September 5th, 2007 → 11:09 am @ Seth Mnookin
I try not to respond to bait from those current (or former) Boston reporters who, for whatever reason, seem to have a bone to pick with the fact that I was the person who wrote the behind-the-scenes book on the Sox’s recent history…but I do feel compelled to correct one glaring inaccuracy in Howard Bryant’s recent ESPN.com column. In a column purportedly about…well, I’m actually not entirely sure what it’s about, but in said column, Bryant includes this paragraph:
“Henry, Werner and Lucchino needed validation for their collective erudition. In 2005 — in apparent response to Michael Lewis’ runaway bestseller ‘Moneyball’ — they commissioned a journalist, presumably for posterity, to chronicle their daily routines, management style and approach to the business of baseball, a behind-the-scenes, special features companion disc to the DVD that was the regular season.”
Since I actually know what I’m talking about here, l want to point out that every single statement in that graf is incorrect. I wasn’t commissioned to write Feeding the Monster; I pitched the book to my agent, we put together a proposal, and I hammered out a arrangement with the Sox that dictated the terms of my access. They didn’t come to me to propose the book; they didn’t commission anything; they had no editorial control over the final product; and no money between myself and the team ever exchanged hands. What’s more, I have no idea what any of that has to do with Moneyball…but whatever.
Maybe this shouldn’t bother me; as the good folks at Sons of Sam Horn recently pointed out, Bryant can be a little bit imprecise with his facts. (The example above is about a column titled “Mussina, Schilling being stalked by mortality” in which Bryant referred to Schilling’s recent loss to the Yankees as a game in which Curt “was beaten 5-0″; in fact, Curt gave up 2 runs in seven innings in what was eventually a 5-0 loss. What’s more, comparing a guy who recently took a one-hitter into the ninth and who has a 4 ERA and a 4-1 K/BB ratio to a guy who lost his starting job, has a 5.50 ERA, and less than a 3-1 K/BB ratio also seems kind of silly…) But as someone whose first book was about media ethics, I bristle at the notion of my being in financial cahoots with the subject of anything I happen to be writing about.
December 13th, 2006 → 12:30 pm @ Seth Mnookin
ESPN says that the Herald is reporting the Sox and Boras are about $3 million apart — the Sox are at $8 million per, Boras is asking for $11 million per — on a deal that’s supposed to be in the four-to-six year range. (I can’t find Michael Silverman’s Herald report — although the Globe is also acknowledging Silverman in its latest dispatch — or I’d link directly to that.) At the high end (in terms of years), that’s a differnce of about $18 million; if you add on the luxury tax and assume that’ll be somewhere around 40 percent of the Sox, the total figure is a bit over $25 million. At most, this should figure to be about 2.8% of the Red Sox’s annual payroll (if you include the luxury tax, although this would also add some money to the projected $150 million payroll…but whatever. You get the picture).
There are lots of ways you could look at this. The Sox, as many people are sure to point out if the deal falls apart, paid the Braves more than $3 million a year to take Edgar Renteria off their hands. Three million is about a third of what Matt Clement’s making a year. It’s approximatelty 20 percent of J.D. Drew’s annual salary. Etc.
All that’s all valid, but it’s also kind of besides the point. That kind of thinking can rapidly lead to profligacy. One of the Red Sox’s models has been to decide what a player’s worth and not pay above that amount; if you give everyone a couple of million bucks more than you think they deserve, you’ll end up with an out-of-control payroll. (The A-Rod deal, after all, fell apart over a similar amount of money. Well, a similar amount of money and Larry Lucchino’s squabbles with the players association. If you want to know more…yep, it’s in the book.
On the other hand, the marginal value of any one player to the Red Sox is potentially more than it is to a team like, say, the Royals…who are about as likely to make the playoffs as Paris Hilton is to win the Nobel Prize in physics. A win or two could be the difference between an October full of playoff games and an October full of finger-pointing. What’s more, the psychological impact of going all out on RSN is huge.
If Boras is really asking for $11 million at this point — and who knows if that’s truly the case; he was said to be asking for $15-$20 million per — then I think more than ever it’ll happen. But if it doesn’t, I’m not sure where the public’s reaction will fall; already Bob Ryan is saying the Sox should know what they were getting into while Nick Cafardo says Boras is batshit insane. (That’s not a direct quote.)
When this is all done with, I’ll have some more observations about Henry’s, Lucchino’s, and Epstein’s negotiating styles…at least as I observed them last year.
