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Why Cliff Lee Needs to Join Boston

Imagine the Yankees having to stare down that face and knowing what's about to come their way. (scoreboardmonthly.com)

Several teams have already (rightfully so) expressed their interest in Cliff Lee, with some even travelling to Hattiesburg, Mississippi to meet with the Ol’ Gunslinger. (Sorry, wrong guy, but close enough to Arkansas.) And whether or not John Henry and Theo Epstein will do what needs to be done and pull the trigger, they really need to go after Cliff Lee and make him part of the rotation.

2010 was supposed to be a year of prominent pitching and defense for the Red Sox, with few players capable of providing offense. Instead, pitching was largely terrible, defense wasn’t great, and injuries pretty much made it so there were no Pawtucket Red Sox. The Red Sox still have bats; Adrian Beltre can be allowed to leave and the Red Sox can find another cheaper alternative at first base while Kevin Youkilis covers third.

With Justin Upton getting kind of pricey, an Adrian Gonzalez deal could include prospects, lesser bullpen pieces, or even Jacoby Ellsbury and his nagging ribs. Jayson Werth and Carl Crawford are still out there to sign outright to fill out the outfield, but the Sox can make as few of these moves as necessary, because their bats are there, and Beltre committed too many errors.

Of much greater concern is the pitching, which is why Cliff Lee should be priority #1 for the Red Sox. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz were the only two really good notes for the starting rotation, and Jonathan Papelbon, while still compiling 30+ saves, was much too off his game for the standard the Red Sox require to remain competitive. With many spots both in the rotation and the bullpen to fill with talent, adding Cliff Lee would immediately bolster both.

Cliff Lee


In the 2010 regular season, Cliff Lee had a 3.18 ERA, 1.003 WHIP, and seven complete games. That betters his career averages of 3.85 ERA and 1.256 WHIP. In his postseason career, Lee is 7-2 with a 2.13 ERA .816 WHIP, along with three complete games. And most importantly, he’s 3-0 in his postseason career against the Yankees.

Boston was supposed to have three aces last season. If they sign Lee, Boston can have their three aces next season: Lee, Lester, and Buchholz. And that would allow Boston to move a struggling starter to the bullpen to shape up, which would also help fill out the bullpen too.

Josh Beckett

Even before the injuries, Beckett just stopped trying; with the lucrative extension, he apparently thought he didn’t need to try. Beckett finished the year 6-6 with a 5.78 ERA and a 1.535 WHIP, both career worsts by far. While extremely unlikely, Beckett is a great candidate for a bullpen or bench stint to motivate him to perform and earn his spot in the rotation. Since that is out of the question, adding Lee as a #1 starter and moving Beckett down the rotation order would put him up against other teams’ lesser starters as well, and allow Beckett to regain his form, and his confidence along with it.

Jon Lester

Lester has arguably been the most consistent pitcher for Boston in recent years. Lester’s record in 2010 was 19-9, a career best in wins, and he had a 3.25 ERA (second best ever) and 1.202 WHIP (career best). He also had two complete games, just like in each of the past three seasons. Lester has been the best pitcher for Boston over the last few years together, and he has earned the #1 spot if Lee doesn’t sign. It’s a shame to have Lester toiling in the #2 spot playing like that and with the other players around him.

John Lackey

Lackey was Boston’s pitcher who looked better than he really was because the offense happened to support him at a higher rate than other pitchers. Despite tying the second most wins of his career with 14, Lackey’s ERA was 4.40, his worst since 2004 (4.67), and his WHIP was 1.419, a career worst. For the first year in his career, Lackey had no complete games. He did strike out 156 batters, but walked 72, and also allowed 105 earned runs, which tied a career worst. Lackey was supposed to do a lot better facing #3 pitchers, but it didn’t quite work out that way. Lackey had some good spots, but with the problems they’ve had, Boston can’t afford to overlook Lackey’s trouble spots.

Clay Buchholz

Buchholz had a career year, finally becoming a full-time starter instead of skipping every other turn or so. Buchholz’ ERA and WHIP were 2.33 and 1.203 respectively, both career bests if you discount his highly abbreviated 2007 rookie year (four games, three starts). Buchholz struck out a muscular 120, and finished sixth in the Cy Young voting; maybe that one one-inning outing against the Athletics cost him some points, but that was just one outing. Buchholz has really come into his own, and deserves to be right behind Lester in the rotation.

