Red Sox Offseason BluePrint v.2 : Holliday, Harden, Scutaro

Houston Astros vs St. Louis Cardinals
Like most teams, the Boston Red Sox offseason will be defined by the willingness of their owner to open his wallet. Fortunately for Sox fans nationwide, Uncle John certainly has some deep pockets. However, the amount he is willing to spend will have a lot to say about the direction that this team will be headed. The prudent move by the Red Sox will be to look for incremental gains in what is partly a transitional year, while also being a year of opportunity. The club has nearly its entire 2009 starting lineup under contract, including its entire starting staff and at least seven of nine position players. For a team that won 95 games last season, that’s a recipe for success. Still, the American League gets more competitive every year, as the AL West, the Yankees, and our little brother Rays make it harder and harder to buy the Wild Card.
Houston Astros vs St. Louis Cardinals

Like most teams, the Boston Red Sox offseason will be defined by the willingness of their owner to open his wallet.

Fortunately for Sox fans nationwide, Uncle John certainly has some deep pockets. However, the amount he is willing to spend will have a lot to say about the direction that this team will be headed.

The prudent move by the Red Sox will be to look for incremental gains in what is partly a  transitional year, while also being a year of opportunity. The club has nearly its entire 2009 starting lineup under contract, including its entire starting staff and at least seven of nine position players. For a team that won 95 games last season, that’s a recipe for success. Still, the American League gets more competitive every year, as the AL West, the Yankees, and our little brother Rays make it harder and harder to buy the Wild Card.

With a lot of money coming off the books after 2011 and a good core set up for 2010, Theo needs to opt for short-term deals this off-season. The team has a chance to make a huge impact in 2010 and 2011, so they should conserve while they can but still have some risk built into their plan.

But man, does that Julio Lugo signing handicap this winter of ’09. The Sox are, in essence, paying the Cardinals to play the failed shortstop, who is owed $9.25 million. Luckily, that obligation ends after this season. Ortiz’s services, at the cost of $13 million this season and a 2011 club option, as well as Mike Lowell’s obligations also come off the books after next season. In all, the Sox have just $49.3 million tied up in 2010 contracts, though that figure is sans Beckett, V-Mart, any 2009 free agents or arbitration cases yet to be decided.

Still, it’s a good position to be in when (potentially) Joe Mauer, Victor Martinez, Carl Crawford, Brandon Webb, Roy Halladay, Josh Beckett, Cliff Lee, and Javier Vazquez all hit free agency.

But there’s more to a team than waiting for a free agent period over a year away. After all, too much planning for the future can be a bad thing. Maybe the New York Knicks will teach us all a valuable lesson when LeBron doesn’t head to the Big Apple after all that planning and hoping involved.

As a result, the Sox need to think about this season, as they’re in great position to improve upon a team that, for all intents and purposes, should be going through a rebuilding phase. They have two expensive, expiring contracts on the books for declining players (Lowell, Ortiz) and an aging captain in Varitek. That is usually a disastrous recipe. However, the Sox have weathered the storm with few hiccups.

Now, with the stage set, let’s get on with the 2009 off-season blueprint.

Kiss Bay Good-Bye, Sign Matt Holliday

This should be priority number one of the off-season. Though Bay is the best hitter and run-producer on the free agent market, Holliday is the better all-around player and lower risk of the two left fielders.

Holliday has a number of advantages over Jason Bay that make him the better candidate, especially when considering both players are certain to get long-term contracts.

First, he is the better fielder. While Bay was doing his best to embarrass himself out by the Green Monster (-8.7 UZR/150), Holliday was posting an above-average defensive year (3.2 UZR/150). This difference is critical when considering the merits of the two players. When picking between two similarly valued assets, it is always smart to minimize risk. In baseball, the primary way of doing this is to find the player who diversifies their value better – typically players who can hit and field.

Since predicting an off-year with the bat is never an easy chore, we should seek to find a player who can fall back on their fielding abilities. Therefore, Holliday has the lower floor because it is unlikely that both his hitting and fielding will decline in any one particular year, meaning that if one should decline, he will retain value in the other. Bay does not have this luxury: as his hitting goes, so does his overall value. He does not have defense to lean on in a poor year with the stick.

