Tank Talks Sox: Why can’t we get guys like that?

At the All-Star break, taking stock of some who left town

David Tanklefsky
July 07, 2017 - 11:13 am

You’ve probably noticed there are lots of former Red Sox players having impact years on major league rosters…for other teams. From Josh Reddick and Jed Lowrie’s resurgent seasons to Travis Shaw’s breakout year, the sight of former Boston guys getting it done in different colored laundry makes you wonder: Why did we give up on that guy again? 

As we approach the All-Star break, let’s look back at some of them. In each instance, we’ll compare the player the Sox moved on from to their positional counterparts today. Like most trade value columns, contracts are important. You’d obviously rather have Travis Shaw over Pablo Sandoval, but given the disparities of their contracts, the Shaw trade looks like a way bigger mistake then it would have been if both players were compensated more equally.

Obviously timing matters too. Certain players peaked years after they left Boston, making current comparisons a bit unfair. But this exercise isn’t meant to be fair; it’s meant to be fun.

Josh Reddick: Reddick has turned into an above average offensive talent with home run capacity and a good batting profile. This year he’s hitting .315 with an .888 OPS and a 142 OPS+ (all career highs) while often batting in the number two slot for the best team in the American League so far this year. Last fall, he signed a four-year, $52 million deal with Houston. 

VERDICT: The Sox outfield is as talented and young as anyone in the league, so it’s hard to make the case they botched any transactions involving outfielders. We’ll stick with the Killer B’s. Reddick is having a tremendous offensive year but it’s hard to see him keeping up this pace for the remainder of his contract (until his age 33 season). His defense has also dipped since his 2012 Gold Glove year and some in the advanced metrics community say he’s less valuable then he appears due to his historically bad clutch stats.

Jed Lowrie: Six years removed from his tenure in Boston, Lowrie is having a late-career resurgence this season. A former teammate of Reddick’s, the Stanford alum is putting up numbers that rival his previous best season in 2013. Among players 30 and older, both Lowrie and Reddick are in the top 10 for WAR this season. 

VERDICT: Another strong season, but again we’ll pass. You’d obviously rather have the much-younger, higher-upside Xander Bogaerts. However, at the time he was traded in late 2011, Boston would have been better off keeping him. The Sox moved Lowrie to Houston for one terrible year of Mark Melancon. Lowrie signed a one-year, $1.15 million deal with the Astros. Boston paid $1.2 for a lousy year from Mike Aviles, then inked Stephen Drew to an indefensible $19 million deal for two years in which he 1) blocked Bogaerts from playing shortstop and 2) sucked.

Travis Shaw: This one hurts so bad. It would still hurt even if Pablo Sandoval was a serviceable Major League third baseman, because Shaw is absolutely raking for Milwaukee. He’s hitting .296 with 18 homers and 61 RBIs, plus a .926 OPS. He’s fourth among MLB third basemen in WAR and wRC+. He is making $544,000 and is not even eligible for arbitration until 2019. Is this a good time to remind you that Boston still owes Sandoval $37 million after this year?

VERDICT: Not even close. Shaw has benefitted from a high batting average on balls in play (.327) and could be a candidate to return to earth in the second half. But it really doesn’t matter since Sandoval has ceased to be anything close to a major league player. Dave Cameron put it best on his Fangraphs podcast last week when he said (and I’m paraphrasing): when your manager platoons for you against lefties, pinch hits for you late in games and can’t use you defensively because you’re a total liability, what value do you have? Perhaps if Tyler Thornburg can get on the field and be an effective reliever this trade will look 14% better. It won’t happen this year. He’s done for the season after undergoing shoulder surgery. Right now, this is one of the crappiest moves Dave Dombrowski has made.

Rich Hill: The Milton High alum was a feel good story for Boston in 2015. After pitching in August of that year for the Long Island Ducks, Hill was a 35-year-old September call up for the Red Sox. He had probably the best four-start stretch of his career, striking out 10 three times and posting a 1.55 ERA with a 0.655 WHIP. 

