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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Red Sox = Yankees? Not Exactly.

With the soon-to-be official mega-dollar signing of Cuban phenom Yoan Moncada, by my estimation the Sox have spent upwards of eleventy billion dollars this off-season.

Well, maybe not that much. But in committing over $60M to Moncada, $95M to Pablo Sandoval and $88M to Hanley Ramirez, that over $240M in commitments to just three players in this off-season. Throw in the pitching acquisitions and other players, and Boston has spent over $300M in total player-committed dollars this off-season.

And so yesterday, someone asked Boston CEO Larry "Can we forget about Bobby Valentine" Lucchino an obvious question: Are the Red Sox the same as the New York Yankees?

"It's a question of pattern and consistency over time -- that's one way to distinguish. But we're not going to not avail ourselves of what we think is a very good baseball opportunity because someone is going to compare us to the Yankees," Lucchino said.

The piece quotes Lucchino a few more times but the upshot is basically this: The Red Sox will spend money when they think they need to. And they do in a smarter fashion than the Yankees.

That's an important qualifier. Spending 20 bucks, say, on vegetables and healthy food for your family is smarter spending than buying them 20 bucks of Funyons. Same money, different quality.

Boston spent big money on Sandoval and Ramirez. But those are also manageable contracts. Ramirez is for four years and a possible fifth. Sandoval is for five years and a club option on a sixth.

Compare that to the two free-agent signings the Yankees made before 2014. They spent $85M on a 30-year-old catcher in Brian McCann, who went on to have one of the worst statistical years of his career. And then there was Jacoby Ellsbury. Seven years, $153M, and the reward was a decidedly average 2014 campaign. Fun fact: Brett Gardner, who cost about 1/4 of Ellsbury and was already a Yankee, had a better 2014. Hell, you could argue that Francisco Cervelli wasn't that far off of McCann.

And that is the big difference here. The Yankees brought in two big-dollar free-agent signings for positions where they already had a player either giving them most of what they got (Cervelli and McCann) or possibly more (Gardner and Ellsbury).

Monday, February 23, 2015

Sox Reportedly Spend Boatload of Cash to Land 19-year-old Yoan Moncada

So in reading that headline you are likely asking yourself three questions:
  1. Who the heck is Yoan Moncada?
  2. How much cash is "a boatload" of cash?
  3. Is this guy worth it?
To take the questions in order...

Who the heck is Yoan Moncada?

Yoan Moncada is a 19-year-old phenom out of Cuba. He plays 2B/3B right now but could project into a corner outfielder as well. Moncada is compared a lot to Yasiel Puig, the insanely-talented Dodgers outfielder who also has a rep for mentally checking out now and again in a game. Fortunately, the comparables for Moncada seem to be talent-related and not mental. Another name mentioned? Robinson Cano.

Moncada is considered by many to now be the top prospect in the majors. Yes, he is that good. Which is why the Dodgers and Yankees were also rumored to be going hard after him. Boston has basically landed the best player not on a major league roster. Which is no small feat. This also makes Boston a location for Cuban players. And that pipeline, with improving US/Cuban relations, will likely open up more in the years ahead. It's notable that Moncada didn't defect; he had the permission of the Cuban government to come to MLB.

How much cash is "a boatload" of cash?

A lot. A whole lot.

First, the signing bonus is $30M*. Not Daisuke money, but still a very significant investment in a player most people never heard of before today.

But the actual cost is even more. With changes to the international free agent market, teams are now allowed only a set amount to spend on player bonuses. If a team goes over that amount (which was around $2M for Boston this year), then there are an escalating series of penalties for that team. The maximum penalty (for when you go 15% or more over your bonus amount) is as follows: MLB taxes the overage at a rate of 100% and the club cannot sign any player to a bonus exceeding $300,000 during the following two international signing periods.

Boston had already exceeded the 15% overage in signing two other FA pitchers this off-season. Which means that $30M bonus is being taxed at 100%. So Moncada has actually cost the Red Sox $60M dollars. Or more than what Daisuke cost the Sox back in 2006.

This also has essentially taken the Sox out of the international market for the next two years. So if another Moncada comes along in that time, all they could offer is $300K.

