Should The Red Sox Kick The Tires On Homer Bailey?

Truck day is only a few days away, pitchers and catchers will report not long after, and before you know it, baseball will be being played again.

The Red Sox have still not signed a starter worth a guaranteed spot in the rotation. The closest they've come is Vicente Padilla

It's not the situation we'd all hoped for, certainly. Sugarplum dreams of Roy Oswalt and Gavin Floyd seem to be fading as the realities of Boston's finances set in. Now instead we look to the Lannans of the league. It's not a pretty picture.

But, as Roy Oswalt's market continues to develop, there's always some hope left. That's because it's becoming clearer and clearer that whatever his team of choice, they're going to have to unload a starter to make some room for him. We already know that the Cards are trying to move someone, but the expected victim in Kyle McClellan doesn't really fit the bill all that well. Now, however, it seems as though the Reds might be in the race, and their sacrifice would be in the form of Homer Bailey.

First, a caveat: reports of the Reds' interest and chances are mixed, and remain something of an outside candidate. Consider this a hypothetical exercise.

Now, then, ignoring that bit of "reality," what would Homer Bailey do for us? The answer is unclear, as any fantasy owner can tell you. For years Bailey has taunted those bargain hunters who expect him to live up to his potential/peripherals year after year after year. In both 2010 and 2011, he's had an ERA in the 4.40s and an xFIP in the 3.70s. For what it's worth, Bill James has him around a 4.00 ERA for 2012.

The obvious explanations for such a big difference between peripherals and results unfortunately do not apply to Mr. Bailey. His strand rate is perfectly average, the defense behind him high-quality, and though his ballpark is small, Bailey's homer rates aren't particularly high given how many fly balls he gives up. The simple fact of the matter is that he seems to give up a good number of line drives, leaving his BABIP high despite the defense. There might be something to be said for Bailey leaving the ball up here, but this hasn't made him so eminently hittable as to cause an exception to the rule on line drive rates. And for what it's worth, Colin Wyers of Baseball Prospectus provides some evidence that the scorers at the Great American Ballpark have a bit of a bias towards liners.

In fact, Bailey seems to be the sort of pitcher who should be seeing those numbers fall. Over the last three years, Bailey has refined his pitching, bringing his walk rate down dramatically while actually increasing his swinging strike rate. One of the biggest reasons for his walk rate coming down seems to be his ability to pick up a first-pitch strike, but batters may be taking advantage of that as they come to expect it, jumping all over pitch #1 last year to the tune of a .932 OPS.

Perhaps the biggest issue with Bailey, however, is health. Bailey has only made about 20 starts in each of his last three seasons, making regular trips to the disabled list with shoulder ailments. It's a bad omen for any starter, to be sure, but one that the Sox can maybe take the hit on better than others. They're already expecting to fill their last rotation spot with a Vicente Padilla or Aaron Cook. And when we were already looking at the injury risk that was Roy Oswalt, Bailey doesn't seem all that far from him.

What really could make Bailey attractive is his price. At just under $2.5 million, Bailey should fit into even Boston's strict budgetary limitations, and the simple fact that he's being tossed around as essentially a salary dump should mean that the Reds are about as tired with waiting on him as fantasy owners. Given all that, the Red Sox could end up paying pennies on the dollar for his upside, which given his age (25), former top-prospect status, and peripherals both impressive and improving is substantial.

Sadly, it's not clear that Homer Bailey will ever be an option for Boston. But, if he should come on the market, the Sox could do a lot worse. He's not perfect: fly balls in Fenway (although he's got the benefit of being a righty), injury concerns, and of course the problem with his results in the National League. But he's easy on both the payroll and luxury tax, should be tolerable even if his potential doesn't shine through, and if it does then the Sox end up big-time winners with two more years of arbitration.

It's another possibility to hope for.

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