March 5th, 2009 → 1:06 pm @ Seth Mnookin
It’s been an eventful off-season: there’s the whole A-Rod ‘roid thing, the just-completed Manny negotiations, and the Yankees $800 trillion signing of Mark Texeria. In honor of all this, let’s–as Phil Lesh used to say–take a step back…and relive some moments from years gone by.
In honor of Scott Boras’s always-entertaining deal-making: an FTM excerpt about Johnny Damon’s dishonest decamping to the Yankees.
In honor of the ever-growing PED scandal: Bill James’s stance on steroids, the possibility of Jose Canseco being a great prophet, and the sheer lunacy of the MLB Players Association stance on drug testing.
And finally, in honor of the most entertaining third-basement playing today: the oft-overlooked connection between A-Rod and Jon Lester and the union’s stupidity vis-a-vis the 2003 A-Rod contract circus.
October 20th, 2007 → 6:57 pm @ Seth Mnookin
I’ve been criticized as of late for not posting with the frequency that you’d imagine the post-season would necessitate…and understandably so. Believe me, it hurts me more than it hurts you. Presently, I’m in San Francisco for a two-part wedding: this morning was the Sikh ceremony; the Hindu part of today’s festivities begins in about an hour. (The fact that I’m here and not in Boston should give some sense of how much I care about said couple.)
To make up for it, here’s a look back at one of the Sneak Peeks I ran back before Feeding the Monster was published. (You know – the bestselling book about the Red Sox. You can buy a copy from Amazon for $10.20 – cheap! – and request a personalized, signed bookplate all in a couple of seconds.) This one details the day after Thanksgiving 2003, when Theo et al were negotiating with Schilling in an effort to convince one of the best postseason pitchers in the history of the game to sign in Boston. The two sides were discussing sundry bonuses…when Curt reminded everyone what this whole thing is all about.
You can read the rest for yourself. I don’t want to spoil the ending. Now, on to Game 6…
February 7th, 2007 → 10:43 am @ Seth Mnookin
Q. It seems like youâ€šÃ„Ã´ve been very high profile with the Red Sox the last couple of years. Does it seem to you like you do a lot of business with Boston or is it just cyclical?
A. I would say we do and we donâ€šÃ„Ã´t. Iâ€šÃ„Ã´m still very surprised the Red Sox did not sign Johnny Damon. That was the one thing I thought for sure that would happen, because I felt it was something that was good for Johnny at the time and good for the team. I reflect back on that negotiation and wonder if there was just more I could do but we really made our best efforts about sharing information. We had four or five face-to-face personal meetings, the calls to ownership, I did the best I could to do that. But with Varitek being there, representing Derek Lowe, and Johnny and now the additions of J.D. and Dice-K, we have some solid communication. Players that we didnâ€šÃ„Ã´t sign there end up doing well and players that we did sign there end up doing well. So, for me, what I cared about was, I kept saying to them, we felt that these players would continue to have very good years in their careers. Boston agreed with us on a couple of fronts, and disagreed with us on others.
(Emphasis added to point out what a total snake Boras is.)
That, as Drezner, along with astute readers of this blog and of Feeding the Monster (available at Amazon for just $17.16. Cheap! And don’t forget, free, signed, personalized bookplates are still available!) know, is a giant load of steaming crap. Boras not only did not do everything he could to keep Damon in Boston (fun with double negatives!), he did almost everything he could to ensure that Damon left Boston. Lies and the lying liars, indeed.
December 15th, 2006 → 12:26 am @ Seth Mnookin
There’s no way you thought you were going to get through a Daisuke day without someone, somewhere, wondering what this all means for Johnny Jesus — you know, the last (big-name) guy to wear #18. (Sorry, Jason and Dustan: you two ain’t big-name.) Thank god, the AP is on the case:
“NEW YORK — Johnny Damon has his own $52 million contract and no regrets that the Boston Red Sox didn’t give him that amount last winter. Boston announced its $52 million, six-year agreement with pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka on Thursday — nearly one year after the Red Sox allowed their center fielder to switch to the New York Yankees for the exact same amount.”
Now, I get asked with some frequency whether or not sports reporters are morons. My usual answer is yes and no: there are plenty of dolts writing about baseball, but there are plenty of dolts writing about politics and international relations and the media, too. But (as commenter vapodge points out),* sports reporting might very well be one of the very few areas in which writers (commentators, whatever) seem to have a fervant desire to remain ignorant.
I’ve tried to make this clear before, but for all the AP reporters and other aggressively clueless folk out there, I’ll try one more time:
THE RED SOX DID NOT LET JOHNNY DAMON WALK FOR $52 MILLION. SCOTT BORAS LIED, POINT BLANK, TO THE SOX ABOUT THE NEGOTIATIONS. I HAVE SEEN THE EMAILS. I HAVE TALKED TO THE MLB EXECUTIVES. I HAVE TALKED WITH PEOPLE IN BASEBALL OPS ON OTHER TEAMS.
