The Red Sox entered the 2011 season with high hopes of winning their third championship of the millennium. Best laid plans didn’t come to fruition as the events of that wild and wacky final day of the regular season kept them out of the playoffs entirely.
Their offense wasn’t to blame, as the Red Sox posted a league-leading .351 wOBA and 116 wRC+. Their bullpen led the junior circuit in WAR and FIP as well, while throwing 517.1 innings. That innings total was the second-highest in the league, indicative of their major problem area: the rotation.
While the Red Sox starting rotation wasn’t atrocious, it certainly didn’t live up to expectations. It posted the highest walk rate in the American League, and finished in the bottom third in all of ERA, FIP and SIERA. Josh Beckett and Jon Lester pitched well, as did Clay Buchholz over his 14 starts. Everyone else left much to be desired.
After seeing the Yankees eek solid seasons out of Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia, the Red Sox seem to be adopting a similar approach for the 2012 season. Instead of looking for major splashes, or even above average reinforcements like Edwin Jackson and Roy Oswalt, the Red Sox have signed Aaron Cook, and are currently engaged in talks with Vicente Padilla. Cook makes some sense, in spite of his recent struggles to stay on the mound, because he offers one of the best groundball rates in baseball when healthy, and averaged close to 4 WAR from 2006-08.
Padilla is another story, as he carries various forms of risk and has never really offered much reward. Minor league deals are almost never detrimental to the signing team, but expectations should be significantly tempered for Padilla, even if he somehow manages to stay healthy.
The idea behind signing a high risk pitcher is that he tends to offer something of value given a specific caveat. Either he hasn’t been healthy in recent years, or his performance has substantially dropped off after years of above average numbers. Teams take fliers on these types of players because they come cheap and, if healthy or under the right guidance, can turn in good years. Both descriptors apply to Colon and Garcia, who respectively tallied 2.9 and 2.2 WAR for the Yankees last season.
The same can’t be said of Padilla, who has thrown a mere 251 innings since 2009 with erratic numbers to boot. He isn’t an extreme groundballer and his strikeout and walk rates are tough to peg. He throws hard, and with a violent windup, but he is as likely to post respective K and BB rates of 5.3 and 3.2 as he is to post rates of 7.5 and 3.5. And those rates are irrespective of league, because his career hasn’t followed any type of predicable pattern. In fact, the only thing that can be said with any semblance of certainty given his recent history, is that Padilla is unlikely to throw 180-200 frames again, whether his time on the mound is cut short from health or performance struggles.
Padilla is also notorious for his reviled clubhouse presence. His Rangers teammates mostly despised his work ethic and attitude, and he didn’t exactly endear himself to anyone throughout his Phillies tenure either. Maybe the injuries have humbled him, and he has a new outlook on his career, but for someone whose upside is maybe 2 WAR, the same attitude can represent a material argument against a flier. He isn’t Milton Bradley-esque in off-the-field problems, but he also isn’t Bradley-esque from a production standpoint.
On the other hand, his career has tapered off so drastically that, even with incentives — should he get the call to the majors in the first place — he isn’t going to cost much this season. His upside might only be league average, but that has value, and on a deal approximating $1.5-$2 million max, including incentives, the Red Sox or any other interested party could conceivably eek out some value. That’s ultimately the beauty of minor league deals with spring training invitations: they don’t cost much, carry virtually no financial risk, and don’t even guarantee one full year at the major league level.
Padilla might be a head case and a volatile performer without much upside, but for the league minimum anything is worth a shot. It just seems strange for the Red Sox or any other team to target him when various other options carrying lesser risk with the potential for a similar reward, remain available.