2013 Boston Red Sox: Grading Boston's Offseason Moves So Far
Grading what the Boston Red Sox have done with their offseason moves so far is an exercise that evolves over time. In addition to the long-term results, evaluating their initial impact is an important way to gauge the team as spring training nears.
Coming off a 93-loss season, the Red Sox have been one of the busiest teams this offseason.
Last month, ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark polled MLB executives and used colleague Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS’s projection system to determine that the Red Sox ranked only behind the Toronto Blue Jays as the most improved team for 2013.
ZiPS projected the Red Sox to win 85 games, which is nine above where the system had them when the offseason began. As the team continues to round out its roster, including trading for closer Joel Hanrahan, that win projection may continue to creep up.
The Red Sox haven’t made any moves that can be considered “blockbusters” but have tried to solidify their roster through a series of transactions they believe will improve the team both on and off the field.
Click through to see the grades the Red Sox have earned on all their moves so far this offseason.
Hired John Farrell as Manager
The first order of business for the Red Sox this offseason was finding a new manager after firing the disaster that was the Bobby Valentine era.
With Boston’s 69-93 mark in 2012 representing their worst team record since 1965, getting a new skipper was a necessity.
Farrell had managed the Toronto Blue Jays for the past two seasons to an uninspiring combined record of 154-170. He was allowed to go to Boston after the Red Sox agreed to send back shortstop Mike Aviles as compensation.
Despite Farrell’s lackluster managerial experience, the initial grade on his hiring is raised a bit because he was the primary target of the Red Sox from the beginning, according to ESPNBoston’s Gordon Edes.
Farrell is expected to reinvigorate team culture, while providing familiarity to many of the veteran players, whom he mentored as Boston’s pitching coach from 2007-2010.
ESPNBoston’s Jackie MacMullan wrote that Farrell was brought in because the team liked his leadership abilities as a manager and the positive ways they believe he can impact their pitching staff.
Jon Lester, Daniel Bard and Clay Buchholz have all struggled with inconsistency but flourished when working with Farrell in the past. If the new skipper can bring them back to peak performance in 2013, this grade will skyrocket.
Re-Signed Free-Agent DH David Ortiz
Ortiz finally got the multi-year deal he had sought for some time when he signed a two-year, $26 million extension (that could increase to $30 million with incentives) with Boston this offseason.
The 37-year-old Ortiz missed nearly half of the 2012 season with an injured Achilles tendon. However, when he did play he was brilliant, hitting .318 with 23 home runs and 60 RBI in 90 games. His 1.026 OPS was his best since 2007 and the third-best mark of his career.
It once looked as if Ortiz’s career was in decline, but he has rebounded in recent seasons. He has even improved in some areas that were previously weaknesses.
He hit just .257 against lefties in his career through the 2010 season. Since then, he changed his approach and has blistered southpaws at a .326 clip.
Ortiz is currently the longest-tenured member of the Red Sox and the face of the franchise. Despite his advancing age and injury concerns, bringing him back on a two-year deal was a decent risk to take.
Signed Free-Agent Catcher David Ross
Signing Ross, a career backup, to a two-year, $6.2 million deal may not have made many headlines, but it was one of the more underrated moves during this MLB offseason.
Ross will have a major impact on upgrading Boston’s defense at catcher. Last season, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ryan Lavarnway combined to throw out just 16.3 percent of base runners.
By comparison, Ross has thrown out 39 percent of runners for his career, including 44 percent in 2012.
The Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo believes that Ross could be Boston’s biggest acquisition this offseason because of how he could impact the pitching staff with his veteran leadership.
Despite being just a .238 career hitter, Ross is no slouch at the plate. Since the 2009 season, he has hit a combined .269 with 24 home runs and 94 RBI in 577 at-bats.
Ross’ salary indicates he should see a good amount of playing time in 2013, although it’s unsure if he will be a starter. With the value he can provide simply by working with the other catchers and the pitching staff, his signing appears to be a major win.
Signed Free-Agent Outfielder Jonny Gomes
Gomes’ value as a player lies almost entirely in his ability to hit left-handed pitching. The Red Sox coveted such a skill set and signed him to a two-year, $10 million contract.
Gomes, a 10-year major league veteran, has been a nomad in recent seasons, with Boston being his fourth team since the start of 2011.
The right-handed slugger has a career batting average/OBP/OPS split of .284/.382/.894 against southpaws, but sees that drop to .223/.307/.732 against righties.
Gomes figures to be somewhere between a full-time starter and a bench player and will see most of his playing time come in left field instead of the cavernous right field. However, even that could be an adventure.
Gomes has a career dWAR of minus -10.1 for his career. Playing half his games in front of the tricky Green Monster likely won’t help that number.
The Providence Journal’s Tim Britton lauded Gomes for his clubhouse presence and thinks he can be key in changing Boston’s team culture. However, in order to earn his contract, he will also need to produce on the field.
There’s nothing about Gomes that fans should get too excited about. He’ll probably hit a few homers, be a popular teammate and be an adventure in the outfield. He’s simply a stopgap until something better comes along.
Signed Free-Agent Outfielder Shane Victorino
Many in baseball were shocked when the switch-hitting Victorino signed a three-year, $39 million contract with Boston.
ESPN.com’s Buster Olney previously reported in a tweet that one MLB executive had estimated Victorino would receive only a one-year deal for much less money.
One team guesstimated early in offseason that Victorino could be a good value buy at about $6-7 million on a one-year deal #explodingprices— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) December 4, 2012
The 32-year-old Victorino had his worst major league season in 2012, playing for the Philadelphia Phillies and Los Angeles Dodgers. While he stole a career-high 39 bases, he had career-worst .255 batting average and .704 OPS.
