MLB and Nippon Professional Baseball have agreed in principle to a new posting system, reports Joel Sherman of the New York Post. As Sherman notes, the final step prior to approval is for MLB’s executive council to sign off on the deal, which is expected to happen soon.
As for the details, it’s likely as expected: The NPB team posting a free agent will reportedly be able to name a posting fee up to $20 million. At that point, all interested teams will agree to the posting fee, and the free agent in question will then be allowed to negotiate with the teams that have consented to the specific fee. However, only the team that signs the free agent will owe the posting fee to the player’s former NBP club.
This new system is a win for MLB, as the old format permitted posting fees much higher than $20 million — Yu Darvish’s $51.7-million tab and Daisuke Matsuzaka’s $52.1-million fee, for notable instance (ugh..!).
All of this means we’ll probably soon have some clarity regarding the status of coveted Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, who’s generally regarded as the top potential free agent pitcher on the market. Tanaka’s current team, the Rakuten Golden Eagles, have in the recent past hinted that they may consider not posting their star under the new rules, but that stance seems to have softened this week. The general feeling is that if Tanaka wishes to make the jump, then he’ll be allowed to do so.
On that front, it’s worth noting that Rukuten’s team president, according to Yahoo!’s Jeff Passan, is set to arrive at the Winter Meetings on Tuesday. The Yankees, Cubs, Mariners and Dodgers are among the teams believed to have strong interest in the 26-year-old Tanaka.
One would have to believe that under the new system, the idea of parity between MLB’s ’Haves’ and ‘Have Nots’ will be at least, a little, improved. Teams who otherwise would have sat back and watched due to the idea of paying over $50 million (in some cases a third of annual payroll for the ‘Have Nots’) for the right just to talk to the player may now be more inclined to take a chance and upset their division norm, whatever that norm may be.
If the Astros (it’s just an example, calm yourself) can take a leap and snag an import centerpiece to build upon, they can stand alongside the likes of The Dodgers, Bombers and Scarlett Hose… at least until they’re forced to trade that centerpiece for a bag of fungo bats, cash and some prospects.
Regarding free agent Kevin Youkilis and the Yankees, here’s this tweet from Jack Curry of YES Network: “Cashman called Youkilis’s agent to gauge interest in returning to Yankees. Youkilis appreciated call, but wants to play near home in Cali.”
The Yankees’ interest is understandable, since they could some additional depth at the infield corners. After all, Alex Rodriguez may be facing a lengthy suspension, and Mark Teixeira is coming off wrist surgery.
Youkilis, though, appears to be inclined to sign with a team near the West Coast. Although, as always in these matters, money sometimes has the final word.
Youkilis, 34, is coming off an injury-riddled 2013 season in which he batted .219/.305/.343 in just 28 games for the Yanks. For his career, he owns a nifty OPS+ of 123, but he hasn’t produced at a high level since 2011.
The perfect swing and complicated life of Ted Williams.
From: SLATE Book Reviews
There are a million ways to watch baseball. Many of them don’t even involve watching, technically. Come spring you’ll be able to find a graybeard on a rocking chair in Bar Harbor who will tell you, as he listens to Joe Castiglione and Dave O’Brien’s play-by-play come in through the static from Fenway, that he prefers radio to television, because just the sounds of the game—crack of bat, roar of crowd—put a picture of it in his mind. A friend of my dad’s used to say, “Just save me the box scores,” explaining how he followed the season, always a day behind, through the morning papers.
There are a million ways of writing about baseball, too—the prose poetry of Roger Angell, the clear-eyed analysis of Bill James, the storytelling of Michael Lewis. Baseball’s canon is vast and varied. And among the figures from the sport’s century-and-a-half history most worthy of all angles of study, few loom larger than Ted Williams, Boston Red Sox left fielder through the 1940s and ’50s, the last player to post a season’s batting average above .400, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, widely acknowledged as the greatest hitter who ever lived. There are many ways to write about Ted Williams. And longtime Boston Globe editor Ben Bradlee, Jr., touches them all with his exhaustive, 850-page tome of a biography, The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams.