But the comparison does not end there.

Bay is going through what seems to be a strange transition as a hitter. Bay’s most important attributes are still alive and well. He has tremendous power and a good eye at the plate, drawing plenty of walks. However, this season, his strikeout problems began to get out of hand.

Bay’s sudden drop in contact rate (77.1% in 2008; 71.7% in 2009) casts some doubt as to whether or not he will age well at the plate. Should his rates rebound, he will age gracefully. If not, this could get ugly in a hurry, as it’s not out of the question that his strikeouts could approach 35% of his at-bats. This is akin to a doomsday scenario, dropping his batting average into the .250s and below.

It should be noted that this is not at all the rule of player progression and that it is possible that his contact rates could improve – but it is a scenario that must be weighed against potential alternatives.

Since Bay’s future is largely dependent on his contact rate and a four-plus year contract that could stretch into his age-35 season and beyond, he’s not the safest bet by any means.

But Holliday is not without risks of his own. For instance, his 2009 line is very much dependent on a high batting average on balls in play (BABIP) which is not easy to reproduce, at .346. This, coupled with his past as a Rockie, would lead one to believe that Holliday should be headed for a downturn. It would be good to temper enthusiasm somewhat, as high BABIPs are never a good thing to bet on; though, he has been consistently good throughout his career. In addition, Holliday’s contact rates are less than ideal, which means he may have more problems with strikeouts in the future than he has let on thus far.

But getting back to Holliday’s past as a Rockie, there are reasons to believe he is not quite the Colorado aberration many make him out to be. Holliday’s home/road splits as a member of the Rockies are grossly overexaggerated. His three-year road numbers from 2006-2008 were .296/.370/.486, which are good (though not great) numbers. Still, with his .313/.394/.515 line this season between Oakland and St. Louis, he doesn’t seem like the Coors product that other players have been in the past.

In essence, the advantage of Holliday over Bay is getting the less risky asset. Holliday is the better fielder, has fewer strikeout issues, and is a full year younger. While this may not seem like much, when talking about a player’s age-34 and 35 seasons, it becomes very important. With the salaries these two players are expected to earn and the expected lengths of the contracts, it is always prudent to go with the less risky option.

Holliday might not be the quality of hitter than Bay is, but when getting to that fourth year (or fifth, as some sources indicate), Holliday looks like the better play. Remember, it’s not always about getting the best player, it’s often about not getting the worst. As a result , the Sox should forego signing Jason Bay and make every effort to land Holliday instead.

Roll the Dice on Rich Harden

Here’s another interesting contract that could go south at any time. Harden has been pegged throughout his whole career as an injury case – and rightly so. However, with the quality of pitcher that Harden is and the Sox’ deep pockets, this seems like a good player to roll the dice on.

Harden is unique for both his talent and his health. Most pitchers have enough healthy seasons in their past that teams will bet that they can stay on the mound with some regularity. Harden doesn’t as everyone and their grandma knows that he won’t throw any more than 140-150 innings. Therefore, teams will value him accordingly and it will be harder to overprice him due to the “potential” to throw a full season.

Some sources are quoting as a high as 4/50-60 for Harden. Unless that contract comes down considerably and for 3 guaranteed years at most, this will be a bad deal for the Sox to make. His agent may want a deal like Derek Lowe’s last year (4/60) though the Sox shouldn’t  pay for it. Others have quoted 3 years /$30 million or Oliver Perez’s 3/$36. If the Sox can get that price, it might be a good idea to pull the trigger. This deal begins and ends with the contract length. If there’s a 2-year deal on the table, its an unequivocal yes.

Sign Shortstop Marco Scutaro

This one has had me tossing and turning for days now. With the price quotes falling somewhere in the 2-3 year, $8-$10 million dollar range, Scutaro could become quite the bargain for a free agent signing. His 2009 breakout was quite an intriguing one, as it was not fueled by anything that was necessarily all that fluky. He didn’t hit 20 home runs, he didn’t hit .350, he didn’t bat in 120 runs.

