Yesterday, the Rookie of the Year awards were announced. In the AL, Jonathan Papelbon lost out to Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander, which isn’t much of a surprise; Papelbon had a great year but also got injured, while Verlander will likely get some Cy Young consideration, pitched 118 more innings (186 to 68.3), and was a lychpin of a pennant-winning team’s rotation. (It’s interesting to note that Verlander was the second overall pick in 2004; Paps was taken in the fourth round of 2003.) Of course, that’s not all the Red Sox-related RoY news: former Sox prospect Hanley Ramirez won the NL’s award.
Hanley’s award isn’t going to dampen criticism of the front office. Ramirez, who was traded to the Marlins along with Anibal Sanchez for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell, made $327,000 this year, while Sanchez made less; Lowell and Beckett combined made about $13 million more in combined salaries. I’ve relied on the Sox’s desire to both get younger and gain more flexibility as an argument in favor of all sorts of Red Sox moves (trading for Coco instead of finding a way to re-sign Johnny, for instance), and, on its face, this trade seems to be an example of the exact opposite strategy.
I’ve also argued that the unique pressures of playing in Boston make being a rookie in Florida a lot different from being a rookie on the Red Sox. Would Fenway have gone into revolt if Hanley had hit below the Mendoza line for a full month, as he did for the Marlins (.190 in June)? Would Ramirez, who hit .235 versus the AL East (12 for 51), had as much success playing in the exponentially more difficult American League? For that matter, would Sanchez, who twirled a no hitter, have had a breakout year?
In September, I took both sides of this argument on successive days. (Part one of that schizophrenic debate was an excuse to talk about the Sox’s scouting department, which has gone through a considerable makeover recently.) And today? Well…I’m not sure. I do think playing in Boston is unique; on the other hand, I also see merit in the argument that if a player can’t deal with some booing by the time he reaches the majors, he’s gonna have a tough time making it…an argument that more than one members of the Sox’s baseball ops office have made to me.
I still see the rationale for last winter’s trade, which at the time was said to be one of the difference-making moves of the offseason; I also remain resolute in my belief that whatever the Red Sox happen to be doing, they’re doing it for a good reason. (That said, the Beckett trade occurred during the peak of last year’s Theo’s-gone-the-Sox-are-in-total-turmoil period, which means that a) it’s hard to use it as being representative of what the baseball ops team would have done in a vacuum and b) the notion that the move was in part an effort to distract the locals from the controversy-du-jour has to be taken into consideration. I discuss this trade — and the various possibilities therein — in the book.) Still, the totality of the team’s moves — this trade, jettisoning Arroyo (and Andy Marte and Kelly Shoppach), losing out on Damon because of what likely was a lack of aggressiveness, undervaluing and overvaluing Doug Mirabelli in the same year — will need to be considered…at some point down the road.
And by down the road, I don’t mean next month. Pedro’s defection to the Mets is a perfect example of why it’s impossible (and sometimes dishonest) to make grand pronouncements about this or that trade or free-agent signing before the totality of the decision’s repercussions have been felt, which means, just like we’ll need to wait until 2007 to fully evaluate not re-signing Pedro (a decision which a looks pretty good right about now), we’ll need to wait until 2009 to make a full reckoning of this move.
That said, the early grades on this year’s Hot Stove moves would have to give the Yankees the edge, regardless of what happens with Matsuzaka: so far, New York has essentially gotten four pitchers for free: Chris Britton, who came to New York for the $4 million the Yankees would have had to pay to buy out Jaret Wright’s contract; and former Tigers pitching prospects Humberto Sanchez, Kevin Whelan and Anthony Claggett, who will be outfitted in pinstripes after a smart option-and-trade of Gary Sheffield. (If the Tigers recent success in developing pitching talent is any indication, this could end up being a huge move a couple of years hence. And even if none of these three pan out, New York has restocked its minor league system.)
So, there you have it. A post without a clear argument on one side or the other. Like I said, food for thought.