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.

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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.