Ben Cherington’s 2013 Report Card: The Free Agents

Keeping it low level as always, Hunter Golden impresses no one with his analysis of Ben Cherington's offseason free agent prance through the petunias.

Red Sox GM Ben Cherington entered the 2012-2013 offseason with an open mind and an open checkbook. After a disastrous 2012 campaign that resulted in 69 wins and the salary dump to end all salary dumps, Cherington finally got the keys to the car to spend the money where he felt it was most appropriate. In the coming weeks, we’ll take a look at the totality of his 2013 decisions – from his free agent signings, to his trades and signings/non-signings. This week, the free agents are on the chopping block. Let’s dive right in…

Jonny Gomes 2 years, $10 million

As something between a full time starter and utility outfielder, Gomes seems to have been pegged right on the button with his 2 year, $10 million deal. Right now he’s sitting on a 0.7 fWAR which is a shade under his $5 million salary in terms of overall worth. With the recent injury to Jacoby Ellsbury, he’ll get more playing time and there’s a good chance that by the time we get to the end of the season that he might be parked on 1.0 WAR, exactly.

Looking beyond the cumulative value though – I think Gomes has proven his worth. He’s been a capable pinch hitter and a surprisingly NOT atrocious defender. And you know what else? For a guy with a pretty significant career platoon split, he’s been more than acceptable vs righties this year, hitting .268/.344/.428 in 160 PA’s which surprisingly, has been better than his mark vs lefties (who up to this season, he obliterated). Cherington was scoffed at earlier this year for thinking that Gomes could hit against both lefties and righties, but thus far, he’s been proven right.

Overall, even if you don’t want to count the ancillary stuff around the contract, he’s been worth almost exactly what he was paid, which isn’t something to sulk about. When you factor in those intangibles – including a marketable personality, the creation of the beard craze and a million and one highlight reel walk offs that have been used in TV commercials over and over again, it’s probably safe to say he’s been worth it.

Shane Victorino3 years, $39 million

Honestly, I feel like I lived on an Island when I was one of the few to praise the Shane Victorino signing back in December, so allow me to take the time to pat myself on the back a bit. At the same time though, I didn’t expect him to be this good. Nowhere near this good, in fact.

Key to his success has been his defense, which has been well documented and shouldn’t be understated – especially in a park like Fenway where defense in RF is intrinsically more valuable than it is in other parks. So far this season, Victorino is second only to Arizona’s Gerardo Parra in FRAA at 23.5 and has accumulated more fWAR (5.2) than any other right fielder in baseball. So much for his WAR totals taking a hit with the move to RF.

Victorino is also getting things done with the bat, hitting an impressive .295/.353/.456. His .352 wOBA isn’t off the charts, but it’s been good enough to place him in the ‘good’ category of offensive right fielders and well ahead of Jay Bruce, Josh Hamilton, Torii Hunter, Alex Rios, Andre Ethier and Nick Markakis. And while much was made of his emerging platoon splits, especially once he began to hit from the right side of the plate on a more permanent basis, don’t kid yourselves into thinking he still can’t switch hit. He DID post a .779 OPS vs righties this year from the left side of the plate, which is worth mentioning.

Overall, he’s accumulated the highest WAR total of any RF in baseball, played spectacular defense at a premium position (for the Red Sox), and has hit at a well above-average clip. He’s earned slightly more than $30 million of his $39 million deal this year alone, making it a virtual lock that barring catostrophic injury, that he’ll live up to the deal. For a contract that seemed like one of the bigger gambles of the offseason, this one’s certainly paid off in spades.

Mike Napoli1 year, $5 million ($8 million w/ 165 days on the active roster; $0.5 million for 30, 60, 90, 120 days on active roster and 300, 325, 350, 375 PA’s; $1 million each for 400, 475, 550, 625 PA’s)

Yeah, so you guys get all that? No? OK, here’s the break down so we can get our heads straight on Nap’s value:

• He made $5 million in base salary.
• He’s made $2 million for his PA’s through 375
• He’s made $2 million for his PA’s through 475

So overall – so far, at least – we’re looking at $9 million for the year. He’s sitting on 525 PA’s now, so he SHOULD surpass 550 PA’s by the end of the year and round off to a nice, neat $10 million for the 2013 season.

While everyone’s bore witness to his streakiness and insane 32.8 K% this season, he’s also provided more than his fair share of value. His .259/.350/.479 is solid but it’s been his glove that’s been the most surprising, as he’s accumulated an 8.2 FRAA so far this season which believe it or not – is the best in baseball among all qualified 1B. Go figure. The power numbers might have been a bit disappointing, but then again -they’ve been good enough.

All in all, he’s racked up a 3.1 fWAR, which puts him around $15-$16 milion in raw value and ranks him 7th among MLB 1B – and yes-  ahead of Adrian Gonzalez. Save $11 million+ and upgrade at the position in a virtual no-risk deal? When put into that kind of a framework, it’s impossible to think the Napoli signing was a poor one.

