Friday, April 01, 2005

Red Sox Blog Nation speaks

One opinion doesn't do very much good. But when you get the several opinions from a group of people that know what they're talking about you start to get a better picture of how things are. So while I like giving my opinion here I think it's a little more helpful for everyone reading if they know what others think. So I visited about a dozen Red Sox blogs, tracked down some email addresses, and talked to the guys running them to see what they think about a few things. Most of the emails I sent out were returned and I thank everyone who took the time. I curse all those who didn't to an eternity of hell (being brought back in time to October 16th, 2003 and having the 8th-11th innings of game 7 replayed forever).

I asked these three questions to everyone;

1. What do you think was the best offseason move that the Red Sox made? Why?

2. What do you think was the worst offseason move that the Red Sox made? Why?

3. Who improved more this offseason? The Yanks or the Red Sox?

And I got the following answers, in no particular order. Be warned, this is about to get long. Real long.

Jeff from The House that Dewey Built

1. I loved the Wade Miller signing. For almost no cost, and two years of delightful arbitration control, we have one of the best pitchers the Astros have ever developed. I mean, if the Sox medical staff play their cards right (always a questionable decision) the Red Sox can get a top-30 in the MLB starter for 50 starts off the free agent market.

Miller is a hell of a pitcher. When the red flag is a shoulder problem in a career that is full of shoulder problems (to varying degrees), I’m not terribly concerned with the risk part of the signing. If he blows out this year, than he costs $2.5 million. Drop in the bucket, when he might be worth something like $10 million in terms of games won. Just an excellent risk/reward signing.

2. The Jason Varitek signing. I know he’s the heart and soul for the team, and that he’s the best handler of pitchers since Mo Berg retired, but lets examine the actual validity of these Claims from the Alter of Remy.

Was Varitek the heart and soul in 2003? What about 2002? 2000? When did it happen? In June, when the team was in the midst of their mediocrity, Peter Gammons said that Varitek wasn’t a vocal leader. Then he facials ARod and all of a sudden, he’s the Moses of the Red Sox, finishing an 86 year old exile. I don’t buy it.

The same argument holds for the pitcher thing. The Red Sox were 8th in the AL in runs allowed. Why wasn’t Tek a great handler of pitchers then? I mean, unless being average is your definition of being among the best in baseball. In that case, the Indians can be called great in 2004.

Now, I like Jason Varitek. He hits at a position where hitting is scarce, and probably is full of those tasty nuggets of intangibles that he is rumored to have. That doesn’t change the fact that he was handed $40 million to play a physically demanding position for ages 33-36. There aren’t many catchers that remain productive (able to start and be in the top half of the league) at age 36….Johnny Bench had retired, Yogi Berra had moved to left ect. I’ll save you the work and say the ones I found were Carlton Fisk and Gabby Hartnet. That doesn’t bode well for the Red Sox pocketbook.

They could have signed him cheaper. They should have tried harder, and if not, they should have gotten creative. I’m more annoyed by the apparent complacency than the cash lay out.

3. I think the Yankees did, but with an asterisk.

Last year, as has been repeated pretty much ad nausem on Dewey’s House and other places, the Red Sox true level of play was somewhere in the 98 win range. The Yankees were somewhere in the 93 win range.

Now, with their moves, I think the Sox broke even. There is some shifting of run values and all those SABR-friendly things, but I would expect them to be just as good in the regular season as they were last year.

The Yankees could have been a contender, but busted their load on RJ, and had to settle for Tony Womack and Carl Pavano/Jaret Wright. Before the obvious complaining about the lumping of Noted out machine Womack and those pitchers, keep in mind that Pavano and Wright have been in the majors 15 years, and have had three seasons combined when they pitched more than 100 innings of league average pitching. Clement has 3 years himself.

What that means is that the Yankees are better than a 93 win team…I would say the 95 win range. That still means they aren’t as good as Boston though.

As for the playoffs, Johnson and Mussina are formidable. Schilling and Clement are too. Still a seven game toss up, friends.

Denton from Surviving Grady

1. Re-signing Varitek and naming him captain. The team has sorely lacked leadership for quite a while. Pedro, Manny, Nomar never stepped up. Schilling could do it but he's too focused on pitching. Varitek will be great in that role. The other obvious reason is his game-calling ability and ability to work to make pitchers better.

