Monday, March 20, 2006

Arroyo for Pena

Good baseball trade, but it hurts a little. The Sox have just sent Bronson Arroyo, he of the hometown discount, to the Cincinatti Reds for young slugger Wily Mo Pena. The move makes perfect sense: one of the starters had to go, and Boston needed power-hitting depth. People say Arroyo was a great fit for long man in the bullpen, but let's be realistic. How often does a rotation with 5 quality starters go to the pen in the 5th inning? Maximum, once a week. And in those cases, the game is probably already lost. So to pay a starter 4 million bucks to pitch in a loss every seven days is foolish, especially when Papelbon is perfectly equipped to handle that role (and others). On top of this, Wily "One L" Pena is quite a young man, hitting a remarkable amount of home runs per AB. In his lat 650 AB's (approximately one season), he hit 45 homeruns, scored 87, and knocked in 117. And he's 24. He's got problems, but he's exactly the sort of guy worth a risk. So on the field, terrific. What hurts here is the human resources. Arroyo took one on the chin with his most recent contract, all so he could play in Boston for three years. Now he's cast off, mostly because of that reasonable contract, and to Cincinnati of all places. Look, he's a big boy, and knew full well what he was getting into by handing the Sox such a trade-worthy deal, but does it have to be the Reds? Ouch. Arroyo was told by his agents not to sign the deal, and Boston by all accounts gave him no outright promises about his longevity with the club, so this isn't a shock. It's a good deal, the Sox should've made it. In an ideal world though they could've found him a better home. Bronson is now heading to one of the great baseball wastelands: a terrible pitching staff, an unproven offense, and a non-existant bullpen. Something tells me this won't send his record sales through the roof either. There's no crying, but The Ninth feels bad for the guy. Plain and simple. Sorry, buddy.

One interested side-note here, but the Sox have acquired 2 DH-ready players in the last 24 hours. Pena's defense has received mixed reports, but it sounds like he's somewhat of a butcher at not one, but three outfield positions. The Sox also signed Juan Gonzalez, who couldn't play rightfield even when he played rightfield. Based on the mediocre showing of Mike Lowell this spring, could Boston be preparing itself for a little Papi at first base? Youkilis could move back to third, but the Sox have no other offensive first baseman. Maybe Boston is considering 30 or 40 games of Ortiz at first and one of their new sluggers at DH? Just a thought. Either way, good move today, the team is better.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Practice Portions

Sox or C's, Sox or C's? Which to discuss? Both so interesting. Let's have a practice portion of each...

