The last few days have been pretty busy here in Red Sox Nation. Ben Cherington and his front office compatriots are slowly but surely shaping the roster into a club that should be able to win 90-95 games in 2012. In order to stay on top of all of the recent developments, I thought I’d take a little time to touch upon some of the most pressing issues today all in one column.
The Motivation Behind Moving Scutaro
While many of us are still pretty surprised that the Red Sox traded Marco Scutaro to the Colorado Rockies without an obvious replacement ready to take his place; deep down, we all knew it was luxury tax motivated. What we didn’t know is that Scutaro had hidden luxury tax costs attached to his contract. WEEI’s Alex Speier explains:
“The player option was treated as a guaranteed year by Major League Baseball in calculating the average annual value of Scutaro’s deal, so rather than being a two-year, $12.5 million contract, for the purposes of determining how it would count against the luxury tax, it was actually viewed as a three-year, $14 million deal. That being the case, his contract accounted for $4.67 million against the luxury tax threshold (rather than the previously assumed $6.25 million) in both the 2010 and 2011 seasons.
When the Sox exercised the shortstop’s $6 million option for 2012, it transformed his deal into a three-year, $17 million contract. That, in turn, meant that for the coming season, he would have counted for not just his $6 million salary for luxury tax purposes, but instead $7.67 million (the difference between the $17 million he’d make and the $9.33 million for which he’d counted in 2010 and 2011).
In dealing Scutaro to the Rockies, the Red Sox shed $7.67 million in CBT payroll for the coming year. For the Rockies, that’s an irrelevant consideration, since they’re not bumping up against the luxury tax threshold. But for the Sox, who are nearing the $178 million threshold, that CBT figure is a major consideration.”
This isn’t the first such deal the Red Sox have signed that contained potential hidden costs on the back end. Speier mentions the one year $9M contract Adrian Beltre signed before the 2010 season. Like Scutaro’s deal, it contained a player option for the 2011 season. Since the option was held by Beltre and not the Red Sox, Major League Baseball deemed the option as “guaranteed season” since the player held the power to exercise it. As a result, MLB treated the contract as if it was for two years $14M. The creative luxury tax accounting allowed his contract to only be counted as $7M toward the 2010 luxury tax. When Beltre decided to decline his 2011 player option to become a free agent, the contract reverted to the one year $9M deal. Due to the discrepancy in the two figures, the Red Sox were forced to “repay” the $2M they “saved” in 2010 toward the 2011 luxury tax calculation. A similar situation happened when Scutaro’s team option was exercised.
With Scutaro’s $7.67M tax figure only marginally greater than the $6.25M most of us had figured, it was enough to force the Red Sox to make a move. Scutaro has provided a ton of value to the Red Sox over the past two seasons (5.3 fWAR), but it’s starting to become clear that he’s on the cusp of becoming a liability at the shortstop position. Already considered to have below average range by the eye test and most metrics, the odds are pretty good that his defensive skills will continue to erode. At 36 years old, the risk was too great for the Red Sox to leave him at that critical defensive position. Even with the prospect of Mike Aviles and Nick Punto (both of whom have glaring flaws) consuming the lion’s share of playing time at short, it’s very possible they could recoup comparable value at the position for a fraction of the cost. Furthermore, with luxury tax situation being what it is, and other holes on the roster needing to be addressed; it’s apparent Scutaro had become expendable.
Will Jose Iglesias Be Our Hero, Baby?
Yes, I went there. Deal with it.
Over at the ESPN Sweet Spot on Monday, Christina Kahrl pondered if Iglesias will become the next Rey Ordonez? It’s an interesting question; one that’s certainly more reasonable than those comparing him to Ozzie Smith and Omar Vizquel. Still, as Marc Normandin of Over the Monster states, Ordonez was a historically bad hitter who was doing the kinds of things in AA and AAA at 24 that Igleasias was doing at 20 and 21. Perhaps, even the Ordonez comparision is unfair.
