The Longterm Health of the Red Sox - Part Three
When the Boston Red Sox hired Theo Epstein in November of 2002, he announced at his press conference that "We're going to turn the Red Sox into a scouting and player development machine." Five years and two World Series titles later, I think it is safe to say that Epstein has succeeded in this endeavor.
There have been rumblings that too much is being made of the Red Sox farm system, that it is their financial advantage that has made the difference. More brazen critics of Epstein have pointed to his checkered track record in the free agent market to assert that he might not be all he is cracked up to be. This thinking is fallacious in that it fails to acknowledge the synergies between all of a GM's responsibilities.
Think about it. Even with a fat payroll, without a good farm system and cheap Big League contributors, Theo cannot afford to take a risk on J.D. Drew or Julio Lugo. Take away the inexpensive talent and you need to sign a middling, more expensive option. Think Luis Castillo for about $5 million instead of Dustin Pedroia for near the league minimum. Such a swap would financially preclude even most of the wealthiest teams from pursuing top-tier free agents.
But what about the prudence of such free agent signings? Haven't many of them been just awful for the Red Sox? The Boston brass is well aware of the risks associated with such signings. They would not take on the risk of Julio Lugo picking up where he left off for the Dodgers or J.D. Drew's health failing him (or having a bizarre outlier season) if they did not know that cheap talent was on the diamond all around them. As they proved this year, the worst case scenario for the free agent signings is baked into their win-loss expectation bands.
If Drew and Lugo disappoint, we win 89. If Drew and Lugo disappoint but Beckett comes into his own and Pedroia is everything we think he can be, we win 100. But then if Manny drops off a bit and Coco still can't really hit, maybe we win 95.
What the "scouting and player development machine" allows Boston to do is leverage their revenue advantages so that they can comfortably project a best and worst case scenario. Outliers to the downside will not kill their chances, while surprises to the upside make them potentially dominant.
The rest of this piece will take a look at past Red Sox drafts in the Epstein Era in hopes of providing some clarity with respect to how the Red Sox arrived where they are as well as how the longer-term health of the organization is looking.
A quick look at this draft reveals disappointing results outside of Jonathan Papelbon. The Red Sox flipped David Murphy at the trade deadline (along with others) for uber-bust Eric Gagne while Matt Murton was involved in the Nomar Garciaparra deal that brought Orlando Cabrera to town the last time Boston won the World Series. Abe Alvarez has disappointed, as ultimately his command has not been able to make up for his lacking velocity.
Still, Papelbon alone makes this draft something of a success.
With no first round picks in 2004, the results ended up looking a lot like 2003. Boston netted a gem in Pedroia and the only other standout from this crop was traded away in just a horrible deal. Cla Meredith was sent along with Josh Bard to San Diego in the Doug Mirabelli deal of early 2006.
This was the mother load. Jacoby Ellsbury was a World Series MVP candidate. Craig Hansen has already pitched with the big club and despite some disappointing setbacks, seemed to pull things together in Pawtucket at the end of the 2007 season. We all know about Clay Buchholz, and Jed Lowrie and Michael Bowden figure to be contributing for either the Red Sox or one MLB team or another shortly.
Further down the draft we see Mark Wagner, a catcher who just may be heir apparent to Jason Varitek. At hitter's paradise Lancaster, the 23 year-old Southern Californian posted a .318/.406/.533 in 95 games as he battled injuries throughout the year.
While outside of Justin Masterson the top of this draft has disappointed some, down-draftees Ryan Kalish and Lars Anderson offer quite a bit of hope. Failing to come to terms with Matt LaPorta may end up being something of a regret down the road.
As far as 2007 goes, the jury obviously is still out. I can report first hand, however, that the Red Sox are awfully excited about what they came away with.
All in all, the longer term outlook for the franchise remains strong. Some development from the top of the 2006 class will go a long way to ensuring that the Red Sox will be able to continue to plug some cheap talent on the big club year after year.
Said another way, the "machine" seems to be cranking just fine.
