If you’re looking for a legitimate post, I’m afraid you’re about to be disappointed. I’ve got three separate real posts going, but all are waiting on comments, approvals, other info, or the like. So in the meantime, I’m indulging my inner Red Sox fan a.) because it’s been a while and b.) because it’s the trading deadline. If you don’t like baseball and more specifically the Red Sox, then, this is one to skip. For the rest of you, please proceed to the Q&A.
Q: First question: what’s the trading deadline?
A: I know there are no dumb questions, but…seriously? Ok, the non-waiver trading deadline – which was 4 PM ET this afternoon – marks the last time during the baseball season that major league baseball clubs may trade with one another in a more or less unrestricted fashion.
Q: So it’s the last time that teams can exchange players?
A: No, this is a common misconception. From August 1st through the end of the season, teams may trade players according to the waiver rules which are complicated and would take too long to explain here (here’s a quick primer). The short version is that it significantly complicates the business of trading players, but it is possible. The other deadline is that players must be with their new team by August 31st to be eligible for the postseason roster, so if you want someone to make a difference beyond the regular season you need to get them before then.
In practical terms, then, it’s far easier to trade before July 31st, more complicated until August 31st, and after that no one can be added to a post-season roster (with some injury exceptions, I believe).
Q: And what did the Red Sox do for this year’s trading deadline?
A: Two things. First, they traded erstwhile reliever Joel Pineiro to the St Louis Cardinals with cash for a player to be named later, but the big one was obtaining Eric Gagne from the Texas Rangers for minor league outfielders David Murphy and Engel Beltre, and lefthanded starting pitcher Kason Gabbard.
Q: What is the common reaction to the moves?
A: The first one, no one cares about b/c Pineiro had already been dispatched to the minor leagues. The second one, though, everyone cares about. Not just Boston fans, Yankees fans, Brewers fans, Cubs fans, Indians fans – everyone. I can’t speak to non-Boston fans, but the Red Sox contingent seems fairly divided: one group thinks it’s a terrific move, another that we gave up too much, and yet another that we patched a strength (pitching) while ignoring a weakness (offense).
Q: Which group do you belong to?
A: The group that thinks it’s a terrific deal, although I sympathize with the patch-a-strength folks. The “We Gave Up Too Much” collective is overvaluing the players involved, IMO.
Q: Overvaluing them how?
A: Well, David Murphy may or may not be a regular outfielder in the major leagues, but he was singularly unlikely to be a regular outfielder for the Boston Red Sox. Ergo, he was expendable, though by all accounts a very solid citizen. Kason Gabbard is the guy that has most folks up in arms about b/c he’s had a couple of really outstanding starts for the Sox, including a three hit complete game shutout. In spite of this – or perhaps because of it – I’d hoped the Sox would be smart and trade him. Why? Because it’s selling high. Gabbard’s value was unlikely to ever get higher than it was today, and probably would get much lower because his stuff – what he throws – isn’t all that projectable. Maybe he keeps up this string of pitching, but I think it unlikely. In which case, and particularly because we have adequate replacements on hand, why not capitalize on the peak of his value?
The question mark to me is Beltre, who I’m being told is very athletic and has a lot of potential. For all that, however, he’s only 17.
Are you happy to give up these players? Of course not – you should never be happy to trade away assets. But the reality is that you have to give something to get something, and the Red Sox got something of significant value in return for assets that are replaceable. Can’t ask for more than that.
Q: Gagne is valuable, then?
A: Gagne was the best relief arm on the market, in all probability. And relief arms are tremendously overvalued these days. He’s not what he was, certainly, when he was with the Dodgers, but he easily becomes the best and most experienced setup man in the league.
Q: But did the Red Sox need another setup man? I thought the offense was the problem?
A: That’s two questions. Do the Red Sox need another setup man/closer? Perhaps not. But consider that the closer can handle only limited workloads (the Keith Foulke usage pattern from 2004 would destroy him), that Okajima is approaching his career high in innings pitched, that Brendan Donnelly is now out for the year, that Mike Timlin is 95 years old and has had iffy health all year, and that Manny Delcarmen is promising but has some development left. In that context, another quality relief arm is helpful, yes.
