The "Pursuit" of Hanley Ramirez Proves…What?

Hanley at The Stadium, originally uploaded by ohad*.

I know this wasn’t what you were looking for, and believe me, it’s not what I intended to write, but I can’t help myself. I just can’t fathom how Mazz – a professional writer of some distinction – can make some of the arguments he does. Today’s piece is yet another exhibit in my ongoing case against him.

I won’t even bother with his assertion that the signing of Bard makes it more likely – not less – that we resign Varitek. I’ve already said my piece there; you can choose which of us you believe, as I’m on record as arguing the exact opposite. According to Mazz, several years of not catching a knuckleball pitcher for San Diego has adequately prepared Bard for doing what he could not do last time: catching Wake.

Or something.

No, what really amazes me is how consistent Mazz is at not letting the facts get in the way of a good argument. Maybe you’d argue that’s a columnists job; I prefer to call that willful ignorance.

Mazz is using the rumored exploration of a trade for Hanley Ramirez to buttress his Teixeira [Nuclear] Fallout piece. Yes, the same one I was less than impressed with.

His basic thesis is this: the fact that we pursued the Marlins shortstop proves that the front office has grave concerns about our offense and is scrambling for other options. In Massarotti’s own words, “As for the news that the Sox approached the Florida Marlins about Hanley Ramirez, it only magnifies just how costly the Teixeira fallout is.”

Fine. In a vacuum – one where you knew nothing about H-Ram’s contract status – that would probably fly. But consider what Mazz wrote just after that.

Ramirez isn’t going anywhere after signing a six-year, $70 million extension that begins next year, meaning that the Marlins have him locked up at average salary of $11.67 million over the next six years. Further, because Ramirez’s annual salaries do not begin to explode until 2012 — his base climbs to $15 million that season — there is little or no reason for the Marlins to deal him before that time, at the earliest.

My question, then, is this: if I know this, and you know this, and even Mazz knows this, isn’t it safe to assume that our front office does as well? They are many things, Theo and his minions, but stupid generally isn’t one of them. If they knew, like everyone else in baseball, that Ramirez was going to stay put, why the hell would they even bother placing the call?

Mazz answers this question…poorly.

For the same reason they pursued Teixeira. They know their offense is going to slip in 2009. They know that shortstop, more than catcher, is the position where they can make the greatest offensive upgrade. And they know that they need a productive young hitter for the middle of their lineup after breaking up the tandem of David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez that served as the nucleus for their entire roster for nearly six years.

Translation: they attempted to acquire a player that they know to be unattainable…because, uh, they really need him.

I see. Mazz, in other words, is arguing that the Sox panicked.

Personally, I’m more aligned with Shysterball’s Craig Calcaterra, seeing as his explanation actually, you know, fits the facts. If indeed the Red Sox did pursue Hanley Ramirez – the simplest explanation here is still that this is yet another substance-free Hot Stove rumor – I wouldn’t be surprised if this was why:

The more I think about it, the more I believe that it’s a leak, the sole purpose of which is to make those Red Sox fans who care about such things think that their team is actually doing something this offseason besides being lapped by the Yankees.

But that’s just me and Calcaterra. You should, as always, make up your own minds. As you do, I recommend keeping the following in mind:

  1. The Red Sox front office is smart enough to know that Ramirez was likely to be unavailable
  2. Tony Massarotti has almost singlehandedly waged a campaign for Teixeira since the early offseason
  3. Tony Massarotti has a vested interest in not believing that the press was – or could have been – manipulated by the Red Sox front office in this situation

I know what I think. How about you?

You Heard It Here…First?: Josh Bard

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Josh Bard, originally uploaded by ewen and donabel.

For the first time in recorded history, you may actually have heard it here first. The Josh Bard news, that is.

Back on December 4th, I wrote this:

Last I checked, Josh Bard – the catcher we shipped to San Diego after he proved unable to catch Wake – is available. Probably because in 57 games with the Friars, he put up an abysmal .202/.235/.333 line. Not a typo: he really was a .569 OPS player. That said, ‘07 saw him put up a .285/.364/.404 in a tough hitters’ park, and Bill James’ ‘09 forecast is .268/.342/.395. Which may not seem like much, until you remember that Tek’s 08 line was .220/.313/.359. And that Tek’s 09 projection is .238/.334/392. And that Bard is six years younger than Varitek.

Twenty-five days later Sean McAdam has this news for us:

Moving to improve their depth on the mound and behind the plate, the Red Sox have agreements in place with right-hander Brad Penny and catcher Josh Bard, according to an industry source.

I’ll get to the Penny news later – tomorrow if I’m not too lazy – but I’ll be honest: I like the Bard signing.

True, Bard is no Martin, Mauer, or McCann. He’s not even a Flying Molina Brother (at least of the Bengie variety). But there are several things arguing in this deal’s favor, most notably the fact that it’s short money and short term, and doesn’t cost us prospects. Our risk, therefore, is minimized and our flexibility to either deal for or develop a long term solution is preserved.

We’re buying low on Bard because, as mentioned, he had an abysmal ’08. Still, he’s only a year removed from this PECOTA commentary:

After Bard took to being knuckleballer Tim Wakefield`s personal catcher like a duck takes to being repeatedly poked with a fork, the Red Sox panicked and flipped him to San Diego for his predecessor, Doug Mirabelli. They never could have anticipated he`d hit like he did in San Diego, just as there`s no reason for the Padres to expect him to do it again. Still, Bard`s a true switch-hitter, solid against both righties and lefties, and PECOTA expects him to maintain his new-found plate discipline, so he`ll still be one of the better players at his position. Although properly considered the better-throwing alternative to Mike Piazza on last year`s Pads, Bard didn`t surpass him by much. Throwing out only 18 percent of opposing baserunners isn`t very special, but, in Bard`s defense, he`s done better before; perhaps Pads pitchers need to work on holding runners as much as their catchers need to work on throwing.

And – remember, he’s six years younger than Tek – the projections all look ok.

AVG OBP SLG OPS
Bill James .268 .337 .392 .729
CHONE .254 .338 .369 .707
Marcel .266 .342 .395 .737

Like I said: no Mauer. But compared to Tek’s .672 OPS last season, even CHONE’s pessimistic forecast looks acceptable.

And speaking of Tek, I have to think this pretty much means he’s not back. Not just because McAdam says that the Sox “have all but given up on re-signing” him, but because of the Wakefield factor.

Initial speculation considered the possibility of Bard backing up a resigned Varitek, but while I suppose that’s not impossible, haven’t we tried that before? That would leave us with two catchers that have more or less demonstrated that they cannot catch one of the pitchers we’re throwing every five days.

From this signing, then, I conclude not that Bard will be the unchallenged starter, but that the second catcher will be someone who can catch Timmeh – i.e. not Varitek.

Could it be Kottaras, perhaps? Evan over at Fire Brand had a nice piece looking at this a couple of days ago and built a fairly credible case that Kottaras could be a bigger factor than we might have expected in the catching equation. The signing of Bard, if anything, improves his chances, as he’s now one of the few catchers in the organization with experience catching a knuckleball (in case you missed it, the Yankees signed Cash away from us).

Is a Bard/Kottaras tandem the long term solution to our catching needs? Obviously not. But could it provide us with a credible stop gap until such time as we can find one? Seems at least possible. If both hit only to their James projected OPS, in fact, they would have placed 6th and 7th respectively amongst qualifying catchers last season – such is the state of big league catching these days.

How you deploy them could ultimately be determined by their play, as well as the pitchers’ comfort level with each. If you weight his experience, and think Bard is more the .285/.364/.404 player from ’07 than the .569 OPS of ’08, you could start him four days a week and designate Kottaras as Wake’s caddy.

But given that James projects more offense from the rookie than the vet – an anticipated .765 OPS to Bard’s .729 – it might be wiser to platoon them to some extent. Which could work nicely, because while Bard switch hits, his lifetime OPS is eighty points higher against lefties than righties (.785 to .705). Kottaras, meanwhile, hits from the lefthand side, and his splits show it: career, his OPS is 46 points better vs righties than lefties (.808 to .762).

Are Bard and Kottaras the tandem for ’09? Hell, I don’t know. The point here is that if they are, we might not be in terrible shape.

Mazz: Still Pissed at the Sox

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Rangers vs Mariners 9-29-06 104, originally uploaded by Mark Sobba.

If it seems like all I do is rage against the Boston sportswriters these days, that’s probably because all I do is rage against the Boston sportswriters (Sean McAdam being the notable exception) these days. Things were not always thus; don’t even get me started talking about those halcyon days when Gammons was hurtling towards the Hall of Fame, cranking out his must read Sunday Notes columns that got me out of bed – hangovers notwithstanding – to walk six long blocks down to Columbus Circle to pick up the Globe.

Scott Berkun’s piece might explain to you why presumably smart people like Tony Massarotti defend bad ideas, but I can’t. I can offer no rational explanation for why the professionals make some of the arguments they do, when the evidence is stacked against them.

But then I’m not a professional, merely one of those Mom’s basement bloggers Tony doesn’t have time to read.

Anyway, because I think Mazz is entirely wrong – again – with his latest piece discussing the Teixeira deal, I felt duty bound to give him the FJM treatment, as those worthies have sadly hung up their swords.

Teixeira fallout


The Mark Teixeira obviously struck a nerve in all of us, but let’s make something clear here: The Red Sox had a chance. Any suggestion that the Sox could not (and can not) compete for free agents with New York is utter nonsense because the Sox have signed free agents in the past.

No one, to my knowledge, is suggesting that we can’t compete. The Red Sox are a club with significant financial resources that can aggressively pursue the type of free agents that other clubs are simply unable to. What I, and others, have argued, rather, is that we cannot go punch for punch with the Yankees when it comes to contract offers. Because while we have substantial financial resources, we’re not even in the same ballpark as the Empire.

For a moment, let’s look at the cases of Daisuke Matsuzaka and J.D. Drew, the former of whom, admittedly, was not a true free agent.

And the latter of whom was not a target of the Yankees, and is thus more or less irrelevant to this discussion.

Still, when the Sox bid for Matsuzaka’s rights, they blew away the field with a bid of $51.11 million that was 30-40 percent higher than any other offer. Why is this relevant? Because the Sox did the same for Drew, flattening him with a $70 million offer that left him with little choice but to sign.

I say we discard the Drew example here, for the simple fact that as just discussed, the Yankees were not involved in contract discussions with the player. Which leaves us with Matsuzaka, and the difference between our bid for the posted player and theirs.

My read on that delta is that the Red Sox “blew away the field” (read: overbid) because they a.) valued the player more highly than did the Yankees (consider that the Mets also outbid the Yankees for Matsuzaka) and b.) were willing to pay a premium for the posting fee to gain the rights to negotiate with the player absent competition. Competition like the Yankees.

