The Red Sox have lost 12 out of 20 games. David Wells — who not long ago said he wanted to blow up Fenway — has become the team’s ace. The combined salaries of Keith Foulke and Matt Clement are higher than the Florida Marlins’ payroll. Mike Timlin discovered there are not one, but two i’s in his last name. And it’s beginning to feel like any time David Ortiz doesn’t hit a ball out of the park, the Sox lose. (For anyone wondering, that’s not technically true.) It’s been a grim stretch, and one that would depress any team — the Royals, the Devil Rays, even the Cardinals. Last night’s win over the Tigers didn’t alter the fact that the Sox have the feel of a team with the wheels coming off. Remember interleague play, when it seemed as if the Sox were incapable of beating themselves? For the last month, it’s been the opposite: time and time and time again, the Sox have handed away wins because of mental lapses or stupid moves or plain old bad execution. It hasn’t been fun, and it hasn’t been pretty.
I understand that people get testy when their team loses. I also understand that reality is starting to settle in; for the first time in four years, the Red Sox don’t particularly feel like they’re a team that deserves to make the playoffs. Could it happen? Sure: if Beckett morphs into the pitcher he’s shown glimpses of being; if the middle relief stops coughing up runs as if they were party favors; if Manny and Ortiz once again carry the team on their backs for the last month of the season. But last year, and especially the two years before that, not making the playoffs would have been a slap in the face: those were teams that were too good not to be playing ball in October. The 2006 Red Sox feel like a good team with some flaws and a lot of bad luck. Unless you’re in the National League, that’s usually not good enough.
What I don’t get is people insisting the Sox would be running away with the division if they’d only kept Pedro/Damon/OCab/Dave Roberts/Nelson de la Rosa. By this point, I know all too well that there’s no sense arguing facts when emotion is involved. (See: the Red Sox really are like world politics!) But there are a few things I want to remind people of:
1. This year Pedro was 0-2 with a 4.76 ERA versus AL teams; the Mets were 1-3 in his three AL starts. (Last year he was 1-1 (the Mets were 1-3) with a 3.21 ERA.*) He started the season with a toe injury. He was out for all of July with a strained hip. He’s back on the DL with a strained calf. Pedro Martinez would not be an all-purpose savior. If the Red Sox had Pedro Martinez circa 1999, they’d be running away with the division. They’d also be running away with the division if they had Nomar circa 1999, Yaz circa 1967, or Williams circa 1941. Those players are gone. (Not to beat a dead horse, but Pedro did not have a four-year offer from any team in baseball until the night he signed with the Mets. Fernando Cuza told the Sox what Pedro needed to return to Boston; the Sox gave it to him. Pedro used the Sox’s offer as leverage with Omar Minaya. If you want to read more about this, it’s in pps. 318 – 325 of my book. If you want to go to your grave thinking this was a Carlton Fisk-like screw up, there’s nothing I can say that’ll make you feel any differently.)
2. Ten million dollars a year for a 32-year old center fielder with a lifetime .290 average (.784 OPS) and a throwing arm that requires a daisy chain of cutoff men is not an insulting offer. Regardless, Scott Boras told the Red Sox not to bother making Damon any other offer if they couldn’t match his imaginary six-year, $72 million contract. Instead, the Sox ended up with a player with very similar career numbers who happens to be six years younger and $10 million cheaper. (If you want to read more about this, it’s in pps. 389 – 392 of my book.)
3. Over the past half-decade, the Sox have had a half-dozen superstar-type players, (and Johnny Damon makes this list more because of his cult status than anything else). If they’d held on to all of these players, this is how between half and three-quarters of the team’s 2008 payroll would be spent (players’ ages are in parentheses):
Pedro Martinez, $13 million (37)
Johnny Damon, $13 million (35) (also owed $13 mil for 2009)
Manny Ramirez, $20 million (36)
Nomar Garciaparra, $17 million (35)
Jason Varitek: $10 million, (36)
David Ortiz: $13 million, (32)
Curt Schilling (not under contract for 2008)
That’s six players with an average age of 35 and an average salary of $14 million, for a total of $86 million. The only one of those players who has a chance to be worth that kind of money that far down the line is Papi. I’d say it’s even money as to whether Nomar and Pedro will still be in the game. (And for those who want to exclude Nomar from this list, you can’t pick and choose which one-time greats you want to keep in town after you see how it all works out.)
