Acquiring Jeremy Hermida in a trade with the Florida Marlins was just the beginning. The Red Sox have stated loud and clear that they’re going to be active in this year’s market in an effort to re-tool the team.
First came the rumors that Gold Glove second baseman Dustin Pedroia would be asked to move to shortstop. By all acounts, he was willing to make the switch and would likely have been able to successfully man the position. However, that idea was put to rest with the signing of free agent Marco Scutaro at the beginning of the month. Scutaro had a career year in 2009 with the Toronto Blue Jays, and Boston is banking on him matching or improving upon those numbers:
100R/ 12 HR/ 60 RBI
.282/ .379/ .409
His production was solid from Toronto’s lead-off spot, but Boston fans shouldn’t expect similar results in 2010. Scutaro will likely bat ninth in the lineup, which will limit his run scoring and RBI opportunities. However, if he can come close to last year’s .788 OPS, it would be a good addition for the team. The signing was somewhat mystifying in that Scutaro is 34 years old and a decent, but not spectacular defender. From the close of the 2009 season, he was hyped as the pre-eminent free agent shortstop available, thanks primarily to his standout year. Although I find it hard to believe that Theo Epstein and the rest of the Sox organization were swept up in that hype, I’m at a loss to offer another explanation.
The fact is that Scutaro just isn’t that good.
Yes, he came relatively cheap at $12.5 million. And yes, Boston was able to limit the deal to a guaranteed 2 years. So financially, it might not be a negative move. But what do they realistically expect to get out of him? The argument in favor of the signing points to the fact that Scutaro spent much of his career being unfairly platooned or serving as a reserve. The fact is, he was probably good enough to warrant a full-time and permanent gig before he got to Tornto. With the Mets and Athletics, his career high in at bats was 455 in 2004. It wasn’t until the Blue Jays nabbed him that he became an everyday player. When he has played, he’s been solid. He’s effective with the glove and won’t be a lead weight at the dish. Those are the “pros”.
But without some major spin, that’s about as positive as I can be. And I can’t ignore the “cons”.
As I mentioned, the guy is 34- an age that often marks a decline. He’s had limited experience as a full-time player, and quite frankly may not be able to hold up to the day-in, day-out wear and tear of multiple seasons. Offensively, he’s average at best. He doesn’t offer speed or power. Defensively, he’s slightly above average but is certainly no Ozzie Smith.
I know the Sox desperately needed a shortstop after their string of placeholders, but this doesn’t seem like the right move. In Toronto, Scutaro had the benefit of leading off and hitting in front of Aaron Hill- another middle infielder who had a surprising career year. Hill’s .829 OPS was 37 points higher than his previous best, and his production had a lot to do with Scutaro’s success. Don’t expect similar results from the structure of Boston’s lineup.
I’ll stop short of calling this a panic signing, but try as I might, I can’t see the value for the Sox. Scutaro might surprise me, but I just don’t see him being significantly better than whomever else the Sox might have plugged in.
Boston’s next move was an attempt to trade Mike Lowell to Texas for backup catcher Max Ramirez. The deal has been agreed to in principle, but is being held up thanks to Lowell’s various health issues. The Rangers had to first evaluate his repaired hip, which got a thumbs-up. Then an actual thumb became the next outstanding problem. Reports indicate that Lowell may need surgery on his right thumb, which would axe the deal. He’s scheduled to have a physical with the Rangers this week.
If the deal goes through, it will be an excellent move for the Sox. Ramirez is only 24 years old with substantial upside, and the Sox are in dire need of a long-term option at catcher. Victor Martinez, last years trade deadline addition, is a good option, but can’t play backtop every day. Jason Varitek is well past his prime despite his popularity with the team.
As great as Lowell has been over the years, he’s about to be 36 years old, and has had numerous injuries in recent seasons. Unloading him would be wise for Sox, even though they’ll have to eat a reported $9 million of his $12 million 2010 salary to get the deal done. If Lowell’s health sinks the trade, look for Boston to explore other options. The infield is too crowded as it is, and with future trades likely in the works, the logjam will only intensify.
