Why the Red Sox Front Office is Doing What it's Doing

If not for the good folks from Baseball Prospectus – via ESPN – I’m not sure who would be putting our front office into context. It seems clear that the Boston writers, with but a few exceptions, can’t be trusted with the task. Witness their breathless, hysterical escalation of the non-news of Theo’s “bridge” comment. Or, more importantly, their continuing inability to explain the big picture of how the front office operates.

For the casual, and perhaps not-so-casual fan, then, I offer the following question and answer series. Cribbed in part from conversations I’ve had with people less interested in obsessed with the club than yours truly, it attempts to answer that simple question: what is the front office is doing, and why?

Q: Ok, so what is the front office’s plan? Mazz says it’s “pitching and defense.” Is that true?
A: The truth is that there is no plan. Or more correctly, there is no single plan. The front office seems to recognize that the composition of championship clubs varies, as the material differences between our 2004 and 2007 clubs demonstrate quite adequately. Rather than have a fixed view of roster construction, then, the front office will dynamically readjust their plans based on the players on hand, those available via trade or free agency, and perhaps most importantly, inefficiencies in the current marketplace.

Q: So it’s not always going to be “pitching and defense?”
A: No. Bill James told us as much.

“I believe it’s accurate to say that it was our perception that that was where the value was in this year’s market, in this year’s set of conditions. It also had to do with the needs of last year’s team. Last year’s team needed some defense, we had to invest in some defense, and the market seemed pretty good for it. But to say that’s the new thing and it will be that way from now on, I wouldn’t do that…

I think we understand we’ve had good defensive metrics now for five or six years. When I started with the Red Sox we didn’t have them, we had kind of primitive ones. We’ve got pretty good ones now for several years. It has reached the point at which not only us but a lot of teams are confident about that now and are starting to let the money flow toward gloves, which is a good thing…

So I wouldn’t say it’s a one-year correction at all. But I also think next year’s market will be entirely different. It may well be that next year, we’ll look at our team and say we need to put our money in thunder.”

Q: They’ll adapt, in other words?
A: Precisely. The Lackey signing is Exhibit A here. As Theo has acknowledged, the Red Sox did not head into the offseason with the intent of pursuing that pitcher. When the opportunity presented itself, however, the Red Sox considered it, and layered it into a series of other moves that took the club in a different direction. It might have been Plan C or D, rather than Plan A.

Q: How is this different than what other clubs do?
A: Well, it’s not that different from what enlightened clubs might do, but it’s certainly not what the writers expect.

Q: How do you mean?
A: Consider how many times writers talked about our offensive shortcomings this winter. What was their expectation? That we would sign either Jason Bay or Matt Holliday – had to, in fact – because our needs were clearly on offense. That was their expected result. And what was the actual result? We signed neither, allocating our dollars instead to the best free agent pitcher available, strengthening an area of the club that wasn’t terribly weak to begin with.

Q: Why not pursue offense?
A: It’s not that they didn’t. We know that they bid for Bay, and we’re told that they were in on Holliday as well. But the front office doesn’t let artificial perceptions of need impact their judgments about player value. Meaning that they’ll pay Bay or Holliday this season, or a Teixeira last season, what they believe he’s worth – no more than that. Rather than overpay a Bay or Holliday, they’ll improve the club in other ways that they believe represent better value.

Q: So there’s really no plan?
A: If anything, the front office seems focused on what Theo talks about above: balance. They want to have good pitching, good defense, and good offense. But they appreciate the reality that all of those areas factor into winning, not just offense, so if they can’t improve in one area at a reasonable cost, they can improve in others and still achieve the goal of improving the club. Ultimately, they want to get good value for their investment, whatever that may be.

Overpaying an offensive player just because you may need offense doesn’t represent good value.

Q: But aren’t there times when they can’t improve in other areas? Where they’ll be desperate and have to, say, field a shortstop?
A: Certainly. That’s when you end up with a Julio Lugo on a four year deal. After that debacle, I’d guess that the front office will do everything in its power to avoid finding itself over a barrel in that fashion again. Even the Mike Lowell deal can be viewed similarly: without any good internal third base candidates and a poor market, they didn’t have much choice but to commit more years to Lowell than was prudent. And now, like Lugo, they’re likely to be paying him to play elsewhere.

