Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Money is Exchanged for Goods and Services

The addition of Peter Abraham to the Boston media over the last two months has really been a pleasure. The frequency of his writing, his ability to keep it real instead of sipping the Red Sox Kool-Aid, and the way he's somewhat-subtly calling out Red Sox fans who are unable to think are all extremely refreshing. Two days ago, Abraham wrote a blog post that is pretty much "Agents 101," which I believe is necessary to write because most Red Sox fans who use poor spelling and too many exclamation points don't know any better.

It's been a time-honored tradition for baseball fans to blame agents for all their troubles. They're too emotionally attached to someone like, say, Johnny Damon, Arod, JD Drew, Jason Bay, or 46, so they never blame the player when contract negotiations start to go sour. They blame the agent. This is absurd. No need for me to explain it when Abraham's already explained it perfectly:

"The players are adults who make their own decisions. While it's easy (and even fun) to demonize agents, the agent works for the player. His job is to present the player with the opportunities that are available and let the player make the decision.

"Damon didn't hire [Scott] Boras because he wanted to make nice, clean [listening, Pat?] deals with teams. He hired Scott because he wanted to wring every time out of his athletic ability, which is certainly his right."

I'll take that a step or two further. When you hire Scott Boras as your agent, you basically endorse what Boras has done in the past--high-profile negotiations, phantom teams making phony offers, predatory negotiating tactics, holding out, possible collusion deals happening under the table, and basically being a complete dick. He insults the intelligence of teams by putting together some of his infamous books, talking about how Damon is the best leadoff hitter of all time. And, of course, you are okay with your agent upstaging the World Series while it's in progress to announce that you're opting out of your contract.

If you hire Boras, you condone all of his actions, which probably means that you are okay with dishonorable tactics to make that extra $100,000. Because, let's face it. Boras clients don't make much more money. Last time I checked, Sabathia's not starving.

And this, for those of you who might not know, is why the Red Sox' center fielder doesn't get acknowledged by his name on How Youz Doin Baseball. 46 was the first player to hire Boras (remember, players hire agents to work for them--it's like hiring an accountant or hiring a babysitter--a cut of your salary is exchanged for the agent's services) after the Arod thing happened during the 2007 World Series. By becoming the first player to do that, he was the first player to say, "it's okay, Arod. It's okay, Scott. I don't care about baseball. I don't care about the World Series. I care about me and nothing else."

That's all I got today. We might be posting sporadically over the next few days, only posting if we have anything urgent or burning. We'll be back in full force on January 4th.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Yanks Acquire Javier Vazquez

I can't stand burying DV's posts, especially because the kid writes at all hours of the night and morning in order to fit this site into his ridiculous training schedule. I really try to only do it when there is breaking news, and the Yankees making a trade/signing is breaking news. But please read his post below and keep the good conversation that he and the Gunn have started going in the comments section.

The Yankees have acquired Javier Vazquez from the Braves. As reported right now, the Yankees will be sending Melky Cabrera, Mike Dunn, and Arodys Vizcaino to Atlanta, and getting lefty reliever Boone Logan in return along with Vazquez. As we've seen a number of times this winter (as well as every other winter) the terms of the deal are not always as first reported. But it does appear that this is done.

A very solid move for the Yankees in terms of what they got in Vasquez. I have always liked Javier Vazquez, and thought the Yankees got rid of him way too fast after one bad second half. He's not the top of the line starter like the Yankees hoped they were getting the first time around. The added bonus to this deal is that he won't be relied on as a top of the line starter, but rather a #4. As far as #4's go, he's pretty good, as he was 15-10 with a 2.87 last year. It's a near certainty he won't repeat that in the AL East, but from a #4 there is some room for him to regress. What's important is that he's an innings eater extraordianre and a strikeout machine. Even with a bit of a down year his first year after being traded from the Yankees in Arizona, in the five years since leaving the Yankees he's averaged 213 innings and has a K/9 of 8.7, or almost one per inning. In Yankee Stadium, you want groundball or strikeout pitchers. Javy Vazquez is definitively a strikeout pitcher. He did all of this while average a respectable 4.09 ERA during that time. Vazquez is both consistent and reliable, and that's a good thing from middle-back end starters.

The Yankees also need an innings eater. When you look back at starting pitchers the year after an appearance in the World Series - and therefore an extra heavy workload - in the past four years it isn't particularly pretty. Mark Buehrle, Freddy Garcia, Jon Garland, Justin Verlander, Josh Beckett, Cole Hamels, and Brett Myers, to name just a few, are starters who struggled the year after pitching in the World Series due to injury, ineffectiveness, or both. It would be presumptious to expect the same kind of health and production from all three of Sabathia, Burnett, and Pettitte in 2010. I hope it happens, and it could happen, but the Yankees, as a win now team, need to be prepared to guard against it. Javier Vazquez helps to do that. He also creates a situation where the Yankees aren't relying on both Hughes and Chamberlain to be parts of the rotation, and that's also a good thing. They could develop into reliable starters, but you can't count on both of them yet as they are not proven enough. Doing so in 2010 would be no less of a mistake than it was in 2008, and the Yankees can't afford to do that as again, they are win now.

Another positive to this deal is that Vazquez's contract is up at the end of this season. That continues to give the Yankees roster flexibility for the strong free agent classes upcoming the next two seasons. At the same time, they get better for this year in their title defense.

In terms of what they gave up, if the deal as reported is accurate, it's no small package, and that's what stings a bit here. While you love getting Vazquez back, that doesn't happen in a vacuum. The Yankees had to give up talent to get him. Melky is a guy they can afford to give up (if they sign another outfielder, more on that in a second), although you worry about the impact on Cano not having his best friend around, and losing Melky's knack for coming up with the big play and losing his general upbeat demeanor's affect on the team. Mike Dunn, however, is a power lefty who the Yankees initially held up the Granderson trade over. If it was just those two, okay maybe. But then throwing in Arodys Vizcaino? He's a high-end young pitching prospect. Considering the Yankees are taking on all of Vazquez's contract, this seems like a lot. I have no idea because I don't know what the Yankees really think about Dunn and Vizcaino. And the Yankees are win now and these are guys that are a few years away, if they ever have Major League impact at all. I can see it from both angles.

What will be interesting now is what the Yankees do with left field. There rotation is likely set. Every other position is likely set. And the bullpen seems pretty set. But somehow I don't see the Yankees rolling with Brett Gardner, or a Brett Gardner and Jamie Hoffman platoon, everyday in left field. And you can't blame them for that. Melky and Gardner is a reasonable platoon, and we saw that last year with the Yankees winning the World Series essentially splitting time with them in center. They bring different things and you can play matchups, which Joe Girardi did well. But playing everyday, they are open to getting exposed. Even though Granderson gives you corner outfield production in center, which would allow you to have a weaker hitting better defending player in a corner spot, I don't see the Yankees doing it. I'm not saying they'll make a major move. Maybe they'll make no move at all. But they should do something to upgrade in left field now, at least providing another option. Handing left field to Brett Gardner, or a Gardner and Hoffman platoon, would be as presumptious as handing a rotation spot to Hughes and Kennedy in 2008. Especially for a team as win now as the Yankees, looking to defend a World Series title.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Do Red Sox Haters Love Theo Epstein?