2. Keeping Millar over Doug Mientkiewicz. Doug has a superior glove and a more consistent, though not as potent, bat. He could have hit second as he did in Minnesota and let Renteria hit 5th. Pretty dangerous line-up, especially with Varitek and Nixon and Mueller. Millar is suspect defensively and becomes a major hole in the batting order when in one of his extended slumps.

3. Not to be a "homer" but I think the Sox did. Pitching: Johnson is a stud, but Pavano, to me, is a gamble. Wright will not pitch well as a Yankee. Wells is a gamble also but Clement and Miller are solid. Mantei could be huge. And Halama has some potential as a spot starter or in long relief.

Position Players: Tino Martinez and Tony Womack - not very imposing.

Renteria the only major change, and a good one.

Marc from Baseball Rants

1. The best offseason move? Locking up Matt Clement instead of Carl Pavano, and doing it for the same amount of money the Reds locked Eric Milton up at. I expect much better things from Clement than Pavano (no matter what the mass media says) and think the Sox did a great job of improving their rotation and giving us a certifiable co-ace.

2. Signing Edgar Renteria. No offense to Renteria is meant by this, because it was still a good move, but the worst of the ones they made. We have way too many shortstop prospects (Hanley Ramirez, Dustin Pedroia, Kenny Perez) to be dishing out 4 years, $40 million to a guy who is going to put up a .300/.350/.43 line. I like that line, but not for $10 million a year. The saving grace might be that Hanley is asked to move to center when Damon departs, and Pedroia takes over at second base eventually, which would make the Renteria deal make more sense. As of right now though, it is a head scratcher with scenarios galore to explore.

3. Well, I think the Red Sox had a slightly better winter, because none of their moves countered each other like New York's did. The Yanks got Randy Johnson, but then signed Pavano and Wright, who should make the rotation a little more top heavy for Johnson. I don't mean that in a good way; I mean that NY will depend on Johnson. Since the Sox were a better team than the Yankees last year anyways, and they had a slightly better offseason, I have to give them the nod as the team to beat in the division. For those who don't believe the Sox were a better team, simply look at the pythagorean records from 2004, which are a better indicator of future performance than the actual records themselves.

Evan from Firebrand of the American League

1. The Red Sox's best offseason move was resigning Jason Varitek. Why? Who
else could we use? It's that simple.

2. The worst offseason move in my opinion was ... actually, I can't think
of one. I'm pretty happy with how this team has turned out.

3. The Yankees, but keep in mind that their pythagorean record last year
was 12 wins above normal. So even though they improved, they could end
up with a worse record.

Randy Booth from Over the Monster

1. In my opinion, the best offseason move the Sox made this season was signing Matt Clement. Clement is an upgrade over a more expensive Derek Lowe, and has the most potential over any other free agent pitcher on the market last season.

2. The worst offseason move made by the Sox not resigning Mike Myers. It wasn't a bad move until today, when the Sox traded for Myers. So we get back Myers, who would could of had as cheap, but have to give up someone in return.

3. Red Sox. I think the Yankees made a bunch of moves that just seemed right at the time, but weren't in their best interest long term (Tony Womack, for example). The Sox didn't lose anyone in the lineup, and made up for the losing Pedro Martinez (Lowe doesn't count).

Frawst, a friend and respected baseball fan over at Livejournal

1. Not pverpaying for Pedro and Derek. The easiest thing to do when you win a ring, especially when you win it in epic fashion, is to go overboard in trying to keep that lovin' feeling. A 4 year deal for Pedro and anything above an incentive laden 3 year for Derek would have hamstrung a team moving forward with Curt's World Series raise and his option triggered and the Largest Intact Contract in baseball on the books in Manny (ARod's deal is being subsidized by the Rangers)

As far as straight up player acquisition? David Wells. He'll immediately fit into the clubhouse, and he'll provide at a #3 level for this year. And they didn't overpay for him.

2. Tek's deal. It's too much, it's too long. I love Tek, I wanted mroe than anything for him to re-sign. There is a good amount of distance between reigning a catcher on the decline to a reasonable contract and being sodomized with a lemon reamer by Teh Boras. That said, I forgive them :)

3. Short term, the Yankees. The player for player moves on the Sox are smarter and better geared towards the future. But you don't swap out 3/5's of your rotation including a man whose good day evoke Koufax without taking a hit. The Sox have more flexibility now, and really good parts, ut the Yanks added a stone cold playoff killer in Johnson. He has all the pedigree that Schilling does, with better stuff and a smaller mouth. (They're roughly equal in surliness).

