Red Sox’ lack of offseason moves proving costly

Starting the 2012 season 11-16 there is plenty of blame to go around. You can start with the team itself, or some people have called out new manager Bobby Valentine, but the real issue, and where the real blame should be is the front office. The failure to make offseason acquisitions to boost the teams depth is really starting to prove costly with the injuries and rough starts that the team has had to deal with in the first month.

Lets start with the infield. The Red Sox traded shortstop Marco Scutaro to the Rockies for relief pitcher Clayton Mortenson. That deal would have been fine, since the Red Sox don’t need to pay the $6 million owed to Scutaro this year, but the team didn’t do anything with that $6 million, nor did they fill the void at the position with someone proven to be a major league everyday player.

The Red Sox decided to make Mike Aviles, who the team brought on at the trading deadline last year, their full time shortstop going into the season. Don’t get me wrong, Aviles is a decent big league utility infielder, who can even play in the outfield if needed, but the lifetime .286 hitter, and the guy that hit .222 with Kansas City before coming to the Red Sox last year just isn’t full time shortstop material, or at least hasn’t proven it yet.

The team signed veteran utility infielder Nick Punto to be their utility infielder. Again, Punto is just a utility infielder, and nothing more. The team doesn’t think he is anything more, but when you have a third baseman in Kevin Youkilis who has seen his number of games played drastically go down the past few years due to injuries, you know you’re going to need someone to play a decent amount of time at the position.

To me, that is why the Red Sox needed to go out and sign or trade for a proven big league shortstop in the offseason. Then they should have used Aviles as their utility infielder because you know because of Youkilis’ health, Aviles would play more than the average utility player. As of today Aviles is batting .265, which is not bad at all, but will that continue the rest of the season? And by not signing a proven shortstop, and making Aviles an everyday player, not the utility infielder, has left the Red Sox to have Punto as their utility infielder, playing in nearly half the games, and hitting only .148.

Now the outfield. There is no way that the team could have predicted that Jacoby Ellsbury would separate his shoulder just over a week into the season, or that Carl Crawford’s shoulder/elbow injuries would take much longer to heal than first expected and he wouldn’t be back until sometime around the All-Star break. The team also lost J.D. Drew in right field, so they needed to fill that void.

Giving the team the benefit of the doubt, there really isn’t much to be said about the outfield. Like was said earlier, there was no way to ever predict Ellsbury’s injury, and almost no way to prepare yourself for losing one of the finalists for the AL MVP last year. The team signed Cody Ross to originally fill the void for Drew, but with the injury to Crawford has forced him to shift to left field for the time being. Ross has had an OK start to the season hitting .250 with five home runs and 20 RBI’s.

For utility outfielders, the team kept Darnell McDonald, who proved in the second half of last years he could be a solid utility guy, and then the team traded with the Athletics for closer Andrew Bailey, which also included outfielder Ryan Sweeney, who was supposed to be a fourth outfielder. Due to the injuries the Red Sox have suffered, he has been forced into a starting role, which he has embraced. Sweeney has arguably been one of the teams’ best hitters to start the year hitting .368 with a blistering .938 OBS. All things considered the lack of offseason moves does not apply to the outfield.

Now, the bigger issue, pitching. Going into the season the Red Sox had some uncertainty with their starting rotation. They had Jon Lester and Josh Beckett penciled in at the top, Clay Buchholz as the number three guy, but he never really came back and proved himself after returning from his back injury at the very end of last season. The fourth and fifth starters were up in the air, but they had the idea of moving Daniel Bard to the rotation, and then have the fifth starter be up for grabs, which turned out to be Felix Doubront (technically Doubront is the fourth, and Bard fifth since the team didn’t want back-to-back left-handers in Doubront and Lester).

