Off-Season Awards – The Good

With Spring Training officially open, we can just about close the book on the 2010-2011 off-season. Sure, there are still guys like Kevin Millwood, Nick Johnson, and Jeremy Bonderman on the market, but most free agents have found homes and the trading season has just about passed. So, before we turn our attention forward to the thrill of weigh-ins and stretching, let’s take a look back and hand out some hardware for the best moves of the winter – we’ll deal with the worst deals in a few hours.

In order to evaluate the moves, I’ve attempted to look at the potential impact each transaction could make on their organization. I’m a big fan of the Jeff Francis signing for the Royals, but he’s unlikely to significantly alter the AL Central race this year, and as a guy who signed a one year deal, his impact on future seasons won’t be determined until next off-season. Priority was given to moves that impact a pennant race or a team’s future chances of contending, or at least had a significant impact on the market.

Without further ado, let’s go to the awards.

Best Signing – Tsuyoshi Nishioka, 2B/SS, Minnesota Twins

In a winter with runaway pricing on players of all shapes and sizes, the Twins found a place to invest a small amount of money while still receiving the chance to get a significant return. For just a $5 million posting fee and $9 million over three years (with a friendly team option for a fourth year), the Twins got a potential starting middle infielder for the cost of a middle reliever – literally. The $14 million that Nishioka cost the Twins puts the price right in line with the likes of Bobby Jenks, Matt Guerrier, Scott Downs, and Joaquin Benoit. While these guys are perfectly serviceable relief pitchers, few would argue that a setup man is as valuable as an everyday middle infielder, especially given the shortage of shortstops in Major League Baseball right now.

While he might not have the overall skillset to be a star, Nishioka profiles as the kind of player who is often undervalued. Patrick Newman – who knows Japanese baseball as well as anyone – called him a guy with “great range”, and even if arm strength limits him to second base, he could still be a defensive asset at the position. At the plate, he’s said to lack power but has enough speed and contact abilities to succeed at the little man’s game that the Twins adore, and realistically, he doesn’t have to hit much at all to justify his salary.

The Twins are essentially paying for about one win per year from Nishioka – the bar for a +1 WAR second baseman is really low. For comparison, Gordon Beckham hit .252/.317/.378 with defense that UZR judged as about average and was a +1 win player in 2010. That’s the bar that Nishioka’s salary has set, and given his performance in Japan and how well similar players have made the jump across the ocean, we should likely expect Nishioka to clear that with relative ease. Even Kaz Matsui, who is widely regarded as a bust, has averaged +1.3 WAR per 600 PA in his Major League career. If Nishioka hits more like Tadahito Iguchi or Akinori Iwamura did in their debut seasons, the Twins will have the steal of the winter.

They control his rights for the next four years, and yet they’re paying about the same in annual average value to the price the Rockies paid to acquire Ty Wigginton. The Twins decision to swap out middle infields in the winter after winning the AL Central has been questioned, but I’m guessing that Nishioka will silence many of those critics. In a time of often crazy inflation, the Twins found an answer up the middle for the price of a decent bench player. Not bad at all.

Best Trade AcquisitionAdrian Gonzalez, Boston Red Sox

While the Red Sox surrendered a lot of highly thought of talent in the deal, Gonzalez should be worth it. As a large revenue team in the ridiculously competitive AL East, wins are worth more to Boston than they are to most teams, and Theo Epstein found a way to add a lot of wins in a hurry. Freed from the bonds of Petco, Gonzalez’s opposite field power should thrive in Fenway, giving the Red Sox another legitimate All-Star bat in the middle of a line-up that will scare the bejeezus out of opposing pitchers.

Along with signing Carl Crawford, the Gonzalez acquisition tipped the scales Boston’s way to the point that they’re now the favorite in the AL East, despite being the team that missed out on playoff baseball last year. Gonzalez solved a lot of problems that were going to be challenging to fix in any other way, and he’s a perfect fit the Sox in both 2011 and the future. To compete in that division, you need premium players, and the Red Sox found a way to get a premium player at a reasonable cost.

