Today in Matsuzaka land

November 14th, 2006 → 11:10 am @

More reports (these coming from Peter Gammons) that the Sox won the bidding for the right to negotiate with Daisuke Matsuzaka; the latest reports tab that bid at $42 million. At this point, there’s not a lot to say until the official announcement is made at 8 pm tonight…and after that point, there won’t be much to say until the Sox (or whichever team managed to outbid Boston and fly completely under the radar) sign/fail to sign Matsuzaka to a deal.

That’s not all that’s going on in Boston: in today’s Globe, Nick Cafardo reports that Theo has made offers to two other unnamed free agent pitchers; there’s also lots of discussion about what a Matsuzaka signing would mean for the Red Sox’s presence in Japan.

In other Matsuzaka-related news, Murray Chass tries to outdo his recent boneheadedness with today’s column, in which he demonstrates that:

* He sucks at math: Chass says the Red Sox bid is in the “$45 million range” and that that figure (according to an “official”), “would be perhaps 50 percent higher than the other bids. … [which] were either slightly above or slightly below $30 million.” Regardless of what an anonymous official says, 30 is not half of 45.^
^ Dammit all, it turns out that I’m the one who sucks at math: as three posters pointed out in short order, 45 is actually 50 percent higher than 30…even if 45 is not twice as much as 30, which is what I ended up saying. Alas. I’ll leave this up here so as not to whitewash my sins…

* He’s still pissed that George Steinbrenner won’t talk to him, although this anger is now couched as condescending pity: the Boss’s refusal to get on the blower with our man Murray is “sad.” “In the past, Steinbrenner would not have passed up an opportunity to comment caustically on what the Red Sox bid, especially with the evil empire label still in his mind. Those who have heard many of his comments can only shake our heads in sorrow and accept that an era has passed.”

* His irrational hatred of the Red Sox continues unabated: Chass asks — apparently in all seriousness — if the Sox’s bid for Matsuzaka is “evil” and decides it’s “[m]ind boggling perhaps, but not evil. Stunning perhaps, but not evil. Incredulous maybe, but not evil. Obscene, as an executive of another club said, but not evil.”

* Related to this, the inconsistency of his internal logic is as skewed as ever: After spanking Steinbrenner for not dishing out some incendiary quotes, prompted by Chass’s regurgitating of Larry Lucchino’s “evil empire” comments vis a vis the Jose Contreras signing, Chass takes those same comments at face value and tries to throw them back in Boston’s face.

* And finally, Chass’s understanding of baseball is as shakey as ever: the Contreras signing was a pure-payroll play; Lucchino’s evil empire comment was explicitly referring to New York’s seeming endless capacity to add payroll, luxury tax and repercussions be damned. The Matsuzaka posting bid, as many, many people have pointed out, is both a one-time cost and is unrelated to the luxury tax or total payroll.

That’s it for now. More on the post story post-8 pm tonight.

Post Categories: 2006 Hot Stove Season & Daisuke Matsuzaka & Murray Chass

More food for thought: the Rookie of the Year Awards

November 14th, 2006 → 10:52 am @

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.

Post Categories: 2006 Hot Stove Season & Hanley Ramirez & Jonathan Papelbon & Josh Beckett & Red Sox ownership & Yankees

Clearly, it was a bad weekend to go out of town.

November 11th, 2006 → 4:58 pm @

As expected, plenty of folks — including Buster Olney, the man who broke the story — are doing a bit of backpedaling on the whole “the Sox won the bidding rights to Matsuzaka” story. Yesterday, Olney said the Sox had won the right to bid for the Japanese phenom. (Today’s version of the story — which had been edited this morning at 11:44 — read that the Sox “may” have won the bidding; that’s not my recollection of how the piece read yesterday, but I stupidly didn’t save it.)

Today, Olney is making the whole thing sound as imprecise as exit polls (which, *cough cough* is a quip I made yesterday). “Nothing has been confirmed,” Olney writes. “No announcement has been made,” which, at the very least, is a far cry from the “according to Major League Baseball sources” we were hearing about yesterday.

