Anthony Ranaudo Traded for Robbie Ross

Here’s a link.

Ross is a lefty. He started some with the Rangers in 2014, but it’s probably safe to assume that he’s going to be in the bullpen for the Sox.

I’ll get into him a bit more in the second part of the bullpen roundup in a few days, but there’s a good chance he’s one of two lefties in the pen (with Craig Breslow.)

And the number I know you’re all looking for, he has a groundball rate of 53.8% for his career against a league average of 44%.

The Sox are stocking up on ground ball pitchers, and a guy on SoSH (whose name I don’t recall at the moment) had a good argument why. I think I’ll be digging it out and expanding upon it once the roster roundups are done.

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Roster Roundup: Infield, Catcher, DH

This has been one of the craziest off seasons in my lifetime of watching baseball. Somewhere in those last couple days of the Winter Meetings, I completely gave up on knowing who was going where, when, and why.

I figure that with the off season winding down a little bit, there’s some value in taking a look at what the heck the Sox have done and where it leaves them.

Infield

We’ll start with the infield, just because it’s the easiest. The Sox had a black hole at third base in 2014, and it hasn’t been a strength for a long time. It should be no surprise, then, that one of the first major acquisitions of the off season was Pablo Sandoval who has been significantly better than average offensively every year since 2010. Defensive metrics are a tad ambivalent about him, but overall, he has a reputation as a solid fielder.

He’s getting a lot of money and he’s older than you’d want in a player you’re paying that much, but at least for the short term, he’s got to be better than what the Sox have had.

The move to Sandoval at third means Xander Bogaerts gets to settle in at short and make the position his for as long as he can hold on to it. It might be a bit generous to say that Xander Bogaerts had an up and down year in 2014—his .595 OPS in July wasn’t even his second worst month (June .426, August .360)—his ups were pretty damn high. He had an .897 OPS in May and looked like he was going to storm into the league and make it his bitch. Of course, that was his best month of the season by far. Encouragingly, though, his second best month came at the end of the season with an OPS of .806 for September and October.

This is the thing to remember about Xander Bogaerts. He’s still 22 and is only a year away from being the second best prospect in baseball. He struggled mightily, and might well struggle more, but chances are, he’s going to be a lot better in 2015 overall.

Dustin Pedroia had his worst season since he became a regular in 2007 and chances are that his peak is behind him, but while he’s not young, he’s not quite old, either. He’s got more above average seasons in him and hopefully he’s manage to play 2015 without having a significant hand or wrist injury early in the season.

Mike Napoli hasn’t really had a bad season in his career. I’m sure he will, at some point, but there’s no particular reason to think it will be 2015. Sure, his hip could explode at any moment, but it hasn’t exploded yet.

Bottom Line: The Red Sox should be getting league average or better seasons from all the infielders.

The infield bench is probably going to include Brock Holt, who is likely to be the primary backup at three positions, and Allen Craig, who is likely to back up first.

Craig is actually a bit of a thing. When he was good, he was very good. Easily starting material. When he was bad, holy crap was he bad. 2015 should represent a chance for him to put all questions of his injury behind him and demonstrate once again that he is an offensive threat.

The problem for him is going to be playing time. The Sox can’t afford to run someone out there every day who is hitting like Craig hit in 2014, and perhaps more to the point, they don’t have to, having better options pretty much everywhere.

Clearly the Sox want him to be what he was before, but the only way to demonstrate that he’s back—not to mention the only way to get back—is for him to play and I don’t see where those ABs are going to come from.

DH

Nothing really to say here. David Ortiz get old and fall off at some point, but he hasn’t yet and it’s a gamble I’m willing to continue to take until it bites me in the ass.

Catcher

Christian Vazquez is the starter. His offense was well, pretty bad in 2014, but that’s not terribly surprising for any rookie breaking in, and especially so with one who has a history of taking a while to adjust to each higher level. He does adjust, though, and that bodes well for his chances of being not terrible. There are a lot of things that impact a team throughout a season that you can’t foresee. One of the things we can foresee is Vazquez. How well and how quickly he makes those adjustments is going to have a pretty big impact on what the Sox do in 2015.