Koji Uehara 1 year, $4.25 million (2014 Option)

Uehara might be Cherington’s best signing to date, period. I ran over his indescribably incredible season last week, but for those of you who missed it, here’s my self-plagiarism of the week:

Since 2010, Koji’s piled up a:

• 2.01 ERA that ranks 4th among MLB relievers
• 11.60 K/9 that ranks 11th among MLB relievers
• 1.13 BB/9 that ranks 1st among MLB relievers
• 2.44 FIP that ranks him 8th among MLB relievers
• 6.1 cumulative fWAR that ranks him 7th among MLB relievers

Now just to conceptualize those numbers for a second – those were racked up as a high-leverage reliever -meaning that he was consistently coming in during high-stress situations with few outs and lots of base runners. Now that he’s starting innings clean with no one on base, it seems almost unfair. To be frank – it blows my mind that he hasn’t been paid more. Needless to say, the Red Sox were able to get him and on an absurdly friendly short-term deal to boot. He’s accumulated 2.8 fWAR so far this season, which basically means that even with the option, the Red Sox are playing with house money from here on out. To be able to get that kind of production out of the bullpen regardless of the price is great. To get it at the rate they’re paying for though… that’s even better. At this point, Koji’s just pure profit.

Ryan Dempster2 years, $26.5 Million

Of all the signings this offseason, Dempster is one of the most difficult for me to wrap my hands around.

For one, Dempster’s sitting on about 1.3 fWAR, which puts his value at around $8 million so far – which on the surface, looks like an overpay considering the Red Sox are paying him $13.25 million this season. But for whatever reason, WAR doesn’t seem to tell the whole story, here.

On the plus side, there’s something to be said for having a guy who’s ostensibly been your fifth starter sporting an 8.22 K/9 and having logged 157.2 IP. He’s been wildly inconsistent this year, but even when he’s giving up lots of runs, he almost always seems to be able to muscle through to the 5th/6th inning. In fact, he’s only failed to make it 5 IP in a start three times this year. Again – that’s nothing to do cartwheels over, but from the last guy in your rotation in a division like the Red Sox play in, that’s great. His signing was also indicative of a Red Sox organization that had learned a thing or two about undervaluing durable innings chewers. If for nothing else, Dempster does that well at the back end of the rotation.

On the bad side, this looks like a deal that’s probably going to go a year too long. At the time, I understood wanting to go the extra year with Dempster largely because having that insurance policy in the event that your pitching prospects don’t pan out is shrewd business. It’s also expensive business at $13.25 million/year and a risk to take when said pitcher is 36 years old. His velocity’s down again, his walk rate ballooned quite a bit this year and his whiff rate is headed in the wrong direction, too. Making things even more difficult is the acquisition of Jake Peavy, which essentially leaves Dempster as the odd man out in a group that will include at least six starting pitchers next season. The Red Sox may choose to deal him in the offseason and while I don’t see them having much trouble finding a landing spot for him, they’ll likely have to pony up a more than decent chunk of his salary for next year and probably won’t get too much in return.

Overall, the Dempster signing is a bit more complex than the surface numbers indicate, but I’m still not sure this was a good deal.

Stephen Drew 1 year, $9 million

In spite of his rocky start to the season, people have finally started to come around to the fact that Drew can be a pretty valuable player. He’s bottled up 2.4 fWAR this year which ranks him 14th among Shortstops league-wide while his .331 wOBA ranks him 9th at his position. So far – he’s been worth about $12 million dollars this season, and that’s with the injury issues and the inconsistency. Given a full, healthy season, I don’t think it’s a stretch at all to think he can be a really productive 3.0 fWAR SS next year. Getting league average-anything at a premium position for $9 million is a decent deal – and another famous Scott Boras pillow contract that will likely work out for both the Red Sox and his client. Drew should be able to ink a multi-year deal next year pretty easily while having served as a pitch-perfect bridge for the Red Sox to get to Xander Bogaerts. That was the clear intent with this deal from the get go – and from that standpoint, you could say ‘mission accomplished’ on the Red Sox end of things.

David Ross2 years, $6.2 million

David Ross has been known as one of the best backup catchers in all of baseball and he certainly proved to be up to the task this year. Even with the concussion issues, he’s managed to earn his $3.1 million salary by putting up 0.7 WAR. It’s nearly impossible – minus a huge injury, of course – to imagine a scenario where Ross doesn’t come out ahead on his contract next year – especially if Jarrod Saltalamacchia decides to sign elsewhere. I’m sure if you cancel out the concussion, he’d have seen a lot more playing time and we’d see a lot more value here. Still – even at that, it’s impossible to knock what Cherington got out of year-1, concussions and all.

