Boston Red Sox: Who Stays, Who Goes? 35 Roster Predictions
I'm going to cheat with the 25-man roster, because the teams now have 40-man rosters and it's not exactly clear who the 25-man roster would be if the Red Sox had to name one tomorrow.
Also, some key players are on the DL, such as Daisuke, Jenks, and Kalish; they should also be considered in this review.
I'm also not going to insult anyone's intelligence and suggest there is any doubt about the core of Gonzales, Pedroia, Ellsbury, Lester, and Buchholz, so you won’t find them in this slideshow.
At the other extreme, late-season spare part Conor Jackson is not in there either; after a 3-for-19 in 12 games, he will depart as a free agent.
Others on the 40-man roster (Luis Exposito, Stolmy Pimentel and Oscar Tejada) will continue their minor-league development.
MLB announced today that eight members of the Red Sox filed for free agency: Erik Bedard, J.D. Drew, Conor Jackson, Trever Miller, David Ortiz, Jonathan Papelbon, Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield. The Red Sox hold exclusive negotiating rights on these eight until 12:01 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 3.
The Sox also have 10 arbitration-eligible players: right-handed pitchers Alfredo Aceves, Matt Albers and Daniel Bard; left-handers Rich Hill, Andrew Miller, and Franklin Morales; center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury; infielders Jed Lowrie and Mike Aviles; and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
Monday, Dec.12 is the date by which the Red Sox must decide whether to tender contracts to those players.
Finally, the Red Sox held club options on three players, Marco Scutaro, Scott Atchison and Dan Wheeler. They exercised the Scutaro option, and declined the other two.
1. RHP John Lackey: Disabled List, Out for the Year
Let’s not beat this one to death.
Decisions on the struggling Lackey will be postponed for at least another year, perhaps a year and a half.
This time on the disabled list may enhance his value, in more ways than one. This surgery means that another year gets added to the end of Lackey’s contract, but the extra year is at the major league minimum salary.
While the Red Sox will still be paying him $15.25 million next season while he rehabs (and the same in 2013 and 2014), the team will now able to stretch his contract over another season. That means there will be another $3 million-$4 million available this year to pick up another player or two.
And, as Sean McAdam observed on CSSNE’s SportsNet Central, "Maybe some time away is not the worst thing for John Lackey."
Time is the great healer, and 12-18 months from now, Red Sox Nation may not be as angry at John Lackey as they were by the end of this season.
In retrospect, it's easy to say that the Lackey signing was a huge mistake. However, at the time the deal was made, Red Sox fans were excited to have him. At the end of 2009, Lackey was one of the best pitchers in the American League.
From 2005 through 2009 with the Angels, he was 69-38 with a 3.49 ERA. That includes a great 2007 season, when he won 19 games with a league-leading 3.01 ERA. He made the All-Star team that year, and finished third in Cy Young Award balloting.
The point is that his career is not necessarily over; the Red Sox now have more time to figure out what to do.
2. Jason Varitek, C: Color Him Gone
Varitek joined the Red Sox in 1997 in the famous trading deadline deal of Heathcliff Slocumb to Seattle for Tek and Derek Lowe. He played a key role in the 2004 and 2007 World Series wins, was a three-time All Star, and also earned a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger award in 2005.
But this is 2011, and the team is clearly at a crossroads. Boston should gratefully acknowledge his past contributions, and respectfully bid adieu to this aging warrior.
His longevity has been due to his unquestioned ability to work with pitchers and his ability to call a game. However, the rest of his skills, both offensively and defensively, have eroded dramatically in recent years.
In 2011, Varitek hit .176 in the second half (.077 in September), even though he played in considerably fewer games than the first half (26 to 42).
His ability to hit in the clutch has all but disappeared; in 14 chances with the bases loaded or runners on second and third, he did not get a single hit, and he struck out eight times.
This year he only threw out only one of 20 base stealers in September. For the year, he threw out 14 percent–half the rate of success he had in his best years.
Some have suggested keeping him on the roster to mentor the younger catchers. However, that would eat up another valuable roster spot, and he could mentor the catchers by agreeing to coach.
3. RHP Josh Beckett: Keep, Keep, Keep
The only reason I included Beckett on a slide is because of a few knee-jerk suggestions that as part of their housecleaning the Red Sox needed to part ways with Josh, the alleged “ringleader” of the clubhouse morals offenders.
You don't jettison a season-long 2.89 ERA because of a few beers and some fried chicken. As many people pointed out this month, Babe Ruth fueled up with whiskey, cigars and loose women. The Red Sox traded him; how did that work out?
You do not trade a pitcher of Beckett’s caliber unless you can get a future or current No. 1 or 2 in return. At best, it’s a lateral move—so the team probably gains nothing in the long run.
Beckett was one of only 11 pitchers last year who won at least 13 games with an ERA of under 2.90.
Keep Beckett. He has shown he can pitch in this market. He is signed through 2014, and is due to be paid $15.75 million for each of the next three years. That’s reasonable money for a top-of-the-rotation horse.
He started 30 games and threw 193.0 innings, both above his career average. His 2.89 ERA was the best of his career and is almost a full point below his career average of 3.89.
His opponents batting average and WHIP were both career bests at .211 and 1.03 respectively. Beckett had a 13-7 record and if it weren’t for a lack of run support in many of his starts, he could have made a push for 20 wins.
The fans will support him again so long as he goes out on the mound and dominates to start next season. People have short memories, and good performance will erase a lot of angst.
4. Ryan Lavarnway, C: Stays as Backup Catcher/DH
Lavarnway, 24, was a sixth-round draft choice out of Yale in 2008. He is the 16th Yale alumnus (and only the third in the last 55 years) to play major league baseball.
In 2011, he spent time with the AA Portland Sea Dogs and AAA Pawtucket Red Sox before his promotion to Boston in August. Combining all his 2011 stats, he hit .290 with 32 home runs, 93 RBIs and one stolen base.
Lavarnway has 50 home runs in the last two minor league seasons with an OPS of .897. That’s 11 more home runs and an OPS 83 points higher than much-ballyhooed Yankee prospect Jesus Montero for the same period.
Lavarnway was named the 2010 and 2011 Red Sox Minor League Offensive Player of the Year.
