Sunday, November 29, 2015

Winter Meetings 2015 - One Week Away

The annual baseball winter meetings officially begin, this year in Nashville, on Monday December 7th.  But many of the wheelers and dealers will be in Music City by next Sunday, one week from today.  Let's take a look at some of the rumors involving Boston, and some situations that Dave Dombrowski may still need to address before the 2016 season.

1. Acquiring an ace.  Dave Dombrowski, following the general manager meetings earlier in November and after swinging the Craig Kimbrel for kids trade, was very matter of fact about the likelihood the Sox would find their needed ace on the free agent market.  And as the winter meetings approach there is only one name attached to Boston in any hot rumor.  The rumor reported by various Boston and national reporters is David Price to Boston.  There has been no confirmation from the Sox.  Despite Dombrowski's openness in the likely method of obtaining the front man for his rotation, he keeps the names being pursued very close to his vest.

There are many observers who feel Price does not really want to pitch in Boston (I am one of them).  But the current rumor is reported in a couple of different ways, that in the end might mean the same result: Price to Boston.  Several reporters are saying execs around the game are telling them there is little doubt Boston will make the highest offer to Price.  He may or may not decide to accept the highest offer, depending on the other contenders.  Peter Gammons, for one, is reporting he has heard the Red Sox are willing to go $30-40 million above any other offer. The substantial overage would be an apparent enticement for Price to set aside any lingering doubts about Boston.

There ia a lot of speculation that David Price will sign first of the bigger names free agents, so the others( Zach Greinke, Johhny Cueto, and Jordan Zimmerman) can slot in behind Price.  The next layer of starters, of whom there are many: Jeff Samardjiza, Scott Kazmir, Mike Leake, and several others, would fall in behind the front four.  I do not see Price signing for less than the seven year, $210M, Max Scherzer received last winter.

So stay tuned to see if Price is the guy, and if he should bypass Boston's offer, who is next on the wish list (this Sunday, Nov. 29th, there are reports Jordan Zimmerman is in serious talks with Detroit, perhaps subtracting a name from Boston's list of second choices).

2. Bullpen depth.  Adding Craig Kimbrel to the end of the bullpen, deepens the end of the game staff with Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara in front of Kimbrel.  But you can be sure the Sox are on the look out for another power arm or two for the pen, hopefully one of those arms would be attached to the left side of the pitchers body.  I do not believe any new relief pitcher acquired will have anywhere near the star power of Kimbrel, but I do expect more additions to the staff.

3. Outfielder.  There are two schools of thought on any Sox activity here.  The most likely avenue is to acquire a fourth outfielder ( or fifth depending on how Brock Holt is utilized).  The Sox met with veteran Chris Young during the GM meetings.  Young illustrates the issues with signing a veteran as a fourth outfielder, this time of year most guys, Young included, are looking for a full time gig.   Other names mentioned in the rumor mill are Rajai Davis, Ryan Raburn, David Murphy, etc.

The other outfield type of rumor that will not quite die down is the Sox will trade either Jackie Bradley, Jr. or Rusney Castillo for pitching and then pursue a veteran outfielder in the free agent market or perhaps in a trade.  Two of the biggest free agent outfield names that on more than one occasion have been attached to Boston are Alex Gordon and Jason Heyward ( with one or two speculative pieces suggesting Justin Upton could help replace the power loss from David Ortiz' impending retirement in a year).  I do not find this type of rumor completely outlandish, but if the Sox sign Price for upwards of 200 mil, I think Heyward for sure is off the table.

4. Hanley Ramirez.  Can the Red Sox find a taker for Hanley if they pay half or so of the remaining $66M?  Do they even want to trade Hanley?  Look there is not a question, the best case scenario for Ramirez is being able to handle first base well enough for a year and his bat plays like last April.  Then in 2017 Hanley inherits Big Papi's DH role.

