Can you believe it?  It’s been more than two weeks since the illustrious Nick Cafardo graced us with the little nugget of gold he calls his mailbag.  I have to admit, I was a little worried that he’d grown tired of sharing and answering the thoughts, concerns, and questions of Red Sox Nation.  Luckily, he dropped his latest bag o’ goodies on Wednesday afternoon, and now all feels right with the world.  It looks like most of the traditional themes have returned for another round:  Theo compensation, widespread negativity, irrational questions, Matt Garza trade suggestions, panic about the starting pitching, and a reprise of the Ryan Sweeney/Fred Lynn debate.  Yes, I’m serious about that last one.

All that’s said, let’s dive right in.  We have a lot to get through.  Fasten your seatbelts.  Grab your barf bags.  Put on your protective helmuts.  It’s going to be a very bumpy ride.

Is Cody Ross a good player?

Yes.  Next question!

Seriously though…I don’t want to say he’s a good player, but he’s not a bad one either.  While he exhibits good power, mashes lefties, and runs the bases well; he’s also mediocre defensively, struggles against righties, and doesn’t get on base enough.*   His platoon split is so large (135 wRC+ against LHP vs. 91 against RHP) that it’d behoove both he and the team he’s playing for to put him in a strict platoon with a player that hits well against RHP.  Enter Ryan Sweeney (who we’ll be talking more about in a second).  Putting these two players in a platoon will give them both the best chance to succeed at the plate, while maximizing their defensive output.  In the right role, he’s a very good player.  Hopefully, once Carl Crawford recovers from wrist surgery, the Red Sox will put him in that role.

* Yes, his walk rate was 10.2% last year.  With a 7.3% career rate though, I think that may be an aberration.

1. Fred Lynn was not that graceful. He had a strange stride. 2. Ryan Sweeney has power. He did not play in Fenway, which was the reason Lynn prospered with power. Out of Fenway, Lynn declined. 3. I think Sweeney is a much better center fielder than you credit him with. He also has a strong arm. Graceful? Sweeney is very athletic and seem to be able to do things Lynn could not do. Prior to 2011, no one thought Ellsbury had power. This season will tell. I am pleased that Cody Ross was added.

–Vicente, Colombia, Calif

This my favorite question for a couple of reasons.  One, it’s absolutely ridiculous to compare Fred Lynn to Ryan Sweeney.  Two, this guy just won’t give up.  Three, part of me really hopes it’s Vicente Padilla trolling the hell out of Nick just for fun.  Yes, I know Padilla was recently arrested in Nicaragua for failing to pay his child support (classy), but I like to think he was trying to get the authorities off of his tail by saying he was in “Columbia, CA.”  Anyway…on to the question.

Let’s answer it the same way Vicente asked it.

  1. Fred Lynn wasn’t graceful?  Keep in mind that I never got a chance to see Fred Lynn play center field during his hey day because I was either not alive or too young to understand what I was seeing, but everything I’ve read about him says he was graceful.  Furthermore, Total Zone rates Lynn as a +19 in center field during his time in Boston.  Strange stride or not, he was extraordinarily effective in center, so that’s all that really matters.
  2. While Ryan Sweeney has played most of his career in the home run crippling environment that is the Coliseum, he has yet to exhibit significant power either in the majors or at any level in the minors.  Sure, it may come out this year, but his track record says it probably won’t.  As for Lynn’s post-Red Sox career, it shouldn’t be surprising that he declined.  Most players experience their prime during their age 25-29 seasons.  Lynn played for Boston for all but his age-29 season during that stretch.  The rest of his career occurred during his 30s when most players decline.  What it sounds like is that Vicente lacks the fundamental understanding of the aging curve and how it affects player performance.
  3. Yes, Sweeney is incredibly athletic.  His ability to play all three defensive positions in the outfield was part of his appeal to the Red Sox.  His ability to be a great every day centerfielder is questionable.  Through 1130 innings (admittedly, a small sample), he’s rated as being slightly below average by DRS and UZR.  That doesn’t mean he couldn’t play there every day, but it’s probably best if he remains at one of the corners.

