Wednesday, December 22, 2010

No Need To Panic

Two things have happened in the last two weeks that are both unusual for the Yankees and threaten their dominance. First, the Boston Red Sox have taken their payroll for a level that is at least within range of the Yankees. For a time it was higher, and I'm not sure if the Martin and Feliciano signings for the Yankees have changed that. As both of those deals are only for a few mil per year, if the Yankees have taken back the lead it isn't by much. The biggest reason for the Yankees sustained and consistent success in this era is because of their financial strength. As the payrolls of their competition rise, it becomes tougher and tougher to have this sustained and consistent success.

Second, the Yankees lost out on Cliff Lee. By most accounts, this is the first time since the '92-'93 offseason with Greg Maddux that the Yankees seriously went after a premier free-agent and lost out. It's tough to win every year, which is the Yankees expectation. It's even tougher when you miss out on a pitcher like Cliff Lee. Again, a big reason why the Yankees are able to win year after year is that they are able to use their dollars to get players like this at a higher rate than most every team. It's not the only reason, but it's a big reason.

Both of these things might give a team with the Yankees expectations reason to panic. The Red Sox are now on equal footing in terms of money they are willing to spend on their roster, and losing out on Cliff Lee isn't helpful in trying to maintain an edge over them. In prior years, the Yankees probably would have made a panic type move. Even if it wasn't what was best for the team, they would have done something just to do something.

But they haven't, and that signifies a team that is in control. And this is despite a panic move candidate, Zack Grienke, being readily available. The Yankees could have easily beaten Milwaukee's package to get Grienke, and in the past they probably would have. In doing so, they would have been ignoring concerns about his ability to pitch in New York and any other reasons not to trade for him. I have no idea if Grienke can or can't pitch in New York, and I have no idea if this was a consideration for the Yankees and what their exact reasoning was for not trading for him. But in not trading for him we know that they did have reasons, they didn't just trade for him just because it seems like a good thing to do, and again that is a really good thing in my book. Not just Grienke, but anybody. You have to make a move because it is right, not because it is in panic.

And the Yankees have no reason to panic right now. The Red Sox are improved, but push them - who you'd have to consider - aside for a second and look around the rest of the American League and give me one roster you'd rather have than the Yankees right now. Even with uncertain back of their rotation, I still wouldn't take anybody else. So even if the Red Sox were a decidedly better team than the Yankees, which I wouldn't be ready to concede, the Yankees are still right at the top of the league competing for playoff spots. Which is what matters. In addition, they have all of the money they intended to spend on Lee plus their farm system - which is one of the best in baseball - totally intact. That combination of being cash and prospect rich gives them a lot of flexibility for the next group of premier talents that are made available later this offseason or, even more likely, during the season. That's not such a bad place to be in, and certainly not a reason to panic.

So for the time being, you make moves like Martin and Feliciano. You hope Pettitte comes back. You try to put all of the other pieces in place so that you can focus on adding a key impact piece if need be, and if and when you do then the team is really primed and ready to go after a championship. To that end, the Yankees are reportedly looking into Johnny Damon on a one year contract. This would be an outstanding addition, and is the exact type of player the Yankees should be looking at. Veterans that still have something left who can contribute but don't have a lot of risk associated because of the short length of the contract. Damon is a particularly good fit because he is a winning player/personality, is a known entity in New York, is loved in the Yankees clubhouse, and would provide excellent depth in terms of lineups, would protect against Gardner coming back to earth, and gives the Yankees added flexibility to include an outfielder in a trade package as a Major League bat and still have three viable starters of their own. He had 49 xbh last year in spacious Comerica, and really knows how to use Yankee Stadium to his advantage, so he can still play. Not only is this the type of player the Yankees should be looking for, but Damon is an especially outstanding fit in my opinion. Getting him and bringing Pettitte back into the fold would be excellent moves to improve the roster without overreacting.

Unless there is big news, we are done posting until after the New Year. On behalf of DV and I, we want to wish everyone a Happy Holidays. As the year comes to a close we also want to thank all of our readers and commentors for another great year in this space. Your contributions are what makes this fun. Thanks again.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

This Year's Hall of Fame Debate

There are a lot of things to say about this year's Hall of Fame ballot. Peter Abraham mentioned a lot of them today when, from vacation, he chimed in with his picks. But why not, I'll give it a stab.

I would vote in Burt Blyleven, Roberto Alomar, and John Olerud. I'd only vote in Olerud because I hope one, just one reporter feels the way I do - that he deserves one vote. Alomar was, for a long time, the best at his position. He was instrumental in the World Series Toronto teams as well as the last good Orioles team. He was dominant for about a decade, and was good for beyond that.

For a long time, I was anti-Blyleven, and this probably wasn't fair because I just remember him as an old guy who wasn't good anymore when I was a really, really little kid. But he's close to the untouchable 300-win total. He was under 3 in ERA in ten different seasons. But in the spirit of Felix Hernandez's Cy Young Award, the guy who out-Felixed Felix deserves his way in. Look at some of these records alongside ERAs and WHIPs.

16-15/2.81/1.17
17-17/2.73/1.10
20-17/2.52/1.11 (9 shutouts)
17-17/2.66/1.14
13-16/2.87/1.22
14-12/2.72/1.06

That's absolutely outrageous. Granted, it was the 70s and offense hadn't taken over much. But even those ERA+ numbers are in the 120s or higher for the most part. If, in these games, he had a .600 winning percentage (and this is still assuming piss-poor teams), he wins another 17 games, putting him at 304 wins.

Two more tidbits about this player: According to Abraham, he only played for three winning teams. Also, in 1973 (the third line listed above), Blyleven pitched three hundred twenty-five innings. Put the guy in. He's waited long enough.

Jeff Bagwell is on this ballot, and just imagine the very small possibility that he didn't take a robust cocktail of steroids. Without being proven, without being implicated, but just being a big guy with gawdy stats, this guy is probably not going to get nearly enough votes to get in. I'll be honest, I've convicted him, and so did Abraham. While Juan Gonzalez and Rafael Palmeiro won't even be close to getting in because of their implications or ties to steroids, Bagwell's name has not been anywhere, and people still all think he did it. It's pretty crazy. Fair?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Finishing Touches

It's less than a week before Christmas, and all the big names are gone. They usually aren't right now. This was the week that Damon signed, and I'm pretty sure this is when Teixeira signed. But the biggest fireworks, at least in Boston and New York (and Philadelphia, I guess), have already happened. Now it's time, like the last minute or so in a television show like Iron Chef, for Theo Epstein and Brian Cashman to make the finishing touches to their squads.

While Pat is preoccupied by his favorite football team imploding, he may have missed the fact that the Yankees pulled off what might be this offseason's Nick Swisher move. I'll admit that I don't know as much about Russell Martin as I did about Swisher, but I do know that it it wasn't too long ago that Martin was in Rookie of the Year voting. When this blog was in its planning phases, the guy was in Rookie of the Year voting, and we haven't really been doing this THAT long.

Let's put it this way: He is exactly six months and 24 days older than Red Sox' outfielder 46, who is allegedly still young, full of potential, and yet to grow into his body so he can become a 20 home run hitter with 75 steals a year. Martin's been derailed by injuries, but from what I read here, he seems to have a clubhouse presence as strong (though not as wildly entertaining) as Swisher's, and before he started to have his troubles with his health, he was still a productive player.

Having him play almost-full-time catcher with Posada and Cervelli taking a little bit of time in there (provided the player's hip is okay) makes more sense to the Yankees than rushing Montero to the majors. And I think it is very reasonable to expect average to above average production. It was not long ago that this guy was a very, very good baseball player.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox signed Dan Wheeler. I like this move for the bullpen probably better than I like the Jenks move. Not only because the idiots at NESN can bring out the old scripts of "former Devil Ray from Rhode Island" from the Baldelli days, but because Wheeler does not suck. He strikes out a decent amount of guys, had those two straight years under 1 for WHIP, and while his walk and home run numbers aren't quite untouchable, they're an upgrade over anyone who played the drums in the Red Sox bullpen last year.

They still lack a lefty (other than Andrew Miller, I guess), but I'd rather have fewer lefties than have more lefties if those lefties happen to be like Hideki Okajima version 2010. But Wheeler is going to be 33 during the season (he's 5 years, two months, and 29 days older than 46, for the record), so it's not like they're picking up Mike Timlin here. But they're deep in righties. Two of these righties, in Papelbon and Jenks, are guys who very possibly could be disasters. But if they are, they have a righty in Wheeler that might not dazzle, but will not suck either.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Put Your Fours Up

A lot of football teams raise four fingers between the third and fourth quarters. Each might have slightly different terminology, but they all center around the same basic concepts: winning time, finish, leave it all on the field, etc. The fourth quarter is where games get won and lost, especially in the National Football League.

Today the New York Giants played the single worst fourth quarter I can ever remember seeing. They did not put their fours up.

Considering the opposition and the magnitude of the game, the first half was probably the Giants' best first half of the entire season. Despite being without Steve Smith - one of their most reliable players on either side of the football - this was the most healthy the Giants had been as a team in weeks. They dominated the Eagles in virtually every way imaginable on their way to a 24-3 halftime lead. That score held until just under the 4 minute mark in the 3rd quarter, when a Giants turnover deep in their own territory lead to the Eagles first touchdown of the day, making it 24-10. Holding the Eagles to 10 points in the first 41+ minutes of football isn't just a huge effort, but it should spell a win.

Indeed, fear not as the Giants were able to answer strongly with a touchdown of their own to stretch the lead back to 31-10 with just over 8 minutes to go in the 4th. There was nothing Philly could do to shake them. It looked like it was going to be a statement win, the first signature victory in the new stadium.

The last 8:17 of this game is almost impossible to explain. It pretty much has to be for a team to average a touchdown every 2 minutes and 4 seconds not just against one of the best defenses in the NFL, but a top 10 offense as well. Surely, even if the defense faltered there is no way the offense would give a team that much opportunity to score, right? And even if the offense gave them a number of chances there is no way the defense wouldn't get at least as many stops as they needed to win with that kind of cushion, right?

