In the continuing process of rebuilding their bullpen, the Boston Red Sox have finally gotten their man, acquiring Andrew Bailey from the Oakland Athletics along with versatile outfielder Ryan Sweeney for right fielder Josh Reddick and two minor leaguers. The Red Sox have been pursuing Bailey since the Winter Meetings and after going down the wire with Oakland for Gio Gonzalez, it is little surprise that Boston was able to match a few players for Bailey.
There is no mystery as to why Boston has coveted Andrew Bailey this off-season. He has a career 2.07 ERA that is well supported by his career 2.74 FIP. He throws a mid-90’s fastball, an upper 80’s cutter, and a curve. He has had great strikeout and walk rates (9 K/9 and 2.53 BB/9). He is a fly ball heavy pitcher, getting just 37.1% groundballs last season and that will make some Red Sox nervous as moves from the pitcher friendly Oakland Coliseum and the AL West to Fenway and the AL East. Remarkably though, while his HR/FB rate is worse on the road, it has remained extremely low. Away from Oakland, he has still just allowed 6.2% of his fly balls to leave the park, far below a league average which typically sits around 10%.
Bailey jumps in front of the recently acquired Mark Melancon as the favorite to close games for Boston next year, further highlighting just how serious Ben Cherington and Co. are about moving Daniel Bard and/or Alfredo Aceves to the rotation. By adding both Melancon and Bailey, Boston has guaranteed performance from the back end of the bullpen that is on par with the 8th/9th combo of Bard and Papelbon. If Bard does not adjust to starting as the front office hopes, Boston will have the best bullpen in baseball from a talent standpoint and the champagne problem of too many options for their closer.
Josh Reddick was solid for Boston last year, producing 1.9 fWAR in 87 games and 278 plate appearances, with a .335 wOBA from a .280/.327/.457 batting line. As a cost controlled player with strong power potential and good defensive ability, Reddick makes sense for Oakland. How you view this deal comes down to what you make of Josh Reddick’s future. Reddick is a great athlete and he has shown tremendous potential at times, but he has also struggled with pitch recognition and plate discipline. His defense in right field has been strong in his short major league career, and he will likely stick there. He can play all three outfield potitions but he may not have the range to be an everyday centerfielder long term.
The inclusion of Sweeney is surprising, but it does help the Sox replace Reddick immediately and adds little cost as Sweeney is a first year arbitration player without flashy numbers. Sweeney would make more sense for Boston if he hit right handed, making him an ideal platoon partner for another young right field prospect Ryan Kalish. He is an excellent defender and can play all three outfield positions. He should be the primary backup outfielder for Boston and may well platoon in right with the right-handed hitting Darnell McDonald, should Kalish struggle with injuries again or prove unready for big league action this spring.
Sweeney’s only tool as hitter is the one that Reddick lacks. The 26 year old drew walks 11% of the time last season despite doing very little to intimidate pitchers. He hit just .265 last season despite a strong .319 BABIP and showed absolutely no power, slugging just .341. Against righties he is respectable enough, hitting .296/.351/.407 and rating 4% above league average by weight runs created (wRC+). He is terrible against lefties, though, and therefore he is certainly not going to be anything more than a platoon player.
The two minor leaguers included here, first baseman Miles Head and right hander Raul Alcantara are both a long way from major league ready. The 18 year old Alcantara split time between rookie ball in the Gulf Coast league and short season single A in the New York Penn League in 2011 and showed some decent, though not overwhelming numbers. Head was excellent as a 20 year old in the South Atlantic League last season with the Greenville Drive. After a promotion to High A Salem he struggled some, with a .254 batting average and just a .401 slugging at the higher level. On the positive side he did not see he strikeout rate rise dramatically after his promotion.
Oakland may win this trade in the long run if Head becomes a quality major league first baseman, but for Boston this deal is about 2012. With Bailey in place at the end of games, the fan base will not long for Jonathan Papelbon quite so much and Daniel Bard’s conversion to starter will go down a bit easier. Josh Reddick is a player with real upside, but he is just as likely to become a fourth outfielder as he is to become an everyday player. In 2012, the Red Sox will not lose much if they go with Kalish or a platoon in right field in place of Reddick. As a red Sox fan, I can’t see how this trade is anything but good news.