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January 3, 2010

On the Beat

New Year Update

by John Perrotto

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While everyone debates the merits of Jason Bay signing with the Mets, the Red Sox have already figured out what they are going to do without their left fielder of the past 1 1/3 seasons. Following the trend of so many other teams in the past few years, are building their club with an emphasis on pitching and defense. That is certainly a different tact for the Red Sox, who made the playoffs in three consecutive seasons and six of the last seven with some of the best hitting teams in the major leagues. The Red Sox were third in the majors in runs scored, with an average of 5.4 a game last season as they won 95 regular-season games before being swept by the Angels in the American League Division Series.

However, Bay is gone, and taking his place in the lineup is Mike Cameron, who signed a two-year, $15 million contract as a free agent. The Red Sox aren't saying whether Cameron will play left or his natural position of center field, which would force the shifting of Jacoby Ellsbury to left. Regardless of how they align the outfield, the Red Sox will be losing some offense with the switch, though not quite as much as it may seem. Bay had a team-leading 36 home runs last year and hit .267/.384/.537 with a .304 EqA in 638 plate appearances. Cameron, playing for the Brewers, had 24 homers, a .286 EqA and .250/.342/.452 slash stats in 628 plate appearances. Cameron had the better season defensively, as he had a FRAA of 5 as a center fielder while Bay, despite getting knocked for his fielding, finished with -1 in left.

The Red Sox also took a step toward beefing up their pitching, which was third in the AL at 4.5 runs allowed per game last season, by signing right-hander John Lackey to a five-year, $82.5 million contract as a free agent. Lackey contributed a 3.9 SNLVAR for the AL West-winning Angels in 176 1/3 innings last season, as he got a late start to 2009 because of elbow problems. The Red Sox remember how Lackey sent them toward an early exit in the ALDS by pitching 7 1/3 shutout innings in Game One.

"I feel like we've made two great acquisitions," manager Terry Francona said. "Both of those guys make us a better team."

And a different team. The Red Sox likely won't have anyone putting up crazy numbers like Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz did for most of the decade. However, they will have five players who hit at least 23 home runs last season, led by Ortiz, who hit 28 as the designated hitter in what was clearly the beginning of his decline phase. Third baseman Kevin Youkilis hit 27, Cameron, and J.D. Drew both had 24, and catcher Victor Martinez hit 23.

Francona likes the idea of the Red Sox reinventing their offense to an extent, as they also signed shortstop Marco Scutaro to a two-year, $11 million contract as a free agent after he had a .286 EqA while hitting .282/.379/.409 in 680 plate appearances for the Blue Jays last season.

"Our offense was inconsistent last season," Francona said. "I don't think we were ever as bad an offensive team as we were portrayed, because we scored runs. We ran into times, especially on the road, where we didn't score much. And then we get to the playoffs-and that's what everybody remembers-the way you finish. I didn't think it was a lack of speed. I thought my first year (2004) with the Red Sox, we were slow, and I thought we would go play on artificial turf in Toronto and Minnesota and look a step or two slow. I don't feel like that anymore. Having a guy like Scutaro is only going to help make us better in that regard. He has tremendous on-base skills. He can steal a base. He's not a high stolen base guy, but he's a very good base runner."

Time will tell if the Red Sox's approach to retooling their team will work. They made the playoffs last season, but they still finished eight games behind the 103-win Yankees in the AL East. The Yankees have not stayed inert after winning the World Series in November, trading for Braves right-hander Javier Vazquez and Tigers center fielder Curtis Granderson.

"The Yankees have a couple of things that make life difficult for us: A lot of money. and smart people running what they are doing," Francona said. "So you have to acknowledge that. They are not going to go away. I hope they don't get better. But they are there, so we have to deal with them. Now, saying that, we won't have to play them every day. We just need to be as good as we can be and then see where it goes. With the wild card, it changes things a little bit. They won a lot of games, 103. When we won 95, that wasn't even close to being good enough to win the division, but it was good enough to get to the playoffs. If you take care of your business, you'll have a chance."