I ask this question not even that sarcastically. Because he's done quite a few things to make Red Sox haters laugh. Obviously, December 6, 2006 (Drew and Lugo in one day) was head and shoulders above the rest of the things he's done as far as embarrassing himself. But I wrote earlier this winter that whenever the Red Sox have to actually negotiate--a situation of give-and-take--they get their bells rung.

The Mike Lowell/Texas trade that is now off is just another one of those examples.

Instead of maybe doing a little gamesmanship and trying to get something of pretty high value for Mike Lowell, a third baseman who can make most baseball teams better, the team pretty much showed their hand out of turn, then threw up all over the poker table. They made no mistakes about how little they valued the guy who hit .283 with 56 doubles, 34 homers, and 148 RBIs over the past two years despite battling a nasty hip injury. So not only did they agree to unload him for a catcher known for his bat...despite hitting .230 last year in the minors...with a poor throwing arm and two bad wrists.

And still pay Lowell 75% of his salary. So the Rangers got rid of a guy whose stock has taken a free fall the past year and gained a third baseman for three million dollars. I'm sorry--does Max Ramirez give the Rangers a crapload of leverage? I feel like Max Anderson (otherwise known as the Revolting Blog) might pack more leverage. It's a wonder how the team can be so steadfast in negotiations banning peanut vendors, scalpers other than their own hand-picked markup agency, and K placards, yet suck so hideously badly at negotiations with other Major League Baseball teams. Maybe they have Fitzy from NESN's wildly successful show "Pocket Money" doing the negotiating for them so that Theo can play the guitar with his boy Peter Gammons.

The fact that due to Lowell's bum thumb, the poor guy is coming back and might play baseball for the Red Sox this year has to be one of the sweetest Christmas presents for any Red Sox hater. After they gladly agreed to getting $0.30 on the dollar at most for Lowell, they now have to face a reasonably outspoken guy who was already irked last year when they tried unsuccessfully to get rid of him after botching another negotiation with Mark Teixeira.

Oh, I'm sorry, they didn't botch that one--his wife just wanted to go to New York.

Mike Lowell won't lay down on the Red Sox like they have repeatedly laid down on him. He's playing for a contract and doesn't want to look like Terrell Owens. But earlier this winter I compared the way the team is treating Lowell to the heinous way they treated Bronson Arroyo. As a Red Sox sympathizer, I'm reasonably happy that the front office's ways of mistreating players and sucking at negotiations are backfiring on them. I could just imagine what a Red Sox hater is thinking right now.

Also, big ups to the Red Sox medical team, who so very well diagnosed Lowell's thumb problem. All they need to match Colby College's team is the ultimate standard in skeptical body language--the Tina Face.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Rivalries and Nick Johnson

Two quick things to get the holiday week started.

John Lackey once had this gem after a game against the Red Sox. "[Monday] night they scored on a broken-bat ground ball and a fly ball that anywhere else in America is an out, and he's [Pedroia] fist-pumping on second base like he did something great."

Now, this is an awesome comment. Almost any time you can make fun of Fenway Park and Dustin Pedroia in the same sentence it's going to be good.

The unfortunate part is that it's pretty meaningless. Lackey and Pedroia probably won't even have to clear the air, and if they do it will be nothing more than joking about it. And that's what they should do. They were once on rival teams and now they are on the same team. You have to put anything in the past behind you and focus on winning together.

That doesn't make it any better from an outsider's perspective. Rivalries are part of what makes sports fun. Sadly they are largely a thing of the past at this stage, and this is the case for baseball more than any other sport. Players are changing teams all the time. The Red Sox and Angels have had a nice little rivalry going this decade. They've met in the playoffs in three consecutive years, and four of the last six. Lackey's been a part of that, and now he's on the Red Sox. I was talking to one of my buddies in Boston about it over the weekend, and he mentioned that he feels weird about Lackey joining the team because he feels he's been a rival. And this is nowhere near the biggest rival team switching we've seen in baseball in recent years. Hello, Johnny Damon. And there have been others.

I don't think all of this is a big deal. It's part of the way the game is now. But I do think it's too bad. Being a Knicks fan in the 90's was awesome. A big part of that was that you had three out of this world rivalries that developed. Knicks/Bulls, Knicks/Pacers, and Knicks/Heat. These teams genuinely did not like each other, and it showed every time they played. For the most part you knew that I guy you didn't like was not suddenly going to be a part of your team. In my eyes that's a good thing.

No sport is the way it used to be in this regard, but baseball is probably the worst. I'd say it's NFL, NBA, MLB from best to worst in terms of rivals switching teams (with them switching being a bad thing in my eyes). I'm never going to complain about this if it benefits my team. And like I said, I don't think it's that big of a deal. But it does take a little something away in my opinion. It's nice to have rivalries and rivals that don't suddenly switch sides.

Switching gears, Nick Johnson is a nice signing. At one year and $5.5 million it's nice value too for a guy that had the third highest OBP in baseball last year. One of the best aspects of it is the versatility his skill set affords the Yankees. If Curtis Granderson gets back to his 2007-2008 OBP levels, where he was .361 and .365 respectively, you want him batting in the 2 hole. He's too dynamic and brings too much speed to have him anywhere else but the top of the order if he's getting on-base at that clip. In that instance, Johnson bats 7th or 8th, with Swisher taking the other slot, and the two of them become an absolute nuisance for opposing pitchers. After you get through the middle of the Yankees' order, which is probably the best 1-6 in all of baseball, then you have to deal with two guys who are consistently amongst the league leaders in pitches per plate appearance and walks. If they are hitting back to back it won't be unusual for a pitcher to use 10+ pitches (or 10% of a typical starter's outing) just to get them out. That's not going to be fun.

If Granderson isn't getting on base at the clip you'd like him to, or even if you just want to get his power into more of a run producing spot in the order, Johnson can easily bat 2nd as well. He's very slow, but when you get on base the way he does and when you have Teixeira and Rodriguez behind you, he's a run scored waiting to happen, and that's the idea. If he hit 2nd enough he'd turn a lot of solo homers into two run jobs.

No matter what you end up doing there isn't a whole lot of downside here. The main concern with Johnson is his health, but on a one year deal you're mitigating a lot of that concern. You could make a case for Matsui too, but over the course of 162 there probably won't be a big difference in their total production, albeit likely arriving at it in different ways. Matsui is more of a run producer and Johnson is more of a run scorer on the Yankees, but both count the same. We have no idea what the Yankees' reasons are, and like I said there are good reasons on both sides. This is a solid move, and if healthy Nick Johnson should really help the Yankees.

Everyone have a great start to their holiday week.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

How To Lose Journalistic Credibility in 2076 Words Or Less

I like Rob Neyer. A lot. A Red Sox fan who (until now, at least) has stayed away from the Kool-Aid, Neyer has put together a lot of good stuff, including how it's doubtful whether Josh Beckett can pitch effectively and still throw 200 innings and how Jason Varitek's play-calling does not help Red Sox pitchers. He's good at throwing the sabermetrics around. Of course, as Theo Epstein's September 30, 2009 interview ushered in the Death of Sabermetrics, it looks like Neyer's journalistic credibility is going down in flames as well.

Of course, this is because of the "top 100 players of the decade" document he put out on ESPN.com this week. I have had it sent to me from four different sources, all pointing out the same thing: Nancy Drew is 22nd. For a few days, I pretty much ignored it. But then more inquiries about how I felt about it came in. So I will respond using this post. And you know what? This has nothing to do with his "Next Mickey Mantle" expectations. It's because he's been flat-out mediocre his whole freaking career.