In a perfect world, the Sox development system over time has viable candidates at multiple positions, so that they’re more frequently dealing from a position of strength when it comes to negotiations. But building that complete a system takes time.

Q: Let’s go back to value: how does the club measure that?
A: Based on their statistical analysis and their scouting assessments, presumably. But the Red Sox are also very cognizant of market influences on value.

Q: What impact does the market have on value? Isn’t a player universally valued? A 30 homer guy is a 30 homer guy, right?
A: Not at all. Market perceptions of value vary consistently, and the Red Sox front office, like their more enlightened counterparts with other clubs, look constantly for inefficiencies in the valuation process.

Q: Can you provide an example?
A: Sure. Moneyball is the canoical reference point here.

Q: Right: OBP is undervalued, right?
A: Wrong. First of all, Moneyball was not about OBP. Moneyball was about nothing more or less than the inefficiency of markets. Specifically baseball. The idea that it’s a book about OBP has been propagated by the less open-minded of the mainstream baseball media. Which is to say, most of them. As one of the exceptions, Chad Finn, observes:

There is an element of mean-spirited giddiness among those who didn’t much approve of [Billy Beane] being awarded the “smartest man in baseball” title belt after the success of Michael Lewis’s “Moneyball.” Not coincidentally, those who dismiss or discredit Beane typically tend to be the same shortsighted wretches who believe the book’s theme is about acquiring players who walk a lot. Must be easier to pick at the perceived smartest guy in the room and cheer for his comeuppance than it is to open your own mind and overcome those preconceived notions.

But more importantly, OBP isn’t undervalued, OBP was undervalued. Big difference. Prior to the publication of that book, and for a few years after its release, players that got on base were not properly valued by the marketplace. But, the Kansas City Royals aside, OBP players, in general, are getting the money they deserve. According to the market, at any rate.

This means that there are fewer inefficiencies to be exploited there, versus a few years ago. The days of getting high OBP players for pennies on the dollar are, in all likelihood, over.

Q: So, what, we don’t want high OBP players anymore?
A: Not at all. The ability to get on base is one of the single most important offensive skills players can have, so the Red Sox will continue to try acquire players with those skills, and cultivate it in the players that they draft and develop. What they won’t be able to do any longer, because the valuation of OBP is better, is acquire those players as efficiently (read: cheaply) as they have in the past.

Q: What do they do, then? What kind of player represents the new value?
A: That won’t be clear for a year or two, but the early indications are that the club believes that defense is currently undervalued. As the signings of Beltre, Cameron, et al would indicate. As Dave Cameron explains, this is why clubs like ours look more old school, than Moneyball.

Epstein and James have traded on-base percentage for ultimate zone ratings, believing that the market has over-corrected and is now undervaluing a player’s ability to save runs in the field. They aren’t the only ones — the Tampa Bay Rays, Seattle Mariners, and yes, even Billy Beane’s Oakland Athletics are also on the bandwagon.

The question is, particularly with newer and better defensive performance data about to be available, how much longer defense will be undervalued. When defense is properly valued, what’s next? Cameron’s guessing older players, which makes sense, because the value of younger players has never been higher, and older players are finding it a more and more difficult economic environment.

But we’ll see.

Q: Where does budget come into this? Mazz, CSNNE’s Joe Haggerty and others have argued in the past that the Red Sox are a big market club behaving as if it’s only got small market dollars. Is that fair?
A: I don’t think so, no. The Red Sox are, to be sure, applying the prinicples that have made small market teams competitive to their larger organization, but they are not at all shy with the dollars when – and this is the important part – it represents good value, in their opinion. They won’t spend just to spend, even if that’s what people want.

Q: Example?
A: Sure. Holliday was a player that the Red Sox liked, by all accounts. But they recognize that he isn’t a great player, just a very good one. So when he expected to be paid like a great player, they moved on. And when the dollars they had budgeted for Teixeira proved unnecessary because that player signed elsewhere, they didn’t simply throw that money at a player of lesser ability. That’s not being cheap, that’s not being stupid.

