Ben Cherington, Red Sox stick to plan while they can
The Red Sox’ newfound model of limiting the length of contracts and picking up good-value players won Ben Cherington a World Series and the executive of the year award last month. That was a no-brainer for a general manager who may have had one of the best seasons anyone in his position has ever had.
Now comes the year after.
The Red Sox’ model has already been tested and it’s already weeded out players Boston had some interest in, including Brian McCann, who signed for five years with a sixth-year option with the Yankees, and Carlos Ruiz, who signed a two-year contract (with an option) with the Phillies. We’ll see whether Carlos Beltran, another target, will opt for more years with the Yankees, Orioles, or Royals, or if the Red Sox can woo him with a higher annual salary.
Red Sox president and CEO Larry Lucchino spoke last week about “a diverse portfolio of contracts and mixing the structure so they may be more front-loaded (like Dustin Pedroia’s deal). He said he expects every year to be different in terms of the composition of the team, and changeover is inevitable.
“So far, I don’t think it’s been all that different,” Lucchino said. “We still value the draft picks enormously and our behavior has shown that we still prefer shorter- to longer-term contracts and a presumption against really long-term contracts. A lot of things we did last year proved to be successful at least in the short term, and I think we’ll behave accordingly going forward.”
Lucchino said you can’t “fall in love” with your veteran players and you can’t be a “stand pat” team because as he put it, “that’s not the way to run a railroad.” He said, “It’s our preferred model and we know you can’t always get what you want.”
But where exactly will the Red Sox draw the line? Last offseason was a perfect storm of players who fulfilled the requirements — willing to settle for shorter terms at higher average annual salaries. Shane Victorino turned down four years for $44 million with Cleveland and accepted three years at $39 million with Boston. Mike Napoli also turned down more years with Seattle to take a three-year, $39 million deal with the Red Sox. Then, after his physical examination revealed a hip condition, he accepted a one-year, $5 million contract with $8 million in incentives with the Red Sox.
Jonny Gomes and David Ross both got a little extra in their paychecks, which allowed Boston to steer them away from other teams.
Lucchino says last year’s model is the preferred method. He doesn’t want another Carl Crawford seven-year, $142 million contract or Adrian Gonzalez’s seven-year, $154 million deal road-blocking the roster. But he doesn’t rule out a game-changing player being added if that means reaching out of their comfort zone.
Are there still value players out there like the ones they signed last season?
Napoli would prefer to come back, but if the Marlins (his hometown team), Mariners, Rangers, Orioles, Rockies, and others start to dip in, will the Red Sox be able to limit the contract to two years? Likely not.
If not Napoli, then whom? They could commit full time to Daniel Nava or Mike Carp at first base. One wonders what Carp would do over 500 at-bats. Or it could be a combination at first base and left field with Gomes, Nava, and Carp.
Is Corey Hart, who was felled by an injury all of last season, one of those players you can apply the “model” to? Hart, a big righthanded hitter, has that 30-homer capability, but again, he missed an entire year after knee surgery.
Jacoby Ellsbury, Boston’s homegrown outfielder, is the interesting case. How far would they extend for Ellsbury? There’s a drumbeat that the Red Sox would love to limit Ellsbury to five years, given that he’s a speed guy who would be done with the contract in his mid-30s. The Red Sox’ preference would be to re-sign him above giving Jackie Bradley Jr. the job; or moving Victorino to center; or making deals for available center fielders such as Matt Kemp, Dexter Fowler, and Denard Span.
Ellsbury’s market hasn’t fully developed as he seeks a Crawford-like contract, and it may be that the Red Sox are sitting in a good spot and that patience will be a virtue.
While losing out on McCann, the Red Sox are trying to stick to their guns at catcher. They know they have Ross for one more year, and now the question is, who becomes the primary catcher? According to a team source, they would rather not go three years on Jarrod Saltalamacchia and could be exploring deals for New Englanders Ryan Hannigan and Chris Iannetta, or short-term free agents such as A.J. Pierzynski, John Buck, and Kurt Suzuki.
Or, break in Ryan Lavarnway and/or Christian Vazquez.
