about? Are the Red Sox leaving room for Roy Halladay and some other superstar? This is total conjecture, of course, and perhaps Epstein was just musing out loud. But perhaps that was a clue that the Sox are, if nothing else, giving themselves the option to make a huge splash.It seems impossible that the Red Sox could worry about approaching the tax threshold without planning to devote a substantial amount to re-signing Jason Bay. Maybe they plan to sign Bay AND Holliday and put Bay at designated hitter. That would be out Yanking the Yankees, no doubt.
Clay Buchholz, RHP
The Red Sox have a very strong pitching staff. They have a clear ace in Josh Beckett. Jon Lester is among the top starters in the American League and he has room in his development to become a dominating lefty ace. Daisuke Matsuzaka has been a slight disappoint for the Red Sox but he still has that amazing talent which made him such a desirable roster addition. Tim Wakefield is the versatile, and effective veteran that has the ability to throw opposing lineups into weeks-long slumps. But the pitcher who has the potential to have the biggest impact on the Red Sox staff as it now stand may be Clay Buchholz. The Red Sox have been huge believers in his incredible talent and have refused to include him in potential deals for Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Felix Hernandez, and even Roy Halladay. After several brief appearances in the Red Sox rotation and some rumored (but hard to document) fiddling with his mechanics over the last three seasons (which include a no-hitter in his second major league start), he appears to have finally cemented a place in the Red Sox rotation for the 2010 season.
Coming through the Red Sox farm system Buchholz displayed double strikeout rates and solid groundball rates. He reportedly owned a potentially plus slider, plus fastball, plus-plus change up, and a plus-plus curve ball --The curve being his devastating out pitch. The strikeout rates have fallen in the higher levels (which is to be expected). However, the 6.65 k-rate Buchholz displayed in the majors in 2009 was much lower than we had come to expect. The 7.85 mark for triple-A Pawtucket was also an unexpected low but it may have been a price paid to deliever something else – an increased groundball rate. Buchholz delivered a career best 52.5 GB percentage for Pawtucket in 2009 (discounting small sample sizes). He brought that powerful skill with him to the majors in the second half where he produced a 53.8 percent mark in 92 innings and 16 starts.
FIP says that Buchholz was not as good as he looked this season (4.69 FIP, 4.21 ERA) probably due to his relatively low .289 BABIP. It does not look quite so much like good fortune when compared to his .270 minor league career BABIP. Buchholz has a minor league career K/9 of 10.12, a ML career GB% of 47.6 percent, and a HR/FB of 8 percent. This makes the 15.7 percent HR/FB in the majors look like more of an aberration than his .289 BABIP. The skills are there and even if his development has not gone exactly as expected he does not have anything left to prove in the minors.
Buchholz is an extremely talented pitcher and the Red Sox view him an extremely valuable. In fact, if what we know of trade negotiations is true, they see Buchholz as untouchable. This places him in a very elite class of prospect. I think the Red Sox look at Buchholz and see a pitcher that will eventually compare well to Felix Hernandez and Roy Halladay. While Fantasy Owners should be very careful not to expect too much of young pitchers without a full season of experience in the majors, I think there is a lot of reason for optimism here.
Jonathan Papelbon, RP
They have died down recently but not long ago, Red Sox Nation was flooded with rumors about a possible change in the closer role for the Red Sox. These rumors found fertile ground in a few areas. One, Red Sox General Manager, Theo Epstein, does not believe in paying exorbitant prices for closers. He has learned well the PR lesson of not actually having a closer but I doubt that his core beliefs on building bullpens has changed. Two, Jon Papelbon has refused attempts to sign a long-term contract. He has indicated that he will not accept anything that does not pay him as one of the best closers in the league. In other words, he wants to be paid like Mariano Rivera. This makes it unlikely that he remains in Boston past his arbitration seasons. Three, rookie Josh Bard came up from the minors and justified all the talk of him being the closer of the future. In fact, Bard was dominating in the playoffs. Meanwhile, many fans have blamed Papelbon for the Red Sox failure to advance past the first round.
Papelbon was not his usual self in 2009. His control was way off and his fastball was much less effective than it has been. This is not to say that Papelbon was bad. In fact, he was a fine closer. Nevertheless, he was less deceptive, less dominating, and less intimidating in 2009. It does make some sense that the Red Sox in their search for offense use Papelbon as bait. Bard is definitely a closer-quality talent who the Red Sox love. They have a deep bullpen and plenty of help in the minors should Bard fall apart. With the Detroit Tigers in dump mode, perhaps the Sox can pry Miguel Cabrera away to fill the role they failed to fill with Teixeira. It would give the Tigers a real closer finally, and dump enough salary that they could keep Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson. Just a thought…
Searching for Sleepers
Jeremy Hermida, OF
Red Sox fans were surprised by the acquisition of Jeremy Hermida. They were expecting news regarding Jason Bay, one of several shortstops, or maybe even Roy Halladay, not a fourth outfielder. This is what Hermida represents to Red Sox fans these days. If you aren’t a huge name with a huge contract, what good are you? The thing is Hermida has it in him to be good…very good. I will not re-hash Hermida’s development as a prospect. Since the trade, a million and one blogs and newspapers have related the story of Hermida’s high minor-league walk rates and impressive plate discipline. However, what they have neglected to share is that Hermida was probably a bit overrated based on numbers put up in the low minors. Yes, he had good walk rates but his strikeout rates were not very impressive and this is part of his problem.
I am not going to pretend to completely understand strike zone dynamics, but I am going to share my theory anyway. Despite the ability to lay off pitches outside of the strike zone, Hermida still has high strikeout totals. He is not missing pitches in the zone; he has an upwards trending contact rate in the strike zone. I am guessing that he is being called out on strikes in the zone (I could not find this data – I know it is out there somewhere, but I wanted to get this published). Perhaps he is being stubborn about a personal strike zone, or Umpires just are not respecting his judgment. Whatever it is, I think he needs to start swinging at more pitches. Hermida had a 90 percent contact rate in 2009, and swung at just 23.9 percent of pitches outside the strike zone. Either he has been just unlucky (possible), or he is being called out on borderline pitches, pitches that Hermida needs to do something with. There is more evidence that Hermida needs to swing more in his BABIPs. His MLB career BABIP stands at .322, yet his career batting average is just .265. How can his discipline be good, his BABIP be high, and his batting average low, when he does not swing at many pitches? If you look at the image below, it appears that he does receive a lot of called strikes out of the zone but I have no idea if this is typical or not.
Here is what we do know. Hermida makes better than average contact in the strike zone, and less than average at pitches outside the zone. When he makes contact the result is better than average. His walk rate is back on the rise and has been better than average anyway. He is trending more fly balls and line drives and fewer groundballs. He looks (in my eyes) like a player just on edge of a leap forward. The Red Sox obviously see things they like and believe he can be a productive player for them. They certainly did not acquire him for his defense. Therefore, they must believe that he can contribute with the bat. The Red Sox are excellent evaluators and have top notch coaching, that in combination with Hermida’s talent make me willing to take a chance on Hermida in AL-only leagues. I would have to be very impressed during Spring Training to recommend him to shallow mixed-leaguers, but anything can happen.
Best Team Blogs for the Boston Red Sox
Firebrand of the American League - http://firebrandal.com/
Yawkey Way Academy - http://www.ywacademy.com/
ProJo Sox Blog - http://soxblog.projo.com/
El Guapo’s Ghost - http://elguaposghost.blogspot.com/
Sox Prospects - http://soxprospects.com/