The Red Sox-Dodgers Trade, Part II—The Red Sox Alter Their Reality

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Judging by their actions in recent years of chasing championships at the expense of sanity and common sense and the magnitude of the contracts on their ledger, the conventional wisdom was that the Red Sox would keep the players they had and move forward. They would patch the holes with tape, placate the whiny veterans by changing managers, and concede to having a team in 2013 that was barely distinguishable from the 2011-2012 squads that embarrassed themselves, their organization and their fanbase with unprofessional, self-centered, obnoxious, and disinterested behaviors and hope that they’d somehow take advantage of the second Wild Card to make a playoff run.

Of course there wasn’t going to be a playoff run. When a team collapses amid turmoil and doesn’t drastically change the personnel, it has one way to go: down. That Larry Lucchino was reveling in the departure of Theo Epstein and that he once again held certain sway over the personnel only sped the decline. No one knew who was in charge; what strategies were being deployed; whether the inmates were running the asylum and their disdain for manager Bobby Valentine would predicate a managerial change because it’s easier to hire a new manager than it is to try and get rid of massive contracts for declining players.

Easier.

That’s been the hallmark of the Red Sox behaviors and player acquisitions since the winter of 2006-2007. It worked in 2007 as they won a second World Series. In 2008, they made it to game 7 of the ALCS. In 2009, they won 95 games but were bounced in 3 straight games by an Angels team that was running on emotion from the death of Nick Adenhart and having had enough of being a punching bag for the Red Sox.

In 2010, they maintained that grinding, gutty persona that had brought them the first championship and had down-and-dirty players who you’d have to kill to make them quit like Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia leading them on the field even though they didn’t make the playoffs; they won 89 games with rampant injuries and a patchwork lineup as their template of on base percentage, power and pitching was still intact, coupled with the steady guidance of manager Terry Francona.

In 2011, they morphed completely into a mirror image of that which they despised more than anything—the Yankees. They spent, spent, spent to fill their holes by trading for Adrian Gonzalez and signing Carl Crawford to join with the remaining star-caliber players. So blinded by the splashy acquisitions, the Red Sox were ludicrously compared to the 1927 Yankees. They started poorly, righted the ship, then collapsed in September amid more injuries—expected occurrences with a veteran roster in the age of drug testing and banned amphetamines—and to make matters worse acted as if they didn’t care. Off the field, the players didn’t like each other, were not cohesive, and behaved as if their playoff spot was a divine right because they were expected to be so good; because the backs of their baseball cards were so gaudy.

We know what happened. Amid chicken, beer, and arrogance, the season came apart at the seams in September of 2011. Following the exodus of Francona and Epstein came the contretemps, blame, pure absence of accountability, the power vacuum and grasping for control. This led to the hiring of Valentine, the players squawking, more injuries, dysfunction and a team that was unlikable on and off the field, one that didn’t understand what it was that made them good nor what it was that made them bad.

Gonzalez is a star player who, in retrospect, was a bad fit for Boston and the poisoned Red Sox culture. As a quiet, subdued, religious person, he constantly appeared uncomfortable as the center of attention. As the star player on not one, not two, but three teams that have collapsed out of playoff spots and one who referenced “God’s plan” when the Red Sox were bounced last September, it was clear that the acquisition had been a mistake. Gonzalez is not a leader, nor is he made to be the “man”. He’s a great player as long as there’s a David Ortiz, a Youkilis, a Pedroia to take the brunt of the media scrutiny. When the media comes to him to ask what happens, he’ll paw at the floor with his foot and utter clichés and religious invocations long enough until the reporter just wanders off. But they’re not going to wander off in Boston as they did in San Diego or as they will in Los Angeles. In Los Angeles, Matt Kemp is the out-front star and the media will leave Gonzalez alone in a way they never would have in Boston. In a way, Gonzalez exemplifies what the Red Sox have become.

Beckett had worn out his welcome in every single aspect. Apart from a rubbernecking at a car crash, “let’s hear what this idiot has to say”, John Rocker-style curiosity, we’ll wait for Beckett to unleash on Boston, on Valentine, on the media, on everyone. The one saving grace he’ll have is if the change in venue reverts him back to the solid pitcher he once was and, the Dodgers hope, a post-season ace.

Crawford is a good guy and, when he’s healthy, a terrific all-around player. He, like Gonzalez, was ill-suited for Boston, tried too hard and got hurt. Also like Gonzalez, he doesn’t need to be the center of attention.