Gonzalez wasn’t cheap, but he’s worth it, especially if he’s the difference between October baseball and another year of staring up at the Yankees in the standings. Given the potential Gonzalez has, that is exactly the kind of impact he could make.

Best Move Overall – Trading Vernon Wells, Toronto Blue Jays

While there were some nice moves this winter, nothing tops the shock and awe of the Jays getting out from under the Vernon Wells contract. Thought to be an unmovable albatross, the Jays reclaimed a huge chunk of their future by shipping Wells’ bloated deal to Anaheim. For the money they saved, they’ll be able to make a big push for legitimate stars in future off-seasons, and they didn’t even make their 2011 team appreciably worse in the process. When the Jays land someone like Prince Fielder next winter, this deal will essentially be viewed as a straight up swap of talent, and the Jays will almost certainly come out ahead after being given a chance to reallocate that money.

It’s hard to explain just how significant moving Wells was, but the word cloud says it best.

That’s the sound of a fan base invigorated by a single move. No one did more to help his franchise this winter than Alex Anthopolous, who made perhaps the best “addition by subtraction” deal in the history of the game.

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Dave is a co-founder of and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

47 Responses to “Off-Season Awards – The Good”

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  1. Detroit Michael says:

    Isn’t the Twins’ acquisition of Nishioka ($14M for 3 years) pretty much offset by sending J.J. Hardy ($5.85M for 1 year, although we didn’t know the exact figure at the time) for very little? We can certainly project Hardy’s 2011 performance with greater certainty.

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    • Luke in MN says:

      More risk but far more reward. Four years of cheap team control of a 26-year-old with the potential to be an above-average middle-infielder (which is basically what Hardy is) could be huge. And it can’t be anything more than a $14 million mistake, which is peanuts over three years of MLB.

      Still, I’d have preferred they signed Nishioka and kept Hardy.

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  2. Lewis says:

    AA is probably better than you.

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  3. SC2GG says:

    If we were to somehow compare GMs performance as though they were players, AA would be better than Puhols. He’s got a hit practically every time he’s went to bat, and a huge percentage of the time, he knocks it out of the park.

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  4. Jimmy the Greek says:

    Signing Cliff Lee for below-market value?

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    • Anon21 says:

      Not far below market value. A good move, obviously, but I don’t know that signing a big-ticket free agent for about the same AAV as his competing offers is more a compliment to your payroll than your GM.

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    • DT says:

      Since when was 25 million a year below market value? Media has diluted us into thinking Lee gave up tons of money from the yankees and rangers to play for phillie…but in reality he’s taking 1-2 less years but at a higher per annual salary. at 25 million per year it makes him the highest paid pitcher on an annual basis.

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    • phoenix2042 says:

      i don’t think paying over 100mil for a pitcher who will be 36 and making 27.5million is as much of a steal as you would like it to be.

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      • Luke in MN says:

        Yeah, there’s no such thing as a brilliant pitcher contract over $100 million. It’s not a bad gamble for a team like the Phillies, but those all have the potential to kill you.

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      • Jimmy the Greek says:

        Yup, only on Fangraphs is the signing of a middle infielder who is comparable to Kaz Matsui a better deal than signing one of the top 5 pitchers in baseball to a shorter deal than he was offered anywhere else.

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  5. mister_rob says:

    “” few would argue that a setup man is as valuable as an everyday middle infielder,””

    Thats a silly statement. Ryan Theriot is an everyday middle infielder. And I can think of about a dozen setup men I’d rather have on my team than Theriot

    In fact, this guy the Twins signed sounds alot like Theriot. Blah arm, zero power

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    • Anon21 says:

      Ok, you’re entitled to build your team how you want, but there actually aren’t many middle relievers capable of matching his 2009 2.3 WAR, to say nothing of his 3.1 WAR in 2008. Obviously, his replacement-level 2010 is easily surpassed by anyone who is any good, but that doesn’t alter the basic point that cost control and “blah” but consistent quality is more important for the guy who plays every day than from the guy who tosses one inning 4 times a week.

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      • mister_rob says:

        The point is you can get a “everyday middle infielder” for alot less commitment. 14m over 3 years for a guy that seems like Ryan Theriot. 2.0

        The CArds got the real Theriot for 3m and a AAA roster filler guy
        THe Indians got Cabrera for next to nothing

        If the cubs went out and signed Blake Dewitt to a 3 yr/14m extension, would everyone be calling it a great move?

