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A lot has been made in the mainstream media about how the Red Sox are experiencing a meltdown this off-season, something that is largely borne out of the front office changes. Many have claimed that the Sox need a starter, short stop, first baseman, and center fielder. The center fielder part may be true, but the other claims are a bit off base.

For starters, the Red Sox have six capable starters on the roster–Bronson Arroyo, Josh Beckett, Matt Clement, Jonathan Papelbon, Curt Schilling, and Tim Wakefield. Of the group, the most suspect (and most expensive) are Schilling and Clement. Schilling was not particularly effective upon his return from injury, adding exactly 0.0 SNLVAR in his 11 starts. If you listen to sympathizers tell the tale of Clement’s ’05, you’re likely to hear how wildly different Clement was after his incident in Tampa Bay, and those folks aren’t far off. Without including the start in Tampa on 7/26, here are his breakdowns:

Matt Clement 2005 Splits
Period      GS      IP    ERA   Avg. GS     K/BF   BB/BF
Pre 7/26    18   114.0   3.87     53.39   19.92%   7.26%
Post 7/26   11    63.0   4.86     47.55   13.57%   9.29%

Despite this split, early estimates have Clement as a yellow light, and he is a fair bet to regain his pre 7/26 form. Should that happen and should Schilling come back healthy, having six starters will be moot. However, the Sox do have other options on the 40-man roster should they need to dig deeper. David Wells, should he not be traded, would be starter number seven. Leonard Dinardo and his sick 2005 G/F ratio of 3.27 is at the very least a replacement level option. And then there is Jon Lester, who could be ready next August. Even Abe Alvarez will be there for his yearly trip on the Pawtucket Express. Add all of these guys up and it’s easy to understand why the Sox did not feel the need to go overboard for Kevin Millwood, Jarrod Washburn, A.J. Burnett, or any other free agent this off-season. Combined with a restocked bullpen–one that should feature significantly more time for the likes of Papelbon, Guillermo Mota, Rudy Seanez, James Vermilyea, and Craig Hansen, and less time for the likes of John Halama, Chad Harville, Matt Mantei, and Mike Remlinger–and the Red Sox look to be in decent shape for 2006.

What of the infield then? What is really mystifying is the proclamation that the Sox need first base help. When given the chance, Kevin Youkilis has shown himself to be an above average defensive player. His FRAR, FRAA, and Rate stats at third and first base are all above average for his two Major League seasons. There’s really no reason to think this production won’t continue when he slides to first base on a full-time basis. Offensively, his .279 EqA bested that of both Kevin Millar and John Olerud. In the admittedly limited data available, Youkilis has also shown no discernable platoon split, and could be plugged into the lineup on a full-time basis at first base. Should he need to be spelled in the field, David Ortiz really isn’t that bad an option, assuming his back and shoulder allow him to get on the field. Roberto Petagine is also still on the 40-man, and he and Ortiz essentially make signing a J.T. Snow redundant.

Shortstop is also not as bleak as it seems on the surface. Looking at members of the current 40-man roster, we can see that Alex Cora, Mark Loretta, and Tony Graffanino have played 308.2, 265.3, and 68.6 AdjG at SS at the Major League level, all at an average or slightly below average Rate. There is also Alejandro Machado, a player whose ’05 PECOTA forecast suggested he could be what Edgar Renteria was for Boston. His untranslated minor league Speed Score has been 6.50 or higher the past two seasons, and his OPS in Pawtucket was on par with the Sox SS production last season. While none of these candidates are Miguel Tejada, they are players who are capable of replicating and/or besting Renteria’s 2005 production. In addition, if the shortstop is not sucking away potential runs in the two slot because they don’t have Renteria’s “status,” all the better for the offense as a whole. As far as non-40 man roster candidates go, there’s this Dustin Pedroia guy, who played SS full-time as recently as last year (and wait until you see his PECOTA forecast!).

Outside of center field, the Red Sox have quality players everywhere on the diamond. Some may not have the superstar cache or even name recognition, but that doesn’t mean they’re unqualified. The mainstream media has complained about this over the holidays, but they tend to like things both ways. In December and January they like to howl about the lack of a “proven” player, but should the Sox acquire a “proven” player, they will complain that there are no good positional battles to track in Spring Training. While the winter is not over and more moves are likely on the horizon, credit the Sox for at least conveying through their actions and non-actions that their internal candidates are well qualified to handle Major League jobs in 2006.