Daisuke Matsuzaka

Although not QUITE as bad as 2009, Matsuzaka is still a huge injury risk, and is still a COLOSSAL waste of money. Dice-K managed 25 starts, but had a 4.69 ERA and 1.373 WHIP, his second worst stats in the majors behind 2009. That kind of “performance” is not worthy of $10 million dollars per year, massage and physical therapists (which haven’t done their jobs, by the way), a personal assistant, and extra plane rides.

Matsuzaka always seems to have that one trouble inning, and moving him to the bullpen would help him avoid that, and convince him to work harder and/or help him avoid injuries from repetitive work. Dice-K probably won’t support any move to the bullpen. In that case, maybe, just maybe, he would become frustrated enough to waive his no-trade clause; with $51.1 million being paid to just talk to him, Matsuzaka should feel privileged enough to do that.

Tim Wakefield

Wakefield had another poor season as a spot starter, with a 5.34 ERA and 1.350 WHIP in 140.0 innings pitched. He also balked for the first time since 2002. Ever since Wakefield’s back problems in 2009, he just hasn’t been the same. The real reason to keep him around is his incredibly inexpensive contract, at a base of just $1.5 million for 2011, with innings pitched incentives. But that hopefully won’t happen with Wakefield.

Scott Atchison

Despite a 4.50 ERA and 1.283 WHIP, not the best but still pretty good considering the rest of the bullpen and rotation, Atchison, along with Bard, was the most consistent Red Sox reliever. He never really seemed to get in an absolutely horrible slump, and filled in admirably for Matsuzaka in a spot start last June 12, holding Philadelphia to two runs in three innings. Daniel Nava’s first-pitch grand slam helped out there. Atchison’s reliability in long relief situations makes him a go-to guy for Boston in 2011.

Daniel Bard

Daniel Bard has quickly emerged as the kingpin of the Sox bullpen. In only his second year, Bard had a miniscule 1.93 ERA and 1.004 WHIP. He was a solid set-up man, and picked up three saves when Papelbon was unavailable. Bard was even known to go two innings every now and then, something every closer needs to be able to do to increase his usefulness. Bard was a strong anchor to the Sox’ bullpen, and he will continue to be one next season as well.

Jonathan Papelbon

Papelbon set career worsts with blown saves (eight out of 45 chances) and ERA (3.90), and a second-worst career WHIP (1.269), which trails only his rookie year in 2005. Seven losses were also a career worst. No question, Papelbon still has some value, but that is rapidly slipping. Papelbon’s salary is very high, which would be okay if it weren’t for the noticeably lower stats (mostly ERA, and in addition four wild pitches, compared with none in 2009). Papelbon’s salary does present an obstacle to trading him, unless Boston is willing to cover part of it like they did for Julio Lugo. Even without trading him, Papelbon would still make a great arm, but one think that I’ve noticed: he has severe problems trying to pitch more than one inning and remain effective.

Pulling it All Together

So where does Cliff Lee fit into all of this? His history and playoff career (Tim Lincecum aside) make him a natural fit for a #1 starter. Basically, Lee would enter the rotation, thereby allowing pushing other starters back and stabilizing the back end of the rotation. Continuing on, the Sox would have an additional long reliever / spot starter to use when needed. Facing lesser counterparts, or a lot less batters, the struggling members of the Red Sox pitching staff would be able to regain their mojo and at the same time, fill in a depleted bullpen.

Change is clearly needed to fix the Red Sox’ pitching and ensure a playoff spot, instead of having to fight through problems and injuries. With that in mind, here’s how the Red Sox’ pitching staff should work out to keep them competitive:

Rotation:

  1. Cliff Lee
  2. Jon Lester
  3. Clay Buchholz
  4. John Lackey
  5. Josh Beckett

*Salary is a huge obstacle in trading Josh Beckett, but it’s worth a shot.

Bullpen:

  • Scott Atchison (long reliever / spot starter)
  • Tim Wakefield (long reliever / spot starter (when multiple spot starts are needed close together)
  • Daisuke Matsuzaka (long reliever/ spot starter (when multiple spot starts are needed close together)
  • Felix Doubront (moved to starter with poor performance or injury)
  • Casey Kelly (moved to starter with poor performance or injury)
  • Jonathan Papelbon (set-up man)
  • Daniel Bard (closer)

* Jonathan Papelbon should be considered as trade bait, if the salary obstacle can be overcome. Tim Wakefield should be considered as trade bait due to a likable contract. Hideki Okajima should definitely be used as trade bait.

If Cliff Lee doesn’t sign, then the other starters should be moved up a rung, with Tim Wakefield getting the final spot, but he should have a VERY short leash given recent performances. Prospects and Matsuzaka will be hoping to get a chance to have a stellar season.