 

Walking off..

In the big picture, Cherington spent $57.6 million on player salary for 2013 via external free agent signings. Overall, they’ve accumulated 16.3 WAR for $81.1 million in overall value. That’s about $3.5 million/1 WAR which is 30% under your running market rate of $5 million/1 WAR. In the context of free agency – that’s pretty astonishing. Given the results and the compounding revenues this team will rack up in the playoffs, it’s next to impossible to call Cherington’s second offseason as Red Sox GM as anything other than fantastic.

Categories: Adrian Gonzalez Alex Rios Andre Ethier Ben Cherington Boston Red Sox David Ross Gerardo Parra Jacoby Ellsbury Jake Peavy Jarrod Saltalamacchia Jay Bruce Jonny Gomes Josh Hamilton Koji Uehara Mike Napoli Nick Markakis Ryan Dempster Shane Victorino Stephen Drew Torii Hunter Xander Bogaerts

A world-class baseball nerd, baseball fan, and baseball man, Hunter Golden agreed to terms with Fire Brand of the American League in September of 2012 in exchange for an oversized baby bottle, football helmet filled with cottage cheese and naked pictures of Bea Arthur. In January of 2013, he was named Editor. He likes run-on sentences, enjoys over-using hyphens, and smelling books. When it comes to serious stuff, Hunter is a professional writer (no, really), father of two, Husband of one and whose natural habitat is Western Massachusetts and agreeable parts of Connecticut. Follow him at @hunterGbaseball on Twitter or shoot him an email at [email protected]

5 Responses to “Ben Cherington’s 2013 Report Card: The Free Agents” Subscribe

  1. jcrystoff September 11, 2013 at 2:32 PM #

    Regarding Dempster: “He’s been wildly inconsistent this year, but even when he’s giving up lots of runs, he almost always seems to be able to muscle through to the 5th/6th inning. In fact, he’s only failed to make it 5 IP in a start three times this year. Again – that’s nothing to do cartwheels over, but from the last guy in your rotation in a division like the Red Sox play in, that’s great.”
    I feel like this is an undervalued part of baseball: the mediocre workhorse pitcher. The notion of “replacement player” has, I think, devalued guys like this in the eyes of stat heads. WAR indicates that they’re essentially a waste of money because, theoretically, you can take anybody from your AAA team and plug them in and they’ll do the exact same thing start after start.
    I made the same arguments about Lackey in 2010. The truth is that there aren’t an infinite amount of “replacement level pitchers” just sitting in AAA who can throw 180 innings/year with a 4.50 ERA. If you try to replace a guy like 2013 Dempster with your AAA floatsam you’re going to end up burning out your bullpen and giving up a lot of 8+ run games.

  2. Hunter Golden September 11, 2013 at 3:00 PM #

    jcrystoff Yeah that’s a good point and one worth looking at in the macro. The Angels went and grabbed Jason Vargas (same kind of thing), the Royals ponied up $27 million for Jeremy Guthrie, The A’s with Bartolo Colon, the Yankees w/ Freddy Garcia in 2011… even if you look at some of the lower level trades this year… the Orioles love those kinds of guys: Feldman, Saunders, Norris – they like those kinds of arms. There’s value to be had there. 
    There are even other example like Paul Maholm, Kevin Correia, Roberto Hernandez… I think durability has def. become more valued on the market in recent years…

  3. Gerry September 11, 2013 at 11:03 PM #

    Excelent article and dis ussion. Thanks. That was a life (of the team) changng offseason. IMO the FA signings were awesome in their talent level, cost and duration, but not the whole story of this transformation. Farrell and his coaches, the medical team, the flowering of this farm system, the eventual comprehension of fans and even mediots. Cherington is GM of the year.

  4. Tim P September 12, 2013 at 11:32 AM #

    If the Red Sox had this year’s version of Dempster in 2011 it would have made the playoffs.  If the 2012 Red Sox had this year’s version of Dempster it would have won more than 69 games.  The team pays him a lot of money,  but there were a lot of teams after him so the law of supply and demand caused the higher salary.  In a 30 team league where you are also trying to limit innings on younger high upside pitchers, “average” veteran pitchers are in short supply.  If the 2013 Red Sox didn’t have Dempster, who makes the starts instead?

  5. Hunter Golden September 12, 2013 at 3:43 PM #

    Tim P Well and again – that’s the thing. You look at Dempster (or anyone for that matter) in a vacuum and it looks like an overpay. But when you consider the value those innings have to a team  in the Red Sox situation, the price goes up because obviously, those innings are more valuable. All things considered, this year it’s hard to say it was a bad deal, but rather one that was right on the nose for what they needed.
    Now whether they need that or what value his innings hold next year – that’s where I’m unsure. Again, I’m not calling it bad – but given the logjam, it’s hard to call it good at this point.