(Not So Instant) Trade Analysis: Ryan Dempster to the Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox get: SP Ryan Dempster

Ryan Dempster gets: 2 years, $26.5 million

And so concludes an understated, expensive and ultimately…effective offseason for the Boston Red Sox.

The BoSox have spent over $120 million dollars in the past month on new additions, doling out dual $39 million dollar deals for Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino, a two year, $10 million dollar commitment to OF Jonny Gomes, as well as a one year, $4.5 million for reliever Koji Uehara. This of course, doesn’t take into account David Ortiz’s new two year, $26 million dollar deal. All in all, the Red Sox spent nearly $150 million this offseason, which is still seven figures less than what they traded out to the Dodgers last August.

There’s really no need to go over the blood-letting that’s gone on in New England in 2012–we’ve covered it extensively on this blog and this season’s edition of the Boston Red Sox was probably one of the most over-reported last place teams ever. However, with the freed up money they had from dealing Adrian Gonzalez, Nick Punto, Josh Beckett and Weekend at Crawford’s onto the Dodgers, GM Ben Cherington and company could splurge on the many holes created by their departures.

While all four of these deals weren’t particularly worthy of the money spent, there’s no doubt that these are four contributors that will shore up the reserves without the pressure of $100 million contracts bringing them down. In this particular case, Ryan Dempster will take that to his advantage.

At over $13 million a year, the proud Canadian right-hander isn’t a steal, but the length of his contract certainly is. Over his career as a starter, Dempster’s flipped between being an effective high strikeout and high contact pitcher and, well, a non-effective high contact, high strikeout pitcher. He’s either been able to harness his best and worst trait, which was personified by his 2012 season. While in Chicago playing for the Cubs, Dempster allowed only 81 hits and struck out 83 in 100 innings to the tune of a 2.25 ERA. However, after being traded to Chicago, he struck out more batters but also allowed more hits resulting a messy 5.09 ERA.

In Boston, there’s conflicting thoughts on if he’ll succeed. Dempster’s spent a majority of his career in hitter’s parks, between Arlington, Wrigley and Great American in Cincy. Fenway is a moderate park that doesn’t particularly give the advantage to the hitter or pitcher, but it’s certainly better than scorching Texas summers in August and sweltering Julys in Chi-town.

However, he’ll be facing AL East competition in most of his games this season, which shouldn’t be easy on a high contact 36 year old who’s moving to the AL for an entire season for the first time in his career. It’s difficult to say whether or not Dempster is the pitcher he was in Chicago or the batting practice meatballer he was in Texas. At his age, it’s easy to think that last summer’s bean ball session against the American League (not to mention his 2011 where he had a 4.80 ERA and walked 3.6 batters per nine innings) was just a sign of his decline.

Overall though, his potential was enough to take a relative flyer with just a two year commitment. It’s obvious that the Red Sox were going for more understated signings this offseason, preferring to go for players who would only require three year or less deals. Part of the reasoning had to be Boston’s many holes on the line-up sheet, which have essentially all been filled for the price of just one Josh Hamilton. In this way, the Red Sox seem to look like a smart team–why bring in one elite player, when you can spread the money around to several decent to very good players?

There’s also the logic that the Red Sox needed to spend in this manner for not just personnel reasons–but also for psychological ones. Over the past several seasons, the Red Sox had become the ones they hated: the New York Yankees. With $100 million dollar deals going to Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, and less expensive but still reckless ones going to John Lackey and Josh Beckett, the Sox had brought forth the notion that they wanted to simply buy a title like their AL East blood rivals. The fans loved it publicly, but secretly and subconsciously hated it. It didn’t take long for them to turn on Crawford when he didn’t perform, and the man they showered with love upon his arrival in Boston, Gonzalez, was met with tremendous hatred as soon as he stopped being a first-half MVP candidate. Josh Beckett was turned into public enemy number one just three seasons after dominating the Indians and Rockies on the way to the franchise’s second title in 89 years. The fan base hated these guys, perhaps because they weren’t “true Red Sox”, perhaps because they stunk for a fashion, but most likely because the money they were owed reminded them so much of the team they hated.

Management knew this. They had made mistakes by trying to emulate the Yankees, and it partially helped cause the worst collapse in regular season history and one of the poorest seasons in franchise history. So they killed two birds with one $120 million dollar stone. The Red Sox dialed back the spending on lavish contracts, opting for still lavish contracts for talent that perhaps didn’t warrant them, but ultimately putting out much less risk with less years. In that way, the players would feel less pressured to live up to nine figure deals, which in turn would help draw less ire from expectant fans who already were against the contract in the first place. Correct or not, Boston got back to the culture of winning with more demure additions, trying to grow a team that could better identify with each other, rather than $100 millionaires with targets on their heads tearing the team apart whether it was directly his fault or not.

In many ways, the Red Sox have gone back to being an underdog, and maybe that’s the way they and their unbelievably psychotic fan base likes it. After all, it was this mentality and public image that willed them to their only true success since World War I, wasn’t it? I’m not sure Dempster, or any of the players they’ve signed will succeed in the AL East in the slow roaster that is Boston, but at the very least the Red Sox seem to be back to the strategy that made them a model franchise just ten years ago.

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