The Red Sox played checkbook, brainless rotisserie baseball in the winter of 2011-2012, drew accolades from all quarters for their aggression but abandoned what it was that helped them build an annual championship contender using intelligence, numbers and good old fashioned instinct, continuity (will this guy fit in Boston?), and scouting acumen.

They became the Red Sox of the 1990s or the Yankees of the 1980s and it showed on and off the field.

The Red Sox had two choices: move forward with the players and the immovable contracts, fire Valentine, give the toy to the tantrum-throwing baby that had become the club’s roster and shut it up, or do what they did. They were lucky that the Dodgers have a new ownership that is willing to do something this lunatic; that in order to get Gonzalez (who they claimed on waivers), the Dodgers were willing to take on both Beckett (who they claimed on waivers as well), and the injured Crawford. They were also lucky that the no-trade clauses in the contracts of Crawford and Beckett weren’t hindrances because they wanted to get out of Boston just as desperately as the Red Sox wanted to be rid of them.

The amount of money the Red Sox cleared—$261 million after this season—will allow them to sign players who will fit into what Valentine wants (if they keep him); who will act as if they’re there to play baseball and not bully the front office due to contractual obligations, veteran status, and threats; to re-sign Jacoby Ellsbury and, rather than chase the same stars as the Yankees and overpay to do it just to keep up and one-up, will go back to doing it the way they did it between 2000 and 2010. Most importantly is the off-field dynamic. Red Sox fans cheered for these players wearing Red Sox uniforms, but they didn’t like them—they were unlikable. I’ll discuss the prospects they got in the trade in an upcoming posting, but the players they got are secondary to the message that was sent loudly and clearly with the players they got rid of.

Now they can freshen the polluted air of the attitude of Beckett, the reticence of Gonzalez, and the injuries and desire to depart of Crawford. They sent the message to the players that regardless of how much they complain, they’re not going to decide who the manager is. They got rid of Francona through their actions; they’re not going to get rid of Valentine through holding their breath until they turn blue.

The Red Sox front office could’ve accepted their future, looked at those onerous contracts, shrugged and moved on, keeping on doing the same things and praying for a different result. They didn’t. When the Dodgers’ GM Ned Colletti claimed Gonzalez and Beckett and called to discuss a deal, they didn’t pull the players back and say, “Forget it.” They listened and they acted. They’re more likable, have money available to change the roster and the culture, and have stuck to a principle that looked to have been abandoned and was part of the rise of the Red Sox from for the decade prior to 2011—if you don’t like it here and don’t want to be here, we’ll accommodate you and find people who do.

They’re a better team and, more importantly, a better organization for not bowing to expediency and accepting reality. They changed it. Rightly or wrongly, successfully or unsuccessfully, at least they can look into the mirror. And at least when they look, they’ll no longer see the Yankees.

Self-respect is important too.

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The Media Vultures Circle The Mets Again

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Since the Mets have come apart after a surprising first half of the season when it was being speculated as to whether or not they’d be heavy buyers at the trading deadline, the same reporters who were so sure that the Wilpons days as owners were numbers just a few short months ago and wrote relentless pieces about the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme and its damage to the franchise have popped up again.

They were silent for a period of time, trying to maintain an aura of credibility that only exists because they’re in the media, as if that matters. Being paid by the New York Post, Newsday, ESPN or whatever other entity you can name doesn’t automatically imply knowing what they’re talking about. No one—no…one—I read speculated on the possibility of a Madoff settlement to save the Wilpons. In fact, the Wilpons might even wind up getting money back after all is said and done. They didn’t get rich being stupid and to suggest that they’re broke and the team is still in danger of being lost to the family is based on the same shoddy speculation that was indulged in months ago and turned out to be wrong.

It’s similar to the same so-called experts who felt that the Mets’ farm system was destitute of prospects. As it turns out, Omar Minaya’s scouting/drafting operation was far better than anyone thought.

Now, as the team has stumbled from their unexpected heights of contention at the All-Star break, the doom and gloom has returned. I’m not talking about from the fans—that’s expected; I’m talking about from the supposedly credible “insiders” in the media. Just the other day it started again about the possibility of David Wright leaving the club after next season. Compared with the Jose Reyes situation, will the Mets let Wright leave as they did Reyes? Are they going to be a stripped down version of other teams that haven’t spent one penny more than the bare minimum? Of course not. Wright’s going nowhere. The two situations were totally different on and off the field.

