Ian Thomas Malone

baseball Archive



September 2015



The Red Sox Are In For An Interesting Offseason

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With the Red Sox currently battling the Rays for last place in the AL East, it’s only natural that many fans have turned their attention to the offseason. Dave Dombrowski has vowed to acquire a number one starter, which tends to suggest that it will be an exciting offseason for the Red Sox. A look at their payroll obligations tends to paint a different picture.

The Sox already have 125 million tied up in ten players for 2015. Those players are Hanley Ramirez, Rick Porcello, Pablo Sandoval, David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Wade Miley, Koji Uehara, Rusney Castillo, Ryan Hannigan, and … Allen Craig. Note this number does not include Clay Buchholz, whose 13 million dollar contract will likely be picked up. So essentially, we’re looking at eleven players making 138 million.

Now, we shouldn’t expect significant salaries for Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Blake Swihart, Brock Holt, Joe Kelly, or Eduardo Rodriguez, who aren’t likely to make more than ten million combined. Junichi Tazawa should make somewhere around five if he’s tendered a contract. With pretty much all the key positions covered, the question becomes, where does that leave us?

There are a couple names who come up as trade possibilities. We hear Sandoval commonly named as a candidate for a “bad contract swap,” but Hannigan is a guy who could be traded to save a bit of cash. 3.7 million is a bit steep for a backup catcher, but the team may want to have a veteran around for Swihart and/or Christian Vasquez. The team would presumably wish to get rid of Porcello, Craig, and Hanley, but that seems highly unrealistic. We’re looking at maybe 25-35 million in potentially available resources if they don’t want to go past the 180 million mark.

Free agent pitchers such as David Price, Johnny Cueto, Jordan Zimmerman, and likely Zach Grienke will all be seeking mega deals that would eat up most of those available resources. Some of that money should be spent on re-enforcing the bullpen and the cost of decent relievers has gone up quite a bit. A pitcher with a 20+ million AAV seems like a very poor investment, even if the deal is back loaded, which would ease the burden for 2016.

So what to do? The two most obvious options are to either increase payroll or acquire a player via trade. Trade would likely be the preferable route, but then the question becomes, who’s available?

The introduction of the second Wild Card has made it far more difficult to get talent via trade, especially in the offseason. Fewer teams are willing to enter the season prepared to lose. The Sox do have one of the best farm systems in the Majors. Top tier talent can be acquired, but it’s not going to come cheap. Tyson Ross and James Shields of the Padres and Indians’ starters Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco seem like achievable, albeit costly targets. Oakland could be enticed to trade some pitching as well.

A potential Shields/Sandoval swap has been mentioned a few times and is likely bound to be brought up again from time to time over the next few months. I’m sure some Sox fans wish that he’d come to Fenway and the lack of any substantial rumors regarding him last offseason is at least mildly puzzling given the contract he eventually settled for. I wouldn’t expect to see a trade for him.

For starters, it’d take more than Sandoval to make a trade even, which is problematic. Shields’ Fenway numbers are likely why the Sox avoided him last offseason and trading Panda along with one or two decent prospects and maybe some salary relief isn’t going to bring them a surefire ace. Shields is having a good year, but advanced metrics are less than kind and his deal is also pretty back loaded. Unless the Sox can get him for Sandoval/magic beans, it doesn’t seem to be a very good idea.

Cashing in on prospects might be Dombrowski’s best move. Prospects are after all, prospects. The Sox were wise to hold on to Betts and Swihart in their failed pursuit of Cole Hamels, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have plenty of highly ranked minor leaguers who likely won’t become every day major leaguers.

The Sox have $68 million in horribly spent money (Ramirez, Sandoval, Porcello, and Craig) headed into 2016. We could say that no team would go out and sign both Price and Grienke, but that’s pretty much the same amount that the Sox spent on three albatross and quite frankly silly contracts this offseason. Yes, hindsight is 20/20 A sane GM would’ve only signed one of Ramirez/Sandoval and wouldn’t have signed Porcello to that ridiculous extension. Craig is a whole different blunder and he’s just simply depressing. You could say hindsight is 20/20, but it really wasn’t in this case. The Craig trade, signing both Panda/Hanley, and the Porcello extension were all panned at the time. This was all avoidable.

Bottom line is that the Sox have lots of money tied up in lots of crappy players. Dombrowski will need to be smart with his resources to avoid adding more disastrous deals. Seeing as he’s the guy who signed the horrible Justin Verlander extension and the inevitably disastrous one for Miguel Cabrera, I’m not too confident.

I’d like to say I’d wish Henry would open the purse strings a bit more and let the Sox blow past the luxury tax, even if it’s only for a year, but the FA market looks pretty dicey. Price/Grienke will command ridiculously high salaries and Cueto has looked awful since arriving in Kansas City. Zimmerman could be a fit, but he’ll have plenty of teams vying for his services.

