The Boston Red Sox Decline Was Accurately Predicted Before Last Season

May 11, 2012

Back in December 2010, I wrote this piece  indicating the Boston Red Sox were “trying to keep up with the Joneses” ie: the New York Yankees, when they traded for then San Diego Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.

The premise behind the story was that the Red Sox didn’t have the kind of money the Yankees have, and they would likely fall the way of the old Soviet Union if they tried to keep up with the Yankees in spending. Paying tons of money and trading young kids to win now over the Yankees would make the Red Sox worse in the long run when their farm system becomes incapable of producing new players to fill in for their aging stars when those stars suffered declines or get injured.

I was ripped twice as hard about this story as I was in my Jason Bay Would Be a Huge Mistake for the New York Mets piece I wrote a year earlier. And Mets fans really ripped for that piece.

But in both instances I was completely wrong.

It really didn’t take as long as I originally thought for both those thought processes to prove fatal for each team.

The Boston piece was more about their thoughts on trying to outspend the Yankees rather than actually getting Gonzalez, but by using their top prospects for trades and signing free agents to win now. The Yankees spent lavishly after not making the playoffs in 2008, inking CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and AJ Burnett to over $400 million, then promptly won the World Series in 2009.

The Sox thought having overpaid superstars at every position would help them, so in successive big name transactions they traded for Victor Martinez (during 2009) and Gonzalez, plus signed John Lackey (5/82.5), Mike Cameron (2/15.5), Carl Crawford (7/142), Bobby Jenks (2/12) and Marco Scutaro (3/17) to multi-year free agent contracts. Josh Beckett was also re-signed to a big extension  (4/68) prior to 2010.

And before all this, Daisuke Matsuzaka has cost the Sox over $110 million for one good season. He missed most of last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Scutaro has since been traded but Lackey, Crawford and Jenks have all been hurt, Beckett was good last season until he started drinking beer (1-2, 5.48 ERA down the stretch), and has his own problems this season*. In addition, they are now paying Gonzalez $21 million over the next six seasons.

* I was at the Winter Meetings a few years ago and was speaking with someone who knew Beckett pretty well, and told me a few pretty intersting stories from his Florida Marlins days. Let’s just politley say that Beckett isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer.

That is now $458 million to be paid out to five players (AGon, Beckett, Crawford, Jenks, Lackey) of which only one is now playing equal to what was expected. But did you also know that so far this season Gonzalez has the fewest number of extra base hits of any Red Sox starter with 100 or more plate appearances?

But, with all that outlay of cash and traded away young players) the Red Sox haven’t won a post season game since 2008. They haven’t even made the post season since 2009 where they were swept by the Los Angeles Angels in the ALDS. Martinez didn’t help them win in that series, did he?

Here is a direct quote from my Gonzalez piece: “...the Red Sox do have a set pitching staff entering 2011 with Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Beckett, Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka. Felix Doubront, who the Padres did not receive, is a very capable reserve starter.

That is it, though. There are no other starting pitchers in their higher up system who is any good. So the Red Sox have a top six with no others to complement them if there is an injury.”

They collapsed last season in September when they blew a nine game lead and most of that collapse centered on the lack of healthy and effective starting pitchers who could win just one game! Maybe Justin Masterson (traded for Victor Martinez) might have helped. Casey Kelly might have been good enough to come up from Double A and win one game. They also had some bullpen issues last year which Nick Hagadone (also traded for Martinez) might have helped. Hagadone is a hard-throwing lefty who has also been one of the Cleveland Indians best relievers this season with a 0.87 ERA, .484 WHIP and 8.7 K/9 ratio.

This year, under new manager Bobby Valentine, similar events are occurring to this organization, especially injuries and much ineffectiveness. Lackey is out for the season, Matsuzaka and Crawford have not played in 2012, Youkilis is hurt again (a nagging back injury), Jacoby Ellsbury is sidelined (again), and the starting pitching has been brutal.

