Last night, about a half-hour after the end of a miserable game at Fenway, the Red Sox’s last three general managers–Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, and Ben Cherington–went into Terry Francona’s office, closed the door, and stayed there for a good long while before exiting out the back of the park. The difference between this year and last is remarkable: the Red Sox have turned into the kind of tight-lipped operation that George Bush can only dream of having. (One reporter recently said the ’06 Sox make the Patriots look verbose in comparison.) But the fact that there’s not much word trickling out of 4 Yawkey Way doesn’t mean the strain and stress of dealing with the trading deadline isn’t manifesting itself in numerous ways. Last night, Terry Francona only managed to muster a meek protest after the first-base umpire incorrectly ruled that Mike Lowell hadn’t been hit with a pitch; in those kind of situations, it’s a manager’s job to argue until he gets tossed. Francona might have given up because he was exhausted, or because he didn’t want to risk loading the bases with two outs and Coco Crisp due up at the plate. This year, Crisp seems to have taken on the mantle of the miserable moper convinced everyone’s out to get him, like Edgar Renteria in ’05 or Nomar Garciaparra in ’04. Twice in the sixth inning last night Crisp threw wildly off target–first when he threw up the first base line after a spectacular diving catch, later when he skipped a relay throw into the infield after an Orlando Cabrera sacrifice fly–and both times he was hanging his head, Linus-style, before his throws had even been gathered up. Now that Willie Harris (who had been Crisp’s best friend in the clubhouse) is in Pawtucket, Crisp is isolated, sullen and sulking, in spite of the fact that Boston fans have more or less given the guy a free pass. Someone who came in replacing a matinee idol/cult hero and has been a bust on both offense and defense could reasonably expect a lot worse. It’s almost as if Crisp is depressed in preparation for the Boston boo birds.
Then there’s the trio of veterans much in discussion: Mark Loretta, Mike Lowell, and Trot Nixon. A couple of weeks ago, Lowell was assured he wasn’t going anywhere; now even he thinks there’s a chance he’s on his way out of town. All the chattering surrounding free-agent to be Julio Lugo (and the assumed readiness of Dustin Pedroia) has Loretta’s name on many people’s lips; for several hours yesterday there was a rumor that Loretta had left Fenway in street clothes shortly before the game, the 2006 version of Adam Dunn “announcing” in a Reds chatroom that he’d been traded to the Sox. And Nixon, the most popular of the bunch, is also currently the least valuable. His slugging percentage has declined every year since 2003 (and his current mark of .424 is his lowest since he became a fulltime player in 1999), his defense has become increasingly erratic, and he’s currently blocking Wily Mo Pena, who, in limited playing time, is currently leading Nixon in virtually every offensive category save for OBP and is hitting home runs almost 50 percent more often. When one of Nixon’s violent swings left him clutching his right bicep last night, one longtime Fenway insider jokingly evoked Epstein’s infamous (and apocryphal) hotel-room trashing in the wake of the Yankees signing Jose Contreras by quipping, “I bet Theo just broke a chair.” (Another one muttered, “Well, that’s one way for Trot to make sure he doesn’t get dealt.”)
So what will happen in the next five hours? Who knows? I know some things that won’t happen: Larry Lucchino will not go on WEEI to confirm any trade discussions; Manny Ramirez will not be the subject of any rumors; the Sox won’t make a deal simply to make it seem as if they’re doing something. Oh, and also, something is definitely in the works.
Yesterday, the Yankees made what has widely been heralded as a difference-making move when they picked up Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle from the Phillies in return for their C.J. Henry and a trio of prospects. (Henry, the team’s first-round draft pick in 2005, was the person the Yankees chose when Craig Hansen was still available.) But Abreu, who is due $4.5 million for the remainder of this season and $15 million next year, has put up these numbers over the past full season: .278 BA, 14 HR, 105 RBI, .449 SLG. The RBI numbers are good…and also dependent on what’s happening in front of him. The batting average and home run totals are both below what Kevin Youkilis projects to hit this year, and so far this season Youk has an identical .449 slugging percentage. The fact that ESPN’s Steve Phillips thinks this is a great deal is probably reason enough to think it’s not, but there are many other reasons to look at this pick-up and expect to see more Carl Pavano than Carlos Beltran. (Speaking of ESPN and Beltran, the question of whether Abreu’s impact will be similar to that of Beltran in ’04 is just silly. Beltran was 27, and including the first four months of that year had put up four straight seasons of .500+ slugging and two straight years of a .900+ OPS. Abreu is 32, and, including this year, has been below .500 and .900 for two straight years.)
After the Abreu deal was announced, Joe Torre said, “The Yankees always deal in the present. We made this deal for the present.” As I said yesterday, the flip side of that philosophy is not thinking about the future. It’s been that attitude that has left the Yankees, with far and away the biggest payroll in baseball, rich in older, overpaid players on the downside of their careers and poor in younger, cheaper, fresher talent with their best years ahead of them. And it’s been that attitude that’s produced two first-round departures, one ALCS collapse, and a pair of World Series losses over the last five years.