One of the internal self-examinations the Red Sox have conducted this offseason is trying to figure out why they haven’t been able to make more productive trades.
They are currently trying to deal for a lefthanded-hitting first baseman/outfielder, and their hope is that they’ll get on a roll with deals. They started with what appears to be a good one with the Pirates for closer Joel Hanrahan.
“It’s fair to say we have examined that,” said general manager Ben Cherington. “I think it’s part of a bigger examination of our evaluation and decision-making process. As with most examinations, adjustments will likely be subtle but real and likely implemented over time.”
Perhaps not so subtle was the hiring of veteran scout Eddie Bane to evaluate pitching.
The Sox have explored many trades this offseason, including one with Miami that would have netted them Jose Reyes and Josh Johnson. They weren’t able to get the pieces right on that one, and the Marlins instead pursued their mega-deal with the Blue Jays, who gave up some of their better prospects to pull it off.
Before they made their blockbuster with the Dodgers last August — sending Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, and Adrian Gonzalez west and getting prospects Ivan DeJesus, Allen Webster, Jerry Sands, and Rubby De La Rosa — the Sox traded Kevin Youkilis to the White Sox for utility infielder Brent Lillibridge and righthanded pitcher Zach Stewart, who has since been designated for assignment by the Pirates.
DeJesus, a redundant player with Pedro Ciriaco around, and Sands, a righthanded power hitter, went in the Hanrahan deal.
Last offseason, the Red Sox dealt infielder Jed Lowrie and righty Kyle Weiland to the Astros for reliever Mark Melancon, who had a poor season and was then flipped to the Pirates in the Hanrahan deal. They also traded eventual World Series MVP Marco Scutaro to the Rockies for Clayton Mortensen, who was a serviceable pitcher the six times he came up from the minors. Scutaro’s replacement, Mike Aviles, provided something close to Scutaro’s production.
The deal that seemed to bite the Sox the most was sending Josh Reddick to the Athletics for Andrew Bailey and Ryan Sweeney. Bailey suffered two injuries in spring training, including a thumb injury that kept him out until mid-August. But at the time the deal was made, most people in baseball thought the Red Sox got the better of it, acquiring a two-time All-Star closer for a guy who had never shown he was more than a fourth outfielder.
Sweeney had a good month but then started to slump. He punched a wall and broke his hand, ending his season. He was not tendered a contract and is a free agent. Bailey posted a 7.04 ERA upon his return and has now been supplanted as the closer by Hanrahan.
Reddick, meanwhile, hit 32 home runs, knocked in 85 runs, and won a Gold Glove for a team that won the American League West.
The Red Sox don’t seem to be evaluating the returns on their trades as well as they should.
Stewart, for instance, has always had a very good arm — he once threw close to 100 m.p.h. — but he has never been able to get it together. The Red Sox apparently believed that, as with Andrew Miller, they would have a guy with a strong arm and get him to put things together.
But the White Sox coaches never thought Stewart would be more than a journeyman, and they had no problem giving him up for Youkilis.
“I don’t believe any shortcoming is a result of lack of information or resources,” Cherington said. “We have plenty of both and plenty of good people evaluating and analyzing talent.”
This offseason, the Red Sox have acquired most of their new players via free agency: Shane Victorino, David Ross, Jonny Gomes, Koji Uehara, Stephen Drew, Ryan Dempster, and (when it finally gets done) Mike Napoli.
They have been unwilling to deal some of their better prospects, but have done a good job dealing redundant players like DeJesus, Sands, and Stolmy Pimentel.
It’s no secret that the Sox have walked away from deals because they thought the price tag was too high. But you wonder whether they’re getting gun-shy about big deals because of their recent track record.
Yankees GM Brian Cashman, who is heading into his 16th season, isn’t afraid to get back on the horse after a bad deal.
“I would think a team would change the evaluating staff or process rather than do nothing if they had a bad history of bad moves,” said Cashman.
GMs have confidants, an inner circle if you will. The circle changes over time, but once you have a good one, like San Francisco’s, the evaluation process seems to go so much smoother. Giants GM Brian Sabean has his trusted confidants in Dick Tidrow, Joe Lefebvre, Bobby Evans, Steve Balboni, John Barr, Paul Turco, Fred Stanley, and Jeremy Shelley.
When Dan Duquette took the Orioles job after being out of baseball for 10 seasons, he immediately went back to the people he trusted with the Red Sox like Lee Thomas, Ray Poitevint, Gary Rajsich, and Fred Ferreira to name a few.
Cherington, too, is trying to develop that circle with Mike Hazen, Brian O’Halloran, Allard Baird, Jared Porter, Ben Crockett, etc.
Developing that perfect circle takes time. The Red Sox are trying to find it.
Apropos of something
While Major League Baseball and the Players Association agreed to extend HGH testing throughout the season — with a longitudinal testing profile for each player to detect synthetic testosterone, which seems to be the PED of choice now because it flushes out of the body quickly — one major league owner wondered just how widespread the PED problem is still.
“The hope is with this new test for testosterone that we’ll reduce the use of it even more,” the owner said. “I’m not sure any of us know how widespread this problem has been or may be still. We’re thinking we may see even more changes in the game in the form of less power and pitchers’ velocity going down.”
When the subject comes up, the player mentioned the most is Melky Cabrera, who was leading the National League in batting last season when he tested positive for testosterone and received a 50-game suspension. The Giants did not include him on their playoff roster even after Cabrera was reinstated.
The Blue Jays signed Cabrera this offseason, and he’ll be their starting left fielder. All of baseball is going to watch to see if being clean makes a difference in his numbers.
How long was Cabrera getting away with negative tests before he was caught? This is what MLB and the MLBPA are hoping to determine with the new testing.
Under the old system, the player would advance to the isotope ratio mass spectrometry test (IRMS) if his testosterone ratio was at least 4:1. Now random tests will give a baseline for each player, and if they rise with subsequent testing, then it’s a red flag that he may be trying to boost his testosterone level.
Baseball people now agree that the use of synthetic testosterone may be more widespread than HGH. Baseball was the first sport to use blood testing for HGH. At first the testing was only in the offseason, then in spring training, and now it will be all season, randomly. Players initially balked at blood testing because it was too intrusive, but the union quickly passed this enhanced testing.
Apropos of nothing
1. Good news at Fenway: Kowloon returns to the concession stands.
2. Why does it seem that players from other countries enjoy participating in the World Baseball Classic more than Americans do? The best players seem to be bowing out. Too bad, because it could be a significant event if teams weren’t so protective of their players.
3. Remember asking Ben Cherington not long after the Sox had agreed to terms with Mike Napoli on the three-year deal: “Ever detect anything you didn’t know about the player’s medical history after a physical?”
4. If it is true that ownership wanted “sexy” players to boost NESN ratings back in 2011, the Sox have made a dramatic departure from that this offseason.
5. Nobody ever mentions Sox catcher Dan Butler, so we will. Very good receiver, and he has some power. With the logjam at catcher, he’ll likely stay at Pawtucket, but his defense is very good.
6. How about the long list of announcers who have gone from the PawSox job to the big leagues? Add 29-year-old Aaron Goldsmith, who is now the radio voice of the Mariners. Others who have moved up: Gary Cohen (Mets), Don Orsillo (Red Sox), Dave Flemming (Giants), Andy Freed (Rays), Dave Shea (Nationals), Dave Jageler (Nationals), and Dan Hoard (NFL’s Bengals). Would love to see Jerry Trupiano get a shot here.
7. Butch Hobson starts his 13th season as an Atlantic League manager, his third at Lancaster (Pa.). Hobson has more than 1,500 wins as a manager but has never been able to get back to the majors in even a coaching job. “I love what I’m doing,” said Hobson. “I think we do it the right way. We’ve sent 11 players to organizations the last two years.” Hobson is also watching the career of his son K.C. Hobson, 22, a first baseman in the Blue Jays organization. K.C. may make it up to Double A Manchester, where he would be managed by former Red Sox catcher Gary Allenson. With Single A Lansing last year, K.C. hit .276 with 10 homers and 86 RBIs.
Updates on nine
1. Brandon Moss, 1B/OF — The former Red Sox farmhand would have been a perfect fit as the lefthanded complement to Jonny Gomes in left field and Mike Napoli at first base, but Oakland general manager Billy Beane gave a resounding “no” when asked whether he would move Moss, who was strictly a journeyman before he burst on the scene with the A’s last year.
2. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C, Red Sox — With the acquisition of John Jaso in the three-team deal that sent Michael Morse from Washington to Seattle, Oakland is eliminated as a possible destination for the switch-hitting catcher. But this certainly doesn’t eliminate the possibility that Salty is dealt somewhere, before or during spring training. There are still teams with catching and/or power needs. One is obviously Seattle, which lost Jaso. Jesus Montero is currently the Mariners’ No. 1 catcher.
3. Chien-Ming Wang, RHP, free agent — Wang will pitch for Taiwan in the World Baseball Classic, then try to decide where he will play the 2013 season. Wang, a two-time 19-game winner for the Yankees, has spent most of the last three years trying to regain his old form after undergoing shoulder capsule surgery, which usually is a career-ender for pitchers. Dr. James Andrews, who performed the surgery, felt that Wang, who has pitched for the Nationals the last two seasons, could regain enough of his old form to be effective in the majors. Wang, you’ll remember, had that killer heavy sinker that broke bats. While a number of teams have inquired about him, according to agent Alan Nero, Wang is hoping to use the WBC as a showcase.
4. Yu Darvish, RHP, Rangers — The Japanese phenom went 16-9 with a 3.90 ERA in his rookie season with Texas. He had some ups and downs but was strong in his last eight starts. Darvish thinks that, with a normal offseason, he will be better in 2013 and improve on the 29 starts he made (in which the Rangers went 19-10). The Rangers feel that if Darvish can build up his stamina and increase his starts to the 32-33 range, he could have a big effect on a tight playoff race at the end of the year.
5. Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Marlins — There continues to be rumblings that the Marlins will deal Stanton if the price is right. Some wonder whether Tampa Bay has what Miami wants to make it happen. The Rays have lots of pitching prospects heading toward the majors. They also have outfielder Wil Myers (acquired in the James Shields deal with Kansas City), who could be part of such a deal.
6. Michael Bourn, CF, free agent — The Rafael Soriano signing by the Nationals is a reminder to never underestimate the market Scott Boras can create for a client. Bourn seemed like a good fit in Seattle before the Mariners acquired Morse, and the Phillies, who could use another outfielder, remain an obvious choice. The Mets are not out of the picture if the price and length of commitment come down. Could the Blue Jays be a long shot? They have Colby Rasmus, but he could be traded. The Yankees?
7. Manny Ramirez, OF, free agent — The scouts who saw him say what you’d expect: that Ramirez could probably hit until he’s 60. He hit .360 with 4 homers and 17 RBIs in the Dominican League this winter and wants to return to the majors after two PED violations. Hard to imagine anyone giving him a shot, though. Meanwhile, Red Sox first baseman Mauro Gomez led the Dominican League in RBIs (38) and was second in homers (8).
8. Jose Iglesias, SS, Red Sox — Iglesias did a lot of strengthening this offseason in the hopes of avoiding injury and to give himself a boost offensively. You can see why the Red Sox don’t want to give up on him (the Pirates wanted him as the central piece in the Joel Hanrahan deal) as their future starter at shortstop, even with the Xander Bogaerts hype.
9. Dan Duquette, GM, Orioles — Ownership finally found the right management team and decided to reward both Duquette and Buck Showalter with six-year deals last week. Duquette and Showalter worked well together, as Duquette made a lot of moves before and during last season that enabled the team to go from 69 to 93 wins. It doesn’t appear, however, that ownership opened up the purse strings for Duquette — strange, considering that he had a tremendous track record in Boston for hitting on the right high-profile players.
From the Bill Chuck files: “Matt Harrison, Jon Lester, and Matt Cain each faced 876 batters in 2012. Harrison allowed 210 hits and 59 walks, Lester 216 hits and 68 walks, and Cain just 177 hits and 51 walks.” Also, “Over the last four seasons, the Yankees have averaged 228 homers a season, which is exactly the number the Yankees need to become baseball’s first team with 15,000. They enter 2013 with 14,772.” . . . Happy birthday to Luis Exposito (26), Matt Albers (30), and Gene Stephens (80).Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.