It’s very long, this book. Too long, from an immediate-enjoyment standpoint: Some of the 126 pages leading up to Williams’s first major league at-bat bog down in picayune detail, and many of the 300 that chronicle his post-retirement years struggle to earn their keep. But the prose is breezy, the research and reporting are impeccable, and, taking a wider view, the length is easy to forgive. This book very much sets out to be the definitive document of a great, complicated, fascinating person—besides the baseball, Williams was a highly decorated fighter pilot and a world-class fisherman—and ultimately, it succeeds. If it sometimes strains to fit in absolutely everything anyone has ever known about Ted Williams, well, you come to see the value in its doing so. It’s a good book.
The best of it is the baseball. Hitting, specifically. Brimming with accounts of Williams’s swing—a fluid, balletic motion regularly described as “the most natural” that various describers had ever seen—the book approaches the act of a hitting a pitched baseball as high art. Six-foot-3 and always spindly for an athlete, the “Splendid Splinter” mastered the mechanics of batting such that he generated torque wholly disproportionate to his muscle mass. Bradlee collects and assembles awestruck anecdotes from friends, teammates, coaches, and journalists about balls hit harder and farther than anybody had ever seen balls hit before. None of them are not fun to read.
One of the best anecdotes comes from Hall of Famer Eddie Collins, who says the first time he saw Williams hit, “there was something about the way he tied into that ball which all but shocked me out of my seat. It was as though a shock of electricity had just passed through my body. In that fleeting moment, as he swung at the ball, I became convinced that here was one of the most natural hitters in the history of baseball. I’d have staked my life on it.”
Williams never liked the term: “Natural hitter my ass,” he said. He’d worked and studied, practiced countless hours, days, perfecting his swing. He was obsessed. The same way a million other American boys have been obsessed over the years, of course. But Williams’ drive, Bradlee argues, was intensified by the escape baseball provided from a neglected, impoverished childhood in southern California.
“When I wasn’t sleeping or eating,” he quotes Williams saying of his growing up, “I was practicing swinging. If I didn’t have a bat, I’d take any piece of wood, or make a bat of paper and swing it.” “Or,” Bradlee continues, for him, “he’d just swing an imaginary bat. If he passed a storefront that had a big, clear window, he liked to stop, take a few swings, and check his reflection out. When he did this, he’d be in his own world, oblivious to the merchants inside bemused by the vainglorious displays. The truth is, Ted didn’t want to just be good. He wanted to look good.” (It worked.)
Once Williams makes the majors—he joined the Red Sox for his rookie season in 1939—and Bradlee has national newspaper stories to draw from, the book really starts to sing. “In his third game, Ted had a double and single, but it was his fourth game, on Sunday, April 23, that served as his true Fenway Park coming out party,” Bradlee writes. “In his second time up against Philadelphia’s LeRoy ‘Tarzan’ Parmelee, Ted scorched a ball into the right-center-field bleachers, just to the right of the outfield triangle, about 430 feet away, for his first home run. Burt Whitman of the Boston Herald called it ‘as harshly a hit a line drive as anybody ever sent into that sector, not excepting even Babe Ruth …’ ”
Williams, handsome and charming—though egotistical, to put it mildly, and comically uncouth—was a magnet for press, an instant star. A slump at the start of his second season turned things sour, however, and an antagonistic relationship with fans and journalists alike became a dark theme of his career. Not that it hindered his production. He was an angry person, extremely self-critical and, at times, mean to others. It seemed to fuel his excellence.
He had a flair for the dramatic, and his heroics play out thrillingly on the page. The home run he hit to win the 1941 All-Star Game. The six hits he collected the last day of that season, after choosing to play in a doubleheader in Philadelphia, rather than sit out to preserve his (last ever) .400 average. The home run he hit on Sept. 28, 1960, in the last at-bat of his career. (That one immortalized, three weeks later, in John Updike’s classic New Yorker essay, “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu.”) Bradlee relays such moments well. “The crowd screamed anew,” he writes of Williams’ exit off the field in the last inning of his last game, “but Ted ran right through the cheers, still unwilling to bow to convention. As he passed shortstop, he said to Pumpsie Green, ‘Isn’t this a crock of shit?’ Green laughed.” And the context Bradlee provides—the heavy detailing, the quotes and anecdotes—brings the reader inside Williams’ psychology, to the extent that that’s possible.
