Lowell to Texas, Beltre to Boston?
This rumor has been cooking for a long time, and it may finally be ready for consumption. According to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, the Red Sox and Rangers have a deal in place that would send Mike Lowell to the Texas Rangers, with the Sox receiving top catching prospect Max Ramirez. Many expect the trade to be a precursor to the signing of Adrian Beltre.
As per Rosenthal, the Sox would contribute a substantial portion of Lowell’s contract – in his words, with the Sox “eating nearly all of [Lowell’s] 12 [million dollar] salary.” Dan Barbarisi of the Providence Journal, on the other hand, has the Sox providing “at least half” of the deal. We likely won’t know for some time which of the two price tags will win out, but be certain that it will significantly affect the team’s outlook for the remainder of the winter.
Is this the Sox answer to the Granderson deal in New York? Probably not. This isn’t the kind of blockbuster trade that substantially alters the team for 2010. In fact, the trade is curious in the sense that it would significantly hinder the team’s ability to maneuver for free agents for the rest of the off-season – and could put them out of the running for either Jason Bay or Matt Holliday.
Though Beltre can be considered the better asset of he and Lowell for the upcoming season (of course, assuming he is the team’s third baseman of choice), the amount of money committed to the departing Lowell is surprising considering the amount of capital it would tie up.
The expected price of a Beltre signing is quite high, according to sources familiar with the negotiations. John Tomase of the Boston Herald quotes a figure of $13 million per year over four to five years. Ed Price of AOL FanHouse expects a deal in the $10-$11 million range.
Accounting for Lowell’s contractual obligations, the team will could be contributing a total anywhere from $16-$25.5 million during 2010 to bring Adrian Beltre into the fold.
With Marco Scutaro already signed, a subsequent Beltre acquisition would certainly downgrade the chances of any more free agent splashes for the rest of the offseason. Following such a move, the team would have $100-$110 million committed to just 10 players, accounting for the obligations to Lugo and Lowell – a figure that does not include the arbitration cases of Jon Papelbon (received $6.25 million in 2009), Hideki Okajima, Manny Delcarmen, Ramon Ramirez, or the settlement of the remaining players on the roster.
The deal would all but kiss financial flexibility goodbye. While a low-cost signing would be a possibility, the top candidates are beginning to fly off the table as well – everyone’s favorite injury case, Rich Harden, is expected to sign with the Rangers shortly. Ben Sheets apparently wants a $12 million dollar deal.
The shape of the Lowell deal will have tremendous ramifications on the competitiveness of the team for the 2010 season. Too much money invested in moving Lowell could prevent a Holliday or Jason Bay signing, signaling that the team is seriously considering other options, such as acquiring Mike Cameron, switching either he or Jacoby Ellsbury to left field. It could also mean that they are committing to Jeremy Hermida, or at least seriously discussing that as a contingency.
A Beltre-Lowell transition would be a curious move at best, assuming that Beltre were to sign for 4-5 years at around $13 million per year. It would marginally improve the team’s third base spot for 2010, while possibly preventing them from signing other free agents, a negative for the team’s prospects at competing this upcoming year. It would also tie up significant resources over the next few seasons for a hitter coming off of a poor, injury-riddled season who is also heading into his latter years.
Maybe it would have been better to let Lowell’s contract expire at the end of the season. For a very capable, intelligent front office, buying out all of Lowell’s 2010 salary doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Then again, it is still just speculation at this juncture.
The point cannot be understated. Should the Sox commit to all of Lowell’s 2010 salary while subsequently signing Beltre to an expensive deal, this could be the white flag on 2010 as there may not be enough space in the budget to sign a marquee offensive left fielder. If it is only half, they could still be in the running. Only time will tell.
However, knowing the Red Sox and the competitive nature of this franchise and front office, expect them to keep pulling out the stops in the pursuit of a successful 2010.
The Cherry Named Maximiliano
Maximiliano Ramirez. Or, more appropriately, Max Ramirez. Call it buying a prospect, as the Sox have been craving a potential long term fix at the catching spot ever since 2005 when Varitek signed his infamous “Captain’s Deal”. Sure, it was good for a couple seasons, but, by the end, it was an inescapable albatross due to the player and his meaning to the city of Boston. Sure, V-Mart can hold the fort for a little while, but his deal expires this year and he’s never been much of a catcher to begin with. As such, the Sox are still exploring options.
