On the surface, the Kotchman for LaRoche deal is pretty puzzling.
But upon a little investigation, it appears that there are a few key factors at play.
One appears to be that defense is a larger piece of the puzzle. The second reason is that LaRoche and Chris Duncan (who the Sox got in the Lugo deal from St. Louis) in my estimation--were down-the-stretch, left-handed offensive insurance in case the Red Sox did not land Adrian Gonzalez or V-Mart. The third reason is contract related.
The defensive numbers are explained really well in the Around the Majors blog:
According to Total Fielding Runs, LaRoche cost his teams 2.6 runs more than an average fielder per 1,250 innings over his career. Kotchman saved his team 6 runs per 1,250 innings.
According to Ultimate Zone Rating, Kotchman has been 5.8 runs better than an average first baseman in 2009 (best in baseball). LaRoche is 3.4 runs worse than the average first baseman.
Ok, cool. For the rest of 2009, he's a bench player. He can pinch hit against righties, becomes a defensive replacement when Youk is at third and Lowell is removed or sits and on days when V-Mart catches. Sox have a ton of corner flexibility and, in my estimation, are better set up for next year without Mike Lowell.
We all know Youk is going to be the third baseman of the future, and with Lowell's hip problems, having an additional first-baseman and another lefty bat can't hurt the Red Sox. Victor Martinez did have some injuries in 2008, notably the arthroscopic surgery on his elbow, so you never know when one loose Joba fastball could send him back to the DL.
Kothcman, Duncan and down-the-road, Lars Anderson, can back up for any of these scenarios.
LaRoche is about to be a free agent at the end of this season, while Kotchman is arbitration-eligible through 2011. The nice part of that is that it gives the Red Sox brass more contract flexibility for a guy who is most likely a bench player for the remainder of this year.
He's not a free agent until 2012, so I would expect that Kotchman gives the Red Sox more trade package options in the off season with Lowell likely to be moved. Being able to throw in a 26 year old with some major league experience in a trade package is a nice to thing to have in your back pocket.
Until then, it's nice to have the defense in your pocket if something were to happen to Youk or Martinez.
More on Victor Martinez
Did I mention that this was the deal I wanted?
If his first-half offensive numbers are any indication, Martinez is a great get, especially when you factor in his ability to relieve Varitek behind the plate, and hit in the middle of the lineup from both sides of the plate.
He's an RBI guy--something the team needs right now with Bay struggling-- and the psychological distractions Big Papi now faces with the recently revealed roid debacle.
Contract-wise, the Red Sox can pick up V-Mart's option for 2010 for $7.5 million. Given his offensive history, that is relative bargain for a middle of the lineup hitter who can also catch. You have to imagine that Tek is not going to be able to catch as many games the remainder of the season, or next year, given his age, and the wear and tear.
While Adrian Gonzalez is younger with a great opposite field lefty bat, I am very content with Victor Martinez who has a strong history in the AL and has seen a whole lot more AL pitching and AL East teams than Gonzo (though don't count out the Sox going for Gonzo in the off season as the Padres are in major rebuilding mode after letting Peavy go).
And ultimately, the Red Sox have shown that they can make the deals they want to make without giving up too much. While Masterson was a good long reliver and showed signs of being a solid starter, the three B's (Bard, Bowden and Bucholz) are well-protected future stars of the game.