The non-trades of 2006, Theo and Larry’s evolving relationship, and the reaction in the clubhouse

August 1st, 2006 → 10:30 am @ // 19 Comments

Yesterday afternoon, Theo Epstein spoke to the Boston media not long after the trade deadline had passed. “We gathered around everybody two minutes after the trade deadline and thanked them for their hard work and said, ‘As disappointed as we are not to be able to add a significant piece, we’re certainly proud of the process and actually proud of the results, because it would have been better than getting emotional, reactive, short-sighted in doing something that we would regret and would be detrimental to the health of the franchise.’”

The quote–which, according to some quick and dirty on-line searches, didn’t show up in the main trade stories in the Globe, the Herald, or the Providence Journal–says more about what happened (and what didn’t happen) yesterday, and how the relationship between Epstein and Larry Lucchino is playing out, than anything else Epstein said at his press conference.

During the year I spent with the Red Sox, Epstein talked often about the importance of process. When, throughout the 2005 season he was attempting to work out his contract with CEO Larry Lucchino, he didn’t appeal directly to principal owner John Henry because of his “deference to the process.” When Epstein finally explained to Henry why he felt he had to leave the team, he said that “the process of reaching a new contract” had disappointed him. And when, several months after famously walking out of Fenway in a gorilla suit, Epstein returned as the Sox’s general manager, he explained that the biggest factor had been his and Henry’s shared philosophical approach in regards to putting together winning baseball teams: “We both agree that what’s important is process over immediate, short-term results,” he told me.

***

In the days and weeks after Epstein left the team last October, there was a lot of discussion about whether or not Epstein and Lucchino were fighting for control over the team’s baseball operations. They weren’t: Lucchino has always functioned as the team’s CEO, and Epstein has always run baseball ops. There was, in addition to personal distrust that had built up over more than two years, a difference in how the two men felt the team should communicate with the public. Lucchino, who’d had to practically beg for fans when he ran the San Diego Padres, believes in doing whatever it takes to bring make the public feel as if the team is listening to their concerns. (This approach even extends to the players: Lucchino told me that one advantage of a July trade is that it shows the players that management is as committed to winning as the players are.) Epstein, especially in the wake of the 2004 World Series victory, believes the Red Sox have a unique opportunity to focus on the long-term instead of always looking for immediate gratification. In some very important ways, this difference in approach exacerbated the rift that led to Epstein’s resignation: when the Red Sox traded Nomar Garciaparra two years ago yesterday, Epstein was convinced that the process that led to that trade–dispassionately weighing the options, calmly considering the alternatives, and carefully looking at the future–was the right one. In the day or two immediately following the trade, when an Orlando Cabrera error resulted in a Sox loss and all of New England was bemoaning the departure of one of its heros, Epstein began hearing rumors that there were people within the organization who were telling the press that this had been a “bottom-up” trade, one orchestrated (and pushed through) by Epstein, not the team’s executives. Epstein not only felt betrayed, he began to wonder if the organization shared a commitment to the long-term goals he had laid out.

In the last two years, the Red Sox have repeatedly made player personnel decisions that reflect Epstein’s philosophy. They decided what they thought Pedro Martinez was worth and then stood firm when the Mets added a fourth year to their offer. Even after Lucchino told me he thought often of Johnny Damon’s “long-term value” to the franchise vis a vis the team’s relationship with its public, the Red Sox decided to not offer more than $11 million a year. But there have consistently been intimations that these moves reflected Epstein’s wishes, the implication being that even though Epstein was in control there were those who disagreed with him.* So far, that has not been the case this year, and the extent to which the Sox have stayed on the same page with their public “message” is striking. “We have a long-term plan,” Epstein said yesterday. “As much as we desperately wanted to do something to help our big-league team, it would have been shortsighted to sacrifice that long-term plan in order to incrementally increase our chances this year. We were asked over and over again for a lot of our good young players — good young players at the major league level who are part of our long-term plan — and it just wasn’t worth it.” The proposed Andruw Jones deal that got so much attention yesterday–in which the Red Sox would give up Coco Crisp, Craig Hansen, and Jon Lester–never was much of a possibility. The one deal that Sox were most eager to make, where Boston would get Houston’s Roy Oswalt in return for a group of players including some combination of Lester, Hansen, and Manny Delcarmen, didn’t work out in the end because Epstein and the Red Sox refused to give up more than they felt Oswalt was worth. This year, the Red Sox weren’t going to be caught up in the frenzy of the day or consumed by a need to counter the Yankees’ pick-up of Bobby Abreu. (An Oswalt acquisition, one article said, “[w]ould have been the classic ‘take that’ response to the Yankees”…which is precisely what the Sox were trying to avoid.)