Plus, in their quest to convert their top set up man Daniel Bard to the rotation, the two big arms looked on to fill the bullpens late innings, Andrew Bailey and Mark Melancon, are both not with the team. Bailey has been hurt all year and Melancon (who I really like as a reliever) was ineffective early and shipped to Pawtucket. Similarly, the player they received for Theo Epstein, Chris Carpenter – another late inning reliever, is also disabled.

And you probably thought only the New York Yankees had miserable results with pitchers they traded for?

And like last season, there is not a lot in the Red Sox minor league system that can help now. Sure, Will Middlebrooks was brought in for Youkilis and has performed well (can I throw out a SSS here?) but not many of their other top prospects are remotely close to helping out in 2013, let alone this season. When Ellsbury went down, the Sox had to trade for an almost finished Marlon Byrd; when the bullpen needed help, they turn to Vicente Padilla and Andrew Miller, one of the failed starters from September 2011. 

Now, the Red Sox look to bolster their offense with the promotion of Daniel Nava. Lol.

I am not saying that trading for Gonzalez was a bad idea in and of itself. Obviously, he is a quality player who can consistently put up big time, MVP caliber number each season. But he is committed to the first base position for several years, until David Ortiz is gone and then AGon will likely move to DH.

But with all that money spent with no titles, no ready prospects to fill in when injuries occur, was it really wise to try and spend like the Yankees and lose young players at the same time? If the Red Sox let Anthony Rizzo play at Triple-A last season and then come up this year, would the Red Sox be any worse than they are now? Which, of course, is mired in last place, a full 7.5 games behind the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays.

Was it worth it to try and buy a title last season?

It is interesting that both teams the baseball pundits thought would be in the 2011 World Series, the Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies, didn’t even make that World Series and are mired in last place this season. Like the Sox, the Phillies lost key contributors Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, and after they traded many of their top prospects, they have no one to come up and contribute on offense. Plus, like the Sox situation with Crawford, the Phillies owe an already performance declining Howard over $100 million for next FIVE years.

But unlike the Red Sox, the Phillies do have a trio of tremendous starting pitchers in Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels.

Those teams which try to win every year by overpaying for talent eventually have problems when injuries and ineffectiveness occur. Too much money for very little return puts a damper on their current team and down the road when young kids are blocked by overpaid bums.

Most of the World Series championships won over the last 30 years have been won with home grown players who, when allowed to develop and contribute, provide their organization with quality value with quality play.  San Francisco won with their home grown starting pitching and Texas has been in the last two World Series with mostly young players who have come up through their system. Of course there are exceptions (like the 2009 Yankees), but these are exceptions and not the rule.

The Red Sox do have some promising kids in their system, but they are all down in the Low-A and High-A. It would behoove the Sox to allow these kids to develop and be ready for 2014 and beyond. Trading away any of these kids for an arm or big bat now will only continue the circle of idiocy. But one small issue like not being very good for a couple years might have to be stomached by Red Sox nation.

So, what to do? Let the kids play.

The Red Sox have an average age of over 30 for their team, way too old for the young game played today. The Sox need to get younger and use some of the tools they have in their system. The aformentioned Middlebrooks. Keep him in the lineup. Mike Aviles is a nice player, but is he your future at shortstop? You have a top prospect at Triple-A in Jose Iglesias. Why not let him play? From his days with the Texas Rangers and New York Mets, Bobby Valentine appears to work well with young players and wanted to have Iglesias as his starting shortstop at the beginning of the season, but was “overruled” by GM Ben Cherington. Ryan Lavarnway is a power hitting catcher who would fit nicely in Fenway Park.  

Time the change the attitude in the clubhouse.

When the Red Sox tried to win it all every year after year by obtaining Victor Martinez, John Lackey, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, costing themselves cost-controlled young talent and future draft picks, then re-signing the intelligently challenged Josh Beckett, the hierarchy put a process in place which could affect their ability to win over the next few years.

