Roster Roundup: Outfield

As we continue our reassessment of the Red Sox roster, we turn from the infield to the outfield. Unlike the infield, we don’t know who is going to play where. We don’t really even know who the starters are.

Let’s start with what we do know.

Hanley Ramirez is going to start in left field. It’s where he was signed to play. He can’t really be expected to play any of the other outfield positions. And oh yeah, he can hit the snot out of the ball. Aside from an injury that affected his 2011 and 2012, he has always been a much better than average hitter.

And sure, he’s thirty and he’s getting paid a ton of money, but he’s also one of those elite guys who got to the bigs at a very young age and is likely to be effective relatively longer than most.

In short, we don’t have to worry about left field for a while.

We can be pretty sure that Rusney Castillo is going to be starting somewhere. They didn’t pay him 7/70 to sit on the bench. It’s going to be right or center and I rather suspect it’s going to be center, but that depends a bit on who is playing right.

Which brings us to Shane Victorino and Mookie Betts.

My sense is that Shane Victorino is going to have a hard time staying healthy enough to play every day. Maybe that’s wrong. Victorino sure thinks it’s wrong and is coming to camp planning on being the starting right fielder. Good. I want him to think and act like he is going to go out and kick the shit out of everything.

But…he played 30 games in 2014, 53 in 2012, and 101 in 2011. Even in 2013 he only played 122. That looks like a guy whose body is starting to break down and since, when healthy, he still has the skills to be a tremendous asset, I want to take steps to make sure he’s healthy.

That means he’s the bench guy, Betts starts in right, Castillo in center, and Vic gives them each more time off than normal. Betts is still adjusting to the majors. It looks like he played about 150 games in 2014, but that was the first time he played more than 127.

Mostly, I think young guys are going to benefit from more time off, not just because they don’t play 162 in the minors, but because they need to slow the game down a little bit and time off to think should help that.

Also, Castillo hasn’t played a full season since I don’t even know when, and it stands to reason he could use a bit more time off than a normal guy.

I think we could plan on having Castillo and Betts each playing five days a week and Victorino playing four.

If the starters are Betts and Castillo, there’s some notion that Betts should play center and Castillo right because Castillo has the better arm. I think most of this sentiment is coming from the fact that Betts was moved off short because of his arm and I’m not sure it translates that well.

Regardless, if they decide Victorino is going to be the starter, he’ll go in right and Castillo in center with Betts going back to Pawtucket so he can play ever damn day.

And there are the bench options. Allen Craig is likely to be backing up left as well as first. At least, he is unless there is some way he can be slipped through waivers to Pawtucket.

But basically, the backup options other than Victorino are Allen Craig and Daniel Nava. They don’t need all three, and if Brock Holt is on the roster, the chances are decent that they’ll go with just Vic and one of Craig/Nava.

My guess is that the Sox would be best off going with Castillo and Betts with Vic and Craig. Going with Castillo and Vic with Craig and Nava would allow the team to keep more talent in the organization and that’s something they try to do.

Regardless, the team should be getting better than average offensive production from all outfield positions while having some decent depth.

It’s a good thing.

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And Now The Sox Sign Pablo Sandoval

So I wake up this morning to the news that the Sox have indeed come to an agreement with Pablo Sandoval on a five year contract that will pay him roughly $100 million.

I have qualms.

In the short term, I think he’s going to be exactly what the Sox need—a competent defensive third baseman who hits lefty (if only part time) and who is a good bet to not be a sucking chest wound in the lineup.

He’s 28 and the contract will run through his age 32 season. That’s fine.

His weight is obviously a thing. I don’t know that there has been any analysis done on such things, but it stands to reason that a guy with his body type is more likely to have a calamitous decline than someone who is more fit.

I’m still mostly okay with it.

I think what the Sox will be getting from Betts and Bogaerts three years from now is likely to be a lot more than what they get from Betts and Bogaerts in 2015 so in a way, there is a built in counter to some anticipated decline from Sandoval.

There’s also Rafael Devers who looks like he is going to be a beast. On a recent soxprospects.com podcast, the crew referenced a scout who is higher on Devers than he was on Bogaerts. That’s pretty high.

Still, Devers is a long way away and a lot can happen between now and then.

The prospect of Sandoval being a $20 million albatross for the last couple years of the contract is, I think, a real one, and as much as guys like Chase Headley made more sense, the Sox pretty clearly zeroed in on Sandoval early and went after him hard. They must either not agree on the downside or not care.

The interesting thing, though, is that this forces Hanley Ramirez to left field which forces Yoenis Cespedes where, exactly?

Noboby knows, of course, unless there are some folks in front offices around the game who have a deal all negotiated pending the Panda and Hanley signings.

The obvious step is to think Cespedes will be traded for pitching, but there has to be at least a possibility that Cespedes stays and Allen Craig and/or Shane Victorino are traded instead, but both of them have injury and performance concerns that Cespedes doesn’t.

Which is to say, someone will one Cespedes.

There’s also the question of Will Middlebrooks. He is, so far as I know, still alive. He also doesn’t have a position on the major league team anymore. He could be sent to Pawtucket, for sure, but is there really any point? He would have to share playing time at third with Garin Cecchini and wouldn’t really have a viable route to the majors save a big injury to Sandoval.

Someone looking for right handed power might look at a combination of Cespedes and Middlebrooks as an enticing tandem and be willing to trade a significant pitching asset for it.

What’s left for the Sox?

Clearly, it’s pitching. There’s a need for two starting pitchers and a lefty in the bullpen. It’s hard to imagine the Sox will be able to sign both Jon Lester and Andrew Miller and stay under the tax threshold.

Of course, with the contracts coming off the payroll after 2015, staying under the threshold in 2015 might not be the priority it has been recently.

Still, if reports are true and Miller is looking for a four year contract, well, that’s a heck of a long contract to give a middle reliever, especially one who has only had the on year of excellence.

On the other hand, it was a phenomenal season, including a .802 WHIP, and six strikeouts per walk. Also it was prefaced by two seasons that, while not quite as good as 2015, weren’t bad.

I think I have come to the conclusion that signing both Hanley Ramirez and Sandoval suggests that the Sox care not a bit about the tax threshold in 2015 which makes the signing of Lester and/or Miller all that much more likely.

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.