Every year, as the offseason winds down, teams snap up the remnants of the free agent market on minor league deals. And every year some fans ridicule moves that are entirely upside.
Brace yourselves: the depth moves are coming.
Every year, when the more important parts of the roster are squared away, teams turn their attentions to the fringes of free agency. Those who were not picked up with the stars, or the solid starters, or even the bench bats and bullpen arms. They are the players who skip back and forth between the minors and majors, are well past their prime, or have major injury questions surrounding them.
And, each year, those signings are met by derision from fans who don't think their team did enough in the months before. "This," the fans will ask, "is their answer? This is the guy who's going to fix the [rotation/lineup/bullpen/defense]?"
No, it's not. Or at least that's not the plan. When the Red Sox signed Aaron Cook last year, the plan was never to have him pitch 94 innings. Instead, the plan was to have Beckett and Lester continue their strong production from 2011, have a healthy Buchholz give them at least a strong #3, and to find a couple back-end arms from the mix of prospects and relievers-turned-starters they brought with them into spring training.
The plan was flawed. We know this now because Daniel Bard turned out to be awful and Josh Beckett and Jon Lester were not far behind. We knew this then because Buchholz was coming back from injury, it was an even-numbered year, and relying on so many coin flips to hit around just the one "sure thing" in Lester (who, of course, turned out to be anything but) was asking for trouble.
For however flawed that plan may have been, though, the depth signings at the end were not the problem. The massive payroll was, but that's another story entirely. Did the likes of Vicente Padilla and Aaron Cook work out particularly well? No. Were they bad signings, worthy of mockery and derision? No.
Every year these players are snapped up by the dozens, joining teams that are expected to win it all or lose 100 games alike. They are signed because it's better to have them as an option than to be reliant on a Triple-A lifer, and better than forcing an unready prospect into the big leagues too quickly, thus risking his development.
So yes, the Sox are going to scout Javier Vazquez and Bobby Abreu. They're going to sign some players nobody ever wants to see on the team. So will the Yankees, and the Royals, and the Nationals, and the Marlins. And when they sign them up on contracts that don't count towards the team's CBT figure, we should judge them on their merits as a depth player rather than where they rank in the world of all players at their position.
We've got another six weeks to go before pitchers and catchers to report. With the 25-man roster basically complete (Napoli being the only real hold-up), the Sox will spend much of their time singing up players like Vazquez on minor league deals. For those who are unhappy with their work-to-date, the complaint lies in the likes of Victorino, Dempster, and Drew. For those who are satisfied by the work-to-date, these signings should be nothing more than gravy.