SweetSpot: Nick Green

Red Sox reload at SS (again)

August, 14, 2009
Someday, the Red Sox will once again have a good shortstop. Not this time, though. Breaking news from Tony Massarotti:
    The Red Sox have completed a trade with the Cincinnati Reds, bringing shortstop Alex Gonzalez back to Boston.


    Gonzalez, as Red Sox fans will recall, is an excellent defensive player who should shore up the team's defense on the left side of the infield. His contract calls for a $6 million club option next season, meaning the Sox will have the right to retain to his services.

As it happens, Red Sox fans might well recall Gonzalez as an excellent defensive player; statistically speaking, his very best season with the glove did come during his one year (2006) with the Red Sox. Generally, though, Gonzalez has been a good shortstop rather than a great one.

There's also the little matter of his .293 career on-base percentage. There was a reason why the Red Sox dumped him after 2006 and embarked on their ill-fated relationship with Julio Lugo. But Lugo's gone, replaced by Nick Green, and Green has all of Gonzalez's limitations with the bat and only some of his skills with the glove.

So, yes: Gonzalez makes the Red Sox better, if only marginally so. We'll find out later how much the Red Sox had to give up to gain an extra quarter- or half-win.

Better to be good than lucky at shortstop

August, 5, 2009

Posted by Rich Lederer

Red Sox Nation has a lot to be proud of as Boston heads to New York for a four-game series between the two winningest teams in the majors this decade.

First and foremost, the Red Sox are the only organization that has won two World Series championships during the 21st century. While the Yankees claimed four of five World Series titles from 1996-2000, that is so yesterday.

Speaking of the here and now, Boston is 8-0 against its rivals this season. Sure, the Yankees lead the Red Sox by 1.5 games in the American League East, but the typical New England fan intent on bragging rights is more interested in head-to-head competition and counting championships, albeit only those since jumping on the bandwagon and wearing green and pink Red Sox hats.

What is in fashion is Theo Epstein and his front-office team. Since Epstein took over as general manager prior to the 2003 season, Boston has won at least 95 games each year except 2006, when the club was victorious 86 times and missed the postseason for the only time in six years. The Red Sox have been a model franchise in terms of scouting, drafting, signing and developing players during Epstein's tenure.

Nonetheless, there is one position that has haunted Boston since the club won its first World Series title in 86 years: shortstop. You know, the one that Nomar Garciaparra used to hold down.

To be fair, Orlando Cabrera earned his World Series ring in 2004 when he hit .294/.320/.465 after being acquired from the Montreal Expos in a four-team deal at the trade deadline and .288/.368/.356 during the postseason. Cabrera, however, became a free agent and signed a four-year, $32 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels. The Red Sox then inked Edgar Renteria to a four-year, $40 million contract.

While Cabrera was the best-fielding shortstop in the majors in 2005, Renteria ranked 17 out of 25 qualified shortstops with an Ultimate Zone Rating that was 24 runs worse than his counterpart in L.A. Moreover, Renteria, who never seemed comfortable in Boston, didn't earn his salary and was promptly traded to the Atlanta Braves for Andy Marte (with the Red Sox responsible for paying $11 million of his remaining contract).

A month earlier, the Red Sox traded Hanley Ramirez, who was four weeks shy of his 22nd birthday, to the Florida Marlins (along with Anibal Sanchez and two other minor leaguers) for Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell, and Guillermo Mota.

With Alex Cora now the only option at shortstop, Boston signed free agent Alex Gonzalez to a one-year deal for $2,682,592 just prior to the start of spring training. Although Gonzalez didn't hit much (.255/.299/.397), he was spectacular in the field in his lone season with the Red Sox and more than earned his keep. But Ramirez was named National League Rookie of the Year for hitting .292 with 46 doubles, 11 triples and 17 home runs while stealing 51 bases in 66 attempts and scoring 119 runs.

Boston once again turned to the free-agent market to sign its next shortstop, Julio Lugo, in December 2006 for 4 years and $36 million. Thanks in large part to Beckett and Lowell (and with little or no help from Lugo who "hit" .237/.294/.349), the Red Sox won the World Series in 2007. Lugo went from bad to worse over the next year and a half as his power and defense failed him. Boston finally dumped him two weeks ago but had to eat the remaining $13.5 million on his contract.

The Red Sox have now gone to Jed Lowrie, a former first-round pick (45th overall) in the 2005 amateur draft. The 25-year-old underwent wrist surgery in April and has only appeared in 17 games, going 7-for-50 (.140/.211/.240).

Nick Green, 30, has actually garnered most of the playing time at shortstop this season, but has struggled as much as his predecessors, hitting .238/.304/.374 in 261 plate appearances.

In the meantime, Ramirez is leading the NL in average (.340) while ranking sixth in OBP (.409) and eighth in slugging (.554). Did I mention that he played shortstop, too?