Some sabermetric-happy airheads who look at one line of the stat sheet will actually vote Drew into the Hall of Fame despite the fact that he’s never driven in 101 runs, he’s never performed like a middle-of-the-order hitter (or a top-of-the-order hitter), and he’s never stayed on the field for a consistent period of time. He sits against lefties when healthy during the back end of his prime. Did you know that even during 2009, arguably his healthiest season, he only played 106 full baseball games? Neyer wants you to ignore that. However...

Mariano Rivera, according to Neyer, doesn't pitch enough, and that's why he's ranked 24th, behind Drew. The fact that Drew is ahead of Mo, who has been unhittable for 15 years (10 of those 15 are in this decade), is laughable and insulting. The reasoning behind it might make Pat want to jump out a window even more than I want to jump out of one: Rivera doesn’t pitch enough, doesn’t play enough baseball. JD Drew has missed 400 games (2.5 seasons) this decade, many due to the fact that he 1) doesn’t play hurt and 2) is not reliable enough against left-handed pitching that he is benched. He only plays when all the cards are stacked his way, and still strikes out and hits weak ground balls to second quite a bit. He walks a lot, though.

So Neyer wants you to ignore the fact that Nancy doesn't play but devalue Rivera because he doesn't play. He wants you to look at Nancy's rate stats when he does play--when all of the cards are stacked in his favor. Imagine if Manny Ramirez played only when Mike Mussina was pitching: Sure, he only gets 30 at-bats a year, but he hit a home run in 17 of them! Look at those rate stats! Look at that OPS! I know that Neyer is a BIG sabermetrics guy, so he drools over OPS, WARP, and other sabermetric stats that make it seem that a walk is the best thing you can do, so I understand to a certain extent why he puts Drew so high. But by saying that he’s good during the 7.5 seasons he didn’t sit out and ignoring the fact that he sat 2.5 seasons—right before saying that Mariano sat too much—is illogical, asinine, ridiculous, and insulting to the intelligence of any baseball fan.

Neyer said he did value postseason performance. Wait, I thought sabermetric guys don’t believe in clutch. But this begs the question: Did one swing during the first inning of Game 6 of the 2007 ALCS catapult JD to the top? What if Curt Schilling had not pitched well that game?

You’d think that, seeing there are two leagues, if a guy is the 22nd-best of the decade, his average MVP voting ranking over the course of said decade might hover around 11th (i.e. 22nd in MLB at large). Drew has received MVP votes one (1) time in his career. Usually roughly 30 guys get votes. So in one (1) year in this decade, his 2004 “Let’s get an unreasonable contract” year (looking at you, Adrian Beltre), he finished in the top 60 of the major leagues in MVP voting, when he finished 6th in the NL. But somehow he’s still the 22nd-best of the decade according to this clown.

Other questionable positioning is how high Mike Cameron (37) is placed. As a long-time Cameron fantasy owner (and I did have him during the 4-HR game), I can attest to the fact that he’s just not that good. There’s clear anti-Yankee bias here: Rivera, as we’ve already discussed. The complete omission of Matsui, who put together seven elite seasons (many guys here put in 4-6 very good seasons, and the guy who’s 22nd put together one very good season and 6.5 slightly-better-than-average seasons). Mussina at 35, just beating out Cameron. Steroid user Magglio Ordonez and Derek Lowe are both way down in the sixties and probably should both be rated higher than Drew. Half of Tom Glavine’s Hall of Fame career was in the 2000s and he’s stuck at 81, just a notch above a guy (Nomar) who had maybe 3.5 halfway-notable seasons this decade.

Anyway, specifically the high rating of Nancy Drew, as far as I’m concerned, has rendered the opinions and Neyer’s credibility pretty much worthless. As far as I’m concerned, his reputation, due to 2,067 words when formulating this list, has taken more of a nosedive than the Miami football team could in a nine-minute "seventh floor" rap. His repuation has plummeted this month more than Tiger Woods’s. As I wrote in response to this comment in my running training log, if JD Drew is the 22nd-best player in baseball this decade, I’m the 22nd-best runner in the world.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Thank You, Hideki

Hideki Matsui signed a new contract with the Angels on Tuesday, and did so to very little fanfare. Part of this is that on the same day one of the biggest trades in recent memory went down and the best starting pitcher signed a major deal with one of baseball's biggest teams. Part of this is the point Matsui is at his career, an aging veteran that, although still productive, is no longer in his prime. Part of this is that the deal itself, one year for $6.5 million, isn't overly exciting in terms of commanding people's attention.

This is sort of what Matsui's career in America and Major League Baseball has been like, and I think his changing teams with such little attention is just another example of that. In fact, despite all the things listed above, this is likely a big part of why it happened so quietly. Matsui always seemed to fly under the radar. But while he did so, the Yankees got seven magnificent years of baseball. Maybe this was never fully appreciated (in fact, this is probable), but it certainly did not go unnoticed for Yankee fans really paying attention to the team. Not seven good years. Seven tremendous years.

Matsui hit .292/.370/.482 over those seven years. Two were substantially shortened by injury. In the five that weren't, Matsui averaged 25 home runs and 105 RBI. That the Yankees paid him only $73 million over those seven years, or barely more than $10 million per, only makes him that much more valuable.

All of that is, amazingly, sort of beside the point. I say amazingly because anyone would want that production at that price. But that wasn't what Matsui's biggest strength was. After all, while the numbers are very good, elite they were not. What they were, however, were rock solid. Reliable. Consistent. Clutch. These are the phrases that really come to mind when thinking about Matsui. Every day that Matsui played, he hit.

You didn't always notice him. I can't really tell you why. Maybe because he seemed so quiet and stoic. Maybe because he was overshadowed by the other stars in the Yankee lineup. After all, Rodriguez came aboard just one year after Matsui (has it really been that long?). I don't really know. But I do know that it doesn't make any sense. In addition to his solid production, he truly had a flare for the dramatic. I said it above, and I'll say it again because I can't say it enough: he was flat out clutch. One of my father's best friends is a huge Yankee fan just like my father and I are. We e-mail all the time about the team. After Matsui signed, he e-mailed me that in his opinion Matsui was the best clutch Yankee since Yogi Berra (who was apparently off the charts in the clutch, I obviously don't know as I never saw him). I've seen Jeter get a lot of big hits, but Matsui is right there in my opinion too. It seemed like he was always, always getting big hits. And that's because he was. In that way, it is beyond fitting that he came in hitting a grand slam in his first game as a Yankee and in Major League Baseball on Opening Day 2003 in the Bronx, and left crushing a homer off Pedro and collecting 6 RBI in the clinching game of the World Series to net him the World Series MVP.

Matsui did all of this while being the consummate professional. Not just in terms of the dignified way he carried himself off the field, but in the way he approached the game. He cared. He wanted to win. He took his job very seriously. It is not lost on me that after his somewhat dissapointing rookie year, his injury ridden 2006, and his injury ridden 2008, he came back to have big seasons the next year each time. He viewed playing at a high level as a responsibility to the team, not just a goal. You always got the sense that Matsui's teammates loved him for this. With Jeter in particular, it always seemed like he had this veneration for the way Matsui approached the game. There is little more that you could ask for from a player.

