Thursday, December 27, 2007


The Replacement Level Yankees Weblog recently posted on what effect a Johan Santana trade would have on the AL East standings if he was traded to either the Red Sox or the Yankess. The post also took into account the loss of certain players given up to get him. Its an interesting read. The gist of it is that the Red Sox have a few games on the Yankees to start with. If Santana goes to NY the AL East race becomes essentially a dead heat with the Yankees having a slight edge. If Santana comes to Boston the Red Sox (obviously) increase their lead by a few games to something like a four or five game lead, I can't recall which. These numbers are nothing more than food for thought, but they are interesting nonetheless.

You don't need any numbers to know that adding Santana puts the Red Sox in the drivers seat not only in their division but in the American League. Pairing Santana with Beckett could be a deadly combination in the regular season and especially in the post season for years to come. But, at what price, and what would the extracted players do to the Red Sox going forward?

Funny you should ask. Many different sources seem to think that there will be movement on a potential Johan Santana trade in the next few weeks. Of course, we've been hearing that for the past month or more, but if things are going to heat up soon, it makes sense to take a look at potential deals now, from a Red Sox perspective, and see what affect the different proposed deals would have on the old towne team.

Rather than examine potential packages, I'm going to take a look at the players who could be given up in trade, see where they fit into the Red Sox picture in the next few years, and what the cost of giving them up is likely to be.

Jon Lester - Lester projects somewhere between a #1 and a #3, and as a young cost-controlled left-hander who throws hard, he is a very valuable commodity. But the 2008 Red Sox rotation is full with Matsuzaka, Beckett, Schilling, Buchholz, and Wakefield all on the roster, so despite the fact that Lester started Game 4 of the World Series, there may not be a spot in the rotation for him come spring time. He may still need some seasoning anyway, as his control tends to vanish from time to time. Its conceivable that both Schilling and Wakefield will leave Boston after this season which would open two slots in the rotation, one of which would likely go to Lester. Lester's value to the Red Sox in 2007 is likely that of an injury replacement, but he won't be used to his highest and best value until 2008.

Still, with Santana in hand and signed for about five or six years, the Red Sox would be replacing a potentially good left hander with the dominant left hander in the majors. The difference, besides the quality of the pitchers, is the cost. While Lester, if he progresses could be had for likely under $20M cumulatively over the next six seasons, Santana is likely to cost six to seven times that figure. Is the potential difference in quality worth the exorbitant cost?

Jacoby Ellsbury - Ellsbury is the next great Red Sox center fielder. He cemented himself as a fan favorite with his performance in the playoffs and World Series when he replaced the ever-struggling Coco Crisp, and hit close to .500 in the process. Still, for all the love thrown his way, Ellsbury is not without his flaws. He could be more selective at the plate, and until he shows more power his ceiling is limited.

All that doesn't mean he isn't a very valuable player. His speed makes him among the fastest players in the majors right now, and nobody questions the quality of his defense in center field. If he's able to add some power to his game he could be a perennial all-star, but even if he isn't, he could still be an above average player both at the plate and in the field.
Losing Ellsbury would mean that the Sox would be stuck using Crisp in center again next season (more on him in a moment). It would also mean that the Sox would eventually have to either develop another center fielder in a few years (Ryan Kalish?), or if nothing materializes on that front, go out and pay for one on the free agent market. Center fielders who can hit aren't cheap. Plainly put, losing Ellsbury would weaken the club at the plate in 2008. In 2009 the scenario would be the same (Crisp=little offense) or it would require the Sox to go shopping and spend (a lot) more money.

Coco Crisp - Since coming over from Cleveland, Crisp has both improved and declined. When he arrived many questioned his defensive abilities, while many, including myself, thought that he could at least continue developing into a productive hitter along the lines of Johnny Damon. Crisp has put his defensive doubters to sleep with stellar work in center field, but at the same time his offense has fallen off a cliff. Instead of building on his production in Cleveland, his offense has steadily declined to the point where he lost his starting job to a a rookie (Ellsbury) in the middle of the playoffs.

Including Crisp in a Santana trade would be ideal as it would open up center field even more for Ellsbury, and it would allow Crisp, a classy guy who I've enjoyed rooting for, to start for a potential contender going forward. Even better, trading Crisp would not have much of a negative impact on the 2008 or subsequent clubs, as his position would be filled cheaply by Ellsbury who should have little problem replicating Crisp's production both offensively and defensively.

Jed Lowrie - As a first round pick, the Red Sox have invested some time and money into Lowrie's development, and last season was the first where he began to show what the Sox saw in him when he was drafted. Lowrie is very much like current Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia in that both get on base very well, play a decent second base, and are slightly challenged to play a major league quality shortstop. If the Sox could put either at shortstop, they'd likely do so, but as Pedroia has already established himself as one of the better young second basemen in the game, there is little place for Lowrie to stick in Boston. Even if Lowrie could play shortstop adequately, the Sox would have to move Julio Lugo, and doing that may be more difficult than convincing the President about global warming.

But that doesn't mean Lowrie won't be a good major league player going forward. If he can continue what he started this past season, the Red Sox could be trading away an all-star caliber player. However, Lowrie comes with a caveat, which is that last season was his first of above average offensive production. If he isn't able to replicate his 2007 season going forward then he won't be worth much either in trade or in Boston. Trading Lowrie now could be selling high on him on a mediocre player, or it could be trading a young cornerstone infielder. The question is, which is it?

Justin Masterson - I won't pretend I know much about Masterson. He is apparently likely to make the big leagues as a reliever in the Mike Timlin mold, i.e. a sinking fastball guy who gets strikeouts and groundballs, though I believe he has been starting thus far in the minors. If that is what he turns into he will be a valuable commodity, but he's not there yet. Masterson will start the year in AA Portland, so he's far from a proven major leaguer now. He is a nice guy to have in the system, but he isn't anyone who should prevent the Red Sox from acquiring Johan Santana.

So that's it. I really like Jed Lowrie as a player but the Sox won't really have a space for him to play every day any time soon. Lester is similar in that if Santana is coming the other way his loss is more than smoothed over, though there are some who think that Lester could be 75% of Santana for 20% of the cost. Like Lester, Ellsbury is someone who the fans have grown attached to. Losing him has the greatest impact on the 2008 team of any of the potential players going to Minnesota. Masterson is a nice player to have, but isn't anything to worry about giving up.

There are a million things to consider when making a trade like this, and I won't pretend to have the answers, but I will echo Seth Mnookin who said that he enjoys rooting for 'his guys' meaning players who have come up as Red Sox. I agree with that sentiment. Emotionally, I like the guys the Red Sox have now and I think we can win the World Series again next season without trading for Santana, even if he ends up with the Yankees. However, this is a potentiall Hall-of-Famer in the prime of his career that we're talking about, so its no small thing to acquire a guy like this. Just think of what it will do to the Yankees if Santana comes to Boston. Theres a thought to fall asleep to, huh?

Overall, it could go either way. I'm just glad that this isn't a decision I have to make.

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