---

The Nationals had the worst record in the major leagues last season at 59-103. It was the second year in a row in which they had the worst record and lost more than 100 games, but that hasn't scared off potential free agents. In fact, players seem more open to coming to Washington than at any time since the Montreal Expos relocated there prior to the 2005 season.

Among the free agents who have signed with the Nationals this winter are right-hander Jason Marquis, closer Matt Capps, and catcher Ivan Rodriguez, plus utilityman Eric Bruntlett and left-handed reliever Eddie Guardado on minor-league deals.

"There's a positive momentum," Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said. "People see what we're trying to do. People see that we're bringing in some veteran presence with a core of some very good young players. They also see these major-league free agents, like Pudge Rodriguez or Adam Dunn, who have the option to go wherever they want to go, have chosen to come to Washington, DC. That makes a statement. I think it's a statement of where the franchise is headed."

Rizzo has also proven to be a good recruiter with his friendly personality. "I was so impressed by Mr. Rizzo when we spoke on the phone for the first time," Capps said. "I could tell he really wanted me to play for the Nationals and he made me feel like it would be the right choice to go play for them."

Marquis, meanwhile, believes the Nationals are ready to become one of the surprise teams of 2010. "I follow baseball. I'm a baseball fan," Marquis said. "I follow teams, what direction they're going in, what moves they make, what they're looking for. They're in a phase where they've gone out and made the improvements they need to become a winning team."

---

New Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos is on his way to enjoying a slice of paradise today. The 32-year-old was married Saturday, and he and his bride are headed to Hawaii for their honeymoon. Anthopoulos could use a break, as he has done quite a bit to reshape the Blue Jays since being promoted from assistant GM to replace the fired J.P. Ricciardi with two days remaining in the 2009 season. Anthopoulos traded franchise icon Roy Halladay to the Phillies last month, and he's also been busy restocking the Blue Jays' scouting department.

Ricciardi got rid of all of the Blue Jays' top scouts upon becoming GM following the 2001 season, and drastically cut the scouting staff, instead relying more on statistical analysis to draft players. However, Anthopoulos believes scouting and player development are the only way the Blue Jays can ever hope to compete with the Yankees and Red Sox in the AL East.

"We talked about maybe changing the philosophy," Anthopoulos said. "Really, competing in the AL East, knowing we're trying to get to that 95-win-and-over mark, and knowing that we want to get All-Stars all over the place, we were going to have to maybe take a little more risk and go high ceiling in the draft."

Anthopoulos believes the Blue Jays received three high-ceiling prospects in the Halladay trade, netting right-hander Kyle Drabek and catcher Travis d'Arnaud from the Phillies. The third player they received in the deal with the Phillies, outfielder Michael Taylor, was dealt to the Athletics in exchange for third baseman Brett Wallace.

"We're on the road to getting back to where we were back in the World Series years," Anthopoulos said, mindful the Blue Jays have not played a post-season game since winning back-to-back World Series titles in 1992-93. "Really, this is the start of it for us."

---

MLB Rumors and Rumblings: Even if the Cubs were inclined to deal Carlos Zambrano, those close to the jovial-yet-volatile right-hander insist he would invoke his no-trade clause unless it would be to the White Sox, because he wants to stay in Chicago. However, the White Sox are an unlikely trading partner after their deal with the Padres that brought over right-hander Jake Peavy last July 31. The sticking point with the Cardinals re-signing outfielder Matt Holliday is guaranteed money, as agent Scott Boras is trying to make sure the contract winds up reaching or surpassing the $100 million mark. Francona on if Bay can succeed in New York: "He proved he can play in a market like Boston, and he didn't let anything bother him. He's a very likeable guy and has the type of personality that allows him to fit right in."

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

Related Content:  Alex Anthopoulos,  The Who

36 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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amazin_mess
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

I just can't see how Boston is that much better than they were last year. Marco Scutaro was a terrible, desparare signing. Sure, their rotation looks great, but they still aren't better than the Yankees. To me, their moves the last two years have been questionable at best. And their farm system is nowhere near as good as most people believe.

Jan 03, 2010 09:15 AM
rating: -5
 
Brian24

Minor editing quibble: it's "a different tack'" not "a different tact."

