As is customary at the conclusion of every MLB season, the Boston Red Sox are now the proud holders of a number of expiring contracts and options.
For a team swept in the opening round of the playoffs, there is often the urge to spend big on the free agent market in an attempt to show the fans that they are committed to winning after a badly failed run.
However, this may not be the case with the 2010 Sox, as they are retaining most of their starting roster - many at excellent prices for their skill level (i.e. Lester for $3.75 million in 2010) – with significant questions at left field and shortstop only.
Now, with the end of the season upon us and free agency approaching, who will the Sox choose to keep around?
OF Jason Bay: Bay made $7.5 million this season and will now become a free agent. It will be interesting to see how the Sox play this one. While Bay has been a great asset this season, does anyone remember the contract talks in April and May? It seems like a prudent move that Theo didn’t resign him when his swing was hot: a great example of not buying high. Chalk that one up as a YES on the Theo-Meter.
Industry sources seem to think that he will command a contract in the realm of 4 years at $14-15 million per annum on the open market. A good contract for a good player, Bay did turn 31 about three weeks ago. With a knee surgery under his belt, subpar fielding numbers, and a nose-diving contact rate (71.7% in ’09, down from 77.1% in ’08) J-Bay is not the safest investment.
Fangraphs.com calculates his 2009 performance to be worth $15.3 million, about what he is expected to receive on the free agent market. Still, with the contract projected to lock up his age-35 season and potentially more, this is not the easiest deal to make. The Sox need middle-of-the-order bats, so this may force their hand.
Still, while Bay’s Type A designation may be added incentive for Boston to part ways with their incumbent slugger, it would be an upset if they did, as there aren’t any free agent outfielders who can replace his production.
2009 Line: 531 AB, 638 PA; .267/.384/.537; 36 HR, 94 BB, 162 K
Notable Free Agent Outfielders: Bobby Abreu (A), Garret Anderson (B), Rick Ankiel, Marlon Byrd (B), Mike Cameron (B), Johnny Damon (A), Jermaine Dye (A), Vladimir Guerrero (A), Matt Holliday (A), Hideki Matsui (B), Xavier Nady (B)
SP Paul Byrd: He may not be back next year, as he took half of 2009 off before signing with the club in August. He won’t factor into the rotation plans for 2010, though a minor league contract for a fringe major leaguer is never a bad thing to have. Don’t treat his negotiations with indifference. Look at it as a opportunity to get something for nothing.
2009 Line: 34.0 IP, 5.82 ERA, 4.95 FIP; 11 K, 11 BB, 4 HR; 6.2 HR/FB, 0.68 GB:FB
INF Chris Woodward: It’s always a good thing to have backups ready in the minors, though at this point Woodward’s status with the Red Sox is of minor significance. Think of his signing the way Drago thought of Apollo Creed’s death in Rocky IV: “If he dies, he dies.” If he doesn’t sign, don’t fret.
2009 Line: 79 AB, 90 PA; .215/.292/.228; 7 BB, 19 K; Ugh.
OF Rocco Baldelli: Baldelli was a nice player for the Red Sox in 2009, especially at the price of $0.5 million. He still has some juice left in that bat, though the wear and tear on his body really shows. If he were willing to come back as a fourth outfielder, he would again be a great asset.
Even with his energy-mitochondria issues, the team should be willing to play him more in the DH slot than they do, especially given Papi’s current and impending issues against lefties. However, it should be noted that he struggled mightily against righties this season, posting a .193/.258/.421 line in 57 at-bats, though he did hit 3 homers. The verdict is out on that one, but his .222 BABIP leaves a lot of room for optimism.
2009 Line: 150 AB, 163 PA; .253/.311/.433; 7 HR, 11 BB, 37 K.
v. LHP: .290/.343/.441; 93 AB, 101 PA, 4 HR, 7 BB, 19 K
SP Josh Beckett: This one snuck up quickly, as it still seems like he just got here. His $12 million option vests for next season due to a clause that guarantees the option should Beckett start 28 games in ’09 or 56 between ’08-’09. That one was a no-brainer anyway. Beckett is a tremendous pitcher.
RP Billy Wagner: Technically, this one’s still an option, even though it might as well be an expiring contract as Wagner has made it clear he doesn’t want to come back unless he’s the closer. With the Papelbon trade rumors going around, it’s not out of the question that he could come back. Even the elbow surgery isn’t such a big concern, since he was stellar in his return and TJ surgery isn’t the riskiest of all operations. This one bears watching, as does the Papelbon trade rumor mill.
C/1B Victor Martinez: The team holds a $7.5 million option, with a $0.25 million buyout. The option originally cost the Indians $7 million, but the trade increased the price by $0.5 mil. Expect to see V-Mart back with the Sox – that price is way too good to pass up. It will get real interesting in 2011, however, when both Joe Mauer and Martinez are free-agents at the same time, assuming most teams still consider them catchers long-term.
Going with that logic, wouldn’t it be interesting to see the two of them rotate with one another at 1st base and catcher? After all, Youk could move over to third when Lowell’s contract expires and it would save both Martinez’s and Mauer’s legs for the long-term. Together, they could provide the Sox with above average offense at first base and MVP caliber production at catcher for the length of their contracts. Wow.
Maybe the move makes too much sense, though it would all hinge on whether or not the team can afford both players, who are guaranteed to get huge paydays. Still, if the pair were to suit up in the Boston red, the team would have to be considered the favorite in the division for years to come.
SS Alex Gonzalez: The club holds a $6 million option on A-Gon with a $0.5 million buy-out. This one’s a tricky one, as the free agent market and Lowrie’s injury status will have a lot to do with whether or not he’s retained. Gonzalez was exactly what the team needed in September and came at a great price.
The free agent market has a few interesting names, though both Marco Scutaro and Orlando Cabrera have Type A tags. Gonzalez is an underrated, adequate option for a team that doesn’t want to spend money, but his struggles at Cincinnati this season may have made him too risky for the Sox to rely on over a full season.
C Jason Varitek: The team has a $5 million option, while Tek has a $3 million player option. He may have to settle for being a backup in Boston or land on some other team as his struggles with the bat seem to have worn out his welcome with the hometown faithful. He’s still got the ‘C’ on his chest, but that doesn’t look like enough for even the marketing department to justify his contract anymore.
SP Tim Wakefield: His option comes up every year. Still, with these modern baseball economics, you would be suicidal to turn away a quality starter at $4 million a year. Chump change – even with the back issues. Still, this one might be up to Wakefield and whether his body feels up to it.
With Wake headed for surgery, he may yet have another year under the Boston sun. However, his time in the trainer’s room has been getting longer and longer recently. Like many other pitchers that stick around until his age, it won’t be his arm that spells the end of the road, it will be his legs and his back.
RP Takashi Saito: Saito’s is a club option in 2010 for “the price of his 2009 earnings.” We’ll see how much he accrues at the end of the season, but we do know his base salary is $1.5 million, with five $0.5 million escalators and a $1 million increase for being on the 2009 Opening Day roster – the language is a little confusing; not sure if that last stipulation also vests in 2010. Either way, he was one of the Sox better relievers in 2009 and Saito should be just as much of an asset next season.
With financial flexibility and a solid core on their side, the Red Sox look poised for a strong off-season in 2009-2010. Theo certainly has his work cut out for him, but as long as he doesn’t splurge over the MLB’s latest craze (i.e. Edgar Renteria or Orlando Cabrera), the team should be ready to go for 2010 and beyond. Be ready for some interesting trade scenarios, lengthy negotiations, and a free agent here and there. Either way, the Sox should be primed and ready for another championship run in 2010.