Saturday, August 22, 2009

Wagner Not the Answer for the Red Sox

Last night, I first watched Brad Penny do a very successful impression of a batting practice machine (well at least for the Yankees it was a successful impression). Then I saw "top prospect" Michael Bowden equally look like a red and white pinata on the mound. As a result, I had to wonder if the Red Sox can do anything to stem the Yankee Tide, which right now looks like Hurricane Bill's effects on the north east coastline.

Then I was reminded that the Red Sox claimed Billy Wagner off waivers from the Mets yesterday before the 20-11 beat down at the hands of the Yankees. Wagner, a fourteen year veteran, out for the nearly past year with elbow ligament replacement surgery, is still valuable as he can still hit the mid 90's with his fastball and struck out two batters in his first outing back from rehab against the Braves Thursday night. Who couldn't use a flame throwing lefty who is sixth on the all time saves list with 385 saves?

Herein lies the problem. First, the Red Sox don't need a closer with Jonathan Papelbon and his 2.08 ERA and 29 saves. Well, the next easy observation is that Wagner could setup Papelbon. Well, that's not exactly what the Red Sox need either. With Ramon Ramirez (2.67), Hideki Okajima (2.77) and Takashi Saito (2.86), the Sox have four very good setup relievers. Throw in Josh Bard (3.50) and Manny Delcarmen (3.47), the Sox relief corps really don't need much help. So what's the Sox problem in keeping up with the Yanks?

Starting pitching. Only Josh Beckett (3.38) and Jon Lester (3.50) have been solid for the Red Sox lately. The jury is still out on Clay Buchholz, despite his 3.99 ERA. The jury came back with the verdict on Brad Penny, who was found guilty of not justifying his $ 9.2 million dollar salary with his 5.61 ERA and 160 hits and 17 HRs in only 131 innings pitched. John Smoltz was equally dismal in his short stay with the Sox and Michael Bowden may not be ready for prime time. Tim Wakefield and his 11-3 record should be back next week. But Wakefield is more of a back of the rotation pitcher and will be hard pressed to improve on his 4.31 ERA. Dice K may also be back soon but he is even more of a question mark. So much so, the Sox signed Paul Byrd to a minor league contract. Byrd, pitching at Triple A Pawtucket, might be up before Dice K gets back.

Originally I thought the Red Sox were winners at the trade deadline when they acquired Victor Martinez. But hindsight is 20-20 and for the Sox to compete with the Yanks, they needed one more dominant starter - Roy Halladay. The Sox may have overestimated the value of young pitchers like Buchholz and Bowden. Or perhaps, J.P. Ricciardi wanted too much from the Sox. The likely answer lies somewhere in the middle.

So why did Theo Epstein claim Wagner when the problem is clearly starting pitching? The best guess is that the Sox blocked the Yankees from getting Wagner. The Yankees were looking for a second lefty out of the bullpen, someone with a little more experience than Phil Coke. With Wagner and Hughes setting up Mariano, the Yankees would be unstoppable. The problem though is in the last five games the Yankees have won head to head, the Sox in general can't keep it close enough to get it to the late innings. Last night, the score was 15-4 going into the bottom of the fifth.

Another question was where were other teams on claiming Wagner? Yes, teams who claimed him might be responsible for his $3.5 million salary, but no team in the National League needed Wagner??? As you may or may not know, when a team puts a player on waivers, the teams in his league first get an opportunity to claim him in standings order worst to first. If no team claims him in the one league, then and only then can teams in the other league claim him worst to first.

Thus Wagner had to go through the entire NL first before going through the AL. Thus several teams who DESPERATELY need relief pitching passed up on Wagner. The first team that comes to mind is the Chicago Cubs, who recently switched from the awful Kevin Gregg to the often wild Carlos Marmol. But that shows the Cubs with the recent near sale of the team from the Tribune Company to the Ricketts Family can not add any payroll at this moment. The next team in NL standings order was the Florida Marlins. But the Marlins history of low payroll, Wagner was certainly not going to be claimed by them.

The Giants would be next on the list and surprisingly Brian Sabean didn't put a waiver claim in. Brian Wilson has not exactly been lights out as a closer and Wagner would certainly be an improvement. And Wagner's $8 million club option next season seems pretty reasonable for the market place considering Oliver Perez makes $12 million and Derek Lowe makes $15 million with their mediocre to awful statistics. But alas Sabean passed as did the Cardinals (they seriously must be out of payroll after adding Holliday and Lugo), the Phillies didn't seem to want a reunion with Wagner, despite how horrible Brad Lidge has been and the Dodgers have no need with the addition of George Sherrill at the end of July. Thus that's how Wagner got to the AL waiver claim list. Texas and Tampa Bay have their own payroll issues and neither really needed a reliever either. Thus came Boston.

