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.

13 comments:

PF said...

i'm with you and i'm not with you here gm. i'm with you in that the red sox seem to be doing things better in general than they did from post 2004 to post 2006. renteria, drew, and lugo for a combined $146 million in a span of 2 years is a lot no matter what sort of position your team is in overall. whether you agree with what they are doing now or not, or even if you aren't sure what their current direction is, john lackey is a much better investment than any of those players. due to the years and dollars, mike cameron is too. you may not agree that this signing is the direction the sox should be going unless it is complimented by another bat, but it's still smarter than renteria, drew, and lugo.

where i'm not with you is this whole bridge/rebuilding thing you're on this week. first, can we wait until we know what the red sox are going to do before we start categorizing them? they just signed john lackey to an $85 million contract. to me, that is at least enough to wait a few weeks to see what happens. the signing doesn't exactly scream "we're rebuilding". and for that matter neither does the cameron signing. that may indicate nothing more than they didn't see either of the two big left fielders available as worth the price, and want to get good productivity out of the position for a good price, and will address their need for a big bat elsewhere (like 1st/3rd base).

what's more, i don't see what you are saying on anything more than a theoretical level. sure, the sox may have "rebuilt/bridged" after 2004. but you know what? from 2002-2009 the sox win totals, in order, are: 93, 95, 98, 95, 86, 96, 95, 95. you might be quick to point to 2006 and say that is real evidence of their rebuilding. but the facts are that they were 69-50 and 1.5 games out of first place on august 17, 2006. with 43 games to play, the red sox were in a slugfest with a team that would go on to win 97 games and tie for the best record in baseball. the red sox would finish 86-76, which is what we see today. but that final total doesn't tell the whole story. the team was right there, and they got injured. what that means is nothing more than they got injured. it is not evidence of a rebuilding or bridge period.

and while i do think that bridge theory existed to a certain extent in theory, it just did not bear itself out. look at those win totals. as we talked about with the yankees, rebuilding is all relative. the red sox rebuilding, like the yankees, is more like tweaking. rebuilding would be trading beckett and papelbon and anyone else in a contract year. fans of other teams would laugh at the idea that we are talking about any sort of rebuilding period when they just handed out $85 million to one player.

so that leaves a bridge period, which is definitely different from rebuilding. is it there? again, i don't see it in more than theory. the red sox are not the kind of team that needs to "go for it all" once every couple of years and have bridge periods in between. they can just go for it every year. and they have. what is the biggest thing in support of this? the fact that despite all the dumb moves that we have all discussed and have been referenced here, the red sox have won less than 95 games (!) ONCE in the 5 years since their last alleged bridge period post 2004. again, maybe they were thinking about a bridge period in theory. but in terms of what actually happened, the red sox have been in the thick of it every single year. and the same is likely to happen in 2010. as we've seen time and time again all you need to do in baseball is be in the thick of it, and you have a chance to bring home a world series title, which is the goal.

Anonymous said...

PF

Anything is smarter than signing the wet blanket brigade of Renteria, Lugo, and Drew.

Also, your point about whether this situation actually constitutes a rebuilding period is well-taken. For teams like the Red Sox and Yankees, rebuilding means not having every position perfectly mapped out with the exact guy you want and facing a season where they might only win 85-89 games. For most other teams what the Red Sox are going through could not be called rebuilding.

On a somewhat related note, the point was made yesterday (maybe on ESPN.com, maybe the Globe site, I'm not sure which) that the Sox, while not positioned to overtake the Yankees for AL East, are certainly one of the four best teams in the AL. I've never really been concerned about how a team makes the playoffs, just THAT they make the playoffs.
Especially when you consider all the turmoil out west (the Angels may well be in some trouble) it is cause for optimism for Sox fans.

--the Gunn

Anonymous said...

"i'm with you and i'm not with you here" - PF


If any phrase summarizes Pat's existence on this planet, it's that one. Stop waffling and trying to appease people.

bandi

Ross Kaplan said...

