A Stern Call For a Shortstop

The Red Sox seem prepared to go into the season with Alex Cora at shortstop, but not Adam Stern in centerfield.
This centerfielder is going to come from outside the organization, according to the leaders of the Sox front office. They’ve mentioned this repeatedly, and also the fact that they have a few trades being bandied about that could lead to our centerfielder. I’ve outlined the top candidates to play centerfield below that are from outside of the organziation, then I’ll explain who my top choice is – and more importantly, why. While I may be advocating my top choice to play center field, it’s not because I prefer him over the possible choices below – but for a different reason entirely, so as you read who we could acquire from outside the organization and then read who I want to start in centerfield, remember that it’s not because I prefer him to the external options.
We start with Jeremy Reed. I’ve already explained why I’m a proponent of Reed and there’s certainly nothing that’s happened since to change my thinking. Reed can play Gold Glove defense, and as I’ve illustrated in the article above, can still progress significantly enough on offense so that he becomes a solid, permanent option in centerfield for us.
Our second (and many people prefer him to Reed) option is Coco Crisp from Cleveland. Not that Crisp isn’t a good option, but he’s also best suited for left field. I can’t see him as a leadoff hitter either – #5 or #6 would suit him best. He hit .300/.345/.465, and while he has speed, also doesn’t seem to be the leadoff hitter we need – at least not in regard to batting eye. I won’t complain if we get Crisp, but I would have to imagine it would take a lot more to pry Crisp from the Indians than it would Reed from the Mariners.
Dave Roberts from the Padres is also another option, and all reports indicate that the Padres keep offering Roberts and Woody Williams for David Wells, Rightly so, the Red Sox keep rejecting this offer. Woody Williams would fit in nowhere with us, and be wasted dollars, while Roberts – and I hate to say this – wouldn’t be worth losing Wells. It’s true Roberts had a .275/.356/.428 line for the Padres last year but (1) he was hurt for a portion of last year as well and (2) his career line is .263/.340/.364, and we already have this option in our organization (or can find similar options for cheaper).
I’ve also heard the name Jason Michaels from the Phillies bandied about. I used to be against Michaels joining the Sox because he’s 29, which means he would not be a long-term solution here, but I’ve started to come around on Michaels, and now he’s my second option behind Reed for an external acquisition. Michaels has a career .291/.380/.442 line and can play all three outfield positions. This is in 808 AB, so roughly a full year and a half of a starting job. He’s far from a speedster, but can still run well enough to hit leadoff, and could be devastating at leadoff.
The benefit in Michaels, even though he is 29, is that he can play centerfield for us for say, three years. Putting up excellent numbers for three years, and perhaps sliding over to right field to sit Nixon against lefties and playing Adam Stern in center. After these three years, when Jacoby Ellsbury is ready to step in, and Trot Nixon ready to step out, Michaels can move to right field. His versatality would make this feasible. Thus, Michaels can be our short-term centerfielder, and in the short-term in the future (for he would be 32 in 3 years) our right-fielder. He could stick around for six years and put up productive numbers for us. If it’s any indication from his numbers so far in the majors, that’s six very good years for us.
I’ve also heard Jay Payton possibly returning to Boston. No.
I’m sure the Red Sox are talking about other people with other teams, but we haven’t heard these names. While I was thinking about our SS/CF quandary the other day, something occured to me.
1) A shortstop is inherently more valuable than a centerfielder. Meaning that a good shortstop trumps a good centerfielder. Thus, an average shortstop must trump an average centerfielder.
2) Directly related to #1 is that it is easier to find a good centerfielder than a good shortstop. Meaning that in free agency, the trading deadline, etc. you will always find better deals for CFers than SS.
3) If we can’t find a good centerfielder (Reed, Michaels, Crisp) – why bother looking for an average one? Concentrate our energies on getting a good shortstop. I would rather a good shortstop and average CF than the opposite.
