March 15th, 2007 → 11:50 am @ Seth Mnookin
As previously noted, this is not the first time that an opt-out clause in A-Rod’s contract has garnered attention: it was that very clause that ended up being, in a roundabout way, the sticking point in the Sox-Rangers deal that would have moved A-Rod to Boston and Manny to Texas. Obviously, it’s way too late to be running sneak peeks from Feeding the Monster (although if you missed them, there are lots of interesting ones, as well as other excerpts from the book, over here. And don’t forget, FTM is available from Amazon for only $17.16 (cheap!) and, as always, free, signed, personalized bookplates are still available. (Virtual) operates are standing by!). So what should we call this. A post-peak? Whatever it is, here’s a section of the book detailing the breakdown of those ’03-’04 talks.
That period is especially interesting in retrospect. As you’ll see below, players union head Gene Orza rejected the Sox’s offer of those opt-outs in return for shaving about $4 mil/year off of A-Rod’s salary because Orza thought that offer was essentially worthless; after all no one had signed a $20 million deal since those crazy days of 2000-2001. Well, folks, crazy days are here again, and with Gary Matthews getting $50 million deals, who out there doesn’t think A-Rod could add to his bottom line should he actually end up doing a whole new deal after this season? What’s more, it was these negotiations that started the breakdown in Theo’s and Larry’s relationship. Good times! (And: an interesting footnote to all this: Jon Lester was the pitching prospect who was going to be thrown into the deal.) Without further throat-clearing:
“By mid December, newspapers around the country were reporting that a Rangers-Red Sox deal was all but completed. Boston would send Manny Ramirez (as well as some cash to help pay out the $98 million still owed him) and minor league pitcher Jon Lester to the Rangers. The Rangers would send Rodriguez to the Sox, and Rodriguez, in return for getting the chance to play for a contender, would reduce the annual value of the years left on his deal. A corollary deal would send Garciaparra to the Chicago White Sox for outfielder Magglio Ordonez.
And that was supposed to be that. Garciaparraâ€šÃ„Ã´s teammates readied themselves for a new shortstop, a prospect that they were frankly looking forward to. ‘When youâ€šÃ„Ã´re talking about a guy whoâ€šÃ„Ã´s going to be a leader and be the face of the organization, thatâ€šÃ„Ã´s Alex Rodriguez,’ Kevin Millar said on December 16th on ESPN. ‘Manny leads in the batterâ€šÃ„Ã´s box and Nomar prepares himself to play hard everyday but youâ€šÃ„Ã´re talking about a leader in Alex Rodriguezâ€šÃ„Â¶. I mean, A-Rodâ€šÃ„Ã´s the best in the game.’
Because of the high profiles of the players and the enormous sums of money involved, officials at Major League Baseball and the Playerâ€šÃ„Ã´s Association, the union for professional baseball players, had joined in the discussions even before a deal had been finalized. Gene Orza, a top union official, had given Rodriguez the requisite permission needed for Rodriguez to discuss a restructuring of his contract with the Red Sox. According to an article by The Boston Globeâ€šÃ„Ã´s Gordon Edes, Orza also called a top official in Major League Baseballâ€šÃ„Ã´s central office and said, ‘I want you to get word to Larry [Lucchino] that weâ€šÃ„Ã´ll do everything within our power to get this thing doneâ€šÃ„Ã®itâ€šÃ„Ã´s great for baseball and we love Alexâ€šÃ„Ã®but I hope Larry doesnâ€šÃ„Ã´t abuse the process, as he is wont to do.’ Soon after, Lucchino and Orza had a conversation in which Orza reminded Lucchino that any reduction in the average annual value in a playerâ€šÃ„Ã´s contract needed to be offset by some other ‘added benefit’ which the player received.