Personally I think Boston tries hard to trade him to a team really needing offense ( Baltimore if they lose Chris Davis, Seattle, Tampa Bay, or the Angles come to mind).  The other way to move Hanley besides paying half his contract for little to no return, would be to trade him for another similar contract someone is having trouble to move.  James Shields or the Padres and the Tigers' Justin Verlander are two names of that ilk being floated in the media.  I do not see where Detroit plays Hanley and I am not sure any NL team takes a chance on him in the field.  I think it is 60-40 Hanley stays in Boston.

5. Trading a current starting pitcher. If the Sox snag David Price, or some other numero uno for the rotation, the front three are likely to be mystery guest, Rick Porcello, and Eduardo Rodriguez.  The next two spots would be up for grabs between Clay Buchholz, Joe Kelly, Wade Miley, and Henry Owens. If Boston decides to trade for an outfielder or another starting pitcher, any of these four names could be dealt.  For example, Atlanta has been collecting young pitching, could the Sox begin a package for Shelby Miller or Julio Teheran with Henry Owens?  Or if the Sox are trying to obtain a younger starting pitcher from a team that is not in a rebuild mode, could the Sox send Buchholz, Kelly, or Miley back in a return package?

David Price is really the only name strongly connected to Boston at this moment but expect that to change as the meetings approach over the next week, and especially when the meetings commence.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Kimbrel (& a Free Agent Ace to be Named Later?)

This week during the General Managers Meetings (will the name of this gathering need to be changed to the President of Baseball Operations Meetings in the near future?)  new Red Sox lead man, Dave Dombrowski, told the assembled Boston media, he had never seen such an amount of extensive trade talk at this gathering.  The GM meetings are usually only a precursor to the December Winter Meetings. But one day after the GM meetings ended, Dombrowki executed his first major trade for Boston.

Dombrowski addressed the poor Red Sox bullpen in a big way.  The Sox acquired all star closer Craig Kimbrel from the Padres.  The trade apparently completed about 8:30 Friday morning, was officially announced Friday night.  Kimbrel is the sole player heading east, and the Sox send four minor league prospects to San Diego: outfielder Manuel Margot, shortstop Javier Guerra, left handed pitcher Logan Allen, and infielder Carlos Asuaje.

Here are a ten thoughts on the trade itself, and some comments made by Dombrowski in his conference call with the media at 9:00 Friday night.

1. The Red Sox bullpen is the biggest reason this team finished last again in '15.  To be sure there are other factors (such as the inconsistent rotation), but the pen had to be fixed and Dave Dombrowski has brought in the best closer in the game over the last five seasons.

Kimbrel had been a closer 2011-2015, all but last season in Atlanta.  His career ERA is 1.63, with lows of 1.01 and 1.21 in 2012-13.  Kimbrel is a strikeout pitcher who throws over 97 mph.  During his career (including 21 games as a non-closer rookie in 2010, in which his ERA was 0.44) he has 563 K's in 348 innings pitched: 1.61 per inning.  His yearly save totals are:

2011   46
2012   42
2013   50
2014   47
2015   39

In each season with Atlanta, Kimbrel lead the NL in saves.

In the last five seasons, Kimbrel has more saves than anyone, and it is not close.

1. Kimbrel     224
2. Street         166
3. Paplebon   161
4. Rodney     152
5. Chapman   146

2. Current Sox closer, Koji Uehara, has all ready checked in saying he is fine moving to any role the Red Sox want for him, and that role is likely the 8th inning in front of Kimbrel.  So at this moment the Sox pen for innings seven through nine looks like Junichi Tazawa, Koji, and Kimbrel.  All ready a monumental step forward.  Last night, Dombrowski said any other bullpen additions would be for "depth".  I do not think this precludes finding another hard thrower or two, they just are likely not going to be big names.

3.  Did this deal illustrate an under the radar trading MO for Dombrowski?  All week long the rumors intensified the Sox were targeting Reds closer lefty flame thrower, Aroldis Chapman.  Then suddenly the deal for a closer is made and it is Kimbrel not Chapman.  Now Kimbrel's name has certainly been floating out there as well as a potentially available closer, but during the GM meetings his name had not surfaced.

