Remember way back when, when the insane rumor of Mike Lowell for Jake Peavy entered our consciousness, and a good portion of Red Sox Nation reacted as if it would be the worst trade since Coy and Vance for Bo and Luke?
Remember a little more than a week later as most of the Bostonian fan base reacted with angry vigor after the Red Sox failed to pull a trigger on a deal that would have netted Roy Oswalt?
Wait, do you remember the Red Sox?
You know, that scrappy, $120 million heart and soul of New England that folded faster than the back page of Mad? Right, them.
Anyway, the Red Sox's inequities aren't the point here, although they are now a season-high 11 ½ games behind the Yankees following last night's 4-0 loss to Baltimore, and head into New York for four this weekend with TBA slated for Sunday now that Curt Schilling can't go for the second straight start. Should be a fun weekend. It's not likely to be as bad as the last time the two teams faced off last month in Fenway, where the Yankees swept the Red Sox five straight. But that potential exists only because there's one less contest to be played.
I harkened back to late July this morning after Peavy last night dominated the Reds, allowing three hits over six innings of work for a 10-0 Padres win, on the verge of a ginormous four-game series this weekend (Peavy goes again Monday) in Los Angeles, as the Red Sox SD look to overtake the Dodgers, aka Red Sox LA, in the NL West. Peavy is now 9-14 with a 4.17 ERA, numbers that surely don't result in Rodney Dangerfield eyes, but considering his late season success, it's not too shabby. Since the start of July, the righty is just 4-4, but with a 2.43 ERA, 1.66 in September with a nifty 0.83 WHIP and .171 batting average against.
This was a guy, by the way, you might have thought was the second coming of Jeff Sellers the way some Sox fans reacted at the (distant) prospect of giving up Lowell, whom they had just fallen in love with thanks to his resurgent bat and incomparable glove. "You don't give up defense like that," they argued, after having just found out what defense was after all these years. I remember one reader writing in that day and asking why you would give up a guy like Lowell for a pitcher who would likely spend the rest of the season in Pawtucket. Seriously. Coincidentally, Kason Gabbard started the next day for Boston.
Jake Peavy for Mike Lowell would have been universally seen as a steal. Except among, and trust me, this is not a term I like to throw around lightly based on its connotative implications, the pink-hats, the trendy fan base of the one-time World Champions for whom the team they follow is simply the one on the field. Period. They are the ones who show up for the veal, are faintly familiar with the starting nine, perhaps the starting pitcher, and leave once Neil Diamond belts out his hackneyed tune. There is little baseball beyond what happens at Friendly Fenway, except perhaps New York, whom they have been trained by the PR department to despise. And wait, there's a National League? Whew. Hold on.
Despite Peavy's struggles, and yes, National League inhabitance, Theo Epstein would have jumped on the possibility of dealing away a $9 million, aging third baseman for one of baseball's best young pitchers. And a week later, he had a chance to grab another one of the guys that fit in that criterion. The price, however, not even close to the same.
There's not as much bemoaning over it now, partly because of Boston's fall from contention, partly because everybody doubting lefty Jon Lester's long-term success is simply doing nothing more than wishing the rookie well as he battles Lymphoma. But if Epstein's shine hadn't taken a hit after suspicious decisions like Edgar Renteria, Rudy Seanez, and Julian (cheer me, or else) Tavarez, it was in certain need of Pledge after the July 31 trading deadline. The price for Oswalt (3-0, 1.57 this month) would have been Lester, Manny Delcarmen, and Craig Hansen, by most accounts, a price most of the Red Sox fan base seemed willing to part with in that nobody knew what these guys might become. Heck, most of them were willing to pack their bags for them. A guy like Oswalt? What were the Red Sox thinking?
In the matter of a week-plus, somehow the general consensus went from Mike Lowell for Jake Peavy is terrible, but three young arms for one is a deal you can't pass up. Somewhere along the way I quite obviously missed something.
It cracks me up. For every, "The Red Sox might be overvaluing their talent," there is an Anibal Sanchez tossing a no-hitter, a Freddy Sanchez winning the batting title, and a Cla Meredith breaking club pitching records. The same ticket holders who demand Oswalt, are the same ones wondering why the Red Sox didn't hang onto those guys.
The primary argument against the Red Sox' retooling is, "We pay the highest ticket prices in all of baseball, so the Red Sox better keep their payroll around $120 million." Granted, but that doesn't mean the team should be dishing out $120 million for a team of aging players. On the same note though, as the Red Sox value their young talent, perhaps they undervalued guys like Johnny Damon and Pedro Martinez, whose electric presence has been sorely lacking in Fenway over the past two seasons.
There is a balance, one that the club is in dire need of discovering this offseason as it looks to regain faith from its fans. With little pitching on the free agent market, how does the team fill in the gaps in the rotation and bullpen? How does it look down the road toward the end of contracts for guys like Lowell, Manny Ramirez, Jason Varitek, and Schilling? Where are they willing to spend top dollar on free agents, and where will they build from within? Who will be the next face of Red Sox Nation membership privileges if the team ships Coco Crisp and his Dad elsewhere?
More than any offseason in Boston baseball history, perhaps, the Red Sox general manager will be under the microscope of a dubious fan base, starting to realize that maybe, just maybe, they had been taken for suckers all this time, forking over $200 for a box seat they remember paying just north of $50 for a few seasons back. And now that that realization has hit them, and the glow of a World Series title starts to fade into the past, every move will be seen with doubt, every transaction carrying a "wait and see" attachment after the high hopes surrounding Josh Beckett filtered into apathy.
And perhaps in this respect, the Red Sox could have used this late season swoon in that it might make it easier for Epstein to trade anyone at all possible to improve the club for 2007. Even Lowell. Even another go-around at Manny. If it potentially improves the club, there might be less burning at the stake than say, a year ago, when Manny may have been at the height of his popularity. There would, of course, be backlash, but how much is certainly debatable.
With fan faith in Epstein at an all-time low, it will make pretty much any move he pulls off this offseason full of hesitation until the results are proven on the field. Until then though, they play on, with a plan in the front office, and skepticism from Winooski to Warwick.