What he did do, however, was something much more surprising and perplexing. Marco Scutaro has always had a good eye at the plate, never swinging at more than 16.8 percent of pitches outside the zone since he became a semi-regular back in 2004. This past season, he set a career low at 12.3%.

What is particularly interesting about this, however, is that he completely altered his swing frequency at the plate, offering at just 34.5 percent of pitches – a strikingly low number, more than 7 percent lower than his 2008 mark (41.6%).

Whether or not he can maintain this approach is anyone’s guess. While pitchers are sure to adjust and throw him more strikes, it might not make much difference. Even if they do, he has such good contact skills that it will only aid his strikeout rate, which will help his batting average.

Scutaro has some surprisingly good indicators for a player who has been a utility infielder his whole career and he deserves to cash in after his excellent 2009. While he may go for a longer deal, we’ll chalk him up as a Sox’ signing and give him two years, because we’re optimists.

A great fit for the team, he would go a long way at plugging up a whole that has eaten away at this franchise for years. A short deal for a player with moderate risk, he’ll avoid being the mistake that Julio Lugo or Edgar Renteria were merely by virtue of him having a shorter contract.

This could be quite the signing. Even though he isn’t guaranteed to repeat his 2009 success, he has such a unique skill-set that there’s not much reason to believe he can’t do it. An older player (34 years old) who’s game is built on an exceptional batting eye, excellent contact skills, and solid defense, his game should age well. He’ll be a great value for a team that desperately needs to improve at short. He could be the biggest upgrade of all three free agents.

Maintaining the Rest

-Jason Varitek: The Sox should decline Varitek’s team option, letting him sign on as a $3 million backup. He doesn’t have much – or anything – left in the tank, so this is almost a courtesy. But, exercising the team option for $5 million would just be wasting money.

-Tim Wakefield: Resigning Tim Wakefield, especially if the Sox sign Harden, is a no-brainer. Wakefield could pitch half the season and still be worth it. He offers so much stability and depth to this team at such a good price that they are almost obligated to re-sign him. Another gift from the elder statesman.

-Maintaining the ‘pen: The Sox should be able to keep both Manny Delcarmen and Ramon Ramirez for 2010. Both are good young arms at a good price. However, Takashi Saito and Hideki Okajima present a unique problem. Resigning both may be problematic in this scenario where the Sox sign three free agents. As a result, we’ll say the Sox sign Okajima, the lefty, and let Saito go. Billy Wagner may have to go, as well, under this scenario, which is a tough pill to swallow. However, the reliever wants to close, so with Papelbon and Bard still in the picture, it’s an easier decision to make.

-Buyout Alex Gonzalez’s option: This one is unfortunate, as A-Gon was so good for the team when they needed a stopgap. However, we’re committing to Marco Scutaro, so that leaves no room for a $6 million backup. The Sox are strapped for cash under this scenario, so there’s just no money for his option. Sorry old fella.

2010 Starting Roster

C Victor Martinez

1B Kevin Youkilis

2B Dustin Pedroia

3B Mike Lowell

SS Marco Scutaro

LF Matt Holliday

CF Jacoby Ellsbury

RF JD Drew

DH David Ortiz

SP1 Josh Beckett

SP2 Jon Lester

SP3 Clay Buchholz

SP4 Rich Harden

SP5 Daisuke Matsuzaka

SP6 Tim Wakefield

Certainly, signing three prime free agents would be a dream scenario and the Sox are in a position where they can take a couple risks. They may have to push the salary cap to a four-year high, but they also should have the resources to do so.

Under this scenario, they get one high-priced, incredibly talented, long-term commitment (Holliday), one moderate-to-high risk free agent at a moderate length (Harden, three years), and one moderate-to-low risk, short-term commitment (Scutaro).

These moves may cost the Sox around $35 million, so they won’t have much room left for other signings. However, these acquisitions will set them up for a great year in 2010 while the money coming off the books in 2011 leaves them in prime position to pursue marquee free agents next year.

