Update: Dodgers and Red Sox complete blockbuster trade

Saturday: It’s a done deal. The Sox are sending Beckett, Gonzalez, Crawford, and Punto to the Dodgers for James Loney and four prospects — RHP Allen Webster, RHP Rubby De La Rosa, IF Ivan DeJesus, and OF/1B Jerry Sands. Boston is paying just $12M of the $270M+ they’re dumping. Pretty crazy. I’ll have some more analysis on how this indirectly impacts the Yankees sometime this weekend.

Friday: Via Gordon Edes, the Dodgers and Red Sox are working on a blockbuster trade that would send Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Nick Punto to Los Angeles. Both Beckett and Gonzalez were claimed off trade waivers by the Dodgers earlier today while Crawford and Punto cleared earlier this month. For what it’s worth, Edes says the two sides are “closing in” on a deal.

First of all: holy crap. Second of all: why couldn’t it be Pedro Ciriaco instead of Punto? Third of all: Boston clearing that much money would be bad for the Yankees, at least in the sense that the Sawx could theoretically spend the savings elsewhere to improve the team. That’s much easier said than done, of course. Either way, this would be some kind of trade, potentially the largest of my lifetime considering the caliber of players and the size of the contracts involved.

The AL MVP race

As it stands, there are likely five strong candidates for the American League MVP award. Three of them play on the Boston Red Sox: Adrian Gonzalez, Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia. The fourth is Jose Bautista. The last one is New York’s own Curtis Granderson. With a little more than forty games to go it’s looking increasingly like it will be a close race. Indeed, despite the fact that Bautista has hit the cover off the ball this season, a confluence of factors may open the door open for other candidates and create a real voting free-for-all.

Bautista’s offensive production really stands head and shoulders above the rest of the class. He’s batting .307/.444/.627 with 33 home runs, 76 RBIs and 83 runs scored. The batting average is nice, sure, but it’s really his on-base percentage (bolstered by a nearly 20% walk rate) and slugging percentage that stand out. Bautista currently has a wOBA of .447, tops in the American League by over 35 points, and a wRC+ of 188. By UZR‘s reckoning he’s 1 run below average on defense, but despite that his overall fWAR is 6.8, only one tenth below his 2010 mark. This is a reflection of a better BABIP (.233 in 2010), more walks and better defense this year as opposed to last year.

Despite the fact that he’s the preeminent offensive producer in the American League, Bautista’s case for the MVP award may be handicapped by several factors. For one, his RBI total is low. This isn’t his fault, but it’s still a statistic many voters will consider. The second is that there’s been a bit of controversy surrounding him last year with steroids and this year with sign-stealing. A lot of that is tremendously unfair, particularly the steroids accusations (and the sign-stealing accusations, if you ask Drunk Jays Fans), so it’s hard to know the extent to which voters will penalize him. Thirdly, Bautista is going through a bit of a slump right now. Since the All-Star Break he’s hitting .205/.355/.342, meaning that his early season heroics may fade in the minds of some voters by the time voting comes around, provided he doesn’t go on another hot streak. Lastly, he plays on a non-contending team and some voters will bizarrely refuse to vote for players on non-contending teams. For this reason there may be a some daylight for some of the other candidates to make their way to the top of the ballot.

One of those players is Jacoby Ellsbury. Ellsbury is hitting .313/.367/.504 with 19 home runs, 72 RBI and 84 runs scored. Ellsbury has swiped 31 bases, most amongst American League MVP candidates. He’s sporting a .386 wOBA and a wRC+ of 143. His BABIP is .339, which explains his high on base marks despite a relatively meager 7.2% walk rate. Ellsbury also looks great in the field, scoring 7.5 runs above average by UZR’s reckoning. Overall, Ellsbury has accrued 5.7 total fWAR, bolstered no doubt by a high defensive score and his skill on the base paths. Since he’s not likely to lead the league or his fellow MVP candidates in any other category but stolen bases, Ellsbury doesn’t seem like a likely candidate to knock off Bautista, especially considering the possibility that other Boston candidates will syphon off votes from his candidacy.

