As Charlie mentioned in his column yesterday, the Marco Scutaro trade provided the Red Sox with $6M in salary relief. While it might seem strange to many of us that a high-revenue club with a payroll consistently hovering around the luxury tax threshold could need some salary relief, it’s a sign of the times. The Red Sox got themselves into this situation through a series of long-term, big-money contracts (some ill-advised) that have hamstrung the team from being able to make the moves we might have expected them to make in the past. As Ben Cherington has alluded (and we’ve discussed several times), it is the Red Sox’s goal to stay under the $178M luxury tax threshold in both 2012 and 2013. Whether or not you agree with the front office’s short-term plan for building the club, you can neither argue with the level of payroll flexibility that they’re looking to establish, nor the potential benefits they could reap over the long haul.
With $6M burning holes in Cherington’s pocket, many are speculating about how (or if) the Red Sox might spend that money. Clearly, the hole in the starting rotation that could be fixed by signing one of the few remaining impact free agents. Also, with Scutaro now in Colorado, the Red Sox now have a hole at the shortstop position as well. Luckily, both starting pitching and shortstop situations could be filled internally by capable candidates, so the front office doesn’t need to make any additional moves. For all intents and purposes, they could sit on the $6M until the July 31st trading deadline, and then look to make a blockbuster move that would likely require them to take on additional salary. Waiting until mid-season is a pretty risky proposition, as it’s possible (though, highly unlikely) the Red Sox will be out of contention by mid-season. As a result, it’s probably smarter to find a way to spend that money now when productive, impact players are available via free agency and/or trade.
So who might the Red Sox look to pick up?
Roy Oswalt - Oswalt is probably the most obvious option here. He’s a 34 year old veteran pitcher that’s playoff tested and has an ace pedigree. While he’s probably four or five years removed from true ace hood, he’s remained remarkably productive, and would fit in perfectly at the number four slot in the rotation. He has a five pitch arsenal that features a four-seamer, slider, change-up, sinker, and curve. Unlike a lot of Red Sox pitchers, Oswalt is a strike throwing machine. All five of his pitches registered a strike percentage of at least 53.9%, with four of them clocking in above 60%. As a result, he doesn’t walk a lot of batters, which should help him fair well in the extraordinarily patient AL East. Last season, Oswalt produced the lowest strikeout rate of his career (15.7%), and much of that was due to a plummeting whiff rate. I might consider this a bigger problem going forward if it wasn’t for a solid ground ball rate that should generate a good share of easy outs. If there’s one major concern Oswalt brings, it’s his health. Over the last several seasons, he’s suffered from a series of lower back maladies that have not only occasionally hindered his effectiveness, but also required regular cortizone shots to relieve the pain. When he went down with his most recent injury in late-June, Oswalt admitted that the pain had gotten so severe that he was questioning his ability to pitch long-term. As talented as he is, his health makes him a risk to offer him anything more than a one year deal worth $6-8M. If he’s willing to drop his price into that range, the Red Sox will likely remain aggressive in trying to obtain his services.
Edwin Jackson – Jackson seems like much more of a long shot for the Red Sox. He’s a 28 year old starting pitcher with two-plus pitches and ace quality stuff. He has a four pitch arsenal that features a slider, four-seamer, two-seamer, and change-up. While his four-seamer has plus velocity, it doesn’t generate many whiffs and tends to get pretty hard, as evidenced by his -51.2 pitch f/x run value since 2007. His slider is his primary pitch, and he threw it 43% of the time in 2011; registering strikes and generating whiffs at rate of 64% and 15% respectively. Due to the frequency in which he throws his slider, potential long-term injuries have to be a concern to any GM. Jackson has a tendency to rack up high pitch counts in short order, in large part due to his ability to walk batters in bunches. This could make it difficult for him to consistent success pitching in the AL East.* Despite Jackson’s immense raw talent, he’s never been able to put it all together for a full season. When he’s on, he can be incredibly dominant. When he’s off, he’s one of those truly maddening pitchers that’s absolute torture to watch. Ultimately, Jackson will need to significantly lower his demands before the Red Sox will even consider signing him. Last I heard, he’s still seeking a five year deal. He’ll never get more than a one or two year deal from the Sox.
* Some might point to his 2008 season with the Rays as proof Jackson can pitch in the AL East. While his 14-11 record might signify success, his 4.88 FIP tells a much different story.
Hanley Ramirez – This is a name sure to get a lot of attention. Long considered to be the big prospect who got away, Red Sox fans have coveted Ramirez ever since he was traded with SP Anibal Sanchez to the (then) Florida Marlins for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell. When word about Scutaro being traded to the Rockies broke, many started wondering if the Red Sox would attempt to start up discussions to reacquire the disgruntled SS/3B. Unfortunately, it looks like it’ll only a pipe dream at this point. On Sunday, Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports said that multiple sources “doubt” the Red Sox will make a play for Ramirez. Honestly, it’s probably for the best. Ramirez has had his share of struggles at the plate over the past two seasons. His inability to square up the bat on the ball has caused a spike in the number of ground balls (51%) and a reduction in his overall power output. This, combined with an unusually low BABIP has caused his wOBA to crash. From 2007-2009, Ramirez produced three consecutive .400 wOBA seasons. Since then, it’s dropped to .373 and .317 respectively. Defensively, his range at shortstop has cratered, thus making him a liability at the position. This is one of the biggest reasons the Marlins signed Jose Reyes to a six year deal, and moved Ramirez to third base. Han-Ram is coming off of two consecutive disappointing seasons that were marred by injuries, laziness, and poor performance. The Marlins, looking to cash in on a player with premium talent, will probably ask for the moon (and then some) from the Red Sox before agreeing to a trade. The Red Sox, realistic about the asset they’re trying to acquire, won’t bite. Considering Ramirez’s defensive shortcomings and his recent offensive struggles, he doesn’t appear to be a good fit with the Red Sox at this time.