Ramble On Sports

Where sports, pop culture and everything else collide.

Bring on the King

Posted by Bill Koch on December 7, 2009

Let’s heat up the hot stove a little bit today. The pathetic Patriots threw another lukewarm performance out there yesterday, dropping a 22-21 debacle that stunk almost as bad as those rotting fish who call themselves the Miami Dolphins, so let’s start talking about the Red Sox right now before we even kid ourselves into thinking that New England has a prayer in hell to snag its fourth Super Bowl title this season.

Boston has been mostly quiet this offseason, with only the Marco Scutaro signing to show for Theo Epstein’s efforts. Forgive me if I haven’t started taunting Yankee fans over that major acquisition, but I doubt it’s going to be the one that puts the Red Sox back in power in the American League East. It’s hard to get hot for a career journeyman who hit .284 with 12 home runs last year.

Let’s turn our attention to the trade talks that dominated the end of the season. Roy Halladay and Felix Hernandez were the rumored names coming to Boston for the 2010 season, with most people seeming to prefer the finished product in Halladay to make a run at a third World Series ring since 2004’s breakthrough. I say bring me The King from Seattle, and it’s not even close in my mind. Throw the extra prospect into the deal, whether it be Casey Kelly, Ryan Westmoreland, Lars Anderson – anyone to bring me Hernandez’s golden right arm.

Halladay turns 33 in May and will be a free agent at the end of the season. He’s going to command a 4-5 year deal worth somewhere around $80-$110 million, bad business considering the well-documented breakdowns of aging free agent pitchers. The Red Sox have shown under Epstein that they would prefer to draft and develop arms (Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Daniel Bard, Jonathan Papelbon, Manny Delcarmen) instead of paying for them, a wise plan to keep their payroll in check. Halladay’s 6-6, 235-pound body has broken down twice before, in 2004 and 2005, and Toronto hasn’t exactly been shy about trying to wear the rest of the tread off his tires. The Blue Jays’ ace has thrown over 220 innings in each of the last four years and in six of the last eight, including back-to-back seasons of 246 and 239 in 2008 and 2009. Halladay’s lousy bullpen has forced his managers (Buck Martinez, John Gibbons, Cito Gaston) to bury himself with obscene pitch counts while trying to save their own asses – he’s led the league in complete games in five of the last seven seasons. I guess I can’t really blame that group if I had to hand the ball to Jason Frasor, Jeremy Accardo or B.J. Ryan with a 2-1 lead in the ninth, but I also wouldn’t want to be the next team on the hook for $60 million in dead money if Halladay goes the way of Kevin Brown and decays.

The King will turn 24 in April – younger than Buchholz, Lester and Papelbon – and is already one of the best pitchers in the major leagues. Last year was the peak of his four full seasons as a starter, as he went 19-5 with a 2.49 ERA. Hernandez allowed just 7.5 hits per nine innings, leading the league, and used his filthy array of four-seam fastballs, two-seam fastballs and 91-mph sliders to crush the spirits of opposing hitters. Progress in other areas made The King even better than before – he walked nine less batters and allowed only two more hits than he did in 2008 despite throwing 38 more innings, and his runs allowed and home runs allowed declined for the fourth straight year. His WHIP went from a steady average in the mid-1.30s to 1.13 and his ERA+ was a ridiculous 174, second in the league. And yes, Hernandez pitches half his games at pitcher-friendly Safeco Field, but the 52.1 percent ground ball ratio that he posted in 2008, second only to Halladay in the American League, plays pretty well against major league hitters in just about any baseball field not located in Williamsport.

Trading for Hernandez would be a Josh Beckett-type move that the Red Sox have to make. Beckett was 26 when he arrived in Boston in 2006, and all he’s done since then is win 65 games, go 4-0 with a 1.20 ERA in the 2007 postseason and make a pair of All-Star teams. The three-year, $30-million extension he signed and $12 million club option for 2010 look like bargains now, and Hernandez could be convinced to do the same thing that Beckett did by giving back his arbitration years for more cash. Boston has done the same thing with Dustin Pedroia, Lester and Kevin Youkilis to keep them from reaching free agency and has all three players locked up to long-term deals.

The potential haul that Boston is willing to send to Toronto for Halladay – Buchholz, Kelley, Westmoreland, etc. – could be sweetened by one more player to make it happen. Extend Papelbon, throw Bard in the deal and make a trade outside of the division for one of the best arms in baseball now and for the foreseeable future. The Red Sox don’t need a Doc to fix the 2009 team that was swept in the ALDS by Anaheim – they need The King.

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