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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Drunken Sailors: New England Edition    

Looks the Red Sox are about to sign Nancy Drew to an approximately 4-year, $48M deal in the next few days.  This is not a joke, and in my opinion it's not that funny.  There's nothing funny about the biggest douchebag in baseball getting Manny Ramirez traded.  (I, for one, welcome our new battery-attracting clubhouse-polarizing overlords.  Oh, wait, no I don't.)

Anyway, I see three ways to look at this deal:

IN ISOLATION
By itself, this is yet another of Lehr's "Drunken Sailor" deals.  Theo Epstein's still getting a free pass, but he has an insufferable propensity for high-risk, mediocre-return gambles.  He's about to pay $48 million to gamble that we could acquire... a decent outfielder who has some gap power.  Wow.

I see this as another Edgar Renteria/Matt Clement genre of bad deals... the Sox flexing their wallets for no reason other than because they can, and fixating on the David Ortiz-level outcome... "what if he breaks through?"  You can't look at all your deals that way.  In the best possible scenario, J.D. Drew is an ideal #5 hitter to complement Manny and Papi, he's a good OPS guy, and he's someone who would probably post some silly numbers by knocking line drives off the Moanstah.  The more likely scenario, however, is a Chris Webber-ish outcome, where he's okay for four years, but not enough to justify the salary.

Also, let's not forget that the Drew money would be much better spent on a certain starting pitcher two winters ago, or a certain center fielder and leadoff hitter last winter.

In short, the thought of Drew patrolling our disabled list for the next four years, with his various and sundry injuries (chipped molar, strained earlobe, paper cut, HPV), makes me want to cut out my eyes and my balls, and put my eyes in my nutsack and my balls in my eye-holes.

However, I have reason to believe there's more going on than just a hideously awful signing.  Something just doesn't jive here.  The Sox have lusted after Drew for quite a while now, but the deal is blatantly counter to what the Sox' game plan has been of late... don't offer long-term deals to veterans... when there's a history/risk of injury... period.  Renteria and Clement met those criteria; Drew meets neither.  So why him?

MATSUZAKA
My pet theory right now is that the proposed Drew contract is a side effect of the Matsuzaka negotiations.  Something tells me that Scott Boras has informally packaged the two of them together.  Pass on one, and you get neither.  It's not so outlandish; remember, as any Phillie fan will tell you, both Boras and Drew are Hall-of-Fame hardballers.  If anyone's capable of pulling off a "gentlemen's agreement" of this kind, it's Boras.  I'd much rather believe the "package deal" story than believe the Sox are legitimately interested in having J.D. Drew on the roster at that price.

Unfortunately, I'd much rather believe that than the obvious...

CHEAP REPLACEMENT FOR MANNY
Great.  Cheap replacement, eh?  Kinda like how Coco Crisp was gonna be a cheap replacement for Johnny Damon?  Yeah, I was just thinking about how nothing about that decision backfired at all.  Ugh.  In fact, how many of their personnel moves since the Series have worked out?  I can count them on one hand... breaking the bank for Matsuzaka-san and not trading Manny.  They're about to undo one of those two, and the other isn't exactly a lock to happen.  In short, I have zero faith in this front office right now to do the right thing.

I guess my personal philosophy is just so different from theirs.  I say that if you're gonna pay big bucks for something, do it right... shell out for the absolute best.  Don't settle.  The Red Sox, however, appear to have an organizational mandate to do the exact opposite: overpaying for mediocrity, on the grounds that a) it's cheaper than paying for the real thing, and b) there's a chance that maybe, possibly, in theory, one of their expensive pieces of shit will become another David Ortiz... in which case it's not overpaying anymore.  Bra-vo!  They're now taking cues on how to run the franchise from the losers who dump their paychecks into the slot machines at Foxwoods!  Hey, if they got lucky once, it could happen again!  Take a chance, make it hap-pen...

I really have to stop getting pissed off about stuff that I don't have control over...

9 Comments:

  • Replacing Manny w/ Drew is so stupid that it's making me feel ok that los Junkees are going to shell out about $45 million for Igawa, a 5th starter who is completely unproven.

    By Blogger Alex, at 10:44 AM  

  • While I sympathize with several aspects of this argument, I think you're way overreacting. Drew at 4/48 is a steal in this market, and a good value in any recent year. He's a .300/.400/.500 hitter who plays good defense.

    Ditching Manny is stupid, unless you really get a big haul for him. But that doesn't make Drew a bad deal. It's probably the best deal of the offseason so far, except maybe Mussina who gave a big discount because he didn't feel like switching teams.