The Red Sox could also trade one of their starting pitchers to fill a need. They may be able to come up with a low-cost, controllable player. The first base trade market could include Mark Trumbo of the Angels or the Giants’ Pablo Sandoval (who can play either corner). The Red Sox don’t like Trumbo’s .294 OBP, but they do like his 30/100 home run/RBI capability and that he’s 27 and controllable until 2017. Sandoval has a weight issue, but he’s an excellent hitter and in the final year before free agency — which equals motivation.
FROM BAD TO WORSE
Bard’s control issues continue in winter ball
Daniel Bard isn’t getting any better. After three appearances for Criollos de Caguas in the Puerto Rican League, Bard weighed in with a 189.00 ERA. He had allowed eight runs, seven earned, with nine walks, four wild pitches, and no strikeouts in one-third of an inning.
Bard, 28, has lost complete control, even after the Cubs acquired him off waivers from the Red Sox in September. Bard was hoping to reestablish himself with a new team, but efforts to straighten him out by first pitching well in Puerto Rico haven’t worked out.
“He’s working at it,” said Cubs president Theo Epstein said. “He’s not giving up.”
Bard has not pitched since that one outing and it appears he may be a candidate to be released. He had a 1.93 ERA across 74⅔ innings for Boston in 2010, but his career went south fast starting in August 2011. He was once the best setup man in baseball, but once he became a starter in 2012 spring training, Bard’s career spiraled downward. He has lost both velocity and confidence.
“Nobody can seem to figure it out,” said one Cubs official. “I think the Red Sox tried a lot of different things, but none of them worked. They exhausted what they felt were all the possibilities. Now it’s up to us to find something that works.”
The Cubs are expected to keep working with Bard. They can afford to have a much longer leash on him than the Red Sox did.
“Pretty much the same issues he had with the Red Sox,” said one National League scout. “He can’t seem to locate; his release points aren’t consistent. There are plenty of mechanical things wrong. He just can’t seem to repeat that delivery. I know the Cubs hope it all comes back to him, and we all hope it does. For his sake. We all remember what he was and we’re all baffled by what’s happened. Boston did a lot with him psychologically and physically, so everyone’s waiting for something to click.”
Apropos of nothing
1. The Boston Chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America selected Jon Lester as the Red Sox Pitcher of the Year. Lester and other winners from the Red Sox and Major League Baseball will be honored at the 75th annual awards dinner, Thursday, Jan. 23 at the Westin Copley Place Hotel in Boston. Tickets are now on sale for $200 each or $2,000 for a table of 10, and can be purchased online by credit card at the Sports Museum website or by calling 617-624-1231.
2. The Bill James Online website has some interesting stuff, including preferences for Hall of Fame candidates both from the BBWAA ballot and the Veterans Committee. The site holds an annual HOF vote and then it’s compared with the BBWAA vote. The James readers have elected Tim Raines, Alan Trammell, Mark McGwire, Jeff Bagwell, Edgar Martinez, Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza, Barry Bonds, and Roger Clemens in the past. But they were a “no” on Jim Rice and Andre Dawson. The agreements recently have been Rickey Henderson, Barry Larkin, Roberto Alomar, and Bert Blyleven.
3. Ace Ticket is selling Red Sox seats at $375-$4,250 per ticket for their home opener, April 4 vs. Milwaukee.
4. Nelson Cruz would be a good fit for the Red Sox because of his righthanded power, but would they go after a PED user who served a 50-game suspension? It appears his asking price — four years at $75 million — is far beyond what Boston values him at. And it’s disturbing that PED users are getting good contracts such as the four-year, $53 million deal Jhonny Peralta just got from the Cardinals.
5. I always thought Kurt Suzuki was a very athletic catcher. He’s had a couple of bad years, but is he worth being a stopgap for the Red Sox?
6. In the end, the Yankees will likely look the most different of any team simply because of their free agent/retired list. At the moment they’re trying to find out whether Hiroki Kuroda wants to pitch for them for one more year, and whether the Yankees feel his second half of last season was an aberration to a very good career.
7. Why do I think Robinson Cano is going to sign for a few million south or a few million north of Mark Teixeira’s eight-year, $180 million deal with the Yankees?