While coming through the minors, no one questioned his ability to hit.
The knock was always on his defense.
Scouting reports cited his rough overall catching skills, limited range behind the dish and slow reactions.
He was called up on August 18, and saw spot duty until the penultimate game of the season. Due to an injury to Jarrod Saltalamacchia he got the start, fielded his position well, threw out a base stealer and won the game with two home runs.
His defense was a pleasant surprise, even in limited action.
5. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C: Stays as Starting Catcher
The player with the longest last name in MLB history (it means “jump over the thicket” in Italian) was a first-round draft pick of the Atlanta Braves in 2003. The 26-year-old native of West Palm Beach, Fla., went in the Mark Teixeira trade to the Rangers in 2007, and then came to the Red Sox in a 2010 trading deadline for three low-level prospects.
2011 was an up-and-down year for Salty, but he certainly improved in many areas—especially defensively. He threw out 31 percent of potential base stealers in 2011, a huge improvement over his prior career mark of 19.7 percent.
By all accounts, he did a good job of handling the pitching staff. In 2012, he will have the additional burden of a new pitching coach and a new manager.
His hitting is still a cause for concern, however. He batted only .216 in April, but picked it up as the weather got warmer, hitting .327 in the month of June. Inexplicably, his average saw a steady drop thereafter to a woeful .162 in September. During the final month, he struck out 27 times and walked only once.
This strikeout ratio is a real concern. On April 25, 2009, Saltalamacchia struck out in his 28th consecutive game, setting a new MLB record for a non-pitcher. This season he struck out 119 times—once every three at-bats.
For the season, he hit .319 in wins and only .145 in losses–also a puzzling split.
6. SS Marco Scutaro: Stays as the Everyday Shortstop
The Red Sox must decide whether to exercise a $6 million club option within five days of the end of the World Series. Scutaro has a $3 million player option, and if the Red Sox do not pick up the extra year, they will owe Scutaro $1.5 million.
NOTE: As this article was being finalized, the Red Sox did exercise their club option.
Look at the other available shortstops, do the math and this becomes a no-brainer. While minor league prospect Jose Iglesias is a slick fielder, he is not ready to hit at a major-league level. The Red Sox will not compete for Jose Reyes or Jimmy Rollins, and for a net of $4.5 million, the Red Sox would be foolish not to keep Scutaro.
It took the Venezuela native eight years to reach the majors, after being signed by the Indians as an amateur free agent in 1994. He eventually ended up in Toronto, and the Red Sox signed him as a free agent in December 2009.
He turns 36 on Oct. 30, which is an age at which shortstop performance becomes suspect. He has average range at best and a relatively weak arm for a shortstop, but he is a good soldier who does his job and is a positive force in the clubhouse.
The way he finished out the 2011 season at the plate puts him in a strong position. A career .270 hitter, Marco had his best season this year, hitting .329 in the second half and ending up with a batting average of .299 and a slugging percentage of .423, both career highs.
He also has a discriminating batting eye, as shown by his strikeout-to-walk ratio of less than 1.
When most of his teammates went into the tank in September, Scutaro had by far his best month of the season, scalding the ball at a .387 clip with 21 RBI.
New Red Sox GM Ben Cherington’s telegraphed his awareness of Scutaro’s value during his Oct. 25 press conference, saying that Scutaro would be “…coveted this off season if he got onto the [free agent] market.”
The guess here is that the Red Sox won't let that happen.
7. SS Jose Iglesias: Stays at the Minor League Level to Hone His Batting Eye
Iglesias, a 21-year-old native of Havana, Cuba, was a prized prospect who received a $6 million signing bonus when he inked his Red Sox contract in 2009.
His scouting report describes him as possessing “elite defensive skills”. Iglesias has excellent instincts and anticipation, allowing him to get to many balls that other shortstops can’t reach. He has great hands and a soft glove to go along with a strong, accurate arm.
He projects as a future Gold Glove shortstop (something the Red Sox haven't had since Rick Burleson in 1979), but unfortunately his offense is sadly lacking. In 2011, he hit only .235 in Triple-A, with an OPS of only .554 in 387 plate appearances.
To put that in perspective, the lowest qualifying OPS in the majors this year was Adam Dunn’s .569, and Dunn had an absolutely atrocious year.
Like Reddick, Iglesias swings at bad pitches and gets himself out too often. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have Reddick’s pop when he does connect.
For a minor leaguer, he is making a lot of money, more than $2 million a year through 201, so his struggles are magnified. Despite his All-Star defensive potential, he needs to ramp it up at the plate to even be considered as the Red Sox shortstop for 2013.
This situation simply underscores the need for the Red Sox to exercise the Marco Scutaro option for 2012.
8. IF Jed Lowrie: Gone Via Trade
Infielder Lowrie, a first-round pick in the 2005 draft, is eligible for arbitration, and there is little doubt that he will be tendered a deal. Given the other Red Sox needs (pitching, right field, right-handed bat), I would not be surprised if he were packaged with Kevin Youkilis in a trade.
Lowrie has never fulfilled his potential because of one health problem after another. The former Red Sox Minor League Offensive Player of the Year (2007) lost most of the 2010 season to mononucleosis, and then limped through portions of this year with a nagging shoulder injury.
When healthy, Lowrie can really put up the offensive numbers, especially against left-handers (he hit over .330 in that situation the last two years).
In fewer than 200 plate appearances in 2010, Jed had an OPS of .907, exceeded only by Troy Tulowitzki among shortstops.
While the team limped to a 2-10 start to open the 2011 season, Lowrie was one of the few bright spots. He hit .516 through his first 31 at bats, and .368, with a OPS of .962 in the first 21 games.
In mid-June, however, he collided with Carl Crawford and bruised a nerve near his left shoulder, which kept him out for about eight weeks
When he returned, he struggled defensively at shortstop, and due to Marco Scutaro’s torrid finish, his role became that of a utility player.
9. IF Mike Aviles: Stays as the Utility Man
The 30-year-old Aviles, acquired mid-season from Kansas City, is worth keeping around. He is a right-handed hitter with some speed who hit .317 in 38 games for Boston. He can play second, short and third...and even some outfield, as he did this year.
