Talkin Sox with Dan

Where baseball fans gather for commonsensical, opinionated Red Sox banter.

Archive for the month “August, 2012”

Bad Investment

The Red Sox scratched a winning lottery ticket last weekend. It was a one in a million winner, and they cashed in. Suddenly, this franchise finds itself with sacks of money and not a ton of toys to spend it on.

With roughly $260MM heading from John Henry’s wallet to the bright lights of Hollowood, it is almost natural to believe that Jacoby Ellsbury will remain with the Red Sox after the 2013 season, when the talented center fielder hits free agency.

Not so fast.

For an organization that is suddenly preaching the practice of discipline when it comes to baseball decisions, Ellsbury is simply not the individual the Red Sox want as the spokesman for their new campaign.

Generally speaking, there are three different avenues that the Red Sox can take when dealing with last year’s MVP runner-up. The team can allow Ellsbury to play out the final year of his final arbitration-eligible season and allow him to walk after 2013. GM Ben Cherington and the Red Sox can explore trading the Oregon State product this offseason or potentially at next year’s deadline. Finally, they can vigorously pursue Ellsbury when he hits free agency after the culmination of the 2013 season.

The third option is no doubt a popular one given the newly acquired fiscal flexibility of the team, and the fact that Ellsbury is a homegrown World Series champion who happens to be a fan-favorite. However, if Red Sox brass is serious about taking a disciplined stance when it comes to free agency, they will trade the speedy outfielder this offseason.

Unlike Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Clay Buchholz, or Jon Lester, Ellsbury and super-agent Scott Boras will not be willing to ink an extension that will keep the former first-round pick from hitting free agency. And you really can’t blame the Ellsbury camp.

He is a dynamic, marketable player who possesses tremendous skills with the glove and the bat. Let’s not forget that Ellsbury is one year removed from a year that saw him post a .321/.376/.552 line to go along with 32 home runs and 39 stolen bases–a truly remarkable season.

Boras will certainly attempt to parlay Ellsbury’s MVP-level 2011 season into a contract that resembles what Carl Crawford and Matt Kemp received from the Red Sox and the Dodgers, respectively. Let’s say the asking price lands somewhere in the middle of the two aforementioned stars–an eight-year, $155MM contract seems realistic. Depending upon what the Red Sox do between now and the end of next season, it is fair to assume that they could afford to offer Ellsbury that type of high-priced deal.

But it would be a mistake. Ellsbury will be 30-years old when he gets his first crack at free agency. He is a player who relies heavily on legs, hits from the left side, and occupies center field.

Sound familiar?

Ellsbury is a talented player, but he is not middle of the lineup run-producing slugger. So why pay him like one?

Instead, the Red Sox should deal him this offseason when his value is at its highest.

Going Back to Cali

Carl Crawford was in Pensacola, Fl., on Thursday, awaiting surgery. That day, his left elbow was operated on by Dr. James Andrews. Roughly two days later, Crawford, who is two injury-plagued seasons deep into his seven-year $142MM contract, was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers as a piece in a mega-deal that also brought Josh Beckett and Nick Punto to the hills of Hollywood.

But don’t get lost in the shuffle. Don’t get caught up in the noise. This nine-player trade was all about one very talented first baseman: Adrian Gonzalez.

The Dodgers and GM Ned Colletti had been sniffing out the former San Diego Padre  since before the trade deadline. Ben Cherington and the Red Sox rebuffed any attempts by the Dodgers to acquire the talented Californian during the month of July, refusing to give up on their hopes of reaching the postseason. As the Sox continued to plummet further in the standings, it became easier for front office members to recognize the need to do something that would drastically alter the path that this team was on.

Then Friday came, and Gonzalez was claimed off waivers by the Dodgers.

Then Beckett.

It is true that at this juncture the Red Sox could have simply pulled Gonzalez back off of waivers and, as long as Beckett waived his 10-5 rights, washed their hands clean of the much-maligned right handed pitcher. When the Dodgers plucked him off of the waiver wire, the Texas native and the remaining two-plus years of his contract at roughly $16MM a pop was officially their problem.

But that isn’t what happened.

