This is not going to be the story of how the Red Sox snapped their fingers and became instant contenders. Not sure that we all realize the scope of the situation Ben Cherington and his staff are facing.
Not only does the general manager need to go out and address about five major needs, he has to make sure those major players fit well with the team, the city, and the market, and provide good chemistry to a clubhouse that sorely needed some the past two seasons.
“I know they’re trying to sell it like they’ll be back quickly, and maybe everything will come together and they will,” said a National League general manager, “but it’s just not player acquisition, it’s the transition for all of those new players to a new team and city, it’s getting used to a new manager, coaches, teammates. This is not that simple.”
The Red Sox are going the rebuild-now route — no three- to five-year timetables like the Astros and Cubs have. But they also don’t want to go the lavish ways of the Dodgers. At least not right now.
But when you are the Boston Red Sox and you have $80 million-$90 million to spend, it’s tough to get shut out on major players just because you’re trying to be disciplined.
Let’s say the Red Sox are successful in acquiring all of the players they need. So they pick up Nick Swisher or Cody Ross or Torii Hunter for the outfield and sign Mike Napoli or Adam LaRoche for first base, or trade for Brandon Belt. Let’s say they add Hiroki Kuroda or Anibal Sanchez or Dan Haren or Joe Blanton to the starting rotation or they trade for Gavin Floyd.
Let’s say they fill their needs — all of them.
Then comes the integration part.
It takes them into spring training. This is the getting-to-know-you phase.
One of the reasons for hiring John Farrell is that he has some familiarity with a few of the core players still remaining on the team. But he won’t know 75 percent of them. He will have to work with his new staff, and the players will have to get used to a new pitching coach and a new hitting coach.
Farrell also will have to get used to managing in Boston. You would think that after a September collapse under Terry Francona followed by a season-long collapse under Bobby Valentine, Farrell has to look better. Then again, he’s coming off two bad years in Toronto.
This is all stuff that’s easy to sketch out on paper, but in real time, it can be overwhelming.
Suddenly, Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz look around and there’s no Dave Magadan, the hitting coach they trusted and had reached a comfort level with when things weren’t going so well. Suddenly the new guy has to learn what he’s supposed to do when these guys go bad.
Another reason Farrell was hired is that he knows Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, and Felix Doubront (a little bit). But now he’s their manager, not the pitching coach. The pitching coach is Juan Nieves, who has to get used to working with a pitching-oriented manager and get to know an entirely new staff of pitchers.
Nieves also must adapt to being a pitching coach again, after being the bullpen coach/assistant pitching coach under Don Cooper with the White Sox. The pitchers are now his responsibility.
(Again, for the pitchers, it’s five pitching coaches in four years.)
And this is no small task for Nieves, because he will have strong-willed pitchers. Curt Young was considered an overwhelming success in Oakland but was a failure in Boston. He couldn’t get through to this staff. OK, Josh Beckett is gone, but three veteran, set-in-their-ways pitchers remain at the top of the rotation.
This could all go very smoothly, or there could be plenty of rough edges. If it all comes together in one offseason/spring training, it would be a major accomplishment for the franchise, a major coup for Cherington and Farrell.
Will it be better than last year? Of course. That was a disaster in every way. But will the Red Sox again be one of the elite teams in the game? That depends not only on whether Cherington hits the talent right on the money — and the chemistry to go with it — but on whether Farrell can manage it.
In Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford two years ago, they acquired talent but not karma. And don’t forget, they acquired those two players after doing exhaustive research on them.
The Sox had people following Crawford around, looking into every aspect of his character and demeanor, projecting how he would fit with Boston. He had all the check marks in the right column until he actually became a Red Sox player and then proceeded to fit like an elephant in a pigeon cage.
But there is no question that the Sox can’t go wrong with Hunter. If ever a team needed his type of influence in a clubhouse, it’s this one. Ortiz told me that he feels he could deliver Hunter if the Sox offered him a competitive deal.
Hunter already has made a lot of money, and he wants to win. Would he be willing to go through a potentially awkward transitional stage? Could he be convinced that the Sox will hit on everything and will be a team capable of winning a World Series again?
With every move they make, we’re sure, the Sox are thinking about how it affects the clubhouse as well as the lineup.
