Mailbag: The Post-Collapse Red Sox

The Overused and Abused MRI
Snowy Saturday Night Open Thread
Scu-Scu-Scutaro. (Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

Eli asks: The collapse of the Red Sox this year was absolutely fantastic to watch but I think people forget that they had the best record in baseball for most of the season and they have a talented roster that is largely going to remain the same. Everybody’s acting like they’re a train wreck of a team but aren’t you at least a little worried they’re going to come out next season hungry, angry and with something to prove?

I agree. This sort of stuff tends to happen after dramatic events, which is why you see a lot of “this team is build to last” or “they have dynasty potential” talk after a team (in just about any sport) wins a championship. We also hear about how a team needs to be rebuilt after every playoff series loss like clockwork. It’s an emotional over-reaction, but it’s just human nature. We feel great during the good times and awful during the bad ones.

The Red Sox collapsed this year because just about their entire pitching staff fell flat on its face during the last month of the season. They also happen to play in an extremely tough division, and a collapse like this takes two to tango. If the Rays don’t get hot down the stretch, Boston is in the playoffs and who knows what happens. I’m willing to bet both Terry Francona and Theo Epstein are still with the team. As Joel Sherman pointed out this morning, the Red Sox won 90 games and were baseball’s biggest disappointment this year. The Cardinals also won 90 games, but they were the game’s best story. It’s all about perception and expectations.

Getting to the actual question … yeah, I expect the Red Sox to again be a really good team in 2012. Hell, they’ve already improved just by getting John Lackey out of the rotation (via Tommy John surgery). It’s harsh, but it’s true. They have a ton of dead money coming off the books in J.D. Drew, though much of it will go towards arbitration and contractual raises. Clay Buchholz figures to get healthy over the winter, as does Bobby Jenks and Kevin Youkilis. Even if they don’t, they’re still right back where they started at 90 wins or so.

I’m sure that team will come out with a chip on its shoulder and all that, but it only lasts so long. The 162-game season can be a humbling experience. I kinda rambled here, but the point I want to make is don’t sleep on the Red Sox next year. They have some very real problems to address (as do the Yankees), but also a boatload of talent and the means to right the ship quickly. I expect Boston to be not just a good team in 2012, but a great team.

The Overused and Abused MRI
Snowy Saturday Night Open Thread
  • Plank

    How does their farm system rank? It seems like they don’t have many guys close to the bigs. Is that true?

    • JobaWockeeZ

      Unless you’re the Braves, Royals or Rays you won’t have a farm that will have close to ready MLB talent that won’t struggle.

      • bexarama

        That’s not even necessarily the case. Look at what happened to some of the Royals’ really touted guys when they came up, Hosmer aside. And the Braves’ rookie starters were fine for what they were but didn’t really set the world on fire.

  • Max R.

    If the same had happened to the Yankees, do you think Cashman and Girardi would be gone?

  • Brian S.

    I think Boston will be a good team next year, just not as good as the one they had this year. Let me explain. They are spending 126 million dollars on eleven players. Ellsbury (2), Albers (3), Saltalamacchia, Aceves, Aviles, Bard, McDonald, Lowire, and Morales are arbitration eligible so they will be getting raises. Ellsbury will likely finish in the top three in the MVP vote and has Boras as his agent so I could esily see him making 10 million next season. The other eight arbitration eligibles will probably make 1-2.5 million a piece so for arguments sake let’s add that all up to around 14 million. That puts Boston at 150 million dollars in payroll for twenty players. In their history, Boston has never opened the season with more than 170 million dollars in payroll. I don’t see how they could bring back Ortiz and Papelbon without increasing to 180 million dollars, let alone bringing back Scutaro (who is actually an above average SS) or upgrading their rotation. I could see them pursuing CJ Wilson with the money they have left because they need rotation help, but without Ortiz and Papelbon their everyday lineup and bullpen will be much weaker.

    • Brian S.

      I forgot to add Scutaro to that last sentence. Without Scutaro, Ortiz, and Papelbon their everyday lineup and bullpen will be much weaker.

