Thursday, January 7, 2010

Where does Bill Hall fit? Everywhere

The Red Sox's acquisition of Bill Hall from the Seattle Mariners wasn't just a move to relieve them of the luxury tax associated with Adrian Beltre. Seattle is sending enough money along with Hall to pay not only his contract but a piece of Beltre's contract as well, edging the Red Sox back toward the $170 million threshold at which they have to pay luxury tax.

That helps. What also helps, though, is the ability of Hall to play competent defense at almost every position on the diamond -- and to do so while swinging a righthanded bat.

Make no mistake: Barring a dramatic turnaround, Hall will not produce much at the plate. Consider his OPSes since his 35-home run season four years ago:

2006: .899
2007: .740
2008: .689
2009: .596

When you consider that the average American League hitter compiled an OPS of .764 last year, well, you're not going to have high expectations of Hall.

Mark Kotsay, however, puts those numbers into context.

Kotsay spent the first half of last season as the versatile bat off the bench, the veteran able to play first base as well as all three outfield positions. He OPS'ed .615 in the process -- in other words, not significantly better than Hall -- but gave the Red Sox a chance to rest Kevin Youkilis and all three of their outfielders during long road trips or in day games after night games.

Hall is even more versatile than Kotsay:

(UZR/150 numbers by position)
2B (91 starts): minus-1.9
3B (215 starts): plus-5.7
SS (244 starts): plus-1.6
OF (153 starts): plus-4.6 (including plus-6.3 in CF)

The Red Sox don't need a backup outfielder who hits .300 with 20 home runs. To get someone like that -- a Fernando Tatis, for example -- they'd have to pony up money they aren't going to spend.

(Besides, that's where Jeremy Hermida comes in: Hermida has the ability, if not the track record, to provide some punch in the lineup when Mike Cameron, J.D. Drew or Jacoby Ellsbury is taking a day off.)

Hall is bought and paid for -- and then some -- thanks to the Kotchman deal. He also can spell pretty much everyone. Youkilis appears to be the only real exception -- and Youkilis won't need much time off barring an injury or another beef with Rick Porcello. Even when he does, it'll be a day when Jason Varitek catches and Victor Martinez moves to first base.

If Youkilis lands on the disabled list the way he did early last season, Hall isn't going to be any worse than the since-departed Jeff Bailey and Chris Carter. Aaron Bates will remain an option at Pawtucket. Lars Anderson and Anthony Rizzo might be ready for their cups of coffee by the middle of the year.

Every other position appears set:

C: Martinez (Varitek)
1B: Youkilis (Martinez)
2B: Pedroia (Hall, Hullett/Lowrie)
3B: Beltre (Hall, Hullett/Lowrie, Lowell, Scutaro)
SS: Scutaro (Hall, Hullett/Lowrie)
LF: Ellsbury (Cameron, Hermida)
CF: Cameron (Ellsbury, Hall)
RF: Drew (Hall, Hermida)
DH: Ortiz (Hermida, Lowell)

If Lowell is traded, the Red Sox would be able to open the season with 12 pitchers and not lose too much in the way of depth.

Make no mistake: Hall isn't going to hit 30 home runs. Hall might not even hit 10 home runs. He's going to swing and miss quite a bit and get himself out quite a bit. If the Red Sox have to play him for long stretches, he's not going to do much to contribute at the plate.

That, though, isn't a disaster unless he has to play every day for a long period of time. Bailey came to the plate 91 times for the Red Sox last season, and Kotsay came to the plate 79 times. If Hall gets much more than 150 plate appearances for the Red Sox, there's probably an issue.

But if he plays twice a week and hits eighth or ninth in the Red Sox batting order, that's OK. All he needs to do is field his position well enough that Terry Francona can give his lefthanded regulars some days off.

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