Boston's Future Is as Bright as Its Recent Past - Part Two
We extolled the virtues of Boston's ownership and management in Part One yesterday and discussed a few of the most important decisions at hand. In Part Two, we will cover the organization's philosophy and how it shapes the near- and long-term outlook of the club.
The foundation of the franchise is based on scouting and player development. The Red Sox are not afraid to select the best players available in the draft and pay over slot if that's what it takes to get them. More teams should follow this strategy because it is one of the cheapest ways to secure quality talent. Rather than doling out $40-50M over four years for a medicore starter like Carlos Silva, Boston concentrates on drafting and signing as many quality arms as possible, believing that it's as much a numbers game as anything else.
Management is willing to think "outside the box" while priding itself on taking an opportunistic approach when it comes to deals. However, they are not infallible. Theo Epstein & Co. have made their share of mistakes, especially when it comes to free agent signings. Look no further than their record with shortstops since allowing Orlando Cabrera to leave for free agency after the 2004 World Series championship for proof. That said, one would need to be afflicted with tunnel vision to focus on the Julio Lugos when the signing of David Ortiz five years ago more than makes up for these errors.
As we discussed yesterday, the Red Sox stand to lose Mike Lowell and Curt Schilling to free agency, as well as Royce Clayton, Matt Clement, Eric Gagne, Eric Hinske, Bobby Kielty, Doug Mirabelli, and Mike Timlin. Boston is unlikely to pursue any of the free agents other than Lowell and Schilling with much vigor. At the right price, I'm sure they would consider Hinske or Kielty, Timlin, and possibly Mirabelli if the club decides to exercise its option on Tim Wakefield.
Boston will undoubtedly pass on its option to bring back Julian Tavarez for $3.85M. Brendan Donnelly and Kyle Snyder figure to be non-tendered. Javier Lopez could be offered arbitration while Kevin Youkilis is a good bet to sign a multi-year deal to cover his arb-eligible years at a minimum.
All of the other players on the roster are either under contract or the control of the club. Boston has two everyday players (Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia), two starting pitchers (Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester), and two of its top three relievers (Jonathan Papelbon and Manny Delcarmen) that will be making close to the minimum salary. The Sox might be interested in working out a two- or three-year deal with Paps to keep him happy as well as to avoid arbitration a year from now.
Coco Crisp, who will earn $4.75M in 2008 and $5.75M in 2009 (with an $8M club option or a $0.5M buyout for 2010), could be moved to a team in need of a center fielder but unwilling to meet the contract demands of free agents Mike Cameron, Torii Hunter, Andruw Jones, and Aaron Rowand. Crisp runs well and his outfield defense has catapulted to the top echelon, making him an ideal fit for a team loaded with flyball pitchers in a big ballpark.
With only one more year guaranteed on the eight-year contract he signed in December 2000, Manny Ramirez is more marketable than ever. The future Hall of Famer will make $20M in 2008 and the Sox have club options at that same salary for 2009 and 2010. Manny also has $31M in deferred compensation due him, which will be paid out in 16 annual installments of $1.94M from 2011-2026.
For the sake of this analysis, we have assumed that Lowell and Schilling will be re-signed, Ramirez will be back for at least one more year, Ellsbury will be the everyday center fielder, and Crisp will be traded. With these variables in mind, here is what appears would be the starting lineup, pitching rotation, bench, and bullpen in 2008.
C: Doug Mirabelli, Kevin Cash, or Dusty Brown
The above list of players totals 21, leaving the club with four holes to fill. Lopez, Timlin, and Wakefield could take up three of these spots, and either Kielty or a player like him could wind up as a pinch-hitter and backup outfielder.
We drill down a bit deeper into the makeup of the roster with emphasis on ages, stats, and salaries.
The above salaries include a pro rata share of a $2M signing bonus that Beckett received when he agreed to a three-year extension in July 2006. Give the Sox a high five for negotiating this deal in the midst of Beckett's most disappointing season in the majors. Boston stepped up and signed its ace to a contract that is more than $5M below market over each of the next two campaigns as well as a very reasonable $12M club option for 2010. Given his Cy Young-type season and outstanding October, Beckett may well be the top pitcher in the game at this very moment.
As with Beckett, the above salaries include a pro rata share of a $2M bonus that Dice-K earned when he signed a six-year contract in December 2006. Matsuzaka also has escalators that could increase the total value to $60M. The heralded import from Japan faded down the stretch but seems like a good bet to improve upon his numbers in 2008.
Lester bounced back from a treatable form of lymphoma to win Game 4 of the World Series. He promises to be an important piece of the Boston rotation for the next several years.