8. Don’t the Blue Jays have to deal Jose Bautista to remake their team?
9. Still haven’t given up on a blockbuster Giancarlo Stanton deal.
10. It’s too bad successful teams can’t stay together for any appreciable length of time.
11. Wouldn’t Paul Konerko be a nice low-cost gamble at DH for the Orioles?
12. Have heard so little this offseason about Kendrys Morales, a free agent, who can really hit.
Updates on nine
1, Jeff Samardzija, RHP, Cubs — Trade talks have been going on and when push comes to shove, he might get traded. But the Cubs’ No. 1 preference would be to re-sign Samardzija and lock him in beyond 2015 and build their future around him, according to a major league source. The Cubs will continue to work on both fronts until the culmination of a long-term extension has been reached or if the extension is improbable.
2. David Price, LHP, Tampa Bay — The Rays have received many inquiries on Price, but the time hasn’t come when they want to part with him. Not for what teams have proposed.
3. Matt Kemp, OF, Dodgers —While GM Ned Colletti has taken inquiries, any decision to trade Kemp would have to mean the Dodgers taking on some of the contract. If the $128 million remaining over six years gets knocked down to $80-$90 million, the market is expected to open up — provided teams pony up younger prospects or young veterans. The Dodgers, of course, are in the position to eat money to make a good deal. Of course, there’s buyer beware here because of Kemp’s injury history.
4. A.J. Pierzynski, C, free agent — The notion that Pierzynski is not good for a team is ludicrous, according to one longtime teammate who said, “He may rub people the wrong way on other teams, but if he’s your teammate, he’s great. He’s tough, loyal, can call a game, and he can hit. I wish we had him back.” Pierzynski, who hit .272 in 2013 with 17 homers and 70 RBIs while catching 119 games, should get at least a one-year deal from any of the number of teams that are trying to land a catcher. While the Rays have re-signed Jose Molina and have the rising Jose Lobaton, they are one of the teams that may try to employ his lefthanded bat. Twins fans seem to be championing Pierzynski’s cause, as well.
5. Bronson Arroyo, RHP, free agent — As free agent pitchers begin to get picked off, Arroyo’s position may be getting stronger rather than weaker. The theory we’re hearing is Arroyo, 36, isn’t going to get preference over younger pitchers such as Ervin Santana and Matt Garza, but his history of durability means he’ll likely get his three-year deal or two years and an option. The Twins, Giants, and Angels remain interested. Even though Arroyo doesn’t throw that hard, he did not allow a home run off his fastball last season.
6. John Lackey, RHP, Red Sox — There’s interest in Lackey, particularly with the $500,000 team option in 2015 attached to his contract. That option does transfer to any team dealing for him. The Red Sox would have to get a lot in return to deal him because he was such a big part of their team last season. As GM Ben Cherington said, he’s been pleasantly surprised at the level of interest in his veteran pitchers but he’s not compelled to deal anyone. He probably will to avoid a rotation controversy, but don’t bet against Cherington trading one pitcher and then acquiring another for depth.
7. Cody Ross, OF, Diamondbacks — His ugly injury will probably keep him out until mid-May, according to Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers. Ross suffered a broken and dislocated hip while running to first base on a ground ball against the Mets on Aug. 11. He had to stay off the leg (no weight-bearing) for three months after the surgery, and indications are that he’s doing well enough that the Diamondbacks can start making projections.
8. Jim Johnson, RHP, Orioles — We’ve heard Matt Wieters, J.J. Hardy, and now Johnson as possible trade chips. Of the three, Johnson, despite two consecutive 50-save seasons, is the one with the greatest possibility to be dealt. The Orioles do have Tommy Hunter or Darren O’Day to be a closer if need be. The Orioles would love to add some offense at DH and this could be a means of doing so.
9. Corey Hart, 1B/RF, free agent — The Brewers want him back and he’d love to go back, but not on a long-term deal. Hart may be facing this everywhere after he missed last season after knee surgery. Plenty of teams are looking at his medical reports to determine how long they would feel comfortable committing to him. Most teams would give him one year, but because there are multiple teams in on him he might get two years.
From the Bill Chuck files — “Hall of Fame candidate Frank Thomas played the equivalent of a full season against Boston (163 games), hitting .317 with 43 homers and 126 RBIs.” . . . Also, “Last season, Mike Napoli struck out 93 times with the bases empty and 94 times with men on base.” . . . And, “Wondering what to expect from new Red Sox reliever Burke Badenhop? Well, each of the last two seasons the righty has thrown 62⅓ innings, allowed six homers, walked 12, and struck out 42.” . . . Happy birthday Mark Kotsay (38).