Can you please stop with all the Boston love? Yes, Boston (and NY) are quality franchises but they also benefit from playing in a Division that's a complete joke. Baltimore hasn't had a winning record since 1997. Toronto's had a few winning records recently but the last time they were a serious contender was 1993. And do I even need to mention how awful Tampa Bay is???
Bottom line is that Boston (and NY) benefit not only from their high payrolls but also with playing in the AL Least!
Posted by: Ed at November 1, 2007 8:55 AM
I agree with Ed. If I wanted to read 3 straight days of Red Sox articles, I'd go to a Red Sox blogs. Get it together, guys.
Posted by: Adam at November 1, 2007 9:30 AM
Just because they benefit from playing in that division doesn't mean they aren't any good. The Red Sox did just win the World Series after all.
Posted by: Ed P. at November 1, 2007 9:34 AM
1) The Sox just dominated the World Series, three days of looking at how they got there and where they're going isn't all that unreasonable.
2) The analysis is thoughtful and insightful, which is really all we as readers should ask. There will always be topics that are of less interest than others.
3) The AL East strength/weakness divide goes hand in hand, one of the reasons Toronto, Baltimore and Tampa struggle is because they have to play Boston and NY repeatedly.
Posted by: Kyle at November 1, 2007 10:01 AM
Responses to Kyle's comments:
1) The Cardinals didn't get a three day review for winning the World Series in 06. They got one day. For winning in 05, the White Sox only got a one day review of their farm system which they shared with the Astros. I can't find anything for the Marlins 04 victory. So Boston deserves more coverage than the past three World Series winners combined???
2) How much thought and insight does it take to declare that Boston will remain competitive when they play in a division in which you only need to worry about one other team???
3) Chicken vs. Egg. One of the reasons Boston and New York look so good is because they get to beat up on Tampa, Toronto, and Baltimore.
Posted by: Ed at November 1, 2007 12:09 PM
The "too much Boston" folks have a point but I would just say that they are of particular interest to us because their front office runs a team the way we would like to think we would (if I can take a stab at speaking for Rich, too).
Fear not, there's plenty to write about out there and we're moving on.
Thanks for your readership and feedback.
Posted by: Sully at November 1, 2007 12:15 PM
"1) The Cardinals didn't get a three day review for winning the World Series in 06. They got one day. For winning in 05, the White Sox only got a one day review of their farm system which they shared with the Astros. I can't find anything for the Marlins 04 victory. So Boston deserves more coverage than the past three World Series winners combined???"
The Cardinals farm system is rather thing and their big league club is weak. They totally lucked into that championship. The White Sox aren't much better in either the farm system or the big league club. Simply put, there just aren't that many positives to write about when it comes to either of those organization.
Posted by: Marcel at November 1, 2007 12:54 PM
You mean "mother lode", not "mother load".
Leave the mining references to the Californians and we will leave the Ivy League references to New Englanders.
Posted by: gc at November 1, 2007 1:33 PM
I never knew that. I am going to leave it as is because to change it would be to misrepresent myself.
Posted by: Sully at November 1, 2007 2:50 PM
For all those complaining about the content, too effing bad. If you don't like it, do your own blog. The writing here has always been fantastic and well researched. As far as the BoSox go, all I can say is congrats and the highest form of flattery is when your greatest rival follows your model of doing business.
Posted by: Hugh Jorgan at November 1, 2007 3:05 PM
1) Are you saying that every topic has to have *exactly* the same coverage? What's next, word counts? If they want to write about it, so long as it's well written, why are you complaining?
2) It takes little to no thought to "declare that Boston will remain competitive when they play in a division in which you only need to worry about one other team". Of course, that's not what they've done. They've actually done analysis and reviewed the machinations of the front office.
3) Chicken vs. Egg is exactly my point. You're the one saying the causational arrow only works in one direction to make Boston look good.
