Thursday, July 19, 2012

Two Red Sox Thoughts (July 19, 2012)

Just when it looked like the Red Sox were getting healthy, another star is lost to injury.

The Red Sox were expected to be at full strength after the All-Star break, ready to compete for a playoff berth, and the plan was looking good as the team saw Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford return to action.  Dustin Pedroia and Andrew Bailey were ready to come back too and for a brief moment, it actually looked like things were coming together.

Just as everything was starting to come together, the team placed David Ortiz on the disabled list yesterday with a strain of his right Achilles tendon.  The Red Sox lone All-Star in 2012 hurt himself rounding second base on an Adrian Gonzalez home run.

Originally it looked like Ortiz would be out just a few days and not have to go on the DL but after traveling to Miami for a second opinion yesterday, the decision was made to sit him for the next two weeks.  That means the Red Sox will be without their team leader in batting average, home runs, RBI's, runs, and walks until at least August 1.

The loss of Ortiz obviously means the rest of the team needs to step up their game to keep the team in contention for a Wild Card entry into the A.L. playoffs.  The brunt of that responsibility falls on Pedroia and Gonzalez (see below) at the plate and starting pitchers Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, and Clay Buchholz.  As I wrote a few weeks ago, those five need to step up their games and play to their potential so that the team can live up to its lofty preseason expectations and contend for the World Series.  It may seem odd to consider a 47-45 team a contender to win a championship but last year the Cardinals were 8.5-games out of the playoffs with 21 games on the schedule and they fought their way into the postseason and won the World Series.  When you look at the talent on the Red Sox roster, it's not crazy to think that if their stars who have struggled play up to their potential that they could follow the path of the 2011 Cardinals and come from out of nowhere and win a World Series.

Gonzalez has already started to hit like the player the Red Sox traded for in December 2010 and saw in the first half of last season.  Since June 19, he has posted a triple slash of .404/.423/.553.  It's no coincidence that was the last day the Gold Glove first baseman had to moonlight as a rightfielder.  He missed the first two games after the All-Star break with a stiff back but in the four games since he has a triple slash of .563/.563/.938 with 2 home runs and 10 RBI.  For the season he is hitting .296/.339/.439 with 8 home runs and 55 RBI.  He may not have his usual MVP caliber season but if he has a great second half the Red Sox can survive the temporary loss of Big Papi and also take a shot at winning a championship.

Crawford is also off to an excellent start in his first three games.  He has 5 singles in 10 at-bats, stolen 3 bases, and scored 6 runs.  Yes, it's a miniscule sample size but remember that last year Crawford was dropped down in the order after just two games, which was the beginning of the worst season of his career, so hopefully his fast start will lead to an excellent second half and that the Red Sox will get the type of production they expected when they signed him as a free agent after the 2010 season.

The offense should be able to withstand the time that Ortiz is on the disabled list and then be ready to carry the team into the playoffs when he comes back as long as they get help from Lester, Beckett, and Buchholz at the top of the starting rotation.  None of the three has pitched like they are expected to this season but if they can all get hot - hell, even if two of them get on a roll - then there is no reason this team should not be in the mix come September and October.


Just as Crawford was showing signs that he is going to be the dynamic force at the plate and on the bases that he was in his eight full seasons in Tampa Bay, there was a rumor going around yesterday that the Red Sox were in discussions with the Marlins to move Crawford to Miami.

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports wrote that the Red Sox would send Crawford to Miami for either shortstop Jose Reyes or third baseman Hanley Ramirez.  The rumored deal for Reyes would have included pitcher Anibal Sanchez going to Boston and shortstop prospect Jose Iglesias going to the Marlins while the Ramirez deal would have the Red Sox including Mike Aviles, who would replace Ramirez at third, and either cash to offset the difference in Crawford's and Ramirez' contracts or absorbing the contract of closer Heath Bell, who has been a major disappointment in his first year with the Marlins.

Bob Nightengale of USA Today also reported a Crawford-to-Miami rumor, writing that the Red Sox would include a prospect and in return get Ramirez, who the Red Sox traded to the Marlins in 2005 for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell, and Bell.

