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October 23, 2013

The Lineup Card

12 Moves That Helped the Cardinals and Red Sox Win the Pennants

by Baseball Prospectus


1. The Red Sox Pull Off "The Nick Punto Trade"
Perhaps the most obvious and talked-about move that’s helped Boston reach the World Series was last season’s so-called “Nick Punto” trade. For the uninitiated, that’s the deal that saw the Red Sox ship Punto, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez to the Dodgers in exchange for Ivan DeJesus Jr., Rubby De La Rosa, James Loney, Jerry Sands, and Allen Webster.

None of the players the Sox received contributed meaningfully to the team this year, of course. Loney signed with the Rays in the offseason, DeJesus and Sands were dealt to the Pirates in the Joel Hanrahan trade, and De La Rosa and Webster performed poorly in 41 2/3 MLB innings.

But, as we all know, the Red Sox shed $260 million in payroll in their deal with L.A., including $58.25 million in 2013 alone, according to Cot’s.

That’s a big part of the reason Boston was able to acquire Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, Koji Uehara, Jonny Gomes, Stephen Drew, and Ryan Dempster in the offseason, and may have contributed to Dustin Pedroia’s new long-term deal as well.

Perhaps the simplest way to look at it: the four players sent to L.A. registered 5.1 WARP this season. The six players Boston signed accounted for 14.0 WARP.

Bounce-back seasons from Jon Lester, John Lackey, and Jacoby Ellsbury have a lot to do with this team’s success, too, but it all starts with the Punto trade last August. —Ben Carsley

2. The Red Sox Hire Ben Cherington
When the Red Sox faced the challenge of replacing Theo Epstein as general manager, the club decided to stay internal and promoted Cherington from his positions as senior vice president and assistant GM. Cherington had worked his way through the system, from area scout on up, and predated the club's current ownership and previous management. Though his first season was poor from a results perspective, he showed a willingness to make bold moves and opted to reconstruct an underperforming roster on the fly. Last winter he acquired a number of veterans, some of whom were coming off uncharacteristic down years, instead of snagging a big fish or two, and that vision has paid off. —R.J. Anderson

3. The Red Sox Trade Away Marginal Pitcher George H. Ruth
Nearly a century ago, the Red Sox made the move that catapulted them into the 2013 World Series by trading two-time 20 game winner George H. Ruth to the Yankees in a salary dump for cash considerations so that the owner could finance the stage show No, No, Nanette. It was a real X-factor, under-the-radar move, mostly because radar hadn't been invented yet. But it's these sorts of moves, sometimes completed years in advance that lay the groundwork for championships.

The Red Sox got the better end of that deal as Ruth only logged five wins and 31 innings in a Yankee uniform. Clearly, his declining win totals showed that he had lost #TWTW. But it looks like the Sawx may have acted too late. Ruth had only won nine games in his final season in Boston, so he had likely lost #TWTW and was no longer interested in pitching to the score. It may have had an effect on his teammates and those who came after him as well. Ted Williams was a fine hitter, but did not hit to the score, as he was never a World Series champion. Bill Buckner did not know how to field to the score. Additionally, Ruth's apparent penchant for chicken and beer (and in Prohibition America, no less!) suggested a lack of #want and it seemed to set a precedent in the clubhouse that lingered for years. It should be noted that Ruth probably displayed a fair amount of #rig.

Something had to be done. The Red Sox had to make a commitment to excellence and embrace an organization-wide philosophy: The Red Sock Way. And so, on that fateful January day in 1920 that the Red Sox clearly said, "If we are going to make it to the 2013 World Series, we need to get rid of this bum." It took them a while to undo the damage he had done, but echoes of the "Trade Ruth" strategy are still evident. In 2012, the Red Sox executed a similar gigantic salary dump trade that cleared payroll to sign key players Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino, and also put on the stage show No, No, Bobby Valentine. They finally got rid of everyone on the team who had ever drank beer or tasted anything like chicken. But most of all, they finally restored #TWTW. Solving a problem can be hard and it may take a while. It might hurt in the short term. And medium term. And come to think of it, I guess the whole "86 years" thing qualifies as the long term. But in the really really long term, they got it right. Trading George H. Ruth is one of those moves that smart organizations make that turn them into contenders. Russell A. Carleton

