When the Boston Red Sox sent Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and about $250 million in salaries to the Los Angeles Dodgers in August, Sox GM Ben Cherington said the team would be all about discipline from that point forward.
“I think the key is we are absolutely committed to building the best team we can in 2013 and beyond, and we’re going to do that in the most disciplined way possible," said Cherington, via the Boston Herald. "When we’ve been at our best, we’ve made good decisions, disciplined decisions."
Being disciplined in this case would simply mean not being reckless. The Red Sox got themselves in a lot of trouble by throwing piles of cash at players like Beckett, Crawford and Gonzalez, and they're not going to make the same mistakes all over again if they can help it.
But man oh man are they going to be tempted to revert to their old habits this winter and in winters to come. Especially if a player like New York Mets third baseman David Wright emerges on their radar.
It could happen. And at least one expert thinks it should happen.
The Mets and Wright are currently discussing an extension that would keep the soon-to-be 30-year-old in New York long term, but the reports coming out suggest that the two sides are having a hard time finding common ground. As Mike Puma of the New York Post heard from a source on Thursday, the negotiations are "stuck in neutral."
If it becomes obvious to the Mets that Wright isn't going to be signed on their terms, they'll basically have no choice but to trade him.
If it comes to that, ESPN's Jim Bowden thinks the Red Sox should be the first team Mets GM Sandy Alderson calls. His reasoning:
The Red Sox have money off the books after trading Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Adrian Gonzalez to the Los Angeles Dodgers in August. Wright’s swing would be ideal for Fenway Park, and he would instantly change the culture with his leadership ability. He would give the Red Sox a new, fresh franchise face to go with Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz.
Bowden danced around it, but basically what he's suggesting is that Wright is exactly the kind of star the Red Sox should not only want right now, but the kind that they need.
He has a point.
If the Red Sox move forward with a core of hitters consisting of Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Cody Ross and Will Middlebrooks, they'll have a decent offense in 2013. However, it would be hard to see them being as prolific as they were in 2011, when they led MLB in runs scored and OPS.
And seeing as how the club's pitching is going to be a work-in-progress in 2013 and beyond, it's hard to imagine the Red Sox being anything more than mediocre without an elite offense.
Adding Wright would, in theory, push Boston's offense over the top. He has a career .887 OPS, and an average season for him consists of right around 26 homers and 105 RBI.
Wright's offensive production has been hit-or-miss in the last four seasons, but much of that can be chalked up to Citi Field. It's a park that's never really agreed with Wright, as he has just an .836 OPS in his career at the Mets' new home digs. That's a solid number in and of itself, but it pales in comparison to the .958 OPS he compiled at Shea Stadium.
Even with the fences moved in at Citi Field this past year, Wright was still a better hitter away from home. He hit .294/.378/.481 at home, and .318/.404/.503 on the road.
If Wright were to be taken out of Citi Field and put in a more hitter-friendly park—nudge nudge, wink wink, like Fenway—his offensive production could be more like what it was between 2005 and 2008 when the Mets were playing at Shea Stadium. An average year for him in those four seasons consisted of a .928 OPS, 29 homers and 112 RBI.
It's not just Wright's bat the Red Sox should want. His glove is also pretty good.
Wright had his issues on defense in 2009, 2010 and 2011, but not in 2012. Per FanGraphs, he finished second among major league third basemen in UZR at 15.4, and second in Defensive Runs Saved at plus-16. The NL Gold Glove at third base went to Chase Headley, but it really should have gone to Wright.
The one complaint many people have about Wright is that he's injury-prone, but that's not a very fair complaint to make. He did miss about a third of the 2011 season with a stress fracture in his lower back, but aside from that he's played in at least 144 games in seven of his first eight full seasons.
Wright has played 559 games since the start of the 2009 season, the year in which his reputation as an injury-prone player started to take shape. According to FanGraphs, only five third basemen have played in more games since 2009, and three of them aren't even full-time third basemen.
So if one has it in mind to shoot this idea out of the sky on sight, it shouldn't be because of anything that Wright does or doesn't bring to the table. Compared to his fellow third basemen, he's an above-average hitter and fielder, and his reputation for being injury-prone is overblown.
Instead, one should take issue with what the Red Sox would have to give up to acquire Wright and how much money they would have to commit to him to keep him in Boston long-term.
The Mets will be somewhat desperate to move Wright if they can't sign him to an extension, but they won't be desperate enough to give him up for anything less than he's worth. In their mind, he'll be very much worth an impressive package of young players.
Bowden speculates that a trade with the Red Sox would have to be centered around Will Middlebrooks, which makes perfect sense. He'd fill the hole left vacant by Wright in New York, and the Red Sox wouldn't need him anymore if they were to obtain their star third basemen.