So whether Wagner will go to the Sox or not is in serious question. My guess is that Epstein will only take Wagner if the Mets take on part or most of the salary. Also don't expect much in return for Wagner if a deal is worked out. The Sox don't need Wagner and Epstein knows it. Thus if the Mets get anything, it will be similar to the haul (chuckle chuckle) the Pirates got for Adam LaRoche. If Billy could go five plus innings, that would be a different story.

Prediction - Mets can't work out a deal for Wagner and let him go to the Sox for nothing with the Sox footing the bill for the $3.5 million. I simply can't see the Sox and Theo Epstein giving up any Top 20 prospect for Wagner.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Ricciardi 0 for 2

The White Sox claimed Alex Rios off waivers from the Toronto Blue Jays yesterday. The Blue Jays in return received...nothing. No compensation. Not even a lowly minor leaguer. Not even a bucket of balls and a few worn bats. Nothing. Yes, the White Sox are now responsible for the rest of Rios' entire large contract, which is $61.6 million over the next five years (with a $1.5 million buyout in 2015). But to allow Rios, a two time AL All Star, to go for nothing, well that's just another brilliant move by Riccardi. Yes, I am being facetious.

First, Ricciardi announces to the world that he will take offers for Roy Halladay, then decides the offers aren't good enough and holds onto him. It was obvious that he was trying to cut payroll, because in his next move, Ricciardi trades Scott Rolen and his hefty contract to the Reds for Edwin Encarnacion, Josh Roenicke and another prospect - I will give Ricciardi credit for getting a good return on Rolen. But then he allows Rios to go for nothing. I understand getting rid of a bad contract. But you couldn't even get some minor league filler? Hell at least Neal Huntington got two mediocre minor leaguers for Adam LaRoche!

Ricciardi even has the nerve to say it was NOT "a financial dump" but said they needed "more financial flexibility". Excuse me, you just let a player go for nothing. I have been in fantasy leagues for years, and JP that's called a "dump". By the way, in any fantasy league, that trade/move would be banned. :-)

So what does Ricciardi hope to gain by removing $72 million plus, which is what Rolen and Rios were signed for, from his payroll over the next several years? Signing Roy Halladay to a contract extension? If you're Halladay and you see in the past ten days that your seven time gold glove starting third baseman was traded and a two time AL All Star centerfielder dumped for "more financial flexibility", do you really want to stay on this team after next season? I think not.

By not trading Halladay or Rios by the trade deadline, Ricciardi greatly lost a chance to strengthen his team, especially his minor league system. Ricciardi is also the person who saddled the Blue Jays with the expensive contracts of Rios and Vernon Wells. It's time for a change in Toronto, otherwise it's more of the same disappointments for years to come.

I was in Waterville Valley, New Hampshire over the weekend for the Curious George Festival, so I missed out on most of the Yankees-Red Sox series. I was still able to catch some of the games though. First thought, perhaps I was too presumptuous to say the Red Sox were a winner coming out of the trade deadline. With Dice K and Wakefield hurt, the now designated for assignment John Smoltz and Brad Penny not getting the job done, and Clay Buchholz not ready to be the third ace in the staff, the Red Sox rotation is very shaky past Josh Beckett and Jon Lester.

The Red Sox perhaps overvalued their prospects when trying to deal with the Blue Jays for Roy Halladay. As a result, the roles with the Yankees are reversed. When the Sox won the first eight games against the Bronx Bombers, the Sox had the better starting staff and bullpen. Now as the season has progressed, the Yankees starting staff has improved, especially with the second half emergence of Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes finally giving the Yankees a legit setup man for Rivera. Meanwhile the Red Sox' staff, due to injuries and an overworked bullpen looks shaky.

Right now, it looks very difficult for the Red Sox to get back in the hunt for the AL East race with their injuries. Yes, they did need to add Victor Martinez to a team where the offense is getting old (Lowell, Ortiz and Varitek probably won't be on the Sox next year) and banged up (Jason Bay being out has really hurt their lineup). Even with Martinez, the Sox can't match the Yankee lineup. But as always, the difference comes down to pitching. If Michael Bowden was ready to contribute, he would be up by now. So perhaps trading Buchholz and other prospects to get Halladay would have been the smart move. Now they have to try to hold off the Rays, a team with better starting pitching right now, or the Rangers, a team playing in a weaker AL West for the wild card. It's not going to be easy.