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    • Jason B says:

      But likewise, I can think of two dozen middle infielders I would rather have than a blah middle reliever, like Juan Gutierrez (5.08 ERA, 5.83 FIP, -1.0 WAR). I would really prefer having Hanley Ramirez to that guy.

      (Obviously showing that it’s not appropriate to compare the best of one position to the dregs of the other.)

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  6. Jason B says:

    I also like the URL:

    Click through to see who won the goo! I hope it was Clemens, Michael Young, and Papelbon. Maybe Joe Morgan too? Dusty Baker? Line ‘em up and slime ‘em, “You can’t do that on television” style.

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  7. rauchc3145 says:

    How about a player page for Mr. Nishioka???

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  8. Mike Savino says:

    Can we get over Boston’s moves? Haven’t we already discussed how they’re simply replacing the production of Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez with Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez? They won’t be appreciably better this year. They may be appreciably healthier…

    Sure, Adrian is talented and perhaps he is the best traded for player this off-season but I’m not sure Boston is my favorite to win the division running away.

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    • Nik says:

      The trade was for one year of AGonz’s services and exclusive negotiating rights. Giving up your two best prospects for one year is still a lot. Once the big contract is signed, it should be pretty close to market value for the rest of his stay in Boston.

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      • Nik says:

        PS, look at what the Braves gave up to get Dan Uggla, in my opinion a much better trade than what Boston had to give up for AGonz.

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      • JFC says:

        OK, so this (V-Mart + Beltre = Crawford + Gonzalez) is something I’ve heard a lot in the comments section. That was pretty much the case in 2010. The second pair would have given the Sox an extra win by fWAR. This might have been higher id Gonzalez was playing in Fenway, but maybe Crawford’s defensive value is slightly less, so let’s call it a wash. There are two issues with this sentiment that I see going forward, (1) Crawford and Gonzalez are a combined nine years younger and (2) Crawford and Gonzalez have a much longer track record of success. Consider:

        Gonzalez + Crawford = 57
        Beltre + Martinez = 64

        WAR 2010
        Gonzalez + Crawford = 12.2
        Beltre + Martinez = 11.1

        WAR 2009-2010
        Gonzalez + Crawford = 24.4 (avg. 12.2)
        Beltre + Martinez = 17.7 (avg. 8.8)

        WAR 2008-2010
        Gonzalez + Crawford = 30.7 (avg. 10.2)
        Beltre + Martinez = 22.6 (avg. 7.5)

        I don’t think it’s unreasonable to believe that the Sox made themselves 3-4 wins better next year. Fan projections for 2011:

        Gonzalez + Crawford = 11.2 WAR
        Beltre + Martinez = 7.7 WAR

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      • deadpool says:

        I think what hurts the Braves in this discussion is that Uggla is less likely to sway the NL East than A-Gon is to shift the balance in the AL East.

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    • pft says:

      If you look at the Red Sox starting linuep this year and compare it what started on opening day in 2010, they are significantly improved in LF, but significantly weaker at C (unless Salty comes through).

      They are also 1 year older with 35 yo’s in RF, SS and DH. They have 3 starters who came off significant injuries last year (Pedroia, Youk and Ellsbury), a SS with neck pain he will live for the rest of his life, JD who is worried about his hammy, when he is not worried about his back or shoulder, and A-Gon coming off shoulder surgery.

      If the starters stay healthy, and the back end of the rotation (Lackey, Beckett and Daisuke) bounce back, the Red Sox could very well win 113 games. But thats a big If.

      That said, if I had to put money on any team winning the AL East division at this point, it has to be Boston. Never bet against regression to mean, so I have been told.