Boston thought it was a flash in the pan and let Hill walk. He signed a one-year, $6 million contract with Oakland and got moved to the Dodgers at the trade deadline. Hill was a superb 12-5 with a 2.12 ERA for the A’s and Dodgers, posting a sub-1.00 WHIP in 110 innings. He made three starts in the playoffs, struggling in the NLDS put pitching a scoreless six innings against the Cubs in Game 3 of the NLCS. Last year, Los Angeles signed him to a three-year, $48 million deal. If you’re keeping track, Rich Hill made about $3.5 million in his big league career before his sojourn with the Long Island Ducks and $54 million after. I’m willing to bet that hasn’t happened before.

VERDICT: Boston certainly could have used a veteran like Hill on short money last season, but long-term they probably made the right call. Hill has been about league average so far this year, posting a 4.00 ERA and a 1.352 WHIP in 11 starts. His health is a bigger concern, seeing that he’s missed time with a nagging blister injury and, you know, he’s super old. If you’re a Sox fan, you probably wouldn’t be wicked psyched about a starting pitcher on the books for about $36 million in his age 38 and 39 seasons.

Ryan Hanigan: Another local guy (Andover High represent!), Hanigan struggled in his final season in Boston, posting a .171/.230/.238 slash line in limited action. He signed with Colorado on a one-year deal just before Spring Training and has hit .245/.286/.358 in 53 at bats. 

VERDICT: Hanigan seems like he’s taking on a David Ross, veteran’s presence type roll on this year’s very good Rockies team, but there simply wasn’t room for him in Boston. With the emergence of Sandy Leon last year, the Sox have their backup catcher. Boston is eighth in defensive WAR and 11th in offensive WAR in the league from the catcher position. Hanigan will be a 37-year-old free agent next year, but there’s often space at the bottom of the roster for a catcher who’s been around.

Mike Napoli: Despite hitting just .239 last year with Cleveland and striking out close to 200 times, Napoli fit the profile of a middle-of-the-order power hitter. He launched 34 homers and knocked in 101 while posting a .800 OPS. This year with Texas he’s down to .192 with a slugging percentage 40 points below his career average. People have made the mistake of writing off Napoli before and Mr. T. will write me out of the will if I say a bad word about him, but it’s not looking good. Cleveland has an $11 million option for him next year. He’s got the lowest batting average in the American League. I’m guessing they move on from this party boy.

VERDICT: While Nap was good last year, Hanley Ramirez was demonstrably better at .286/361/.505 with less strikeouts and more runs batted in. Though Ramirez’s numbers have dipped this year, Mitch Moreland has been a solid first baseman. He’s got less homers than Napoli but way more doubles and a higher OPS+. Moreland is three years younger than Nap and makes three million less. Gotta give Dombrowski some credit. Moreland was a decent free agent pickup for short money.

Jon Lester: Here’s a comparison of Lester and David Price since 2015, the first full season Lester pitched for a team other than the Red Sox:

Lester: 515 IP, 3.11 ERA, 2.3 BB/9, 9.0 K/9, 1.111 WHIP
Price: 497.1 IP, 3.31 ERA, 2.1 BB/9, 9.0 K/9, 1.154 WHIP

VERDICT: The numbers are similar and the contracts are both huge. Lester has been decent this year, but his ERA, FIP and WHIP are all trending up and he’s under that monster contract for at least three more years. Price has an even larger contract and his numbers are trending in a similarly ominous direction but he’s younger. 

If you were projecting future performance just based on age and stats, you’d probably take Price by a hair. But obviously there are serious intangibles at play here. Lester was a homegrown, known commodity: a top of the rotation pitcher who could give you workhorse innings and fed off the atmosphere of playing in Boston. Lester has three World Series rings and a career 2.63 playoff ERA. Price has two career postseason wins and a 5.54 ERA.

Price’s numbers aren’t great this year and, worse, he seems to be losing his focus, lashing out at multiple media members, including one who is in the Hall of Fame. At this point, Boston should hope Price opts out of his deal after next season to save the team $127 million and avoid the ugly premise of an over-the-hill Price collecting his paychecks, losing efficiency and acting like a chump.

All of these big money contracts for pitchers end up being not very cost effective on the back end.  Lester and Price's will both probably end up looking bad by the end of their deals, but Boston should have given the cash to the guy who had proven he could get it done here. Enjoy the All-Star Game folks!


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