Q: But can’t the Red Sox, as a big market club, afford a couple million extra here and there?
A: Absolutely. But quite often the discrepancies between the player and agent’s opinion of his value and the Red Sox’s aren’t off by a couple of million – they’re off by tens of millions. Think of Pedro Martinez who wanted a fourth year, and got it – bless him, delivering about 1.5 seasons worth of performance for that. That’s a significant difference, in capital terms. Holliday, more recently, got $122M from the Cardinals. The Red Sox were prepared to pay him Lackey’s money, or $82M. The differences, then, aren’t small. And while the Red Sox, as a large market team, might not be sunk if a $120M player gets hurt or underperforms, it would unquestionably negatively impact the product on the field and, more importantly, it’s just not a good way to spend your money.

Better to take that extra money and plow it back into more efficient marketplaces, from the club’s perspective, such as the draft.

Q: So the philosophy, then, is to acquire the best players you can at the most reasonable cost?
A: That’s it in a nutshell, yes. Whether you’re the Marlins or the Yankees, you want to assemble the best possible roster at the lowest possible cost. Because every dollar you overpay is a dollar that can’t be invested, elsewhere. Money is not infinite, even for the Yankees. True, the marginal values of players, wins and such differ based on context – a good reliever likely has more value to a contending club than to one in last place, for example – but overpaying is bad business. And as Steinbrenner discovered, or rather Michaels and Cashman have educated him on, bought teams correlate weakly with success.

Q: Let’s go back to the draft: are there market inefficiencies to exploit there?
A: Absolutely. First, it’s an artificially constrained marketplace, unlike the free agency foreign born players have access to. Second, the draft dynamics introduce certain inefficiencies that have been heavily exploited by clubs like the Red Sox. MLB has recommended acquisition costs for slots in the draft; the first pick should get X, the second Y, etc. Unsurprisingly, the players and agents often have differing opinions on the player’s value. The question for a club, then, is whether you will pay above slot bonuses to talent, or whether you will rigidly follow MLB’s guidelines. The Red Sox have, for several years, ignored the recommended slotting, and have done well in the draft. Clubs like Houston Astros, however, have stuck to the slotting guidelines, and their minor league system is barren as a result.

In essence, the draft is just another market inefficiency that the Red Sox – and other clubs, to be sure – have identified and are actively exploiting. To their benefit, and to ours.

Q: All of this just sounds like economics.
A: Probably because it is. It’s essentially Econ 101: asset valuation, exploitation of market inefficiencies, etc.

Q: So can we expect a playoff berth every year running the team on economic principles rather than traditional baseball practices?
A: Annual playoff berths actually are an unrealistic expectation. Better to judge by the process than the outcome, on balance. If we fail to make the playoffs in a given year – as in 2006 – this doesn’t mean the process is flawed.

That said, in a small sample size – Theo’s only been in charge since November 2002, remember – the results have been generally positive. Two more World Series titles than in the previous eighty years combined, and a playoff berth every year but one.

Q: Why don’t fans understand all of this?
A: Mostly because casual fans only have so much time to follow the team, and leave the big picture contextualizing to those who follow it professionally. And those professionals are letting the fans down. The media can’t explain what the front office is doing to the fans because they don’t understand it themselves. It’s easier to write a story about how the Sox are cheap for “replacing” Bay with Cameron and Hermida. It takes a little more time, effort and education to put the economics and statistics into context, because you’d have to actually study, you know, economics and statistics. And most of the writers in our market have put about as much effort into learning those subjects as they have learning Spanish to communicate more effectively with an increasingly Latin heavy population of baseball players.

The good news is that with sites like Baseball Prospectus, Fangraphs, Sons of Sam Horn and others, the general level of discourse and discussion about baseball is rising quickly. More and more fans appreciate the better understanding we have of today’s game, which means the audience for the kind of uneducated and sensationalistic coverage typical of the Murray Chass’ of the world is smaller by the day. And not a moment too soon.

In Case You Haven't Been Keeping Up on Current Events

We just got our asses kicked, pal. As previously discussed.