Although arbitration eligible, Aviles is still under club control, which makes him an affordable option. I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets a lot of outfield work during spring training in order to increase his versatility.
Selected by Kansas City in the seventh round of the 2003 draft, Aviles had Tommy John surgery on July 7, 2009–an unusual operation for a non-pitcher. He returned in 2010 to be the Royals’ regular second baseman, hitting .304 in 110 games.
10. OF Josh Reddick: Gone Via Trade
While right field is wide open in Boston right now, Reddick is very similar to Ryan Kalish (see next slide) in that both are left-handed corner outfielders with pretty good potential. With other holes to fill (especially on the mound), Reddick becomes a good bargaining chip.
Thanks to injuries to Drew and Kalish, and the failure of Mike Cameron to produce, Reddick played 87 games for the Red Sox in 2011. He hit seven home runs and 28 RBI in Boston, with a respectable .280 batting average, which was surprising in that he was hitting .230 at AAA Pawtucket when he was called up. In 121 at-bats at the major league level in 2009 and 2010, he had hit only .182.
He started off hot, hitting close to .400 until mid-July. From late May through the first week of August: in 134 at-bats he hit .343 with five homers and 22 RBI. For the rest of the season, however, Reddick hit just .208 with two homers and six RBI. Once pitchers figured out his weaknesses, Reddick was a relatively easy out.
He also did not hit well in the clutch, and worked only 19 walks in 287 plate appearances.
The knock on Reddick has always been his plate discipline. In his minor-league career, he struck out more than 20 percent of the time, often flailing at pitches well out of the strike zone. This is not good on a team like the Red Sox that preaches working the count.
Defensively, scouting reports say Reddick has above-average range to go along with excellent arm strength and outstanding accuracy.
Reddick was a 17th-round pick in the 2006 draft. Defensively, scouts believe that he can play all three outfield positions, and that he has the range to be a full-time major-league center fielder. He shows great hustle, and always goes all out.
11. OF Ryan Kalish: Stays, Probably as 4th Outfielder
Kalish, 2009 Red Sox Minor League Player of the Year, lost his 2011 season due to injury. He tore the labrum in his left shoulder while making a diving catch in center field in Pawtucket last April.
He returned to play eight games for the PawSox in August, but was shut down for the rest of the season. He is now rehabbing from surgery to fix a bulging disc in his neck. All indications are that he will be fully recovered and ready for spring training.
The Red Sox still regard Kalish, who had 179 major league plate appearances in 2010, as a prospect with major league potential. His playing style has drawn comparison to Red Sox fan favorite Trot Nixon.
Kalish’s tools are similar to Reddick’s: a left-handed hitting outfielder with good all-around skills but no particular elite capability. However, he has outperformed his fellow 2006 draftee at every level until this season.
While Reddick may have a better arm, scouting reports say Kalish has excellent range and a reliable glove. His speed adds another dimension to his game, making him a threat on the base paths.
One significant advantage Kalish has is better plate discipline. He walks more and strikes out less. This fact, along with his speed, give him the edge over Reddick, who may never develop the patience the Red Sox expect at the plate.
Those factors may make Reddick the better trade bait this winter. The best guess here is that the Red Sox will include Reddick in a trade for pitching, deal for a veteran with a right-handed bat to play right field, and Kalish (who will probably start the season at Pawtucket) will end up as the understudy.
Kalish has only 59 games under his belt at the Triple-A level, and his lost year gives rise to serious questions about his ability to step in as an everyday big league starter.
Just to be an effective backup, he'll probably need a month or two of hitting regularly in Pawtucket to knock the rust off from last year's inactivity.
12. RHP Matt Albers: Stays on a One-Year Deal
Drafted in the 23rd round of the 2001 draft by Houston, Albers went to Baltimore in 2007 as part of the Miguel Tejada trade. He entered the season with a career earned run average over 5.00, but for the first half of the season he was lights out, with an ERA of 2.55.
That hot streak continued through July; he appeared in 10 games that month and did not give up a single run. Between the third week in May and the end of July, Albers allowed just two runs and 17 hits in 25.2 innings. He gave up zero earned runs in 10 July appearances, then inexplicably blew up to a 12.34 ERA in 11 August appearances.
Which Matt Albers will show up for 2012? Was conditioning an issue for the heavy-looking pitcher?
On the other hand, his 2011 salary was a relatively affordable $875,000. Even though 2012 will be his third year of arbitration, chances are that his disastrous finish will not get him much more than that for next year.
For about $1 million, he might be worth keeping.
13. RHP Daniel Bard: Keep, but Make Him a Starter
It's a lot harder to develop (or find) good starting pitchers than it is to find relievers. A top-four rotation of Beckett-Lester-Buchholz-Bard is pretty strong.
If Pap goes, I doubt Bard has the makeup to be a closer. After all, he was 2-9 for the year, and his eighth-inning appearances (56 of them) are not as lights out as many think. While batters hit only .205 against him, Bard allowed 22 runners to score, in addition to giving up 25 runs of his own, with a very average eighth-inning ERA of 4.38.
His disastrous September (ERA of 10.64 with nine walks in 11 innings pitched) adds to the concern.
What many forget is that the Red Sox drafted Bard as a starter, and he made 44 starts (with admittedly terrible results) in 2007.
Bard himself has said that starting wasn't the problem; he just was not pitching well that year, and the results would have been the same no matter what inning he pitched. At the start of the 2011 season, he expressed an interest in returning to a starting role.
To those who have suggested the Red Sox pursue C.J. Wilson, I remind you that Wilson was a reliever for five years before transitioning to a starting role in 2010.
I imagine the Red Sox will revamp the bullpen again this year, and if Bard can succeed in the rotation they can plow the starting pitcher free-agent money they will save into the pen.
Bard is arbitration-eligible, having earned $505,000 in 2011. Even with an arbitration bump, the Red Sox are not going to be able to find many starters with Bard’s stuff available at that price.
One caveat: if Bard does start, he’s not going give you a lot of innings, at least not in his first year while he stretches out his arm.
14. RHP Alfredo Aceves: Stays—and Keep Him in the Bullpen
Aceves is one of 10 Red Sox players eligible for arbitration, and even with a good raise coming from his 2011 salary of $675,000, he’s well worth keeping. At Ben Cherington’s Oct. 25 press conference, he specifically pointed out the acquisition of Aceves as the model of the type of “buy low” deal the Red Sox would like to do for 2012.