Another member of the Red Sox in contention is Adrian Gonzalez, currently batting .350/.411/.553 with 18 home runs, 92 RBI and 79 runs scored. Gonzalez has a wOBA of .411, second only to Jose Bautista amongst the five potential candidates, and his wRC+ is 160. Gonzalez is currently rocking a .390 BABIP, which explains the inflation throughout his batting line. In fact, he’s actually posting the lowest walk rate and ISO since 2006. This isn’t meant to diminish his production. Like the Cy Young, awards should be given out based on what’s actually happened, not what one would expect to happen if given another 162 games. However, there is plenty of time for Gonzalez to see some regression on balls in play, which would make his batting line look a little less impressive. UZR grades Gonzalez well, 7.1 runs above average,which is the highest mark of his career, and his total fWAR is 5.3. Gonzalez’s case for MVP likely rests on his prodigious offensive production, whereas players like Ellsbury, Pedroia and Granderson bring a very well-rounded profile to the table. This isn’t to say that Gonzalez doesn’t play good defense, just that he would seem to need to go toe to toe with Bautista on offense to have a chance at knocking him off. Gonzalez is in the midst of a power outage by his standards (.427 SLG since the All-Star Break), so he’ll have to get going quickly if he’s going to make a move on Bautista.

The strongest MVP candidate on the Red Sox has won the award before. Dustin Pedroia is currently in the midst of a career year, batting .311/.403/.478 with 15 home runs, 60 RBI and 76 runs scored. His wOBA (.390), wRC+ (145), stolen bases (23), on-base percentage and walk rate (13.6%) all represent career highs for the second baseman. He’s also grading out very well by UZR’s standards, 14.6 runs above average. Pedroia has always been regarded as a good fielder, so this isn’t a surprise. All told, Pedroia has accrued 6.8 fWAR. Last night he passed Jose Bautista and currently holds the lead in the American League. As such, he probably has the best chance of anyone in the American League to beat out Bautista for the award. He has a lot going for him: his offensive game is superb and well-rounded, he runs the bases well and he plays great defense. He’s also won the award before and is currently getting loads of media attention from national publications like Sports Illustrated. If voters are willing to buy into the all-around aspect of Pedroia’s game, and they’ve done so before, and are looking for someone other than Bautista to support, he may take home the award for the second time.

The final candidate for MVP is Curtis Granderson. After last night’s game, Granderson was hitting .273/.364/.577 with 32 home runs, 93 RBI and 105 runs scored. His wOBA is .405, his wRC+ is 157, and he’s swiped 22 bases. Not that it really matters, but his BABIP stands at .306 and his walk rate is 11.7%, the latter a touch above his career average of 9.8%. One of the weaknesses in Granderson’s candidacy is the way the fielding metrics grade his fielding. This year he has a poor -8.0 UZR, which explains why his fWAR is only 5.2. His career total UZR is 17.0, and for most seasons of his career he’s graded out average or above. In 2008 his marks were bad, and in 2009 he was essentially even. Not to be that guy, but a poor fielding score for Granderson doesn’t really pass the smell test. Granderson is fast, athletic, seems to get great reads on the ball and throws the ball well. Jay Jaffe at Pinstriped Bible had some choice analysis on this very subject:

Given the nature of defensive statistics, it’s tough to take any one of these too seriously, particularly given that they can be 10-15 runs apart in a given year; last year Granderson was at -1, +6.4, -12 according to the aforementioned trio, and +1.8 according to FRAA. The consensus of the numbers is more compelling, as it does raise some eyebrows about Granderson’s defense, particularly given that the Yankees have a choice of center fielders between him and Brett Gardner, whose numbers over the past two seasons have been off the charts: +16 FRAA, +42 TZ, +41 UZR, +32 DRS. There’s always an issue with defensive stats when it comes to adjacent fielders; if both of them can get to the ball but one routinely lets the other handle it, that will skew the stats, but so long as one of them does the job, everything is copacetic from a team defense standpoint. That may be what’s happening here, but in any event, it could be worth revisiting the choice of which of the two outfielders plays left field and which plays center field, if not now, then next spring. Until then, it’s worth keeping an eye on who gets those balls in the left-center gap.

The race for the top appears to be shaping up to be quite the dogfight. Jose Bautista has been the front-runner for the American League MVP all season is probably the premier offensive threat in all of baseball. Yet there are a lot of reasons voters could turn elsewhere. Some of those reasons are unfair, or they could just prefer the excellence of Pedroia’s all-around game. Pedroia does seem to be the primary threat to Bautista. Every part of his game is excellent, and he’s a well-known player on a contending team. Curtis Granderson could be the darkhorse in this race. It’s conceivable that he could finish with some very nice round numbers – 40 home runs, 30 stolen bases, 125 RBI and a wOBA north of .400 – and like Pedroia he is a well-liked player on a contending team. The MVP ballot is going to be very tricky for voters, and will be fascinating to watch. There are a lot of different scenarios that could play out. Bautista could finish strong and win the award easily. He could continue to sputter and Pedroia could continue to shoot his way up the fWAR leaderboard and gain more and more momentum. In another scenario, the superb seasons of Ellsbury and Gonzalez could actually syphon off votes from Pedroia, helping the candidacy of someone like Curtis Granderson. With six weeks or so to go on the season, it promises to be a very interesting race.

