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Posts Tagged ‘Theo Epstein’


Slappa my face!

It ain’t over until it is over! It is hard to evaluate a team’s offseason until it is over.

There was a lot of whining in Red Sox Nation about the fact that the Red Sox didn’t sign any high profile players. People fail to see that a few key players got significant raises (like Crawford and A-Gon) and they will probably have the 2nd or 3rd highest payroll in MLB. Even the Yankees were relatively quiet.

Things were busy, and crazy, around Yawkey Way this winter. Theo left a huge mess for Ben Cherington.  He’s a thoughtful NH guy who sounds an awful lot like Theo. But he’s acting like the Theo before the 2003 season. That is the Theo I liked. He played Money Ball, finding undervalued guys like David Ortiz and Kevin Millar that ended up being the foundation of a World Series championship.

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This was not the collapse some of the economists have been predicting.  But it felt as devastating.  The team that had the best record in May-August utterly fell apart.  They went from leading the division to not making the playoffs in the course of a month.

There are plenty of people pointing fingers. I’ve read some ridiculous statements.  I’m going to try and put all this together so it makes sense- not sensationalistic headlines.

Issues of payroll are utterly irrelevant.  I don’t care how much a guy is being paid, if he’s hurt he can’t help the team.  So the size of the Red Sox payroll is ultimately irrelevant in this discussion.  You also can’t look at the roster on paper.  You have to see the roster that can actually suit up.

I refuse to point the finger at Theo or Francona.  At the trade deadline the Sox were in an enviable position.  People were largely singing their praises.  Only hindsight is 20/20, so don’t blame them for not having the gift of prophecy.

The seeds of the collapse were sown in Spring Training with Felix Doubront showing up out of shape.  The team had high hopes for him, and he was positioned to be the spot starter like Lester and Buchholz had been before him.  His job was to be ready.  He wasn’t, and suffered a number of injuries.  The depth they had at pitching took its first hit.  And a big hit since they would be forced to rely on the inconsistent Miller and overmatched Weiland.  This would cost them critical games.

It's lonely when you lose

Ryan Kalish’s injury was also pretty big.  Reddick was the guy who ended up filling in for the injured Drew.  He’s streaky, the book says, and he proved it.  He was on fire when he came up.  But down the stretch he struggled horribly.  A healthy Kalish, the heir apparent to right field before the season, would have made a big difference.  But it was not to be (and THAT, my friends, is part of what A-Gon was trying to say).

Diva-K’s injury seemed like a boon at first.  He was horrible!  But if his arm wasn’t messed up, he would’ve been better.  Instead we got a loveable but too old Wakefield and his quest for 200 wins.  It became a source of instability in the rotation.  Combine that with John (S)lackey’s ever deteriorating performance and the 4th and 5th spots on the rotation gave the Sox next to nothing.  Not even innings since no one when deep into games.

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It was a roller coaster ride for Red Sox fans this weekend.  At one point they were staring into the abyss, thinking the 2011 was utterly sunk.

Picture This in Fenway!

Thursday night the Red Sox and San Diego Padres reached a deal to trade Casey Kelly, Anthony Rizzo and Reymond Fuentes for the long lusted after Adrian Gonzalez (A-Gon).  The Padres got top prospects in Kelly and Rizzo.  Sox fans have been hyping Kelly’s skills since he was drafted.  He still projects by many scouts to end up a #2 or 3 starter on a competitive team.  Rizzo has displayed the ability to hit at a high level, though there are still some pitches he struggles with at times.  He is a very good defensive first baseman.  I think he has more promise at this point than Lars Anderson has demonstrated.  I was really hoping they’d send Lars west, but was disappointed.  So, the Padres should see these guys in the Bigs in 2012.  Fuentes, if he makes it, will be later.

The Sox have coveted A-Gon for years for good reason.  He has lots of power and still hits for a high average.  Considering he hit well in a pitcher’s park, his power and average should only increase in Fenway.  Unlike Big Papi, he’s not a pull hitter.  He uses all of the field, and many of his hits are to left field.  Lots of his outs too.  But those outs will hit or fly over the Monster.

In previous seasons he struggled against lefties.  But in 2010, the light bulb went on and he hit better against lefties than righties.  One theory is that his shoulder injury forced him to use a lighter bat so he was able to wait abit longer before beginning his swing (hey, Papi & Drew- worth a shot).

He’s also a very good defender at first base.

Credit to Theo, who keeps a tight lid on things like this.  He like to work quietly.  Rumors were coming out about talks, but word of the actual trade didn’t come out until Saturday.  Which is part of what created the scenario.

BUT ….. the Red Sox only had until 2 pm today to work out an extension with A-Gon.  If you are going to give up 2 top tier prospects, you want more than one season of a guy regardless of how good he is.  And they started the process VERY far apart.  He reportedly wanted Texiera money.  He is THAT good, people.  But the Red Sox are reluctant to sign ANYONE to an 8 year deal.  Especially since he had shoulder surgery this off season.

