Soriano offers justification for keeping Manny and that $51.1 posting fee for Matsuzaka

November 20th, 2006 → 11:59 am @

In other news, the Soriano signing may mean, as Gammons says, that the Cubs are turning themselves into instant contenders; it also highlights just what a good deal Manny Ramirez is for the remaining two years (and $36 mil or so) of his contract. In order to land Soriano, the Cubs shelled out $136 million over eight years. For those of you keeping track at home, that means Soriano will be earning $17 million a year through 2014, when he’ll be 38 years old. Seriously, think about that: Congressmen will need to run four times before Soriano needs to think about his next job. There’ll be two presidential elections. Even Senators will need to make their case to the public. But not Alfonso…who has never been as consistent an offensive force as Manny (and is arguably as much of an adventure in the field).

The Soriano deal shows the extent to which the market has gone crazy; it’s the biggest deal since the $141 million contract extension Todd Helton landed before the 2001 season, and pretty much marks an official return to the 2000-2001 insanity. (If history holds, only a couple of this year’s mega-signings will pan out; Manny and Mike Mussina are the only guys from the 2000 class who can be said to have paid off.)

This year’s funny money contracts also point to why the Sox’s mega-offer for the negotiating rights to Matsuzaka arguably makes sense. As the always eloquent David Leonhardt points out in yesterday’s Times, “Matsuzaka is unlike any other free agent on the market this year — or almost any other year. He is 26, an age when a typical pitcher is in his prime and yet usually too young to be a free agent. Players who come up through the minor leagues generally don’t have the chance to test the market and choose their own team until after they have spent six seasons in Major League Baseball, according to free agency rules. By then, they are typically in their late 20s, or even their early 30s, and their performance is already starting to slide. This, more than anything else, explains why so many free-agent signings turn out to be busts.” (Why is it that it takes a business writer to explain the economics of baseball? Why couldn’t, say, the Times‘s baseball columnist have attempted to understand (and explain) this?) This is also the framework through which it makes sense to look at a bunch of the Sox’s recent moves: the Arroyo for Wily Mo (D.O.B. 1/23/82) deal; the Crisp (D.O.B. 11/1/79) acquisition; even the Beckett (D.O.B. 5/15/80) deal.

It’s not even Thanksgiving (you remember Thanksgiving, right?) and the Hot Stove has already boiled over. (I’m sorry. Really: I’ll avoid the stupid stove puns for the rest of the offseason.) It’s going to be an interesting couple of months.

Post Categories: 2006 Hot Stove Season & Alfonso Soriano & Daisuke Matsuzaka & David Leonhardt & New York Times & Red Sox front office

D-Mat in the house…

November 16th, 2006 → 7:04 pm @

I’m at Fenway (because nothing gets me on the Acela quicker than a good Bob Lobel-hosted fundraiser)…and D-Mat* fever is already a full-on reality. As I walked down Yawkey Way, there were two cabs full of what I later learned were Japanese reporters…and Matsuzaka isn’t even in town yet. The security guards are talking about Matsuzaka, the front office folks not in Naples are buzzing; hell, Fenway hasn’t been this electric in November since 2003. (And we all know how that worked out.) For what’s it worth — almost nothing, mind you — the perception here (and among some members of the Fourth Estate) is that the Sox will end spending that $51.1 mil…because Matsuzaka will be part of a Schilling, Beckett, Papelbon, Wakefield rotation next year.

Anyway. This morning’s post resulted in some quick (and snappy) comments; a chunk of them were along the lines of “this doesn’t change the economic reality of the Red Sox vis a vis the Yankees.” On one level, that’s obviously true. If I spend $500 on a shirt, that purchase doesn’t make me any better off. What it does do is give the people the sense that I have enough economic security so that it’s not an issue if I want to spend $500 on a shirt. (Don’t worry: my much-maligned pink shirt cost nowhere near that much.) Offering up a $51 million posting fee doesn’t change the fact that the Yankees play in a much, much bigger market, nor does it change the fact that their revenue streams are much larger. It does mean it’ll be harder for the Sox to argue — as they did on this year’s trade deadline — that they didn’t make such and such a move because it they couldn’t afford to do so (even if that’s true).

And that — that appearance/perception/whatever — could very well become an issue…especially if/when the Sox struggle and what’s increasingly becomming an instant-gratification fan base gets a little blood lust. Two thousand and six was a rough one; what would it have been like if the Sox had claimed relative poverty after shelling out $51.1 mil for the right to negotiate with D-Mat?

That said, everything I know about this front office leads me to believe that neither this move, nor future moves, will be made in reaction to public perception, which is why I disagree with gary’s comments (“I think the theo was stung by the notion that he didn’t do enough at the trading deadline, and this is the result. But it doesn’t mean this isn’t a blip on the radar” and “if they had lost out to ny again, hell would have been the result”). It’s my firm belief that Theo wasn’t stung by what people did or didn’t think about what happened at this year’s trade deadline, just as it’s my firm belief that if the Sox make a move with the Yankees in mind, it won’t be because they’re worried about what the ‘EEI response will be to any given signing/non-signing.