Instead, Cherington (and Larry Lucchino) saw an opportunity, an avenue to bolster a farm system bereft of quality starting pitching prospects and gain a plethora of financial flexibility. The player who would pave this road was none other than Gonzalez. It is important to make one thing abundantly clear–the Dodgers would not have assumed the contracts of both Beckett and Crawford without including Gonzalez, let alone sending two of their top three pitching prospects back East. Gonzalez is what made this deal happen.

When the dust settled, roughly $260MM dollars was shipped from Boston to Los Angeles in the form of Crawford, Beckett, Gonzalez, and Punto. In return, the Red Sox received first baseman James Loney, pitching prospects Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa, and two position-player prospects Ivan De Jesus Jr. and Jerry Sands. (In the interest of being accurate, De La Rosa and Sands are believed to be the two “players to be named later”. This will not become official until after the season as they were placed on waivers and did not clear them). For now, the former Dodgers farmhands are just names to most fans, but there is a truckload of both legitimate talent and potential sprinkled among the Red Sox’ haul. The real prize for the Sox, however, is the financial breathing room that has been afforded to them.

Digest this–Crawford signed a seven-year $142MM contract. To put that in perspective, the left handed hitter who relies on his legs will be 35-years old in the final year of his contract, making $21MM. It’s a ridiculous figure for a player with Crawford’s skill set who is in his prime and unquestionably healthy–never mind the fact that he underwent Tommy John surgery less than a week ago.

To say that Crawford’s personality did not mesh with the pressures that come with playing the game of baseball in the city of Boston would be an understatement. And now, that is no longer a problem of the Red Sox.

Beckett’s situation is different. He is the middle of a four-year contract extension that was given to him in 2010 by former GM Theo Epstein. He has succeeded and, at times, thrived in Boston. It may be hard for some fans to admit, but Beckett is a postseason hero, a linchpin of the 2007 World Series Championship.

But times have changed. Beckett is no longer the committed competitor he once was. He has evolved into the face of what is wrong with the Red Sox. Whether that is fair or unfair, he undoubtedly has done nothing to disprove that assertion. More importantly, he is owed roughly $32MM over the next two-plus years, and his fastball is sitting at a diminishing  91 MPH. And now, that is no longer a problem of the Red Sox.

Going forward, the Red Sox have an absolute ton of money at their disposal. According to Alex Speier of WEEI, the Red Sox have gone from around $100MM in locked up, guaranteed dollars to $39MM in 2013 (not including arbitration eligible or pre-arbitration eligible players). The 2013 free agent market is not exactly flush with talent, however.

It will be vital for the Red Sox not to succumb to old habits–signing a player to a lucrative, long-term contract just because he is the best available option. Not only is it bad way of conducting business, but it is lazy way of conducting business. Cherington certainly sounds like he is willing to put in the work.

“Find value in the market. Find the best opportunities. You’ve got to find players that fit your roster and your team, find the players that are going to deliver the best performance on the field in Boston and try to find those using resources in the most efficient way.”

Because of the blockbuster trade that became official over the weekend, Cherington and the Red Sox will have financial and roster flexibility to reconstruct one of the premier franchises in baseball.

They can thank Gonzalez for that.

Quick Hits – Red Sox

Before we delve into all things Red Sox, I’m going to be upfront by saying that I’m not going to directly deal with the latest off the field soap opera. If I touch on it in passing, that’s all it is–a passing thought. It’s not that I don’t believe it is important (it is), but I loathe the drama that seems to follow this team. Hearing about it day after day makes me want to do this. I care about baseball. I care about what occurs between the lines. I hope you do too.

Let’s one-stop shop.

Jason Varitek is not fit to manage the 2013 Boston Red Sox. He is not far enough removed from the situation. Managerial experience is not a prerequisite for me, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. Maybe in the future, Captain, but right now is not the time.

— The thought of another hiring process makes me tired just thinking about it, but it is probably inevitable. John Farrell is ideal but less than likely. My early guess? Sandy Alomar Jr.

— The Orioles are better than the Red Sox, and that hurts to admit. I was dead wrong about that team. Wei-Yin Chen has been excellent, and Adam Jones is a fun player to watch.

— Reports have come out lately that because of the turbulence and clubhouse that seems to follow the Red Sox like the plague, free agents will opt to sign elsewhere during upcoming off-seasons. Not the case. The worst clubhouse in the league can suddenly be the most attractive when the dollars are counted. Players follow the dough. The rest barely matters.