Wrong and wrong. They had what was seemingly their first defensive breakdown all day, missing a tackle and allowing Brent Celek to get free for a 65 yard touchdown. Then they were inexplicably totally exposed to an onside kick. I mean, down 14 with 7:28 to go, the thought was in my head that maybe they would try something. I'm not suggesting to line up for it if they don't, but you have to at least be prepared enough that the ball can't hang up in the air for as long as it did without a Giant even being in the area. Good execution, but you can't let that happen. Defense still had a chance to stop them, couldn't do it. Up 7, the offense showed the beginnings of an answer, driving all the way to the Philadelphia 40, but didn't to what it needed to get into range to make it a two score game again. Even still, a good punt gave the Eagles an 88 yard field with 3:01 to play. At home, the Giants needed one stop and the game was probably over. Instead Vick, who the Giants did a great job on all game to this point, ran for 53 yards on two plays. EVEN STILL, the Giants got the ball back, tie game, with all 3 timeouts, at their 36 yard line after a good return. They get 30-35 or so yards and they have a very makable field goal to make all of this meaningless. Instead they go 3 and out and leave time on the clock. Then, of course, with Jackson back to return the kick, all they need to do is kick the ball out of bounds and they are probably going to overtime, where they could regroup and again try to make all of this meaningless. Instead the punt goes almost right to Jackson and, despite bobbling it initially, he returns it for a game winning touchdown with no time on the clock.

A lot has been and will continue to be said about the punt not going out of bounds. And don't get me wrong, that is inexplicable. Dodge was told to kick the ball out of bounds and he didn't. But the Giants should have never gotten to that point. The Eagles scored 28 points in the last 7:28, and outscored the Giants 35-7 over the final 18:56. They had a ton of chances to close the game and didn't do it. The punt situation was a complete embarrassment and should have given them the chance to go to overtime, but they should have closed the door long before that. It's not an excuse for the punt, just a reminder that all of the attention should not be on that despite it being the most dramatic mistake at the end of the game.

This was yet another lesson that, especially in football, you don't completely change your gameplan with a lead. Particularly in a game like that has this many important implications. The Giants scored at will through the air in the first half, and got decidedly more conservative with their play calling in the second half. I'm not sure if the defense was tired from the short week, was worn down from their effort in keeping all of Philly's big play machines under wraps for the first 3 quarters, just got reckless schematically, some combination of these or something else, but it certainly seemed like all of the above. It's one thing for a defense to play above it's head for 3 quarters and finally give in. It's an entirely different thing for a defense this good to be that dominant for more than 3 quarters and out of nowhere start giving up big easy play after big easy play. Over, and over, and over again. The offense disappeared, the defense disappeared, and special teams had two key breakdowns. If any one of these things in any one of the three areas of the game doesn't happen, the Giants win the game. All three things happened at once, and now the Giants, despite still controlling their own destiny, do not have an easy road with away games at Green Bay and Washington to close the season. It should have been a lot easier, but it wasn't because the Giants had one of the worst 4th quarters you can put together. Honestly, a team tried to play that poorly it wouldn't be easy to accomplish. Complete and utter meltdown in every phase of the game at the most important time of the game.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

An Interesting Bullpen Move

So the Red Sox are finally re-filling the position of "portly, inconsistent relief pitcher" previously held by Rod Beck, Rich Garces, and Jim Corsi, as they signed Bobby Jenks for two years and $12 million Thursday. Of course, those in New York, including Pat, will point out that the Red Sox' 2011 payroll is currently higher than the Yankees'. Maybe this means Larry Lucchino will stay away from a microphone all year. We can at least hope, right?

The real story here, however, is the implications on the Red Sox' bullpen. First of all, are they going to have the budget and the willingness to pay for another free agent reliever? Twelve million for a guy who had a 4.44 ERA in high-leverage innings last year? God bless America. If they end up getting Dan Wheeler and his WHIP of roughly 1.00 over the last three years, I'd be okay with that. Although, did I really say "oh f***, Dan Wheeler's coming in" when that happened at least fifty times in Sox-Rays games? Don't think so.

Back to Jenks though. What is his role going to be? Are the Red Sox on tilt so much that they're paying $6 million for their seventh inning guy? Felger hopes so, but let's be real here. It means for sure that Papelbon will finally get his chance to set the bar for other closers after another presumably underwhelming season, as he will not be re-signed by Boston. It was previously a 2% chance. Now it's a 0% chance. And Jenks will be either the setup guy or the closer in 2012.

The conspiracy theory on the radio this afternoon is that the organization is concerned about Bard's ability to be a closer versus being a really good 8th-inning pitcher his entire career. Jenks becomes the closer in 2012, and that's the only way he signs for two years. That's the theory. I don't believe it; I just think Boston's the only team that would pay this guy so much money for so many years.

Beyond trying to figure out what the team's plan is, it's also a mystery whether this guy is going to produce. He's been on a steady decline, just like Papelbon. Except Papelbon's never hit 4.44 in ERA. If 2008, 2009, and 2010 are put onto a chart compared to 2005, 2006, and 2007, you'd be concerned, too. More hits in fewer innings. Same amount of walks in fewer innings. And, unless you're a sabermetrician (and perhaps even if you are), more runs given up. Is the big guy just like so many other closers, shining really bright for a very brief moment before completely crapping out?

Could be. It's not a terrible move, as 7th inning outs can be recorded by this guy and/or Wheeler just about as well as anyone. But if 2012 comes around and Bard's setting up for Bobby Jenks, you have to be a little bit concerned.

Also, a reminder (and an afterthought): Lenny DiNardo is NOT Deion Branch. Enjoy yo weekend.

"Super?" Really?

A Photoshopped article showed up in the Boston Herald last week regarding "Super Theo" being the most unstoppable source in baseball. Interesting. This hyperbolic newspaper article gives us a reason to question how good Theo Epstein is - and how good he's supposed to be. We evaluated his overall job performance last season, and what's happened in the last two weeks makes it a good idea to do it again.

We know the shortfalls on his resume, highlighted by the 2006 offseason and also including names like Renteria, Smoltz, Penny, and possibly Beckett and Lackey. A lot of bullpens. We also know the strengths, and the strengths certainly outweigh the weaknesses. But I don't want to go into that. I want to go into the process.

The stuff he's good at is evaluating players in his own system. It is true that the prospects the guy wants to keep, he keeps. Notice how Bard and Kalish didn't show up in those trade rumors at all. It's debatable whether either of those guys will be the real deal, but it looks like it so far. He's also good at planning. It seems like this guy has a long-term plan that is probably more suited for a small-market team than anything else. The more I think about it the more obvious it becomes that he had a long-term plan to abandon the 2010 and 2011 seasons just to pay an arm and a leg to land Adrian Gonzalez through free agency. This would pretty much minimize the number of moves the GM would have to make for years.

He saved the flexibility of the roster by insisting on no long-term deals. He clearly didn't want to bring back old, inefficient contracts like David Ortiz's. These are all good qualities.

He is NOT good at negotiations. First, he outbids himself for the guys he really wants. The posting fee for Matsuzaka, Drew, Lugo, Cameron, Scutaro, Renteria, Lackey - none of those were even close. These guys are the ones he wanted. He bought out the last few arbitration years for his own players so that he wouldn't have to negotiate. Because if he did, he'd lose. Teixeira is the most glaring, but there's also Jose Contreras and a handful of others. He either loses narrowly or wins big. Not good.

By the way, if he were good at negotiations, he would have gotten his owners to sacrifice the extra $18 million to make sure Adrian Gonzalez had a 0% chance of leaving after this year. This has not happened, and the player is only signed through September 28, 2011.

He is also mediocre at best at evaluating players outside the organization. Not sure if this is a reflection on the scouts he dispatches, but either way it's less than ideal. Often, the guys he wants are bad.

Perhaps the most importantly, the amount of decision making power the general manager actually has is suspect at best. This very offseason he all but admitted that they were punting 2011 and trying to make a big splash in 2012 (i.e. sign Gonzalez) to build a good 2012 team. It did not seem like Theo's idea to pay twice for the player, because he's too much of a long-term thinker to do that. And that's admirable.

However, after the soccer team acquisition soured the ownership group's reputation of a group of guys who cares about winning, he gets overridden on both the Crawford and Gonzalez negotiations. He was given a budget of infinity and was told to go nuts. Does that require skill? Knowledge? Doesn't take a rocket scientist to tell that Adrian Gonzalez was good. Having an infinite budget does not mean you're "super" or "unstoppable." Getting overridden by ownership on this and on extending a guy who doesn't show up until June for an extra $12.5 million doesn't show too much muscle. It can probably even be debated that the Red Sox didn't need a general manager this winter.

I don't think he's terrible. But let's not fit him for a bust in Cooperstown. I think Theo Epstein would be a good GM, and perhaps even a better GM, at a small market team. But the fact that he is frequently overridden and being told to spend as much money on guys picked by ownership show that he's not the unstoppable force he's being made out to be.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Moving On

The Yankees missed out on Cliff Lee. He took less money to go to Philly, and that's just fine. All you can do is make your best offer, and in this case it seems that the Yankees offer was the best financial offer. He turned it down for other reasons, and that is going to happen. It's not going to happen very frequently, as it seems that the last major free agent that the Yankees went after to really turn them down was Greg Maddux. So it is definitely different.

But outside of being something we are not used to (which makes it seem like a bigger deal), this is not the big deal that it is being made out to be. Listen, there is no doubt that Cliff Lee would have made the Yankees better. A lot better. But as I wrote in one of my first posts of this offseason, the Yankees didn't need Lee. Not the way they needed Sabathia two years ago, not even the way they needed Teixeira two years ago. He was going to be someone who was going to make them look a lot better in terms of their yearly quest to win a World Series. But he was not someone they needed to get them in the mix of the game's elite teams.

That's because they are already there. They won 95 games last year, fell two games short of the World Series, and have Hall of Famers or All-Stars up and down their roster. Do they have holes? Of course they do. But the only player they are really down from the successful 2010 team is Andy Pettitte, and there is still a chance he comes back. There is also more than three months left until Opening Day. Cliff Lee was Plan A to fill out the rotation. They just found out 24 hours ago that he wasn't coming. There is time for Plan B to fill out the rotation and/or bolster the bullpen. The offense that scored the most runs in baseball remains intact. Russell Martin is a definite candidate to be energized in a Yankee uniform, as the talent is there. At the very least, he provides great catching depth along with Posada, Montero, and Cervelli.