Shifting against Adrian

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Although he has yet to sign a long-term contract extension, it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that Adrian Gonzalez will be a Boston Red Sox (Sock?) for a very long time. That’s bad news for Yankees fans, because we’re going to be stuck seeing one of the game’s very best hitters 18+ times a year for the better part of the next decade. I don’t think he’ll be the next David Ortiz (a.k.a. a stone-cold Yankees killer), but I don’t think anyone would be surprised if he turns into that guy.

Gonzalez has a reputation as an opposite field hitter and deservedly so. He’s hit 48 homers to the opposite field over the last three seasons, six more than anyone else in baseball. His .535 wOBA to the opposite field is second only to Ryan Howard’s (.606) during that time. Of course Gonzalez can certainly pull the ball as well, posting a .374 wOBA on balls hit in that direction since 2008. He’s just more productive when he’s driving the ball the other way.

The chart to the right shows the percentage of ground balls Gonzalez has hit to each field over the last three seasons. This is slightly different than the data found on FanGraphs’ splits page because their stuff is expressed as a percentage of the balls hit to that specific field. My rates are based on all balls put in play, regardless of field. Capisce? Capisce.

Anyway, the chart shows that nearly one out of every four balls Adrian has put in play since 2008 has been a grounder to the right side. Another 13.2% have been grounders back up-the-middle, so that’s more than 36% of his balls in play being hit on the ground between the shortstop’s approximate location and first base. For every 25 balls he’s put in play, just one is a grounder to the opposite field. Those are some drastic percentages, something the Yankees can exploit by using an infield shift.

On the flip side, here’s similar data for Gonzalez’s fly balls. Almost two out of every ten balls in play over the last three years has been a fly ball to left, plus another 13.1% to center. That means 31.1% of his balls in play have been a fly ball to left-center-ish field. Between that and the ground ball tendencies mentioned in the last paragraph, two out of every three balls Adrian puts in play are either a fly ball to left/center or a grounder to the right side/up-the-middle. Pretty good odds.

I’m not sure how teams have been playing Gonzalez over the last few seasons, but there appears to be a very real advantage to be gained by employing some … let’s call it “optimized positioning.” Based on Adrian’s batted ball tendencies outlined above, I’d align my fielders like so when he’s at the plate…

Obviously this isn’t terribly precise, so don’t kill me over the artwork. Rather, it’s just a general defensive alignment based on what Adrian is likely to do on a given ball in play. The brown splotches are non-catcher fielders by the way, and the original spray chart comes from Texas Leaguers. The quick-and-dirty explanation is that I would shade the center fielder over towards left-center while employing the full-blown infield shift. That means the second baseman on the right field grass, the shortstop playing where the second baseman usually is, and the third baseman playing short. If a ball is squibbed down the third base line, so be it. It’ll happen every so often, but you’re trading that occasional extra hit for (theoretically) several additional outs elsewhere.

The Yankees do have a nice advantage in the outfield when it comes to combating Gonzalez’s opposite field tendencies because Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson can flat out get after balls. Nick Swisher, the least rangy of the outfield trio, will see the fewest fly balls off Adrian’s bat come his way. Perhaps Grandy’s and Gardy’s speed means they won’t have the shade towards left so dramatically.

Would the Yankees do something like this? Who the hell knows. I would expect to see the infield shift employed before the outfield shift, though I suppose there’s a chance they’d do both simultaneously. The important thing is that the pitcher keeps the ball down in the zone. If he doesn’t and ends up elevating a ball to Gonzalez, it’s not going to matter where the fielders are positioned.

Reports: Gonzalez, Sox fail to reach extension deal

Update (2:59 p.m.): Jon Heyman, Ken Rosenthal and Joel Sherman are reporting that talks between the Red Sox and Adrian Gonzalez on a possible contract extension have fallen through. The Red Sox and Padres agreed yesterday to a deal involving Gonzalez and three top Boston prospects that was contingent upon the Sox’s coming to terms with the slugging first baseman on a long-term extension. Now that the contract talks are dead, the future of the deal remains cloudy.

Despite this development, talks between the Red Sox and Padres are not over. Rosenthal says that the Padres and Red Sox can pull the trigger on the trade, but the Sox are hesitant to give up so much for only one year of control. If the Red Sox do acquire Gonzalez, they could still take advantage of their exclusive right to negotiate during the course of the season. The Padres, says Heyman, won’t field more offers if this trade fell through. This tale isn’t over yet.