Call it misfortune, bad timing or poor player evaluation, but Boston's "luck" with shortstops over the past five years is a reminder that you can't win 'em all -- unless, of course, you're playing the Yankees.

Rich Lederer is the co-founder of Baseball Analysts.

A few modest proposals

April, 15, 2009
Not much blogging yesterday (or today) because I foolishly left my wireless card at home, which left me stuck on a train to Seattle for four hours with no Internet access (back to "normal" tonight). On a happier note, I spent some of those four hours (finally) reading Sports Illustrated's baseball preview, which includes a "modest proposal" for every club (all of which were "compiled" by Joe Sheehan, one of our friends over at Baseball Prospectus). Running through a few of the more interesting proposals:

Red Sox: Use Jed Lowrie as leadoff man rather than Jacoby Ellsbury.

I love the idea. Lowrie was pretty good last year despite a wrist injury that sapped his strength for much of the season. He played exceptionally well in spring training. And now his wrist is hurting again, so he's not going to be playing shortstop -- let alone leading off -- for quite some time, it seems. Julio Lugo's out, too. Nick Green played shortstop last night. And people wonder why it's hard to predict the standings.

Twins: Send Delmon Young back to the minors, where he might learn to hit.

Most of the preseason stuff I read suggested that Michael Cuddyer should have been the odd man out in the Twins' outfield, with Young joining Carlos Gomez and Denard Span as regulars. The assumption, as I recall, was that Young needs to play regularly if he's going to improve. But even just looking at performance, Young actually out-hit Cuddyer last season. And of course he's seven years younger. So unless someone can demonstrate that Young would develop significantly quicker in the minors, I think you leave him in the majors and let him take his lumps for 450-500 plate appearances this season.

Indians: Don't be shy about dumping Travis Hafner in favor of Matt LaPorta.

The Indians have to give Hafner one more shot, and by "shot" I mean at least a couple of months. If not a couple of years, since they still owe him $49 million and he was real good just two seasons ago. As usual, though, there's a lesson here: long-term commitments to sluggardly sluggers often bite you in the backside.

Phillies: Break up lefties in the lineup with Jayson Werth.

This one deserves a bit of extra credit for the author's prescience ...

    Having replaced lumbering Pat Burrell in leftfield with lumbering Raul Ibanez, the Phillies find themselves with the 3-4-5 part of their lineup batting exclusively from the left side. That will be a major tactical issue late in games, when opposing managers bring in relief specialists to face Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Ibanez in high-leverage situations. All lefthanded hitters struggle against such lefties as the Braves' Mike Gonzalez and the Mets' Pedro Feliciano. Sliding Jayson Werth (career .374 on-base percentage, .545 slugging versus lefthanders) into the fifth spot ahead of Ibanez would force managers to choose between making pitching change or taking a bad matchup, a decision that will come up repeatedly in the 36 games games Philadelphia plays against its top two division rivals.
Sure enough, that's exactly what happened in the Phillies' very first game, as Mike Gonzalez was able to escape a big ninth-inning jam by retiring a couple of those lefty hitters. I'll bet a silver dollar that Charlie Manuel does eventually break those guys up when a southpaw is starting.

Brewers: Trade Prince Fielder, play Mat Gamel instead.

This echoes a suggestion I made last year, I believe. My thought was that Ryan Braun should wind up at first base instead of Fielder, but Gamel -- who was 22 last season and tore up the Double-A Southern League -- would fit in nicely, too. Perhaps as soon as right now. Not that the Brewers should just give Fielder away; after all, he's a fine hitter and he's still cheap. But he doesn't figure to age particularly well, and low-revenue teams simply can't afford to let major league talent waste away in the minors. The Brewers need to either play Gamel or trade him (as they did with LaPorta last summer; you judge how well that worked out).

Diamondbacks: Even if he's healthy, Eric Byrnes should be a fourth outfielder.

Well, yeah. I'm mentioning this one only because I love this line: "Energy is good, left turns at first base are better; Byrnes and his .325 career OBP don't provide enough of the latter."

Giants: Trade Barry Zito.

As the argument goes, the Giants already have three young starters who are better than Zito (true), they've got Randy Johnson this season (also true), and they've got a couple of hot prospects in the minors who may well be ready in 2010. Well, OK. But what about 2009? And exactly what might the Giants expect in return for a pitcher -- for the sake of argument, we'll say Barry Zito -- who's a No. 5 starter for most clubs but is still owed a gazillion dollars? I say the Giants should keep Zito until the exact moment that they just can't stand to look at him for one more #@&%$ second. And then they release him.

Padres: Trade Brian Giles.

Boy, this is a tough one. The Padres have two good hitters and Giles is one of them and the fans probably wouldn't be real thrilled if he got sent along to a contender. On the other hand, Giles is 38 (38!) and the Padres' farm system isn't exactly loaded with prospects. So, yeah: they should trade him for prospects if they can. In fact, anything else should be considered malpractice.