It's times like these that I often wonder what a big Pirates fan is thinking. The Yankees lose out on a big free agent and the immediate implication is that there should be panic. I'm sure that fan would love to have that be the Pirates' biggest problem.


Lastly, it's not all about your team's ability. If Andy Pettitte returns, the Yankees are very similar to what they've been the last two years. For the time being, the American League does not look like it is going to be as tough as it was in those years. The only major things that have changed in the AL landscape is that Boston and Tampa Bay have swapped places, the Rangers and Angels have gotten a little worse, and the White Sox and Tigers have gotten a little better. The question you have to ask yourself is, would your trade the Yankees roster for any of those? Without Pettitte, you'd be thinking very strongly about the Red Sox for the 2011 season. With Pettitte, I wouldn't trade it for anybody, although Boston is still right there. The Yankees may not have gotten Lee, but the situation is hardly dramatic. It's them and Boston at the top and outside of that you don't see many other impressive rosters around the AL currently. Even within that twosome that I think is separated from the rest right now, both teams have weaknesses. Great offenses, but the Yankees have a short rotation and a mediocre bullpen after Rivera, and the Red Sox have a short bullpen and a mediocre rotation after Lester and Buchholz. There is no Philadelphia-level complete team in the AL right now. There is still plenty of time for both teams to improve their rosters, and it will be interesting to see how they do so, especially as the Yankees move on from Lee.

Knicks/Celtics prediction: 110-102 Celtics. Should be interesting to watch the #1 offense in the NBA go against the #1 defense in the NBA.

Philadelphia!

Cliff Lee to the Phillies for less money and fewer years than what the Yankees and Rangers offered. Apparently the guy had as much fun in Philadelphia as I had.

Good for him. Also good for Andy Pettitte, who will now be a consolation prize that both the Yankees and the Rangers will have to battle for. Also good for the Phillies, as they have an elite starter, don't have him too far past his shelf life, and are starting to develop a reputation as a place where players want to play.

I'm surprised, but I'm not that surprised. Philadelphia fell in love with this guy in 2009, and (while I wasn't really keeping my finger on the pulse) didn't seem too jilted when he split. His baseball-reference.com page was still sponsored by a guy in Philadelphia who didn't say anything negative about the guy and actually seemed to question Phillies management for trading him instead of extending him - the choice they were given last year.

But now they're back together. Great day for the player, the team, the city, and anyone who doesn't like New York.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Pause for Pessimism

Sometimes you just gotta keep it real. Even in the wake of one of the most historic weeks ever for the Red Sox' organization, the people who are cueing the duck boats are completely delusional. Yes, the Red Sox' offense is greatly improved, and having an offense as good as the 2011 offense projects to be will help mask some of the obvious shortcomings associated with this team. Pat mentioned this last week, but unfortunately he was the only one. So it's time for a reality check.

1. First, let's just reiterate, like we will between now and the day he's signed, that Adrian Gonzalez's contract is currently set to expire on September 28, 2011.

2. Gonzalez and Carl Crawford's presence will not change the rotation. All statistical reason except for those who believe the AL East is different from anyone else would indicate that John Lackey might bounce back from last year. However, by how much? All statistical reason unless you drink the Kool-Aid would also indicate that 2007 was the real abomination of Josh Beckett's career work. I'm excited to see what's going to happen with Daisuke Matsuzaka's season, but that excitement is certainly tempered with anxiety. As it should be.

2a. The bottom line here is that the much-improved offense, though it certainly had its bad moments when players like Daniel Nava were literally playing everyday, was not the problem with 2010 Red Sox. It was the pitching. And that pitching is in a situation of what you see is what you get for the next three baseball seasons. Carl Crawford won't fix that.

3. Same goes for the bullpen. It can be argued that the Red Sox bullpen, like the Jets' defense at Hofstra, was a jackass last year. They will not blow as many saves, as there won't be quite as many close games. Or so we hope. But even if they implement the changes I recommended last week (featuring Michael Bowden), they will be average at best.

4. Other things unchanged by last week include the fact that a lot of guys like Crawford lose their speed at ages not much older than Crawford's. I wrote about this back in November, and one of the cool things about facts is that they never change. You can still look at Tim Raines, Kenny Lofton, Jose Offerman, and even Rickey Henderson and start to worry about Crawford's skills. One of my co-workers said that they can see Crawford bulking up a little bit as he hits the other side of thirty in a few years. I'm not positive whether this thing happens frequently after the year 2004, but it's not impossible.

5. Crawford, as we've discussed as recently as yesterday, is not one of the top nine players in the league.

6. Other quick hits include the fact that I read this weekend that Crawford's friends would not be surprised if the Houston native will be temporarily intimidated by the big city and therefore might scuffle off the bat. That's scary. Also just want to mention that playing in front of the big wall will minimize the impact of his left field mastery.

7. Saltalamacchia and Varitek. Hold on to your hats.

8. The Yankees, Lee or no Lee, are still the team to beat in this division.

Whatever, I still like the acquisition.

Two Questions

1. What are the basketball fans on this site thinking about Amare Stoudemire and the Knicks now? The general consensus about a month ago seemed to be that he wasn't the type of player that could turn a franchise around, and therefore shouldn't be surprised that they weren't a better team early on. There were questions about whether or not he was a Top 10 type player. Bandi told us that nothing else mattered besides the fact that Amare wasn't the type of player you could build a championship team around, without offering any specific reasoning as to why this is so.

Since then, Amare has lead the Knicks to 13 wins in their last 14 games, has scored 30 or more for a franchise record 8 straight games, and is 3rd in the NBA in scoring. There are a handful of players - and we all know who they are - around the league who could have had this type of impact on this organization so far, but they all would have had a tough time having more. Not on the court, not to this point anyway. In addition to his statistical contributions, he is showing a combination of leadership and clutch (24 in the second half today, 18 in the 4th quarter on the road in New Orleans last Friday, both in wins), all at once that only the really special players have.

The Knicks, while much improved, don't have enough around Amare yet and haven't done it long enough to be considered championship contenders. But over what is now more than 25% of the season Amare would be right there in the MVP vote. If that's not someone you can build a championship team around, I'm not sure what is. Especially because "building around" in the NBA these days usually means putting 2-3 high quality players on the same roster (Kobe/Gasol, Pierce/Allen/Garnett). Amare has certainly proven he can be part of one of those kinds of tandems, and then some. If it seems like I'm gushing, that's because I am, this has been one of the better individual runs that has serious W/L column implications in the NBA in the last few years. This is a team that hasn't won more than 39 games in 9 seasons, and now they're on pace for 52 in large part thanks to his performance. So everyone who liked to (rightfully) point out how absolutely terrible the Knicks have been for so long now has to tip their cap to a player who was good enough to turn something that terrible around. Right?

2. If the Red Sox were willing to spend $142 million on Carl Crawford, why weren't they willing to spend $120 million on a better player in Matt Holliday last winter? I understand that there could be a lot of reasons for this, including strategy and financial situation. But I still think it's a question worth contemplating. Carl Crawford is a very good player, but the only reason everyone got as pumped up about him as they did this winter was because he was the best position player on the market, and because he looked good compared to Jayson Werth. Matt Holliday, by contrast, is good compared to anyone in any winter recently. He is a career .317/.388/.543 player; Crawford .296/.337/.444. I understand that Crawford brings a ton of speed, but Holliday is no slouch athletically, and with that in mind there is no amount of speed advantage that could make up for the difference between a career .931 and .781 OPS (135 vs. 107 OPS+).

We're talking about building around above, and Holliday is someone you can build a lineup around, and certainly can be part of a major 1-2 punch in the middle of most any order. Crawford is more of a super-complementary player offensively, someone who is going to supplement traditional offensive power, but isn't going to carry a lineup. Now, if you were going to tell me that you already had your two middle of the order bats and wanted a different kind of player, and Crawford was the one getting $120 and Holliday $142, okay. That's a really nice alternative in an instance where you want to save $22 million. But since they were the same age when they hit free agency, Holliday was cheaper, and at the time the Sox didn't have two middle of the order bats, it's a tough sell. Obviously there was no way for the Sox to predict what markets were going to end up materializing for both players, and again things can and probably have changed since last offseason, which is understandable. But in hindsight, Holliday would have been the better play. Crawford/Gonzalez/Youkilis is going to be a scary 2/3/4. Holliday/Gonzalez/Youkilis would have been an even scarier 3/4/5.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Hangin Out! Down the Street!

Well, the new season of Tom Werner's TV show is going to be a lot more entertaining and might bring laughter and joy into people's living rooms again. Had miles to run and a real paying job to attend to today, so my apologies for keeping this morning's post short. But the last week for the Red Sox has been the closest to earth-shattering as we've ever seen. Gunn compared it to Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke. I'd call it bigger than anything we've ever seen except for maybe Manny Ramirez, but only because Nomar and Pedro were already there. For once, it was actually the Red Sox spending some money, although Adrian Gonzalez is currently only signed through the 2011 season. Fact.

This deal means a whole score of things, more than one post's worth of stuff. I guess it's a good week for Pat to be buried in finals. I sure wouldn't want to have that kind of workload, like having a 5-hour exam on Saturday and a 30-hour project due on Monday. Oh, wait. But this week, barring a Lee deal tonight, has been all Red Sox anyway. I will keep it to the first five that come to mind.

1. John W. Henry Co. went up 20 percent in 2010, so they're actually doing quite well. So let's stop talking about the Red Sox' small market-ness. They were pretty bad in the first place, but some time around 12:15 this morning they became just as bad. You cannot expect this team to give out long contracts like this one again for a long time. Their roster is more or less 2/3 set for the next three seasons. The rotation minus Matsuzaka, Youkilis, Pedroia, Bard, and these two guys are all sticking around until 2013 or beyond. So they will not be spending big for a while. Not because they're poor. But because their roster spots are taken.

