For the True Fan, Baseball’s a Year Round Pursuit

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This a post for the baseball fans in the audience. If you’re not into baseball, let me paraphrase Leslie Nielsen and say “Please move along – there’s nothing to see here.” The reason I’m writing this up is because a fair number of people are asking me in conversation what I think of this deal, that potential trade, and so on. So rather than repeat myself, I’ll give you my take on what are mostly Red Sox related happenings, but also some general baseball stuff. For what it’s worth. So starting with the news of the moment (at least in Red Sox nation):

  • Should the Red Sox Trade Manny Ramirez?:
    Let’s all agree on the basics:

    1. Manny Ramirez is one of, if not the best, right handed hitters in the league. I’ve had a number of former baseball players (as a former lacrosse player, I have to take their word for it) tell me that his swing is technically perfect. There’s no consistent way to get him out. You can’t jam him, you can’t get him to chase, and most importantly he hits even the good pitchers well (unlike, say, Sammy Sosa did during his heyday).
    2. Manny is also a complete flake. Everyone (in Boston and Cleveland, at least) knows this. The Manny Being Manny moments are inevitable in every season, as are the spectacularly curious fielding decisions he makes (his decision to cut off CF Johnny Damon’s throw two or three seasons ago is probably one of the top 2 or 3 funniest baseball plays I’ve ever seen – up there with Randy Johnson accidentally exploding a dove with an errant fastball). These are tolerable, if not ideal, given Manny’s consistent production.
    3. The Red Sox will not get equal value back. It’s simply not possible: Manny is just that good. The best they can hope for, in my opinion, is to get 80 cents or so on the dollar, and hope that one of the prospects that will inevitably be included in the deal turn into an All Star caliber player.
    4. The Red Sox will miss his production next season, should he be traded. This is a no brainer. Against the Yankees, for example, he’s lifetime .290 (BA), .359 (OBP), .590 (SLG), .949 (OPS), and last I checked the Yankees pitching is usually better than average (he’s 9-13 vs Chien-Mien Wang). He’s a Hall of Fame talent, and those are not easily replaced.

    The case is clear, then, right? That they should under no circumstances trade him? Wrong. Like many, including from all appearances, our front office, I’m convinced that it’s time for Manny to move on. Provided they can get some useful pieces and prospects in return – ideally from the Dodgers who have several very promising kids like Loney or Kemp blocked by ill-considered signings (Nomahhhhhhh and Pierre, respectively). Why does he need to be traded? Couple of reasons:

    1. He wants to be traded. No one knows precisely why, apparently, but Manny doesn’t like it in Boston. His trade requests have become an annual event, but when everyone from Schilling to Lucchino to Gammons to Ortiz admits that he doesn’t want to be here, it’s probably time for him to go. Judging by the way he ended last season, amidst questions of him quitting on the team, he really doesn’t want to be here. It’s true that Manny could probably roll out of bed and hit .300 with 40 dingers, but he’s got to play to do that. If he doesn’t show up, as he’s reportedly threatened to do, it’s going to be tough for him to match his usual numbers.
    2. His teammates may want him to be traded. Schilling almost unquestionably does, but I discount his opinion simply because he has one on everything. Reading between the lines, however, it really does seem like some of the other players on the club have had enough. Apart from Jonathan Papelbon’s public plea to keep Manny, very few other players have come to his defense. That tells you something. Even Ortiz, reportedly one of his closest friends on the team and a fine off the field citizen, does not seem terribly upset about the prospect of him being elsewhere in ’07. Whether that’s because he’s had enough with Manny being Manny or is simply sympathetic with his friend is ultimately irrelevant; it just seems like the players for better or worse are resigned to the fact that he needs to go.
    3. His working relationship with Tito Francona, the manager, is non-sustainable. I’ve got my own issues with Francona, principally around his usage of the bullpen, but the fact is that he’s been a great manager – maybe the perfect manager – for this market. Equally comfortable taking a bullet for players like Manny or dealing with the media, he’s uniquely suited to the immense challenge of managing in Boston. And that’s hard to find. Not harder to find, certainly, than a player of Manny’s skills, but non-trivial either. More to the point, if you can’t get along w/ Francona you’ve got problems. But listen to Olney’s description of Manny’s working relationship from today’s blog (and I reiterate – Olney may have the best sports blog going, period):

      Think about how nutty this situation is: In the last five weeks of the 2006 season, reliever Julian Tavarez — who became Manny’s Tony Snow, his spokesman — knew more about whether Manny was going to play or whether he was available to pinch-hit than Boston manager Terry Francona, general manager Theo Epstein and owners John Henry and Larry Lucchino. Absurd.