Should Vazquez struggle at the plate, Ryan Hanigan can help, but only so much. He hasn’t had an OPS+ above 95 since 2010 and his last two years he was at 59 and 86. It’s the 59 that looks like the outlier, however, as most of his career has been spent as a slightly less than average hitter.

No, if Vazquez crashes and burns, the real help is going to have to come in the form of Blake Swihart who has had all of 18 games of AAA experience. I don’t think there is anyone who thinks he is going to be ready before mid season at the earliest so, well, I think we all need to hope that Vazquez gets the job done.

Next week I’ll take a look at the outfield, then the rotation, and finally the bullpen, and at that point, truck day won’t be far away.

What Wade Miley, Justin Masterson, and Rick Porcello Mean For The Red Sox

Remember when you were so bored at the off season you were just dying to have something—anything—happen?

Yeah, me neither.

In the past three days or so, the Red Sox have lost out on Jon Lester, traded Rubby de la Rosa and Allen Webster for Wade Miley, traded Yoenis Cespedes and a couple spare parts for Rick Porcello, and signed Justin Masterson.

I’m going to take them one at a time, then put the whole thing together thematically at the end, just like they tried to teach you in your high school English class.

It sucks losing Jon Lester, there’s no question about it, but the fact that the Sox brass didn’t move past the 6/$135M offer is probably a good sign. You don’t want your front office to get emotional about these things and the reality is that pitchers rarely age well. Maybe Lester will be one of the ones that does—I hope he is—but it’s really dangerous to put a big wager on that.

That leaves us with a big hole at the top of the rotation, one that hasn’t yet been filled. Of the remaining options, the one I like best is signing James Shields as a free agent. It doesn’t require giving up any of the binky level prospects and it’s a shorter term lesser gamble than Lester.

I don’t particularly like the Wade Miley trade, but I have warmed to it a little after some initial loathing. The Sox came into this off season needing two top of the rotation guys and I just don’t see Wade Miley being one of those guys. He’s better than Kelly, not better than good Clay Buchholz, and a lot better than bad Clay Buchholz. So if things go right, Miley would slot in as the fourth best starter, pushing Kelly to fifth and improving both those slots a bit in the short term.

Of course, in doing so, he blocks the kids from a rotation spot, a fact that is I guess ameliorated by the fact that the kids who are most ready to use that slot just got traded for Wade Miley.

Justin Masterson just doesn’t do much for me. He was terrible in 2014 and whether that was due to injury or messed up mechanics from injury, I don’t really care. He’s the fifth best starting pitcher at the moment in large part because he’s always had big platoon splits.

I’m looking at him as someone who is insurance against Buchholz being unavailable out of spring training. Given Buchholz’ history, I think it only reasonable to build in that insurance and with the trade of de la Rosa and Webster, the in house options for someone coming out of spring training weren’t that great. Anthony Ranaudo and Matt Barnes just weren’t cutting it and both Henry Owens and Eduardo Rodriguez are guys that need to put in some more time at AAA before we think about them in the majors.

I really like the trade of Yoenis Cespedes for Rick Porcello. Cespedes was pretty obviously the odd man out when Hanley Ramirez decided he wanted to come to Boston to play left. He was on a one year deal that didn’t have draft pick compensation attached if he left, his OBP has always been lacking, and his defense has been marginal.

Rick Porcello, on the other hand, is a good pitcher who has always been victimized by bad defenses, and that brings us to the theme that ties this all together.

Porcello, Miley, and Masterson are all significant ground ball pitchers. So, for that matter, is Joe Kelly.

I was reminded of this article from a year ago about the Athletics loading up on fly ball hitters because sometimes fly balls leave the park and in an era when power is at a premium, fly balls that leave the park have a ton of value.

What the Sox seem to be doing is taking advantage of that in another direction. The strike zone has been expanding  in the pitch/fx era and a lot of that expansion has come at the bottom of the strike zone.