Speaking of Aroldis Chapman, which closer would have been the better deal?  They are about the same age, but the major difference is Chapman is a free agent after 2016.  Kimbrel is under team control through 2018.  It would seem the package to get Chapman would have been less because of this, but if the Reds were asking for any package close to what the Pads got, I am not surprised the Sox went with Kimbrel.

4.  As the Sox have in the past talked about with starting pitching although they will be paying Kimbrel big bucks (11M next year, 13M in '17 with a team option of 13M in '18), they will be paying for his age 30 and under years.  Kimbrel does not turn 28 until next May.  He will be only 30 in the last year of his current deal.

5. Moving onto what in the most controversial part of the trade, in some quarters, the fact the Red Sox gave four top 30 prospects for only "a relief pitcher".  There is a school of thought that a team should never pay big dollars to a closer or give up much in talent to acquire one because you can find closers anywhere.  The Sox are certainly doing both of these for Kimbrel.  To me, because the Boston bullpen has been so bad, and Criag Kimbrel has been so good, this deal had to be made.

I can tell you that a number of Red Sox sites are hammering this trade as a bad deal.  One of the main reasons is the one given above, not overpaying in $$ and talent for a closer.  The Sox Prospects site in particular (as you might surmise from their name and focus) is shredding this deal and giving up on Dave Dombrowski going forward.  Reading through all of the posts relating to the trade on Sox Prospects I could not help but think this is the segment of Red Sox nation that gets labelled as overrating the Sox kids. And their overreaction to this deal just feeds that stereotype.

As the person who mans the prospect rankings on our site, I will say my first thought as I one by one I heard the names going to San Diego, was this sounds like a least the start of a package I thought the Red Sox could acquire a starting pitcher for.  Margot and Guerra in the same deal seems like to some degree an overpayment. But there are at least two very important pieces of information, we as fans do not have:  What starting pitchers are available (more on that later) and what was the competition for Kimbrel (or Chapman, et al).  I had no doubt at all that both Margot and Guerra were going to be traded this off season for pitching.  So it may be that Craig Kimbrel, factoring in his age and resume, was the best pitcher available that fit Boston's needs.

6. We still need the "horse" at the front of the rotation.  One of the most surprising things about Dave Dombrowski in his Boston tenure, to me, has been his openness with the Boston media (and therefore with the fans).  And DD struck again last night in his conference call.  When asked if this moving of kids for Kimbrel meant acquiring his ace was now much more likely to be through free agency, he readily admitted this was so.  As a matter of fact, he said his original thought was trade for closer and sign an ace.  The Sox were open to all other avenues, but Dombrowski said they have come back to that equation as being the most likely.  The free agent market itself may have forced the issue.  Last night some of the posters bashing the deal suggested the Sox sign a free agent reliever instead of trading kids.  The three best relievers in this year's class are likely Darren O'Day, Tyler Clippard, and Tony Sipp.  Boston may actually pursue one of these names, but none of them will help the pen like Kimbrel.  On the other side of the coin (and I do mean coin) the 2015 free agent class is loaded with ace and other front of rotation pitchers.  A year from now, the free agent starters are headed by Stephen Strasburg and Brett Anderson. This is the year to sign a big name starter if you want or need one.

7. Other than the deep pool of free agent starters, why not trade for a younger ace?  I think there are three reasons.  First, last night Dombrowski said he expects Kimbrel to likely be the major trade acquisition of the winter. If that is true, despite dealing the four top 30 prospects last night, you still have a farm system headed by Yoan Moncada, Rafael Devers, Andrew Benintendi, Anderson Espinoza, Michael Kopech, Henry Owens, Brian Johnson, Sam Travis, and others which still give them nearly the top farm system in the game.  The inability to trade Blake Swihart this winter (if the Sox even want to consider it) hamstrings the Sox to swing a big deal for an ace.  One major name that has been floating around which would require Swihart and a good deal more to make the deal is White Sox ace Chris Sale.  But with Christian Vazquez recovering from Tommy John surgery, and having his Puerto Rican Winter League season cut short due to his team folding(and Vazquez asking for his release from the team he was assigned to due to lack of at bats) you must hold onto Swihart at least through spring training.

