Thursday, February 23, 2006

Mind Who You Trust, Jim

You will find no greater supporter of Jim Rice's induction into the Hall of Fame than me. Of all the arguments in his favor that have appeared on the Internet in recent years, I honestly think the majority of them have originated with me. Obviously, I would love to see him get elected, and I would dearly love it if he would break his usual silence on the subject.

That said, I don't think Jim did himself much good with his comments in
today's column by The Asshole Dan Shaughnessy (hereafter to be known just as "TADS" in this space).

Look, Jim, I know you were a dominant player, and, personally, I put more weight on being dominant for a shorter period than being merely very good for a longer time. I know what you were trying to get at in your points about
Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn. But, I'm sorry, you weren't better than them. You just weren't. Were you a more dominant hitter for twelve years? Certainly over Ripken, and maybe over Gwynn. But they weren't exactly slouches. The gap between you and them offensively, if it exists at all, isn't that big. It certainly isn't big enough to make up for the fact that each of them played longer than you and each of them was an outstanding defensive player.

Now, I suspect that much of your commentary was directed and then spun by TADS, not someone you should trust under any circumstances to represent your best interests. I will give you the benefit of the doubt that you were prodded into commenting on the recent election and hadn't planned your argument in advance. But please, if you ever do this again, think before you speak.

And, for God's sake, pick someone else to tell your story for you.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Sox Off-Season Analysis

This one is for Rich White, my little brother and soon to be a first-time daddy, who properly pointed out to me over dinner at Johnny Cascone's that I have been remiss in my Sox blogging this winter. Sorry Rich, I'll try to keep this up better during Spring Training, and I'll get back on my daily schedule for sure once the season starts.

Let me address the club's major moves and give them my grades.

Acquired Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell and Guillermo Mota for four prospects. Grade: A

Anytime you can grab a potential number one starter before his 26th birthday, especially one who has already beaten the Yankees in the World Series, and you only have to give up prospects in return, you do it. Period. Beckett is worth the young players, not one of whom is a sure-fire big league star. Trading young unproven potential for young proven potential is a no-brainer. Sure, the Lowell part of the deal is a risk because of the size of his contract, but he's only had one bad year, making him a great bet to return to his previous form and post 25 homers and 90 RBI, all while playing Gold Glove defense. Even if he sucks, getting Beckett makes this a deal the Sox couldn't have turned down.

Acquired Mark Loretta for Doug Mirabelli. Grade B+

This would be a no-brainer A+ if Loretta wasn't coming off an injury, but he is, so I scaled it down a bit. Still, when you can get a starting second baseman for your backup catcher, you make the deal, injuries or not. Loretta fits perfectly in the Sox's lineup and overall offensive strategy. With a career on-base percentage of .365, almost exclusively in the National League, Loretta is a great bet to match or exceed that mark in the American League, injury or not. Throw in the fact that he grades out as an above-average defensive second baseman AND an average defensive shortstop, and the deal looks like an absolute steal. I'll miss Doug Mirabelli, but this deal had to be made.

Acquired top prospect Andy Marte for Edgar Renteria and cash. Grade C

I'm fine with getting rid of Renteria. He'll probably bounce back and have a solid season for Atlanta, but his personality didn't fit the pressure in Boston, and his defensive play, the one part of his game that was always reliable, was terrible last year. When he then blamed much of his trouble on the playing surface at Fenway - a ludicrous claim since the entire field was replaced with a multi-million dollar, state-of-the-art surface just last off-season - it proved that his character was not something worth taking a chance on salvaging. And getting an exceptional prospect like Marte was very nice, even if the Sox then flipped him to Cleveland in the Crisp deal. But the dollars that the club had to include in the deal stand as stark proof of what a terrible contract they gave Renteria last year. For that, they can't grade out higher than a C on this deal, but I won't penalize them any further because they deserve credit for recognizing the mistake and being proactive about fixing it.

Acquired Coco Crisp, David Riske and Josh Bard for Mota, Marte, Kelly Shoppach, cash and a player or considerations to be named later. Grade B

This was a move that had to be made, and I'm pleased with it for the most part. A rising star and still just 26, I think Coco Crisp's game and personality will be a great fit in Boston. Getting Riske in the deal was also nice, he should be a nice upgrade in the bullpen over the Mike Myers' and Chad Bradfords of the world, who were only reliable for one or two hitters at a time. Giving up a prime prospect like Marte is painful, because I can see him plaguing the Sox for a decade as the Indians' third baseman. And I would have rather hung on to Mota than bring in Riske, because I think there's just more talent there, but overall this was a nice deal that filled the team's biggest remaining hole.

Signed Alex Gonzalez to a one-year contract. Grade C+

Not bad as a stopgap measure, because he plays really good defense and makes both Beckett and Lowell more comfortable. Plus he's comparatively cheap. But Gonzalez isn't likely to do much at the plate. He may have a bounce-back year and smack 15-20 homers, but I'm not counting on it. For the first time since Pokey Reese was getting regular playing time a couple of years ago, it looks like the Sox will have a hole in their lineup. Still, that season turned out pretty well, didn't it?

There are two other moves I want to address quickly. First, I'm 100% okay with Kevin Youkilis playing first base every day. He's fine with the glove, certainly better than Kevin Millar, and will have three above-average-to-excellent defenders throwing to him anyway, so the defensive aspect of this move doesn't scare me at all. In terms of offense, no, he won't hit 30 homers and drive in 100 runs, like a prototype first baseman. But on the other hand, the Red Sox haven't had anyone like that since Mo Vaughn in 1998, and all they've done is go to the post-season four of the seven years that followed, including winning the big one in 2004 with a guy, Millar, who hit only 18 homers and drove in only 74 runs. That's something Youkilis can do, and he's a great bet to exceed the .383 on-base percentage Millar posted that year. Trust me folks (including you, Rich), Youk will be fine.

Finally, the Johnny Damon move simply had to happen. It would have been absolute lunacy to commit $52 million to a guy who will be almost 36 when the contract expires. The Yankees can do that, the Sox can't. Remember, if payrolls are a fair representation of a team's income, then the Yankees have about $1.64 for every dollar the Red Sox can spend. That means that the $13 million the Yankees can pay Damon annually is the same as the Sox giving him about $8 million. Anything over that would mean the Sox would be paying Damon a premium on their smaller payroll. They tried to do just that, offering Damon $10 million per year for the same four years the Yankees gave him. But giving him $13 million, as the Yankees did, would have meant paying him over 10% of their total available payroll dollars, and the Sox's front office was smart enough to realize that they couldn't do that.

Think of it this way - for the same money they would have spent to retain Damon at the price he got from New York, the Sox instead got his replacement (Crisp, $2.75 million), a Renteria replacement (Gonzalez, $3 million) and a new ace for the rotation (Beckett, $4.325 million), with enough left over to acquire a 6-time Gold Glove winning backup first baseman (J.T. Snow, $2 million), and still have a million bucks to spare. I hate to say it, but long live Scott Boras. He just conned the Yankees into a deal that quite likely saved the long-term future of the Red Sox.