Swapping out a part that doesn't work for you (according to rumor) in Vasquez for a Hall of Famer (even in decline) is huge. Pavano and Wright are risk signings, but no more risky than Miller and Clement are. And getting rid of Esteban Loaiza always makes you better.

Long term the Yankees got older and more expensive. If Lil Theo can stay flexible and cold hearted we can maintain an edge even as our core get some grey in their greasy hair.

Tim from Bullshit Memorial Stadium

1. My first, gut-reaction answer would be to say Matt Clement, mostly because I think he's being underrated by the hype created by writers like Buster Olney, falling all over himself to tell us he doesn't have "big market makeup," whatever that means, and like Olney would know. And while I still think that, I think the "best" moniker comes down on two transactions- the Wade Miller deal, and the Roberts-for-Payton, Vazquez, and mLer trade.

Miller because it was a signing for a great pitcher, they played out the deal without succumbing to the temptation to get him via trade (instead waiting for the non-tender deadline), they tied most of his salary into performance-based clauses, and because they will retain control of him for next year as well through arbitration. If he's healthy, he's a bona fide #2 behind Schilling, along with Clement who I think will be the same.

Roberts-for-Payton because ultimately, it meant we turned Henri Stanley (who we traded to LA for Roberts originally)- a mLer we picked up for nothing- into "the Steal," facilitating a World Series, a mL pitcher, our platoon partner for Trot Nixon and able day-off bench guy for Damon in Jay Payton, our utility infielder that can play three positions and hit in Ramon Vazquez, and we even got the Padres to give *US* some cash. Roberts seemed like a great guy, but that was a fleecing, plain and simple.

The best non-move was keeping Hanley Ramirez.

2. There weren't any egregiously poor moves this offseason, thankfully, but the Varitek and Renteria signings were for a bit of a lot of money. Mantei was a great signing, along the lines of Miller, but I would have maybe liked to see them spend more for a dependable, less-injury-prone setup man. But, life isn't perfect. I think Mantei will throw some meaningful innings this year, but that he'll lose time somewhere along the way.

3. Honestly, though I still think the Sox are actually better, the Yankees may have improved more. It's tough to beat the addition of Randy Johnson to your staff. That said, I expect Carl Pavano to regress a bit to his 2003 numbers (2004 was a bit of an outlier in ERA alone- his peripherals were similar), I expect Jaret Wright to implode, and I expect, at some point, for someone in their front office to do their job and inform George that signing Tony Womack to start 2B ranks as one of the dumbest things the organization has ever done.

The Sox got better, but seemingly only incrementally- Mantei over Williamson, Renteria over Cabrera, Clement/ Wells/ Miller over Martinez/ Lowe, Varitek to Varitek, Payton over Kapler, Vazquez over Reese. The Yankees made a big leap, but I still think the Sox are better. FWIW, I think our bench this year to start is one of the best in team history and certainly the best in baseball, compared especially to NY's, a team with a lot of injury potential, who have a very poor bench.

The writer from El Guapo's Ghost

1. Making the right call and trading Minky instead of Millar. A good hitter is always more difficult to find and valuable than a good glove.

2. Signing Renteria to $40/4 for a number of reasons: 1) he is exiting a players normal prime years, 2) besides one season, he has not hit well enough to warrant that payday, 3) he has shaky patience at the plate making him rely on average for OBP, 4) his defense has slipped over the past few seasons and he may be overrate with the glove after spending so much time next to Rolen. Rolen allowed Renteria to play more up the middle gettting to more balls than most, but without necessarily better range., 5) it is the sox deepest position in the minors with not only Hanley, but Lara and Soto.

3. Yanks, but they needed to after being "only" a 89 win team. RJ gives them a five win upgrade. The rest of the rotation is a wash. The pen should be much deeper and better givimg them a couple more wins. Giambi/Tino can't be
any worse than sick Giambi/Olerud/Tony "freakin'' Clark. The only area that could be worse is at second. Tony Womack's deal with the devil should be end in 2005 since he will be playing for his son. The devil loves irony.

If Miller and Mantei can get back, the Sox run prevention s/b better but that is a big IF given their histories. The upgrades of Renteria and Nixon should offset the career years of Damon, Tek, Bellhorn - the offense is a wash. The Sox are still a 98 win team.

