Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Sox Hot Stove Is Cookin'

Apologies for a long absence. Work is killing me, and I'm too damn prideful to post snippets. I should be able to post consistently in a couple weeks. For now, thought I'd share some thoughts on the offseason, an a couple quick Winter Ball updates.

Rolling the Dice

First, the offseason. The big splash has already been made with the Sox paying $51.1 Million just to speak to Daisuke Masuzaka and his miasmic agent Scott Boras. The media has made a big stink about the expenditure, especially in NY, and have tried to whip up an anti-Sox frenzy by calling this a crazy over-spend. It is not. It is a perfectly sensible, market-rate to below market-rate spend in the 2007 free agent world, even with the Sox overmatching the Mets' next-best bid by $10 Mil.

There are a lot of angles to this deal. The first is the Sox's need for an ace starting pitcher. In today's free agent market, that meant they had three choices: Matsuzaka, Zito, and Schmidt. Schmidt was probably not coming East, and Zito is nowhere near "ace" quality, certainly not against the AL East, and pitching in Fenway. But those two guys were expected to get something in the vicinity of 5/$90M contracts, and that was if you were able to actually sign them. Doing so would (will for the eventual team) take some time, because they will wait until the Padillas, Lillys, and Suppans of the world sign to set the market.

This brings us to the second angle. The Sox have numerous holes to fill, not just SP. Winning the bid on Matsuzaka means they 1) have a monopoly on he negotiations, so they don't have to worry about other teams' bids (or fabricated other teams' bids) and 2) are assured of knowing one way or the other in 30 days. This streamlines their offseason efforts and allows them to spend more energies filling the other holes - RF, SS, RP, b-C, possibly trading Manny, etc..

The next item to figure into the deal is the money. There's the Japanese market itself, where the Sox are looking to gain a foothold. This presence will serve two purposes - one, it makes prospecting easier and more productive, and two, it generates new revenue streams. Averaging all the back-of-the-envelope assessments I've read out there, the Sox should realize in the vicinity of $5-10 Mil annually in ancillary benefits. There's your posting fee, coming back pretty quickly.

The other part about the money is that the posting fee doesn't count against payroll, and so will not go towards incurring luxury taxation, as other signings will. People argue that it goes against Red Sox operations, but if you're JWH, there are countless ways to account for that money.

There is no way to apologize for the fact that the Sox are able to spend $51 Million to speak to Matsuzaka, and there is no reason to either. If they spent $90 Million to sign Zito, it would just be another big market signing, and they are a big marke tteam. If they spend $100 Mil to sign Dice, but $51M is just to talk to him, suddenly they're insane? He's just 26 years old, and by all accounts is one of the best pitchers in the world! He carries the same risk as any pitcher - injury, and league/division adjustment - but if you're talking about spending in that range, get the best guy out there, especially if only half the money goes against payroll, and the other half gets recouped by ancillary market revenue! Christ! Reports from MLB scouts state that he can throw 5 different pitches for strikes. Last year righties hit ~.208 off him, and lefties ~.205 - that is ridiculous. This signing is a smart move by a team that can afford to make big signings, and did.

JD and Julio

By all accounts, the Sox are major players for both of these guys. Sadly, the Cubs are too, although why any player would sign for a team that will destroy their careers is beyond me. If ever a team were truly cursed, the Cubbies are that team.

The shortstop dilemma is very real. With A-Gon having signed with the Reds, there is a lot more pressure to get Lugo signed. We probably don't want Craig Counsell patrolling short next year. In this market Lugo will get a ridiculous amount of money, and it will be an overpay, but the Sox don't have a clear SS replacement in the system. There is still hope for Lowrie, who came on strong in his last 100+ ABs, but whose defense has yet to be proven in the position. Negron is still in A-ball and has a long road to hoe. A team like Boston should not be trotting out a C-level shortstop, so I would expect they go the distance in the Lugo negotiations.

The JD Drew situation is a little different. There is no question he is the best all-around outfielder on the FA market, but after Soriano's clown-car contract (thanks a lot Cubs) he will be looking for something absurd like 5/$75M. If he were a guy without health issues you could probably make the argument that's not too untenable in the current MLB environment, but he's not. Still, Theo has wanted him for a while, he is an instant solution for the gaping 5-hole in the lineup, and defensively he takes care of RF and/or perhaps CF until Ellsbury lands in the event of a Crisp trade. The wrinkle in the Drew negotiations is that he makes Crisp or Super-Genius a 4th outfielder (and Murphy nothing, really) or trade bait unless the Manny trade happens.

I'm thinking if they sign Drew and Lugo they trade Manny. People are rightly pointing out that replacing Manny's production in the lineup, pound for pound, is impossible, and that's true. Drew is a good enough hitter to protect Papi, however, in my opinion (and folks will argue), and the fact is that all the "keep Manny" talk is predicated on the assumption that Manny was faking his injury(s) last year. If we were to take into account the fact that his knees might actually be going, Theo and Co. will never get back the value they can right now. This offseason is a perfect storm in terms of getting value back for Manny's bat, and I think they'll take advantage of that, if they can acquire two offensively productive positional players in Drew and Lugo.

AFL, HWL Notes

In the Arizona Fall League, which recently finished up, the Sox had a number of players suited up for the Peoria Javelinas. Ellsbury and Spann played the field and Dinardo, Hertzler, Jackson and Pauley were on the mound. Team stats are here, but for the most part everybody was average, with the exception of Kyle Jackson's luck - he was 6-0 with a 6.23 ERA, and last I heard was hitchhiking to Vegas. Dinardo impressed the most on the mound, with a 1.27 WHIP and 3:1 K:BB ratio. Neither Spann nor Ellsbury shone at the plate, but the raves about Ellsbury's defense continued. One study, which you can see here at SOSH, has Ellsbury at 65 plays above average for 150 games, which, while probably impossible, highlights the simply outstanding range and instincts. Even if he doesn't hit, there are a few scenarios which see him on the 40-man by end of 2007.

Meanwhile, out in Hawaii, Jeff Corsaletti and John Otness are playing for the West Oahu Cane Fires. Ryan Phillips went out there but pitched just once and hasn't been seen since, and no one knows why. Otness has really impressed, hitting .328 with an OPS of .845, and playing decent D. Corsaletti, on the other hand, is in a crushing slump, hitting .138 with an OPS of .500. He's not K-ing a ton, so either he's not making good contact or is incredibly unlucky. Impossible to know.

Cane Fires team stats are here. That league is still ongoing. I can't understand why there is no TV market for these leagues, because I for one would watch. There's an idea for any of you young entrepreneurs out there.