It’s been another harrowing week for the Red Sox as yet another key starter has gone down to injury.
With Dustin Pedroia sustaining a broken foot, the second baseman is expected to miss an estimated six weeks – forcing the Sox to scramble for a replacement due to their lack of infield depth.
Elaborating on Pedroia’s importance would be superfluous. The former AL MVP is among the three most indispensible Red Sox on the active roster next to Kevin Youkilis and Jon Lester – if not the most important of the three. Considering the absence of any semblance of a Major Leaguer middle infielder in Boston’s stead, he is as good as irreplaceable.
Still, the length of Pedroia’s injury is nearly as confounding as the injury itself. Assuming he returns along the proposed six-week time line, the Sox are in a purgatory of sorts when it comes to finding a replacement. On the one hand, they could trade for a replacement outside the organization – costing the team prospects in exchange for gaining about a win or two in Pedroia’s absence. On the other, they could tough it out with the inadequate options available.
At the moment, the Sox seem to be chosing the middle ground of the two strategies, which is probably the best way to go – acquire low-cost underachievers and hope to plug the hole until Pedroia gets back.
Faced with starting utility man Bill Hall full-time at second base, the club opted for some insurance – calling up infielder Angel Sanchez from Pawtucket. Later that night, the Sox acquired the underachieving Eric Patterson from the Athletics via trade.
A 26 year-old career minor leaguer who profiles best as a utility man, if Sanchez makes an impact with the club, it is almost certain to come via the glove than with the bat. Like many reserve middle infielders, he has a good defensive reputation, while his bat lags behind. With Saturday’s call up, Sanchez is now in his third Major League stint – including one eight game stretch with the Royals in 2006 as well as an appearance for the Sox earlier this season on May 20.
With just 31 Major League at-bats to his credit (.200/.194/.200), it’s difficult to say how Sanchez’ bat will translate to the bigs. Facing MLB caliber pitchers every day — instead of two out of five at AAA – can fry a hitter’s bat. However, his AAA track record does suggest some ability with the stick. While he offers very little pop (7 career Triple-A HRs in 803 ABs), he has shown good contact skills (14.6 K percentage; Triple-A), and the ability to drive the ball when he puts it in play (.334 Triple-A BABIP).
The early returns on 2010 are no different, as he has posted a .274/.348/.327 line with no homers and 30 strikeouts in 223 at-bats.
In the end, the bottom line is clear with Sanchez: don’t expect any miracles and hope the Sox aren’t forced to rely upon him on a daily basis.
While he is far from a reliable option, the acquisition of Eric Patterson is a positive in that the second baseman has a legitimate – albeit somewhat small – chance of providing reasonable production over the course of the next six weeks.
On the plus side, Patterson has about as good Triple-A credentials as one can hope for from a recently DFA’d middle infield bat. Over parts of four seasons at the minor’s highest level, Patterson has posted a .309/.369/.487 line – including a .307/.376/.494 share with 12 HRs over 466 at-bats in 2009. Having shown adequate pop (Career, AAA: 1 HR per 35.82 ABs), the ability to make hard contact (Career AAA: .356 BABIP), and decent strike zone judgment (Career AAA: 18.2 K percentage; 8.68 BB percentage), there is certainly enough talent present for the possibility of a breakout from Patterson.
But he has his drawbacks. For one, he has played very poorly thus far in 2010. Posting a lackluster .204/.255/.408 line in 103 at-bats this year, he also comes with a .220/.301/.340 line in a career spanning 378 plate appearances. However, his 2009 campaign does give some reason for hope, as he posted a .287/.373/.394 line in 94 at-bats. While his production was certainly bolstered by a .371 BABIP, this inflated balls in play average can be considered a positive as it suggests that Patterson can make hard, consistent contact against MLB pitching over an extended period. Though he can’t be expected to duplicate the .371 BABIP again, it gives reason to hope that Patterson can avoid falling into the low-BABIP trap that has plagued him this season.
On top of questions surrounding his bat, many scouts have raised concerns as to his ability to adequately defend at the keystone. UZR agrees, rating Patterson’s defense at -25.8 runs per 150 games – though this can be taken with a grain of salt as the infielder has registered just 32 games at second in his career.
In the end, though there is a good chance Patterson is nothing but a dud, the team’s needs and his latent upside make him a nice acquisition.
The Athletics’ bounty in return for Patterson, Williamson is a minor prospect that the Red Sox are unlikely to miss. Possessing a high-80s fastball, good curve, and changeup, the left-hander has excelled at every stop until 2010 – his walk rate climbing and strikeout rate dropping upon promotion to Hi-A Salem.
With below-average velocity and inconsistent command, Williamson is very much a work in progress. If he can find a way to add a few MPH to his fastball – which some scouts think is a possibility – he could develop three average or better pitches. Those are big ifs, however, and Williamson is a fair price to pay for Patterson.
Moving forward, expect the Sox to continue to pursue small acquisitions to plug the hole until Pedroia returns. Cheap, expendable infielders such as Toronto’s Nick Green or Kansas City’s Chris Getz would make sense for the team as neither player would command a significant price tag. Were the Angels not facing similar problems in the middle infield, former PawSox infielder Kevin Frandsen would have been another fitting target.
Buchholz’ Knee, Martinez’ Thumb
As if the club’s injury situation couldn’t get any worse, the Sox sustained two more in the past two days – starting pitcher Clay Buchholz and catcher Victor Martinez.
On the bright side, Buchholz’ injury doesn’t appear to be serious. Hyperextending his knee while running the bases during Saturday’s game, there is still a possibility that Clay could make his next start. There is also talk that the rotation may be shuffled in the upcoming days to afford him more rest and it appears the Sox may have dodged a bullet here.
Martinez’ injury is a bit more complicated, however. Though the moment of injury could not be pinpointed in yesterday’s game, the catcher was pulled in the bottom of the fourth with a fractured thumb.
Early reports indicate that Martinez will be day-to-day rather than placed on the disabled list. The Red Sox are hoping that the catcher can manage the pain while the fracture heals.
But this is a curious occurrence. In the case of a fractured thumb, it would seem as if the logical move would be to immediately DL Martinez. Even if he can play through the pain, thumb injuries are notorious for affecting bat control and power – which could threaten to drag down his production.
However, the Sox may be feeling pressured to keep Martinez’ bat in the lineup amidst the team’s mounting injuries – especially in light of Pedroia’s foot fracture.