I took a look at Alex Cora’s major league numbers, which are .244/.310/.349 – and then his minor league numbers. They are.257/—/.353. The Baseball Cube could not give us an OBP because some OBP numbers at some levels were estimated. However, throughout his major and minor league career, he’s had a consistent differential of 0.50 as his Isolated Eye (a previous column of mine noted that 0.60 was the benchmark for me between acceptable and unacceptable) so that would bring his minor league aggregate statistics to .257/.307/.353.
Adam Stern is not much better, with his aggregate minor league statistics at .282/.343/.406. However, it must be said that they’re nonetheless better. He hits for more power, more contact, and an 0.60 IsoEye differential. In Pawtucket, he hit .321/.385/.494, while rehabbing his (phantom?) injury.
So I ask this. While we certainly would pick Jeremy Reed/Jason Michaels/Coco Crisp and Alex Cora over Adam Stern and Alex Cora, would we pick Jeremy Reed/Jason Michaels/Coco Crisp and Alex Cora over Adam Stern and Miguel Tejada/Julio Lugo? I’m beginning to think no. Alex Cora is going to be 30 – Stern 26. Cora is not suddenly going to explode into a star, and his aggregate major league statistics don’t inspire much confidence. Yes, his 2004 campaign was quite good (.264/.364/.380) but a) that’s not the norm and b) even with these numbers in his free agency year, he could only net a bench spot on the Indians.
Stern, on the other hand, has a ceiling. Let’s say he’s no better than Alex Cora. He has good range, a good arm, and hits what Cora hit for his career – .244/.310/.349 (note: I honestly see Stern hitting for better – something like .265/.340/.405 – Dave Roberts with a touch more power). I would still throw Stern in there and hope he progresses to be a good centerfielder and focus our energies on a shortstop. I would much rather take a gamble with Adam Stern at center and get a good/average shortstop rather then settle for Cora at short and get an average centerfielder. If we have all these good options in Reed, Crisp, Michaels … then why haven’t we moved yet? I’m thinking they’re simply not doable, so we keep hearing Dave Roberts. Jay Payton. Average centerfielders, nothing special.
Are they worth the “upgrade” over Adam Stern along with installing Alex Cora at shortstop? I’m thinking no. I’m thinking that I want to see a new shortstop before a new centerfielder. I’m thinking Adam Stern deserves a shot, and we should start pushing at getting a shortstop, someone like Julio Lugo. It’s highly unlikely, and I can’t see it, but why not trade Manny for that shortstop and put Marte in left? Or trade Clement (although we’d miss him) for that shortstop?
The Devil Rays are intent on acquiring young pitching, so I don’t think Julio Lugo will be a feasible acquisition (unless we trade Arroyo, but after his signing yesterday, I don’t see Arroyo being moved at all – more on this next week), but there are other options out there. An average shortstop trumps an average centerfielder. Give Stern his shot. If he can hit .265/.340/.405, he can keep the seat warm for Jacoby Ellsbury (of course, all contingent if Ellsbury progresses). If he doesn’t, it will be much easier for us to get a replacement centerfielder if Stern falls flat on his face. If Cora falls flat on his face and hits .217/.285/.306, (actual numbers in 405 AB, by the way) then it’s not going to be as easy to find a qualified replacement.
Getting a shortstop now and trying to plug the CF hole with homemade solutions in the long run would be easier to fix should these homemade solutions fail at center. I can’t say the same for trying to fix failed solutions at shortstop.
[Addendum] Mere hours after I wrote this, the Red Sox inked Willie Harris to a minor league contract. He can make $650,000 if he makes the majors. The former White Sox exhibits good eye, an .80 difference the last two years (.60 career) but absolutely zero power. He can cover the middle infield and centerfield. He could battle with Stern for playing time, but I can’t see Harris being the one Hoyer spoke of when he said that they would bring in an external candidate. I would still choose Stern over Harris.