Q: Given the facts that Gagne is a free agent, that Scott Boras represents him, and that he will want to close himself, isn’t it likely that he departs, leaving us with nothing?
A: Well, he may well depart, but it won’t be for nothing: my understanding is that we’ll receive a first round pick and a sandwich round pick for him should be decline arbitration and depart as a free agent. But it is also at least possible that following this season, Papelbon could go back into the rotation and Gagne could slide back into the closer role. Probably not likely, but at least possible.
Q: Still, is even an arm of this quality more necessary than offenseive help?
A: That question implies that both were equally available and our roster equally capable of absorbing them, facts which I do not believe to be the case.
Real, quality offensive help seemed to me to be in short supply. The best bat on the market, Mark Texeira, was out of our reach the moment Atlanta was willing to offer up Jarrod Saltalphabet. While we perhaps could have trumped their offer with one of our blue chip prospects, say Clay Buchholz, that would be foolish in the extreme. Beyond Texeira, the options were such that our primary target was Jermaine Dye of the White Sox. If you haven’t seen his splits this year, that sounds impressive as he won the silver slugger last year and so on, until you realize that he hasn’t been that player this season. His season line is .233/.293/.463. Yes, as some observed today he would lead the Red Sox in home runs, but a .293 OBP is not the mark of a savior. And did I mention that he’s a free agent at the end of the season?
Still, if you could pick him up to inject some power in the lineup, why not? Well, first, there was the asking price. Nick Cafardo mentioned this past weekend that Okajima was part of the asking price. While I thought that merely the idea of trading the best left handed setup man who’s signed for two more years at low dollars for a free agent to be who was hitting .235 was obviously insane, none of the brilliant media seemed to think so. I felt like I was taking crazy pills. And then they asked for Manny Delcarmen, a young hard throwing setup man in the making or Justin Masterson, who’s tearing up AA (and I saw throw a few weeks ago). Even better.
Then there was the question of where he’d play. Apparently he’d be disgruntled with a backup role, so the question would be who sits? Drew, the first year bust of a free agent? Manny, who’s finally started being Manny? No way Dye can play center, so those would be the options, unless they plan on having Ortiz sit for a prolonged period of time (i.e. to get scoped).
At the end of the day, I think Theo and co did the right thing: they walked away.
Q: But the offense is still a problem…
A: Indeed it is. Tonight’s game, I think, saw hits from only Ortiz and Crisp.
Q: And you’re comfortable with that?
A: I’m reasonably comfortable waiting to see if Drew and/or Youkilis can bounce back, if Lugo and Crisp can continue their upswing, and whether or not Ortiz can build on tonight’s 3 hit, 2 HR performance. If a few of those thigns happen, the lineup looks much better. In a worst case scenario, remember that there’s still the waiver trading deadline.
The good news for the offense at this point is that the game is now shorter. If we can get even a small lead to the 6th or 7th inning, we stand a very good chance of winning. That helps.
And it’s also addition by subtraction.
Q: What do you mean?
A: By adding Gagne to our roster, we subtract him from the potential rosters of the teams chasing us or that we could face in the playoffs if things go well. That’s a big time plus, in my book.
Q: So are the Red Sox the team to beat in the American League?
A: Unfortunately, I still think that honor belongs to the Tigers. Their pitching can be excellent if everyone comes back healthy, and their lineup has been very productive. But there’s still a long way to go, and no one is out of it yet. What I’m happy with is that the Red Sox front office found a way to improve themselves significantly without heavily mortgaging the future.
While it’s true that you have to go for it when you have a chance to win, it’s also true that the playoffs are something of a crapshoot (World Champion Cardinals – honestly?). You have to be balanced then, in my view, measuring short term gains against long term plans. Near as I can determine, Theo and the gang did precisely that. Which makes me a happy camper.