2. There is absolutely no plan. Theo Epstein was talking about no major acquisitions, but the ownership for some reason didn't expect Red Sox fans to turn on them after they bought the soccer team, said a bunch of dumb things, let Victor Martinez go, and give a really, really dumb interview. This was a series of panic moves. But the panic moves, although haphazard, made this team a lot better. We can now almost forget that Jarrod Saltalamacchia is the catcher and there is no bullpen. (Feel free to read my regularly-scheduled bullpen post from last night!)
3. Ken Rosenthal said that the Yankees would "erupt in chaos" if Cliff Lee signs anywhere else. Would this be the case if the Red Sox hadn't signed their backup plan/Brett Gardner insurance last night? Of course not. Lee has all the leverage. I think the rational group of Yankees fans, my co-author included, think the Yankees will be fine without Cliff Lee. But those who think Doc Brown is electrically conductive enough and should be sent back to 1985 will absolutely flip out. The papers will flip out. Hal Steinbrenner would get crushed all over the place. People will wonder if he's buying a second-rate European soccer team instead of making good offers.
Perhaps most importantly, they'll say that his father, the winner, would have never let this happen.
4. How about on-the-field implications? A lot of this was addressed in today's (terrific) comments section. Pat's comment about how he's the highest-paid player to never hit 20 home runs is interesting. I think that he will hit 20 home runs this year, partially because the little league field is moving their right field wall in a little bit further as a big "thank you" for JD Drew's underwhelming production for the last four years. (Less room to run in right and warning track power turns into a home run or two.) But I read somewhere that the Red Sox have on their roster the league leader in steals for eight of the last nine years or something like that. The value of speed is debated, as it should be. The Giants were dead last in steals last year. Speed overrates borderline major leaguers like 46. Speed adds value in "what-if" situations. Moneyballers hated speed no more than a decade ago. But no matter the value, if the Red Sox now have a guy who can hit .300 with 20 home runs, 35-45 (doubles + triples), and only 100 strikeouts a year for the next four, that's a key cog in the lineup. Maybe not worth $20 million, especially considering how much they outbid the Angels by. But right now it's borderline irrelevant if their shortstop is mediocre, their catcher is below average, and their outfield has JD Drew. Unless Beckett and Lackey suck WORSE than last year, they'll be a good team. Even if they're AS BAD, they're a playoff team.
5. Who's the other outfielder? JD will be in right field four days a week, including Friday night, until he rides with a bow in his hand into the sunset. (Can't give it the 9/28 date anymore, as this team's a playoff team again.) Theo said Kalish is not ready yet, so the other outfielder is 46. But 46 is basically an inferior version of Crawford except he's two (and only two) years younger and still has sore ribs. I'd love to see 46 traded for a good reliever, if there is such a thing available on the trade market, as Kalish brings a more rounded skill set than 46's one tool game. This move makes 46 that much more expendible, and if the Red Sox can actually get something of value in return for this stiff, it would be worth exploring

Something in the Water

There's gotta be something in the water at Lake Buena Vista that makes the Red Sox love to spend money. Carl Crawford? Really?

What's the most interesting part is that Crawford went for only $7 million more than Jayson Werth. Same number of years. Not eight years. I'm really surprised, and I don't think I'm the only one.

As I discussed a few weeks ago, Crawford's a good signing. It's a little bit of a concern because the speed might diminish, but good for this team. It's going to be good for a while now.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Imperfect Science

We've said it here a lot. Middle relievers are middle relievers for a reason. They're just not talented enough, just not strong enough, just not healthy enough, or just not consistent enough to be starters. Not that there's anything wrong with that. In the grand scheme of distance running, I'm probably a middle reliever. Cool, and probably cooler once I found out in research for this post that former Red Sox outfielder Ron Mahay has made well over ten million dollars between the ages of 26 and 39.

But because they're not really good and not really consistent, you have to pretty much roll the dice on middle relievers. Because one year they could be Okajima 2007 and the next year they could be Okajima 2009 or 2010. And that's what sucks about the Red Sox having this as a need. Pete Abraham gave a short list of relievers the Red Sox are at least somewhat interested in as the Winter Meetings continue. A lot of them, I just say, yuck.

-Mahay: He's 40. He has been under 3.40 in ERA once in the last six years.
-Arthur Rhodes: What, Jose Mesa was not available? The numbers are actually not bad, but neither were Mike Timlin's until he hit a certain age.
-Kevin Gregg: We want to get outs, right? There's no reason to sign this guy. He has NEVER been under 3.40 for a full year. He has been walking guys at an alarming rate or giving up homers at an alarming rate his entire career.
-Matt Guerrier: Maybe we can read his stat sheet like reading that report on Kirk Radomski and Jason Grimsley's steroid stuff. If the whole 2008 season were just blacked out with magic marker, it wouldn't look nearly as ugly. But you can't help but try to figure out what it says under that marker, like the 5.19 ERA, 1.6 WHIP, and 1.4 homers per nine
-Pedro Feliciano: The 1.53 WHIP bothers me a little bit. The fact that since 2008 he's pitched 266 games bothers me a lot. I'm pretty sure JD Drew hasn't played that many games. (Exaggeration, not fact.)
-Brian Fuentes and Scott Downs: Their numbers are intriguing, Fuentes moreso because he's been a closer in freaking Colorado and survived. He's also younger. But...and this brings me to my next point.

The recession is over. It has been several weeks, but the fact that Joaquin Benoit got $5.5 million A YEAR over THREE YEARS is imprinted in my head like Rick James's ring in Charlie Murphy's. His year was video game good this year, but that's just one year. The seven years over 3.70 for ERA this decade and the rotator cuff surgery - was that even a factor? What does that mean Fuentes and Downs are going to get? Holy crap.

I actually do hope the Red Sox get Fuentes. That's the guy I'd prefer. But beyond that, are any of these other guys worth taking instead of finding an internal option? Scott Atchison deserves to keep his job.

Michael Bowden - sure, his stock has fallen, but can he really go from a can't miss #2 starter future starter to a high school baseball coach between the ages of 22 and 24? You gotta think that if he gets a consistent shot as a relief pitcher, he'd do better than Ramram or Delcarmen last year. And if he doesn't? At least he isn't being paid $3.5 or $4 million (Mahay's salary last year) to suck. He's got just as much of a chance to suck as any of the guys at the top of this post.

Even some of the non-Okajima non-tenders might make sense. Nevermind "Taylor, I'mma let you finish," Taylor Buchholz wasn't even allowed to start his Red Sox career. It's very possible that he could return for six figure, as he made just over a million before being non-tendered.

But I can't get amped up about giving $4 million to see Ron Mahay return to the Red Sox fifteen years later. I can't get amped up about Kevin Gregg getting shelled all season for $3 million. I'd much rather take the chances with guys from the inside.

My bullpen: Papelbon with a short leash, Bard, Fuentes, Doubront, Atchison, Bowden, Wakefield.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Our Outfield Was A Jackass

The Red Sox need some outfield help. Behind the bullpen (which, by nature, will have to be saved by a hodgepodge of questionable guys), the outfield is the second priority. The outfield still has the potential to be good - especially given the fact that 46 is such a young player at age 27 - but an upgrade does not seem that out of question.

Right now, the internal outfield options are the following:
-Ryan Kalish, who, according to the brain trust, needs some more time at AAA. And this makes sense, actually. There shouldn't be any reason to rush this guy to the majors.
-Mike Cameron, who is 38 years old, coming off of surgery, and, honestly, was a questionable starter in the first place. His main selling point is the fact that he's right-handed and the rest of these guys aren't.
-46. Front AND back. Apparently 46's back, according to Francona, was barking at him. Wow. How the F did he do that? Playing football with Aaron Boone over Thanksgiving? Seriously, if anyone expects this guy to play more than Rocco Baldelli time, they're kidding themselves. Unlike Baldelli, 46 has no excuse because, in the words of Lil Wayne, he's softer than Roseanne, son. (But her show brought joy to people, so it was as good as a World Series according to Tom Werner.)
-Drew, who is nine months and twenty days until retirement. He knows it and may possibly do what he can to pull the plug on the playoffs, because the playoffs would delay hunting time by a few weeks.

The overwhelming leftiness is an issue: With two more lefties in the lineup in Gonzalez and the guy who might show up by June, the Yankees would be wise to acquire Cliff Lee, retain Andy Pettitte, and DFA Benjamin Franklin if they want to specifically beat the Red Sox. If Kalish, Drew, and 46 are all in the lineup simultaneously, that's five lefties.

So this leaves us to external options: The Red Sox have been tied to Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Beltran, and Matt Diaz. Ordonez has an inflated reputation, an inflated salary, questionable health demands, and did more steroids than Ronnie from Jersey Shore. Beltran is an intriguing option, but if the Mets are unwilling to pick up 2/3 of the contract, you gotta stay away.

Matt Diaz is a Gabe Kapler situation waiting to happen. Hit over .300 in each of his last two "full" seasons. Has never made more than $3 million a year. Is a righty. Has hit nearly .420 at Fenway Park over his career (small sample size, we know). He's not going to be an all-star, and at 32 he is what he is, but this guy could be a really useful complementing player. At a much lower cost than Mike Cameron. Matt Diaz should be the guy. Go get him.

Will Lee's Deal Impact Sabathia?

Nice to have Rivera and Jeter back in the fold.

C.C. Sabathia has an opt-out in his contract at the end of the 2011 season. At the time the contract was signed, I was very supportive of this opt-out. My reasoning was two-fold. First, you do what it takes to sign a player you really want within certain limits. If an opt-out after year three is what it takes, that is within those limits. Second, if he takes the opt-out, you've just gotten three years of one of the best pitchers in baseball in his absolute prime. If Cashman had gotten Sabathia to sign a straight-up 3/$69, people would have been in love with that deal. Everyone crushes big contracts in terms of years, so what's wrong with one that has the potential to be less years? Most people said it was the fact that Sabathia had total control. He could have three great years and then bounce, or he could stink or get injured and the Yankees would be on the hook. Correct. But the alternative is that the deal is just a traditional 7 year deal, because that's what it was going to take to sign him. So if he stinks or gets injured, you're going to be on the hook no matter what. This one just gives you an out, and even though it's not in your control 3/$69 is not a bad result.