      • Brian S.

        Also they still have to pay Scutaro his buyout so you can add that 1.5 mil to the 150 and they are at 151.5 mil on twenty players…

      • OldYanksFan

        Plus… the raise to AGon just about accounts for the money they get for Nancy Drew. So… their payroll will go up… maybe to $170 – $180m.

        But so what? They still have a better team on paper then the Yankees. Ellsbury and Big Sloppy won’t have as good a year, but Crawford and RF should do better. They still have an excellent 60% Rotation with Beckett, Laptops and Lester.

        The ARod, Jeter, CC and Teixeira contracts will haunt the Yanks for years. As much as I like Swisher and Gritner, that’s really the only 2 positions they can improve the team with. It’s unlikely they will find a C who is overall, much more productive then Martin. Jesus as DH and BUC definitely improves the team, but we need CC and another #2, as well as another solid year from Jeter (his .297 .355 .388 .743 line was considerable better than I expected), and improvement from both ARod and Teix.

        Cano is a stud and Granderson was amazing. But the bottom line is that ARod and Teix (on top of our other talent) is the what really makes our lineup so dangerous. If was their failures that cost us the playoffs. If ARod and Teix are now .850 OPS guys at best, taking the Division and PS might be a challenge.

        The Sox will be a very good team for some years. We should not underestimate them.

        • Brian S.

          I already counted the raises to Gonzalez and Crawford.

    • Ed

      Ellsbury will likely finish in the top three in the MVP vote and has Boras as his agent so I could esily see him making 10 million next season.

      I’d be surprised if he was that high. He’s coming off a season he made $2.4m. Arbitration isn’t likely to raise his salary over 4x. Between a 2x and 3x raise is more likely.

      In their history, Boston has never opened the season with more than 170 million dollars in payroll. I don’t see how they could bring back Ortiz and Papelbon without increasing to 180 million dollars,

      Boston tends to be willing to flirt with the luxury tax threshold, but tries to keep their payroll just under it – at least on opening day. The threshold was $178m this year and has gone up every year since it was created, so they should be able to break $180m next year and stay under.

      Don’t forget that Lackey’s injury means Boston can exercise Lackey’s 6th year, minimum salary option. If they do that, his contract changes from $82.5m/5 years to $83m/6 years. Luxury tax is calculated based off AAV, so that gives them another few million to spend before hitting the luxury tax.

      All together they’ve probably got another $15m more to spend than you’re giving them credit for.

      • Dave203

        Exercising Lackey’s option is of no value if he still can’t pitch. He stunk this year before surgery and will only get older. Just because they get a free 2015 season from him, doesn’t eleviate the fact they owe him nearly 16 million/yr for the next 3 yrs first. There are minor league callups that can put up the numbers he threw out there this year. I can’t see Lackey being of value in 2015, regardless of salary. IMO, he’ll do nothing more than hold a roster spot in 2015.

        • JobaWockeeZ

          What? The point of using the option is to spend more money for 2012. If he sucks then since he’s making 500k you can easily cut/bench him.

        • Ed

          Just because they get a free 2015 season from him, doesn’t eleviate the fact they owe him nearly 16 million/yr for the next 3 yrs first.

          It does a little. The luxury tax is calculated using the average annual value of a contract, not the actual yearly salary. It ends up giving them a few million more to work with each year before hitting the tax threshold.

          Even if they release him in spring training 2015, this move could save them a few million dollars.

          • Dave203

            That is not accurate since options are not counted into the average annual salary of a player since you cannot assume an option would be picked up. Moreover, in this case, you don’t know the option’s value since you don’t know what the league minimum salary would be in 2015.

      • AndrewYF

        I think a lot of people are forgetting that AAV is only based on guaranteed salary. Under the current CBA, club options (which is what Lackey’s is) are NOT considered guaranteed. Just like Ortiz’s club option year didn’t increase his AAV on his current deal, Lackey’s club option can’t decrease the AAV.

        In any case, it’s a matter of like, $2M.

