August 1st, 2008 → 9:38 am @ Seth Mnookin
Have you heard? Yeah – the Red Sox traded Manny. This may appear, at first blush, to be a near total refutation of my previous post, in which I accused Portfolio magazine of being full of crap for saying Manny wouldn’t be suiting up for the Crimson Hose next year.
In fact, it’s not…although I made the mistake of throwing in some opinions in a post that criticized another reporter as passing off an “experts” musings as if they were a reflection of what was going on inside the front office. (The difference here: I made the difference clear.) My beef, as I said, is that “neither I, nor Andrew Zimbalist [heretofore mentioned expert], nor Franz Lidz [author of said article], nor anyone else who isnâ€šÃ„Ã´t actually in the room has any idea whatâ€šÃ„Ã´s actually going on in the Soxâ€šÃ„Ã´s front office. To pretend any differently is, well, a load of crap.” It’s something we see again and again in sports reporting — one stray voice in the wilderness being quoted as if it represents a team’s view. We saw that being illustrated again and again (and again) over the last few days: just go back and look at how many reports cited a “senior level executive” or “a source close to the team” as saying a deal would not get done…or a deal with Florida was just awaiting Selig’s sign-off…or that the Sox would holding out for a package with a host of good young players.
July 23rd, 2007 → 11:44 am @ Seth Mnookin
The next time you hear someone do a 20-20 hindsight look back on a trade/non-trade, etc., make sure you’re actually figuring in all the relevant details. An example: in ’03, Lester was heading to Texas along with Manny in the aborted A-Rod deal. I’ve brought this up before, and I’m sure I’ll do it again: it’s one of my favorite examples of the need to consider everything that’s actually going on. (This is a corollary to my dislike of people making pronouncements about a long-term deal/trade/non-deal etc. before said term is completed. It’s kind of like making pronouncements about a season before it’s halfway over.) (Er, see below…)
Welcome back, Jon. Don’t let KG steal all your thunder. (Too bad Lester’s last name doesn’t begin with a B…)
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.
August 1st, 2006 → 8:44 am @ Seth Mnookin
David Ortiz–the man who ends his post-game press conferences by telling reporters to “go home and get some ass”–has made The Boston Globe so giddy it’s breaking out the double-entendres: a chart that accompanies Dan Shaughnessy’s article chronicling Ortiz’s walkoff homers is headlined “Happy endings.” (There is not, alas, a graphic showing the location of Chinatown massage parlors.) The chart does not appear in the Globe‘s online edition, but is on page D5 of today’s paper.
July 31st, 2006 → 11:28 am @ Seth Mnookin
Last night, about a half-hour after the end of a miserable game at Fenway, the Red Sox’s last three general managers–Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, and Ben Cherington–went into Terry Francona’s office, closed the door, and stayed there for a good long while before exiting out the back of the park. The difference between this year and last is remarkable: the Red Sox have turned into the kind of tight-lipped operation that George Bush can only dream of having. (One reporter recently said the ’06 Sox make the Patriots look verbose in comparison.) But the fact that there’s not much word trickling out of 4 Yawkey Way doesn’t mean the strain and stress of dealing with the trading deadline isn’t manifesting itself in numerous ways. Last night, Terry Francona only managed to muster a meek protest after the first-base umpire incorrectly ruled that Mike Lowell hadn’t been hit with a pitch; in those kind of situations, it’s a manager’s job to argue until he gets tossed. Francona might have given up because he was exhausted, or because he didn’t want to risk loading the bases with two outs and Coco Crisp due up at the plate. This year, Crisp seems to have taken on the mantle of the miserable moper convinced everyone’s out to get him, like Edgar Renteria in ’05 or Nomar Garciaparra in ’04. Twice in the sixth inning last night Crisp threw wildly off target–first when he threw up the first base line after a spectacular diving catch, later when he skipped a relay throw into the infield after an Orlando Cabrera sacrifice fly–and both times he was hanging his head, Linus-style, before his throws had even been gathered up. Now that Willie Harris (who had been Crisp’s best friend in the clubhouse) is in Pawtucket, Crisp is isolated, sullen and sulking, in spite of the fact that Boston fans have more or less given the guy a free pass. Someone who came in replacing a matinee idol/cult hero and has been a bust on both offense and defense could reasonably expect a lot worse. It’s almost as if Crisp is depressed in preparation for the Boston boo birds.
