Upon Further Review, Dan Graziano Should Review Further

Don’t like the Manny Ramirez trade? Fine. I’ve come to terms, myself, but I’m sure you have your reasons. And I’ll respect them. The only thing that I ask is that they be better than Dan Graziano’s. Seriously. His reaction to his reaction to the Manny Ramirez trade leaves much, in my opinion, to be desired. With a thousand apologies to the experts over at FJM, a quick reaction to his reaction to his reaction.

Upon further review…the Manny Ramirez trade still stinks


I didn’t expect to be so dramatically in the minority on this. I wrote this column in this morning’s Star-Ledger, and while I never expect everybody to agree with me, I kind of thought a few people would.

But the e-mails this morning, and even most of the other columns on this topic, are so dramatically opposed to my central point (that the Red Sox blew the 2008 season by trading Manny Ramirez) that I felt compelled to re-think it.

Here’s what I came up with:

They’re all wrong, and I’m right.

Raise your hand if you’re shocked that a columnist is convinced he’s right in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Right, so, some bad news: those of you raising your hands are idiots.

The most common defense I’ve seen is that this trade is similar to the 2004 deadline deal that shipped very popular shortstop Nomar Garciaparra out of town. But it’s not, and the differences are where Boston’s mistakes shine through:

I’m listening. Talk to me Goose.

1. The Nomar the Red Sox traded on July 31, 2004 was a diminished Nomar. Sure, he could still hit, but he couldn’t stay healthy (he’d played just 38 games for them over the first four months of that season), and his defense at a crucial position had tailed off dramatically enough that it was costing them runs on a regular basis. They didn’t like having him in the clubhouse anymore, but the good reasons for getting rid of him were on-field reasons, not off-field ones.

Manny Ramirez is not a diminished player. He’s still one of the very best hitters in the game.

Apparently my definition of what constitutes one of the “very best hitters in the game” differs from Graziano’s. Ever so slightly. Foolishly, I expect “very best” to equate to something like top five in the league. Maybe ten.

Manny’s rankings? Well, he’s 11 in OBP, which is good. Not quite making the cut for my personal “very best” rating, and behind his own teammate JD Drew, but still good. How about slugging percentage? Oh. Oh dear. 26th? Really? Well, how about average? Thirty-seventh? Are you sure? How is that possible? He’s one of the very best hitters in the league!

Or at least he was four years ago, when he was OPSing 1.009. But because he’s done that in the past, he must carry that definition indefinitely, apparently. The fact that Man-Ram is 36 years old surely isn’t relevant to this discussion.

Nor the fact Xavier Nady is OPSing .930 to Man-Ram’s .927.

And his defense, while horrible, is no worse than it’s ever been. So it’s not as if he’s costing them any more runs than he did in 2004 or 2007, when they were champions of the world. The only reason they got rid of Ramirez is because they didn’t want him around anymore,

If by “they,” you mean his teammates, then yes, that’s true. That is, principally, why we got rid of him.

and that’s not supposed to be good enough when you’re an organization that prides itself on impartial reason — the organization that ignored cries that J.D. Drew was soft and brought him in because of his on-base percentage.

I’m not sure how you assert that that Drew somehow being “soft” would be equivalent to Manny sitting out key games of the season, but hey, I’m not a columnist.

2. When they dealt Nomar and Matt Murton in 2004, they got Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz in return. Cabrera was a good, clutch hitter

Let’s assume, for a moment, that there is such a thing as a clutch hitter. Yes, most of the evidence contradicts this assumption, but the absence of proof doesn’t itself amount to it, and I’ve seen Big Papi win too many games to discount the notion entirely.

Instead, let’s examine the idea that Cabrera was a good clutch hitter. What would that mean? Driving runners in, presumably. O-Cab’s average in ’04 with a runner on 3B? .167. Bases loaded? .091. Guy on third, less than two out? .111. Runners in scoring position? .257. That’s not clutch, you say? Clutch is hitting with two out? Ok, how about runners in scoring position in that situation? .254.

If the evidence doesn’t prove that Cabrera wasn’t a quote unquote clutch hitter, it certainly doesn’t prove that he is.

and a stellar defensive shortstop, and Mientkiewicz was the very best defensive first baseman in the game. These additions allowed the Red Sox to claim that they were making an adjustment to their organizational philosophy — that they’d improved their team defense and roster flexibility and that the deal had a benefit beyond addition-by-subtraction. Cabrera and Mientkiewicz helped prevent runs, and there was value to this. And on the same day, they made a separate deal, acquiring Dave Roberts from the Dodgers for someone named Henri Stanley. Roberts would go on to steal a somewhat significant postseason base.

There’s nobody out there who can compare this trade:

Garciaparra/Murton/Stanley for Cabrera/Mientkiewicz/Roberts

to this trade:

Ramirez/Hansen/Moss/$7 million for Bay

and reasonably claim they’re similar.