        • Ed

          We’re not forgetting that. We’re assuming that the Red Sox would pick up the option as soon as Lackey meets the criteria necessary to trigger it. They don’t have to decide until several years from now, but usually teams are free to decide earlier if they choose. I can’t see why they would have wanted that contract clause if they weren’t free to decide early.

          Assuming the change in value is applied evenly, it’s a $2.67m/year difference in the luxury tax. I don’t now the specifics though, so it’s possible that’s not how it works. The luxury tax calculations have already been done on the first 2 years of the deal counting at the higher rate, so I could see the remaining years being reduced further.

          And yeah, it’s not huge money. But I brought it up because the post I was replying to had several issues which combined to be significant money.

          • toad

            Why pick it up before the deadline?

            What do you gain?

          • Dave203

            A team cannot pickup a team option until after the WS has concluded of the previous year. The calculation is not retroactive so I don’t understand you it would benefit them in any year outside of 2015? If they exceed the luxury tax threshold from 2012-2014, they will pay luxury taxes regardless of whether they pick up the 2015 option during the offseason after the 2014 season. In 2015, they will have the benefit of Lackey for 500K or so, but like said previously, it serves no purpose if he can’t pitch.

          • AndrewYF

            Yeah no, it doesn’t matter when a team option is picked up – it was still a team option and all that’s really doing is the team signing Lackey to a new deal way ahead of time at the end of his current contract.

            Just like those who are expecting something actually real for compensation for Theo, people are in for a somewhat rude surprise when they figure out that the Sox front office, yet again, didn’t somehow outsmart the rest of the league in terms of the luxury tax.

            • UYF1950

              Andrew you are correct it effectively brings down the average annual compensation of Lackey contract from about $16.5M to just about $14M per season. So it has the net effect of saving the Red Sox on “Lackey’s contract 30% of $2.5M per year over the course of Lackey’s entire contract (that’s assuming the Sox at some point exercise the option). That’s about approximately $750K per year for 5 years. What you didn’t mention is now the Sox have to go out an get another starting pitcher at say conservatively $5M to $7M in 2012. The luxury tax on $5M and $7M respectively at a 30% rate for 2012 alone is $1.5M and $2.1M effectively off setting any savings the “option on Lackey’s contract afforded the Sox. And really if you look at it a little more closely the Red Sox will actually be on the hook for the luxury tax a little more in 2012 then they would have been had Lackey not suffered the injury. Lackey’s salary alone in 2012 without the injury would have caused a 30% tax of $16.5M = $4.95M. With the injury the Sox tax is now 30% of Lackey’s revised salary $14M and his replacements salary of $5 to 7M = $5.7 or $7M respectively. It looks to me like the Sox may have been just a little to smart for their own good. If they were really smart they would have had the contract have a clause that said if Lackey sustained an injury that kept him out of action for a season they could void the last year of the contract entirely. That’s something along the lines of what the Cardinals had with Adam Wainwright. Just a thought.

      • Brian S.

        They have never spent more than 170 million dollars. I’m not going to assume that they are all of a sudden willing to spend 180 million. Just like I never assume the Yankees are going to spend more than 210 million.

        • Brian S.

          Yeah Boston has never opened the year with a 185 million dollar payroll, they don’t have another 15 million than I am giving them credit for. And Ellsbury was the best player in baseball this last season and you can bet Boras knows that, he’s not coming cheap.

    • Hardy

      “Boston has never opened the season with more than 170 million dollars in payroll.”

      Don’t read too much into this. Boston’s 2010 payroll was $25M above their previous high.

      • UYF1950

        Hardy, but it was still “under” the luxury tax threshold. A $180M plus or there about is not and will not be under the luxury tax threshold. And while the Red Sox have on rare occasion gone over the tax threshold it usually is by only a relatively small amount. And they have always tried to do everything in their power not to pay or go over the luxury tax. Like announcing the Gonzalez contract after the start of the 2011 season so as to minimize their liability for that season.

  • Gonzo

    Before the surgery to Lackey, he was probably worth a Smoak type bat in a trade.