“You can go out and get a lot of good players and put them all together and sometimes it doesn’t work,” said an American League GM. “The Red Sox know that better than anyone. If mistakes were made, I’m sure they’ve learned from them.
“You just have to trust your people to make the right decisions and then cross your fingers and hope they were the right ones.”
Apropos of something
It’s interesting to devour — and be amused by — sabermetric stats like WAR, VORP, PECOTA, WHIP, and UZR, but I always believed that traditional methods of scouting and evaluation trumped statistical data.
However, the presidential election gave more credence to such metrics when you consider how dead-on sabermetrician Nate Silver was in his projections the past two years. Silver, a former Baseball Prospectus contributor, made his mark in baseball, but his political career is probably taking off as a result of nailing the election.
As one new-wave general manager sarcastically said, “So data really is important, huh?”
Yes it is. And there’s no doubt that the Obama campaign used a lot of data and metrics to win the election by pinpointing swing-vote districts to concentrate on.
Yet, the two teams that made it to the World Series, the Tigers and Giants, were the least sabermetric organizations in baseball. And the Giants, who are so true to their scouting and old-fashioned baseball methods, have won two championships in the last three years.
Most teams have struck a compromise in this tug-of-war between old-school and statistical analysis, but there are still some that tilt one way or the other. The Astros, under Jeff Lunhow, a brilliant sabermetrician, definitely tilt to the metric side. Lunhow hired former Baseball Prospectus editor Kevin Goldstein, another brilliant mind, to run his scouting department.
The Yankees, under Brian Cashman, also have gone heavily that way, as have the Rays under Andrew Friedman and Joe Maddon. The Blue Jays, who employ more scouts than any other team in baseball, seem to be the biggest compromise team, also using sabermetric analysis to make their decisions.
And now we’ll see more of a sabermetric influence in Boston, with Bill James, the godfather of this analysis, putting his stamp on free agents and trades after being empowered by owner John Henry.
Apropos of nothing
1. Wonder how patient Cubs fans will be with the rebuilding effort. I’m thinking not very.
2. Rich Gedman and Matt Stairs would be two good choices for Boston’s assistant hitting coach.
3. Why didn’t Rick Peterson get the job as Boston’s pitching coach when he was clearly the most qualified candidate, with the most comprehensive program? An American League GM theorized, “[John] Farrell is a pitching-oriented manager and he probably didn’t want to hand the complete control of pitching to Rick, which is what you have to do. Rick was probably better matched up with a traditional manager.” Another theory is that the Red Sox starting pitchers would not have embraced Peterson’s strong personality.
4. Tino Martinez has had no experience as a hitting coach, but two teams — the Marlins and Red Sox — felt he could be one. The Marlins hired him before the Sox could interview him.
5. Baseball people are wondering what’s taking so long to hire a manager in Toronto. And why isn’t Tim Wallach a slam-dunk for the job?
6. Red Sox third base coach Brian Butterfield was interviewed for the Toronto job.
7. Dan Duquette should have received some votes for Sporting News Executive of the Year, which went to Billy Beane. Duquette may have inherited Andy MacPhail’s team, but his shaping of the rotation and the moves he made during the season as injuries mounted were outstanding.
8. The last time the Red Sox tried a dual hitting coach approach was with RonJackson/Mike Barnett under Terry Francona. It didn’t last long because Jackson and Barnett didn’t work well together. Now they’re trying it again. It’s definitely a trend in baseball, as hitting coaches are sometimes overwhelmed with workload.
9. You hear nothing but good things about Toledo Mud Hens hitting coach Leon Durham.
10. I’ve studied and re-studied the numbers, and the AL East opponents he faced throughout his career, and I’m convinced now I will vote for Mike Mussina for the Hall of Fame.
11. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Mike Piazza will all get my Hall of Fame vote.
12. We wrote last Sunday about Andy MacPhail being ready to come back to baseball after spending a year off to be with his ailing father, a baseball icon. Lee MacPhail died late last week.
13. Scott Boras will likely have a healthy market for Rafael Soriano before all is said and done, but for now, two teams that need a closer, the Angels and Tigers, don’t seem to be biting.