Ok, I’ll buy that. But how about tackling a non-strawman argument, such as, oh, the one that says Ramirez’ teammates had spoken to the front office and requested that he be traded. And that the same front office, unconvinced that he would be in the lineup when he was needed, deemed it necessary to replace him? I mean, how valuable can “one of the very best hitters in the game” be if he’s, you know, not actually hitting?

The Red Sox got absolutely fleeced in Thursday’s deal.

Keith Law doesn’t think so. Joe Sheehan doesn’t think so. But then they were stuck dealing with those frustrating “facts,” rather than outdated, blanket assertions about players’ abilities.

The return they got on their end of the Ramirez trade is pitiful and insufficient.

Assume that Manny was not going to be back in ’09. Would you trade Hansen and Moss for Jason Bay? If you wouldn’t, please write a column on that. No one will destroy you for it. Promise.

It doesn’t even matter if Bay turns out to be an All-Star left fielder for them for the next eight years -

You know that Bay’s a free agent after next year, right?

- they’ll still have given up far too much to get him. And in terms of immediate impact, there’s no way Bay will upgrade their team defense as much as Cabrera and Mientkiewicz did in ’04. He plays left field, not shortstop. He’ll be better than Manny, of course, but not by so much that his defense will justify this deal.

Some numbers would be nice. No? Ok.

3. On July 31, 2004, the Red Sox were 56-45, 7.5 games behind the Yankees in the AL East and a half-game behind the Oakland A’s in the wild-card race. They needed to make some moves to get themselves into playoff position. They’d missed the World Series by an inning the year before, and the thought of missing the ’04 playoffs was incomprehensible to the Sox and their agonizing fan base, which was in its 86th straight year without a World Series title. They were treading water and had to do something to change things up.

On July 31, 2008, the Red Sox were 61-48, three games behind Tampa Bay in the AL East and a game up on the Yankees and the Twins in the wild-card race.
They were coming off a 2007 season in which they broke the Yankees’ nine-year run as division champions and won their second World Series in four years. They had no reason to believe they could not repeat as division or World Series champs with the team they had (maybe plus a reliever or two), and no need to break up the league’s best lineup (especially without a good baseball reason to do so).

On July 13th we were up a half game on Tampa and six on the Yankees. In 18 days we gave up three and a half games to the Rays and five to the Yankees. You don’t see a problem there?

The Red Sox did this trade out of anger and spite, because they decided they were sick of Manny’s antics and couldn’t stick it out for two more months after putting up with him for nearly eight full years.

You’re right. They should ignore the fact that he pushed down a 64 year old man, punched his first baseman in the dugout, declined to run out a ground ball in the midst of a game in which we were being no hit, and declined to take the field in games against a key divisional rival.

It’s all petty anger and spite in our front office. I hear the reason they signed Drew was to get back at the Dodgers front office for not returning their calls promptly enough at the Winter Meetings.

It may make them feel better that they don’t have to see him in their clubhouse anymore, but it doesn’t make them a better team in any tangible way. It makes them worse. And the Nomar deal in 2004 didn’t do that.

But I’ll bet you thought it made them worse, didn’t you?

Breaking Down the Santana Trade

I was going to pass, given that I’ve already commented on the Santana situation, but who am I to buck the will of the people. Also, there have clearly been new developments. Thus, by popular demand (read: two of you), a breakdown of my thoughts on the Santana to the Mets trade.

Q: First, the important question: how should a Red Sox fan feel?
A: A bit let down, maybe, given that Santana’s a hell of a pitcher. But nothing more than that, I’d argue. While I’d love to be able to throw Beckett/Santana at the Hernandez/Bedard combination the Mariners may end up fielding, we were truly dealing from a position of strength here. With Beckett, Matsuzaka, Schilling, Wakefield, Lester, Buchholz, and even Tavarez, we’re not short in the starting pitching department. True, the kids will likely be on innings caps, and all three of Beckett/Schilling/Wake are candidates for at least one DL trip. But we’re one of the few teams in the league that could legitimately say we didn’t need the innings and the numbers; we just wanted them.

If he was going to be traded, however, and not to us, the Mets are the best possible alternative. Had the Yankees acquired him, it would have been a problem. Our lineup collectively gets on base at a mere .305 clip against him, and that only because Tek owns him (.500 OBP in 18 ABs).

Q: Why didn’t we end up with him?
A: Presumably because we decided not to offer what an acceptable package to the Twins. From all reports – most notably Peter Gammons (video warning) – both the Red Sox and Yankees had backed off following the Winter Meetings. The sought after Boston/New York bidding war simply never emerged, possibly because both Cashman and Epstein recognize the economic value of the kids and the lack of a gaping hole in their respective rotations.

Q: But don’t the Yankees have a real need for a pitcher of Santana’s caliber?
A: You could make the argument that they don’t have a proven ace, but the Yankee’s sadly have the making of an excellent rotation. Wang, Pettite, Hughes, Mussina, Chamberlain, Kennedy is not a bad looking starting pitching corps any way you cut it. Granted, like us, they’re likely to have issues with innings caps, but with six candidates for five spots, they can finesse the kids’ workloads. Assuming Mussina holds up, which is an open question given how he performed for long stretches of last season.