The way Miley, Masterson, Porcello, and Kelly get ground balls is by pounding the bottom of the strike zone. Hitters are going to have to swing at those pitches a lot more than they were just a few years ago which suggests the ground ball guys are just getting more valuable.

Then there’s Christian Vazquez. He’s really good at framing pitches and where does pitch framing matter the most? Where the umpire has the worst view of the pitch—the bottom of the zone.

It really looks like the Red Sox are putting a premium on the bottom of the strike zone, keeping balls in the park, putting a good defense on the field—the infield in particular, even if Xander Bogaerts is nothing special—and surprising people with how good they really are.

If the Sox can reel in Shields or some other top of the rotation guy, I think it’s going to be a fun season.

Ken Rosenthal Says The Sox Are Signing Hanley Ramirez

If Ken Rosenthal’s report is true, and the Sox are about to sign Hanley Ramirez for something in the neighborhood of 5/$90M, I am completely and totally buffaloed.

I would have bet cash money that Ramirez was going to get something more in the neighborhood of six or seven years and 130-150 million dollars.

It doesn’t happen often, but there are times that I am glad to be wrong.

I don’t need to tell you about his offensive prowess. He’s an absolute stud with a stick in his hand, OPSing .817 in 2014 despite playing half his games in Dodger Stadium.

Thing is, I also don’t have to tell you about his injury problems and defensive shortcomings. If the Sox are going to go with Xander Bogaerts at short and Hanley Ramirez at third, the defense over on that left side is really going to be bad.

But—and if you have been on Twitter today, I also don’t need to tell you this—there is talk that the Sox are also intent on signing Pablo Sandoval, putting Sandoval at third, and Ramirez in left.

Sure, Ramirez would be new to left field, but he would be playing half his games in Fenway Park with the smallest left field in the universe, and frankly anyone who can play short—even terribly—almost has to be athletic enough to play left. It’s less of a quick reaction, quick hands position, and more of a run-for-a-while-and-try-not-to-drop-it position. I’m pretty sure Ramirez can handle that.

My question, and it’s a pretty big one in my mind, is what this does to the Jon Lester negotiations. Some of the fine folks at SoSH have convinced me that the budgetary space is there to sign Ramirez, Sandoval, and Lester. Even if it isn’t, there are contracts that are up after 2015, including Nike Napoli ($16M), Shane Victorino ($13M), and Yoenis Cespedes ($10.5M) which would allow the team to get back under the cap before they get hit with a tax payment that is overly onerous.

One wonders, though, if Lester suggested to the team that they needed to convince him they were serious about competing in the short term. A thirty year old ballplayer doesn’t necessarily want to spend three or four years missing out on the post season while breaking in the kids.

The next question—and it’s almost as big in my mind—is what about the other pitcher? It is a truth universally acknowledged that the Sox were trying to get two pitchers who could slot in at #1 and #2. If the Sox are really going to sign Ramirez, Lester, and Sandoval, it suggests that the second pitcher is going to have to be one who doesn’t cost a ton in dollars. That worries me because the players that don’t cost a lot in dollars are the ones that cost a lot in talent.

I don’t want to give up much talent. I should be more specific. I am going to be royally pissed if the Sox give up Bogaerts, Betts, Swihart, or Devers. I’m going to be less pissed—but still pissed—if the Sox give up Owens, Rodriguez, Jackie Bradley, Jr., or Deven Marrero.

Yeah, sure, I know, prospects, blah blah, TINSTAAP, blah blah. Don’t care. If the Sox are going to be good for the better part of the next decade and not just for the next three or four years, it’s going to be on the backs of the prospects and not the big free agents.

SoSH is full of suggestions, including the idea that Cespedes could be sent somewhere like Seattle, for Hisashi Iwakuma. I suspect that there would have to be something else going to Seattle in that one, but right handed power is at a premium, and Seattle needs more help scoring runs.

I was going to be happy if the Sox got a third baseman and two pitchers. If the Sox get Ramirez, Sandoval, Lester, and another pitcher, I’m going to get a little bit giddy.