I like the three free agent approach though I must say John Henry will have to pony up to make it all happen. However,  it will be money well spent as it will put the Sox in the thick of a pennant run in 2010. Either way, only time will tell which direction the club ultimately moves.

Categories: Alex Gonzalez Billy Wagner Boston Red Sox Jason Bay Jason Varitek Marco Scutaro Matt Holliday Rich Harden Takashi Saito Tim Wakefield

22 Responses to “Red Sox Offseason BluePrint v.2 : Holliday, Harden, Scutaro” Subscribe

  1. Gerry October 15, 2009 at 3:42 PM #

    Well considered as usual. Agree fully on a favorable Harden contract. Am not so sure about Holliday vs. Bay. Boras will stick it to the Sox again with another outrageous contract for a guy who really hasn't proven he can hit in the ALE. Not saying he can't, just that he hasn't yet and may not be successful. That risk, combined with a Boras contract, seems too high, as he is not worth $3 – 5MM more per year than J.Bay, especially based on the suspicion that his skills will translate to the ALE. I would be happy with Bay for 3 years in LF and 2 years as DH, and confident that he will deliver 30-40/100/100/.900 in each of those years. I am also not sold on M.Scutaro over A.Gonzales. Mario's breakout year could be an anomaly. Gonzo's year is consistent with past performance, especially considering he has had several multiple HR deals and is a .250 hitter. IMO, Gonzo has stopped the revolving door already, and is perfect to mentor Lowrie.

  2. Sean O October 15, 2009 at 3:52 PM #

    No no no no no no no no no no no no no.

    Holliday is a mediocre hitter in the AL, and that was even in the much weaker AL West. I figure he'd have a .780 OPS in the AL East, even with the Monster. So that's $16-$20m for a below-average bat.

    Marco Scutaro is well on the wrong side of 30 and is coming off of a career year. He's shown no indication that he's able to keep that line going for the future.

    Rich Harden is just repeating the faults of this year, throwing money at Penny and Smoltz. Unless we can get him on an incentive-laden contract for $2m and expect him to be our spot starter, it's a no-go.

    No Holliday, under any circumstances. There isn't a single reason why you would give $16-20m a year to Holliday instead of Teixeira.

  3. @brogshan October 15, 2009 at 5:55 PM #

    I agree with Sean O. Scutaro had a career year, so let some one else pay him for it. It would be the Lite version of the Lugo and Rentaria signings. Holliday is going to command much more money than Bay and I'd rather go with the sure thing.

    Harden I don't really have an opinion about. If the deal is cheap, sure let's see what he's got. But don't give up any time (no more than two years).

  4. Pat, Kingston October 15, 2009 at 6:04 PM #

    I like this blue print much better than V.1. I can tell reading the few comments up already, that I'm in the minority in wanting Holliday on this team. I agree that he isn't "proven" in the AL East, but I think he can hit anywhere. Fenway might be a great park for him to hit at too, I don't know.

    Rich Harden – YES PLEASE!!!

    I don't like signing aging players (see Lowell), but if we could sign Scutaro for 2 years, I could accept that.

  5. Mike_Silver October 15, 2009 at 6:09 PM #

    The reason I like Scutaro better than other older players is that his game is built differently. He doesn't rely on great power and doesn't strike out much and he has a much more contact oriented approach. He doesn't rely as much on athleticism as other players, because his game is very much a mental one. That, coupled with his exceptional batting eye make him a good bet. Therefore, he's not the same kind of risk as other veterans.

  6. Len October 15, 2009 at 6:19 PM #

    Oh god holliday would be such a mistake. Unfortunately JayBay isn't too great either. Missing out on Teixera looks awful right now. We need a great player, that's what the team is missing.

  7. John Cate October 15, 2009 at 7:09 PM #

    I like this plan a lot better. I agree that Scutaro is a good bet to keep being productive for a few years, because of the way he plays the game. Also, Scutaro is a player who was stuck in the minors for years because of the idiocy of the organizations he played in, and he's always looked motivated to show everyone just how good a player he really is. And he is actually getting a little better each season, even at 33.

