The Red Sox saved $166 million in financial obligations last summer when they traded Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Adrian Gonzalez, $167.5 if you include Nick Punto.
In a 24-hour span at baseball’s winter meetings this week, they spent nearly half of it. So much for fiscal restraint.
From here, the Red Sox got one right and one wrong, which is an improvement over the 69-93 record the team put up on the field last year.
Mike Napoli’s signing on Monday wasn’t good. It was great, the first bit of good news for Sox fans since September 2011.
Consider the events of the last 14 months: the Red Sox missed the playoffs thanks to Robert Andino and not the Bambino, hired Bobby Valentine as manager, let Jonathan Papelbon leave and replaced him with Anthony Aceves instead of Daniel Bard; traded Josh Reddick; traded Jed Lowrie; banned beer in the clubhouse; traded Marco Scutaro and replaced him with Mike Aviles; made Bard a starter; blew a 9-0 lead vs. the Yankees; rubbed a sore sport with Kevin Youkilis so raw they traded him; sent Bard to the minors; sent Beckett, Crawford and Gonzalez to L.A. fueled by dollar bills and fans’ bile; and fired Valentine.
There weren’t a lot of good days in the previous graph, besides the end of it.
Adding Napoli broke that 14-month streak. He’s hit 80 home runs in the last three seasons without having played a full one, and in 2011 he was second in MLB in OPS (1.046), right between Jose Bautista and Miguel Cabrera. His approach is simple: walk, fan or slug, and the Sox didn’t do nearly enough of the latter (12th in MLB) or the former (22nd in in on-base percentage) last year.
The price is reasonable, and the term is short (three years for $39 mill). He’s great in Fenway — he has an 1.107 career OPS there — although he won’t have the Red Sox’s pitchers to help him anymore (think, potentially, 80% of Gonzalez’s offense at 60% of the cost; we’ll stipulate to a defensive dropoff).
Plus there’s always the satisfaction of knowing Angels’ manager Mike Scioscia — whose team spent $300 million last offseason to pick up three games and still miss the playoffs — squirms every time Napoli homers (Scioscia tried to play Jeff Mathis instead of Napoli and then traded Napoli for Vernon Wells, whose new team traded him to Texas, which Napoli helped finish ahead of Scioscia the next two years. I’d be surprised if Scioscia doesn’t start sweating at the mention of Napoli’s Pizza).
But the Victorino signing is as curious as Napoli’s is sensible. Victorino has value: He can run, play defense and bat from both sides of the plate (if only hit from one of them; his .296 on-base percentage vs. righties last year made Ryan Sweeney look productive). But so can Jacoby Ellsbury, except for switch-hitting, and he can do the rest as well or better than Victorino.
Victorino can still hit lefties, but $37.5 million for the next three years is expensive for a platoon bat. With Victorino, Napoli, Jonny Gomes and David Ross, the Sox could go unbeaten vs. lefties. Of course, without some platoon parts, the other 100 games will do them in.
The Sox may have signed Victorino to move Ellsbury, a free agent after this year, or pressure him into a more reasonable contract. Fat chance of the latter: Ellsbury is represented by Scott Boras, who won’t be moved one dollar by the addition of Victorino.
Or the Sox could really have signed Victorino to play him in right field, because the whole concept of an outfield built on speed and defense worked so well with Crawford.
Neither move does much to help what ails the team most — the pitching staff ranked 27th in team ERA last year (4.70). We’re going to assume the offseason is just beginning.