Dustin Pedroia is the most valuable player and commodity in the Red Sox organization.
He is essentially tied with Clay Buchholz and Jacoby Ellsbury for highest fWAR on the team. Though it seems like he’s been around forever, he’s still just 29. He’s under team control at an insanely affordable rate through 2015, and is probably the best defensive second baseman in the game.
Yes, Pedroia is really good: that’s they type of hard-hitting analysis for which you come to Fire Brand. But the other night, while thinking of possible trade scenarios for the Red Sox, I posed myself an interesting question: who’s the second-most valuable player in Boston’s organization?
After spending some time on the subject, I’m not sure there’s a definitive answer. So this is meant to be less an exhaustive examination with a firm conclusion, and more of an open-ended question to Fire Brand readers.
Pedroia is No. 1, but who is No 2? Let’s take a look at the contenders.
The Favorite: Clay Buchholz
The name that probably comes to mind for most given his performance this year is Buchholz. While he’s currently battling injuries, he’s already grabbed about 3 WAR this season, putting him on pace to destroy his current season-best of 3.5 WAR from 2010. Buchholz is striking out more batters and walking fewer than he did in that season, and it’s pretty much widely accepted that he’s a better pitcher now. He’s also under control through 2017, which is pretty awesome.
That being said, the right-hander is wildly inconsistent. There’s no real way around it: his 2012 seasons was pretty bad. He’s also not very durable, never throwing more than 189.1 innings in a season and throwing just 82 in 2011. Pitchers are risky investments by their nature, but Buchholz seems especially unstable. In a perfect world he’s a healthy No. 2 starter who flashes No. 1 potential, but that’s not the world we live in.
The Enigma: Jacoby Ellsbury
There’s no player on the Red Sox who’s harder to properly evaluate than Ellsbury. He played in 18 games in 2010, had one of the best statistical seasons in Red Sox history in 2011, then played in just 74 games in 2012. The surprising power that saw him hit 32 homers in 2011 seems to have all but evaporated, but the speed that was missing over the past two seasons is back in a big way, as Ells has already netted 32 steals this year. After a three-season roller-coaster ride, Ellsbury looks like he’s finally settling into the sort of 4 WAR season we’ve all been expecting from him for quite some time.
The biggest negative in Ellsbury’s case for second-best status, though, is his contract. I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but it’s up at the end of the year. While he can probably forget about getting Matt Kemp money, he’s having a good enough year to demand a pretty hefty deal, and it’s unclear (perhaps unlikely is more fitting) that the Red Sox will invest in him long-term. They have a suitable replacement in Jackie Bradley Jr., and there’s a reasonable argument to be made that Boston is better off spending money on pitching. Ellsbury’s injury history needs to be cited here as well, so: Ellsbury is hurt a lot.
Old Reliable: David Ortiz
Remember when Ortiz’ career was over after 2009? Me neither. The most popular man in Boston has made some insane adjustments over the past three seasons and is once again one of the game’s premier power hitters. He reaches base at a high clip, hits for high averages and mashes 25-30 homers on a yearly basis. He’s on track for his best season since 2007 this year, sporting a .316/.392/.613 line through 59 games.
The negatives here are pretty obvious. Ortiz is 37, isn’t known for his athleticism and is under control only through 2014. He played in just 90 games last season, missed the start of 2013 and is no lock to stay healthy moving forward. There’s also that whole DH thing, limiting the value Ortiz provides on the field. He’s Boston’s best overall offensive threat, but probably not their second-most valuable commodity.
The Fallen: Jon Lester
Admit it: if I posed this question to you before the 2013 season began, you probably would’ve answered with “Lester” and not given your response much of a second thought. In fact, you probably would’ve said as much through early May. It’s a more open question now, though, as Lester has badly struggled over the past six weeks as he continues a disturbing trend: he’s striking out fewer batters while walking more. Personally, I think Lester is still an above average pitcher who’s just simply not the ace we wanted him to be (and that he was from 2008-2010).
Pitchers have strange aging curves, and it appears as though Lester’s peak came during age 24-26. He’s under control through the rest of this season with a moderately priced team option for 2014 that I think the Sox would be nuts not to pick up. But if Boston were to put him on the market right now, I’m not sure the type of return they’d receive. You have to think they’d have plenty of takers, but would they get any MLB-ready talent in return? Would someone give up a Top 25 prospect for Lester? The answer is unclear.
The Wildcard: Xander Bogaerts
I can hear the groans coming from half of you reading this, but I don’t think you can definitively rule out Bogaerts as the second-most valuable player in the Red Sox’ organization right now. As I discussed last week, he might be the best prospect in baseball, and if he’s not he’s certainly Top Three. As we all know, he’s under team control for at least six years from whenever he’s promoted. He’s a potential Role 7 player who can man shortstop, and he should be ready within the calendar year, if not sooner.
Do you mean to tell me you can say with certainty that a team would be more interested in acquiring Buchholz than Bogaerts? Because depending on the team and where they stand in terms of contention, I’m not sure that’s the case. In fact, gun to my head, I’m not sure I’d pick Buchholz over Bogaerts if we could only keep one. Perhaps I’m falling victim to the type of prospect idolatry I often warn against, but I really think Bogaerts is that good.
So, as I said above, I’m interested to hear your take on this. If the Red Sox could only keep Pedroia and a second player, who would you take? If you throw contracts out the window, does your answer change at all?
Let me know: maybe I’ll turn your responses into a second column next week.