Jan 03, 2010 11:31 AM
rating: 5
 
JimBibbySweat

No defensive metric is going to tell me Jason Bay is a good, or even decent, defender post-knee issues. None. Let's see how things play out in New York, John.

Jan 03, 2010 13:57 PM
rating: 2
 
smallflowers

amazin_mess: Say what? In the last four seasons, the Sox farm system has produced an MVP, a perennial all-star closer, and one of the great left-handed starters in the game. Not to mention Ellsbury & Buchholz. For a perennial contender to develop players year to year is the sign of a masterful franchise (like the 90s Braves). Would you rather have those five, or Joba, Hughes, Melky, Wang and Cano? And the Sox *still* have massive upside and depth in their org (Westmoreland, Casey, etc).

Which moves are questionable again? When they traded for Victor Martinez? Signed Lackey? Cameron? Unhappy Manny for Bay? Oh, finding Okajima? Is that the one you mean? Crisp for R.Ramirez? Wakefield's contract? Drew? The Wagner trade? Outside of Lugo, which questionable move am I forgetting?

Signing the best shortstop available for 2/$12 is far from desperate. And given that he's the worst position player they will probably field (an above average defender & offensive player), Scutaro towers over whoever the 3rd OFer the Yanks are currently subscribed to.

They don't *need* to be that much better than last year, but they are an ace better at the moment.

Jan 03, 2010 14:42 PM
rating: 8
 
greenfrog

I find it amusing whenever Boston (with a 2010 payroll pushing $170M) casts itself as the underdog in the AL East. New York has "a lot of money"? For the rest of the league, Boston isn't that far behind the Yankees in terms of resources. They have tremendous payroll and player development flexibility in comparison to most teams.

Jan 03, 2010 15:42 PM
rating: 4
 
Al Skorupa

B.S.

Boston has great resources, but they pale in comparison to NY's.

No other divison has as big a disparity BY PERCENTAGE between the top two teams as exists in the AL East.

Jan 03, 2010 20:03 PM
rating: 2
 
smallflowers

Boston's 2010 payroll at the moment (post-Lackey/Cameron/Scutaro) stands at $135,878,333. That's $70,000,000 (or two ARods) less than the Yankees $205,084,714.* So, let's stay calm.

Jan 03, 2010 15:55 PM
rating: 2
 
amazin_mess
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LOL

I hope you're not considering Lackey an ace.

Jan 03, 2010 16:02 PM
rating: -9
 
Al Skorupa

I hope you're not considering Burnett an Ace.

LOLz!11!!1

Jan 03, 2010 20:04 PM
rating: -1
 
greenfrog

2009 opening day AL East payrolls:

Rays: $63.3M
Orioles: $67.1M
Blue Jays: $80.5M
Red Sox: $121.7M
Yankees: $201.4M

Basically, in 2009 Boston had almost double the payroll of the Rays and Orioles, and a substantially higher payroll than that of Toronto. And that doesn't even get into the difference between amateur player budgets among the five teams (Dice-K, anyone?).

I have no issue with Boston's overall budget and don't dispute that they've managed their resources well. I think they're a solid franchise. It just gets me when their management/players/fans act as if they're the scrappy overachievers of the division.

Jan 03, 2010 16:09 PM
rating: 6
 
Al Skorupa

Ok, now find another division where the team with the highest payroll is 165% of the second team's payroll.

Or anything close to that.

The Sox may have extra resources, but theyre at least equaled out by the extra problem of having to go through the Yankees. No one else has anything close to that big a problem.

Jan 03, 2010 22:18 PM
rating: -1
 
greenfrog

Except for Toronto, Tampa and Baltimore--and they have a much bigger problem than Boston.

Jan 04, 2010 05:49 AM
rating: 6
 
Al Skorupa

They sure do, but it doesnt diminish the problems of the Red Sox.

Jan 04, 2010 11:08 AM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

I'm sure the Red Sox complain constantly of being in the AL East with the Yankees while selling out every home game and merchandise shop and being competitive every year. It is a huge problem.

Seriously, what other option is there? Realigning the division so that the Yankees/Red Sox/Phillies/Mets/Dodgers/Angels (or both Chicago or other big market teams instead of both LA teams) are in it? People will still complain about the Yankees.

