Boston Red Sox continue confusing offseason

Today the Boston Red Sox finalized their one-year, $9.5M deal with shortstop Stephen Drew.  Forgetting for a moment the painful memories dredged up by having a Drew on the roster, this is yet another strange acquisition.  While Drew has some lingering upside, he’s clearly not the high-end player many thought he’d become.  Nor is $9.5M chump change.  As they did with Shane Victorino and Ryan Dempster, the Red Sox seem content to root around in what they consider to be the bargain bin, though cheaper doesn’t necessarily equate to bargains.

Stephen Drew Boston Red Sox

The Boston Red Sox should have learned by now that stopgap measures at short aren’t the best answer (AP Photo)

 Cheaper also doesn’t necessarily equate to cheap.  The Sox now have a total of $75M tied up in the trio of Drew, Dempster, and Victorino, though at least the club had the good sense to limit Drew to a single season.  And if the Mike Napoli deal does go through, that $75M becomes $114M.

Now we’re talking about some serious money.

We get it.  The free agent class of 2013 isn’t a good one.  It’s not particular strong.  It’s not particularly deep.  The solution, however, is not to go ahead and raid it anyway.  A better plan would have been to ride out another tough season and make some solid, long-term adjustments instead of snapping up league average role-players.

So why is Stephen Drew another lackluster addition?  Since his best season, which came way back in 2008 at the age of 25, Drew has been a very mediocre player.  His on-base percentage totals in the four years since: .320, .352, .317, .309.  He hasn’t hit better than .278 and sunk as low as .223 in last year’s injury-plagued campaign.  He doesn’t run (34 SB and a 69% SB success rate in seven seasons), is a solid but not spectacular glove, and has provided virtually nothing in the power department since 2010.  One might blame injuries, and indeed Drew has played a combined total of 165 games in the past two years due to health issues.  But the “if he’s healthy” line of thinking is a dangerous path to follow as the Sox should know all too well.

In essence, Boston just dropped ten million on a replacement level player.  Drew may bounce back a bit and prove otherwise, but that’s hardly a certainty.

The Drew signing isn’t the only poor decision of the day.  Boston also finalized a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates that sent away reliever Mark Melancon, Jerry Sands, and prospects Stolmy Pimentel and Ivan DeJesus, Jr. in exchange for reliever Joel Hanrahan and infielder Brock Holt.

DeJesus, Jr. and Holt represent little more than organizational depth, so consider this a three-for-one with Boston giving up a AAAA player in Sands and a halfway decent pitching prospect in Pimentel while swapping MLB-ready bullpen arms.  Granted, Pimentel hadn’t developed the way the organization might have hoped, but he’s only 23 years old.  He couldn’t seem to get his minor-league ERA under 4.40 or so, which was his death knell in the Boston system.  But his youth and former upside meant that he still had some value.

Sands, who came over from the Dodgers in the blockbuster megatrade, is a 25 year old first baseman and outfielder who hit .244 in limited appearances with L.A.  He wasn’t going to be a game-changer for the Sox, but it’s worth noting that his numbers are better than Stephen Drew’s in recent years.  If he had been giving more playing time, he might have contributed.

Still, everyone aside from Melancon and Hanrahan is more or less filler here, so let’s look at the guts of the deal.

Hanrahan Boston Red Sox

Boston traded for Pittsburgh’s Joel Hanrahan to back up closer Andrew Bailey (AP/ Puskar)

Hanrahan is 31 years old and earned $4.1M in 2012.  He’ll be a free agent after 2013.  Melancon is 27, earned $521,000 last year, and is under team control through 2017.

Assuming we ignore “bad Joel” and focus on on the past three seasons, which is obviously what Boston did if the club thinks this is a good move, we get a slash line of:

188 IP/ 2.87 ERA/ 1.23 WHIP/ 2.92 K:BB

Nice numbers.  In the N.L. Central mind you, but impressive nonetheless.  Now Melancon.

Last year didn’t go as expected for the former Astro, and he posted a 6.20 ERA in 47 innings.  However, to some degree Melancon was simply unlucky.  His WHIP was a shade under 1.27, which is not only comparable to what Hanrahan has done since 2009 but also isn’t nearly bad enough to warrant such a high ERA.  However a truly appropriate comparison between Hanrahan and Melancon involves the years they were both in the N.L. Central.

In parts of two seasons with Houston, Melancon posted the following slash line:

91.2 IP/ 2.85 ERA/ 1.21 WHIP/ 2.50 K:BB

Melancon Boston Red Sox

Boston shipped out Mark Melancon after his shake start in 2012, but the trade isn’t such an upgrade (Getty/ Wickerham)

What exactly is Boston thinking?  They now have a player who earns roughly eight times the salary, is four years older, and will be out the door within 12 months, yet posted very similar numbers to the younger, cheaper guy they just sent packing.   Melancon’s numbers didn’t carry over fron Houston, but Hanrahan will keep rolling along will no appreciable dropoff?  If that’s what the Sox are banking on, it’s a risky gamble.

This trade epitomizes the new-look Red Sox.  Whereas Theo Epstein built his early successes by developing from within and making strategic acquisitions, Ben Cherington seems content to sign mediocre, aging players who will collectively command far, far too much money.  The question is why?

What makes management believe that Joel Hanrahan is a better fit for this team than Melancon?  Could the difference of $3M not have been put to better use?  Could Sands not have stuck around as a reserve player, given the high likelihood of injury and/or Jonny Gomes flopping in the tough A.L. East?  By this point, Sox fans should be throwing up their hands and looking ahead to 2014, because very little of what has happened makes any real sense in the short term.

 

  • Willy W

    Ive read two of Matt’s articles with regard to the Sox and their rather strange off season moves and I couldnt agree with him more. As spoiled as I have become, I too would have preferred blowing this team up completely, trading away Lester, Ellsbury, Salty… for high prospects ( one’s closer to the big leagues) and gone from there.

  • http://twitter.com/EarlNash EarlNash

    A: Melancon, once the Yankees’ replacement for Mariano R., has never shown he is a closer; he may become a set-up guy, or just a pen filler. The Sox needed a proven closer as insurance for D L Bailey, who is now the set-up guy for Hanny.

    Yes, they are filling in and vamping with some expensive journeymen until 2014. My forecast sees this lineup: C Lavarnway, 1b Bogaerts, 2b Pedroia, SS Marrrero, 3b Middlebrooks, LF ?, CF Bradley, RF Brentz, DH ?

    Barnes, Webster, Lester, Buchholz, “Rubby Dubby”
    CL: Hanny/Bailey