    But what seems clear is that free agency has become such a disaster that club-controlled good players are completely invaluable. Prospects don't necessarily turn into that, but I think you have to take that into account when you're looking at trading Manny.

    So, I don't think the Sox should trade Manny. But I wish it was the Mariners signing Drew right now. The Igawa deal is much worse.

    By Blogger Jesse, at 12:36 PM  

  • OK, maybe I spoke too soon on the Igawa thing. I mean, $26 million with no associated luxury tax concerns means basically nothing to the Yankees right now, so it depends on the contract they offer him. If they refuse to make him a FA at the end of his contract and give him a short deal, it could be fine.

    Still, he probably won't be that good. Here is a scouting profile that didn't encourage me very much. But the people who equate the posting fees with payroll are not really being sensible in my opinion. I think the Yankees had non-payroll reasons to shell this out and if they view it as sunk cost, so be it. The contract is what matters. And he could very well be an effective starter, if not a super-one. His Japanese stats are pretty damn good, especially the low walks.

    By Blogger Jesse, at 12:49 PM  

  • Also, what makes Damon a better leadoff hitter than Drew? He's been on base more often, per at bat at least, exactly 0 times in the last three years. I guess you must mean speed on the basepaths, but Damon's not particularly amazing there.

    Over the past three years Damon is a 76.5% basestealer. The generally accepted figure for "breaking even on stolen bases," if you'll recall, is 73%, which means that Damon is valuable in that regard, but not particularly so, especially given that he doesn't really steal all that many to begin with. And that's assuming that his 18-1 2005 was not a total outlier, which is certainly defensible (he could have been just as unlucky other seasons as he was lucky that season), but it could also have been a fluke.

    In contract-value terms, Damon clearly doesn't have as much power. And he's two years older. Who do you think is going to be a better player in 2007-2008? If it's Damon, I'll be pretty surprised. From what I've read, Drew's skillset profiles to age well also, unlike Damon's.

    It seems to me like your case against Drew is built on the idea that 1) he's a jerk, 2) he's fragile, and 3) that he can't replace Manny. Well, he can't replace Manny. That's true. The list of who could do that goes 1) Pujols, 2) Guererro maybe, 3) A-Rod maybe but you wouldn't want him, 4) maybe a couple of other guys who aren't jumping to mind.

    But Drew's fragility is a little questionable. I mean, he did have nagging injuries in 2002-2003, but those are behind him then he broke his hand on a HBP. Generally, that's not any particular evidence of anything. He may not be really determined to stay in the lineup. But I think fragility is a dicey thing to feel too sure about.

    As for him being a jerk...I would think the comparison with Damon would highlight what a difficult case that really is to make. Damon seemed like a great guy but is clearly a big baby and a bit of a megalomaniac, like a lot of professional athletes. It's not a distraction during the season (with either the Sox or the Yankees, it would appear), but there's a lot of splitting hairs to call somebody the biggest douchebag in baseball. How about Ted Lilly? Or a zillion other people?

    Take for example this quote from a non-author post over at USSM:

    I think it’s useful to remember that JD Drew has been assassinated by the media since day one, for his supposed arrogance in knowing the Phillies weren’t offering what he could get from someone else and having the stones to not meekly submit to the system. No one is supposed to fight for what they can get until they have established themselves (and even then you better not get too much). So far as I’m concerned, we know next to nothing about his character, toughness, etc, because everything we’ve heard has been filtered through this crap. We know his production, and his injury history, and that’s all we know. The team may have a better line on what Drew’s fellow professionals think of his character and toughness and all.

    I don't necessarily agree with that entirely, and I'm not saying Drew isn't a jerk, but the current system sure is slated toward overrated veterans making a ton of money and talented youngsters signing away what are often some of the their most productive years for very little comparatively. It hurts us to see any professional athlete bellyaching about this stuff, when we know how cushy their lifestyle is, but if it's going to be somebody, I'd rather it be a young guy who really isn't getting offered what he's worth.

    Forgive me for not having much sympathy for the Phillies, but it seems clear that they're not the most adept at handling these kinds of negotiations. Rolen? Abreu? Pat Burell has a chance to be a better player...give me a break.

    Anyway, I think this a good deal for the Sox if they're definitely set on moving Manny, which I agree isn't smart. Hell, maybe they'll offer an opt-out clause in Drew's contract, keep him motivated. But I bet the next three years make Damon's contract look quite a bit worse than Drew's.

    By Blogger Jesse, at 1:48 PM  

  • Of course if the deal is more like 5/74, which I just read elsewhere, that's a lot scarier. He could still end up being worth that, but the high-risk part goes way up.