Of course, Sabathia has been everything the Yankees could have ever hoped for and then some. In two years with the Yankees he's gone 40-15 with a 3.27 ERA, averaging 234 innings and 197 strikeouts (against only 70 walks per year), all good for a two-year ERA+ of 136. He finished 4th and 3rd in American League Cy Young voting in the two years respectively, and most importantly was one of the biggest reasons the Yankees won the 2009 World Series due to his contributions on the field and with the team in general. Not only has he been one of the Yankees' best free agent signings in a long time, he's been one of the most significant free agent signings in all of baseball from an impact perspective in recent memory. As such, the Yankees, I would think, don't want C.C. to opt out. Going back to my point in the last paragraph, it wouldn't be the worst thing. They'd likely have gotten three great years out of him, and wouldn't have to deal with the back end of the contract. However, they would have to replace him in the rotation. And that is where I know at least most Yankees fans want no part of him opting-out.

To that end, I wonder if the Cliff Lee contract is going to affect C.C.'s decision, and if this is something that the Yankees are thinking about. The prevailing thought two years ago was that the opt-out was only in case C.C. and his family didn't like New York. That obviously does not seem to be the case. Jack Curry reported last week that C.C. had asked him about good high schools in Jersey (where the Sabathias live) to send his kids to. This was thought to be the only major concern, because it was unlikely that C.C. could possibly get more money. But that was two years ago when the economy situation of this country and baseball was far more tenuous. As the Jayson Werth contract plainly proves, that is no longer the case in baseball. It is possible that depending on what Cliff Lee gets, C.C. could actually get more.

Next winter C.C. will be a year younger than Lee is now. If he has another year like he's been having, he'll continue to be one of the two best pitchers in the game across the last five years, along with Roy Halladay. If Lee gets, say, 6 years at Sabathia/Santana money ($23) million, C.C. would at least be able to make a case for more years. He's getting paid until he's 35. Cliff Lee would be getting paid until he's 38, running a year beyond when Sabathia's current deal runs out. At the very least, this has to be considered a possibility.

There are two big things that the Yankees have going for them, assuming they want Sabathia not to opt-out, which I'm guessing is definitely the case. First, he seems to be a genuine family guy. Not just one that gives it lip service. He seemed to take the last free agent process very seriously, and now that he's already been through it he doesn't strike me as the type to want to go through it again a few years later and risk having to move again if the Yankees don't bring him back. All when he's already getting paid the biggest pitching contact ever. But money does talk, and if it does that brings us to the second point. If he opts-out, Sabathia will have to be banking that someone else will pay him what Lee gets paid. Especially if the Yankees win the Lee bidding, they may be less inclined to do so, and it's possible C.C. could end up getting less money.

Hopefully this will all be moot, C.C. won't opt out, the Yankees will in the Lee bidding, and they'll be pitching together for at least the next five yeas. But I do wonder if the Yankees are factoring this into their thinking on Lee at all, and how this might impact C.C.'s decision-making a little under a year from now.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

"Well, there isn't a 48% tax [in soccer]."

So there are some grumblings from John Heyman of SI.com that the Red Sox and Adrian Gonzalez have indeed come to an agreement, after the story all afternoon and evening was the following:

2:00: The trade was off altogether because the Red Sox (and their idiot owner who prefers paying for soccer players because there's no luxury tax) couldn't reach an agreement with the player regarding a contract extension.
7:00: The trade was back on, but there was no extension. The Red Sox (and their idiot owner who wants you to root against the American dollar because it helps his business interests) essentially traded four top prospects so they can have Adrian Gonzalez for a one-year rental. In a year that they have Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Mike Cameron, JD Drew, and 46 in their lineup. Then they have a chance to get the player back in free agency anyway.
11:00: Maybe there's an extension in the works.

The fact that there hasn't been a finalized agreement with this extension is further proof that this general manager or this ownership group - OR BOTH - need to go into the Witness Protection Program, move to Seattle, and live the rest of their lives like schnooks (another Goodfellas reference!). The fact that nothing's finalized and nothing will be finalized by the time tomorrow's press conference happens means one of the two issues:

1. The general manager got his absolute ass kicked in negotiations. Again. That's all the guy does - get absolutely hammered in negotiations. I'd like to see the Boy Wonder talk a dude off a ledge, or to talk to Kim Jong Il or something. This idiot, probably in the name of roster flexibility, probably told Adrian Gonzalez "Hey, we already paid four freaking prospects for you. Are you okay with two years and $18 million?" I think that's the kind of thing he said to Victor Martinez, too. All sarcasm aside, he probably offered Gonzalez six years, which is less than the asinine 7-year deal Jayson Werth got from Washington this afternoon.

This is exactly the player you wanted, and you're going to get smoked in negotiations with him? Wow. Am I watching myself striking out looking in the girl category when I was a senior in high school? You're okay with not doing what it takes to get the one player you've wanted for three years? That's disgusting. Absolutely unconscionable.

2. The general manager has to ask the guy who, on his private freaking jet, was talking about how his company was up 20% for reasons the Boston Globe's readers wouldn't understand, for permission to shell out the money on top of the prospects. Theo Epstein, the way I see it, already gave up his items of value in the baseball players. But he has to ask John Henry about the dollars, and John Henry is hesitant. I just don't understand this.

("Neither will your readers.")

But seriously? It's already insurmountably stupid in the baseball category (see Saturday's post), but that damage is done. Stop being so freaking cheap and get a player who doesn't suck. You will pay $14 million a year for JD Drew, who does suck. You will pay $10 million for Mike Cameron, who also does suck. You paid $170 million on a garbage "bridge year" team that sucked. But you're falling short on the missing piece that will make this team good for the next five years. Probably because there's a 48% tax that isn't there in soccer. That is unforgivably cheap, and something this fan base does not deserve from a bunch of jackasses shoving NASCAR and membership cards down your throat and up the other way.

Pardon my French, as I have not been this furious about this team since December 6, 2006, but that is complete horseshit. I can't find any other word for it. Rubbish? Rubbish doesn't even do it justice.

This team clearly does not want to win. They want to maximize profit. Say what you want about George Steinbrenner, but he was NOT a smart businessman. He was a competitive guy who wanted to win. John Henry does not want to win. He wants you to root for his business interests because it will help him make money. He wants you to root against the American dollar and for the Chinese yuan, because it will help his business interests. Tom Werner doesn't care about winning, as he compared the 2004 World Series to 3rd Rock from the Sun.

This ownership group is absolutely rock bottom. At least Jeremy Jacobs needs "a trophy, a big one." Give me the freaking McCourt family at this point. Give me Peter Angelos. Give me Dan Snyder. I would rather have Marge Schott as the Red Sox owner than to have John Henry and Tom Werner.

These guys first tried to pull off a trade, most likely against the wishes of the baseball people, to help their public image. But now they're balking at the opportunity to have it actually help their baseball team.

Disgusting. Abominable. Unforgivable.

Happy Winter Meetings


There will be another post tonight, but it's noteworthy that Theo Epstein, after probably offering Adrian Gonzalez a 2-year extension for $18 million for the sake of roster flexibility, is going back to Lake Buena Vista. We remember what happened last time he was in Lake Buena Vista.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Get Yo Shine On

So the Red Sox are on the verge of trading their farm system for Adrian Gonzalez and then after that, signing him to a big-money contract. Further evidence that this ownership group (and I'm not even going to crush Theo for this) is completely reactive and disregards any planning made by the general manager and the baseball people. What a joke.

Don't get me wrong. I am absolutely thrilled about getting the player. The player is exactly what the Red Sox need right now and frankly, what the Red Sox needed since they realized that Mike Lowell's hip was as bad as it was. Adrian Gonzalez is one of the top ten offensive players in the league, and going back to the Upton argument, Upton COULD be what Gonzalez IS. Gonzalez could be the second-best San Diego native in the history of this franchise (behind some outfielder in the 40s and 50s).

It only took Pat two text messages this morning before he started razzing me about how great it is that the Red Sox had to pay twice for this guy. Last thing I read is that they have to pay the Padres three out of their top 20 prospects, including #1 Casey Kelly and #3 Anthony Rizzo BEFORE paying the player what is essentially a free agent-level long-term deal. So the overall cost to the organization, factoring in the potential impact of these players, might indeed be more expensive than something like signing Crawford, or Teixeira, or whomever. Basically they did what we praised them for NOT doing with Johan Santana both at the time and recently.

This reeks of the Yankees in the early part of this century and, frankly, the Red Sox when Theo left for a while. It's shortsighted garbage. The team no longer has a future without going fishing again in an ineffient free agent market, only a present that damn well better be good.

What it also reeks of is the ownership group. Theo Epstein, when he had a lot of control within the organization, said no to doing this with Halladay and with Santana. And while it's clear that he loved Adrian Gonzalez, he said publicly that he's been working toward making the 2012 (not 2011) team strong while 2010 and 2011 were "bridge" years. Why the change of heart? Either they were afraid they'd get their asses kicked again in a negotiation next winter (possible) or...ownership.

John Henry is whining on Twitter about articles that are critical of him, like last week's Eric Wilbur article. Tom Werner said that they'd be an entertaining TV show this year because they'd make a big move. They're scared about the Celtics and Bruins taking their market share. So therefore, in something that makes absolutely no baseball sense, they likely overruled the baseball guys so that they can scalp more tickets at Ace Ticket.

Somewhere, John Henry is on his private jet, heading from Liverpool to Boston and patting himself on the back. Not only did his company go up 20% this year by doing trades that you wouldn't understand, but, like Birdman, he got his shine on so ****** stop hatin. He went after the shiny object immediately instead of waiting a freaking year for free agency, something that would have made baseball sense. But there will no longer be a bridge year. So people will stop hating him for the soccer diversions.

Happy about the player. Unhappy about the fact that I'm not writing this in winter 2011. And if I were to venture a guess, I bet Theo Epstein feels the same way.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Congratulations

Two weekends ago, our very own Dan Vassallo won the Philadelphia Marathon. He may think that Ross generally congratulating him on Philadelphia in the comments section passes as notification of this major achievement. Because of course, it isn't reasonable that Ross could have been congratulating him on finishing 3rd, 5th, in the Top 25, or even just doing well. No, a general congratulations could only mean that he won the whole thing. He was playing this modestly, no doubt, but he did not formally, officially, or in any way shape or form tell us about this win until he was pressed.