Now that I'm done with law school for the semester I'm finally able to read Joe Torre's book "The Yankee Years" where I was reintroduced to how poorly handled the post 2001 Yankees were.

This is a team that spent oodles of money on horrible oft-injured pitchers while trading young prospects for aging veterans with steroid addled bodies. Thankfully Cashman has shown that you can improve a team through both free agency and developing your own young talent.

For me at least, I consider the 2008 season very satisfying for that very reason. Even though we failed to make the post season it was the first time that I can remember where fans finally got to see the prospects they had heard so much about in action on the major league roster. The key is to not be trading the Ted Lilly's of the world for the Raul Mondesi's of the world.

Also I agree with Bandi, Pat be somebody, stop waffling, pick a side and stick with it.

Patrick said...

jon and ross -

it is possible to agree in part, and disagree in part. let's stop thinking so simplistically and push ourselves to expand our sports analysis as far as we can.

gunn -

spot on about the relativity of rebuilding for teams like the yankees and red sox.

also right on point about the sox being one of the four best teams in the AL. this is why i don't get any of this stuff about them bridging/rebuilding. last year they were pretty clearly the third best team in the american league. new york was pretty substantially better, and the angels were a little bit better. i don't think the sox have gotten a whole lot better this winter YET. subtracting bay and adding lackey + cameron is probably a decent, but not wild improvement. but you know what? that doesn't matter. they were already a good team! the sox could not improve at all this winter and still be i a very good position to make the playoffs. when you take into account, as you said, that the angels have gotten worse, even if the sox had just maintained they'd be the second best team in the AL by default. and as we just acknowledged, they are improved at least a little bit from a team that won 95 games last year. am i missing something here? you can't tell me that a team that as it stands now looks to be the second best team on paper in their entire league isn't very focused on 2010.

two related things. first, i don't think think the red sox are done this winter. i think they are going to make at least one more move that would throw any ideas about bridging or rebuilding out the window.

second, i understand that part of what dv is saying is that you can not throw 2010 and still protect the future at the same time. but he also seems to be leaning more towards them "punting" 2010, at least a little bit. i just don't agree with this. there is such a thing as simply turning a team over. this is nowhere near rebuilding, and is probably a very similar idea to bridge years. you want to get a couple of contracts off the books and then go for it. looking at it the way dv is looking at it, you could see how the red sox could be viewed this way. but the problem is that it doesn't matter how dv is looking at it. it matters how the red sox are looking at it. they don't seem to think j.d. drew is a contract they want to turnover. they see him as a piece. this is the most fundamental problem with the analysis that the red sox are bridging. it seems like they don't think they are, and that is all that matters.

Anonymous said...

DV

I think you called the Adrian Gonzalez trade rumors "asinine." Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.
That being said, you may want to check out mlbtraderumors.com which says that a source close to Adrian Gonzalez believed he'd be traded to the Sox within 10 days.

--the Gunn

Anonymous said...

Pat,

I guess it's really your phrasing choices that aggravate. You can just highlight the areas you agree with and disagree with as you did. You don't need to start with "i'm with you and i'm not with you." Your opening sentence is fundamentally weak and hurts an otherwise insightful comment. Must be a New Jersey thing.

Also, I'm looking for the part of Ross's post where asked you to make excuses and I can't find it.

Moving on to the discussion at hand. I do agree with you and the Gunn about the Sox in 2010 (but I also disagree with you, oh wait, nevermind). I don't think you want to "punt" the season. Certainly, there is the reality that the Red Sox are not going to be able to fill all of their gaps in the off season and they will enter the season with some weaknesses.

But they will still be in position to make a playoff push and once you get to the playoffs anything can happen. Who knows, the Yankees might get hurt.

