Home > Baseball > Theo’s Credit Card Needs Clipping…

Theo’s Credit Card Needs Clipping…

September 27, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

On September 1st, the Boston Red Sox were in first place in the AL East, a half game ahead of the New York Yankees and 8.5 ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays.  Alas for the Fenway faithful, the season doesn’t end on September 1st and, well, you know how things look now, on September 27th for those same Sox of Red.  If Boston’s collapse should culminate in their missing the playoffs, there will, of course, be thousands of words over the next few weeks calling for the heads of various members of the organization, whilst simultaneously casting blame; as one of the worst collapses in baseball history, there is plenty of blame to go around.

Ultimately though, I think it’s important to remember that this collapse is largely fluke.  By which I mean that if the Gods played this season over again a 100 times, the Sox probably only collapse like this the one time.  Part of this collapse is injury, part of it is just regression to the mean, and part is just the nature of baseball, but mostly it’s just obscurely bizarre.  For the lords of Fenway, it’s important for the Sox not to overreact to a strange situation.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that you don’t sit back, assess and ask yourself, “where are we going?”  As a Jays fan I obviously hope that where the Sox are going is to a fourth place finish, but in reality, where they are going is to the free agent market.  Perhaps in search of a shortstop, maybe a starting pitcher (or three), some bullpen help, a corner outfielder, or even a third baseman might make some sense… There are concerns, probably not as many as September might have exhibited, but there are some.

The problem here, is that while asking where they are going, the Sox should also be asking, who’s going to get them there?  Because if their destination is the free agent market, I think it’s fair to ask whether Theo Epstein is the right man to drive that bus.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Theo Epstein is one of the top three or four GMs in all of baseball (behind, like everyone else, Andrew Friedman), but he does have a propensity to whiff on big money contracts.  And, not just whiff, but whiff horribly.  Like Carl Crawford flailing at a Justin Verlander fastball.  Just look at the current state of the Red Sox rotation, obviously they were expecting a better September from Josh Becket (1-2, 5.48) and John Lester (1-3, 5.96), and Clay Buchholz being healthy probably helps, but when the season started the Sox were spending 16 million on John Lackey and 10.33 on Dice-K.

That’s not the bad news.

When next season begins, the Sox will still be spending 16 million on Lackey and 10.33 on Dice-K.  That’s because they were both signed to big money long-term deals by a franchise that theoretically espouses big money long term deals (see Martinez; Pedro, Lowe, Derek; and Damon, Judas).  Lackey was given 82.5 million for five years and Dice-K was given 52 for 5, but of course Dice cost 50 million just for negotiation purposes, so… Ughhh…

And those two aren’t really the exceptions of Theo’s free agent dalliances.  Remember Edgar Renteria (40/4)?  What about Julio Lugo (36/4)?  Mike Cameron (15.5/2)?  Sock favorite John David Drew (70/5)?  And, perhaps most terrifying of all, what about… Carl Crawford (142/7)?  Doesn’t that contract send shivers up your spine?  I mean, I know that Crawford was a great player, but shouldn’t the Sox have given pause to the fact that he’d once only ever posted a WAR above 6?  And that so much of his WAR total was related to his sterling defense in left field, where the Sox won two titles with Manny Ramirez basically making daisy chains.  I know that defense is the new undervalued thang, but… surely there should have been some examination about whether Crawford’s offense was really worth 142 million and if not, did his defense with 81 games in left at Fenway really warrant making up the fiscal difference?

Now, I whole heartedly agree that it’s obnoxious (albeit fun) to use 20/20 hindsight to make yourself look smart and an organization dumb, but a lot of these moves were questioned at the time.  Drew?  Cameron?  Heck, even Lackey wasn’t the slam dunk some people thought.  And 142 for Crawford?  Well, that just seemed like a lot of money for a player the Yanks were comparing to Brett Gardner.

Theo’s done solid work drafting guys (Pedroia, Ellsbury, Lester, Buchholz, Papelbon, Bard, heck, even Lowrie) and it’s hard to argue with the trades that brought in Curt Schilling, Beckett and Mike Lowel, Victor Martinez, and Adrian Gonzalez, but right now, the only good free agent signing I can think of, was when the Sox gave Adrian Beltre 10 million to come and rebuild his value.

Ultimately, I think that Theo’s strengths as a GM outweigh his flaws, but if they miss the playoffs, while the deluge of misanthropy falls from Sox fans like bombs from the sky, the precocious GM had better take a long look at his history in Free Agency and determine where exactly it is that he’s going wrong.  Like their high payroll brethren in the Bronx, the Sox can afford to swing and miss on a few contracts, but Boston has about 70 million of dead weight on their payroll this year.

And while that might not be the exact reason they’ve had a September collapse for the ages, it isn’t exactly helping their cause to send John Lackey out to the mound every fifth day.

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