Sox Fans Grab Mallets While Theo Prepares to Be The Whack-a-Mole

Red Sox World Series Victory Parade Held In Boston
This will certainly be a defining offseason when Red Sox historians look back on Theo Epstein’s legacy as Boston GM. If the acquisitions work, fans and media alike will sing high praise – and the untouchable GM will become all the more invincible. If the moves fail, he will be chastised and become vulnerable for the first time in his career. It’s difficult to give a grade to Theo at this point of the offseason - much less begin to rip him in the media. For one, there’s still so much work to be done that any analysis is incomplete, especially with Mike Lowell hanging in limbo. On the other hand, the fact that there’s been so much contention over every signing thus far means that there's likely not a single person left in New England that is happy with our GM - and any failure for the free agents in the upcoming season will be overmagnified. Marco Scutaro, John Lackey, Mike Cameron. There is no concensus – lots of very intelligent people have advocated on both sides for all three acquisitions. Marco Scutaro is the best of a poor class of free agent shortstops. He’ll end up costing the Red Sox a 2nd round pick and is signed to a very favorable 3-year (or some would say 2-year) deal. He’s a late bloomer who some argue is a one-year wonder. Scutaro will have to be every bit as good as his breakout in 2009 for both sides to be satisfied. A good personnel move? Yes. But, it will be hard for Theo to win this one in the media...
Red Sox World Series Victory Parade Held In Boston

This will certainly be a defining offseason when Red Sox historians look back on Theo Epstein’s legacy as Boston GM. If the acquisitions work, fans and media alike will sing high praise – and the untouchable GM will become all the more invincible. If the moves fail, he will be chastised and become vulnerable for the first time in his career.

It’s difficult for anyone to give a grade to Theo at this point of the offseason – much less begin to rip him in the media. For one, there’s still so much work to be done that any analysis is incomplete, especially with Mike Lowell hanging in limbo. On the other hand, the fact that there’s been so much contention over every signing thus far means that there’s likely not a single person left in New England that is happy with our GM – and any failure for the free agents in the upcoming season will be overmagnified. Marco Scutaro, John Lackey, Mike Cameron. There is no concensus – lots of very intelligent people have advocated on both sides for all three acquisitions.

Marco Scutaro is the best of a poor class of free agent shortstops. He’ll end up costing the Red Sox a 2nd round pick and is signed to a very favorable 3-year (or some would say 2-year) deal. He’s a late bloomer who some argue is a one-year wonder. Scutaro will have to be every bit as good as his breakout in 2009 for both sides to be satisfied. A good personnel move? Yes. But, it will be hard for Theo to win this one in the media.

The top free agent pitcher on the market, the John Lackey signing represents everything that can go right and wrong with baseball’s free agent system. Lackey will play for five years at around $16.5 million per year. Though he is a very talented pitcher, the length of the deal, Lackey’s age, and declining strikeout rates suggest Lackey could have a tough back end to his contract. It could also mean he’ll underperform this coming year, when he’ll be 32 before the World Series.

Wait… he’s entering the AL East? I’m surprised the detractors haven’t come out of the woodwork yet to criticize Lackey like they have every other non-AL East import. This is a very risky contract for the Red Sox. You can hear the criticism already in 2014. Imagine how loud it will be if Lackey falters in 2010.

And then there was Mike Cameron. I would have hid my excitement for this deal had it not been for the Lackey signing, as signing the Anaheim pitcher all but ended any dream of acquiring Matt Holliday. Committing $16+ million to a starter means that there isn’t room for an elite outfielder too. In that sense, signing Lackey forced the team’s hand to go after Cameron.

In that vein, the signing is brilliant, as Cameron is a 4 WAR player at a 1-2 WAR cost – that’s the kind of efficiency that turns “bridge years” into contending ones. Remember, two wins makes a big difference, so Cameron is quite the signing. However, he is 37 years old and if he struggles, don’t think that people will forget that Holliday or Bay could have been had by this team.

Now, imagine if Lackey AND Cameron struggle in April. I don’t know the last time there was a lynching in Boston, but we could see one after a night game outside the gates of Fenway Park. Three players, all with some kind of question mark – all doubted by a significant portion of the Boston media. Then again, that could be one of the last things on Theo’s mind as he tries to navigate the PR minefield he’s entered.

Never discount the power of the Boston sports media in turning the fan base against a player or team employee. Julio Lugo, Edgar Renteria, and Coco Crisp were all annihilated in the media before the team cut ties with them. Don’t think that it was all about talent. This organization is very concerned about keeping positive PR. Daisuke was a step or two away from the poorhouse last season and is just the latest in an ugly, relentless series of players whose reputations have been destroyed in this ruthless media market.