Buchholz is best known for the no-hitter he threw in his second major-league start on September 1. He is the real deal and projects to be an All-Star caliber pitcher, if healthy, for years to come. The righthander, who missed the postseason because of shoulder fatigue, will not be pushed next season. Look for him to pitch 160-180 innings (vs. a total of 148 spread over AA, AAA, and MLB in 2007). Assistant General Manager Jed Hoyer told Patrick Sullivan and me in an exclusive interview last March that Buchholz, who throws a mid-90s fastball, had the best slider and changeup in the system. He struck out Nick Markakis with a knee-buckling breaking ball to end his no-no two months ago. In a nutshell, his stuff ranks among the best in the game.
6. Tim Wakefield, 41, RHP
On the horizon: Michael Bowden. ETA: September 2008 or 2009.
Is there a better closer in the game than Papelbon? After watching him dominate opponents during the regular season and throughout the playoffs, I would be hard-pressed to choose someone over him. He is one tough sonofagun, a rare closer who has no problem being used in the eighth and ninth innings to get more than the usual three outs. Keeping Paps in the bullpen proved to be one of the smartest moves the Sox made.
A former member of the Yomiuri Giants, Okajima was signed as a free agent in November 2006. The lefthanded reliever signed for a whopping bonus of $50,000 (which is included in the above salaries) and Boston has a $1.75M club option for 2009. Okajima has performance and award bonuses that are rather insignificant in the big picture. He may have been the most pleasant surprise in Beantown last season.
Long on potential, Delcarmen took a huge leap forward in 2007 and heads into next season as one of Boston's two valuable set-up relievers. He is young and cheap and possesses a live arm.
Old reliable. If Timlin's demands don't get out of line, look for the veteran reliever to return to Boston for a sixth season.
Lopez actually had reverse splits last season, yet has been slightly more effective vs. LHB over the course of his career.
On the horizon: Craig Hansen (ETA: 2008) and Justin Masterson (ETA: Late 2008 or 2009).
Kevin Youkilis, 29, 1B/3B, B-R/T-R
Based on his postseason, it is safe to say that Youkilis is now much more than the "Greek God of Walks." He looks like someone who could be a .300/.400/.500 hitter, which plays at either side of the infield. If Lowell is re-signed, Youk will return to first base. However, he gives Boston a legitimate option to man the hot corner – at least for a year or two – should the bidding get outlandish for the World Series MVP.
Dustin Pedroia, 24, 2B, B-R/T-R
Pedroia got off to a poor start last April, caught fire in May, and proceeded to put up a season that should earn him AL Rookie of the Year honors. The diminutive second baseman hit .333/.389/.467 (with 37 BB and 36 SO) from May 1 through the end of the regular season while more than holding his own in the playoffs (.283/.348/.483). A terrific defender, Pedroia's fielding gem saved Buchholz's no-hitter.
Julio Lugo, 32, SS, B-R/T-R
There's no reason to mince words here. Lugo was a huge disappointment in his inaugural season in Boston. His 73 RBI might mislead those who don't know better but a .643 OPS playing half of one's games at Fenway can't be explained away, almost no matter how well he may have played in the field. Julio's defense improved in the final two months of the season and the play he made to his right in the World Series finale was both heady and spectacular. Lugo now owns a ring so things can't be all that bad.
Mike Lowell, 34, 3B, B-R/T-R
I discussed Lowell in detail yesterday. The bottom line is that Boston will have to overpay to keep him around. Popular with fans, his price tag most likely went up – or at a minimum firmed – with the almost concurrent news of A-Rod's opt out and his MVP honors last Sunday.
Every team needs to have an Alex Cora on its roster. The utility infielder could get expensive though if he were to be named AL MVP as he has a clause in his contract that would pay him $125,000 for capturing this award!
On the horizon: Jed Lowrie. ETA: 2008.
Manny being Manny as they say. He played almost everyday from April through August, missed more than 20 games in September, then went 16-for-46 with 4 HR and 11 BB in the postseason when everything was on the line. Ramirez will be shopped once again but will most likely wind up in Boston next season. Fenway Park suits him best defensively so I would expect him to finish his career as a DH for an AL club.
Jacoby Ellsbury, 24, CF, B-L/T-L
Ellsbury hit .330/.389/.442 and stole 50 bases in 57 attempts over approximately 600 combined plate appearances in AA, AAA, and MLB. He promises to be a significant upgrade offensively and is a plus defensive center fielder with his arm the only tool holding him back.
Drew struggled for most of the season but rebounded in September and October, giving hope for better things to come in 2008 and beyond. With an unpopular contract in hand, Drew faced a difficult fan base and media while dealing with his 1-1/2 year-old son's health during the summer. J.D. may be much more comfortable in his second season in Boston and is certainly capable of putting up a .285/.385/.475 type line.
On the horizon: Brandon Moss. ETA: 2008.
Patrick Sullivan will handle Part Three tomorrow with a focus on Boston's amateur drafts and farm system.
Note: Contract information was provided by Cot's Baseball Contracts.