Tuesday, November 27, 2007

So Which Players are the "Core" of a Franchise?

Because according to Jeff Passan, it's whomever you want to pick in order to prove your initial hypothesis, even if those players barely contributed to your team's success. In this case, the hypothesis is this: Theo Epstein is the best GM in baseball.

It's funny how this gets tossed around whenever a team wins the World Series. Last year, it was Walt Jocketty, Genius of the Scrapheap. Now it's back to Theo the Great, Wünderkind. Never mind that Epstein was given credit for assembling the 2004 team (which he had some influence over but essentially took over a team of stars).

Epstein's wife is due with their first child in a couple weeks now, so maybe, finally, once and for all we can put to rest the hullabaloo about his age – 34 in December, by the way, and rather dry behind the ears – and start recognizing him with the appropriate title.

Best GM in baseball.

Of course, to suggest such a thing to Epstein is verboten, as public self-promotion goes against his nature. Sure, he has won two World Series in his five seasons as Red Sox GM, constructed an organization with a farm system that produces big league players like the Kenai does salmon, and left the New York Yankees huffing behind, wondering when a $200 million payroll stopped sufficing. And yet with the afterglow of the championship worn off and most of Boston's heavy offseason lifting done, Epstein won't crown the Red Sox for next season, no way.
I really am curious if "heave offseason lifting" has anything more to it than overpaying Mike Lowell to return. Because seriously, has Theo done anything else?
How the Red Sox reached this point is the ultimate testament to Epstein and his lieutenants, a front office that includes a pair of contemporaries from elite schools (Jed Hoyer from Wesleyan and Ben Cherington from Amherst), two been-there-done-that scouts (Allard Baird and Craig Shipley) and the father of statistical analysis (Bill James), which gives Boston unparalleled ability to balance all sides of player development.
Look, I am in no way attempting to throw Epstein under the bus in this blog, but this article is nothing more than pandering and ass-kissing. Jed Hoyer from Wesleyan and Ben Cherington from Amherst? (Try repeating that sentence doing a Thurston Howell impression - it's more fun that way). Nothing personal against those two Caucasian-Americans, but is picking your buddies from Northeast Universities and giving them jobs something to celebrate? Bill James - sure, that was a coup. Shipley's been a scout for years, but Allard Baird? The same Allard Baird who, as GM of Kansas City, traded away Beltran, Damon and Dye and got nothing in return but signed Juan Gonzalez to a huge contract? (In fairness to Baird, Gonzalez *did* play 33 games for the Royals before getting his millions sent directly to his mansion). If by "been there" you mean KC and "done that" you mean ran a franchise into the ground, then Allard Baird has indeed done both. I just don't see what bringing up any of these people is supposed to accomplish here. Except James. I like James.
What, you think the Red Sox are here because of money?
Yes. They have the second highest payroll in baseball by far and it's not even close with third place. So yes, of course it's about payroll.
Oh, no.
Are you fucking kidding me? Every time the Yankees won - every fucking time - writers would wax about the end of baseball and lack of parity and how it's all King George buying more championships. There wasn't a lot of praise for Gene Michael or Bob Watson or Brian Cashman, because fuck you, Yankees GM, you have $X million dollars to spend, you *should* be winning. So fuck you.
They can afford Manny Ramirez at $20 million a season and make mistakes like J.D. Drew at $15 million a pop because of their incredible revenue streams, but this group – the Jonathan Papelbon-Dustin Pedroia-Kevin Youkilis-Jon Lester-Jacoby Ellsbury-Clay Buchholz core – does not materialize like rabbit from hat.
The Red Sox have the largest market in pro sports. I know, I know, everyone says it's New York, but really, the Yankees split New York with another franchise, and the Red Sox get Massachussetts, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and half of Connecticut as captive audiences. They have the second highest paid player in baseball, and are paying a terrible shortstop $36M over four years. Most teams can't recover from that, nevermind the Drew disaster. You're goddamned right it's about payroll. The thing teams with large revenue streams can do differently from other teams is they can afford to make mistakes and recover.

Anyway, let's look at this again:
this group – the Jonathan Papelbon-Dustin Pedroia-Kevin Youkilis-Jon Lester-Jacoby Ellsbury-Clay Buchholz core – does not materialize like rabbit from hat
Look, it is one thing to say that Epstein and his whitebread Bostonian flunkies improved the farm system. It is quite another to say that the Red Sox aren't champions because of money, it's because of these homegrown fellas:
Clay Buchholz: 4 G, 22.7 IP.
Jon Lester: 12 G, 63 IP.
Jacoby Ellsbury: 33 G, 116 ABs.