- The Celtics are actually beginning to show the promise Danny Ainge has been talking about since, well, the Cold War. The way they've done it is, somewhat disheartingly, the only way to improve in today's NBA: luck. A trade of Wally Szczerbiak and bad contracts for Ricky Davis and bad players has done a good deal of the work, miraculously yielding better ball movement and a simpler player rotation. It's hard to believe that trading a great scorer for a decent one would improve your team offense, but that's exactly what's happened in Boston. Paul Pierce is now the unquestioned leader of the club -- all posessions go through him. This was not so with Ricky Davis in town. There was a time in fact that Ricky was the go-to man for a needed hoop, something that is now unfathomable with the display Pierce has put on this month. Szczerbiak is a far more deferential player than Davis, and although it has cost Boston a legitimate second option to Paul, his willingness to take what's offered has made the Celtics better. I'm not sure Ainge knew this was going to happen. The Ninth believes that Danny wanted rid of Banks and Blount (rightfully), and was willing to spend Ricky to make that happen. Then, it turned out, Wally was just what he needed. As Dick Vitale would say, Serendipity Baby. The other great stroke of luck for the C's has been Ryan Gomes. While the games of 30-10 may be in the permanent rear view for Ryan, there is no arguing that he is a player. He can rebound, he has a rare in-between game, and he almost never makes a poor decision. Gomes could realistically be a 18-8-5 guy for many years. Ainge has said he knew he was drafting this halfway through the second round, The Ninth says he knew nothing. If he did, why was Mr. Gomes riding cushy bench chair for half a season? No, the Celtics have been just as surprised in Ryan Gomes as you or I (you've been watching, right?), they just won't admit it. Then someone might reasonably ask why they would spend 15 million on Brian Scalabrine, who plays the same position as Gomes but without all the, you know, ability and skill. Gomes and Szczerbiak have made Boston into a real team, believe it or not. Maybe things go their way and they sneak into playoffs this year, but more likely they continue to improve, get a nice draft pick, and contend - like, really contend - in the next two years. The problem with the NBA is that they had to stumble into it. The Ninth laughs when he hears basketball GM's talk of their rebuiling "plans" or their "three-year system". Doesn't work. You can't plan on Tim Duncan happening upon you or Shaquille O'Neal deciding he prefers the night life in your city. You can't decide that Chauncey Billups will turn his career around or that Steve Nash will magically become an MVP. And that's the only way teams turn things around in the NBA. Here's are the rebuilding plans that have proven to succeed: Get Lucky in the Draft OR Get Lucky in Free Agency. If those fail, you can try the fallback of Get Lucky in a Trade. Name a team that effectively rebuilt itself in the last 15 years through reasonable decisions, wise contracts, and old-fashioned good business? Nothing? Yeah, me neither. An NBA club can only get good, I mean really good, by something falling into their lap. A high-schooler that puts it together, a veteran who finds another gear, a rare player who actually did just need a change of scenery. Otherwise, you are what you are. Great players get max contracted, trades only involve players that neither team wants, and youngster are too hard to predict. Even if you tank a season and get the number one pick, you are entirely subject to the ping pong balls and the quality of that year's draft. Just ask Rick Pitino. A good GM can turn a good team into a great one, but the big pieces have to be there first. Unfortunately for the NBA, there's not much you can do about those. So you wait, just as the Celtics have done, and hope it comes back to you. A few years ago Boston had nothing. Now it has a solid point guard who was an under-sized two in college, a young power forward and center who never went to college, a power forward who several teams passed on TWICE, and an unathletic shooter who's most helpful when he doesn't shoot. Lucky finds all. And why does this work? Because they all support Pierce, who might be in the top 5 of NBA players right now. A guy who, incidentally, they were lucky enough to get, after Olowokandi, Robert Traylor, and Jason Williams were all off the board. Put that in your plan and smoke it.

- Peter Gammons posted on his blog yesterday (follower) about the problems with the Red Sox. You can find it here, but it's an insider article, and you folks are cheap, so I'll summarize. Peter's concerns were five-fold: 1) Curt Schilling and the starting rotation. Is he healthy, what's up with David Wells, how good is their depth anyway? 2) Keith Foulke, is he still a good closer? What are their back-up plans? 3) Does Mike Lowell stink? 4) Does Josh Bard stink? 5) Where's the lefty relief?

It's a little silly to go through someone's article point by point, or, rather, vindictive, but I think Gammons has voiced the concerns of many Sox fans, so we'll go for it. We'll start at the top. Is Curt healthy? The Ninth's response, having seen his recent televised start, is probably. He's certainly doing better than he was any of last season, and he seems to have more control of his performance than he has in a long while. Is he 100%? Not sure. You know why? It's March 16th. Spring training has endured an entirety of two weeks. Let's give these guys the tiniest bit of a break, can't we? Peter wonders why he hasn't been getting a swings and misses, even against minor leaguers. Well sir, The Ninth will answer your question with another question: how many splitters has he thrown? In the start I witnessed, very few. I saw a lot of fastballs, a fair amount of cutters, and I believe a change or two. That's not going to get guys flailing. Does Boston know exactly what to expect from Big Schill in '06? Nope, but that's what happens when you try to evaluate guys on the ides of March. And David Wells is at least a week behind everyone else, how can you possibly evaluate him? Probably the simplest answer to Peter's question is this: how many teams in MLB would trade rotations with the Red Sox tomorrow? Not Oakland, maybe not the Yankees, possibly the White Sox. That's it kids.

Gammo's second question is Keith Foulke. The Ninth agrees, this is a problem. But it's nothing new, and nothing the Red Sox can do anything about. They've got to wait until April and see what they've got. One could argue however that they're in pretty good shape should the worst occur. Timlin is as good a second option as most teams have, and Hansen and Papelbon are both extremely viable alternatives. That's three options. Not a lot more you can do. And hey, why don't we let Foulke pitch to a batter before we wet our hankies.