December 12th, 2006 → 12:10 am @ Seth Mnookin
Well, what did we learn from Scott Boras’s non-newsy news conference and the attendant coverage?
* Boras has threatened to take Daisuke Matsuzaka home to Japan if the Sox don’t budge in their negotiations, effectively ending any chance at a deal even if Thursday’s deadline hasn’t passed. (DK would presumably need to take a physical for any deal to go through.)
* Boras also referred to Daisuke as “Fort Knox” and said he’s worth in excess of $100 million. Shoot, who does he think he is: Carlos Lee?
* Lou Melendez, MLB’s VP of international relations, nixed any of the other scenarios by which Dice could pitch in the majors this year — by Boras buying out the Lions; by divine intervention, by Nippon Professional Baseball spontaneously combusting.
* There seems to be a growing consensus — raised on ESPN.com by Jim Allen, who covers baseball for Japan’s The Daily Yomiuri and echoed by Jack Curry in the Times article above — that it would incredibly difficult for Matsuzaka to return to Japan if he was rejecting, say, a $10 million-a-year deal. “If the sheer embarrassment of the nation’s hero being thrown back like an undersized trout is not enough to spark a showdown between Red Sox Nation and Japan,” Allen writes, “the fact that Japan’s loss of tax revenue would be 2.4 billion yen ($20.65 million), just might do it. Although Boras might think nothing of causing an international incident of these proportions, Matsuzaka is unlikely to be a party to it.”
Yup…it’s gonna be a fun couple of days. If this all feels familiar…well, that’s because it is. Somehow, the buttoned-down, press-shy Red Sox have found themselves smack dab in the middle of more imbroglios than any other team over the last several years. Way back in ’03, there was the Kevin Millar incident, making Millar surely the least consequential person ever to threaten relations between two superpowers. That same offseason brought the minute-by-minute machinations of the A-Rod to Boston, Manny to Texas, Nomar to Chicago, Magglio to Boston, etc., etc., deal. That had to be the most covered non-event in baseball history; a couple of months later, Brian Cashman somehow managed to orchestrate a trade for A-Rod to play for the world’s best known baseball team — you know, the one that plays in the country’s biggest media market — with nary a leak.
There’ve been the semi-annual Manny trade talks. (Manny’s not the only $20-million-plus superstar who was thought to be on the block…but we haven’t heard much about A-Rod, have we?) There was last year’s exceedingly public Theo-Larry blow-up/blow-out. (Cashman, to be sure, hasn’t had an easy time dealing with the Boss…but we haven’t heard much about that, either.) And now there’s Dice-K.
In a postscript to the paperback edition of Moneyball, Michael Lewis rails against the club of baseball insiders that set the games orthodoxy. At one point, Lewis writes, “It can never fully escape the larger culture that supports it.” He was talking about…well, never mind what he was talking about, but it strikes me that that’s a problem that’s going on with the Sox. To varying extents, the entire front office believes that it can succeed by both outworking and outsmarting the competition; no one thinks this is true as much as John Henry and Theo Epstein. In many, very creative ways, these guys are working to blow up accepted notions — not only of how to evaluate talent, but of how to do business, of how to construct a team, of how to relate to the entire game. That might work in the abstract, but sometimes I wonder if there’s not enough acceptance of the fact that the Red Sox are part of the larger baseball culture; that’s the world they’re trying to succeed in. Every trade doesn’t need to be the most clever; every negotiation doesn’t need to be won. Some, in fact, just need to be concluded.
In many ways, Scott Boras is an agent built from this same mold. He consistently gets much more money for his clients than anyone other team was willing to bid (see: Rodriguez, Alex…and maybe Drew, J.D.). He doesn’t have a lot of time for the accepted practices of the profession (he’s already making noises about suing to free Matsuzaka from the posting system, although it’s a bit unclear who’d be the subject of such a lawsuit).
In a worst case scenario, all of this means the two sides are on a mutually destructive collision course. Neither side compromises, Boras screws himself over by his failure to understand the intricate nuances of Japanese culture, and the lack of a top-of-the-rotation prize becomes the cherry on the top of a extremely unappetizing sundae for Red Sox Nation.
Of course, this probably will not be the case — as the above paragraph points out, both sides have too much to lose. But regardless of what happens, the distance between the Red Sox’s desire not to have their every move play out in the press and the reality of the amount of times they find themselves the focus of a national feeding frenzy deserves further discussion. (And, right on cue, the Sox announce they’ll have a press conference of their own. Sigh. I’m going to sleep.)
November 14th, 2006 → 10:52 am @ Seth Mnookin
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.
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.
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.