Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Baseball: Theo's Overrated, The Boss and the Future

The long-held wisdom in baseball has been that the Yankees buy Championships by having a gigantic payroll and trading away all of their prospects. In recent Red Sox history, Theo Epstein has been credited with savvy analysis and gutsy trades, winning the Sox their 2004 rings and setting the team up for the future...

There is plenty of truth and plenty of myth in both of those statements. Let's look at the Yankees first...

I pulled this from somewhere last week, and unfortunately did not save the link:
In other news, there are reports that the Yankees will send their top draft pick in 2005–20-year-old shrotstop C.J. Henry–along with a reliever to the Phillies in return for Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle. From the Red Sox’s perspective, this wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. [Mr. F: This was obviously written before the Massacre during which Abreu was on base at a .630 clip and Lidle threw six shutout innings of 3-hit ball to complete the 5-game sweep—all but eliminating the Red Sox] The Yankees’ four World Series titles between 1996 and 2000 were won on the backs of players who came up through the Yankees’ farm system during between 1990 and 1993, the time during which George “Instant Gratification” Steinbrenner was banned from baseball... (Posada, Rivera, Pettitte, Williams and Jeter—all are still with the team) ...It seems unlikely all these players would have been in New York had Steinbrenner, who always wants to win right now and worry about tomorrow when it comes, been in control of the team. Abreu and Lidle would definitely make the Yankees better in the immediate short-term. But, Abreu–like Randy Johnson and Jason Giambi and Alex Rodriguez and Johnny Damon and Carl Pavano–would cost a boatload of money and decrease New York’s flexibility going forward. And the loss of cheap, young talent could very well burn the Yankees in the future.

In the middle, the writer points out that the foundation of the most recent Yankee dynasty and it's continued regular season dominance is from a core group of players that Steinbrenner, if given the chance, would have traded away for a bunch of Ken Phelps(s). This is probably true. But the Yankees do not get enough credit for winning with a core of homegrown talent, many of whom are still valuable contributors. Yes, they augmented that group with an ever-evolving cast of top-dollar free agents and trades, but with the exception of Alfonso Soriano, I cannot think of anybody traded in the Cashman era that has gone on to do anything significant. And they got value for Soriano.

Look at the Abreu/Lidle trade. Many were skeptical of trading for Abreu, but I wasn't—not for the Yankees anyway—I did NOT want the Sox to trade for him. The only part of me that looks back on that differently now, is that the Yanks got those two guys SO cheaply and they both address critical needs for the Sox—a good No. 5 hitter and an innings-eating starter. If the Sox could have given up one prospect for those guys I would have done it.

The frustration for me with the Yankees is that they seem to get away with lopsided deals like that, when they really should be over a barrel. Then, without getting too Shaugnessian, anyone who pulls on the pinstripes seems to turn into Roy Hobbs.

The Yankees team that just shredded the Sox over five games featured three new homegrown, solid players: Robinson Cano (who seems like the real deal), Wang and Melky Cabrera, along with the now veteran core of Jeter, Rivera, Bernie and Dumbo. That's 5-6 of the nine players on the field being Yankee pipeline talent. Sure the other 3-4 guys and whoever's on the mound are mercenaries and make a combined $100 million, but the myth of the Yanks being only free agents is simply not true. They won four Championships with home-grown talent, and are still a dominant team and poised to remain that way for the next few years with an infusion of new young talent. The true advantage of their payroll is that they can afford to make mistakes like Pavano, fill holes with the best free agents and build a bench of other team's All-Stars.

While it's true they haven't won the World Series, they have won the Division every year since 2001. Somebody please point me to the prospect that the Yanks have traded away over the last five years that has proven to be anthing other than hype.

On the other hand let's look at Theo's track record. Over the last couple years he has traded away two middle infielders, one of whom has 40 steals and is hitting .275 and the other is leading the NL in hitting. Get back to me when C.J. Henry is doing that for the Phils.

Theo gets credit for the gutsy Nomar/Cabrera trade, but he followed that up letting Cabrera walk and had his own Steinbrenner moment with Edgar Rentaria, a brutal free-agent signing and the Sox are now paying him to be an All-Star for the Braves.