Assuming Lowell does depart, a big name (and bat) would be lost. Another bigger bat will likely leave via free agency. Negotiations with Jason Bay are not going well, and indications point to the left fielder playing elsewhere in 2010. Bay had the A.L.’s best OPS in 2009, won a Silver Slugger, and was Boston’s best producer. Losing him is going to hurt. Worse, the moves that Boston is making in an attempt to solidify the outfield are perplexing at best.
Getting Hermida wasn’t a bad move, as long as he won’t be required to be an everyday fielder. But now reports say that the Sox have agreed to a two year, $15.5 million deal with Mike Cameron.
He still has some power and should hit 20-25 homers. But he’s not a big producer. He’s never scored 100 runs and has broken 100 RBI only once in his 15-year career. This is primarily a defensive acquisition, and given the team’s lack of offense (assuming Bay leaves) I can’t understand this move. The most likely outcome would be some kind of platoon between Hermida, Ellsbury, and Cameron covering left and centerfield. Honestly, it would be a substanital upgrade in terms of defense, but it would do little for the Sox at the plate. Worse, it’s a fairly transparent reaction to the Yankees’ acquisition of centerfielder Curtis Granderson. That move was a good one. Boston’s response was not.
Reviewing Boston’s revamped offense is depressing me. Let’s talk about pitching.
In a move that barely made headlines, the Sox acquired Boof Bonser from the Twins in exchanged for the always popular Player To Be Named or Cash. Bonser was going nowhere in Minnesota, and will try to redefine his career in Boston’s bullpen. The move wasn’t bad- for a mere $650,000, the Sox get a a former starter with the stamina to pitch in long relief. Limiting his innings might help reduce his bloated ERA and WHIP. And if the move doesn’t pan out, it didn’t really cost the Sox anything of value.
I can’t say the same for Boston’s blockbuster move of the off-season. If this one doesn’t work out, the repercussions will be severe.
Former Angels ace John Lackey will be coming to Beantown thanks to a 5-year deal worth $85 million. Lackey, considered to be the best available starting pitcher in this year’s free agent market, will immediately slide into the rotation behind Josh Beckett and Jon Lester. While his numbers aren’t breathtaking, he’s a big, strong, reliable righty who should be able to post some quality starts for the Sox.
Lackey, who is 31, has 5 straight seasons with sub-4 ERAs. His WHIP isn’t pretty, usually landing somewhere between 1.20 and 1.30, and he’ll have to watch the number of baserunners he allows in the tough A.L. East. He’s not a big strikeout guy, and on the whole is what I would consider to be a slightly above average starter. But he is predictable, and dependable. And the Red Sox need some of that.
Aside from Beckett and Lester who have for the most part been good-to-great, Boston’s rotation has lately been a failed experiment. John Smoltz came back from a serious injury but couldn’t find his rhythm with the Sox. Brad Penny was abominable. Daisuke Matsuzaka has been a bust, failing to live up to his hefty price tag. Smoltz and Penny are now in St. Louis, and while there is still time for Dice-K to turn things around, the Sox can’t rely on him for the time being. The 25 year-old Clay Buchholz should be good, but young pitching is hard to predict. Plus, Buchholz is one of Boston’s main pieces of trade bait, and could very well be moving on before 2010 gets under way.
So acquiring Lackey, even though he’s not going to wow anyone, was probably a good move. And it could look even better if the other shoe ever drops.
It is believed that the Padres’ new GM, fomer Red Sox assistant GM Jed Hoyer, wants Buchholz to be included in any trade talks related to slugger Adrian Gonzalez. Without a third starter, there was no way for Boston to even consider letting Buchholz go. Now with Lackey in town, the wheeling and dealing for Gonzo should heat up. If- and it’s a big if- the Sox could finagle a trade for that big bat, it would go a long way toward easing offensive concerns. It certainly wouldn’t make Boston an elite hitting team, but it would give them an elite power hitter for the heart of the order.
I’ll continue to monitor Boston’s off-season progress, returning to grade their moves once the dust settles. But for now, fans need to hope for another big acquisition. What has gone down thus far has done little to inspire confidence among the Red Sox Nation faithful.