I know this won’t seem like anything except another plug for my book, but man, come on already. I’ve been talking to owners around baseball over the last several weeks (for an unrelated project); every single one of them had already read FTM, as has every MLB exec I’ve spoken with. (In fact, some of the MLB execs have recommended it to other people in baseball.) Regardless of what you think about the damn book, if you’re covering the Red Sox or the Yankees, wouldn’t it maybe make sense to read it? If only to see if there are things you might not know about? You know, to help in your, um, reporting?
* Vapodge was objecting to a segment on Dan Patrick’s ESPN show in which he apparently asked Francona about the “$2 million more per year” the Sox would have had to spend to get Damon. Technically, that’s true…except Boras told them they’d need to spend that extra $2 million per for seven straight years! Aaargh! Just read the fucking excerpt. It’s linked above. In big, bright, red, shiny caps.
September 10th, 2006 → 10:32 am @ Seth Mnookin
I’ve been running around a lot the last few days, which has been a mixed blessing — on the one hand, it’s spared me from watching Mike Timlin (or, for that matter, the rest of the Red Sox bullpen) — but it’s also kept me from my normal, obsessive-compulsive posting. (I know: 16 posts in ten days isn’t something to apologize for. Thus: obsessive compulsive.)
So: here are a couple of flashbacks from way back in June. Despite knowing full well the considerable risks involved with writing about Manny, I’ll offer up a June 26th post on the free agent class of 2000 and what it means for Manny’s future with the Sox.
And even though I know no one’s yearning for the 2001, here’s an excerpt from the book that revisits December 20, 2001, the day the Yawkey Trust finally chose the new owners of the Red Sox.
So enjoy. Or, at the very least, distract yourself from 19 losses in the last 25 games.
August 20th, 2006 → 3:51 pm @ Seth Mnookin
“I feel like somebody just kicked my ass. Actually somebody did…That was fucking unbelievable.”
Thus spake David Ortiz in the wake of Friday’s twin killing; one can only imagine what his mood was like after yesterday afternoon’s abomination. Ortiz (putting up monster numbers for the fourth straight year) and Manny Ramirez (putting up monster numbers for the 12th straight year) are far and away the best 3-4 combo in the game; at this point, there’s legitimate debate about whether they’re the best ever.
And right how they’re toiling for a team that appears to be heading quickly down the toilet. There’s a lot of time left in the season, and even after a frighteningly bad stretch, the Red Sox are still only 4.5 games out; a pair of wins tonight and tomorrow will bring them back within 2.5. Admittedly, that doesn’t seem likely. And admittedly, this appears to be a Red Sox team that will miss out on the playoffs for the first time since 2002. Are the Sox squandering one of the last remaining years of Manny and Papi?
Ever since the trade deadline, there’s been a lot of chatter — online, in print, over the airwaves — about the Red Sox’s long-term plan versus a focus on the present. I’m at least partially the cause of (or at fault for, depending on your perspective) this discussion because of a scene in the introduction of my book, where I write about a senior staff meeting the Sox held in the days immediately following last year’s playoff loss to the White Sox. In that meeting, Theo Epstein spoke frankly about the future of the organization. “In general, we’ve had a lot of success in player development,” he said. “We’re going to need a lot of patience, because there’s going to be a lot of failure. It could get rough. … Sooner or later we might need to take a half a step backward in return for a step forward. … What if we win 85 games [next year]? We’re bringing up some young players that are going to be better in ’07 than they will be next year. And they’ll probably be even better than that in ’08. … We can be both a large revenue club [that can afford to sign high priced free agents] and have a strong farm system. But it’s probably not going to be a seamless transition. This year we had a great year. We will probably be worse next year.”
In my book, Epstein’s comments — made less than a month before he walked out of Fenway in a gorilla suit — are offset against those made by Larry Lucchino. This scene has been interpreted as Epstein throwing in the towel for 2006 and Lucchino wanting to go for it year after year.
That’s not accurate. Epstein and Lucchino were both, in their own ways, discussing the team’s approach to dealing with the public, not its approach to dealing with the team. That hasn’t changed much: take advantage of what you have, don’t mortgage the future, search out possible bargains, and spend big money when you find someone worth it. This Sox administration has always been willing to trade its prospects so long as it felt like the deal made sense — it was Jon Lester, after all, who was set to go to Texas along with Manny during the week or so in which it looked as if A-Rod would be playing in Boston. And last month it was Lester (along with Coco Crisp) who would have gone to Atlanta for Andruw Jones.
