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I am not a fan of Theo Esptein. I always found him arrogant and overrated during his tenure in Boston. I will always remember how the sports media of Boston gave his White House snub a pass while they attacked Tim Thomas for weeks on end. He deserves credit for helping refine Dan Duquette’s underachieving 2002 Red Sox into a World Series winner.
However, the 2007 World Series doesn’t happen if Theo wasn’t on sabbatical. You see that was the winter Theo was holding his breath until John Henry gave him what he wanted. The end result was the Red Sox “front office,” whoever that was at the time, dealt top prospect Hanley Ramirez for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell. Beckett carried the Sox to the World Series in 2007 and Lowell was the Series MVP. Theo was back at that point to drink the Champagne but he deserves little credit for that title.
So I was about to gag during Theo’s disingenuous whining about “Feeding the Monster” a few weeks ago to the Boston media, who of course ate it up. Right now, the Red Sox are nothing more than a slightly above average team with bad contracts, underperforming stars and a poor clubhouse. It didn’t have to be this way. Theo had a path to choose after the 2010 and he chose poorly. Call it a second guess, but would you rather have Adrian Beltre or Adrian Gonzalez right now? That was “the decision” Theo made.
In 2010, the infamous “Bridge Year,” the Red Sox finished 89-73, 6 games out of first place. The Sox decided not to re-sign free agent Jason Bay after 1 ½ of success in Boston and Bay instead signed with the Mets for 4 years and $66 million (with a 5th year club option). The Sox re-allocated the money to Jon Lackey and threw in another $20 million. Lackey was the best free agent pitcher on the market, but he had struggled at Fenway his whole career. Theo must have been forced at gunpoint to make this signing. The Sox took a 1-year, $10 million flyer on Adrian Beltre, whose career had been almost ruined by canyons of Safeco Field.
The 2010 season was a peculiar one. The Sox were buried by most critics after early injuries but they hung around the playoff picture before the injuries overwhelmed them:
The Sox got great pitching from both Jon Lester (19-9) and Clay Buchholz (17-7) in what looked like a preview of what would become the best 1-2 starting combo in the American League for the next five years. This team also had great chemistry and personalities. Two of those key leaders on and off the field were Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez.
Despite the controversy of the “bridge year” comments, Theo seemed to accomplish everything he had hoped. First, the Yankees had just won their first World Series in 10 years, and that seemed to kick start Red Sox Nation into paying attention for the first time in 3 years. The Sox had a bunch of contracts going off the books including Mike Lowell, Victor Martinez, Adrian Beltre, and David Ortiz. They had some minor league talent that other teams wanted, specifically RHP and #1 draft pick Casey Kelly and 1B Anthony Rizzo, who tore up the Eastern League with Portland that season.
So let’s play revisionist history, but let’s be factual. Epstein had choices to make. And so far, every choice he’s made has failed and has been huge contributing factors to not only the Red Sox 2011 collapse but the mediocre product on the field in the 2012 season.
In 2010, Adrian Beltre, free of Safeco Field, had his first good season in five years. He batted .321 with 28 Home Runs and 102 RBI. His OPS was .919.
Victor Martinez put up a line of .302/20/79 with an OPS of .844.
Kevin Youkilis was .307/19/62 with an OPS of .975 before a thumb injury ended his season.
David Ortiz , after a slow start was .270/32/102.
Fact: Beltre wanted a long-term deal and had played well in a contract year after five mediocre seasons.
Fact: The Red Sox did not evaluate Martinez as an everyday catcher.
Fact: Kevin Youkilis had to have season ending thumb surgery.
Fact: If the Red Sox held on to Martinez, they probably would have had to let Ortiz go. Again, they did not feel he was an everyday catcher.
It was no secret that Theo Epstein had been lusting after Adrian Gonzalez for some years now. Jed Hoyer, former assistant to Theo Epstein, was now the GM in San Diego. Gonzalez in his five years in San Diego had hit .288 with 161 Home runs and 501 RBI playing on bad teams in a giant ballpark. His OPS was .888 and had a swing that was deemed a natural Fenway Park swing. Gonzalez, a San Diego native, was heading into the final year of his contract making a reasonable $5.5 million.
If Gonzalez played out his final season and gone to free agency, he would have joined a pretty attractive free agent First Base class alongside Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder. The Padres were going to deal Gonzalez; they were not going to let him walk for nothing.