In particular, Victorino slumped badly against righties, hitting just .229 with a .629 OPS.
Victorino fits in with Gomes as another player considered to be a positive clubhouse influence. However, given the perception that he was vastly overpaid and his recent decline, his signing can’t be considered a smart move until he proves otherwise.
Signed Free-Agent Reliever Koji Uehara
Although the Red Sox already had the makings of one of baseball’s best bullpens in 2013, adding a reliever of Uehara’s quality was an excellent move.
The 37-year-old right-hander was signed to a one-year, $4.25 million pact.
The Japanese import his made 157 appearances (12 starts) in his four major league seasons, combining for a 2.89 ERA and 14 saves.
Uehara pounds the strike zone. ESPN Stats & Information reports that he has thrown 72 percent of his pitches for strikes since 2010, which is the highest rate in baseball. Additionally, his 7.97 strikeout-to-walk ratio is the best in MLB history for any pitcher with more than 35 innings.
Uehara may also serve as a valuable mentor to fellow countryman Tunichi Tazawa, who is just entering the prime of his career.
Besides his age, the only real concern about Uehara is injuries, as he missed nearly two months with a muscle strain last season.
Signed Free-Agent Starting Pitcher Ryan Dempster
Boston’s starting pitching was a total mess last season, as the rotation went a combined 48-72 with a 5.19 ERA. Understandably, many fans hoped that general manager Ben Cherington would seek upgrades this offseason.
To date, the only addition to the rotation (other than John Lackey returning from Tommy John surgery) is right-handed Ryan Dempster, who agreed to a two-year, $26.5 million contract.
Dempster is not a savior or an ace, but he is an innings-eater. He is 124-124 with a 4.33 ERA during his 15-year career, and has thrown 200 innings or more in four of the past five seasons.
Because of the 5.09 ERA Dempster posted with the Texas Rangers after coming over in a mid-season trade last year, some, including the Dallas Morning News’ Evan Grant, questioned his ability to pitch in the American League.
However, Dempster’s “AL struggles” were really more of a result of his rough first and third games with the Rangers, where he combined for a 13.50 ERA. The 3.55 ERA he had in his other 10 Texas starts suggests he will be just fine with Boston.
Dempster will turn 36 shortly after the start of the 2013 season. The Red Sox may have overpaid a bit to get him to agree to a two-year deal, but clearly they think he can solidify the middle of a rotation that was so putrid last season.
Signed Free-Agent Shortstop Stephen Drew
According to NESN.com’s Didier Morais, the Red Sox knew at the end of last season that Cuban prospect Jose Iglesias wasn't ready to be handed the starting shortstop position in 2013. The slick fielding youngster hasn't shown enough bat (.135 major league average in 74 career at-bats) to be trusted with such a role.
Enter Stephen Drew.
With the team’s top prospect, shortstop Xander Bogaerts, nearly major league-ready, the Red Sox were looking for a short-term solution, according to ESPNBoston.com’s Gordon Edes. As a result, they signed Drew to a one-year, $9.5 million (plus possible incentives) contract.
A former first-round draft pick, Drew has been pretty average during his seven-year major league career.
He has 162-game averages of a .265 batting average with 15 home runs, 70 RBI and a 96 OPS+.
BaseballReference.com also shows through advanced statistics that he is a fairly ordinary defender.
Drew played in only 79 games with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Oakland A’s last year after recovering from a gruesome ankle injury that robbed him of half of the 2011 season. Now that he is fully healthy, he should be an acceptable stopgap until Bogaerts is deemed ready.
Traded for Closer Joel Hanrahan
Even though Boston already had Andrew Bailey in the closer role, they thought enough of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Joel Hanrahan that they traded for him and infielder Brock Holt for Mark Melancon and a package of secondary prospects.
The right-handed Hanrahan is a flame-thrower who has combined for 76 saves, a 2.24 ERA and a strikeout per inning over the past two seasons. But he did have some problems in 2012, walking 5.4 batters per nine innings and allowing eight home runs. Apparently this didn’t concern the Red Sox too much.
Hanrahan is much more durable than Bailey, having averaged 68 appearances per season over the past four years to Bailey’s 44.
Hanrahan will be 33 and a free agent at the end of next season. It’s a good bet that his time in Boston will be limited to the 2013 season.
Acquiring Hanrahan and making Bailey the setup man indicates that Boston believes they have a legitimate chance to contend this upcoming season.
It’s not a knock on Hanrahan, but this trade is just another example of Boston adding good but not great players this offseason in their efforts to put a better team on the field in 2013.
Overall Offseason Grade
The majority of MLB fans would be very happy if their teams had an offseason like that of the Red Sox.
However, expectations can be quite different in Boston.
It’s unlikely that anyone could say with certainty that the Red Sox won’t be better in 2013. But forecasting playoff contention is another story.
The Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham detailed how Boston shed $105.25 million in 2013 salaries but then spent $86 million on their acquisitions this offseason.
Abraham’s figures include a projected $13 million salary for Mike Napoli, who was expected to be the team’s starting first baseman but has been unable to finalize his contract since a pre-existing hip injury came to light.
Despite appearing to take some steps in the right direction, on paper, Boston's recent additions for that amount of money is hardly overwhelming.
As things stand, there’s been only a middling upgrade to the starting rotation, and first base is still a black hole. With options dwindling, Boston’s inability to improve two of its areas of greatest need could prove costly.
Despite the sheer number of moves, the initial impressions of the Red Sox’s offseason aren't worthy of a high grade. However, once the season has been played, it will be interesting to see if the mark deserves to be re-visited.
Statistics via BaseballReference
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