Yesterday, Bill Simmons took an odd, passive-aggressive swipe at me in his ESPN column. To wit: “I could spend the next 3,000 words ranting and raving about the unacceptable performance of the Henry/Theo regime since they won the World Series…but I don’t want to ruin my chances of getting a key to the office next season. So let’s just say that everyone did a swell job and I fully support every moronic decision that was made. Now where’s my key?” I say odd and passive-aggressive because instead of just calling me out he threw in a coded reference that’d make sense only to people who not only knew about my book but knew a lot of the details about its writing. I have no idea what my access in 2005 has to do with what I write on a blog in 2006. I hadn’t written a word about the Sox when the team and I agreed that I’d write a book. And nothing I do (or don’t) write now is going to get me a key (or any access) in the future; that ship has sailed. (Another side note: Apparently, people only like complaining about the so-called negative Boston media until they get upset…and then they want to complain about the lack of negativity.) For the record, there’s plenty about the last few years I disagreed with, at the time and in retrospect. I didn’t like the Renteria signing when it happened, and when members of the front office told me last year that their scouting on Renteria indicated that he was a better defensive player than he ended up being, I felt like asking them what their eyes had told them: in 2004, Renteria looked like a good defensive shortstop the way Derek Jeter looks like a good defensive shortstop. A lot of the front office, and Theo in particular, thought a more mild-mannered team would make it easier for the players to deal with the media frenzy and fan adulation that comes with playing in Boston. I thought differently, although to be fair I’m not totally sure if that’s because it’s fun to cover — and watch — a bunch of Johnny Damons than a bunch of Mark Lorettas. And I’m at a loss to explain how a front office that is so smart and so hard-working have a seeming inability to put together a reliable bullpen.
But like I said, the personal swipe isn’t what really bothers me. (It’s hard not to take some perverse pride in being the only writer in America who’s disliked by both Bill Simmons and Dan Shaughnessy.) What does bother me is complaining about today while ignoring both yesterday and tomorrow. It’s that attitude that results in shortsighted moves. The Red Sox are not the Yankees. (Thank god for that — if the Yankees had made good decisions, like, say, signing Carlos Beltran instead of Randy Johnson, it’d be a hell of a lot harder to compete with a $200 million payroll. And maybe it’s just me, but I have more fun rooting for a team when it’s not so painfully apparent its m.o. is to just go out and try to buy championships; I’m into the smarts and nerve stuff, too. I love baseball because of the way it mirrors life, and sometimes life is unfair. Sometimes Matt Clement gets hit flush in the side of the head with a line drive after being named an All-Star; sometimes David Wells takes a ball off his balky knee the day he comes off a trip to the DL necessitated by his balky knee. And sometimes you break a leg just before you’re supposed to go skiing in the Alps. When that happens, you need to deal with it; you don’t get to go buy a new leg.) I wish August 2006 were more like August 2004, too. But I’m glad the Sox have made some unpopular decisions over the past few years — letting Cliff Floyd walk, signing David Ortiz, trading Nomar. I’m also glad that, come 2008, I won’t be watching a team hamstrung by a bunch of bloated contracts. Could the Sox have made a trade deadline move? Sure. Do I wish they had? Yup. When I think of Timlin, Delcarmen, and Hansen do I say to myself, as Simmons does, “ALL OF THEM SUCK!” Nope. Do I think the plan is to “go to war with a one-man bullpen for the next 10 weeks?” Nope.
Then again, when Hansen and Delcarmen are helping to nail down the playoffs in a year or two, I’ll be watching the games instead of ordering my second venti latte of the day. (How’s that for passive aggresive?)
* Edited after correction by aro13 in comment #42.