The Sox re-signed Ortiz and traded for Gonzalez. They gave up three prospects for Gonzalez: First baseman Anthony Rizzo, P Casey Kelly and OF Rey Fuentes.
Beltre signed with Texas for 5 years and up to $80 million. Victor Martinez signed with Detroit for 4 years and $50 million. Martinez then spent most of his 2011 season at first base and designated hitter with some catching sprinkled in between.
After the Gonzalez trade, the Sox eventually signed him to a 7 year, $154 million extension. The Sox also signed outfielder Carl Crawford for 7 years and $142 million. The best team “eva” was set. Of course in the end, it would be one of the biggest chokes “eva.”
Opinion: Beltre and Martinez would not have struggled against the Yankees and Rays. Both played very well against them that season and Martinez is a terrific second half player.
Question: After watching Cody Ross’s production at Fenway, doesn’t it make you question the Red Sox scouting staff? Beltre was a power hitting right handed hitter. The Sox let him go and brought in Carl Crawford, a left-handed hitting pull hitter in one of the deepest right fields in baseball.
Fact: Rizzo did get called up by the Padres and struggled, hitting just 1 home run with 9 RBI’s in roughly 150 At bats. But, he would have been a good depth piece later in the season when Youkilis went down with injury.
Fact: The Red Sox drafted Connecticut RHP Matt Barnes with the compensation pick for losing Victor Martinez. He is currently their #1 ranked prospect, has struggled at High A and will not be ready for big league action till 2014.
LIE: Chad Finn of the Boston Globe will tell you that Beltre did not want to play in Boston. It’s a complete falsehood, and Beltre had few suitors before Texas made him an offer. If the Sox struck first they could have had him even though he was a Boras client.
Would the alternate-universe Red Sox have won the World Series? Probably not (pitching was still a problem), but they would have been a playoff team and who knows if something besides Fried Chicken would have motivated Beckett and Lester.
The Red Sox would have been without a DH, if you assume the Martinez ACL injury still happens. The, they might have done what Detroit did and become a player for Prince Fielder.
So, they save $9 million, they get more production from Beltre than Gonzalez but they more than likely would have had to pick up a DH in free agency or perhaps moved Anthony Rizzo into that role.
Theo went on and on to anyone with a microphone that he had to keep “Feeding the Monster,” which plainly stated he was forced into signing Crawford, and trading for Gonzalez, etc.
But that is not true. Gonzalez was a player that Theo lusted after.
In 2005, they let the proven Johnny Damon go and brought in Coco Crisp, a player Theo loved.
Orlando Cabrera was not re-signed and instead they brought in Edgar Renteria, who was not comfortable in this market.
Derek Lowe was not re-signed, who has filled that role? Dice-K?
Julio Lugo was another favorite of Theo. He got 4 years, $32 million, and the Sox cut him and ate the last year of his contract.
The Red Sox continue to be more enamored with other players and don’t see the value in front of their own eyes. On what level did Carl Crawford make sense? Good player, sure. But, a guy whose game was designed around his speed would be moving to a grass surface. Crawford was also a #2 hitter. The Red Sox had a #2 hitter in Dustin Pedroia. Crawford is mostly a pull hitter, not an Ichiro or Wade Boggs opposite field guy. Fenway has the deepest right field in baseball, and many times last year you saw Crawford’s fly balls end up on the warning track and not in the stands of Tropicana Field, where there is no wind.
And finally, let’s not forget the market. The Red Sox market is not for everyone. Pedro, Damon, Manny, Ortiz, Schilling and Millar came here and excelled. Crisp, Lugo, Renteria, Lackey, Beckett to an extent, and now Gonzalez have been failures or at least major disappointments.
The Sox could have “Fed the Monster” by re-signing Martinez and Beltre and they also could have kept some of the marquee minor league talent. They did neither. They continue down that path that has failed them on all levels since 2007. And after their embarrassing 2-5 road trip, it’s becoming apparent that this team is in trouble, not just this year, but maybe for the next 3 years.
They just ate $6 million of Kevin Youkilis contract. They still owe Lackey $50 million, Crawford $120 million, Gonzalez $112 million, Beckett $42 million, Lester $14 million, and Buchholz $26 million. Their two top pitching prospects, Matt Barnes and Anthony Ranauldo, are getting shelled at Single A and Double A respectively and this team lacks a legitimate ace at the top of the rotation.
Revisionist history sometimes can be pretty painful.