Sunday, December 14, 2014

Winter Meeting Dust Settles- Red Sox Have Rotation Upgrade

The much anticipated 2014 Baseball Winter Meetings have come and gone, and despite the Red Sox finishing second in the Jon Lester sweepstakes to the Cubs, the Sox returned home from San Diego with a new five man rotation in place..... for now.

The Red Sox did sign a former Boston pitcher to a free agent deal, but it was Justin Masterson for a one year $9.5M contract rather than the $155M or so Lester received from Theo and the Cubs.  The Red Sox also made two trades to acquire young starting pitchers with MLB experience.  Rick Porcello came from Detroit for Yoenis Cespedes and Alex Wilson.  Arizona sent lefty Wade Miley to Boston for Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa, and a minor league infielder.

The new acquisitions  are penciled into the rotation with holdovers Joe Kelly and Clay Buchholz. Despite the apparent filling of the rotation, many observers are still clamoring for the missing ace.  Ben Cherington publicly seems to be saying the Sox will go into '15 with this group, but will keep their eyes open for any way to improve the team further.  The only obvious aces who may be available include, Cole Hamels, Jordan Zimmerman, and Johnny Cueto.  The Reds have all ready traded 2/5 of their 2014 rotation, so Cueto may not be available, and the Nats are reportedly looking for a second baseman for Zimmerman, so the Sox may not match up there.

The Hamels rumors still abound, and the crux of a deal still seems to be the Sox offering Philly an acceptable deal that does not include Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, or Blake Swihart.  The latest rumor floating is the Sox may include Kelly in a package with two or three minor leaguers to get Hamles and keep the kids that they want to hold.  Even if this happened, Hamels still has a no trade clause to Boston.  This deal could still happen, but I think it is less than 50-50.

All three of the newcomers fit a single description: relatively young ( all will be 30 or under in 2015-as will Buchhoz and Kelly), have all pitched 200 inning season(s) in the majors, and throw the ball down in the zone getting many ground balls.  They also walk few hitters, especially Porcello who averages only 2.2 walks per nine innings in his career.

Porcello has a chance to grow into the missing ace the Sox do not seem to have.  Despite turning 26 later this month, he has pitched six full MLB seasons, and his best year was 2014, with 15 wins, 3.43 ERA and only 1.8 BB/9.  Porcello has been overshadowed by pitching in the Tigers rotation with names like Verlander, Scherzer, Sanchez, and most recently David Price.

Miley is sort of unknown to Sox fans due to his career being spent in Arizona.  But he also, like Porcello, has a chance to be entering the prime of his career.  His best year was his first full season in 2012, when Miley went 16-11, 3.33 ERA and pitched 194 innings ( which Miley has bested the last two campaigns hurling 202.2 and 201.1) and finishing second in the National league Rookie of the Year balloting.  Chase Field in Arizona is a notorious hitters park and Miley's road ERA was a full run lower than at home.  In fact since 2012 on, Miley is tied for fourth in wins by a NL lefty with Cole Hamels at 34.  The three pitchers ahead of him are Clayton Kershaw. Madison Bumgarner, and Gio Gonzalez.

Masterson was the Cleveland ace from 2011 through 2013 and he averaged over 200 innings pitched and averaged 12 wins per year.  Masterson is well known as a great clubhouse guy, and will be looking to revitalize his career after a poor, injury plagued 2014.  This is why Masterson was looking for the one year deal.  Both Porcello and Masterson could be free agents after 2015, Miley is under team control through 2017.

The other news to come from the meetings concerning the rotation is for now the Sox have kept who they apparently consider the high end starting pitching prospects:  Henry Owens, Eduardo Rodriguez, Brian Johnson, Matt Barnes, Anthony Ranaudo, and Brandon Workman. Though Workman is very likely heading for the bullpen all of the others will be at AAA ready to fill in as the year goes along.

