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February 28, 2013

Out of Left Field

Revisiting a Blockbuster

by Matthew Kory

After the 2005 season, Red Sox GM Theo Epstein donned a gorilla costume and snuck undetected out of Fenway Park. Going back centuries, this is how Epsteins quit their jobs. A few months later owner John Henry coaxed Epstein back to work. (He wore, as is the family custom, an alligator outfit). While he was gone, the Red Sox’ reins were held jointly by three people: Jed Hoyer, now general manager of the Cubs under Epstein; Ben Cherington, Epstein’s eventual successor as general manager in Boston; and Bill Lajoie, a veteran front office man and former player who ran the Tigers in the mid-to-late ’80s. Despite persistent rumors that Epstein would come back, the Red Sox didn’t sit around waiting. While Mark Loretta and top prospect Andy Marte were intriguing acquisitions, the group’s crowing achievement was sending Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez, Harvey Garcia, and Jesus Delgado to Florida for Josh Beckett, Guillermo Mota, and Mike Lowell. It was a polarizing trade at the time and remains one to this day.

This past summer, seven seasons after the trade was consummated, an ending of sorts occurred. The Dodgers acquired both Ramirez and Beckett from Miami and Boston, respectively, while Miami dealt Sanchez to Detroit. Thus, as the 2013 season dawns, all of the players in the deal have moved on from their acquiring teams. This seems like the perfect time to look back at the deal.

At The Time
Maybe unsurprisingly in a deal of this complexity, the perception was quite different than the way things turned out. At the time, Christina Kahrl analyzed the move for Baseball Prospectus in Transaction Analysis:

I never did get on the Hanley Ramirez bandwagon, since I sort of expect it's going to the same junkyard that the Rey Quinones bandwagon wound up in. This is more a case of dumping a general goody bag to get some fancy candy, with the Red Sox taking on the penalty of employing and paying Lowell as the price for adding needed help to their rotation and to their pen. I think it's also realistic of them to have dumped this particular package of prospects, because as much as I might like Sanchez, it wasn't like Boston's the best place to be a young, developing pitcher to break in.

If it’s possible, Joe Sheehan, in his Prospectus Today column, was even less sanguine on the deal.

If it's possible to not like a trade for either team, this is that trade. […] …the centerpiece of the return package, Hanley Ramirez, is an overrated prospect, a tools guy who has yet to convince me that he's going to become a baseball player. […] I'm probably more enthused about Anibal Sanchez, and consider how I feel about pitching prospects in evaluating that opinion [note: Joe hated pitching prospects].

Sheehan went on to note Beckett’s inability to stay healthy (“a highly-regarded right arm who has yet to hold up over a full major-league season”) and the high cost of acquiring him in the first place (“the Sox also had to take Mike Lowell, who fell off a cliff in 2005, but whose contract runs through 2007”).

I’m not bringing this up to bash either Ms. Kahrl or Mr. Sheehan, both of whom I consider to be outstanding analysts and without whose efforts I wouldn’t be writing here today. It might also be appropriate to note that I’m the guy who wrote that the Orioles and A’s shouldn’t bother to sign anyone last offseason because “neither team is going anywhere [in 2012].” Predicting baseball is hard.

So it’s easy to pull out old columns and point out where people were wrong, but both Kahrl and Sheehan had reasonable points. Ramirez had tools out the wazoo but was coming off a season where he’d hit .271/.335/.385 as a 21-year-old in Double-A. Lowell would have been happy with that slash line as he’d just finished a season that saw him hit .236/.298/.360. Beckett had experienced some injury woes and some inconsistency. In other words, there was not only good reason to doubt those players, but a solid reading of the situation demanded it. That’s not to say I agreed completely with both analysts at the time, just that their ideas on the trade weren’t coming out of left field.

The Players

Josh Beckett (15.2 WARP)
Of his seven seasons in Boston, roughly speaking, Beckett put up three excellent-to-good seasons. The rest ranged from mediocre to decent, depending on who is doing the characterizing and what they value. The year-to-year consistency of a great pitcher wasn’t there, but because of his age, Boston was able to pay Beckett just under $70 million (depending how much they paid of Beckett’s 2012 salary) for his 15 WARP. That comes to about $4.5 million per win, not a screaming bargain, but not bad for an occasional ace pitcher and rotation stalwart.

Further, if you’re a proponent of the “flags fly forever” school of thought, you have to credit Beckett generously for his contribution to the 2007 World Series win. That season was also his best in a Boston uniform and the second-best among all pitchers that season by WARP.

Aside from the 2007 banner, Beckett’s enduring legacy in Boston is that he, along with Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Nick Punto, brought back Ruby De La Rosa and Allan Webster from the Dodgers. Webster is the 69th ranked prospect on Jason Parks’ recently released Top 101 Prospects list and was the Red Sox’ third best prospect in his Red Sox Top 10. De La Rosa isn’t eligible for either as he’s over the prospect innings limit, but according to some he’s a better prospect than Webster (for instance, BP’s own Chris Mellon’s other site, Sox Prospects thinks so).

