Boston Red Sox GM Ben Cherington Finding High Upside at Low Costs

Mike EdelmanContributor IIDecember 14, 2011

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - AUGUST 25:  Catcher Kelly Shoppach #10 of the Tampa Bay Rays looks for a wild pitch against the Detroit Tigers August 25, 2011 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Signing an unknown designated hitter named David Ortiz in 2003, trading for a 32-year-old utility outfielder named Dave Roberts in 2004, taking on Mike Lowell's salary as a throw-in in the Josh Beckett deal in's not always the headline grabbing moves that make the biggest difference.

Often in baseball, it's the unheralded arrivals who provide major contributions to the team. The last couple of days, Boston Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington may have found some of those unheralded heroes.

It's no secret that I'm a fan of Mark Melancon; just yesterday I suggested that the Red Sox explore a trade for the reliever.

It's no guarantee that he'll be the closer for the Red Sox next year, but regardless of what role he pitches in he figures to provide plenty of value. The 26-year-old pitcher has a rubber arm, having averaged just over 78 innings a year the last two seasons as a reliever.

In his first full season last year, Melancon had a 2.78 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP while converting 20 of 25 save opportunities. He has relatively little major league experience but he has a strong track record of success in the minor leagues. The reliever had a 2.79 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP in the minor leagues, while never posting an ERA above 3.67 at any of his stops along the way.

The potential closer is under team control through 2015 and will not go to arbitration until 2013. So even if numbers aren't quite as good in the American League East, he will be a bargain.

The Red Sox gave up shortstop Jed Lowrie and pitching prospect Kyle Weiland in the trade.

Lowrie, a former top prospect, has struggled to stay healthy, never appearing in more than 88 games for the Red Sox. He's a career .252/.324/.408 hitter. Weiland pitched poorly in his call-up to the major leagues last year but he may eventually find a career as a back of the rotation starter or middle reliever.

The Red Sox have also signed free-agent infielder Nick Punto.

On the surface, the career .249/.325/.327 hitter does not look at all impressive. But the Red Sox did not sign Punto for his bat. Punto provides stellar defense at second base, third base and the shortstop positions. At shortstop, for example, Punto has a career UZR/150 of 18.1. That's better than any starting shortstop since 2009.

And finally, the Red Sox signed backup catcher Kelly Shoppach yesterday.

Shoppach is another player who has underwhelming offensive statistics. Last year, the catcher batted only .176/.268/.339, but his BABIP of .212 suggest that he's a strong bounce-back candidate. Shoppach's value will come from his ability to hit left-handed pitchers (career .274/.373/.536 hitter vs. left-handers) and his defense (he threw out over 40 percent of attempted base stealers last year).

Of course there's no guarantee that these players will pan out for the new Boston general manager. But at a combined cost of Jed Lowrie, Kyle Weiland and $4.35 million, they're well worth the risk.