If I was a conspiracy theorist, I might believe that Theo Epstein, who conveniently left to become grand pooh-bah of the Chicago Cubs, did this on purpose.

My prediction of the Red Sox demise by not having quality young players to help in case of injuries to overpaid talent came to roost last season with no pitchers who could win a game down the stretch, and this downfall continues at the beginning of this season.

I am sorry Red Sox fans, but this case of Keeping up with the Joneses has pushed this team into pre-foreclosure status.


Victor Martinez: Tigers Sign Catcher, Show They Don’t Know How To Build a Team

November 23, 2010

The Detroit Tigers are about to sign free agent Victor Martinez to a four-year deal worth $50 million. Martinez is listed as a catcher, but will primarily earn his keep via the designated hitter position.

It is said this move will give the Tigers a real good 3-4 duo of Miguel Cabrera and Martinez with V-Mart providing valuable protection for Cabrera. Maybe they can even sign another hitter (Magglio Ordonez, Jayson Werth, Carl Crawford?) to have a good 3-4-5.

That might boost Cabrera’s MVP status for next season (he finished 2nd today), but it still will not help the Tigers win in 2011 or 2012 and especially not during the final two seasons of the proposed deal.

The signing is terrible for the Tigers, and comes on the heel of another bad signing, the three-year $16.5 million deal for right handed relief pitcher Joaquin Benoit.

It just goes to show that the Tigers management has no idea how to build a winning team. As the Tigers are trying to do, it is impossible to buy your way into a championship.

Martinez does not offer anything more than a DH and occasional first baseman. He is completely unproductive on the defensive end of catching, unable to move well behind the plate and is really good in his ability to allow stolen bases. I am sure V-Mart is not the best game-caller either.

So to pay $50 million for a 32 year old DH is mind-boggling. And not only do they sign Martinez for four years, but they also have to give up a first round draft pick in 2011 (No. 19 overall) to the Boston Red Sox.

The Tigers give up a draft pick in a draft that is considered to be very, very deep. It could rival the 2002 first round and/or 2005 first round in terms of quality and depth.  And both those drafts were quality after the first round, too.

So, in a deep draft, a team which has a terrible farm system has given away its first round pick, and if they sign another Type A free agent, they lose their second round pick, too.

I am not against free agent signings. Many free agent signings work out for the teams with decent production, but rarely do they ever lead to World Series championships. When they do, it is because the free agent player was the “final piece.” 

Free agents are to be used to supplement a good farm system, to complement the players a team has already developed and who are ready to compete. They should not be signed to start a team or fix up some holes.

When your own home grown players have reached the point where they are “knocking on the door” is when you search the free agent market for that key piece. The Tigers did that in 2004 when they went out and signed Pudge Rodriguez to handle a younger pitching staff, and eventually went to the World Series in 2006.

The fact that the 2010 Tigers positional prospects are ranked the worst overall in baseball has forced the Tigers hand here to sign an aging FA veteran bat.

And the prospect spiral keeps plummeting downward for the Tigers. They would not win in 2011 without Martinez and they will not win with him.

Martinez is not a key piece for the Tigers as their lineup still stinks even with him protecting Cabrera in the No. 4 hole. V-Mart had a decent season last year, but in no way does it warrant a four-year deal worth $50 million. He is not a real impact guy, only the best available now, and will only decline as he gets older.

Even if Martinez does not catch any games in 2011, the wear and tear already on his lower half will hasten any decline*. Did you know Martinez only has had one season with a plus .500 slugging percentage?

Even Derek Jeter had one plus .500 slugging season, back in 1999. Jeter’s career OPS is a scant .001 below Martinez career mark of .838. Is that worth $50 million? In a park which is historically bad for Martinez and is considered a pitcher’s park?

*Some readers will relate this deal to the one the Yankees gave Jorge Posada four seasons ago, a four year $52 million deal. Another deteriorating switch-hitting catcher who will end up as a DH. But things are much different for the Yankees at that point.

