Change-UpMay 20, 2009
Depth for Depth's Sake or a DH?
By Patrick Sullivan

Last night the Boston Red Sox defeated the Toronto Blue Jays 2-1 to pull within 2.5 games of the division leaders from north of the border. The story of the game was the return to the lineup of one David Ortiz, who had sat out the entire Red Sox series in Seattle over the weekend. The Boston faithful stood and cheered wildly in support of Big Papi each time he came to the dish. Chants of "Papi" and standing ovations, however, couldn't seem to pull the big slugger out of his slump (sleepwalk? death march?).

He was 0-3 with two strikeouts and two men left on base. Ortiz is now batting .203/.317/.293. His wOBA of .279 trails all but Ty Wigginton among American League Designated Hitters. While it would be nice to chalk Papi's problems to a mere slump, something that will work itself out - it's only May 20 after all - it's becoming difficult to imagine a return to form for Ortiz. We saw chinks in the armor last post-season when Ortiz, one of the most celebrated clutch performers in baseball history, managed to hit just .186. His bat has been slower, his approach clueless for some time now.

Despite this, Boston finds itself just four games out of the best record in all of Major League Baseball. All the while, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia have battled injuries, Jed Lowrie has been out for almost the entire season and Josh Beckett and Jon Lester have posted ERA+ figures of 85 and 77, respectively. Brad Penny has been worse than both of them. Boston's starting pitching ERA is 5.76, tied with Baltimore for very worst in the American League.

Fortunately for the Red Sox, there is reason to believe things will get better on the pitching front. If you're to believe Fielding Independent statistics, Lester and Beckett have been among the unluckiest pitchers in baseball. Both hurlers' peripherals look solid. Moreover, Youkilis returns to the Boston lineup tonight and Matsuzaka makes his first start since April 15th on Friday night. All around their Designated Hitter, things are looking up for Boston.

Working in their favor, it's not like the Red Sox have no recourse for dealing with their little Papi problem. Their pitching depth is the envy of Major League Baseball. That so many quality pitchers sit in the organization, many without prominent or even Big League roles, borders on absurdity. This is particularly so in the presence of a gaping hole at DH. Let's run through Boston's pitching depth.

How would this starting rotation look?

                  IP    H   BB  SO  ERA
Masterson        41.1  45   14  35  4.57
Penny            36.1  45   16  20  6.69
Buchholz (AAA)   39.1  23   12  42  1.60
Bowden (AAA)     42.0  19   16  28  0.86
Tazawa (AA)      43.1  38   13  42  3.12

It might not light the world on fire, but it would probably stand up favorably to how Boston's starting pitching unit has fared to date (remember the 5.76 ERA), a unit good enough to stake the Red Sox to a 23-16 record. This rotation, the one that might improve upon the 23-16 team's pitching to date, would leave Beckett, Lester, Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield and John Smoltz out of the mix. Assuming Smoltz's rehab goes as planned (his rehab clock will be set to expire June 19), Boston would have ten quite legitimate Major League starters.

The depth is even more ridiculous in the bullpen. Prior to the season, in Fort Myers, Bill James told me that the Red Sox had the best bullpen on paper that he had ever seen. He was also quick to caveat that the best bullpen on paper means next to nothing given the unpredictability that comes with forecasting 50-80 innings worth of pitching. Still, James's commentary has proven prescient. Even with Masterson sliding into the rotation, Boston's 3.00 bullpen ERA trails only Kansas City's in the American League.

Jonathan Papelbon, Ramon Ramirez, Hideki Okajima, Manny Delcarmen, Takashi Saito and Daniel Bard are all worthy of pitching high leverage situations right now. And remember, with Clay Buchholz dealing in Pawtucket, Dice-K coming back and Smoltz beginning his rehab, that means there will be another relief arm or two whom Terry Francona can feel comfortable using in a big spot. At the very least, you can add Justin Masterson to that mix. Assuming good health, here is what the Boston pitching staff will probably look like one month from now:





This leaves out Buchholz, Michael Bowden and Penny. Junichi Tazawa, too, if you want to accept the premise that it is likely that he is ready for Major League action. Still, look at that list. While depth is desirable given the unpredictable nature of pitcher health and effectiveness, you simply do not need your bottom three relievers to be as effective as Boston's will be - particularly with three or four pitchers left off the roster who would be of great use to other Big League clubs.


All of this brings me back to Ortiz. Smoltz's rehab expiration of a month or so from now offers the Red Sox a nice timetable to evaluate their options. If Smoltz looks strong, they have lots of options. If Brad Penny improves, they have even more. If Smoltz has a setback, Penny continues to struggle and say, Beckett and/or Dice-K have a DL stint, that pitching depth may need to be tapped. And finally, maybe there is some way Ortiz regains his stroke. Then there is less urgency to look to do a deal.

But let's assume that things go reasonably smoothly for Smoltz and that he joins the rotation. Let's also assume that Buchholz and Bowden continue to pitch like MLB contributors and that the bullpen effectiveness keeps up from top to bottom. And finally, we'll assume that Ortiz is, as so many of us suspect he may be, finis. Then it's time for the Red Sox to look around. What follows are some of their potential options.

Sports Radio Caller Pipe Dreams?

David Wright

Would the Mets consider a deal of Mike Lowell, Buchholz, Masterson and Delcarmen for Wright? Maybe not, but the third baseman seems to be under-appreciated in the Big Apple at times and New York could use some young arms to help in the bullpen and back of the rotation.

Hanley Ramirez or Joe Mauer

I understand that you might have to empty your farm system for either of these two players. But both guys just might be worth it. I can't imagine a package Florida or Minnesota could ask that I would not listen to if you put me in charge of the Red Sox. The only problem is that neither team may listen long enough to even entertain a deal.

