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Epstein doesn't need trade school

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  July 15, 2011 10:48 AM

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Leading off on this lazy Friday, it seems somehow appropriate to immediately digress with a brief state of the Sox before we get to the Topic O' The Day around here.

With 90 games down and 72 to go as the 2011 Red Sox' march toward the postseason commences tonight, I have nothing but positive thoughts about this team. They are as good as we thought they were, winning 53 of 78 games after that lumpy 2-10 start. Adrian Gonzalez is better than we thought he was, which is saying something, because as longtime TATB readers know, we had more than a hunch or a daydream that he'd be spectacular at Fenway. Jacoby Ellsbury has become the player his most ardent supporters always believed he would be. Josh Beckett found his youthful mojo -- not to mention velocity -- on the other side of 30. Papi is hitting homers and trying to hit obnoxious Orioles relief pitchers like they're wearing Tanyon Sturtze masks.

Barring a catastrophic run of injuries -- and the hyperextended knees, pulled hammies, and tweaked lats thus far are not yet leading to gruesome 2006 flashbacks starring Kevin Jarvis and Jason Johnson -- this team is as likely to be crowned the 2011 World Champions as anyone else, Phillies included. (I'm telling you, Atlanta is winning the National League.)

Yet as the trading deadline approaches, I find myself . . . well, not so much thinking of the worst, or perceived worst, transactions of Theo Epstein's largely exceptional nine seasons as the general manager, but certainly being reminded of them. Mike Cameron, signed to a two-year, $12 million $15.5 million contract before the 2010 season, was recently designated for assignment and brought his eroded skills to Florida. John Lackey, introduced the same December day after agreeing to an $82.5 million deal, has been the worst pitcher in the AL this season. Some among us are caterwauling -- unfairly, but gratingly -- about the trade for Victor Martinez two deadlines ago now that he's moved along to Detroit and Justin Masterson has emerged as a top starter for Cleveland.

As far as I'm concerned, Theo has made one truly inexplicable awful move since taking over as GM: signing Julio Lugo to a four-year, $36 million contract before the 2007 after he'd spent several years in Tampa Bay doing absolutely nothing of significance against the Red Sox. A four-year, $3.6 million deal would have been too long and for too much loot. Should have just kept the original Gonzo, smooth-fielding Alex.

More often, what we perceive with 20/20 hindsight as dumb or poorly considered moves are actually reasonable, well-considered acquisitions that simply don't work out for one reason or another. I'd put Cameron in this category, even though he was an injury-prone disaster here, batting .219 with seven homers over 81 games. Before coming to the Red Sox, he was a Gold Glove outfielder who had hit at least 18 homers in every season but one since '99. Then he got hurt, and he got old. It happens. It wasn't entirely predictable.

I'd also put Edgar Renteria in this group. His counting stats during his one season here were decent -- 100 runs, 70 RBIs, 172 hits -- but if you recall much from anything from the 153 games he played for the Red Sox in 2005, it's that he was sluggish defensively and seemed to shrink from the moment, which ran counter to his well-earned clutch reputation. As much as Red Sox fans adored Orlando Cabrera, Renteria should have been an upgrade. The move was made for the right reasons, but he was the wrong fit.

J.D. Drew is having a miserable season, the fifth and final year of his contract, and he needs to go. But he's also been an extremely valuable player here for extended stretches, and those who dismiss him as indifferent or damaged always seem to be the same fans who prefer their brittle outfielders to come accessorized with dirty hats and you-feel-my-pain-don'tcha scowl. J.D. Drew? Not a bad signing -- a perfectly decent one, even with the inflated sticker price.

Judging Theo's body of work -- in terms of trades and free-agent signings -- on a couple of moves that didn't work out shows a lack of context and perspective. Dice-K was maddening (he really should have been a Met), and John Lackey-Wasdin's deal is regrettable just a year and half into it. But taking into consideration all of Epstein's significant acquisitions (at least the ones I could recall) since his spectacular Papi-Millar-Mueller-Timlin-Walker bargain-shopping jackpot before the 2003 season, I'd categorize them this way:

SMOOTH MOVES
Scott Williamson, Dave Roberts, Doug Mientkiewicz, Orlando Cabrera, Billy Wagner, Bobby Kielty, Victor Martinez, Jason Bay, Alex Gonzalez (both times), Adrian Beltre, Adrian Gonzalez, Keith Foulke, Curt Schilling, Hideki Okajima, Mark Bellhorn, Bronson Arroyo, Gabe Kapler, Curtis Leskanic, Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

Probably should list Adrian Gonzalez first out of proper respect . . . They played Jason Bay's career perfectly, didn't they? . . . Anyone who is mad the Sox gave up Masterson for Martinez has forgotten how much fun it was to have VMart here for a year and half. Have to give up quality to get a player like that.