In other words, the Red Sox felt compelled to go all in in the posting phase, because they felt that they could ammortize the cost of the fee over a multiple year, below market contract (which is more or less what’s happened).

Not to mention the ancillary marketing benefits.

To put all of this more simply, Mazz’s two examples – 1.) a player who was not subject to an open market bidding process and 2.) a player in whom the Yankees had essentially no interest – do little to convince me that the Red Sox are on equal footing with the Yankees when it comes to dollars.

With Teixeira, the Sox were not nearly as aggressive.

Personally, I would hope that they wouldn’t be 30-40% more aggressive when the total contract value is greater than 3X what the posting fee was. 40% of $30M being different than 40% of $170M and all that.

The bottom line is that other teams (excluding the Yankees) were in the same neighborhood, which allowed Teixeira to drag out the process. Had the Sox come out of the gate with, say, an eight-year offer for $184 million, maybe they could have gotten the deal done.

You know – because Boras has a history of taking the first offer that comes his way, and little inclination to talk to the Yankees in an effort to obtain top dollar for his paying clients.

Maybe it would have taken $192 million. But if the Sox came out strong — very strong — and gave Teixeira a short window to accept, their chances might have been better.

$192M, $170M – what’s the difference? Who doesn’t want to pay a first baseman whose OPS last year was .004 better than Youk’s $24M per? For 8 years.

If Teixeira then had balked, the Sox would have had their answer: Teixeira never wanted to come here.

If Tex had balked, I think it would have said more about him assuming he could get more money elsewhere than him not wanting “to come here,” but maybe that’s just me.

And if he didn’t, we’d be paying him $24M per year, or 1/6th of our payroll last year (vs 1/9th of the Yankees’). I find it interesting that Mazz accounts for only two possibilities: Tex accepts the offer, or he doesn’t. No mention of said offer being shopped to, say, the Yankees to match.

Instead, the Sox left the door open for the Yankees to swoop in, which created an array of issues. Most notably, by the time Teixeira made his decision, CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett both had signed with New York, making the Yankees a more attractive destination; earlier on, that was not the case. By allowing the process to drag, the Sox enhanced New York’s position.

Obviously a deadline would have worked. It clearly did for the Angels. Right?

When you want a free agent, you knock him over. You give more than anyone else to eliminate all doubt. If he doesn’t accept, he doesn’t want to play for you.

That, or you determine ahead of time what you believe a player’s value is, and you bid until you reach that threshold, and then move on to Plan B when said threshold is exceeded so that you don’t wind up paying more for a player than the budget can sustain.

Indeed, there is always the possibility agent Scott Boras used the Sox here.

Of course he did. That’s his job. As Gammons so eloquently put it:

Boras doesn’t want to be the good guy, and doesn’t care who gets burned as long as his clients get the best deal; didn’t Edward Bennett Williams do the best he could for Joe McCarthy and Sirhan Sirhan?

To give you an idea of what Team Boras can be like to deal with, a source on Boras’ side of the negotiations recently suggested that the Red Sox had a chance to close the deal with an offer of $176 million, a mere $6 million more (over eight years, meaning $750,000 per season) over the Sox’ final offer of $170 million.

If Boras took that offer without giving the Yankees the opportunity to outbid – which they did – when his client wanted top dollar, he would have (and should have) been fired.

What Boras’ side failed to disclose was that the same offer included vesting options that would have taken the deal to $220 million over 10 years, something that scared off Sox owner John Henry, in particular. (Pretty sneaky, eh?)

Wait. Doesn’t that contradict Mazz’ whole argument thus far?

As for the Sox, it will be interesting to hear how this story evolves over time. Certainly, the Red Sox had the money to make this work. (Unless, of course, Henry or ownership has financial difficulties of which we are not aware.) There is certainly reason to wonder whether general manager Theo Epstein had difficulty convincing ownership to increase the offer to Teixeira, which went from $168 million to $170 million at the very end.

Is it possible that the Red Sox have some financial difficulties? Sure. But I think it’s far more likely that they didn’t want to pay Mark Teixeira what the Yankees would and could. As Mazz himself put it, the “[Yankees] spend more than the Sox only because they have more to spend.”

At least Mazz and I agree on something.

To suggest that the Red Sox never had a chance here is terribly simplistic and nothing more than an attempt by fans (and the Sox) to rationalize their failure in acquiring Teixeira. Nothing is ever that cut and dried — at least not when people are involved.

Did the Red Sox have a chance? Absent context, sure. Teixeira’s a Boras client, which roughly translated means he’s going to the highest bidder. Had the Sox bid more money than the competition, then, it’s likely that he’d be calling Fenway home. $200 million would probably solve whatever problems his wife had with my pseudo-hometown.

But $170M+ decisions are not made absent context. What Mazz doesn’t really discuss is what the player is actually worth, to us or to the Yankees. Whether he ignores that deliberately or by accident is unclear; either way, it’s a startling omission. The simple, inarguable fact is that $24 million means something different to their club than it does to ours. If the Yankees valued him highly, therefore – and there are 180 million reasons to conclude that they did – he was theirs for the taking. All the more so if his wife preferred New York all along.

To argue anything different is, dare I say it: “terribly simplistic.”

Why I Still Believe In Buchholz (No, It's Not a Mancrush)

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Welcome to the Major Leagues, Clay, originally uploaded by cardamom.