Then there’s the mid tier market, which has plenty of options. After the Red Sox tried to compile a rotation filled with #2-3 type starters, I’m not sure how much DD is going to want to spend on guys like Mike Leake or Brett Anderson, but one thing’s for sure. This offseason will be a hell of a lot different than last year’s.



November 2014



Breaking Down the Hanley Ramirez/Pablo Sandoval Signings and the Red Sox Roster Crunch

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Breaking Down the Hanley Ramirez/Pablo Sandoval Signings and the Red Sox Roster Crunch

The Red Sox shocked the baseball world yesterday by agreeing to terms with not one, but two, of the top free agents in Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. This is somewhat puzzling for two reasons. Many top baseball analysts projected both to hit nine figures. Ramirez could hit that mark with his vesting option, but the 4/88 he settled for seems a bit low, especially in November. The exact terms of Sandoval’s contract remain to be seen, but the 5/95 reported amount is also somewhat low for playoff proven panda. The fact that most had Ramirez pegged for a permanent move to third complicated the roster.

The Sox also have one of baseball’s most impressive logjams on their hands with their outfield with Rusney Castillo, Mookie Betts, Shane Victorino, Allen Craig, Yoenis Cespedes, Daniel Nava, and Jackie Bradley Jr. all under contract. It’s clear that one or two of them needed to go even before you factor in Ramirez and Sandoval. Some early reports have left field as a possibility for Ramirez, but first let’s look at all the pieces before we can determine who goes where.

To make things a little easier, we can take second base, designated hitter, and catcher out of the equation. Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, and Christian Vasquez will man those positions. Even if you’re not convinced with Vasquez as a major leaguer, none of the aforementioned players will take his place anyway. With starting pitching to address, it seems unlikely that Ben Cherington will look to add a costly option at catcher anyway, likely preferring a veteran backstop to mentor Vasquez and eventually Blake Swihart.

So there are six positions for about a million players, many of whom are legitimate starters. The fact that Cherington is essentially forced to trade a couple might hinder their value, but the overall bleak state of free agency should mean that there are plenty of suitors. But who to trade? And for what?

The first thing to consider is that this logjam is really only a problem for this season. The three most likely trade options are Cespedes, Victorino, and Mike Napoli as all three only have one more year on their contracts. Napoli’s grit and beard fit perfectly with the team and played a major role in the 2013 World Series but the case could also be made that he’s their most desirable commodity that the team could stand to lose. The team is said to be somewhat sour on Cespedes, which could hamper his return, and Victorino spent much of last season on the DL. The Sox would likely have to eat a couple million to send Victorino away before Spring Training unless a team is quite desperate (I’m not sure I’d rule that out).

Trading Napoli would allow Sandoval to man first. Despite his size, he’s actually a pretty good third baseman, but Hanley’s limitations at shortstop could prompt the team to put him at the hot corner instead. It seems somewhat unlikely that Ramirez will play short unless the team trades Xander Boegarts. Craig figures to be the backup first baseman, though I’d imagine the team would trade him for just about anything.

The problem is that the team’s biggest need is frontline starting pitching and three players with only a year left on their deals aren’t going to net that kind of return. Moving two to the same team isn’t terrible likely given the salaries involved. Teams don’t typically trade aces for anything besides top prospects and the Sox have something special in Betts and I think they know that. Cole Hamels is the most desirable trade target, but Ruben Amaro isn’t going to part with him unless he gets a mammoth return back.

The Reds have four starters who will hit free agency next year in Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Alfredo Simon, and Mike Leake. The Sox would love either Cueto or Latos and the Reds look to want to contend in 2015, suggesting that the two could be trade partners. The problem is that Latos was injured for much of last year and Cueto deserves a king’s ransom that the Sox don’t seem particularly likely to provide.

A reunion with Jon Lester would solve some of this mess. I’d say the Ramirez and Sandoval signings could prompt Lester to return to Beantown, but he won’t come cheap and has plenty of other suitors. James Shields poor playoff performance made a laughing stock of his “Big Game James” nickname, but could be a good fit if the price is right. With the below market signings the Sox just pulled off, I think there’s more value in him than might have been expected.

The outfield projects to at least have Castillo manning center and likely Betts somewhere as well. That leaves one spot for Victorino and Cespedes assuming Craig and Nava are destined for the bench and JBJ goes to AAA or another team. If both get traded, Ramirez could factor in at left, but I have a hard time seeing it happen.

The Sox are not going to bet on Victorino’s health to the point where he’ll be guaranteed a starting spot. Keeping him around on the bench is a possibility if there aren’t any appealing trade scenarios, but the Sox should try to move him for bullpen pieces or fringe prospects as long as they can move 80% or so of his salary. Nava put up a 3.3 WAR season and has more value than people might give him credit for considering he’s a platoon player. The Sox won’t trade a valuable cost effective piece for nothing.

