Before I bite on Rob Neyer’s writing style, I must first say that even though I’m a Yankees fan, I couldn’t agree more with Jayson Stark’s assessment of the New York and Boston off-seasons:
But the Red Sox’s additions were products of a whole different philosophy, not just a whole different checking account. The four free agents they imported — John Smoltz, Brad Penny, Takashi Saito and Rocco Baldelli — cost this team 4 million fewer guaranteed dollars ($12.5 million total) than the Yankees will pay Burnett alone this year.
Nevertheless, the upside of those men gives the Red Sox four potential impact players without the price tags, or long-term inflexibility, that come with handing out contracts that run through 2016.
And that, for this team, was the whole idea.
Took the words right out of my mouth. All winter I shared mixed thoughts on the Yankees spending spree, first running wild with news of each new big signing before realizing how poorly each contract could turn out, as I briefly mention in my first post.
Smoltz’ rehab has gone well and he was reported to have already been hitting 90 mph on the gun as early as January. Pending an injury or an ineffective Penny or Tim Wakefield, he will be joining a rotation that already includes Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and Daisuke Matsuzaka by the middle of June. You know his heart will be in it to prove people wrong and guess who else is in the AL East? That’s right the Yankees, same team that knocked the Braves out of his last two World Series.
Just two seasons ago, Penny was 16-4 with a 3.08 ERA over 208 innings. What happened last year? That can’t really be explained. His good stats seemed to be cut in half while his bad stats doubled and he dropped to 6-9 with a 6.27 ERA over just 94 2/3 innings. Injuries didn’t seem to be the problem, though he spent some time on the DL. He was sent home in September for being unproductive and a hindrance in the clubhouse. A change of scenery could be all he needs.
Now Shifting to their bullpen, a very good bullpen should it hold together. The thoughts of what it will look like are just plain frightening. Justin Masterson, Hedeki Okajima, and Manny Delcarmen make up the middle innings. Jonathan Papelbon is the best closer in the game and he will be set up by a guy who would make a pretty good closer himself in Saito should he come back healthy. His brief three year career numbers: 81 saves, 11.63 K/9, 1.95 ERA, and a .91 WHIP. He has one appearance this spring and showed no discomfort while going one inning, allowing a hit and striking out two.
Sure there are questions, lots of them. Smoltz is 42 and Saito is 39, both coming off torn labrums in their elbows, a daunting task at any age. If the deals don’t work out though, so what, they have the depth to make it without them. Don’t forget about Clay Buchholz, though he struggled last year, and prospect Michael Bowden.
As for Baldelli, he fits in perfectly. Since he lacks the stamina to play every day, slotting him in a fourth outfielder role works just fine for both sides. Plus if someone gets hurt, they now have an All-Star talent sitting on their bench to take over.
Do Smoltz and Penny equal Sabathia and Burnett? Depends how you look at it. Over the long haul? Not a chance. Which explains why that Yankees tag team hauled in $243.5 million, while Penny and Smoltz were guaranteed about one-23rd of that ($10.5 million).
But when it comes to pitching, the word that defines the Red Sox is “flexibility.” For 50 starts or so this year, if all goes right, Penny and Smoltz could give them just as much impact. Their one-year deals also give this team maneuverability to attack its needs again next winter.
But remember this: The Yankees needed to add those players, because it was clear to the world that the Red Sox and Rays were both better and more talented. We didn’t mention the Rays until now, because this was a piece comparing the Red Sox and Yankees. But nobody should forget them once the season starts.
Regardless, though, no team had a more underrated offseason than the Red Sox. And we’ll find out over the next seven months exactly how good a winter they had.
“I just like the way they added depth and filled their needs,” said one scout, “without spending $423 million.”
I apologize for the long quote but it couldn’t have been worded any better. I think the Red Sox have now cemented themselves as favorites in the AL East, especially with the A-Rod saga. If the the moves work, then they make the play-offs and contend for the World Series. If they don’t work, they could afford to make these moves anyway and didn’t break the bank in the process. Either way the team is fine on the field and financially. It’s just the beautiful part about being wise with your money.