Following my continuing defense of Buchholz – and my best efforts to expose the incompetent efforts of his detractors – even a few friends have begun to question whether there might not be an ulterior motive at work. Perhaps even an unhealthy mancrush.

To which I’d reply: nonsense. No one can unseat Pedro in that regard.

I’m not even opposed to trading the kid, actually. All that I want is for the player to be valued properly. Which, as even a reluctant Nick Cafardo seems to have conceded, he is, thanks to our front office.

Asked in a Boston.com chat yesterday by Dave M, “Why are the Sox so unwilling to trade Clay?” Tony Massarotti replied, “No idea. I’d do it in a minute.” Which I would characterize as a stupid, uneducated answer; not that he’ll ever know, because as we know from the good folks at Over the Monster’s interview, Tony doesn’t have the time to read blogs.

Why do I keep making that argument, however? Because young players – young pitchers, in particular – often struggle. It’s so common that I find it at least mildly horrifying that our current staff of professional writers seems fundamentally unable to remember it when forming opinions on our players.

Consider the cases of two players that we all now accept as regulars.

Pedroia

Few remember it now, in the wake of his MVP award, but El Caballito struggled mightily upon not just his first but his second introduction to the major leagues.

  • In 2006, in 31 games played, Pedroia put up a less than sparkling .191/.258/.303 line. That’s right; this year’s AL MVP OPS’d .561. To put that in contrast for you, the Mets’ Luis Castillo’s OPS this past year was .660. Who’s Castillo, you ask? Exactly, I answer.
  • In 2007, for the first 19 games to open the season, Pedroia was worse, putting up a .182/.308/.236 line for a .544. You may remember that that was when the media – and some fans, to be sure, was calling for Dustin to be replaced as the everyday second baseman by Alex Cora.

In short, over his first fifty games in the majors, Pedroia was awful, and the media was leading the charge to run him out of the yard. Fortunately, they don’t run the show, and we now have an MVP at second.

How many games has Buchholz played in the majors to date, you might reasonably wonder? Twenty. And his minor league track record is significantly more impressive than Pedroia’s.

Lester

But maybe you think that the struggles of pitching and positional player prospects are too apples to oranges. Surely Cafardo, Mazz and the rest of the crew that’s dismissed Buchholz as a flash in the pan couldn’t have missed similar prospect struggles from players that play the same position?

Well, actually they have.

Most of us have likewise forgotten that Lester’s first year in the majors was…less than impressive. To be fair, it was cut short by cancer, but I’ve read nothing to indicate that the illness directly impacted his performance. Here’s what Lester did in his first 80+ innings.

IP H BB SO ERA K/9 BB/9
81.3 91 43 60 4.76 6.64 4.76

Some bumps, some bruises, but all in all that’s not a bad line for a young pitcher adjusting to the majors. And we all saw how Lester pitched this season, with more innings under his belt. Before faltering in his first start in the ALCS, he was dominant.

And now, how about that bust Buchholz?

IP H BB SO ERA K/9 BB/9
79.8 83 39 80 4.62 9.02 4.40

Yes, you’re reading that right: at a similar major league innings mark, Buchholz had a lower ERA, was striking out 2+ more batters per nine innings, while walking fewer.

And yet the media, in their infinite wisdom, has concluded that Buchholz has nothing to offer us, and is best kicked out of town for whatever return we can get.

Because no young player’s ever struggled to make the jump to the majors, after all. And especially not here in Boston. If that had happened, and kids that struggled went on to win MVP’s and to pitch like aces, we’d remember.

Wouldn’t we?

Things Are Never As Bad As They Seem, Though They Could Be Better

It’s not all good and it’s not all bad
Don’t believe everything you read
” – Mr. E

Mark Teixeira agreed to terms while I was somewhere over the Atlantic, I think, barreling down to JFK at five hundred miles an hour at thirty thousand feet. In spite of their DirecTV service, however, I didn’t hear about it till we touched down, the cellphone reconnected and the text messages flooded in.

My first reaction, as documented by Twitter, was probably similar to many of yours: “every text message I get notifying me that the Yankees signed Teixeira is like a kick in the crotch from Santa.” The majority of you I’ve heard from remain angry, to go with grim, depressed and pessimistic. And who knows, you could well be right to feel that way. But with the initial shock worn off, I’m far more au fait than I expected to be at this point.

Consider that, in retrospect, this is perhaps the least surprising thing that could have happened.

We knew the Empire would be flexing their financial muscles in an unprecedented fashion, given the twin realities of a shiny new park (built, in part, with tax dollars) and a distinct lack of postseason play for the to be retired House that Ruth Built.

And even if we knew that John Henry’s parting words – “we will not be a factor” – to Boras and Teixeira this week were oh-so-carefully crafted to avoid closing any doors (even as they proved accurate), we also knew that the owner was concerned about the impact the financial crisis would have on baseball and that he would therefore have limits to the Red Sox financial commitments. Not to mention that provisions like the no-trade the Yankees granted him go against our (intelligent) policy.

You know what? I think the club is right here.

The Red Sox identified a player that they wanted, they pursued him aggressively – offering, until the Yankees showed up, the highest AAV – and they came up short. To a team with greater (limitless?) financial resources. Where’s the shame in that? If we can all agree that every player should have a cost ceiling – and we should, at least, be able to agree on that – why should we agonize when we lose players because they fall outside of it?

