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August 27, 2012

Out of Left Field

Boston Translation

by Matthew Kory

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As you’re certainly aware, the Red Sox and Dodgers pulled off the super-crazy extreme mega-trade of this or any other century last Friday night. BP’s own R.J. Anderson and Kevin Goldstein already delved into the specifics of the deal, but if I may be permitted, I’d like to share some further thoughts.

The Name
It’s being called the Mega-Trade, and hooray for that because what we need now is to put names on specific trades that make them sound like Transformer knock-offs. The Dodgers next deal will be dubbed the Decepti-Deal and it will turn from a reasonable trade into a franchise stomping dino-car.

Fixing Boston’s Problems: Off the field
The 2012 Red Sox underperformed for numerous reasons, all of which become the foundations for making this blow-it-up deal. One of the most-cited causes for the team’s lousy win-loss record was problems in the clubhouse. If you believe media reports, those problems began last season and manifested themselves in the September collapse (the “Mega-Collapse”), the famous and now completely unfunny Clubhouse Chicken ‘n Beer Meme being the best-known example.

The problems carried through into the next season like a bad cold and infected this year’s team. There were reports of everything up to and including clubhouse rebellions, which I assume required players to paint their faces with eye black and dry erase markers, grab the freely available pitchforks from the Pitchfork Room (adjacent to the clubhouse), light a few torches (undershirts wrapped around the knobs of baseball bats, then set ablaze) and march on the manager’s office 25 feet away.

Clubhouse chemistry is impossible to quantify, and my own personal belief is that chemistry’s effects on a team’s won-loss record are vastly overstated. Yet, if there is enough data in any normal distribution, there will eventually come an outlier of extreme proportions. Could this 2011-12 Red Sox team have been it? The first club whose innocuous personalities combined to form some awful team-destroying serum. Some people seemed to think so. Maybe. I’m certainly not in a position to dispute such an accusation. But if so, I have a two questions.

1) If the players leaving Boston were the problem, then doesn’t it stand to reason that the Dodgers are now in for some serious clubhouse turmoil?

2) If the players leaving Boston aren’t the problem, then doesn’t Boston’s problem remain in Boston?

Fixing Boston’s Problems: On the field
The on-field problems for the last-season 2011 Red Sox and the 2012 version were two-fold:

1) Gadawful starting pitching

2) Underperformance by previously star-level players

This trade addresses the second, sort of, and it gives the front office a chance to address the first. But to believe in the trade wholeheartedly from the Red Sox standpoint you have to believe in the Red Sox front office’s ability to take the clean-ish slate presented and turn it into a championship-level team. There are reasons to question their capability to do so.

Ben Cherington
Evaluating Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman has always been nearly impossible. The sheer money the organization has to work with is unprecedented in baseball, and over his tenure there has been, one would assume from various reports and behaviors, meddling of one kind or another in baseball decisions by owners, team presidents, owner’s future-ex son-in-laws, and so on. It’s difficult enough to evaluate a GM when you know who is in charge of making the decisions, let alone one in Cashman’s situation.

Though his tenure has been much shorter, Ben Cherington is in a similar boat. The media has enjoyed poking at him over the Bobby Valentine hire, noting repeatedly that Valentine was never his choice and was hoisted upon him by, depending on who is writing the story, team President Larry Lucchino or owners John Henry and Tom Werner. The offseason trades of potential starting-caliber players Josh Reddick and Jed Lowrie for relief pitchers didn’t help Cherington’s perception, and the injury and implosion of the two relievers acquired in those deals only made them look worse.

Ben Cherington is getting credit for the Mega-Trade trade in the media. Neither the Red Sox owners nor their team president were at the press conference announcing the deal. Assuming the reports are right and this is Cherington’s baby, we now know Cherington can tear a team down in the blink of an eye. That’s something. Maybe the reports of an impotent Cherington at the beginning of his time as GM were false. Or maybe running a major-league baseball team in a city like Boston is far more complicated than that. Naaaah, that can’t be it.