The Red Sox and Rodriguez ended up working out a deal in which Rodriguez would cut approximately $4 million a year off the last seven years of his deal in return for some licensing rights and the ability to declare free agency at different points during the remaining years of his contract (emphasis added for the purpose of this post). When the two sides presented the deal to Orza, he was dumbfounded. No one had signed a contract for as much as $20 million in years, Orza said. The made the offer of free agency essentially worthlessâ€šÃ„Ã®there was no way Rodriguez would ever sign a more lucrative contract again. Orza made a counter-proposal he said the union would be able to accept, in which the Red Sox would save a total of about $12 million instead of $28 million. The Red Sox initially rejected Orzaâ€šÃ„Ã´s figure, but both sides assumed theyâ€šÃ„Ã´d keep working towards a compromise.
Then, on the same night in which Orza had presented his proposal, Larry Lucchino issued a statement. ‘It is a sad day when the Players Association thwarts the will of its members,’ Lucchino said. ‘The Players Association asserts that it supports individual negotiations, freedom of choice, and player mobility. However, in this high-profile instance, their action contradicts this and is contrary to the desires of the player. We appreciate the flexibility and determination Alex and Cynthia Rodriguez have shown in their effort to move to Boston and the Red Sox.’
The move was typical of Lucchinoâ€šÃ„Ã´s career. Despite his unprecedented record as a CEO and despite the high esteem in which his many admirers held him, Lucchino had a hair-trigger sense of being slighted and often seemed to be spoiling for a fight. Heâ€šÃ„Ã´d been a union adversary for years. If Orza was being difficult to spite him, Lucchino wasnâ€šÃ„Ã´t going to back down. But by trying to create the impression of a rift between the union and Rodriguez, baseballâ€šÃ„Ã´s highest paid player, Lucchino actually made it less likely Rodriguez would make a stand about the issue. And now, not only was Orza angry, but Rodriguez, according to people close to him, was upset, both that Lucchino would give the impression he was speaking for Rodriguez and that Lucchino would draw Rodriguezâ€šÃ„Ã´s wife Cynthia into the picture. Rangersâ€šÃ„Ã´ owner Tom Hicks was annoyed as well, and within days, the Boston newspapers were reporting that Lucchino had been pulled off of the A-Rod negotiations and that Tom Werner had taken over.
Lucchino characterizes what happened differently. ‘I was frustrated,’ he says, talking both about the union negotiations and his efforts to get Hicks to reduce the amount of money he was asking for to augment Manny Ramirezâ€šÃ„Ã´s salary. ‘At one point, I was talking to Tom and John and I said, ‘One of you guys should try to talk to [Hicks], maybe youâ€šÃ„Ã´ll have better luck.’ And Tom said, â€šÃ„Ã²Iâ€šÃ„Ã´ll call him.” John Henry agrees with Lucchinoâ€šÃ„Ã´s assessment. ‘Larry went for Christmas to see his mother in Pittsburgh,’ Henry says. ‘We didnâ€šÃ„Ã´t send him out of town. Tom still tried to get the deal going, but it wasnâ€šÃ„Ã´t like weâ€šÃ„Ã´d lost faith in Larry.’ In the coming weeks, there would be various attempts to resurrect a dealâ€šÃ„Ã®all to no avail. By January, the Rangers and the Red Sox had ceased discussions.”
December 15th, 2006 → 12:38 am @ Seth Mnookin
Buried at the end of today’s hilariously translated (and transcribed) press conference is this very telling quote:
LARRY LUCCHINO: “We have a few closing comments we with like to make, they are really addressed to the new Japanese members of Red Sox Nation, two or three things. First, I’d like to repeat what our general manager said at the beginning, and that is that we recognize the player that we have obtained and we will treat him with the respect and courtesy that he has earned.
Secondly, we recognize that as he’s within described, he is a national treasure. We had a national treasure here, as well. It’s called Fenway Park, and we invite, warmly, the members of the Japanese baseball world to come to visit Fenway Park, to visit Boston, to visit the great New England region. We look forward to their participation in Red Sox nation. Thirdly I would say to our friends in Japan and throughout the entire Japanese baseball world, this is a long term commitment. This is in a short, one stop, one shot venture. Our plan, our hope is to be active in Japan and expand our presence. We are proud to have Hideki Okajima joining the team this year, and we think these two young men are beginnings of a long term relationship with Japan and the Japanese baseball world and we proudly look forward to that.”