14. How come no one ever mentions zany Brian Wilson as a free agent closer? Wilson missed the 2012 season after Tommy John surgery, but he’s baaaack.
15. You always get the feeling the Phillies are up to something big, don’t you? Josh Hamilton?
Updates on nine
1. Joakim Soria, RHP, free agent — The former Royals closer, who missed the season after Tommy John surgery, is drawing interest from several teams, including the Red Sox. His preference is to remain in Kansas City, but he’s going to be tempted. His former Royals pitching coach, Bob McClure, once said that Soria was “one of the most coachable pitchers I’ve had the pleasure to work with.”
2. Cody Ross, OF, free agent — He has Boston, Atlanta, Philadelphia, the Yankees, and Baltimore interested, to name a few. Ross didn’t bite on Boston’s exclusive period and will now field all offers before reconsidering the Red Sox. While Fenway is built for his swing, Camden Yards and Citizens Bank Park would fill the bill as well. Ross is seeking at least a three-year deal in the vicinity of $21 million-$25 million. The Orioles are making a strong push.
3. Jerry Sands, OF/1B, Red Sox— Dodgers GM Ned Colletti didn’t give him up in the Big Deal without hesitancy. Colletti and his staff still believe that Sands is going to be a big-time power hitter in the majors. He can hit a breaking ball, but he just needs to improve his plate discipline. The Red Sox have to be mindful as they search for a first baseman/outfielder that Sands could be a candidate as a camp surprise.
4. Jason Bay, OF, free agent — The Mets simply didn’t think he had much left, so they bought out the $21 million remaining on his contract. Postconcussion syndrome seemed to take a lot out of Bay, who was such an outstanding and consistent player with the Pirates and Red Sox. “He’s as healthy as he’s been in a long time,” said his agent, Joe Urbon, who believes Bay is over the concussion issues. It appears Bay simply needs to get the hunger back in his game. He’ll likely be a late-offseason add-on by some team.
5. Daisuke Matsuzaka, RHP, free agent — Scott Boras is now representing a much different client than he had six years ago, yet he believes “several teams will be interested.” Not sure we share that enthusiasm, but it seems plausible that as teams add “padding” to the end of the rotation, Matsuzaka will be one of those major league invitation/minor league contract types.
6. Shin-Soo Choo, OF, Indians — Often linked to the Red Sox, but it still seems like a long shot that Boston would risk dealing for him knowing that Choo, like Jacoby Ellsbury, is a year away from free agency and is represented by Boras. For the Sox to take a chance, they may have to know that they could sign him long-term.
7. Mark Reynolds, 1B/3B/DH, free agent — The strikeout-prone slugger had some big hits for Baltimore in August and September and played very well at first base. The Orioles may discuss a deal with Reynolds, but it would have to be for far less than the $11 million option they turned down. Some have suggested the Red Sox as a possible fit, but they usually don’t care for big strikeout guys. Still, his power at Fenway would be interesting to watch.
8. Josh Hamilton, OF, free agent — As Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported, Hamilton will likely get a very good three-year offer from the Rangers. Will other teams go beyond that, up to five years? With baseball’s new TV deal — teams could earn as much as $25 million more starting in 2014 — there might be a team or two willing to go that far. Teams to keep your eye on include the Yankees, Dodgers (if they trade Andre Ethier), Mariners, Orioles, and Brewers.
9. Russell Martin, C, free agent — The Red Sox lost him to the Yankees two years ago, and appeared interested again before they signed David Ross. That signing seems to indicate they’d be willing to deal Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Ryan Lavarnway. Salty could be used as a chip for an outfielder, first baseman, or starting pitcher. The White Sox, who have Gavin Floyd to deal, could be interested, as it doesn’t appear they will re-sign A.J. Pierzynski.
From the Bill Chuck files: “The average American League batting average was .255, and Dayan Viciedo was the only AL player to hit .255. The average National League batting average was .254, and Darwin Barney was the only NL player to hit .254.” Also, “In 2012, Troy Tulowitzki had 8 doubles and 8 homers, 19 walks and 19 whiffs, 2 steals and 2 times caught stealing, and a .486 slugging percentage and a .486 OPS.” . . . Happy birthday, Rey Quinones (49).