Sure, you might scratch your head on Page 34, when you learn that Williams’ paternal aunt Alice had a dog, part coyote, named Cap, that her friend Roselle Romano thought “was a nasty thing,” wondering why you’ve learned this—especially as it becomes apparent that you will be learning little else about Alice or Cap or Roselle, or many of the other myriad members of the extended family who get a quick sketch early on. And you might have trouble keeping straight which horrible thing Williams said to which of the three wives he divorced before he settled down with Louise Kaufman, with whom he lived for 24 years and to whom he also said some horrible things. But by the time you get to the sad, disturbing end of the story, where you learn lots of sad, disturbing things about Williams’ children, and the legal fight that broke out around his will, and a “cryonics” company called Alcor that freezes human corpses in giant thermoses called “Dewars” in the hopes of unfreezing them in the future, once medical science has advanced to a point where it can bring them back to life, and you read the unpleasant and difficult-to-believe sentence, “With these fundamental issues resolved, Darwin picked up a carving knife and began to slice off Williams’s head,” you’re happy for everything you’ve learned in this giant book. Because it has portrayed the man in full.
Jacoby Ellsbury is just the latest in a long line of Red Sox who have defected (or been shipped to… let’s be fair) to the Bronx.
Yes, Babe Ruth is most famous and spawned the 86 year ‘curse’ that generations of New Englanders swore would (and in many cases did) outlive them. But to be quite serious and objective… The Babe was hardly alone.
Herb Pennock: Somewhat overshadowed by his corpulent teammate (see above), the Hall of Fame lefty went from serviceable starter with the Sawx to an ace for a Bombers ballclub that won its first World Series title in 1923 … and a few more after that.
Sad Sam Jones: Jones, dealt to Boston for Hall of Famer Tris Speaker, won 23 games for the Sox in 1921. So of course that December he was traded to the Yankees. Jones had a bumpy ride in the Bronx, but he did post 21 wins and a no-hitter for the 1923 champs.
Joe Dugan: Boston shipped Jumping Joe to New York midway through the 1922 season, and there he helped the Yanks win their second AL pennant. He’d play in five World Series in pinstripes overall. (The Bombers won three of them.)
Waite Hoyt: In case you thought the ’20s weren’t rough enough for Red Sox fans, this Hall of Fame hurler joined the Yanks in 1921 after two seasons in Boston, averaging 18 wins over the next eight seasons and winning a league-high 22 games for the famed ’27 Bombers.
Red Ruffing: Ruffing lost 20-plus games two years in a row for the Red Sox in 1928 and ’29 — then won 20 or more for the Yankees in four straight seasons, starting in 1936, en route to the Hall of Fame.
Sparky Lyle: Lyle won a Cy Young in 1977 and played on two Yankees title teams. The guys the Bombers traded for him? Danny Cater and Mario Guerrero, who hit a collective .252 in Boston and never played more than 93 games in any of their seasons with the Sox.
Luis Tiant: Unlike the previous players on our list, Tiant joined the Yankees in the twilight of his career, winning 21 games in two seasons in the Bronx (1979 and ’80) after spending several years as the ace of the Red Sox.
Wade Boggs: Boggs put up most of his numbers in Boston, but when it came time for the Hall of Fame third baseman to finally win a title, he did it in the Bronx — famously riding around Yankee Stadium on a horse in 1996.
Roger Clemens: Rocket won three Cy Young Awards in Boston, compared to just one with the Yankees. But two World Series titles (in 1999 and 2000) in the Bronx more than made up for it.
Tom Gordon: Flash became a folk hero in Boston as a starter turned All-Star closer in 1998. He even helped inspire a Stephen King novel, “The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon.” Did that girl become a Yankees fan when he joined the Bombers’ bullpen six years later?
Doug Mientkiewicz: Eye Chart’s career doesn’t stack up against many of the players on our list, but when the Red Sox finally won a title in 2004, he was the toast of Beantown. The Yanks picked him up in 2007 after he’d had season-long stints with the Mets and Royals.
Johnny Damon: The Caveman tormented the Yanks while a Sox star on the ’04 champs — then crushed Boston fans when he went clean-shaven and signed with the Bombers in 2006. His baserunning heroics in the 2009 World Series won’t soon be forgotten, by either fan base.
Derek Lowe: Lowe was the winning pitcher in Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS, helping the Sox break the Bambino’s curse. After pitching for the Dodgers, Braves and Indians, Lowe signed with the Yankees midway through the 2012 season.
Kevin Youkilis: Youk became a Yank prior to the 2013 season, but a back injury limited The Greek God of Walks to just 28 games (and eight bases on balls, if you’re scoring at home).
