Offseason Precap

With the Crisp deal completed, the 2006 Red Sox have finally – after a grueling offseason that included the departure of one GM and the hiring of three, as well as a turnover more extensive than any the Sox have seen in a decade – taken shape.The light at the end of the tunnel is here, and so far, only weeks before the team truck heads south, it’s looking pretty good. We have a deeper rotation, a revamped and impressive bullpen, and an offense that – while perhaps not as potent as those we’ve been used to – shouldn’t experience a dropoff of any more than 25 runs over the course of a season. With all that in mind, I wanted to recap and grade the offseason, deal by deal, to try to come to some kind of closure.
Timlin returns
Mike Timlin was the rock of the Sox pen in 2005, and especially in light of subsequent free agent relief deals, his contract – 1 year at $3 million – appears to be an absolute steal. His age may be troublesome, but in a pen that looks to be headed younger, his presence on the mound and on the bench is a relief in many ways. One of the clear-cut leaders of the club, his resigning was a necessity, and its execution – quick and cheap – was well done.
Grade: A-
The Beckett Trade
Seems like more than just two months ago, doesn’t it? Only three weeks after the cataclysmic Epstein departure, the Sox pulled off the kind of deal not seen in Boston since the 1996/1997 offseason that brought Pedro Martinez to Boston, sending prospects Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez, Jesus Delgado and Harvey Garcia to Florida for pitchers Josh Beckett and Guillermo Mota, and 3B Mike Lowell. Despite the loss of two of the Sox’ top prospects, it’s hard to see this deal as anything but an unqualified success; the centerpeice of the deal was a 25 year old ace with three full years of MLB experience and a masterful postseason already on his resume, and the other peices – a Gold Glove 3B coming off an off year but with a long track record of excellence, and a formerly fantastic setup man who might have simply been in need of a change of scenery – put the first stamp on the offseason and dramatically changed the face of the Sox.
Grade: A-
Mirabelli for Loretta
This trade, which opened the 2005 Winter Meetings in Texas, saw the departure of the Sox longtime backup catcher, in exchange for an All-Star 2B coming off a down but injury-plagued 2005. Though Loretta is a somewhat uncertain quantity, the value of the trade is undeniable; as much as Sox fans had come to respect and appreciate Mirabelli in his 5 seasons with Boston, backup catchers are by their very nature fungible. To turn one into a potential impact player at a difficult and shallow offensive position was a deeply impressive move, and one which opened the backup catcher role to (now departed) prospect Kelly Shoppach.
Grade: A-
Edgar Renteria for Andy Marte
As the Loretta deal opened the Winter Meetings, the Renteria deal closed them; the subject of two days of speculation that at one point involved the Devil Rays and Julio Lugo, the Sox were able to simply cut out the middle man and deal their expensive and underperforming SS, along with $11 million, to Atlanta for one of the very best position prospects in the game. Though that prospect – 3B Andy Marte – has since been used as the key chip in acquiring Coco Crisp, the deal itself remains a gutsy and impressive one; With Atlanta attempting to fill it’s only major hole, the Sox committed to potentially opening a new one in order to acquire an incredibly promising talent. Deals like these are necessary to bolster a farm system, or in this case to protect that system from upcoming deals; the news that came to light over the weekend that the Sox had been targeting Crisp since the 2005 season suggest the possibility that Marte was acquired as a trading chip rather than as an integral part of the club’s future. Whether or not that’s wise, I find it difficult to say. But the ability to do it is in and of itself impressive. This was the best and most interesting deal of the offseason.
Grade: A
Sox sign backup catchers John Flaherty and Ken Huckaby to mL deals
With the departure of Mirabelli, the Sox needed a solid defensive catcher to handle Tim Wakefield and to back up Jason Varitek. Huckaby and Flaherty – cheap veterans with solid reps – were reasonable enough choices, and either could still find themselves in the role come Opening Day.
Grade: C
Sox sign RP Rudy Seanez…
The first of two additional cheap pen signings, Seanez – a 37 year old reliever who experienced his first breakout success after years of failed promise in 2005 – joined the already crowded pen in mid-December. He is a gamble, but the new-found depth in the pen – both at the MLB level and in AAA Pawtucket – makes him a worthwhile one. If he is as effective as he was with San Diego, he automatically improves the Sox pen and provides a stable middle relief arm, as well as injury insurance for closer Keith Foulke.
Grade: B
… and RP Julian Tavarez
A somewhat more controversial signing, Tavarez has a longer track record of success than Seanez, but a more checkered past (Just ask Sam). His ability to get outs in key spots is unquestioned, and he should be a valuable addition to the pen in terms of performance; the worrying aspect of Tavarez’s acquisition is his perception – earned – as a loose cannon and a potentially dicey personality. The Sox over the last few years have prided themselves on a happy and fun clubhouse presence; it remains to be seen what impact Tavarez could have on that, and whether a future meltdown will impact the Sox on or off the field.