So I'm telling everyone now. This is too big to go barely mentioned in this space. From watching Dan in college and staying in touch with him now, I know how hard he trains. He works his freaking tail off. He's one of those guys you actually have to tell to NOT work so hard for fear that it's a disservice to his performance when it actually matters - which is of course when the lights are on, not in training. Of course, we'd all rather have this kind of guy on our team than the guy you have to push to work harder, or who doesn't maximize his talent. I'm quite positive that Dan gets every ounce of talent he has out of his body, and this is the kind of person we all like to root for. As a result, he's doing some pretty spectacular things in the marathon running world, and has a chance to go even higher. So congratulations, DV, you are one of those people that really deserves accomplishments like this.

That's all I got for today. I'd rather talk about DV's marathon win, work ethic generally, or have Gunn/Bandi tell relate anything we've talked about recently to a story in their past that will make us all laugh in the comments section than talk about baseball. This has been the absolute most boring baseball off-season thus far that I can ever remember. Not that there's anything wrong with that, it happens. The Winter Meetings should heat it up next week as they usually do.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Two Days To Thaw Him Out

"Jimmy was cutting every link between himself and the robbery, but it had nothing to do with me."
-Goodfellas montage where everyone gets whacked.

If you haven't noticed (and you might not have because you think the Red Sox are "boring" - more on this on Monday), Theo Epstein is cutting every link between himself and the 2010 bullpen. This bullpen did fall short of the 37 blown saves I predicted at the beginning of the season, but they did successfully blow 23 saves, the highest total since their last non-playoff season of 2006.

And, not dissimilar to what he did with his 2003 bullpen ultimately featuring Byung-Hyun Kim, he realized the guys in place weren't working, so he started whacking guys. Ramirez got shipped to San Francisco. Delcarmen to Colorado. Richardson to Florida for a fellow lefty with a checkered history. Right now the only guys who aren't in trouble would be Scott Atchison and Daniel Bard. Even Felix Doubront is potentially on the trading block.

Thursday, we will find out whether Okajima will be the next connection to the 2010 bullpen that will be severed. He could be straight-up non-tendered Thursday night, and though the guy was a surprise star in 2007, that ship has sailed. A long time ago. I read the stat tonight that on the road, opponents hit .398 against Okajima. Holy crap. His WHIP was closer to 2 than to 1, which is not good when your job is to get one or two guys out in a tight spot.

In previous years of this great regression, Okajima (who is turning 35 this month) had gotten the benefit of the doubt a lot of the time. He got a reasonably bad rap in either 08 or 09 for allowing an inordinate amount of inherited runners in. But stat guys argued that wasn't his fault. The argument that Okajima, as a non-power pitcher with a funky delivery, was being "figured out" was being dismissed, even by myself. But in 2010 he was absolutely abominable.

Even if average relievers such as Joaquin Benoit are getting irrationally-generous contracts, there's no way on earth that Okajima, given the direction his years since 2007 have been going, deserves any raise over the $2.8 million he made last year. Sorry. It was a nice story at first with the little, unheralded Japanese reliever outperforming the overhyped Japanese starter because of his funky windup and deception factor. But at some point the fact that he didn't look at the plate when he threw the ball caught up to him, because he couldn't find it. It also doesn't help when he was pouting all season after failing to use his mind and watch people run around the bases while he's standing with the ball in his hand. If the Red Sox are indeed going to rebuild this season, it's time to blow up this disastrous bullpen and start over. Therefore, tonight is the time to cut ties with Hideki Okajima.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Upton Baby

So the Red Sox were making some waves a couple of weeks ago when they made a trade bid for Justin Upton. This is pretty intriguing. Upton is obviously a good baseball player. He's nearly four years younger than the 27-year old young player with tremendous upside who wore #46 the last time he played 20 games in one season. He's good for 25 home runs and potentially 25 stolen bases as well. He hit .300 at age 21. It is starting to be a little troubling how much he strikes out, but he is a very solid baseball player. A potential All-Star.


Perhaps the most intriguing part is the fact that he's under contract through 2015, with his salary maxing out in the last two years of this deal at over $14 million. So if he's traded for, he's sticking around for a while. Upon the inevitable unavailability of the three current outfielders right now, an outfielder is needed, and upon the inevitable departure of Drew and Cameron after this year and 46 after three more, there is a lack of minor league outfielder depth.


Besides the obvious sticking point of the D'Backs' asking price, the other concern regarding acquring this guy (or any outfielder for that matter) is how the team projects Ryan Kalish. Kalish has vaulted many in the Red Sox' prospect charts, and he is now the Red Sox' second-rated prospect by Soxprospects.com. Also notable is that Kalish is one of only two outfielders ranked in the top 15 (Josh Reddick, who had a really bad season, is the other).

I don't think anyone projects Kalish, who is roughly the same age as Upton, to ever be as good as Upton. Perhaps his ceiling is as a borderline all-star. But I've read in a few different places that Kalish projects to be a solid major league corner outfielder similar to Trot Nixon minus the juice.

So the real question here is: Would the Red Sox be okay with trading Kalish, Casey Kelly, and possibly someone like 46 or Matsuzaka for a guy like Upton and then go get Werth? (Of course, this is also a problem because they'd then have three right fielders.) Are they comfortable with Kalish as a long-term solution, or is the Trot Nixon projection inadequate for their needs? Kalish would also be sticking around until 2015, and most likely he wouldn't be receiving raises as aggressively as Upton.

I'm still on the fence here. Kalish is less production for less cost, and Upton is more for more. If the trade package involves Kalish, Casey Kelly, and a major leaguer like 46 or Matsuzaka, you at least gotta think about it.

However, any package involving Daniel Bard should be declined.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Public Enemy #1

Boston baseball fans have an unlikely villain as November turns into December and still very little has happened with the baseball team or in baseball at all. I mean, there's only so much you can say about Derek Jeter (and we've said it). But Public Enemy #1 in Boston right now isn't Alex Rodriguez. It's not Scott Boras. It's not Derek Jeter.

It's John W. Henry.

This fall from grace, obviously with different circumstances, rivals that of David Ortiz, Bernard Madoff, and Tiger Woods. It was not long ago that almost everybody in this town loved John Henry. He was devoted to the Red Sox, he was devoted to the Red Sox' winning consistently, and he was devoted to Theo Epstein. He gave Epstein the keys to the private jet, basically, when it came to baseball operations. He seemed pretty hip, as the smug NESCAC graduates who have replaced Sully from Medford, Murph from Somerville, and Mikey from Everett loved the fact that Henry sat in his one-man Popemobile box wearing Joe Maddon glasses and typing into a MacBook. The Sox were making money and they were spending it to enhance the ballpark and the team that plays in it. People didn't even resent the fact that he married a girl half his age - they said good for him and wrote articles in the Boston Globe Magazine and Boston Magazine about how awesome he was for it.

Cheap marketing ploys such as acquiring a second-tier NASCAR team and shoving that down our throats...producing cringeworthy, obnoxious stereotype-enforcing television shows like Pocket Money and Sox Appeal...and somehow tying a regional identity to a Neil Diamond song including the words "touching me, touching you" but inspired by a picture of an 11-year-old on a horse...were all okay.

But something went bad, and it went bad in a hurry. When did John Henry lose you? Here are a few choices:

1. When he bid very high on Mark Teixeira despite the fact that he already had a first baseman, a third baseman, and a DH performing at high levels...just to pinch pennies at the last minute and watch the player go to the Yankees.

2. When the team was still in the 2010 pennant race and was just one bullpen arm away from at least having a chance to get back into it. Rumors circled about the team being unwilling to exceed the luxury cap limit. They wouldn't sign Kerry Wood to a $500,000 contract, letting him go to New York instead.

3. When, during a monsoon-like August afternoon, he and his boys opened up the Fenway Park gates, just to cancel the game later on. This is not an uncommon occurrence. However, his wife Twittered the rain-out twenty-five minutes before it was officially rained out. During those 25 minutes that the owners knew it was going to be rained out, countless hard-working families shelled out $40 to park in a Commonwealth Avenue parking spot, and some of the remaining Sullys and Murphs bought two more $8.50 beers apiece. But they took their sweet-ass time to announce it despite the fact that Henry's wife knew about it for at least 25 minutes.

4. When the owner decided that Kerry Wood was too expensive but a soccer team in England wasn't. He shelled out nearly $500 million for Liverpool, and slowly but surely started to shove that down our throats. Eric Wilbur reported this week that Liverpool now has a devoted link on NESN.com but the local team, the New England Revolution, do not. Henry also shared that he spent nearly every waking moment of the last few months on the soccer team.

5. When Theo Epstein essentially said that bringing back David Ortiz for $12.5 million was the decision of "ownership" several times.

6. The Neither Will Your Readers article. On Henry's private jet, he answered a Q&A with responses ranging from bitching about the 48% luxury tax, bragging about his company's success in a recession, thanking God that nobody's acting like the 2004 team, and saying the Boston Globe's readers wouldn't understand why his company was so successful. His sidekick Tom Werner, the brains behind shows such as Normal, Ohio, That 80's Show, God, the Devil, and Bob, Frannie's Turn, Cybill, and Whoopi, said that he enjoyed putting out TV shows as much as he enjoyed winning the 2004 World Series. Let's reiterate the part that it was on Henry's private jet.

7. When Victor Martinez walked last week. Once again, ownership's willingness to spend on good talent was called into question, though their willingness to spend on Mike Cameron, and Ortiz is clearly there. As Felger said, "What's wrong with Victor Martinez?" We discussed here last week why Victor walking is probably good for this team in the long term, but you can't help to ask questions about this guy.

I didn't really like the guy to begin with, but numbers 3 and 6 really solidified it for me. But what a dbag. It stinks to see the Red Sox go to crap, but it's nice to see that Henry, Werner, and Lucchino are going right with them.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Jeter Situation, One and Done

When thinking about the many ways a post about the Jeter situation could be directed right now, the reality is a lot of them would probably be a waste of time. When you have two sides as juicy as the Yankees and Jeter, the media is going to run wild. That's going to result in a lot of false reports, which means that most of the discussions we could have right now will end up being a waste of time. I'm really not interested in that. So I'm going to throw out a few thoughts now and leave it at that - meaning likely not devoting another post to it - until something actually happens in this situation in terms of a resolution.