But that is the logic behind this move; there isn't another Moncada coming any time soon. And Boston has loaded up in the international FA market this year to weather the next two years.

Is this guy worth it?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Biggest Little City Likes Boston's Odds

So the annual MLB win projection has been set in Vegas' smaller, less-popular sister (aka Reno) by a sports book. And, somewhat surprisingly to me, they like the Red Sox to take the AL East.
The Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers have the highest projected season win totals, and the Philadelphia Phillies have the lowest, according to numbers posted Friday at the Atlantis sports book in Reno, Nevada.


The defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants opened at 85 wins. They won 88 games last season. Other notables: New York Yankees -- 80; Boston Red Sox -- 86; Chicago Cubs -- 81.5.
The Red Sox projection of 86 wins is sixth-highest overall and tops for AL East teams. Going by the other projections, here is how the AL East lays out:
Boston: 86
Baltimore: 84.5
Toronto: 83.5
New York: 80
Tampa: 77.5
I am not surprised by the last two. Tampa is a much-weakened team who are now also without Joe Maddon. The Yankeees are expensive and old and need time to get fixed, although it looks like Cashman has finally figured that out.

But I truly thought we'd see Toronto or Baltimore on top simply because they didn't have to rebuild their rotations or make major changes at key positions. Boston had to do both this off-season. You could even argue that the Blue Jays are improved.

But I guess the bookmakers are impressed with the changes Boston made. I think most people are, myself included. Especially Sandoval at third, which improves both Boston's hitting and fielding in one move.

And I am not surprised at all to see Washington and the Dodgers atop this list. The Nats have the nastiest rotation in the majors right now. And the Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher I have seen since Pedro in his prime.

The bottom line is that casinos don't play around with their numbers or their money. And if they think the Sox are going to be at the top of the AL East, that's a good sign for Boston fans going into Spring Training.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Can the Sox Win Without an Ace? They Already Have.

So in perusing various Red Sox stories the other day, I came across Sean McAdam at CSN New England doing a "Five Questions" piece. And the first question, if the headline here didn't give it away already for you, was "Can they win without an ace?"

McAdam's response, in part:
Of the team's three championship teams in the past 11 seasons, each was headed by a true ace -- sometimes more than one. In 2004, Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez were classic No. 1 starters. In 2007, that role was filled by Josh Beckett. More recently, Jon Lester was the team's ace in its surprising 2013 run.
Now, I have broached this topic more than once on these pages. But to say it again: as much as I like Jon Lester, he is most definitely not an ace. He is a 2 forced to pitch as the top guy in the rotation by circumstance.

From 2006-14, Jon Lester led the AL in a statistical category exactly once: His K/BB ratio of 9.7 is 2010. Which, unsurprisingly, was his best overall season and the only one where he truly pitched like an "ace".

In 2013, the year that Lester was an "ace" according to McAdam, he wasn't even in the AL top 10 of any meaningful statistical category except for wins and innings pitched. Which was as much a function of Boston's superior bats and defense as it was Lester's natural talent.

Compare that to 2004 and 2007. In 2004 you had a real ace in Schilling, going 21-6 with a 3.26 ERA and finishing as the runner-up in the Cy Young voting. Pedro, who had set the bar for aces with his transcendent 1999 and 2000 seasons, had a more pedestrian year by his standards but was still solid.

In 2007, Josh Beckett put together the best season of his career, going 20-7 with a 3.27 ERA. He also led AL Pitchers in Fielding Independent Pitching at 3.08 and was the Cy Young runner-up. To be fair, you could question how much of an ace Beckett has been over his career. But for that year, he was.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Blake Swihart for Cole Hamels...Good or Bad Idea?

So the rumors and buzz still persist about the Red Sox being interested in Philadelphia's Cole Hamels. USA Today baseball scribe Bob Nightengale tweeted out that the Phillies want Boston catching prospect Blake Swihart in any deal for Cole Hamels. And that Boston refuses to do so.

