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Sox Finish Plugging Holes (Finally)

With spring training only a few weeks away, the Red Sox needed to finish filling out their roster. They were not missing bench options (excepting a platoon partner for Trot Nixon in right) or extra relievers, but they were missing two starting positional players from their lineup. Shortstop was vacant thanks to the Edgar Renteria trade that brought top prospect Andy Marte into the organization, and centerfield was still empty after Johnny Damon's defection to the Yankees. After long weeks of negotiations on a few different fronts, they finally brought in the players to complete their Opening Day lineup.

The Red Sox send third base prospect Andy Marte, reliever Guillermo Mota, catcher Kelly Shoppach, cash and a potential Player to be Named Later to the Cleveland Indians in exchange for leftfielder Coco Crisp, reliever David Riske, and catcher Josh Bard.

Personally, I do not like the actual deal as it stands by itself. I think the Red Sox overpaid in order to acquire Crisp, mostly because they dealt Andy Marte. However, and this is very important, I believe that the deal works for the Red Sox in the context of what they are doing in general, especially now that they have adequately upgraded over Edgar Renteria's poor 2005 by signing Alex Gonzalez to a one-year deal. The proper way to analyze this from the Red Sox perspective is to see where they stand in comparison to last year. Comparing Crisp's 05-06 to Damon's 05-06 seems to be the optimum way of doing so, rather than breaking down the actual trade. Mota and Riske are two who can be compared, as well as Shoppach and Bard, because none of these players had anything to do with Boston in 2005, but will all figure into the 2006 plans for both teams. On to the comparison:

mOPS+ (modified OPS) sees the two as offensive equals last year, both coming in at 6% over the league average. Damon had a slightly higher walk rate, while Crisp had slightly more power (something that will most likely be enhanced by Fenway and his peak years even more). Crisp had a higher Net Runs Above Average score, and this is thanks to his defense. According to Rate2, Crisp was worth 3 runs above average per 100 games defensively, whereas Damon was 3 runs below average in the same time frame. David Pinto's Probabilistic Model of Range for 2005 ranked Damon 28th overall at centerfield, which is not flattering, especially considering a great deal of his previous value came from his range in center. David Pinto has not finished his rankings yet, so I do not have Crisp's leftfield ranking, although the 2006 Hardball Times Annual rates him as the best left fielder according to David Gassko's Runs Above Average. Any way you slice it, he seems to be the superior defender, although we will see how his transition to centerfield goes. According to Rate2 he has been below average in center to this point in his career, but only in a limited sample size of just over a season's worth of Adjusted Games. Crisp was the better player in 2005, and considering he is younger, moving to a hitter's park, and much cheaper, the Sox certainly improved themselves, or at least their situation, greatly by acquiring him. Let's see what the brand new, shiny PECOTA projections have to say about their 2006 seasons.

Damon is expected to earn 29.4 VORP (Value Over Replacement Player), a .274 EqA, and a Rate of 100. Crisp is projected to 27.5 VORP, a .276 EqA and a Rate of 101. This of course is in leftfield and in Cleveland, so if they are this close before taking into account the move to Boston and centerfield, I say the Red Sox lose nothing from 2005's offense, while possibly gaining on defense. Also, Crisp has a 17% breakout rate and a 15% collapse rate, whereas Damon has a 4% breakout rate and a 20% collapse rate. Breakout and Collapse rate are defined by Nate Silver as "the percent chance that a hitter's equivalent runs produced...will improve/decrease by at least 20% relative to the weighted average of his performance in his three previous seasons of performance". Essentially, it is upside versus downside risks, and Damon appears to only have the downside risk, whereas Crisp has the potential to breakout further.

As for Mota and Riske, here we have two relievers primed to implode. Which one will cause less trouble in 2006? It is certainly a tough call.

David Riske had control issues in 2004, but he struck out a good number of hitters. In 2005 he seemed to have taken hold of his control issues, but lost something in his strikeout rate. Whether this is from a different usage pattern or a loss in velocity or a hidden injury, I am not sure of, as I do not get to see a great deal of David Riske throughout the year. His Batting Average on Balls in Play also worries me a great deal. His .215 figure most likely came from some combination of luck and the third ranked (according to BP's defensive effiency) Indians defense. With Fenway reigning supreme as the worst park for low BABIP's in the American League, expect regression from Riske.His homerun rate is extremely high as well, but it may lower itself slightly in Fenway, a park that actually depreciates homeruns. It will still most likely be much too high though.

Mota is no different though. His BABIP was .314 in a severe pitcher's park, which worried me greatly about what it would look like in Boston. He has also had erratic control in his career, and physically is a question mark. If I had to choose between the two with a gun to my head, you might all be attending my funeral rather than hearing a choice. This part of the deal is a wash, although Mota makes more money ($3 million compared to $1.8 million for Riske), giving a slight edge to Boston perhaps. Then again, they handed the Tribe $1,000,000 in cash in this deal as well.

Josh Bard and Kelly Shoppach make an interesting comparison. Both are supposedly excellent defensive catchers, and I do not really have faith in either of them to succeed against major league pitching over an extended period of time. It is interesting that Minor League Baseball's Homepage considered Shoppach a top prospect though. Makes you wonder who made that sort of decision, especially since he's 26 years old.

And finally, the Indians added Andy Marte to their minor league system. He will replace Aaron Boone whenever he exits his starting job, whether it be at the end of his contract or the middle of this season, and the Indians are better off with Marte than Crisp. It is much easier to find a useful corner outfielder than it is to find a third basemen who may end up as one of the better players in the league in a few years. This is a huge addition for the Indians, who replaced Crisp with Jason Michaels (an even exchange for the most part, although Michaels will be exposed to righties now as an everyday player). Losing Marte is not something I or most Red Sox fans are happy about, but just because you let Damon go doesn't mean you don't need to replace his production, and they did that with Crisp. Considering they were able to dump Renteria on the Braves and pick up Crisp, then turn around and sign Alex Gonzalez to a one-year deal, things did not turn out that bad at all.

Alex Gonzalez is a no-hit, all-field shortstop. This is an upgrade over last year's no-hit, no-field shortstop, Edgar Renteria. Not to mention his one-year deal is only for $3 million, whereas Renteria was set to make around $10 million per season for the next few years. Let's take a look at the two:

Renteria was one of the worst players in all of baseball last year, thanks to a below average EqA and one of the worst seasons at shortstop in either league. Alex Gonzalez was actually poorer at the plate than Renteria, although some of that can be blamed on playing in Florida. The difference between these two is defense. Rate2 actually places Gonzalez a few runs below average per 100 games, but since Renteria was the second worst defensive shortstop in the AL last year, that is not an issue. Other systems rank Gonzalez much higher defensively as well: Gassko rates Gonzo as the 9th best shortstop in baseball in the THT annual, and David Pinto rates him as the 11th best shortstop according to his Probabilistic Model of Range. Renteria is ranked 22nd and 16th, respectively. Another improvement for Boston, and since it is only a one-year deal, top prospect Dustin Pedroia will be able to take over whenever he is ready. Gonzalez may not even last the season if his development continues on the fast track. To make the mouth's of Red Sox fans water, Pedroia's PECOTA comparables for 2006 are Gary Sheffield, Ron Hunt, and Marcus Giles. Now remember that those comparables are for specific seasons of those players, and not their entire careers. I don't expect Pedroia to start launching 40 homeruns per season like Sheffield (or even 20) at any point. Not to forget that his projected season line is .299/.365/.458 at age 22, with a .280 EqA. Turning into Marcus Giles would certainly work for me though. Get excited about this prospect, as he is one you won't see the Sox front office deal away.