It’s particularly interesting to compare Webster and De La Rosa to the contingent of prospects Florida received from Boston in the early winter of 2006. According to Baseball America, Hanley Ramirez was Boston’s top prospect while Anibal Sanchez was ranked fifth. Would you deal a first and fifth for two threes? That’s oversimplifying of course, but the prospect packages may not be as far off as they might seem at first.

Mike Lowell (13 WARP)
The intended penalty for receiving Beckett, Lowell ended up adding almost as much value. While Beckett receives more credit for the ’07 title, it was Lowell who was the Series MVP. In fact, by WARP, Lowell was more valuable than Beckett in both 2006 and 2007. The $18 million Boston paid Lowell ended up being such a bargain, the Red Sox re-upped him for three more seasons at $36 million. If anything, it was that deal and not his Florida contract that was the onerous one. Lowell retired after that deal ended due to reoccurring hip problems so his transaction status is a cul-de-sac. 

Guillermo Mota (n/a)
Mota never pitched an inning for Boston. Two months after “coming to Boston” he was shipped to Cleveland, a small portion of the trade for Coco Crisp. He was sub-replacement level that year (-0.4 WARP) and hasn’t achieved so much as 0.5 WARP in any season since.

Red Sox Totals
Innings Pitched: 1240

Pitcher WARP: 15.2

Games Played: 612

Position Player WARP: 13.0

Total WARP: 28.2

Hanley Ramirez (28.1 WARP)
Lowell and Sanchez were important parts of this trade, but if you had to boil the deal down to its essence, it was Josh Beckett for Hanley Ramirez. Ramirez was, as Kahrl and Sheehan stated, a bundle of tools. In retrospect we say that Ramirez was bored in the minor leagues as he jumped to the majors in his first season in Florida, hitting .292/.353/.480, good for 4.3 WARP. Nobody save possibly Ramirez knew it at the time.

Fielding was never his strong suit and there were off-the-field issues from time to time, but six-win shortstops don’t come along every day and the Marlins got one in this trade. Florida never managed to finish above second place during his time there but that’s impossible to pin on him as Ramirez stands as the most productive hitter in Marlins history. For that Miami paid him less than $40 million. That’s the dual bonus of acquiring a young player; you get his best seasons (usually) and you pay the least for them.

In return for Ramirez, the Marlins got Scott McGough and Nathan Eovaldi*, relievers both so the buck probably stops here.

*The Marlins also got out from under their $31.5 million two-year commitment to Ramirez.

Anibal Sanchez (9.9 WARP)
The final notable piece in this complex puzzle, Sanchez’s first four seasons in teal and whatever other color were filled with shoulder injuries and therefore uneventful from a productivity standpoint. Beginning in 2010, Sanchez began putting up three-win seasons. In the end, Sanchez’s health probably kept this deal from looking even more one-sided via WARP than it already does, but then that’s the danger of employing a, well, I was going to write “a young pitcher” but really that’s the danger with employing any pitcher. Still, from a purely financial perspective, the Marlins got 10 WARP for around $14 million and three years of a mid-rotation starter. 

Then Miami took Sanchez and Omar Infante and turned them into Jacob Turner, a potential top-of-the-rotation starter, and Rob Brantly, a potential starting catcher. Oddly it will be the Sanchez branch of the trade tree and not the Ramirez trunk that will continue on for the Marlins.

Harvey Garcia (0.1 WARP) and Jesus Delgado (-0.1 WARP)

Neither was one of Boston’s top 10 prospects, and as such both were projected to do nothing in the majors. Both met that projection and did nothing in the majors.

Marlins Totals
Innings Pitched: 808.7

Pitcher WARP: 9.9

Games Played: 945

Position Player WARP: 28.1

Total WARP: 38

Final Notes on the Trade
By WARP the Marlins “won” this trade. They got more total WARP and more and bigger impact seasons out of the deal than Boston did. They got likely the best three seasons Hanley Ramirez will ever have (what they did with them is another issue) at a deep discount, then as soon as he was getting expensive, they avoided the bill by dropping him in the Dodgers’ lap. They’ll also turned a half season of Sanchez into Jacob Turner. You might say the Marlins are getting good at this.

Meanwhile, despite getting out-WARPed, the Red Sox can hardly quarrel with how things turned out. They missed out on the next great (hitting) Red Sox shortstop and could have used Sanchez’s solid pitching over the past three seasons. On the other hand, they won the 2007 World Series (have I mentioned that?) and were very close to returning for another shot in 2008, two accomplishments that would have been difficult to pull off without Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell. Like Miami, they also have the second generation of this trade in Webster and De La Rosa to dream on.

In conclusion, it’s hard to think of a trade of this complexity that turned out as evenly for both clubs as this one did. 

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

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