The Red Sox offseason is off to a promising, if unspectacular, start. They’ve hired a new manager who commands the respect of players and is on the same page as the front office.
They’ve begun to address their pitching concerns by hiring Juan Nieves as the pitching coach, and have also signed catcher David Ross, which seems to spell the end for Jarrod Saltamacchia; he was adept offensively, but did not handle the staff well.
It’s been a much-needed calm and competent autumn so far for GM Ben Cherington, who after shedding more than $250 million in future payroll to the LA Dodgers, has a great chance to develop a perennial contender after being blessed with a nearly a blank slate.
So as Sox fans, let’s hope this recent blockbuster by the Blue Jays doesn’t get in the way of the plan for long-term success in Boston.
You’ve surely heard the news by now: Toronto acquired Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson and Mark Buerhle from the Marlins. (So much for them insisting on Mike Aviles in the Farrell exchange.) This automatically puts them in contention in the AL East, where the offensive struggles of the Rays and Yankees, and potential for regression by the O’s, make it a wide-open division.
The trade certainly makes Toronto better next year and, by default, lowers the chance of the Sox making the postseason. But hopefully Cherington has an eye on the future, and doesn’t pull the trigger on a potentially franchise crippling move in an attempt to “answer” what the Blue Jays have done.
There are two big prizes to be had this offseason: Josh Hamilton and Zach Greinke. If the market acts like it has in the past, each player will end up being greatly overpaid. While the Sox have the money—or maybe not—they most certainly should not go after either player.
After getting off to a great start last season, Hamilton posted back-to-back months of a .223 and .177 batting average. That’s two months of production barely better than Jose Iglesias. A player that inconsistent isn’t worth a $20 million/year payday.
That’s before mentioning that Hamilton is already 31, and has played an average of only 123 games the past four seasons. With his physical condition already limited by years of drug abuse, there’s no telling how long he’ll remain playing at his current level. Signing him is a risk the Sox cannot take.
Then there’s Greinke. I don’t like bringing this up, but because of Boston’s hyperactive media, I have to: the guy does not like attention focused on him. According to Joe Posnanski, he refused to pose for a Sports Illustrated cover and has said “being on the cover is awful because it encourages more autograph seekers.” Well, welcome to Boston, Zach, where we have the most intense fans in all of sports.
Even looking past those concerns, his pitching accomplishments don’t merit a $150 million contract. He’s pitched to a 3.83 ERA over the past three seasons, with an ERA+ of 106—which means he was only six percent better league average over that time. The Sox don’t need to spend Sabathia money on Greinke, only to see him melt under the pressure of pitching in Boston while yielding numerous home runs balls over the Green Monster.
Past those two players there’s the second-tier free agents, guys like BJ Upton, Nick Swisher, Anibal Sanchez and Edwin Jackson. What’s the one aspect that’s comparable between those players? They’re all only slightly above average, yet their agents will ask teams for $15 million a year.
The Sox didn’t clear all that money to sign those types of players.
What should the Sox do, then? How about going after some lower cost guys.
They can take a look at Brandon McCarthy as he comes back from his head injury. Maybe they’ll take a risk on an oft-injured pitcher like Shawn Marcum, whose 3.62 ERA over the past three years is better than Greinke’s. Their recent interest in Mike Napoli is promising, as instead of paying for his career year in 2011, they can sign him at a lower cost because of a below average 2012 season.
Plus, the Sox have Jacoby Ellsbury’s impending free agency at the end of next season. Would you rather pay him $105 million over seven years, or Hamilton $125 million over five?
What the Sox can’t do is throw big money at guys that are unlikely to produce. They already did that with John Lackey and Carl Crawford, and look where that got the franchise.
One would hope that Cherington has learned from the mistakes of his predecessor and will stick to solid, lower risk moves instead of throwing money around when it’s not conducive to success.
But this recent Blue Jays move poses a risk to the team’s current development phase. Two years of roster building and keeping costs down without making the playoffs will be much better for the club than being in the race next year—at the expense of limited payroll flexibility, and in 2016 trotting out Josh Hamilton at DH for 100 games with a .240 average and 20 home runs.
Boston can’t make the same mistakes they made before—and that includes staying silent as the Blue Jays welcome their three new All-Star players.