The Red Sox, as we all know, have taken their penchant for throwing the proverbial poop against the wall to new heights this year, combining it with their penchant for signing injury-risk players to low-cost deals. They've signed five players coming off injury with an impressive level past performance for a combined guaranteed base total of $12.5 million. Of course, if all five are healthy and reach their maximum incentives, the Sox would spend another $25 million — a total of $37.5 million for the five players, still not a bad deal.
But the chances of that are very slim indeed. The analogy thrown around has been that the Sox bought five lottery tickets with the expectation that the payoff from one will make all five worth it. It makes sense, and as unrealistic as it is to assume all five will go down as key contributors to whatever the 2009 Red Sox achieve, it seems equally unrealistic that all five will be considered busts. Heck, the Sox even got some value out of Bartolo Colon last year, right?
Here are the five, and my thoughts on their likelihood of contributing for a significant stretch of 2009, ranked in order of likelihood. I've also included their stats (and FanGraphs win value from their last healthy season and the Marcel projections for 2009 (the best we've got until PECOTA comes out).
1. John Smoltz, 41, RHP, $5.5 million base, $5.5 million in bonuses based on days on the 25-man roster. (2007: 3.11/1.18/.253, $22.7 million of value; 2009: 94 IP, 3.73/1.28/.260)
Smoltz is old and he's coming off major shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum and a host of other significant problems. So why is he the most likely to be healthy throughout the season? Well, it's hard to reject the Sox' own observations that Smoltz in January already was at a point that would have been acceptable in March. I don't think there's any doubt Smoltz will return in late May or early June and dominate. The question is whether his shoulder can hold up all season, which is an area where the Sox have had some success.
The Sox clearly believe they've found a way to mitigate some of the shoulder problems pitchers experience through their strengthening program, and in so doing can exploit another hole in the market (now that other teams have caught on to on-base percentage and defensive value). The combination of Smoltz's own "freak"-like nature, to paraphrase John Farrell, and the Sox' top-shelf medical team should keep Smoltz healthy and effective through September and (we hope) October.
2. Josh Bard, 30, C, $1.7 million nonguaranteed base, $800,000 in performance bonuses, $3 million club option for 2010. (2007: .285/.364/.404, $11.8 million; 2009: 343 PA, .266/.342/.395)
Bard's injuries last year were of the more traditional kind, especially for a catcher, and there's little reason to believe they would hamper him. The big problem is whether he'll actually get to play, as Varitek's return seems inevitable and the likelihood that the Sox bring in another young catcher via trade — either before or during the season — remains strong. I could see Bard wresting the majority of playing time away from Varitek sooner rather than later. I could also see him not making the team out of camp.
3. Rocco Baldelli, 25, OF, $500,000 base, $7 million in roster and performance bonuses. (2006: .302/.339/.533, $12.6 million; 2009: 260 PA, .266/.324/.456)
Will Baldelli make it through the season healthy? No. I think the odds are pretty strong — as the are for J.D. Drew — that Baldelli will make at least one stint to the disabled list in 2009. The hope, however, now that his disease has been rediagnosed as being more easiily treated is that he won't need multiple or lengthy stints or as much babying once he gets his diet and conditioning on track. We may see him shelved for most of August if the division is close, resting him up for the stretch drive and the playoffs, or much of September if the Sox' playoff position is relatively secure.
4. Takashi Saito, 38, RHP, $1.5 million base, $7 million in performance bonuses. (2008: 2.49/1.19/.232, $9.3 million; 2009: 55 IP, 3.11/1.18/.229)
Saito is in need of career-ending Tommy John surgery, so it's hard to say how much — if anything — the Sox will get out of him. They put him through a two-day physical, and the experimental platelet injection he received in Los Angeles makes a lot of sense, but this has "bust" written all over it. Most likely is that Saito is his old self at the beginning of the year, but that he essentially finishes his career sometime around the All-Star break.
5. Brad Penny, 30, RHP, $5 million base, $3 million in performance bonuses each as a starter or reliever. (2007: 3.03/1.31/.253, $17.7 million; 2009: 127 IP, 4.25/1.42/.269)
Penny's never been known for his tireless work ethic or conditioning and reports that he showed up chubby to a Celtics game soon after his signing don't sound good. I don't see Penny adapting well to Boston, and whether because of that or bad conditioning don't see him making much impact on the starting rotation.
6. Special bonus injury prediction: Tim Wakefield, 42, RHP, $4 million base, $1.2 million-plus in performance bonuses. (2008: 4.13/1.18/.232, $9 million; 2009: 169 IP, 4.45/1.34/.257)
I think Wakefield is done, and that we'll get his retirement notice the day before spring training, after the Sox have had the maximum amount of time to stockpile starters.