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.

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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.