Why the negative thoughts about the upcoming season? The Sox were arguably the best team in MLB for three months. Youkilis missed a huge chunk of time. Crawford had the worst season of his career. My point is that with all that went wrong, this team still won 90 games.

I agree they will be a very good offensive team. But as you pointed out, the pitching has major question marks. Your lineup can be gangbusters, but if you don’t have pitching and pitching depth to back it up, it won’t be enough. As far as conditioning, they wouldn’t dare show up out of shape this year, would they?

For this one, I included both the question and Nick’s response (in italics).  Nick says, “But as you pointed out, the pitching has major question marks.”  I don’t know about you, but I can’t find anything in the original question that even remotely mentions pitching.  I see points about Crawford and Kevin Youkilis, but that’s it.  I dunno.  This one really confused me.

What is the Red Sox’ rationale for the outrageously extravagant salary for Carl Crawford? He doesn’t live up to the standards of Jacoby Ellsbury.

Is this a serious question?

Prior to his rough season with the Red Sox last year, Crawford had produced 36.3 fWAR (from 2003-2010) making him the 13th most valuable player in baseball during that stretch.  In the previous two seasons, he’d produced 13.5 fWAR alone!  He has speed, athleticism, premium defensive abilities, a good bat, and decent pop.  What wasn’t to like?

Should the Red Sox have agreed to pay him $142M over a span of seven seasons?  That’s tough to say.  Prior to 2011, he certainly projected to be worth around that figure, so it was probably a smart move at the time.  Still, the craziness that was the Jayson Werth contract played a big role in Crawford receiving what he received.  Whether it’s fair or not, that deal reset the market, and raised the price Crawford.  The free agent marketplace is inefficient, and sometimes that happens.  As the premium hitter on the market last year, it seems like a reasonable deal to me.

As for comparing him to Jacoby Ellsbury, that seems to be a little unfair.  Ellsbury had a tremendous 2011 season, but he’s only done that once.  Crawford is an established star with a proven track record.  Furthermore, Crawford was a free agent when he signed with Boston, while Ells is still under team control.  Competition and skill set make a big difference in determining a player’s salary.

Are the Red Sox interested in any of these relievers: Rich Harden, Chad Qualls, Mike Gonzalez, Koji Uehara, or Hong-Chin Kuo?

In his own narrative, Cafardo already pointed out that Chad Qualls was recently signed by the Phillies to a one year deal.  The Red Sox have long been fans of Rich Harden and Koji Uehara, and made public attempts to trade for both pitchers in recent months.  Harden could end up being a candidate for the rotation.  When healthy, he’s capable of dominating opposing lineups.  Unfortunately, he’s rarely healthy, so expecting anything more than 100 innings or so out of him is pretty risky.  As for Gonzalez or Kuo, I haven’t heard about either of them being linked to the Red Sox.

I know this has probably been asked before, but why can’t the Sox send one or two prospects to the Cubs in exchange for Matt Garza? The longer this continues, the more it looks like Epstein is trying to screw them out of any real compensation.

Sure, the Red Sox could send one or two prospects to the Cubs in exchange for Garza–if Ben laced one of Theo’s drinks with a few roofies, got him high on PCP, and then took compromising pictures of him at a risque donkey performance down in Tijuana.  The truth is that Garza is a premium trade talent.  He’s 28 and coming off of a 5 fWAR season.  Those kinds of pitchers typically command more than one or two prospects.  Theo’s not going to give him away as his final parting gift to the Red Sox.  It’d probably be smarter to look at the deals it took to land Mat Latos and Gio Gonzalez as a starting point and go from there.

Lastly, how does Garza tie in to Theo’s compensation?  He was never a serious candidate.  It’s just something the Red Sox threw out there to get the ball rolling.

Where are the comparisons between the last place April Sox and the collapse in September? Was it a sign of poor preparation or overconfidence?