Though Middlebrooks has a bright future and was better than advertised in his rookie year—hitting .288/.325/.509 with 15 homers in 75 games—he alone wouldn't be enough to pry Wright from the Mets' hands. Bowden thinks the Red Sox would have to send a top pitching prospect like Allen Webster or Matt Barnes to New York along with Middlebrooks.
That would be a steep price to pay for Wright, as the Red Sox would essentially be giving up their best young position player and one of their five best prospects. Complicating matters is the fact that they need as much young pitching depth they can get at this juncture, and Webster and Barnes happen to be two guys who aren't that far off from being ready to make an impact at the major league level.
None of this would be an issue if the Red Sox had a solid major league roster already in place, as they did when they traded a handful of their best prospects to the San Diego Padres to get Adrian Gonzalez in 2010. They were in a position to "win now" back then, a position they now find themselves out of at the moment.
Adding Wright wouldn't necessarily change that. He'd make their offense a lot better and he'd form a terrific infield tandem alongside Jose Iglesias at shortstop, but one thing Wright can't do is pitch. Even after trading for Wright, Cherington would still have a lot of work to do in regards to the team's pitching. The Red Sox won't be a true contender until they have that aspect of their game figured out.
Signing Wright to an extension would be another headache. More than likely, he'd want something in the neighborhood of the six-year, $100 million contract extension Ryan Zimmerman signed with the Washington Nationals in February. At the very least, he'd ask for an annual salary worth more than the $16 million his option will pay him in 2013.
When Joel Sherman of the New York Post went around asking baseball officials, the loose consensus was that it would take seven years and $127 million to lock up Wright. That's not that far off from the seven-year, $154 million contract extension the Red Sox gave Gonzalez in 2011.
To be sure, the Red Sox can afford a deal like that. For that matter, they could probably afford two deals like that.
Boston's Opening Day payroll in 2012 was up over $175 million, but they only have about $46 million in salaries committed for the 2013 season and about $34 million in salaries committed for 2014.
As such, if the Red Sox were to trade for Wright and sign him to an extension, the bright side would be that they wouldn't have to cut spending in any significant way. On the contrary, a trade for Wright would put the Red Sox back on a path towards contention, in which case they'd have an excuse to start escalating their payroll once again.
That's the beauty of the project that lies before Ben Cherington. The Red Sox are a blank slate. He says he wants to be disciplined in reshaping the team, but one expensive transaction wouldn't be anywhere near as undisciplined as, say, three or four expensive transactions. Things would only really get out of hand if Cherington traded for and signed Wright, and then went and signed Josh Hamilton, Zack Greinke and Nick Swisher.
If the Red Sox are going to spend a ton of money on a single player, it would be a lot better if they spent it on Wright rather than any of the top free agents on this year's market. He's also worth more of the Red Sox's time and money than other high-profile trade targets like Joe Mauer, Troy Tulowitzki (who is way more injury-prone than Wright) and Cliff Lee.
So, all things considered, should the Red Sox make a push for Wright if he becomes available?
Every bone in my body wants me to say yes...
...But I have to say no.
Wright would be a good fit in Boston. Seriously. He would get to play half his games at Fenway and quite a few more at other hitter-friendly parks in the AL East, and his offensive numbers would surely return to where they once were. In addition, Sox pitchers would love having his glove at the hot corner.
But now doesn't strike me as the best time for the Red Sox to make such a huge trade. Because they're in the first year of what could be a long rebuilding process, they owe it to themselves to stay patient and see if any of their young players are good enough to form the core of a future contender.
Middlebrooks is a player who should feature prominently in this plan. Judging from his rookie season, he could be a 30-homer per year third baseman, and he has the tools on defense to one day become a Gold Glove-caliber fielder..
And he's still only 24 years old. Middlebrooks' prime hasn't even begun yet, whereas Wright's prime probably only has a couple years of life left in it.
The Red Sox should be even more motivated to hang on to their young pitchers. Pitching is what made the Red Sox great in 2004 and 2007, and they've learned in the last couple years just how hard it is to compete without quality hurlers.
If things go well for the Red Sox, they'll have a solid core of young pitchers in place a few years from now. And just look at what the San Francisco Giants have done with their solid core of young pitchers. They're the envy of every team in the league right now, the Red Sox included.
There's not a doubt in my mind that the Red Sox could use a player like Wright, but they shouldn't be in any rush to become a superstar-laden team again. They should first find out if they have the goods to become a superstar-laden team over time with their own homegrown players, and it's too early to tell right now whether or not that's a fool's hope.
The Red Sox's dreams could come true in time. But in order for that to happen, they need to be disciplined.
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