With two moves less than a week apart, the Boston Red Sox have managed to befuddle the entire baseball-watching world.
First, the Red Sox signed Mike Napoli to a three-year deal worth $39 million (via MLB.com). Then, they inked Shane Victorino to an equivalent-but-worse three-year contract worth $39 million (also via MLB.com).
Consider for a moment that these deals were made against the backdrop of a city still reeling from consecutive disastrous seasons that saw borderline player revolts against two different managers that have been shown the door. In addition, Boston maneuvered a massive salary dump that counted Adrian Gonzalez amongst its casualties.
Everyone should be scratching their heads right now—or at least calling for GM Ben Cherington's.
The Napoli signing makes a bit of sense even when measured with the purge of Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and a quarter of a billion dollars even though he is cut from the same, swing-from-the-heels cloth as the Adam Dunns of the world.
Boston's newest thumper has posted 162-game averages of 25 doubles, 33 home runs, 70 walks, 150 strikeouts (ouch), a slash line of .259/.356/.507 and a WAR of about two. The rub is that Napoli has never played more than 140 games or taken more than 510 plate appearances, is an average-at-best baserunner (which mitigates his sterling on-base abilities) and is a butcher with the glove.
The last point is the biggest problem because, while Napoli's numbers flirt with incredible (via Fangraphs) as long as they are coming at catcher, they become rather pedestrian (via Fangraphs) if produced by a first baseman.
Regardless, the catcher-first baseman combination is the kind of player new-wave stat-heads love.
By their reasoning, batting average and defense are overrated, so if those are the only major criticisms of a player, he is automatically a bargain. That may be an inelegant simplification of the argument, but whether you buy it or not is beside the point.
The point is, if you're a buyer, you like the acquisition.
But by the same token, you hate the Victorino signing, because the Flyin' Hawaiian represents the exact opposite type of player.
Over an average 162-game season, Victorino worked 20 fewer walks than Napoli despite about 50 extra plate appearances. Not to mention better speed and a smaller strike zone, both of which should make it easier for him to work counts. Additionally, his advanced metrics like WAR, OPS+, ISO, etc. all appear to be trending in the wrong direction and his splits against right-handed pitching have grown increasingly gruesome, which further limits his utility.
Instead, those who see the former Philadelphia Philly and Los Angeles Dodger as a value play focus on the old-school arguments like "he's an asset on the basepaths and a table-setter," "he's an excellent defender," "he's a great competitor" and so on.
But again, whether you buy the argument is not the point.
The point is that most people who see Napoli as an asset at three years, $13 million per year are probably going to consider Victorino a waste of money for the same terms and vice versa.
That's not to say a single franchise cannot believe in and employ the two disparate philosophies. They aren't necessarily mutually exclusive even though they look an awful lot like they should be.
Under the right circumstances, there can be room for both.
When you figuratively rake about $250 million into a pile, douse it in gasoline and light it on fire, people generally tend to believe such a drastic move is part of a larger, more coherent plan. But that's because people tend to frown upon major overhauls out of sheer panic.
Unfortunately, "panicked" is exactly how you would have to describe the Red Sox these days.
From the outside, it looks like they didn't get the expected return on grabbing Gonzalez and Crawford, so they flinched and pulled the plug. Then, Boston burned through almost a third of the money it saved by dumping those bloated contracts just so the front office could say: "See, we told you we'd reinvest that money!"
The organization seems to be putting together another tremendously flawed team sans the monumental expectations. In other words, the Red Sox won't be a disappointment, but they will be expected to wallow in mediocrity.
If there's a larger plan, a method to the apparent madness, it's sure not an obvious one.
And if the plan involves contending in 2013, where is the pitching?
Why not grab Dan Haren? Why drive Zack Greinke's price up by throwing piles of cash at lesser players?
Where is the all-purpose, middle-of-the-order bat?
Where is the everyday stud who can augment an order featuring Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and David Ortiz while lightening the load for youngsters like Will Middlebrooks and Pedro Ciriaco?
What is the blueprint that says signing Napoli and Victorino is the best method to start rebuilding a franchise in disarray?
Thus far, the Red Sox' offseason has the feel of action for action's sake because the necessary pieces aren't readily available, then crossing your fingers in hopes of everything working out.
That's not a plan. Not a good one, anyway.
*All stats and info courtesy of Baseball Reference unless otherwise noted.
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