Welcome to Read Sox. This week we look at John Lackey’s success, Hanley Ramirez’s future at first base and Boston’s trade chips entering the offseason.
It’s easy to look at Lackey’s Red Sox tenure with antipathy. The right-hander signed a five-year, $82.5 million contract before the 2010 season, and for three years it looked like an unmitigated disaster. He was average in 2010, among the worst pitchers in baseball in 2011 (oh, and there was that chicken and beer thing) and missed all of 2012 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier, however, argues that Lackey ultimately lived up to that deal with the way he’s pitched since. Speier’s not wrong, either. From 2013-15, Lackey sported a 3.73 FIP and 7.4 K/9 and has pitched in the postseason in each of those three years. He was a key part of the Red Sox’s World Series run in 2013, pitching in the title-clinching game, and has been a top-of-the-rotation starter for the Cardinals over the past year and a half. This season has been arguably Lackey’s most impressive since signing that deal. He posted a 2.77 ERA over 218 innings — his highest total since 2007 — as the ace of St. Louis’ staff with Adam Wainwright on the disabled list for most of the year, all while pitching on a major-league minimum salary. Sure, one could easily argue the contract was still a failure for Boston. The Red Sox only got one good season out of him. However, Lackey held up his end of the bargain. He delivered a championship to Boston, started 2014 strong and has continued to pitch well after being traded to the Cardinals at the 2014 deadline.
This will probably be one of the biggest stories of spring training, so we might as well get a head start on it. Ramirez is expected to be the Red Sox’s starting first baseman next season, and the team sounds convinced he can be a competent one. Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal, however, writes that we shouldn’t buy what Boston officials are selling, because they don’t believe in Ramirez either. The Red Sox are right not to have faith in Ramirez. He was the worst defensive player in baseball as a left fielder last season, and his lack of offensive production — he slashed .249/.291/.426 — only lessened his value. Those aren’t passable numbers for most average position players, and even worse for one who’s still owed $66 million over the next three years. In August I looked at three current first basemen — Miguel Cabrera, Pedro Alvarez and Ryan Zimmerman — who started their careers at other positions and examined how they fared in their transition. For better or worse (mostly worse) their defensive production didn’t improve at first base. Expect that to be the case for Ramirez as well. He was a below-average fielder as a shortstop, owning a -8.8 UZR/150 and -77 DRS at the position, and was a nightmare in left field. Ramirez is simply a bad fielder, and that’s not going to change.
It’s the middle of October, which means the Red Sox’s offseason is finally under way. It’s clear improvements need to be made for 2016 after three last-place finishes in the last four years. One way change could come is via trade. The Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham looked at the trade value of each Sox player entering Dave Dombrowski’s first offseason in charge of the club. Abraham named catcher Blake Swihart the team’s biggest trade chip. Swihart showed promise in his rookie season, slashing .274/.319/.392 while progressing both at and behind the plate as the year went on. If Christian Vazquez is healthy enough to start next season then perhaps Boston could use Swihart to land the top-tier starting pitcher it needs.
The Red Sox, of course, could always find that top-of-the-rotation guy on the free agent market this winter, but even those pitchers aren’t without flaws. Christopher Smith of MassLive.com wrote about potential pitching targets this offseason and how they’ve fared in the postseason. The picture isn’t pretty. David Price and Johnny Cueto both struggled in their Game 1 starts in their respective ALDS matchups and are building reputations as poor playoff starters. Other upcoming free agents such as Jordan Zimmerman and Yovani Gallardo have been no better over their postseason careers. It could be enough to at least leave Boston second-guessing itself before overspending on an arm.
One starter the Red Sox should expect to have in 2016 is Brian Johnson. The lefty had an impressive season in Triple-A Pawtucket, posting a 3.22 FIP and 8.44 K/9 over 18 starts, but saw his season end prematurely when he experienced elbow discomfort just two starts after making his major league debut. WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford spoke to Johnson about his recovery progress. Johnson said he’s begun throwing again and plans to be a full-go at spring training. That’s good news for Boston, as it gives the team another option as it pieces together its rotation for next year.
Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald looked at the state of each of the Sox’s AL East foes heading into the offseason, and it appears there could be more shakeup throughout the division next year. The Blue Jays and Orioles have notable players entering free agency this winter while the Yankees and Rays will bring back most of their 2015 rosters barring any major trades. It’s evident the Red Sox aren’t the only team with holes to fill.
In the wake of Chase Utley’s ugly takeout slide on Ruben Tejada in Game 2 of the NLDS, Scott Chiusano of the New York Daily News looked back on some of baseball’s worst takeout slides. The culprits on that list include Hal McRae, Will Clark and, most recently, Chris Coghlan on Jung Ho Kang in September. This story has nothing to do with the Red Sox, but it’s worth noting that one of the biggest plays in the organization’s history was actually a takeout slide attempt. The Red Sox led the Reds 3-0 in Game 7 of the 1975 World Series when Pete Rose broke up what would’ve been an inning-ending double play in the sixth by sliding hard at Denny Doyle and forcing a wild throw to first. Cincinnati’s Tony Perez followed with a two-run homer that sparked a comeback as the Reds won the decisive game 4-3.
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