Doc Rivers felt the burn of the hotseat before the team sold the farm for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. Today they love him. Tomorrow, who knows? Even the incomparable Bill Belichick, a coach who transcends the sport with arguably the best reputation since Vince Lombardi has been openly questioned and chastised. There are no headhunters out there yet, but don’t think that people aren’t talking behind closed doors. There are even those who have questioned his dedication. Like alcholism, it’s a 12 step process. This looks like a firm “Step 1: Admitting the Problem.”

Maybe the bigger test will be that levied upon the Red Sox Faithful. This offseason could be one of the biggest trials of the resolve and intelligence of the Boston fan base. Theo Epstein is one of the most intelligent, effective General Managers in baseball or any sport, building a consistent winner in the most competitive, unforgiving climate in sport. However, the fickle nature of passionate sports fans can make an entire city forget about every past success no matter how great.

Will this happen to Theo? Doubtful. Ending the 86 year drought earned him the keys to the city for life – whether or not the Nomar trade was a good idea. Actually, it was probably one of the worst of his tenure. The whole “team chemistry” thing was more than a little overblown – one stolen base and a defensive replacement at first doesn’t equal a Big Three shortstop.

Still, everyone makes poor decisions. Everyone gets both lucky and unlucky.

When you were a child and your mom said to you, “No one’s perfect. Everyone makes mistakes,” it was probably the best piece of advice you’ve ever received – and it applies to every walk of life. No one makes the right decision all the time.

Think about it.

Even Barack Obama screws up during interviews. Even Alan Dershowitz loses court cases – except when he defends O.J. Simpson. Even Tiger Woods’ MR and PR advisors underestimate the impending media firestorm.

Guess what! GM’s make bad signings too!

That’s why I’m not so worked up about Lackey signing for a reported FIVE YEARS. I don’t like it – not so much because it’s Lackey but because we can do so much more with $80 million. But, you always have to take the good with the bad. This one could be the latter, but you just have to accept it and move on.

Just don’t ask the media to have a long memory and spare Theo out of nostalgia from the good ol’ days. That’s why so many superlative GMs and coaches get canned.

If I could posit some sort of grading for a moment, however, it would be on the potential volatility of the media response to Theo’s moves.

Scutaro is the riskiest, as he had the most detractors before and at the moment of signing. Don’t think for a second that all those critics won’t take a jab at the Red Sox’ front office if he struggles out of the gate.

Lackey is next, if out of the size of his contract for nothing else. He might be the best bet of the three to have some sort of “tangible” value, in that he’ll satisfy the screaming media with a good ERA. Cameron and Scutaro have a good amount of their value tied up in their fielding, so it will be harder for critics to “touch” the value.

In addition, there are a lot of people out there who really like the deal, and they risk being called John Kerry for flip flopping on an issue if they change their mind too quickly. No one wants that kind of criticism. Not even Grady Little. At least when he left Pedro out there against New York, he let him pitch until the damage was done.

Cameron is the least risky in that he won’t be expected to do much. He’ll have to perform, but there are no illusions as to his abilities with the bat – you’re getting a low batting average and above-average OPS. His value lies in his fielding.

But, that will likely go unseen other than a few “Yeah, he’s a nice guy to have in left” comments from the straggler at the bar who is trying to rip off party rhetoric like that Harvard reject Matt Damon pwned in “Good Will Hunting”. Don’t be shy. We all know a guy like that and you know he won’t be going home with Minnie Driver. You know what? He’s probably a Yankee fan anyway.

This is a dangerous offseason for our legendary GM, Theo Epstein. Just remember… everyone makes mistakes. Even Good Will Hunting was supposed to be an ACTION FLICK before the studio writers got a hold of it. Then again, maybe Matt Damon and Ben Affleck aren’t the best model for perfection.

I’m sure we’ll learn a thing or two about being a good GM this offseason – either that or we’ll learn about the true memory span or amnesia of the Red Sox fan base. I’m going to bet the team is still a significant contender in what was supposed to be “a bridge year.” For the long-term health of the organization, however,  hopefully Theo won’t step on all three landmines. That would be ugly.

How do you like them apples?

Categories: Boston Red Sox John Lackey Marco Scutaro Mike Cameron Uncategorized

23 Responses to “Sox Fans Grab Mallets While Theo Prepares to Be The Whack-a-Mole” Subscribe

  1. TroyPatterson December 16, 2009 at 9:35 AM #

    I'm confused how the Nomar trade can be viewed as a bad move? In 2004 Nomars bat and glove had reached their lowest levels in Boston. Only once did he ever come back for an above average season (2006 Dodgers) otherwise he has been replacement level ever since the trade.

