Lackey signing could put BoSox in deal mode

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lackey exit.jpgThis is the most stunned I’ve been by a Red Sox transaction during the Theo Epstein era. I like to think I’m usually on the same page with the Boston braintrust when it comes to which players to pursue. But I fully expected the Red Sox to come out of this winter with Matt Holliday, Jason Bay or maybe an Adrian Beltre/Mike Cameron combination, as well as some high-upside pitching. I didn’t see them anteing up for Lackey, not when next winter’s starting pitcher market is shaping up as vastly superior to this year’s.
But, as it turned out, no one else really stepped up for Lackey. Even though he was perceived as far and away the top free agent pitcher available, no one was willing to give him a better deal than the five-year, $82.5 million pact A.J. Burnett received from the Yankees last winter. So, the Red Sox took the plunge, even though Lackey has had some elbow problems two years running. What also makes it interesting is that they’ve seen the worst of Lackey. He’s 3-7 with a 5.25 ERA against the Red Sox lifetime and 2-5 with a 5.75 ERA at Fenway Park.
So, now the Red Sox have six starters: Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, Lackey, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Clay Buchholz and Tim Wakefield. That’s not surprising — it was a given that they’d add someone this winter — but that they’ve added a top-30 starter, rather than a Rich Harden-type question mark, would seem to make Buchholz more expendable. Of course, Roy Halladay is out now. But Adrian Gonzalez and Miguel Cabrera are among the superstars that could yet be up for grabs.
My guess is that the Red Sox won’t go that route. If they do trade Buchholz, it could be for a fellow young stud. Milwaukee’s Mat Gamel, Cleveland’s Matt LaPorta and Texas’ Justin Smoak would be possible targets, though I doubt the last two would be available. In Chris Carter, Brett Wallace, Aaron Cunningham, Daric Barton and Sean Doolittle, the A’s have more corner bats than they can play and could put together a nice package.
But I think Buchholz stays and Wakefield either opens the season on the DL or in the bullpen. Buchholz is going to be needed in 2011 and beyond, and it’s easier to find cheap hitters that quality starters.
That’s what the Red Sox might do now. They should still have the cash to sign Adrian Beltre to play third base if they wish, but they still have the flexibility to put Kevin Youkilis in third base and they have Casey Kotchman at first and Jeremy Hermida in left, both of whom have flashed real potential in the past. Both won’t be starters on Opening Day, but one might.
My guess is that the Red Sox add Beltre to play third and pursue Jonny Gomes to battle Hermida for playing time in left field. It’d complicate things if the Mike Lowell deal doesn’t get done, but the Red Sox only stood to save $3 million with the swap anyway.

Evan Longoria: ‘I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base’

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The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.

Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.

Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”

Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.

The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.