Dissecting the Delgado Decision
The Boston Red Sox have dealt with injuries all season long and have largely surprised by remaining as close to contention as they have by filling the holes from within. Yet, last week’s news that first baseman Kevin Youkilis would miss the remainder of the season due to surgery to repair a torn muscle in his thumb sent the team into a scramble to find a replacement. According to reports they were seeking a left handed first baseman to platoon with Mike Lowell.
Enter 38-year-old Carlos Delgado.
Delgado has spent the better parts of 17 seasons in the Majors since his debut with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1993. Most of that time was in Toronto (the first 12 seasons) and was followed by a year with the Florida Marlins and four with the New York Mets. In over 2,000 career games he’s amassed a .280/.383/.546 line with 473 HRs, 1512 RBI, and a career OPS+ of 138.
Despite the strong numbers he was, however, still available on the free agent market due in large part to his recent injury history. Delgado’s 2009 season was cut short after just 26 games due to a torn labrum in his hip. The first surgery didn’t go as well as he had hoped and a second surgery was necessary this past February. After two months on crutches and a strenuous rehab program to get back into playing shape he felt ready to get back on the field in mid-July.
From what Delgado told Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal, the Red Sox were just one of four teams with which he held conversations about joining their team. The others reportedly were the Seattle Mariners, Colorado Rockies, and Chicago White Sox. The opportunity with Boston proved to offer the most playing time and what Delgado viewed as a legit chance at winning a Championship.
Early Saturday morning the two sides reached agreement on a minor league contract that will pay him $20,000/month at Triple-A and a prorated portion of $3 Million when (and if) he reaches the Majors. There is also a clause allowing him to opt out of the deal if he is not on the active roster by September 1st. He has already reported to AAA Pawtucket and should see his first game action sometime tomorrow. The belief is that with a week or two of game action he should be ready to join the organization in Boston.
Here’s where things begin to become a little murky. The Red Sox currently sit 6 games back in the AL East and 4 games out of the Wild Card going into tonight’s matchup in New York. The team isn’t likely to make the playoffs without a strong push through the remainder of the season but they aren’t completely out of it yet either. Sure, losing Youkilis at this point in the season is a big loss. He has been the most consistent offensive threat in the lineup aside from Adrian Beltre and has truly emerged as a leader for that team. But, there are other viable options to share time at first base leading me to believe that there wasn’t truly a need to go out and acquire another first baseman.
First, there is Lowell. Having spent most of the season riding the bench the opportunities have been few and far between for the 36-year-old corner infielder who happens to be coming off the same hip injury as Delgado. He has struggled offensively, posting just a .219/.299/.375 line. Defensively the limitations of coming off an injury haven’t been apparent.
Next, there is Victor Martinez. While primarily the team’s starting catcher, Martinez has shown an ability to handle first base quite well. He has only played sparingly at first this season but has spent time there over each of the past five seasons, totaling nearly a full season’s worth of games at the position. Martinez is a switch hitter and certainly has shown the offensive prowess to make up for Youkilis’ absence from the lineup.
Now playing Martinez at first base does take him out of the lineup behind the plate but that is one area where the organization is not lacking. The Red Sox actually have six catchers on their 40 man roster at the moment. Veteran Jason Varitek, who should return from a broken foot sometime this month, and newly acquired Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who was also assigned to Pawtucket, are both viable options. The latter also has some experience playing first base. Plus, while not an ideal option, David Ortiz can play first in an emergency situation.
With such little time remaining in the season there isn’t a harm in taking a chance on Delgado to see if he can bring the team a spark to get them into the playoffs. But, there isn’t necessarily the need either. Presuming he is as healthy as he says and presuming 16 months away from the game hasn’t hurt his abilities, it will be interesting to see what, if anything, Delgado can offer.