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November 12, 2012

Transaction Analysis

The One Where David Ross Got a Two-Year Deal

by R.J. Anderson

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

BOSTON RED SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed C-R David Ross to a two-year deal worth $6.2 million. [11/10]
Signed RHP Terry Doyle to a minor-league deal. [11/9]

The winter’s first big surprise is Ross leaving the Braves. Ross, who ranked 38th on our list of the top 50 free agents, seemed likely to return to Atlanta because of Brian McCann’s injury and Christian Bethancourt’s rawness. Instead, the best backup catcher in the league heads to Boston, a place where he spent a short amount of time during the 2008 season.

Preliminary reports suggest Ross will take on a starter-backup hybrid role. What this entails is unclear but it could mean an every-other-day arrangement.  Ross will turn 36 in the spring and has not appeared in more than 70 games in a season since 2007. Asking him to take on an everyday starting role at this point in his career seems unfathomable.

Until the playing time situation is hammered out, the impact it may have on Ross’ bat is undeterminable. We know Ross is a three-true-outcomes hitter. His strike rate neared 31 percent last season and he relies on walks and extra-base hits to provide value. The threat of attrition during this two-year pact is real given Ross’ position and offensive tendencies. The presence of that risk does not mean the Red Sox should have shied away. It’s just something to keep in mind.

In addition to solid offensive performances, Ross brings good defense to the table. His catch-and-throw skills are noteworthy. Ross gunned down 30 percent of attempted thieves or better in each of his four seasons with the Braves, and threw out 44 percent last season. The public studies support Ross’ reputation as a good framer, and he receives high marks for his ability to handle a pitching staff. It’s easy to see why the Red Sox chased Ross.

Less clear is who will split time with Ross. Boston controls Jarrod Saltalamacchia for another season, and has top prospect Ryan Lavarnway ready and waiting. In many ways, the Red Sox’ evaluation of Lavarnway is the fulcrum. Suggesting Boston’s decision rests on its eagerness to compete next season is oversimplifying matters. Lavarnway could contribute in the majors next season with the bat. The question may be whether Boston believes in Lavarnway’s bat enough to put up with the poor defense for the long haul. Expect Ben Cherington to supply an answer before long.

An eventful year for Doyle closes with a minor-league deal. Plucked by the Twins in last year’s Rule 5 draft, Doyle headed back to the White Sox at spring’s end. He made 12 appearances in Triple-A before heading to Japan to pitch for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks. Three starts later, Doyle will return to the farm. His large frame belies his finesse ways. Doyle’s fastball tops out around 90 miles per hour and he lacks a true out pitch. He survives by working quickly, throwing strikes, and eating innings.

If everything breaks right, Doyle is a fifth starter. A more realistic projection is long reliever. The pessimist sees him as a pitcher good enough to get out minor-league hitters but not good enough to reach the majors. Boston has dealt with depth problems over the past few seasons. Doyle is not the antidote to poor pitching, but he is an okay band-aid.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Won the negotiating rights to LHP Hyun-jin Ryu with a bid worth $25.7 million. [11/9]

You get the feeling other teams are looking at the Dodgers wondering, How much money does this bloody team have left to spend?

Ryu is potentially the Dodgers' latest big-dollar addition. You would expect some harmony among evaluations given the amount of money bid for the cost of negotiating rights. You would expect wrong. The pudgy southpaw, presently property of the Hanwa Eagles, is a polarizing player. Depending on the source, Ryu either features four average (or better) pitches, or one good, one average, and two fringe offerings. He either has upside in the rotation, or is better suited for the back-end of a rotation or the bullpen.

If the Dodgers sign Ryu—and remember, his agent is Scott Boras—they would have seven starters under contract for next season. Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly, both of whom missed the end of the season with injuries, appear on track to pitch come spring. These things tend to work themselves out through injuries, trade, and poor performance, so there’s no sense in fretting too much over the depth just yet. 

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

Related Content:  David Ross,  Hyun-jin Ryu

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