First, Posada was a home grown, key member of the Yankees dynasty run in the late 1990s-early 2000s. There is something to be said for paying for past performance when you are a home grown champion. Second, Posada was still the primary catcher and also pretty decent behind the plate at that point. Third, he was coming off a career year which he slashed .338 BA/.426 OBP/.543 SLG/.970 OPS, with 42 doubles, 20 HRs and 90 RBI.

The deal does not make sense in terms of years, money or losing a draft pick.

The Tigers would be better suited to follow the lead of the Minnesota Twins, who won the A.L. Central division last year, three of the last five years and six of the last nine seasons. Load up on home grown talent, sign the top two or three to long term deals, and keep producing enough talent to fill holes along the way.

Granted the Tigers are taking on more payroll in trying to win.

But smart franchises increase payroll on their own players, not somebody else’s free agents.

That is the recipe for staying near the top of the standings nearly every season. But an organization first has to produce your own home grown major league talent.

Bad franchises keep signing other teams players instead of producing their own.

Victor Martinez and Joaquin Benoit are two bad free agent signings.

Par for the course within the Tigers ownership of Mike Ilitch.


CC Sabathia’s Plunking Of Dustin Pedroia Was a Must for the New York Yankees

May 9, 2010

During Friday night’s New York Yankees-Boston Red Sox game, starting pitcher Josh Beckett hit Robinson Cano and Derek Jeter in the big eight run Yankee fifth inning. He also came close to Mark Teixeira and Francisco Cervelli in that same inning.

After Jeter’s plunking, I texted the guys from the Shore Sports Report , where I do a baseball analyst radio spot every Friday, saying that “Pedroia needs to get plunked.”

And when I saw various Yankees, including CC Sabathia, mouthing their displeasure towards Beckett, I knew that Pedroia was going to be a target.

It is nothing against Dustin. He is a prototypical baseball player, always hustling, frequently getting dirt on his uniform. Pedroia is the type of guy you want playing for your team. It is just that Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis is a boring target who usually gets out of control when he feels like he is being thrown at.

Look what he did last season to Detroit Tigers pitcher Rick Porcello.

Since the Yankees second baseman was hit in Friday night and had to leave the game, it had to be THEIR second baseman who was retaliated against, plus Pedroia would take it like a man.  

Josh Beckett is an easy guy to dislike. He never smiles, and does not seem pleasant to be around. I spend some time down in South Florida and heard various stories about him, too, when he used to play for the Florida Marlins.

Not the sharpest knife in the drawer. And he is very overrated. He has parlayed three good seasons (and Red Sox GM Theo Epstein’s rash judgment) into a new four-year, $68 million contract.

Not only is Beckett not pitching well this season, but come three/four years from now, Beckett’s contract will be viewed as one of the worst contracts in baseball. A dead weight contract which will further tie down the Red Sox.

But Beckett was throwing the baseball very well Friday night, at least for five innings. That is why it was incredible he would hit two guys, and come close to two others.

Not that I think the Cano plunking was intentional, because after Alex Rodriguez’ sixth inning leadoff double, the last thing Beckett wanted to do was put another runner on base with no outs and the Yankees already leading 3-1.

But I did believe Beckett hit Jeter on purpose, and tried to get Teixeira two batters later. He also dusted Cervelli just before Jeter’s HBP. At that point the score was 5-1 Yankees and it looked to me that Beckett had given up.

So why not hit Jeter? Beckett had given up, saying to the Yankees, “You beat me and all I can do is hit your players.”

That was wrong because pitchers should never intentionally hit batters for doing well against them, but only for showing up a team/player or in retaliation.  

That is why Pedroia needed to get plunked by Sabathia. But after it was over, Pedroia ran hard to first base, taking it like a baseball player, seeming to know it was coming. However, the next batter, Victor Martinez, hit a two-run homer to give the Red Sox a 3-2 lead.