Indeed. It wouldn’t be much fun to discuss if it wasn’t true (for Olney or anyone else); unfortunately (for me), some people who’ve made comments on my last post and Olney himself have already delved into some of the aspects of this supposed bid I wanted to make. The most relevant ones:

* The $40 mil the Sox may or may not have bid is a one-time cost; it’s not added payroll, which would result in: a) raising the Sox’s payroll to a new high, and with this fan base (and this media coverage) it’s hard to ever reduce payroll, b) putting the Sox well above the luxury tax threshold, which would mean every dollar they shelled out would cost much more than that at the end of the day.

* The notion that this is a worthwhile investment solely because of the prospect of increased revenues from the Far East is a load of crap: every dollar the Sox earn is only worth about 50 cents; the other 50 cents goes into the revenue sharing pot, which essentially means the Sox are paying teams like the Orioles and the Blue Jays to continue to run their clubs in a determinedly bone-headed way…the better to bleed the Sox and the Yankees. (Revenue sharing — and baseball economics in general — is a weird and confusing thing. There’s a bunch about it sprinkled in between shocking behind the scenes revelations and hilarious anecdotes in the book. Which, by the way, makes a great gift, and signed copies are available here.)

Without getting into all the ins and outs of Olney’s piece, he comes down on the Sox front office pretty hard, criticizing them for both not paying for players like Johnny Damon (or for trading players like Bronson Arroyo) while (maybe) dedicating a boatload of money to Matsuzaka. He also raises the possibility that the Sox are working without a plan. There are a lot of good possibilities; that’s not one of them…


In other news, Tony Massarotti has this take on Foulke’s departure. I need to confess, I’m a bit confused by Foulke’s not taking the $5 mil-plus he would have gotten by exercising his player option, because he ain’t getting anything like that kind of money from anyone else. One thing I disagree with in Tony’s column is this: “Now Foulke is gone and here is the truly amazing thing: No one is shedding a tear.” Fine: I’m not crying. But I think Foulke — along with David Ortiz — is the single most important reason why the Red Sox won the ’04 World Series. Without Papi’s superhuman heroics, he would have been a shoo-in for ALCS MVP; as it was, he sure as hell should have beat Manny for the WS award.

And finally, Sheffield is off to the Tigers in exchange for three pitchers. This whole thing was shrewdly done by the Yankees, and the fact that they’re re-stocking their minor league system — and really without losing anything in this case — has to be upsetting for the folks on Yawkey Way.

Post Categories: 2006 Hot Stove Season & Buster Olney & Daisuke Matsuzaka & Gary Sheffield & Keith Foulke & Red Sox front office

Shoot, I’d pay $40 mil for the right to negotiate with Scott Boras, too

November 10th, 2006 → 6:17 pm @

Even on North Carolina’s Outer Banks we got the word that the Red Sox seem to have posted the top bid for Daisuke Matsuzaka…and said bid is somewhere between $38 and $45 million dollars. (At least according to Buster Olney; the Globe‘s Nick Cafardo says there’s a growing consensus that Olney’s right.)

Let’s take this with an appropriate grain of salt. Many times over the past several years, Manny Ramirez has been all but traded…”according to [nameless] Major League Baseball sources,” who are cited in the Olney piece. (Cafardo also cites MLB sources as saying, essentially, “Yeah, that wouldn’t surprise me.”) According to Major League Sources, Boston was going to suit up Alex Rodriguez at short and Magglio Ordonez in left. And according to MLB sources, John Kerry won the 2004 election.

