Olney: Sox trying to win with pitching and defense

December, 15, 2009

Analysis of the Red Sox's Monday moves from Buster Olney's blog. Read the full version here (Insider):

As Manny Ramirez forced his way out of Boston and age began to take its toll on David Ortiz, the Red Sox seemingly tried to recreate the missing offense -- and in this effort to patch and fill, Boston had created a lineup of 1B-DH types who are defensively challenged. Now the Red Sox have clearly taken the Seattle route of pitching and defense. They moved to sign the best free-agent pitcher on the market in John Lackey on a five-year deal. And as we wrote on our site early Monday afternoon, Mike Cameron was talking to the Red Sox, and by the end of the day, he had an agreement with Boston to play left field.

The Red Sox have tried to sign Adrian Beltre -- widely regarded by talent evaluators as the best third baseman in the majors -- but they may not be successful in reaching the middle ground between what they want to pay Beltre and what agent Scott Boras is asking for (an eight-figure annual salary). If they can't get a Beltre deal done, they will go with Casey Kotchman at first base and Kevin Youkilis at third.
Either way, the Red Sox will be in position to fight it out with the Mariners about who has the best pitching-and-defense team in the majors. A rotation of Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, Lackey, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Clay Buchholz could be backed by an infield of Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Marco Scutaro and Beltre (or Kotchman), and an outfield of Cameron, Jacoby Ellsbury and J.D. Drew.

Conversely, the Boston lineup could have the least amount of impact than we've seen in Theo Epstein's time as general manager. The Red Sox have posted the following team OPS's over the last seven seasons, starting in 2003: .851, .832, .811, .786, .806, .805, .806.

These are the OPS numbers of 2009 for what the Red Sox lineup might look like:

SS Scutaro - .788

2B Pedroia - .819

1B Youkilis - .961

C Martinez - .861

RF Drew - .912

LF Cameron - .794

DH Ortiz - .794

3B Beltre - .683 (or Kotchman, .721)

CF Ellsbury - .770

It's possible that the lineup would pretty good -- if Drew stays healthy, if Cameron continues to be productive at age 37, if Ortiz hits more consistently than he did in the first half of 2009. Keep in mind that the Red Sox (and other big-market teams) always will have flexibility to go out and make in-season deals. Are the Red Sox as good as the Yankees, in the aftermath of the Lackey and Cameron agreements?

Maybe not.

It seems fairly clear, though, with more moves to come, that Boston is one of the four best teams in the AL, with a couple of months to go in the offseason.



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