Does this mean Lucchino’s power has been diminished? No, not necessarily; it means only that, when John Henry and Tom Werner promised Epstein that his running of the team’s on-field operation would not be compromised by leaks or outside pressure, they meant what they said. Lucchino, whose role within the team has never been clearly understood by the public, will continue to oversee every aspect of the organization and focus on the team’s revenue enhancement and long-term, off-field plans. And judging from what happened yesterday, Epstein will be freer than ever to shape the Sox’s roster without worrying about what’s going to show up in the next day’s papers.

***

It’s hard not to support Epstein’s push towards a future in which the Sox are less concerned with public reaction to the team’s every move. (At Saturday’s game, I listened as a very loud and very agitated fan bemoaned the fact that Willie Harris was not pinch-hitting when Jason Varitek was sent up late in the game to execute a bunt. Disregarding the fact that Willie Harris currently plays for Pawtucket, there are so many boneheaded sentiments expressed in that one sentence I barely knew where to begin. It would be frightening if the Sox did pay attention to this type of fan, who often shout the loudest but make the least sense.) But Epstein has always been more concerned with reactions in the clubhouse than on the street. On Sunday, in response to the Abreu trade, David Ortiz, who likely wanted a teammate on which he could unload some of his burden, asked a reporter, “What are we doing?” Baseball clubhouses are incredibly cliquey places (just ask Coco Crisp), and Epstein, who didn’t play baseball beyond high school, doesn’t have the easy rapport with players that former assistant general manager Josh Byrnes did. (Brynes was never a prospect, but he was a standout at Haverford, setting the school’s all-time home run mark.) “Josh is one of the people in the organization that I feel like I really have a good relationship with,” Gabe Kapler told me last September. “If I were to say you should go talk to somebody about the pulse of the organization, I’d say go talk to Josh. He’s going to be a great GM. I’m a big fan of Josh.” In October, Byrnes left Boston for Phoenix to become the GM of the Diamondbacks. If I were a fly on the wall this year, I’d be fascinated to watch how Epstein’s relationship (and his comfort level) with the players evolves.

* Believe me, I know Esptein wasn’t technically back when Damon signed with the Yankees; I know the Red Sox didn’t even have a chance to offer Damon $11 million a year; and I know Pedro didn’t go back to the Sox for a counter-offer when the Mets offered their four-year deal. The overall point holds, and if you want the nitty-gritty about all of these machinations, check out the book.

EDIT: Reactions like the one in the comment below offer a decent illustration of the fundamental misunderstandings that often accompany baseball comings and goings (as well as a total misunderstanding of what I was trying to illustrate above). 2004_champs writes: “Theo’s view on Pedro was wrong. I don’t care how bad Pedro is in 2008, he was still a better value than the other options such as Matt Clement. There was more to the Pedro non-signing than baseball. Theo made that personal, and it cost the Sox last year, this year, and the next two years as well. Theo needs to be held accountable. … How bad do you really think Pedro will be in 2008 for his $13 mill?”