There is no denying the fact that the starting rotation has been terrible. No starting pitcher has an ERA under 4.00, and Buchholz has a startling 9.09 ERA, despite his 3-1 record. Beckett was scratched from his most recent start with tightness in his lat. Lester has suffered some tough-luck losses early in the year, but he too hasn’t been at his best. Finally, Bard and Doubront are still adjusting to their starting roles.

In the past years the Red Sox have been known to have “too much” starting pitching, where they have gone into the season with six or even seven starting pitchers. This year they struggled to even put together a staff of five. Although the starting pitchers have struggled, and do deserve to be blamed, the front office deserves the bulk of the criticism for not having the same depth in the rotation as in years past, especially with the uncertainty of Buchholz’s health and how Bard and Doubront would work out.

Why didn’t the team go out and sign for some of proven starting pitchers who were on the market this past off-season? Why did they go the route of signing veteran guys at the ends of their careers, hoping that one or two would work out? With how bad the starting rotation has been, not only are the pitchers themselves at fault, but the front office has some blame as well for not being prepared in case these pitchers have struggled like they have. This should have at least been considered entering the year with Buchholz not proving himself since his back injury, as well as beginning the year with a starter who had never started a big league game in his career, and another who had started just three.

Finally, the bullpen. The team let their closer of the past six seasons, and one of the best in the game, walk away to sign with the Phillies. They made their set-up guy a starter; all of this coming off of a season where their bullpen played a major role in the September collapse. You would think the team would make this a major priority in the offseason as they wouldn’t have their two most important guys in Bard and Papelbon, but they didn’t. The team traded for Bailey, Mortensen, and also for Mark Melanson, but look what that has gotten them. Bailey injured his thumb during spring training and is not expected back until after the All-Star break and Melanson has already been sent down to Pawtucket.

The Red Sox don’t put money into their bullpen. As of right now, including Bailey and the five most used pitchers in the bullpen, the bullpen salary is $8.06 million. Now, take a look at the Yankees, NOT including Mariano Rivera, their five most used pitchers in their bullpen make a combined $16+ million. That is double the Red Sox. Why aren’t the Red Sox putting money into the bullpen?

With losing their two best relievers, all the team really did was go out and sign Bailey and Melanson. Does that make any sense? Sure, the Red Sox bullpen has been beyond terrible this year, but look at the guys that are out there. The front office just doesn’t want to put money into their bullpen for whatever reason. It has been the same the past few seasons because besides Papelbon, who did the team really pay?

The Red Sox have endured a number of injuries to begin the year, which are really out of the control of anyone within the organization, but what the front office failed to do this offseason was have a plan in case injuries, and guys not working out were to happen. It wasn’t like there weren’t any warning signs either, a few players either have been injury prone in the past or still had yet to prove themselves following injuries suffered last season.  So, with all the Red Sox’ problems to start the season, who deserves the real blame? Starting with the front office would be a good step one.

Follow me on Twitter @hannable84. Any comments and/or questions email me at [email protected]

  • bsmfan

    Off topic but interesting numbers from sports talk radio around the country:

    Boston still remains one of the larger and most competitive markets in the country.

    http://outkickthecoverage.com/top-rated-sports-talk-stations-in-the-nation-march-2012.php

  • bsmfan

    Really good post here that describes the problems of the team without anything sensational or over-the-top. A+

  • Rick Mc

    There was no lack of moves. You just don’t like the moves they made.

    Who was the SS they should have signed/traded for?  Who would they trade/where would they have gotten the money? Besides, they could have just kept Scutaro.

    The bullpen is getting better over the last few weeks and losing the best reliever is tough to get over.  Teams shouldn’t spend for relievers because by their very nature they are not good and also are inconsistent.  Plus, they didn’t sign Melancon or Bailey.

    The Sox had at least 7 pitchers they could have put in the rotation at the end of spring training. They really had only one open spot after deciding Bard was going to be a starter, regardless of what else happened.

    Ross and Sweeney were meant to be a RF platoon after filling in for Crawford for a month or so, but that has been extended because of Crawford’s elbow issues. 

