I, For One, Welcome Our New Left Fielder

First things first: it’s been a while. I know that, you may know that, and WordPress here definitely knows that. But let’s set that aside for the moment, as I think I have a fix for the intermittency around here. More on that tomorrow.

For now, we’ve got a much bigger fish to fry, as one of the most talented and perplexing talents ever to don a Red Sox uniform is currently en route to the left coast. Along with seven or so million dollars, better known as his pay. Headed south a few hundred miles are two of the products of our farm system: Brandon Moss and Craig Hansen. Playing left field tomorrow night, meanwhile, will be one Jason Bay.

Just how did we come to this point? It’s an excellent question, and neither I, nor even those you might read in the print media, are likely to have all of the answers. Theo might. Tito might. John Henry might. But I do not.

Still, I’ll give it the old college try. Here are the questions I have and my answers to them. Before you ask, yes, this is me asking myself questions. It’s weird, I get it, but it’s quicker. Bear with me.

Q: What is the deal, finally, that was agreed upon?
A: It’s a three-way trade, as most of you have probably heard. We ship Rmirez to the Dodgers along with cash to cover his salary. We also ship Hansen and Moss to the Pirates. Meanwhile, the Dodgers send Andy LaRoche and Bryan Morris to the Pirates. In return for all of the above, the Buccos give us Jason Bay.

Q: How did you feel about the deal when you first heard it announced?
A: Well, let’s back up. Heading into the deadline, I was convinced that M-Ram should be traded. Not at all costs – Bay or Kemp from the Dodgers were the acceptable returns I could have lived with – but ideally traded. Sitting at Byrnes’ Pub in Bath, I was more than a bit disappointed when four o’clock rolled around and not only had Manny not been traded, we’d done nothing, period. Worse, MLB.com was reporting sometime around 3:30 (according to NESN) that not only had we not acquired Bay, but that Tampa had at the cost of Jeff Niemann and Reid Brignac, Tampa’s #3 and #4 prospects coming into the 08 season according to Baseball America.

Q: So you were disappointed.
A: Definitely. The Yankees have substantially upgraded their club – at a relatively low cost, for the most part – adding an outfielder, a lefthanded reliver, and a starting catcher. And as I write this, they’re one and half games in back of us, despite losing their best starting pitcher, their second best young pitcher, their starting left fielder, and their starting catcher to injuries.

Tampa, meanwhile, leads us by 3 games, with a young club that doesn’t have all that many holes.

So not doing anything, to me, would have been a blow. Maybe that’s right, maybe that’s wrong, but that’s the way it was.

Q: And when you heard the trade announced?
A: Initially, I was pleased. As I said, I was ready for Manny to be gone, and now he was. Ask and ye shall receive. But as the news trickled out, however, that not only was Manny gone with his salary, but Hansen and Moss too, I was less pleased. Particularly since the rumor last night was Manny for Bay and Grabow; not Manny, Hansen and Moss for just Bay.

Then I thought about it a bit, and became resigned.

Q: Resigned why?
A: Because the only conclusion that one can draw from this afternoon’s trade is that things must have been worse – far worse – than we realized. As a friend of mine said in a text, it’s

“almost as if they were anxious to get rid of him. it really makes me wonder if there was more behind the scenes toxicity that we were not made aware of.”

That, in a nutshell, is the situation as I’ve come to see it over the past few days. Denton from the essential Surviving Grady had it right two years ago when he said:

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? I think there has been a lot more going on behind the scenes that’s been hidden from the media.

Exactly. Things are almost certain to be a lot less rosy than we’re generally made aware of.

Q: How do you come to that conclusion?
A: Mostly from what I read. I don’t mean the stock media reports; while I’m not inclined to defend Ramirez, as has Allan over at the Joy of Sox, I do agree with him that Manny has been regularly tilted at by a media that didn’t seem to care for him much. Allan calls out Gordon Edes (who is leaving the Globe for Yahoo, incidentally) for this bit of snark:

He’d been sent to Massachusetts General Hospital during the game to have an MRI of both knees, the Sox evidently taking no chances that their slugger might have gotten confused about which one hurt.

Which is appropriate. Edes – whom I like and respect apart from his treatment of Ramirez (far more so than his colleague Cafardo, as you might know) – has been like this for a while.
So the reporters opinions on Manny, well, they don’t mean 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, positively killed Manny this afternoon. Maybe, you think, that’s just Schilling being Schilling. WEll, Pedroia and Youk sound a little lukewarm to me.

And frankly this bit from Olney pretty much sums up the relationship Manny has with his manager – who for my money, is the best the Red Sox have had:

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.

When was that written? December of 2006. Seriously. We’ve been dealing with this – codepending, if you will – that long.

Throw in the fact that this year’s incidents have been different, and it’s been pretty clear that Manny was not a good fit going forward.

Q: What does “different” mean in this context?
A: In the past, Manny seemed less angry than goofy. There’s the possibly apocryphal story that he had his tailored clothes embroidered with MBM – Manny Being Manny – and my all time favorite, his decision to cut off Damon’s throw from center…while he was in left. I still laugh when I tell that story.

