On Carlos Ruiz, Brian McCann and the End of the World

In a shocking turn of events, Ben gets cranky about free agent expectations.

Earlier today, Carlos Ruiz signed a three-year, $26 million dollar contract with the Philadelphia Phillies. The deal includes a $4.5 million option with a modest buyout for 2017, as well as a limited no-trade clause that will allow Ruiz to block moves to four clubs.

The reaction to this deal on Twitter has been as you would expect: just about everyone hates it. We, as a community, wanted Ruiz to get two years, not three. We hate every catcher deal that doesn’t follow the Salvador Perez model. We hate that Ruiz is 34 and that Ruben Amaro Jr. is the one who signed Ruiz to this deal. We hate that the Phillies apparently outbid the Red Sox for Ruiz, although I’m sure there would be riots at Fenway had we given Chooch the same deal.

But what I think we hate most of all is that this ends the delusion that Jarrod Saltalamacchia is going to resign with the Red Sox for two years at $8 million per. I hope this ends some other delusions as well.

I don’t know why I’m so sensitive to all of the free agent bashing this offseason. Maybe it’s because I saw Boston’s much-maligned free agent splurge of a year ago lead to a World Series ring. Maybe it’s because the constant negativity has broken me. Maybe I just feel like being a contrarian.

But I feel like many of the smart, talented Red Sox fans and writers I follow are simply failing to acknowledge some pretty simply truths: it takes significant investments to sign good players, and players are getting more expensive.

Nowhere is it more apparent that Red Sox fans don’t want to embrace this truth than with the ongoing debate about what Boston should do behind the plate. There seem to be four schools of thought now that Ruiz is off the board:

1) Resign Saltalamachcia, but only on a team-friendly deal.
2) Sign Brian McCann, he’s awesome
3) Go with a stop-gap to pair with David Ross, like A.J. Pierzynski, Dioner Navarro or Ryan Hanigan
4) YOLO, how bad can Dan Butler and Ryan Lavarnway be?

The first three of these methods all have some merit. Salty had the best season of his career in 2013 and while he’s certainly due for some regression, there are signs of genuine improvement as well. Whether or not you like McCann, he’s one of the best catchers in the game and would give a huge boost to a lineup that might lose two of its best hitters. And signing a platoon or stopgap catcher would at least ensure that the Red Sox don’t embarrass themselves behind the plate in 2014.

Ryan Lavarnway: not a viable option. Photo by Kelly O'Connor, sittingstill.net.

Ryan Lavarnway: not a viable option. Photo by Kelly O’Connor, sittingstill.net.

The Butler/Lavarnway option is, to me, a joke. It all but assures that the Red Sox have some of the worst production from behind the plate in all of baseball, and without a very compelling argument as to where else we should allocate the funds that could be used to solidify the catching role, I think it’s needlessly cautious and borderline negligent.

I’ve made it pretty clear both here and on Twitter that I’m not as anti-McCann as is a majority of the fanbase. That’s not to say I don’t think there are very reasonable cases to be made against signing McCann. Not wanting to commit five-plus years – and I firmly believe that’s what it will take – to a catcher with a lot of miles is understandable. I dislike the disingenuous suggestions that McCann isn’t much better than Salty, but I digress … But, statements like “I’d only take McCann at three years” or “I’d only take Salty at two years” are meaningless and a waste of everyone’s time, because they’re not going to happen. “Sure, I’d take Robinson Cano for three years, but only on my terms.” Oh, ok then.

I also take issue with preferring to let catcher be a black hole for the Red Sox next season – and potentially beyond – than risk needing to absorb one mediocre salary in 2017 and 2018.

According to Baseball Prospectus, the Red Sox have four players under guaranteed contract for 2015: Shane Victorino, Clay Buchholz and Dustin Pedroia, plus a $4 million option or $100,000 buyout for Craig Breslow. That’s about $43 million in guaranteed salary for a team that can afford to approach $189 million. Yes, it excludes the players we’d own at the league minimum and who we’d have to pay through arbitration, but you get the picture: the Red Sox are in excellent financial shape moving forward. They can afford to give up some – not all – of that future flexibility if it gives them a good shot at winning right now.

An example: Even if I buy the argument that McCann will need to move off of catcher in three years – and that’s not an argument I’m willing to automatically concede – he’d be an average first baseman or DH. he average first baseman this year hit .254/.332/.430, for DH it was .255/.338/.427. McCann hit .256/.336/.461, and he was hurt by a poor BABIP.

Is it ideal to pay a middle-of-the-road first baseman in excess of $15 million for two years? No. Is it going to sink the franchise as we know it? Absolutely not, and that’s the cost of doing business if you get ~12-15 WAR out of McCann while he’s still behind the plate.

Apologies for letting yet another article become solely focused on McCann, but he just too perfectly exemplifies the point that I think needs to be made about this offseason: adjust your expectations for what it takes to sign a player today. Good, healthy players don’t get two-year deals. You don’t need to be a future HOF-type to receive $20 million anymore. With new revenue from TV deals and with new evidence that each win costs $7 million, and not $5, both the dollars and years given to agree agents is going to increase.

You can say “then we should stay out of the market,” but that sort of free agent isolationism if narrow-minded for a team with financial flexibility and the need to add to a core that’s short on star power. If you never give out a big contract, you’re not going to control the game’s best players. Shane Victorino’s 2013 season is an exception to the rule.