No one’s saying you have to like it. But to conclude – as many in the media are doing right now – that this is an outright failure on the part of our front office or ownership group is a rather egregious misunderstanding of the situation. In my opinion.

In the opening paragraph to his piece “Did Yanks win … or did Sox just lose?,” the Globe’s Tony “I’d-trade-Buchholz-in-a-minute” Massarotti said the following:

They ultimately lost Mark Teixeira to the Yankees for maybe $1 million-$2 million a year, roughly 1 percent of their 2008 payroll.

Intended or not, the obvious implication to this reader is that the Sox lost because they were cheap. Which strikes me as not only incorrect, but shockingly naive.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the Sox extended themselves beyond the already staggering sum of $21M per year they were offering to someone playing first base. Let’s also say, again, for the sake of argument, that Teixeira didn’t prefer the Yankees all along – as has been claimed. Is Mazz really going to argue that the Yankees couldn’t have simply upped the price tag again? And again? That they couldn’t, ultimately, afford to outspend us? Or, alternatively, to stretch us to a point at which, even if we won, the contract would be unreasonably burdensome?

Of course they could.

That, my friends, is how Boras plays clubs. And our refusal to play his game is but one reason I remain glad that Theo, John Henry and the gang are running this club as dispassionately and rationally as possible. Because we’ve seen how running the club by catering to public sentiment works: we have eighty long years of history that tells us it’s the wrong way to do things.

This deal, as far as I’m concerned, came down to one thing: the Yankees have more money to spend. Nothing more, nothing less.

And no, I’m not going to cry foul about that.

Because it’s true that even with C.C., Burnett and Tex, the Yankee payroll will still be less than last year. Which is, it should be noted, something of a comment on the lack of correlation between payroll to performance as measured by record. But we’ll leave that argument for another time, not least because the Yankees have spent more wisely this trip around.

Is the following also true?

Even before their latest spending spree, the Yankees finished 2008 with a record payroll of $222.5 million, according to figures sent to clubs in recent days by the commissioner’s office. The $75 million gap between the Yankees and the next-highest spender, the Red Sox ($147.1 million), was more than the payroll of nine teams.

Sure. And I will undoubtedly be throwing that at my Yankee fan friends all season long, to best exploit their Puritanical guilt at having the top four salaries in the sport aggregated on their roster. Three on the infield alone.

But I’ll also be mindful of the delta between our payroll and that of the Rays. Not least because of how those guys played last year.

Few of the beat writers I’ve seen, meanwhile, have actually looked at what this means; they’re writing mostly about this feels. Fortunately, Law and Neyer – as writers with no connection to the club – have done what was necessary. Here are their reads.

First up, Law.

Give the Yankees credit: They’re not some nouveau riche team throwing their money around on whatever shiny baubles they come across in free agency. Signing three of the top four free agents on the market is a sign that they have excellent taste, even if they don’t seem to have a credit limit.

The signing of free agent Mark Teixeira fills a hole that has glared more and more every year of this decade at first base.

He’s probably the best defensive player relative to his position on the Yankees now, and could be one of only two or three who are above average depending on how the rest of the roster shakes out. He adds significant power to a lineup that had just two players slug over .500 this past year, and his .410 OBP in 2008 would have led the Yankees by 18 points.

Coupled with the loss of Jason Giambi, the signing of Teixeira means a net gain to the Yankees of four to five wins, considering both his bat and his defense. He also eliminates the need the Yankees had for a right-handed caddy for Giambi, since Teixeira is a true switch-hitter with power and patience from both sides of the plate. The Yanks still have to find a solution in center field, unless they decide to give Melky Cabrera the job again and live with the consequences if he continues to struggle. However, if they re-sign Andy Pettitte, they’re just about done.

[snip]

The Red Sox were in on the Teixeira chase until the last moment, and I have to wonder if they feel that they were used to drive up the price for the Yankees. Still, Boston is in good shape offensively and defensively without him. The Red Sox are still hoping that Mike Lowell returns at least mostly to form, but they’re set at first base in the short term with Kevin Youkilis and the long term with top prospect Lars Anderson reaching Double-A this year at age 20.

Not good news, but nor is the sky falling. Neyer’s view is a bit less good for us.

And just like that, the equation has changed.

Just like that, the conventional wisdom is now going to be that the Yankees are the team to beat.

You know what, though? I’m here to tell you that the conventional wisdom … is, as usual, exactly right. Of course the Yankees are the team to beat. The Yankees won 89 games this past season, and they’ve added the best pitcher in the majors and the second-best first baseman. They’re also likely to get more production next year from Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada, and Chien-Ming Wang is probably going to (roughly) double his eight wins of this year.

[snip]

A week ago, the Yankees were merely another of the fine teams in the American League East, no worse but no better than the Red Sox or the Rays. Today, though? If you pride yourself on holding unconventional views, then by all means, you should predict one of those other teams will win the East. Just don’t bet good money on it.

Given that they know the math better than I do, I’ll take their word for it. But you’ll forgive me if I don’t write off the 2009 season as a lost cause in December.

Giambi in 145 games in 2008 put up an .876 OPS. Teixeira put up a .962. So that’s an upgrade for them, clearly. They’re getting Giambi circa 2005 to replace Giambi circa 2009, but one that can actually play defense.