But this year’s MBM incidents have been less harmless than in years past. Pushing Jack McCormick to the ground after he was unable to come up with 16 tickets to the Sox/Astros game? That’s not the happy go lucky Manny we know, and usually, love. Likewise the bizarre Youk/Manny fracas. I can understand if Manny’s frustrated with Youk’s tendency to fling things around the dugout, but fighting in the dugout? Seriously? Or how about telling ESPNDeportes that the “Red Sox don’t deserve a player like me?”

No, the public incidents, anyway, paint a much different picture of Manny than we’ve seen in the past. One that told me he had to go.

Q: But at what price?
A: That, I think, is the point. Think of it this way: the Red Sox front office is generally regarded as being intelligent, diligent, and creative. They’re not perfect – I will never understand their pursuit of Lugo – but they’ve generally been very, very good. Even the Yankee fans agree will grant us that.

And yet they decided that it was in the club’s best interests to ship Manny, the rest of his salary for the year, and two prospects – albeit not elite ones – out the door to get a player of lesser ability.

The fact that that calculus alone made sense tells me everything I need to know about just how bad things were.

Q: So you don’t think this is just a product of a front office / journalist collaboration?
A: No. Is it possible, even likely, that the front office was intentionally leaking to reporters for the purpose of swaying public sentiment in their favor? Sure.

But I have a hard time believing that Gammons’ outrage at Manny is merely him playing the role of front office stooge, as Allan implies. Not simply because I think it unlikely that a reporter of Gammons’ experience would allow himself to be so simply and basely used, but because Gammons has generally been a guy that gave players a chance to be heard. When Roberto Alomar spit on an umpire, Gammons gave him the chance to explain. When John Rocker disparaged virtually every minority on the planet, Gammons listened.

Maybe Gammons doesn’t have the story exactly right – nobody on the outside could – but I think he’s far more right than wrong here. Regardless of what the front office did or did not tell him.

Q: Enough of the muckraking, what do you think of the deal in baseball terms?
A: It’s a good deal for the Dodgers, though they’ve got quite the logjam in the outfield, and it’s an excellent deal in my view from the Pirates perspective. Keith Law says that Morris is the only high upside player in the deal, but in Hansen, LaRoche, and Moss they have some very usable, more or less MLB ready players. And the high upside arm. Maybe they’d prefer to have Niemann and Brignac, but this is a far cry from the days of Littlefield when they’d covet their own assets and get either nothing or nothing of value in return for them.

Q: And for the Sox?
A: A lot of it depends. How does Bay – who’s accustomed to a small market and weaker NL pitching – adapt to Boston? What do Hansen and Moss end up doing? But I’m fine with the deal, ultimately. One, because as discussed above I think it needed to be made. But also because it has potential upside for us, both this year and next. As Law explains:

Bay will really improve the 2009 Red Sox. Boston was almost certain to decline Ramirez’s $20 million option for 2009, which would have left the Red Sox with an offensive hole to fill for next year. Bay is under control for next year, so the hole is already filled, and he’s signed for an amazingly cheap $7.5 million. Even considering the $7 million Boston sent L.A. to pay Manny’s freight for this year (because the Dodgers told teams they could not add any payroll this season), the Red Sox are getting a $15-20 million bat in Bay without the headaches Ramirez had caused lately. And they managed to do it without depleting their strong farm system or committing to a four- or five-year deal they’d regret by the middle of the second year.

Instead of having to find a left fielder for next year, we’ve got one. At $7.5M. Which is $12.5M less than Ramirez’s ’09 option would have cost us.

Is it ideal? No. Ask Anaheim, or LA of Anaheim, or whatever they’re called now, if they’re happy to see Manny gone after they couldn’t get him out during last year’s postseason. No, this was about as well as we were going to do. Which is itself a sad comment.

Q: Let’s talk about Bay: what are we getting?
A: Bay’s a good player, or at least he has been in small markets in the NL. He is not Manny Ramirez, but then no one is. A quick comparison:

BA OBP SLG OPS+ HR
Bay .282 .375 .519 135 22
Ramirez .299 .398 .529 140 20

A slide-in replacement for the lineup? Not quite. But as close as we were going to get, I’d think. And Bay, by all accounts, is a significant defensive upgrade: he’s got the range to cover center, and his arm is reportedly average. Meaning that our outfield, defensively, with Bay in left, Crisp/Ellsbury in center, and Drew in right, should be one of the best in the big leagues.