— Some ardent Red Sox fans jokingly talk about rooting for another team as our Local Nine continue to fade. I’ll admit that it is fun to wish the Pirates well or hope that Josh Reddick‘s squad out west finishes strong. In reality, it provides me with absolutely no comfort. I’m a one-team kinda guy.

— Every time you hear or read a story about how awful the Red Sox clubhouse is — pretend they were winning before coming to a conclusion. Let me elaborate with the help of an example.

  • The Red Sox are 20 games above .500, and John Lackey is “double fisting” after a win in the clubhouse on the road in Cleveland. Lackey, unlike Jacoby Ellsbury in 2010, remains with his team, despite being unable to contribute on the field due to injury. A couple of beers to go with the post-spread after yet another win is anything but a big deal. Big Lack performed poorly in his first two-years with the Sox, but it is clear that he is dedicated to his teammates and the organization.

A team’s win-loss record dictates how it is perceived by the media, by the fans. Nothing else matters.

— Red Sox brass is criticized for being too concerned with public opinion. Wins and loses take a backseat to how the average fan perceives the ball club, sort of thing. A large segment of fans are busy hitting blogs and radio talk shows clamoring for the Sox to rid themselves of Josh Beckett and Lackey Eat the cash and move on. If John Henry and Co. permits GM Ben Cherington to work a trade that would ship one of the two (or both) malcontents elsewhere this off-season, wouldn’t he just be catering to popular opinion? Just sayin’.

Remembering Johnny Pesky

Johnny Pesky passed away on Monday. He was a husband, a father, and a friend to more than just a small handful of people. He served his country admirably in the Navy during World War II. He was fiercely loyal to the people and the organizations in his life that he cared about. His smile was simple, genuine, and timeless.

And so was my Great Uncle Frank’s. All of it. Everything. It’s almost like he and Mr. Pesky had to have been brothers.

I lost my Uncle Frank in the spring of 2011. He was 90-years old. No, Uncle Frank didn’t play baseball at its highest level. He was not a career .300 hitter, and his number is not retired, never to be worn by another member of the Red Sox again. One of his closest friends was not the immortal Ted Williams. And no, my Uncle Frank’s name will not forever be associated with one of baseball’s greatest franchises.

Uncle Frank and Mr. Pesky did have a lot in common, however. They were each married to their respective wives for more than 60-years. Both men were proud fathers. When their country called, my Uncle Frank and Mr. Pesky answered. They each served multiple years during World War II–both were Navy men. Both individuals lived long, rich lives into their 90’s. Most importantly, spending time with my Uncle Frank, just having a conversation with him, made you feel enriched, a better person because of it. And after all of the stories that I have heard about Mr. Pesky, it is clear that he had the same effect on the individuals in his presence.

I don’t have any personal Johnny Pesky stories to re-tell. You won’t find a ball in my collection that has been signed by Old Number 6. I have only seen him from my seats in the bleachers on Opening Day or through my television at home. But really, that’s all I needed. You could see the reaction from people when Mr. Pesky was around. They were overjoyed at the opportunity to meet him, to talk about baseball, to talk about family, to talk about life. And Mr. Pesky was just as thrilled to talk to people as they were to listen. He got as much, if not more, out of these interactions as they did.

My Uncle Frank was the same way. He was a bridge that took me (and so many others) back to the 1930’s and 1940’s, to what life was like for the Greatest Generation. Similarly, Mr. Pesky connected us, as fans, back to the days of Ted Williams and Bobby Doerr, to a time that truly made the game of baseball America’s first pastime.

I’m sure that I am just one of many, many people who, when they learned of Mr. Pesky’s passing, thought of a relative or a friend that reminded them of him or her. It’s a testimony to the life that Mr. Pesky lived.

As the line of folks Upstairs who are waiting for a chance to exchange words with the old infielder begins to thin out a bit, I’m sure my Great Uncle Frank will make his way over to Mr. Pesky–just to say hello and talk about the good old days.

