Firing up the Red Sox Hot Stove

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com

Before the ticker tape fell on Broadway outside City Hall in New York City, the 2009-2010 Hot Stove Season had already begun. For Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein and general managers everywhere, the race to the 2010 World Series began when the Phillies’ Shane Victorino grounded out to New York’s Robinson Cano to conclude the 2009 World Series, putting the Yankees back on top of baseball for the first time since 2000. It’s not even Thanksgiving, and the Red Sox have already made several moves that will greatly impact next season. To kick off the Red Sox Hot Stove at Baseball Digest, it’s time for a quick review of the moves so far, and some off the cuff analysis.

On November 5th, the Red Sox acquired Jeremy Hermida from the Florida Marlins in exchange for two minor league left handers, Hunter Jones and Jose Alvarez. On the surface, the acquisition seems to be a trade of talent that hasn’t quite met expectations. That is certainly the case with Hermida, the 11th overall pick in the 2002 First Year Player Draft. The 25 year old with 5 seasons under his belt has career numbers of .265 avg/.344 obp/.425 slg while playing both corner outfield positions. Following a promising 2007 season during which Hermida slugged 18 homers and 32 doubles in 123 games, he has struggled to duplicate that success since.

Exactly how Hermida fits into the Red Sox outfield remains to be seen, and may be directly impacted by the free agency of Jason Bay and how that shakes out. He has potential to fill the void left by Rocco Baldelli and Mark Kotsay, and should probably be considered an upgrade over both players as the fourth outfielder. Baldelli’s health continued to be an issue in 2009, and Mark Kotsay’s early struggles saw him shipped out by the end of July. A lefty hitter with home run potential that can play both corner outfield positions has a lot of value on the 2010 Red Sox, and Jeremy Hermida provides all of that.

On November 8th, the Red Sox created even more questions for their hot stove when they declined the $6 million 2010 option for Alex Gonzalez. Gonzalez was acquired in mid-August to shore up the shortstop position defensively, and played above expectations offensively. His second tour with the Red Sox was successful, despite a poor performance in the ALDS versus the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Theo Epstein indicated that the Red Sox would be interested in bringing back Gonzalez at a lower salary, and noted the lack of confidence the team has in Jed Lowrie being considered for the everyday job at shortstop. The Red Sox are in nearly the same position they were in during the 2009 off-season, looking for a dependable shortstop. Alex Gonzalez is a great option to pair with Jed Lowrie in the event that Lowrie remains healthy and challenges A-Gon right away in Spring Training. Gonzalez will be 33 years old during the 2010 season and even if the Red Sox bring him back for another season, the belief(and hope) is that the Red Sox will look hard at finding a younger, more productive replacement for the future. The bigger question here is whether or not Jed Lowrie could be that replacement.

While the Red Sox remain in flux at the shortstop and 4th outfielder positions, they answered a few questions when the news came yesterday that they picked up Victor Martinez’s $7.1 million option for the 2010 season and signed Tim Wakefield to an incentive-laden 2 year contract which guarantees the 43 year old knuckeballer $3.5 million in 2010 and $1.5 million for 2011.

That the Red Sox picked up Martinez’s option came as no surprise, nor that they declined their $5 million team option for Jason Varitek for the 2010 season. In the article linked above, Theo Epstein confirms the team plan to go with Martinez as the everyday catcher. The team captain now has 4 days to pick up the $3 million players option to serve as the backup for the first time since the 1998 season. It may seem like a no-brainer for Varitek to pick up the guaranteed $3 million option and accept a backup role, however it’s worth noting that Varitek’s numbers slipped even further in limited duty after the Red Sox acquired Victor Martinez. Varitek had just 13 hits in 97 at bats from August through the end of the season, including just 5 extra base hits to go along with 33 strikeouts. He could seek an opportunity elsewhere to play everyday, especially if his struggles in a limited role are any indication that his production drops off significantly in that role. The guess here is Varitek will accept his new role, as it’s unlikely he will garner a substantially bigger contract elsewhere as a full time catcher. Even if he accepts, there is a very real possibility that Jason Varitek’s career in Boston has come to an end.

Regarding Tim Wakefield, the two year deal replaces the “rolling” one year $4 million contract extensions which had been in place since the 2005 season. The incentive-laden contract guarantees $5.1 million over the next two seasons, and Wakefield could double that if he meets the various benchmarks for starts and innings pitched. In the article, Wakefield indicated that retirement looms at the end of the two year deal, at which point he will be 45 years old. Wakefield is 11 wins away from 200 for his career, and 18 wins away from the all-time franchise wins record of 192 held by Cy Young and Roger Clemens. Back injuries have hampered Wakefield in recent years, but he since may contribute 10-15 wins and 150-180 innings as a 5th starter in each of the next two seasons, the deal makes it a great low cost option, with a lot of potential upside.

With all of the moves that have happened already, there is no doubt this winter will be just as busy as any we’ve seen before.

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