    On the other hand in just 58 games Cabrera was worth 1.2 wins above replacement. At worst those two were an even match and looking at Nomar he had a 1.3 WAR in his short time in Chicago. So I would say yes it was an even trade and not a bad one.

    • John Cate December 18, 2009 at 12:25 AM #

      It was a good trade because the simple WAR calculation doesn't reflect the true impact that Nomar's loss of range was having on the team. Derek Lowe had a terrible season in '04, and the main reason he had a terrible season was because he was a groundball pitcher with a monument playing shortstop behind him. He had completely lost confidence in his sinker, and without his sinker, he's not a major league pitcher. After he'd been playing with Cabrera for a while, he got it back. It was no coincidence he pitched so well in the 2004 postseason.

      You could play a monument at short when you had the prime Pedro out there, or Wakefield. When it's Derek Lowe pitching, you might as well be committing baseball seppuku.

  2. Anonymous December 16, 2009 at 9:17 AM #

    Oof. Talk about using the word “lynch” in the same sentence of the name of our what, third African-American free agent signing in…9 years?

    Signed,

    Overly sensitive to race guy from WhiteGuiltville

    But seriously, I agree with you except for Nomar. Tough to say it was a bad trade when you see Nomars decline and injuries from ’05 on. Theo and trainers may have seen it coming.

  3. jvwalt December 16, 2009 at 3:00 PM #

    I have a lot of issues with this post, which is full of unsupported opinions expressed in brief snarky asides (such as the Nomar trade reference), but I'll concentrate on the biggest whopper of them all:

    "…there’s likely not a single person left in New England that is happy with our GM…"

    I've said this before, but the sports media and the blogosphere are a teeny tiny minority of the Red Sox' fan base. We, the truly obsessed, examine every trade, signing, and rumor with all the devotion of a Medieval monk hand-crafting an illustrated manuscript. But we live in an echo chamber, where our opinions bounce off the walls and make us believe that we have influence out of proportion to our actual numbers.

    The vast majority of Red Sox fans buy their tickets, programs, jerseys, tchotchkes, and pink hats, watch the games on TV, and root for the home team. They want a good, competitive team, but they don't criticize every move made or unmade. They're just not that involved. So even if Scutaro gets off to a slow start, don't expect to see Theo hanging from the Zakim Bridge anytime soon.

    Look, I love following baseball, I love pretending to be a GM, I love examining every move the team makes. But I don't take myself tooo seriously. Baseball players used to refer to reporters as "flies" — insects buzzing around to little effect. Minor annoyances at most. That's still true of the media, and it's even more true of us folks in blogland. We're not going to bring down the Red Sox hierarchy with the force of our outrage, even if Scutaro and Cameron don't hit and Lackey's arm falls off.

  4. Sean O December 16, 2009 at 3:28 PM #

    Well, firebrand has now eaten 2 sep. comments I've made, so all I'll say is: NOW is when people are going anti-Theo? All of the stupid moves prior, nothing, but now when he's just kinda doing his business is when people are upset. I don't get it.

  5. Aaron December 16, 2009 at 4:05 PM #

    What a strange, rambling, pessimistic post. Show me a weak spot in the lineup-our #9 hitter could hit second on most teams. Show me a weak spot in the rotation-our #3 guy would be an ace on most teams. Show me a weak spot in the field-Scutaro and Ellsbury, maybe? Except for the Mike Lowell situation which is still in flux Red Sox fans have nothing reasonable to worry about.

    • Sean O December 16, 2009 at 12:12 PM #

      Except the Yankees and Phillies.

  6. Timbo December 16, 2009 at 4:25 PM #

    Yeah, this post is totally out of line. While I agree that there are serious questions about the potency (or lack thereof) of our offense next season, I can't understand how this is such a big deal. Remember that last season's "anemic" offense actually had more homers and a higher OBP than that spectacular 2007 offense. Regressing isn't the end of the world if we can restore exceptional defense, which will give a boost to what we know is exceptional pitching. Clearly Theo is engineering a team that doesn't NEED to score as many runs, though we certainly have the capability to tire out pitchers, grind it out and score runs when we really need to. In 2011, we can remove Scutaro and Cameron if Iglesias and Westmoreland or Kalish is ready, as the FO expects. We're trying to hang our hats on pitching and defense, win 95 games and go to the postseason with a spectacular 4-man pitching rotation and the league's best defense behind it. I'll take those odds while we wait for three to five elite prospects germinate.

    Also, the off-season isn't over and all deals aren't done. Let's hold off on judging this winter until April the 4th.

