Big name free agents and blockbuster trades can wait. Yesterday was the deadline for teams to offer salary arbitration to those youngsters still under team control, with any- and everyone not receiving an offer heading into the free agent pool, which by my unofficial count seems to have 6,000,000 players in it at the moment. I tend to prefer the bargain-basement players to round out the roster, as you can often get good production from low-cost players on short-term deals, which gives you roster flexibility down the line (Always a good thing). So after flipping through the list of newly-available players, three especially stand out (Kelly Johnson was disqualified, as the fact that he hits from the left side of the plate outweighs his solid bat and positional flexibility on a team sporting lefties at both outfield corners), either due to the fact that I think they'd be a good fit for the team, or due to the fact that I keep hearing their names (This is only one of them). So let's take a look at the cheap players out there, the type Theo seems to love signing (Editor's note: This is not a criticism).
Firstly, let's start with Jonny Gomes. At this point, the Sox seem comfortable going into 2010 with a starting outfield of Hermida-Ellsbury-Drew, letting Jason Bay go wherever the money takes him. As an unathletic, all-bat corner outfielder in his thirties, no objections here to not re-signing him. The proposed OF, however, is all lefties. I would feel more comfortable picking up a right-handed bat to pair with the three fine gentlemen listed above. Enter Gomes, just cut loose by the Reds. Jonny has two glaring weaknesses, none of which are hitting left-handed pitching (.261/.341/.503 vs. lefties the last 3 years, which includes his trainwreck of a 2008). he can't hit a righty to save his life, but in this outfield, he wouldn't have to. His abnormal HR/FB spike in 2009 (22%, 15.7% career) will come back to earth a bit, but he's still a very useful bat to have. The glove, on the other hand, not so much. Gomes is something of a piece of furniture in the outfield. And we're not talking an end table with wheels here. We're talking 'Let's move the pull-out couch up the stairs!' furniture. He's worth -22.3 runs per 150 games in an outfield corner over his career, also known as the Manny Ramirez School of Defense (Feel free to sub in the name Jason Bay if you'd prefer). This is a significant wart. But as a player available on a cheap one-year deal who would ideally play in about 1/4 of the team's games, Gomes is worth the price. And yes, this essentially is the poor man's version of signing Mike Cameron, a move I support even more (In other things that might make some sense, trading for Krispie Young (A rumor I'm making up right now. I have heard less than nothing about this) would also serve the same purpose as signing Gomes, but without the execrable defense).
Next up we have Matt Capps, a surprise non-tender by the Pirates. Let's immediately dispense with the basic 'If a guy is being released by the Pirates, that's the end of the line' joke, as that's below even Shaughnessy to write (Full disclosure: I'm actually not sure if anything is below Shaughnessy after his recent idiotic column about Theo's 'Bridge year' quote. The man is a complete hysterical idiot). Until last year, Capps was the Pirates closer, and a very good one at that, posting an ERA of 2.28 in 2007, followed up with a 3.02 showing in 2008. Then last year the wheels fell off. Capps missed time with injuries, and the ERA jumped to 5.80, leading to his outright release. So what went wrong? Well, first and foremost, Capps wasn't anywhere near that good to begin with. He does one thing very well, and that is that he doesn't walk batters (Career 1.66 BB/9). However, his strikeout rate is extremely average, and his groundball rate is Wakefield-esque (6.89 K/9, 36.0% GB career). Strip out the luck caused by extremely low HR/FB rates in 2007 and 2008 and the extremely high rate posted last year, and we find that Capps has been essentially the same pitcher every year, with an expected ERA between 3.95 and 4.37 for each of the last four years, right around league-average for a relief pitcher. Considering he posted these numbers in the weak NL Central and is an injury risk, passing on Capps looks like the right move.
Finally, my favorite reclamation project pick-up: Chien-Mien Wang. One presumption out of the way first: I want the Sox to sign Adrian Beltre to play third base. Since the Sox seem to want to sign him too, this works out well (This topic will get its own post soon). This gives the Sox a defensive infield of Youkilis-Pedroia-Scutaro-Beltre, also known as The Best Defensive Infield in Baseball, and it's not even close. That's a Gold Glove-caliber player at each position. And what better way to make use of this quartet than by signing a pitcher with a career 57.5% ground ball rate (It's a rhetorical question)? Now, as with Gomes, there are caveats here. Wang has been hurt for just about two straight years, and was been shelled when he pitched last season. But that's not quite how I see it. In 2008 Wang was off to another season right off the assembly line until a fluke Lisfranc injury to his foot while running the bases in an interleague game ended his season. He came back in 2009 and got shelled, then was eventually shut down for shoulder surgery. Now, I don't have access to detailed medical records (And wouldn't know what do do with them if I did), but this sounds to me like the foot injury didn't heal properly, and as a result of Wang trying to pitch through it, he lost his effectiveness and injured his shoulder (By way of more concrete analysis, Wang's pitch mix changed a bit last year, as he threw his sinker 20% less, in exchange for a corresponding increase in his percentage of two-seam fastballs. When he threw it, his sinker had its customary drop. However, he lost 2.5 inches of horizontal movement on it, which may be a sign that he was unable to throw it properly after the foot injury, and seems as if it would certainly help batters square up on the pitch). If team doctors are willing to sign off on him being fully healthy, both in his shoulder and his foot, putting a ground-baller like Wang behind this infield on a one-year deal is a move with the potential to pay extremely high dividends, and fits nicely with Theo's running theme of injury-reclamation pitchers.
Are these the best free agents out there? Absolutely not. But these are three available players who should have low price tags, two of whom would be a nice fit for the Sox roster. Unfortunately, the third is the one whose name I've seen thrown around the most. However, as none of that name-slinging has been done by any front office sources, I have faith that the Sox can see right through Capps' deceptive numbers and focus instead on players who can and will help them more.