clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

A Short and Probably Dumb Hypothetical About the Cardinals and Red Sox

There's a reason the Hot Stove is also called the silly season, and it's because of things just like this.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

A funny thing happened over the past couple days. Not funny haha, you understand, but funny strange. Funny as in, "Huh. That seems really weird. I wonder what they're thinking with that?"

The funny thing that happened is the Boston Red Sox went out and signed all the players.

Okay, not literally ALL the players, but possibly the two biggest free-agent names on the position side of things in Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. Now, a big market club signing a big name free agent isn't exactly news; or, well, it is news, but not news news. You know what I mean? It isn't the sort of thing you normally look at in slight confusion; rather, you see the headline HIGH PAYROLL TEAM SIGNS HIGH PRICED FREE AGENT and you say to yourself, "Ah. That makes sense. Blank is a good player. Wonder how much he got?"

What is slightly more unusual is one club signing two of the top four or five players in a given free agent class; the Yankees occasionally would do that sort of thing in the old days, but even they seem to have cooled on just throwing money at every problem they have. (Until they throw money at one problem, and then can't seem to figure out how to stop the sudden cascade of moves they feel they need to make to get into contention, rather than following the original plan, as happened to them last offseason.) Still, big payroll club with multiple needs goes out and fills in with multiple high-dollar players? Not exactly film at eleven sort of material.

Where it gets weird is when you consider exactly which two players the Boston Red Sox signed, and just how crowded their depth chart is at a couple specific positions.

See, Hanley Ramirez is listed as a shortstop, but he's absolutely brutal there. He's got a plus arm, and so probably profiles best defensively at third base. Thing is, though, Pablo Sandoval plays third base, and does so at a pretty decent level. Not great, but well enough. Ergo, Hanley moving to third would seem to not make much sense. (When I knew of the Ramirez signing but not the Sandoval deal, I assumed Hanley to third was a done deal. Shows how much I know.)

So, Hanley Ramirez can currently either a) stay at shortstop or b) move to another position other than third. Maybe second base? Slightly easier than short, after all. Nope, turns out the Sawx have a long term player at second base in Dustin Pedroia. And if something happens to him, they have Mookie Betts, who appears to be a more capable defender in the middle of the diamond than Ramirez. Staying at short does two things: a) it keeps Hanley in a position to cost his team runs with his glove, and b) forces a move with Xander Bogaerts, who struggled mightily in his first full season in the big leagues. Neither of those outcomes seem optimal.

Which leads us to what appears to be, at the moment, the solution: Hanley Ramirez, left fielder. It makes a sort of sense, I suppose; you want Hanley's bat in the lineup as often as possible, and left field in Fenway isn't all that demanding. He's never played outfield before -- or, at least, in any regular capacity; I can't say for sure he's never appeared out there -- but should be able to take his athleticism to left and make it work. Somehow.

That leads us to another thing, though: the Red Sox have a metric ass ton of outfielders. Scientifically speaking. Guys like Daniel Nava and Allen Craig and Mookie Betts the right fielder, as opposed to Mookie Betts the second baseman, and Yoenis Cespedes and Shane Victorino and Jackie Bradley Jr. and- well, you get the picture. Now, that's not to say those players should keep Hanley Ramirez from playing in the outfield, necessarily; his offensive upside (not to mention the size of his contract), practically demands he be on the field as much as possible. But, the fact is, when you have an enormous logjam in the outfield and then try to shoehorn a not-so-good shortstop into the mix, it gets complicated in a hurry.

Oh, and there's the small, niggling fact the Red Sox barely have a starting rotation. That's kind of important, and I'll come back to it shortly.

Dave Cameron over at Fangraphs did a nice job breaking down what the Red Sox currently have in excess, and also went so far as to suggest a few fixes Boston might employ to try and make their roster work. He concluded that, with the current construction, there absolutely has to be more moves coming down the pipeline, and I'm inclined to agree.

