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In the past week, the Angels shocked the baseball world by signing Josh Hamilton to a 5-year, $125 MM deal to play in the outfield and hit behind Albert Pujols. This left a major logjam in their batting order and still some holes in their starting rotation. Sure, their front two starters were excellent, in Jered Weaver and CJ Wilson, but after losing out in the Zack Greinke sweepstakes, they had to settle for signing Joe Blanton and trading for Tommy Hanson. Enter the Seattle Mariners, who have been involved in almost every offseason pursuit of a major signing, especially on the offensive side of the ball. After bringing in the fences at Safeco Field, the Mariners believe that this is their year to restock the offense with talent, especially with the emerging bats of Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero, and Kyle Seager. Seattle has a plethora of arms in the minor league system who can contribute to the big league club in the coming year or two, which made some of their Major League talent expendable.
In late October, I posted a rebuilding plan for the Red Sox that involved trading for some key players to fill major holes in their roster. I proposed some potential trades for Anaheim’s 1B Kendrys Morales (to fill the hole vacated by Adrian Gonzalez) and Seattle’s LHP Jason Vargas (an innings eater who could replace Josh Beckett in the rotation). These players will now be swapping places on the west coast, as they have been traded for each other between two teams with major needs on their side of the ball. Each player has one year of team control left before hitting free agency, and the money was close enough (and the need high enough) for this inter-division trade to make sense.
This takes even more potential options off the board for the Red Sox, who have stuck to their guns, signing free agents who are not linked to a draft pick to lucrative short term deals in order to preserve the farm system while still being remotely competitive in the near future.
If you guess correctly, congratulations. Player A is Kendrys Morales. 2011 has been removed from the statistics due to the fact that Morales missed 2011 (and most of 2010) after breaking his ankle celebrating a walk-off grand slam (he played in only 51 games that season). Over those three seasons outlined above, Morales totaled 67 home runs, or one more than Mike Napoli, who happens to be Player B. He also recorded 220 RBI, or 40 more than Napoli over that span. He is also a year younger and plays a much better first base than Napoli, who has spent most of his career as a catcher. For people who would argue that Napoli has spent time injured as well, over the three years displayed above, Napoli played in 362 games (versus Morales’ 337). While their slugging, OPS, and OBP numbers remain similar, the real upside to Morales is his ability to hit for average as well as power. The benefit to the Red Sox signing Napoli (pending his contract status after some red flags in his physical) is that the Sox did not have to give up a player to get him.
If you guessed it again, you know your baseball stats. Player B is the second player in the AL West deal, Jason Vargas, whereas Player A is the most recent signing from the Boston Red Sox, Ryan Dempster. Looking a little deeper, here is what I see: one player who is consistently seeing his innings count diminish as he climbs into his mid-thirties, and a player who has seen his innings count increase as he gets into his prime in his late twenties. Which one of those players would have been more valuable for the Red Sox? You could argue that Dempster has had significantly higher strikeout totals, and in a hitter’s park that would be ideal, but the number that stands out to me is the SO/BB ratio. Both players have had very similar tracks in that respect, and when you dig deeper, it would be better to induce outs without giving hitters a free pass, which is something Vargas is better than Dempster at. This is evidenced by the fact that in every season, Vargas had a lower WHIP than Dempster.
Looking at the deal that went down, Seattle was looking for a year’s worth of a veteran hitting presence in their lineup and Anaheim was looking for a year’s worth of a left handed pitcher who could eat up a bunch of innings. Seattle would have been the perfect candidate to receive Jacoby Ellsbury in exchange for Jason Vargas, and the team would have received a younger, developing starter with American League success under his belt in the process. Meanwhile, this would leave the door open to resign Cody Ross in the outfield, something fans have been clamoring for since his 2012 campaign in a Boston uniform.
On the other hand, with Anaheim looking for left handed pitching depth, the acquisition of Vargas could have opened the door to trade Felix Doubront, a young player who would have had increased value to the Angels due to his arbitration eligibility and years of team control. This could have netted the team Kendrys Morales to fill their first base needs, and quite admirably at that. His ability as a switch hitter would have also come in handy for lineup making when the season started.
While the front office has made moves to solidify their present while not sacrificing their future, both of these moves could have been made to solidify the present AND build for the future, as Vargas could have been a steady rock in the rotation for years to come. No prospect in the minors is ever a lock to succeed at the major league level, and banking on the farm system to all emerge as cornerstones is a mistake this team can ill afford to make. The Red Sox need to acquire some Major League level talent that can contribute over the next four or five years, as opposed to just the next two; that would be the best way to handle a transition.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com