Whether or not Pedro will or won’t be worth $13 million in 2008, and whether or not Pedro is or isn’t a better value than Matt Clement, is totally besides the point for two important reasons. First, the Red Sox didn’t have a chance to counter the Mets’ four-year deal. They were told, explicitly, that if they offered Pedro a guaranteed three-year contract that equalled the Mets’ three-year offer, he would re-sign with Boston. Obviously, that wasn’t true. (Nor was it true, as Pedro said in June, that he had a concrete four-year deal on the table before the Mets made their last-minute offer.) Second, whether or not the Pedro ends up being a better value than Matt Clement has little to do with anything; the point I was trying to illustrate is that the Red Sox believe that if they consistently follow the process they’ve articulated (internally, not externally), they will, more often than not, come out on top. Of course some deals won’t work out: players get injured, or they underperform, or they can’t adapt, or whatever. But the same process that led to the Sox’s signing of Ramiro Mendoza also led to their signing David Ortiz; you can’t bitch and moan about one without acknowledging the other. (It’s worth pointing out that Boston wasn’t alone in thinking Matt Clement would be a better value than Pedro going forward; many people in the Mets thought that, too, but Omar Minaya told his staff he thought Pedro could help bring the Mets some of the attention that had previously been concentrated on the Yankees. It’s also worth pointing out that there were 28 other teams in baseball who didn’t even get into the bidding.)

Fans’ reactions are supposed to be emotional; that’s what makes us fans. And hopefully, the reactions of the front-office are based more on reason that feeling.


Post Categories: John Henry & Larry Lucchino & Red Sox ownership & Theo Epstein & Tom Werner & trade deadline

19 Comments → “The non-trades of 2006, Theo and Larry’s evolving relationship, and the reaction in the clubhouse”


  1. NYCsoxfan

    8 years ago

    (An Oswalt acquisition, one article said, “[w]ould have been the classic ‘take that’ response to the Yankees”…which is precisely what the Sox were trying to avoid.) –> I think that the Sox were only trying to avoid trades whose sole purpose would have been ‘take that, Yankees.’ The Roy Oswalt acquisition would have accomplished that task, sure, but it would also have been a great move that would have given the Sox the dominant starting rotation that they need to go deep in the post-season.

    Reply

  2. 2004_champs

    8 years ago

    Theo’s view on Pedro was wrong. I don’t care how bad Pedro is in 2008, he was still a better value than the other options such as Matt Clement.

    And if he was willing to sign Varitek or Edgar to 4 years, how can he possibly say that Pedro wasn’t worth a 4th year?

    There was more to the Pedro non-signing than baseball. Theo made that personal, and it cost the Sox last year, this year, and the next two years as well. Theo needs to be held accountable.

    After this year we’ll have paid Matt Clement $18 mill. How bad do you really think Pedro will be in 2008 for his $13 mill? Can’t be any worse than what Theo has already given Clement the past two seasons.

    Reply

  3. gmschmidty

    8 years ago

    Seth-

    Excellent synopsis of the deals that WEREN’T at yesterday’s deadline. As a Sox fan it has to be a little frustrating today to hear the national media (such as that whiz of a GM, Steve Phillips) declaring that the Sox were the big losers at the deadline. That is a myopic approach of course. Many times the best trades are the ones that don’t get made. What I don’t think can be overlooked, and what I wish you would have touched upon more, is the effect that winning in 2004 has had on the fanbase and by proxy the FO. That is to say, while the lines still light up at WEEI every time Tito pulls a pitcher too soon, or leaves one in too long, the effect of 2004 is that the fans have grown much more patient with regards to the Sox/Yanks thing, and seem to understand the parity between these teams, even with the payrolls and talent-pool often so juxtaposed to one another. I think Sox fans are more patient with this FO because they know that these guys will–and have–done right by the fans, while doing right by the team and its prospects. This team might not be the best team in baseball THIS year, but unlike the Yankees, they are doing their best to build a foundation which will allow them to be one of the best for years to come. Great synopsis, none-the-less!

    Geoffrey

    Reply

  4. branatical

    8 years ago

    Good job, finally some insight. A welcome break from the banter heard by analyst talking heads like Steve Phillips and Ken Rosenthal, who simplify things by putting trades or non-trades in the the win or loss columns. Total BS. And WHY don’t they get the fact that our young guns are not going anywhere for FREE! As an outsider, the Jones for Crisp, Lester and Hansen deal sounds completely absurd, yet Ken Rosenthal says shame on you to Theo for not getting anything done. Anywho…

    I think and hope last night’s game is going to go a long way as far as momentum and for the spirit in the clubhouse. And now finally we get to see Wily Mo back in action.