First things first, I want Jeter back. I see him producing somewhere between his '09 MVP-type year and '10 worst-year-of-his-career in 2011, which will be good for one of the better shortstops in the game. This will help the Yankees win. Having Jeter back will also be good from a continuity perspective. It will save approximately 1 million questions before Spring Training, during Spring Training, before Opening Day, after the Yankees' first losing streak, and when they make the playoffs for the first time without him, about if not having Derek Jeter is the reason or is going to be the reason for X, Y, and Z. These questions will be directed at anyone with even a remote connection to the team. This will be a distraction, and will not help the Yankees win. In all seriousness, the Yankees' are Jeter's team, and have been for a long time. He's may or may not be the player he once was in 2011 but he will still be who he is to the rest of the clubhouse from a leadership perspective. When the eventually lose him, there will be some things that need to get adjusted and figured out, especially from a leadership perspective. Not having to figure those things out this year will help the Yankees win. I'm all about things that help the Yankees win, and Jeter is just that. He's also my favorite athlete of all-time in any sport, and it would be nice to see him get his 3,000th hit and finish his career with the Yankees, hopefully with a few more World Series titles.

After that, Jeter really has no leverage. The Yankees current offer is somewhere around 3/$45, and despite being a pay cut, would still make him the highest paid middle-infielder in the game. Since he is not the best middle-infielder in the game, it is difficult to imagine another team going to even that level to sign him. There is nothing he can call on, besides perhaps retirement, that would make the Yankees go higher. Because his only other option would probably be to leave the Yankees for similar or less money, and that is not going to be good for his image, career, or legacy in all likelihood. The Yankees could and probably should go a little bit higher to sign him and bring back some good feelings, but beyond that have little reason to.

On that note, something that is sort of silly to me is the idea that the Yankees really need to pay Jeter for everything he's done for the organization. Um, what exactly was the $205,430,000 they paid him the last 15 years for? Listen, I understand Jeter has made the Yankees a lot of money. But the Yankees have also paid him more than most any player has made from any combination of teams in a single career in the history of the game. It isn't like he's been underpaid for his contributions on and off the field. It isn't even like he's been underpaid relative to performance and the rest of the league, like you could argue Rivera was before his last contract. I understand that some sort of "continued consideration" for all that he's done should probably be factored into the next contract. Key word here is "continued". It isn't like this is something that is starting fresh right now, and the Yankees now need to compensate him for everything he's ever done in his career. That's been ongoing for a while now, most notably since he signed the $189 million contract 10 years ago. Some people are making it seem differently, and it just not the case.

One interesting theory that I had thought about and have heard a few other people mention. the 09-10 falloff was precipitous. Not unlike anything we've ever seen, especially given Jeter's age. But he was SO GOOD in 2009 and SO BAD in 2010 in makes you wonder if there wasn't something going on. We know Jeter plays injured, and we know he does not like anyone knowing about or talking about those injuries because then that opens the door for excuses for poor play. His ability and desire to play through injuries is one of the great attributes of his career. He played the 2004 playoffs with a broken thumb and people didn't really find out about it until the Joe Torre book came out almost five years later. For any of us that have ever hit a baseball with two good thumbs, we know how painful it can be. Never mind with a broken thumb, and being able to rack up 12 hits, 3 for extra bases, in two playoff series all the while. So, with that in mind, is it possible that Jeter played injured for most of the year, that the Yankees aren't really factoring that in, and Jeter feels a little bit of "I stayed in when you needed me and now you're pretending like that didn't happen"? It's a little conspiracy-theory-ish, but given the history I don't think out of the question. You might say if this was the case, why doesn't camp Jeter just put it out there for the public to know. But that goes against everything Jeter stands for, so it would make sense if it was the case for it to stay quiet.

I think this thing will end up getting done for 3/$60 or 4/$70. I have no fancy rationale for either of those guesses, only that the Yankees want three years, Jeter seems to want more, and his last salary was around $20 million. So I figure the Yankees either get the years they want and continue to pay him around what he was making, or Jeter gets closer to the years he wants and the Yankees pay a lower salary. One thing I find interesting is that, no matter what the contract, I see this contract ending up being one that neither side is thrilled with. Rarely do you see that happen in negotiations. Usually one or both sides feels really good about the deal. I could see this ending up with both the Yankees and Jeter not being in love with the deal but also not totally disliking it. They'll just do what it ultimately takes to get it done, because they both know it's in their best interests to continue this relationship. For the winning and for the legacy.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Something Snapped

It's been talked about at length before that Red Sox fans, perhaps through complacency, perhaps through better options in other sports, or perhaps through exhaustion after a non-stop emotional roller coaster from their baseball team, have lost a bit of their interest in their team. The 2010 "bridge year" which was exactly that - a completely punted effort as we predicted last winter. Surprisingly, even the most short-sighted Red Sox fans were okay with that.

But something happened today that made them snap. This is what really surprised me. I didn't see this explosion coming. But it was not Pats/Colts, Pats/Lions, the Celtics' recent losing, the Bruins, or whatever garbage I did in Philadelphia that caught their attention the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. It was Victor Martinez signing rather predictably with the Detroit Tigers. This seemed like the last straw for a fan base that is apparently tired with ownership and management's inconsistent and distracted philosophy when it comes to free agency.

Felger was in full-out rant mode this afternoon about the Red Sox' quarter-assed attempt to retain one of the five best catchers in the major leagues. What is wrong with Victor Martinez, he demanded to know. If you offer a guy in the prime of his career a two-year, $18 million deal, you are not only insulting him, but you're also sending a crystal-clear message that a platoon between a minor leaguer and a guy better suited for a single-A managerial position is a more desirable option.

But why? Especially, why is it okay to give David Ortiz $12 million but not Victor Martinez? Why is it okay to give JD Drew 5 years and $70 million, but you can't give a GOOD baseball player in Martinez 4 years and $50 million? The guys the Red Sox really want - they blow out the field in negotiations. Look at Matsuzaka. Look at Drew and the obvious tampering case. Look at Lugo. Look at even Cameron, Varitek, Scutaro, and Lackey. They outbid themselves on all of these guys.

Then ownership obviously wanted to retain David Ortiz because he will have a "great smile," do features on NESN, and hopefully raise ratings for Linda Pizzuti's abominable "After the Game" television show.

But for some reason, it's okay to blow out the field on Mike Cameron and JD Drew but pinch pennies on Jason Bay, Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe, and ultimately even Mark Teixeira. Felger, Massarotti, and a large legion of furious Red Sox fans are trying to figure out why.

I'm plenty pissed off about the fact that the Red Sox are vastly overpaying mediocre-to-bad players, and then crying poverty because of their payroll. Part of the beauty of having this blog for so long is that there's hard evidence pointing to the fact that I've said for a long time that this team absolutely BLOWS at free-agent negotiations. And that's why they lose guys they give a half-assed effort on but blow out the field on sub-par players.

But in this case, it sort of makes sense. Especially in light of what Pat F wrote yesterday. Theo Epstein all but admitted earlier that 2011 is also going to be a bridge/punt year by saying he's okay with Jed Lowrie at third and Jarrod Saltalanotgonnaplayhereanymore (hat tip to the Oz) behind the plate. But letting go of V-Mart means that the Red Sox have reasonable flexibility at first base for a couple of years. This team might use this offseason to spend $60 million on two or three league-average relievers. But it's looking more and more obvious that next winter, they're going to flex their offseason muscle.

They'll have an opening at first base with Youkilis potentially moving to third (displacing an expendable Lowrie). There will be a player available through free agency that the team clearly wants. He'll be 29 when he plays his first game in Boston, and he will receive the Mark Teixeira-level contract he wants - from the Red Sox. If Red Sox fans can stomach a .500 team in 2011, they will be rewarded with Adrian Gonzalez next year.

Let's just hope that in the meantime, Theo Epstein will get the flack he deserves not for letting go of Victor Martinez, but for hideously overpaying for stiffs like two of their outfielders.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Red Sox Need An Impact Guy

I remember Bandi saying something about the Yankees after the 2008 season that really rang true. He said they needed to shake things up not by adding new complimentary players around the existing core, but by bringing in new core players. The Yankees ended up doing just that, bringing in C.C. Sabathia and Mark Teixeira, and the positive results were as immediately noticeable as they could possibly be. Right from Spring Training the Yankees had a new look, and that new look was a big reason why they got different results in October than they had been getting for the better part of a decade.

I think you can say something very similar about the Red Sox right now. They are a good team, just like the 2005-2008 Yankees were good teams. But since the 2007 World Series and 2008 ALCS, you haven't seen much change. They've had some young players emerge (Lester, Pedroia, Buchholz) and have mixed and matched some really good pieces (Bay, Martinez, Beltre), but they haven't really added a core guy, an impact guy, someone who makes Yankees' fans scared. After all, that's one of the beauties of this rivalry. You have a built-in gauge as to how good a signing/trade is or isn't. Of course this doesn't go for complimentary pieces, because they aren't meant to scare you. But for big signings and trades, you can get a quick sense of how solid they are by how much they scare the opposing fan base.

The Red Sox need to make a move like this to mix up their core. Since that 07/08 run, they've been stagnant, and are trying to talk themselves into guys like Dustin Pedroia as franchise players. No offense to him, because he's a nice little player and seems like a very good leader, but if a second baseman with a career OPS+ of 113 is the only guy you can point to besides Youkilis as a consistent part of the offensive core for the last 3-4 years you're in trouble as far as being a World Series competitor. Same goes for everyone behind Lester. Buchholz has a chance to be very good but he's had one full season. Lackey and Beckett do not fall in the category of "scary" signings. Not at all.

I've heard quite a few Red Sox fans big in on bringing back Martinez or Beltre or both. I can certainly see why, they are very good players. But again they don't qualify for what we are looking for here, it's more of the same, very good but not scary players. It's great that Martinez can put up .335/.389/.562 in Fenway and have that carry his .271/.315/.426 on the road. But the Red Sox are always going to be able to find players who are good but can be elite at home by exploiting the hitters park that is Fenway. That's not what they should be looking for here. They need a guy that can put up huge numbers anywhere regardless of park. Interestingly, Beltre had no Fenway split, which is unusual for a righty pull power hitter. This would certainly be an attractive reason to resign him. Still, he has other red flags that keep him from being the type of player the Sox really need. It's not that these guys aren't extremely useful pieces. Again they are. It's that the Red Sox might be better served by putting their resources into a lesser group of elite players as opposed to a greater group of useful pieces like they have right now.

