A baseball parity party
While this offseason will find a lot of us in these parts gnashing our teeth and wailing about the state of the Red Sox, it appears the state of the game itself is strong.
As I sit here watching another tight game between the Mets and Cardinals, it's hard not to think about the fact that baseball has achieved parity. This is a stunning development for a sport that has the widest range of team payrolls of any of our major leagues. No big-time sport is more divided amongst the haves and the have-nots.
When the World Series begins this weekend, the Tigers will be the 10th team to play in the Fall Classic in the past six years. A Mets/Tigers series would make it 11 teams in that span. That is truly remarkable for a league that has one team spending more on players than the bottom five teams in payroll combined.
Yet, somehow, the game is thriving in spite of itself. Revenue sharing obviously works, at least when small-market teams put the money received to good use. There have been reports that owners and players are quietly closing in on a new agreement (the current collective bargaining agreement expires in two months.)
Let's hope the new CBA does more than just share revenue; let's hope it forces the teams receiving that money to put it back into the on-field product.
Of course, what's good for the game might not be good for the Red Sox. We already saw the Toronto Blue Jays finish ahead of Boston in 2006, and J.P. Ricciardi once again has money to spend to improve his team. The Tigers are suddenly flush with young pitchers who are getting big-game experience on the way to the World Series. The Twins have tremendous pitching to build around. The A's always have pitching and suddenly found enough offense to make it past the first round (but not enough offense to save their manager's job.) The White Sox and Angels are coming off very disappointing seasons and have to be considered a threat.
So forget about that Yankees obsession. There are suddenly plenty of teams to worry about. And, with the possibility of more teams spending more money, that trend isn't about to change.
Major League Baseball is becoming the NFL. That means well in a lot of cities. It also means the going will keep getting tougher here in Red Sox Nation.
Let's open up the e-mailbag...
Even though I'm a die-hard Red Sox fan, I have to say I was deeply saddened upon learning of Cory Lidle's death. It didn't matter that he was a Yankee; it mattered that he was a person and also a member of the wonderful world of baseball. My sympathies go out to the Yankees organization, especially to Cory's teammates. I don't know how to "blog," so I decided to send my comments here. I don't have a question, except maybe, how is it that ballplayers become like family to us fans?
Susan Adelson, Northampton
A: Well said, Susan, and I think you speak for baseball fans everywhere. We were shocked and saddened to learn of Lidle's death, and our hearts go out to his family and loved ones.
Did I miss something on Clement? Why all this talk about him being a spare part or a reliever next season?
The last story I read said he had significant damage to his rotator cuff and labrum and was unlikely to pitch at all in 2007.
What the Sox will do with Clement seems fairly obvious: keep him on the DL all season and collect approximately 70% of his salary from their insurance company.
Walt, Woodbine, Md.
A: Sounds like a plan.
It is becoming more and more frustrating rooting for teams that annually change players like the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics and Bruins do. Raising a child and getting them to develop the same passion for teams that we grew up rooting for is becoming work. The Red Sox completely turning over their infield last year was mind boggling, and reading the readers' emails indicates most are OK with doing it again. I realize todays
economics and dollars results in a win now philosophy, but it is undermining the loyalty of both fans and the players. At least the Yankees have their players signed to long term contracts and you have the same villains every year to root against. Don't you think it is about time the Sox and the Pats stop letting their mid-career core and star players play out their contracts and become free agents, and actually reward performance and the desire to stay with the team with in-season contract extensions? This would invariably reduce the cost of signing the prior to their entrance into the open market. And I wouldn't have to buy my son a new players jersey every season, because his old jersey is changed teams and loyalties.
Frank Pazasis, Montebello, Calif.
A: As the father of two young boys, I can empathize with your plight. My 10-year old was recently telling me "all the teams I like trade all the players I like." Welcome to the modern-era of sports. Obviously, this is especially true when a team is going through a transitional phase like the current Red Sox. When they won it all in 2004, they did it with a group of aging superstars reaching the end of their contracts. Management had to decide whether to keep those players around or try to move towards a younger, home-grown team. By and large, they have opted to do the latter, which is why GM Theo Epstein was again stressing "patience" in his meeting with the print media yesterday.