Proven Producers on Teams Going Nowhere

Matt Holliday

After a slow start, he has been excellent in May and Oakland appears to be headed for another disappointing season. He is a free agent at year's end, so Billy Beane's ask might be manageable.

Lance Berkman

Berkman is signed through 2010 (with a '11 club option and a $2M club buyout) but given that Houston is in last place and sports what is arguably the league's worst farm system, Drayton McLane and Ed Wade would be wise to consider a fire sale sooner rather than later. Did I mention Russ Ortiz takes a regular turn in their rotation.

A Good Ol' Value for Value Baseball Deal

Brandon Wood

Mike Scioscia sure doesn't seem to value him the way the Red Sox might. I wonder what the Angels would want in return for him? Seems to me the Red Sox have the arms to get something done.

Chris Iannetta

Colorado still seems to want Yorvit Torrealba getting innings, which makes me think that the right package could net Boston the young slugging catcher. Boston could DH Iannetta for a year, maybe two depending on what happens with Jason Varitek, and then slide him behind the dish longer term.

Less Pricey, Stop Gap Solutions

Jermaine Dye or Jim Thome

The White Sox seem down and out but Dye and Thome continue to produce. Both would come with favorable contract situations, too.

Nelson Cruz

He has struggled in May and of all people, Andruw Jones is coming on strong and seems to be taking playing time away from him in Texas. Moreover, we all know how much Nolan Ryan would like to beef up his pitching arsenal.

Jack Cust

Oakland may not wish to part with the cost-controlled, steady producer but for the right package, how long can you hold the line for a one-tool player like Cust?

Nick Johnson

Don't laugh, the Nationals first baseman that could never stay healthy has already played 38 games this year, as many as he played all of last season. His .438 on-base would look great in the Boston line-up and getting him off the field and into the DH role would only increase his chances of staying healthy. He's in the final year of a regrettable Nationals contract and Washington is going nowhere. He has to be there for the taking.


Boston doesn't have to do a deal, of course. Dozens of players within the organization would represent an upgrade over Ortiz's production if slotted into the DH role and as I have mentioned numerous times, the Red Sox are obviously still a good team despite their gaping hole in the middle of the batting order. I also respect the political considerations that factor into such a deal. But given their pitching surplus and obvious upgrade opportunity, why not go for it? Their financial advantages and proven drafting acumen should allow Boston to undergo whatever restocking efforts a bigtime deal would necessitate, anyway.


Sorry, but that trade is way too much. Wright is great, and I appreciate him, but to give up three young potentially good pitchers (one starter and two ultimately in the pen) plus a decent 3B over this year and the next. I wouldn't pull the trigger on that...

It seems a shame that in over a third of a century now, no major-league club has really figured out an intelligent way to use the DH position (which, as an aside, I wish they'd abolish, trading it off with the Union for a 26th man on the roster).

The current image of a DH is a big, old, all-bat/no-field slugger. Not every DH fits that mold, but nevertheless the DH role is typically assigned to a particular player on the roster. A wiser approach, I'd say, is to rotate the DH role around the position-player roster so as to give players needed rest time; there would be no "DH" on the roster, just a set of competent position players.

Space precludes detailed examination of the idea, but I do think that getting all players some rest time while not letting anyone sit more than 1/3 to at most 1/2 time (no "scrubs") is better use of talent than a DH.

Not to worry, Joe, because the Mets wouldn't make that deal either. Wright is being paid below market this year ($7.5M) and next ($10M) and doesn't begin to get market wages until 2011 ($14M) and 2012 ($15M). By comparison, Lowell is making $12M in each of 2009 and 2010. In other words, Wright costs $6.5M less than Lowell this year and next. Another way of looking at it is that Wright will average over the next 3 3/4 years about what Lowell is making now. Major advantage in favor of Wright.

Furthermore, Wright is 26 years old and is just now entering the prime of his career. He's hitting .361/.454/.544 and is on pace for 200 hits and 100 walks. The bottom line is that Wright is one of the four best players in baseball (along with Albert Pujols, Hanley Ramirez, and perhaps Evan Longoria) and you simply don't divide the value of such a player in the prime of his career among a 35-year-old veteran and three pitchers (even as promising as Buchholz appears to be), especially when they stand to make less than market for the next 1 3/4 years and are under contract for two additional seasons.

I would agree with commentary above on Wright. The hope from Boston's perspective is that Omar does not recognize just how good Wright is, the way many in the mainstream media fail to recognize his value.

How about Matt Stairs?. I guess Penny would be enough for him. The Phillies need starters right?

Don't forget Aubrey Huff!

two things: First, Do you think there are enough opportunities for Bard once Smoltz and DiceK are back to warrant keeping him in the bullpen? I would rather see him getting consistent outings in the 9th in pawtucket, much like that 9-pitch, 3 k performance he had a month or so back.

With ortiz sill struggling mightly, what about the possiblity of trading a few of the pitching prospects for a mid-level 3b/1b, and moving Lowell to DH (this is assuming an injury/overall breakdown of ortiz for an extended period of time). If you get a 1b, you can move youk back to 3b and insert your new 1b there. Doing so would also save Lowell some energy and possibly even allow him to increase his power numbers as he will no longer be worrying about his hips out at 3b?

Rich, you would know better than I. I may be putting too much emphasis on "ceiling" rather than whatever the realistic outcome will be. Still, three of the players are cheap and very talented. And Lowell is expensive, but still a solid option at third. And Masterson could potentially be a decent starter or a very good reliever. I ranked Wright 7th in baseball, so I do have a lot of respect for what he does. And I was on board for him to be the 2007 MVP over Rollins. I could definitely talking myself into adding Wright into that lineup :)