Use the extra trade bait to land another bat in Adrian Gonzalez or Joey Votto or someone similar, which wouldn’t require Ortiz at first. Signing Werth and/or Crawford would fill in the outfield bats, and Crawford would give Boston speed, especially if Ellsbury is included in a trade package, which due to his injury, which could easily be nagging, I would very much support.

But that’s what Boston should do. What they will do won’t be known until free agents start signing and trades are made, but here’s what Boston likely will do:

Starting Rotation:

  1. Josh Beckett
  2. Jon Lester
  3. John Lackey
  4. Clay Buchholz
  5. Daisuke Matsuzaka

Bullpen:

  • Scott Atchison (long reliever)
  • Tim Wakefield (long reliever / spot starter)
  • Hideki Okajima
  • Daniel Bard (setup man)
  • Jonathan Papelbon (closer)

Notice how I predict Boston won’t really make any changes. Boston has made a lot of talk about retaining Adrian Beltre (despite all the errors, which compounds the problem, and an offensive season which I doubt can be duplicated) despite the huge contract he wants, and it’s tough to resist a powerful catcher like Victor Martinez, though Jason Varitek is pretty powerful in his own right. And all the pitchers Boston has locked up for eight figures per year? The Red Sox don’t seem to understand the concept of a sunk cost. That basically means the money is gone already and can’t be recouped. As such, it shouldn’t play a factor in playing whoever gives you the best chance to win.

But Boston has already signed their pitchers, and seems to think they have to play their pitchers just because their names are Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka. That’s not the way to do things. Just look at the Boston Bruins. Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas lost his starting job, despite his name, midway through the very next season. Sure enough, he got a chance to earn his job back, and earn it he did. And now that Thomas knows his starting job isn’t a lock, he’ll likely keep trying, unlike the start to the 2009-2010 season.

Such is how it must be with the Boston Red Sox. Bench those who are under-performing. They will then hopefully realize that they are not immortal, and will put in a much better effort once they see they aren’t guaranteed a spot in the starting rotation, or even the closer’s role.

And by going after Cliff Lee, that action will be all the easier.

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Discussion

21 comments for “Why Cliff Lee Needs to Join Boston”

  1. I would love Lee but they are not going to be able to match the offer that the Yankees are going to offer him! Not that they can’t but they won’t they still need a catcher and a third baseman and rumor that they are willing to go as high as 20 million for Crawford which seems high to me!

    Posted by Kev | November 26, 2010, 11:14 am
  2. Lee is not worthy of the size contract he will get. I hear you on the rest of your argument about making players earn their spot, but with the young pitchers the sox have in the system they should use the money on fielders.. You can make Doubront the fifth starter pushing Dice K to the pen (where he will s**k), or just sit him. You can probably get away with Becket or Lackey in relief, while they earn their spot back. I also don”t thing Werth is worth the money he wants. He’ll be another Drew and I’m apposed to trading many prospects for a rental. With so many pointing out Prince Fielder’s short commings, I wonder if we could get him cheaper as a one year rental?

    Posted by scar4 | November 26, 2010, 12:09 pm
  3. Your bullpen is idiotic. Why would Casey Kelly be in the Boston bullpen after the numbers he put up in AA? Kelly will start the year again in Portland, giving him the chance to mature so he can be ready to join the rotation out of ST in 2012-13

    Posted by SaneBostonFan | November 26, 2010, 12:10 pm
  4. You really have no idea what your’re talking about. Beckett was injured not slacking off. Cliff Lee is going to be entering the 2011 season at the age of 32. It would be incredibly irresponsible to give Lee a contract in the neighborhood of 115/5 or 140/6 (the early rumors of what the Yankees are willing to offer). You have Lackey and Beckett on the books for another 4 years at $17MM a piece. You can’t simply give up on your ace because he was injured (or slacking off). In addition, Daisuke owes the Red Sox nothing in return for the fee they posted to talk to him. Daisuke in no way benefitted from that money, so why would he owe the Red Sox the honor of waving his no trade clause? You’re way off on this one. Way off.

    Posted by Steve | November 26, 2010, 1:30 pm
  5. Yes, Beckett is a “great candidate for the bullpen.” I agree totally. I’m not being sarcastic whatsoever about the idea of a $16M setup man.

    Ridiculous.

    Posted by Rob | November 26, 2010, 2:43 pm
  6. Papelbon is not going to set up for Bard. Matsuzaka is not going to be in the bullpen. Kelly is not going to be in the bullpen. Beckett is not going to be a #5 starter.