But what profit is it to dwell on our sub.500 record after a mere seven games? Let’s be mature about the situation, and indulge rather in our usual Sunday habit of Sox related news and anecdotes and Cafardo bashing.

Blue Plate Special

We’re old, or so says Major League Baseball. Via the Globe’s Nick Cafardo comes the following:

The average age of 861 Major League players on 25-man active rosters, disabled lists, and restricted lists as of April 1 was recorded at 29.46 years old. The Boston Red Sox are the oldest club in the majors with an average age of 31.33, while the Houston Astros pace the National League at 31.09 years old. The Florida Marlins are the youngest team in baseball with an average age of 27.78, and the Oakland Athletics field the youngest squad in the American League at 28.20 years old.

It would have been nice of Cafardo to provide some context and note that some of the elder statesmen that skew those numbers – Schilling, Timlin, Wakefield – are question marks for next season’s roster, or that four of our current starters are 27 or younger, but maybe that’s too much to ask.

Catching Conundrums

Remember when we discussed our precarious catching situation? It persists. Here’s the latest from Olney:

Scouts and officials with other teams say the Red Sox have been actively making inquiries about catchers, which makes sense, because among AL contenders, their backup situation isn’t strong. For example: Toronto has Gregg Zaun and Rod Barajas, the Indians have Victor Martinez and Kelly Shoppach, the Yankees have Jorge Posada and Jose Molina.

I’d predict that we would be dealing for catching, but the position is at such a premium at the moment we’d be required to significantly overpay, which the front office generally prefers not to do. So we’ll have to wait and see.

Colon Pitched Well – Not As Good as Reported – But Well

You may have read reports that Bartolo Colon was throwing in the mid 90′s during his Pawtucket start – I know I did. As I’d guessed, however, some of that was just an optimistic radar gun. From Soxprospects.com’s Clem21 (via Fire Brand of the American League):

Had excellent command tonight considering the conditions. His breaking pitches were pretty sharp and he was in control of the hitters for his outing. AB touched on his velocity in his post. He seemed to have pretty good velocity for innings 1-3, but it trailed off in innings 4-5. Generated a good amount of swings and misses from the AAA hitters in the beginning innings, but they started fouling off a lot of his pitches as the outing went on. I saw him hit 95 on the stadium gun as pointed out, but I checked in with a Cubs scout sitting next to me and he had him at 92 on his gun for the same pitch. He had Colon at 88-91 for the outing with him dipping down to 87-88 in the 5th inning before reaching back to 92 on his last pitch. Overall, it was a positive outing for Colon, but I don’t see the arm strength there as of yet and see it being another 2-3 outings before we see what he’s really got.

Some of you might read that as terrible news, but I find that scouter very encouraging. Sure, I’d prefer a Colon throwing gas, gas and more gas just like the old days. But I’m far more concerned about his command; that, you might remember, was his undoing in his spring training start against the Empire.

If he can throw low 90′s consistently and locate, I’d expect him to bump Buchholz back down to Pawtucket for both seasoning and innings limitation purposes one or two starts into the future.

Four Man Rotations, Pitch Counts, and More: Bill James

A terrific – particularly compared to 60 Minutes – Freakonomics interview with Bill James in the NY Times yielded this gem:

Q: Do you feel, given the right personnel, that some teams should try a four man rotation. If not, why not? If so, which team do you think is best suited and why?

A: I think it is plausible that that could happen and could succeed. I would explain my feelings about it this way: that between 1975 and 1990, two changes were made to reduce the workload of starting pitchers in an effort to reduce injuries. First, we switched from a four-man to a five-man rotation. Second, we imposed pitch-count limits on starting pitchers, starting at about 140 and then gradually reducing that to about 110.

I think it is clear that at least one of those changes was unnecessary, and accomplished nothing. It is possible that both of them were unnecessary and accomplished nothing, but the better evidence is on the side of the pitch limits. I think it is possible, based on what I know, that the starting rotations could go back to four pitchers with no negative consequences.

It’s possible that it’s solely because I’m a pitching geek, but I find this fascinating. Particularly because it comes from someone on our own staff.

