Coming off an unexpected last-place finish in 2014, the Boston Red Sox look to be a major player in free agency this offseason. Big names like Jon Lester, James Shields and Pablo Sandoval are being widely discussed as players Boston may go after.
On the other hand, which available free agents should the Red Sox stay away from?
The following three players are among those most likely to be sought after this winter, and each could potentially fill a need for Boston. However, there are also a variety of reasons why it's in the Red Sox's best interests to avoid them altogether.
Last year with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Francisco Liriano went 7-10 with a 3.38 ERA, 1.30 WHIP and 175 strikeouts in 162.1 innings. There's no question Boston might desire a left-handed starter with those kind of numbers, but is that really the pitcher the Red Sox would be getting?
The 162.1 innings were the second most Liriano has ever thrown in his career. He's never pitched more than 191.2 innings, and in four of his eight seasons as a starter, Liriano was on the mound for less than 137 innings. Durability is clearly an issue for the 31-year-old.
In 2014, National League pitchers had a combined ERA of 3.66, while their American League counterparts posted a 3.82 ERA. Rarely is it a surprise to see a starter struggle after switching leagues from the NL to the AL. In Liriano's case, there's already an abundance of data to go on from the first six years of his career.
Over 840 innings in the AL, Liriano had a 4.40 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP. In his last AL season, 2012, Liriano was 6-12 with a 5.34 ERA and a 1.47 WHIP—that is not a pitcher Boston should be interested in.
One-time Red Sox prospect Hanley Ramirez is a shortstop by trade, but he could come back to Boston to play third base. Ramirez manned the hot corner for 98 games during the 2012 season with the Miami Marlins and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Chad Finn of Boston.com makes a case for the Red Sox to pursue Ramirez, writing:
This is a player who was eighth in the MVP balloting in 2013 -- despite playing just 86 games. When you hit .345/.402/.638 in that span, with 20 homers, your half-season is better than most players' full season. He wasn't as good last year, and missed 34 games. But he did play 157 in 2012, and he was one of the most durable players in baseball for a five-year stretch during his Marlins youth.
From 2006-2010, Ramirez batted .313 while averaging 25 home runs, 78 RBI, 39 steals and 152 games per season. The problem is, it's not 2010 anymore.
Over the last four years, Ramirez hit .277 with average numbers of 17 home runs, 66 RBI, 16 steals and only 116 games played.
Ramirez is no longer a superstar, but he's most likely going to demand superstar money. Andy Martino of the New York Daily News predicts four years and $68 million. The Dodgers already extended Ramirez the standard one-year $15.3 million qualifying offer, meaning the Red Sox would have to part with a draft pick (in the second round because of their poor record in 2014) in order to sign him. The same is true of Liriano.
Of all the free agents available this offseason, Max Scherzer is generally considered to be the cream of the crop. From Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan:
To turn down a guaranteed $144 million contract, as Scherzer did last spring, takes an enormous amount of faith in self and elbow. And while Scherzer’s luck on balls in play waned a bit from his 2013 Cy Young season, his strikeout, walk and home run rates were practically identical over the last two seasons. Scherzer, 30, wants $200 million, and even if some of the highest-end teams claim they won’t go crazy on pitching contracts this winter, Scott Boras has a way of making money appear.
Boston would be better suited to let somebody else pay Scherzer $200 million and turn its attention elsewhere. Passan also states that Jon Lester can probably be had for "somewhere in the neighborhood of the six-year, $144 million deal Cole Hamels got in 2012."
What does Scherzer have that makes him $50 million or so better than Lester?
Both pitchers are 30 years old. Lester owns the added bonus of being left-handed, and Scherzer does not. The two have identical 3.58 career ERAs. Neither pitcher has ever missed significant time due to injury, and since 2009, Scherzer's first full season as a starter, they each have strikingly similar statistics:
Scherzer: 91-46, 191 starts, 1183.1 innings, 1255 strikeouts, 3.61 ERA, 1.22 WHIP
Lester: 89-59, 193 starts, 1241.1 innings, 1195 strikeouts, 3.52 ERA, 1.24 WHIP
Like Liriano and Ramirez, Scherzer was given a qualifying offer, so he would come at the expense of a draft pick, but since Lester was traded this past season, the Oakland A's didn't have that option with him.
James Shields, 32, is perceived as a tier slightly below Lester and Scherzer, but his numbers since 2009 are actually quite comparable:
Shields: 82-66, 200 starts, 1355.2 innings, 1178 strikeouts, 3.62 ERA, 1.23 WHIP
In a recent Bleacher Report article on what it would take for Boston to land Shields, I examined several current contracts of star pitchers and speculated that $100 million over five years would be more than enough to get the job done. Does it really make any sense for the Red Sox to spend $200 million on Scherzer when they could get Lester for $150 million or Shields for $100 million?
Statistics via Baseball-Reference.com