Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Eulogy for the 2015 Red Sox

In our podcast on Sunday, July 12, Deacon Art and I agreed that the Red Sox had worked their way back into 2015 playoff contention. At the time of the podcast, the Red Sox sat 5.5 games out of first place in the AL East. They had a game that evening against the Yankees, and if they could win that game they would have headed into the All-Star Break a manageable 4.5 games back. They had won 9 of their last 12 games. They had a chance to head into the break 5-1-2 in their previous eight series. Instead, since that podcast, the following has happened:
  • The Sox lost the July 12th game to the Yankees. Our dumpster fire bullpen served up a two-run homer to a rookie playing in his third ever major league game and the Sox lost 8-6.
  • The Red Sox were swept by the Angels in a four game series
  • The Angels outscored the Sox 22-4 in the four-game shellacking
  • Eduardo Rodriguez, the rookie phenom, lasted 1.2 innings while surrendering 6 hits, 3 walks, 2 home runs, and 7 earned runs without recording a strikeout.
  • Clay Buchholz is scheduled to meet with Dr. James Andrews on Wednesday. The Red Sox are calling the exam “precautionary”, but this blogger is predicting that Andrews finds elbow ligament damage, Buchholz undergoes Tommy John surgery, Buchholz doesn’t pitch again until late 2016 or early 2017, and Buchholz has thrown his last pitch as a Red Sox.
  • The Red Sox are currently 9.0 games out of first place in the AL East and their playoff probability according to Baseball Prospectus is at 9.5%.
  • The Red Sox players exhibited body language during last night’s sweep-clenching beatdown that is usually reserved for people who have recently watched their beloved dog run over in the street in front of their own eyes. John Farrell has the look of a man on death row hoping that his execution comes quickly just to get it all over with.
Folks, the 2015 season is done. Over. Finished. At least in terms of contention for a playoff spot. The Red Sox brass have to realize this. Red Sox fans, judging by Twitter, already realize this. As we approach the 2015 trading deadline, the focus of the Red Sox organization should be shifting away from “what can we acquire to help us get into the playoffs” to “what we can trade away for the long term benefit of our organization”. 

It is time to focus on building towards 2016. And yes, it is July 21. That means another two and a half months of meaningless baseball being played by a last-place team auditioning talent and stockpiling major league reps for players looking ahead to 2016. For the second year in a row. All signs point towards a third last-place finish in four years. 

So where do we go from here? The Red Sox have a number of decisions to make. Let’s run through six of them:

1. Is Ben Cherington the GM we want leading our roster construction? 
The theory of baseball roster construction and game management is changing. This is not a new story. The era of working pitch counts, drawing walks, getting on base, and paying nine figures for established aces is fading, if not already gone. The new approach is to avoid striking out, putting the ball in play, running like hell, scoring early in the game to get a lead, compiling a rotation just good enough to get through five or maybe six innings, preventing hits by emphasizing defense and shifts, and investing in a lights-out bullpen to shorten games to six or seven inning affairs. If Ben Cherington watched the 2014 playoffs, he should have seen the Royals and Orioles among other teams moving towards this approach. Instead, Cherington zigged when the market was zagging. He spent his wad on hitting, signing the two best bats on the market in Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, even though Ramirez had no apparent position to play. Cherington spent the rest of his cash to extend two pitchers who had yet to throw a pitch at Fenway in Wade Miley and Rick Porcello, which has turned out to be something between a shrug and a debacle. He “addressed” the bullpen with his leftovers, patching together Robbie Ross Jr, Anthony Varvaro, Edward Mujica, Tommy Layne, and Craig Breslow. On the surface, these moves made sense. I bought into the approach this offseason. If the game was moving towards low-scoring games, then why not invest in the scarce commodity of power hitters? If the trend is moving away from nine-figure aces, then why not invest in two middle-tier starters with potential to improve? Made sense on paper. Now with the benefit of hindsight, these moves look like a GM who is behind the times, won’t learn the lessons of baseball going on around him, or is just incompetent at his job. Will Cherington learn and change tack heading into 2016 and beyond? Should we trust him to learn these lessons and modernize the Red Sox roster? Cherington seems like a smart guy, and I almost always lean towards organizational stability over reactionary firings, so if it were up to me I would keep Cherington and give him a mandate to learn the lessons going on around him in baseball and adjust his priorities accordingly.

2. Is John Farrell the manager we want leading this team?
To me, no. As I said above, I almost always lean towards organizational stability over reactionary firings, but there comes a point when the firing isn’t reactionary any more and the body of evidence overcomes the benefits of stability. The time has come. Farrell’s career record as a manager is 364-377. And that’s including the 97-win 2013 season that is looking more and more like a miracle. If 2013 is taken off of Farrell’s resume, he’s 267-312 as a manger. Assuming the Red Sox finish last in 2015, without 2013 Farrell will have presided over two fourth-place finishes and two last-place finishes. As Bill Parcells once said, “you are what your record says you are”. Farrell’s reputation as a strong clubhouse leader and voice of reason with the media is also taking a hit. Yesterday, after Sandy Leon was DFA’s, Farrell actually looked into the camera and said with a straight face, “Sandy did an outstanding job for us”. Oh really John? Leon was outstanding? What games were you watching?!?!?! I know Leon was a serviceable major league backstop and he threw out some potential baserunners, but did you watch any of his at bats? If he had gone up there and bunted every single time he could have matched his .180 batting average. Leon had about as much of a chance of getting an extra base hit as I do of being elected the next pope. Come on. When Farrell spouts such non-sensical horse manure to Red Sox fans in the midst of his ship sinking into the abyss of meaninglessness, it’s time to go. Fire him now, replace him with Butterfield if he will stay through 2015, then open up a search to find the next Kevin Cash, A.J. Hinch, or Paul Molitor. Enough already.