4. The Red Sox Extend David Ortiz
It was the move the Red Sox probably had to make, but it certainly didn’t have to work out this well. Amid all their other medium-range moves last offseason, the Red Sox re-signed David Ortiz to a two-year deal that will end up being worth $29 million. He was coming off a great year in the rate stats, as he had very much recovered from a True Average decline of .342 to .289 to .268 from 2007-09. But it was his shortest season since 2001. An Achilles injury had plagued him from beginning to end, allowing him only 90 games. Boston figured that into the second year of the contract (read down to find the interesting terms here) and will end up paying him $4 million more next year than he would have earned if he were hurt.

He never did get hurt, and 2013 was further proof that the decline after the second championship was the fluke, not the three good years that followed. Ortiz hit .309/.395/.564 in 2013 and hit the grand slam that prevented a down-0-2 return to Detroit in the LCS. This is not to advocate suddenly for big-money deals for aging first base/DH players, but the Red Sox kept this one reasonable, and it certainly answers the question of moves that helped them get to where they’ll be tonight. —Zachary Levine

5. The Red Sox Get Healthy
Red Sox players missed a whopping 1,495 games during the 2012 season. Among the hobbled were franchise stalwarts Jacoby Ellsbury, David Ortiz, and Dustin Pedroia, not to mention some of the big-time names associated with the Dodger salary dump. At no point during the season did the Red Sox trot out a lineup that included all of Ellsbury, Ortiz, Pedroia, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez—five of the team’s seven highest-paid position players. Not surprisingly, the team vastly underperformed expectations, losing 90-plus games for the first time since 1966. This season, by contrast, saw a massive swing in fortune toward the other extreme: Ellsbury, Ortiz, and Pedroia combined to play in 126 games than they did last year. And, after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2012, John Lackey returned to pitch a full—not to mention solid—season.

What prompted the uptick in team health? The team’s medical department has been in constant flux in recent years, with doctors, trainers, and strength coaches being hired and jettisoned at head-spinning speeds. This season, former team internist, Dr. Larry Ronan, was promoted to team medical doctor, which may have given the department some desperately needed stability.

While staff changes probably had a positive impact on player health, a more likely explanation for the team’s medical success is that the Red Sox simply got, for lack of a better term, “luckier.” This is not to say they avoided injuries by any means—staff ace Clay Buchholz only made 16 starts during the regular season. Rather, the type and severity of injuries just happened to break more in the team’s favor. Ortiz, for example, missed a handful of games here and there, as opposed to suffering another season-ending Achilles tear.

These gains in playing time contributed in no small part to the Red Sox’s worst-to-first turnaround in 2013. Granted, free-agent additions like Shane Victorino and Mike Napoli have been invaluable. But as good as they are, it seems hard to believe the Red Sox would be where they are right now with half a season of Ellsbury and Ortiz in a walking boot.

Who knows, if the Sox made out like this last year, maybe Bobby Valentine would be… nah, probably not.Nick Bacarella

6. The Red Sox Don't Trade Jon Lester
There was talk after last season that the Red Sox may make Jon Lester available. After all, he was a part of the whole "fried chicken and beer" clubhouse scene that supposedly sunk the 2011 squad. Add to that his almost-5.00 ERA in 2012, and he seemed like a good candidate for the old "change of scenery" label. As it happened, the Royals were looking for a frontline starter and seemed to think Lester was one.

It’s unclear whether the deal was available and the Red Sox turned it down or if things never got past the discussion stage, but either way the Red Sox opted to keep Lester. Sure, having Wil Myers for five more seasons might yet prove more valuable, but for this team right now, they needed Jon Lester. It helped that Lester remembered how to pitch in 2013, putting up a very good if not ace-caliber season. However, outside of June when he lost his mechanics, Lester was the frontline starter the team needed him to be, posting a 3.16 ERA over 185 non-June innings.

He’s been even better in the playoffs, giving up just five runs in 19 1/3 innings. Today, as the Red Sox start off their first World Series since 2007, it’s Lester who will get the ball. It’s cliché, but sometimes the best deals really are the ones you don’t make. —Matthew Kory

7. The Red Sox Sign Stephen Drew
At the end of the 2012 season, the Red Sox had a significant problem: they had a big, gaping chasm at shortstop. Mike Aviles had provided some power, but his defense left much to be desired, and his on-base percentage wasatrocious. Rookie Jose Iglesias was terrific with the glove, but in 77 plate appearances in the big leagues, he had the bat knocked out of his hands.

