Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Decrease the Surplus Population

You never know what kind of references are coming from my posts. Last night it was Jay-Z, tonight it's Charles Dickens. But before banging on my main point of the night, tonight was a good win. This win is not entirely uncharacteristic of this team. Losing a game like this, however, also wouldn't be uncharacteristic. The offense hands Matsuzaka a lead. He blows a lead. Drew gets his weekly hit to give a lead. The bullpen (Doubront tonight) records blown save #17. Then they win. Mike Lowell, not surprisingly, is minimizing the damage from the Youkilis injury.

Okay, on to my point. This is something that was mentioned at least in passing in the last two comments sections. Due to the fact that both instances were later on in the day, they may have gotten less exposure. But it's a series of excellent comments and excellent ideas. But here it is, four months into John Lackey's and Josh Beckett's new long-term (2014!) contracts, and people are starting to say, oh F.

Reasonably so. Unless you ask John Lackey about it, both of them have more or less been disastrous on the aggregate this year. Beckett especially, with the 4.20 ERA in his five AL years(Felger's new favorite stat), is a questionable signing. But unlike the Yankees, as Pat has harped upon quite a bit, the Red Sox are digging themselves into a hole with their lack of "roster flexibility." Beckett, Lackey, and Lester aren't going to be the long guy in the bullpen, no matter what. They have the rotation on lock until literally 2014. Matsuzaka, same thing, until 2012. And Buchholz, the one who has shown the second-most potential, is under the team's control until 2012 as well (and may potentially get a mid-term deal at the end of this season).

What does this mean?

Well, maybe it's an indication that the team might not have too much faith in its current crop of pitching prospects. Doubront is not going to ever get a spot on this team's major league rotation. Wakefield's not going to get his remaining wins. Michael Bowden, Kris Johnson? Forget about it. Even Casey Kelly might be working his way toward being a trading chip down the road. An interesting business practice, and not one that I particularly like.

Because let's say either Lackey or Beckett are worse next year than they are this year? Not inconceivable. What if this happens and Kelly has a season like Buchholz did last year, 12-1, ERA of 1.80? Kelly's staying in AAA and the Bridge to Nowhere continues for another year in 2011. Good. Either that or a phantom DL stint somewhere. But even that is a temporary fix.

What actually would happen is the Red Sox would start shopping these guys for $0.50 on the dollar, or perhaps shopping Matsuzaka on $0.60 on the dollar. They'd end up eating more contract dollars, continuing a disturbing trend that is currently resulting in this "bridge" team having an embarrassing $170 million payroll. I bet Theo Epstein, like Scrooge, would wish one of his crappy starters died to "decrease the surplus population." That'd be the easiest solution.

And this is the case until 2014. This is another example of shoddy planning and short-term prioritization of shiny things instead of taking a long-term look.

And yes, this is a habitual thing. They did this with the shortstop position. Hanley Ramirez was traded away in a controversial move because their general manager got excited about the availability of Edgar Renteria. They did this with the center field position. Signing Coco Crisp to an extension before his first game in a Red Sox uniform, as I said this afternoon, was one of the most insanely idiotic things Theo Epstein has ever done. They had a first-round draft pick tearing up the minors and showing potential of hitting .353 for a September, stealing a base and winning a taco, stealing 70 bases in a year, and exaggerating a dubious injury. But they didn't trade Crisp as a stopgap. They extended him. Nice. The 2007 and 2008 seasons were sufficiently awkward and unnecessary, with a formidable major leaguer sitting on the friggin bench. Good job Theo. This, by the way, is why previous incarnations of my writing were always talking about the sky falling.

Just imagine if either Brandon Moss or David Murphy, both A-minus-level prospects at the RF position, were lighting things up after being traded to Texas and Pittsburgh, while JD continues to hit an unimpressive .260 every year until 2011. I'd have freaking snapped by now.

But the options are to trade the prospects or trade the underperforming, overpaid starters and eat more contracts. You'd think they'd learn about not doing that after paying the salaries of Crisp and Renteria. And especially if the team, beyond just Efficiency Police theory, is hesitant to get up above the luxury tax. But no. They decided to play softball on the Beckett extension instead of seeing what happened this year. Not a terrible move, but not a good one. But this is what we're going to be faced with for the next four years. Some Matsuzaka. Beckett. Lackey. Lester. And Buchholz. Nobody else.

Sure hope it works out.

7 comments:

jason said...

yikes scary

TimC said...

The yen is pretty strong these days, so maybe we can sell Dice back and take advantage of the exchange rate. Used to happen in European soccer all the time, until that Euro thing (not the tournament).

Great post, DV. I do not think that the Beckett move was terrible, though. Beckett is a player who has pitched well in the post-season, can handle Boston (or at least, it seems that his struggles are less related to Boston and more so to his blisters, general inconsistency, etc.) and has shown the ability to pitch well against top lineups. The Lackey move was terrible and it was terrible in the way only a big-market FA signing can be. They signed a veteran guy for near or at market value in Year One who is almost sure to be on the decline at some point in the life of the deal. They brought in a pitcher who had spent his career in a place where one of America's most original and loved sportswriters decided to suggest that a Backgammon Cube would be a good idea for fantasy football. And, perhaps worst, they spent a lot of money for a guy who was never dominant, just very good. In my mind, this is not a good way to spend FA money.