I am not going to secondguess Theo's two biggest moves of the year, Arroyo for Wily Mo, and getting Coco Crisp over keeping Damon. I understood those trades, agreed with them at the time, and think in the long run they will prove correct, though this year they are killing us.

It's the "fringe" deals where Epstein has blown it. Before the season the Sox traded Doug Mirabelli to San Diego for Loretta (good), but then, five Wakefield starts later, traded two players to get him back. This seemed unimportant at the time, backup catchers and obscure relievers... But, with the injury to Varitek, we are now treated everyday to the two-headed Mendoza monster that is Mirabelli and Javy Lopez, while the Josh Bard, 28, (switch!)-hits .325 in a pitcher's park, and the throw-in player is a 24 year-old reliever" currently sporting an ERA of 1.05. That guy might have come in handy last weekend...

Standing pat at the trade deadline has proven disastrous as well. This is not Oakland, this is Boston, and the Red Sox were a first place club charging the highest prices in the sport that had some serious weakspots. They had a 4-game lead on July 1, by the deadline it was down to 1 game, and now they trail by 6 1/2. And there are two teams ahead of them for the Wild Card.

Greg Maddux would have been nice, and the Cubs got a no-hit, Tommy John-recovering shortstop for him. Colorado was apparently interested in Tavarez and/or Seanez. I would have taken a case of Big League Chew to get those arsonists out of the bullpen. Relying on 40-year-old Mike Timlin after letting him pitch in the WBC was a mistake. And how you can possibly expect to compete in the AL East without a left-handed reliever defies explanation.

Long story short, Brian Cashman and Steinbrenner addressed their team's need, and in my opinion didn't "give up the future" to do it. Theo, while admirably keeping an eye to the future, did NOTHING for the present, and the Red Sox will need a miraculous collapse by one (or more) of the three teams ahead of them to make the post-season.

8 comments:

Pooh said...

A) Ouch...(as in, I mostly agree. Though re: Hanley and Sanchez, they play in the NL, so we traded them to QuadA, essentially.) I'm not giving up on Beckett yet, plus don't forget we also got Lowell, and Lowell/Youk at the corners is a significant upgrade over Millar/Mueller/Youk platoon both offensively and especially defensively.

The Arroyo deal has hurt us probably the most this year, but WMPena has awesome potential and did we really want to go into the season with 7 starters and no depth in the outfield (Willie Harris was our #4 outfielder with Kapler injured)

B) When are you going to start posting at the other place?

Punchy said...

Let's see...where to begin...so much here to comment on...

1) Yanks--they buy MUCH of their team. You can point to some farm products, you can finger Jeter and Company as examples, but there'll never be another group like that from the Yanks...they'll be traded. They're EATING Pavano, got WICKED lucky with Giambi coming back (I really thought they were fucked with that), and RJ is Jeckl and Hyde for each start. So they have a ton of $$ in some sketchy players, IMO. That's got implosion written all over it...

2)--BoSox...wow, I didn't know they dumped/traded FranChez. That is a HUGE loss. Him, Bay and maybe Duke are basically the whole Pitty team. Tough to lose such a great-hitting SS. As for the chance at Maddux...I'm thinking he wouldn't be that good in the AL. Spent his entire career in the NL, decent bat, Gold Glover...too much inexperience in the AL to be as effective as he currently is with LA. If you could have picked up Ray King, or other similar inning-eating southpaw, you'da strengthened that pen. Can't agree enough that the lack on ANY lefty relievers, when you're playing teams with players like Ichiro, Abreu, Morneau, Mauer, Thome...boggles the mind...And I can't agree enough that your current pen is a disgrace--Seanez needs to be selling Whoppers in Walla Walla, not chucking some meatballs over the plate and others uncorked such that they cruise 5 feet to either side of it.

3)You cannot--CANNOT--be disgruntled about Bard. Yeah, he's making a good season at SD, but he was out of his league with Wakes. Just laughable. That guy HAD to go. It's a shame that Theo didn't see this coming (I've always marveled at the fact that whomever had Mirabili (SD?) didn't ask for the fucking moon, and then some, to give him back to Beantown...that GM HAD to know B-town was completely fucked without him to catch Wakes...talk about a seller's market).

4) Letting Damon go was the biggest mistake y'all made, bar none. Good leadoff hitters are hard to come by (go ask the Cubs about Patterson). Boston is going to have a prob winning games if Papi and/or ManRam are only hitting solo shots...

