Steaming Up The Outfield

We contemplated the infield last week, maybe we get this Christmas week off to a flying start with a check on the outfield.

Mookie is a bit of a blur (RLRS Photo)

Mookie is a bit of a blur (RLRS Photo)

Mookie Betts – .290/.358/.425/3.8

Such a very intriguing and exciting player.  I was a skeptic of Betts for awhile but he has won me over in a big way.  The thing that really struck me last year was the advances he made defensively as the year went on.

What Betts can give the Sox potentially is the sort of dynamism and multi-layered threat that Jacoby Ellsbury offered.  Betts adds to that with versatility that the Sox would be wise to avail themselves of.  Even though he is setting up as an outfielder keeping him handy at second base could have value with Dustin Pedroia getting older and occasionally battling the odd injury.

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Red Sox Acquire Ryan Hanigan for Will Middlebrooks

I have never seen a player in minor league camp regularly hit the ball as far as Middlebrooks back in the day (RLRS Photo).

I have never seen a player in minor league camp regularly hit the ball as far as Middlebrooks back in the day (RLRS Photo).

The third base logjam got a bit less um…loggy as Rob Bradford tweets that the Sox have dealt Will Middlebrooks to San Diego for Ryan Hanigan.  I am not a big fan of Middlebrooks but he will always have a special place in my heart as the player who really got the #BostonStrong meme rolling in the wake of the marathon bombing.

Hanigan is a perfect fit for the Sox.  With Christian Vazquez, Dan Butler and Blake Swihart as the only catchers on the 40 man roster a veteran backstop made some sense and Hanigan is a good one.  He is a solid all around catcher who should be able to approximate David Ross‘ performance without much difficulty while at the same time not being so good that if Swihart announces himself as ready to go the Sox cannot cut bait.

Middlebrooks has legitimate power but has little to put with it.  He seems to be guessing a lot, often swinging wildly at pitches out of the zone then taking 88 MPH fastballs right down the middle.

He is frustrating as a guy who seems to carry himself like an established star with none of the cache.  He is perplexingly resistant to corrective eyewear and refused to play winter ball this year.  He has also had difficulty staying healthy.

Steaming Up The Infield

Earlier this week I checked in on the rotation.  May as well look at the rest of the team starting with the infield using the Steamer/600 system to even out the WAR projections.

Keep your shirt on, he is back for another year (Random dude on the street photo).

Keep your shirt on, he is back for another year (Random dude on the street photo).

1B – Mike Napoli – .244/.352/.444/2.8

I think the 2.6 WAR that that fairly pedestrian looking line has is indicative of the way the game has changed.  It will be interesting to me to see if Napoli finds a benefit from his off-season surgery to correct sleep apnea.

His 2014 season really took a hit when he broke his finger on a headfirst dive in April in Chicago.    One small area that I think a team could gain a small advantage is by creating an organizational prohibition on head first dives.  I am not suggesting major fines or suspensions but given the importance of hands to a Major League player reducing the frequency of that high risk maneuver seems wise.

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Red Sox Acquire Anthony Varvaro

The guys that will sit out here in 2015 are coming together (RLRS Photo).

The guys that will sit out here in 2015 are coming together (RLRS Photo).

The Sox have added some depth to the bullpen by acquiring RHP Anthony Varvaro from the Braves for minor league pitcher Aaron Kurcz and cash.  Varvaro was DFAd by the Braves as an arbitration eligible.

This is a nice little pickup in my opinion.  Varvaro is not a guy who is going to revolutionize the Sox but he looks like a nice substitute for Burke Badenhop.  He is a ground ball pitcher (are we noticing a trend?) and is under team control through the 2018 season.

With Varvaro in the fold the bullpen right now looks something like this;

CL – Koji Uehara
8th – Brandon Workman
7th – Edward Mujica
LOOGY – Tommy Layne
Mid-inning – Junichi Tazawa
Catch All – Anthony Varvaro
Long Man – Steven Wright

I don’t hate that. I don’t think it is the Nasty Boys or anything but if Uehara is right that can be a very good group with guys like Anthony Ranaudo, Matt Barnes and Henry Owens available to give some depth.

A Steaming Pile of…Wait, They Don’t Suck?

Whattya know? (MLB.com Photo)

Whattya know? (MLB.com Photo)

h/t to @RedSoxStats

So after a fairly aggressive re-tooling of the starting rotation there is a bit of concern in a lot of quarters (including from me) that the Sox lack a true “Ace.”  FanGraphs has updated their projections and shockingly to me the Sox rotation projects as the best in the AL East, third in the AL and sixth in all of Major League Baseball.

Team IPI ERA FIP WAR
Dodgers 955 3.38 3.37 12.7
Nationals 940 3.62 3.56 12.5
Mariners 940 3.73 3.67 11.9
Indians 937 3.85 3.74 11.7
Cardinals 953 3.62 3.62 10.9
Red Sox 934 4.29 4.08 10.8

Here are the projections for the five primary starters for the Sox;

Rick Porcello – 3.1
Clay Buchholz – 2.1
Wade Miley – 2.0
Justin Masterson – 2.0
Joe Kelly – 1.1

What really struck me when I looked at the divisional breakdown is just how weak the division is as a whole.  Porcello has the third best projection in the division behind Toronto’s Marcus Stroman and New York’s Masahiro Tanaka.  That is a guy with 130 MLB innings under his belt and a guy who missed half of last season with an arm injury which says an awful lot about the state of the division as of this morning.

Admittedly I feel somewhat skeptical about these projections.  Buchholz is terrific when healthy but “when healthy” does a lot of heavy lifting there and Masterson is coming off a year when he was awful.