What’s more, it’s hard to look objectively at this year and see a team that had decided to throw in the towel. The 2006 Red Sox have a $120 million payroll. Among this year’s new acquisitions, there’s Mike Lowell, a $9 million third baseman. The Sox spent $5.5 for two middle relievers, and a combined $6 million for a shortstop and second baseman. That, right there, is higher than the Florida Marlins payroll, and more than half of that of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Instead of Mike Lowell, Alex Gonzalez, Mark Loretta, and Kevin Youkilis — a $15 million infield — the Sox could have had Andy Marte, Hanley Ramirez, Dustin Pedroia, and Youkilis — a $1.25 million infield (slightly more if you factor in the money the Sox sent to Atlanta in the Renteria-Marte deal). Instead of Rudy Seanez and Julian Tavarez, the Sox could have begun the season with Sanchez and Hansen, for a savings of about $5.5 million. Instead of Beckett, they could have begun the year with a rotation of Schilling, Wakefield, Clement, Wells, and Papelbon, with Foulke out there as the closer, Lenny DiNardo as a backup starter, and Arroyo sent packing for Wily Mo Pena, who would have been the team’s full-time center fielder. That, my friends, would have been a rebuilding year.
Instead — and despite the fact that the Sox were basically held together in 2005 by spit, luck, Damon, Ortiz, and Ramirez — Boston made a series of moves it thought would both allow the team to compete in 2006 and compete down the road. (I’m not going to argue the Damon non-signing again. The Sox couldn’t have re-signed Damon unless they’d offered him a seven-year deal. And I still think within a year or two we’ll all be glad Johnny’s not picking up his annual $13 million check from Yawkey Way.)
So what happened? Well, where do you want to start? Jason Varitek hit like a shell of his former self; then he got injured. Trot Nixon hit for less power than at any point in his career; then he got injured. Matt Clement, David Wells, Tim Wakefield, and Keith Foulke all spent (or are spending) serious time on the DL. Coco Crisp got injured and had a harder time adjusting to Boston than was predicted. Mike Timlin got injured and stopped looking like an ultra-durable 33-year old and started looking more like the 40-year old he actually is. Seanez and Tavarez were both busts. That’s a whole mess of crappy luck. The real mystery isn’t why the Sox are sucking right now; the real mystery is how they managed to do so well for so long with so much going wrong.
But back to the trade deadline. Let’s say the Sox had pulled off one of the blockbuster deals that was being discussed. Let’s say they’d acquired Roy Oswalt. Or Andruw Jones. They’d both be worth between 7 and 8 win shares for the two months remaining in the season — and that could, potentially, be enough to make up for the lost ground with the Yankees. Except these were trades, and in most iterations of these trades, the Sox would be losing Crisp, Lester, and perhaps another player. Lester and Crisp are projected to be worth between 7 and 8 win shares each over the season’s final two months…which leaves a net gain of zero. Having Andruw Jones in center would undoubtedly have made the Red Sox a better team…but the rotation would still be relying on two guys closer to AARP membership than they are to their teenage years, and the non-Papelbon bullpen would still be frighteningly shoddy. Oswalt would have bolstered the rotation, to be sure…but he wouldn’t have done anything about the relief, and wouldn’t have done anything to help bolster the offense. This is, after all, a team that yesterday relied on Javy Lopez for protection after Manny drew a couple of intentional passes.
How about Bobby Abreu, whom the Yankees picked up for chump change (in terms of what they had to give up)? As Gordon Edes and Nick Cafardo pointed out in yesterday’s Globe, Abreu would have cost the Sox $27.7 million for a season and a third. That’s a lot of cake. Instead, they got Eric Hinske for a little less than a season and a third at a cost of just over $4 million. Last year, Abreu had 17 win shares; Hinske had 12. And if twenty million dollars can only get you a net gain of five win shares, you’re not spending your money wisely. (A quick aside: the Sox haven’t made a decision to forego high-priced free-agents; to the contrary, they’ve decided that in order to cough up the money for truly valuable free-agents — those in their late 20′s as opposed to their late 30′s — they need to spend their money wisely.)
I’m not saying win shares are the be all and end all of evaluating players; like every metric, it’s flawed. Clearly the Sox thought straight up deals of Crisp and Lester for Jones or Crisp and Lester for Oswalt were worth it: they would have pulled the trigger on either one of those. But start throwing in other young pitchers in their first year of MLB service, and a good deal becomes a bad one.
On October 27, 2004 — you remember that day, right? — John Henry, Tom Werner, and Larry Lucchino sat in a hotel suite in St. Louis. “We don’t really want to go for it in any particular year,” Henry told me. “We want to be competitive every single year. Larry thinks we can expect to make the playoffs eight out of 10 years. I feel like we can do 10 out of 10.”
I asked what the difference was between going for broke one year and staying competitive every year.
