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Theo’s Credit Card Needs Clipping…

September 27, 2011 Leave a comment

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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The Wild, Wild, Wild Card…

May 21, 2011 Leave a comment

This is it, mark this day on your calendar… May 21st 2011.  The end of days, the day that everything we’ve known that is good and pure will come to an end.  The beginning of the end for all… The last day that the Boston Red Sox will not be the atop the American League East.  Ok, ok, I jest; surely it’s possible that the Rays defeat their Florida neighbors to hold off the Sox for another day and I guess it’s somewhat (albeit far less) plausible that the Cubs actually defeat the Sox, but you don’t need to scour the bible and use complicated mathematics to see that the Sox are finally performing as we thought they would and that the AL East is theirs for the taking.

As for the Jays, for a season in which they’ve lost Bautista for 8 games, Lind for 12,  Hill for 17, Jayson Nix for 20(ish), and in which Halladay has yet to pitch for them (what? Some people think the moon landing was staged, I can’t conveniently forget that Doc was traded?), you have to be happy to see them sitting only 2.5 out.  As I said above, I think the Sox are about to grab the East crown from the Rays’ head and run away with it.  Like a big brother bullying his little sister, I expect that the Sox are going to run farther, faster, leaving everyone else in the division standing in the mud crying for Mom.  What the Jays can hold out hope for, is that the Wild Card looks to be exceptionally winnable this year.

Here are the Wild Card standings through last night’s games:

American League
AMERICAN W L PCT GB HOME ROAD RS RA DIFF STRK L10
Boston 24 20 .545 15-9 9-11 201 194 +7 Won 7 8-2
NY Yankees 23 20 .535 .5 13-12 10-8 219 179 +40 Lost 1 3-7
Detroit 22 22 .500 2 11-8 11-14 193 192 +1 Lost 4 6-4
Kansas City 22 22 .500 2 17-11 5-11 200 206 -6 Won 2 4-6
LA Angels 23 23 .500 2 10-10 13-13 181 177 +4 Won 1 3-7
Toronto 22 22 .500 2 10-10 12-12 199 189 +10 Lost 1 7-3
Oakland 22 23 .489 2.5 11-12 11-11 165 157 +8 Lost 3 4-6
Seattle 20 24 .455 4 11-12 9-12 153 171 -18 Won 3 4-6
Baltimore 19 24 .442 4.5 10-14 9-10 171 218 -47 Lost 4 5-5
Chicago Sox 20 26 .435 5 8-13 12-13 177 197 -20 Lost 1 6-4
Minnesota 15 28 .349 8.5 4-11 11-17 145 227 -82 Lost 1 3-7

Every team in the American League, save the surprisingly atrocious Twins, is within five games of the playoffs.  That’s remarkable.  Last year for instance, only three teams on May 21st were within five games of the Wild Card leading Yankees.  In the last decade, only 2004 and 2008 had anywhere near as many hopeful teams on this date.  In 2004 the White Sox, Yankees, Twins and Rangers were all tied for the Wild Card lead, with Oakland, Detroit and Baltimore all within four games.  Of course, by season’s end, the Yanks and Twins had won their divisions, the Red Sox had won 98 games to take the Wild Card in a walk and the A’s (7 games back) Rangers (9), White Sox (15), Orioles (20), and Tigers (26) were all left wanting.

2008 was less dramatic, the Rays led Baltimore by a game and a half, Oakland by 2.5, the Twins by 3.5 and Minnesota, Texas, the Jays, and Cleveland by 4.5.  By season’s end, the Rays had pulled off the decade’s most shocking upset, the Sox were again the Wild Card, and the fast starting Orioles were once again more than 20 games out (26).

Of course, the difference between those years and this year?  Well, in 2004 the Red Sox and Yankees were absolute, no doubt about it, great teams.  In 2008 the same could be said for the defending champion Sox and – even if we didn’t know it at the time – the Rays.  This year?  Who’s great this year?  If we look at those Wild Card standings and replace the Sox with the Rays, then tell me who is going to run away with the Wild Card?

I don’t expect there to be nine teams within five games of the WC by year’s end: The Royals’ bubble is about to burst; the Orioles are better, but not that much better; the Mariners intrigue me because they can defend and in King Felix, Michael Pineda and Erik Bedard (if he’s healthy) they have the arms, but… come on?  They’ve hit Adam Kennedy cleanup three times this year (and Miguel Olivio cleanup 17 times… I can’t decide which is worse); all of which leaves the Rays, Yanks, Tigers, Angels, A’s and White Sox.  Are any of those teams capable of winning 65% of their games the rest of the way to approach 95 plus wins?  I don’t think so.

As we all saw last weekend, the Yanks have started their long, slow decline and it’s not going to be pretty.  The names that made them great: Jeter, ARod, and Posada are showing the signs of age (the exception of course is Rivera, but we can’t predict exactly how he’ll age, aliens might have longer lifespans than humans).  If you thought the Posada debacle was ugly, just wait until Jeter’s On Base Percentage is still mired around .313 in July… Plus, it’s hard to see the Yanks as a juggernaut when their starting rotation is: CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Bartolo Colon, Ivan Nova, and Freddy Garcia.  Baseball’s a funny game, but if those five pitchers are the backbone of a 95 win team, then Arnold Schwarzenegger’s an upstanding gentleman.

