Tuesday, February 01, 2005

February 1, 2005

RED SOX RELOAD:

I'm looking into the Red Sox off-season moves and am really excited about how Theo Epstein's master plan has unfolded. Those who have known me for many years may well remember I was a long time supporter and defender of Theo’s predecessor at General Manager, the Ice King of Boston, Dan Duquette.

The lasting negative images of Duquette in Boston is of him driving off Roger Clemens and Mo Vaughn*, overpaying Manny Ramierez**, and the entire Jimy Williams firing fiasco***. (I’m trying out the footnotes to replace my wandering thoughts in parentheses all over the blog. Drop me a line at hal@bostonsportpage.com to let me know what you think.) Of course, “I brought in Pedro”, “Heathcliffe Slocumb for Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe”, and “I drafted Nomar”**** are likely to be etched onto his tombstone.

One thing Dan Duquette preached when he initially took over for the final years of the Yawkey Trust was the mantra of building up the farm system. At first, I think there was definitely a real effort to build a team the right way, from the bottom-up. Supplement the team with some diamonds in the rough (Troy O’Leary, Brian Daubach, Matt Stairs, et al). Of course, this was the time of the Yankee resurgence. Flush with the cash flowing in from NESN and the constant crowds at Fenway, Yawkey Trust caretaker John Harrington opened the bank vaults and let Duquette spend willy-nilly for Manny and his horrible trade deadline dealings of sending legitimate minor-league talent for stiffs who were basically rent-a-players.

Of course, Duquette’s caustic relationship with the Boston media did as much to drive him out as his failures as a General Manager.

Theo, however, seems to have a firm grasp on the delicate balancing act of large-market GM. He has done very well with his free agent signings, drafting, and, for the most part, his trades. Let’s examine them:

The Red Sox over the past few years have been able to stock the lower-levels of the minor leagues with some legitimate talent. How much of it and how soon it arrives in Fenway is still up for debate. They have adopted Billy Beane’s philosophy of backing away from high-risk high school players and drafting more ready-to-contribute college players with a history of performance to back up their potential. With Jon Lester, Manny Delcarmen, Abe Alvarez, Dustin Pedroia, Brandon Moss, Hanley Ramierez, Ian Bladergroen, and Kelley Shoppach, it is nice to think the Sox have some options for low-cost, young talent. Or, if they go nuts, they can trade them all and at least get something back in return.

The amateur draft situation only improves this season. The Sox have six of the first sixty picks in the first & supplemental rounds. We received a first and supplemental pick for the Mets signing Pedro Martinez, another first and supplemental pick for the Dodgers bringing aboard Derek Lowe, we lost our first for signing Edgar Renteria, but received a pick back for losing Orlando Cabrera. Mientkiewicz netted a prospect, Dave Roberts brought in a utility infielder and a back-up outfield, and we still may yet get a prospect for Buyng-Hyun Kim.

Last year, of course, the trade for Curt Schilling and the free agent signing of Keith Foulke paid immediate dividends. Of course, the deadline deals of Nomar for Cabrera & Mientkiewicz and picking up Dave Roberts for next to nothing also proved very shrewd. Of course, Theo’s 2003 trading deadline trades much left to be desired.

So in summary, the Sox are seriously reloading for the future via the amateur draft, and they’ve made some shrewd decisions to improve the team and not be stuck with large contracts for prima donnas like Pedro & Lowe. Not a bad position to be in for the defending World Champions.

Now the only question that remains is “Can we wait for opening day?” I know I can hardly wait.

*Note 1: Looks like a 50-50 split with Vaughn & Clemens. Of course, people forget that before Big Papi, Mo was the undisputed, no-holds barred, King of the Boston Red Sox.
**Note 2: Poor Manny. You know he’s going to be up on the trading every year with that ridiculous contract. He could hit 80 HRs and the Sox would deal him to any team willing to take on the entire remaining contract for a bag of peanuts.
***Note 3: I wasn’t the biggest Jimy fan. But Joe Kerrigan at manager was a disaster from day one. But the new ownership group certainly showed that they weren’t too keen on the Kerrigan for Williams move by moving to quickly bring in Jimy-clone Grady Little after they took over.
****Note 4: It’s kind of ridiculous to think of the debate before the 1997 season about moving John Valentin to 2B or 3B to make way for Nomar at SS. That two-day hold-out/walk-out/protest by Valentin probably did more to hurt his chances of hooking on with another team than his declining statistics. Malcontent is a hard label to shake.

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