Despite the Rosenthal and Nightengale reports, it doesn't seem like a trade is probable.  Buster Olney of shot it down in his blog this morning (Insider access required) as has local Boston scribe Gordon Edes.  Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington also shot down the rumors, stating "We have not offered Carl to a single team"  Cherington's boss, Red Sox president Larry Lucchino, did say this morning on an interview with WEEI that Cherington is "empowered" to make a "bold" move so maybe there is some fire to go along with this smoke.

Whether or not it happens, it's interesting to analyze a possible blockbuster trade and there are positives and negatives to this deal. 

The biggest positive in trading Crawford would be dumping the more than $100-million that is remaining on his contract that runs through 2017.  When the deal ends he will be 36 and players at that age who rely on their speed to be effective usually find themselves struggling so it's safe to say he won't be a great value at that point of his career.  The Red Sox also face the reality that Jacoby Ellsbury will be a free agent after the 2013 season and it makes more sense for the team to invest a mega-contract in a younger player who has also demonstrated more power and discipline at the plate than Crawford.  Ellsbury, who belted 32 home runs and drove in 105 runs as a leadoff hitter last year, could more easily transition into a middle of the order slugger than Crawford which makes him the better investment for the Red Sox.

The biggest downside is that Ramirez has struggled the last year and a half.  The 2006 N.L. Rookie of the Year, three-time All-Star, and runner-up in the 2009 MVP vote was on the way to a Hall of Fame career before hitting .243/.333/.379 with 10 home runs and 45 RBI in an injury shortened 2011 season that saw him play in only 92 games.  He was moved over from short to third when the team signed Reyes this winter and in what many expected to be a bounce back season has been a near replication of last year - .249/.326/.435, 14 homeruns, and 47 RBI in 90 games.

Would Ramirez bounce back with a change of scenery?  Can he move back to shortstop?  Those are two important questions.

Taking on Bell, who signed a 3-year/$27-million contract this winter, is another gamble for the Red Sox.  Bell was an All-Star for the Padres from 2009-2011, racking up 132 saves in those three seasons, but he was doing it in the pressure-free zone that is San Diego.  He has been terrible in Miami so far, posting a 6.21 ERA and 1.699 WHIP (in comparison, he had a 2.44 ERA and 1.149 WHIP a year ago) and there is probable cause to believe he would struggle in Boston and pitching in the A.L. East.

From my keyboard, even as a huge admirer of Carl Crawford, I would do a trade of Crawford, Aviles, and a pitching prospect such as Alex Wilson (the Marlins probably wouldn't want Iglesias with Reyes on the payroll until 2017) for Ramirez and Bell.  The Red Sox need to shed some payroll to be able to make an offer to Ellsbury in November of 2013 that would keep him in Boston for the rest of the decade.  It would also offer some balance to a left-handed dominant lineup that often puts the Red Sox at the mercy of a dominant lefty starting pitcher like CC Sabathia of the Yankees or a situational lefty reliever like Phil Coke of the Tigers.

Let's say the Red Sox pull off the trade before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline just as Ortiz returns.  This would be their lineup in August and September:

1. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF (L)
2. Dustin Pedroia, 2B (R)
3. David Ortiz, DH (L)
4. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B (L)
5. Hanley Ramirez, SS (R)
6. Cody Ross, LF (R)
7. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C (S)
8. Ryan Sweeney, RF (L)
9. Will Middlebrooks, 3B (R)

Bobby Valentine could swap Ramirez and Gonzalez to offer even more balance or even slide Ross into the cleanup spot while dropping Gonzalez to fifth and Ramirez to sixth but regardless, the point is the Red Sox would have more balance and such a big change might offer the necessary shake up that the Nomar Garciaparra trade brought to Boston in July 2004.

Remember that trade? 

The Red Sox made the boldest trade in team history since selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees in sending Garciaparra to the Cubs in a multi-team deal that landed Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz in Boston.  That Red Sox team trailed the Yankees by 8.5-games in the A.L. East that day and were 1-game behind the Rangers in the Wild Card chase but the trade set them up to take the Wild Card, beat the Yankees in the ALCS, and ultimately capture the World Series.

No one knows if this trade would have that kind of effect but the Red Sox currently trail the Yankees by 10.5-games in the A.L. East and the Tigers by 1-game in the Wild Card so maybe this move could spark a run for the 2012 team that the Nomar trade did for the 2004 team.

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