    • Mike_Silver December 16, 2009 at 2:19 PM #

      Agreed on the fact that the deals aren't done and that the team is very good as is. I think I made that clear in the article.

      I disagree, however, with the statement that the post is out of line. In fact, I think it's a very accurate portrayal of how fickle the sports media can be.

      Maybe I didn't phrase my words clearly enough, but the article is not a condemnation of Theo Epstein. On the contrary, I think he's doing a great job. It is a critique of how sharply the sports media can criticize and destabilize a front office.

      I, for one, have little reason to be angry with Theo. I like Scutaro and Cameron a lot. I don't like Lackey in 2013 and 2014, but hey, 2 out of 3 ain't bad.

      The point is, Theo will lose a lot of supporters if either Lackey or Scutaro don't pan out. I won't be one of them, but there is significant risk here.

    • ChiTomA December 16, 2009 at 3:12 PM #

      But is it the post that's really out of line or is it the Boston media that's out of line. I think that Mike's general point is not that the Red Sox made bad moves, but that the media and to a lesser extent the fans are going to get worked up if we don't see production that in all honesty we can't really expect from each of these players.

      It doesn't seem to me that Mike hates this team or these moves necessarily. The problems are that Cameron and Scuturo's best qualities are things that fans and the Jurassic-age Boston media can't quantify well. This reminds me of JD Drew in a lot of ways since by most metrics he was the 6thor 7th best OFer in the AL last year, but still half of Boston wants to put him out on a rail.

      I really think that's Mike's point and its a valid one.

  7. Dan O. December 16, 2009 at 4:28 PM #

    In my opinion, whether the lackey and cameron signings are good or bad depends on if we get Adrian Gonzalez and what we give up for him. I think Buchholz is bound to be a very good pitcher, but I've accepted the fact that he will have to go in order to get Gonzo. I wouldn't have a problem giving him and a high-level prospect up, but talks right now seem to include Ellsbury. If Theo gives up those two names I see the Lackey signing as a bad one considering they could have spent the money better elsewhere

  8. Gerry December 16, 2009 at 4:34 PM #

    Interesting concept. I've checked with my brothers and their kids who are active, knowledgeable fans but not obsessed. They are happy with these moves, will miss J.Bay but wouldn't go 5 years, and are very happy with Cameron's glove & Hermida's potential; are upset at the misuse of quirky defensive metrics to demean Ellsbury's actual multi-tool performance and constant improvement; think Marco Scutaro is a huge short term upgrade over last year; glad Theo grabbed Lackey from the Angels & Yankees, and believe the extra $$ was worth it for that reason; are head over heels for Victor, Buchholz, Papelbon, Bard; want Wake to break those records; wish Mike were retained in some capacity, which is the only complaint about Theo. The Sox fanbase is both intelligent and emotionally attached to this game and these players. It's a package. There have ALWAYS been negative, vitriolic and mean spirited fans and media, but the fanbase at large, IMO, just loves their team and perceives most criticism as attacks on their team, and respond accordingly. Players say they love the fans here. But they hate the neanderthal hecklers. By extension, neither Dave Egan nor his proteges are well liked by most fans. I think it's important that a blog like this maintain an objective attitude and reflect the larger fanbase rather than the dittohaters. I wish the mainstream media would do the same.

    I keep counting up the numbers, and they keep showing that this team has what it takes to win the division, with or without AGon. Only time will tell.

    • Wooden U. Lykteneau December 16, 2009 at 5:52 PM #

      I wish it weren't true, but there's an over/under for @sshole Red Sox fans and it's roughly 30 years old. If you don't know who falls on which side, chances are you're one of the @ssholes.

  9. Mike_Silver December 16, 2009 at 5:46 PM #

    The point I'm making is just how unforgiving the sports media is – especially the Boston one in particular. Everyone in a decision-making role is influenced by the media whether or not they should be.

    Pessimistic? Yes. But there is reason to be as, no doubt, the media can turn in a second on a good player or coach and not look back. I feel that we don't take the power of the media into account enough when analyzing top-level decision making.

    Here's a couple people off the top of my head who have had their job security hurt in the sports media in the last few months:

    Wade Davis, Head Coach Dallas Cowboys: Despite an excellent record and team, Owner Jerry Jones has openly discussed firing the coach because he hasn't won a playoff game. It would be a bad, misinformed move, but the rumor has been growing all season.

    Jim Zorn, Head Coach Washington Redskins: Zorn is taking all the heat for a team that is underachieving. By all accounts a good coach, the owner needs to satisfy his fan base by pretending that change is coming. This is an excellent example of "You can't fire the whole team, so you'll have to fire the coach."

