Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Boston Red Sox to Break the Bank in 2012?

The Boston Red Sox spent big money in 2011 with one goal in mind, a World Series title.  First they signed OF Carl Crawford to a 7 year $142 million contract last winter.  Then they made a bigger splash by trading for 1B Adrian Gonzalez and subsequently inked him to a 7 year $154 million deal this past April.  They spent another $68 million on a 4 year deal with SP Josh Beckett.  So far, Gonzalez (5.9 WAR) and Beckett (4.1 WAR) have held up their end of the deal and Crawford (0.5 WAR) has been a major bust.

Whether they reach the pinnacle in 2011 remains to be seen.  What is interesting is that the go for broke decisions were made with two major uncertainties in their lineup, David Ortiz and Jacoby Ellsbury.  Ortiz started 2010 slow and then picked up the pieces to turn in a respectable season. Ellsbury missed most of 2010 with an injury.

Now, Red Sox general manager, Theo Epstein, has some big decisions to make for the 2012 club.  He has over $120 million committed among 10 players on the 25 man roster for 2012.  David Ortiz's contract ends in 2011 and the Sox will try to keep the fan favorite.  Ortiz, who has had a strong season start to finish (4.4 WAR YTD), has already stated that he expects a multi-year deal, which will cost the Red Sox plenty of money.  Do not expect Big Papi to grant a hometown discount.

The Red Sox have several players arbitration eligible in 2012.  Each of them will receive a hefty raise.  Most notably is Jacoby Ellsbury, who has put in a MVP caliber season.  At 27 years old, his peak seasons are just now arriving.  As of September 6th, Ellsbury is hitting .312, with 100 R, 38 2B, 24 HR, 85 RBI, 36 SB, and his OPS is .894.  This is all coming from their leadoff hitter!  Plus, Ellsbury is a spectacular center fielder.  His Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) for 2011 currently stands at 15.8, which ranks 1st among all MLB outfielders and 3rd overall.  His year to date WAR of 7.8 is 2nd in MLB, just one tenth of a point lower than Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays.  In addition, Ellsbury is a Scott Boras client, so it can be expected that Boras will fight hard if needed in arbitration or score Ellsbury a very large multi-year deal somewhere in the neighborhood of Crawford's deal.

Epstein will definitely have some tough decisions to make this offseason, which is coincidentally the last of his contract with the Red Sox.  Does he give Big Papi a two or three year deal worth $15 million per year AND pay Ellsbury for a long term deal?  Does he hedge his bets and let Ortiz go?  Can Epstein take his chances in arbitration with Ellsbury or does he offer a long term deal?  One thing is for certain, whichever way the Red Sox proceed, they will spend to contend.  They have no choice so long as they are in the same division as the New York Yankees.

*All stats courtesy of FanGraphs and payroll figures were researched using Cot's Baseball Contracts.