    By Blogger Jesse, at 2:49 PM  

  • OK, looks like you've finally stopped commenting, so now I can catch up...

    I don't agree with your assessment at all.

    1) Market-based arguments are null and void to me. The market is $50 million for Gary Matthews Jr... to say that the Drew contract is OK because it's better than the Matthews contract is like pardoning Idi Amin because, well, at least he's not as bad as Hitler, right?

    2) You do not give 4/48 or 5/74 to a player who can't stay healthy. You posted Drew's average stats as his defense... enough said. You say he had nagging injuries and all that, but I say frequent injuries like Drew's don't happen by accident. Look at Nomar for Christ's sake. You think he's just "unlucky" or something?

    (Speaking of which, what did Nomar sign for? $18.5 over 2 years. He didn't even get $10 million. Between him and Drew, whose best-case season would you take?)

    Or how about this... replace "J.D. Drew" with "A.J. Burnett" and see how you feel about the situation. Same deal... potential hampered by nagging injuries. Did A.J. make it through 2006 healthy? Of course not, because that's who he is. And that's who Drew is.

    3) J.D. Drew IS a prick. Did you read the Globe article I linked to? His own teammates called him "Nancy Drew" for fuck's sake. They hated him! They thought he was soft. Does that address whether the team "a better line" on that?

    Damon's a douche, but he wasn't reviled by his teammates. Drew's a douche, and his teammates CELEBRATED his opt-out. Does that sound like a guy who's getting unfairly "assassinated" by the media?

    4) If they're gonna go cheap by downgrading from Manny to Drew, why stop there? Isn't Trot Nixon a poor man's J.D. Drew? I'm no Trot fan, but their averages look awfully similar to me, and we're kicking Trot to the curb.

    5) If you ditch Manny to gain Drew, you're putting all your eggs in a left-handed basket. Your top power sources from the right side are Mike Lowell, who is himself likely to be traded in the coming months, and Wily Mo Pena, whom I believe in but nobody else seems to. So the Sox' playoff life could depend on Wily Mo Pena hitting successfully against, say, Johan Santana, or Randy Johnson. Does this sound like a well-thought-out plan to you?

    6) To reiterate, the Sox' recent history gives me no reason to think they know what they're doing. They've spent the last two offseasons trying to be "smarter than the field," overpaying for guys who hadn't yet fulfilled their potential... Coco Crisp, Josh Beckett, Matt Clement. How have those moves paid off? Isn't the Drew deal the exact same thing?

    7) I didn't say Damon was a better leadoff hitter, or even a better player. I wondered whether the Sox' money was better spent on Drew than Damon.

    Specifically, I'm confused as to how one can let Damon and Pedro go on the grounds that the Sox didn't want to get stuck with a bad contract, and then sign a guy who fits the exact same bad-contract profile. Wasn't that whole thing about ditching Pedro about not allowing the market to drive your contract negotiations? If so, then I'd be delighted to hear why we're giving J.D. Drew more money than the Mets are giving Pedro. (It's that logic that leads me to think Matsuzaka is being dangled above the Sox' heads while Boras keeps raising the price on Drew.)

    The irony is that allowing the market to set the value, as has happened with Drew, is exactly how the Manny Ramirez contract happened. A-Rod defined the market, and Manny's agent followed suit. The Sox have (incorrectly) spent the last three years trying to unload Manny, to no avail. Now they finally appear to have done it... only to take on ANOTHER contract that's bound to be less profitable than Manny's.

    By Blogger Jeff, at 4:50 PM  

  • Fair enough. Like I said, you can't replace Manny, and your points about LH playoff pitching are totally valid.

    I won't contest the Drew being a dick part. I wasn't speaking from a position of knowledge, and I didn't catch the Nancy Drew reference. The fact that his original sin is totally overblown doesn't defend him at all against those other charges, and if a guy is constantly pissing off his teammates, that's obviously no good.

    I also agree that defending signings on the basis of any particular market is bad. You'll note that I also said I think he's a legitimately good deal at that price, so I'm not doing that. But it is true that I don't think discussions of the market are completely irrelevant. Baseball is making more money, actual inflation of the dollar (not such an issue over one year in the Damon comparison, obviously), etc. So the increase in contracts may be semi-permanent, not some weird blip, and while it's not necessarily smart to just acquiesce to that, being completely uninfluenced by it may not be smart either.

    Still, my point is not that it's an ok signing based on the market--it's that it's an ok signing in any recent market (depending on how much you value character issues). I think he's a good signing at 4/48 (which is the money my argument was about, at 5/74 I start to get a lot more nervous). I think he will age better than Damon, which is the only reason I thought the Damon signing was a bad deal. And he will be younger than Damon at the end of their deals, if only by a year.