The busy Bronx Bombers have been undergoing a pricey roster overhaul after missing the playoffs for only the second time in 19 years.
Ellsbury, fresh off winning the World Series with Boston, agreed to a $153 million deal with New York on Tuesday. The contract includes a $21 million team option for the 2021 season, with a $5 million buyout. If the option is exercised, the deal would be worth $169 million over eight years.
The Yankees will hold an introductory news conference for Ellsbury at Yankee Stadium on Friday.
Ellsbury, who turned 30 in September, led the majors with 52 stolen bases despite being hobbled late in the season by a broken right foot. The lefty-hitting leadoff man batted .298 with nine homers and 53 RBIs, and the short right-field porch at Yankee Stadium should boost his power numbers.
He joins a crowded outfield that will include Carlos Beltran, who agreed to a three-year, $45 million contract, according to two people familiar with the deal, on Friday. Beltran’s agreement came hours after All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano decided to leave for Seattle.
Free-agent outfielder Carlos Beltran has agreed to a three-year, $45 million deal with the New York Yankees, sources confirmed to ESPN.com on Friday night.
Beltran, 36, hit .296 with 24 home runs and 84 RBIs in 145 games this past season for the NL champion St. Louis Cardinals.
Beltran took $3 million less to sign with the Yankees, sources told ESPNNewYork.com’s Andrew Marchand. Beltran had an offer for three years and $48 million with another club. A source with knowledge of those discussions said Beltran was “down the road” with that team.
Beltran met with the Arizona Diamondbacks in Phoenix earlier this week, when the team made a three-year offer exceeding $45 million, The Arizona Republic reported Friday.
The Kansas City Royals, Beltran’s first major league team, also pursued him. But the Royals filled their outfield void with a trade for Milwaukee’s Norichika Aoki on Thursday.
The Yankees had sent out signals that they wouldn’t be willing to go to three years on a deal for Beltran, but they relented to get an agreement done in advance of the winter meetings, which begin Monday in Orlando, Fla. The pact with Beltran, which comes on the same day former Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano agreed to a 10-year, $240 million deal with the Seattle Mariners, marks the latest addition to a revamped lineup in the Bronx.
Beltran and fellow free-agent signings Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann will give manager Joe Girardi a decidedly new batting order for a total long-term cost of $283 million.
The Phillies are looking to trade high-priced closer Jonathan Papelbon, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com.
Papelbon, 33, is coming off a 2013 season in which he pitched to a 2.92 ERA, 131 ERA+ and 5.18 K/BB in 61 2/3 innings of work. Papelbon has long been one of the elite closers in the game, as he owns a stellar career ERA+ of 184 to go with 286 saves and a save percentage of 87.7.
With all that said, trading Papelbon will be a tall order for Phillies GM Ruben Amaro. That’s mostly because Papelbon is still owed a minimum of $26 million over the next two seasons, and that’s not counting a $13-million vesting option for 2016. (Yes, that was an insane contract for a guy who pitches 60 to 70 innings a season.)
On top of all that, Papelbon has a partial no-trade clause, is likely past his prime and, as CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman tweets, has alienated some parts of the Philadelphia clubhouse.
In other words, the only way the Phillies will trade Papelbon is if they pick a large portion of his remaining tab.
Wednesday night’s huge (what other word do you use for a transaction involving Prince Fielder?) deal between the Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers — Fielder to Texas, Ian Kinsler to Detroit — could have a ripple effect on the Red Sox.
For one, it may take the Rangers out of the bidding for free agent first baseman Mike Napoli, although it’s still conceivable that the Rangers view Napoli as an ideal complementary bat to the left-handed hitting Fielder, who could DH while Napoli plays first. The Rangers ranked 14th in the league in OPS at first base (.700) — only the Yankees were worse — and they were slightly worse at DH (.698, ninth in the league).
Less than two years after boldly signing Prince Fielder to a $214 million contract, the Detroit Tigers traded the slugging first baseman to Texas in another blockbuster move.
Fielder was dealt to the Rangers on Wednesday night for second baseman Ian Kinsler. The Tigers agreed to pay the Rangers $30 million as part of the swap, according to a person with knowledge of the deal. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the amount of money exchanged was not revealed when the teams announced the trade. The $30 million is payable from 2016-20.