SMOOTH MOVE PRESUMING HE ACTUALLY MADE IT
Trading for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell.

Lowell and Beckett were pivotal in winning the 2007 World Series. Beckett could be pivotal in another title or two. Hanley Ramirez is a heck of a talent, but the deal should not be regrettable for either side.

RIGHT IDEA, MIXED RESULTS:
Byung-Hyun Kim, Tony Graffanino, Edgar Renteria, J.D. Drew, Carl Crawford, Mark Loretta, Pokey Reese, Ellis Burks, John Olerud, David Wells, Coco Crisp, Eric Hinske, Julian Tavarez, Sean Casey, Mark Kotsay, Bartolo Colon, Paul Byrd, Rocco Baldelli, Adam LaRoche, Marco Scutaro, Darnell McDonald.

If you consider the Shea Hillenbrand for BK Kim deal a bad one, look at Kim's game logs during the 2003 season after he took over as closer, replacing the "committee." They wouldn't have made the postseason without him . . . Crawford will never be worth $142 million, but he will be in the "smooth move" category before his time with the Sox is over . . . I feel like John Olerud could sign with the Sox now and hit .280 with 20 doubles the rest of the way. Helmet power! . . . Can't bring myself to rate the admirable Ellis Burks any lower than this, even though he was injured virtually all of 2004.

RIGHT IDEA, LOUSY RESULTS
Scott Sauerbeck, John Smoltz, Eric Gagne, Brad Penny, David Riske, Mike Cameron, Ramiro Mendoza, Jose Cruz, Jay Payton, Wade Miller, Matt Mantei, Josh Bard, Carlos Pena, Joel Pineiro, J.C. Romero, Casey Kotchman, Jeremy Hermida.

Gagne was an epic flop, but the only way you can say it was a bad idea is to point out that the Red Sox knew, as evidenced in the Mitchell Report, that he was a product of PEDs . . . Still wish it had worked out for Smoltz here. That would have been fun.

WRONG IDEA, MIXED RESULTS
Daisuke Matsuzaka, Doug Mirabelli, Nick Green, Eric Patterson.

Let's admit it. Red Sox scouts should have had a better idea that Dice-K's stuff might not translate quite so well to the major leagues.

WRONG IDEA, LOUSY RESULTS:
Bobby Jenks, Jeff Suppan, John Lackey, Wily Mo Pena, John Halama, Matt Clement, Jason Johnson, Kevin Jarvis, Rudy Seanez (all 14 times they had him), Kevin Cash (all 15 times they had him).

The summer of Jarvis and Johnson will haunt me forever . . . I'm tired of Jenks's act . . . It's cool Wily Mo is back in the big leagues -- he's only 29 -- but I'm glad it's not with the Sox. He's the worst defensive outfielder I've ever seen . . . I know Clement was an All-Star. Decent half-season. But I start hyperventilating when I think about how close they reportedly came to trading Derek Lowe for him during the 2004 season.

HEY EPSTEIN! TELL US AGAIN WHAT YOU SAW IN THAT STIFF

Julio Lugo.

The worst. And I was sick of the Mother's Day Miracle 10 airings ago, NESN. How about some vintage Pedro starts once in a while?

I suppose we should be grateful that Lugo didn't arrive in Boston before December 2006. Remember the trading deadline in 2005, when Manny was in the midst of his annual Operation Man-I-Really-Don't-Feel-Like-Playing-Here-Anymore routine, and there were rumors that the Sox, Rays, and Mets were considering various three-way deals that would have sent some combination of Lugo, Cameron, Lastings Milledge, and Aubrey Huff to Boston?

I know -- I just swallowed my tongue, too. Now that would have been a deal worth howling about.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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