Posted by: Kyle at November 1, 2007 3:28 PM
I am anything but a Red Sox fan, but I liked the articles. They are reviewing the story behind a successful team, and that should be of interest to any baseball fan. As with all approaches, there are probably multiple ways of getting to the same place. I wonder if there could be some comparisons of the way different teams attempt to build winners.
Posted by: Bob R. at November 1, 2007 4:15 PM
I have to agree that an extended look at the Red Sox is fair at this point, but as a Rockies fan, I cannot help but feel that the role of Boston's huge payroll has been a bit underplayed here. Sure, the Red Sox have fantastic ownership and a quality GM, but most teams cannot afford to, say, bid on Matsuzaka, or spend $8 million plus a year on nine of their players (and $2 million on a utility infielder). The Red Sox have a nice balance of low salary farm products, but they are also overwhelmingly wealthy.
Take, as a point of comparison, the Rockies. Colorado is a good team, with a solid GM, but with a third of Boston's payroll. The Red Sox destroyed them in the World Series, and rightfully so, but the Boston Love Train has to recognize that, if other teams had their resources, the Red Sox wouldn't dominate the way that they have the last few seasons. If, for example, the Rockies had Boston's money, the Mike Hampton deal wouldn't have destroyed the franchise's hopes for winning for six years; instead, it would have been a set back, but an easy-to-overcome one.
As a result, smaller market teams have to be smart in order to compete, because while Boston may only be able to afford a few mistakes (poor FA signings, grossly overpaid players, etc) at a time, most teams in the league cannot afford any. In other words, as good a GM and as intelligent as Theo Epstein is, could he lead the Marlins, or the A's to the playoffs?
Posted by: Paul F. at November 1, 2007 5:09 PM
1) No, of course it doesn't have to be equal. I'm simply pointing out that the coverage they have the Red Sox is incredibly disproportionate to what they've given other World Series winners.
2) You missed my point. Which is that none of the "thought and analysis" was needed to reach the conclusion that Boston would remain competitive. Outside of NY, there's no one else even close to challenging them in the East. Three long posts could have been handled in one simple paragraph.
3) Of course it's both. No disagreement there. My problem in that all this analysis, they failed to provide the context in which Boston has succeeded and will continue to succeed - playing in a weak division.
Posted by: Ed at November 1, 2007 7:45 PM
weak division? Hmmm. What a ridiculous argument!I agree that WS champion team tends to be overrated but no doubt Red sox is the best team this season and will be a contender for a long time. These articles pointed out why. Quite useful information.
Posted by: Covelli at November 2, 2007 12:02 AM
Actually a weak argument is to call someone else's argument weak without saying why you think it's weak. Do you dispute the fact that three teams in the AL Least haven't been competitive in a decade or more? Anyway, I'm not interested in having this discussion anymore. I've said my peace and there's nothing more I can say.
Posted by: Ed at November 2, 2007 3:33 AM
Please hurry up and post something new. I too am sick and tired of all the Boston analysis. Part of the problem is that we heard all this analysis during the entire playoffs as Boston was chugging on through. We already heard it on the radio, read about it in sports periodicals, watched it on TV. It's not that the information isn't informed or thought out, it's just superfluous. Extra, extra, extra Red Sox coverage isn't necessary and there really isn't anything original to say.
It's the offseason now and those of us who are not Red Sox fans were very disappointed in the anticlimatic World Series. Now we're looking for information on the other 29 teams and what they can do to avoid another anticlimatic World Series.
Posted by: Conor at November 2, 2007 8:17 AM
Conor, I agree with you. It's not so much that there is too much Red Sox coverage here, it's that this stuff has been written everywhere.
Posted by: Adam at November 2, 2007 9:05 AM
Nothing new, so I'll continue my discourse with Ed:
1) The coverage might be "disporportionate" in your opinion, but I think it's an interesting story. The didn't just win the WS, they swept a team that had just won 20 of their last 21 games. I think it's an interesting look at how they got to where they are. (in the interests of full disclosure, I'm not a Red Sox fan, I just think it's interesting to see a well run club *with* resources)
2) Do you visit analytical sites that write 3 paragraph stories? I generally don't I *want* in depth nuanced looks at organizations. I don't want to know "Boston has a healthy farm system", I like reading about who they've drafted, what they signed for, when they're projected to make the majors. Yes, the three stories could have been summarized into 3 paragraphs, but that would make this a much weaker site if that's what they did.
