Seven years later, the book still isn't closed on the mega-deal between Boston and Florida.
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.
My pet peeve as a consumer of writing on and analysis of baseball is a failure to properly employ a sensible baseline. This frequently occurs via the writer not applying any baseline at all, instead presenting statistics or other performance indicators denuded of context. In Hall of Fame arguments, what does it mean that Bert Blyleven won 287 games? Is that a lot, given the era he played in, the teams he was a part of, the number of games he started? What about Fred McGriff's 493 home runs? What do these numbers mean?
Or think about the ways MVP arguments sometimes proceed, where one candidate has a .390 on-base percentage and another has a .580 slugging and a third stole 42 bases at an 82 percent clip and a fourth had a 2.30 ERA in 210 innings. Do you know who to vote for in this scenario? It depends on what year it is, right?
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Teams know their own prospects best, so should it be a red flag if they're willing to trade a top one? History suggests it is so.
Winning baseball teams—at least the ones without exorbitant payrolls—are usually powered by young, cost-controlled talent. And in the land of cost-controlled talent, the top prospect is king. Not only do elite prospects stand a good chance to be stars, but they promise to provide that production—which would cost a fortune to obtain from a free agent—for the league-minimum salary or something close to it.
Since top prospects are such valuable commodities, teams are reluctant to trade them without receiving huge hauls in return, so we rarely see them change organizations before they’ve had a chance to sink or swim in the majors. That’s why it was so strange to see two top prospects—Wil Myers and Trevor Bauer, each of whom either is now or has recently been a top-10 prospect in baseball—on the movethis week.
The Dodgers' 2013 payroll is already around $200 million. Is the Dodgers' 2013 roster a good roster?
You know all about the money. The Dodgers’ new ownership group has taken on the ungodly sum of $260 million in contracts from the Red Sox, and $400 million in total salary obligations (including acquisitions and re-signings). These figures are wholly abstract; they’re so vast that our brains can’t even process them. Us normal folk have no frame of reference.
There’s no question that the moves Colletti and company have made improve the team in the short term. Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez are massive upgrades over Dee Gordon and James Loney. Shane Victorino is better than the three-headed left-field monster of Tony Gwynn, Jr., Juan Rivera, and Bobby Abreu. In a tight National League West race, these late additions might be enough to put the Dodgers over the top. And once a team reaches the playoffs, we all know that just about anything can happen.
Using PECOTA to figure out how much each of this year's moves affected the playoff odds.
Last week, in his post at Baseball Nation about the five best moves of the trade deadline, Grant Brisbee wrote, “If you don't pick the winners or losers of the trading deadline, a man comes to your door, stuffs you in a sack, and throws you in a trunk.” I’ve been afraid to open my door ever since. We’ve written a ton about transactions lately, both before and after the non-waiver trade deadline, but we haven’t really ranked the moves. We’re still susceptible to being stuffed in a sack.
That’s a shame, because it really might make more sense not to rank trades right after they happen. Some of the deals that went down at the deadline involved players who are signed beyond this season. Most of them included prospects who won’t make it to the majors for a while. Because of those and other factors, we won’t know who “won” the deals for several seasons. So for the moment, let’s not even speculate about which teams will have gotten the most surplus value by 2016. Every team that added talent and salary over the past few weeks is interested in making the playoffs in 2012, though some have hedged for the future to a greater extent than others. What we can say with a fair degree of confidence, without waiting to see what else happens, is how each midseason trade affected a given team’s chances of making the playoffs this season. So let’s pretend playing games in October 2012 is all anyone thought about in trade talks. We’re still picking winners, but we’ve made the victory conditions more manageable.
The easiest way for contending teams to get better is to start with where they've been worst. Here is where they've been worst.
As the trading deadline approaches, teams are open to any and all moves that might make them better. Some clubs have sought upgrades at positions where they’ve already received decent production, but the higher the bar that the trade target has to clear, the fewer the potential fixes, and the greater the price. The path of least resistance for a contender hoping to improve is often to patch a particularly weak position with an average player who can give them more than they’ve been getting, without costing too much in any other area.
The weakest performance by a collection of players at any position on a contending team this season has been at second base in Detroit, where seven players—notably Ramon Santiago, Ryan Raburn, and Danny Worth—have played at replacement level or below, combining for a total of -2.2 WARP. It’s no coincidence that the Tigers traded for a second baseman on Tuesday, filling what had been a gaping hole with Omar Infante, who should be at least average for them the rest of the way. We can see the same pattern on display in other acquisitions: the Dodgers traded for Hanley Ramirez because their shortstops—notably the injured Dee Gordon—had combined for -0.6 WARP.
It is always tempting to think a year-by-year trend will continue, but regression is more powerful than momentum.
If you missed it, I filled a guest spot on the Fantasy Baseball Roundtable Radio show last night alongside industry friends and show regulars Patrick DiCaprio, Mike Podhorzer, and Greg Marta. We talked mostly about buy-high and sell-low players—you can listen to the whole show here, if you’re interested—but there was one more theoretical topic that came up in passing which I found interesting but didn’t have a chance to jump into: trend analysis.
When discussing “buy high” third basemen, Pat mentioned how he was questioning the utility of trend analysis, specifically in regard to Hanley Ramirez. Despite a four-year trend of declining power, Hanley has bounced back this year to a level that falls between his 2008 and 2009 seasons: