It's been a very slow offseason for the Red Sox so far. From choosing a manager to actually signing any Major League players, there seems to be a general dissatisfaction from the fans with how long it's taking the club to actually do anything.
In part, this is due to how the 2011 season ended. Having experienced such...trauma...it's understandable that Sox fans are in need of a win--a day we can actually feel legitimately good about the team, and not in just an ultra-rational "well, we have a lot of very good players" way. It doesn't help that we keep hearing that the Red Sox "weren't comfortable moving that fast" (as with Jonathan Broxton), or "didn't expect a deal to be done that quickly" (as with Grady Sizemore). It just adds to the feeling like the Sox need to get off their collective asses and get to work.
These sentiments are understandable, but are they justified? For the Sox to have erred this offseason, the players they're missing out on would have to have been signed for deals that the Sox should want to have. It's not enough to say "We missed out on Pujols! We missed out on Reyes!" if neither contract makes any sense for the Sox.
With that in mind, I thought it would be interesting to look back on some of the players we've "missed out on," and see whether or not they would have made any sense at the same price.
Jonathan Broxton: 1 year, $4 million to Kansas City Royals
With the departure of Jonathan Papelbon, and the potential transition of Daniel Bard to the starting rotation, the bullpen could turn out to be the biggest mess facing the team over the next few months. Jonathan Papelbon has departed for Philadelphia, Dan Wheeler declined arbitration (and wasn't terribly good...), and Bobby Jenks is a human wasteland. After that, it's just question marks with worrying peripherals, like Morales and Aceves, and prospect gambles like Kyle Weiland and Felix Doubront.
Given this situation, Broxton quickly becomes a tempting target. Once at the top of the closer heap, the former All-Star has fallen on some difficult times, inspiring him to take a cheap, short-term contract with an eye towards rebuilding his market value much as Adrian Beltre did with the Red Sox two years ago. This kind of contract is always one that teams should be on the lookout for, as they tend to represent a pretty decent level of upside for relatively low risk.
However, when it comes to Broxton in 2011-2012, I'm a bit less enthusiastic than I typically would be about this sort of deal.
For one thing, the Red Sox are not in a situation to take serious gambles without clear backups. A roll of the dice in right is fine, since Reddick and Kalish provide enough upside as backups that the team will get another couple shots at finding a quality player. A roll of the dice in the bullpen--particularly when it comes to that marquee type of player--seems rather more dangerous. If Broxton burns out and Bard is starting, then suddenly we're looking at a guy like Kyle Weiland or Franklin Morales closing out games--neither of whom have given much in the way of a reason to expect success from them (however much I might be onboard the Weiland for setup man bandwagon).
Now, in a normal year this might be alright if you could convince Broxton to take the eighth inning role in anticipation of signing, say, a Ryan Madson. This year, however, the Sox aren't really in a financial position to throw away $4 million without some certainty that it will fill a hole.
Perhaps what scares me off the most, however, is Broxton himself. He is not, after all, just on a one-year slide, but has had two straight mediocre seasons. Before his 2011 season was completely derailed by injuries, 2010 had represented his worst year yet. His fastball has lost a couple of miles per hour, and there's always that specter of fragility that seems to hang around pitchers who rely on the slider as much as Broxton.
Without having seen him pitch since his elbow surgery, it's not possible to condemn him as just another closer who burned out early, but there are far too many reasons for concern for the Sox to act quickly--or at all--to snatch him up. This is not a man like Beltre who had to fight through unconnected injuries and a bad ballpark, this is a man who seems to have been fundamentally broken, and now has to prove he's been fixed.
C.J. Wilson: 5 years, $77.5 million to Los Angeles Angels
We've spoken before on OTM about how C.J. Wilson is not the most desirable of targets for the Red Sox, and all that remains true today. He hasn't faced difficult competition, has a limited track record, and it's really only this year that his peripherals have jumped to meet his perception--at least to a point.
That being said, though, Wilson did not end up breaking that "Lackey" barrier of compensation, and in fact went relatively cheap given the aforementioned perception. Whether that's because of his poor performance in the playoffs, or simply general managers looking at the same things as Marc isn't clear.
Frankly, I think C.J. Wilson is exactly what the Sox' rotation needs right now: a guy who can come in as the fourth starter and provide a 3.80-4.00 ERA, never really dominating but giving the spectacular offense a chance to win almost every game. I even think he can probably do that for about three more years. But unfortunately, he's not being paid like that. Imagine a 2014 where the Sox are shelling out nearly $70 million to five starters while they try to resign Jacoby Ellsbury. Now remember that one of those starters is John Lackey! It's not a terribly sustainable situation.
The fact is that C.J. Wilson isn't the top tier pitcher that he may seem to be at first glance, but represents that level of secondary star that the Red Sox have fallen victim to in free agency in the past. If the team is intending to go all-out in free agency, then their target shouldn't be a guy like Wilson at $15-16 million a year, but the one who costs a few million more and comes with a greater guarantee of quality. That there are none of the latter type of pitchers on the market this year doesn't make the acquisition of the former any more desirable.