3) Even though the AL East has some teams with weak records, it really isn't weak. If you look at the divisional records, Boston is 42-30 against the AL East, and 42-30 the rest of the AL. They beat the rest of the AL at the *exact same %. That's not a team that's *only* feasting on weak division.
Posted by: Kyle at November 2, 2007 9:17 AM
Big Market/Small Market is an excuse. Boston is the 7th largest market in the US (when NH is included) and has been dropping over the past two years. There is virtually no difference in size between Boston and DC, Atl, Houston, Detroit and TB. And in 5 years, all of those markets will be larger than Boston. Rather than making excuses for your teams, you should be questioning why their owner spends his money and does a better job of marketing than your own team and why their fans spend money on the team like it's funding cancer research while TB, Det and Atl fans only support when the team is winning. I pray that Lerner runs the team like Henry rather than hiding behind the market myth like McClane.
Posted by: Steve at November 2, 2007 2:33 PM
ed, the al east is a weak division? the division outscored opponents by almost 200 runs in 2007, by far the best mark in the AL and also the best in baseball (second was the NL West). the blue jays almost certainly would have made the playoffs in any division in the NL. it's strange you would think the division in weak when in fact it's clearly the strongest.
Posted by: huh at November 2, 2007 3:18 PM
We already heard it on the radio, read about it in sports periodicals, watched it on TV.
I would argue that almost nothing you hear on the radio, read in a magazine, or watch on television is remotely as in-depth or insightful as what is written here, no matter the subject. I grow tired of hearing about the Red Sox on TV and radio, because the people who do the analysis are either contrained by time or deeply stupid. That's not the case here.
And honestly, doesn't it strike anybody as a little bit entitled to complain about the content that Messrs Lederer and Sullivan provide to us for free? If you don't like this week's articles, wait for next week's. Sheesh.
Posted by: C Joseph at November 2, 2007 4:03 PM
The Cardinals didn't get a three day review for winning the World Series in 06. They got one day. For winning in 05, the White Sox only got a one day review of their farm system which they shared with the Astros. I can't find anything for the Marlins 04 victory.
Heh. The anti-Boston thing has apparently driven you to the point of hallucination.... the Marlins won the WS in 2003, but it was actually the Red Sox who won in 2004.
Excellent series of articles - thanks!
Posted by: Jackie at November 2, 2007 5:00 PM
i enjoyed the articles. there were lots of insights-- such as the comment asking us to compare signing Luis Castillo to having a little Dustin Pedroia on hand.
sorry, haters, but what do you expect people to write about after the world series? and complain about the red sox money all you want-- it's all in what you make of it, isn't it? the Sox played their pants off when the moment came, beginning with beckett's game 5 in cleveland. they were a fun, inspiring team -- unless you just have that reflex hate reaction. why should the sox be blamed for the endless blather of national blowhards like buck & mccarver? and what should they do, just concede the division to the 200 million dollar yankees every year?
you can keep your lemons and let 'em rot, or you can make lemonade. you can be small-market oakland, a good franchise, or small-market pittsburgh, and flat-out suck. or you can be NYY, a team of high-paid individuals who don't seem to have enough fun to win, or Boston, who've now won 2 out of 4 world series and seem well-placed going forward. there's nothing you can do to diminish the Sox accomplishment. and whining about an innocent little 3 part blog article doesn't help.
Posted by: David Crowell at November 2, 2007 9:48 PM
Well, part of the the 'to much Boston' effect comes from the fact that the post-season was fairly dull this year. There were almost 4 sweeps in the division series, and the Sox-Indians series was the only one that had any drama(very good series actually). Much is made of the payroll advantage, but the Yanks havn't won since 2000, and the Sox and Yanks are the only large payroll teams to even play in multiple world series's this century. Basketball has been dominated by the Spurs/Lakers and Football has a number of multi-champion teams(Boston, Denver, San Fran), and those sports have salary caps.