The plunking hurt on the scoreboard, but the message was sent.

I also was not the least bit worried after the home run, as the Yankees were getting guys on base and it was a matter of time before they started knocking those runners home. Also, Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz was off his usual game.

I wrote a piece last year about Yankee manager Joe Girardi changing the Yankees mindset regarding protecting their hitters . For too many years Joe Torre let the Red Sox pitchers have a field day in hitting the Yankee lineup. Red Sox manager Terry Francona had no problem letting it happen, either.

Too many times Pedro Martinez would bean Jeter and others, and nary a Yankee pitcher would come close to dusting David Ortiz or Manny Ramirez.

But Girardi has changed that tune and will not let the plunking of Yankee hitters go unpunished. Neither will Sabathia.

And that is good to see.

// //


Roy Halladay trade to NL was best thing for both Red Sox and Yankees

December 7, 2009

The title to my original piece was “Roy Halladay Should NOT be in the Yankees 201o Plans.” However, as usual, the thoughts are in my head, and in my notebook (with generous amounts of information and facts to back up my thoughts) but the time to get it all down was non-existent.

Then with the big whopping four-team, 175 player trade went down last week, and I thought that I HAD to get something down.

Halladay being traded outside the American League was the best thing to happen to the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees.

But not only because each team does not have to face him 3 or 4 times per season, even though historically King Roy has performed well against the Yankees and more recently, the Red Sox.  And not even because the Red Sox were worried the Yankees were going to get him, or that the Yankees were worried the Red Sox were going to trade for him.

But because if either the Yankees or Red Sox traded for Halladay, then both teams would have had to empty the farm system of ready-to-star major league talent. And despite the seemingly deep pockets of both franchises, both teams NEED to keep developing younger, cost-effective talent to compete.

Roy Halladay IS one of the top 5 best pitchers in baseball, is very durable and is tough minded with a bulldog attitude on the mound. He will be good for 30+ starts for the next 5 years, as his mechanics are phenomenal. These strong mechanics put less wear on his elbow and shoulder ligaments.

Contrary to popular negative perceptions on pitch counts and innings totals, mechanics are the primary determinant to how durable a pitcher will be. The only time Halladay missed time due to arm issues was back in 2004 when he experience shoulder soreness. He stopped lifting weights in the off season and the shoulder issues were gone.

Since his AGE 25 breakout season in 2002 (Joba’s age during the full 2011 season), King Roy has amassed a record of 130-59 with a 3.13 ERA over 1710 innings, and won the AL CY Young award in 2003. That season saw “Doc” at his best, going 22-7, 3.25 ERA with an incredible 6.38 SO/BB ratio.

And that solid control has been the key to Halladay’s success. While allowing a measly 8.56 H/9 during that eight-year span, he also has only allowed 1.6 BB/9 for a WHIP of 1.19. That walk rate is Curt Schilling like; even Greg Maddux like.

Notice the trend of winning pitchers and low walk rates? There is no indication that Halladay is going to decline in this category. His season last year produced better numbers at 1.3 BB/9. He has successfully converted from a power pitcher to more a ground ball threat, and he always seems to hit his location when he needs an out.

Also contrary to popular sabermetrician negativity, pitchers can pitch effectively while not striking out hitters. Getting the baseball on the non-fat part of the bat is an art form, and Halladay has that mastered.

But the New York Yankees (specifically Brian Cashman) showed a couple of seasons ago with Johan Santana that they will not pay top prospects for top talent, and then pay an exorbitant amount of money, too. The money is not the issue as they passed on Santana, but then signed CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett and Mark Teixeira the next off season. But Cashman will not offer up top talent no matter who that player was, even Halladay.