Patrick said...

i'd go easy on gm there gunn. as with most things this time of year, that rumor has already been shot down. it is likely that neither really has any merit. things that are actually going to happen get reported and then shot down. things that don't happen are reported and then shot down. we really have no idea.

now, dv saying that the trade rumors were "asinine" might be a bit much. and that is because it is entirely possible gonzalez could get traded, and maybe it will be to the red sox if he does. theo epstein and jed hoyer clearly have a working relationship, the sox have an opening at first base, and they have the pieces to get gonzalez if they want to. but there is also a camp out there that strongly believes gonzalez at $10.25 for two years is too much value to give up at this time unless they were overwhelmed. and that is where dv is coming from here. until something substantial starts happening, the rumors don't change any of that. i am quite sure the red sox are trying to get gonzalez. who wouldn't, the guy is awesome. it's just a matter of if the cost in prospects, which rightfully should be exorbitant, is too much in boston's eyes. until we start hearing about some sort of common ground there, the rumors are just rumors largely based on the conveniences that make it seem like a fit that i mentioned above here.

Anonymous said...

PF

For me, the point isn't that Adrian Gonzalez will get traded to Boston. It's that it's a plausible idea that the Sox are pursuing. Which clearly they are. That's all I was saying. For all we know the Sox could shift Youkilis to 3rd and have Casey Kotchman be their first basemen. The fact is though, neither of those scenarios are asinine.

With that in mind, you'd think that DV would be thrilled about a trade like that because it would most certainly be built around Clay Buchholz and Jacoby Ellsbury. I can't imagine too many people being happier than DV about Jacoby Ellsbury playing out his career in baseball obscurity (even if the weather is spectacular).

--the Gunn

Patrick said...

gunn -

that is what i figured you were saying, and that is what i was getting at too. the notion that the sox would be looking into trading for adrian gonzalez is beyond plausible. it's very likely. that's why i said dv saying it was asinine is a bit over the top. really when a team has a need (like the sox do at either first or third) almost anything is plausible in terms of what a team will explore to fill that need. i just hope they don't get him!

the gm said...

Some general comments:

-I still believe that the Red Sox are punting the 2010 season. They will just be putting up a bigger fight. I feel like they put a 100% balls-out effort for about two years at a time. In the middle, they throw together a few years where it's like, hey we're probably gonna fall short of the playoffs, but we'll see what happens.

You will never see the Red Sox lose eighty games as the game is currently constructed. And that's fine. Their punt is better than most teams' good seasons. But the Red Sox are not doing a balls-out charge at the championship this year. The front office has already more or less publicly admitted that, and that's why I have not "waited" to start categorizing them. Many Red Sox fans are not okay with that. I am.

There is no reason for the Padres to trade Adrian Gonzalez. There is no reason for the Marlins to trade Hanley Ramirez. That's why neither will happen. The Padres think 46 is a better value than Adrian Gonzalez? Really? Child please.

And I'm glad we're taking one of Adrian Gonzalez's homeboys as a credible source here. I'm glad Gonzalez's homeboys have that kind of insider information to let the Boston media know what the San Diego front office is planning on doing.

Get freaking real.

Pat, you are right about the Red Sox not wanting to turn over JD Drew's contract. And that makes me unhappy.

Tommy Point said...

Easy with the JD Drew comments. You're talking about the 22nd best player of the last decade my friend.

http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/columns/story?id=4740695

Anonymous said...

DV

The idea of trading Adrian Gonzalez is receiving the same level of irrational fervor as Coco Crisp did when he played in Boston. It's getting out of control.
All that you need to know is that Adrian Gonzalez will never have a higher trade value than he does right now. He's under control for two years on the cheap. Don't we keep hearing that Roy Halladay's value dropped because he was going to free agency after this summer?
Similarly, San Diego isn't going anywhere with him, but if they can get four top prospects/young/cheap players, why wouldn't they do that? Why wouldn't they give up a stud first basemen to get a starting pitcher, CF, corner outfielder a prospect to fill yet another need, which the Padres clearly have?

Regardless of what his contract situation is, as long as teams have a need for Adrian Gonzalez and the Padres have multiple on their roster trading him is very much in play.

--the Gunn