While the Red Sox explored the trade market (they were linked to a few options, most notably Asdrubal Cabrera) they ultimately decided to sign Drew to a one-year, $9.5 million deal. At that price, if he didn’t work out or couldn’t stay healthy, then the Sox could simply move on and try Iglesias anyway.

As it happened, Drew did miss some time with minor injuries. But he also amassed 501 plate appearances, provided better numbers on offense at short than Mike Aviles did in 2012, and gave the team defensive stability on the left side of the infield. He also allowed Boston to stick Iglesias at third base in June when Middlebrooks was struggling, and then gave Boston the flexibility to flip Iglesias to Detroit for some much needed pitching help in Jake Peavy later in the year.

Drew wasn’t a superstar by any stretch, but the 2013 Red Sox constructed a lineup whose goal was to be solid from top to bottom. Drew’s steady play helped to fulfill Boston’s vision. —Mike Gianella

8. The Red Sox Sign Koji Uehara
Fourteen free-agent relievers earned bigger cash commitments than Koji Uehara’s one-year, $4.25 million contract last offseason:

Name

Team

Years

Amount

Rafael Soriano

Nationals

2

28.0

Brandon League

Dodgers

3

22.5

Jonathan Broxton

Reds

3

21.0

Jeremy Affeldt

Giants

3

18.0

Mike Adams

Phillies

2

12.0

Mariano Rivera

Yankees

1

10.0

Kyuji Fujikawa

Cubs

2

9.2

Sean Burnett

Angels

2

8.0

Joakim Soria

Rangers

2

8.0

Randy Choate

Cardinals

3

7.5

Brett Myers

Indians

1

7.0

Jason Grilli

Pirates

2

6.75

Joel Peralta

Rays

2

6.0

Tom Gorzelanny

Brewers

2

5.7

As is often the case with free-agent relievers, this crop caused several cases of buyer’s remorse. Broxton, Affeldt, Adams, Fujikawa, Burnett, and Myers suffered serious injuries. Soria missed most of the season completing his rehab from an injury he’d already sustained. League was healthy, but horrible. Grilli got hurt and struggled down the stretch, though he earned more than Pittsburgh paid him in the first half alone. The other five—Soriano, Choate, Peralta, Gorzelanny, and, naturally, Mariano Rivera—pitched roughly as well as expected.

Uehara, of course, turned out to be by far the most effective, and one of the winter’s biggest bargains. Nor was his success completely unforeseeable: the righty recorded a 2.35 ERA in 145 games and 145 innings in hitter’s parks from 2010-12, with a 10.8 K:BB ratio that came close to his 11.2 mark in 2013. So why didn’t he make more money? Sam Miller and I asked each other that question on Effectively Wild last December, and we found a few answers: age, a lack of velocity and saves, a history of elbow and shoulder ailments, and a high home-run rate for a late-inning arm. Even so, the Sox were smart to make a short-term move for a guy who’d demonstrated success rather than break the bank on an equally risky and less accomplished arm. No one knew how heavily Boston would come to count on Uehara, who proved to be durable as well as dominant at age 38, but as free-agent relievers go, the control artist was a pretty good gamble. —Ben Lindbergh

9. The Cardinals Put Michael Wacha on the Fast Track
Talk about hiding an ace up your sleeve. BP considered Michael Wacha the Cards’ fourth-best pitching prospect coming into the season—high praise on its own, but muted by the noisemaking around the trio of Carlos Martinez, Shelby Miller, and Trevor Rosenthal. When Sam Miller and I broke down the Cards in “These Questions Three” back in late March, we talked a lot about pitching but never mentioned Wacha. No real surprise: the guy was just drafted in 2012, and although he had Texas A&M polish and really good stuff, he came into 2013 having pitched in only 11 games as a pro. He was called up to the majors at the end of May, started three games, then went back to Triple-A (at least in part to work on a third pitch). He came back up in August, working mostly out of the bullpen, but then joined a depleted starting rotation in the stretch run. In his last start of the regular season—the ninth of his career—Wacha fell short of no-hitting the Nationals by a single out. In his next start, which came in the NLDS, he no-hit the Pirates into the eighth inning. In the NLCS, he beat the Dodgers twice, holding them scoreless over 13 2/3 innings. Shelby Miller has pitched one inning in the postseason. —Adam Sobsey

