Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Sox Spend Big, Strike Out

As expected, the Boston Red Sox had a busy offseason in the wake of 2014’s last place finish. They revamped their lineup, renovated the starting rotation, and made a host of smaller moves to bolster their overall depth.
They also went on an enormous spending spree, committing nearly $250 million (not including option years) to three players: Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, and Yoan Moncada. Was that the best way to spend a quarter billion dollars—more than the entire payroll of every major league team save the Los Angeles Dodgers?
Probably not.
Let’s start with Sandoval, 28, who fetched a five-year, $95 million deal with a $17 million team option for the sixth year: too much for a lumbering third baseman who plays mediocre defense and hacks at almost every pitch thrown his way.
These weaknesses are only becoming more pronounced. Sandoval hasn’t even attempted a stolen base since 2012. His 48.1 percent chase rate—the proportion of pitches outside the strike zone he swung at last year—was easily the highest in baseball. Consequently, his career already appears to be in decline, as his on-base and slugging percentages have fallen every year since 2011. Three straight seasons of sagging production is a worrisome trend that can’t be ignored, especially since thicker players like Sandoval tend to deteriorate more rapidly. He’ll be best suited for first base or designated hitter within a few years, meaning he’s not a long-term solution at third base.
Those deficiencies could be excused if Sandoval were an elite power hitter, but he isn’t. His power is surprisingly pedestrian for a man his size, as he has failed to top 16 home runs in four of the last five seasons. The league-average Isolated Power, which gauges raw power by measuring the average number of extra bases a player gets per at-bat, is usually around .140, but Sandoval has been below that in each of the past two seasons. He doesn’t offer the game-changing clout Boston needs to supplement aging sluggers David Ortiz and Mike Napoli, who turn 40 and 34, respectively, this year.
The Red Sox desperately needed a third baseman, as Will Middlebrooks proved incompetent and Brock Holt’s unexpected breakout was likely a fluke, but they didn’t need to splurge on Sandoval to upgrade at the hot corner. Chase Headley, a comparable hitter and former Gold Glove winner, re-signed with the Yankees for little more than half of Sandoval’s take. Boston also could have moved shortstop Xander Bogaerts back to third, where he played almost one-third of his games last year.
At least Sandoval filled a hole. Ramirez, who signed on the same day as Sandoval for four years and $88 million with a $22 million vesting option for the fifth year, only adds to Boston’s already crowded outfield situation. The Red Sox should have been trying to trade away outfielders, not bring more in, especially ones that have never played the outfield at the professional level before (Ramirez was previously a shortstop and third baseman).
Even more troubling than Ramirez’s outfield inexperience is the assortment of injuries that have caused him to miss nearly 29 percent of his teams’ games over the past four seasons. Ramirez has played well when healthy, but he’s going to be 31 next year and figures to miss additional time going forward. Boston better be prepared for long stretches without Ramirez, even though a player earning $22 million per year shouldn’t require a backup plan.
While Sandoval and Ramirez were rewarded for their past performance, Moncada, a 19 year-old infield prospect from Cuba, got paid based on what Boston believes (or hopes) he will become. The Red Sox surrendered $63 million to acquire him on February 23–a huge investment in a teenager who’s never had a whiff of American baseball. It’s one thing to throw gobs of money at someone with a lengthy track record of success; it’s quite another to invest heavily in a player with no track record at all. This gamble looks even more questionable coming just two weeks after San Diego’s acquisition of James Shields—an established ace who could have been had for just $12 million more.
The problem is that none of these signings addressed Boston’s most glaring need: starting pitching. Boston spent all that money, and somehow is still without an ace. Instead they got a fat third baseman, a converted outfielder, and a wet behind the ears teenager. Apparently $250 million doesn’t buy what it used to.


  1. How can you bash these signings knowing how bad the offense was last year?

    As someone who wasn't banging the drum for Sandoval, he will be a significant upgrade over what they've had since 2012. Moving to the AL should help his overall OPS. He also thrives in the big moments as evidenced by his postseason numbers. As far as his free-swinging tendencies go, it can be lived with as far as third basemen go. That is part of the reason why he will NOT be moved to 1B or DH down the road (both require a high OBP). He's also a better fielder than you give him credit for.

    Who cares if the club has "too many" outfielders, the situation will figure itself out. Hanley is a legit cleanup hitter and he's finally playing the position he should have all along. Patrolling a short left field will be easier on his body as opposed to diving for grounders at SS or 3B. He'll be a solid LF and even if he does struggle defensively, he'll more than make up for it with his bat.

    And how can you call yourself a Sox fan and not like the Moncada deal? The Sox sacrificed cash and their 2nd and 3rd rounders but gained two middle of the order bats, a comp pick (from the Lester trade), kept their first rounder (protected), and signed a prospect who's actually better than anybody on this year's draft boards. The kid will be up in the next 14-18 months and will live up to the hype.

    Bottom line: these deals are not backbreakers. Neither guy will be past 35 when the deals expire and the Sox have plenty of money coming off the books after the season. There is also PLENTY of time to acquire an ace and it's not that alarming of a problem right now with offense being down. They have the prospects to make a deal, but they are right to hold out for the time being. Cole Hamels is NOT worth the same package the club would've been willing to part with for Giancarlo Stanton. And Amaro better come to terms with that soon as his job depends on it.

  2. I like your half-full outlook on these signings, as they do make the Sox better in the short-run. I thought it would be fun to take the glass half-empty approach, because all three players have major red flags/warning signs that could cause a skeptic to be lukewarm about these signings.