    Would like to know more about the issues with Crisp in the clubhouse…he seems like a relatively nice guy, can’t he find a friend? How worried is the front office and is he going to step it up? Or is he crumbling in Beantown like the Big Dig?

    Reply

  5. timmah1

    8 years ago

    This is an excellent overview of why no deals were made yesterday. The old Sox regime would have made that ridiculous trade for Andruw Jones. The baseball ops team has a clear plan for years to come. As Theo has said before, sometimes you either need to take a step back or not move at all to improve in years to come. This will help create greater payroll flexibility in the future to make those big moves. The talking heads clearly are talking just to talk. Real fans know the Sox did everything they could to make a deal, but were also level-headed enough to not make a major mistake. I, for one, am glad Theo and the bunch (Lucchino included) are running this team.

    Reply

  6. Kent Bonham

    8 years ago

    Thanks, Seth. Great post. You should write a book!

    Regarding the Red Sox’ long-term organizational philosophy:

    “Being disciplined and systematic does not mean we have a “black box” process. Our investment process is dynamic, involving periodic adaptation to changing market conditions and decisions on such matters as portfolio weightings, position size, effective trade execution, capacity and entry into new markets — all of which depend on professional experience and market knowledge. These changes are made in the context of our underlying principles.”

    That’s from the “Methodology & Philosophy” section of John W. Henry & Company’s website.

    - Kent

    Reply

  7. empirionx3

    8 years ago

    The biggest mistake the Red Sox made in this years trading deadline was their internal focus. They reportedly spent much time coming up with “creative” 3 or 4 team deals, but did not pay enough attention externally. The fact that they did not drive up the price of Abreu & Lidle or even Craig Wilson is what is most concerning to me. The Yankees spent far too little on these players. If Theo and Co. are so concerned about bettering their chances in the future, why were they not active making sure that the Yankees were at least worse off in the future?

    Reply

  8. Fred6v

    8 years ago

    I agree with empirionx3′s point, Theo has made some phenomenal moves but this time he may have done too much navel gazing as opposed to looking at the reality of the market and thinking about what it will take to win this year. “Jeopardizing long term future of the ball club” could be interpreted as a kiss-off for this year and so let’s focus on next year or the year after. We don’t have the arms to stay competitive through the post-season this year. Clement, Tavarez, etc. are not going to morph into something they aren’t or even what they used to be and the young guns are not enough and unproven in the post season. It’s optimistic and perhaps a fool errand to believe we can control or advantage ourselves in another future year, the competition is way too dynamic.

    Reply

  9. chasdanner

    8 years ago

    All yesterday as I reloaded three different sites looking for the inevitable trade the sox were going to make, I did so very very nervously. I trust Theo entirely, especially because of the way he seems to have learned from his mistakes (For instance I do not think you will ever see a Matt Clement get signed again during his tenure, or the fact we did not make another Suppan trade this or last year), but I was still worried we might do something stupid. All the media, especially ESPN and idiots like Steve Phillips were all talking about what “response” the Sox were going to make to the Yankees’ trades, and that entire concept is just so moronic. There was another quote from Theo yesterday about forgeting the Yankees, which is exactly what I want our front office doing during the season. All of the recent Yankee teams have been built in a reactive way, as were the Red Sox teams of the Duquette era, and what all these teams share is a record of zero championships. Look at the dynastic Yankees and how those teams were built and you will find a perfect blend of character, veterans, and self cultivated talent, which is exactly the direction the Sox are heading in. With a little luck, the result will be the same. Moment addicted fans and half-brained sports writers will always bitch and ridicule a non-move such as yesterday’s, but regardless of whether or not our young players all reach their ultimate potential (they never all do but you play the law of averages) I would much rather have a front office that stands up to the ridiculous self perpetuating pressure of a market like this and chooses to always use their brains first and final. Thank you Seth for the most accurate analysis of yesterday’s happenings. ….The only player I would have blindly accepted aquiring yesterday would have been Clemens, which is irrational, because I am a sentimental fan, and as a result I actually realize it’s a good thing I am not the GM.