In his four-year career with the Red Sox and Yankees, Aceves has an incredible record of 24-3 with an ERA of 2.93. In late and close situations, in tie games or with a one run lead he is lights out–batters hit less than .200 against him.
Also, Aceves can and does eat a lot of innings; He had seven games in which he came out of the bullpen for at least three innings and didn’t allow a run, and four more in which he allowed just one.
To me, his role as a middle reliever is more valuable than keeping Bard as an eighth-inning specialist. Aceves’ ability to pitch almost every day is the best way to maximize his value.
While Aceves has started 9 games in his career (5 for the Yankees and 4 with Boston), he is clearly a far superior pitcher as a reliever. As a starter, his ERA is 4.18; relieving, it is 2.62.
His strikeouts-to-walks ratio as a starter is almost even, while as a reliever, he punches out almost three times as many as he walks.
15. RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka: Stays–Disabled List
Daisuke underwent Tommy John surgery in June. He began playing catch at the beginning of October, and his recovery seems to be on schedule.
He could be back by the middle of 2012, and if he can overcome his frustrating inconsistency (brilliant one start, shaky for the next two) he could be an internal solution to the problem of starting pitching depth.
He is entering the final season of his six year, $52 million contract. His salary is already on the books, and he’ll get it whether he returns to the Red Sox rotation, so it makes sense to hang on to him.
In the “What have you done for me lately?” category, Matsuzaka falls short. Over the past three seasons, he has compiled a 16-15 record with a 5.03 ERA. In 2011 he posted a 3-3 record and a 5.30 ERA before his surgery.
However, let’s not forget his 2008 season, when he went 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA. While there’s no way to tell if he can ever regain that form, the Red Sox have invested so much in him already that it’s silly not to try to find out.
Despite his frustrating tendency to nibble, thus elevating his pitch count, he has averaged almost six innings per start during his Red Sox career, with an above league average ERA.
Wouldn’t you have preferred to see Dice-K pitching every fifth day down the stretch this year, instead of the likes of Weiland or even Bedard?
16. LHP Andrew Miller: Stays, at Least Initially; Non-Tender Candidate.
Miller, the sixth overall pick, in the 2006 draft (Tigers) has frustrated every manager and pitching coach he has worked with since. Despite enormous potential, the hard-throwing left-hander has had problems with his mechanics and command at every level.
In six seasons, he has walked 215 batters, or about one of every eight he has faced.
In 2007, the Tigers traded him to the Marlins as part of the Miguel Cabrera/Dontrelle Willis deal.
The Red Sox acquired him as a reclamation project in December 2010. He is now arbitration eligible, and it is questionable whether he is worth the $1.5 million or so he will be seeking.
Lurking in the back of everyone’s minds, however, is the belief that he has the potential to be a lights-out reliever if he could throw strikes.
He went 6-3 with a 5.54 ERA in 17 appearances for the Red Sox in 2011.
17. RHP Dan Wheeler: Stays, Assuming He Accepts Arbitration
As with Marco Scutaro, the Red Sox have until Halloween night at 11:59 p.m. to decide whether they will pick up a $3 million option. In Wheeler’s case, there is no buyout.
While Rhode Island native Wheeler can be a valuable bullpen asset, he is very much like a number of other pitchers with similar credentials who will also be looking for work.
Tampa selected the now 33-year-old in the 34th round of the 1996 draft. He has a 3.88 ERA over 12 major league seasons, and while he struggled in April and May, he posted a very good 2.72 ERA in 34 appearances from June through August.
Like most of the rest of the pitching staff, he tanked in September in limited action, allowing five runs in four innings.
Wheeler is classified as a Type B free agent. The guess here is that the team will decline his option and offer arbitration. Either way, the Red Sox will be happy; they will get a draft pick if he leaves, and if he stays, they can get him for another year at an affordable cost.
Note: The Red Sox have, as expected, declined Wheeler’s option.
18. RHP Kyle Weiland: Stays, Further Minor-League Development Needed
No one expected this 25-year-old right-hander to be making crucial starts in September while the Red Sox were fighting for their playoff lives.
Weiland, a New Mexico native signed out of Notre Dame in the third round of the 2008 draft, was virtually the only arm available at the end of the year.
He gave up six runs in four innings in one July start, then went 0-3 down the stretch, averaging less than five innings in four starts. Overall, he struggled to a 7.66 ERA in seven appearances, five of which were starts.
These results bear out scouting reports that say his effectiveness drops off dramatically after 50-60 pitches, making him a far better candidate for bullpen work than starting.
Weiland needs to work on building up his stamina before he can be considered a serious prospect for a long-term stay at Fenway. As such, I would not be surprised if he is included in a trade package.
19. LHP Trever Miller: Stays as Lefty Depth in Bullpen
Most Red Sox fans hardly noticed the acquisition of the 38-year-old veteran who signed a minor league deal in August after being released by Toronto.
I think this free agent has a chance to be a pleasant surprise, and may well be worth a one-year deal. For his career, he has held lefties to a .226 batting average. From 2007 to 2010, that number was .188.
During that time, Miller led the majors, allowing only 19 percent of inherited runners to score (24 of 125).
In 2011, Miller faltered with the Cardinals, and was traded to Toronto in the Edwin Jackson/Octavio Dotel deal. (He is reportedly in line to receive a World Series ring, however.)
A 1991 Tigers first-round draft pick, Miller is in the top 100 all-time in pitching appearances with 694. He’s been around, as have most LOOGYs. The Red Sox are his ninth team, not including two stints each with the Astros, Blue Jays and Rays. And a 2001 pit stop with the PawSox…
For you trivia fans out there, Miller holds the major league record for most consecutive appearances without a decision. In 2007 with the Astros he pitched in 76 games with a 0-0 record, shattering Scott Alfred’s mark of 48 in Tampa in 1998.
The streak continued until Aug. 3, 2008 when Miller, then with Tampa, won a decision against the Detroit Tigers, ending his streak at a record 121 decisionless games.
One caveat: He really is a LOOGY (Lefty One-Out GuY) and should only be used as such. He has not performed nearly as well against right-handed hitters, allowing a batting average of .293 along with a high number of walks and hits per innings pitched.
