Red Sox Decline Option on Alex Gonzalex

On Sunday, the Red Sox declined the $6 million option they held on Alex Gonzalez for the 2010 season.  By declining his option the Red Sox find themselves without an everyday shortstop on the roster.  Is this the end of Gonzalez’s second stint with the Red Sox or is free agency a more favorable route to bring about his return?

By the Numbers

Known more for his gold glove caliber defense than for his offensive prowess, Gonzalez put up a .284/.316/.453 line in 44 games with the Red Sox, good for the second highest OPS of his career (.769), though in a very small sample.

By comparison, in his 2006 season with the Red Sox Gonzalez hit .255/.299/.397. As a career .247 hitter with a .689 OPS, Gonzalez provided more than the Red Sox could have imagined this season at a position where they needed offensive and defensive help. This is an offensive performance Gonzalez would be hard pressed to repeat. With question marks remaining at catcher and left field as well and Julio Lugo’s salary still on the books for next year, declining the option was the right move at that price.

Wrist-ful Thinking About Lowrie?

Jed Lowrie’s career path has been significantly altered by his wrist injury.  A simple offseason recovery turned into surgery costing him almost the entire 2009 season. With concerns about Lowrie’s health, it makes perfect sense to bring Gonzalez back on a short deal.

The Red Sox signed Gonzalez to a one-year $3 million contract before the 2006 season, a season he parleyed into his three-year contract with the Reds. Only 32, Gonzalez could sign another discounted contract with the Red Sox and rebuild his value again after injuries derailed his 2008 season and limited him at the start of 2009. He would be the starter unless Lowrie outplays him. Even then, Gonzalez would likely become a utility player in the mold of Crisp and Lugo, only playing his natural position while his platoon partner (Lowrie) moves around the diamond to fill in for someone else.

Who Else Is Out There?

Marco Scutaro is the premier free agent shortstop this year, but a 34 year-old coming off a career year is unlikely to be a good investment. Miguel Tejada could provide some pop with the bat, but not the defense the Red Sox like at shortstop. Orlando Cabrera is also available, but the front office let that ship sail after 2004 and hasn’t shown any interest in him the last two years.

Quick Thoughts: Red Sox

The Red Sox probably will make a big trade; they have the prospects, they have the need, and they don’t like bidding on free agents. Ortiz, Lowell, and Beckett will all, most likely, walk away next year as Type A free agents.  If Papelbon is still on the team after 2011, he probably will too. That’s a lot of extra picks to restock the farm from an Adrian Gonzalez trade.

Peter Gammons also mentioned the (highly unlikely) possibility that Beckett is traded. Would a package like the Indians got for Cliff Lee do it? The Erik Bedard deal? They could pile up on prospects over the next couple years and even a big FA signing like Matt Holliday would only take away one of those picks. They know the Rays and O’s are lurking and the Yankees will be spending; the Red Sox won’t stand still.

Yankees Shopping List 2009

It was hardly a surprise last year that the Yankees acquired C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeria, and A.J. Burnett, though it was speculated that Derek Lowe could have fulled one of the pitching needs; it was clear the Bronx Bombers had plenty of dollars coming off the books.

This year the market doesn’t have quite the supply of stars to refill their roster, but with Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Xavier Nady, and Andy Pettitte all set to leave as free agents, the AL East is likely to add a few fresh faces.  Just these four players open up $38 million of 2009’s $201 million payroll.

With nearly $40 million to spend it isn’t unreasonable for the Yankees to sign two of the premier free agents – Matt Holliday, Jason Bay, John Lackey – and solve their outfield and DH holes or shore up a rotation that has seen Joba Chamberlain struggle, Phil Hughes take to the 8th inning very well, and Ian Kennedy fail to stay healthy.

If offense if their goal, signing both Bay and Holliday would be possible with a enough left over to lure one fo the Injured Threesome of Ben Sheets, Rich Harden, and Erik Bedard to the Bronx for a year.

Aaron Hill: Comeback Player of the Year

While Hill had a great season, setting career highs in many categories, and recovered from the concussion that ended his season last year, he is not a good example of a comeback player.

Victor Martinez, after posting an OPS of at least .851 from 2004-2007 provided a meager .701 last year and rebounded in 2009 with an .861 – second highest in his career. That is a comeback. Aaron Hill had a career year, but he didn’t “come back” to his previous level of play like NL winner Chris Carpenter.

Joe Mauer: MVP?

Mauer, taken first overall in the 2001 draft (ahead of Mark Prior, which has seemed better and better) tore through the minor leagues as an offensive and defensive powerhouse at catcher; a rare find to be sure.  The local boy lived up to expectations in his first full season in the majors putting up a line of .294/.372/.411 in 2005.  He led the American League in batting in 2006 hitting .347 and again in 2008 hitting .328.  2006 also saw his career high in home runs: 13.

Entering 2009 Mauer’s home run totals were 6,9,13,7 and 9 or a total of 44.  Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA forecast projected Mauer at 10 home runs this year and a modest .307 batting average.  Not content to stay within the margins of his career norms, Mauer came out swinging hitting .366 with 28 home runs (more than half his career total!) in a season he began on the disabled list.  Even more impressive, Joe has carried the Twins to a tie for the division lead with the Tigers, even with his slugging partner Justin Morneau getting shut down for the season in mid-September.

With at least one game left in 2009, Mauer is set to win his third batting title, the only catcher in history to do so. Mauer is currently tied with Hall of Fame catcher Ernie Lombardi as the only catcher to win 2 such awards. Other players have had good and even great seasons this year, but Joe Mauer, is leading not only in advanced statistics, but all 3 slash stats.  Combined with his defense, you can’t be more valuable than that.

That’s What “They” Say

Conventional wisdom recently has been that the Red Sox acted too soon parting ways with Brad Penny and John Smoltz after their first few starts back in the National League.

In four starts for the Giants, Penny is 3-1 allowing 11 runs (though 7 in his most recent start) in  24.2 innings while Smoltz is 1-1 in five tries with the Cardinals.  For Penny, the change in scenery has taken him through the 7th inning three times, once completing the 8th after not crossing 6 2/3 during his AL stint. The Padres may not be the greatest lineup, but the Dodgers and Phillies are both offensive powerhouses in the DH-less league.