    Posted by Mark | November 26, 2010, 3:24 pm
  7. No one’s saying that Beckett should stay in the bullpen, just let him warm up as necessary to regain his past form.

    And of course Matsuzaka owes nothing. He shouldn’t give up his no-trade clause automatically, but the Sox can try to manipulate his playing time and hope he agrees to waive it in return for a trade to a team that would start him.

    Casey Kelley in the bullpen or as a spot starter would be more of an emergency situation in the event pitching is too sub-par again.

    And I am well aware that the Sox can’t sign every free agent, but Lee and an outfielder would be great, especially if Lee holds down the fort until the prospects are ready (there were also rumors about him disliking New York because of his wife getting disrespected horrendously there, but that’s already died off).

    I know most people take the Internet as a blank check to lash out with a cat o’nine tails, but civil discussions really make for more productive discussions, for those of you who aren’t aware.

    Posted by John | November 26, 2010, 3:26 pm
  8. @Mark – If Lee gets signed (and sure, that’s a BIG if)…Beckett is the No. 4 or 5 starter by default, no? Lester, Lee, and Buchholz would be in the rotation ahead of him.

    Posted by KC Downey | November 26, 2010, 4:05 pm
  9. Exactly. Lee, Lester, and Buchholz are all better pitchers. Not recognizing the concept of sunk costs for their other pitchers will be one of the big reasons for not signing Lee (I’ve always thought all along Lee will be on the Yankees).

    That’s also why none of their struggling starters will likely be demoted. But if the starters keep struggling, the Red Sox won’t win. And at some point, you have to make moves to make yourself able to win.

    The Cowboys wanted to win, so they fired Wade Phillips, and now they’re MUCH better. The Vikings did the same thing with Childress. If players keep struggling, no amount of money will buy victories; just ask the 2010 Yankees. They keep buying players like Lee each year because they want to win. And usually, they do.

    Posted by John | November 26, 2010, 4:18 pm
  10. Wow we are going to suck this year. WE got rid of our catcher and have no replacement we also will not have that power hitter in the middle of our lineup that we need. Our starting pitching will suck except for Lester and Buccholz and Papelbon is awful.

    Posted by juan | November 26, 2010, 5:04 pm
  11. This article contains the stunning insight that Cliff Lee is a good pitcher. Thanks!

    Posted by Andrew | November 26, 2010, 5:21 pm
  12. Imo, Beckett is through..really. He has had plenty of time to mull over his batting practice starts. I don’t see him any better this year. Paps needs to get over it and has to stop pitching like Heathcliff Slocumb. Dice K …thankx for the good year …. 2 years ago. Lester and Bucky pretty much own the starts. As far as horseface, I knew that was coming the day he signed, which I never liked in the first place. Just another signing to keep a F/A away from N.Y. awesome! With V/Mart in Detroit and rumors of the Captain possibly heading to Canada..we have Salty….lovely. Beltre heads west, whether to Oakland or Halo country I say this, spend the money smart and not on a cross-eyed CF or let Ells and Casey head to sunny S.D. If not we as a Nation will only be half way across a 2 year ride on the bridge.

    Posted by Hellcity | November 26, 2010, 10:21 pm
  13. The Red Sox are still riding on High on their 2 world series wins, but just like in New York our fans are greedy and have the “What have you done for me lately” attitude. With that being said the East is going to be incredibly competive again and adding an arm like Cliff Lee’s would make the Red Sox the front runners to win again. But.. the new ownership thinks they can do it by holding on to their millions and replenish the team with has beens and didn’t quite pan out on other teams and fight their way to the championship with the same philosophy they had last year. And once again will come up short. As a yankee fan I like it when the Red Sox are a threat because there is nothing better than watching red sox/yankees in October. Red Sox pitching staff is hurting and the fans needs the Sox to step it up and make a run after Lee. If they dont well Cliff Lee and Sabathia would make a pretty nice 1 2 punch next year! GO YANKEES!!