How’s he compare to Youk, tho? Well, the Greek God himself spotted the Sox with a .959 in 08. Not too shabby, even by Teixeira standards. And for those arguing that it was a career year for He Whose Beard Frightens Children, you may well be right. But here’s his career progression: .780, .805, .810, .843, .959. Looks reasonably like progress to me. And given that he’s 29, he’s still got a few good years ahead, I think. But who knows. And yes, of course, it would be nice to have two Teixeira’s instead of one.

But at least we have the one.

No, I’m with the Press Herald’s Kevin Thomas who says:

Mark Teixeira has signed with the New York Yankees and … if you listen to some media folk, the Red Sox have failed miserably and are in trouble.

Hmm.

Hmm indeed (though I’d feel better if he hadn’t cited Steve Phillips in that piece, as I think…little of him).

While Mazz would apparently suggest that by claiming anything other than “we’re doomed…DOOMED!” I am “perpetuating organizational propaganda,” I think we’ll have a pretty good club in 2009. The Yankees may well win the 95 games the Red Sox front office projects them to every year, but there’s a long way to go between here and there. Or maybe you knew the Rays would take the division last year?

Anyway, in case you’re still in need of it, the Top 5 Reasons to Be Happy We Didn’t Sign Teixeira:

5. Keeping Lowell gives us premium gloves at third and first (assuming Lowell is reasonably healthy), instead of premium at first and average at third.
4. Eight years is a long time in an uncertain – even for NY – economy. Particularly with a no trade.
3. Our best positional prospect, Lars Anderson, plays the same position as Teixeira.
2. Even with a banged up Lowell, a month and a half without Papi and a few months with a half-Papi, we were second in the league in runs scored. The Yankees, with the two previous highest contracts in the game manning the left side of their infield? Seventh.
1. The spectacularly irritating and fact-free will-he-or-won’t-he-sign saga is now over. For at least eight years.

So we’ll see what ’09 brings. If this doesn’t get the Yankees over the top, we may yet see a repeat of their 2003 strategy, as documented by The Onion. And who wants that?

If nothing else, the rivalry is back.

Buchholz…One More Time

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In case it was less than obvious, I was driven insane some months ago by the media’s complete inability to grasp even the basics of player evaluation; most acutely with respect to Clay Buchholz.

But while reading Over the Monster’s interview with the Globe’s Tony Massarotti – kudos to OTM on that, BTW – I really think I’ve had a breakthrough in my comprehension of how Massarotti and his colleages can look at the same set of data and come to such different conclusions: we’re not looking at the same data.

Everything about the media’s evaluation of our players begins to make sense if you do one, simple thing: discount their minor league performance and scouting reports. If you base your analysis off of nothing more than their performance with the big club, Tony, Nick and the rest of the gang are exactly right. Phrases like, I still think “Buchholz’ greatest value is on the trade market,” or “Masterson seems like the best of the lot,” are not controversial, obtuse or perplexing, but simple statements of fact. Well, maybe not so much the former, because it flies in the face of basic precepts like “sell high/buy low,” but you get the point.

Try it. Just look at the major league numbers for a minute. Not the ones that provide context like BABIP, and not the ones are decent indicators of ceiling like K/9. Don’t look, in fact, any further than ERA, because that’s all you’ll need. Buchholz’ ERA last season was 6.75 (ignore the 1.59 over 22.1 IP in ’07). Masterson’s was 3.16. Who’s the better pitcher? Masterson. Who’s expendable? Buchholz.

Simple.

What makes life hard for me, I can see now, is that I actually consider their minor league histories, and factor them in when evaluating the player. To make matters worse, I view ERA as slightly more important than a pitcher’s W/L record – which is effectively irrelevant for the purposes of evaluation, as far as I’m concerned – but significantly less useful than, oh, BABIP, K/9, HR/9, and K/BB. And the nail in the coffin? I’m reluctant to project too much on the basis of sample sizes of less than a hundred innings at the major league level.

If I didn’t have those problems, none of the following would trouble me when I concluded that Buchholz was a bust and should be shipped for the first available need:

  • Buchholz’ BABIP – career – is .343. The average typically allowed on balls in play for pitchers of virtually any type is .290, which in English means that hitters have an average 50+ points higher against Buchholz than they should.

    One of two conclusions, therefore, is supportable: a.) Buchholz has found some new way to uniquely allow a higher average on balls in play, or b.) he’s been unlucky in a small sample size and will inevitably revert to the mean.

  • In 344.1 IP in the Minor Leagues, Buchholz has struck out 417 guys while walking 95. His ERA over that span? 2.43. In case you’re fuzzy on the whole good/bad thing, those numbers are good. Exceedingly good. For the sake of comparison, Masterson – who, in spite of being the media’s flavor the month, I really like – has struck out 193 while walking 59 in over a hundred fewer innings (233.1). His ERA? 3.78. What do those numbers mean? Buchholz – per nine innings pitched at the minor league level – has struck out roughly three more guys, while walking .2 more. It’s always difficult to predict pitchers, but the ability to strike men out while walking as few as possible is one of the best indicators.
  • Aside from the statistical arguments that Buchholz is a pitcher with a higher upside than Masterson (and Bowden, in my view, isn’t even in this conversation yet), there’s the scouting report on their respective arsenals. Buchholz has two pitches that are considered plus – his curveball and changeup – and his fastball is, when he can locate it, more than adequate, with good to plus velocity. Masterson has one pitch that is considered plus – his fastball – and two that are not: his changeup and slider. Thus, while both pitchers have suggestive platoon splits in their major league history to date, the scouting reports indicate that Buchholz has more weapons than Masterson to attack left handed hitters.