Yep, those were the guys who brought a championship to Boston. It's not about the payroll you silly geese, it's because of homegrown superstar contributions like those!
"You start planning for a season three or four years in advance," Epstein said. "That was the case this time. The decisions you make over the course of a long period effect the upcoming season. We're always thinking about this one."
I am essentially going to have to declare shennanigans here. Theo wasn't trying to repeat in 2005? 2006 was nothing to worry about (which is easy to say now that you won in 2007 and were so underacheiving in 2006, like when Pee-Wee Herman falls off his bike and says that "I meant to do that.")
Now, that doesn't mean Epstein will sit on his hands during the Winter Meetings, which start a week from today in Nashville. The best pitcher in baseball, Johan Santana, is on the trade market, and as Epstein proved when he bartered a deal for Alex Rodriguez in 2003, only to see it shot down because of a money snag, he isn't averse to risk.
The Alex Rodriguez misstep was a huge mistake. HUGE. They would have shed Manny's contract and added the best player in baseball, but didn't do it because of "principle" over a few million dollars, when all was said and done. Can you imagine Rodriguez hitting against the Green Monster for 81 games? HUGE.
However much the thought of a Santana-Josh Beckett-Daisuke Matsuzaka-Schilling-Buchholz/Lester rotation appeals to him – the best rotation since Palmer-Cuellar-McNally-Dobson? – Epstein won't sacrifice Boston's organizational principles.
Schilling is 87 years old and falling apart. Matsuzaka is at best a league average starter (ERA+ 108), and got worse and worse the more the other teams saw him and figured out his herky-jerky delivery. Beckett had a career year in 2007. However as recently as 2006 he had an ERA+ of 95 and an ERA over 5. Who knows who you're getting in 2008? Oh, I forgot, Jeff Passan does, and you're getting the greatest pitchers in history.
That said, he's not a hard-liner like Yankees GM Brian Cashman appears to be with his Joba Chamberlain-Phil Hughes-Ian Kennedy troika, either.

"There are no untouchables," Epstein said. "If there's an opportunity to get better, we'll do it. We believe in those guys. Their value to us is legitimate. We're not eager to get rid of them."
Cashman said pretty much the same things that Epstein was just quoted as having said. He just wasn't going to move any of those three for garbage.
No reason to be, not with how the Red Sox marauded through the Cleveland Indians over the final three games of the AL Championship Series and dismantled the Colorado Rockies in a four-game World Series sweep. Epstein said he's not talking with anybody about taking on Ramirez's contract – "There's nothing happening with him at all," Epstein said, "because he's happy in Boston" – and all that concerns him is winning 95 games, which, he figures, gets the Red Sox into the postseason.
Since when? Since he doesn't show up for spring training and lies about his whereabouts, or until the next time he says he'd rather play for the Yankees?
With their success, the Red Sox could fall into the same trap the Yankees did, placing so much emphasis on the present that the future, even a year or two away, will be a problem solved with money. It doesn't work, a fact that sobered up the Yankees' way of doing business.

"Never prioritize one year over the future," Epstein said, a phrase of which he's rather fond. Boston has built not just a great team but a powerhouse franchise on planning and patience, the same vital characteristics that now embody Epstein, too, and prove that he really is all grown up.
The Red Sox also play for one year. They traded some young guys to get Gagne, a price the Yankees wouldn't meet. Yes but those small market Sawx (the two Worls Series CHampions with the highest payrolls were the 2007 Boston Red Sox and the 2004 Boston Red Sox) full of homegrown stars (the 2004 team only had one homegrown player, Trot Nixon) are always thinking about the future.

Jess Passan's dream is to be the next Mrs. Theodore Nathan Epstein.

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posted by Mr. Faded Glory @ 8:59 AM   5 comments


At 11/27/2007 1:17 PM, Blogger TaggedTruck said...

Has Jeff set a date for the wedding yet? This stroke fest should be a good pick up line to win Theo over.

Nice rant.

At 11/27/2007 3:29 PM, Blogger Rex Banner said...

Manny was the 4th highest player in MLB last year. Giambi, Jeter, and The 3rd Baseman were paid more.

Don't kid yourself, the Yanks have the bigger audience. Even taking 1/2 of NY and NJ and 1/4 of CT would be more than the combined population of NE. Also, check out the road attendance for both teams the past few years.

At 11/27/2007 3:49 PM, Blogger Mr. Faded Glory said...

Manny was the 4th highest player in MLB last year.

We're talking on an annual average basis here.

Don't kid yourself, the Yanks have the bigger audience. Even taking 1/2 of NY and NJ and 1/4 of CT would be more than the combined population of NE. Also, check out the road attendance for both teams the past few years.

It depends on how you want to look at "market size." Neyer had an interesting take on it last year, but I can't find teh URL on ESPN because you have to pay them a shitload of money now. Anyway, the Red Sox were the #1 road team in 2007 in terms of attendance. Of course much of that can be attributed to them playing at Yankee Stadium on the road and the Yankees playing at Fenway Park and the disparate stadium sizes.

At 11/28/2007 6:35 AM, Blogger June said...

Can you imagine Rodriguez hitting against the Green Monster for 81 games?
thanks for the early morning heart attack

At 11/28/2007 1:57 PM, Blogger Rex Banner said...

Yes, the Sox outdrew the Yanks on the road last year, and maybe another recent year or two, but if you take away games they play against each other, the Yanks draw more. In terms of % capacity, I think the Yanks were at 82 and Sox 80.

It's like saying the player with the most hits is the best hitter.


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