In this particular free agent market, I think the only guy we are definitely talking about as this kind of player is Cliff Lee. I wouldn't be surprised if the Red Sox are in on him behind the scenes much the way the Yankees were with Teixeira. And they should be, especially considering that they had no problem scoring runs last year despite the injuries and it was their pitching that was a bigger problem. Lee and Lester up top would probably be the best 1-2 in the game. After that, maybe Crawford, and that's it. Then you're talking about the trade market for guys like Adrian Gonzalez.

Lee and Gonzalez are the kind of players the Red Sox need right now. If it doesn't happen this winter, you can't force it. Then you just end up in worse shape than you started in. But this should be what they are targeting. The core by committee is enough to have them in the mix but it isn't scaring anybody. They need a no doubt type player that is going to shake things up and either bat 3/4 with Youkilis or front the rotation 1-2 with Lester, just as the Yankees did in 2008 when they ended up getting both.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Whose Reputation Hurts Most?

It's been almost three weeks since the conclusion of the World Series and perhaps the biggest surprise of this offseason so far is the fact that Derek Jeter has still not re-upped with the Yankees. Rumors over the season said he's looking for a lot of money, but it's almost unanimous that the team and player are going to end up back together - the most logical place.

The real question, and something a lot of people disagree with me on, is whose reputation takes a bigger hit if Jeter goes to, say, the Mariners, Braves, Mets, or Orioles. A lot of people think it's Jeter. I think it's the team.

I understand the Jeter argument. He'll look like another greedy player who doesn't know his place in team and baseball history. After a frankly generous $180 million contract signed ten years ago and more endorsement deals than smoking-hot girlfriends, he wants even more. After being one of the two guys in the entire Joe Torre book painted as a sympathetic character, he goes up against that. Instead of being the opposite of Arod, he's the same. I get it. It will hurt his reputation incredibly.

However, it hurts the team's much more. Think about the circumstances of this team. Jeter is the face of the franchise and Jeter in the Yankee uniform is the face of baseball. It has been for a long time. And after fifteen years of resurrecting the Yankee brand after the strike, after George's suspension, and after thirteen years of futility, the Yankees are going to nickel and dime a still-productive player primed for a huge bounceback year on the field.

The Yankees appearing cheap on such an important figure in their franchise history is especially bad because they outbid themselves for the centaur, bid aggressively for Teixeira and Damon, were very generous with Rivera and Posada when the old owner was alive. When the old owner (who, Hall of Famer or not, changed baseball specifically by doing this) dies, they start pinching pennies with the face of the franchise, letting Ramiro freaking Pena play shortstop for a team trying to win the World Series every year? Unacceptable.

Jeter's value in New York is much more valuable (in terms of a Vince Gennaro term "marquee value") than anywhere else. The fact that it's extremely possible if not probable that he's going to bounce back from 2010 just adds to it. In November 2009, the 35-year-old (then) Jeter was coming off of a season where he finished in 3rd in MVP voting and in some eyes, including my own, got robbed. He hit .334, stole thirty bases, hit 46 extra-base hits, and walked seventy times. This was an atypically-good year against his career norms, but not by much. The next year, 2010, was a large deviation from the norm. The Yankees can probably expect another 190 hits from Jeter if he is used responsibly. Money, while it may be a thing, shouldn't be that much of a thing when it comes to Jeter. Pay the man. Not Arod money, and not even $20 million a year. But give him four years at fifteen. It's for your own good, both on and off the baseball field.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sabermetrics' D-Day

The rise of sabermetrics into the general consciousness of baseball, its fans, players, executives, and writers in the last decade has been a complete revolution in the way everyone thinks about the game.

However, today was a referendum on sabermetrics, and sabermetrics won. Even the older, crankier members of the BBWAA decided to go against the wins metric and to go with, well, every other stat. At first glance, this looks like justice is served for Felix Hernandez. He was the pitcher who performed the best in the year 2010. At least in the AL. The best pitcher deserves the Cy Young Award. Just a fun fact that I found while looking up numbers for this post: Against Hernandez, 265 batters earned their way to first base out of a league-leading 1001. John Lackey faced 71 fewer batters and let 49 more of them on base.

Obviously, the old, cranky writers would discount Hernandez because he only got 13 wins against twelve losses. Those are Matsuzaka numbers right there. On the other hand, the sabermetric guys would look at the more granular statistic, starting with traditional ERA and going all the way down to the real mathematical stuff. Sabermetrics guys have a large body of statistics to pull from, while the traditional guys will continue to look at the wins.

Here's the argument - and this is actually the one I was going to make: A pitcher that deserves the Cy Young Award needs to do something to make his team win. He could look great on the spreadsheets but just lose because they give up that extra run that otherwise is preventable. Look at Zack Grienke last year. He was on a piss-poor team and still found a way to get himself a .667 winning percentage and sixteen wins. Look at Pedro Martinez: Every opposing pitcher back during his heyday decided to take their game up a little bit when facing Pedro, and Pedro had to win with small margins of error, like 2-1 games or 1-0 games. Why didn't Felix Hernandez do it?

Well, this is why, and this is probably why this post is going to look completely disjointed. In the games he lost (and some of them, admittedly, were games in which he gave up 4 runs or 7 runs twice), his team put up these offensive numbers: 1, 3, 0, 1, 1, 2, 1, 0, 0, 1, 1, 0. In those twelve losses, his team scored eleven runs! That's gotta be some kind of record. So even if Hernandez gave up two runs in these games, he would have lost nine of them! He gave up zero earned in one of the losses, one earned in once of the losses, two earned in three of the losses, and three earned in two of the losses.

Pat will argue tomorrow that Hernandez was good, but he wasn't so transcendently good (like Grienke) that he deserved it over a guy who helped his team make it into contention. But he lost twelve games in which his team scored eleven runs. What's transcendent here was how freaking bad his team (RUN PREVENTION!!1) was. If Hernandez DIDN'T win, he would have been absolutely screwed. And as surprising as it is, you don't even need to do regression analysis to see why.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Werth vs. Crawford

As promised, here it is. And in no surprise, I will say that I would rather have five years of Jayson Werth than seven years of Carl Crawford.

First point: The length of the contract. Using a term that I used first but Tim C most recently used, it's less likely that Werth becomes a Slurpee (good at the beginning, an icy shell of its former self at the end) than Crawford does, because the market will likely not dictate he gets more than five or six years. Crawford will get more. I anticipate the market being reasonably scared away by Werth's temperment and injury history, but sometimes that's the kind of thing you need to take a risk on for production. Crawford will likely command 8 years and $150 million; Werth may be had for half of that. And honestly, I fear filling a starting position and a roster spot for Carl Crawford at age 37 for no reason other than that he's making $20 million and was really good eight years before.

Plus, let's revisit the Werth injury conundrum one more time. He suffered his injury in March 2005. He was 26 at the time. He played the injury-sapped 2005 season and missed the 2006 season completely. He played half a season at age 25 in 2004, when he hit 16 home runs in less than 300 at-bats. If you want to rag on Werth for saying that he did nothing until he was 28, that's fine. It is also true that Boston's sweetheart 46 has done nothing except hit .353 in 30 games against minor leaguers and steal one base in the World Series before his 27th birthday.

Crawford, on the other hand, accomplished a lot by this age. In fact, he's only 23 months older than the Red Sox' young player with a lot of speed, youth, upside, and potential. But let's call it the Cal Ripken rule. He's played 150 games six out of the last eight years, and has played 140 in five out of the last eight. On artificial surface (though it was strictly field turf for several years now). Crawford has played 460 more games than Werth has. You gotta think it takes a toll on the body.

In fact, there are decades of baseball history that would suggest just that, especially for fast guys. Tim Raines stole thirty bases just once after the age of 32. Kenny Lofton stole thirty bases zero times after the age of 32. Even Rickey Henderson only accomplished that task twice after 34, regressing from a Hall of Famer to a league-average player for the last decade of his career. Andre Dawson's base-stealing days were over, done, finished by the age of 29, and the only reason he stayed relevant was the fact that he could hit the ball out of the park as well. By the time he played in Boston (age 38, the age Crawford would be at the end of his contract), the poor guy could barely freaking walk. The examples go on. Jose Offerman was once a league leader in steals.

Considering that Crawford, while good, is NOT Rickey Henderson, it is reasonable to assume that using a similar trajectory, he may become league average or below for the second half of this contract. I think his trajectory will be a bit kinder due to medical advances, but he's not going to be doing this forever. He might keep on hitting .300 with a low-to-medium walk total and less than 20 home runs a year. But is that something worth paying a fortune for? Yes, he's durable. But you can ask me this over the last year and a half: you're always durable until the first time you get hurt. Blocking an outfielder spot all the way to 2018 for a high-paid shell is not a good thing. You think the Red Sox would rather have JD Drew or David Murphy right now?

Also, Jayson Werth's tools are more aligned with the Red Sox' needs. Without even getting into the debate of whether speed is a worthwhile tool to have in baseball (notorious 46-hater Tony Massarotti points out that the Giants were last in the majors in steals this year), the team already has a fast guy in 46 at the top of the lineup (or the top of the DL). But assuming they lose Beltre, do they have a single guy who can hit 30 home runs? Maybe Drew will with the bullpens pushed in, especially if the Red Sox can find a way to only play games on Friday nights. But this is a team who will be unable to hit home runs, period. While this is not necessary to be successful (hello late-90s Yankees), it helps. Plus, it's not like Werth is Adam Dunn here. He can run. He can play defense, too. He can go after fly balls hard in situations that are actually useful for the team instead of costing the team the season on a foul sac fly. Thought you were gonna ask me about that.

I am not denying that Carl Crawford has tools. I am not even going to deny that Crawford will be a better player over the next one, four, or even five years. Years 6, 7, and 8 scare the crap out of me, though, while years 4 and 5 of Jayson Werth, where he still won't be hitting Crawford's CURRENT mark of 1235 games played, scare me considerably less.

Enjoy yo day.