    • Dave203

      Please tell me you aren’t saying Lackey, after last season, surgery or not, was worth Smoak in a trade.

      • JobaWockeeZ

        ‘In his latest blog post at, Peter Gammons writes that “unless someone comes up with a Justin Smoak, Matt LaPorta or Brett Wallace,” the Red Sox will hold on to Brad Penny and enjoy the depth. He says no one will offer up a prospect like that for a few months of Penny.’

        • Gonzo

          Many thanks.

        • Dino Velvet

          My All-Time favorite still is when Gammons said that then Red Sox prospect Carl Pavano would be a Hall of Fame pitcher.

      • Rich7041

        I think he meant the type of bat that Justin Smoak uses at the plate. No way could he mean a player comparable to Smoak.

        • Dave203

          I don’t think you can get a bat at this point for Lackey. They are pushing $300 now.

  • Dave203

    The Sox have a lot of work to do this offseason IMO. They face tough signs for Papelbon and Ortiz who could easily walk. If they walk, those are very huge holes they leave. They have nobody to step up and fill in for Ortiz and Bard is not ready for the closer role for sure. The rotation remains questionable with only Lester and Beckett the certainties. DiceK will still be a joke, Buchholz gets injured every year, and that’s all. If they plan on running on that with someone like Miller as the #5, good luck. I would be happy to see them head into 2012 with that nonsense. JD Drew needs to be replaced so they will likely overpay for either Cuddyer or Beltran. That will make them a little better, but their payroll will just keep climbing.

    Their pen and rotation will take a lot of work this offseason to remain formidable.

    • Freddy Garcia’s 86 mph Heat

      Beckett is far from a certainty. He was brutal down the stretch, and is very injury prone. Also he has never had 2 good years in a row in Boston.

      • JobaWockeeZ

        2007 – 6.5 fWAR
        2008 – 5.1 fWAR
        2009 – 5.5 fWAR
        2010 – 1.5 fWAR
        2011 – 4.3 fWAR

        • Freddy Garcia’s 86 mph Heat

          That’s true, but he has been injured the past 2 years and is not getting any younger. There’s also his whole issues with work ethic and attitude.

        • bexarama

          He’s a fine pitcher but FG likes him a lot more than even that. It’s like Javy.

      • Dave203

        I think we can give the Sox the benefit of the doubt and give them 2 decent pitchers. The reality is, they need to fill in a lot from there.

  • Bronx Byte

    The Ray and Jays can slide ahead of Boston in 2012. Both have depth they can get from their farm systems. Boston doesn’t.

  • Tom Zig

    Boston doesn’t even have bad pitchers, they have no pitchers at all. Both Dice-K and Lackey are out with TJ surgery. However, the two of them add up to about 360+ innings when completely healthy. That’s still a lot of innings to eat up.

  • UYF1950

    Mike, I have to say I disagree with your conclusion that the Red Sox will be a “great team” in 2012. A good team yes a great team no. Also you talk about money coming off their books in 2012 let’s take a close look at that money that’s coming off the books.
    Comming Off:
    Drew: $14M
    Papelbon: $12M
    Ortiz: $13M
    Miller: $2M
    Wheeler: $3M (possibly the team holds an option)
    Wakefield: $3.5M
    Varitek: $2M
    TOTAL………….$49.5M plus or minus

    Now ADD on’s:
    Dice K’s Replacement: $5M (just an assumption)
    Lackey’s Replacement: $5M (just an assumption)
    Papelbon Resigned: $12M
    Ortiz Resigned: $10M
    Ellsbury: $7M (an assumption 2nd year arb. eligible)
    Gonzalez: $15M (difference in 2011 salary and new 7 year contract)
    Contract Increases: $6M (Pedoria, Buchholz and Lester)
    Other: $5 (other arbitration awards and filling out roster)

    Net anticipated increase in Red Sox 2012 payroll over 2011…$15M plus. Considering their 2011 payroll was approximately $165M they can anticipate their 2012 payroll to be around $180M plus or minus without any significant player additions.