     

  • APimpNamedDaveR

    I appreciate the effort here, Ryan, but this isn’t well argued and reeks of fantasy baseball analysis.  

    First, can we put the Scutaro/Aviles thing to rest?  Aviles is hitting .265 with 5 home runs.  He’s not the freaking problem.  Scutaro is OPS+ing 65 with Colorado, in a hitter’s ballpark.  He’s not the answer.  Aviles has picked up where he left off for the Sox last September — when, as you may recall, he was basically the only guy actually hitting that entire month.  And where are these better shortstops that the Red Sox could have acquired?  They have not one, but two projected MLB-level quality shortstops in the system in Iglesias and Xander Bogaerts, who’s been compared to Nomar (.260/16/45 in 72 games at Salem last year in his second year of pro ball).  Are you suggesting that the Sox package these two plus a couple of high-level pitching prospects for Stephen Drew and his broken bones?  Or clog up the position for six years by giving Jose Reyes $15M/6-8 at a market-level deal?  What, specifically, are the deals you’re saying they should have done?

    And what about the pitching?  Like it or not, you have two eight-figure-level starting pitchers, one who would command eight figures if he hit the open market, one self-developed top-tier prospect who’s already thrown a no-hitter in the majors and who finished sixth in the Cy Young balloting only two years ago, and four guys — two of whom are high-ceiling, reasonable-cost self-developed options — competing for your fourth and fifth starter spots.  Every other team in the league besides the Phillies would kill to have that.  Hell, the Yankees would kill for that.  But apparently you’re suggesting that the team should have added a few more $5M-$10M pitchers for “depth”.  Which you can do in fantasy baseball, where there’s no human being on the other end of the transaction, and the money is fake.  But guess what?  C.J. Wilson isn’t going to take your money to sit on the bench as “depth”.  And who else was available that fits your criteria?  The kind of guy you’re going to get in free agency these days is the veteran looking to prove himself again.  And the Sox DID sign those guys — Cook and Silva.  Both of those guys are proven starting pitchers who provide depths.  But they’re also complete crapshoots, as the Yankees are finding out with their Colon/Garcia decision — which was totally justified in every way, but which has reversed on them radically.  So the Sox did exactly what you’re saying they should have done…. you’re just not happy with the results.

    Finally, the bullpen.  I would have given you the benefit of the doubt on all this, because it’s at least a reasoned analysis (even if the reasoning isn’t sound)…. until the obtuse comparison of the salaries of the Yankee bullpen and the Red Sox bullpen, and the removal of Mariano Rivera from the equation.  (To which I say, other than the losses, the Red Sox are undefeated, so why are you complaining?)  The Yankees are spending twice as much as the Red Sox because three quarters of that  is going to Rafael Soriano, who was signed to the most ridiculous middle relief contract in history, and is getting closer money ($12M this season) to be a setup man.  Oh, and by the way — for their $11M in 2011, the Yankees got more or less the same production as the Sox got from Franklin Morales ($425k or so) or Scott Atchison ($440k).   Are you suggesting that the Sox should have given Papelbon his contract, and then ALSO gone out and given, say, Heath Bell another 4/40 to set up “just in case” Bard doesn’t work out?  (I’m assuming, of course, that we’ve already spend another $40M on “depth” pitchers such that Bard isn’t starting.)

    Finally, which prospects are you going to give away to sign these depth free agents?  Because the Red Sox already have a 40-man-roster crunch.  And if you go out and sign all the Roy Oswalts in the universe in the offseason, you’re going to need to make 40-man-roster moves.  So who goes?  Tazawa? Stolmey Pimental?  Lavarnway?  Middlebrooks?  

    There are several things that the front office should have done (or at least tried to do) in the offseason, #1 being trading Beckett.  But this piece smacks of both 20/20 hindsight (yes, if the team expected that Ross and Sweeney were going to have to play 145 games each because 2/3rds of the outfield was going to be on the DL for half the season,  they probably would have done something) and backseat driving (despite the fact that substantial amounts of money were dedicated to all facets of the offense and pitching, money, the luxury tax, and roster limits should have been no object and the Sox should have brought 80 MLB-caliber players into camp).

