Saturday, December 24, 2011

Sox Hold Off on Gonzalez and Beltran

The big news all day on Thursday was the impending trade of Oakland All-Star pitcher Gio Gonzalez. Reports were swirling all day saying that the lefty was heading to either Washington or Boston, with no real front-runner. After Mat Latos returned a crazy package of prospects from Cincinnati, and the rumored asking price for Gonzalez (Billy Beane reportedly asked for Mike Stanton from Florida, which obviously wasn't going to happen), it seemed the trade market was a bit out-of-whack for young starting pitching. This fact made many Red Sox fans on Twitter weary of "trading the farm" for Gio. In the end, it turned out Gonzalez went to Washington for a package of three of their top 10 prospects, including AJ Cole, their best pitching prospect. Later in the night, it was announced another Red Sox target was taken off the market, as outfielder Carlos Beltran signed a two-year, $26 million contract with the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals. Even though it seems like the Sox have not been doing much this offseason, not getting either of these guys is entirely defensible.

Let's start with Gio Gonzalez. The left hander made his first career All-Star game last year and has tremendous upside. He is also under team control until 2016. Because of his age and cost-controlled years, the return for him was going to be monstrous. For a team like the Nationals, that isn't as big of a deal. They have young Major League talent already, as well as the best prospect in baseball, Bryce Harper. Now, with Gio Gonzalez, they have a very nice, young rotation with Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman and Gonzalez. However, he is not a pitcher without faults. Last season, out of qualifying pitchers, he came in second to last in BB/9, with 4.05. It was also his lowest walk total for his career. While his strikeout numbers are very encouraging (8.78 per 9 last year, 8.59 for his career), his control is something to be worried about, especially in the AL East. His home run numbers are also nothing to write home about. While his 0.76 HR/9 last year seems good on the surface, consider that he plays half his games in the Oakland Coliseum, a big pitchers' park. You could definitely expect that number to jump in the bandboxes of the AL East. His numbers in the National League will look much better than they would here, and there are still cheaper options on free agency, such as Roy Oswalt and Hiroki Kuroda, who could step in and do the job without giving up many top prospects.

Carlos Beltran was also linked to the Red Sox all offseason, presumably to play right field. While the deal he ended up signing with St. Louis looks very reasonable, and it is, I can definitely see why the front office balked on signing the slugger. The Red Sox payroll, contrary to what many Bostonians would have you believe, is not unlimited. It seems the team is serious about not going far over the luxury tax this year. For more information on the Red Sox payroll situation, check out this very informative piece from Chip Buck at Fire Brand on the AL. (It was written before the Lowrie-Weiland for Melancon trade). As you can see, the Red Sox have very little leg room to make multiple splashes in free agency. Because of this, it is important to allocate your assets in the right areas. Clearly, pitching is a bigger issue with this team right now than offense. Even with Josh Reddick and Ryan Kalish platooning in right, this will still be one of the elite offenses in all of baseball. The Red Sox did the right thing saving their money, presumably for one of the aforementioned starters available in free agency, and another reliever to join Melancon in the back of the bullpen.

I know it has been frustrating for fans to watch teams across the league making all the moves while the Red Sox more or less stand pat, but just remember, there are still 57 more days until pitchers and catchers report. Cherington and company will surely make some moves before then. It is important to stay patient, and do everything possible to hold judgement until February 19th, as hard as that may be.

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