Matt from Baseball Rants

1. Hard to put my finger on just one move that I think was the Sox best. Wade Miller has the potential to be the best move we made. For 1.5 million, if he’s hurt, and we only get 10 games out of him, they’ll be 10 decent games, and at the market rate of someone like Kris Benson (3 years, 22.5), I’ll take Wade Miller any day.

Furthermore, if Miller is healthy, and pitches like the perennial 13-17 game winner we know he can be, we get him for 4.5 million. It’s hard to argue with 13-17 wins for 4.5 million dollars, especially when you have Jaret Wright and Benson making almost double that, and I don’t foresee either of them doing nearly as well as a healthy Miller can.

Yet as Red Sox fans, we know if ifs were buts, and well, I don’t remember the rest, something about candy, the point is, Wade Miller is a big if, and for that reason, I can’t call him the best. I think our best move was Matt Clement. He’s slated to make 6 million this year, and considering the contracts of Wright and Benson above, he’s a bargain to begin with.

Clement has been a fantasy darling for years. A decent era, a ton of innings pitched (200+ 3 times in his career), and did I mention all the strikeouts (his K/BB are phenomenal)? With some run support behind him (and no one can argue the Sox won’t pile up the runs this year), a manager who isn’t trying to see if his arm can tear off on his 130th pitch, and the support of Red Sox nation, I see Clement evolving into the pitcher we always thought he could be. A 14-17 game winner, 180-200 SO’s, and a 3.5 to 3.7 ERA. Did I mention he’s not named Jaret Wright?

2. Far and away, 4 years 40 million for Edgar Renteria. I just don’t see the point. It’s not like our lineup was strapped for hitters, and we needed another big bat to contend. With Pedroia, Kenny Perez, and Hanley Ramirez in the wings, why bother?

Then again, I’m not entirely sure how the Sox could have better spent the money. I’m about to address how I feel about the Pavano signing below, and I’m thrilled we didn’t touch any of the problem child free agents (the ever injured Sexson, the broken knees of Delgado, the uncertainty of Beltre, the shoulder of Glaus, ad nauseum.)

The money we spent here could have easily been spent on extensions for our current players, saving money, or even chasing down Pedro (if we really wanted to). The point is that the Sox didn’t need to sign Edgar Renteria. After watching our playoff run, our off season, and spring training, I can’t say the Sox biggest problem is their bats, so why did they spend so much money addressing it? Under those pretenses, I think that’s why Renteria was our worst singing.

3. Ok, I’m going to try and remain as objective as humanly possible here. With that said, I hate the New York Yankees.

In terms of offseason moves, it seems clear cut to me (bias aside) who the big winner was: the Boston Red Sox. The Yankees made some horrible personnel decisions. Not picking up the option on Lieber, backloading Giambi’s contract, and the signing of Jaret Wright to name just a few.

Let’s be fair and look at this analytically. In terms of aces, the rotations match up equally, and with Schilling hurt (although I expect a full recovery), you have to give the edge to Randy Johnson. This isn’t your average pitcher changing leagues. This is one of the best left handed power pitchers ever to play the game, and he’s going to have no issues mowing them down in the pinstripes, nor would he have issues in any other uniform. So for now, edge Yankees. When Schilling is healthy, PUSH.

Number 2 starters, Mussina v Wells. Mussina was an ace at one point, but at 36, he’s not getting any younger, and signs of decay are pretty evident. A 12-9 record last year with a 4.6 ERA is hardly what I want from my number 2 man. Mussina’s numbers are often misleading, especially since joining the Yankees. A high run support translates into a lot of wins, but in 2 of the past 3 years, he’s finished with an ERA over 4. The same can be said for Wells. He’s 41, and one can only wonder how long his arm is going to hold out (in the past 10 years he’s thrown 45 CG’s). He’s a dedicated workhorse, but what really impresses me is his lack of walks. Walks are what happens when old finesse pitchers lose their finesse (ask Tom Glavine), and until I see it from Wells, I’m going to say he’s not losing his edge. A lot of question marks here, 2 potential 18-20 game winners, or 12 game winners. PUSH.