”Obviously, a very exciting trade for us in adding Prince Fielder to the organization,” Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. ”Also a tough trade to make in that Ian Kinsler’s been with the organization since he was drafted in ’03, and we’ve signed him here a couple of times. Been here, a catalyst for our World Series clubs, and a huge part of this. A winning guy, a heart-and-soul guy, and Detroit got a tremendous player and person.”
The Tigers, meanwhile, made it known last week at the GM meetings that contrary to speculation, they are not in the market for Ellsbury. Moving Fielder wouldn’t seem to alter that. The Tigers’ priroities remain re-signing pitcher Max Scherzer and extending two-time MVP Miguel Cabrera, whose current deal runs out after the 2015 season.
It’s the first headline-grabbing move of baseball’s offseason, and it involves two of the American League’s top teams. Detroit has won three consecutive AL Central titles and reached the World Series in 2012, while Texas won the AL pennant in 2010 and 2011.
Fielder, a five-time All-Star, had to consent to the trade before it could be completed. The big first baseman signed a $214 million, nine-year contract with the Tigers before the 2012 season that includes a limited no-trade provision.
”We’re thankful for what he did for us,” Detroit general manager Dave Dombrowski said. ”It’ll be a bat that we miss at times – there’s no doubt about it.”
Kinsler just finished the first season of a $75 million, five-year contract.
With stars like Fielder, Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera and Anibal Sanchez in the fold, Detroit’s payroll had become one of the game’s biggest. And although Fielder hit 55 home runs over the last two years for the Tigers, his numbers dipped this season and he struggled in the playoffs when Detroit lost to Boston in the AL championship series.
Fielder hit .279 with 25 homers this year. He drove in 106 runs, but it was his lowest home run total over a full season. He did not have a single RBI in the 2013 postseason and hit .182 in the ALCS.
Daniels said the trade came together quickly – the first discussions took place Tuesday. The Rangers will welcome the durable Fielder, who has played 162 games in four of the last five seasons. Texas was interested in Fielder when he signed with Detroit as a free agent.
”Our offer was well below what it ended up being, so we weren’t that close,” Daniels said. ”I thought he was a genuine guy that really loved the game, really loved playing the game, loved his boys, his sons.”
Kinsler batted .277 with 13 homers this year. The a three-time All-Star was limited to 136 games because of injuries to his ribs and right side. Kinsler stole 15 bases in 2013 – not a high total by his standards but more than any player on the Detroit team he is joining.
The trade could save the Tigers more than $75 million in the long run, giving them more financial flexibility with Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer a year from free agency.
Fielder is still only 29, and the Rangers are set to add a big bat to the middle of their lineup while also resolving a logjam in the middle of their infield. Jurickson Profar, a highly touted 20-year-old prospect, appeared to be blocked by Kinsler and shortstop Elvis Andrus. Now, Profar should have a chance to play regularly.
The Tigers signed Fielder to a huge contract shortly before spring training in 2012 – after designated hitter Victor Martinez injured his knee. Martinez came back in 2013. With Fielder gone, Cabrera may move from third base back to first.
”I’m really not sure what we’re going to do as we sit here now today,” Dombrowski said. ”Eventually, we see him as a first baseman. Will it happen this year or not? I’m not sure.”
The 31-year-old Kinsler fills a need at second base for Detroit after Omar Infante became a free agent.
Fielder is due $168 million through 2020, a salary of $24 million per season. Under his no-trade clause, he submits a list of 10 teams each year that he can be traded to without his approval.
Texas was not on that list this year, but Fielder agreed to accept the trade and instructed agent Scott Boras to approve the deal.
”If he was coming off the best year of his career, he’s not available,” Daniels said. ”I think that’s kind of the whole idea of this deal – if anybody feels like that’s a sign of things to come, that he’s slipping, you may not like the deal. We don’t feel that way. We don’t feel that way at all.”
Kinsler is guaranteed $62 million through 2017: $16 million in each of the next two seasons, $14 million in 2016, $11 million in 2017 and a $5 million buyout of a $10 million option.
It’s already been an unpredictable offseason for the Tigers. Manager Jim Leyland stepped down after the season and was replaced by Brad Ausmus. Detroit could have come back with a similar roster and probably been favored to win the division again, but now more changes seem possible.
”If you put Kinsler’s bat at the top of the lineup, that’s an instant threat,” Ausmus said. ”It changes the dynamic, but it doesn’t mean it’s any less potent.”