Jan 05, 2010 06:54 AM
rating: 1
 
Al Skorupa

I don't have a problem nor do I want to shift the divisions. I just get sick of seeing people knocking the Red Sox for their resources without taking note of EXACTLY how much larger the Yankees resources are. Its a huge, dramatic difference, and the sheer scale of it is unmatched in any other division.

Jan 05, 2010 12:27 PM
rating: 0
 
bhalpern

Yes, the scale is worse for the Red Sox than for the 2nd richest teams in the other five divisions. But at the same time the Red Sox are the richest of any of the other 2nd richest teams and a few of the 1st richest teams (by division). So while you are correct that it is possible to understate the difficulty the Red Sox face in dealing with the Yankees, it's also possible to overstate that problem given Boston's advantage over most other teams.

So in the end it's all a matter of perspective. You'll have to forgive people like me (Go O's Hon) for not feeling bad for the Red Sox.

Jan 06, 2010 08:06 AM
rating: 1
 
amazin_mess
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Please expound on that massive depth in their farm system, smallflowers. After Westmoreland and Kelly, their farm is mediocre.

Jan 03, 2010 16:12 PM
rating: -7
 
R.A.Wagman

It may be time for baseball to consider a return to two divisions (or even one) per league, and tie playoff spots to record instead of geography.

Jan 03, 2010 16:40 PM
rating: 7
 
smallflowers

Lackey has been a top 10 pitcher in the AL over the last 5 years, an all-star, and an all-star snub. He would be an ace on 2/3rds of MLB teams, and was one on a perennial post-season team during that stretch.

I didn't say "massive depth" but "massive upswing," but they certainly have the depth. Farm systems that birth a ton of high-impact major league players (I forgot to mention Bard last time) often falsely appear mediocre on the odd year because of the age gap.

"Q: The system seems a little weaker than it has the in the past. Is there enough here to get a big trade done?
KG: Absolutely. It is a little weaker, but there is a LOT of depth. They're 1-11 might not be crazy elite, but their 21-30 would rank very high, so there are a lot of options."

How about you do some work now: show me a team other than the Rays (who were picking 25+ players earlier than the Sox most years) who've produced 6 players you'd rather have that reached the majors since 2005 than the ones I've mentioned.

Jan 03, 2010 16:42 PM
rating: 5
 
amazin_mess
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Typical Sox fan overrating your farm. Sure, it's been fantastic the last five years. My point is it's not that great now - just average. Let's see what they produce from here to the next five years.

And - by the way - I'll take Ubaldo Jimenez, Troy Tulowitzki, Dexter Fowler, Chris Iannetta, Jeff Francis and Carlos Gonzalez to rival the BoSox group.

Jan 03, 2010 17:45 PM
rating: -7
 
smallflowers

Damning argument.

One team's group other than the Rays over the Sox? You're right. Why in the world would I trust their system & KG over you?

(I'm barely overlooking the fact that the Rockies didn't produce C-Gone and that Francis pitched in the majors in 2004. Does this mean I get to include Youkilis on my side?)

Jan 03, 2010 17:54 PM
rating: 3
 
amazin_mess
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The Rockies are every bit the player development machine the Sox are if not better. At least Colorado has a real shortstop.

Jan 03, 2010 18:40 PM
rating: -8
 
smallflowers

So the Rockies are a "player development machine" every bit as good as the Sox? Sounds like you hold the Sox in pretty high regard in their ability to develop young talent. Me too!

Jan 03, 2010 19:14 PM
rating: 2
 
Richard Bergstrom

The Rockies benefitted from a lot of high draft picks from fielding such poor teams on the early 2000s.

Jan 04, 2010 04:40 AM
rating: 0
 
amazin_mess
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Of course the Red Sox are a development machine. All I'm saying is I don't believe their current crop is as impressive.

Jan 03, 2010 19:31 PM
rating: -4
 
kennygreer1993

The Washington Nationals could be better than people think. If their young pitching continues to develop with their offense they could approach .500 at best. I don't understand signing Pudge though. Is Jesus Flores a backup now? I hope not. What is with GM's giving scrub catchers 2 year deals lately?