For all of these reasons, it's sort of saddening to me that someone that conducted himself this way, and provided the sort of production Matsui did, flew so under the radar while he was in pinstripes. But I get the feeling that might be how he preferred it, which makes it a little bit more okay. What really saddens me is that Matsui just left and signed elsewhere with little more than acknowledgement from most. No, it isn't a huge loss for 2010, but that's not what it's about. It's about what Matsui did for the last seven years, culminating with the postseason he had this year. All of us Yankees fans owe Matsui a big thank you, for the way he produced, for the way he approached his job, for the way he conducted himself. We may not have always noticed him while he was here, but he's probably the exact kind of player you don't really realize what you had until you don't have it anymore. And that's really too bad, because Matsui was great for seven years.

So thank you, Hideki. When I look back on Matsui's tenure, I'm always going to remember it in a great way. So many big hits, so much consistency. What will stick out for me the most, however, is probably what will stick out the most for a lot of Yankees fans: the 2009 World Series MVP. It may have taken seven years, but Matsui finally got his due. It was overdue, but he got it regardless. To say that it was well-deserved is an understatement. Whenever his first game against the Yankees is, no matter if I'm at the game, watching on TV, or listening on the radio, I'll be giving him a standing O. He deserves that too, for everything he did in pinstripes for the last seven years.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Look Back on the Last Bridge

It's a bittersweet fact that How Youz Doin Baseball didn't exist five years ago. Actually, it was right about then when Pat started throwing the idea out there, though it didn't come to fruition until February 2007. But the winter of 2004-2005 was an interesting one, as was the next winter. Looking back on it, that was the time of the first "bridge" between "now-years," and it was a time when the Red Sox handled it pathetically.

To their credit, let's just get it out of the way now, they are handling the current "bridge" situation a lot better than they did in 2004-6. You have to think that a lot of it has to do with what is perceived as more power in the front office to Theo Epstein, who, despite his love for JD Drew and his reliance on one line in a stat sheet, has had the right idea the whole time. In 2005 and 2006, Theo would not have been able to say he was going to punt the season due to pressure from the ownership group to make the Red Sox act as an uber-team.

During the two offseasons in questions, the Red Sox, despite a budding farm system and the inevitable loss of several key parts of the 2004 championship season leaving via free agency (Pedro, Lowe, Damon, et. al.), refused to sacrifice a single season in the interest of rebuilding. The insistence of some in the front office (Lucchino? Maybe still Theo?) to focus on only the shiny things and the current time produced a long series of short-sighted moves, none of which exceeded the blatant stupidity of signing Edgar Renteria. Hanley Ramirez, no matter what his numbers against AA pitching and no matter what his nightclub antics were, was the most highly-touted prospect to come through the system in quite a while. He was ready to be in the majors, well, probably by 2006, because he only ended up winning the Rookie of the Year that year. So instead of re-signing the popular Orlando Cabrera or signing maybe a one-year-deal to a rapidly-aging Omar Vizquel, they decided to give big money and big years to Renteria.

This effectively took a job away from the rightful heir of Ramirez. Because you don't bench a guy making $10 million a year. The Red Sox' "win now" attitude when there should have been 1-2 "bridge" years resulted in sacrificing Ramirez, no matter how much Renteria did or did not suck in Boston.

In 2005, the team drafted a can't miss positional prospect in the first round of the draft. He was a center fielder, and as he had already played an entire college career, was primed to rip up the minors and make a prompt major league debut (this ended up happening in 2006 anyway, of course). When the team parted ways with Johnny Damon, they should have picked up a stopgap, perhaps like Jeremy Reed or, hell, like what Coco Crisp ended up being. It should have been a temporary fix. But they traded Andy Marte (who was gained in the Renteria trade and was also extremely highly-touted) to Cleveland for Crisp, taking a step backwards. What was the most inexplicable, however, was when they signed Crisp to a long-term extension, effectively taking future playing time away from the other center fielder, who, of course ended up being 46.

Meanwhile, the same philosophy (and possibly magnified because Epstein wasn't even there ar the time of the deal) was more evident when the Red Sox, despite having a piss-poor performance by their incumbent shortstop who was just about to have his contract eaten, traded away Ramirez for a pitcher with a blister problem and a $13 million third baseman who hit .235/8/60 the year before. These moves all reeked of having no clear plan on how to run the baseball team, and it took a miraculous comeback specifically from Mike Lowell to have any kind of long-term profitability.

The truth of the matter is, when you don't have a plan, and you hesitate to actually rebuild like the Red Sox did in 2005 and 2006, you end up with problems. The Red Sox got rid of Ramirez both because they already had a SS and because they wanted to chase a shiny thing like Josh Beckett. They got rid of their other SS because they wanted to chase a shiny thing in center field with Crisp coming off of a contract year. So the net result of this was that there was a logjam in center field with 46 not getting the playing time he deserved and the current shortstop situation.

The most redeeming part about this current offseason is that none of the moves made by Boston have required them to move backwards in the future as they had in 2004-06. The Lackey effect will still be felt when the next "now year" comes when Drew and Ortiz are off the books. The biggest logjam possible would be that Jeremy Hermida and Mike Cameron will be blocking Josh Reddick from a job until 2011 or until Drew decides he has sore glove hand again.. Reddick, however, is 22 freaking years old and could probably use some time in Pawtucket.

Bottom line, the Red Sox are executing rebuilding so much better than they once did. One year, it was complete chaos that they are still indirectly paying for. The other year, they're keeping the long-term well-being of the club a top priority. Which means as stupid as he's seemed, this might be the year Theo Epstein puts himself in the right place.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Post-Punt Defense

If the Patriots had a defense like this, they would have punted on 4th and 2 like the Red Sox are still punting in 2010. Because this defense is so well-fortified that they actually could have stopped a 70-yard Peyton Manning drive.

I like the John Lackey acquisition a lot. I think it's a good move. Not great, but they brought in the best pitcher on the free agent market at a very reasonable price. You get a guy who's a year younger than Halladay, doesn't require a posting fee of prospects, and didn't demand $20+ million until he's 37-38 years old. It's a good move.

You may have noticed the fact that I still consider 2010 a punt season for the Red Sox, and you may respond with something like "BUT WE SIGHNED LACKEY HE WILL MAKE US BETER NEXT YEAR!!1" While it is true that Lackey will improve the Red Sox in 2010, he also improves the team in the post-JD Drew/Mike Cameron years--the years that are looking more and more like "now" years for the Red Sox as the gap is infamously "bridged" between now and then. He'll be around for five years. After the Drew/Cameron/Scutaro years, the Red Sox will still have Lackey, Buchholz, Lester, Matsuzaka, and Bard on their pitching staff, and Youkilis, Pedroia, and I believe 46 in their lineup. Not a bad place to start. We're not talking about albatross contracts here. And this contract is off the books when Lackey is 36. So this move is as much about the future as it is about 2010.

-Tony Massarotti wrote a good article the other day about "feeding the monster," taking the term from Seth Mnookin, how the team might make a big move that could ultimately be detrimental to the team just to save face for a fan base that does not accept the team punting for the year. If the Lackey signing adequately feeds the monster for the impatient "WE HALF TO WIN EVERY YEAR!!1" fans who generate revenue while proving to be a good long-term deal, it's great news. Plus, if by the off chance the Red Sox do make the 2010 playoffs, they are well-equipped for a short series.