    Posted by YankeesFaninthe Bay Area | November 26, 2010, 11:34 pm
  14. Was this aticle written by a 12-year-old? Beckett has $87 million reasons to be motivated. Do you really think a “bench or bullpen stint” is necessary? That’s just silly. So is most of what is written here. You talk about trading what you regard as the Red Sux garbage for All-Stars. Those are the delusional opinion of a child. You cannot trade Beckett. The absurd contract Theo gave him means he is in Boston for the next four years, minimum. You can’t put him in the bullpen. How do you justify $17.5 million for a middle reliever? It’s just dumb. The Red Sox are not going to eat $70 million of that contract. You would get NOTHING in return for him. To even suggest the Reds would trade Joey Votto for ANYTHING when they have him under control for the next 2-3 years just shows you have no clue. The Red Sox could offer Bard, Ellsbury and the three best prosects in their organization for Votto and Jocketty would STILL laugh at them. The premise is absolutely moronic.
    Also, John, in the comments section, you go back to the tried and true BS of “The Yankees buy everybody.” Please substantiate that argument for me. You can’t because it’s total crap. Check the rosters from last season. The Yankees had more homegrown players on their roster than the Red Sox by a significant margin. And how many free agents did the Yankees sign last season, while Theo was opening the checkbook for Lackey, Cameron, Scutaro and Beltre? The Yankees big free-agent signing last year was Nick Johnson.

    Oh, and YankeesFaninTheBayArea is not a Yankees fan. If he was, he wouldn’t talk about what the Red Sux have to do to get Cliff Lee. More BS.

    Posted by NYCTim | November 27, 2010, 10:23 pm
  15. John – Do you have any idea how stupid this article makes you look? Are you trying to make a valid argument that this could happen in real life or on your XBox? Good luck in junior high!

    Posted by Tim | November 28, 2010, 9:55 am
  16. Again, more idiocy from those who don’t recognize what must be done. Beckett is not a free agent. The Sox are not spending $17.5 million for a middle reliever. If Beckett doesn’t improve (and if the other pitchers with problems don’t improve), they’re spending $17.5 million to miss out on the playoffs again. That’s the concept of a sunk cost, which you clearly don’t understand, or you just didn’t read everything. That huge contract need not be motivation, but a detriment to Boston if Beckett feels he doesn’t have to try as hard. And you never know which teams might still see value in the Red Sox’ “garbage,” especially if they are in even worse shape than Boston. Again, you are not responding in a civilized manner, which shows how immature you really are, much more than I could ever be. Does the fact that I don’t see your face or hear your voice somehow automatically qualify you to act much worse than you would face-to-face?

    And by the way, the Yankees are already trying to overpay again. They offered Derek Jeter $5 million more than he’s worth PER YEAR, at least, just because he’s synonymous with the Yankees, and he’s cocky enough to turn them down and demand more. That’s another instance of trying to buy titles right there. (Plus, C.C. Sabathia, and as I suspect, Cliff Lee.)

    Posted by John | November 28, 2010, 10:42 am
  17. NYC Tim I agree with some of your points, but are you seriously trying to call someone out for sounding like a “12 year old” when you repeatedly use “Red Sux” in your argument?

    Posted by Leo | November 28, 2010, 11:06 pm
  18. Damn son. Don’t the Red Sox have enough starters already?

    Posted by JosBDeAwesome | November 29, 2010, 12:29 pm
  19. Yes, but only Buchholz, Lester, and half of Lackey are trustworthy, skill-wise.

    Posted by John | November 29, 2010, 11:31 pm
  20. beckett will not be a bullpen pitcher. lee will go to either the yankees or rangers. the red sox will most likely sign worth even though he’s a greasy f-ing caveman and crawford is much better all around. pap wont be a set-up man. they invested too much money in him. what he needs to do is realize that his fastball isnt chapmans. lester throws harder than him. pap has a splitter and a chang-up, he needs hop in the delorean with Doc Brown and go find it again. bard will be the closer eventually if he keeps up with his performance.

    honestly the sox have enough starting pitching. buch did good this past year, but remember how he did the year before… dont jump on any wagon too soon and claim him as HOF material or anything. one good year doesnt mean another. lets see how things shape up. same for wake…great the other year, not so much this year.

    i think you jumped the gun on a lot of these guys. yes last year wasn’t the best, but we still almost made the playoffs…

    Posted by Mat | November 30, 2010, 2:55 am
  21. Some good thoughts, Mat, and perhaps I am a bit anxious for the Sox’ staff to snap back into shape, but that’s the concept of a sunk cost I keep mentioning. It doesn’t matter how much you’re paying guys because that money’s already as good as spent because of contracts, and can’t be recovered. As such, it should not affect how you decide to use them while you have them.

    Or, as analysts will say, you play whoever gives you the best chance to win, not who you pay the most. That’s what critics are ripping into Minnesota/Brett Favre about. And if Beckett/Papelbon/others get better next year, then obviously keep the rotation. But it couldn’t hurt to keep an eye on things.

    Posted by John | November 30, 2010, 10:16 pm

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