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      • Jason B says:

        “the Red Sox could very well win 113 games”

        Interesting number. 113? Not 114? Not 112? =)

        Either way, I’ll take the under…

        And spot you seven wins. (Not six. Not eight.) :-)

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      • Jason B says:

        Seven! Seven is the key number here! Not six! Seven squirrels, sittin’ on a branch, eatin’ lots of sunflowers on my uncle’s ranch! You know that old kids’ rhyme from the sea…

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  9. rotofan says:

    Not sure that Twins fans want to hear Nishioka mentioned in the same paragraph as Kaz Matsui, even if it’s just to argue that even Matsui surpassed the +1 War bar. Especially since your argument for Matsui has some holes:

    (1) Matsui played six years but only two did he top the +1 War mark, his 4th and 5th seasons.

    (2) Matsui earned nearly half his WAR in a single season, playing in Colorado, where his home OPS was nearly 200 points higher than his career mark not playing in Coors. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe Fangraph’s WAR is based on wOBA that does not adjust for park factor. His defense value that year also spiked well beyond career norms and leads to the natural suspicion his actual defensive value was closer to those league norms.

    All that said, the Nishioka is certainly low risk. To have success at all offensively he will have to show an ability to get on base — his career OBP was about .360 until a great season in 2010 that was helped by a BABIP of nearly .400. His speed has not been a great asset stealing bases in Japan: He was thrown out almost exactly half the time, which would make his value as a base stealer at break even or worse depending upon which metric is used.

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    • Dave Cameron says:

      WAR is park adjusted. Also, his good performances count too, and we can’t just throw those out because they don’t fit the preconceived notion that Matsui was useless.

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      • rotofan says:

        (1) I thought the WAR you are using is based on wOBA which is not park-adjusted. Here is the site’s David Appleman on wOBA:
        David Appelman says:
        December 13, 2009 at 8:31 pm

        wRC+ is park and league adjusted. wOBA is not.

        Perhaps you are using something other than the site’s wOBA as a building block for WAR or are otherwise accounting for park factors. If that is the case, it would be helpful if you could explain how.

        (2) The reason I suggested we should discount Matsui’s year with the Rockies was because I suspected it was not park-adjusted and there is evidence to discount a one-year spike in defensive metrics. The only preconceived notion I see is your assumption that I have one.

        (3) The reason Matsui is looked at by many as a failure is because he performed poorly his first three years and didn’t match expectations in the biggest media market in baseball. That was not a preconception. That was his record — barely topping 1 War over three seasons. He had some success in Colorado and to a lesser extent Houston, so how we measure that value becomes important. Again, if you could explain how WAR on this site accounts for park factors, that would be greatly appreciated.

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      • rotofan says:

        Upon further review of Fangraphs it appears more likely you may be wrong about WAR including park factors.

        The offensive component of WAR comes from wRAA and the formula, according to Fangraphs, is this:

        subtract the league average wOBA from your player’s wOBA, divide by 1.15, and multiply that result by how many plate appearances the player received

        Your site goes on to say that wRAA is adjusted for the league but not the park — as should be clear from the formula.

        The question then becomes: Is wOBA park adjusted? While some sites adjust for park factors, Fangraphs does not:
        “- wOBA on FanGraphs is not adjusted for park effects, but the wOBA on StatCorner is. Take your pick”

        If you are using Fangraphs as your source for WAR and if your site accurately describes how it is measured, then you are wrong that it is adjusted for park factors. If you are using some other source or if the site description was in error, perhaps you could clear that up.

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    • fredsbank says:

      just because it happened in coors doesnt mean it didnt happen

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      • rotofan says:

        You and I would both weigh lighter on the moon too but you would be foolish not to consider the effect of gravity on our weight.

        Likewise, we would be foolish not to take into account park factors generally but particularly at Coors. Dave says the WAR metric takes that into account. I say I’ve read statements by another author on this site that leads may to believe it may not. I am seeking clarity.

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    • wOBA is not park-adjusted, but the “Batting” component of WAR, derived form wRAA (linear weights) which is based on wOBA, is. So, yes, it’s part adjusted.

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      • rotofan says:

        Thanks Matt for offering an explanation. But I don’t see a park adjustment for wRAA in the definition and formula Fangraphs uses:

        subtract the league average wOBA from your player’s wOBA, divide by 1.15, and multiply that result by how many plate appearances the player received

        We agree that wOBA on Fangraphs is not park-adjusted so either wRAA is not either, the definition/formula is incomplete or I am making an unwarranted assumption. While I’m modest enough to know the latter sometimes happens, all the evidence I’ve seen so far is to the contrary.