    I can not imagine the Red Sox heading into the 2012 season with virtually the exact same roster considering the turmoil and yes the “collapse” in 2011. And considering the Red Sox have always liked to keep their payroll around the luxury tax threshold of $170M in 2011 I do not see them making a “splash” in Free Agency in fact I can see them shedding some payroll and going the “cheap” route to fill out their roster and replace players. That’s just my opinion.

    • Dave203

      You’re a little cheap on Papelbon and Ortiz as well. After last season, Ortiz is in line for a multi-year contract making at least what he made last year. $15/yr is more realistic for nearly a 30/100 hitter batting 300+. Papelbon is also due for a raise being a top 3 closer in the game — I would never want him on the Yanks, but he has a solid reputation. Mo is making $15, so he is capped there, but he should get a raise again.

      • UYF1950

        Dave, I agree both Papelbon and Ortiz will get 2 year deals. I was only attempting in my analysis to show that contrary to Mike Axisa’s article the Sox really should expect to have a higher payroll in 2012 than 2011 and that they really didn’t have enough coming off the books to off set additions for even the “regular” additions.
        BTW, while I do expect Papelbon to get at least a 2 year deal I do NOT expect the total value of the 2 years to exceed $25M total. The simple reason is there are 2 “other” if not as good closers hitting the open market they are are darn close to Papelbon in quality (K-Rod and Heath Bell) that will keep his value in the $12 to $13M a year range. It’s a matter of supply and demand and generally speaking there aren’t that many teams willing to lay out multi year $14 or $15M per year contracts for closers. And 3 being available puts to the supply in my mind in excess of the demand. That’s why I think Papelbon will be caped at $25M for 2 years. At least that’s my opinion.

        As for Ortiz, again I do expect him to get a 2 year deal but probably no more than $20M total maybe $22M total at the outside. So the way I figure it $10 or $11M per year. I really don’t think the amount I quoted in my original comment is that far off it it’s off at all.

        But again my initial comment was intended to show that the Sox did not have “money” to spare in 2012 because they had several players coming “off” the books in 2011 and I think I’ve done that.

        • Dave203

          I guess I just don’t see any logic behind why Ortiz is due for a pay cut in your mind after his 2011 numbers. He has been right around 30/100 for the past 2 seasons and hit 270/300 during the same. He made 12.5 last year and you think he is signing for 10-11? He’s not taking a pay cut, regardless of his age. He may no longer be getting 3-4 yr deals, but if Boston can do a 2 yr deal with a slight raise, maybe 2/28-30, he’ll find it elsewhere.

          • UYF1950

            Dave, I guess we will see. I just don’t see the Sox going for roughly $30M for 2 years. And to be fair I don’t see any other team doing that either. Mainly because worse case for the Sox and it may cost them more money for 1 year but the Sox could offer Ortiz arbitration. If he accepts he’s due probably $15M or so on a 1 year deal. I say $15M because he is a 1 way player strictly a DH and that would effect his arbitration award. If he declines arbitration in hopes of getting a better payday as a class A player the Sox would get the 1st round draft choice of any team that wants to sign him. That is going to severely limit the number of teams willing to sign what will be a 1 way 36 year old David Ortiz to a 2 year deal in the neighborhood of $30M for 2 years(as you seem to think he’s worth). At least that’s my opinion and the reason for my logic on why I think his value is (2 years $20 to $22M). I could be wrong we’ll see.

            Just one more comment. I believe you mentioned the Jays as a possible landing spot for Ortiz if he’s available. If your the Jays GM and the Sox have offered Ortiz arbitration and Ortiz turns it down are you willing to lose your 17th pick in the draft for a 36 year old DH that is going to cost you $30M for 2 years in addition to that draft pick. What I can tell you is if I’m the GM, no way do I sign Ortiz for that kind of commitment. That’s just my opinion.

            • Dave203

              If they offer him arb, I’m going to laugh when he accepts. Same with Papelbon. They’ll both get $14-15 mil contracts if they accept which will seriously screw over the Sox. I know they want the picks, but they are definitely hoping they both decline the arb.