The Mets front office baseball people didn’t want to spend the necessary money to keep Reyes and wouldn’t have done so even if they had the money to spend and were allowed to run the team as they wanted. Last winter the Madoff trial was hanging over the oraganization’s collective heads like a guillotine. But money or not, GM Sandy Alderson would not want to allocate $100+ million to a speed player approaching 30 who’s had multiple injury problems; and if you look at Reyes in 2012 with the Marlins, it’s trendy to point to his recent hitting streak and solid play after a slow start, but the Marlins exponentially more dysfunctional than the Mets, are terrible and in the midst of a housecleaning that’s put them in a worse position than the Mets. Don’t bet on Reyes being with the Marlins past next season.

Wright’s different. A power bat that walks, is the de facto captain of the team (the Mets should make it official already), and who plays a difficult to fill position is not getting traded, nor is he going to be allowed to leave as a free agent. It’s true that the Mets have a large financial commitment to Jason Bay and Johan Santana next season ($50 million with their contracts and buyouts), but that will free a large amount of money to re-sign Wright and import players for 2013 with either backloaded free agent contracts or via trade. This idea that simply spending money would’ve made a significant difference in 2013 is ignoring that the teams that have spent tons of money on players in recent years haven’t succeeded. The Red Sox were supposed to “challenge the 1927 Yankees” as the best team in history in 2011, but collapsed in September and that collapse revealed disciplinary and personal fissures that resulted in the departure of manager Terry Francona, the hiring of Bobby Valentine and desperation maneuvers to patch over their holes and hope that they’d revert to performances and team-oriented behaviors of the past. Needless to say, it hasn’t worked and the Red Sox are in deep trouble moving forward as long as there are factional disputes and power grabs in the front office and the insistence that they don’t need to substantially alter the personnel.

The Phillies? They had an all-world starting rotation, signed a top-notch closer and had an offense that should’ve scored enough to support that rotation. But they’re old and injuries removed significant names from their everyday lineup and rotation. They’re not getting any younger and have contract commitments that made it necessary to trade Hunter Pence and consider again trading Cliff Lee to re-sign Cole Hamels and hope to have the health and performance they’ve lacked in 2012.

The Angels? Jered Weaver is 15-1; Mike Trout is on his way to winning the Rookie of the Year and the American League MVP; they traded for Zack Greinke; stole Ernesto Frieri from the Padres; Mark Trumbo is having an MVP-caliber season of his own and will eventually hit a ball that will never land; and signed Albert Pujols (this generation’s Joe DiMaggio) last winter, are still hovering around mediocrity and are in serious danger of missing the playoffs. Could the fact that they had too many players for too few positions and a manager, Mike Scioscia, who was used to being totally in charge and found his power usurped with a roster that doesn’t fit his style have something to do with their lack of cohesion and simply looking off?

Importing stars and spending money is not necessarily the answer and with the Mets, who were they supposed to get last winter? Would they be any better now if they’d signed Jonathan Papelbon? First, Papelbon wasn’t signing with the Mets; second, they didn’t have the money. Who else was other there that would fill a hole the Mets had? C.J. Wilson? He wasn’t coming to the Mets. Prince Fielder? Would he take an IOU?

The 1998 Mariners had Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., and Edgar Martinez in their lineup and went 76-85. In 1999, they went 79-83. They traded Griffey for nothing after 1999 and lost in the ALCS in 2000. After that season, they lost A-Rod…and won 116 games in 2001. If you said in 1999 that the team would lose those two stars and win 116 games two years later, people would think you insane.

We don’t know what’s going to happen with prospects; how much luck will be involved; what the future holds. But the Mets have enough young players—especially young pitching—for a bright future.

Madoff was a PR disaster and financial nightmare for the Mets, but what it did was free the organization to let them rebuild correctly. As much as Minaya is savaged for spending money and for the contracts he gave to Oliver Perez, and the soon-to-mature big money deals he gave to Bay and Santana, no one could’ve expected the Wilpon financial empire to come undone. Whether they suspected that Madoff was a fraud or not, did anyone think it would come crashing as it did? Even with the Bay/Santana contracts, they should very well have had some money to spend if things had gone on as they were.

In retrospect, it’s going to be viewed as a good thing that the Mets had to trade Carlos Beltran and got Zack Wheeler; that they couldn’t toss more money at the wall and hope that stacks of cash would fill holes in a foundation that needed what’s being done now: a true rebuild.