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Since the winter meetings start next week, it is time to talk about some baseball (mostly Red Sox though).

Some of the best off season news is that Joe Morgan was non-tendered by ESPN.  I didn’t mind Jon Miller, but Morgan drove me crazy.  He was a Hall of Fame player, but not a good color man.  They will replaced by the team of Orel Hershiser, Bobby Valentine and Dan Shulman.  Not too wild about Bobby, but Orel provides some great insight in my opinion.

AP Michael Dwyer

I was a bit surprised by the whole Victor Martinez thing.  Not that he left, but some of the details of his departure.  While he was in Boston we occasionally read how he was a catcher- he wanted to catch.  He was willing to play a little firstbase or DH, but he viewed himself as a catcher.  Victor is an elite hitter as a catcher, but only very good as a DH or a first baseman (and a below par fielder).  When you consider the guy who won the Silver Slugger award at the position last year (on a 1 year deal) made $9 million, you see that the price for elite DH’s is not quite as high as elite catchers.  And that is the catch- the Red Sox didn’t want to pay him like an elite catcher when he had shifted to first base or DH full-time.  Position does matter.

Their experience with ‘Tek’s swift offensive decline (and Victor, his conditioning is legendary so it wasn’t that he didn’t take care of his body), left a bad taste in their mouth.  That and the Mike Lowell contract.  They don’t want old guys gone bad being paid big bucks.  They can’t print money like the Yankees can (especially with Fenway no longer being a HOT ticket and NESN ratings plummeting).

During the press conference to announce V-Mart’s good-sized contract it was announced that he was going to back up their catcher and spend most of his time at DH and 1st base.  Huh?  I felt like I got the old switcheroo.  But they are paying him like he’s a elite catcher.  He doesn’t have the thump you want from a DH or 1st baseman.  I will miss his ability to excel against lefties, but I think the Red Sox made a good move.  He was also a great club house guy, who worked well with some of the pitchers (Clay) but struggled with others (is Beckett’s decline coincidental?).  His probable replacement didn’t hit as well, but did a good job with the pitchers.  All starters went into the 7th (and with that bullpen, it was a huge deal).  So the Sox most likely got a defensive upgrade.  Victor worked hard, and showed some improvement but he’s over 30 and his defensive skills won’t drastically improve.  When you have to face the Rays 19 times, and face the possibility of facing the Rangers in the playoffs- you have to throw people out!

AP Photo Jeff Roberson

Of course, now there is talk of the Red Sox picking up Russell Martin via free agency, or swinging a trade with the Dodger for him.  He has been hampered by injury the last few years, but might make a good platoon with Salty. [Update: they have just re-signed, not resigned, Jason Varitek.]

I’ve posted before on the Crawford-Werth debate. Sox officials met with Crawford yesterday.  They plan to meet with Scott Boras (hit the Darth Vader music) about Werth and Beltre before the Winter Meetings.  My BIG concern (really big concern) is the length of contracts mentioned thus far.  Far too long.  I suspect the Red Sox will be quite resistant to commit to anyone that long, especially anyone over 30.

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Photo by Stuart Cahill

It is becoming most likely that both Jason Bay and Mike Lowell will be spending 2010 someplace other than Boston.  The left side of the field may see a complete turnover.  What gives?

Two words: offense, defense.

Defense: Lowell’s hip injury made him one of the worst 3rd basemen in baseball.  His recovery may be complete now, and he may do better next year.  But the run differential there was just too big.   The Red Sox decided they could not take the risk.  If you have great pitchers, why give the opposition some free hits?  Lowell, sadly not the defender he once was, was doing just that.

Bay’s defense was average at best.  He was better than Manny Ramirez, but that is not saying much.  One reason Texiera got so much money is that he was an elite hitter AND fielder.  Bay’s estimate of his value (greatly jaded by his agent no doubt) is overestimated, in part due to a failure to recognize his shortcomings in the field.

Offense: Both Lowell and Bay love to pull the ball.  That is a great strategy in Fenway Park.  It has that short left field.  But that strategy doesn’t always play well elsewhere.  A basehit in Fenway (thanks to that Wall) is an out in many other parks.  This was the problem Theo was talking about after the Red Sox wilted against the Angels.  Theo wants a more balanced offense to widen that run differential.  With better defense, and guys who can hit at Fenway and away from Fenway, they will get more wins and more easily.

Though these two guys are good/great teammates, and play hard each and every night, their shortcomings created problems for the Red Sox.  Those shortcomings led to their quick playoff exit.  Theo is in the process of addressing those shortcomings.  It may be painful now, but perhaps it will be a great relief later.

Update: we could include health.  Lowell’s issues are well documented.  But the Red Sox have reservations about Bay’s knee and shoulder which may have affected his game mid-season.

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The Annual Winter Meetings of MLB will be taking place this week.  The free agent signings have begun, but the biggest fish remain to be caught.  A few minor trades have taken place, but there may be some big ones to emerge as GMs and agents converge.