Problem #3 is also a non-starter: Mike Lowell. He hasn't looked good. A little slow. And that's important because he's had jeez, at least 30 AB's. And they're his first of the season. Those are really the most revealing ones you know. Let's get the trade talk started. But wait, he had two hits today. Now he's hitting .275. He's back! Lowell is back! He was terrible and now he isn't! What a relief. I'm glad we're through with the jumping to conclusions. The Ninth has an idea - let's get the guy 100 at bats. Thanks.

Now we get to the big stuff, the back-up catcher. Are we really concerned about this? Should Josh Bard start every Wakefield game, he'll probably play about 35 times this season. During that astronomically large amount of contests, he will be batting ninth and having to catch a knuckler. Something many many gentleman have done before. Yeah, it's hard. The guy has one responsibility, I think he can handle it. And if he has a little trouble here and there, it'll probably be ok because hey, he won't be on the field for 80% of the games. Relax.

And finally we have the absence of a lefty reliever. This is a concern only because Francona seems to like having one around. The reality of good pitching however is that it tends to get out good hitting. If Boston's relievers are pitching well, they'll get the Giambi's and Matsui's of the world just fine. If not, then the Red Sox will have much bigger problems than the occasional left-handed power hitter. And yes, late in the season, when one at-bat can mean a lot more, Boston will want a southpaw to go to, and smart money says they'll have one. But not beginning the season with an extremely specialized player is hardly a catastrophe. It's a little like wondering who they're going to use to pinch run in the 8th inning. It's not that it doesn't matter, it's that it doesn't matter much.

Here's the thing about the Red Sox: they're better. They had a solid club last season, and now they've improved at first, second, possibly short, in the rotation and certainly in the bullpen. No, they're not perfect, but that's why you play the games. Let's see what they've got in their hand before we fold eh? If you're biggest problems are your seven man rotation and your back-up catcher then life will be pretty good this summer.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

What A Fun Time

Even bears wake up every now and again.

It's Valentine's Day, a day of romance, love, and admiration, also coincidentally the two-year anniversary of Alex Rodriguez's move to New York. Some people look back at such times and remember the great loves they may have had or the emotional thrills they've felt when it turned out their girlfriend actually liked stuffed bears. But not The Ninth. No, The Ninth remembers waking up on a freezing Sunday morning in Queens, heading to the subway, and being assaulted by boastful headlines about Arod's acquisition. No, loyal reader, we are not heading to a HI-larious moment of self-deprecation at the expense of my love life (though we could), merely trying to create significance. That was a big day two years ago, one that put a new and permanent spin on the hometown nine, and one that we should remember.

Make no mistake, that move was a tragedy for Boston. It was disappointing when Alex was not brought into red socks a few months earlier, but down right heartbreaking when he went the other way. I mean, we hadn't even considered it. Fine, the hot chick doesn't laugh at my jokes, but she's into Jim Carrey movies? That guy talks with his butt. The whole season sagged before our eyes, and pitchers and catchers were still snuggled warmly in their beds. One thing that we often forget however is that Boston chose not to get Rodriguez. Sure, the deal fell apart when the Player's Union killed his contract restructuring, but the Red Sox could've gotten Alex anyway. The entire Manny for ARod package dissolved over about 20 million dollars. Not a little, but not a lot either. A reworked Rodriguez contract would've made that money disappear, but a couple flicks of John Henry's rich guy pen would've done the same. Didn't happen. The Sox wouldn't spend extra, and so turned down perhaps the most well-rounded player in the history of baseball. Of course, not having ARod led to the retention of Manny, Nomar, and some very attractive World Series rings, but that's not the point. The point is that two years ago, Boston took a tremendous risk, of public relations, talent, and chemistry, and
they just spent an entire winter doing it again. Somehow, we didn't see it coming.