        If you could bring further clarity to this issue, that would be great.

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      • Toffer Peak says:

        “However, you may notice that a player’s Batting value doesn’t match his wRAA value on the player cards. That’s because the wRAA numbers on the site are not park adjusted, but to build a proper win value, you have to include the effects of a player’s home environment. Getting back to Beltre, he plays in a park that depresses run scoring, so the runs that he creates are more valuable than they would be if they came in a park where runs were more plentiful. So, while his raw offensive line may have only been worth 3.9 runs, when we adjust for Safeco Field, his Batting value goes up to 5.9 runs. ”

        In short, Fangraphs park adjusts batting runs in their WAR calculation.

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  10. maddux530 says:

    The Uggla deal was a steal for Atlanta. Sure, the extension probably won’t look great in year 4 and 5, but sending a utility player and a young bullpen arm (of which the Braves were aplenty) for the 3rd-best offensive 2B is a steal.

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  11. David says:

    Why is the Gonzalez trade better than the Greinke trade? The Red Sox gave up more talent, got an older player who in the past three years has not produced as much (Greinke: 19.5 fWAR, Gonzalez: 15.1 fWAR). The Gonzalez deal also forces them to jettison Beltre or Youkilis (Ortiz is locked into the DH spot), which detracts from the value they gained.

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  12. pft says:

    So Theo trades 3 top prospects, one who is being compared to A-Gon by A-Gons first professional coach who is now with the Red Sox, for either 1 year of A-Gon, or at least 150 million dollars over 6 years, and this is the best trade?

    What hole did it fill? A-Gon essentially replaces Beltre (or Youk if you will). It also leaves the Red Sox out of the running for Pujols who could possibly have been acquired without losing any prospects NEXT year.

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  13. linuxit says:

    I thought the Adrian Gonzalez trade was terrible for Boston because he just had shoulder surgery and won’t be able to even swing a bat until sometime in March. There’s a real chance that he’ll be missing significant playing time. Many players don’t recover well from labrum surgery. They better hope he’s not the next Troy Glaus. For pitchers, it’s one of the worst kind of injuries/surgeries to have.

    I think Crawford might be a bust. CC has a career .301 OBP at Fenway Park. Fenway is probably the worst park in baseball for speed burners, especially for left fielders where speed/range is trumped by the Green Monster. CC is a bad fit for this team. They should be

    I’d rather have Beltre and VMart for $150 Million than CC and AGone for about $300 Million. Boston also burns another $7.5 Million for having Mike Cameron as a 4th OF. I guess Cameron will just take Mike Lowell’s spot on the bench. One redeeming factor is that CC and AGone are a little younger, but still Boston is the oldest team in the American League. They’ll have many holes to fill in the near future and they could be hamstrung by these 2 huge contracts.

    I think Tsuyoshi Nishioka is questionable at best. Minnesota could of resigned Orlando Hudson for about the same amount of cash, but they dumped the money on someone with no MLB experience instead. IMO, it’s merely a Hail Mary.

    The best FA signing was by the Cubs for getting Kerry Wood back for just $1.5 Million. He had a 0.69 ERA in the 2nd half of last season. That’s the best bargain all around.

    Best trade was by the Brewers in getting Shaun Marcum for 2B prospect Brett Lawrie. Marcum is arb eligible and won’t be a Free Agent until 2013. He’ll make just $4Million this year and IMO he’s actually just as good as the over-hyped Zach Grienke, who’ll be making $13.5 M for each of the next 2 seasons. Marcum should only get better now that he’s out of the AL East.

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    • GreggB says:

      Linusit, your comments on the Sox don’t make sense.

      Boston is hardly the oldest team in the league. Their key players are significantly younger than the Yankees and many others. The heart of the lineup — they guys they are depending on to score runs — are all 26-31 — Youk, Pedroia, Gonzalez, Crawford, Ellsbury. Their top two starting pitchers are 26 and 27.