My guess is that Victorino and Napoli are the ones to go unless Cespedes can bring back a starter. The Sox have prospects that teams will be interested in, increasing the chances for some sort of package revolving around one of these guys or Nava. I wouldn’t rule out a Boegarts trade, but the possible landing spots are vague. The same holds true for Craig, which makes the Lackey trade look even worse than it did when it was made, though Joe Kelly is an interesting pitcher to watch. It seems like a bit of a waste to play Sandoval at first and I wouldn’t rule out the idea that Ramirez might be tapped for short, but that seems unlike from a defensive standpoint.

This is all contingent on the trade market, which Boston figures to be quite active in. From an offensive standpoint, these moves solidify one of Boston’s weak points from last season. But the team needs to figure out its rotation or these moves will be for naught. Signing both players looks somewhat excessive considering the logjam, but the Sox got two fantastic bargains and the bleak free agent market for next year make prudence of particular importance.

I’ll have another article on the shifting culture of the Sox at some point. To keep up with my articles, please like me on Facebook or subscribe via e-mail (or both).



September 2014



Jeter’s Farewell Should End Season Long Retirement Tours

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With the 2014 regular season officially over, we bid farewell to Derek Jeter. The Captain supplied his fair share of memorable moments at the All Star Game, his final game at Yankee Stadium, and his final game at Fenway. The only thing missing is an October appearance, which of course won’t be happening.

The recent trend with retiring superstars is to announce one’s intentions in Spring Training, which leads to the “farewell tour,” a concept previously reserved for musicians like Cher and Kiss who typically don’t retire. It’s not surprising to see a desire throughout MLB to milk the teats of these cash cows one last time, but I fear the udders are being prodded a tad prematurely. The milk is supposed to be fresh in October but after a six-month goodbye tour, the milk seems a bit sour.

A season long affair leads to long over exaggerated pregame celebrations, where the opposing team showers the retiree with gifts before playing a game where the objective is to beat the team of the recipient of such presents. This is nice in theory and shows good sportsmanship. Teams like the Yankees and the Braves have nationwide fan bases all over the country, which gives fans who don’t live in the team’s city a chance to say goodbye.

But it’s still kind of weird. On his final visit to Fenway Park, the Boston Red Sox “honored” Rivera with a tongue-in-cheek replay of Dave Roberts’ stolen base in game four of the 2004 ALCS, one of the greatest moments in Red Sox history. While that was followed up with a standing ovation for the fierce competitor, what are the other teams really supposed to do? Are the Kansas City Royals supposed to pay homage to all the times Jeter beat the team? Awkward.

While athletes announcing their retirements a full season ahead of time is odd, it’s hardly a new occurrence or one exclusive to baseball. There’s plenty of money to be made off of these tours and it’s somewhat concerning to see economics factor in to a decision. Jones and Rivera had excellent swan songs that showed they still had some gas in the tank. While I can respect the decision that both players made to go out on their own terms, it’s somewhat saddening to see that another season didn’t appear to ever be on the table. Maybe that’s for the best.

The biggest problem is that it makes people forget that an actual baseball season is going on. The All Star game was more about Jeter than it was about the actual stars on baseball in the year 2014. The Nike and Gatorade commercials are nice and all, but let’s not forget that there’s a current generation of stars who should be honored for what they did this year and not what happened in the late 90s.

September saw a host of anti-Jeter articles questioning the Captain’s declining numbers and the effect its had on the Yankees as a perennial contender. It’s unfair to put the blame on Jeter for the Yankees woes in 2014, but as much as I’d like to call the criticism inappropriate, it’s hard to. When you hear nothing but praise for a 40 year old shortstop who can’t man his position anymore, you need a little dose of reality to remember that the only sport Jeter is going to play in October is golf.

It appears as though we’ll get a reprieve from retirement tours next season as no notable stars appear ready to hang up the cleats. Big Papi’s probably the next one, though he’s gone on record as saying he wouldn’t announce it early in the season anyway. Chase Utley is another who could bow out in the not so distant future who could have a retirement tour of his own. MLB would certainly like that.

The best professional sports retirement announcement in recent memory belongs to Ray Lewis, who announced his retirement four days before the start of the playoffs. Now, history will look fondly on that as the Ravens went all the way but that’s not what’s important. Lewis at 37 and having suffered a torn triceps in the middle of the year, was not the same player he was once was. He wasn’t Ray Lewis anymore, but what he had to give was enough to get the job done.

What was missing was a “me, me, me” narrative that naturally follows a season long retirement tour. The Yankees were officially eliminated with only a few games left to play. All in all, this was a fairly good run for a team that was a fringe contender in the first place. But did that matter? No. Why? Because Jeter got the spotlight. Their playoff aspirations took a backseat to the Jeter festivities. Something isn’t right with that.
It means something that a man like Jeter commands the respect he’s earned by playing the game the right way. But is going out via a season long-fest when your numbers are abysmal and your team misses the playoffs really the right way? Jeter will be thanked and loved by the Yankees fans for the rest of his life. For now, I care about actual baseball. Jeter has left the building. Time to move on.