And if you’re still of the opinion that the Yankees lack of an ace will come back to haunt them, think back to ’03. Beckett was not exactly a proven commodity, but he sure looked good kicking the Yankees teeth in. Are you that sure one of the current crop of kids couldn’t step up? Because I’m not.

Q: Could the Red Sox have realistically acquired Santana? Wouldn’t they have to tear up Beckett’s contract and juggle egos in the clubhouse?
A: Beckett was on record as saying he didn’t care what they paid Santana as long as he was the one starting on opening day.

Q: So how did the Mets come up with Santana? I thought their prospects were considered below the caliber of that offered by the other clubs?
A: Well, we don’t really know who was on and off the table, or even what clubs were in it at the end, definitively. And more to the point, a couple of folks – Keith Law in particular – were of the opinion that the Mets prospects were being unfairly written off in the court of public opinion that is trade rumors.

That said, even Law allowed that Twins GM Bill Smith had traded a premium asset without getting a premium prospect in return.

Q: No premium prospect?
A: No. The Mets kept their best positional prospect, Fernando Martinez, and their best pitching prospect, Mike Pelfrey. Here’s how Baseball America’s Jim Callis put it:

The Twins have traded Santana for two high-reward but also high-risk prospects, and two back-of-the-rotation starters. They didn’t get a prospect whose combination of ceiling and certainty approaches that of Hughes, whom the Yankees were willing to deal for Santana earlier in the winter. They didn’t get a package comparable to the ones the Red Sox reportedly offered earlier, fronted by either Jacoby Ellsbury and Jon Lester and also containing two solid prospects nearly ready for the majors: righty Justin Masterson and shortstop Jed Lowrie.

Avert your eyes, Twins fans.

Q: So who did the Twins get?
A: Four kids. Law’s got the breakdown for you in the link above. The two closest to the majors are Philip Humber, a fastball/curveball/changeup guy who’s plus hook didn’t survive Tommy John surgery, and Kevin Mulvey, owner of an undistinguished three pitch arsenal that he commands well. Deolis Guerra is the the third pitcher in the deal, and Law describes his best asset as an “above-average changeup.” Lastly, the Twins pick up a potential center field candidate in Carlos Gomez, whom Law compared to “a Coco Crisp who could throw the ball to the catcher without 15 hops,” and who can make decent contact but isn’t likely to hit the ball with real authority.

Q: And who are the Mets getting?
A: Statistically speaking, nothing short of the best pitcher in baseball. Also a pitcher who projects well in future because his delivery, a lighter workload early in his career, and the nature of his approach. As good as he’s been, however, there are questions about his health, given his performance down the stretch last season (September numbers: 4.94 ERA in 5 starts, including a 6 run outing in his second to last start; he did strike out a ton of guys, however).

Q: Are there any projections available for Santana?
A: There certainly are. Nate Silver of Baseball Prospectus served up his PECOTA for Santana following the trade. PECOTA sees a 2.94 ERA with 239K’s/60BB’s in 225 innings over in the quadruple A NL. If he’d remained in Minnesota, the anticipated line was 3.32 / 230/62 / 227. In either park, then, he’s borderline inhuman.

Q: Is there anything that could queer the deal at this point?
A: Yup. Santana has to pass a physical, and reportedly has to be signed to an extension within a 72 hour window to approve the deal – he has full no trade protection.

Q: What does losing out on Santana mean for the Sox? What’s next for the Boston front office?
A: As Allen Chace at Over the Monster suggests, hopefully some resolution to the fates of both Coco Crisp and Julian Tavarez. While the latter was not involved – as far as we know – in any permutations of the trade discussion as was the former, it has appeared that the Sox have to some extent been preoccupied with the possibility of obtaining Santana. With that possibility behind us, in all probability, we can move forward in determining how to tweak the last few aspects of the roster. Crisp’s fate, in turn, may impact that of Bobby Kielty or – in my perfect world – Trot Nixon. Ok, the latter’s unlikely, but Kielty is on the record as stating that his return would hinge on Crisp’s future.

Q: Who are the winners and losers from this deal?
A: The Mets are clearly winners in this one, as the addition of Santana makes them the clear favorite in their division. By extension, then, the Braves and Phillies are losers. The Twins also appear to have lost here, having been forced to settle – either by the pitcher or by circumstance – for what some reports are calling the fourth best deal offered. It’s too early to write the Twins off, as their reputation for talent acquisition is generally excellent, [1] but the early returns are poor.

It may be a stretch, but I’ll call the Red Sox winners from this deal as well. First and most obviously because he didn’t go to the Yankees, but also because they retain the service time and low cost years of several potential major leaguers.

Q: What happens if the Red Sox were to meet the Mets in the World Series?
A: After last season, I’ll take my chances with Beckett, thanks.

[1] Yes, they let David Ortiz go, but Santana himself was traded for after being a Rule 5 pick of the Marlins, and they got Boof Bonser, Joe Nathan, and Francisco Liriano for AJ Pierzynski.