No Voice, Just Noise

“You’re right that some of his [Josh Hamilton] at-bats aren’t very impressive from the standpoint that he doesn’t work deep into the count. He’s swinging at a lot of bad pitches. He just doesn’t seem to be locked in at all. So what you’re hoping is that his approach will change, and he’ll start giving quality at-bats because there’s a lot of those at-bats that he just gives away.” – Nolan Ryan, President of the Texas Rangers

The Boston Red Sox do not have a voice. John Henry, despite the mass-email that he sent to various media outlets and beat reporters on Monday, is not the backbone of the organization. Larry Lucchino may, according to Henry, run the Red Sox, but when he speaks (or writes), it’s hard to not feel like you’re being sold something. Ben Cherington can be refreshingly honest, but he does not possess the autonomy necessary for a GM to be completely successful. Lucchino lurks. Castration occurred early for Bobby Valentine. He is a hard-nosed manager being forced to toe the company line. Because of that, fans are much more apt to roll their eyes when he speaks, not listen.

From ownership, to baseball operations, to the on-field leaders, the Red Sox have proven to be exceptionally good at organizationally undercutting one another.

Let’s examine.

Dale Sveum, Cherington’s first choice as the next Red Sox manager, is pushed aside by Lucchino in favor of Valentine, a sexier name who brings a reputation that runs perpendicular with Terry Francona’s style. Before Valentine is done unpacking, a combination of Dustin Pedroia and Cherington scold him for being himself, something he was seemingly brought to Boston to do. Would I publicly criticize a veteran player like Kevin Youkilis? No. But I’m also not Valentine, and when you make a hire like the former glasses and mustache-wearing Mets manager, that type of incident should be expected.

Roughly two months ago, Valentine makes a comment to rookie third baseman, Will Middlebrooks, as he comes off of the field follow an inning where he apparently made a couple defensive miscues: “Nice inning, kid” — or something of the like. It was a completely innocuous comment, designed loosen up what was likely a white-hot Middlebrooks. A player in the dugout witnesses the exchange and deems it necessary to mention it to a member of the Red Sox front office. Valentine is later approached by ownership, discouraging him from making comments similar to the one he made towards Middlebrooks.

It has been dysfunction at its finest.

Worst of all, there is not a figure like Nolan Ryan or Cam Neely to set an organizational tone for the Red Sox. Both Ryan and Neely, although experiencing success in two different sports as players, serve as presidents of their respective franchises and command the respect that is often needed to bridge the gap between ownership and on-field employees. Do you think Henry, Lucchino, or Cherington could get away with criticizing David Ortiz‘ approach at the plate the way Ryan (see above) dissected Josh Hamilton’s two weeks ago? Me neither.

The Red Sox advocate the idea of everyone contributing before a decision is made. Everyone gets a seat at the table, sort of thing. But that is likely the root of the problem.

No one in that organization just goes to work and does the job assigned to him. The players know that ownership will listen when they complain. Sometimes they’re even rewarded for their gripes. Cherington is promoted to be the GM and oversee baseball operations, but Lucchino pauses his perpetual Red Sox sales pitch to choose the manager, subverting his new GM’s authority. Henry has deep pockets but seems disinterested with the product he owns.

Ideally, players would stick to hitting, fielding, and pitching. They would respect their manager enough not to go to ownership about an exchange in the dugout they witnessed–and if they did, they would not be heard. Ownership would back their manager, simultaneously fostering a sense of respect for him within the walls of the clubhouse.

Ideally, Cherington would be allowed to do the job he was assigned to do by his bosses. He is the General Manager of the Boston Red Sox because somebody believes strongly in his skills as a decision-maker when it comes to baseball operations. In turn, if Cherington believes Sveum puts his team in the best situation to succeed on the field, he should be the manager, not Valentine, not Joe Torre, not Casey Stengel.

Ideally, Henry would identify that his ball club is in complete disarray. He would care enough not to let it continue. He would be vocal. Lucchino may “run the Red Sox”, but Henry owns them. He can do what he wants–that includes firing Lucchino.

From the players on the field, to the coaches in the dugout, to the executives watching from above, there is a tangible lack of respect that permeates throughout the organization. Everyone steps on each others toes and thinks that it is perfectly fine because no one says that it’s not. When things go awry, nobody in the Red Sox organization steps up to right the ship because they’re too busy bumping into each other.

Until a sense of respect is injected back into this organization, it would be silly to expect anything but mediocrity out of the Red Sox. With or without Valentine at the helm or whether Josh Beckett is on this team or not, the Red Sox will be .500 on the field because they’re .500 everywhere else.

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