The Value of Financial Flexibility
As we’ve all heard by now, the Dodgers have taken on over a quarter of a billion dollars in financial commitments, and by doing so they have removed those commitments from the Red Sox future obligations. A quarter of a billion dollars sounds like a lot of money. It is a lot of money. But when trying to build a baseball team it’s probably less than you think. Look how much players are making now. Joey Votto signed a 10-year, $225 million contract that doesn’t kick in until the year after next. Coming off a season that suggested decline, Albert Pujols got a quarter of a billion dollars from the Angels. Prince Fielder got the Tigers to bid themselves up until they agreed to nine years and $214 million. This is the going rate for superstar players nowadays. Sign one guy and all of a sudden there goes the vast majority of your quarter of a billion dollars.

Of course signing a free agent isn’t the only way to spend the money, but note that Votto’s wasn’t even a free agent. Matt Kemp wasn’t a free agent either and he signed for eight years, $160 million. A quarter of a billion might not buy more than two star-level players in their late 20s or early 30s, and depending on how you rate Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett, that’s basically what the Red Sox just gave up.

A quarter of a billion dollars doesn’t buy what it used to. And with the new restrictions on the draft and international free agents added on, the Red Sox might have more trouble improving the team with that money should they even choose to reinvest it all in the first place.

Negative Interpretation
The Red Sox’ starting pitching failed spectacularly. So Boston’s answer was to trade two of the team’s best position players.

Boston’s Future Could Still Be Now
If this deal says anything concretely it says that any hope Boston had of making the playoffs in 2012 is over. Looking at the playoff odds we already knew that, but many are extrapolating forward and writing the Red Sox off for next season as well. Do so at your own peril. If the Red Sox choose to re-sign David Ortiz and Cody Ross, their lineup next season is more than serviceable:

Here’s how a 2013 Red Sox lineup might look: 

1.Jacoby Ellsbury
2. Dustin Pedroia
3. David Ortiz
4. Will Middlebrooks
5. Ryan Lavarnway/Jarrod Saltalamacchia
6. Cody Ross
7. Left Field
8. First Base
9. Jose Iglesias

I don’t have a clue who mans left field or first base in Boston next year, but if they find two players who don’t actively hurt the team, the lineup isn’t half bad. If the team can find some starting pitching they could surprise some people.

Funny, I just wrote that the Red Sox could surprise some people. We’ve come a long way in a single weekend, huh?

Matthew Kory is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Matthew's other articles. You can contact Matthew by clicking here

25 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

mafrth77

Calling Carl Crawford one of Bostons two best palyers is incorrect. He has been hurt or awful for 2 years now.

Aug 27, 2012 09:12 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Matt Kory
BP staff

I didn't say he was one of Boston's two best players. I said he was a star level player, which I believe he still is. He hit .282/.306/.479 with an elbow in need of Tommy John surgery. That's pretty good.

Crawford was awful last season, no doubt, but not this one. The injuries should be behind him next season (the Dodgers hope). I think writing him off at this point is a mistake, regardless of the numbers on his contract.

Aug 27, 2012 09:40 AM
 
mafrth77

In the Negative Interpertation section of the article you said Crawford was one of the teams two best position players. He had 3 walks in 120 PA this year against 22 strikeouts. That's bad.

Aug 27, 2012 14:57 PM
rating: 0
 
mafrth77

But he comes with a frozen yogurt, which I call Frogurt. That's good!

Aug 27, 2012 15:01 PM
rating: 5
 
BP staff member Matt Kory
BP staff

I'm going to split hairs here, but I said that Crawford was one of the team's best players along with Adrian Gonzalez. I think if Crawford is healthy he is one of the best players on the Red Sox, though he's no longer on the Red Sox, so that makes it impossible. Anyway.

I'm as big a proponent of walks as anyone, but there is much more to being a good baseball player than walking. Crawford did (and does) a lot on the diamond that is above average. When healthy he's a great baseball player and I'd point to his production this season (as I did in an earlier comment) as proof of that.

Aug 27, 2012 22:02 PM
 
juniusworth

Crawford still has value and when he comes back next year an OF of him, Kemp and Either is pretty damn good. Good column, Matt.