    Reply

  10. Carroll Hardy

    8 years ago

    I would think that the Boston Red Sox would be a better ballclub during the remainder of 2006 with Roy Oswalt, even if they were forced to part with “some combination of Lester, Hansen, and Delcarmen.”

    All the stuff about “process” and not keeping up with the Yankees is all well and good, and laudable. But the real issue is that Roy Oswalt is currently making $11M and headed to arbitration going into 2007. Already on the hook for Matt Clement’s $9.5M next year with no takers, the Red Sox could find themselves in a punitive luxury tax situation that would have them pay Oswalt’s 2007 salary plus an additional 40%.

    It’s great that Theo and the Red Sox have a disciplined process. But the truth is, just like any discipline, it’s the punishment – in this case, the luxury tax – that serves to enforce the discipline. The 2007 Boston Red Sox need Lester, Hansen, and Delcarmen more than they need Oswalt because they can perform as 3 key components out of 25 on a 95-100 win team, while costing the team pocket change in salary.

    Reply

  11. zoowah

    8 years ago

    Theo’s philosophy is fine, provided he also remembers to “strike while the iron is hot.” That is, provided he has the ability to recognize the narrow window of a championship year when it opens. This year had (Ouch! I’m already talking past tense!) every indication it could be one:

    Weak competition
    Schilling still around and putting up wins
    Great defense and offense
    Balanced team

    All the Sox needed was one more somewhat decent starting pitcher to get there…Kip Wells, Oswalt, Mark Redman.

    Instead, the Sox may well make the playoffs, but cannot get to the Series.

    Unless Theo can recognize the potential for a championship year when it slaps him upside the head, the Sox will begin to look more and more like the Atlanta Braves: Always competitive, never winning it all.

    Reply

  12. bwhite71

    8 years ago

    Seth, what did you mean when you wrote “Baseball clubhouses are incredibly cliquey places (just ask Coco Crisp)” as it pertains to Coco? Are you suggesting he’s doesn’t feel welcome in the Sox clubhouse? Thankyou.

    Reply

  13. 2004_champs

    8 years ago

    zoowah, great post. Theo needs to learn that Championship opportunities don’t come around often, and to strike when the iron is hot.

    You think Pedro would be an extra arm that could have pushed the Sox over the edge this year, and perhaps last? I do. Too bad Theo was too worried about 2008 and Pedro potentially not being amazing and let his ego get in the way of trying to win a ring.

    Speaking of Theo’s ego, when is Mnooks going to write a book about that beast. Could probably write a 3 volume series about Theo declaring himself a wonderboy and insisting that everybody bow down to his self proclaimed geniusness.

    Reply

  14. eshepard

    8 years ago

    I agree with empirionx3 to some extent – if Craig Wilson is available for a player about to be released and a bucket of warm tar, I’d rather we made that deal and spun him off in a 3-way if we feel that the role is blocked on our roster.

    Always competitive, never winning it all.

    Uh.

    Reply

  15. crimsonohsix

    8 years ago

    I understand Theo’s concern for trading away future stars, but is it just me or is he treating all of his young players/prospects like the next Roger Clemens? Instead of being driven by a fear of pleasing the fans like most GMs, he seems to be driven by a fear of trading away the next star.

    If you think about it, they can’t ALL be stars – the prospect market is much more efficient now than it was five years ago due to more teams using a sabermetric approach to scouting (resulting in the competitive advantage these teams have being lower than in previous years), and even five years ago, Billy Beane’s top prospects didn’t all achieve stardom.

    If it’s possible, I would argue that Theo’s being irrational in treating some of his younger players as “untouchable.” For the right price, anyone should be trade-able (except Ortiz).