    I intentionally stated that I was using his rate stats because I didn't want to make it seem like I was giving him credit for playing the whole season, just so that's clear. I'm aware of the critique. I just wonder what "can't stay healthy" really means. And when I see that two of his biggest injuries are from broken bones from getting hit in the hand by a pitch, that doesn't exactly scream out "fragile" to me. And the tendon thing hasn't re-occurred. So I don't know if we can really say that he can't stay in the lineup, and I definitely think he's less of an injury risk at this point than Nomar (or Pedro).

    Drew is not like Crisp because Drew was legitimately 6th in NL MVP voting in 2004. Crisp has never and will never hit like that, nor does anyone expect him to. When Drew is in the lineup, he is very, very good. Drew is not like Damon or Pedro because they are very likely to decline. He is a little scary because he looks kind of like he could be declining a bit already, but everything I've read points to him ageing well, so I guess I have to go with that having no capacity to really evaluate it on my own.

    So the question comes down to how often you expect him to be in the lineup, how much of a distraction you expect him to be, and for how long you expect him to be able to produce at current levels. I think there's a good chance he'll be in the lineup enough to justify his contract (but probably not enough to justify ditching Manny, that has to be justified on its own terms). It sounds like people who know these things think he will age well. And I tend to think his distraction, bad clubhouseness, whatever, is likely to be a small enough impact that it can be absorbed without too much problem (like that of Manny, Pedro, Bradley, A-Rod, or whoever).

    So basically, I think you're:

    1) undervaluing him on a day-to-day basis,

    2) overestimating the likelihood he'll have major injury issues,

    3) underestimating how much an elite bat contributes even if only for 130-140 games (after all, you'll likely have a decent hitter filling in when he's out as well), and

    4) probably being too worried about clubhouse chemistry.

    However, I certainly understand your broader point about trying to be a little too smart. And you're certainly right to be infuriated that they would move Manny for behavioral reasons only to bring in Drew as a replacement--that particular calculation is baffling. I think the comparisons to Damon don't serve you that well, but they do point to a front office that probably doesn't have the foresight you might like. And in terms of roster construction, it is a little dicey, though it's worth noting that in 2006 at least Ortiz hit LHers almost as well as RHers.

    So, my point is that this has a good chance to be a good contract, in a vacuum. But I agree it's maybe not the right signing for the Sox right now, particularly if it's used to justify getting rid of Manny.

    But that does depend on what you get for Manny, because it's looking more and more like getting lots of value out of club-controlled players is the only way to compete, even for a team willing to spend as much as the Red Sox. And this might be the perfect offseason to trade Manny because a number of teams look kinda panicky. On the other hand, the Angels are out of it after signing Matthews, so it's less likely than it was that you would get enough back to make it worth it. Considering how tough that was to begin with...here's hoping you guys hang onto him (or trade him to us for pennies on the dollar, but we know THAT's not going to happen).

    By Blogger Jesse, at 6:35 PM  

  • What I've read about Drew (unfortunately, no links for the articles) is that:

    1. His primary injury is a bad knee: (a) Balky knees make me nervous, (b) when he first signed with the Dodgers, there were issues about him playing right b/c at the time, he felt that right field was tougher on his knee, (c) he played with a worsening condition in his knee for two years before surgery. He wasn't consistently in the lineup, but all things considered, he played pretty frequently, which says something about his perceived lack of toughness. It also says something about why he was a part-time player in St. Louis and why he imporved significantly in the season following his surgery. Since then, he's been in the lineup as consistently as anyone, minus the broken-hand-by-pitch incident.

    2. The stories about players celebrating when he opted out and calling him "Nancy Drew" are true. But do you have any faith in a clubhouse that didn't warm to Milton Bradley? I didn't think so.

    I do think this is a problem (and weird, considering a major motivation for unloading Manny are "chemistry" issues), but I also suspect I'm not getting the most objective accounts on this.

    3. Drew was legitimately one of the better hitters (in the NL) last year (when he played). I'd agree with Jesse that 4/48 is pretty damn reasonable in this market.

    4. Manny is still an elite player. But he's declined for four years in a row. If the market isn't a bizarre blip, then I agree that young players that you control are an extremely valuable commodity. If it is a blip, then this is the best chance to get a big return (or any return at all) for Manny.

    The last paragraph aside, I'm ambivalent about trading him. He's a great hitter, protects Ortiz, and finding someone like him who does what he does for our lineup (especially if you're trying to predict the development of a young player) is difficult. On the other hand, I like this move toward a more flexible roster as a general scheme, so while this move may not make that much sense in isolation, in works for me as part of a broader plan.