-The Sox currently have three 1-A starters. They have no true aces, but what a great top of the rotation. There's been a lot said today in the media about how Lackey and Beckett are similar--but really the way to look at it is that Lackey is a straighter line while Beckett is a much more jagged line with violent ups and downs. The average of both may be the same, but unlike Beckett, you can really get a sense of what Lackey will be bringing to the table every year.

-This move does not make Clay Buchholz expendible. Not to mention that there's no reason for Florida or San Diego to trade their franchise players. This move, instead, is insurance just in case Beckett leaves after 2010 or in case Matsuzaka sucks. Buchholz and Lackey can and should coexist in this rotation. The move does say a lot about the team's faith in Michael Bowden and Junichi Tazawa, however.

-The only concern I have about this move is how Lackey will get along with Francona. I'm sure he'll be happy when Francona leaves him in to surrender seven if he's struggling. However, his insistence on keeping the ball (most notably during the '09 playoffs) may be a big problem when Tito yanks him in the sixth, then puts in Okajima/Delcarmen/RamRam/RamRam to walk the bases loaded and give up a double. Just saying.

But all in all, I'm happy with this move. If only they made more moves like this and fewer moves like Mike Cameron.

I'm Clint Eastwood in his Mid-Twenties

Red Sox sign Mike Cameron. Two pills he pops 'til his pupils fill up like two pennies. Sox must be a big fan of leaded coffee, a repeat drug offender, one four-home run game and an otherwise disappointing baseball career.

The one game where he hit those four home runs, Cameron happened to be on my fantasy team. Maybe Theo Epstein learned from his lesson when judging Julio Lugo's career by seventy-three games with Tampa Bay in 2006. The way to more correctly judge players is by using even smaller sample sizes than 73 games. So to prove that Cameron is a good baseball player by taking into account one 4-home run game really is the way to go. If they are not judging Cameron by that four-homer game, they have very little other evidence to prove that he's worth $16 million over two years with Josh Reddick waiting in the wings.

Peter Abraham of the Globe said that the Red Sox' shift to defensive prowess as a way to build a successful baseball team is interesting. I find it interesting that Epstein is just 3-4 years behind Billy Beane's shift from OBP to defense.

For kicks and giggles, good defenders being the next generation of undervalued players (i.e. Moneyball 2.0) have yielded the following results for the Oakland Athletics:

2009: 75-87
2008: 75-86
2007: 76-86

More about Lackey in a bit.

Lackey In, Bay Out, DV Flakes Out

Interesting last 36 hours when I was unable to update HYD Baseball. First of all, Jason Bay, citing no progress in negotiations, and his agent Joe Urbon have decided the negotiations with the Red Sox are pretty much dead. The Red Sox hesitate because of his age and his shoulder. Not sure why they don't want to take those kinds of risks with the guy with the highest OPS of all AL outfielders but they were more than willing to tamper with the guy with the second-highest OPS of all AL outfielders at the same age and similarly with shoulder problems, but oh well. I'll have something to say about left field later this week.

Reports say John Lackey is coming to Boston. I've gone both ways on the way I feel about Lackey over the years, but as they have been saying on the radio, he's a 1-A starter younger than Halladay, paid A LOT less than what Halladay's going to get, and someone who pretty much needs to be the #3 guy in Boston. Would you rather have John Lackey or AJ Burnout? I think you know my answer. Tonight I'll write about how this effects the Red Sox' punt of the 2010 season, and I'll actually be good for this one.

I'm glad we haven't had too much Adrian Gonzalez/Hanley Ramirez nonsense on our comments boards here at HYD Baseball. But if you want to link this signing to the team trying to trade for either of those guys, I will consider deleting your comment.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Oh Yeah!

There are a lot of things to talk about as the Red Sox finished up their winter meetings wheelings and dealings. I'm going to try my best to keep it brief and chronological. Here we go:

>Peter Gammons is scaling back his Red Sox Kool-Aid distribution efforts, as he has quit ESPN and has joined NESN. As opposed to popular belief, he will be joining NESN in the next few months. He has NOT been working for NESN the last five years.

>The team is punting the 2010 season, as I mentioned in my last post. I really do believe that the team will pass on both Jason Bay and Matt Holliday. This really is not that bad of a thing. It's refreshing to see that the team is actually going in one direction (trying to win in 2-3 years) and focusing all their resources on trying to become a better team in 2012 instead of saving face and appeasing people like Dan Shaughnessy by making haphazard moves that will marginally improve the 2010 Red Sox but leave the team with albatross contracts when they are making a push for a title again.

>While the Shaughnessy "bridge year" article Thursday had a few good points in it (specifically the part about the rising ticket prices--but even that was put more maturely in the HYD Baseball comments section Thursday), it was ultimately so irrational that it should have had some incorrect punctuation and capitalization in it. In one paragraph, he was talking about how waiting for a crop of prospects sucked, then contradicted himself by talking about the Yankees' homegrown players. Going year-to-year and making knee-jerk decisions is what gave the Yankees' nine years of futility. Previous incarnations of my writing categorized the team's signing of Renteria, jettisoning of Hanley Ramirez, giving a contract extension to Coco Crisp, and making the two signings from the infamous day of December 6th, 2006 as knee-jerk, panic moves. Giving Adrian Beltre three years is similar. Even trading the entire farm system for three years of the other Adrian is a reactionary, panic-driven move. Let's see some patience. I actually think Epstein's doing an okay job here.

>Has anybody confirmed that this conversation hasn't happened, and this is not the source of the Lucchino/Theo beef that was reported in signonsandiego.com?

Theo: We're not going to try to win this year.
Lucchino: We have to sell tickets though.
Theo: I'm not trading my minor leaguers. How do you want to sell tickets for a team where everyone sucks except for JD Drew, who had the second-highest OPS of all AL outfielders?
Lucchino: Let's acquire a lot of guys with funny names. Remember 2006 with Coco Crisp and Runelvys Hernandez?
Theo: Remember when I went on vacation with Pearl Jam?
Lucchino: We can acquire a guy with the name "scooter" in it, a guy who has the same name as the Ramon Ramirez we already have, and a guy whose first name is an obscure slang word for shoving drugs up your rear end in an airport. Maybe we can bring Coco back and start selling brown shirts to 15-year-old girls again!
Theo: Child please.
Lucchino: Do it.
Theo: I thought you were gonna ask me about JD Drew having the second-highest OPS of all AL outfielders.

>Every inning eaten by Boof Bonser is a bonus. An intriguing move. And it's worth looking at the second definition of "boof" on urbandictionary.com.

>I would rather have Coco Crisp back than have Johnny Damon back. I'm not holding my breath, but that would be a dream come true.

Lowell to Texas

Pretty big news to wake up to: The Red Sox traded Mike Lowell to Texas in exchange for catcher Max Ramirez. This is good, because now the Red Sox have a highly-touted Rangers catching prospect so that they can go pursue a Scott Boras-represented corner infielder who is looking for a lot of money.

Unfortunately, this year is 2009 and not 2008, so the corner infielder is not Mark Teixeira, who is a good baseball player. It is Adrian Beltre, who decided one year that he was going to load up on steroids, hit about twice as well as he ever had before and ever had since, and have a team fall for paying big money for him without getting adequate production.