The Tough Get Tougher

(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

As I’m sure you are well aware, the Red Sox and Padres have agreed in principle to a trade that would sent All Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to Boston in exchange for a package of four prospects. A contract extension is holding everything up, but it’s only the matter of time before Gonzalez caves and accepts the millions of dollars Boston is throwing at his feet. The deal will undeniably make the Sox a better team not just in 2011, but for the next half-decade as well.

Still just 28, Gonzalez is a .285/.387/.523 hitter with 107 homeruns over the last three years, but outside of Petco Park he’s hit .310/.390/.599 with 70 homers in just 282 games (40.2 per 162 games) during that time. Ready to be blown away? Here’s Gonzalez’s 2010 spray chart from Petco overlaid onto Fenway…

Click for larger. (Courtesy of katron.org)

Yeah, that’s nuts. I count about 18 non-homers that would have theoretically cleared the fence in his new park, but of course we can’t assume that. It’s just fun to look at, more than anything. Even if the Petco-to-Fenway transition adds just five homers to Gonzalez’s output, that’s a ton. About the only negative thing you’ll fine in his game is that he’s merely very good against southpaws instead of great (.258/.347/.440 over the last three years). Ultimately, as Marc at Red Sox Beacon puts it, the Sox just landed themselves a Joey Votto. Boston improved its team immensely, but then again we all knew they would this winter.

I fully expected to end up thinking the Padres didn’t receive enough, but once I saw the names involved I thought it was actually a pretty fair trade. The Sox gave up their first, third, and sixth best prospects (according to Baseball America), two of which are top 100 guys. A corresponding Yankee package would have been something like Manny Banuelos, a better version of Brandon Laird, and Slade Heathcott. Plus there’s the player to be named later, who may not be significant, but is still someone that holds some kind of value. All that for just one year of Gonzalez and the right to talk to him about a contract.

With Victor Martinez heading to Detroit, the Sox have already lost one of their best hitters this offseason. The Gonzalez pick-up also signals the end of the Adrian Beltre era as well, and he was brilliant for them in 2010. Kevin Youkilis will slide over to third base and most assume he’ll be fine there, though he hasn’t started more than 55 games at the position since 2003. When you add Jacoby Ellsbury, J.D. Drew, and David Ortiz to Gonzalez, the lineup suddenly becomes very lefty heavy, which can be a problem when you’ve got CC Sabathia, David Price, Brian Matusz, Ricky Romero, and Brett Cecil in the division. Nevermind mind the possibilities of Andy Pettitte and/or Cliff Lee.

Given how Gonzalez’s current contract is structured, with just a $6.2M salary in 2010, Boston can still go out and sign a Jayson Werth or a Carl Crawford. Werth in particular would make sense, given the left-handed issue I just mentioned. Once the big money in Adrian’s presumed contract kicks in after next season, Boston will have shed about $50M off its payroll in the form of Ortiz, Drew, Mike Cameron, and Jonathan Papelbon. Factor in healthy returns from Josh Beckett and Dustin Pedroia, and the Red Sox are getting monumentally better this winter.

In the end, there’s nothing the Yankees can do but sit back and watch. Their offseason plans don’t change at all; they still need two starters (one being Pettitte or his replacement) and a few spare parts here or there, but no major makeover. They don’t need to make a move to answer Boston’s pick-up of Gonzalez because it’s not a game of one-upmanship. The Yankee lineup is good enough to win as it is. There’s no getting around it though, life in the AL East just got a little tougher, but that’s what we all expected to happen anyway.

Red Sox on the verge of acquiring Adrian Gonzalez

Update (11:10am ET): The Padres will be receiving Kelly, Anthony Rizzo, Reymond Fuentes and a player to be named later in the trade. They were ranked the first, third, and sixth best prospects in Boston’s farm system a few weeks ago.

According to various reports out there, the Red Sox are on the verge of acquiring Adrian Gonzalez from the Padres for a package of prospects, including Casey Kelly. The players are apparently agreed to and MLB has approved a window for Boston to negotiate an extension with the first baseman, but Gonzalez must still take his physical, not a sure thing after having shoulder surgery last month.

Just look at how much the failure to sign Mark Teixeira has impacted the Sox. They had to trade three young players to the Indians for Victor Martinez in 2009 to make up for the lost offense, and now they have to deal even more young players to San Diego to fill the first base hole long-term. And they’re still going have to pay Gonzalez a boatload of money as if he was a free agent. Kinda sucks for them.