Webster and De La Rosa were considered by many to be in the lead for the fifth rotation spot, if the Sox imported two new starters.  But by bringing three and keeping so many other kid pitchers the two former Dodgers were expendable.

The winter meetings of 2014 lived up to the hype not only for Boston, but across the game.  But there are still nearly four months until the next season begins and we will continue to watch Ben Cherington and his baseball ops department to see what else is up their sleeves.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Winter Meetings Live Chat 12-9-14

Live Blog Winter Meetings Live Chat 12-9-14
 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Winter Meetings Eve

The baseball winter meetings begin tomorrow, and there have been numerous reports of rampant trade talk between the teams.  Will the Red Sox have a busy week?  They could because of their need of two or maybe even three more starting pitchers.  Also, the Red Sox have a well chronicled surplus of outfielders and many available prospects, including a lot of pitching.

But there are a couple of reasons why this could be a quiet week for the Sox.  First as we have mentioned earlier this off season, despite the 2014 last place finish, other than the rotation and maybe one more bullpen arm, the Sox roster if pretty much set except for backup catcher.  The team will very likely lineup around the diamond like this:

C  Christian Vazquez
1B Mike Napoli
2B Dustin Pedroia
SS Xander Bogaerts
3B Pablo Sandoval
LF Hanley Ramirez
DH David Ortiz

CF-RF some combination of Mookie Betts, Rusney Castillo, Shane Victorino, and Allen Craig, with Daniel Nava backing up the corner slots.

There has been very, very little rumors involving any of these names.  The exceptions are a rumor or two of dealing Napoli (maybe to Seattle), several NL teams have been asking about Allen Craig, and there are some big time blockbuster trade suggestions for an ace (think Chris Sale) where the Sox may trade Betts and/or Bogaerts.  But 98% of the reports say Boston has no intention of dealing Mookie, Xander, Blake Swihart, and likely not Henry Owens.

The other reason for the possibility of a quiet week for Boston is our first topic....

1. Jon Lester.  Other than the Red Sox jumping into the bats market and securing both Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, the entire Sox off season has centered around the pursuit of Jon Lester. The suitors appear to be the Sox, Cubs, Giants, and this week's seemingly late arrival to the dance, the Dodgers (with maybe the Cardinals and Braves lurking).   The Sox have reportedly bid 6 years 130M, the Cubs maybe around 138-140M, the Giants bid is unknown, but they do have at least the 95M Sandoval turned down.  It is expected LA could blow all the bids out of the water, if they wished.  Originally the Lester sweepstakes were assumed to end around Thanksgiving, and then before the meetings began, now it is being reported it will be Wednesday at the earliest.  If Lester does not decide in two days or so, the Sox are hamstrung in their shopping for more pitching.  They will not know if they need an ace still or are they shopping for an arm or two to slot in behind Lester.

The best piece of news for Red Sox fans, perhaps, leaked out yesterday when Rob Bradford and Alex Speier of weei.com reported Red Sox owner John Henry flew to Atlanta Friday and met personally with Jon Lester at Lester's home.  Hopefully it was not to say goodbye.

I am still reasonably optimistic that Lester returns to Boston, but it is far from a lock. In a small bit of spin at least if Lester does not return all of his other bidders are in the NL.

2. If Lester signs, the Sox shop Yoenis Cespedes for a number two type starter.  The reason I did not include Yoenis in the projected lineup above is the very great likelihood he is traded this week. The right handed power Cespedes possesses makes him a attractive trade chip despite having only one more year on his contract.  The most likely match would be a team in need of a power hitting corner outfielder and that has a starting pitcher with only one year of contractual control themselves to come back in return.

Here are some of the pitchers and teams that meet the criteria and have been rumored as possible deals.

