Red Sox Photo Day

Wake Undergoes Surgery

Tim Wakefield underwent surgery Wednesday to repair a herniated disk and loose bone fragment in his back. Wakefield is expected to pitch next year and should be ready for Spring Training. The 43 year-old vet was visually hampered last year, turning in a 4.58 ERA and 4.58 FIP despite his woeful last three starts (14 IP, 14 ER, 8 K, 12 BB).

The Sox will again lean heavily on their elder statesman in 2010, should he prove up to the task. Even if he is on the outside of the Opening Day starting rotation, injuries will certainly open up a spot for the veteran, as they always do. The Sox have until five days after the World Series to pick up his $4 million option.

Jed Hoyer Auditioning for the San Diego GM Job

Red Sox Assistant GM Jed Hoyer is considered to be the front runner for the San Diego Padres’ General Manager job. Hoyer was part of the conclave of Boston executives who filled in for Theo Epstein during his 10-week leave in late 2005. He has interviewed for both the Pittsburgh Pirates (2007) and Washington Nationals (2009) GM positions.

Hoyer sat down and gave a great interview over at the Baseball Analysts in 2007. If you’d like a little insight into the mind of a top-level front office exec, I suggest you take a look. The Sox will surely miss his services and hard work if he were to leave the organization.

Squinting at Free Agents

While we have gone at length discussing the top free agents and mapping out blueprints for the Sox’ offseason, there are a number of intriguing names on the market that are flying under the radar. Not all of them are the safest bets, with varying levels of performance or injury history, but they do have some sex appeal. Here are a few names to mull over. Special thanks to Eddie Bajek of MLB Trade Rumors.

OF Rick Ankiel: Ankiel came off a sub-par season in 2009, as his power was down, his walks were down, and his K’s were up en route to a .231/.285/.387 line.

His downturn may have something to do with the performance enhancers he was caught taking a while back, but there is still a lot to like about Ankiel. His 2008 was superb, as he post a .264/.337/.506 line with 25 homers in 413 at-bats. He still has a fly-ball oriented approach and its unlikely that a player will halve their HR/FB rate when they’re still just 30 years old (17.7% HR/FB in 2008; 8.9% HR/FB in 2009).

I’d rather see him in a Sox uniform as a 4th outfielder, though he’s unlikely to go anywhere in this capacity, seeing all the playing time he’s had with the Cardinals the last few years – though that would be the best-case scenario for the Sox. At the same time, it’s unlikely that a contending team will give him a good contract as a starter, either, considering just how bad he was last season and with his struggles against southpaws. The Sox signing Ankiel as a starter for 2010 may mean they’re throwing out the “Rebuilding Year”-style white flag, so let’s all hope they get Holliday, Bay, or anyone who finished with an OPS over .800 in 2009.

Still, his upside makes him an intriguing potential sign for Boston. Just don’t ask him to swing against lefties, who man-handled Ankiel to the tune of .234/.265/.298 in 2009. If there’s a bounce-back in Ankiel’s future, he’ll be quite the bargain.

Or, who knows? If the Sox do swing and miss at every left field option on the market, maybe he could platoon with our next candidate (though I’d rather it never come to this)…

OF Gabe Kapler: Wouldn’t it be great to see ole Gabe back in Sox’ threads again? He’s actually a great fit for the team, with or without Ankiel. He is obviously not a full time player anymore, as righties eat him up. Therefore, the team won’t have to worry about allocating too much playing time his way, which is fitting since he is already accustomed to being platooned exclusively against lefties.

The Sox need a hitter to cover up for Papi’s weaknesses against southpaws (.212/.298/.418 in 2009 and falling) and Kapler can do just that (.276/.379/.552 v. lefties in 2009; 8 HRs in 145 ABs, 26 BBs v. 23 Ks). Gabe can still play well in the outfield and won’t command a big salary. As an extra outfielder and platoon mate, he could be an excellent, underrated piece of the puzzle for the Sox in 2010. In fact, he may have just become my favorite under-the-radar signing in the MLB. Sorry, but I’m a sucker for complementary, low-cost moves that make great fits.

SP Brett Myers: Myers is also expected to have no Elias compensation tag. Though hip and back ailments caused Myers to miss most of the season, he could catch on out of the bullpen or be a low cost rotation option. Though the injuries never help, the time off may go a long way in helping his tired arm, which has lost nearly three miles per hour on the fastball in the last two seasons. Still just 29 years old, Myers looked like one of the better young pitchers in the majors in 2005 (3.72 ERA, 4.06 FIP, 8.69 K/9, 2.84 BB/9) and was excellent out of the bullpen in 2007, when he posted 83 punchouts in 68.2 innings.

If the Sox have the stomach to take on another injury-prone reclamation project to a short contract, maybe they’ll look Myers’ way.

SP John Smoltz: The bigger question may be asking Sox fans to put away their baggage and grudge against Smoltz, because this guy can still pitch. Smoltz proved all doubters wrong when he left for St. Louis to post a 4.26 ERA with 40 Ks against just 9 BBs in 38 innings.

The old man still has it, so I don’t want to hear any of that “he can’t pitch in the AL East” crap. Even if I bought into it, it’s not the gauntlet of a division people think it is unless you have to pitch against the Yankees AND the Red Sox – and Boston pitchers have the benefit of never pitching against the latter.

He still has great command, is still missing bats, and still has a good fastball (91.4 mph in 2009). It’s just plain bad luck when a pitcher throws for a .364 BABIP. I recently did some research on the BABIPs of position players’ on the mound in the last 15 years. Even they performed better than .300, despite having swollen ERAs and walk totals. I repeat, SMOLTZ CAN PITCH. Don’t count him out. Maybe it’s too bad he would like to pitch for St. Louis.

Now, it’s time for all of us to grudgingly become Phillies fans, as the Philadelphia crew is likely the last defense against a New York title, who just went up 3-1 in the ALCS. No one likes a non-Sox championship, but anything is better than a Yankees’ title. More on that soon.