Thursday, December 16, 2010

"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.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

DV

Pretty frequently everyone on this blog gets whipped up in a frenzy of hyperbole. Your post today was a measured and accurate portrayal of Theo Epstein's time as GM. Because I've said enough on that topic, I too will refrain from going over all the good and bad from the past.

The point you made today was a good one--it didn't necessarily take a whole lot of ingenuity to put together the deals that were made. Still, the way that the Sox played the Crawford/Werth situation was promising, as was their meddling in the Cliff Lee negotiations. Trading for Adrian Gonzalez was also good, but few teams could have done it, too. Still, even Boston could not have afforded him and Crawford had they not been willing to let Martinez/Beltre go. That took planning--maybe not a ton--but planning nonetheless.

Also, the Celtics game last night was just about as exciting as a regular season game can be.

--the Gunn

TimC said...

DV,

After reading this post and thinking things over, I think I am moving in the other direction on Theo- that he is a good GM but has not done very well in Boston. However, I hold this less and less against him because in these past weeks it seems more and more like he is being held back a bit on things. It is unfair, really, to criticize him for fanning on negotiations when he may be held back from doing things in other areas, areas where he might excel and outweigh the mistakes he has made as GM. Looking back on his near departure a few years ago, it seems he sensed this but ultimately decided to give up a bit of his own voice in order to be the GM for this particular team. It reminds me of Billy Beane turning down the Sox job a little bit and I wonder if Theo is looking to get out, perhaps to a smaller market, just so he can have full say and build a long-term roster without being overruled on the major, major things.

Even on negotiations, I'm starting not to care. Partly, "IT'S NOT MY MONEY!" but also because it would really be a moot point for a big-club if Theo was actually good at picking these guys in the first place. You can never pay too much for a good meal, or something like that, and if Theo was picking out filet mignon on the FA market I would not mind his overpaying. I think the combination of bad players + bad negotiating is the issue. This is a red flag for a small market owner, though.

Gunn, I like asking NBA fans to recount their most memorable games before coming back at them with the comment that they can only name playoff games and that this is the reason why soccer is going to get more and more popular here in the states. Avoiding that unnecessary commentary, I think last night's game will be the first regular-season game to make such a list and for my money is probably going to end up being the game of the year, playoffs or otherwise. PP can call it what he wants- game like that happen between rivals so perhaps last night was the first.

Anonymous said...

Tim

I think memorable games take on different meaning depending on the type of fans you're dealing with.
To that end I can remember watching the Celtics beating the Hawks at the buzzer in November 2008 or winning a tight battle against Shaq's Magic (at Hartford, no less) in 1995 or losing a great Friday night TNT game against Barkley's Suns in April of 1993. But that's someone who really cares about the Celtics/NBA. If you're dealing with the NBA fan version of the pink hat nation, you'll likely get some different answers.

--the Gunn

Anonymous said...

I've already written my comments about last night's game on yesterday's post, however I will alos add that last night we saw two teams going in remarkably different directions. On the one hand, you have the Dallas Mavericks taking care of business on their home court with solid mid range game of Caron Butler and the scrappy bench play of Jose Juan Barea. That's how you bounce back from a loss with a team effort. Share the basketball, make a run at the end of the half. That's what I'm talking about.

On the other side you have the Knicks who lost at home in a game they really should have won against an injured and depleted Celtics team. It's tough when a team that's trying to come back and be relevant again blows an opportunity like that.

Patrick said...

i agree last night's game was a tremendous game. both teams really played hard and pushed each other to a different level in the second half. i think when you have teams pushing each other to go farther than they usually go is when you really get great games, any sport.

it was also an example of how nfl officials are really the only ones that do their jobs well out of football/basketball/baseball. those officials lost control of the game last night - both ways. there were phantom calls on both ends and then you had guys getting hammered with no whistles. giving garnett a delay of game T when the ball comes right through the net to him is just an embarrassment SINCE HE ACTUALLY SPED THE GAME UP by giving the ball to the player/official. that's just going by the rulebook and not paying attention to what really matters - a great game. they waste their time worrying about calls like that and then - during a timeout no less - don't spend the few moments to check the monitor and make sure they have the clock right after pierce's bucket. of course they didn't, as every replay today showed it was .8 not .4. those are the breaks for the knicks, but the officials need to get that right.

if the knicks were going to lose, that's the way you want to do it, taking a team like that to the end. you have to hand it to paul pierce, that stepback is automatic in the closing seconds, and he played a tremendous floorgame start to finish, keeping the celtics in the game in the first half, allowing the rest of the team to catch up in the second half. having amare/felton outplay garnett/rondo (4th quarter injury aside) the way they did softens the blow. amare dominating and a "fresh" garnett looked like they were playing different sports altogether out there. the celtics need to get erden out of the game too, i've never even heard of him and he looks like he's playing dodgeball out there.

Anonymous said...

Pat,

Interesting you bring up the NFL officials. Personally I feel that the NFL rules have gotten more complex as they take greater pains to protect players (a good thing) but also really tilting the rules in the offenses favor (a bad thing in my opinion. This is all because Bill Polian starting complaining after the Patriots roughed up the Colts a few times).


As this has happened the number of questionable calls that occur in an NFL game has gone up. Most games now, you see one or two fantom pass interference calls that completely change the complexion of a drive and one or two calls that protect the quarterback to an absolutely ridiculous degree.

Clearly, there are some calls that are not judgement calls and are much more objective (a false start is a false start). All i'm saying is that unfornately the same problem is happening in the NFL.