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Freely associating on free agency

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  November 10, 2010 08:12 AM

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crawfordfull.jpgFive questions I’ve been meaning to ask as the baseball offseason begins:

1. What is the fascination with Carl Crawford?

Just wondering: are we playing fantasy baseball or the real thing? Crawford (right) puts up nice numbers and, as any stat geek will tell you, he runs! Five-category player, dude: hits, runs, homers, RBI and steals. Top five pick. Yes, Crawford is a good player in the real game, too, but is he really a lineup centerpiece that is worthy of contract akin to that of, say, Matt Holliday?

If your answer is yes, we have irreconcilable philosophical differences.

Now, if you want to talk about the value of speed, particularly on defense, we can talk. The value of good baserunning? We can talk. But as for stolen bases, the San Francisco Giants finished last in the majors this year and last in steal efficiency, too, which should tell you plenty. You don’t need it. And if you start paying out the nose for speed, you’re a dope.

A request: take away Crawford’s steal total and look at his average numbers over the last three years. Is that really worth somewhere around $18 million a year? Hell no.

(P.S.: Without speedster Jacoby Ellsbury, the Red Sox finished second in the league in runs scored this year. With him last year, they finished third.)

2. Is Jayson Werth a better option now than Jason Bay was then?
Before anyone points out that Bay had a bad year in New York, stop. Nothing affects player performance quite like the home ballpark. What he did in New York doesn’t matter so much as what he has done here. The Red Sox know this. In recent ballpark data compiled over multiple years by Bill James – heard of him? – Fenway Park is a statistical outlier with regard to doubles. Among the other things, Fenway promoted batting average for both lefthanded hitters and righthanded hitters.

Ask Adrian Beltre about this. Before last year, he averaged 31 doubles a season and had a career batting average of .270. In his only season with the Red Sox, he set a career-high for doubles (49) and hit .321. Well duh. Yes, his numbers were actually better on the road. But Fenway builds confidence, especially in comparison to his old home at Safeco Field.

Werth is 31, the same age Bay was a year ago at this time. Offensively, Bay is a better player. Defensively, Werth gets an edge. If the Red Sox sign Werth, isn’t this at least some admission that they botched up Bay?

3. Do the Yankees really have anyone but themselves to blame for the Derek Jeter conundrum?

So Jeter didn’t deserve the Gold Glove. Whatever. But with general regard to contract talks regarding a player who is beyond his prime, the Yankees set a woeful standard three years ago. That was when Alex Rodriguez opted out of his existing 10-year deal and the Yankees gave him another one, this one a deal that will take Rodriguez to age 42.

So now Jeter is coming off a bad year and he’s supposed to take less? Please. A-Rod’s future is almost as much in doubt as Jeter’s is. He has a bad hip. He’s admitted steroid use. He hit .270 this year. If I’m Derek Jeter, I tell the Yankees I want a six-year deal and that nothing less will suffice. The money is a less significant issue. In Rodriguez, the Yankees picked a horrible player to set a precedent with.

4. What, exactly, do the Red Sox plan to do at catcher?

Don’t underestimate the impact of this on the Boston lineup. In Victor Martinez, the Red Sox did not merely have a good offensive catcher. They had a catcher who could hit third, which did wonders for their lineup. Finding a decent hitter for the bottom of the order at one of the other eight spots is a far easier task than finding one at catcher, which creates two problems.

First, the Red Sox will have to spend to replace Martinez in the No. 3 spot. Second, they will likely end up with a worse offensive presence at the bottom of the lineup. Had the Red Sox retained Martinez, they could have let David Ortiz walk and invested in younger or more athletic options on the market. They could have used Martinez at catcher for a year and then moved him into the designated hitter role, played him at first base or both.

Of course, to do that, the Red Sox would have needed a far more aggressive preemptive maneuver than the laughable two-year, $18 million proposal they made at season’s end. This begs the question: why didn’t they negotiate with Martinez last winter?

5. Why would the Red Sox trade minor leaguers now when they weren’t willing to trade them in July?

This all comes back to the ill-advised reference to "a bridge year or two," when the Red Sox were trying to explain that they had a gap in their developmental system. Unsurprisingly, the Red Sox then went out and spent the season picking through everyone’s garbage, making no substantive acquisitions that cost them anything.

Yes, the Red Sox spent a record in terms of payroll. But they also stripped themselves of the financial and player flexibility they so often preach about.

So, what about the state of their minor league system has sufficiently changed that the Red Sox will now cast off people like Casey Kelly for Adrian Gonzalez? Keep your expectation in check on this one and don’t be disappointed. As owner Tom Werner suggested last week, the success of a sitcom is as gratifying as a World Series championship, anyway.

Hey, maybe you can just spend next summer watching reruns of "The Cosby Show"!

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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