Paul Swydan

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  • And second prize is two weeks in Cleveland…
    To no avail, the Indians have chased three big-name free agents this winter. First it was Brian Giles, who decided he’d rather stay in sunny San Diego near his hometown of El Cajon than return to the team that drafted him. (Cleveland reportedly offered something similar to the three-year, $30 million deal he accepted with the Padres.) Then came Trevor Hoffman, another Padre. He completed a physical for the Indians and seemed on the cusp of packing up for the Midwest. But Hoffman also decided his heart was in San Diego, and rejected Cleveland’s offer of nearly twice the guaranteed money. Next up: Nomar Garciaparra, who spurned the Indians’ one-year, $6 million bid in order to play close to his wife in Los Angeles. As a Dodger, he’s guaranteed–you guessed it–one year for $6 million.

    Three stars pursued, three offers rebuffed, and three men lured to southern California by the sweet sirens of surfing, sand, and family. Apparently Lake Erie still doesn’t cut it for the all-star crowd.

    As such, the Indians’ starting nine has not changed. Giles, particularly, would have been a nifty fit. True, Giles would have been a massive upgrade in right field, but consider the trickle-down effects: Casey Blake could have shared time with Aaron Boone and Ben Broussard at first and third base. The lineup’s three-headed quandary–which we explored in October–would have been reduced to two. By mixing and matching Blake, Boone, and Broussard for different situations, Eric Wedge could have avoided overexposing any of them.

    If the starting nine survive the next few weeks of hot stove season, Ryan Garko and Lou Merloni (who recently signed a minor league deal) appear the top candidates to platoon with Broussard. The bench, still headed up by Josh Bard and Ramon Vazquez, hasn’t changed much.

  • Bang for the buck: Cleveland’s failure to land the big guns doesn’t mean they came up empty. Free agents Paul Byrd and Jason Johnson joined the rotation this month as Kevin Millwood and Scott Elarton checked out. Byrd’s contract is worth $14 million for two years, and the Indians hold an option for 2008 at $8 million. Johnson will earn $3.5 million in 2006 with a mutual option for 2007 at the same figure. Together, Byrd and Johnson probably won’t equal the 2005 performance of Millwood and Elarton, but they were definitely relative bargains. This table shows Support-Neutral Value Above Replacement (SNLVAR) figures from the last five years, and the new contracts each pitcher signed.
                      Guaranteed:                SNLVAR
                    Years  Millions   2005  2004  2003  2002  2001
    Kevin Millwood    5     $60.0      5.7   1.5   5.6   6.1   2.2
    Paul Byrd         2      14.25     4.1   2.6   ---   5.2   2.2
    Scott Elarton     2       8.0      2.7   1.2  -0.8   ---  -0.1
    Jason Johnson     1       4.0      3.1   2.5   4.0   3.2   3.1

    What’s most striking is that Jason Johnson has easily been the most consistent of those pitchers. In the past five years, Johnson’s SNLVAR hasn’t dipped below 2.5–a feat none of the others can claim.

    By signing Byrd and Johnson, Cleveland has modestly but sufficiently filled the holes left by the departures of Millwood and Elarton. It also adds significant depth to the pitching staff. If Cleveland had allowed Jeremy Sowers, Jason Davis and Fausto Carmona to duke it out in Winter Haven for the fifth starter job, the rotation would have been quite vulnerable in the event of an injury. Now, we could argue the Indians rotation is six deep with Sowers.

  • Rebuilding the wall: Despite juuuust losing out on Hoffman and watching Bob Howry bolt for the greenery of Wrigley, baseball’s best bullpen looks just as deep as last year. (On paper.) The snag, of course, is the natural volatility of a bullpen.

    Bob Wickman was the Plan B closer and signed for one year and $5 million. Behind him, Arthur Rhodes, Rafael Betancourt, and Scott Sauerbeck are back for more. Fernando Cabrera could be just as good as Howry was in the eigth inning; he didn’t get promoted until the stretch, so his presence could be considered an addition. David Riske is eligible for arbitration and might get traded.

    The real depth, however, lies in the next tier of arms. Matt Miller, Davis, and Andrew Brown have all shown promise at some point, whether in Cleveland or Buffalo. Steve Karsay and Danny Graves recently signed minor league contracts. It’s unlikely that both would make the team, but if either one impresses in March he gives the Indians another option at virtually no risk. That’s eleven pitchers who merit Spring consideration for the bullpen. There’s no chance that Cleveland repeats its 2005 relief dominance, but in the world of fluky bullpens and flaky elbows, having eleven viable pitchers to choose from is a great luxury.

Dave Haller

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