Red Sox Find Damon’s Successor

It took more than five weeks, but the Red Sox finally found their replacement for departed free agent Johnny Damon. On Friday, they acquired Coco Crisp, along with David Riske and Josh Bard, from the Indians for top prospect Andy Marte, Kelly Shoppach, Guillermo Mota and either a player to be named or cash. Cleveland made a second deal to replace Crisp in its outfield, getting Jason Michaels from the Phillies for Arthur Rhodes.

The trade will benefit the Red Sox in the short term but may prove better for the Indians in the long run. Crisp is a much better option in center field for the Red Sox than Willie Harris or Adam Stern, but with Cleveland he was relegated to left field with Grady Sizemore on hand. Riske will help the Boston bullpen, and Bard is a more established backup catcher than Shoppach. But Marte could turn out to be the best player in the deal and the answer to the Indians’ void at third base, and Shoppach has a better chance of developing into a big league regular than Bard does.

Crisp, 26, will take over for Damon as Boston’s leadoff hitter and center fielder. He had his best season yet in 2005, batting .300/.345/.465 with 16 homers, 69 RBIs and 15 steals in 145 games. Crisp sprays line drives all over the place from both sides of the plate, though he doesn’t walk as much as an idea leadoff hitter would. He has above-average speed but isn’t the most efficient of basestealers. A plus defender in left field, he’s closer to average in center, though he has more bat than most players at the latter position. Crisp filed for arbitration before the deal, asking for $3.05 million with Cleveland countering at $2.35 million. He’s a career .287/.332/.424 hitter with 35 homers, 176 RBIs and 54 steals in 415 games.

Riske, a 29-year-old righthander, went 3-4, 3.10 in 58 games as a middle reliever last year. He was stingy with baserunners, allowing just 74 in 73 innings while compiling a 48-15 K-BB ratio. Opponents hit just .208 against him, though they touched him for 11 homers. Riske’s best attributes are his deception, competitiveness and command. He has an 88-91 mph sinker that grades slightly below his slider and splitter. He’s yet another offseason upgrade to a Boston bullpen that ranked second-to-last in the majors with a 5.15 ERA in 2005. Riske will make $1.8 million this season and become eligible for free agency afterward. He has a lifetime record of 17-12, 3.55 with 16 saves in 287 appearances.

Bard, 27, should prevail in a battle with John Flaherty to become Jason Varitek’s backup. He played sparingly behind Victor Martinez last year, hitting .193/.266/.277 with one homer and nine RBIs in 34 games. Bard never has been much of a hitter for average and offers only some modest gap power, but his calling card is his work behind the plate, particularly his arm strength and game-calling skills. Bard will be eligible for arbitration for the first time after the 2006 season. He has batted .238/.289/.370 with 13 homers and 61 RBIs in 156 career games.

Marte, 22, signed for $600,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2000. He has been traded twice this season, joining the Red Sox in a December deal for Edgar Renteria. In both cases, the team that dealt him had veteran options at his position (Chipper Jones in Atlanta, Mike Lowell in Boston) and used him to fill a glaring hole. Marte made his big league debut in 2005, hitting .140/.227/.211 with no homers and four RBIs in 57 at-bats. He spent most of the year at Triple-A Richmond, batting .275/.372/.506 with 20 homers and 74 RBIs in 109 games. He offers the ability to hit for power and average, a good eye at the plate and quality defensive skills. He may be better than Aaron Boone, Cleveland’s incumbent, right now. Marte has hit .274/.359/.485 with 82 homers and 328 RBIs in 512 minor league games.

Shoppach, 25, was Boston’s top pick (second round) in the 2001 draft, signing for $737,500 out of Baylor. He has been the Triple-A International League’s all-star catcher the last two seasons, batting .253/.352/.507 with 26 homers and 75 RBIs in 102 games in 2005. He also threw out 44 percent of IL basestealers. Shoppach got his first taste of the majors last year, going 0-for-15 with seven strikeouts. He provides power and draws walks on offense, and has arm strength and leadership skills on defense. Shoppach has hit .259/.349/.470 with 70 homers and 265 RBIs in 423 minor league games.

Mota, a 32-year-old righthander, came to Boston in November’s Josh Beckett trade. Mota was one of the game’s top setup men in 2003-04, though he slipped this year when he was bothered by elbow inflammation that landed him on the disabled list in May. Though the Red Sox had no problem with his medical records, the Indians had enough concerns that the Crisp trade almost was squashed. Mota went 2-2, 4.70 with two saves and 14 holds in 56 games in 2005. He had a 60-32 K-BB ratio in 67 innings, while opponents hit .254 with five homers against him. When he’s right, Mota works primarily with a mid-90s fastball and a plus changeup. He also mixes in a slider. Mota will make $3 million in 2006 and become a free agent afterward. He has gone 22-24, 3.61 with seven saves and 81 holds in 386 career games.

July 21 update: The Red Sox completed the trade by shipping minor league righthander Randy Newsom to the Indians. Newsom, 24, signed as a nondrafted free agent out of Tufts (Mass.) in 2004. He’s a sinker-slider pitcher who throws from a low arm angle. He has spent most of this year at high Class A Wilmington, where he went 1-1, 3.92 with one game in 19 relief appearances. He had a 27-19 K-BB ratio in 44 innings, while opponents hit .246 with no homers against him.

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