Then there’s the trio of veterans much in discussion: Mark Loretta, Mike Lowell, and Trot Nixon. A couple of weeks ago, Lowell was assured he wasn’t going anywhere; now even he thinks there’s a chance he’s on his way out of town. All the chattering surrounding free-agent to be Julio Lugo (and the assumed readiness of Dustin Pedroia) has Loretta’s name on many people’s lips; for several hours yesterday there was a rumor that Loretta had left Fenway in street clothes shortly before the game, the 2006 version of Adam Dunn “announcing” in a Reds chatroom that he’d been traded to the Sox. And Nixon, the most popular of the bunch, is also currently the least valuable. His slugging percentage has declined every year since 2003 (and his current mark of .424 is his lowest since he became a fulltime player in 1999), his defense has become increasingly erratic, and he’s currently blocking Wily Mo Pena, who, in limited playing time, is currently leading Nixon in virtually every offensive category save for OBP and is hitting home runs almost 50 percent more often. When one of Nixon’s violent swings left him clutching his right bicep last night, one longtime Fenway insider jokingly evoked Epstein’s infamous (and apocryphal) hotel-room trashing in the wake of the Yankees signing Jose Contreras by quipping, “I bet Theo just broke a chair.” (Another one muttered, “Well, that’s one way for Trot to make sure he doesn’t get dealt.”)
So what will happen in the next five hours? Who knows? I know some things that won’t happen: Larry Lucchino will not go on WEEI to confirm any trade discussions; Manny Ramirez will not be the subject of any rumors; the Sox won’t make a deal simply to make it seem as if they’re doing something. Oh, and also, something is definitely in the works.
Yesterday, the Yankees made what has widely been heralded as a difference-making move when they picked up Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle from the Phillies in return for their C.J. Henry and a trio of prospects. (Henry, the team’s first-round draft pick in 2005, was the person the Yankees chose when Craig Hansen was still available.) But Abreu, who is due $4.5 million for the remainder of this season and $15 million next year, has put up these numbers over the past full season: .278 BA, 14 HR, 105 RBI, .449 SLG. The RBI numbers are good…and also dependent on what’s happening in front of him. The batting average and home run totals are both below what Kevin Youkilis projects to hit this year, and so far this season Youk has an identical .449 slugging percentage. The fact that ESPN’s Steve Phillips thinks this is a great deal is probably reason enough to think it’s not, but there are many other reasons to look at this pick-up and expect to see more Carl Pavano than Carlos Beltran. (Speaking of ESPN and Beltran, the question of whether Abreu’s impact will be similar to that of Beltran in ’04 is just silly. Beltran was 27, and including the first four months of that year had put up four straight seasons of .500+ slugging and two straight years of a .900+ OPS. Abreu is 32, and, including this year, has been below .500 and .900 for two straight years.)
After the Abreu deal was announced, Joe Torre said, “The Yankees always deal in the present. We made this deal for the present.” As I said yesterday, the flip side of that philosophy is not thinking about the future. It’s been that attitude that has left the Yankees, with far and away the biggest payroll in baseball, rich in older, overpaid players on the downside of their careers and poor in younger, cheaper, fresher talent with their best years ahead of them. And it’s been that attitude that’s produced two first-round departures, one ALCS collapse, and a pair of World Series losses over the last five years.
July 30th, 2006 → 2:26 pm @ Seth Mnookin
A year ago at this time, Boston was embroiled in what seemed to be an annual trade-deadline soap opera. In 2004, it was Nomar Garciaparra and Derek Lowe who were rumored to be on their way out of town; Nomar, of course, was actually traded to the Cubs. Last year, Manny Ramirez was either demanding a trade, or asking not to be traded, or refusing to play, or telling the world nothing was wrong.