One thing the Red Sox won’t have to worry about is his conditioning. He’s also a marathon runner.
20. OF Darnell McDonald: Gone, with an Asterisk*
Darnell’s heroics in his first two Red Sox games now seem so long ago. In McDonald’s first at bat on April 20, 2010, he hit a pinch hit, game-tying home run in the bottom of the 8th inning against Texas. In the bottom of the ninth, he added the game-winning hit off the wall.
He is the first ever Red Sox player with a walk-off RBI in his debut, the third in Red Sox history to have a pinch-hit home run in his first at bat, and the ninth to homer in his first Red Sox at-bat.
Unfortunately, McDonald has never had as good a game since. The knock on him is that he is a gifted athlete who just can’t seem to apply those talents to success on the diamond.
He’s been around baseball a lot longer than most people think, having been drafted in 1997 by Baltimore as a first-round pick (26th overall). He appeared in 17 games with Baltimore in 2004, and had a cup of coffee with the Reds in 2009, but spent most of 13 seasons in the minors.
The Red Sox signed him in December 2009 as a minor league free agent, with hopes of him being a good right-handed option off the major-league bench.
This year, he hit .236 in 157 at bats, a downturn from 2010 when he batted .270 with almost twice as many plate appearances. Overall in 2011, he hit .260 against LHP and .189 vs RHP.
McDonald had an awful start to this season; on July 4, he was hitting only .117. For the next five weeks, however, he went on a tear, hitting .321 with a monster OPS of 1.084. His production included two home runs and nine RBI.
After the Fourth of July, he hit .324 against left-handers. He also ended the season on a positive note, hitting .382 in 34 September AB, with a .950 OPS.
I have to admit that I was surprised when I looked up those stats, because all I can remember was Darnell not getting it done in the clutch, time after time.
My impression was correct; his clutch stats were terrible. He hit just .222 with two outs and runners in scoring position; .211 late in close games and .217 when the game was tied.
The last cameo of McDonald was his one inning mop-up pitching job in a lost cause on Sept. 26.
Despite his potentially affordable contract ($470,000 in 2011), the Red Sox desperately need a right-handed hitting outfielder with more pop.
I expect they will acquire such a hitter, making McDonald expendable. If he gets no other offers, perhaps he can be signed to a minor-league contract and be stashed at Triple-A as an injury safeguard.
21. RHP Bobby Jenks: Stays, Disabled List; Bullpen Eventually
Let’s withhold judgment on Jenks’ admittedly disastrous performance in 2011.
After being crucified by the fans and local media for his performance (15.2 innings, ERA of 6.32), he went on the DL in July with an undisclosed back problem.
He was advised to have surgery, and in the process of being evaluated for that surgery in mid-September he was diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism. This is a potentially very serious; it involves a sudden blockage of an artery in the lung.
The treatment starts with blood thinners, and no surgeon will operate on his back while he is taking that medication.
He is now scheduled to be evaluated again before the end of the year. If the blood thinners work the 30-year-old right-hander could be cleared for back surgery. If the blood thinners don’t work, he may face surgery to fix the embolism.
Either way, his status for the first part of the 2012 season is very much up in the air.
Jenks, who signed a two-year, $12 million contract with the Red Sox last December, will be on the disabled list for a while, and will not factor in early 2012 roster decisions.
22. LHP Felix Doubront: Gone Via Trade
At the start of 2011, the Venezuelan native who turned 25 a week ago was considered to have the best chance of any Red Sox minor-league pitcher to make the major-league roster.
Unfortunately, he showed up to Spring Training out of shape, tweaked his elbow and then strained his groin in Pawtucket. This injury may be related to nagging hamstring problems he has had dating back to 2010.
Signed as an international free agent in 2004, Doubront has been in Boston’s system since 2005. The Red Sox drafted him as a starter; in fact, his first three major-league appearances in 2010 were starts.
He has not developed as hoped. Even though he has shown an ability (in an admittedly small sample size of 25 innings) to strike out major league hitters, he has also been wild, walking almost as many as he has fanned.
When he loses command, he tends to groove pitches, leaving too many high in the strike zone, making him a very hittable pitcher at this point in his development.
The best thing for Doubront would be to work as a starter in Triple-A, but he is out of minor league options. That means he will have to start the season in the Red Sox bullpen, which is not necessarily where they want him.
That makes him eminently tradable, and I would expect to see him go as part of a package for a more established pitcher or a right-handed bat.
23. LHP Rich Hill: Stays, Disabled List
Boston native Hill is a big man at 6’5” and 220 pounds. Now 31, he was drafted by the Cubs in the fourth round of the 2002 draft, and started 78 games for the Cubs and Orioles from 2005-2009.
Although plagued by inconsistency, he was known for his sweeping 12-to-6 curveball, which many considered to be one of the best in the majors.
When the Red Sox signed him as a free agent in June of 2010 they sent him to Pawtucket and converted him to a reliever (although he continued to spot start). He developed a new sidearm delivery, throwing a 90ish-mph rising fastball while still maintaining his excellent low-to-mid 70s curveball.
Over the past two seasons he has appeared in 15 games for Boston, striking out 15 and walking four in 12 innings of work without giving up a single run.
Starting at Triple-A in 2011, he had a minuscule 1.12 ERA in 10 appearances (16 innings) before being called up to the Red Sox. He continued his lights-out performance, striking out 12 in nine games and not giving up a run.
At the end of May, however, he blew out his elbow and underwent Tommy John surgery in early June.
While some consider him a non-tender candidate, I believe he has an upside and should at least by offered a minor-league deal. Second year arbitration eligible, he made $445,000 last year.
24. RHP Scott Atchison: Stays, Bullpen Candidate
Note: The Red Sox have declined their club option on Atchison, but he remains on the 40-man roster.
Atchison has also fought against the odds in his baseball career, and I for one feel he has the ability to become a full-time middle reliever for the Red Sox.
Drafted way down in the 49th round by Seattle in 1998, he toiled in minor-league obscurity for the better part of seven years...the first four exclusively as a starter.
Atchison signed with the Red Sox as a minor league free agent in December 2007, but Japan came calling and the Hanshin Tigers purchased his rights.