Posted by: James N at November 3, 2007 7:43 PM
I for one can understand why many of you feel the way you do regarding this topic. I am a first time contributor and yes a Red Sox fan as well. I hope that my contribution explains / warrants a second look at the so called 2 team American League East.
Divisional play record can help us with understanding who took advantage of the unbalanced schedule. Bos 42-30, Yanks 39-30. Blue Jays 36-36, Baltimore 34-38, and D-Rays 29-43. The 2 game difference between Boston and New York can be associated with divisional record.
The difference between the East and the Central are.
1. Bos and Cle 96 wins each
2. NY 94 wins and Det 88
3. Tor 83 wins Twinkies 79
4. W-Sox ( wrong color ) 72 wins vs Balt 69
5. Royals 69 wins vs D-Back 66
Toronto had a .500 record or better vs the east, central, west, and National League. One should look at the Jays as a team of quality. No other 3rd place team in baseball can say the same regardless of divisional size.
Devil Rays are loaded with yound talent but outside of 2 starting pitchers they fell far short of competing on a regular basis. Add 2 quality middle of the rotation pitchers and this franchise can bridge the gap between finishing last and competing for a better finish.
Baltimore - Bad trades, bad free agent signings, and bad chemistry. This orginization is far from competing on a regular basis similar to Royals, Texas, FLA, PITTS, and SF.
The Red Sox orginization is one that is poised to continue make post season play and stand a great chance of having a lower salary in 2008 than they did in 2007. Off the books will be 9 mil owed to Matt Clement and 13 mil from Schilling. That is 22 million alone!
The Red Sox unlike many of the top revenue teams are not trading top prospects. In the deal for Eric Gagne the Sox traded away Murphy and Gabbard. Other than that trade Boston kept things in place with the exception of adding Bobby Kielty. The remainder of the pieces were inserted for the farm system that is chuck full of bright prospects.
The Yanks and Mets are not in the same situation and will be hard pressed to add quality unless they over pay. Both farm systems are far from matching the Sox.
Theo- Yes he has made some bad trades and signings but what team has not. Drew and Lugo were disapointments but each team in baseball can point to 2 players that failed to meet expectations. The difference is Lugo and Drew expect to be better in 2008 than they werre in 2007.
I look forward to feedback andf what to thank you all for allowing me to voice my opinion. I look forward to your replies.
Regardless of what team you root for, the reason why you are here is because you are a fan of the game. That is trully what is most important!
Posted by: davewearsredsox at November 4, 2007 8:46 AM
The Red Sox have won 2 world Series in the last 4 years. That should allow the writer to spend 3 days talking about the Red Sox. After all, didn't ESPN talk about the Torre-ARod-Yankees for hours on end when all that stuff hit the fan? I thought the articles were well written and good reading.
Posted by: SteveB at November 4, 2007 11:44 AM
Ed, it's absurd for you to call out the Red Sox for playing in a "weak" division when they were clearly the best team in baseball this year. If that's true (and it is), how can it possibly matter if the rest of their division doesn't measure up? (Even though it does -- the AL East has a better outside-the-division record than the Central or the West). Try a little harder not to choke on those sour grapes next time, ok?
Paul F., the "they've got all the money" argument falls on deaf ears when it's made by made by a fanbase that doesn't support their team by showing up at the ballpark. The Rockies used to sell out Mile High pretty regularly in the early years ... but this year, the average attendance in your 81 home dates was only 57% of capacity. In '05 and '06, it was even worse. It's a shame that the Rockies' mediocre level of fan support means they might not be able afford to retain all their young talent, but don't expect me to stop supporting my team just to make you feel better, ok?
Posted by: Tom P at November 6, 2007 10:44 AM