The Phillies want Swihart for good reasons. They need a catcher and Swihart is the highest-ranked catching prospect in the minors. He was dominant in AA Portland and acquitted himself quite well in Pawtucket over 18 games last year. At 22, he could easily be the starting catcher for any team over the next 10-12 years.

Cole Hamels is presumed to be one of the better pitchers in the game today. He is an innings-eater and doesn't give up a ton of runs. Of the free-agent pitchers left on the market, he is at the top.

So, the question is two-fold. One, do the Sox need Hamels? Two, if they do, should they include Swihart?

Here's a three-year average for Cole Hamels (2012-14)

11-10 | 3.05 ERA | 213 IP | 205 K | ERA+ 126 | 1.144 WHIP | 3.83 K/BB

And here is pitcher B over that same stretch

13-11 | 3.65 ERA | 213 IP | 188 K | ERA+ 111 | 1.256 WHIP | 3.08 K/BB

That is former Sox starter Jon Lester. The numbers are similar, but Hamels' are a little better. But there is a big caveat here, which is Hamels has pitched in the NL and Lester in the AL. So what happens if we "Neutralize" the stats? You can get into the minutiae if you'd like but this essentially tries to put stats for players on a even level so you get a better comparison between players and/or teams.

Neutralized, those two lines look like this:

14-10 | 3.21 ERA | 213 IP | 205 K | 1.217 WHIP | 3.58 K/BB


13-11 | 3.60 ERA | 213 IP | 188 K | 1.263 WHIP | 3.06 K/BB
So while Hamels' stats get a little worse while Lester's ERA gets a little better, overall Hamels gives the Sox a little more than Lester did over the same period. Hamels is also slightly cheaper than Lester would have been over the next four years, with Hamels due $90M over those four years.

But Hamels isn't that much better. And he isn't that much cheaper. And it would be weird, to me, for the Sox to balk at paying Lester $25M in 2016 and 2017 but to be absolutely fine with giving Hamels $23.5M each of those same two years.

So in trading for Hamels, if it happens, is that an acknowledgment that the Sox screwed up the Lester situation? Or an unawareness of Hamels' quality as compared to Lester?

Leave that unanswered for now. So, if the Sox do decide they need Hamels, should they trade Swihart as part of the deal?

Monday, February 2, 2015

Sox Sign Alexi Ogando To One-Year Deal

The Red Sox seem to be timing all their signings these days with impending snow storms in New England. As residents were looking towards the latest weather reports with a weary resignation, Boston quietly signed Texas reliever Alexi Ogando to a one-year, $1.5M deal.

Ogando posted a 3.12 ERA across 156 appearances (48 starts) from 2010-13 with the Rangers.

Ogando has dealt with right shoulder and elbow issues over the past few seasons. He made just 27 appearances and posted a 6.84 ERA for Texas last season because of elbow inflammation, and he endured shoulder and biceps issues in 2013.

This is a classic "low-risk, high-reward" type deal that Boston always tries to make. His numbers, as the article touches upon, were pretty solid from 2010-13. Over that period Ogando's ERA+ was 139, his WHIP 1.139 and a 2.59 K/BB ratio. Batters had just a .290 OBP against Ogando.

But 2014 was a total bust for Ogando. He only made 27 appearances, saw his WHIP go up to 1.920 and his K/BB ratio plummet to 1.47.

So which Ogando shows up in Boston? He is still just 31, so the odds are decent he can regain his form unless his elbow and shoulder are a lot worse than anyone realizes. But even then, the Sox are only on the hook for $1.5M. If it is a mistake, it's a correctable mistake.

With Ogando a part of the 40-man roster, the Sox DFA'ed Drake Britton. Britton was drafted by the Sox in 2007 and was never likely to be a long-term part of Boston's future plans in Fenway. Having watched him in Portland a couple of times, his biggest problem was his inconsistency. That and in Pawtucket last year his K/BB ratio 0.97, which is abysmal.

The Sox bullpen continues to take shape and it is looking like it will be quite solid provided these pickups revert to their norm. And that is the key part here. The Sox aren't hoping they'll keep performing above their average, but their average. If Ogando and Ross and half of Boston's pen just pitch as we already know they can pitch, 2015 will be a good year for Boston.