This year, things are much quieter…at least on the media front. One big reason for that is the fact that for the first time in decades, Peter Gammons isn’t burning up the phone lines. (Last year, even as he was being inducted into the writers wing of the Hall of Fame, Gammons was perhaps the best source of information about all the various discussions going on around the league.) Another big reason is that, in the wake of last winter’s off-field turmoil, the Red Sox have kept a much tighter lid on their public relations operation. (Think about the fact that the first anyone heard about the Red Sox signing David Ortiz, Coco Crisp, and Josh Beckett to contract extensions was when the team held press conferences to announce the deals.)
Over the last several days, word about possible Red Sox deals has heated up, with much of it coming from ESPN’s Buster Olney, who has said the Sox offered up Coco Crisp in return for White Sox starter Mark Buehrle, or that they’re looking to trade Mark Loretta and move Dustin Pedroia to the bigs. As I’ve written before, I have a huge amount of respect for Olney, but in this case, I’m not inclined to rely on him as a prime source of information. As Olney himself writes, “I wish I knew all the details of what the Red Sox are planning, all the tentacles, because the bits and pieces are fascinating.” If the Red Sox aren’t leaking–and I really doubt they are–these bits and pieces are coming from other GMs, and pretty much every team in the American League has good reason to try to stir up some trouble in Boston.
That said, I would bet that most of the team is available for the right price. Schilling isn’t going anywhere, and neither is Manny. Papelbon, Hansen, Delcarmon, and Lester are also probably untouchable, and it’s unlikely Jason Varitek or Tim Wakefield would be put on the block. Kevin Youkilis is so relatively inexpensive, and so unlikely to get comparable value in return, that it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which he’d be on his way out of town. But there were trades on the table for Trot Nixon this past offseason, and his declining power numbers and impending free agency likely increase the chance that he’s seen as expendable. (Of course, those same facts also mean his value is probably lower than it has been in some time.) Everyone else is probably fair game as well…and we probably have no idea about what’s actually going on. (Last year, with my retrospective awareness of what had been discussed and what had almost occured, I was struck by two things: the fact that very few trades are for “name” players, and the fact that so little of what’s discussed by the Sox’s baseball operations department ever makes its way into print.)
In other news, there are reports that the Yankees will send their top draft pick in 2005–20-year-old shrotstop C.J. Henry–along with a reliever to the Phillies in return for Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle. From the Red Sox’s perspective, this wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. The Yankees’ four World Series titles between 1996 and 2000 were won on the backs of players who came up through the Yankees’ farm system during between 1990 and 1993, the time during which George “Instant Gratification” Steinbrenner was banned from baseball. (Jorge Posada was drafted in 1990; Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte signed as an amateur free agents in 1990 and 1991, respectively; Bernie Williams’s first year in the majors was 1991; and Derek Jeter was drafted in 1992.) It seems unlikely all these players would have been in New York had Steinbrenner, who always wants to win right now and worry about tomorrow when it comes, been in control of the team. Abreu and Lidle would definitely make the Yankees better in the immediate short-term. But, Abreu–like Randy Johnson and Jason Giambi and Alex Rodriguez and Johnny Damon and Carl Pavano–would cost a boatload of money and decrease New York’s flexibility going forward. And the loss of cheap, young talent could very well burn the Yankees in the future.
That’s a lesson the Red Sox don’t need to learn. Theo Epstein has shown a consistent desire to hold on to Boston’s young talent. Even so, it’s worth taking a look at what’s been lost (or almost lost) these last few years. The Sox shipped Matt Murton to Chicago as part of the Nomar trade, and this year Murton’s put up a .321 batting average and a .907 OPS in 51 games for the Cubs. (With those numbers, Murton would lead the Sox in BA and be third in OPS.) And had the Manny for A-Rod deal gone through, Jon Lester would have gone to the Rangers.
Without a doubt, there’ll be a lot going down in the next 25-and-a-half hours. And we probably won’t hear about it until those deals come round.