Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Is the Sky Falling?

Sox fans - breathe. Remember, this year was supposed to be an off year. We were warned. And we have been told that Theo is not going to sacrifice our future for a fleeting present - he's fixed on greater things. I know it's tough to stay calm in the heat of any pennant race now that we have "the taste" of what Championships feel like, but would you rather be the 2002 Angels, or have a Red Sox Dynasty on par with those of our foes to the South? Some offer a compromise, the Braves - a string of dominance, but only one title. How can I not worry about that?

I do see a similarity with the Braves - we have a young core of pitchers that came from our farm system. I’m not particularly worrying that we'll become perennial contenders, but never champs. We have the money to buy the extra toys that Atlanta had to make due without. The Braves had to find career journeymen to turn into gold, while the Sox can shop the top talent.

What about this developing reluctance to part with prospects? First off that's a lot of tomfoolery. Theo has shown he will part with prospects, provided he gets someone young and under our control back in the deal, but it seems to be very significant that the returning talent meet these criteria. Cases in point?

1) Andy Marte was swapped for Coco Crisp - who has a much lower ceiling, but had shown he was an effective major leaguer who was also cost controlled and under our control. He's still not really in his prime, so there's room for improvement. Marte fit a desperate need in our organization - pure power with solid defense at a corner position. We have a lot of crap at the corners in the farm - he would have been HUGE.

2) Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez were swapped for Josh Beckett. We hear a lot about Hanley - he was a power prospect with solid defense and superstar potential. He's done well for himself as a rookie in the NL and shown flashes of his predicted ceiling. Scouts talked about Anibal in the same conversation as Papelbon and Lester. Some thought his combination of stuff possibly would allow him to succeed most of all, but obviously that's completely subjective. What isn't subjective is that we traded a top pitching prospect (hard to come by) and another highly sought prospect for Beckett (and Lowell). Beckett met Theo's criteria: young, under our control for more than a year, and cost controlled. Still had room for improvement. I realize this move happened while he was not a part of the organization, but it was made with this same philosophy in mind and I highly doubt Anibal and Hanley would have been traded for Jason Schmidt.

3) This year, Lester was offered up for Oswalt, allegedly. If not Lester, at least Hansen was on the block. I'm not sure this move would have put us over the edge, but at worst I would have been ambivalent about it. Oswalt is a proven pitcher who is still young. He has had stretches where he has utterly dominated the NL - something that one needs to do to even stand a chance in the AL. Oswalt would have been under our control for another season where we'd get to negotiate exclusively with him and offer arbitration. If he left, we would have gotten compensation and been able to further supplement our farm system with said picks. Lester is one of this organization's best prospects in YEARS, and has been contributing to the MLB team, yet was on the block for someone who filled the same role, but had more experience.

Now, I think there is possibly another thing at play. What you frequently hear about GM's is that since their job depends on the product on the field, they'd rather those people be THEIR guys. With baseball teams, the turnover is often a lot slower than with other sports because of guaranteed contracts and the length of time it takes for draft picks to reach the majors.

Theo's guys are just beginning to infiltrate the ranks. Since he has always put a great deal of emphasis in youth, I'm not surprised that the guys he wants to count on in the long term are guys he hand picked. Yes, you can hand pick guys via trades, but a portion of any trade is determined by the other team and out of one's control. Perhaps this is a thickheaded ego thing, but it's not different than all other GM's who prefer to put their job on the line with hand-selected players. This theory at work could explain some of the free agent departures.

Also, as has been stated before, there wasn't much out there that could really alter our season. Those players that were available - Oswalt and Clemens, for instance - were fully investigated as options, with fair deals being proposed. The deals worth spending time on received all of the attention. The other moves only would have been useful if our big holes were plugged first (for instance, adding Cormier makes little sense if our starters can't hand the BP a lead and our offense can't score enough to come back in the majority of the games Cormier would have appeared in).

While we have weak links, that alone doesn't explain our play as of late. The Yanks, for instance, had some seriously weak links predating the deadline - and yet they played through them, coped, sacked up, and still managed to gain ground on us. The issue with the Sox isn't merely our weak links, it's underperformance - and there weren't enough chips on the table to markedly improve this squad. It's not just a cost issue.

Thus far, we have been spoiled. This squad has competed more than I expected and, as a result, some of the progress of our younger core has been put on hold. Because we have competed and it’s so hard for us to concede a year, people are emotional about Theo standing pat when an incredibly weak crop of talent made it’s way into the market. That market was not worth conceding our future for, and the FO did its due diligence on those that would have been worth our future.

Theo’s reputation is on the line with the 2007 and 2008 squad, so I expect us to be active this off-season. Veterans will be on the market for packages of young talent. I expect some of our farm system to be made available for other young talent a year or two from free agency because we have the financial power to lock proven players up. I expect most of our free agents to be let go. We need to see the transition to start showing itself, because right now, we’re stuck in a limbo of competing, but not being totally ready with the guys Theo wants on the field.

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