In a perfect world, Ramirez will establish himself as the answer to the Sox’ never ending, four-year long string of prayers. But, this is not a perfect world, and accordingly, Ramirez is far from a perfect player.
Signed by the Braves as an 18 year-old out of Venezuela, Ramirez began his playing career for Gulf Coast League Braves in 2004. He showed good power and a decent command of the strike zone there for a young catcher, hitting 8 home runs in 204 at-bats on his way to an .819 OPS. However, with 50 strikeouts on the season, he had a little ways to go in the contact department.
Ramirez had a very similar season repeating rookie ball in 2005, though a .347/.424/.527 line gave his prospect shine some shine. A great 2006 in A-ball, on the shoulders of a 76:90 BB:K rate, prompted a trade to the Indians’ organization, where he stayed through 2007 before moving to the Rangers’ organization in the latter part of that year.
2008 was truly a banner year for Ramirez. His power came around in a big way, as he hit 21 home runs in 326 at-bats across three levels, debuting in the majors late in the year. Still, while his power and walk numbers were more than adequate, his strikeouts continued to be problematic, especially at the major league level. Albeit in a small sample of 46 at-bats, his performance was indicative of his recent struggles with making contact, as he struck out in 15 of those at-bats.
Sent to triple-A to start 2009, the season was the worst of Ramirez’s career. His first time at the level, the catcher seemed to battle himself just as much as opposing pitchers, struggling in every facet of his game. The strikeouts, once just a nuisance, were now a severely hindering his value, with 89 Ks in 274 at-bats. Though the walks were still there in good quantities, 35 in total, his power all but left him, as he slugged just 5 long balls all season. All told, Ramirez was just a shell of himself, hitting a combined .234/.323/.336 line on the season.
Now 25, Max Ramirez is at a crossroads in his career. Once a top catching prospect in one of the best farm systems in the majors, Ramirez is struggling to regain that status amidst rampant contact problems and questions about his defense. Said Baseball America at the beginning of the 2009 season,
“Scouts question whether Ramirez can stay behind the plate, where his arm is fringy, his release is slow, his hands are stiff and his agility is below-average… and his future might be as a first baseman/DH/fill-in catcher.”
Certainly not a ringing endorsement of Ramirez’s receiving skills, he is now fighting an uphill battle for a long major league career.
2010 will be a very important year for Ramirez’s development and outlook as a potential major league. Once one of the better catching prospects in the game, Ramirez will have to improve upon his contact abilities and regain his power if he wants to have a shot at a major league career. Though the Sox should be commended for squeezing a legitimate backstop prospect out of this deal – especially one in the upper minors – his value is very much in flux, and the team has plenty of those types in its system.
For the upcoming season, watch Ramirez’s strikeouts and power numbers. If they can come around – or, even if just his power can return – he will be a contributor to the Boston team. If not, the Sox will have to continue their search for their backstop of the future.
A Farewell to Arms
And if the deal does go through – which would include the actual confirmation of the deal, the players passing physicals, and Bud Selig signing off on the exchange of dollars – it will be a sad day in Boston as one of the town’s favorite, and more improbable heroes will have left its soil for green(er?) pastures. Hey, Texas ain’t Boston, and no one’s pretending it is. Though, they are looking like solid contenders for 2010 and could even fight the Sox for the Wild Card next season. So much for never dealing with the enemy.
Even so, Mike Lowell will exit Boston with his head held high. In a fit of ultimate irony, the once-maligned poison pill of the Josh Beckett deal became one of the team’s biggest assets, even outperforming Beckett by 1.3 WAR in 2006. Remember, the Sox were making a huge concession in taking on Lowell’s contract at the end of 2005, a season in which he hit 8 home runs in 500 at-bats, with a .236/.298/.360. Ouch. That’s one huge pill.
With a World Series championship under his belt and plenty of baseball jerseys to bear witness to his time in Boston, Fire Brand and the entirety of Red Sox Nation thank you for your time in Boston. Good luck in Arlington!