The $6M Question

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.

Categories: Boston Red Sox Edwin Jackson Hanley Ramirez Marco Scutaro Roy Oswalt

After being slapped with a restraining order for stealing Nick Cafardo's mail, I was forced into retirement for a brief period of time. As fun as it was to lounge around the community pool and play shuffleboard with noted internet columnist, Murray Chass, I quickly felt a yearning to write again. Now in my second tenure with Fire Brand, I have set lofty goals of achieving world domination, ending the plight of the hipsters, and becoming BFFs with Mike Trout. I am fluent in two languages (Sarcasm and English, in that order); have an intimate relationship with M&Ms; firmly believe that Lucille is the best character on Arrested Development; and spend my spare time trolling select members of the Boston media. You can follow me on Twitter @Chip_Buck.

9 Responses to “The $6M Question” Subscribe

  1. TroyPatterson January 23, 2012 at 9:33 AM #

    What about Gavin Floyd. There have been rumors he is still on their radar and at $7M in 2012 and an option for 2013 at $9.5M I think he makes some sense if the trade is good. That's a big "if" and probably Oswalt is more of a target since there is no trade needed, but I think he is their second option and not Edwin Jackson.

    • ChipBuck January 23, 2012 at 1:01 PM #

      That's a good point. I forgot about Floyd. To be honest though, I was writing this as I was watching the Patriots beat the Ravens. My attention was clearly divided.

  2. @CurseOfBenitez January 23, 2012 at 9:56 AM #

    Not that there isn't potential for each of the three listed players to make a marked impact over the course of the season, but I think this may indeed be a situation where the move of "not making a move" might be prudent. Being handcuffed later on in the season when you could have had more wiggle room to take on salary in some unforeseen circumstance would be a shame, and it's a situation teams of other clubs are quite familiar with. Considering the precarious position the Red Sox are in with respect to the luxury tax, as you've written on at great length, it is something to think about.

    • ChipBuck January 23, 2012 at 1:01 PM #

      I actually mentioned that in the second paragraph. It might be prudent to wait. At the same time, it could be a little risky. I've gone back and forth on it. My issue is that the 2012 luxury tax isn't as big of a deal as the 2013 tax. If the Sox go over it this year, it's fine as long as they're doing it on low-cost and/or one year deals.

  3. ryan from nj January 23, 2012 at 5:18 PM #

    i think the sawx should bring up iglesias and look to solidify the starting rotation. i dont like them bringin in oswalt. hes pitched in the nl his whole career and bringing him in to the AL east is very risky. 5 years ago, no doubt id love oswalt… edwin jackson should stay in the n.l. hes had more success there obv. what other options do they have. they have the o and the d. they need pitching.

  4. Dale Sams January 23, 2012 at 5:38 PM #

    ..and if Youk has a good year, and Ellsbury and Ortiz have 2012's similar to 2011? Sox gonna let one of them go to stay under the tax threshhold? Not nearly enough is going to come off to pay Ells what he's going to get in final year arb if he has another monster year.

  5. Charlie D January 24, 2012 at 7:14 PM #

    Just to clarify, Scutaro actually counts for something like $7.2 in salary cap relief (due to how his contract is allocated).

    • ChipBuck January 24, 2012 at 9:08 PM #

      Good call Charlie D. I saw Alex Speier's article well after I wrote this piece. Prior to Speier's research the $6M figure was the primary one being quoted. Scutaro's actual tax figure was $7.67M.


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