Interviewing Cashman

A number of outlets have pointed to LoHud’s interview with Brian Cashman, and I’d agree that it’s informative, insightful, and all that good stuff. Worth a read, in other words. But one of the more interesting answers, from my perspective, was this:

Neil asked: What do you think is the most significant move you have made as GM of the Yankees? For good or bad?

Brian Cashman: “I don’t know if you can say one’s significant over another. This is how many years I have done this? Ten or 11? This is my 11th year. It varies. It depends on where the organization is. There are a number of moves we made to finish off championship runs. Like 2000, when we built that team on the run. In 2000, we changed over a big part of that roster in season to get our third championship in three years and then our fourth world championship appearance in five years. That was pretty special. But I think after 05, making the tough decision to take the steps back to rebuild the farm system and be patient and try to teach patience where patience doesn’t exist within the recent history of this franchise. I think that’s going to be a big turning point for this franchise for a long time.”

Unfortunately, I agree with him.

More Japan

Call me unsurprised: the players have nothing positive to say about the Japan trip. I sympathize, because I think the entire concept is asinine, not to mention hideously inconvenient to fans here in the US, but I’m tired of hearing about it.

Improved international relations aside, this trip has been officially classified as an absolute joke.

Believe me, Papelbon isn’t on an island with his opinion. Even before the final out was registered last night, the Sox’ well-worn description of the 19-day road trip as “a business trip” had morphed into downright disgust.

My prediction? The volume of Japan trip mentions – for the season – will be inversely proportional to our win total.

No More Red Sox are the New Yankees

From the Globe’s David Lefort comes the interesting – more on that in a moment – word that we’re no longer second in MLB payroll. Nor even third.

Figures obtained by the Associated Press indicated that the Red Sox opened the season with a payroll of $133,440,037 (click here for a player-by-player breakdown), which is down $10 million from their Opening Day payroll last season and ranks as the fourth-highest in the majors. Not surprisingly, the Yankees lead the way with just over $209 million.

Remember this the next time someone tries to persuade you that we’re “just like the Yankees.” We spend more than the majority of other clubs, it’s true, but the payroll delta this season comes to better than $75M according to my rudimentary math.

Why is this interesting? Because it may indicate that we’ll have some flexibility come the trading deadline. Never to early to begin speculating.

Stay Klassy, Cafardo

Paps and Oki aside, the bullpen has sucked to date, you’ll get no argument on that here. Still, I was personally offended on behalf of Aardsma/Corey/Snyder when Cafardo reacted to the bullpen implosion on the 5th with the following:

Looks like there’ll be plenty of candidates for Josh Beckett’s roster spot.

You want to dog their performance, fine. But I draw the line at sarcasm when it comes to roster spots: these are people’s lives and careers we’re talking about. A little bit less angry fan would be appreciated from a theoretically objective reporter.

In Case You Haven't Been Keeping Up With Current Events

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Jed Lowrie, SS, Hitting Third, originally uploaded by sogrady.

Bowing to the inevitable, I’ve basically accepted that this recurring feature is to become my own half-assed version of the Sunday Notes column pioneered by the inestimable Peter Gammons. Though it’s clearly blasphemous to discuss this space and Gammons in the same sentence, at least I’m not calling it a Notes column. Or claiming it’s particularly well written. Or informed. And so on.

Anyway, on to this week’s roundup.

Bill James’ Contribution

I am in no way an expert on Bill James or his contributions to the game. I’ve read a few of his books, digested countless interviews, and cheered his hiring by the Good Guys. But Edes’ piece on James this week did little to dispell the notion that he’s ultimately a very humble man, entirely unfocused on the scope of his contributions to the game. From my vantage point, James’ primary gift to baseball can be summed up in one simple lesson: Of Everything You Know to Be Right and True, Only Some Is. For that alone, the man belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Clay = Playah

So Clay has “gone out with” the Penthouse Pet of the Year, Erica Ellyson. Ok, good for him. But I have three questions after reading that item. First, he was seeing a Victoria’s Secret model last year and no one knew? Second, did he start seeing that one before or after the no hitter? Third, why is his Dad not only providing all of the above information, but providing it to a radio station?