      This kind of player to manager/front-office relationship simply is not sustainable.

    4. The importance of Manny protecting Ortiz is overblown. Will Big Papi walk more, hell, a lot more, next season if Manny isn’t protecting him? I’m sure he will. But one of the SOSHers ran the numbers, as Sox blogger and author Allan Wood documents:

      Speaking of “protection”, a SoSH lurker named “Laschelle Tarver” looked at the numbers for Ortiz since 2003 without Manny in the lineup. He found that Ortiz played in 55 games in which Manny did not have an AB. The Sox went 33-22 (.600) in those games.

      In 186 AB, Tiz hit .301 and slugged .624 with 17 HR. Over a 162-game season, that projects to 50 HR with 133 RBI with 133 walks. … In 2006, he slugged .636 with 54 HR, 137 RBI and 119 BB.

      This is the very definition of small sample size, but I’m a firm believer that the Ortiz-is-doomed talk is wildly overblown. A lot will depend on how they fill out the rest of the lineup card.

    5. There’s more to the story than we know.

      I do believe that once Manny finds a new home, RSN is going to start to get the whole story. The “Manny being Manny” and overall quirkiness were barely tolerable with the information we had. We were willing to overlook a lot in return for Manny’s production. But what about the stories we haven’t heard yet?

      We’ve already heard a couple of stories slip out here and there – Manny confronting Francona after the winter he was almost traded, for example – and they’re not good. I’m sure there are many more, and I’m sure some will come out if/when he’s gone.

    6. Jerry Remy thinks he may have lost the clubhouse. Remy, one of the NESN telecasters and my all-time favorite broadcaster going away, has covered the team long enough to know. He’s also established with me a reputation as fair; despite being a former player, he isn’t overly critical or protective of today’s stars, he’s dare-I-say fair and balanced in his coverage. Thus when he says that Manny has lost the respect of his at least a portion of his team, that’s good enough for me.
    7. The Red Sox might not get full value, but they’ll get decent talent. Manny’s contract, once so untradeable that when he was placed on irrevocable waivers by the Sox making him available for anyone willing to assume his money he went unclaimed, is positively a bargain in light of the ridiculous money handed out to Soriano, Lee and others this offseason. They have a fraction of his talent, and are owed far more money.

    Will he be traded? Ultimately that will be up to Manny, given that he has 10/5 rights and thus control of his own destiny. But if he’s going to be traded, now is the time.

  • Will JD Drew be an Unmitigated Disaster in the Boston Market?:
    Bob Ryan certainly thinks so. Buster Olney has reported that there are a number of executives that feel the same way. And given the difficulties folks like BK Kim or Matt Clement have had adjusting to the often harsh demands of Red Sox fans, it’s a legitimate concern.

    I, obviously, have no idea. I don’t know any of the principles involved, and my knowledge of Drew is limited to what I’ve seen reported. Certainly it can’t be debated that Boston is a much different market than Atlanta, LA or St Louis – Drew’s former professional homes. I’d like to think that the front office knows and understands this concern – despite what some of the louder Sox fans might say, Theo and co are not idiots – but it’s nearly impossible to say with any certainty.

    What I can say definitively is that if Manny is not traded, and one Christopher Trotman Nixon is not resigned, Drew’s life will be significantly more difficult. This view is contrary to arguments I’ve seen published elsewhere, which recommend keeping Manny to reduce the pressure on Drew, but I disagree. Nixon, you have to understand, is the player with the longest tenure with the ballclub. I’ve been following his career since they drafted him in 1993. More than that, the fans love Nixon because he a.) busts his ass on every play, b.) has always been a standup citizen on and off the field, and c.) has been effusive in his praise for all things Boston. He, more than perhaps any other player I’ve seen, has been proud to wear the uniform. And the fans know it.