One place I am coming around is Wade Miley.  I still do not like the trade as high as I am on Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster but I think I was underselling how good Miley is.  He is not a star but he looks like a very good acquisition.

This is no longer an East division matchup (RLRS Photo)

This is no longer an East division matchup (RLRS Photo)

Ultimately I think the Steamer projections feature two crucial facts;

1. The division is pretty thin at the moment.  David Price and Jon Lester were traded out of the division, injury has created doubt for Matt Moore and Masahiro Tanaka and age is taking its toll on C.C. Sabathia.

2. The Sox commitment to a staff built around depth has some merit numerically.  There is a lot of off-season left to go (and I will be stunned if Max Scherzer is not in pinstripes next year) but the Sox rotation looks solid.

Non-Denominational Secular Day At Fenway*

* – This is how I refer to Christmas when I feel like annoying my mother.

On Saturday the Sox hosted “Christmas At Fenway.”  This is the first opportunity for fans to buy single game seats and they open up the ballpark for fun and merriment.  I showed up to pay my season ticket bill and wander around and on a spur of the moment took, incredibly, my first ever tour of Fenway.  I thought I would share the experience here;

Christmas At Fenway

So it is time for Christmas at Fenway!  If you want pictures, just click and carry on… Continue reading

Sox Sign Justin Masterson/Lose Jason Garcia

Justin Masterson was just a minor league puppy 3 miles down Edison Ave. many years ago (RLRS photo).

Justin Masterson was just a minor league puppy 3 miles down Edison Ave. many years ago (RLRS photo).

Prodigal Son Part II: This time it’s personal.

According to Buster Olney the Sox have signed RHP Justin Masterson to a one year, $9 million deal.  Masterson is a curious get not unlike a reverse Derek Lowe situation.  After a poor 2004 season for Lowe the Sox let him walk to a sizable deal with the Dodgers that turned out very well indeed for the men in blue.

Masterson had a poor 2014 with a 5.88 ERA.  FIP (4.50) and xFIP (4.08) suggest a pitcher who was considerably better than that and Steamer projects a serviceable 1.5 WAR in 2015 for him.

I do not think this takes the Sox out of the running for a James Shields or a Cole Hamels.  The Sox still lack an Ace of any note and any rotation is going to need more than five starters, let alone one with Clay Buchholz in it.  In Masterson and Joe Kelly the Sox feature a couple of guys who could move to the bullpen if necessary.

This is a nice move but if the Sox look at the rotation now and say “job done” I think they are being optimistic.
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In other news minor league RHP Jason Garcia was selected by Houston and traded to Baltimore in the Rule 5 draft.  Garcia has only gone as high as Lo A ball but his velocity jumped to the high 90s with a move to the bullpen.  His profile is similar to the type of player who could stick with a good spring.

The Sox themselves drafted RHP Jandel Gustave from the Houston system.  Rob Bradford has Tweeted that he is not expected to be kept by the Sox.

Trader Ben Strikes Again

Welcome to the Red Sox! (MLB.com Photo)

Welcome to the Red Sox! (MLB.com Photo)

As reported by C.J. Nitkowski and Alex Speier Ben Cherington is not done yet and has dealt Yoenis Cespedes, Alex Wilson and a “lower level” minor league pitcher to Detroit for RHP Rick Porcello.  Assuming the lower-level minor leaguer is not anyone of note I like this trade a heck of a lot.

Like Miley, Porcello is a reliable MLB pitcher.  In giving up Cespedes I feel like the Sox have given up a superfluous piece rather than pieces that will potentially have greater value.  Porcello is not quite the ground ball pitcher that Miley is but he is not far behind and Steamer projects him at 2.5 WAR.

By adding Miley and Porcello the Sox have created a lot more stability in the rotation than existed at this time yesterday.  One thing I was thinking about this morning is that the Orioles effectively won the division with a rotation not dissimilar to what the Sox are assembling here;

Ubaldo Jimenez = Clay Buchholz: Potential stud with durability issues.

Wei-Yin Chen/Miguel Gonzalez/Bud Norris = Joe Kelly/Wade Miley/Rick Porcello: League average inning eaters.

Chris Tillman = ???: This is where the Sox are still lacking and where I felt Rubby De La Rosa could have fit as the prospect who finally figured it out.  There is plenty of time left in the off-season for the Sox to put someone in this spot.

If you want a cause for concern it is this.  In adding Porcello and Miley the Sox are building a ground ball staff.  To build a ground ball staff around a team with a dicey defensive shortstop is not necessarily consistent.  Deven Marrero fits that better than Bogaerts.  My big fear of this off-season, and the reason I wanted Jon Lester so badly, is that the Sox will deal Bogaerts to acquire a top starter.

As a side note Chris Hatfield of Sox Prospects tweeted that had the Sox not signed Julio Lugo they would have drafted Porcello with the draft pick they lost.  Porcello is currently slated to be a free agent at the end of the year but unlike Cespedes the Sox will have the ability to get draft pick compensation if they make a Qualifying Offer.  Porcello was the losing pitcher in Game Two of the 2013 ALCS.

This trade has me feeling a lot better than I did yesterday.
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For any Tiger fans checking in Wilson is a nice little get.  I would not be surprised if the Saudi-born Texan (dad is an oil man) becomes a very solid reliever.  He is an odd looking guy with a long torso and short legs but he throws in the 93-95 range, generally throws strikes and seems pretty even-keeled.

He is not someone to make or break a deal but I can see him giving the Tigers a few years of solid middle relief work.