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Scattered thoughts after a busy, underwhelming day

Cincinnati Reds v Washington Nationals Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

The Red Sox had their busiest day of the offseason to date on Thursday, adding three new players to the roster. It started with Jonathan Arauz, who was selected in the Rule 5 Draft. After that, José Peraza and Martín Pérez were both signed to one-year deals worth a combined $9 million, with the latter having a club option for $6.25 million in 2021. Peraza, for what it’s worth, is under team control for two years beyond 2020. So, there was action, but not exactly exciting action. There’s a lot to cover here, though, so I’ll do so in bullet point fashion!

  • I’ve been pretty (justifiably, in my opinion) down on these moves, so I’ll start more positively here. I like José Peraza. He’s been one of my favorite non-stars in the league for a few years now, and when he’s going well he’s a blast. Those of you who have read the site enough know I’m drawn towards contact-oriented middle infielders with speed. Peraza is no Marucio Dubón, but who among us is, right? From a purely aesthetic perspective, I’m excited about having Peraza at the bottom of the Red Sox lineup most days. In that respect, this move was made for me.
  • Unfortunately, it is hard to count on him going well. Peraza, like I said, is a speedy, contact-oriented player. He puts the ball in play, but doesn’t walk much and doesn’t hit for power. His style is, by nature, dependent on batted ball luck. He also doesn’t hit the ball well on a consistent basis, boasting the 12th-lowest hard-hit rate (per FanGraphs) among 234 qualified hitters over the last three years. Sometimes it works well enough to be productive — he had a 96 wRC+ and was a 2.6-win player (again, per FanGraphs) in 2018 — but to bank on that would be foolish.
  • It is worth nothing that Peraza has been fairly consistently solid against left-handed pitching with only one of his four full seasons finishing with a wRC+ lower than 90 against southpaws. Even last year, when his overall mark was 62, he had a 92 wRC+ when lefties were on the mound. So, with that in mind, he could be a solid platoon option. Boston’s offense was much worse against lefties last year compared to righties (14th in wRC+ vs. 5th against RHP), so any help in this area is a good thing.
  • Peraza also has a 1 13 career innings under his belt on the mound and has not allowed a run. I have said the Red Sox need relief help, well, hard to argue with a 0.00 ERA!
St Louis Cardinals v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images
  • As far as the second base position as a whole, Peraza has to be the favorite to get the bulk of the plate appearances as the roster is currently constructed. I suspect he’ll play more than just second — he can play basically anywhere besides first and catcher — but the keystone position will be his home. That said, Marco Hernández and Tzu-Wei Lin should get their chances to compete in spring training. Peraza isn’t making enough to be handed the position outright. In an ideal worth, Hernández and Peraza probably make up a platoon with the latter filling in around the diamond at times against righties, but it’s hard to bank on that being productive at this point. It’s certainly possible, but far from a sure thing.
  • Of course, the biggest ripple effect of this move is that Brock Holt is likely heading elsewhere. As perhaps the easiest player to root for on recent Red Sox teams — which is no small feat as there were/are plenty of likable guys on the roster — this is tough. I’m not going to say anything officially because maybe they’ll surprise me and bring him back. It’s just hard to see right now.
  • And then there’s Martín Pérez. We knew they were going to sign a starting pitcher and they probably weren’t going to be exciting. They aren’t willing to spend money this winter, and little money equals little track record. That’s what they’re getting here. It’s not hard to see why people are underwhelmed with this. Over the last three years, his ERA-’s are: 110, 134, 101. (100 is average, anything higher is below-average). His FIP-’s are 101, 129, 102. His DRA-’s are 130, 163, 151. He’s never been even exactly average in any of the big three metrics over the last three years. Pérez has been decently durable, making 30 appearances in three of the last four years, but how valuable of that when it’s generally below-average performance?
  • In a way, Pérez is sort of the pitcher version of Peraza in that he gives up a lot of contact. He’s generally been able to carry solid-to-good ground ball rates, but that still puts pressure on the defense and opens you up to variance. That’s particularly true for a Red Sox team that, at least as currently constructed, is built for fly ball pitchers. The good news is Pérez started missing a lot more bats in 2019 — is 18.3 percent strikeout rate was more than two percentage points higher than any other season with at least 10 appearances. If he can continue trending in that direction, he can put more of his success of failure in his own hands.
  • People will point to a few things as reasons for optimism, and they’re fair. For one thing, Pérez has been very good against lefties. Over his career, the southpaw has allowed a wOBA of .283 against lefties versus a .352 mark against righties. The difference was even more stark in 2019. That is great, except he is a starter in a league where a whole lot of the top offensive talent hits from the right side. If he was a reliever this would be more encouraging, but unless the Red Sox surprise us the rest of the winter he won’t be a reliever. One thing I will say is that he could be a good candidate to be used as a follower after an opener, particularly against lineups that are stacked with three or four righties at the top of the lineup.
  • One could also point to the addition of a cutter to his profile as a reason to be bullish on Pérez. The offering was his most-used pitch in 2019 (per Baseball Savant) and the numbers look very good! If he can start using that and phase out his four-seam fastball — particularly against righties — then that could be a big difference maker. Of course, the cynics could point out that teams now have a whole offseason to adjust against this new pitch.
  • Pérez also had a very good contact profile. He gave up a lot of hits on balls in play, but the contact profile does not reflect those kind of results. In other words, there’s an argument to be made that he was the victim of bad luck and if it reversed he’d at least be league-average. Perhaps that’s true, and that he had a new repertoire makes looking at his track record a little shakier. On the other hand, he’s allowed a BABIP above .300 in five of the last six years and, despite ground ball rates near or above 50 percent his whole career, more than a homer per nine innings in each of the last three years. The track record suggests he’s just always going to give up hits and damage. With the Red Sox infield defense on top of that, I’m skeptical about the bad luck argument, though I’m willing to consider it a little more.
  • I think the big takeaway here with all of this is just the tone of the offseason. Now, things are not done yet. I don’t know what is going to happen between now and March 26, which is both Opening Day and a Very Handsome Writer’s birthday. But with the talk from the front office and ownership combined with these moves, it’s clear what’s happening. I don’t have to re-hash it, but I will just say it’s a bummer. It’s a bummer that they are not doing everything they can to win. No one is saying they needed to sign Gerrit Cole or Anthony Rendon (though I wouldn’t complain!). Just that they needed to add more legitimate complementary pieces. Tanner Roark instead of Pérez. Holt, or Brian Dozier, or Jonathan Schoop instead of Peraza. It is a very rare thing to have a core of players as good as Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers and J.D. Martinez as well as a rotation that, while no sure thing, has upside like Chris Sale and David Price and Eduardo Rodriguez. Rosters like that don’t come around very often. To do anything besides build the best roster possible around those guys is disheartening. If everything goes right, can this roster still win? Sure. But that’s not the attitude you’re supposed to have when you employ this kind of top-end talent. Again, maybe they’ll surprise me the rest of the offseason. I’ll leave my mind ajar until my birthday. I’m just not getting my hopes up.