If you think that a Mets’ starting rotation in 2013 of R.A. Dickey, Santana, Jonathon Niese, Matt Harvey and Wheeler won’t be able to make a run at a playoff spot if there’s a halfway decent bullpen and a couple of more offensive weapons, then you’re not accepting facts. As for the financial holes, no one knows how much money the Mets have to spend or not. They settled the Madoff case and, much to the poorly concealed disappointment of Howard Megdal, Bob Klapisch, John Harper and Joel Sherman, paid off several of the loans they’d taken out to continue to do business.

And they still own the team.

With the Bay/Santana money coming off the books after next season, Wright will be re-signed. A realistic idea to improve the offense and make Wright more willing to stay and not hold the organization hostage would be to make a serious play for Justin Upton to play right field (signed through 2015 with $38.5 million coming to him from 2013 onward); and pursue his brother B.J. Upton to play center field. B.J.’s not getting the $100 million he’s probably going to want, but would $70 million over 5 years get it done? To play with his brother and Wright, their childhood friend from Virginia? Maybe. And a lineup of Ike Davis, Daniel Murphy, Ruben Tejada, Wright, the Uptons, Jordany Valdespin or Kirk Nieuwenhuis, and a better hitting catcher would score enough runs to support that starting rotation.

It’s doable.

Ignore the media as they’re seeking ways to make up for their inability to write epitaphs for the Mets by writing them pre-death; also tune out the fans who are throwing tantrums as the team spirals. They weren’t expected to be any better than this. The young players are showing promise and things are far more positive than anticipated from December to April. Realistically that’s all the Mets and any organization can ask for when they’re rebuilding from the ground up amid financial catastrophe, declining attendance, media hit squads and palpable fan anger.

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Your 2012 Trade Deadline Reality Check for a 2011 “Guaranteed” World Series Participant—Part I

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It’s not all that long ago that the Red Sox were being compared the 1927 Yankees.

Of course that was the 2011 version of the Red Sox that tossed money at all their problems and were a World Series guarantee. It was as if they didn’t have to play the season at all. The expectations went unfulfilled as the team collapsed in September. That collapse and perceived lack of discipline and continuity spurred an exodus that led to the departures of manager Terry Francona and GM Theo Epstein, followed by the hiring of Bobby Valentine as the new manager and departure of a stalwart star of the past 9 years, Kevin Youkilis. Now, there are poorly hidden fissures in the front office as to the direction of the franchise and they still harbor thoughts of saving this season.

They’re 50-51, 10 ½ games out of first place in the AL East and 5 games behind in the Wild Card race. It might as well be 15 games. All outward signs point to them trying to hang around the playoff race—a race they’re not really a part of—and making a few moves to bolster the roster. Larry Lucchino’s letter to fans and the idea that they’re still hovering around veteran arms like Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Jason Vargas and anyone else is postponing the inevitable. If they’re doing it to placate the fans and keep the media quiet, it’s bad but not as bad as them thinking they’re still contenders. They’ve played this way for four months and aren’t going to suddenly galvanize and make a historic run to the post-season.

Forget it.

If you read today’s NY Times piece on Valentine and what he’s dealing with, you see that hiring him was a mistake and clearly wasn’t the brainchild of GM Ben Cherington or the new era baseball people. Lucchino wanted a name, and he got it. Valentine is at fault for some of what’s gone wrong with the Red Sox, but he’s had one hand tied behind his back from the beginning of the season. The Carl Crawford situation is a prime example of that. Resting him every fourth-fifth day and hoping he makes it to the end of the season is a half-measure doomed to fail. If he needs reconstructive surgery, he should simply get the reconstructive surgery and be done with it. No one’s taking his contract and the team’s going nowhere.

If Lucchino and John Henry nudge (AKA force) Cherington to make a “bold” maneuver they’ll be speeding their freefall to 65-97 in the coming years and repeating the mistakes that other clubs have made in chasing “it”. If Cherington hasn’t yet called Epstein and said, “Thanks for nothing,” in handing him that job, he’d like to. Cherington can put up the front that he’s onboard with everything the organization is doing, but he wasn’t enthusiastic about hiring Valentine and he’s smart enough to know where this season is heading. The Red Sox would’ve been better off if they were hammered this weekend at Yankee Stadium to eliminate all ambiguity and feed the public poor-tasting medicine that they need to take to get better.

