Red Sox Offseason Preview

Earlier today, David Ortiz announced his retirement, which puts an interesting spin on the Red Sox offseason plans.  You can read my reaction here. 

Last week, the Red Sox traded for Craig Kimbrel of the San Diego Padres. They surrendered their #4 prospects and #6 prospects according to soxprospects.com, OF Manuel Margot and IF Javier Bardem, as well as lefty pitcher Logan Allen and IF Carlos Asuaje.  Margot and Bardem are no doubt significant losses, but they don’t change the validity of the trade.

Margot and Bardem are currently blocked at the big league level with Mookie, JBJ, Castillo, X, and Laser Show in the way.  Yoan Moncada is also gonna push for time at one of those positions in the near future, and the Red Sox could afford to trade these two guys away given the team control they have over the other as their positions.  Logan Allen may turn out to be a great pitcher, but it’s unlikely that he’ll be a stud, and Asuaje was a throw in and a lottery ticket for the Padres.  in return, the Sox got one of the best closers in the game at 27 years old and with 3 years remaining on his contract, including a team option that seems like a no-brainer 2 winters in advance.  The Sox paid a relatively steep price for a reliever, but here’s something you might care to know.  They scored the 4th most runs in the majors last year and had a 4.39 ERA from their starters.  The Royals, who you might recall won the Fall Classic, scored the 7th most runs in the league and had a 4.34 ERA from their starters.  What’s the difference between those teams, besides a pair of fat free agents who have displayed the same major league fielding ability in 2015 that I would have had at their positions?  Bullpen.  Given that the Sox needed bullpen arms like they needed oxygen and that they have one of the deepest farm systems in the league, the Kimbrel trade was not only defensible but absolutely the right move.

As far as the hitters go, the only potential moves involve Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, which is a mess that I honestly don’t feel like dealing with right now.  I’ll devote my time and patience to those fat bums some other time.  Or maybe I won’t.  Whatever.

That leaves starting pitching, and every Red Sox fan and their mother knows that the Red Sox need a starter in free agency.  Dave Dombrowski even admitted it.  Since the Red Sox season ended mercifully in early October, you’ve been hearing the same few names for potential targets.  David Price, Zack Greinke (not really), Johnny Cueto, Jordan Zimmerman.

David Price is the first free agent domino to fall throughout Major League Baseball, and he should be the primary target for the Red Sox as well, barring a price tag that is incomprehensible.  Assuming that Price gets somewhere between the Jon Lester and Max Scherzer contracts (6/$155M and 7/$210M), there’s no reason that the Sox shouldn’t get him.  To be fair, I’d like to keep the length of the contract at 6 years, and if necessary thrown in a vesting option for the 7th.  Price just turned 30 years old a few months ago, meaning that 7 years would take the Red Sox into his late 30s with a salary of over $25 million, which is generally a recipe for disaster.  But for the first several years of the deal, Price is more than worth roughly 25 big ones.

Every single season since 2010, he’s had at least 4.2 WAR by Fangraphs’ metrics.  His Baseball Reference WAR calculations have been a bit lower because of the way they measure ERA vs. FIP in their WAR metrics, but let’s say that Price is an average of 4 or 4.5 WAR per year, which is feasible given that Fangraphs has pegged his last 2 seasons at a total of 12.5 WAR.  The average number of dollars given to free agents now is about $7 or $7.5 million per WAR, and it’ll be higher than that by the time that Price’s contract is up.  If you give a 5ish WAR pitcher $30 million a year, you’re actually winning the free agency game.  And when you’re the Red Sox, you don’t even need to win the free agency game.  You just need to win real game.