If Cabrera moves back to first base, prospect Nick Castellanos might replace him at third. Previously, it appeared Castellanos would have to play the outfield if both Cabrera and Fielder were still on the team.
Andy Dirks is still available to play left field, but that’s a spot the Tigers could still try to upgrade. They also have six capable starting pitchers – Drew Smyly was used in the bullpen this year – so that’s a surplus that could come in handy in a possible trade.
Detroit’s bullpen will likely undergo a makeover after struggling last season.
The Rangers lost slugging outfielder Nelson Cruz to a late-season suspension as a result of MLB’s investigation in the Biogenesis case. He’s now a free agent, and if Texas loses him, Fielder, who hit 50 homers in 2007 for Milwaukee at 23, should help replace his production.
”A huge focus for us this winter was finding some kind of middle-of-the-order presence and power, and at 29 years old, I still think there’s still a lot of big run production and years ahead of him,” Daniels said.
The Rangers also were thought to be on the margins for free agent outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, but taking a contract that pays Fielder $24 million a year through the 2020 season would seemingly be a deterrent to GM Jon Daniels adding another $20-million-plus per year in Ellsbury. The Rangers have two outstanding outfield defenders in Leonys Martin and Craig Gentry, so it would seem they would be better served going after catcher Brian McCann.
Adrian Beltre and Alex Rios are among the dangerous hitters under contract next season in Texas. Beltre had an AL-high 199 hits and Rios, acquired from the Chicago White Sox in August after Cruz was suspended, has a year left on his deal.
The Rangers lost a one-game tiebreaker to Tampa Bay for the second AL wild card this year.
The World Series champion Boston Red Sox on Thursday set their schedule for spring training, announcing pitchers and catchers were due to report to Fort Myers, Fla. on Feb. 15, with the first game at JetBlue Park on Feb. 27.
In total, the Red Sox will play 33 games (including split squad games and the annual doubleheader against Boston College and Northeastern), 17 of them played at JetBlue Park at Fenway South. The team will hold workouts from Feb. 17-26 that are open to the public free of charge.
Here are some key dates:
• Saturday, Feb. 8: Truck Day (equipment truck departs Fenway Park for Fort Myers).
• Saturday, Feb. 15: Deadline for pitchers and catchers to report.
• Monday, Feb. 17: First official workout for pitchers and catchers.
• Tuesday, Feb. 18: Deadline for position players to report.
• Thursday, Feb. 20: First full-squad workout.
• Saturday, Feb. 22: Free open house at JetBlue Park (billed as a celebration of the World Series and a chance to tour the park)
• Thursday, Feb. 27: Annual Red Sox doubleheader against Northeastern and Boston College (1:05 p.m.).
• Monday, March 17: Annual St. Patrick’s Day game at JetBlue Park against St. Louis Cardinals in World Series rematch (Sox also face the Cardinals in Jupiter, Fla. on March 5).
Red Sox GM figures to stick with winning formula from last offseason
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com
It’s appropriate that both the general managers meetings that open Monday in Orlando and the winter meetings that commence in the same locale about a month later are within jogging distance of Fantasyland.
Thirty teams are dreaming big, although it remains to be seen whether the model adopted by the Boston Red Sox last winter — eschewing the biggest prizes on the market for lesser, complementary pieces — will be embraced by other clubs seeking to emulate the extraordinary strides made by the Sox in one dizzying worst-to-first leap.
Of more interest to Red Sox fans, of course, is whether GM Ben Cherington will remain faithful this winter to the philosophy of modest moves that worked wonders for him last year (it was a year ago Sunday that the Sox came to terms with the first piece of their puzzle, catcher David Ross, followed 11 days later by the signing of outfielder Jonny Gomes, the first moves in the rebuilding) or will succumb to the budget-be-damned impulse the Sox have followed in past years.
What makes that discussion especially relevant in the coming weeks is that some of the players so vital to the Sox’s success this season — most notably Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Napoli — are among the free agents expected to reap some of this winter’s greatest financial rewards.
By this point, it should be widely understood that Ellsbury is not coming back to Boston unless the Sox make an exception and sign him for top-of-the-market years and dollars. Agent Scott Boras will make the most of market precedents the Sox themselves helped to establish when they gave Carl Crawford a seven-year, $142 million deal three years ago. Someone will give Ellsbury that kind of money; it’s very doubtful it will be Boston. (Let him walk. He’s already proven injury prone and is obviously on the wrong side of 30. The Sox can more easily find a stop-gap to platoon with Shane Victorino if they feel Jackie Bradley Jr. needs more time.)