He pitched quite well for Hanshin during the 2008 and 2009 seasons, but returned to the US so his baby daughter could get better treatment for a rare medical condition.
He earned a contract at the start of the 2010 season, and over the past two years Scott has moved back and forth between Pawtucket and Boston, working under a split MLB/MiLB contract. He earned $600K last year, and according to BaseballReference,com the team has an option for 2012 at the same amount.
One of his greatest assets has been his control; in 61.1 innings with Pawtucket in 2011, he struck out 72 and walked only 9. When called up to Boston, he had a very respectable 2.83 K/BB ratio in 17 games with an ERA of 3.26. He also allowed zero home runs.
Joseph Werner, writing on SeedlingstoStars.com, said, “Atchison’s season with Pawtucket was so absurdly good it’s amazing that he hasn’t drawn more attention… he was, simply, flat-out unhittable against right-handers...39 K’s and two walks.”
Werner reports that he ranked no lower than 13th in major pitching categories among the 173 total qualifying pitchers.
He concludes, “…there’s no reason to believe that this journeyman can’t, at the bare minimum, become a serviceable middle relief pitcher for the Sox next season.”
25. RHP Michael Bowden: Stays, Bullpen Candidate
Bowden was drafted as a starter in 2005, as a sandwich-round selection (47th overall pick). Following a promotion from Double-A Portland in July 2008, he was rated the top pitching prospect in the Red Sox organization. In his four years at the AAA level, he has posted a respectable ERA of 3.27.
He was exclusively a starter through the 2009 season, then entered some 2010 games in relief.
His coaches and managers noted that he just loved to pitch, and chafed at the five off days between starts. They thought relief work—where he could pitch more often–might better suit his makeup.
He pitched in the bullpen in the Venezuela winter league, then reported to spring training in 2011 prepared to be a full-time reliever.
At Pawtucket, Bowden overpowered right-handed hitters, holding them to a 5-for-55 mark (.091) with one walk and 23 strikeouts. On the other hand, lefties hit him at a .370 clip, a trend that could be of some concern at the major league level.
After compiling a 2.73 ERA in 41 relief appearances at AAA with 61 strikeouts and only 18 walks, he earned a September call-up.
In 20 major league innings, however, he walked 11 while striking out 17. He also gave up 19 hits, and some observers suggested that the way he throws the ball gives major league hitters too good a look at what’s coming.
PawSox broadcaster Dan Hoard wrote, “Bowden is the type of kid we all root for. He’s friendly, polite, and totally dedicated to becoming the best pitcher he can possibly be.”
Some believe Bowden has done all he can at Triple-A, and it’s now time to show that he’s major league material.
26. LHP Franklin Morales: Stays, Bullpen Candidate
One of the enduring memories for me of the last month of the season was Franklin Morales ending a game by picking Josh Hamilton off first base.
Doing a little digging, I learned that only John Lester had as many pickoffs this year as Morales (5) and he did it in six times the number of innings.
The quality of his pickoff move is an example of the tantalizing ability this 25-year-old Venezuelan has. Unfortunately, he has never lived up to the potential the Rockies saw in him when they signed him in 2002.
Morales has the arm and the skill set to be a top big-league reliever, but he has never thrown enough strikes to get there.
While Morales has held left-handed hitters to a .201 average during his career, he has always struggled with command. He has walked 97 men in 179 2/3 innings.
He went 7-11 with a 4.83 ERA in parts of five seasons in Colorado before being traded to the Red Sox on May 19.
For the season he had a reasonable 3.62 ERA in 36 games, but seemed to pitch well only every other month. For example, in 13 appearances in August, Morales struck out 13 and walked only two with a 1.86 ERA.
As the 2011 season wore down, Morales was the last left-hander still standing in the bullpen, and the results were less than spectacular. He gave up eight hits, including two HR and walked four in nine innings in the last month.
However, he only cost the Red Sox $424,000 last year; he is arbitration-eligible, but should be able to be signed for $1 million or less. Given his upside, that may not be a bad deal to add bullpen depth.
27. LHP Erik Bedard: Gone, Via Free Agency
At the 2011 trading deadline, the Red Sox brain trust decided to pass on Rich Harden for medical reasons, and somewhat surprisingly made a trade with Seattle for Bedard instead.
Bedard, the Orioles sixth-round pick in the 1999 draft, became the staff ace, setting franchise strikeout records as recently as 2007. He was traded to Seattle after that season for five prospects.
On the surface, the results were far less than Red Sox Nation hoped; Bedard won one game in three decisions over eight starts, posting a mediocre 4.03 ERA in only 38 innings.
Digging deeper, however, Bedard fared quite well compared to other Red Sox pitchers. Granted, it was In a limited number of innings, but Bedard had highest rate of strikeouts and gave up the fewest home runs per nine innings among Red Sox starters.
He also struck out 23.1 percent of the batters he faced in 2011, which ranks right up there with the best starters in the big leagues.
All in all, the Red Sox should not be faulted for taking a chance on Bedard, who offers a very high upside. In addition to his consistently high strikeout to walk ratio, he is known to have one of the best curveballs in the majors.
Given his Baltimore experience, the 32-year-old left-hander understands how to pitch in the AL East.
The risk, of course, is his inability to stay healthy. He has been dogged by a series of injuries, to include a torn labrum which cost him the 2010 season. More recently, he had a knee problem which limited his effectiveness in Seattle.
Bedard is a free agent and is expected to test the waters. However, concerns about his durability may cause other teams to think twice about signing him to anything more than a short-term, incentive-laden deal.
While the Red Sox will be gun shy about adding another pitcher with health issues (look at Matsuzaka, Lackey, Hill, Tazawa and Jenks), Bedard’s tantalizing upside may cause them to take a flyer if they can sign him at the right price.
Since he won’t be a Type A or Type B free agent, the Red Sox will get no compensation if he signs somewhere else. They have until 12:01 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 3, to negotiate with him, but chances are Bedard will test the waters.
28. RHP Junichi Tazawa: Stays, Continues Minor-League Development as a Starter
Tazawa has flown well beneath the radar since the Red Sox signed him as an international free agent in 2008. Tazawa came directly out of the amateur Japanese industrial leagues, and asked his country’s pro teams not to draft him so that he could come directly to the US.