Ignoring all of that, it’s easy to see why Buchholz is on the media’s shit list at the moment. Not living up to the impossible expectations created by the no hitter would be enough on its own, but carousing with Victoria’s Secret models and Penthouse pets? You’re done in this town, kid: no matter what your minor league numbers say.

Well, except for the fact that Theo’s running things. Thank Jebus.

Maybe Bucky pans out, and maybe he doesn’t: he’s a pitching prospect, after all. But to regard him, as the media quite obviously does, as done after 98.2 innings is, to me, the real insanity here.

Rumors of My Death Etc Etc

from the pressbox

So it’s been a while. But hear me now and understand me later, I needed the time off. And whether you know it or not, you did too. Even if you didn’t, what are you going to do about it?

Because either way, we’re back, baby, and a lot has happened since the last time you and I checked in. Which, in turn, begs the question: why are we wasting time talking about how many months it’s been since our last chat? Let’s just get to it.

Now.

Buchholz

In spite of the best efforts of the Boston media (read: Cafardo and Massarotti) to drive me completely insane, it would appear that the front office and I are on the same page with respect to Buchholz. Last week, the MLB.com Rangers beat reporter put it this way:

The Red Sox have made it clear that they aren’t interested in trading Clay Buchholz under any circumstances.

This week, Peter Gammons validated that while talking to our friends from Fire Brand:

I don’t think Texas will trade Teagarden, and their asking price for Saltalamacchia has been either Buchholz or Masterson and Bowden; not happening.

To which I say: thank Jebus. It’s not that I’m unwilling to part with Buchholz under the right circumstances; it’s just that – as discussed – I think trading him now is the very essence of selling low.

Which, fortunately, it seems like our front office is smart enough to recognize. Now if only the media could see the light…

Lowe

As I said in one of the Fire Brand Roundtables, I’m all for bringing our own prodigal son dlowe back.

“Call me crazy, but I say DLowe – provided you can get him at reasonable (for the Red Sox) dollars for three years or less, and that you do your homework on his off the field status. Much as I’d love Teixeira, he’s going to get a massive six plus year deal from someone, and it won’t be us. Ditto for CC, and with him you have overuse/weight issues potentially complicating the back end of the deal. Burnett and Sheets, meanwhile, are terrific pitchers…when they take the field. Which isn’t often. Sheets hasn’t thrown 200 innings since ’04, and Burnett’s done it only twice in the last six years. Plus, they’ll command a significant premium as high strikeout pitchers. Lowe, meanwhile, has thrown 200 four out of the last six (and just missed in ’07), while keeping his ERA since leaving Boston comfortably under 4. Park effects have a lot to do with that, of course, but with his groundball ratio it’s less true than it might be with other pitchers. If you have some assurances that the pitcher wouldn’t spend every available evening at Daisy Buchanan’s, then, and he’s willing to sacrifice either years or dollars to play where he wants, I think you have to consider it.”

Not much has happened to change that opinion: if anything, Lowe has ramped up his “I’d love to play in Boston” rhetoric. I still think it’s a long shot, given what he’s likely to be offered elsewhere, but I take him over Sheets and even Burnett easy. As does Neyer.

Pedroia

What can you say, except: I can’t believe I singlehandedly turned El Caballito’s season around with this post and he’s offered me nothing? Ungrateful little pony…But otherwise, I couldn’t be happier. After what he went through early in ’07, when everyone was burying the tiny rookie with the big swing, this is a veritable storybook turnaround.

As much as I admire his play, however, I’m even more appreciative of his willingness to compromise and share a little risk with the club, sacrificing overall dollars in the process. We are unlikely to see this with our other young kids, with Pap looking to max his dollars and Ells having signed with Boras, but I admit to an unreasonable appreciation for Dustin’s willingness to take a hometown discount in return for security. The $40M+ guaranteed presumably doesn’t hurt, either.

Ramirez

I think we can file this one under a big miss for wicked clevah, since I saw Crisp as gone last…February. But the return here, I don’t think, was awful. A power arm for the middle innings is nothing to sneer at given our bullpen’s regular season struggles last year. Particularly if, as Gammons argues, the market for Crisp was weak overall:

The Red Sox surveyed what was a surprisingly small market for Crisp — Cincinnati was the other club with the most interest — and decided that with Jeremy Affeldt starting out the 2008 free-agent market by signing a two-year, $8 million deal with the Giants, it likely will be easier to find another outfielder than secure a low-cost power reliever.

That said, not everyone’s on board. Law thinks we could be disappointed in the return:

For the Red Sox, they save a good amount of cash by moving a superfluous player and get a cheap arm for their pen, albeit one with some red flags. Ramon Ramirez works primarily with two pitches — a 91-93 mph fastball that he pounds to his glove side and an upper 80s splitter (or split-change) with a very sharp downward movement. He’ll occasionally mix in a slider around 86-87 mph, but it’s not as effective as the splitter, which he throws almost as often as his fastball. Despite some violence in his delivery, he’s had around average control throughout his pro career (just 25 unintentional walks this year) and has a history of missing bats. The surprise in his performance is that he keeps the ball in the park; he doesn’t have great life or sink on his fastball, and his command of it is fringe-average, yet he has given up just 9 home runs in 156 career big-league innings, half of which came in Colorado. Between that and his moderate platoon split, it seems unlikely that he’s an eighth inning solution for the Red Sox.