Napoli, however, would seem to be a candidate to fall within the kind of parameters the Sox set last winter, when they showed a willingness to overpay in terms of dollars in exchange for shorter years. The Sox struck such a deal with Napoli on the first day of the winter meetings in 2012, coming to terms on a three-year, $39 million deal, which subsequently blew up when Napoli failed his physical because of a degenerative hip condition.
Napoli’s performance this season, when the hip condition did not surface as an issue, would seem to put him in line for, at minimum, a similar deal this winter. It should also work in Boston’s favor that he appears so eager to return.
(Personally, I’d rather see the Sox sign Nap to a 2 year deal with roughly $26 million plus incentives and fulfill the original 3 year proposed deal than sign him to additional years based off a performance year already in the books.)
Napoli and Ellsbury both received qualifying offers of $14.1 million from the Red Sox, which places Boston in line to receive a first-round draft pick as compensation if they sign elsewhere. Shortstop Stephen Drew received a similar offer; all three players have until 5 o’clock Monday to accept a qualifying offer, which would make them a signed player for 2014.
None is expected to do so, as all three players figure to have other suitors. Teams interested in Ellsbury will not be stalled by the loss of a compensatory first-rounder; that also figures to be the case with Napoli, one of the few power bats on the market. Drew could prove to be a more interesting case, although he should benefit from a soft free-agent market at his position.
Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, also a free agent, did not get a qualifying offer, for the simple reason the Sox didn’t want to risk him accepting it, placing him at a salary level they have little interest in paying him. That should not be interpreted, however, as the Sox deciding against bringing Saltalamacchia back.
The most attractive free-agent catching option is Brian McCann, late of the Atlanta Braves, but he will come at a much higher price than Saltalamacchia would and will require more years. The Sox are looking for a bridge to take them to their catcher of the future — Blake Swihart, perhaps in some combination with Christian Vazquez — so signing McCann for four or more years, while also having to surrender a first-round draft pick, would seem to be a questionable proposition.
Saltalamacchia had 54 extra-base hits last season, including 40 doubles (a club record for catchers), and an .804 OPS. On the defensive side, he made noticeable strides, even though John Farrell opted for his better defender, Ross, in the World Series, a decision made easier by Saltalamacchia’s October slump. His return, while not assured, is eminently plausible.
(Agreed. Salty would be a better choice for a two to three year pick-up, based off the lesser money and the fact he’ll still be fairly young should the Sox decide to trade him before the expiration of the contract. Between he and Ross there is a great tandem of experience to spell the big club till the youngsters are more seasoned. Though young and on the upswing, Jarrod has difficulty hitting outside of Fenway and that should limit his suitors.)
On the trading front, Cherington can expect to field inquiries about his starting pitchers, though teams likely will be far more inquisitive about some of the team’s young arms (Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa, Anthony Ranaudo, Matt Barnes, Brandon Workman, Henry Owens) than the pieces he probably would be more open to dealing, such as Ryan Dempster or Jake Peavy. The Sox value their young arms, which isn’t to say they wouldn’t move any of them, although Barnes, Ranaudo and Owens almost certainly are not going anywhere. There would seem to be little downside, from a depth perspective, to keeping Dempster and Peavy, neither of whom is signed past 2014.
What the Sox do in the coming weeks will be dictated in good measure by what happens with their own free agents; once they have clarity there, they will know what holes must be filled. In the meantime, the inquiries they reportedly are making about the likes of Carlos Beltran and Tim Hudson and Carlos Ruiz are nothing out of the ordinary; the Sox have a history of making contact with just about everyone on the market.
Coming decisions also will be shaped by their judgments on Jackie Bradley Jr.’s readiness to take over in center field (indications are a qualified yes) and their willingness to entrust the left side of the infield to rookie Xander Bogaerts at short and Will Middlebrooks at third. Middlebrooks’ name often is bandied about as trade material, but the Sox still project him as a useful corner piece with 25-home run power, not an easily found commodity.
With so many good young players who potentially could be included in a trade package, there has been speculation that the Sox would take a run at Marlins slugging outfielder Giancarlo Stanton, but one Marlins source reiterated Sunday he believed there was “no way” Miami would move him.