There are reasonable plans for the Red Sox this offseason that don’t include signing McCann, resigning Jacoby Ellsbury or splurging on the likes of Shin-Soo Choo. But I don’t believe there are reasonable plans that include bringing back none of our departing free agents while failing to significantly bolster the lineup. If Mike Carp, Jackie Bradley Jr., David Ross and Will Middlebrooks are all regulars, you’re going to see a steep drop in offensive production from 2013.

We’re in a great position thanks to the Nick Punto trade. Let’s not waste the second chance we’ve been given.

Categories: Brian McCann Carlos Ruiz Jarrod Saltalamacchia Ryan Lavarnway

Ben is a graduate of Boston University with a degree in journalism and a love of all things Red Sox and minor league baseball. He has experience writing for Baseball Prospectus, NESN, RotoExperts, BU Today and other sites, and typically serves as an in-house MiLB writer. An editor for a business website by day, Ben likes to grill, sample IPAs and re-read Faulkner novels by night. He is an unabashed J.D. Drew apologist with a deep-seated fear of middle relievers. Follow Ben on Twitter here.

4 Responses to “On Carlos Ruiz, Brian McCann and the End of the World” Subscribe

  1. DezoPenguin November 19, 2013 at 4:34 PM #

    If it comes down to an A-or-B move, I favor resigning Salty over going after McCann.  The offenses were roughly equal in 2013 (with Salty trending up and McCann trending down, though of course those could be one-year bumps, and Salty’s K rate is disturbing), and Saltalamacchia is the home guy, the one who already knows these pitchers, this staff, etc.  Plus, he’ll come cheaper (and probably for fewer years), and being a year younger may be useful to add value.  And, I have to admit, adding Mr. No Fun Ever to a clubhouse of bearded wonders makes me nervous about chemistry…it’s a dubious point, but if choosing between two roughly equal alternatives, maybe it’s relevant.  Ultimately, I don’t see McCann’s slightly superior bat being enough to outweigh all the other factors.  1B or SS/3B seem to be better places to spend the free-agent dollars.

  2. jsc1973 November 19, 2013 at 9:17 PM #

    McCann in three years will be 33. He’s not going to hit the same way at 33 than he did at 30, unless he ages exceptionally well or he’s taking steroids. You wouldn’t be paying a middle of the road first baseman $18 million, you’d be paying a bad first baseman and/or backup catcher $18 million.
    Realistically, signing him is a win-now move that increases your chances of winning in 2014 and 2015 and is likely to reduce your chances beyond that until his contract expires. The Red Sox got really lucky with a bunch of past-30 veterans in 2013; everyone played at a high level and almost no one got hurt. That’s not likely to happen again. Doubling down on that success by importing more over-30 vets with big contracts is not wise. That’s how the Phillies got where they are now, not to mention a certain AL East rival that wears pinstripes.
    And frankly, if it was an either-or, I’d rather play Butler and/or Lavarnway with Ross in 2014 and take the offensive hit, if that meant the Red Sox could keep Jacoby Ellsbury by giving him the money they don’t throw at McCann.

  3. DaveP1960 November 19, 2013 at 10:55 PM #

    Hi Ben,

    Catching is a dilemma!  One thing for sure…Ross will catch 60-75 games and he is R handed!  If he gets hurt, you have 2 more R handers in Butler and Lavarnway as backups…but, they are not starters!!  
    The Sox cannot lose Ells, Drew and Salty without adding back a L handed catcher!  So sign McCann!!  A few years to mentor Vazquez and Swihart and then 1B or DH a few more (5 years at 17M or 85M total is an overpay but we see what salaries are doing).  As for SS…sign Drew for the “famous” 3 yrs and 39M.  No way you can count on Xander and Middlebrooks to cover the year…players get hurt.  Middlebrooks showed he could play 2B if he had to…I’ll bet he could learn 1B and be a super-sub as well as pinch hit!!  And as for CF… Sign Jacoby…he is just too good!!  Bradley is not ready…let him play 1 more year in the Minors and come up in 2015 to take over LF when Gomes leaves…or as a natural CF he could pull a Victorino and learn Fenways big RF…but, the big question is “What will it take to sign Jake?”  How about 19M x 6 years or 114M total?  Who will pay him more?  Have the owners seen the “albatross” that has become ARod, Pujols, Fielder, Crawford and Hamilton?  And those mistakes are going to get a lot worse over the next 5 years!!
    Let Salty and Napoli walk…too many K’s!! Let Carp/Nava and Middlebrooks play 1B!! Signing McCann, Drew and Jacoby will probably put the Sox over payroll for 2014…but soooo much comes off the books for 2015 the Sox have plenty of flexibility…   
    What do you think McCann, Drew and Jacoby will end up signing for??
    Go BU!!
    Dave

  4. Gerry November 20, 2013 at 4:02 AM #

    Well said. Though I think building a team around expensive “star power” may be passe, having a number of talented All-Stars is not. My biggest concern is blithely ripping apart the kevlar coat of many colors, talents and comedians that is the 2013 team. Letting Ells, Nap, Salty go and perseverating on Drew is not healthy. The talk about trading Nava, Gomes, Carp, Peavy for chimera is scary after seeing how well the 2013 approach worked. Sure I thoight AGon would make us winners, and see the value of Beltran, Choo, Hart, McCann, Young.
    But I would sooner spend the $$ on Ells, Nap, Salty. Silly me.