To be sure, the Red Sox have made as many missteps as they have made steps in the right direction over the past two years. They are not again faced with trying to restock a team that didn't make the playoffs. They are not alone in that respect, but this is far from a reclamation project. With players like David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling, and Josh Beckett already under contract, they are a lot closer to that goal than many other teams. Yes, they may trade Ramirez, but they won't do so without gaining a significant asset (or assets) in return. They also have some bright young players highlighted by Jonathan Papelbon. If they can add another star or two, and find role players capable of making a real contribution, they will be back in the hunt sooner rather than later.
How is Manny's "mental baggage" even remotely "equal" to A-Rod's? A-Rod has consistently failed in the clutch, especially in the post season. Manny was World Series MVP in 2004 and appears calm in any situation in the game. If anything he has a knack for the timely hit. Manny never carries one bad AB or play in the field into his next. His off the field antics might be worse than A-Rods, but their mental state on the field (really the only mental state that matters) is far different. If Theo moves Manny, I hope he thinks long and hard about the effect on Ortiz's production. Ortiz will never have the chance to get a game winning hit if he loses the best right handed hitter of our time protecting him.
A: Tony, you're dead-on about Manny's ability to remain calm in all situations -- it's his biggest strength. It can also be the biggest source of frustration with Manny -- his lack of hustle and periodic trips to the sidelines. IF he is traded this off-season, the Sox need to replace his offense with multiple players. With or without Manny Ramirez this season, the Red Sox need to find a 3-4-5 combination in the lineup capable of producing runs. It's become clear that a one-two punch is not enough.
Why would the Sox even consider signing Alfonso Soriano? Every about him goes against the organization's philosophy: He's a hacker with no plate discipline, and the Sox would never take advantage of his speed, a la Damon. Not to mention, his defense is suspect and will command a very long term deal. I don't see how you can possibly think he is on Theo's wish list.
Edward, Brooklyn, NY
A: He's a hacker who hit 46 homers this past season and managed a .911 OPS despite his lack of plate discipline. He also made 22 assists in his first year as an outfielder, and (like any outfielder) would undoubtedly benefit from playing shallow in front of the left-field wall. I'd take him as part of that aforementioned 3-4-5 combination any day.
Hi Tom, have a question about the Bruins. I know it's early in the season and I'm probably getting ahead of myself when asking this, but do you think it was best for the Bruins to trade Andrew Raycroft in the offseason? I had a feeling he was going to comeback healthy this season and prove himself as the #1 goalie, whether it being in Toronto or Boston. Out of the 3 goalies the Bruins had, he was a proven #1 (Rookie of the Year in 03-04). I also believe that many (Bruins personnel, reporters, and fans)
think Hannu Toivonen is "the guy" because he makes many flashy saves, when they really the saves should be routine.
Overall, I think it's a little disappointing to think that the last legitimate goaltender combo the Bruins had were, Moog and Lemelin, which 15 years ago.
Brian Murphy, Cape Elizabeth, Maine
A: I was, and still am, a big Raycroft fan, and fully expected him to bounce back with a strong 2006-2007 season. The Bruins clearly thought they could thrive with the Toivonen/Tim Thomas combination, but I thought Raycroft was too good to give up for another goaltending prospect (19-year old Tuukka Rask.) It's disappointing, but not surprising to see Raycroft with a 3-1-0 record and a 1.94 GAA in Toronto.
Fans should know, as you pointed out, that Japanese pitchers (Nomo comes to mind) have thrown a lot more pitches at similar stages of their careers than most. Nomo was 27 or 28 when he came to the Dodgers and really had an arm of a 34 or 35 year old. Let the Yankees sign him and lets continue to develop a Tigers type system.