Admittedly, I don’t like David Price because David Ortiz doesn’t like him.  But moves can’t be made based off of who likes who, and I know that Ortiz and Price can learn to get along for a single season before Ortiz retires.  Remember, Jonny Gomes was no fun to root for when he was on the Rays, especially when he was throwing cheap shots at Coco Crisp in 2008, but somehow everyone got over that.  In free agency in any sport, you want to pay for the premium guys, the cream of the crop.  It’s not often that a guy like Price can be bought without draft pick compensation, but that’s the opportunity the Red Sox have.  Let me conclude my argument for Price by saying this:  If Pablo Sandoval is worth $18 million per year and Hanley Ramirez is worth $22 million per year, why isn’t a perennial Cy Young candidate worth $28 to a team whose only dire need is an ace?

After price, there’s Zack Greinke.  Actually, for the Red Sox, there’s not.  He shouldn’t play in Boston due to his past anxiety issues, and I thik I recall him or his agent admitting awhile back that a place like New York or Boston would be risky for him.  Let him stay in Los Angeles where the “diehards” don’t pay attention to their team until Game 5 of the NLDS when Donny Baseball is blowing it yet again.

If the Sox don’t get Price (or even if they do), they should try to get a 2nd quality starter on the market instead of just a single hurler.  Johnny Cueto would be fine by me, but Jordan Zimmerman would be more preferable.  They’re both 29, but Cueto was a different guy in the American League than the National, and his 5-11 frame (with what seems like a generous measurement) worries me a little bit for a pitcher heading into his 30s.  I’d love to have Cueto, but I’d prefer Zimmerman if the price is lower, which it likely will be.  Zimmerman has had at least 3 WAR each of the past 5 seasons and has thrown at least 195 innings each of the past 4.  That’s a great #2 starter for the Sox to have, and they could squeak by with him as their ace if they either get great 2nd and 3rd starters or they trade for a real ace at the deadline.  Having said that, Cueto won’t cost the team the 12th overall pick like Zimmerman would, so Cueto has to be the primary target.

But there are 2 more guys who fly under the radar way too much, and I don’t know why I haven’t heard their names in discussion of Red Sox free agency targets: Yovani Gallardo and Cliff Lee.  Gallardo has has at least 2 WAR since 2009 and he’s just 29.  Even if he’s only average at exactly 2 WAR for 5 years, then a 5 year, $80 million contract would be fair for him.  I expect him to be a little better than that, although I have a feeling he’ll sign for a lot more.  Call it a gut feeling, which are usually stupid, but Gallardo seems like the kind of guy who won’t get as much as he wants and will have to settle for less money on the market.  James Shields was that guy last year, and he signed for 4/$75M with a more impressive resume.  Hopefully Gallardo is this year’s version of Shields.

Finally, there’s Cliff Lee, who obviously is not close to an ace anymore.  Having said that, Lee was hurling at a more than 5 WAR pace right up until he got injured in 2014, and he didn’t pitch in 2015.  That’s risky, of course, but isn’t it worth it for a big market team who needs pitching?  If you can sign lee to a contract with 1 year fully guaranteed at $10 million and bonuses that can go up to $15M, and then maybe throw a vesting option year at $15-18M, how much risk is there in that contract?  At worst, you get 50 innings of a subpar performance from a guy who, at the very least, won’t corrode the clubhouse.  For the Sox, that’s not a huge risk.  The hopeful but realistic outcome is that you get a solid 2 or a great 3 starter at a fraction of the market price.  And Lee is absolutely filthy in the postseason, which should matter to any team with October aspirations.

My hopeful offseason outcomes:

Option 1: David Price and either Gallardo once his market hopefully crashes or Cliff Lee.  Roll with Sandoval at 3rd and Hanley at 1st (or other way around) and hope that one of them has a bounce back year, and then send the other to Siberia.

Option 2: Jordan Zimmerman and Johnny Cueto.  Probably a pipe dream, I know.  Then do the same thing with Sandoval and Ramirez.

Option 3: Johnny Cueto and Cliff Lee, do the same thing with Sandoval and Ramirez, and be ready to pounce with the deepest farm system in baseball on whichever top end starter becomes available for trade.

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