* Boras-san has dubbed Matsuzaka D-Mat, presumably figuring that a first letter, first name-first three letters, last name label landed A-Rod $250 mil…so it has to be worth an extra mil or two a year, right?

Post Categories: 2006 Hot Stove Season & Daisuke Matsuzaka & Red Sox Fans & Red Sox front office & Theo Epstein

$51.1 million: it boggles the mind

November 16th, 2006 → 8:36 am @

Astute observers may have noticed that there was not a single post up yesterday, the first full day after the Red Sox had been declared winners in the right-to-talk-with-Matsuzaka’s-agent sweepstakes. (For some reason, there’s still some lingering confusion on the following point: if the Red Sox don’t sign Matsuzaka, they’re not on the hook for that $51.1 mil.) The simple answer for that is that I was busy; the more complicated answer is that I’m a bit…confused.

Not, mind you, about why the Sox did what they did (although when you come in $20 or so million above the next closest bidder, it does seem there might have been a bit more wiggle room) — Matsuzaka has the potential to be one of the best pitchers in Major League Baseball, and a starting rotation with a three-headed, 26-year old monster of Matsuzaka, Beckett, and Papelbon looks pretty damn formidable. (As Peter Gammons points out, Boston also has “Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Daniel Bard on the horizon” as other potential young-stud starters; what’s more, Matsuzaka is obviously a way to plant a Red Sox flag in the Far East, both in terms of talent and marketing dollars.)

But this type of bid means the Sox have forever forfeited the right to bitch about the Yankees endless pockets…and that’s frustrating, both because it’s satisfying being thought of (and thinking of yourself) as an underdog, and because it belies the reality that the Sox will never have as much flexibility as the Yankees. Sean McAdam is right: that the notion of the Yanks as the Evil Empire, Abreu-acquiring, uber- organization just went out the window. “No more suggestions, please, that the Yankees are some financial superpower capable of trampling the rest of baseball with their reckless and boundless spending. No more talk about the Red Sox being the plucky underdogs that somehow must make do with less,” McAdam wrote on ESPN. He’s right. Even Gammons pointed out that “[t]he Red Sox have posted more money than their professional scouting director, Allard Baird, had to sign his entire team as the GM in Kansas City.”

I’m also worried — about Matsuzaka’s previous workload (in today’s Globe, Gordon Edes makes a comparison with Hideo Nomo: “Over the span of 21 months, he would belong to six teams. It appeared his heavy workload in Japan had caught up with him. He had thrown more than 140 pitches 61 times in his career, by one estimate, and in his last season in Japan he threw a staggering 191 pitches in one game, walking 16 batters”) and about the fact that the Sox will be negotiating while the other (far less skilled) free-agent pitchers are deciding where to land.

Finally, I’m confused. On the one hand, I understand that a past decision shouldn’t overly inform a current one, and what the Red Sox did with Bronson Arroyo or Johnny Damon doesn’t really have anything to do with Matsuzaka; that’s a cornerstone of the rational philosophy the Sox’s front office tries to adhere to. But…that’s a lot of money to pay for the right to sign a player, and it’s hard not to think back to the hometown discount Arroyo gave the Sox before he was traded away. Arroyo is a proven pitcher. And he’s shown he’s a workhorse. I’m also a bit confused as to how precisely this jibes with Theo’s stated notion that he wants to focus on developing young talent. Matsuzaka is young, but isn’t Boston becomming the type of uber-organization Theo warned against immediately after the ’05 season? (For a full description of that moment, check out the introduction to my book.) I’m not the only one who’s found this whole affair a bit vertiginous: the Matsuzaka frenzy has even put Dan Shaughnessy in a good mood. (Everyone remember this if/when Matsuzaka ends up on the Sox and the decision is eventually deemed a bad one…)

So…there’s a lot to mull over. I’m heading down to Boston today for a fundraiser at Fenway, so I likely won’t post again until tonight. But there’ll be lots of cogitating between now and then. And I welcome any and all of your thoughts…

Post Categories: Daisuke Matsuzaka & Red Sox front office & Sports Reporters

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

One thing god definitely wants is for him to cash that $52 million check

November 4th, 2006 → 10:24 am @

“Pedro Martínez says that if his right shoulder doesn’t return to full strength, he would consider retiring. Martínez had surgery Oct. 5 to repair a torn rotator cuff. ‘To go back I have to recover. I have to be healthy,’ said Martínez. ‘But if God doesn’t want that, then I would have to think about giving it all up.'”

— The Boston Globe‘s “Baseball Notebook,” November 4, 2006.

Coming tomorrow: hours of callers on ‘EEI lauding the Sox’s decision not to offer Pedro Martinez a guaranteed, four-year, $50 million-plus contract after the 2004 season.