      You say they will have many holes to fill going forward? I think the opposite. The core of the team is entering its prime. The starting rotation is fixed for several years. The only openings that appear to be coming in the next year or two all have talented heir-apparents-in-waiting: SS: Lowrey or Iglesias. RF: Kalish. Closer: Bard. Papi will have to be replaced at some point, but productive designated hitters are plentiful and relatively cheap.

      I frankly can’t think of a team better positioned for the next 4-5 years, thanks in large part to the two big acquisitions. The farm system was temporarily weakened, but that will be fully replenished in June when the Sox have four of the top 40 picks of the deepest draft in many years.

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      • linuxit says:

        Boston is the oldest team in the AL. Their team’s avg age is 28.4 years old.

        A very near future hole is at @3B: Youkilis, 32, has never played a full season at 3B and is coming off an injury plagued year where he played in just 102 games. He should be moving to DH, not to the hot corner. Last season he missed time to injuries from his ankle, groin, lower back, elbow, and thumb. His health seems to be going downhill fast.

        Their youngest everyday player is Ellsbury, 27, played in only 18 games last season and had a .192 batting average. Not sure how much he should be counted on.

        Another near future hole is at catcher. Varitek is 38 and is on his last leg, while Saltalamacchia is coming off of thumb and shoulder surgeries. He also missed time last season due to back and leg injuries. Salt just can’t stay healthy and shouldn’t be counted on.

        David Ortiz is 35 and is probably in his last year at DH. That’s a big bat they’ll need to replace.

        In RF, Drew’s bat will be missed also. His replacement, Kalish, is not much of a power hitter. So I doubt he’ll progress much at the MLB level. He can work a count, but pitchers will go after him if he can’t put the ball in play.

        Shortstop, Scutaro is 35 years old.

        Their starting rotation will have a few holes also.
        Dice K, 30, has missed about 30 starts in the past 2 seasons.
        Beckett, 30, is coming off a terrible season where he suffered from back problems.
        Lackey, 32, regressed a bit last season. That could be a trend.

        Lester and Buchholz should be solid. I’ll give them that.
        Another player I don’t worry about much is Pedroila, who is also 27, but he played in just 75 games last year. He’s still a great ballplayer, but he just needs to stay healthy.

        This team is the definition of a MASH unit. Last year was a clear sign of a team getting old and injury plagued.

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  14. Anthony says:

    I’m smack in the middle of the Boston talks. I don’t think AGon and CC make them a million times better because, as said, they’re replacing Beltre and Martinez. They should be better, but not signicantly better; and their record was what I’d call significantly worse last year. However, the Yanks got significantly worse last year, Boston underperformed their roster due to injuries, and the Rays lost a lot. Tampa Bay did gain some of those wins back, but neither them or the Yanks will be as good as they were last year and Boston will be better. My prediction is that the race will still be a very close, very fun three team race.

    Still think the Bravos getting Uggla is better, or Milwaukee getting Marcum. People don’t think Uggla going to Atlanta is as much of a division changer, I think it is. Oswalt, Halladay, and Lee are fairly old and in all likelyhood will all get worse next year. Not like 3 WAR worse (well maybe), but they won’t be getting better. The Phillies are old, Boston had a ‘stacked’ rotation and an old team last year and they didn’t even make the playoffs. You never know with an old team. Marcum is more of a division changer than the Sox signings because now the Brewers are a lot of people’s favorites to win the division.

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    • GreggB says:

      Anthony, I agree that, for 2011, Gonzalez and Crawford can’t be expected to do too much more than Beltre and V-Mart did in 2010. I’m not sure that the Rays will hold their own this year, but the Yankees still have the talent in 2011 to be neck and neck for leadership in the east.

      But the Red Sox are so much better aligned for the future with Gonzalez and Crawford in place — it is now a very well-constructed team for the long term. If you project two, three, four years forward, the Yankees have a major reconstruction project before them as Jeter, A-Rod, Rivera succumb to age. The Rays could remain competitive, but there are a lot more ifs with unproven talent. The Sox appear to have a more solid foundation than their competitors.

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  15. Retrograde says:

    The best signing all winter was a Japanese middle infielder who is likely the second coming of Kaz Matsui?

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  16. Winsway says:

    Catza joser!


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