“The talk about Iglesias is that his glove — and the rest of the Red Sox offense — will carry his bat in the majors. To his credit, he has had some success in the minors: .295/.339/.379 in Low-A Lowell as a 20-year-old is by no means bad for a shortstop of that age, and his .285/.315/.357 line the same year in Double-A Portland is mostly impressive due to the fact it was his age-20 season, he barely had any professional time under his belt, and he was dealing with injuries. I’m not sure just words can describe how difficult it is to be 20 years old, in Double-A, and adapting culturally all at the same time.
The Red Sox threw him up to Triple-A before he had fully mastered Double-A, though, and Iglesias struggled. He hit just .235/.285/.269 over 387 plate appearances, deflating the hopes of those who thought he would be ready to take over as the team’s shortstop by 2012. The fact he even hit that well is, in some weird way, a success. That kind of definition-stretching likely won’t be as acceptable the second time around, though.”
As Marc points out, it’s his glove, not his bat, that everyone focuses on when discussing Iglesias. This is, of course, for good reason. He has a top notch glove with a strong, accurate arm, and elite range. There’s a lot to love about him defensively; especially when you factor in he plays a premium position. Instead, the problem with Iglesias is his production at the plate. As he’s demonstrated over the past two seasons in the minors, he has little to no extra base power, doesn’t draw walks, and creates a lot of outs. His .260 wOBA in AAA Pawtucket, if converted to an MLB stat line, would have made him the worst offensive player in baseball last season. As such, the calls for him to be called up to start at shortstop last season were incredibly premature.
Looking ahead to the 2012 season, ZiPS is projecting Iglesias to produce a Major League slash line of .251/.289/.311 in 468 plate appearances, which is equivalent to a .280 wOBA. While that number is clearly below the league average wOBA of .315, it doesn’t mean he couldn’t be an effective starter in the majors in 2012. Alcides Escobar of the Kansas City Royals, probably Iglesias’s best comparable at the moment, is a good example of how a light hitting shortstops with outstanding defensive assets can provide value to his club. Last season, Escobar produced a .282 wOBA with only 33 extra base hits in 598 plate appearances. Despite his obvious struggles at the plate, he still managed to produce 2.2 fWAR in value. So how did he do it? His defensive performance was so strong (+10.2 UZR), he was able to make up for his offensive shortcomings at the plate. Even though we have this relative success story, Escobar (and presumably Iglesias in the future) is living on thin ice. If his production drops off either at the plate or in the field in 2012, the value he provides to the team could be replacement level quality.
Luckily in Iglesias’s case, he’s only 22 years old. With two options remaining, he has plenty of time to hone his offensive skills in the minors. The best move is for the Red Sox to keep him in AAA for the 2012 season, and allow him continued development with his offensive skill set.
Thoughts on Ross and Sweeney
As Charlie reported on Monday night and Alex expanded upon on Tuesday morning, the Red Sox signed Cody Ross to a one year $3M contract. While I’ve seen many people criticize the signing, I don’t really understand their motivation. Going into the offseason, everyone was pretty much in agreement that the Red Sox desperately needed a right-handed hitting corner outfield spot that could mash lefties. Do you know what Ross is? He’s a right-handed hitting corner outfielder that can mash lefties! Apparently, you really can’t please everyone.
With the exception of last season when Ross struggled at the plate all around, he’s had ton of success against lefties in his career producing a .384 wOBA (135 wRC++) against lefties. Due to his extreme platoon split (.317 wOBA/91 wRC++ against RHP) and Ryan Sweeney‘s presence on the roster, the Red Sox will probably look to use Ross primarily against left-handed pitching once Carl Crawford returns from his wrist injury.
Sweeney will be given the opportunity to hold down the other half of the platoon. Like Ross, he has an extreme platoon split (.332 wOBA vs. RHP/.272 vs. LHP), and will be best served sitting against lefties. He’s a good defender that can play all outfield position adequately. Due to his defensive versatility, Bobby Valentine will likely ask him to fill in for Ellsbury in center and Crawford in left on days when they need a rest.
Ultimately, a Ross/Sweeney platoon should be more productive than the J.D. Drew, Josh Reddick, Darnell McDonald mess from last year. Ross’s addition makes McDonald somewhat expendable, and allows Ryan Kalish a full season to re-establish himself in AAA after a rash of injuries last season. All in all, this looks like a great move for the Sox.