Tigers- Rick Porcello.  This is the one I think I like best.  Porcello is only 26 but will be a free agent after next year. Porcello is a ground ball pitcher who has been hurt for much of his career by a poor Tiger defense.  The Tigers have much interest in Cespedes to fill their left field hole, but according to reports may not want to trade Porcello for Yoenis straight up.  With Detroit acquiring starter Shane Greene this week, they be more willing to do the one for one swap.  If not the Sox could include one of their younger righties maybe Allen Webster and get another piece back from Detroit ( Alex Avila?)

Padres- Ian Kennedy.  San Diego has two more attractive starters that could be had in Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner,  and the Sox could put together a Cespedes plus prospects package for either of them.  But for a one for one Cespedes for a pitcher deal, it would be Kennedy.  I have been lukewarm on Kennedy, but a quick review of his past few seasons show a 21-4 2011 campaign with Arizona followed by a 15 win 2012.  Last year in San Diego Kennedy was 13-13.

Reds-  Mat Latos or Mike Leake.  Cincy has a glaring hole in left field and stated desire to contend in 2015 ( when they also host the All Star Game).  Both Latos and Leake can walk after 2015 and could be had if not straight up for Cespedes with only very little more added to the package.  Both pitchers are still in their 20's, although Latos has the bigger "reputation", he has had more injury issues.

Mariners- Hisashi Iwakuma.  Although the M's signed Nelson Cruz they are reportedly still on the market for one more power bat.  Iwakuma is a free agent after next season.  But there may be two impediments to a Iwakuma-Cespedes deal.  First Seattle is going all in to win in '15 and Iwakuma is their number two starter,  it may not make sense for a team all in to deal their second best starter.  Secondly, it had been reported the power bat Seattle really would want from Boston is Mike Napoli. One trade proposal ( not a rumor) had the Sox trading both Cespedes and Napoli to Seattle in a three way deal which would net the Sox Jordan Zimmerman.  It seemed far fetched at the time, and the Mariners have signed Cruz since so that is unlikely to happen.

3.  Trade some others players for the number two starter.

There is only one oft rumored Sox target that may take players other than Cespedes to acquire.  That is Jeff Samardjiza of Oakland.  Since Cespedes came from Oakland and has only the one year left on his contract, the A's would want a package of other players.  Now it is Billy Beane and Oakland took a lot of heat for their offense collapsing after trading Yoenis, so maybe he could go back to Oakland as part of the deal, but I would not count on it.  The A's are looking for a shortstop and relief help.  The crux of getting a deal done here may be if Oakland thinks Deven Marrero would be the shortstop they need and would Boston deal Marrero (plus a pitcher) for one year of Samardjiza?

For one, peter gammons has reported that there is not a good match between the A's and Sox.  This could be a spot where a three team trade is needed, with Boston sending Cespedes plus to a team that needs him and has the shortstop to send to Oakland.

Scott Kazmir also has one year to go on his deal and could also fit Boston's needs, but there has been no rumors that I am aware of involving Kazmir and the Sox.

There is another name available that would fit the Sox rotation and has one year left and has been said to be available, that is Doug Fister of the Nats.  Washington does not need an outfielder so it would take a package of kids or a three way trade.

4. If Lester signs elsewhere, Sox still need to shop for an ace.  This may very well extend beyond the winter meetings.  First the free agent market contains two more "ace" pitchers: Max Scherzer and James Shields.  Scherzer has long been considered out of Boston's price range since he turned down Detroit's 6 year 144M offer in spring training.  But with reports of the Sox willing to go to 150M for Lester, and depending how desperate they feel for their ace if no Lester, they could at least test the waters.  I still find this unlikely. The best way for Scherzer to provide an ace for Boston would be to sign with Washington or Detroit (both rumored landing spots for Max).  If the Nationals ( whose GM, Mike Rizzo originally signed Scherzer for Arizona) land him, Jordan Zimmerman becomes even more available and if Scherzer goes back to Motown, David Price, a potential free agent a year from now, could go on the market.  A Price package could at least begin with Cespedes but would take more. Either Zimmerman or Price could be had for less than you may think because of only one year of control left.  And there have been some reports the Red Sox would prefer to bring a big name with only one year to go because not only may the cost in talent be less, but it also gives them another year to develop their own young starters.  Also, if the guy the Sox brought in walks, they get a draft pick plus they could dive into next winter's very deep free agent pool of starters.