    • tl;138

       tl;dr

    • HighWireNickEsasky

      Totally agree with all of Pimp’s analysis.  Aviles is being portrayed as a UT guy, but as a rookie in 2008 he posted a .833 OPS as an everyday player with the Royals.  He battled some injuries and had an ok season in 2010.  He was better in his rookie year (and, yes, he was an old rookie) than Scutaro was in  his career year in 2009 with Toronto.  Until he got to Toronto in 2008 (his 7th season) Scutaro was the prototypical utility guy, getting 300-something ABs and playing a bunch of positions.  

      Scutaro’s not a bad player, but trading him in the off-season is the least of the Sox issues.  What that trade did was to provide a lazy example of the sox being cheap for cutting $6M in payroll.  That  is just completely false.  The sox problem is not a lack of spending (in  payroll or in facilities/scouting/development/signing draft picks).  The problem has been signing the wrong players to bad contracts (Lackey, Crawford, DiceK, Jenks, Becket somewhat).

  • bwya

    Cannot discard Kalish’s injury as he would have been given the chance to win RF job in Camp, if healthy

  • DP

    To further the point made by APimpNamedDaveR, Aviles is 9th in all of MLB in OPS for shortstops, 13th in Fielding Pct (only three errors), and 7th in range factor.  Putting him there to play every day thus far has absolutely been the right move.  Also, they used the money saved on Scutaro to sign Cody Ros (and I think Padilla).  Given the injuries to Ellsbury and Crawford, thank god they did.

    Also, for the past 13 games (roughly half the season), the bullpen has been absolutley lights out.  ERA of 1.01, and a WHIP 0.894 over 53+ innings (this does not include stats from Darnell McDonald). 

    The issue is underperformance from the starting pitching…not Bard and Doubront, but from the guys that were supposed to be the anchors in Lester/Beckett/Buchholz.

  • whitey b

    “… but the team didn’t do anything with that $6 million, nor did they fill
    the void at the position with someone proven to be a major league
    everyday player.”

    Didn’t do anything *yet* would be the more correct way to say that.

    Btw, here’s Scutaro’s line to date: .257/.310/.324 with 0 HRs.
    Here’s Aviles: .265/.303/.469 with 5 HRs. And his defense has been fine.

    It’s fine to say Aviles shouldn’t be the starting shortstop, but it’s not like that trade has hurt them so far.

  • OWL

    THE RED SOX OWNERSHIP  ARE IN RETURN ON INVESTMENT MODE NOT INVEST IN RETURN  MODE THIS SEASON …

  • http://twitter.com/Broken_Duck Broken Duck

    Without names of guys they just should have signed, this is no more than the drivel we get on talk radio

  • Lynn

    I’m sorry, but most people that commented sounded like whiny Sox fans. The team is indeed paying for their lack of moves this offseason. Although I liked the Cody Ross deal, he’s great in the clubhouse and with the media. Plus he’s prone to hitting some nice homeruns. Many of these comments made sound like fans who don’t want to admit that their precious Red Sox aren’t dominant in the AL East. You know who is? The Tampa Bay Rays. Every year they go out and get guys to make it better. They don’t sit around hoping that someone will finally start performing. They go out and make it happen. I don’t blame Valentine, though it’d be nice if he could keep his mouth shut. I blame this on a management who is used to winning, and refuses to upset the balance even if it means having at least a .500 record. They have to light a fire under some of their guys. Adrian Gonzalez is not performing up to expectations. Ortiz is really getting it going, and the rest of the club should follow suit. Newsflash: You can’t wait for the race to find you, the team must start playing like they actually want to win.

    • Rick Mc

       Whatever.  You have failed to understand a single criticism made in the comments.