Ultimately, while I was surprised – I anticipated Crisp being part of a trade with Texas for one of their catchers – I’m not disappointed in the return. Even if Ramirez is not an eighth inning solution, he gives us another useful, controllable arm, some flexibility in trading someone from the pen if necessary, and salary relief for a player we didn’t need – and who may have been less of a good soldier in his second year of not starting.

I’m cool with that.

Tazawa

First things first: the kid’s highly unlikely to make the major league roster out of the gate. And reports that he’s cranking 97+ with his fastball are – apparently – pure exagerration as he sits 90-93, from the more reasonable reports that I’ve seen. All of that said, I – shockingly – concur with Mazz that this Tazawa is, if nothing else, a hedge against the draft pick that we could conceivably lose:

Now that Junichi Tazawa is here, the smart thing to do would be to consider him as the Sox’ first-round selection in 2009.

Viewed that way, the signing makes a lot of sense, and it was at a reasonable expense as well: $3.3M. Here’s Law’s take:

He’s not major-league ready, having only pitched in an amateur industrial league in Japan, but he should be ready to start in Double-A and could see the majors in late 2009 if all goes well. His splitter (or split-change) should give minor-league hitters nightmares, but he’ll need to work on his fastball command. If his breaking ball doesn’t come along, he projects more as a plus two-pitch reliever than as a starter.

Another of the FO’s decisions that I’m more than fine with.

Teixeira

To address the question posed by Senor Frechette – what becomes of Lars Anderson should we sign Tex – the answer is: I don’t know. There seem to be three possibilities: 1.) he becomes trade bait, 2.) he’s worked into an infield/DH rotation beginning in late 09 or 2010, 3.) he’s inserted into left field following Bay’s departure after the ’09 season.

Here’s what we know:

  1. The Sox value him highly – he’s Baseball America’s #1 Sox prospect
  2. Anderson’s not projected to be ready until midseason at the earliest, with 2010 as a more likely arrival date
  3. Of the spots he could take on the current roster, Bay is up after ’09, Lowell ’10, Papi ’10 (club option for ’11), Youk ’11 (I think, based on his service time)
  4. We’ve got – potentially – a lot of money to play with this offseason, with $40M or so coming off the books

There’s an assumption amongst media members that we’ll take our current projected surplus and apply that to Teixeira, and this makes sense given the uncertainty and frequent inconsistency of our offense last season – particularly with Manny gone. But it remains to be seen whether or not he’s going to try and break the bank and shoot for $200M, even in this economy. If he that’s the case, I think we bow out. But stranger things have happened.

If he’s not signed, Anderson continues on track, I think, to take Lowell’s place (w/ Youk shifting to third) in the 2010 timeframe. If Tex does come on board, I think Anderson is retained if only to provide insurance depending on whether the Large Father a.) recovers adequately and b.) signs with Boston following the expiration of his contract. Given Anderson’s status as the top prospect in a still top shelf farm system, he’s not going anywhere except for a premium talent in return.

Varitek

One of the things that’s perplexed me this offseason has been the talk of securing Varitek – either via arbitration or a short term free agent deal – to train his replacement, to be obtained via trade. Gammons among others has mentioned this as a possibility, and while there’s nothing intrinsically odd about that, except for this question: who catches Wake? Theo addressed that in his comments today:

“We have to be mindful of the fact that Wake can be a challenge for some catchers,” Epstein said. “At the same time, I don’t know that even Wake feels we should limit our options at catcher because of any one pitcher. We just have to strike the right balance. [Varitek's] caught him in the past. We’ll see. There’s no news on that front. He’s always been an option to catch him. He’s caught him in the past. It’s obviously something that [Terry Francona's] stayed away from in recent years.”

With all due respect to Theo, this strikes me as pure posturing. If Varitek could catch Wake, there would have been no need for the panic deal that sent Bard – more on him in a minute – and Meredith out to San Diego for Mirabelli. Assuming that the Captain can’t catch him regularly, then, that would mean that the job of catching would Wake would either a.) fall to Varitek’s replacement, or b.) Cash, necessitating the extremely suboptimal three catchers on the roster. Frankly, the latter strikes me as a non-starter here in the Big Boy league, meaning that if Tek and a young catcher are acquired, the job of catching Wake is going to be the kid’s.

Not sure about you, but I don’t see that happening. I think either Tek is retained or we get a replacement, not both. Which, I couldn’t tell you, though we’ll know by Sunday whether or not the Captain has accepted arbitration.

Should be fun to watch.

And as a special bonus catching section:

Bard

Last I checked, Josh Bard – the catcher we shipped to San Diego after he proved unable to catch Wake – is available. Probably because in 57 games with the Friars, he put up an abysmal .202/.235/.333 line. Not a typo: he really was a .569 OPS player. That said, ’07 saw him put up a .285/.364/.404 in a tough hitters’ park, and Bill James’ ’09 forecast is .268/.342/.395. Which may not seem like much, until you remember that Tek’s 08 line was .220/.313/.359. And that Tek’s 09 projection is .238/.334/392. And that Bard is six years younger than Varitek.

I’ll admit that a proposed catching tandem of Bard/Cash isn’t all that thrilling, but it could a.) save us from overpaying for the likes of Salty – who may not be able to catch long term anyway (the cat is huge), and b.) give the kids (Exposito, Wagner, et al) another year to develop and tell us whether or not our solution is in house after all.