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Object Lesson No. 1,289 in the Dangers of Free Agency

04.29.09 at 5:36 pm ET
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There’s little secret that most teams would, all things being equal, prefer to avoid the free-agent market. Indians G.M. Mark Shapiro once articulated a concise synopsis of his feelings on the process:

“It’s inefficient and we want to stay out of it whenever possible,” said Shapiro.

That’s not always possible, or even advisable. But on a day when both J.D. Drew (quad) and Julio Lugo (knee) — the duo that signed $106 million worth of free-agent contracts with the Sox prior to the 2007 season — are once again out of the lineup, it seems a fair moment to take stock of the impact of free agency on the current Sox club.

The Boston roster actually features surprisingly few players who were acquired through free agency. Just seven players signed with the Sox after playing in the majors with another club, and only Drew and Lugo signed multi-year deals to come to Boston. Here is a breakdown of how the Sox acquired the current members of their roster (Major League Baseball free agents in bold):

—————

STARTERS

Josh Beckett – Trade (2005)
Jon Lester – Drafted (2nd round, 2002)
Justin Masterson – Drafted (2nd round, 2006)
Daisuke Matsuzaka (D.L.) – Rights purchased through posting process from Japanese club (2006)
Brad Penny – Free-agent (2008-09)
Tim Wakefield – Free agent (1995)

RELIEVERS

Manny Delcarmen – Draft (2000, 2nd round)
Hunter Jones – Undrafted free agent (2005)
Javier Lopez – Trade (2006)
Hideki Okajima – Japanese free agent (2006)
Jonathan Papelbon – Draft (2003, 4th round)
Ramon Ramirez – Trade (2008)
Takashi Saito – Free agent (2008-09)

CATCHERS

George Kottaras – Trade (2006)
Jason Varitek – Trade (1997)

INFIELD

Jeff Bailey – Minor-league free agent (2003)
Nick Green – Minor-league free agent (2008)
Mike Lowell – Trade (2005)
Jed Lowrie – Draft (2005, 1st round)
Julio Lugo – Free agent (2006-07)
Dustin Pedroia – Draft (2004, 2nd round)
Kevin Youkilis – Draft (2001, 8th round)

OUTFIELD

Rocco Baldelli (D.L.) – Free agent (2008-09)
Jason Bay – Trade (2008)
J.D. Drew – Free agent (2006-07)
Jacoby Ellsbury – Draft (2005, 1st round)
Jonathan Van Every – Minor-league free agent (2007-08)

DESIGNATED HITTER

David Ortiz – Free agent (2002-03)

—————–

The two clear stars in terms of return on the dollar are David Ortiz, who signed a one-year, $1.25 million contract to come to Boston after the Twins released him following the 2002 season, and Tim Wakefield, who signed for $175,000 after the Pirates released him in 1995.

Lugo and Drew, meanwhile, have been costly ventures, and it would be difficult to suggest that either has performed to the expected value level implied by his contract.

Before signing with the Sox, Lugo had averaged 131 games a year, hitting .277 with a .340 OBP, .402 slugging and .742 OPS while hitting an average of nine homers a year and swiping 19 bases. With Boston, he has averaged 114 games a year, hitting .247 / .314 / .343 / .657 with four homers and 22 steals a year. He has been neither as healthy or offensively productive with the Sox as he was prior to joining them.

Drew, meanwhile, averaged 106 games a year while hitting .286 / .393 / .512 / .904 prior to signing with the Sox. As a member of the Red Sox (presuming that he does not play tonight), he is averaging 127 games a year while hitting .273 / .387 / .469 / .856. That represents solid production (when healthy), but it is likely short of the $14 million a year standard for which he is getting paid.

If one is to draw conclusions from the current roster, it would appear that the Sox are more likely to be rewarded for their continued efforts to move away from the top-end free agency market than they would be for major splashes with top-of-the-market free agents who would require multi-year deals.

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