3. Can the Red Sox trade Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino for anything worthwhile?
There’s no way that Napoli or Victorino get any at-bats in a Red Sox uniform come August, and other teams know this. What would a team give up to get a player who will probably be DFA’d anyways? Will a team take a flyer on Napoli regaining some pop with a change of scenery, maybe to the NL? Will a team want Victorino’s veteran presence in the clubhouse during a pennant race? Maybe. But they won’t give up more than a basement prospect, which is fine. Get what you can and move on.

4. Will the Red Sox consider trading Dustin Pedroia?
I hope so. It won’t be easy seeing the scrappy captain go, and it would certainly be tough seeing Pedroia playing in a different uniform, and it might not be easy to move his 6 year/$85 million contract, but I think it’s time. At this point in his career, Pedroia is a good defensive second baseman, he hits for average, and he reportedly is a clubhouse leader. That’s fine for a player with a reasonable contract and who is willing to hit seventh in a lineup. The Red Sox took off with their late June/early July winning streak with a top three of Betts, Holt, and Bogaerts in their batting order. As soon as Pedroia has come back, the Sox have plummeted. Maybe it’s a coincidence. Or maybe Pedroia’s brashness is grating on players in the locker room. Maybe his declarations that he’s still a top-ten player is causing him to think “me first” with his approach. Maybe Pedroia thinks too much of his ability at this point in his career. Maybe having a top three of all right-handed hitters is a bad idea and Betts and Bogaerts should hit first and third respectively for the next 15 years. 

And then there’s this: of all the Red Sox players on their roster, Pedroia would probably net the biggest haul in return, allowing the Sox to continue stockpiling assets for building a team or when they need to acquire talent in a pennant race. Several of the Sox’ recent prospects have busted: Will Middlebrooks, Garin Cecchini, Travis Shaw, Bryce Brentz, etc. Maybe it’s time to re-stock the upper levels.

While I was watching the Angels crush our souls over the weekend, I couldn’t help but notice that the Angels have Johnny Giavotella playing second base. The Angels want to win a title now, while Trout is still in his prime. Would they take on 6 years and $85 million of Pedroia to put their lineup over the top? Andrew Heaney looked really good on Monday. Maybe a deal headlined by Pedroia for Heaney could be worked out? Count me in.

5. Will the Red Sox consider trading David Ortiz?
Now this one would REALLY hurt. Nothing would hammer home the point that this era of Red Sox baseball is coming to a close like seeing Ortiz traded away to spend the rest of his career in a different uniform. But he’s still a productive hitter for an American League team in a pennant race, he’s a clubhouse genius, and his contract is favorable. Beyond that, I think the Red Sox would love to be able to slot Hanley Ramirez in as their DH for the future and replace his awful defense in LF. David Ortiz has ascended to the Boston sports Mount Rushmore with his presence through three World Series titles and his “this is our f***ing city” speech, but will the Sox consider moving him while he could still net some prospects in return? I can’t stomach this one, no matter if it does make sense on paper.

6. How can the Red Sox develop their young core?
Look, the Red Sox still have a very promising young core. Betts, Bogaerts, and Swihart look like cornerstones. But how can these guys be developed when they are in a culture of losing? How do you get better on a last place team with meaningless at bats? It’s tough. But once again, the Sox will look to get these three along with Rusney Castillo, Brian Johnson, Eduardo Rodriguez, Henry Owens, Pat Light, and as many other young players as possible major league-level reps in 2015. I think a change in manager might help clear the air and allow these guys to focus on developing for 2016 and beyond rather than playing for a lame duck manager throughout 2015. 

As always, let’s hash out these decisions and any others in the comments section below.

1 comment:

  1. Here is my two cents worth:

    1&2. I am still believe Ben C. deserves to keep his job. But I am steadily sliding towards the let him go camp. The next week's dealings could make or break his job. Farrell, as far as I am concerned, should be fired now. He has not shown enough on or off the field to merit keeping. If Ben C. really believes Farrell is part of the solution as he said in Houston to reporters, then Ben should be fired as well.

    3. I think the Sox can trade both Napoli and Victorino for a "useful" player. Nap certainly seems to be trying to boost his value in recent days. They both need to traded or DFA'd by Aug.1 along with Koji, De Aza, Nava, Ogando, Breslow, and Ross. In addition the Sox should check the potential trade return on Tazawa, Miley, and Hanigan.

    4. I personally am not against trading Pedroia in the right deal, but I think that would be an off season project. But I would contact the contenders needing a 2B (KC, LAA, and whoever else) and shop Brock Holt. This would be selling high (what will you trade us for an All-Star??) and very likely the available player you could get the best arms for.

    5. There is ZERO chance of Ortiz being traded.

    6. The bright light to 2015 will be the emergence of Bogaerts and Betts and the arrivals of Blake Swihart and Eduardo Rodriguez. By Aug. 1 or sooner they need to be joined by JBJ, Castillo, Brian Johnson (what in the hell are doing with him?), Henry Owens, Pat Light, Matt Barnes, Travis Shaw, and maybe Garin Cecchini. let's find out who can help going forward.