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|BOSTON RED SOX
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Acquired RHP Brad Ziegler from Arizona Diamondbacks for RHP Jose Almonte and 2B-B Luis Alejandro Basabe. [7/9]; Acquired IF-R Aaron Hill and cash considerations from Milwaukee Brewers for 2B-R Wendell Rijo and RHP Aaron Wilkerson. [7/7]; Acquired UT-B Michael Martinez from Cleveland Indians for cash considerations. [7/8]
Give Dave Dombrowski credit: he’s hustling. Long derided for being unable to build a bullpen, the incoming Red Sox general manager pulled out all the stops by trading for two more closers in Craig Kimbrel and Carson Smith to prepare for the 2016 season. Of course, that hasn’t worked out so well: Smith almost immediately tapped out with a season-ending arm injury, and now Kimbrel is headed to the DL for a month or so. What’s a well-connected trading savant of a GM to do? Trade for (yet) another closer.
The flavor of the month in Boston is now submarining ground-ball ace Brad Ziegler, formerly of the Diamondbacks. Ziegler is something of a grounder savant, a Van Gogh of scuffed-up, grass-stained rawhide. Last year, only Zach Britton (81.1 percent) had a higher ground-ball rate than Ziegler (74.5 percent) and since 2011, no pitcher has created ground balls at a higher percentage than Zieg’s astounding 69.5 percent. That skill has proved particularly useful in hit-happy Arizona, and should play equally well in Boston. In addition, defenders like Dustin Pedroia and Xander Bogaerts may turn a higher percentage of those grounders into outs than was the case at Chase Field.
Those grounders have made Ziegler’s overall performance good, if not great … but you’ll have to look past BP’s DRA-based WARP metrics to figure that out. If you look at DRA, Ziegler barely rates as a replacement-level performer, with his career 4.80 DRA representing your average fifth-inning guy and not a high-leverage star. However, his ERA is more than two runs lower over his career at 2.49. This isn’t to say that DRA is wrong and that the pure runs allowed numbers are correct, but it is probably more instructive to use Ziegler’s sterling ERA to project his future performance rather than DRA, FIP, or the like.
At 36, the soon-to-be-free agent may not have many more years left as a top-flight fireman, but that’s hardly a concern for the Sox, who have Carson Smith and Craig Kimbrel locked up for a bit longer. No, Ziegler will be more in the Koji Uehara camp for these Red Sox: an arm that the team will be happy to ride out for as long as it lasts, just so long as the team makes it back to the playoffs. So let’s give Dombrowski a little credit here: he’s not trying to build a bullpen out of fallen retreads and live-armed newcomers–he’s re-stocking his larder with another reliever who has both a track record of success and remains at the top of his game. Ziegler has experience closing–which is a plus while Kimbrel is out–and also should slot in nicely as a setup weapon for double plays and quick outs after the incumbent returns. Ziegler may not be the flashiest (or DRA-est) relief arm on the market–Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman bring much more heat–but he’ll serve a suitable role on the Sox, without costing premium prospect in return as well. —Bryan Grosnick
It simply made too much sense. The Red Sox desperately needed a functional platoon partner for Travis Shaw, who has been a success against right-handed pitching but overmatched against southpaws. In a perfect world–or at least one where the Sox incurred fewer injuries–the Sox could call upon Sam Travis or Pablo Sandoval to spell Shaw at times, or maybe use Chris Young in a cross-position platoon with Shaw where Brock Holt played third and left field. Instead, the Sox were forced to look afield for a part-time third baseman, where they found a snug fit in Hill.
This has been either a resurgent season for Hill or a dead-cat bounce, depending on how you want to prognosticate past the end of 2016. Either way, this year has been an unmitigated success for both the player and the team that acquired him in the offseason. After two down years in the desert where he failed to crack a .300 OBP, Hill is back to the pop-and-defense ways that made him an All-Star-level contributor in three past seasons (2007, 2009, and 2012 if you are keeping score at home). This is basically the best-case scenario for both Hill and the Brewers, as his performance helped keep the team moving in a down year, while eventually netting the team two prospects: a lower-tier infielder and a close-to-the-majors swingman. It may not be that much, but this is probably exactly what David Stearns was hoping for. Hang a banner, mission accomplished.
Now Hill will be asked to just keep on keeping on, and he’ll pocket a cool million dollars in an assignment bonus because the Sox wished to acquire his services. Everyone wins, right? While a veteran team like the Sox can be confident that the former All-Star will be a solid clubhouse influence, they also can keep Shaw comfortably entrenched on the strong side of a platoon and growing as a young regular. It will cost them some money and prospect depth, but the Red Sox are pretty damn rich in both those departments, and functional right-handed hitters with some pedigree don’t exactly grow on trees.
