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December 27, 2012

On the Beat

Remaking the Red Sox

by John Perrotto

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The Red Sox made no secret of the fact that they wanted to shake up their roster and the clubhouse chemistry that had gone bad when they traded condescending Josh Beckett, sulking Adrian Gonzalez, and deer-in-the-highlights-like Carl Crawford to the Dodgers in a blockbuster trade in August along with innocent bystander Nick Punto. The Red Sox only confirmed their desire to rebuild when they fired manager Bobby Valentine at the end of the 2012 seasons.

The Red Sox certainly have a different look now. According to Baseball Prospectus' Jason Martinez at his great website, mlbdepthcharts.com, eight members of the Red Sox' projected 2013 Opening Day roster were not with the club at the end of last season when Boston finished 69-93: Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Stephen Drew, Jonny Gomes, David Ross, Ryan Dempster, Joel Hanrahan and Koji Uehara.

Most likely, Victorino (right fielder), Napoli (first baseman), Drew (shortstop), and Gomes (right fielder) will play regularly, Ross will start against left-handers in a platoon at catcher with Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Dempster will join the starting rotation, Hanrahan will be the closer, and Uehara will be a set-up reliever.

While the Red Sox are different, we must ask whether they are appreciably better. That's a hard question for baseball people to answer. Among seven front-office types and scouts surveyed, three answered yes, three answered no, and one abstained when asked if the Red Sox had improved their roster enough to contend in the American League East in 2013.

Said one front-office type in the ‘yes’ camp: "They've really solidified their team on the field, and all the toxins should be removed from the clubhouse because you're adding some really top-of-the-line human beings in Victorino, Gomes, Ross, Demspter and Hanrahan. That whole clubhouse needed fumigated, and it has been."

Said one scout who voted no: "I understand what they're trying to do there, and they definitely have a better mix of people in the clubhouse, but they didn't add any true impact players. You need impact players to win in the American League East, and they don't have enough of them."

It's an unscientific exercise, to be sure, but let's try to compare the eight players the Red Sox have acquired against the eight players they are roughly replacing in terms of 2012 WARP. The eight newcomers combined for 11.4 WARP. The eight players they are replacing—Cody Ross, Gonzalez, Daniel Nava, Mike Aviles, Kelly Shoppach, Beckett, Vicente Padilla, and Alfredo Aceves—combined 8.0.

Granted, Nava and Aceves are still with the Red Sox, but they will play in reduced roles this season. In all, the net gain is just 3.4 WARP. If you go strictly by the numbers—never a good idea in a sport played by human beings—the Red Sox should be 72-90 next season. While it is hard to imagine them losing 90 games again, it is also difficult to imagine them winning 24 more games in 2013 that would enable them to reach the 93-win level, which is where the Orioles were last season when they won the second AL wild card.

The Red Sox' latest deal brought Hanrahan and infield prospect Brock Holt from the Pirates for reliever Mark Melancon, first baseman/outfielder Jerry Sands, infielder Ivan DeJesus Jr., and left-handed pitching prospect Stolmy Pimentel.

Hanrahan had 0.6 WARP last season. Furthermore, his 2.72 ERA in 59 2/3 innings was likely a mirage, as his FIP was 4.49. Over the last four months, at least six scouts have asked me if I thought Hanrahan was hiding an arm injury.

"There are a lot of question marks he is going to have to answer in spring training," one AL scout said. "They had him take a physical, so the Red Sox must think he's healthy, but I'd want to see him face live hitters in spring training before I'd be convinced of that."

Then again, the same scout felt the Red Sox are risking very little in the trade.

"For me, Melancon is the only guy they might regret trading," he said. "He might wind up closing for the Pirates someday, but DeJesus and Sands are 4-A guys for me, and Pimentel needs a lot of work before he is major-league ready. The Pirates really sold low here. They should have gambled a little and waited until spring training and let him show he was healthy and built up a better market for him."

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We wrote of the Indians' all-out pursuit of free-agent outfielder Nick Swisher in last week's On The Beat. Sure enough, the Indians got their man by adding $4 million to their offer, making it four years and $56 million.

There is no question that Swisher should help an Indians lineup light on power after the switch-hitter provided 14.4 WARP to the Yankees over the last four seasons. However, if $14 million a year for four seasons seem like an overpay to a 32-year-old for a rebuilding team, the Indians have their reasons, primarily because they do not feel they are a rebuilding organization as much as a retooling one.

"We need to win our fans back," said an Indians person. "We've got to rebuild trust with our fan base, let them know we're committed to winning. We're trying to maintain a strong enough talent base on the major-league roster to win now while trying to add talent to our minor-league system at the same time so we can be competitive in the future. It isn't an easy thing to do, but it's the position we're in and we feel it can be done."

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The signing of free agent Raul Ibanez to a one-year, $4-million contract means the Mariners have now added three designated hitter-types this offseason: They traded for Kendrys Morales and signed Jason Bay for one year and $1 million earlier this winter. Technically, Ibanez and Bay are outfielders and Morales is listed as a first baseman, but all are well below average defensively.

What makes the additions surprising is that most scouts believe Jesus Montero is much better served as a DH than as an everyday catcher. However, he will not become the Mariners' No. 1 catcher, ahead of John Jaso, in 2013. First baseman Justin Smoak, coming off a strong finish to an otherwise dismal 2012 season, appears to either be on his way out of Seattle or headed to the bench.

"I know how badly the Mariners need offense," said an NL scout, mindful that the Mariners have been last in the AL in scoring for three straight seasons. "I just don't see how this is going to work out. Even though they are bringing the fences in, you're still going to need pitching and defense to win at Safeco Field. You need athletic players, and none of those guys can be described as athletic players anymore."

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This being the last On The Beat of 2012, I want to thank everyone for not just reading but also commenting and suggesting. It is always nice to know readers are engaged, and hopefully you enjoy reading this column as much as I like writing it. As a personal aside, it is amazing to me that I have outlasted all of the authors who were on the Baseball Prospectus' staff when Joe Sheehan, Kevin Goldstein, and Nate Silver were willing to give a "traditional" baseball writer a chance to ply his trade at BP back in 2007.

This is also the time of year when I reveal my Hall of Fame ballot. However, there is one problem. The combination of a number of great candidates, including many who were in some way linked to PED use, has me still contemplating my ballot just four days before the voting deadline. That should tell you how much more difficult voting is this year than in any of the other 15 in which I've received a ballot. I'll have an answer in next week's column.

Until then, best wishes for a great 2013.

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

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