    So imagine if Manny isn’t traded, and Drew has to step into Nixon’s shoes. Drew already has his share of critics because of his reputation for getting hurt and not playing hard (not to mention his Boras-fueled holdout with Philly), and he’d have to assume the position (which, incidentally, is one of the toughest positions to field in the majors – RF at Fenway is brutal) of a beloved ex-Sox who was the physical embodiment of precisely those virtues? That’s tough.

    Instead, I’d love to see them trade Manny, sign Nixon, and have an outfield of Drew/Crisp/Nixon, with Wily Mo Pena ready when one of Drew/Nixon inevitably gets hurt. But then I’m biased.

  • Should they Resign Trot Nixon?:
    I cannot argue this point rationally, so I won’t even try. All I’ll say is that there are solid reasons for resigning Nixon, both on his own merits and for what he’ll mean to his teammates and potential teammates.

  • What Was Up w/ the $51M Bid For the Rights to Japanese Pitcher Daisuke Matsusaka?:
    Why they bid quite that high is beyond me (outbidding their nearest competitor by nearly $15M); as Rob Neyer said, it probably has something to do w/ a game theory exercise. Or very faulty intelligence. But here’s the deal: despite his very heavy workload (Japanese pitchers are typically worked very hard, and throw with absurd frequency), there was no debate as far as I was concerned that Matsusaka – not Schmidt (as impressed as I was when he one hit us two or three years ago), not Zito – was the best pitcher available on the market. He has velocity, command, and at least three (and perhaps as many as five) quality pitches at his disposal. For the record, no, none of them are baseball’s equivalent of the Loch Ness monster, the Gyroball. And did I mention that he’s just 26?

    Throw in the fact that the Sox as a club are extremely marketing savvy, and it’s not a tremendous surprise to me that their bid was high: the possibilities of opening a new and lucractive market for Sox merchandise in Japan undoubtedly can offset at least a portion of their bid.

    The question now will be whether or not they can reconcile their view of what the player is worth ($7-8M per season) with Scott Boras’ ($14-15M). Normally, I’d say probably not, but everyone but Scott Boras is incented to see this deal get done. So I hope that it will.

  • Did Derek Jeter Deserve the AL MVP?:
    This may surprise some of you, but yes, I think he did. He didn’t win it, losing out to the Twin’s Justin Morneau, but like a great number of people I think Jeter earned the award fair and square. Big Papi, as usual, put up crazy numbers but with the Sox out of contention and due to his heart palpitations induced missed time, I can’t build a strong case for him.

    What Jeter did not deserve, however, were either the Gold Glove or the Hank Aaron award. He was certainly not the best fielding shortstop in the American League (that would be the Red Sox’ Alex Gonzalez, and don’t give me the bit about him missing time – Palmiero won a Gold Glove at first after playing 20 some odd games there a couple of years ago), nor was he the premier offensive performer in the league (that would be David Ortiz, who put up .287/.413/.636 numbers against Jeter’s .343/.417/.483 line).

    Was he the Most Valuable Player, however? Consider the spate of Yankee injuries in the first half, and his career offensive year, and it’s tough to argue the point. Ask me if I’m glad he didn’t win the award, however, and you’ll get a different answer.

    Don’t cry for Jeter, however. He appears to be having a fine offseason.

That’s enough for today, I think. With the GM’s Winter Meetings commencing tomorrow, I’m sure have plenty more material to bore you people with in a matter of days.


  1. Here’s something to think about, Steve: as the 2006-07 offseason continues, Manny’s contract looks better and better. When you look at what both Soriano and Lee have gotten to play essentially the same position [presuming the Cubs don’t play Alfonso in CF], Manny’s deal really doesn’t look that bad. That’ll both help move him and also provide an impetus to keep him. As much as it never looked like it’d happen, the present market correction is bringing the market back to Manny after all these years.

    I think the end-game will be this: line up a deal for him. Watch Manny object. Pull the deal, and he stays until the end of his contract.

  2. yeah, that’s what i was trying to get at with the comment “Manny’s contract…is positively a bargain in light of the ridiculous money handed out to Soriano, Lee and others this offseason. They have a fraction of his talent, and are owed far more money.”

    looks like he’ll end up staying now, which isn’t the worst thing in the world but could be bad.

  3. […] a whole lot to me. Much more important has been the silence from the rest of the club. Just as in the past, no one apart from the embattled Lugo has come to Manny’s defense. Schilling, in fact, […]

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