    • BK2ATL

      Ortiz will get more than $10 million/yr, esp. with Toronto sniffing around too. Paplebon too, esp. after Soriano got that deal last offseason. Toronto will certainly try to be spenders this offseason.

      Maybe Lars (Babe) Anderson or Ryan (Yaz) Westmoreland can step right in and head to their pre-ordained HOF careers.

      I love the position that we’re in, just having to straighten out the CC deal, then get in on Darvish, or another starter (hopefully Danks, maybe Garcia). Then fill in the bench. Kudos to Cashman for planning ahead.

      Don’t be surprised to see Colon’s name pop up in Boston. They are in worse shape than us, rotation-wise. Then, lack of depth in farm system.

      • UYF1950

        BK2ATL, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see Colon’s name pop up in Boston or Garcia’s for that matter. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Harden’s name from the A’s pop up again as well. I do think with both Lackey, Dice K down at to be honest the issues with Buchholz ability to “stay” healthy year in and year out they will need to sign 1 “quality” starter for the 2012 campaign. I don’t think they would want to go into the 2012 season with a starting rotation of just: Lester, Beckett, Buchholz and 2 reclamation projects. Buchholz has not shown the ability to pitch a fill season in any of his 4 full seasons with the Sox and only came close to a full season once in 2010 when he pitched about 180 innings. Other then that the most he pitched in any one season was 95 or less. The Sox have a lot of work to do this off season and as far as I’m concerned it couldn’t happen to a nicer team.

  • Preston

    Without Papelbon, Ortiz and Scutaro the Red Sox can still field one of the best offenses and best bullpens in the league. But with Lackey and Dice-K out and still getting paid, and with the seriousness of Buchholz’s back injury he’s no guarantee to come back strong. The questions are all about their rotation, and I don’t see anything big league ready in their farm system. I also don’t see them pursuing Yu or CJ in FA.

    However you could say the same thing about us…

    • johnnybk

      one of the best bullpens? Their pen is garbage. Bard will be very good, but aside from him who is anyhere near elite out there?

      • Brian S.

        Honestly relief pitching is pretty fungible. I actually hope they re-sign Papelbon because I would rather them allocate resources to their bullpen than their offense or starting rotation. That being said, Papelbon is one of the very best relief pitchers in baseball and their pen would be undoubtedly weaker without him. Morales-Aceves-Jenks-Bard for the late innings next season would still be alright I suppose.

        • Dave203

          LOL — I would love to see them try to swing Morales-Aceves-Jenks-Bard in 2012. Bard will flop as a closer as noted by him flopping down the stretch as the setup man. Relying on Jenks as your setup man is not much better and a significant downgrade from Bard. Moving Aceves into a dedicated 7th inning role takes him away from being that 2-3 inning man which would hurt their pen as well.

          Their best shot is to try and resign Papelbon and still, that screws them with their budget.

          • Brian S.

            Bard “flopping” down the stretch was in a limited sample size. Boston could put together a decent bullpen because like I said, relief pitching is fungible.

            • Dave203

              I don’t know what it is about bloggers on this site and blaming every statistic on sample size. The fact is, he pitched like crap in September. Forget the stats — watch the games. His control was terrible and he choked under the pressure of the final push to the playoffs. 3 blown saves with 13 ERs in a month. You can call it a small sample size if you choose… I call it a better comparison of the pressure he will experience closing games in the AL East.

  • Dino Velvet

    The Red Sox are who we thought they were.

    They’re the most over hyped team in history.

  • Jaremy

    Am I crazy? I thought Epstein was confirmed to be going to the Cubbies…

  • Jaremy

    And Francona is definitely out (these in response to: “I’m willing to bet both Terry Francona and Theo Epstein are still with the team.”)

    • JAG

      Did you read the whole post? That statement was a continuation of a hypothetical in which the Rays didn’t do well enough to overtake the collapsing Red Sox and they made the playoffs (and undoubtedly got bounced in the first round).