Aug 27, 2012 10:07 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Matt Kory
BP staff

Thanks, Dave!

Aug 27, 2012 10:17 AM
 
juniusworth

Crawford still has value and when he comes back next year an OF of him, Kemp and Either is pretty damn good. Good column, Matt.

Aug 27, 2012 10:07 AM
rating: 1
 
Richard Bergstrom

"It’s being called the Mega-Trade, and hooray for that because what we need now is to put names on specific trades that make them sound like Transformer knock-offs."

My White Flag transforms into an AL Central pennant.

Aug 27, 2012 10:07 AM
rating: 1
 
JOARGE9481

Matt, I am just not that impressed with that potential 2013 version of the Red Sox lineup. Inglesias will most likely be a glove first guy, Middlebrooks is not a middle of the order guy (does not have much plate discipline .325 OBP, and lacks the speed to sustain a .335 BABIP), and Ross is a nice hitter, yet his skills are a dime a dozen.

My point is, if the Sox want to compete they will need to get some legit production from LF and 1B as opposed to just finding players who "don’t actively hurt the team".

Aug 27, 2012 15:49 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Matt Kory
BP staff

If he plays like he did this season, Middlebrooks can sustain a .335 BABIP if anyone can. He either struck out or hit a line drive. I'm using hyperbole here, but that's what it felt like. I'm not worried about Middlebrooks producing.

Iglesias isn't a hitter, at least not at this point in his career. If he's in the lineup it's because of his ridiculous glove, so in theory he's adding value elsewhere.

I think the Red Sox batting order for 2013 has yet to be decided so I don't think you can say it's good or not (not that you did, just saying). The point is that it could be good. There's room to tinker and the pieces they have in place are, for the most part, good above average pieces.

Aug 27, 2012 22:12 PM
 
smallflowers

"Fixing Boston’s Problems: On the field
The on-field problems for the last-season 2011 Red Sox and the 2012 version were two-fold:
1) Gadawful starting pitching
2) Underperformance by previously star-level players"

I'm not sure that your 1 & 2 are two different things; their underperformance largley happened in the rotation. The offense was scoring runs with the best of them this year, and virtually every hitter that struggled eventually came around.

I would submit that 1) Gadawful staring pitching and 2) injuries were far more to blame than anything else, including Valentine, who should be fired immediately.

Aug 27, 2012 19:57 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Matt Kory
BP staff

I think those are different things. The bad starting pitching wasn't bad because of injuries. They did have injuries and those didn't help but players like Pedroia, Gonzalez, Youkilis, Ellsbury, and Crawford were all expected to play at a certain level and all failed to do so.

Lester, Beckett, and Buchholz were all healthy for the most part (Beckett missed some time as did, I believe, Buchholz (I'm not looking it up now so I could be wrong)) but all pitched below expectations, and in some cases severely so.

Aug 27, 2012 22:07 PM
 
juiced

Boston's GM and ownership must be laughing uncontrollably behind the scenes while they smoke big ole fat stogies and knee slap over the number they just pulled on the Dodgers. What profligate waste on the Dodgers' part.

Aug 27, 2012 21:42 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Matt Kory
BP staff

That's one interpretation that I've heard. I think the Dodgers got some real talent back. Like the deal that sent Josh Beckett to Boston in the first place there was some unwanted talent that came with the main guy (Adrian Gonzalez) but like that deal, the unwanted guys still have talent and can contribute. I may be in the minority but I don't think Carl Crawford is done making All Star teams. Josh Beckett is another matter, but the Dodgers can take the hit on him if he never revives his career and the chances he turns into a league average guy are fair so they may yet see value from Beckett.

The Red Sox got what they wanted out of the deal, so I'm sure they're happy as you alluded to, but don't discount the Dodgers side of things.