    And history tells us time and again that if anyone in the sports world faces failure – they get turned on very quickly. Ask Grady Little, who took us to the ALCS but still got fired.

    Again, like I said in the article, Theo is nowhere close to getting canned, and I think he's doing a great job. But, when people make mistakes, everyone shows up to say "I told you so." And, there's going to be a lot of them this time, especially if Scutaro or Lackey have struggles.

    • jvwalt December 16, 2009 at 7:01 PM #

      Wade "Phillips" and Jim Zorn are not in trouble because of the sports media. They are in trouble because they work for hyperactive owners who have unrealistic expectations and change coaches at the drop of a hat.

      And by whose account is Zorn a good coach? He'd never been a head coach or a coordinator before his surprise hiring by the Skins, and he's got a lousy record this year. He was a good quarterback, but the best you can say about him as a coach is that he's unproven.

  10. Timbo December 16, 2009 at 7:37 PM #

    I agree that the boston media and screeching fanbase will whine and moan when Marco Scutaro doesn't put up obscene numbers– I just wonder how much Epstein himself really cares about the mainstream perception of his moves and decisions. Does he have to deal with media perception because of ownership, and Larry Lucchino in particular? Absolutely. But I think he's earned himself enough respect and leverage within the organization that he can continue on his plan regardless of these pressures, doing his best to keep all the short-term worries outside of his mind and apart from his strategy, maintaining the "Five Year Plan" he constantly preaches.

    And of course you're right about John Lackey, we all know they overpayed for the guy–though if we see Buccholz really excel next year, I wouldn't rule out trading Beckett at the deadline for a boatload of top prospects, or a power bat under long-term control. And if we can pull off some blockbuster trade while keeping an up-and-coming Buccholz and a good replacement for Beckett in Lackey, I'd see this as a highly successful acquisition.

    • TroyPatterson December 16, 2009 at 4:21 PM #

      Unfortunately a Beckett trade at the deadline would not bring a "boat load" of prospects since he only has 2 months left of a contract. Maybe a solid mid-level prospect. The other reason I hope it doesn't happen is it means we are out of playoff contention on July 31st. You don't trade your best players if you are headed to the playoffs for prospects.

      If Beckett was to be traded it would have to be now.

  11. evanbrunell December 16, 2009 at 7:35 PM #

    I really, really, really, really, really hope that the media doesn't impact Theo's decisions at all.

    • Aaron December 16, 2009 at 8:18 PM #

      Agreed. I can imagine a weird meta argument that if, as a GM, you think you are better than average and that you getting fired is bad for the team then you might shy away from players likely to displease the media so that they will not put pressure on your boss, who must in this scenario be susceptible to such media pressure, that would adversely effect your ability to be a good GM but that's a ton of if's and seems like it would be such a small part of any real world player related calculation that it should never be made.

    • bob December 16, 2009 at 9:32 PM #

      Yeah especially shaughnessey, who wrote one of the most idiotic pieces I have ever seen last week

  12. TixList.com December 17, 2009 at 12:11 AM #

    well let's face it, guys like Shaughnessy are trained in journalism, not player evaluation. My guess is they have limited time/desire to read fangraphs, understand WAR and UZR, etc. It's just a lot easier to fall back on what they know, the stats on the back of a baseball card.

  13. John Cate December 18, 2009 at 12:33 AM #

    I'm not upset with Theo now and won't be even if some of these new guys struggle early on. He's done a good job. He identified one of the team's major problems–the terrible left side of the defense–and he's gone a long way toward fixing it. He added one of the best pitchers in baseball. And now he seems to be working on trying to bolster the offense without making a stupid free agent signing that will hurt the team in the long run.

    If there's a way to get a bat without mortgaging the future, great. If not, Theo's set himself up for another 95-win season and the wild card, and in 2011 he'll have some great prospects ready for the majors and there are going to be a lot of stars looking for new homes. If he does get that bat, then the Sox are right there with the MFY.

  14. Vod Kanockers December 20, 2009 at 11:04 AM #

    The big problem with the Lackey signing, that I don't see a lot of direct reference to in here, is that it means the end of Beckett as a Sox player. Beckett now commands 5/90 or 5/95 on a contract and 4 of those years overlap with Lackey. That is a lot of payroll tied up in 2 pitchers that have had some history of injury, not serious, but some injuries nonetheless. You can bet that is approx with Beckett will sign for a year from now and it won't be the Sox that are passing him the pen. So we have traded 4 extra years of Beckett for 1 year of Beckett/Lackey together and 4 years of Lackey. Not a good trade in my view.