The Benefit Of Having Room To Fail

Yesterday, the great Drew Fairservice wrote a little bit about the impact of the Josh Beckett for Hanley Ramirez trade from way back in November of 2005. While the deal ended up working out quite well for the Boston Red Sox, eventually in the form of the 2007 World Series, if you look at the wins above replacement of the two main players involved over the six years since the trade, you’ll notice a 10.5 rWAR or a 6.1 fWAR difference in favour of Ramirez over Beckett.

And while we shouldn’t forget that Anibal Sanchez went to the Florida Marlins in the trade as well, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that the Red Sox wouldn’t have won that 2007 World Series without their series MVP, who was, at the time of the trade, considered a throw in to the deal: Mike Lowell.

After a disastrous 2005 with the Marlins, in which the Puerto Rican third baseman got on base less than 30% of the time and put up a slugging percentage that was lower than his previous season’s on base percentage, Lowell had $25.5 million over three years remaining on a contract that suddenly seemed to be among the worst in baseball. By sending him, along with Beckett to the Red Sox, the Marlins not only received Ramriez, Sanchez and other prospects, they also got salary relief.

Boston could afford to take on Lowell’s contract and it worked out incredibly well for them. Over his first two years in Boston, Lowell swatted 41 home runs, drove in 200 runs, had an on base percentage of .359, a slugging percentage of .488, and assembled 7.6 fWAR or 9.3 rWAR. What started out as a salary dump that was necessary to take on in order to acquire Beckett became a bigger immediate asset than the pitcher that they were willing to give so much up in order to acquire.

I’m reminded of this because rumours out of Boston currently have the team exploring the possibility of offering a contract to injury prone free agent outfielder Grady Sizemore, to which if I was a Red Sox fan, I’d say, “Giddy up.”

Just like when they acquired Mike Lowell six years ago, the Red Sox find themselves in a financial situation in which their budget allows them to afford failure. And Sizemore is exactly the type of player I’d risk failure on.

Yes, the risks are large. His extensive injury history combined with a seeming inability to minimize wear and tear while playing are incredibly worrisome. However, this is Grady Sizemore that we’re talking about. At age 25 and 26, he had career numbers that most resembled Barry Bonds’ at that age. In his first four full seasons in the league, Sizemore collected more than 100 home runs and 100 stolen bases. There’s little doubt that when he’s healthy, which he wasn’t this past season, he’s a premier player.

I’ve written about this before, but I’d handle the Sizemore situation with two somewhat counter intuitive measures: 1) I’d offer him a two year contract; and 2) I’d ensure that he never plays center field for my team.

Players coming off injuries rarely receive multiple year deals, but players of Sizemore’s caliber are rarely available at the low point of their value. Giving him more than one year puts no rush on his return to prove himself and win a better contract next year. It would allow him to take whatever time is necessary to rehab his knee until it’s 100%, even if it means missing time during the first half of the season.

With Ryan Kalish and Josh Reddick still on Boston’s 40 man roster, it would hardly be a massive drain to have to wait for Sizemore’s debut.

As for putting him in a corner outfield spot, while I’m aware that a large chunk of his value is derived from his one-time incredible range in center field, his bat is easily good enough to play right or left field. When it comes to fielding, Sizemore shares a lot in common with Josh Hamilton. The two players are reckless with their bodies on defense. While diving catches and running into walls inspires cheers from fans, it increases the wear and tear that a center fielder, who’s already running more than any other defender, faces on a day to day basis. These things add up, and over time, contribute to the injuries that both players have suffered.

A move to the corner limits the running and the chances that he’s in on. And while that may somewhat diminish his value to the team, at least he’s contributing to that value more often by playing more and missing less time.

Again, it’s far from a guarantee that we’ll see a resurgence from Sizemore, but with the budgetary room to take risks, even ones that might be best served over two years, the Boston Red Sox would have a difficult time finding a player with a potentially higher reward to cost ratio.