“You’ve got to keep your eyes on both goals,” Lucchino said. “You canâ€šÃ„Ã´t go for broke without some longer term perspective and you canâ€šÃ„Ã´t have a longer term perspective, particularly in Boston, without some kind of annual focus on getting to the postseason. We have to operate on both dimensions every year, and I think we have. Thereâ€šÃ„Ã´s a lot of focus on what weâ€šÃ„Ã´ve done at the major league level and our post-season success and all that but if you look below the surface, weâ€šÃ„Ã´ve had a pretty good couple of drafts the last couple of years. And commitments to player development.”
That was Lucchino talking, not Epstein. It’s true that Epstein warned of the possibility of needing to take half a step back before the team could take a step forward…but not because he was advocating that. He was advocating a more tempered public relations approach. The Red Sox have been on the verge of an aging team for several years; all things considered, they’ve managed to make that transition pretty gracefully.
As of late, I’ve been accused of being an apologist for the Red Sox administration. I understand where that comes from — in Boston, anyone who doesn’t turn into Chicken Little is accused of being an apologist. But the fact that I understand where the Red Sox are coming from does not mean I think they’ve executed their plans brilliantly. I’m no baseball scout, so I won’t try to pretend to know what to look for when it comes to evaluating pitchers. I do know this administration has a mixed record (at best) of picking up pitching talent. There are obviously reasons (beyond the 2003 World Series; Mark Bellhorn had a great 2004 World Series and no one’s throwing cash at him) the Sox felt Josh Beckett was worth $30 million. I don’t know what they are, and the past month has made me wonder if any of us will ever know. The failure of Seanez and Tavarez this year would be easier to take if it hadn’t been preceded by the failure of a lot of other middle relievers the Sox thought might succeed, from Matt Mantei to Chad Bradford to Ramiro Medonza…the list goes on.
This season has been hard to stomach, but I understand what’s going on: shitty luck plus aging players is no recipe for success. I also understand why it didn’t make sense to go all in this year: all in still likely wouldn’t beat the Tigers or the Yankees. If, in a year, Beckett’s ERA is still hovering around 6.00 and the young guns in the bullpen are still coughing up runs, I’ll be more upset, both at the time and for the future. After all, we only have two more years of Papi and Manny anchoring the middle of the batting order.
July 10th, 2006 → 9:09 am @ Seth Mnookin
This is the fifth (and last) in an occasional series of Sneak Peeks from Feeding the Monster. The section below takes place in December 2005, after Theo Epstein had quit as general manager of the Red Sox (and before he returned to the team this past January) and the Sox were negotiating with Johnny Damon’s agent, Scott Boras. You can read the rest of the book starting tomorrow, when it’ll be available in bookstores everywhere.
The situation remained stalled through much of December. By December 20, John Henry and Boras were in direct communication. Now Boras said Damon had a six-year deal ‘on the table,’ but was willing to stay with the Red Sox if they offered him five years because he loved the city and the team so much. Then, later that evening, Boras told Henry and [Red Sox assistant GM] Jed Hoyer that there was another ‘hot’ deal on the table, this one for $13 million a year for five years, totaling $65 million. The Sox had already agreed among themselves that they’d be willing to go up to at least $11 million a year for four years, but even that figure totaled some $21 million less than what Boras told the team Damon was being offered. We can’t, Henry told Boras, go that high.
That night, word began to trickle out that Damon was signing with the Yankees. This had been a scenario the Red Sox had been prepared forâ€šÃ„Ã®back in September, Henry, Epstein, and assistant general manager Josh Byrnes had discussed how Damon could very well end up in the Bronx because of New York’s desperate need for a reliable center fielder. The Yankees, it seemed, where the mystery team who had offered the five-year, $65 million contract. But when the details of the deal finally emerged, the Red Sox were shocked to learn that Damon had signed only a four-year deal worth $13 million a year, for a total of $52 million. Damon later said he would have stayed in Boston for $11.5 million a year, just $500,000 less annually than the Red Sox had already agreed they were willing to pay him.
It turns out that Johnny Damon never had a firm six-year offer from any team, as Scott Boras had repeatedly told the Red Sox. A high-ranking official in Major League Baseball’s central office, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that as far as officials who’d been in contact with every team in baseball could tell, Damon had never even received a solid five-year offer. To Boras, any effort to weaken the bonds of loyalty a player felt to his old team would mean the possibility of more lucrative contracts. Players had traditionally been hesitant to cross the Rubicon from Boston to New York; even Damon had said just months earlier that there was ‘no way’ he could play for the Yankees even thought he knew they were ‘going to come after [him] hard.’ If Boras could orchestrate it so that Johnny Damon, one of the most popular players on one of the most popular Red Sox teams in history, switched sides, what other players might be willing to do so in the future? And how much higher might player salaries go if agents could regularly get the Yankees to bid for Red Sox free agents, and vice versa?