Not many front offices would've attempted what Boston did in late 2003. They floated the acquisition of an enormous franchise player, implied the subsequent departure of a few beloved stars, and got their fanbase very very excited. Then they pulled it off the table. Oh, and all in extremely public fashion. It is hard to imagine that other franchises, after going so far down that road, wouldn't just say "F the 20 million, let's get this done." (Well probably they'd say "Fuck the 20 million", because they're boy's club-type ruffians, but we are not.) Theo, Larry, and John however, looked at the value, decided they were unimpressed, and calmly kept walking. When asked if they thought Manny and Nomar might be adversely affected, they shrugged and checked their voice mail. It's not that they didn't care about the negative reaction to their ARod choice, it's that they cared about other things more. Things that mattered. The same things that mattered this offseason. Time after time, the Red Sox made the unpopular decisions this winter. Their beloved General Manager hit the road and they took three months to replace him. With himself. Heck, the Reds signed GM Wayne Krivsky in three days. Would you like to know what was most likely said before Cincinatti went with Wayne? "F the 20 million, let's get this done". Or not 20 million, because that really wouldn't apply, but you know, something like that. The Ninth doesn't know a whole lot about the Krivinator, but I imagine there's a pretty good reason the he didn't make it past the first interview in Boston. Then the Red Sox traded their starting shortstop for a guy no one had ever heard of, and dropped 11 million on Atlanta for the privelage. After that little pu pu platter of a PR disaster (what does that mean?), they let their leadoff hitter and most popular player become a Yankee. Yippee. Wanna know what was probably said in the Yankee offices right before they offered a bit too much money to lure Damon away? "F the 20 million, let's get this done." (This time it actually works!). Then, finally, the Red Sox took Andy Marte, that guy from before, who they had just convinced us we actually like and sent him to Cleveland for a player named after a breakfast cereal. This is a pretty bold set of maneuvers. And they did every one without a blink or hesitation, stating simply "we think this will help". They did it when they passed on Rodriguez, and they've been doing it again ever since. No matter where you stand on the offseason Boston just completed, you must respect that they're working with a philosophy. A philosophy that, in truth, has been guiding them for several years. No player is too important, no amount of value is insignificant. And while that might cost you a few Damons and a Pedro Martinez, it'll never cost you a championsip. Because in the end, the smart guys usually win. And the dumb guys, well we know what they do. They say "F the 20 million, let's get this done."

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Manny Possibilites

If you are, as the Ninth has been, attempting to do work while reloading every five minutes, here's something a bit more interesting than the Worldwide Leader claiming AJ Burnett to the Jays as breaking news for the 5th time today. It's an idea born completely by the Ninth and is a result of zero industry sources, other than a half-empty pack of Camel Ultra-Lights. It's simply an idea that we think could work.

Leaving Boston: Manny Ramirez, Bronson Arroyo.
Leaving New York Mets: Lastings Milledge, Aaron Heilman, Victor Diaz.
Leaving Arizona: Troy Glaus, Javier Vazquez.

Boston Receives: Troy Glaus, Javier Vazquez, Victor Diaz.
New York Mets Receive: Manny Ramirez.
Arizona Receives: Lastings Milledge, Aaron Heilman, Bronson Arroyo.

I'm not a fan of the fantasy trades, I find the multi-player multi-team hypotheses to be utterly ridiculous, but I believe this could fit. Every team gives and gets pieces that are reasonable, and no one takes a bath on salary. Mmmm salary bath. Perhaps Arizona is not getting as much as they'd like, but they're giving up a lot of expense, and getting a hot-shot CF prospect and two cheap mlb arms. Boston gets some offense, some improved starting pitching, and a RF platooner who can hit. The Mets get Manny. If Boston then completed the rumored Wells for Duchsherer and Mirabelli for Loretta trades they would be almost ready to go. They could sign Damon and look around for an outfield bat (or stick with Diaz in left if necessary). It would present a lineup something like this:


Yes, I have Renteria hitting eighth. He and I don't get along so well. As for the people who throw the ball:

Beckett (who annointed Josh the #1 starter, by the way?)

Delcarmen/Hansen/Myers/Gonzalez/Dinardo etc

It's not a team I would kick out of bed. Also, I believe it to be around the salary level of '05. I'm sure there are problems with this, but I don't see them. Anyway, JohnW, if you're doing your usual Tuesday night check in, print this out and send it over to the boys. We call them boys because they're children. Now, day dreaming complete, let's hit some bullets.

- Everyone should remember that any deal Johnny Damon signs with Boston has an added value of at least 1 million annually from endorsements. His Dunkin' Donuts and Nike Shoe days would most certainly be over if he went to Detroit or Chicago. Obivously he would not be embraced in those places as he has been in beantown. What's the Detroit answer to Dunkin' Donuts? Dunkin' Bullets? Shootin' People? Not clear. The major financial swing vote that kept Troy Brown in New England this year (and out of New Orleans (youch)) was his endorsement money, and it might be the same for Damon. And yes, I used a double paranthesis back there.