There’s a joke to be made about the Red Sox cornering the market on over-priced third basemen: from Hanley Ramirez to Pablo Sandoval to Hill, they’ve now picked up three of them over the past 18 months. But unlike the other two acquisitions, the Red Sox can and should have diminished risks and expectations from Hill, and they don’t need to count on him past October. As a relatively low-cost acquisition who has been succeeding recently, it seems unlikely that Dave Dombrowski will die on this Hill. —Bryan Grosnick
The Red Sox have been lucky in at least one respect: the presence of Brock Holt gives the team a versatile and talented one-man bench. Perhaps no other player in baseball has the combination of near-average offensive ability and better-than-average defensive chops at seven of nine positions in the field. If you’re looking for a guy who can hit okay–especially against right-handed pitchers–and play everywhere but pitcher and catcher, Holt’s your guy.
Of course, sometimes fate intervenes and forces a team to use a player like Holt at a single position–thanks, parade of inept and/or injured Red Sox left fielders! With Holt pressed into regular duty (or just injured himself), the Red Sox sought out another one-man bench, acquiring Martinez, who was on the outs in Cleveland. I’ve built a metric called McEwing Score that rates a player’s positional versatility, and like Holt, Martinez has rated very highly in this measure over the past several seasons. The plucky infielder has played every position short of first base, catcher, and pitcher during his time in the big leagues with Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland.
Unlike Holt, Martinez isn’t very good. He was DFA’d by Cleveland because he exists to just barely paper over glaring holes; he is a stopgap, not a solution. Though he plays nearly every position and switch-hits, he has no reputation or statistical resume as a good defender, and he’s not a very good hitter from either side of the plate. Martinez’s career .202 True Average is horrible, he’s never posted above-replacement big-league performance, and at 33, he’s unlikely to improve.
One of the great mysteries in baseball is why players like Martinez keep getting multiple chances at the big-league level. Sure, he’s been there before–as a former Rule 5 pick who’s flitted about the majors for half a decade, he has big-league experience–but he’s never been a player worth rostering. Even wracked with injuries, the Red Sox have players like Deven Marrero and Sean Coyle who could perhaps flash one big-league skill or the hint of promise. While Martinez cost the Red Sox nothing more valuable than a 40-man roster spot, it’s unlikely that he’ll provide the team with anything either, save perhaps the kind of warm fuzzy feeling that only a security blanket or a veteran utility infielder can provide. —Bryan Grosnick
|CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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Signed RHP Ryan Webb to a minor-league contract. [7/8]
You’re probably here for one thing: a games-finished-without-a-save update. Let’s put it this way: it seems unlikely that the White Sox are going to put Ryan Webb in a save situation any time soon. In fact, it seems unlikely that Ryan Webb will be pitching in the major leagues with any immediacy. Webb’s run with the Rays wasn’t what anyone had hoped for–he gave up 27 hits in just over 17 innings–and though his cFIP and DRA tracked pretty well with his career numbers, his ERA jumped to 5.19 from 3.20 in his previous year with Cleveland.
So while Webb’s save-less streak looks safe, so does new teammate Matt Albers’ commanding lead in games finished without a save. All this move leaves us with is a distinct hope that now, finally, Mr. Webb and Mr. Albers may be able to have a long conversation about what it’s like to spend one’s whole life as a major-league reliever without recording a save. —Bryan Grosnick
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Signed 2B-R Omar Infante to a minor-league contract. [7/6]
As bad as Infante’s years in Kansas City have been–from a pure performance standpoint, at least–I’m not entirely sure anyone saw the final act of his career going quite like this. The hapless Braves, nearly bereft of quality big-league regulars, re-acquire a player who accelerated his career with an All-Star season in Atlanta back in 2010. Despite fielding a 25-man roster of has-beens, former White Sox castoffs, and Freddie Freeman, there’s just no place for the fallen second baseman. Even here.
To reach big-league playing time Infante will have to negotiate a tricky minefield of former big leaguers and busted prospects. Atlanta is getting surprisingly productive seasons from on-base aficionado Jace Peterson and gritty-veteran-guy-since-he-was-22 Gordon Beckham. Chase “The Other” d’Arnaud is the major-league backup emergency middle infielder. Emilio Bonifacio lurks, looking to fill the I’ll-play-anywhere utility role and recently freed from a 40-man roster spot himself. Jordan Pacheco–theoretically at least–can still play some middle infield, but also brings catching ability to the table. Reid Brignac, now a staple of minor-league invites and Triple-A bus rides, certainly exists.
There’s just one thing that will create a path back to the bigs for Infante, perhaps as a salve to the constant retina burn that is Adonis Garcia’s stat line at third base: hits. The scrappy, once-versatile Venezuelan has little power and unimpressive walk numbers, so he’ll need to turn back time to 2013 and start spraying hits all around the diamond. Stranger things have happened, and Infante has at least been above replacement so far in 2016 (0.3 WARP in Kansas City), so that’s a start. But it’s possible that Infante’s next (last?) chance will be coming after a non-roster invite in spring training 2017. —Bryan Grosnick
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