Kudos to the White Sox for going for it by adding Rios and Jake Peavy. If all goes well, within 10 days to two weeks, both will be on the White Sox roster. The White Sox are too far back in the Wild Card hunt (seven games behind Boston with four teams in front) but they are only three behind the Tigers. Blowing a late lead to Seattle last night while Detroit lost to Boston didn't help. But adding Peavy to Buehrle, Floyd and Danks makes the White Sox staff comparable to Detroit's. Rios gives them lineup flexibility (while maybe not "financial flexibility"). Should be a fun last month and a half in the AL Central.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Trade Deadline Winners and Losers

So the July 31 deadline has come and gone. Several big names were traded before the deadline; Cliff Lee, Victor Martinez, Jarrod Washburn, Jake Peavy and Matt Holliday (yes, last weekend counts before the deadline). So let's look at all the winners and losers from the last few days of trades.


Philadelphia Phillies - They were able to get the 2008 AL Cy Young Award Winner, Cliff Lee, for four very good prospects, but they did not trade the elite prospects (Kyle Drabek, Dominic Brown and Michael Taylor) that the Blue Jays so desperately wanted. Ben Francisco gives them a solid righthanded bat and speed off the bench. Lee and Hamels make a great one-two punch, which gives the Phillies an excellent chance to repeat as world champs this season AND next season. Real nice work by Ruben Amaro Jr.

St Louis Cardinals - Yes, they paid a hefty price for Matt Holliday, but they so desperately needed a major bat to complement Albert Pujols. Holliday has already paid dividends for the Cardinals, going 17 for 29 with 8 RBIs in 8 games (and has hits in each of the eight games). Now it's not so easy to pitch around the Machine.

Boston Red Sox - Again, another team was able to add an elite player, Victor Martinez, without giving up their elite prospects. Masterson, Hagadone and Price are solid prospects, but they didn't give up Clay Buchholz or Ryan Westmoreland, their two best. Being able to trade Adam LaRoche for Casey Kotchman, who will only make 3.5 million next year, solidifies their bench this season and gives them a very cheap first baseman for next year. Yes, they didn't get the front line starter that they really needed, but Ricciardi's demands were absurd and Theo Epstein knew it.

Detroit Tigers - The Twins did a nice job getting Orlando Cabrera. But the Tigers shrewd trade for Jarrod Washburn not only made the Tigers a lot better but forced the White Sox to give up a lot for an injured Jake Peavy. The Tigers playoff rotation of Verlander, Washburn and Edwin Jackson looks awfully good. Dave Dombrowski - Super Genius.

Pittsburgh Pirates - Yes, you read this right. The Pirates are winners from the deadline. They recovered from the absolutely awful Adam LaRoche deal with their trades of Jack Wilson, Freddy Sanchez and John Grabow. Jeff Clement will be their first baseman for the next few years, Tim Alderson looks to be a front line starter, and Kevin Hart looks to be a solid back of the rotation pitcher. Throw in several other players that will beef up their minor leagues and Neal Huntington may have turned the corner. Key term "may" (I still also think the McLouth deal was horrid).

Cleveland Indians - Yes, just like the Pirates, the Indians had a fire sale. However, when you can land seven quality prospects like Lou Marson, Jason Donald, Carlos Carrasco, Jason Knapp, Justin Masterson, Nick Hagadone and Bryan Price, you've done well. Lee was going to be a free agent after next season and they weren't winning with Martinez. Both Carrasco and Masterson will be fixtures in the rotation next season. Marson and Donald should be both playing regularly next year. The rest give them pitching depth in the minors the Indians didn't have.

Oakland A's - Billy Beane did a nice job getting three top prospects - Brett Wallace, Clay Mortensen and Shane Peterson. Wallace can help immediately and Mortensen and Peterson should be helping out sometime in 2010. Wallace could become an elite hitter.

Los Angeles Dodgers - George Sherrill gives the Dodgers they were sorely lacking - a bridge from the starters to Jonathan Broxton. The overworked LA pen just got a lot better. Yes Josh Bell could be very good. But the Dodgers have a chance to win it all. This had to be done.