- How good does that Mike Timlin for 3.5 million contract look right now? How exactly does Kyle Farnsworth, he of one good season, get double that? Because people love to spend money. The best thing Boston might do for their bullpen all off-season is not sign a single new reliever. Although the Ninth did sort of have his eye on Roberto Hernandez.

- Sounds like Grady Little is the next new manager in Los Angeles. People will make jokes, and very few of them will be funny (that's the hard thing about jokes), but the Ninth says good for him. He was a good manager who made one very bad decision, and he's certainly more qualified than several people in the game today. Awkward silence in room as everyone turns to look at Willie Randolph.

- The single best thing the Yankees could do is sign Johnny Damon. He's the perfect fit for them in the field and at the top of the order. Could it be that so many stupid moves have now scared them away from one legitimately smart one? Sweet.

- Alright, that's all out of the Ninth's system, and I can continue to not work. Gammons expected an extremely busy 24 hour period beginning tomorrow at 3 pm. So fire up those colortinis kids....

Monday, November 07, 2005

Predictive Text

After a particularly delicious Patriot victory over Indy last season, the Ninth wrote the following:

The Ninth would like to know if now, finally, people get what's going on in Indy. Next winter, when inevitably they find themselves in another playoff game at Gillette, are we at last going to accept that they don'’t have a chance? Or is it going to be the same old nonsense about a high-powered offense, an improving defense, and what can Belichick possibly dream up this time? Guys, he always dreams something up, and it'’s always smarter than you expected. And Payton Manning's hands always end up in the air. It'’s physics.

Your obvious follow-up is, "Ninth, does it ever hurt you physically to be so incredibly incisive?" My response: yes, it does. So here we are, it's not the playoffs, but Indy's offense is really good, their defense has stepped things up, and it's not clear how Belichick can scheme his way out. Pundits everywhere insist that this is the end of New England's reign over the Colts, with a few holdouts asking to see it before they believe it. Normally, I'm one of those guys. Last year, I was one of those guys. Based on what I wrote in January, I pretty much have to be one of those guys. So I will be, I'll pick the Patriots, but I won't be surprised if I'm wrong. The problem is not that the Colts have improved, as a 7-0 record against quite possibly the 7 worst teams in football shouldn't light anyone's pants on fire. No, the real difficulty is that New England isn't very good. They almost lost to Buffalo last week, and really, if Tom Brady hadn't taken over, they would have. Belichick has not lost any genius points, and the departure of his assistants haven't hurt badly, but the injuries have. There's just too much missing, and for the first time in Bill's tenure, it is taking an obvious toll on the field. His approach for perplexing Payton is, I'm sure, just as brilliant as ever, but the Ninth worries he lacks the players to enact it. Ted Johnson has told the media that New England's game plan was fairly consistent against Indy; stop the run early, hit the receivers hard, then flood the secondary late. Problem is, I don't know how they do any of those things this evening. Can the Patriots neutralize James without Seymour or Johnson? Do they have the hard-hitting personnel to make Harrison and Co. reluctant to catch? Is their cover game able to stop up every hole? I really don't know. Actually, I do. They don't, but I'm being nice and claiming ignorance. I shouldn't count them out, mostly because I yelled at everyone who did exactly that only ten months ago, but this would be the win of the season if New England can pull it off. The balance of power between the clubs has not changed, but the Patriots aren't prepared to defend their turf. The big question for the season is, will they ever be?

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

We'll Always Have St. Louis

To paraphrase Theo's Grandpa, of course. So Epstein is out and Boston is wavering somewhere between apoplectic and suicidal. Upon dictionary check, there is little literal difference between those two states. So sorry. But there are two articles I wish you to read before you finish your seizure: Peter Gammons and Bill Simmons. They're both fairly close to right, and you should listen to them.

Simmons, in fact, stole several of my points out of my brain before I could write them. The luxury of a man who does this for a living. But because you came all this way, and as this site is as much for me as it is for you, I'll do it Ninth style.