Correcting Cafardo

Sadly, this is likely to become a recurring feature, given Boston Globe writer Nick Cafardo’s frequently questionable conclusions. Cafardo, you might remember, is the one who argued that Sabathia was the fourth best pitcher in the AL last year and was subtly lamenting the innings caps imposed on young pitchers these days. This week’s pearls of wisdom from the unfortunate owner of Boston’s Notes responsibilities:

  • I know Jason Giambi makes $21 million this year, but I’d play Shelley Duncan at first. What energy.

    I mean, Who wouldn’t? Honestly, who among you would not sit Giambi and his $21M and his lifetime .411 OBP (.356 last season, in a down year) in favor of Duncan and his lifetime .329 (lifetime .337 in the minors). Because, after all, the latter has “energy.” As an aside, if some of the baseball purists wonder why statistics people tend to completely discard non-statistical arguments, well, after reading people like Cafardo, can you blame them?

    Some of you might rightly argue that the Yankees could could employ one player at DH and the other at first, but then the question becomes: why doesn’t Cafardo make that argument instead?

  • Boras also represents Matt Holliday, a free agent after 2009. Think the Sox might have their sights on him?

    Indeed they might, as Holliday was a legitimate MVP candidate last season. But you’d think that Cafardo – as someone whose job it is to report on baseball – might actually acknowledge that the Sox might have their sights set similarly on Holliday’s home/road splits (last three years: .370/.430/.676 home, .281/.343/.466 away). But maybe that’s asking too much.

If This Isn’t the Luckiest Kid Ever…

I invite you to tell me who is. I mean, his first ball game?

Lowrie = Pedroia?

For those curious as to why I’m not terribly enthusiastic about the presence of Julio Lugo on our roster at ~$8M per, look no further than this piece. Entitled “Lowrie, Pedroia Have Their Differences,” it effectively proves the opposite. How does it do that? Well, in 1,216 minor league plate appearances for Pedroia and 1,263 for would-be shortstop candidate Jed Lowrie, their respective OPSs are .846…and .846. Granted, Pedroia’s includes a season’s worth of AAA ABs while Lowrie’s does not, but nonetheless: they are similar players offensively.

Speaking of Lowrie, apparently he told Kevin Thomas earlier this week that he’s been told to be “be ready to go to Japan.” Maybe that need has subsided in the wake of Lugo’s return to the lineup, but interesting nonetheless.

And for those of you who’ve decided that Lowrie can’t play after he’s put up a .167 average in 37 spring training AB’s, it might be worth considering that Pedroia’s average last spring after 51 AB’s was a robust .196.

More Cash vs Mirabelli

I’ve already said my piece on the Cash over Mirabelli issue, but three interesting tidbits that have emerged since then.

  1. I found the language Cash used in his interview with the Globe interesting. Apparently he “had an agreement” with the Red Sox at the start of camp.
    “They said come into camp and see where it goes from there. They’ve been up front and honest with me. No promises or no guarantees or anything, but they told me you will have opportunities.”

  2. Additionally, Curt Schilling’s take on the decision is worth a read. Not least for this subtle dig at the front office’s lack of recognition for Dougie’s Going Deep’s assets:
    In this market with all that goes on off the field guys like Doug have so much value beyond the 100 or so ABs they get each year, but people can’t quantify that, and many dismiss it.

    Or maybe I’m reading too much into that

  3. Last, I found the Herald’s take on the matter interesting (one commenter assumes it’s Mazz talking, but I don’t see a byline and I would have assumed it was Bradford:
    For what it’s worth, many members of the media did not like Mirabelli and found him to be arrogant. My relationship with him was quite good. Mirabelli had a dry, sarcastic sense of humor and was quite self-deprecating, though you probably had to know him to understand him. Regardless, his teammates generally liked him, which is all that really matters.