Post Categories: Pedro Martinez & Red Sox front office & Sports Reporters

Breaking news: good things actually happened in 2006 (and why you’re not likely to hear much about it in the media)

November 2nd, 2006 → 1:37 pm @

The Red Sox front office, in case you forgot, took a lot of beatings in the last 12 months; if a Martian came down and read the coverage of the team, he could reasonably be expected to conclude that Theo Epstein had personally taken a bat to Jason Varitek’s knee, Jed Hoyer had smashed Wily Mo’s hand in a door, and Ben Cherington had spent weeks hiding behind Papi’s car for the sole purpose of startling him to the point of his developing a heart murmur. (After all, if the disappointing season was entirely the front office’s fault, all of the primary causes would have to be laid at its feet.) The local media didn’t help in this regard; as I’ve said time (and time and time) again, the most frustrating (and, to my mind at least, reprehensible) aspect of this was when writers or commentators decried moves they had previously been in favor of…and failed to fully explain the confluence of factors that contributed to 2006*

Anyway, it turns out that at least some people think the Sox didn’t do such a bad job after all; in fact, in Baseball America’s recent ranking of the 2006 draft, the Sox ranked tops in all of baseball. It’s not surprising that it’s a national publication devoted in large part to amateur players that took the time and energy to point this out; in various local writers’ and commentators’ end-of-season rankings of the Sox’s front office, I didn’t see a single instance in which the team’s draft or player development program was included in any significant way.

Now, a worthwhile question to ask is why, if this team is so good at evaluating talent, it has struggled when transitioning these players to the big leagues (and/or seemingly made some missteps when it comes to trading away prospects). One factor — and this doesn’t totally explain things away, but has to be considered — is the reality that playing in Boston is different from playing in virtually every other market in the country. Some players react to the intensity and scrutiny differently than others; just as crucially, the fans and media throng put enormous pressure on the team to put up a team littered with big names and known quantities. Nick Cafardo’s Globe piece today hints at that — the piece begins, “If Theo Epstein or Brian Cashman tried to parade a roster like the Cardinals’ onto the field in Boston or New York, they’d probably be run out of town” — but then fails to explain how this affects what eventually happens on the field. (A corollary, and a valid point, is that if Brian Cashman or Theo put this team on the field in the AL East they’d likely end up with a losing record….but I digress.)

* Related to this is another David Leonhardt column that deals with former Treasury Secretary Robert Robin, a writer-subject combo I’ve brought up before in relation to how sportswriters and sports fans could better understand the game. In yesterday’s piece, Leonhardt addresses Rubin’s recent bet against the dollar…a bet that didn’t pay off. But that doesn’t mean it was an incorrect bet to make. Leonhardt explains Rubin’s philosophy:

“Throughout [Rubin’s] career — as an arbitrage trader at Goldman, as the Treasury secretary who led the 1995 bailout of Mexico — he has argued that decisions should not be judged solely on the outcome. Somebody could do a perfectly good job of weighing the relevant risks, make a call that maximizes the chances of success and still not succeed, because the world is a messy, unpredictable place.”

Unpredictability is hard for sports fans to swallow; I get that. What’s harder to choke down is when sportswriters — either because they’re lazy or because they’re pandering to their audience — don’t take the time to understand and explain this stark reality.

Post Categories: 2006 Wrap-ups and report cards & Red Sox front office & Sports Reporters

For those of you who think I’m a shill for the Sox front office…

October 30th, 2006 → 8:19 pm @

…here’s a move I don’t get: the re-signing of Mike Timlin. I know the guy has been a stopgap these last few years, but that’s sort of like saying the 2000 election fiasco was a stopgap to a Bush presidency; all it really did was delay the inevitable. I also know, as the Sox took pains to point out in their press release, that Timlin had a 1.40 ERA before he went on the DL at the end of May.

But man, did he ever look like a guy who’d fallen off a cliff when he came back in June (and if a lingering injury caused him to suck that bad, shouldn’t he have stayed on the DL?). You could make a pretty decent argument that it was the sheer awfulness of Timlin that was the turning point in the Sox’s season, more than the absence of Varitek, more than the absence of Wakefield, more than the death of Nelson De La Rosa. (I know he didn’t die until last week, but c’mon: you all know he wasn’t able to focus his full karmic energy on Yawkey Way.) Starting just before the five-game bloodletting at the hands of the Yankees, Timlin single-handedly blew enough games to send the Sox well into second place. And there was also that little matter of him blaming the offense for the Sox’s problems. For those of you who mercifully managed to miss that, I’m not joking.

The arguments for keeping Mike on board are that he’s been a bargain for the four years he’s been in Boston; he’s pitched well — sometimes very well; relief pitching is both hard to come by and hard to predict; it’d put a strain on the clubhouse to lose yet another veteran (and besides, who would lead chapel?); and the $1 or $2 million he’ll cost the team is peanuts relative to a $125 million payroll.

The arguments against re-signing Timlin are that you don’t pay for past performance; he hasn’t pitched well in more than half a season, and when he wasn’t pitching well it sure looked like more than a flukey, post-injury type of deal; he’s shown he has the potentially put plenty of strain on the clubhouse if he is around; and every now and then you find someone like David Ortiz for $1 or $2 million.

(Please note: if Mike Timlin comes back and has a season more in line with ’03 and ’04 and less in line with the second half of ’06, I reserve the right to make like one of those paid sportswriters and act like he’s been my favorite player all along and that re-signing him was one of the front office’s most brilliant moves.)

Post Categories: Mike Timlin & Red Sox front office