Boston is rolling the dice twice more this off-season, and no, not Daisuke Matsuzaka. As if adding oft-injured Brad Penny wasn’t risky enough, the Red Sox appear close to signing both outfielder/DH Rocco Baldelli and pitcher John Smoltz to one-year deals with heavy incentives, including 5.5 million for Smoltz, pushing the potential worth of his deal to 10 million. Baldelli’s terms have yet to be announced.
Baldelli’s story is well known. Only a few weeks ago news was release a development in his ongoing health battle, leading to a sense of newfound optimism concerning playing time. Last year, Baldelli returned to the Rays in September and finished a game in which he started in the outfield only once, that coming in the playoffs. The Rays recent signing of Pat Burrell and prior acquisition of Matt Joyce left them without a roster spot to offer Baldelli, and thus he became a free agent. In-game television reports quoted Baldelli as saying his legs would begin to shake and feel as if they were burning during his stints in the field.
That makes the new diagnosis the wild card in this deal, if Baldelli can sustain health, he should be a worthwhile forth outfielder, however if this is more of the same, there’s no way of telling whether an injury to J.D. Drew will also lead to an injury to Baldelli, and a promotion to Jonathan Van Every. Obviously the latter is the worst case scenario, but something Boston will have to have in mind.
With the playing time concerns in mind, it’s hard to get a grasp on Baldelli’s value. In 90 plate appearances, Baldelli was worth nearly half of a win. Of course, the last moderately healthy season Baldelli had he was worth 3.3 wins, and 1.4 in the couple prior to that. If he can stay healthy and simply play at a near league average rate, the Sox are likely going to get more value in return than they’ll pay him.
Smoltz will soon be 42 and is recovering from shoulder surgery that limited his 2008 appearances. Smoltz should be ready by the summer, but there is talk of a return-by-date bonus, which seems a bit reckless. Yes, the Sox want as much of Smoltz as possible, but pushing him to return by a certain date in order to earn some more cash is a recipe for disaster, especially if he is not ready. As for his actual role, it is unknown whether Smoltz would pitch in relief or as a starter, and how the Sox will handle their rotation if Smoltz, Penny, and Tim Wakefield remain healthy and effective at once – although that’s a problem they wouldn’t mind.
Whenever he ends up pitching, Smoltz will likely be worth the money. Even with all the incentives earned, the Sox are paying for two wins. It’s possible the surgery costs Smoltz some effectiveness, and even if we tack on a few runs to his 3.50 FIP that Marcels projects and 19 runs above replacement that CHONE projects, Smoltz still projects to be worth the base amount of 5.5 million. Even if Smoltz doesn’t work out, you have to appreciate Boston’s aggressiveness and awareness when dealing with injury-prone starters. Yes, they bring headaches, but if they’re good like Smoltz 50 innings given to him instead of another pitcher can be worth the hassle.
It’s an off-season of risks for Boston, which makes the 2009 AL East even more exciting.