Lucchino did not go on to say, “And thirdly, it might have cost us $103 million to get your national treasure but it’s gonna cost you $12 per person to take a tour of our treasure, and we run those tours every hour on the hour seven days a week. Oh, and also, unlike international TV deals or merchandise sales that get split evenly among the 30 clubs, that’s not dough we need to share with anybody else. Did I mention it’s a national treasure? And that Daisuke will be pitching here? That’s right: 12 bucks a head.”
(Note: I’m all for new revenue streams. I love me some new revenue streams. It’s why I’ll be able to watch Matsuzaka pitch in Fenway next year. I also love calling a spade a spade. Or, as Freud would say to Dora, un chat un chat.)
December 14th, 2006 → 12:18 pm @ Seth Mnookin
(Note: I’m on a PC. I hate PC’s. For some reason, most of the links I put in aren’t working, so you’ll need to navigate around and find the articles I’m referring to on your own.)
It’s true: I made it to Boston. And waking up at 6 to get to the airport is about as physical as I’m getting today.
So…some more notes on the…now wait: what’s the big story around here? Ah, yes:Â¬â€ D-Mat. (I will use every known nickname before the day is done.) Pretty much everyone, Jack Curry in the Times to the Herald’s Tony Mass to Nick Cafardo in the Globe to Gammo himselfÂ¬â€ is saying the Sox got the best of Boras in these negotiations.
On the first hand, that’s clearly true: if the reports are correct and the Sox’s initial offer was somewhere around $6-7 mil for 4 years, $8.7 mil for 6 years is a lot closer to that than the $15-$20 mil for 6 years Boras was looking for. On the next hand, the Sox, on some level, had Boras over a barrel. Zak really couldn’t have returned to Japan (well, he could have, but not without losing so much face he would have needed a face transplant), and despite the late-in-the-game posturing from Boras about Daisuke wanting “respect,” the good folks of Seibu would not have considered $8 million a year disrespectful. (I spoke with Bobby Valentine on Tuesday about an unrelated matter, and he said that the negotiations would be tough but there was no way his players would be facing the Diceman next year.)
But on the third hand, the Sox clearly won this game of chicken, and they did it by showing the type of single-mindedness and determination that’s marked the best days of this front office. Over Thanksgiving 2003, Theo and Larry both went to Curt’s house in Arizona, which showed Schilling how serious they were and also made it clear everyone was on the same page. The same thing happened here. That can only be seen as a good sign. Whatever rifts remain between those two — and rifts do remain — they’re showing they can work together.
There’ll be plenty more to chew on as the day progresses: the $203 mil (or so) the Sox have committed to three players, blowing away every team save for the Cubs look; the reality that Fenway (and particularly the Fenway press box) is about to be overrun by Japanese tourists and reporters…and the question of how, exactly, the Sox will cash in on extra revenue. Hint: It won’t be through TV deals (which I think are worked out with MLB, meaning the Sox would only see 1/30 of that money) or through merch sales (ditto).
OK: I’m late for the Pru.
December 7th, 2006 → 9:40 am @ Seth Mnookin
Jenny — if that really is her name — raised a question in the Johnny Jesus post below. To wit:
“Seth, can you clarify the Josh Beckett deal for me? The way I understand what you wrote about it in the book, it was railroaded through by Lucchino in an attempt to shift media and fan attention away from internal problems in the wake of Theoâ€šÃ„Ã´s resignation. This was done over the objection of several baseball ops guys, specifically Jed Hoyer. Given the close relationship between Jed and Theo and thus the probable similarity in their viewpoints, I have been assuming all year that had Theo still been GM, that trade would not have occurred. Is this your take? Every time I try to advance this view to others, they call me a ballwashing Theo apologist or something of that ilk. One sportswriter (Bill Madden?) even wrote in all seriousness that the trade was Theoâ€šÃ„Ã´s fault because he was â€šÃ„Ãºin the building.â€šÃ„Ã¹ Some help here? I know itâ€šÃ„Ã´s not Damon-related, but that section of the book was really self-explanatory.”