A: That's all true, which makes the $100 million or so it will cost to sign Daisuke Matsuzaka a risk. He could be the first Japanese pitcher to come and dominate as a MLB starter... but he might be another pitcher to come over from the Far East just as the incredible workload of the past 10 years comes back to haunt him. Someone will find out soon enough, and the Red Sox are reportedly in on the hunt.
How can the Sox want Roger Clemens?? He is 44 years old and will want $15-20mm.....that would be the worst mistake they could make. I also think his track record in the post-season has been spotty at best. Go with youth. Forget the nostalgia. That kind of money can be put to far better use. Remember his ERA in NL will not carry back to the AL at the same level...no way.
S Faison, New York
A: Why? Because his 2.30 ERA and 102 strikeouts in 113.1 innings pitched add up to a guy who can still bring it -- even if those numbers are adjusted for the superior lineups of the American League. Because it's only money (a lot of money) and no prospects would have to be given up to get him. Because he can flat-out pitch, and would create an incredible air of excitement at the ballpark every fifth day. That's why.
The solution to the 2007 Red Sox seems far too obvious to me, especially in the midst of watching power pitchers dominate the 2006 playoffs (with Kenny Rogers and Tommy Glavine serving as exceptions). The sox must trade Ramirez, his attitude and work ethic has become borderline pathetic, ideally to Anaheim for Ervin Santana (although the Yankees assumed efforts to move A-Fraud could complicate this somewhat).
Sign Soriano to play left field, and teach Wily Mo Pena how to play right, because the arm of Coco Crisp in right field gives me nightmares.
Keeping Alex Gonzalez is imperative, because defense at that position is far more valuable than offense, especially after watching Renteria boot his way through the 2005 season amidst his struggles at the plate.
Finally, reiterating my previous point about power pitching, absolutely DO NOT go after Barry Zito. Let someone else overpay for him (probably the Yankees because they still havent learned their lesson). Getting Matsuzaka would be nice, but the price on him would far outweigh going after Jason Schmidt in some respect.
I guess I haven't really asked a formal question here yet, so here goes: what do you think about my logic TC?
Mike Shubin, Wayland
A: I like it, and not just because you've echoed a lot of the sentiments I've suggested in past years. The one area we disagree on is shortstop -- while I love the defense of Alex Gonzalez, I think the Sox need to get more offense out of that position.
I'm also not quite sure that Pena would calm your defensive fears in right, and I have real fears of an outfield alignment featuring Crisp in center and Pena in right. I think one of them will probably have to go in a trade.
The moves are there to be made, and all in all your blueprint would work pretty well.
Can you explain to the guy in your mail bag that wants the Sox to drop Wakefield, that pitchers who can give 200+ innings and make mid-season switches, from starter to closer to long relief, back to starter are almost non-existent, and given the injury bug the Sox felt this season having that versatility is well worth the $4 mil. they are paying. Everyone looks at ERA and doesn't think about innings pitched. A sure way to loose late in the season is to have your bullpen so worn out from over use. Ask Timlin. You need guys like Wake who can give 200+ innings to give those guys a break.
Will Cowell, Franklin
A: Can't argue there. That's why I've got Wakefield on my staff next season. He's affordable, and durable... even considering his injury-plagued 2006 season.
Tom, you sound more like a shill for the front office than an honest observer. Sure, get rid of Manny, Trot, and Lowell; Zito is really Ted Lilly--don't pay for him; gotta keep Clement, no way to unload him; no money for Matsuzaka, etc., etc. The Red Sox under the current leadership of Lucchino/Theo have become a second-rate team and will likely remain so for years. Same fate that other teams with this leadership suffered. Lots of luck. See you in third place in 2007 (that is, unless the Orioles move up another notch). Please put down the talking points from the front office and start looking at the train wreck before your eyes.
David Siff, New York
A: You overlooked that I think the Sox should go after Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Lee, Roger Clemens, Brad Lidge, and Jason Schmidt. All would be very expensive -- amongst the highest-paid free-agents in this off-season class -- and I'd like to see Boston sign every one of them.
Of course, I forgot to check in with the cartel before making those arguments. Probably should've checked first.