Back to James Shields.  He may or may not be an ace, but despite his post season woes, he is good for 200 innings plus each year, and could act as your ace if the Sox fail on other avenues. Shields was the ace for an AL which made the World Series in 2014 after all.  Boston could try to move very quickly on Shields if Lester goes elsewhere.  If Lester spurns both the Sox and Cubs, expect Theo to also dive in heavily for Joe Maddon's former Tampa Bay star.  Shields' max deal should be around 4 years 80-85M.

As far as trading for an ace three names have been mentioned repeatedly.  Cole Hamels, Johnny Cueto, and Chris Sale. Let's start with Sale.  Very, very unlikely on all fronts in my opinion.  First Chicago has shown no real interest in dealing him (other than saying they'll listen on anyone).  And the package would be rumored to have to include Bogaerts AND Betts.  No thanks, not with the fragility of any pitcher's arm.

Cueto would be my number two target after Lester of anyone mentioned.  Cespedes and at least two maybe three kids would need to go, although again Cueto is a free agent a year from now, so maybe lesser  prospects than you think.  The Reds have said publicly over and over Cueto is not going to be traded.  But their superstar Joey Votto has a 225M deal and they all ready have a 100M+ deal with one of their starters, Homer Bailey.  Can a market like Cincy afford two 100M pitchers, especially when Cueto is likely to command more like 150-175M or more if he gets to free agency in a year?  I still think this is a deal to watch.

Cole Hamels.  Report after report has linked the Sox and Phillies regarding Hamels.  He is the opposite of all of the potential free agents to be, with four years remaining on his deal plus an option year for a fifth.  He has a no trade list of nine teams including the Red Sox.  Most of the speculation centers around Hamels waiving the no trade if the Sox pick up the fifth year making his deal 5 years around 114M, much less than the Lester bidding.  Two big roadblocks to a deal are the insistence of Philadelphia GM, Ruben Amaro wanting one or maybe two of the untradeable kids. Then if the demands lower to something like Owens,  Matt Barnes, Marrero, Sean Coyle, and Manuel Margot the other stumbling point is would Hamesl really approve the deal?

Despite the preponderance of the idea of Hamels waiving the no trade for the fifth year, the other theory is Hamels wants no part of the American League, and would block a trade to any AL team on his no trade list.

5. Grab a 2-3 type starter from free agency.

We have gone over the names before but here are some likely candidates for this type of deal.

Brandon  McCarthy
Justin Masterson
Francisco Liriano
Ervin Santana

The Sox have rumored interest in each of these names. McCarthy and Masterson would not cost a draft pick, the other two would but only a third rounder since the Sox have all ready surrendered their two second round picks for Sandoval and Ramirez.

6. Other possible moves.

Backup catcher.  Faling to find a left hitting backup, David Ross could return.  Ross has other feelers from the Braves, Cubs, and Padres.

Finding a bullpen arm, preferably left handed.  Only specific name rumored is Sean Doolittle from Oakland.  Maybe re-signing Craig Breslow or righty Burke Badenhop.

Thinning the outfield beyond Cespedes.  There are several Allen Craig rumors, Miami and Milwaukee among them. However this would be the ultimate sell low, I think the Red Sox may wait through spring training to see if Craig can regain his stroke, he is only 29. The Sox will listen on Daniel Nava, but not look to unload him.  Also, the Red Sox would like to find a taker for Shane Victorino, but until he proves he is healthy this could be difficult.  Do not be shocked if Vic is moved this week, though.

With all of the chips Ben Cherington has and the pitching needs, unless Jon Lester clogs up the works, I expect the Sox to make at least two moves this week.