I’d say that’s an oversimplifaction, but an oversimplification that has some connection to what went down. I wrote in the book that “Hoyer, in constant communication with Epstein, had been wary about making the trade, but Lucchino had been eager to get it done”; I go on to quote someone with an ownership stake in the team to say that people with the long-term interests of the club were advocating holding off and people who wanted to shift focus away from the front office fiasco wanted it to go down.
And that’s all I said on the matter, out of both space concerns and because at the time I wrote that (back in April) it was unclear, to say the least, how that signing would turn out.* That certainly was true: Larry was the trade’s largest advocate; he got most of the credit; it occurred at a time when the daily headlines were full of “this is as bad as it has been since the days of the Duke” type stories. But there wasn’t a Larry camp that was completely gung-ho and a Jed-Ben-Theo camp that was completely opposed. Instead, it was more of a 60-40/40-60 deal, meaning those in favor of making it were in favor of it 60-40 and those opposed were opposed 40-60. What’s more, those opposed were more worried about Josh’s shoulder than anything else…and that turned out not to be much of a concern.
Hope that’s a little more clear.
* In speaking with a senior member of the baseball ops staff late in the season (i.e., well after the point at which it became clear that Beckett’s season wasn’t going to be all we’d hoped), said staff member said he wasn’t worried about Beckett’s long-term success because a. he’s young, b. he’s had big-time success before, and c. there’s a natural adjustment period for any young player. I don’t know as much about baseball as the baseball ops staff — to say the least — but I was concerned, and that was mainly because his fastball is as straight as John Wayne and he seemed perpetually concerned about throwing breaking stuff. But we’ll see.
December 2nd, 2006 → 1:05 pm @ Seth Mnookin
If I was, say, a beat writer looking for something to write about, this might be one place to start:
“‘Media availability,’ which results in a coach or general manager saying nothing about everything, is a waste of everyone’s time. Bill Belichick is the master of the genre (except for those times when he lets his guard down and seems to enjoy teaching a little football) and Theo Epstein is the latest local practitioner. Congrats to Bob Ryan for calling Theo out on this earlier this week.”
“Piecing it all together”
By Dan Shaughnessy
The Boston Globe
December 2, 2006
“Back from his fact-finding/Matsuzaka-signing mission in Japan, Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino sat down at Fenway Park last night and discussed three pivotal team issues in the winter of 2006-07.”
“Lucchino Hits on Three Hot Topics”
by Dan Shaughnessy
The Boston Globe
December 2, 2006
“There was no airing of company secrets by Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein on the conference call he held yesterday in advance of his trip Sunday to Orlando, Fla., for the winter meetings, not that there should have been any expectations Epstein would use such a forum to do so.”
“Epstein Mum on Sox Deals”
By Gordon Edes
The Boston Globe
December 2, 2006
So let’s review:
* A year after Theo Epstein left the Red Sox in no small part because of his sense of the team’s (and Larry Lucchino’s) inability to stay out of the media — a sense which was epitomized by a Dan Shaughnessy column deriding Epstein — Shaughnessy writes a column dering Epstein. For not talking to him.
* That same day, Shaugnessy writes another story in which Larry offers up some sound bites about Matsuzaka, J.D. Drew, and Manny — innocuous soundbites, to be sure — but soundbites all the same.
* At virtually the same time, Theo was on a conference call “refusing to comment on trade talks involving Manny Ramirez or the impending signing of free agent outfielder J.D. Drew.”
Could Shaughnessy just be stirring up trouble? Sure. Could this be an early sign of another fault line in what’s already being described by club officials and top executives as an uneasy truce? Absolutely.
Yeah, it should be an interesting offseason.
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.
August 1st, 2006 → 10:30 am @ Seth Mnookin
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, Iâ€šÃ„Ã´d say go talk to Josh. Heâ€šÃ„Ã´s going to be a great GM. Iâ€šÃ„Ã´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: “Theoâ€šÃ„Ã´s view on Pedro was wrong. I donâ€šÃ„Ã´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.