Staying true to their approach this offseason, the Red Sox signed Ryan Dempster for two years and $26.5 million, a carbon copy of the contract David Ortiz signed with the club more than a month ago.
Boston gave Dempster, Big Papi, David Ross, and Jonny Gomes two years, while going three for Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino. In the wake of stupefying megadeals to Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Daisuke Matsuzaka and others, Ben Cherington is learning from the mistakes of the past so as not to repeat them. He's clearly playing it safe, which probably isn't the best course of action for a team coming off a 93 loss season playing in the toughest division in baseball. His moves have made the Red Sox better, but not enough to challenge the Yankees, Rays, and suddenly dangerous Blue Jays. I'm glad Boston stayed away from Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke, and understand why they didn't want elite speedster Michael Bourn after the failed Crawford experiment. But I would have loved to see them get Nick Swisher, who just signed a four-year deal to play for Terry Francona's Cleveland Indians. I'm also sad to see Cody Ross go.
Dempster is a solid addition to a rotation that features Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Felix Doubront, John Lackey and possibly Franklin Morales. There are reasons not to like Dempster, starting with his age. He'll be 36 in the spring and has logged more than 2,000 innings on his right arm. Or how about the fact that he's just one year removed from putting up an abysmal 4.80 ERA and 1.45 WHIP? It's also concerning that after spending his entire career in the National League, he flopped in his AL debut by regressing to a 5.09 ERA and 1.44 WHIP that look suspiciously similar to the ugly numbers he put up the season before. He was up and down in his brief stint with Texas and will probably hit his share of bumps in the road with Boston, too.
Dempster, like a right-handed Mark Buehrle, is consistently good but rarely great. Since putting together a phenomenal 2008 that garnered Cy Young consideration, he's settled down as a solid mid-rotation starter. Over the past five years he owns a 3.74 ERA (114 ERA+), 1.30 WHIP and more than 2.5 strikeouts per walk while averaging nearly 200 innings per season. Moving to the AL East and Fenway Park, I'd expect him to be a league average pitcher over the next two years, with an ERA around four.
Every year it seems like the Red Sox trot out a new shortstop, and 2013 won't be any different. With Mike Aviles traded to Toronto for John Farrell and defensive whiz Jose Iglesias still not ready for major league pitching, Boston signed Stephen Drew to a one-year deal worth $9.25 million.
Like his older brother J.D. Drew, who spent the last five years of his career with Boston, the soon to be 30 year-old shortstop is an above average big leaguer who's dealt with injuries and falls short of the greatness scouts once expected of him. It's easy to forget now, but before a broken ankle ruined his last two seasons he was a pretty good shortstop in Arizona. He's probably not that same player who averaged an .800 OPS from 2008-2010, but he's still a great guy to bat in the bottom of the order because he gets on base at a decent clip, hits for some pop and can inflict more damage than your typical 8 or 9 guy these days. If he stays healthy, he has a good shot to bounce back and replicate Aviles' production from last year, albeit with a much higher OBP. He's a serviceable short term solution given the dearth of available shortstops, and if he gets hurt again the Sox have Iglesias or Xander Bogarts waiting in the wings.
The Red Sox are also reportedly close to a trade that would net Joel Hanrahan, closer for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Andrew Bailey's inability to stay healthy and the team's unwillingness to thrust hard-throwing Daniel Bard into the closer's role (the job he was born to do) opens the door for Hanrahan to close next season. Hanrahan's been exceptional in his past two seasons with the Bucs, ringing up 76 saves with a 2.24 ERA and a strikeout per inning while making the All-Star team each year. He's one of the more underrated relievers in baseball and would be a great addition to Boston's bullpen.