And neither will Theo Epstein of the Red Sox.  If Theo really wanted Halladay, he would have had to definitely give up promising starter Clay Buchholz, probably High A minor league pitcher Casey Kelly (many scouts think he could enter the Sox pen in 2010), and maybe OF/DH prospect Ryan Westmoreland and/or 1B prospect Lars Anderson. Remember, this was before the Jays made the Halladay trade and did not yet have Brett Wallace, their new 1B of the future) in their system.

From the Yankees, the Blue Jays were seeking top hitting prospect Jesus Montero and either Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes. Also, seeing the Yankees give up three Major league talented players for Curtis Granderson, new Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos probably would also demand AAA starter Zach McAllister or a younger left handed pitching stud like Manuel Baneulos.

And for both the Red Sox and the Yankees, that is too much to give up, even for Halladay.

Epstein is adamant about not giving up Kelly or Westmoreland and knows he might need Buchholz for more offense down the road, while Cashman usually trades secondary talent for needs but rarely ponies up stud prospects (see Johan Santana).

After trading lots of players for Victor Martinez, Epstein is also learning this tactic. Instead of Halladay, Theo tried for Bay, then Holliday and settled for John Lackey, somewhat of a Halladay-lite. All three of those guys were free agents, where it is just money, no players. If Epstein will never give up Kelly, then San Diego Padre first baseman Adrian Gonzalez also will never get to Boston.

While the Yankees have a deep farm system, with influential players at each level, the Red Sox don’t have many future impact players in their system. In Triple A, the Sox have pitchers Junichi Tazawa and Michael Bowden, in Double A there is Lars Anderson and OF’s Ryan Kalish and Josh Reddick, while in Single A there are the aforementioned Kelly and Westmoreland.

While the Sox have continuously paid over slot for amateur talent, they really don’t have much in the system ready to contribute. Most of their top guys are former high school kids, and are still in the 19-22 age range. And if they trade away the few remaining players other teams covet, they will have to pay top dollar for future players.

While the core of Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, etc is signed for several more seasons each, the Red Sox need to replace (or re-sign at insanely high prices) Josh Beckett, Jonathan Papelbon, David Ortiz, Victor Martinez and JD Drew over the next year or two. That is a lot of offense to replace. Even the Red Sox don’t have that much money to throw around. They need to keep those young prospects in their system.

Same with the Yankees. The Yankees have  a few important contracts to rework soon including Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, but it is not as severe as the Red Sox need to replenish. Even Cashman has had “budget” the last two seasons.

That is why the Red Sox and to a lesser extent the Yankees, both needed to refuse to trade for Roy Halladay. Even though each team knows they are in direct competition with each other, they also know there is a finite amount of resources available. Each team needs to be prudent with who they sign long term, and must continue to supplant their roster with more younger, home grown talent.

Trading for Halladay would not just cost resources now (via prospects and cash), but down the road when more higher priced free agents need to be signed because you traded your best impact replacements.


Red Sox Add Victor Martinez

July 31, 2009

It has been reported that Victor Martinez is heading to Boston in exchange for RHP Justin Masterson and LHP Nick Hagadone, the Red Sox first round pick in 2007.

Masterson is a nice COMPLEMENTARY pitcher, not an ace. His mechanics also leave him very injury prone and he is a shoulder blowout waiting to happen. And based upon Hagadone’s numbers thus far, he can not consistently throw the ball over the plate. 

Without giving up either Clay Buchholz or Daniel Bard for Martinez, this trade is a steal for Theo Epstein and the Red Sox organization.

Another big deal for the master.

The GM of the Indians, Mark Shapiro, was fleeced the other day in the Cliff Lee deal, and now has received much less for Martinez.

Shapiro did not get any of the top prospects from either the Phillies or Red Sox for either Lee or Martinez, his two best players. 

I hear he is now going to trade Grady Sizemore for three 2007 draft picks who are still in Low A ball.

This game of baseball is about winning, and the future is now for most teams, especially those in the AL Central, which seems to have a different winner every year.  

If Shapiro held out and received several major league ready prospects, the Indians could have competed by 2011.

Now they are out of it until after Shapiro is long gone.