I was driving on the Mass Pike this past Friday around 4 o'clock in absolutely brutal traffic. I guess people, myself included, don't work until 5 on Fridays anymore? Any way, I was having a bad time. Maybe it was the bad time I was having, the flurry of Red Sox moves made this week or the fact that I had already listened to my Presidents of the United States of America CD two times that day, but for some reason I decided to flip on sports radio for a bit to see what they had to say about the moves. If any of you have listened to Boston sports radio, you can imagine what the hosts and callers were saying. The team is too cheap even though they have the third highest payroll! How could you sign Justin Masterson to replace Jon Lester? Why would you spend so much money on two guys who aren't even that good and will probably get hurt? Let's talk about what happened last March! 2013 was just lucky and an aberration!
It was all so predictable, uninformed and short sighted that I felt it was necessary to say something. Before I get into the individual moves, I wanted to go through some common themes that have come up through their moves and in all the moves of the baseball world this offseason.
- Money doesn't matter except when it does: The team clearly has a lot of money to spend. Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval will make a combined $40 million this year and Lester would have added another $23 million. The team has already made it clear that they are willing to blow past the luxury tax threshold for THIS year. But one thing they don't want to do is go past it for multiple years because when you do that, your tax payments increase dramatically. So the team is fine with large payouts this year, but when they look 4, 5, 6 years down the line they want to maintain financial flexibility. This article shows the teams with the largest guaranteed payrolls in each future season for the next 13 years. In 2016, the Yankees already have $170 million committed to just 10 players including the no longer effective CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, and Martin Prado. So the Sox are fine with offering long term contracts to players, but if they want to avoid what the Yankees, Dodgers, Rangers, Tigers and Angels are facing, they need to limit the total number of long term deals and the number of players over 30 years old that have them. In the short term, it is fine to spend a lot, but the money matters long term so they can continue to add to their team.
- Offense is more difficult to acquire right now than pitching: I will get into this much more in depth when I cover the additions of HanRam and Panda. The Red Sox pounced on these two very early in free agency even though they already had a strong lineup in place and a terrible rotation at the start of free agency. Offense is down around baseball and there were only a few legit offensive threats on the market this year, compared to a robust free agent and trade market for pitchers. I have a feeling like the Red Sox internally have a valuation that says offense is even more important than we realize. Which brings me to my next point...
- MLB front offices are smarter than me, you and definitely everyone on the radio: With the exception of Ruben Amaro in Philly and possibly whoever is running the Rockies these days, baseball front offices are smarter than they have ever been. There aren't many Woody Woodward's running around any more (the man who traded Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe for Heathcliff Slocumb). Sure, teams make debatable moves all the time and part of being a sports fan is arguing these moves. But one thing we have to admit to ourselves is that these people making the moves know more about stats, scouting, business, negotiation and player valuation than any of us. They have proprietary databases, financial experts and access to cutting edge data that none of us have even seen. If you think a player is worth $X and they think he is worth $Y, I am siding with them.
- Prospects matter except when they don't: Sorry for another confusing headline. Prospects are really important to fill your team with cheap, controllable players so that you can fill other spots with expensive players who are more likely to perform. However, aside from the elite, near major league ready prospects, every other one is expendable in a trade. The team saw last year that it is just too risky to rely on too many young players that aren't elite. Even Xander Bogaerts, who is absolutely still elite, went through some prolonged slumps. This is why the team can't get rid of their top 4 young players, but anyone else should be free to go. I will go much deeper into this in the pitching section.
- Spring training doesn't start until mid-February: One thing the bitchers seem to forget is that there is still a LOT of offseason left. The team still needs more relief pitching, a backup catcher and they could use a better starter than what they currently have, not to mention they have too many outfielders still. People are acting as if the team is done. They are not done at all.
- There is more than one way to win: The team needs an ace! Where's our ace! Gimme an ace! Ok, it would be nice to have an "ace", it really would. But that is not the only way to win in this league. The Royals won with a dominant bullpen, contact hitters, decent starting pitching, defense and speed. The Giants won with a stars and scrubs lineup and rotation and a dominant "ace." Other teams win with slugging offenses. Other teams win with 3 aces. There is no one way to do this. The goal should be to find as much talent as possible and that's what the Red Sox re dong right now.
- Ignore hypotheticals: One of the most frustrating things this offseason, and probably every offseason, is how people just assume that the Red Sox can get any player they want with money or by trade. Why didn't we get Jeff Samadzija, we could have beat that offer? Maybe Billy Beane just really wanted Marcus Semien? If we had just matched the Cubs offer of $155 milllion we would have gotten Lester. Maybe he just wanted to go to Chicago for a new challenge? If we just offer Mookie and Xander to the Phillies we can get Hamels. Maybe that is dumb? I want to only focus on what the team actually did.
So over the course of the next couple weeks, I will dig into some of the major moves (and non-moves) the team has made so far. First up will be a review of the Jon Lester saga. Stay tuned...