    I'd try to re-sign Bay, but not for more than four years. Holliday is OK as a replacement, as long as the Red Sox take into account that he will not hit the same in the AL East as he did in Colorado. He'll make up for some of that with much better defense, though. I see Holliday as another J.D. Drew, without the injury problems.

    And I'll say what I said about the other scenario: see what the Padres want for Adrian Gonzalez! The Red Sox need a bat, and what's Gonzalez going to hit if you take him out of Petco for 81 games and stick him in Fenway for 81 instead?

    • Gerry October 15, 2009 at 9:12 PM #

      Yes on Adrian Gonzales, the replacement for Teix, except with greater power. Could he hit 50 at the fens? More? Not only 100RBI and 100R but 100BB? Solid D. This moves Youk back to 3rd, and platoons Mike with Papi. What's not to like? Would a package along the lines of Buch or Bowden, MDC or Rrami, and Jones, Lowrie, Anderson be worth it??
      Re: Holliday as JD without the problems. There's the rub. In Boston, Holliday will either be a better hitter or worse hitter, and we don't know which it will be. JD is a better defender, and his offense has become more consistent at Fenway (He has adjusted). He makes $14MM which, though it was OK at the time, is alot now. JBay is likely to settle in for $13-14MM. The two of them have among the highest OPS for OF in MLB. Wouldn't Holliday, who will want $16MM – $20MM for longer term be a HUGE risk? Would the FO deal with Lucifer Boras? IMO, Adrian and J.Bay or Adrian and C. Figgins would guarantee greater results.

    • Gerry October 15, 2009 at 9:12 PM #

      Yes on Adrian Gonzales, the replacement for Teix, except with greater power. Could he hit 50 at the fens? More? Not only 100RBI and 100R but 100BB? Solid D. This moves Youk back to 3rd, and platoons Mike with Papi. What's not to like? Would a package along the lines of Buch or Bowden, MDC or Rrami, and Jones, Lowrie, Anderson be worth it??
      Re: Holliday as JD without the problems. There's the rub. In Boston, Holliday will either be a better hitter or worse hitter, and we don't know which it will be. JD is a better defender, and his offense has become more consistent at Fenway (He has adjusted). He makes $14MM which, though it was OK at the time, is alot now. JBay is likely to settle in for $13-14MM. The two of them have among the highest OPS for OF in MLB. Wouldn't Holliday, who will want $16MM – $20MM for longer term be a HUGE risk? Would the FO deal with Lucifer Boras? IMO, Adrian and J.Bay or Adrian and C. Figgins would guarantee greater results.

      • ericinboston October 16, 2009 at 2:40 AM #

        why wouldnt they negotiate with boras? off the top of my head ellsbury, tek, and drew are all boras clients. it seems to me that they have a 'good' working relationship with him. oh, and dice-k as well.

        anyhow, if i'm wearing my GM hat i wouldn't hesitate to send Bowden/MDC/Lowrie/Anderson to SD for AGon.

  8. donna October 15, 2009 at 9:09 PM #

    o k tell me why Saito was outrighted today?!? jeez

    if this were a vote i would vote to keep jBay and A Gon, why f with Boras 1, 2 – why test Holliday in the ALE? AGon has proven he is a good fit, adn Bay may be the best option right now ( too bad he will get more than he may be actually worth but until folks stop paying overpriced tix to see games, we ultimately foot the bill anyways)

    and on that topic i have to say the Sox have more than enough money so why all the penny pinching? we can see what happened with Tex and unless we have folks coming in from the farm that are superstars in waiting… i would be content to see the club pay good money for GOOD FA's, and keep the talent we know to be good for us. i still think this team of 2009 was vastly underplaying this year and hope to heck it can turn around – and doesn't that sound fairly ludicrous to say for a team that won 95 games?

    • evanbrunell October 15, 2009 at 10:23 PM #

      Saito is awesome, but I can't say I disagree with the move. $6 million is a lot for a middle reliever.