Aug 27, 2012 22:15 PM
 
juiced

My take is similar to Dave Cameron's at Fangraphs. For this to have a chance at working out LA needs to advance deep into the postseason this year and reap the immediate large revenue stream that builds from that. If they miss out...and 2.5 games behind the talented Giants means they probably will by Pecota...they are looking at being over cap for 2, maybe 3 years. Yes, it's a talent upgrade, but one not commensurate with the salary upgrade. Gonzalez has massively declined this year; if it's a one year fluke due to a shoulder injury, then maybe they get some value back on this. Maybe...

Aug 27, 2012 22:27 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Matt Kory
BP staff

I don't see Gonzalez as declining. He's been bothered by shoulder injuries and since becoming healthy he had trouble finding his swing. He has since found it. He has hit .338/.380/.597 since the All Star break, .372/.385/.543 in July and .315/.373/.609 in August to date. He had a tough start to the year but he's come on strong of late and I expect the same old Adrian Gonzalez going forward, more or less.

Aug 27, 2012 23:06 PM
 
juiced

Gonzalez is at .344obp/mid 4's slugging for the year, in a hitter's park. How is that not a major decline from his status as the best non Pujols player in baseball?

Aug 28, 2012 12:31 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

Well, all things considered, the Dodgers didn't really give up much in the way of talent. They did give up a lot of money, of course. But considering what the Red Sox gave up to get Gonzalez and that their major league and minor league talent have been thinned out in recent years, I'd like to think the Red Sox could have gotten more than just salary relief.

Aug 28, 2012 00:53 AM
rating: -2
 
Behemoth

Remind me quickly how many other teams in baseball would make a trade that involved taking on Beckett and Crawford at all. You might not feel it was a great deal for the Red Sox, but there's no way that they were getting any more.

Aug 28, 2012 05:35 AM
rating: 1
 
Richard Bergstrom

Beckett wasn't exactly chopped liver. Despite how much the media thrashed him, he still had a decent WHIP and was averaging six innings a start. As a general idea, he was much better than Carlos Zambrano and the Cubs were able to find a taker for him. Perhaps a team like the Orioles could've used Beckett.

Crawford, primarly because he was hurt, would've been very hard to find a taker for. However, insurance should've been covering most of his contract for this year.

No teams would've taken both Beckett and Crawford. However, at least one team would've taken Beckett. I would've kept Gonzalez, traded Beckett and ate Crawford's contract. It makes little sense to me to sell Adrian Gonzalez and Beckett for ten cents on the dollar just for the opportunity to give away Crawford for free.

Instead, just like Youkilis, the Red Sox spent a few weeks trashing Gonzalez in the media with this text message stuff, then yet again, just like Youkilis, sold low.

Aug 28, 2012 08:14 AM
rating: -2
 
JoshC77

He may not be regressing, but what you do see with Adrian Gonzalez is a player that may be morphing into a different kind of player. His HRs, walks, and TAv have all fallen each year since 2009. He has managed to keep strikeout rate relatively constant during that same time period and we have seen a higher BA with more doubles.

His partially BABIP-fueled season last year was outstanding, but his BABIP has fallen back this year (as one would expect) to his more typical career numbers (.323 career vs. .329 this season).

When I look at Gonzalez, I see a guy that was a .280/35-40 HR guy in his peak changing into a .300 guy with declining HR numbers (but more doubles). His regression in his walk rate is concerning, but if that is a byproduct of his squaring up more pitches for line drive doubles, it isn't all bad.

So yes, I agree that he may not be declining, but I also would not expect the slugger version (circa 2009) of Gonzalez. If you're OK with a .300 hitting 1B who hits 20 HRs with a bunch of doubles, then he's your man.

Aug 28, 2012 05:34 AM
rating: 0
 
FastballVelociraptor

But the frogurt is cursed.

Aug 28, 2012 11:16 AM
rating: 0
 
michael

MAURO GOMEZ BABY

Aug 28, 2012 13:40 PM
rating: 0
 
Bob Stocking

Matthew, another fine piece about the Sox. I agree with you that Crawford has plenty of upside left in him.

I would like to point out that Bobby V was "foisted," rather than "hoisted," upon Cherington.

Aug 30, 2012 18:34 PM
rating: 0
 
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