Carl Pavano v Matt Clement. This is where I think the difference becomes a lot more evident between the two teams. Now I believe in breakout seasons as much as the next guy, but what proof does any of us have Pavano’s last season was the rule, and not the exception? Before last season, in a season where Pavano started at least 20 games, his lowest ERA was 4.2! 4.2! Pavano is leaving the National League, the pitcher’s league, and finds himself smack dab in the middle of YANKEE STADIUM, the most high pressure environment in all of baseball (outside of Fenway of course). This is not an easy transition; it takes a world class talent (like Johnson) to effortlessly transition leagues. Look at the Yankees track record with cross league stars. Does anyone remember Javier Vazquez? Kevin Brown? Maybe in the same league, like Esteban Loaiza? It’s not easy pitching in Yankee Stadium, and Pavano is going to find out just how hard.

Clement on the other hand, I see continuing to perform as he has. He’s always had great IP, usually a decent ERA, and always been high on the strikeouts. Without a manager trying to rip his arm from the socket (see Dusty Baker), and some run support behind him, I see Clement finally emerging and winning 14-17 games this year. To stem the argument that he is transitioning leagues just like Pavano, I say this. Clement has had more than one decent season, has Pavano? ADVANTAGE RED SOX.

Jaret Wright V Arroyo/Wakefield/Miller? I’m going to say Wright v Wakefield for the moment, because I’m too lazy to look up otherwise. Without doing any stats out, or giving you any proof. His name is Jaret Wright, he’s making 21 million over the next 3 years. Outside of Atlanta, he’s never had a season with an ERA under 4.7, and only had one winning season (12-10). Let’s be blunt here. Leo Mazzone is the Yoda of pitching. Atlanta is Dagobah, and when you go there, he teaches you the force if you are a pitcher. Jaret just left Dagobah, without mastering the force, and went right to trying to fight the Empire. Do not pass go, do not collect 200 dollars. You weren’t that good in Atlanta, with Yoda, what makes you think you’re going to be better in a tougher league, in the second highest pressure situation in all of baseball, without Yoda to fix your mechanics? Did I mention Tim Wakefield is the greatest modern knuckleballer (emphasis on modern, being since I started following baseball). Even if it’s Arroyo, it’s going to be pretty easily argued that Arroyo is primed to breakout, and without any stats, let’s face it, he’s better than Jaret Wright. MAJOR ADVANTAGE SOX.

Kevin Brown v whoever doesn’t pitch for the sox above. Do I need to even give reasons for this? Kevin Brown’s back doesn’t even exist anymore; it’s just an injury waiting to happen, never mind the rest of him, like punching walls in the ALCS! The last time Kevin Brown was effective, people were worried Y2K was going to destroy the world. Did I mention he’s making almost 16 million dollars this year? Is it possible for me to just take Brian Cashman out back, and beat him until I can’t remember Kevin Brown is making almost 10x more than Johan Santana? Does it even matter who Brown matches up against? He’s going to get hurt and they’re going to trade for someone else anyhow. ADVANTAGE SOX

In terms of closers, it’s a pretty even draw. Rivera has supposedly been about to decay for years, and every year he brings that cutter, and dominates in the playoffs. Foulke has been everything we expected since we got him, but I find myself leaning toward the experience here, and saying that Rivera has the advantage. ADVANTAGE YANKEES

I’m not going to psychoanalyze bullpens and the such, I’ll leave that for someone else. The lineups are very comparable, with a few noticeable question marks. Tony Womack played over his head last year, and now he’s in a tougher league playing in Yankee Stadium; he’s not going to repeat his 04 numbers. How hurt is Giambi? Is he the Giambi of yore (the Lumberjack of steroid induced homerun fury), or is he now just Jason Giambi, white guy with a bat? I’m not expecting big things at all from Giambi, and I think his presence will be a distraction all year. The Yankees needed a big bat this winter (and with the ailing Bernie Williams in center ready to finally keel over, Beltran would have been a PERFECT fit). Instead they addressed pitching, and while they have slightly improved their pitching, pitchers can’t win games without run support.

The Sox just don’t have holes like this. Scoring runs was far from a problem last year, and you could argue Renteria’s bat is just as good if not better than Cabrera’s. The lineup just didn’t change besides that. Varitek is now the team captain, Mientkewicz is gone, and the rest of the players are happy (well, save Johnny Damon, but there’s enough people waiting to fill our CF void that I could careless what his demands are.) The sox lineup beat the Yankees last year, and as I’ve argued, the Yankees didn’t get better, and the sox didn’t get worse. ADVANTAGE SOX

So, in being totally bias, not backing up most of my work, and using “Screw the Yankees” as my general premise, it is my professional, informed, and extensively researched opinion that the Red Sox are better this year than the Yankees, especially after this winter.

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