Baseball BeatJanuary 09, 2009
Sunrise at Fenway Park
By Rich Lederer

Despite missing out on Mark Teixeira, life is good in Boston. The astute John Smoltz and ridiculously cheap Rocco Baldelli signings only make the two-time World Series champions of this decade all that much stronger.

Smoltz is coming off major surgery on his right shoulder and won't be fully recovered until June. When healthy, he will join an already potent starting rotation featuring Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield and Brad Penny, not to mention Clay Buchholz, who threw a no-hitter in his second major league start just 16 months ago and was considered one of the brightest prospects in the game.

Think of Smoltz as the new Curt Schilling. A veteran with one of the best postseason records in baseball who can throw strikes and still miss bats. The short-term commitments to Smoltzie and Penny will cost the Red Sox just over $10 million and any additional outlays will be gladly paid if one or both can meet their performance bonuses.

Baldelli will earn a base salary of $500,000 with incentives that could double his compensation if he were to reach 350 plate appearances. Should Boston get that much playing time out of Rocco for just a million dollars, this contract will be the steal of the offseason. Sure, the "hometown" boy has had some health issues of late, but he is only 27, can play all three outfield positions, runs well, and can hit for both average and power.

Now, if the Red Sox can just sign or trade for a starting catcher...

Update: The smart just keep getting smarter. Red Sox sign free-agent Saito.

The Red Sox, taking another low-risk, high-reward gamble, have signed free-agent reliever Takashi Saito to a one-year contract with a club option for 2010, according to major-league sources.

The deal was completed after Saito passed his physical on Friday. It includes a guarantee between $1.5 million and $2.5 million, the sources said, and Saito will have the chance to earn more than $7 million if he reaches all of his incentives.

The club's overall pitching depth may allow it to swing a deal with Texas for Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Taylor Teagarden. Both are young catchers. Salty, 23, was a first-round draft pick in 2003 and was one of the keys to the Mark Teixeira deal with Atlanta in 2007. Teagarden, 25, has hit .267/.390/.509 in his minor league career and slugged six home runs in 53 plate appearances in his major league debut for the Rangers last season.



I understand what Theo is doing and he needed to do it to keep pace with the Rays and Yanks. But a team of Ortiz, Lowell, Beckett, Rocco, Smoltz, Pennny, maybe Varitec, is a relatively old and fragile roster. They could get lucky but there's a lot there can go wrong in a big hurry.

Rich, it's good you are sooooo confident in their ability to stay healthy. Their chances of getting performance bonuses are slim. Smoltz, Penny, and Baldelli are effective for three months at this point of their careers. For Red Sox fans, they sure hope they are good from august - october and not april- june. The Red Sox has more concern than keeping Smoltz, Penny, and Baldelli healthy. Thie concerns are long from David Ortiz's decline to health problems for Beckett, Lowell, and Drew. Daisuke, Pedroia, and Youkillis are bound to regress. With all these concerns, it's more like suset at Fenway Park.

The Red Sox not only have Pedroia, Lowrie, Ellsbury, Lester, Buchholz, Papelbon, Masterson, Delcarmen, and Ramirez, but also one of the best farm systems in baseball. Add Youk, Bay, Beckett, and Matsuzaka in the prime of their careers and a few veterans who are unlikely to regress much, if at all, from last year when they were hurt and I believe Boston will be just fine this season and for many more to come.

The AL East is going to be absolutely fascinating this year. Even if every player on all three teams stayed healthy it might be impossible to predict which would win the division.

These players that the Red Sox signed may be old/fragile, but they are acquisitions of depth. The Red Sox now have three options for the number five spot in the rotation, and one would think that one of the Smoltz, Penny, and Buchholz trio could give them enough, or even all of them over the course of the season could give them somewhere around league average performance. Baldelli is a fourth OF right now, brought in to give players rest, play against very tough lefties, and take over when a player such as Drew misses a few days with a bad back. The expectations that are in place for Baldelli, I'm sure, are very reasonable.

One thing, Rich, I think Boston would actually like Baldelli to fall short of the 350 AB's, but stay healthy, because that would mean that all the starters are staying healthy and performing reasonably well, plus they save a few dollars.

How many of those contracts did Theo get an AARP discount on?

Yankee fans, anyone?

When it comes to properly analyzing the risk of moves such as these, you should think about a "bad case scenario". Let's assume the "bad case scenario" for all three of these acquisitions...that Smoltz, Penny, and Baldelli all cannot play for the team this year. In that case, the Sox will need to get a servicable right-handed OFer (not the toughest thing to find), and can either go with a young SP (huh, they already have three good looking options there, in Masterson, Buchholz, and Bowden) or pick up a veteran from elsewhere. So, essentially, the team is fine if none of these moves pan out...where's the risk in that? These truly are no-risk, high payoff moves, the kind a team with a lot of resources should take.

Anyone who says anything about a David Ortiz "decline" is foolish. He was hurt. You don't have enough experience watching a healthy Ortiz if you thought he was healthy last year. True, he could still be hurt, especially since he declined surgery (and I do need to see him play to be convinced he's healthy, before that I'll be concerned), but there's no evidence for any "decline".

Everyone has tabbed the Red Sox offense as the team's major weakness. Here's food for thought: the post-Manny lineup of August and September, with a banged up Ortiz, a post-hot-streak Drew, a non-hitting catcher, a learning on the job SS, a slumping Ellsbury, many ABs to a horrible Kotsay...put up a full-season 904 run pace. Assume reasonable regression from Drew, Pedroia, and Youkilis, and that should still be, at minimum, cancelled out by reasonable increases elsewhere. Ellsbury likely will improve slightly with a year on the job. Ditto for Lowrie. Catcher WILL be improved, because it was about as bad as possible last year. Bay should repeat his performance. It wouldn't be hard for Ortiz to improve on his August/September production. Odds are, factoring all improvements and regressions, major injuries and major breakouts, that the team will hold fast and replicate that 904 run pace...which would put it right near the top of the majors. Nat bad...

Baldelli should be a better than average fourth outfielder/role player.

Uhh, Rocco may be only 27, but he has a DEGENERATIVE LEG CONDITION. Don't be expecting a miraculous recovery or improvement.

Sure, Boston would like Baldelli to fall short of 350 PA but only if Bay, Ellsbury, and Drew remain reasonably healthy all year. Otherwise, management will be pleased that Baldelli was healthy enough to play that much, should the need arise.

David, I don't think Boston is "expecting a miraculous recovery or improvement" and neither am I. He is not being counted on to play everyday. Instead, he is a perfect fit as a fourth outfielder, capable of playing all three positions, filling in as a starter when necessary or as a defensive replacement, pinch hitter, or pinch runner. Plus, he has always hit lefties (.296/.347/.494 over his career). As a one-year deal and for that little money, I just don't see how the Red Sox can go wrong with him.