How about a better question…why are we still talking about the poor start in April and the September collapse?  Those two things are about as relevant as Lindsey Lohan’s acting career.  Haven’t we dissected both of those to death as it is?  Do we really need to keep dwelling?  Let’s just move on, and look forward to the 2012 season.

What is the process for Bud Selig to choose the compensation for Theo Epstein? Does each team supply a list of desired players? It seems to me that it could best be handled by each team proposing a single compensation package, with the commissioner then limited to picking either one side’s offer or the other’s, much like salary arbitration is decided. However, I get the impression he has carte blanche to pick whatever player or players he desires. Is this correct?

From my understanding, Ben and Theo will both submit a list of players to Bud Selig.  Next, Selig will put together a Blue Ribbon Commission comprised of some of his closest buddies to research the issue.  The study will last roughly 3-5 years, and when it’s finally completed; they’ll announce their findings were inconclusive.  Then, Bud will putz around for another six months before coming up with a final solution.  He’ll call both GMs into his office, and proceed to play “eenie meenie miny mo.”  Whomever is “it” the most times after a best of seven series will be awarded the opportunity choose a player from the opposing team’s list.*  By this time, most of the players on these lists will either be playing for other teams, washed up, or toiling in some independent league where Jose Canseco is a player/manager.  But hey, at least there’s an eventual winner, right?

* It should be noted that the person that gets to start at “eenie meenie miny mo” will be determined by which league won the All-Star Game during the season which this match occurs.  It brings new meaning to “This Time it Counts.”      

Why don’t the Red Sox go after Edwin Jackson? The guy is durable and would love to be back in the AL East. I say stop the nonsense and grab the guy before someone else does.

The Red Sox had been trying to sign Jackson.  Unfortunately, the contract E-Jax and his agent Scott Boras were initially seeking was outrageous.  Then, Nationals GM Mike Rizzo caught a whiff of Boras’s cologne, got all hot and bothered, and overpaid for Jackson by about $2M.  Will he provide enough on-field value to cover the cost of his contract?  Yes, and then some.  The  problem is that the Nationals didn’t have to pay as much as they did given the market.  Oh, well.  What’s done is done.  At least Oswalt is still available…

This idea that Ben and Co. should have “grabbed” him before someone else did was “nonsense.”  Clearly, no team valued Jackson as much as he (and Boras) valued himself.  That is why he took so long to sign. I don’t see any reason why the Red Sox should have overpaid for a pitcher (in terms of competitive value), just because he was there.  Quite frankly, it’s fiscally irresponsible and bad business.  John Henry became a billionaire through making smart, savvy business transactions.  I trust his fiscal judgment a lot more than I trust some random every day schmoe’s judgement.  Just saying…

With the DH market being well below what Ortiz is asking for and arbitration awards being non-guaranteed, is there any chance the Sox will part ways with Ortiz if he wins his case?

Not a chance in hell.  With the back of the rotation in question, the Red Sox will need to keep their lineup as strong as possible.

What are the chances the Sox sign Tim Wakefield and make him into some sort of specialist, a seventh-inning guy?

I don’t see it happening.  They might give him a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training, but that’s it.  If he’s willing to accept that kind of deal, he’s going to have to earn his spot onto the Major League roster.   They’re done guaranteeing him a job.

Would you please explain the significance of the “non-guaranteed” contracts signed by Salty, Ells and Bard? I thought all MLB contracts were guaranteed. Under what circumstances would these contracts not be honored?

Arbitration contracts are not guaranteed when they’re signed.  Instead, they become guaranteed when said player makes the 25-man roster on Opening Day.  (This includes those on the DL.)  For example, both Ron Gant and Aaron Boone signed arbitration contracts just prior to sustaining a season-ending injury prior to Spring Training.  Since both players participated in acts that were prohibited by their contracts, the clubs (Braves and Yankees) were able to void their deals without penalty.  Had they made the Opening Day roster, and then committed these acts, the teams would have had no recourse.