As for the fans refusing to “accept” the team bagging the season with 38 home games left, those fans need a reality check of their own. This organization has done nothing but cater to their whims on and off the field for the past decade. They won them two championships and put them in a position where anything short of a World Series win was considered a disappointment. If those greedy fans can’t accept two months of one bad year in the interests of not ruining their chances for 2013 and beyond, then they’re not real fans to begin with.

Here’s the bitter pill for the Red Sox: Don’t do anything stupid or desperate. Accept the truth. It’s not happening this season and no blockbuster trade is going to fix their current issues. This team, plainly and simply, isn’t very good.

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Blunt Group Therapy For Red Sox And Brewers Fans

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It won’t help, but I know what Red Sox and Brewers fans are going through.

You’re counting the days and games; scouring the schedules of your team and your competitors; calculating the likelihood and magic numbers for a playoff spot you once felt was guaranteed; examining the pitching matchups and acting as if nothing’s wrong when you’re worried, worried, worried.

Each loss; each injury; each day that passes and another piece of the lead is whittled away, you say, “just let us make the playoffs; I don’t care if we lose in the first round; I don’t want to deal with the embarrassment of being called a ‘choker’ and hearing the obnoxious Yankees/Cardinals fans and their smug self-satisfaction at the misery of others”.

I know.

I experienced it with the Mets in 2007 and 2008.

Of course, 2007 was far worse.

And the parallels are unmistakable.

Like the Red Sox of 2011, the 2007 Mets had high expectations after a disappointing prior season. The Mets were short-handed in the starting rotation relying on aging and declining veterans Tom Glavine and Pedro Martinez and inexperienced and tired from a long-season Oliver Perez and John Maine; the Red Sox have lost Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz to injuries and John Lackey has been, um…not good.

The hype surrounding this Red Sox team was exemplified by the idiotic (before the season, during and maybe after) lusty fan piece on NESN by Eric Ortiz proclaiming the Red Sox as a direct challenger to the 1927 Yankees.

After reading that, a large segment of people wanted the Red Sox to lose.

The 2011 Rays, like the 2007 Phillies, have nothing to lose and are playing with the freewheeling “no one expects us to win anyway” attitude that allows them to relax. The Rays are younger and healthier.

Is it likely that the Rays catch the Red Sox? No. But examining their schedules with the Rays having 3 games in Boston next week and 7 games remaining with the Yankees, there’s cause for concern. If the Yankees have the division locked up, is it so farfetched to see the Yankees shun going all out to win in those 3 games in Tampa against the Rays to screw the Red Sox?

The perfect storm is in place because the Red Sox are playing the Yankees in 3 games at Yankee Stadium directly before they travel to play the Rays.

It’s possible that, to make the playoffs, the Red Sox will be rooting for the Yankees.

That’s not where they want to be.

With the Brewers, their arrogance is engendering loathing throughout baseball.

Yesterday I defended Nyjer Morgan for his Tony Plush persona because it’s nothing to get into a twist about—who cares what Morgan says and does? But the one thing a team does not want to do is inspire other teams to want to beat them more and ruin their playoff chances—the 2007 Mets did that with the Marlins and it cost them. And teams like the Brewers—who’ve won nothing—certainly don’t want to make a veteran team with a megastar like Albert Pujols angry.

The Phillies have a right to be arrogant; the Brewers don’t.

The Cardinals are now 6 games behind the Brewers.

Many lower-level teams are playing out the string and trying to get the season over with; for the most part, they want to win, but don’t care all that much which other teams make the playoffs; if they’re made to care because of taunting and narcissism, it’s a motivation that was unnecessary and self-destructive.

Ron Darling said something interesting during the Mets game yesterday. In essence, players who hit 4-5 more homers in September are doing so because they’re looking to pad their stats by the end of the season. This isn’t strategic nor is it done with the interests of team goals in mind. They’re guessing at pitches and hacking. If a player does this against the Cardinals and not the Brewers, that’s not good for the Brewers.

After today, the Brewers remaining schedule is relatively weak; the Cardinals have a few tough games with the Phillies; the Mets are looking to finish above .500; and the Cubs would dearly love to knock out the Cardinals.

Of the two teams that are in danger of a September swoon, the Red Sox are far more vulnerable than the Brewers; if either happens to join the 2007 Mets and 1964 Phillies as members of the exclusive club of inexplicable chokes, they have no one to blame but themselves.

And it could happen.

I know.

Because I saw it happen with the Mets.

Twice.

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