Winning the right to negotiate with Matsuzaka doesn’t mean he’ll be starting ahead of Curt and Beckett next year; all it means is that the Sox are the sole team with the right to negotiate with Boras (DM’s agent). And Boras has shown he has absolutely no problem keeping his players out of the majors for a year if it means they/he will get more money (see: Varitek, Jason). Forty mil is a lot. It’s conceivable the Sox wanted to make sure the Yankees didn’t get him, bid an outrageous amount of money but don’t think they can sign him for something reasonable. It’s also conceivable that the Sox will trade the right to negotiate with Matsuzaka to another team, pay a chunk of that $40 mil, and ask for a young, proven player who hasn’t yet hit free agency. (In some very weird way, this fits in well with the Sox’s roster development philosophy, but it might be too clever be half, just as it might be against the weird and wooly rules governing this whole “posting” phenomenon. But it also might be the kind of Red-drafting-Larry-when-he’s-a-junior type of thing that the Sox would actually put in play.)

If the Red Sox have put in the winning bid, and if they do end up signing him, I’m sure as shit be excited. I’d also be worried, for reasons I’ve previously explained. In either case, it’s an early sign that the ’06 Hot Stove season will be plenty active in Boston. But isn’t it always?

Post Categories: 2006 Hot Stove Season & Daisuke Matsuzaka

It’s like that moment in the Wizard of Oz. Kind of. But it’s much cooler.

November 10th, 2006 → 5:56 pm @

From our friends at the soon-to-be-launched Very Short List: this amazingly gorgeously weird and wonderful ad for Sony’s Bravia TVs. (VSL — still in its test phase — called it “awesomely explosive eye candy.” It’s lots of exploding paint in an apartment complex in Glasgow, orchestrated by Jonathan Glazer, and remarkably, 100% genuinely real. (If you want the details: it took 10 days, 250 people, and paint that was delivered in 1 ton trucks…or as the Brits say, “1 tonne tricks.” Also, for what it’s worth, the paint was edible.)

If all of this sounds vaguely familiar, either you have an amazing memory or you’re spending too much time on my blog; in either case, way back in July I was similarly overwhelmed by Sony’s previous Bravia commercial…the one that featured 250,000 superballs, which is just as worth watching.

Post Categories: 2006 Hot Stove Season & Daisuke Matsuzaka

The Yankees might not want Sheffield, but reporters sure don’t want him to leave town

November 9th, 2006 → 6:05 am @

There was a player on the Red Sox — and I’m not giving any hints as to whom I’m talking about except that he currently plays for the Yankees — who was known around the league as a great interview, because he was usually open and available and more importantly because he’d pretty much say whatever it was any given reporter needed him to say at any given time. “So isn’t it awful that so-and-so keeps on putting himself above the team by playing while injured?” and “Aren’t you glad so-and-so puts the team first by playing while injured?” would both produce affirmative results, even if they were asked within minutes of each other.

Gary Sheffield has a similar reputation. I have no idea if it’s deserved…but in today’s paper, Sheffield once again shows why he’s a reporter’s wet dream, slamming Brian Cashman (“If George Steinbrenner was feeling better, my situation would already be resolved”), Bobby Abreu (“I’ve done more for the Yankees than he will ever do”), and the team in general (“I will tell you that not everything is rosy in Yankeeland. It’s all a facade — it ain’t real”). “Sheffield was soon talking about Alex Rodriguez,” the story goes on to say, in what could be code for, “Reporters then proceeded to press Sheffield on the Yankees’ most controversial and unpopular player; soon, we were asking why that jerk-face Derek Jeter didn’t stick up for his teammates.” The answer? Just what any good scribe would want: “When you have a teammate under fire like that, why would you keep your distance and just let people keep taking shots at him? If it was anybody else, their teammates would have stood up for them.” (Like Jeter?) “I’m not naming names, it is what it is, but it tells you a lot about the situation here. I like Alex, but we have different personalities. He doesn’t fight back because he wants everyone to like him, but that doesn’t work here. I will not let anyone take shots at me like that.”

Let’s see: shots at the team, the general manager, the new guy in the clubhouse, and the captain. Yeah, it definitely sounds like Sheff’s gonna be wearing pinstripes on Opening Day.

Post Categories: 2006 Hot Stove Season & Gary Sheffield & Sports Reporters & Yankees