Spring Training is only a day away, and it’s been a busy offseason for the Red Sox in 2010. The team struggled in the playoffs last year after putting up another solid regular season; tweaks were made to sew up the loose ends on the team’s defensive deficiencies. Another front line starter was brought into the fold. Is Lackey here to supplant Josh Beckett in 2011 and beyond, or simply be another high priced compliment to the rotation?
With the Olympics currently underway, let’s review what’s happened this offseason, and see what moves the teams made deserved a spot on the podium.
Third Base: Adrian Beltre replaces Mike Lowell
While the Lowell trade was derailed by an injury the fan base is still scratching their heads over (was Lowell hiding it, was the organization?), the acquisition of Beltre signaled the end of Lowell’s regular playing time. Arguably the most talented defensive third basemen in baseball, Beltre brings his slick glove to Fenway to provide the teams with the defensive wins they had lacked all last season. Even returning just to his 2008 level of offensive woudl make Beltre a 4 WAR player, a huge bonus for the Red Sox with minimal risk.
Results: Silver Medal (Upgrades to Gold if Lowell is healthy and traded for a quality minor league player)
Centerfield: Mike Cameron shifts Jacoby Ellsbury to Left Field
Jacoby is quite the polarizing subject across Red Sox Nation. The early adopters in 2007 believe he’s the next coming of Fred Lynn, we statheads scoff at his lackluster OBP and inconsistent UZR scores in center.
Is the best of both worlds happening? Jacoby gets a chance to play every day, and potentially continue the gradual improvements in his plate discipline while setting sped records on the basepaths. His shift to left field takes the magnifying glass off his defensive inexperience and lets his speed completely mask these inefficiencies(and arm) due to Fenway’s tiny left field.
Cameron’s short contract stabilizes the defense, and Ellsbury has two years to prove he can push Ryan Westmoreland to right field; overall, the outfield is better. Replacing Bay’s offensive through defense isn’t a lock if Cameron’s age gets the best of him. Cameron’s pull-happy swing may not mesh perfectly with the wall if he continues to have trouble with his contact. Still, it’s a great value for the team while preserving flexibility.
Result: Bronze Medal.
Shortstop: Marco Scutaro, Come on Down!
Scutaro is the latest entry in the “Wheel of Shortstops”, open since 2004. While his contract is much more team friendly than anticipated, is a 35 year old player coming off a career year really a good investment? While Scutaro’s projections are only a meager .720 OPS, it’s still a slight improvement over the status quo, and the 2007 contributions from Lugo. If his defense continues to impress, Scutaro will be stable, but not spectacular.
Results: No medal for Scutaro, but I’m hopeful the revolving door stops while we wait on Jose Iglesias.
John Lackey, a Possible Third Ace?
The unexpected move of the offseason, Lackey’s sudden trip to Boston improved the rotation to one of the strongest on paper since 2004. Three players, all capable of leading any staff in baseball not headed up by Tim Lincecum, suddenly pitch for the same team.
While Lackey’s contract required a substantial investment, and concerns about his declining strikeouts and inflating walk rate are going to be details we pay close attention to these next four years, Theo improved the rotation, at a cost the team could endure, especially when Jason Bay was dubbed unnecessary. Lackey’s also keeping the Red Sox from relying on Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield.
Result: Bronze Medal
Bags Are Packed, See You Later!
The Red Sox lost some quality players. Jason Bay, Billy Wagner, Takashi Saito, Casey Kotchman, and Rocco Baldelli would be the most notable losses. While the Red Sox claimed some decent draft picks from Wagner and Saito, the Mets cost the team a chance at another Type A free agent. Jason Bay was probably the hardest player to let go, but hopefully enough evidence had been shown that Bay’s eventual decline was not a risk the Red Sox should take.
Result: Bronze Medal. The Sox should have cashed in on draft picks, but lost a few between the acquistions of Lackey and Scutaro, and the Mets first round pick being protected.
Who Let These Guys In?
The Sox made some minor moves, bringing in notables Jeremy Hermida, Bill Hall, and Boof Bonser. Mostly moves for depth and to massage minor trades through. While Hermida comes with some potential, only an injury or another huge slump by Ortiz would give Hermida any sort of regular playing time. Hall can be a super utility player, able to play both the infield and outfield, but he’s another strikeout machine that the team wouldn’t want to press into full time duty.
Result: No Medal, as the moves were purely complimentary, and probably don’t have much potential barring situations the team don’t want to endure.
Overall, the offseason was surprisingly active. Theo’s moves aren’t conventional, as defense has quickly replaced OBP as the new “buy low” skill. I was pleasantly surprised, especially with the acquisitions of Beltre and Cameron, as they signal a determination to commit to developing homegrown players, rather than filling up spots with multiyear deals for aging veterans.