The most interesting move he suggests -- to me, at least -- is moving Mike Napoli, who is playing out the last season of a two-year contract extension he signed after the club's 2013 championship season. Napoli is slated to make right around $16 million in 2015, which isn't exactly chump change, even for the Red Sox. Particularly when, as I mentioned before, they need pitching, and need it badly. They could trade for it, of course, but it looks like there's a pretty decent chance the Boston front office wants to sign one of the high-end free agent pitchers to round out their spending spree, with Jon Lester (he of the rumoured Cardinal interest which I personally hope is a smoke screen), being their preferred target.

The Sawx moving Napoli would accomplish two things. First, it would open up first base, making a potential move by Sandoval across the diamond possible. The Panda has been a mostly solid defender in his big league career to this point, but he isn't exactly the most svelte individual, and there has to be some concern about him losing mobility and agility as he ages with that body. Moving him over to first would seem to make sense, even if his bat doesn't profile quite as well at first as it does if he's playing an average-ish hot corner. Hanley could then move to third, Bogaerts could either remain at short to try and get himself on track or also be moved as the club examines other options at short, and Boston would be free to play at least some of those fifty billion outfielders in the outfield, while still moving others in pursuit of cost-controlled pitching depth.

Second, moving Napoli out of Boston would free up considerable payroll, assuming that whatever team was acquiring Napoli would pick up the full tab. Boston has money, sure, but even the deep pockets of the Sockets, er, Soxets -- nope, just not working -- Sox could use a little extra headspace considering there's a decent chance Boston is likely going to try and add a $20 million + pitcher salary in the near future.

And that, dear reader, is where my most likely pointless hypothetical comes into the picture. The Cardinals have made several moves already this season, with the biggest being the trade which sent Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins, a pair of very valuable future assets, to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for Jason Heyward, a monstrously valuable present asset, along with Jordan Walden, none too shabby a present asset himself at the back of the bullpen. Now, Heyward hopefully represents a big move in helping to establish the next core of the Cardinals going forward -- as in, he patrols right field for the next decade and pulls in a couple championship rings along the way -- but the fact is, for now, he's a one-year rental. The Cardinals have, in other words, gone at least somewhat all in for 2015, with the ideal outcome being a long-term investment as well.

So what, I ask you, if the Redbirds were to truly go completely, fully, all-in? There is room in the budget, as evinced by the apparent payroll flexibility to at lest kick the tires on Lester, though I kind of doubt they will be willing to go all-out to win a true bidding war for the big lefty. I have to believe, as useful a player as Mike Napoli still is, if a team were to assume the whole of his contract for 2015, the return in prospects or players needed to acquire him would be pretty minimal. Would he be worth the salary?

Well, to be honest, yes, but just barely. Napoli was worth 2.5 wins in just 119 games in 2014; at a cost per WAR of approximately $6-6.5 million right now, he breaks right about even at $16 million.

The downside with Napoli is that 119 games number; he hasn't been the most durable player the last few years, since it was discovered he suffers from a chronic hip condition. The hip hasn't been the only malady for the former Rangers slugger, but it's been the biggest.

But then again, the Cardinals already have a first baseman, and therein we come to the crux of my argument.

Matt Adams may or may not need a platoon partner, depending upon which writer here at Viva El Birdos you listen to. Personally, I think it would be a very good idea to have a right-handed bat to pair him with, but I can also see the points Joe makes as valid. I certainly wouldn't be furious to see the Cards give Adams plate appearances against lefties in 2015 to see if he can't put more of his minor league ability to hit southpaws on display at the big league level.

However, if you have Mike Napoli on your team, that really becomes a moot point. Napoli is still one of the more impressive right-handed bats in the league, and best of all, he would be pretty much an ideal platoon candidate.

In 2014, Napoli put up a .923 OPS (162 wRC+), against left-handed pitchers. He walked at nearly a 1:1 clip versus his strikeout numbers. He actually didn't hit southpaws for crazy power numbers, putting up a .173 ISO against lefties, compared to a .170 versus same-handed pitchers. What he did was get on base at a spectacular clip when a left-hander was on the mound, to the tune of a cool .450 on-base percentage. That's...pretty good.