    Reply

  16. dannyg

    8 years ago

    While an admitted Theo guy, I’m a bigger Sox fan and tried to look at the trading deadline objectively. 1) Any deal that trades Lester for another starter, let’s say Oswalt, may upgrade the current number 3 starter position, but it still leaves the 4 and 5 slots the debacle they currently are. So, this move in no way assured a 2006 championship. And I find it curious that the “but that’s in the National League” refrain is constantly used when evaluating pitchers who move between leagues (usually when one wants to disparage their past or current NL performance), but no has mentioned that in their “Oswalt as 2006 savior” commentaries. 2) If the deal included two relief pitchers (Hansen and Delcarmen reportedly), it depletes an already thin bullpen. So Oswalt goes 6 or 7 innings and leaves ahead 4-2, and the bullpen turns it into a 5-4 or 6-4 deficit before we can get to Papelbon. What then? 2) If the deal included one of said relief picthers, bullpen depth issue still applies, but to a lesser degree, and who plays center if Crisp was going? Wily Mo? So who plays right now with Nixon down? Kapler? David Murphy? Who’s on the bench then? Bring back Willie Harris? The deal would impact the starting 9 and especially bench depth in 2006 and beyond, which impacts ability to win 3) The one move I’m critical of is Craig Wilson. The Sox had more to offer than Shawn “7.00 ERA” Chacon. The bench was thin before the Nixon and Varitek injuries, it’s thinner now. He could have helped impact 2006 without impacting the future. Theo missed on this one.

    P.S. Has anyone noticed Seanez ERA is down to 3.83, while Hansen’s is up to 4.91? Time to give Tavarez the Rudy treatment and put him on ice for a couple weeks, while we see if Rudy has found it? Can’t hurt.

    Reply

  17. Dubigedi

    8 years ago

    - 2004_champs
    “Theo needs to learn that Championship opportunities don’t come around often, and to strike when the iron is hot.”
    -The thing is, this team isn’t one or two moves away from a championship team, they went 15-1 against the pathetic N.L, take away those games and their record stands at an average 49-44. That type of knee jerk philosophy is what leads to teams getting trapped into going for it all everyear, and ending up with over priced, underperforming older players and lacking younger,cheaper players with more upside (perfect example the Yankees.)
    “Too bad Theo was too worried about 2008″
    - You refer to 2008 like it is some silly abstract thing that was stupid to worry about.
    “and let his ego get in the way of trying to win a ring.”
    -What evidence do you have he let his ego get in the way of wanting to get a ring? Pedro was an aging, potentially injured pitcher that had shown a decline in performance. Theo, and in my mind correctly, that Pedro was declining,and decided not to go past a certain price to replace him. I’m not saying that the Sox should have signed Clement, but rather that it was smart of them not to go to what likely would have been an overpriced deal.
    -I also love how you talk about Theo’s ego like it is a thing that was obviously responsible for the lack of signing Pedro, who everyone knows, has no ego of all to speak of.
    “Speaking of Theo’s ego, when is Mnooks going to write a book about that beast. Could probably write a 3 volume series about Theo declaring himself a wonderboy and insisting that everybody bow down to his self proclaimed geniusness.”
    - When has Theo ever declared himself a genuis?
    -Whats with this strong dislike of Theo?
    - Did you even read the book?

    Reply

  18. 2004_champs

    7 years ago

    Theo Epstein’s mistreatment of Pedro Martinez has significantly hurt our beloved Red Sox. Theo’s ego is the reason we sucked last year and are not good this year. Theo should learn to check his ego at the door, he’s not a freaking wonderboy.

    Ok, fine, you’ve convinced me: now you’re cut off.

    - Seth

    Reply
  19. [...] That’s a silly question, of course: it’s trade deadline season, and for the first time in years, we’re not all wondering where Manny Ramirez is going to be playing come August 1. (More on that — or more on that from years past — later.) Last year, I had plenty to say about the Sox’s trades (er, non-trades), including my claim that Bobby Abreu was little more than an overpaid version of Kevin Youkilis. (Turns out I was being too generous to Abreu.) Despite a MLB-leading record of 64-41, the Red Sox do, unquestionably, have holes; just as unquestionably, the good men and women down on Ye Olde Yawkey Way are scrambling to find ways to fill them. We’ll all hear about whatever does or doesn’t go down soon enough…and there’ll be plenty of time for talking then. [...]

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