Toronto Blue Jays - Yes JP Ricciardi still has Roy Halladay for next year. And sure, you can say Toronto has enough talent to be contending next year. But that's IF, pitchers like Shawn Marcum and Dustin McGowan among others can come back strong. And remember, the Blue Jays play in the AL East with the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays, all teams better than them currently. So it's certainly far from a sure thing than the Jays can do any better in 2010 than the last two years.

But when you make it PUBLICLY known that you will take offers for Roy Halladay, knowing full well that you probably won't be able to resign him after 2010, and you don't make any deal by the trading deadline, you have already now lowered the price tag for him in the offseason. No team in their right mind is going to give you anywhere near the offers the Phillies and apparently the Angels made before the deadline. Any team that wanted Halladay, wanted him for two pennant races, not one. When the Phillies decided to deal for Cliff Lee instead, Ricciardi was in serious trouble. He was banking on the Phillies bending to his will, but they didn't.

Also trading Scott Rolen, an excellent defensive third baseman, for Edwin Encarnacion, a not so good defensive third baseman, but much cheaper, signals "salary dumping". If you're Roy Halladay, you wonder if Ricciardi truly believes in the Jays after that trade. So that, along with the whole fiasco of the past month, will ensure Halladay doesn't resign with the Jays. Ricciardi just basically slit his own throat with this non-deal. He's gone after next year for sure and maybe even sooner.

Cincinnati Reds - Please explain to me how a team that has gone into the tank like the Reds (having lost nine of their last ten) decides to trade a 26 year old third baseman for 34 year old third baseman who is making 11.8 million next year?! Yes Scott Rolen is a defensive upgrade from Edwin Encarnacion, but adding significant salary to basically rent a player for a year and two months? Also, the Reds didn't dump any of their veteran talent like Arthur Rhodes, David Weathers, Aaron Harang or Bronson Arroyo. They should have been able to get some mid level prospect for both Weathers and Rhodes. Just some really questionable moves here for a mid market team that really needs to shed payroll.

Seattle Mariners - Someone please also explain to me whether or not the Mariners have multiple personality disorder? One minute they look like they are going for broke by trading for Jack Wilson (and giving up on former first round pick Jeff Clement), who's owed $8 million next year and Ian Snell, not cheap at 4.2 million for a Triple A pitcher. The next minute, they are sending Jarrod Washburn off to the Tigers for two pitching prospects (one grant you is Lucas French, who was pitching for the Tigers at the time of the trade). Either you are in or you're out. Decide.

Los Angeles Angels - The Angels tried to make a late push for Halladay yesterday, but they were denied by Ricciardi the Absurd. They also tried to make a run for Heath Bell and also fell short. Thus the Angels did not improve themselves. They may still win the AL West, but they are likely to get knocked out in the first round of the playoffs.

New York Mets - Yes, they are probably out of the wild card hunt after losing two games in a row, prior to that five game winning streak. But to do nothing, whether it was buy or sell, just shows how dysfunctional the Mets are. They could have traded a Pedro Feliciano, a very useful lefty and got some needed minor league depth in return but Omar Minaya is too busy trying to recover from a horrible week of PR.

The In Between

Chicago White Sox - Yes, they finally got the man they have wanted for three months in Jake Peavy. But in May, Peavy was healthy. Now it's a question whether he will come back this season at all. And he's still owed a chunk of change for the next two years in a league he is not familiar with, so it may take him a while to be an elite pitcher in the AL. Still, he can be a dominant pitcher. The question is, was it worth depleting the pitching depth in the minors to do this? And trading for Mark Kotsay? Seriously?

San Diego - Kudos to them for dumping $40 million off the books for a pitcher currently hurt. The question is Clayton Richard, Adam Russell, Aaron Poreda and Dexter Carter worth an elite pitchers such as Peavy. It's not quite the bounty the Indians got for Cliff Lee, so we'll see. You have to also wonder why they considered trading Adrian Gonzalez. His salary seems pretty reasonable to me. Ditto for Heath Bell.

Atlanta - Explain to me how trading Casey Kotchman for Adam LaRoche helps, other than my fantasy team (where LaRoche goes from part time on the Red Sox to full time on the Braves)? LaRoche is a little better offensive upgrade for this season, but Kotchman was only making $3.5 million next year and LaRoche is a free agent after this season. So yes, you helped your team this season, but good luck finding a first baseman for less than $4 million next year.