Hot Stove Helper: Big market Red Sox shop the flea market

Throughout January and February, we're reviewing offseason MLB transactions that have fantasy implications, and we're going team-by-team. This isn't quite like Hot Stove Daily. The focus here is limited. We're mostly here to discuss ownable fantasy players who've found new employers, though I allowed myself some latitude in this audit of the Olde Town Team.

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Boston Red Sox

The two biggest stories from The Hub this winter concern players the Red Sox didn't consummate anything with (at least not yet). We'll start our Back Bay audit there.

Signed Didn't Sign Free Agent Mark Teixeira

Everyone knew Boston's No. 1 plan of the offseason was to snag Teixeira, and it's a major blow to lose out on him at the last second, especially when it's the arch-rival Yankees swooping in. Mike Lowell's problem hip was a part of the Teixeira chase; had Teixeira landed in The Hub, Kevin Youkilis would have shifted back to third.

Danced with Jason Varitek

Even the staunchest critics of Scott Boras would have to admit that he's pretty darn good at his job, but Team Varitek made a major mistake when it passed on Boston's arbitration offer back in December. Other clubs have been scared away from Varitek's asking price (not to mention the compensatory draft pick), and it's possible Varitek might be headed back to Boston at a discounted rate. The Red Sox want this loose end tied up by the end of the week.

Offensive catchers rarely hold up well in the mid-to-late 30s and we saw plenty of leakage from Varitek's bat last year (.220/.313/.359). His 13 homers aren't that big a deal when you consider he also lost 20 runs and 25 RBIs from the previous season, and he looked like the Ghost of Rich Gedman in the playoffs (4-for-34). Apparently the Red Sox are willing to take Varitek back on their financial terms, but even with Priceline rules I wouldn't slot Varitek on my mixed-league roster this spring.

Traded CF Coco Crisp to Kansas City for RP Ramon Ramirez; signed OF Rocco Baldelli to a one-year contract

The long-awaited Crisp export extended the leash on center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, and then the Baldelli signing potentially shortened it again – a platoon situation is available if the Red Sox want to explore that option. I'm guessing Ellsbury's strong finish to the year (.324, four homers, 15 steals in final seven weeks) earns him a full-time gig to begin the season; once he got over the tailbone problem by August, it was smooth sailing.

Baldelli's return to New England (he grew up an hour from Boston, in Woonsocket, R.I.) is a cute story line and there's never been a dispute about his skills as a ballplayer, but his fatigue disorder makes it highly unlikely he'll be able to handle anything more than a part-time role, even if injuries hit in front of him. Root for this story with your heart, but don't spend mixed-league resources to acquire him.

Signed SP Brad Penny to a one-year contract

Penny tried to stonewall a shoulder problem last year and it pushed him to the DL three times; he insists he's healthy now. Penny's ground-ball tendencies give him a fighting shot, even in the American League, and his collapsing strikeout rate last year can be blamed on the wounded wing. He's never a good bet to stand for an entire season, but he's capable of giving the Red Sox 20 or more useful starts.

Signed SP John Smoltz to a one-year contract

Smoltz is coming off shoulder surgery, he's not expected back until May or June, and he's going to be 42 in a few months. Nothing guaranteed here. That said, the Red Sox are paying Smoltz $5 million up front and they're giving him a shot to double that with incentives, so they obviously received favorable medical reports on the veteran right-hander. This is a story worth tracking closely in March, and my gut feel is that Smoltz will be worth using even in shallow mixed leagues at some point in 2009.

Signed RP Takashi Saito to a one-year contract

The price was right ($1.5 million plus incentives) and Theo Epstein has an impressive track record of finding gems hidden at the flea market. That said, Saito's coming off a significant elbow injury and he turns 39 on Valentine's Day. He'll need a lot of dominoes to fall right before he's fantasy-viable; Boston will consider this a score merely if Saito can handle some sort of set-up role in the middle of the bullpen.

Signed Josh Bard to a one-year contract

The Red Sox realize Bard is a lot better than his awful 2008 stats: he was dealing with a handful of injuries, his .230 BABIP is ridiculously unlucky, and working in San Diego obviously blunts offense. Bard is capable enough to catch 3-4 times a week, but he's probably not a candidate to play 125 games or so, and Boston learned a few years back that Bard and the knuckleball don't mix (it was a comedy of errors when he tried to corral Tim Wakefield's flutterball back in 2006). Bard should be a solid second catcher for AL-only players, but his expected playing time doesn't translate for mixed leaguers.

Other Fantasy-Related Topics: What becomes of Clay Buchholz, who's coming off a down season and buried on the depth chart? He's been mentioned in trade rumors . . . Will the Red Sox make a late trade for another catcher? Miguel Montero and Jarrod Saltalamacchia have been mentioned . . . Can Epstein get Jason Bay locked up past 2009? The outfielder is entering his walk season.

In the HSH on-deck circle: Toronto.

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