Theo Epstein was a very good general manager. Certainly one of the 10 best in major league baseball. He was not, however, the front office Jesus. Mistakes were made, but Boston was so giddy over a World Series success that they chose not to notice. Epstein built three major league bullpens in his Boston career, and two of them were awful. Not only were they bad, but they were almost instantly so, giving him plenty of time to fix them. In both cases, he could not. All you have to remember is Carl Crawford's opening day '03 walk-off against Chad Fox to get a reliable snapshot of an Epstein relief crew. Even with a rash of acquisitions, Epstein couldn't clean his messes. Rudy Seanez, Todd Jones, Scott Williamson, Byung Hyun Kim, Terry Adams, Scott Sauerbeck, Bob Howry, Curtis Leskanic, Mike Remlinger, Chad Bradford, Mike Myers, Chad Harville. All came mid-flow, almost all stunk. Kim had his moments, Myers pitched his role, and Williamson was solid when healthy. The rest: pee-yoo, what stinks. But this isn't an indictment. Theo tried, and almost all of these bandaids where good ideas that met with bad luck. What the Ninth doesn't understand though, is why weren't Sox fans angrier? They're not patient and understanding about anything else, why were they with these bullpens? You could make the argument that the Sox relief failure was the single greatest contributor to their limited successes in '03 and '05. In fact, the Ninth thinks you should, because it's true. Say what you will about Grady Little, but if he had a lights-out closer and set-up guy, he might very well have gone to them on that most horrible of nights in New York. I'm not saying Epstein should be criminalized for this, but how about criticized? These problems were rarely mentioned when he was here and entirely forgotten now that he's gone. That's a mistake.

Going further, if you look at the 25 man roster, how many contracts would you dissolve right now if you could? It's a simplistic evaluation sure, but that approach might as well be printed on WEEI's business cards, so let's try it out. I'll start the bidding at Matt Clement and Edgar Renteria, and I'm hearing Trot Nixon, Keith Foulke, Manny Ramirez and even the great Curt Schilling pop up from the floor. But these gentlemen won us a World Series, you cry. And I agree, they did, and I thank them for it. This is not however the purpose of the exercise. Whose contracts would you eradicate at this moment? Clement and Renteria were big disappointments for long stretches, and completely failed in September and beyond. Trot has consistent back problems and has not earned his already hometown contract. Foulke has become a complete mystery with bad knees, and Curt Schilling is a 39 year-old who has missed huge chunks in two of the last three seasons. Manny of course is a pass, as that one inked under Dan Duquette's pen. But these are a handful of large contracts that when complete could look like real stinkjobs. No one thinks this way though because of the World Series. It was 86 years, we needed it desperately, and Theo delivered on his hometown shoulders. Give him a hug and offer up our daughters. That doesn't seem simplistic to anyone else? One World Series won that could've so easily gone the other way? If Bill Mueller pulls that Rivera cutter two feet closer to second base, isn't half of Boston reminding Theo not to let the door hit him on the way out? Of course they are.

Now this is not an effort to prove Theo false. We started this piece off with praise, and it's something he certainly deserves. As RSDD likes to say, In Theo, We Trust. But we can learn to trust someone else. The Ninth feels that all but one of the above contracts were wise moves, (never thought Clement had it), and would only add Trot Nixon to the drop list today if I had the chance. He's just too hard to keep healthy. Overall, Epstein has done well, but it's just not accurate to say he brought us the World Series. Epstein was hired by an excellent ownership (the same one that will be picking his successor, by the way), treated to a very large pay roll, and supported by a top-notch staff. The only deals he made that are hard to imagine another executive pulling off were the Schilling and Ortiz moves, and Big Papi was a bit of luck. Epstein had a lot of money and a great deal of help at his disposal at Fenway, and there is list of other men who could've done the same. It's a short list, but a list just the same. We don't say Kenny Williams brought the Series to Chicago, do we? He has not been cannonized and put on the altar. But he put a huge piece of his team together, with heroes Dye, Podsednik, and Pierzynski all being '05 acquisitions. Would the White Sox fandom fall apart if he was let go? The Ninth doubts it.

The reality here is that Theo Epstein's great legacy in Boston should not be what happened a year ago, but what will happen every year since. The reorganization of the Red Sox farm system, drafting policy, and organizational theory was a far-reaching and future-altering process. The amount of young pitching and skilled positional players that will be flooding Fenway Park in the next three years will make the life of Epstein's successor infinitely easier. He took an erratic, undisciplined system and gave it a focus, the long term benefits of which are nearly boundless. For that, truly more than anything else, Epstein deserves our admiration. But luckily, selfishly, this work has already been done. The groundwork is there, the structure has been built, and it will remain. Unless of course the next general manager is dumb enough to screw it up, but we'll get to that. So if you're dying to cry for him Boston, do it because of what we've yet to see, not for what we saw already. One World Series was a miracle, but it's the three or four the Sox could win down the road that would really make Theo great.

