|Coco Crisp – Evan Brunell|
We sure woke up yesterday to some staggering news, didn’t we?
I don’t know about you, but I didn’t expect to hear that Coco Crisp had been traded to the Kansas City Royals for a reliever. The expectation was that Crisp would be packaged somewhere along with a young pitcher for a catcher. But no, a one-on-one trade was in Crisp’s future and in the newest Boston Red Sox, Ramon Ramirez.
WHO IS RAMON RAMIREZ?
This trade is excellent from the Red Sox’s perspective. The Sox had a very solid bullpen last year but now add Ramirez to their corps of young, cost-controllable arms that are capable of setting up and/or closing.
He has a mid-90s fastball with late life, a slider, and a changeup that acts as a splitter. He posted a dominating season last year, holding right-handed batters to a .159 average, good for third among all relievers (Carlos Marmol, Brad Lidge).
He finished the year with a 2.64 ERA, although his second-half ERA was 4.11. You can chalk that up to two major reasons (assuming injury was not one of them): the league learning about Ramirez and tiring down the stretch, although he was unstoppable in September with a 0.93 ERA.
There’s no question Ramirez is a quality reliever, and whether or not he steps up to assume setup duties is irrelevant. Even if he’s relegated to 6/7th inning roles, he will be effective in those roles and make our pitching corps that much better.
The Sox control Ramirez for four years and save roughly $5 million in the deal, which is significant money (for anyone but the Yankees). It can be reinvested, or in this economy, saved to help offset the Sox not raising ticket prices to combat the Yankees and inflation.
This trade is the first of many dominoes that will start to fall for the Red Sox. The question is, where will these dominoes fall?
What does this mean for Justin Masterson? What does it mean for the fourth outfielder role? Let’s tackle these questions.
|Justin Masterson – Evan Brunell|
DOES THIS MAKE MASTERSON A STARTER?
Acquiring Ramirez gives the Sox a powerful bullpen and deepens it, allowing the Sox the flexibility to utilize Masterson as a starter should they choose so. It doesn’t, however preclude the Sox from keeping Masterson in the bullpen.
Assuming the Sox go with 12 pitchers and retain Masterson in his setup role, the bullpen would be comprised of: Jonathan Papelbon, Hideki Okajima, Masterson, Ramirez, Manny Delcarmen, Javier Lopez and a bevy of candidates for the final spot (David Aardsma, Dewon Day, Virgil Vazquez, Devern Hansack, David Pauley, Hunter Jones, et al.).
Removing Masterson from the bullpen would represent a clear need to bring in another reliever, as the list for the final spot should be just that — the final spot. Two out of that list would weaken the Sox in the bullpen, and combined with Masterson’s platoon split (he is prone to left-handers due to his sidearm motion and sinker) the Sox are better off leaving him in the bullpen.
However, flexibility is king. The Sox now have that flexibility and should other offseason moves not go as planned, Masterson could enter the rotation with the Sox signing a veteran arm to take his place in the bullpen.
The Sox could also end up being more comfortable in shipping Masterson out, presumably to Texas. The Rangers reportedly offered Jarrod Saltalamacchia to the Red Sox for either Clay Buchholz or two of Justin Masterson, Michael Bowden and Nick Hagadone.
With Ramirez in the fold, the Sox may elect to reignite talks with Texas and be more amenable to losing some of their young pitching. This deal may have been the precursor to a deal with Texas.
With the Sox’s relatively strong starting pitching depth at the moment plus their interest in signing another starter, (they have been linked to Derek Lowe, which I campaigned against, and A.J. Burnett) to me it is clear that they view Masterson as a valued bullpen piece, and the acquisition of Ramirez should do nothing but allow them a little more peace of mind in backup options.
|Jacoby Ellsbury – Evan Brunell|
WHO’S OUR FOURTH OUTFIELDER?
Would you believe that the answer could very well be Jacoby Ellsbury?
Right now, based on the chatter surrounding the Sox this offseason, there are three directions the Sox could go with regards to the outfield:
One direction would be to maintain the status quo in the infield and outfield and move forward, signing a free agent to back up the outfield. Rocco Baldelli has been a targeted name due to his local ties and his pure talent.
Rocco’s mitochondrial abnormalities would seem to prevent him from assuming a full-time gig as a starter, at least in the short term. There’s no question that this guy could still make a few All-Star games, but at this juncture in time, he needs to prove he is healthy and can handle the workload.
If not Baldelli, the Sox have other options in free agency and internally to fill the role.
Another direction the Red Sox could go in deals with signing Mark Teixeira, trading Mike Lowell (presumably for a fourth outfielder?) and repeating the scenario above on needing a fourth outfielder.
Lastly, and admittedly the most unlikely option, is signing Teixeira and retaining Mike Lowell. J.D. Drew would shift to center, Jason Bay to right and Kevin Youkilis would move to left-field.
I’ve heard this scenario bandied about in the past, and it could happen. The Sox would be sacrificing defense in left-field, but that’s what we did for the past eight years. Jacoby would get another season of at-bats to continue his ascent as the long-term centerfielder of the Sox. As we all noticed this past year, there were plenty of at-bats to go around for Coco, so Jacoby wouldn’t suffer too much.
Don’t count this scenario out. As interested in Teixeira as the Sox are and as adamant as Tony Massarotti is about the Sox signing Tex, the Sox may have their hand forced in this scenario if they can’t move Lowell. They’d have to move Youkilis or Bay instead, perhaps even J.D. Drew, and that may be a move Theo is unwilling to make. He may be comfortable waiting a year for Lowell’s value to rebound.
WHERE DO THE SOX GO FROM HERE?
Theo can go in a lot of different directions now that he’s got a reliever under his belt. He can afford to be more cautious when negotiating with starters (Lowe, Burnett, etc.). He can turn his attention to solving the catcher dilemma first, rather than finding a starter. He can chase Mark Teixeira and try to move Lowell for a starting pitcher, reliever or backup outfielder.
He could also elect to make zero other moves this off-season.
Wherever the Sox go from here, the opening salvo of the Sox’s offseason was the Crisp/Ramirez trade, and it’s going to impact the rest of the offseason fundamentally.