Monday, July 11, 2011

Theo's Hits And Misses

Great job Theo! Now about those free agents…
by Larry Shiman, FN Board Member

July 11, 2011—When it comes to player acquisition, all GM’s make mistakes, and pretty much all of them get a few things right as well. Overall, I think Theo Epstein has done a very good job, and I don’t think we can expect much more than the results we have seen over the past seven or eight years. Of course, he’s not perfect, and some of his decisions have been, well, unfortunate.

What’s so interesting about Epstein’s record is that his successes and failures have been so consistent. The free agents signed by the Red Sox since 2004 have ranged from disappointing to awful. Yet the team remains successful, largely because they are so good at getting productive players in other ways.

Let’s say you place new player acquisitions into one of four categories:

1.Players brought up from the farm system
2.Players acquired by trade
3.Players signed as free agents to one year deals, or for such little money that they are no real risk to the organization if they don’t work out
4.Players signed as free agents for two or more years, and for a reasonably significant amount of money

This sets aside any players who were already on the team when the current regime arrived. Players in the last category are clearly the greatest risk. If they bomb in their first year, it’s not only embarrassing, but you’re on the hook for several years of a bad contract. It also doesn’t endear them to fans when they underperform despite the salary and expectations.
Let’s first start with the categories of acquisitions that have worked out for the Red Sox: Players brought up from the farm system.

In my view, the Red Sox record of turning top prospects into solid or star players is phenomenal. Among the players brought up in the system are Youkilis, Pedroia, Ellsbury, Lester, Bucholz, Papelbon, Lowrie, and Bard. It can be argued that this group makes up the core of the team, and has for several years. In fact, it’s hard to think of any highly touted prospects who haven’t worked out.

Compare this with the record of other teams. For example, everyone was raving about the Diamondback's prospects a few years ago – they had something like a dozen players who were supposed to turn into stars. Yet only a couple of these players ended up being anything like productive players. Even Tampa, who has had a run of success based in good part on home grown players have had some misses as well.

Trades: Many of the deals involving the Red Sox are based on more than talent. These players are often about to get expensive, or are in a situation where the old teams are building for the future, and are therefore in greater need of future rather than current talent.

Players acquired by the Red Sox through trade include Beckett, Lowell, Gonzalez, Saltamachhia, V. Martinez, Hall, Bay, Crisp, Schilling, Loretta, and Bellhorn. Clearly not all of these players worked out (Coco), but the Red Sox have gotten some real production here. Once in a while, the guy they give up will turn into something special (Hanley Ramirez), but I’m certainly glad these guys have been on the team over the past several years. Terrific record overall, made even better as of late with the out-of-this world performance of Adrian Gonzalez.

Low-risk free agents: Usually, these guys are nothing special – that’s why the Red Sox are able to get them either cheap, or at low risk. All you hope for is the occasional diamond in the rough. And of course, the Red Sox landed the biggest fish of all in this pool – Big Papi. They also had some success with guys like Okajima and Beltre (who was signed to a one-year deal). Theo has also been good at finding useful spare parts, productive middle relievers or utility guys who don’t kill the club. Still no negatives for the current regime.

High-risk free agents: Here is where the other shoe drops. You want to see a list of disappointments? How about the following: Crawford, Lackey, Matsuzaka, Scutaro, Drew ,Cameron, Jenks, Lugo, Clement, Renteria. Am I missing anyone? Drew has been okay, although I don’t think he’s produced what they wanted. Scutaro’s okay. But the rest…Wow.

And yet the team has generally been successful. Can you imagine what their record would have been if these guys did work out?

In the end, it doesn’t matter that much whether your stars are the guys you brought up through your system, acquired by trade, or spent a gazillion dollars to acquire. It sure is interesting, though.