I'm really thrilled that the Red Sox are interested in a guy like that. Maybe the new "second-highest OPS among all AL outfielders" will be "he had a really good 2004 and we believe he really has that 48-home run power." Good. Beltre hit .265 with eight home runs last year, and unlike Lowell initially after his disastrous 2005 season, the Red Sox are NOT obligated to pick Beltre up. Maybe a one-year deal might be acceptable, because I still have faith in Lars Anderson. Anything more than that is not acceptable.

On the one hand, I am sad to see Lowell go. The guy could still hit when Francona decided to bench him four out of five days last year. His hip was not affecting his hitting in the second half of the season, and Francona foolishly played him every day at the beginning of the season before he was recovered. If the Red Sox really wanted to contend in 2010, Lowell could certainly have been a part of that.

However, it is looking more and more likely that the Red Sox are punting the 2010 season, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. They are picking up Max Ramirez, who can hit a baseball. It's a bit troubling that he's already 25 years old and might end up playing first base soon, but he could immediately get some playing time behind the plate, moving Victor Martinez to first, Youkilis to third, and Varitek far away from a baseball field. It would be a bit extreme, but having Ramirez catch, Josh Reddick (who somehow has gone way under the radar in the "top prospect" realm) in left field, FPS in center, and a rotation featuring Lester and Buchholz is really making it look like the old guard is on its way out and the new guard is coming in. After all, Varitek and Ortiz are gone next year. The 2010 Red Sox could struggle, but ultimately, that might be okay.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Granderson Trade

Great move for the Yankees. In terms of the actual acquisition, there isn't a ton to say. The Yankees got a very good player at a good price. To reitterate a general sentiment that is out there, the Yankees would do very well if Austin Jackson, the main piece they gave up in this trade, turned into Curtis Granderson. Curtis Granderson already is Curtis Granderson. For a win now team, it is almost always better to take the certainty over the uncertainty. Especially when the player you are acquiring is right in the middle of his prime. It isn't like you are trading a young starting pitcher for a pitcher you hope he becomes who is also 36 years old. No, Granderson is 28, and the Yankees will have him under team control for his age 29, 30, 31, and 32 seasons if they want to.

This is not to say Austin Jackson might not end up to be better than Granderson. He might. But he also might end up being not nearly as good. The other two pieces that the Yankees gave up are Ian Kennedy and Phil Coke. Kennedy is a starter that still has a lot of value. He's only 25, and has a career 1.95 ERA in the minor leagues. 12 mixed starts in the majors that have produced awful overall numbers are not going to totally deplete his value. Especially given his strong Arizona Fall League performance that scouts have had good things to say about. It's just that his value is higher for most of the other teams in baseball than it is for the Yankees. He looks like a back-end starter and while there are other teams that may really be looking for that, and the Yankees certainly want pitching depth too, that isn't going to keep them from acquiring an All-Star caliber center fielder. Phil Coke is your run of the mill lefty reliever, and while it's nice to have lefties around again, unless they are back-end staples you don't even consider hesitating to put them in a deal for a good player. In the end, the Yankees got something really good back and didn't give up a ton. That's how you evaluate trades, that's why this looks like such a good deal for the Yankees, as everyone is pretty much saying.

Of course, people are quick to point out Granderson's shortcomings. He has bad numbers against lefties and strikes out too much. First, not every player is Albert Pujols, obviously. Just because a player has a weakness or two in their game does not make acquiring them a bad thing. Most players have weaknesses. Second, and related, it's always a matter of how much you give up. Granderson is not one of the absolute elite players in baseball. He's very good, but again, he's not Albert Pujols. And the Yankees didn't give up a package that would have been Pujols worthy. Not even close. They gave up a pacakge that gets you a very good player at a premium position who has a few weaknesses. This is neither unusual nor a problem.

I also don't think the Yankees got a steal here. I'm a believer that you can make a great trade for your team but still give up fair value. I think that's exactly what happened here. Austin Jackson could be very, very good and is only 22 years old. DV has consistently said that he was the best player he saw while working with the Portland Sea Dogs. He could probably play center field for Detroit on Opening Day, and if his power develops, watch out. The Yankees got a great player back that helps their team more this year, but it didn't come without a price.

Besides bettering the team for next year, there is another significant element we can take away from this trade. That is an organizational direction to get younger, more dynamic on both sides of the baseball, and obtain players for their prime years as opposed to paying them for what they did during their prime years and getting decling production. This is in line with bringing Sabathia, Teixeira, and Swisher aboard last winter. This move is actually very similar to the Swisher deal in that you are getting younger and more cost-effective, while only having players under contract for their prime-ish yeas (and not much more, if at all). Both with be 29 next season. Combined, they will make $12.25 million. That's two-thirds of the Yankees' outfield for less than Damon or Matsui made alone last year, and both under the age of 30. Neither is under contract past their age 32 season, meaning the Yankees don't have to absorb any of their post-prime years if they don't want to. And they combined for 59 home runs in 2009. Writing these last few sentences, you almost don't feel like you are talking about the Yankees. But this is the direction the brothers Steinbrunner, Cashman, and Girardi are taking them in. Having two-thirds of your outfield be that productive at that price and limited amount of years allows you more flexibility to go get the elite players like Sabathia and Teixeira for the more significant amount of years and dollars that it takes to get them.

To bring this full circle, Granderson is an excellent player. I have always liked his game. He has tremendous power for a top of the order guy, has good plate discipline, has good speed, and is a very good center fielder. He's also apparantly a really great guy and one of the most well-liked players around the game, which is in line with the Yankees' new clubhouse culture. There isn't a whole lot not to like. He makes the Yankees a lot better for 2009 and the foreseeable future. And as we always say, the Yankees are still built to win now. This helps in that department.

Actual Low Risk, High Reward

The Red Sox got a lot of praise for their signings of John Smoltz and Brad Penny last winter. They were lauded over and over as "low risk, high reward" signings. While I thought they were pretty good depth signings, I didn't really get this label. The low risk part, sure. One year and $5 million is not a risk on any level for the Red Sox. But high reward?

Even relative to the salary, I didn't see it. Smoltz was 42 years old, coming off a shoulder injury, and had never pitched in the American League, let alone the American League East. Brad Penny was also coming off injury and despite some good NL seasons, had very questionable peripherals, had spent his entire career in the cozy pitcher's confines of Dolphin Stadium and the NL West's big ballparks, and had a career ERA north of 5.00 against American League opponents. The chances of either of them giving anything above moderate production seemed minimal. That pretty much beared itself out during the 2009 season.

Given the Red Sox pitching situation last winter, I liked the approach. I just think they went after the wrong guys. They were able to get guys whose low years and dollars satisfied the low risk part, but they weren't able to get anything in the high reward department. You need that to make singings like this work. If you want low risk with something besides a high reward, you can give the ball to someone else for the league minimum. If you're going to make even the moderate low risk investment, there may as well be something in it for you.

The Yankees are in a position this winter where one low risk/high reward pitcher makes a lot of sense. All of this is assuming they bring back Pettitte, something they absolutely need to do. If they don't, simply signing one of these players will not be enough. They'll need something more. If the do, the top of their rotation boasts three proven veterans in Sabathia, Burnett, and Pettitte. Entering Spring Training, Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain will show up as starters as well as the likely front-runners to win the last two spots in the rotation breaking camp. Chad Gaudin, Alfredo Aceves, Ian Kennedy, Zach McAllister, and Ivan Nova will all be in the mix as well. On paper, that all looks great.

