Playing the Odds

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.

10 comments… add one

  • Saving the best for last, eh, Paul? Someone needs to set an over/under on the Wakefield retirement: I’m voting against it, because Wakefield seems like the kind of guy who goes into a year knowing it’s his last, goes through it, and surprises everyone with the “This is/was my last game” announcement. A la George Brett.
    Or his shoulder could be just plain shot. We’ll see.

    Hit Dog January 21, 2009, 11:57 am
  • Its an interesting strategy to say the least for the sox. I agree that it could work out well for the sox but I also can envision a situation where this strategy undoes the 2009 team. This could happen if the team has success early based on one or more of these guys who ends up getting hurt later in the season. While the trade market is always a possibility at this point, their options could be limited. How the 2009 Red Sox come together will be one of the more interesting story lines of the season. There is room for lots of both upside and downside from many of their players.

    sam-YF January 21, 2009, 12:39 pm
  • I would like to add that, to some degree, Yanks employ the same type of volatility strategy on the farm – with power pitchers who has been injured. Though of course it will take a bit longer to develop..

    Lar January 21, 2009, 12:46 pm
  • I’m really optimistic about Smoltz/Baldelli, and think they’ll make crucial contributions to the team. The others… if they see any time on the MLB team I’ll be happy.

    Atheose January 21, 2009, 3:01 pm
  • I would think think that the Sox are trying to get those listed after Smoltz/Bard/Baldelli to July and then have a couple of farm kids ready to step in when necessary.
    Also, Schilling makes his debut on WEEI’s Big Show tomorrow at 2p EST. That should be fun, what with Pete Sheppard blathering on and on and simultaneously drooling all over Schilling.

    I'mBillMcNeal January 21, 2009, 5:13 pm
  • I’m still shocked the Sox haven’t made a move for another bat given the uncertainty with Lowell and Papi. For the same money as Penny, but without the incentives, they could have signed Giambi. And Dunn is still out there too.
    I don’t think there’s any doubt Smoltz will return in late May or early June and dominate.
    I have doubt on this. His interleague record just isn’t the same quality:
    140 IP, 4.22 ERA, 145 hits, 131 K, 33 BB
    He’s a great pitcher, but he’s been decidedly less so against the AL. Add to that a severe shoulder injury and I think the best that can be hoped for is a decent #4 or #5 – league average innings but not a true difference maker like even Buchholz can be at his best.
    Based on his history, Smoltz would be great for October. But he wouldn’t bump any of the top 3. That leaves a Game 4 start and bullpen work in-between. Considering that alone, it’s a very pricey gamble: a) if they make it that far; b) if he’s healthy enough to trust in big spots.
    Rocco is worth the spot starts against southpaws. The Yanks could have used him more in that role. Based on this and the decent southpaws in the East, I bet Rocco is the one that best earns his salary in those games. Bard comes in second for me, even if his only role was to get Varitek to accept a cheap one-year deal.

    Rob January 22, 2009, 6:52 am
  • Why are interleague numbers continually the be-all and end-all of comparative numbers when we talk about pitchers changing leagues?
    When you’re in a league, National or American, you are IN that league. If you are worth your salt, you and your catcher study the hitters of your league intensely and of your division more so.
    And then for a couple weeks a year, you get dropped into another league. Acclimation and study time are both not there. What the hell do you expect to happen to a pitcher, Rob?

    Hit Dog January 22, 2009, 10:24 am
  • Sabathia seemed to do just fine going the NL for the first time, and immediately too.
    Are interleague numbers a “be-all and end-all”? Of course not. There’s just little evidence to assume Smoltz will “dominate” in the AL East. And if he needs study time to do so, that’s the one thing he won’t have.
    What the hell do you expect to happen to a pitcher, Rob?
    I expect that NL pitchers will do worse. Even Greg Maddux did.
    I’m not saying Smoltz, if healthy, won’t be a net positive. I just don’t think he’ll be a difference maker esp. since he doesn’t have the upside of Buchholz.

    Rob January 22, 2009, 10:46 am
  • AL East is always rough, so we’ll pad Smoltz’s a bit. _But_, if you’re going compare him to every other pitcher that might come to the AL East, and afford the same percentage of ERA increase or whatever, then it evens out, at least in relative terms. I mean, it’s not like the Red Sox can choose not to be in the East..

    Lar January 22, 2009, 11:09 am
  • This is a very fair assessment of all the Sox’s acquisitions, and I feel the same way ranking-wise.
    Smoltz is a smart buy at that price for a large-market team with a lot of payroll space. He did just have surgery on a torn labrum and will be 42, making him as much an injury risk as anyone in the game, but if he’s healthy he can be dynamite, either in the rotation or in the bullpen. Citing his postseason numbers (as I’ve seen plenty of people do) is fairly useless, as John Smoltz of today is simply not the John Smoltz of yesterday. Some people think that once the postseason rolls around, you can ignore any context and slot in a guy like Smoltz to dominate. As we’ve seen with Beckett (sadly not the best postseason pitchah evah anymore), past performance absolutely in no way guarantees future results, especially when health is a factor, as it is, big time, with Smoltz. He didn’t last very long last season. Chances are his body is simply catching up with him, and he won’t last very long this season either.
    I also think Wakefield is going to retire. The Sox have two humongous holes to fill in that case, and the offseason strategy won’t seem so smart when you’re filling the last two spots of the rotation with uncertain rookies and horrendous injury risks.
    A whole lot of performance risk here, which is what I’ve said all along.

    AndrewYF January 22, 2009, 1:05 pm

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