The final reason the Red Sox may not trade for a younger ace is the most important: there may well not be one on the market.  Or put it this way if the Red Sox won't discuss Xander Bogaerts or Mookie Betts in the deal, a deal cannot be made.  And a deal including either of these 23 year old stars SHOULD NOT be made.

These names have floated in the hot stove rumor mill as among Boston targets: Sonny Gray, Matt Harvey, Chris Sale, Carlos Carassco, Danny Salazar, Hector Santiago, Stephen Strasburg, and maybe even Chris Archer.  Among the free flow of quotes from Dave Dombrowski last week, the one that was the most important may have been overshadowed by his we are likely going to do "something painful" quote.  He said at the GM meetings they had gathered tons of information from other teams including"who is not available".  The A's new GM ( under Billy Beane), David Forst said they would not trade Sonny Gray.  Dombrowski was asked to compare this statement to last winter when Oakland dealt Josh Donaldson after saying he was unavailable.  Dombrowski replied the Donaldson deal is an "outlier" and in all his years when a team says someone is not available they mean it.  So I take these two comments on unavailability to mean Boston has exhausted these avenues and will jump into the free agent pool.

8. Which free agent?  Boston has the 12th pick in the upcoming draft, and their preference would be to keep it, and begin to replace the names traded on Friday.  If that premise holds, then there are only two targets: David Price and Johnny Cueto. Both were traded during the 2015 season, which means the teams losing them cannot obtain a draft pick for them.

Price is the star of the show, and he will command at least what Max Scherzer got last winter: 7 years, $210M.  Boston can pay it ,and based on Dombrowski comments last night, they may well do so.  But I have doubts that David Price wants to play in Boston.  But money talks and there is no doubt Price can thrive in the AL East.

Cueto is the name most pundits are tying to Boston when making their predictions on landing spots for this year's free agents.  Cueto would come with two risks: the whispers about elbow issues, although he had a completely clean MRI in May and can he pitch effectively in the American League.  Cueto was up and down after joining Kansas City, but finished with a flourish with his complete game two-hitter in the World Series.  The upside to these risks is it lowers his cost greatly.  It would still be a huge price tag, but Cueto could probably be had for $100-115M.  Last winter, Cueto was the guy I hoped Boston pursued, and risks aside he is still the ace I think the Sox end up with.

Zach Greinke, is the only other free agent that matches David Price in talent.  I find it hard to believe he leaves LA.  But keep this in mind: the KC GM who originally drafted and signed Greinke is Allard Baird , who works in the Sox front office.  And a former Royals pitching teammate of Greinke's was Brian Bannister, who joined the Sox front office  a year ago, and this winter was named pitching coordinator for the Sox.  Greinke was cost the 12th pick and would certainly be worth it.

There a number of other pitching names on the free agent list, but to me the only other candidate to front the Sox rotation would be Jordan Zimmerman of the Nationals.  He is certainly a notch below the three names above, and there would be a debate over Zimmerman being worth the forfeiture of the 12th pick.

9.  There is one other possibility about Dombrowski announced intention of jumping into the free agent pool for pitching.  It could be a smokescreen in an attempt to drive down the cost of a starting pitcher Dave hopes to trade for.

10. One last connected thought: how committed is Dombrowski to the outfield of Betts, Bradley, and Castillo?  If Dombrowski was completely forthright on Friday about Kimbrel being the major trade acquisition of the winter then you would expect the three young outfielders to be the 2016 outfield.  because if one of them goes( and Bradley's name seemingly was everywhere last week), Boston needs to trade for another outfielder (or sign one).  And if they trade either Bradley or Castillo you would expect another quite substantial piece coming back.

Stay tuned and see when Dave Dombrowski strikes again.