That's rarely how it happens. Giving the last two spots to the unproven Hughes and Chamberlain, especially with Hughes' 2010 innings limits, would be a mistake. Expecting the same health they got from everyone in the rotation this year, even considering Wang, would be a mistake. Relying on any of the five guys likely to be in reserve or in bullpen roles to start the season for too much would be a mistake. Not because it won't all work out. It very well may. But you shouldn't be thinking like it will.

Which creates a perfect opportunity for a low risk/high reward move. The team doesn't have to make a big investment, and they may not want to in the event that everything does work out. If it does work out, the team still gets a potentially big return and added depth. If not, oh well. If yes, it makes a potentially dangerous pitching staff even more dangerous. Part of the reason for this is that, unlike Smoltz and Penny, there are some actual high upside guys in the marketplace this year.

Rich Harden, when healthy, is one of the best pitchers in baseball. Ditto Ben Sheets. Both Justin Duchsherer and Erik Bedard have had success in the American League very recently. No doubt, all have various degrees of upside. My ranking would go in the order I just listed them.

Of course, each of these players brings with them a chance of giving you nothing. With their talent, there is a reason they are in the low risk/high reward category. They are either injury prone, coming off injury, or both. This still should not deter the Yankees. Not only is the market still down because of the economy making these guys even more inexpensive (or more affordable, particularly if you're the Yankees), but the Yankees' rotation is constructed in a way where they wouldn't be asking for a lot. One of these guys can only give you 120 innings? Great, that's 120 innings the Yankees will likely need from them due to keeping Hughes' innings down, injury, or some other unforeseen circumstance.

Whatever one of these players can give innings wise will come at a level of production they likely cannot get from anywhere else within the organization. So it's almost a total added bonus. Whatever they don't give you towards a full season (say the remaining 80 if they give 120) they Yankees can easily fill with someone else. It's just better to get some innings from a highly productive player than to get all needed innings from the player the Yankees would otherwise give them to in reserve in the organization. You take the innings you get and hope the low risk/high reward player is healthy for October if you get there. Again, it's almost a complete bonus whatever the Yankees got from a player like this. If everything works out perfectly, you put them in the bullpen. There is almost no downside.

There are players like this available this winter. The Yankees should re-sign Pettitte and then go get one of these arms. It would be an outstanding fit based on how the 2010 rotation looks right now. I'm not mentioning Wang (despite my feeling that the Yankees should try to bring him back on a small incentive-laden deal) because he's not going to be ready until probably mid-season and is a bit more of an unknown than at least some of these guys. So right now I'd say Harden, Sheets, Duchsherer, Bedard, in that order.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Sore Glove Hand (Volume 10)

A few things to address before the winter meetings tomorrow. Keep your eyes on HYD Baseball this week, as we will both be posting on irregular schedules if it becomes necessary. If it is not necessary, then we won't be.

>First, someone has to raid Gillette Stadium, eradicating any possibility that Bill Belichick can get his hands on Bigelow Green Tea. It happened to Torre, it happened to Francona, and the only way to rationalize what is happening to Belichick is that he's drinking dangerous amounts of Bigelow Green Tea, so his decision-making skills have deteriorated at an alarming rate. He's not endorsing it or anything, but there isn't any other explanation.

>Happy anniversary, Red Sox fans. It has been three years since the Boy Wonder decided it was a good idea to sign JD Drew and Julio Lugo for a combined $106 million. It's been theorized that the Drew thing happened to gain leverage with Boras so that the Red Sox could also pick up Matsuzaka. Awesome.

>To follow that up, I'm going to give my final word regarding Scutaro. I've already compared him to Gonzalez in this post. But in one paragraph, this is Scutaro: A slightly worse fielder. An older player, but a more durable player. A slightly better hitter, but Theo probably loves him because he has played well against the Red Sox and because he walks, unlike Gonzalez. The Red Sox forfeited a borderline starter/utility guy for another borderline starter/utility guy who got one more year and $8 million more. I liked Gonzalez and I don't think Scutaro will completely suck. But every move he makes, I am losing more and more faith in the Boy Wonder. The fact that the Red Sox' hype machine advertised this as a "major announcement" is a joke, but not at all surprising.

>On Scutaro and the draft pick nonsense: It wouldn't surprise me if the Red Sox think they will sign Holliday, or perhaps Lackey. But the reason they signed Scutaro probably had more to do with "oh crap, the Blue Jays took our backup plan" than "he'll only cost a second-round pick." Matt, to respond to your comment--if they retain Wagner, they give up a pick by signing Scutaro. If they give up Wagner, they still give up a pick. So what does it matter? My prediction is that the Red Sox will go hard after Holliday, then get their ass kicked in negotiations and have to platoon Hermida with Xavier Nady or someone like that.

>John Henry, like Ben Affleck, should avoid microphones. It takes a lot of nerve to cry about payroll if you're John Henry. Boras has said more worthwhile things about revenue sharing and luxury taxes this offseason: Boras has ripped teams who have pocketed their revenue sharing mone, as he should, and as everyone should. Maybe baseball should do something about that. Oh, wait, Allan Selig is the commissioner.

>My winter meeting predictions:
-Holliday goes unsigned. Boras will wait another two weeks at least.
-Bay signs somewhere other than Boston; Red Sox get smoked in another negotiation. My gut tells me it will be (in this order) the Yankees, the Mariners, the Mets, or the Angels.
-Halladay, Gonzalez, and Cabrera stay put.
-Lackey signs somewhere.
-Red Sox sign Nady. As the "great plate patience" line won't work, they'll use the "Fenway Park Swing" argument to justify this move, saying in advance they will be making a "groundbreaking free agent acquisition."
>

Friday, December 4, 2009

Braves Take Early Lead

In the race for the dumbest move of the offseason, the Atlanta Braves took an early lead. Don't get me wrong--they could really use Billy Wagner, and Takashi Saito for that matter, because they're losing both their setup man and their closer via free agency. What's ridiculous is the amount they're going to be paying him.

Seven million dollars? With a vesting option for a second year at $6.5 million? Wow. This is for a guy who just got a brand new pitching arm and pitched fifteen innings last year. I feel like either Bean Stringfellow's negotiating skills are elite or the Braves pulled a Theo Epstein, outbidding the field by a mile. That's a lot of money for a guy with Wagner's medical records in a bad economy. The Braves need a closer to round out a pitching staff that will help the team contend, but $7 million is a lot of money nowadays.

I really enjoyed watching Wagner while he pitched here in Boston very briefly last year. Probably because he tried to just blow everyone away instead of walking the bases loaded every time he came in, which was a stark contrast to many other members of the Red Sox bullpen. The folks at Rowland's Office seem to be pretty excited about Wagner, as he's saying all the right things to the Atlanta media. And there are a lot of things to like about the signing, in concert with also signing Takashi Saito. I hope the move works out for them, because if Wagner can go back to blowing people away consistently after TJ surgery, that would be awesome news both for him and for modern medicine.

This move could be much worse--it could be a multi-year-deal for a 38-year-old closer still not that far removed from major surgery. But the Braves don't strike me as a team flush with money, so $7 million on what could be a reclamation project is a lot of money. And we learned pretty well here in Boston last year, banking your team's livelihood on reclamation projects is not always the best way to go.