The Yankees screwed this up recently by having more than one prospect up in the big-league rotation at the start of the season. And now, the Sox are going the opposite, guaranteeing themselves zero prospects in the big-league rotation. Great post, DV.

the gm at work said...

Jason,

You were right about getting my popcorn ready for the Cardinals/Reds series. The Johnny Cueto kicking was supremely absurd.

Tim C,

A couple of Mariners ended up going back to Japan, didn't they?

I also consider the Beckett deal to be short of terrible, and I feel the same way about Lackey. In year one, yes, they both obviously look pretty bad. The Lackey move was still surprising to me in the fact that it actually happened. Is Theo worried about the quality of his minor league system right now? These moves would indicate yes.

Anonymous said...

DV/Tim

If you look back at all of these posts/look through Sox archives since 2003 you can see a few trends that may help us figure out what the Sox need to do to better run their organization.

First, Theo and company have done a great job developing the farm system. They really have. Lester, Papelbon, Pedroia, Youkilis, Bard, Buchholz, Ellsbury--all home grown. Clearly, that's their number one strength.

Secondly, they've generally made some good trades. The Manny trade worked out well (especially impressive considering they had no other choice). The Victor Martinez trade was outstanding. The trade for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell may well turn out to be one of those trades that works for everyone and you can't really argue too much with the success of the 2007 season, regardless of what the long term ramifications of that trade are. Last, but not least, the Nomar trade was one for the ages. It was gutsy. It was difficult. And more importantly, it worked better than anyone could have imagined.

So, Theo can draft and develop and he knows his way around a trade (Scott Sauerbeck and Eric Gagne notwithstanding). So what's the problem? The problem is that he has no idea about free agent talent.

He's spent more than $400 million on the following players: John Lackey, Edgar Renteria, Josh Beckett (his extension), Julio Lugo, JD Drew, Daisuke Matsuzaka.
Clearly, that's not good enough. You can't piss that type of money away for that little production.

So, what's the solution? Get Theo a Co-GM. Theo handles the minor leagues and he has final say on all trades. The Co-GM (I have no suggestions for whom this should be, but I'm open to names) does all the free agent work. Theo has no say when it comes to free agency. This could only be a good thing.

--the Gunn

the gm at work said...

Gunn,

I think the scouting of their own guys has also been decent, Hanley Ramirez notwithstanding. The guys they've traded or let go haven't really panned out to be significant forces with the exception of Ramirez. Arroyo? Lowe? Pedro? Murphy? Manny? Bay? Moss? Craig Hanson? Rusty Masterson? Coco Crisp? Eh. I'm actually going to trust the organization about what they're going to do with Victor Martinez and with 46 this offseason.

What I'm trying to say is, the ones who have ended up good are the ones they hold onto. But yes, it is undeniable that they overpay for garbage on the free agent market. Maybe somehow Theo can be tricked and be told that the Winter Meetings are in Amsterdam this year or something.

TimC said...

I mildly disagree with the idea that Theo can properly evaluate the farm system. I think his initial track record is very good and from this crop of players the promising youngsters of the team emerged. I give Theo full credit for the work involved in acquiring those players.

However, of late things have slowed. I have two theories. One, the rest of MLB caught up to Theo and has started drafting the college players Theo and the Moneyball GM's mined in the early 2000s. The data backs this up (in the first two years of Theo's tenure, the Sox picked something like 1 HS player in the first ten rounds. Since then, that number has creeped upward with Theo now picking about a 50/50 mix). This would result in Theo losing his systematic advantage in drafting and having to now evaluate HS players as well as he used to evaluate college players.

My other theory is that the Sox have moved away from college players by design. In other words, the Sox recognized that MLB clubs were now drafting college players and that if this shift went too far the value would now be in HS players, not college players. Therefore, the Sox shifted their draft philosophy to exploit the possibility of value in HS players.

The problem with my theories, other than being basically off-shoots of the same data, is that they cannot really be tested at the moment. If the rest of baseball has caught up to Theo, the Sox will steadily fall back in farm system rankings. If the shift is philosophical, the Sox will have a younger farm system than they did in 2003-2007 and therefore we will need to wait longer for players to develop to MLB-caliber level. I will not be able to assess either possibility for a couple of more years.

Now, regarding free agent moves, the Sox obviously stink. But the problem stems from Theo consistently paying above-average dollar. If the Sox had paid top dollar for free agents, they would have experienced some success. A good idea for Theo might be to try and sign one player per off-season of star caliber (a Teixeira, a Sabathia, etc.) rather than trying to find two or three good players who are more easily affected by age, slumps, relocation issues, AL/NL dyanmics, etc.

the gm at work said...

Tim C,

Going for a great player instead of an above-average player? How are you supposed to prove you're smarter than everyone else if you do that?