December 30, 2005
Red Sox, Indians
A lot has been made in the mainstream media about how the Red Sox are experiencing a meltdown this off-season, something that is largely borne out of the front office changes. Many have claimed that the Sox need a starter, short stop, first baseman, and center fielder. The center fielder part may be true, but the other claims are a bit off base.
For starters, the Red Sox have six capable starters on the roster--Bronson Arroyo, Josh Beckett, Matt Clement, Jonathan Papelbon, Curt Schilling, and Tim Wakefield. Of the group, the most suspect (and most expensive) are Schilling and Clement. Schilling was not particularly effective upon his return from injury, adding exactly 0.0 SNLVAR in his 11 starts. If you listen to sympathizers tell the tale of Clement's '05, you're likely to hear how wildly different Clement was after his incident in Tampa Bay, and those folks aren't far off. Without including the start in Tampa on 7/26, here are his breakdowns:
Matt Clement 2005 Splits Period GS IP ERA Avg. GS K/BF BB/BF Pre 7/26 18 114.0 3.87 53.39 19.92% 7.26% Post 7/26 11 63.0 4.86 47.55 13.57% 9.29%Despite this split, early estimates have Clement as a yellow light, and he is a fair bet to regain his pre 7/26 form. Should that happen and should Schilling come back healthy, having six starters will be moot. However, the Sox do have other options on the 40-man roster should they need to dig deeper. David Wells, should he not be traded, would be starter number seven. Leonard Dinardo and his sick 2005 G/F ratio of 3.27 is at the very least a replacement level option. And then there is Jon Lester, who could be ready next August. Even Abe Alvarez will be there for his yearly trip on the Pawtucket Express. Add all of these guys up and it's easy to understand why the Sox did not feel the need to go overboard for Kevin Millwood, Jarrod Washburn, A.J. Burnett, or any other free agent this off-season. Combined with a restocked bullpen--one that should feature significantly more time for the likes of Papelbon, Guillermo Mota, Rudy Seanez, James Vermilyea, and Craig Hansen, and less time for the likes of John Halama, Chad Harville, Matt Mantei, and Mike Remlinger--and the Red Sox look to be in decent shape for 2006.
What of the infield then? What is really mystifying is the proclamation that the Sox need first base help. When given the chance, Kevin Youkilis has shown himself to be an above average defensive player. His FRAR, FRAA, and Rate stats at third and first base are all above average for his two Major League seasons. There's really no reason to think this production won't continue when he slides to first base on a full-time basis. Offensively, his .279 EqA bested that of both Kevin Millar and John Olerud. In the admittedly limited data available, Youkilis has also shown no discernable platoon split, and could be plugged into the lineup on a full-time basis at first base. Should he need to be spelled in the field, David Ortiz really isn't that bad an option, assuming his back and shoulder allow him to get on the field. Roberto Petagine is also still on the 40-man, and he and Ortiz essentially make signing a J.T. Snow redundant.
Shortstop is also not as bleak as it seems on the surface. Looking at members of the current 40-man roster, we can see that Alex Cora, Mark Loretta, and Tony Graffanino have played 308.2, 265.3, and 68.6 AdjG at SS at the Major League level, all at an average or slightly below average Rate. There is also Alejandro Machado, a player whose '05 PECOTA forecast suggested he could be what Edgar Renteria was for Boston. His untranslated minor league Speed Score has been 6.50 or higher the past two seasons, and his OPS in Pawtucket was on par with the Sox SS production last season. While none of these candidates are Miguel Tejada, they are players who are capable of replicating and/or besting Renteria's 2005 production. In addition, if the shortstop is not sucking away potential runs in the two slot because they don't have Renteria's "status," all the better for the offense as a whole. As far as non-40 man roster candidates go, there's this Dustin Pedroia guy, who played SS full-time as recently as last year (and wait until you see his PECOTA forecast!).
Outside of center field, the Red Sox have quality players everywhere on the diamond. Some may not have the superstar cache or even name recognition, but that doesn't mean they're unqualified. The mainstream media has complained about this over the holidays, but they tend to like things both ways. In December and January they like to howl about the lack of a "proven" player, but should the Sox acquire a "proven" player, they will complain that there are no good positional battles to track in Spring Training. While the winter is not over and more moves are likely on the horizon, credit the Sox for at least conveying through their actions and non-actions that their internal candidates are well qualified to handle Major League jobs in 2006.