A late update: The Red Sox signed Marco Scutaro, and they have not one-upped the stupidity of the Braves big-money signing of Wagner. Only two years. No money disclosed yet, but a short commitment means the Red Sox actually negotiated well for this guy instead of gushing about all their love. If nothing happens this weekend, I might put up more about this on Monday.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Who's In Left?

The Yankees most substantial, and really only true vacancy right now is in left field. They need a DH, and they should add another starter, but those are positions that can easily be filled from within or rotated amongst players already on the roster or within the organization. With Johnny Damon's contract having expired, and nobody in the system ready to takeover the position everyday (Austin Jackson may very well prove to be ready next year, but it would be premature to just hand it to him as opposed to slowly breaking him in, if at all, next season), the Yankees need a left fielder.

The two biggest bats on the free agent market happen to be left fielders in Matt Holliday and Jason Bay, and you would think that seeing as it is the Yankees and it is only money, they would start there. But let's start with Damon.

I am not surprised that the Yankees did not offer Johnny Damon arbitration. All signs leading up to yesterday's deadline indicated that they would not. I have no idea what the Yankees' plan is, so it is difficult to comment without all of the information. But on its face I do not agree with that decision. By offering him arbitration, the biggest risk you run is ending up with Johnny Damon at one year and $14-15 million. While this is more money than you would like to pay him, you have to factor in the single year. That is an ideal situation and has value of and within itself. If you don't like the other options (more on that in a second), getting a still productive player for one year is a pretty good situation, even if the price is a little high. While you run this risk (if you consider it that), by offering Damon arbitration you also protect yourself against him leaving by getting two compensation picks if he signs elsewhere. Knowing his agent and his history, this is a distinct possibility. This is probably the biggest reason to offer him arbitration. Obviously, even after offering arbitration there is still an opportunity to workout a deal under whatever terms the team and player can agree on.

Considering that some team is going to sign Damon, the draft picks received if that team is not the Yankees are significant. So the Yankees obviously didn't take this decision lightly. The most prominent possible scenarios are that the Yankees don't want Damon back at all (unlikely), that they want him back but just think they can get him for a lot less (likely), or that they want him back but at no circumstance was it going to be for $15 million, even if it is a substantial amount and for more than one year (also likely).

I spend so much time discussing the possibilities with Damon because I think the Yankees should bring him back on a one or two year deal if possible. I think that is optimal. He's probably the most productive player that they can get on that length of a deal, and he is already a part of the organization, so there is no transition phase that most new acquisitions deal with when coming to the Yankees. It affords the Yankees the opportunity to continue to develop players from within for another year (like grooming Jackson part time under Damon at some point, perhaps), but also to wait until more attractive candidates become available either through free agency or trade.

Which leads us to the aforementioned left fielders who are the biggest bats on the market, Holliday and Bay. No question both very good players. Also no question both improve the Yankees next year bigtime. If the market completely comes to them on either player, the Yankees should jump on it. Both are currently better than Johnny Damon, and both very importantly can fill the role of batting fifth behind Alex Rodriguez if Hideki Matsui is not retained, or even if he is too probably. At the right price and years, both are better options for the Yankees than Johnny Damon.

I'm just not sure that price and years are going to come to where it would really be the best thing for the Yankees. The club has worked so hard to create roster flexibility. As I've mentioned here at least a few times before, the Yankees only have four players (Rodriguez, Teixeira, Sabathia, and Burnett) signed past 2011. That is two years from now, and that is 4 players out of 25. Despite the high payroll, the Yankees have incredible roster flexibility right now. You lose that, however, by committing a lot of years to a lot of players on a regular basis. Dollars totally aside, even the Yankees have to be careful with years. Too many aging guys on long contracts at the same time is not good. You really have to reserve that for the elite of the elite, like Sabathia and Teixeira. Holliday and Bay, while both very good, and while they would both help next year's club, are not on that level.

They would solve the issue for the short term of the team getting younger, which would be great. But if the deal is too long, eventually they will be older and under contract as well, and that doesn't help the team get younger. That's why I think Damon makes the most sense. The short years. It's also not near the most important thing, but a huge part of what the Yankees did last year revolved around Jeter and Damon spending a lot of time on base in front of Teixeira and Rodriguez. Considering the power and speed Damon has, it isn't easy to find someone as dynamic as he is to bat in the 2-hole. I'd argue it is probably a lot easier to find a good #5 hitter than it is to find a guy as good as Damon at the top of the order. There are just more of those types than there are of Damon types. When you again factor in Austin Jackson as a possibility in a year or two, and also factor in that Carl Crawford is set to be a free agent next winter, unless the years and dollars are totally right, I think it makes sense to pass on the two big left field bats this offseason and bring Damon back on a short-term deal. If that's not possible, then you reevaluate. I think you exhaust that option first though.

The New Bronson Arroyo

Did Mike Lowell make a pass at Theo Epstein's wife? Did he run over Theo's dog? I hope so, because if not, the treatment the player has received the last two years from the team is completely uncalled for and reprehensible.

Look, I am all for doing anything legal to make the team better, but there are limits of good taste, and the Red Sox have violated these limits now on multiple occasions with multiple players. After the Red Sox publicly announced that they want to trade Mike Lowell and eat half of his contract, I was not surprised, but I was a bit chagrined. You'd think Lowell played thirty games last year, hitting .235 or something.

Wrong. He hit .290 and slugged .474. His OPS!!!111 was .811 over 119 games. Any way you look at it, he's probably still one of the better offensive players on the baseball team. And I fully understand that the Red Sox would need to trade the guy in order to bring in someone like Adrian Gonzalez (which isn't going to happen), but there has to be a better way to go about doing it than what they've done the last two years.

Let's go back a little more than a year now. In 2007, Lowell had perhaps a career year, telling the team to get on his back and that he'd carry them to the World Series. He won the World Series MVP and deserved a handsome contract extension. The team ended up giving him said extension, but not until they kicked the tires on Alex Rodriguez (which would have alienated the fan base in an unprecedented way).

Then in 2008, he still had a decent season, but hurt his hip. He played hurt in the playoffs and had offseason hip surgery. They strongly pursued Mark Teixeira, which irked Lowell justifiably or not (most people in this town find that to be whiny). And then they handled his playing time poorly, playing him pretty much everyday during the first half of the season when his hip wasn't healed. Once his hip did heal and he started hitting surprisingly well, the team sat him on the bench. Lowell once again went to the media to voice his displeasure, albeit quietly.

And now they're shopping him and flat-out saying that they don't want him so much that they're going to eat 50% of his contract. I just find this behavior to be unprofessional. Not as unprofessional as they way they treated Bronson Arroyo, signing him to a hometown-discount-type contract extension with the player's understanding that he wouldn't be traded. About a week later, the team decided they had more sense than that and promptly went against their word and traded Arroyo.

It was theorized on the radio that Lowell is not, was not, and has never been a "Theo Epstein guy," you know, a guy who likes to walk instead of swing the bat and drive in runs. He was traded for when Theo was throwing his little post-2005 temper tantrum. The only reason he was re-signed, it could be argued, was because of public pressure.

But there has to be a better way. There is now a growing list of players who are dissatisfied by the way the Boston Red Sox have treated them in terms of personnel practices. Treating players like Lowell, Bronson Arroyo, and many others the way the Red Sox have been doing it will make other players not want to play here. Pissing off your employees is probably not the best business practice.