Grade: C+ (Happy now, Sam?)
Tony Graffanino Accepts Arbitration
Arb offers can be a tricky business, if a team is looking for a cheap draft pick. The risk is that a player accepts, forcing their way onto the MLB roster and potentially upsetting offseason plans. This occurred in late December, when 2005 midseason acquisition Tony Graffanino was unable to land a starting gig elsewhere, and instead chose to accept the guaranteed paycheck from the Sox, who were looking for an additional SS at the time. Graffanino’s presence potentially disrupts the bench, stacking the Sox a bit too deep with second basemen, and leaving no room for defensive help to the left of the bag. Arb offers are difficult to predict, but the Sox could have read this better. Graffanino may make the club, and could be a useful option, but it would have been better if the Sox had been able to make their own choice in the middle infield.
Grade: D
J.T. Snow signs
The Sox’ troubling obsession with defensive 1B’s continued as the signd 39 year old veteran JT Snow to a one year deal. Kevin Youkilis has been all but promised the 1B job this offseason, and it would be a shame to see his growth as a major league ballplayer stunted by an increased role from a declining vet, especially at a position where defensive differentials are relatively insignificant. In addition, Snow’s presence eats up another roster spot that could have been used to shore up more important defensive positions in the middle infield.
Grade: D
Arroyo gets a New Deal
The Sox signed SP Bronson Arroyo to a three year, $11.5 million deal in mid-January, assuring his production at set cost and removing the threat of arbitration raises over the remainder of his pre-FA career. It’s an interesting deal especially given the amount of speculation regarding his trade value; if anything, the deal increased it, yet also signaled that the Sox would not move him this winter. To me, Arroyo is the most trade-friendly starter on the club; league average but young and cost controlled, smaller market teams would certainly welcome him in any rotation. He’s cheaper and younger than either Wells or Clement, both of whom have had their names attached to rumors this winter (Wells by request). The deal is intelligent in a vaccuum, but given the scarcity of cheap quality pitching, this seems a resource that might have been better spent elsewhere.
Grade: C
Willie Harris
In a move that could fill a utility position (were one available), the Sox inked former CWS 2B/OF Willie Harris to a minor-league deal as insurance both in the middle infield and in center. Given the current roster crunch, it seems unlikely that Harris will find a role on the club; nevertheless, depth is always welcome, especially at low cost.
Grade: B-
Sox Sign OF Dustan Mohr to a minor league deal
In search of further depth, as well as for a platoon partner for Trot Nixon, the Sox snatched up RF Dustan Mohr, who has shown flashes of potential in an otherwise unremarkable career. He does have noticeable L/R splits that make him a solid platoon candidate, and has a decent defensive reputation. He is a strong candidate for the role of fourth OF in 2006.
Grade: C+
The Crisp Deal
The two biggest deals of the winter now appear to be bookends for the offseason. After Johnny Damon’s departure, Crisp’s name was one of the most heavily circulated in connection with the Sox’ CF hole. In the end, after a polonged and contentious negotiation, he was dealt to Boston along with RP David Riske and C Josh Bard for newcomers Andy Marte and Guillermo Mota, along with top catching prospect Kelly Shoppach. My own reaction to this deal has ranged from hating it to finding peace with it, and then back and forth between those; giving up Marte is a difficult choice, but the acquisition of Crisp is enticing enough to make me think twice. In addition, the Sox gained another solid choice at backup (as it certainly seemed like Kelly Shoppach was not going to get his break here for whatever reason), and upgraded a potentially good but uncertain Mota with Riske, one of the majors’ most successful relievers in recent seasons. Overall, we filled out biggest need with a talented young player, but we paid a heavy price. In the end, I think we essentially broke even on the deal; it improves the club tremendously in 2006, and Crisp’s age helps to offset the loss of Marte’s potential in the future. I’m forced to label it essentially neutral, the confluence of a terrible loss and and exciting gain.
Grade: C
In the end, this is a Sox team that is improved on paper. Our greatest strength in 2005 – another MLB-leading offense – was probably somewhat lessened; still, considering the key parts that were lost, it shouldn’t suffer very greatly. That loss of offensive power should be more than made up for by the acquisition of Beckett, the tremendous upgrade of the bullpen, and the continued maturation of the Sox’ younger pitchers (especially Jonathan Papelbon, who should by all rights have a spot on the Opening Day roster). In a contentious AL East, it’s tough to say still who has the upper hand; Toronto has improved itself more than either the Yankees or Sox, but the latter two have improved enough to continue to hold the top two spots in the division. Only time will tell now. What we can say at this juncture is this: despite the drama and the teeth-grinding, the Sox FO has once again shown itself to be shrewd and discriminating when it comes to talent acquisition, and the team remains positioned for a strong 2006 and beyond.
Overall offseason grade: B+

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