Mike said...

Gutsy post, Furioso.

As a Met fan, let me agree. While Cashman may not be the second coming of Branch Rickey, he's a good GM, and I'm tired of hearing other Met fans and Sox fans dress him down, as if the large budget behind him negates the good moves he makes.

See: Angelos, Peter; Wilpon, Fred, et al., for counter examples of big bucks = shit on the diamond.

Mr Furious said...

Pooh-

A) Never has the disparity between the NL and AL been as stark as it seems this season. I could be tainted by following two teams (Sox, and Tigers) that went a combined 32-4 against the NL, but it has long been true that the jump between Leagues effecys performance. Pitching in the NL really is like AAAA.
Still think Maddux would have been useful. If not him, somebody...

B) Soon. I suppose I could throw this over there, I was planning some big debut...

Mr Furious said...

Oh, I also realize that a lot of Hanley's value comes from the 40+ steals he never would have gotten in Fenway.

Boston's aversion to aggressive baserunning is maddening. Except when it comes to getting guys nailed at the plate, they are strictly station to station, and watching teams like the Yankees steal at will and manufacture runs drives me crazy.

Mr Furious said...

Punchy-

1) True, that was a rare run of prospects for the Yanks. And it also should be pointed out that the unlimited spending allows them to sign prospects away from other teams, and to make mistakes with big money advances—Brien Taylor and Drew Henson anyone? I do think the success of those guys (Jeter, Pettitte, etc.) did shift the mindset of the organization.

2) Here is a plea to keep Sanchez back in the day. The writing was on the wall with him. He was traded for Jeff Suppan in a 2003 deadline deal. Suppan went 3-4, 5.67 over 10 starts and then went back to the NL where he went 32-19, sub-4.00 ERA for the Cards the next two years. AAAA indeed.

Yes, Maddux at Fenway would not be Maddux at Chavez Ravine, but the guy does know how to pitch. Failure to address the bullpen is worse than the rotation to me however. Especially the lefty thing.

3) Switch-hitting 25 year-old catchers that can swing? I would have kept that guy in the organization somewhere. I still like the Mirabelli for Loretta move, I would have signed another defense-first catcher to catch Wake, and we could have had Bard come up when 'tek got hurt...And remember, it's the NL, but Bard is hitting .325 in an extreme pitcher's park.

4) I don't blame the Sox for letting Damon go. He was too long-term and too expensive to keep. Let the Yanks overpay for his decline. His numbers are up because they let him run, he is suited to the park, and it's karma. I will admit Crisp has been a disappointment thusfar, and the downgrade from Damon does hurt this year, no doubt, but I think in the long-run Damon will join your group of sketchy, overpaid Yanks.

Put Youk and his .400 OBP at the top and leave him there. But who protects Manny? At least Loretta is on base at .360...

Pooh said...

Re Hanley: Steals are massively overrated on the aggregate (yes, yes, sometimes...see Roberts, Dave...)

Re: Damon - I think everyone knew that we might take a hit this year and maybe next. But a lot of that involves Coco being hurt for most of the first half of the year.

Also lineup protection is overrated

Punchy said...

Fury--

I think you're trying to justify the loss of Damon ex post facto. To say "he's suited to that field" as if he wasn't at Fenway is a non-starter. My point about the BoSox, and Damon in particular, is that without Damon, you have a sketchy 1-2 to open, followed by the big bombers. Then, little power until Pena. With Damon around, Papi and ManRam had GUYS to single in. Don't get me wrong--Ortiz is crushing in the RBI dept even without Damon, but the guy just had the skillz to get on base.

As to your recent decline, it's hard to tell. I think ManRam is faking his knee injury. I think he's Sosa reborn, a petchulant, insanely arrogant guy who won't play if there's nothing to play for. And with out Papi now....the offense is done. It seemed to die even with those guys...so many games with only 2-3 runs...

I will say, that getting rid of Belhorn (whenever they did it) was genius. The guy could flat-out be the worst hitter in the MLB. Just atrocious. I quit bettin on the Pads b/c I knew I was only getting 7 batters out of a 9-man batting order...

AN EARTHSHATTERING PREDICITION (on Aug. 29th!!)

Twins win the AL--book it.