He pitched well in his first year with the organization, moving rapidly through the minors while compiling a 9-7 record in 20 starts at Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket with a 2.55 ERA in 2009. He also appeared in six major league games (four starts) that year with a 7.46 ERA.
Interestingly enough, Tazawa had pitched exclusively out of the stretch as an amateur, and he had to learn to pitch from the wind-up.
That, combined with an unorthodox throwing motion which places extra stress on his elbow, proved to be too much for his arm to handle, and he underwent Tommy John surgery in April 2010.
He came back as a starter in 2011, but averaged less than three innings per game in seven games. He was then limited to bullpen work for the rest of the year, logging 14 relatively effective relief appearances. Overall, he struck out 56 batters while walking 19, with an ERA of 4.61.
Tazawa made three appearances in Boston (three innings) after a September call-up, giving up two runs.
The big question is how to use him going forward. Many consider him as the only potential starter at the top of the minor league system. The relief work in 2011 could have been a way to limit his innings while he regained his arm strength, or it could be an organizational decision that he be converted to a reliever.
The guess here is that he will be given another chance to start in spring training.
29. 1B Lars Anderson: Gone Via Trade
First baseman Anderson, an 18th-round selection in the 2006 draft, was selected in 2008 the top prospect in the Red Sox organization. Before the 2009 season, Baseball, America ranked him as the No. 17 prospect overall.
Given his slow progression since then, some have questioned his ability to become an everyday major league player. In five minor -eague seasons, he has hit .276 with 67 home runs and an OPS of .809
However, he just turned 24 in September, and the jury is still out on his potential. He hit .265 with 14 HR and 78 RBI in a full season at Triple-A Pawtucket this year, and hit .288 after the All-Star break.
Anderson’s problem in Boston is that his road to the majors is blocked by Adrian Gonzales for the next six years.
Because he was not added to the 40-man roster until last September, he has two minor-league options left. The Red Sox control him for two more years before they have to make a move with him.
On the other hand, there are a number of teams seeking help at first base, such as the Indians, Brewers, Phillies and Pirates. In fact, Anderson almost went to Oakland in the aborted trading deadline transaction for Rich Harden.
Since the Red Sox will be exploring trades to upgrade their pitching, Anderson’s greatest value may be in the type of mound help he may be able to bring to Boston.
30. 3B/1B Kevin Youkilis: Gone Via Trade
No one plays the game harder than Youk, and I would hate to have to play against him. But the way he plays the game has also taken a toll on his body, as the series of 2011 injuries shows.
Long-term, he needs to play first base to keep his body from breaking down, and that's not going to happen in Boston with Adrian Gonzales there. Youk is the best (and most expendable) trade chip the Red Sox have.
Youkilis is certainly no slouch as a first baseman, either; after all, he holds the major league record for most consecutive errorless games (238) at first base.
Youk will be 33 in March, and for a player of his caliber, he is relatively affordable at $12 million for 2012. This the fourth and final year of a contract he signed in 2009, although there is a $13 million team option for 2013 with a $1 million buyout.
He also has serious credibility; at the start of last season he was 35th on the Sporting News list of the 50 greatest current baseball players.
Click here for an overview of some Youkilis trade options.
31. RHP Tim Wakefield: Gone, Via Free Agency or Retirement
Wakefield is the oldest active player in the majors (he turned 45 on Aug. 2), and is the longest-tenured Red Sox ballplayer.
Complementing his 65 mph knuckle ball is a 73 mph fastball (he has usually led the league in slowest average fastball). and a curveball that usually chugs up to the plate at less than 60 mph.
He arrived in Boston in 1995 and quickly endeared himself to the Fenway Faithful by beginning that year with a 14–1 record through 17 starts, six of which were complete games. He ended 16-8 with a 2.95 ERA, and earned the AL Comeback Player of the Year award. He also came in third in Cy Young voting.
After the 2011 season, Wakefield is the Red Sox career leader in innings pitched and nine other pitching categories: some good, some bad.
He is also second in games pitched (behind Bob Stanley) and also second in strikeouts to Roger Clemens. He is third in wins, behind Clemens and Cy Young.
In addition to being well-regarded in the clubhouse, Wake is also one of the most generous and community-minded players in the game. The Red Sox nominated him eight times for the Roberto Clemente Award, presented to the player who best reflects the spirit of giving back to the community. He finally won it in 2010.
But from a baseball and a business perspective, it's still time to cut the cord.
This past season, Wakefield was not a clutch performer. With two outs and runners in scoring position, batters hit .306 against him. In "late and close" situations batters, hit .417 against him. He also posted a second-half ERA of 5.55.
The added stress on the catching stuff of corralling his knuckle ball (which is clearly not as unhittable as it used to be) may simply no longer worth it.
Wakefield told Jon Paul Morosi of FOXSports.com that he wants to return in 2012 for a 20th season. However, Wake lost me with his untimely statement that he should be kept around so that the fans could see him become the winningest pitcher in Red Sox history.
I don’t think those fans want to watch the Red Sox lose a dozen extra games trying to achieve that milestone!
Let's see, the knuckleballer is seven wins away from his goal. He went eight starts between his 199th and 200th career wins, so if he keeps that pace up it will take only 56 more starts (about 2 1/2 years worth at his recent pace) to get there.
32. LF Carl Crawford: Keep, for at Least One More Year*
Carl deserves another year to show that his 2011 season was a fluke.
Unlike some other players whose long track records of injury and/or mediocrity can reasonably be expected to predict future performance, Crawford’s 2011 results are a stunner.
I’m not going to rehash here the oft-repeated litany of his underperformance. I think it’s more important to focus on the monster seasons he had in Tampa, because they are more likely to be repeated than 2011 will.
Former Red Sox pitcher Dick Drago and I were discussing Crawford’s unexpectedly bad year. Drago, who now lives in Tampa, said that Crawford in Boston did not look like the same player he was in Florida.
Drago believes the attitude in the clubhouse may have had more to do with Crawford’s difficulties than most people think. In Tampa, Crawford was one of the leaders on the team. He had once confronted Pat Burrell about his lack of professionalism and poor attitude, and threw Burrell up against a locker to make his point.