Other interesting items from his splits:

  • As others have noted, he has a bizarre reverse platoon split. That is, he’s a right handed batter that, this season, is hitting righties well (.307/.387/.566) and lefties poorly (.190/.333/.345). Indications are that this year is a fluke, however, as his three year 05-07 trend shows nothing of the kind: .296/.405/.543 against lefties, .276/.368/.493 against righties.
  • He tends to wear down slightly in the second half: .283/.388/.505 pre-break against .279/.369/.506 after.
  • He’s hit best in the cleanup spot in the lineup: .286/.386/.516 in 790 ABs, compared to .278/.377/.510 in 679 ABs hitting third.
  • He’s hit well with runners in scoring position, .282/.400/.502, and with runners on, .282/.388/.486, but poorly close and late – .205/.333/.373.
  • He’s played three games in his career at Fenway, and put up a .250/.357/.417 line.
  • Though he’s .257/.278/.429 career against the Yankees, he’s .362/.412/.532 against their current staff.
  • Though he’s .391/.429/.739 career against Tampa, he’s .200/.283/.425 against their current staff (1-18 off Wheeler).
  • He hits .257 off fastballs, .290 off curves, .269 off sliders, .244 off changeups, and .111 off everything else.

Q: Besides losing the kids in addition to the money, anything else bug you about this trade?
A: The fact that we didn’t get a reliever. Ultimately, that’s been our Achilles heel all season. Many have noted that we can theoretically add one before the waiver trade deadline in a month, but we need the help now. Bringing someone back this week would have been ideal, and it would have been nice, for example to have spun Moss into Mahay instead of folding him into Bay.

Q: Net net, what’s your take.
A: In Theo we trust. If he determined Manny needed to go, that’s good enough for me. He did well to get Bay, dealing as he was from a position of extreme weakness, and now we just have to hope we can patch up the bullpen and right the ship. Oh, and before I forget, best of luck to the kids: here’s hoping that Hansen and Moss blossom down in Pittsburgh.

Q: Will you miss Manny?
A: I’ll miss his performances. The Angels ALDS game that he won last year in walkoff fashion? I was there, and he absolutely crushed that ball.

But the player? Not really. I’m with Tim: he lost me this year.

Update: While I’m sure many will regard it as a post-exit character assassination, Sean McAdam reported the following last night:

General manager Theo Epstein was working with a mandate from within his own clubhouse. Following his team’s dispiriting loss to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Wednesday night, Epstein met with a handful of Red Sox veterans, all of whom delivered the same message: Manny had to go.

Buster Olney is reportedly saying much the same on SportsCenter this morning. Sad.

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8 thoughts on “I, For One, Welcome Our New Left Fielder

  1. Thanks, Steve. Really wanted your words on this.

    I'm just glad that they've grabbed Bay and won't be trying to pry Adam Dunn out of Cincinnati.

    Also, which trade is weirder: the whole Man-Ram mess, or Kenny Williams getting his white whale two or three years too late? I love Junior Griffey, but … there's no way he's going to help the bleached socks.

  2. The thing I haven't found yet is how much longer is on Bay's contract, or is his up at the end of the year as well? I think Manny is the better hitter now, but Bay is 6.5 years younger. Assuming the Red Sox were going to lock either of them up longer term, Bay will definitely be a more productive player over the next 5-10 years.

  3. @Geof F. Morris: well, they're both weird, but at least there's an explanation for the Ramirez situation. i rarely understand Kenny Williams' moves, and the Griffey deal is no exception.

  4. @Alex: Bay is under contract for one more year for $7.5M. After '09, it's assumed he'll hit the free agent market, as his agent is none other than Scott Boras.

  5. Yeah, Alex, the key is that Bay will cost the Sox only $9.5MM this year and next, where the Manny money is already a sunk cost and they avoid getting to spend $20MM on him for next year. That's a big savings, and then you consider that Schill comes off the payroll, etc. Given that Bay will be 31 after next year, he's probably someone you can let go after a nice year-plus in left while figuring out if you're crazy enough to employ both Crisp and Ellsbury in the same outfield [seems like not enough sock to me unless Drew's latter career ends up positively Bondsian]. Maybe you see if all this talk about Adam Dunn staying in Cincinnati for 2009 is just a one-year thing while Jocketty and Dusty try to win next year [there will be a moment while I laugh myself stupid], or maybe you see who else will be available by the end of 2009, or you find a big 1B bopper and try Youk out in LF … there's lots of possibilities, I expect.

    The more I think about the deal, the more I think that it's a hell of a move—they give away two "prospects" that were never going to make a difference, figure that the opportunity cost of Manny during an Operation Shutdown-style situation was already sunk, and firm up the position for 1-1/3 seasons while saving money for 2009 and getting a guy near his peak. That they were able to pull this off right at the deadline is absolutely stunning, and makes me righteously jealous of Red Sox fans for having a superior front office.

  6. I don't know if it's too big a deal to worry about who Bay's agent is, Steve. He'll be past-peak and coming out of arbitration by the time you have to consider negotiations—and while the Sox can certainly afford to pay over-reasonable-market prices, I'm not sure that Bay's worth doing that with.

    [I'm surprised that more commentators haven't noted that, at his age, Manny has seen his best seasons and, as such, it makes sense to cut him loose. I expect that discussion would have been had come November, though, if he'd stayed in Boston. I guess I'm sensitive to this overpaying-of-old-players thing, having watched the Reds radically overpay Barry Larkin in his twilight.]

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