The Power of Jacoby

Lots has been written about my Navajo brother’s power – or lacktherof – in the months since he took Red Sox Nation by storm. And it was in that context that I found Grandmaster Theo’s candid comments on the subject to Baseball Prospectus’ David Laurilia intriguing:

He will eventually have more power than people give him credit for. It’s really a matter of him taking his BP swing into the game, because if you watch his BP, he has incredible natural backspin that he generates. He’s stronger now, and his ball really carries. But even from the day we signed him, he was able to go deep into the bullpens in Fenway in batting practice. I think that with any young hitter it’s a matter of refining your approach and getting comfortable, so that eventually you can take your best swing – your BP swing – into the game with you on a more consistent basis, against all kinds of pitching. For some players, that process takes them their whole career. It takes them years to make that adjustment. With him, once he does that, I think you’ll see a lot more power.

Intriguing. I’m not entirely buying it – though I do agree that Ellsbury will have eventually have more power than many project for him – but intriguing. Still, I lean more towards Rob Neyer on this one, who says:

A “lot more power,” though? Well, maybe. When Damon was 23, he hit eight home runs. When Ellsbury was 23 (last year), he hit five. From 24 through 26, Damon averaged 16 homers per season. Could Ellsbury do that? Sure. At 6-foot-1 and 185 (listed) pounds, he’s bigger than the young versions of Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. But Damon never did become a superstar. And Ichiro hits them a long ways in BP, too.

Either way, I count myself as not terribly concerned. If Ellsbury becomes nothing more than Jonny Damon – let alone Ichiro – I’ll count myself as very pleased. And if he ends up developing the power that Epstein projects, I’ll consider that Gravy. Capital intended.

Trade Talk

More from Cafardo, who’s not terrible when he sticks to reporting and skips the analysis:

“Kyle Snyder, Julian Tavarez, and Bryan Corey are among the most scouted pitchers in the American League. One or all could be moved before the start of the season.”

Crisp: Going or Staying?

We’re not going to forget, as an organization, that he’s the incumbent.” – Terry Francona

Around 8:01 in the above video, Tito reminds us of Crisp’s value. A reminder that would seem to be well aimed, given the propensity of many – yours truly included – to regard the trade of the incumbent as something of a foregone conclusion.

Which begs the question: should he be traded? Setting aside the clubhouse dynamics for just a moment, let’s look at a few projections. First, Crisp. PECOTA sees his ’08 line as .278/.338/.407, with Bill James projecting slightly lower in the latter two categories at .335 and .400 respectively. On the other side of the ring, PECOTA projects Ellsbury to put up a .287/.346/.395 line in ’08, with James’ numbers significantly more optimistic for OBP and SLG at .374/.436.

If we go strictly by PECOTA, then, we might give a slight offensive edge to Ellsbury as the slight disparity in power is offset by a greater on base percentage. But when James is thrown into the mix, Ellsbury becomes the far more dynamic offensive force. Even allowing for Crisp’s defensive superiority then – because I’m in agreement with Tito that Crisp played the position last year about as well as you can – you’d take my Navajo brother over the incumbent.

Not that the Red Sox should allow this to play out as anything other than a straight up competition, because to anoint Ellsbury as the starter would not only push Crisp towards a Payton-like disaffection but might significantly impact his trade value. All things considered, then, I’m regrettably in agreement with Buckley that it seems likely that the Red Sox would prefer that Ellsbury win the job outright. Short sample size of spring training or no.

Bill James, remember, works for the good guys in the Red Sox front office.

What pushes me over the edge in wanting Ellsbury to win the job isn’t Crisp’s cost – at $3.8M last year he’s actually quite affordable for a Gold Glove caliber centerfielder – but rather his redundancy. With Kielty on deck, Crisp becomes an interesting trading chip, either for an interesting bullpen arm or – packaged – for a starter candidate. Not that I’m contending that Kielty or even Ellsbury is Crisp’s equal in the field – neither will be this season – but that we have the pieces in place to replace him. And Ellsbury, with the little service time he has and the potentially greater offensive upside, is clearly the piece you’d like to keep around.

Is Crisp a bad guy to have around even should he fail to win the CF job? Obviously not. Not many teams can tout throw a glove like his onto the field from the bench. But I do think that given the noise he and his agent have made to date, it might be best if he moves on. Assuming he’s not the starter.

Obviously we shouldn’t give him away, but there are certainly teams – like the Braves – in need of a centerfielder. Where we have surplus, and may be able to extract some value.