Crawford’s opinion was so well thought of that management got rid of Burrell shortly thereafter.
When he came to Boston, however, he was the new guy—an outsider in someone else’s clubhouse, and was apparently unable to affect the existing culture.
Drago recalled his own trade from an underperforming small-market team to Boston. “I was picked by Kansas City in the expansion draft, and after a few years there I had some influence in that clubhouse,” he recalled. “Then I was traded to Boston, and when I walked in the clubhouse there was Yaz, Fisk, Luis Aparicio, Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal…I quickly became the small fish in the big pond, and I kept my mouth shut.”
A couple of weeks ago, Mike Giardi of ComcastSportsNE did an excellent story about Crawford. He wrote, “Finally, late in the season but before the team entered its death spiral, Crawford had had enough. He launched into an impassioned speech, imploring teammates to get it together. It fell on deaf ears.”
Look for Crawford to bounce back with a vengeance.
*I put this asterisk in because I don't rule out a blockbuster trade involving Crawford for a front-line starting pitcher. I’m not saying it’s likely, but it is possible.
33. RHP Jonathan Papelbon: Gone Via Free Agency
Papelbon has proven that he can close in the crucible known as Fenway Park, and that he can withstand the heat from the local media when things go wrong.
The guess here is that the Red Sox would like to keep him…but probably not at the Mariano Rivera money ($15 million a year for at least three years) that Pap will probably be seeking.
The biggest reason the Red Sox may let him walk is because there are a number of good closers available this year. If Papelbon wants to "set the market for closers" as he has said, the Red Sox might be better off signing a Heath Bell or a Ryan Madson for several (or many) millions less.
Furthermore, Papelbon would qualify as a Type-A free agent, meaning that the Red Sox would get a first- or second-round draft pick (depending on the team that signs Pap), plus a supplemental pick between the first and second rounds.
By signing any other closer (even another Type-A free agent like the Phillies' Ryan Madson), Boston would give up its own first-round pick. Losing Papelbon, however, would result in the gain of two high selections.
The net result would be that the Red Sox would in effect swap Papelbon for Madson, gain an extra high draft pick and save millions of dollars.
Make a fair attempt to sign Pap, but if you are too far apart, cut the ties. If you drag the negotiations out too long, those other prime closer prospects will sign elsewhere and you still may not end up with Pap.
34. David Ortiz: Stays with a Two-Year Contract as DH
The Red Sox hold exclusive negotiating rights until with Papi until Thursday, Nov. 3.
The Red Sox should re-sign Ortiz, and do it quickly. He's one of the few effective DHs who doesn't play in the field. There is no comparable replacement out there.
He is also arguably the most beloved Red Sox player in the last 20 years. Big Papi was a critical component of two championship squads and is arguably the face of the franchise.
Joe McDonald of ESPNBoston.com quoted Ortiz as saying, "If the Red Sox sign me right now, they won't regret (it)," Ortiz added. "I've got so many ways to keep doing what I've been doing around here. I bring so much to this organization, I bring so much to the table here because I care so much about this organization."
Underscoring that statement, prior to Game 2 of the World Series Ortiz received the Roberto Clemente Award, which honors one player every year who has made a significant contribution to the community.
Yes, he’s another left-handed bat in a lineup short of right handed power. Yes, he had a below average September, as did most of his teammates. Yes, his interruption of Terry Francona’s press conference to complain about an official scorer decision was stupid and selfish.
And yes, he struck a nerve with Red Sox Nation by saying that he might consider playing for the Yankees (perhaps bringing back the painful memories of Luis Tiant in pinstripes after his eight years in Boston during the 1970s).
But all of that pales into insignificance in the face of one fact: In 2011, Ortiz was by far the best designated hitter in baseball.
The average batting average for a DH was .266. Ortiz hit .309.
The average DH on-base percentage was .341. Papi’s was .398.
The average DH slugging percentage was .430. Ortiz? .554.
No DH in the last three years equaled his .953 OPS this year.
Ortiz may well test the free agent market, but as Vladimir Guerrero, Johnny Damon, and Hideki Matsui learned last year, there aren’t a lot of buyers out there. There are even fewer who might be willing to give Ortiz a multi-year deal.
The biggest risk for the Red Sox is his age and durability. Ortiz turns 36 in November. But who else out there is a better risk?
So long as he avoids serious injury, Ortiz should be able to produce for two more years. He made $12.5 million this past season, and the Red Sox should make every effort to sign him this week.
And to end this slideshow…
35. Joey Gathright: Spring Training Invitation?
Speedster Gathright appeared in seven games for the Red Sox in September and walked in his one plate appearance.
Why am I including him in this slideshow? Because it’s an interesting story, that’s why. And because I wanted to include this link to a video of him jumping over a Mitsubishi Galant and a BMW, apparently in the parking lot of his spring-training hotel in 2002.
The Red Sox purchased his contract from the independent league Yuma Scorpions and assigned him to Triple-A Pawtucket on Aug. 31. Gathright was 3-for-8 with a walk and a steal in four games for the PawSox before the playoffs.
Perhaps they had in mind a Dave Roberts-like steal situation in the playoffs that never came to be…
To give you an idea of how far the Yuma Scorpions are off baseball’s beaten track, the manager was Jose Canseco. Gathright, hit .347 for Yuma after signing with them on June 10, walking 40 times and stealing 20 bases in 61 games—while serving as their backup catcher!
Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports wrote an amusing story about how a quick workout was arranged, with Gathright’s 54-year-old agent, Larry Reynolds, throwing batting practice. According to Rosenthal, “The Red Sox guaranteed Gathright nothing but a chance to play at Triple A, yet signed him in time to make him eligible for their postseason roster. Canseco actually broke the news of the signing on Twitter.”
Gathright played in 17 games and one playoff game for the Sox at the end of 2009, going 5-for-16 with one stolen base.
The 30-year-old pinch runner extraordinaire has 80 major league steals in 109 attempts. He was drafted by Tampa in the 32nd round of the 2001 draft, and spent parts of six seasons with Tampa, Kansas City and the Cubs in addition to the Red Sox. Gathright is a career .263 hitter with a .630 OPS.
The Red Sox outrighted Gathright to Triple-A Pawtucket on Oct. 22.