Going into the meetings, the Red Sox have lost 2 players from last season.  Billy Wagner and Saito have both shifted to the formerly of Boston now Atlanta Braves.  Losing Wagner, a type-A free agent, freed up the possibility of solving Theo’s perpetual SS dilemma by signing free agent Marco Scutaro.

Some people have been critical of this move.  But Theo did not pull another Lugo (or Renteria).  The deal was for only 2 years (not 4), and is affordable by baseball standards.

This allows for one of two things to happen.  Either, Jed Lowrie proves he can stay healthy and productive, or more importantly international free agent signee Iglesias proves he can hit as well as field.  The Red Sox have a solid defender who can get on base and score runs in Scutaro.  Though 2009 was his best year he may benefit from being in a better line up and seeing better pitches.  One of the main needs for the Red Sox has been addressed.

That leaves left field as the biggest problem to be addressed.  Jason Bay, in the eyes of some, is their best bet.  I beg to differ.  Yes, Holliday will cost more money.  But his average production is better than Jason Bay’s.  Even when you look at this past year, Holliday is a better hitter.  Holliday strikes out considerably less than Bay.  This means he puts the ball in play more often which means that runners can advance instead of stifling the offense.  He does hit, on average, into 2 more double plays per season than Bay.  He also hits for a bit more power.  His defense is also better than Bay’s.  Bigger bat, and so is his glove.  Theo should be willing to pay a little more to get a better player.

Much has been made about a possible trade for Padres’ first baseman Adrian Gonazalez.  The Red Sox have some chips in major league ready players that could make it possible.  They can offer Lowrie and Casey Kotchman in addition to a few prospects.  Hoyer’s past with the Red Sox can work for him in this regard.  He knows the best players the Red Sox have in their system.

If they were able to pull that off (thereby getting a 2nd big bat to make it a lethal offense) it would make Lowell expendable.  I hate saying that.  He’s, by all accounts, a great guy and has played well for the Red Sox.  But Youk could shift back to 3rd, improving our defense.

This could be an important series of meetings.  I don’t expect the Red Sox to sign a left fielder, but I do expect that a lot of the groundwork for that signing and any important trades should be laid.  It should be a busy week for Theo.

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Boston.com reports that John Henry cut 1/4 of the staff of his Florida investment firm.  He has taken some big losses in the market (most of us have, except my friend in prison who has been able to make money).

This makes me wonder about the Red Sox payroll.  In recent years they have not kept up with the Yankees’ payroll.  They have tried to integrate young talent, and have made some good deals to keep young talent at reasonable prices.  But where the Yankees have continued to expand their payroll the Red Sox have not.  The Red Sox no longer have the 2nd highest payroll, but are slowly sliding down the scale.

Our New LF?

As the Red Sox sought to extend Jason Bay, they just couldn’t seem to get it done.  They didn’t offer the money he wanted, and possibly the number of years.  Now that he is on the market, they probably won’t be able to afford him with suitors like the Yankees (unless they get Holliday), Mets and Giants interested in adding a big bat (4 teams, 2 big bats, you do the math).

Josh Beckett has approached the Red Sox about an extension.  But Peter Gammons notes that he may want Sabathia-type money, which the Red Sox are loathe to give a pitcher over 30.  If they can’t compete in 2010, they may trade him (or trade him to compete in 2010).  Otherwise, they may have to let him go and use the compensatory picks.

John Henry’s financial troubles may mean some cost-cutting down on Yawkey Way.  It may mean that the Red Sox can’t compete with other big market teams for top free agents and international players for a few years.  It just makes we wonder, is our ride of success just about over?

Case in point- Jeremy Hermida.  His role on the 2010 Red Sox was not defined in the press conference.  They talked about his potential, the potential that has had them interested in him for years but which has not turned into reality.  Of course, in Florida he has not been surrounded by good to great players that offer any protection (Hanley Ramirez’ stats truly are amazing in THAT line-up).  Truth be told, I was one of those sucked in by his “potential” a few years ago, drafting him in a fantasy league.  It was supposed to be his breakout year.  Theo is hoping this turns into his breakout year in a park suited to this swing and a team that might need him to swap sides of the field.  Yes, the Sox may still spend money since they generate so much money, but they may not be willing to spend the $18-20 million/year necessary to bring back Bay or lock up Holliday.  So Hermida may be a low-cost option in LF.  He might not, but he might.  Then again, he might be trade bait, as Harold Reynolds thinks.

The key signal to which way the Red Sox go is not just the free agent market, but whether they can get the Padres to trade Adrian Gonzalez.  He would be a monster, people think, at Fenway.  But after the uncertainty of whether or not ownership will use him to rebuild, there is the price to be paid and whether or not a suitable deal can be made.  Keep watching.

Update: MLBTradeRumors speculates that the Red Sox sign Jason Bay, oft-injured Rich Harden, Mark Scutaro, and Cuban hurler Aroldis Chapman.  I’m not sure I see them spending that much money, but I’d welcome most of those moves.

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