So, where do the Red Sox go from here? A lot has been made of the difficulty Epstein had answering to Lucchino, and how that could limit the job's appeal to other candidates. Understand this though, every general manager in baseball works for someone, and all have to explain their moves. Obviously some bosses are tougher than others, and Lucchino certainly jumps to the front of that list, but many people have it worse. Peter Angelos overrules his executives almost daily in Baltimore, and not only does Brian Cashman need to clear everything with the Stein, but runs the risk of being called "a stupid fucking idiot" in the process. The Red Sox division of power is not ideal, but it's livable, and comes with many other perks to off-set. Like, you know, the tons of money. By Friday, Theo was being offered 1.5 million annually, a fee which truthfully was quite high for his experience level, showing how deeply his return was sought. Were the Red Sox to promote from within or go with a young outside candidate, they would not get the same offer. Should Boston opt for a more proven man, such as Gerry Hunsicker or Doug Melvin, they would certainly offer a commensurate salary. The real trick for the Sox is to find a person who can fit in to an already built organization, but still make it his own. As we said, Epstein has left a top-flight structure in place, and anyone speaking of overhaul should be disregarded outright. Dan Duquette types need not apply. While the easiest PR move is probably an established ace like San Diego's Kevin Towers, the smartest thing could be a high-level assistant out of the Cleveland, Toronto, or Oakland organizations. People who will understand and agree with what Epstein started, and get along with the frat house of young men already on staff. An old school type might send these young guns scurrying after Josh Byrnes in Arizona, and the Sox need to keep them around. At the same time, they need a steady hand, a confident person who will not over-react to the Damon free agency and Ramirez trade demands. In short, another Theo wouldn't be so bad.

In the end, these last few days have been more surprising than anything else. I think we all felt that Theo Epstein and the Red Sox would have a long and prosperous life together, that surely divorce wasn't coming any time soon. Even when whispers of negativity floated under the negotiation door, we never dreamed he would really go. He needed us as much as we needed him. But we were wrong. Theo is a very smart man, and has been an advanced success at every step of his life. Sometimes people like that make bold choices because they want to prove they can. They've known nothing but personal victory, and they want to see how far they can push that boundary. For themselves, and for everyone around them. Anyone could've stayed on in Boston at this point, but I don't think Theo is satisfied with being anyone. He's humble, but at the same time, extremely confident in his own ability to excel. Maybe he needs to have that tested. To find new worlds to conquer. Either way, thanks Theo. You've lived a lot of our dreams, and made others come true. Here's looking at you, kid.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Ok, Panic If You Want

Light your hair on fire, spray paint the furniture, toss all babies out with bathwater. It's an ugly Red Sox loss, and you can panic if you'd like, but do it for the right reasons. Losing the first playoff game, especially on the road, means very little. Someone has to go up 1-0, and it might as well be the home team. Consider how much trouble Chicago would be in if the decision went the other way last night and understand why they had to win that game and not Boston. A missed opportunity yes, but a tragedy no. The Red Sox win this evening and all is well.

Don't get those visions of sugar plumbs dancing in your heads quite yet though. While a 1-0 deficit means little, the pitching problem it revealed does not. Matt Clement missed spots like he was allergic to them yesterday, and showed the rare combination of terrible stuff and location. A lot of pitchers can hang sliders, but you've got to really have the magic to do it up and in to right-handers. He was terrible, and I'm not sure how you can send him to the mound again under any capacity. Were this a one-time I event the Ninth would give Matt a pass, but he's been lousy since July. The obvious choice would be to tab Bronson Arroyo your Game 5 starter, but as we discussed yesterday he could be an invaluable member of the bullpen. Could Clement take over his role? Sure, if you want to lose another game by 12 runs. On top of this, Contreras was vicious. Sox batters called it the best stuff they've seen all season, and I believe it. His split finger looked more like a fork ball, but had something approaching knuckle-curve movement. It's pretty hard to hit a pitch you don't know exists. So Boston is facing as big a mis-match in Game 5 as possible, or a huge hole in their bullpen. Now that's something to be concerned about.

What does this mean? The next 3 games just got enormous for the Red Sox, as the best bet would be to avoid a fifth game altogether. Let's see if Boomer can get them started tonight.