The Rays are obviously very well managed (both on the field and in the front office) and today they would be my guess to win the Wild Card, but they do have a sketchy bullpen, Johnny Damon batting 3rd and Matt Joyce hitting about a 100 points better than anyone could reasonably expect.  They will be there at the end, but I doubt that end is the 96 games they won last year.

As for the other teams, the Angels acutally thought it was a good idea to pickup all of Vernon Wells’ contract and he’s rewarding them with a .527 OPS (Nobody predicted that one… cough-sarcasm-cough).  The Tigers are being hauled to .500 by the shear greatness of Justin Verlander, but they look very much like a 85-87 win team (which might ultimately win the AL Central, sorry Tribe fans).  The White Sox are hard to predict, because Kenny Williams is so proactive that you never know when he’ll pull off a deal for Hanley Ramirez, but the problem with parity is that nobody’s selling off assets if they think that they can contend.  And the A’s, well the A’s are like a glorified version of the Mariners.  They have better arms, which is what keeps them in the conversation, but Josh Willingham is their cleanup hitter.  I think National fans can tell you how that works out.

All of which brings me back to the Jays.  Right now, it looks as though 90 wins might actually take the Wild Card, are the Jays capable of winning 90?  Well, no probably not.  To get to 90, they would have to win 68 of their remaining 118 games, or 57%.  Since they are exactly .500 today, that’s a tall order, but then if Lind were to get healthy, Hill start hitting the ball over the fence, Brett Lawrie come up from AAA and perform like the young star he is, well… Like I said, baseball’s a funny game.  I don’t think the Jays are truly in contention, but I also wouldn’t be terribly surprised if in the middle of July they were only 3.5 out, and at that point, well at that point it only takes one really good run; one stretch of games where every bloop hit finds a hole, where every line drive off the opposing team’s bat hits leather, where every hitter starts to feel good and every pitcher’s locked into the zone.  A stretch of games where you rattle off 15 wins in 17 games, or 17 wins in 23, or something that propels you from booking exotic holidays in October to playing meaningful September ball.  It’s possible.  It might be almost as surprising as the World ending today, but it’s possible.

The Impossible Dream…

September 25, 2010 Leave a comment

If I had to make a list of impossible things that would never happen right up near the top of the list, say behind me playing shortstop for the Jays, but ahead of Bill attempting a coup de grace on Kiddo, would be the Yankees blowing their 5 and a half game lead in the final week of the season; thus missing out on the playoffs. I mean, it just isn’t possible. They would have to lose five of their final seven and the team chasing them would have to win out. It’s beyond the realm of reality, like a world in which teenage vampires battle teenage werewolves and nobody just eats Kristen Stewart.

It’s so impossible, it would almost be like, oh I don’t know, the Red Sox climbing back from a 3-0 deficit in 2004. I mean, there was just absolutely no way that was happening. It wasn’t just that no team had ever come back from 3-0 down. It wasn’t even that the Yankees had won six of the last eight AL pennants, heck it wasn’t even that there was a curse prohibiting the Red Sox from winning important games. It was ALL of those things (well, except the Curse rubbish…). It just wasn’t possible, but…

Now, it’s not really like I would take great pleasure in the Sox storming back and ruining the Yanks title defense. I mean, the Sox beating out the Yanks is a little like finding out the Dr was able to cure your chlamydia by giving you gonorrhea. Sure, there’s no chance of blindness, but it still burns when you pee. Seriously, who wants the Sox in the playoffs. We’d have to listen to Bill Simmons pretend he didn’t throw the team under the bus two weeks into the season; we’d have to see all those ridiculous pink hats; and we’d have to watch Jimmy Fallon make out with Drew Barrymore again. It might be better than the Yanks making the playoffs, but not by much. So why am I hoping that a miracle happens?

The excitement of the whole freakin’ affair.

It’s not just that the Sox are chasing the Yanks, it’s that four of their final eight games are against the Bronx Bombers. It’s head to head baseball that would matter. And, frankly, we need some thrills to this season. Sure we had all those perfect games, the not quite perfect game and Jose Bautista doing his best Brady Anderson impression. And we had those two days in August when it seemed like Albert Pujols and Joey Votto might challenge for the triple crown, but beyond that? Yawn. Look at the standings. Where is the intrigue? Any intrigue? The White Sox made their big splash the last week of August when they acquired the great Manny Ramirez. Unfortunately, his talents seemed to get lost in translation and the Sox dropped faster than Lindsey Lohan’s nose towards a table lined with… (well you get the point).

The Twins are leading the Central by 11. The Rangers clinched the West tonight, which might have been a big deal, if they weren’t leading the division by 9 games. And in the NL? The Phillies have quietly broken the hearts of Georgia (you know, if anyone in Georgia actually cared about he Braves, which they don’t), while the Reds’ magic number is two. The only division in baseball that has any intrigue, is the NL West and at the risk of belying my East Coast bias… who cares. Really? Who? The Rockies have gone tits up, which means two of the three from the floundering Padres, floundering Giants, and foundering Braves will make the playoffs.

To the least loserish go the spoils.

A little intrigue. A little excitement. Some reason to check the box scores in the morning. It’s not too much to ask for, is it? What’s that? Dice-K takes the mound tomorrow night for the Sox? Sigh… oh well, I guess it is too much to hope for.

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