​10. The Cardinals Hunt College-Senior Bargains on Draft Day
Matt Carpenter was a beer-guzzling, overweight, unathletic sophomore at Texas Christian University, who missed his junior season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, wound up spending five years in Fort Worth, and lacked a clear position when the Cardinals selected him in the 13th round of the 2009 draft. Allen Craig was an intriguing hitter miscast as a shortstop at the University of California, Berkeley, who moved to third base, then first base, then left field, then back to first base in the years after the Cardinals made him their eighth-round choice in 2006. Matt Adams was a 6-foot-3, 245-pound, fourth-year senior at Division II Slippery Rock, splitting time between first base, where he plays now, and catcher, the position at which the Cardinals listed him when they grabbed him in the 23rd round of the 2009 draft.

Now, Carpenter is a darkhorse Most Valuable Player candidate. Craig batted .328 from May 3 through the end of the regular season, which he missed while nursing a foot sprain suffered on September 4, and will return as the designated hitter in the World Series. Adams held down the fort in Craig's absence, helping the Cardinals to secure the senior circuit's top playoff seed, and then to knock off the Pirates and Dodgers for the pennant.

Their combined signing bonuses out of college? $41,000—less than 10 times the StubHub cost of a Dugout Box seat for tonight's Game One. —Daniel Rathman

11. The Cardinals Move Utility Man Matt Matt Carpenter to Second Base
In February, Sam Miller studied the past four decades or so of St. Louis second baseman and discovered a disturbing pattern: “Basically, the average Cardinals second baseman was a gamer who had no tools, and there’s very little deviation within the subset. The average second baseman had nearly the same OBP (.341) as SLG (.360) and hit three homers per season and was 5’10” and was scrappy.” At the time, it looked like the Cardinals might sign up for another season of scrappiness from the likes of Daniel Descalso, Ronny Cedeno, and Pete Kozma. But toward the end of the section, Sam noted that the team had another option in converted second-sacker Matt Carpenter: “Carpenter’s no slugger, but he does have the potential to break the mold a bit.”

As was the case with the Red Sox’ signing of Koji Uehara, there was no way to know that moving Carpenter to second and letting him start would work out this well. In his age-27 season, and his first full one in the majors at any age, Carpenter finished fourth overall with 7.2 WARP. But the process behind the position switch was sound: St. Louis’ scouting suggested that he could handle the position, and his offensive upside was much higher than the team's other options. In light of David Freese’s subpar season and Kolten Wong’s ascension, Carpenter could be on the move again next year; while his bat doesn’t fit the typical corner profile, he'd provide more than enough at the plate to play there. —Ben Lindbergh

12. The Cardinals Extend Yadier Molina
The response to nearly every big-money deal seems to be: Well I sure like the player, but that's a lot of money, and these things seem to go bad more often than not. That's how I felt about the Yadier Molina deal, a five-year, $75 million extension signed just before the 2012 season. It hadn't been that long since Molina had been a .262/.329/.342 hitter in his age-27 season; it hadn't even been that long since Molina had been, in the Cardinals' 2006 World Series run, arguably the worst regular hitter in the game. Yes, he felt like a player who was better than his market value, a truly elite defender and pitch caller whose value wasn't quite as obvious as that of a catcher who hit 20 home runs with a .850 OPS. But here he was being paid like the 20/.850 catcher and, lo and behold, since then he actually hit like the 20/.850 guy. Now he's getting close to historically good, a guy who is quietly putting together at least the foundation for a Hall of Fame run, the Adrian Beltre of catchers. I guess there's still time for him to age quickly, and for the extension to go bad. But for $75 million the Cardinals would probably be happy with 12 wins out of Molina. Even ignoring his considerable framing abilities, he has already produced four to six in one year (depending on the URL you're going to). He was my MVP runner-up this year. He's good. —Sam Miller

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