Jan 03, 2010 20:26 PM
rating: 1
 
kennygreer1993

R.A. Wagman,

I like your thinking. Here is my suggestion. Shift teams every year based on the previous years results. Eliminate interleague play and have an unbalanced schedule. This will guarantee at least 2 new playoff teams a year.

What MLB would look like for 2010 using said system.

AL First- Boston,Minnesota,Los Angeles,New York
AL Second- Chicago,Detroit,Seattle, Tampa, Texas
AL Third- Baltimore,Cleveland,Kansas City,Oakland,Toronto

NL First- Colorado,Los Angeles,Philadelphia,St.Louis
NL Second- Atlanta,Chicago,Cincinnati,Florida,Milwaukee,San Francisco
NL Third- Arizona,Houston,New York,Pittsburgh,San Diego,Washington

Wonder how the standings would shake out using this system.





Jan 03, 2010 20:47 PM
rating: -2
 
R.A.Wagman

I don't think I could be on board for that - I'd almost rather do a European-football style relegation system, and tier teams that way.

Jan 03, 2010 21:06 PM
rating: 4
 
Al Skorupa

I would love to see the European football style system happen.

Jan 03, 2010 22:20 PM
rating: 1
 
kennygreer1993

R.A.,

I'm listening. How would that work in MLB? Something like I wrote is sort of how it would I think given the two league system we have.

Jan 03, 2010 21:14 PM
rating: 1
 
R.A.Wagman

In short - combine the two leagues (or expand the AL to match the NL). After the first year of a combined league, the teams would be split in half, separating the worst from the best by winning %. The following season, teams would play other teams from their league only. Only the teams from the top league would be able to compete for, and in, the playoffs. The bottom 2-4 teams from the top division would be relegated the following year to the bottom league.
Likewise, the top 2-4 teams from the bottom league would earn promotion to the top league. There could also be a playoff for promotion spots. Such as the bottom champion is promoted while the #2-3 teams play a short series to determine the other promoted team. It will never happen, but is fun to imagine.

Jan 03, 2010 21:21 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

We can't even do a solid BCS system. With all due respect, I'm not sure this will work in MLB.

On top of that, I'm never a fan of creating a system that allows an otherwise unworthwhile team to get into the playoffs.

What's wrong with the winners winning and the losers losing, assuming the overall health of the sport is ok and especially if there hasn't been a baseball dynasty in awhile?

Jan 04, 2010 04:47 AM
rating: 2
 
Austin (Raleigh)

This is a pretty cool idea, but would likely elliminate any chance of the "One year wonder". When a team like the 2003 Marlins, or 2008 Rays puts it all together, and has that magical mix of young talent arriving at the same time as veterans having peak years, they would essentially have to have three years in a row of that peformance to ever win a title.
I think this would actually relegate the bottom feeders to forever struggle to even get a chance at the first division.

Jan 04, 2010 08:03 AM
rating: 0
 
R.A.Wagman

"I think this would actually relegate the bottom feeders to forever struggle to even get a chance at the first division." And this is different from the current system how?
A 2nd-division team could improve when facing the other 2nd-division teams and earn promotion to the 1st division. They could then consolidate their place up top, and strive to improve by playing the best.
Like I said, it wouldn't work, but would be fun to demo.

Jan 04, 2010 09:28 AM
rating: 0
 
kennygreer1993

Richard,

Your going to have teams every blue moon that sneak into the playoffs with 85 wins. With the current system it will continue. Nothing is wrong with letting winners and losers sort them selves out. But IMHO this a better alternative than revenue sharing or luxury tax. Anything that penalizes making a profit and controlling your own finances is criminal.

Jan 04, 2010 07:28 AM
rating: 0
 
kennygreer1993

Well I confide in what Billy Beane says the Playoffs are a crapshoot. A third division winner getting to the playoffs could win that year, the next year it may be more difficult but the purpose of this is to have oppurtunity for new playoff teams. The Yanks and Red Sox fell short this decade with the current system they have a better chance to fall here to.

This will never happen but hey that's what sites like these are all about: Thinking outside the box.

Jan 04, 2010 10:58 AM
rating: 0
 
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