      • radiohix October 16, 2009 at 1:31 AM #

        4.25 FIP and 4.40 tRA ain't Awesome, it's lucky!

  9. bob October 15, 2009 at 11:12 PM #

    just food for thought, why not both Holliday and Bay, I know its unlikely, but just DHing one of them and benching Papi wouldn't be so bad…

    maybe I'm higher on harden then most but I would welcome the signing provided the Sox pick up another less injury prone starter as well so they don't have to lean on him Lester, Beckett, Buchholz, Harden is easily the best rotation in the league based purely on stuff

    • ericinboston October 16, 2009 at 2:36 AM #

      in regards to holliday and bay my question is… why either of them? i understand they are the best available option for this free agent class but perhaps not the best option for the long term interests of the team.

      if we're all thinking outside the box here why not entertain signing bobby abreu? or marlon byrd? either could be potential 1-2 year 'stop gap' type players. looking ahead to 2011 carl crawford, adam dunn, and jayson werth are all potential free agents. those are intriguing players imo.

      i guess what i'm really driving at is that we need to look at solutions outside of the two obvious guys and don't convince ourselves that simply b/c the offense may score 805 runs instead of 840 we must must must make a play for one of the two big free agent OF's.

  10. evanbrunell October 16, 2009 at 1:43 AM #

    Touche… I liked Saito a lot, but I never saw what made him such a force in L.A.

  11. Alex October 16, 2009 at 7:45 PM #

    I believe that if we're going to go after Bay or Holliday, it might as well be the better one. Holliday has roughly twice the WAR value as Bay over the last couple of years. Wild speculation about Holliday's offense aside, we can at least say for certain that he won't be costing us piles of runs flailing around uselessly in left like Bay does. Bay is going to end up as a DH type in a few years.

    Scutaro is a tough read. If a low-risk deal can be had for him, I say we go for it. He could replicate last year's results… and if he bats even league average for a shortstop it will still be gravy considering what we're used to. I hope we don't end up paying $6MM for Gonzalez.

  12. Smashwell October 20, 2009 at 7:15 PM #

    No on Holliday unless you are going to pay him for what he is going to hit in the AL. He is a .850 OPS hitter in the AL. If you look at his hit chart you will realize that the green monster won't help him either:

    http://mlb.mlb.com/stats/individual_player_hittin

    In regards to Scutaro, he has solid hands but not the greatest range. Not to mention he is turning 34 around Halloween. When you sign a player you are paying them for future production not past and there is little evidence saying he will enjoy another average year like he did this year. AGon loves Boston, he is cheaper, plays better defense and gets my vote.

    I still feel we need to get a bat but i think that Ellsbury and Pedroia will be better next year. Lowell and Papi aren't the same and a corner IF bat would be nice. There just aren't many out there via FA. Maybe Abreu could play first hahahaha

  13. Smashwell October 20, 2009 at 7:15 PM #

    No on Holliday unless you are going to pay him for what he is going to hit in the AL. He is a .850 OPS hitter in the AL. If you look at his hit chart you will realize that the green monster won't help him either:

    http://mlb.mlb.com/stats/individual_player_hittin

    In regards to Scutaro, he has solid hands but not the greatest range. Not to mention he is turning 34 around Halloween. When you sign a player you are paying them for future production not past and there is little evidence saying he will enjoy another average year like he did this year. AGon loves Boston, he is cheaper, plays better defense and gets my vote.

    I still feel we need to get a bat but i think that Ellsbury and Pedroia will be better next year. Lowell and Papi aren't the same and a corner IF bat would be nice. There just aren't many out there via FA. Maybe Abreu could play first hahahaha

  14. Gerry October 22, 2009 at 2:58 PM #

    Holliday moved out of range (and desirablility) with the tragi-comic Boras announcement (of course it came during a championship game) that Holliday =Teixeira. Would you pay $20MM long term for a guy who is absolutely unproven in the American League? I know this is PR scam is geared to get the NYY/Sox/Mets/Dodgers, etc. bidding against each other to raise the $$. Just say no, guys! No to Boras.

    Although IMO JBay has earned and will earn 4/60 as LF and DH, s and he gets my vote, his contract will now be measured by the glare of Holliday's. eriicinboston may have the right idea to NOT build the team around either of them.

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