December 6, 2006
Dominoes Start to Fall
A very quiet trip to Orlando got loud Tuesday, as the Red Sox landed the last remaining impact hitter, and did so for a price that makes him perhaps the best signing of the offseason. J.D. Drew agreed to a five-year, $70-million contract with the Sox, effectively making his decision to opt out of his Dodger contract worth an additional $37 million to him.
Despite Drew's package of OBP, power and defense, he didn't inspire the feverish bidding that players such as Carlos Lee and Alfonso Soriano did this offseason. Drew carries a number of labels, the most damning two being "apathetic" and "fragile." The data supports the latter to an extent; Drew's 146 games last year were a personal single-season career high, and he's alternated seasons of fewer than 110 and and greater than 130 games played since 1999. There's no one reason; he was platooned some early in his career (notably in 1999), and he's suffered two traumatic injuries, one in 2001, the other in 2005, each the result of being hit by a pitch.
Focus on that last part for a second. Drew's raw games played totals are unimpressive, but in only one of the last six seasons can he be said to have been injury-prone in the sense of plagued by multiple problems. On July 3, 2005, Drew was plunked on the left wrist by Brad Halsey, suffering a break that cost him most of the second half. The injury was an eerie reminder of what happened in 2001, when a pitch by David Wells broke Drew's right hand. That fracture cost him six weeks of playing time, and also shelved an MVP-caliber performance.
This is not to say that Drew is Miguel Tejada less a break or two. In the years he doesn't put his hands in front of a pitched ball, he deals with enough leg injuries and shoulder owies to make him a 140-game player. But much of his reputation stems from the raw games totals, and a closer examination shows that his missed time is as much a produce of ill fortune as inherent fragility. Now, PECOTA doesn't see this, and projects Drew poorly, but I think he can be expected to play in 135-145 games, perhaps more with the DH as an option. If he plays that often, he'll be a seven-win player and this contract will be a very, very good one for the Sox. Neither Lee nor Soriano are as good a bet to perform at a star level, and both players required longer commitments for a higher average annual value.
If signing Drew is a clear win for the Sox, it's less clear what the outlay of cash for his services may mean for the other situations facing the team. With Drew, Coco Crisp, and Wily Mo Pena, does Manny Ramirez look more tradable? Keep in mind that Crisp and Pena have extensive injury histories of their own, although like Drew, the ones they've endured have been traumatic rather than chronic. Is it unrealistic to expect the Sox to keep Pena in an extra-outfielder role, even though these four players may only be available simultaneously in a quarter of the scheduled games? Can Pena play some first base to alleviate the logjam? Or does this signing herald the end of Manny Ramirez's time in Boston? As someone who has long insisted that Ramirez would stay with the Sox, I have to admit the Drew pickup makes me consider the alternative for the first time.
Moving past Ramirez, what does signing Drew and Julio Lugo do to the Daisuke Matsuzaka negotiations? The Sox have just added $23 million per season to their payroll through 2010, absent a Ramirez deal. Does that make them even less likely to move off of a "total outlay" approach to Matsuzaka's signing, strengthening their resolve to keep the righthander's overall cost to them under $20 million per season over five or six years? The Tuesday transactions do little for the Sox' ability to keep runs off of the board-Matsuzaka remains a significant get and good fit for the team-and any strengthening of the pitching staff closes the gap between them and the Yankees.
Signing Lugo was something of a necessity, as the Sox had a middle infield of Alex Cora and Dustin Pedroia just a day ago. That duo may make a decent platoon at second base, and Cora is a good utility infielder for a team that's heavily righthanded on the dirt. PECOTA's fetish for him aside, Pedroia isn't a star-caliber player, but rather someone whose peak might look a bit like David Eckstein's, but as a second baseman. He just doesn't have very much power.
While acknowledging that the Sox needed him, I'm not enthusiastic about Lugo. I find it hard to see how this contract is any better than the one the Sox gave Edgar Renteria two offseasons ago, a deal they regretted almost immediately. Lugo doesn't come with the outsized expectations that Renteria did; he also has very little chance of being an impact player. He's never been a star or anything like it, and is exactly the kind of player who tends to fall off considerably in his early thirties (Lugo is 31). The best-case scenario for the Sox is that Lugo sustains his Renteria-esque game, hitting .290/.350/.440, those numbers reflecting a Fenway bounce, while not losing much defensive value. It's more realistic to expect an almost eerie resemblance to the Renteria deal, with sunny expectations followed by disappointment and recrimination. As a result, I'd be surprised if Lugo played out this deal in Boston.
The best signing of the day was by the Padres, who got Greg Maddux, a league-average innings-muncher at this stage of his career, to come to San Diego on a one-year deal that will pay him $10 million, and includes a vesting option for 2008. As I have written ad nauseam, short-term contracts are virtually never a bad deal. In this case, the Padres get a pitcher who's certainly no worse than Vicente Padilla and clearly superior to Adam Eaton for a price between the two and a total outlay of far, far less. The move to PETCO Park should arrest Maddux's rising home run rate, although the considerable uncertainty over the Pads' defense-they have two major lineup holes to fill and an open question at third base-tempers my enthusiasm for his overall expectation. Mad Dog needs defensive help, and the Padres right now are hard to project defensively. Even at that, the signing of Maddux is worth it; we're just speculating about whether they'll get the most out of him.
I'll be chatting up a storm from the Dolphin hotel at 11:30 E.T., a slight delay from the scheduled start of 11:00 a.m. ET to allow for some radio work this morning. I'll stay in the seat up until 2:45 or so, when I leave for my ESPNews hit. Radio, TV, Web… BP has the winter meetings covered from rumor to reality.