He wasn't exactly helpless against righties, either; he posted a 109 wRC+ with a BABIP 100 points lower that against lefties, but his K:BB ratio wasn't nearly as good, as he was punched over twice as often as he walked when facing right-handed pitchers.

His career splits aren't as wide as in 2014; a 144 wRC+ vs lefties and 122 vs right-handers show him to be a pretty damned good hitter against pretty much whoever. However, this is where we run up against that 119 games number again. You could absolutely play Napoli everyday, and he would hit. When he was on the field, that is. However, at this point in his career, that's a bit of an iffy proposition. His games played numbers over the past four years: 113, 108, 139, 119. Bottom line, Mike Napoli is going to miss some time every season, and at 33, he isn't getting any younger. However, as the short(er) end of a platoon, there just might be a chance you could coax a full season of health out of him.

We all know about the bad half of Matt Adams' splits; he put up a 47 wRC+ in 2014 facing portsiders. That's rough, even if, as Joe points out, there's some reason to believe he might be better than that ultimately. However, what's easy to overlook when considering the big man's limitations is just how well he hit right-handers en route to his overall league average season. Smash posted a .319/.349/.505 line, good for an .854 OPS and 137 wRC+ against right-handed pitchers last year in 433 plate appearances. He still didn't show any kind of patience whatsoever (4.6% BB rate against both left- and right-handed pitching, but the power showed up in a big way when facing righties, to the tune of a .187 ISO. (On an undercover-- um, never mind. Probably not the best rhyme to bite, considering the current climate around this neck of the woods here lately.)

Assuming something around, say, a 400/300 plate appearance split in favour of Adams as the lefty, the combo of Big City and "I Don't Even Have a Nickname on BRef" Napoli could possibly be something around an .875-.900 OPS 700 PA two-headed monster. Sure, $16 million seems steep for a platoon player, as you're likely using Napoli in this scenario (along with pinch-hitting duties), but considering Adams is in line for near-league minimum in 2015, the combined salary for the two would still be less than $17 million total. And would you pay $17 million for one year of a plus defensive first baseman with an OPS in the high .800s? I know I would.

Of course, there are plenty of reasons this won't work. I'm working off the assumption the Red Sox would be willing to move Napoli for a smallish return, just to get his money off the books. I feel fairly confident they would, in fact, do that, but the fact is, there are probably at least a few other teams around the league who would see him as having value, even in the face of his age and health issues, so the cost to acquire him might very well escalate in a hurry.

There's also, obviously, the question of whether the Cardinals would be willing to add payroll for a guy like this, in a situation like this. They've made it clear the budget is flexible, but that seems mostly to be for use in case of a possible acquisition of another of those longer-term solutions; picking up Mike Napoli at a fairly expensive salary for a one-year monster at first base may not move the needle for the organisation the way it would need to for them to extend financially. It's also possible the Red Sox don't really have much interest in moving Napoli, either, and would be content to just pay him his $16 million salary this year to contribute whatever they could get from him and make their moves to ease the various logjams elsewhere. Reading the tea leaves, though, I feel like moving Napoli makes too much sense for Boston to not at least explore the possibility in some depth.

Now, would I be willing to do this if spending that money on Napoli meant being forced to pass on bringing, say, Max Scherzer (whom I much prefer to Lester, for various reasons, and become uncontrollably giddy when I picture him in a Cardinal uniform)? Absolutely not. But, the Redbirds appear to have some payroll to give this offseason, and absent a big pitching pick up, not a whole lot of places on the roster to spend it. A move like this would absolutely constitute "all-in" behaviour, which is not generally this front office's MO, but they've been acting rather out of character of late. I do wonder what kind of urgency there is to try and lift another trophy or two before the Holliday/Yadi/Wainwright core hits the steep part of the hill heading down.

So what do you think? Crazy? Dumb? A good way to waste some time on the day before a holiday? Hopefully at least the last one, if probably also at least one of the first two, as well.

I'll be back tomorrow with a special Thanksgiving Day thread for everyone to do their holiday hanging out in, and then next week I'm going to officially roll out my first draft thread for the 2015 class. Have a lovely Wednesday, everyone, and be careful if you're traveling today. I'll talk to you soon.