    Just to throw this in before I post this, we're not winning next year or the year after even with Manny. BLAM!

    5. As for GM moves: I was a bit worried about the Beckett deal at the beginning and he had a lousy year. But this was a black hole-type season, and I'm reserving judgment until after this year. I expected Clement to be a bad signing and a mediocre pitcher, and aside from the first half of his first season, he's been worse than that. However, surgery on his shoulder uncovered significant damage to pretty much everything and we have no idea how long he's been pitching with that. If he can come back from the surgery at some point next year, I don't see why he can't be much, much better than he was last year (although I certainly don't think he'll ever approach his early Red Sox capabilities either). Crisp was overrated when they got him, but he's better than he was last year, still has a chance to improve, is a bargain, and will be a valuable commodity (or future LFer) when Ellsbury is ready. As for Damon and Pedro, I too doubt that Damon will be performing to his contract towards the end. For the Yankees, it doesn't make that big a deal b/c they can absorb the contract, and have a deal that has turned into a very reasonable one this offseason. Still, unless there was a way for us to keep Hanley (three-way deal with the Braves and Marlins sending Marte to FLA instead of him), in which case we wouldn't have traded for Crisp, I'm ok with how things worked out. As for Pedro, he's been great for the Mets. For a year-plus. Then he broke down, which is what everyone knew he would do. Now, there's a chance he'll never pitch again. Even though I think he will be back, I think that was a case of him being a lot more valuable to the Mets than to us.

    So, I think Epstein's strategy is a gamble, and I'm somewhat nervous about it not paying off, but it's a well-reasoned one that I'm also pretty excited about.

    By Blogger chas, at 9:30 AM  

  • All y'all MFers
    One thing I forgot to mention is that his only two healthy seasons immediately preceded free agency. There's another red flag for me. Kinda like how Gary Matthews finally got his shit together, after being a piece of shit for six seasons, when he hit his contract year.

    Back to Drew. We're clearly not going to agree on his health. I could see it breaking either way. I just don't think he's healthy enough to sign to a long-term deal. The best-case scenario is that he plays despite a bad knee, which doesn't strike me as being worth this gamble.

    Perhaps I'd be better served reserving all my free-agency rage for our unavoidable drunken hook-up with Julio Lugo (prediction: 4/36), but I can't wait another two weeks. I do think a big part of why I'm so mortally offended by this Drew business is that this team keeps SAYING they're focusing on young talent, but ultimately go on a goddamn Miami shopping spree at the Winter Meetings every December. I wish they'd make up their minds.

    Chas
    I admit a portion of Devil's Advocate with regard to Theo's trades. No doubt, there's extenuating circumstances all up in this bitch. Renteria wasn't given a fair chance. Clement was most definitely pitching hurt, and is quite legitimately hurt right now. Beckett's numbers are probably an aberration. Crisp absolutely played below his ability. You can make an argument in defense of each move, and in defense of the thinking behind each move. In fact, I'm still not particularly against any of those moves, particularly since Andy Marte turned out to be a turd and since Clement only went south because of an injury.

    But that doesn't mean those moves worked. They have not. I haven't written off anyone involved in those moves, but the fact remains that for all of Theo's creativity, it hasn't gotten the team anywhere. It's not helping him that Theo's top free-agent targets (Drew and Lugo) are two players that I personally think very little of to begin with. It just doesn't look like they have any idea what they're doing.

    Also, that "weird given why they're trading Manny" thing you mention in #2 is exactly why the move makes no sense. You lay out one rationale (Manny's aging, not a team player, and overpaid) and then violate all three principles by replacing him with Drew. Same problems, worse ballplayer, $8 million cheaper. I'm not buying into that shit.

    Jesse
    I will grant that I am clearly predisposed against Drew for several reasons. One of those reasons is that we don't know who's coming back to Boston in a Manny trade... I'm forced to look at the situation as Manny-for-Drew because that's all I have to work worth. I freely admit that my inability to separate the impending Manny debacle and the Drew signing prevents me from looking at this thing in cold blood. As such, I am trying to keep an open mind regarding Drew's day-to-day value, and in his role as a replacement. (It's not like I have any choice.)

    For what it's worth, it helped me to look at Drew as an American version of Hideki Matsui. I wouldn't have much issue signing Matsui up at those prices. That was a good reality check.

    Now, that having been said, there's no way to describe J.D. Drew as an "elite" hitter. 20 HR with 300/400/500 is not elite. Productive, but not elite. Albert Pujols is elite. J.D. Drew is not. That small distinction is the difference between walking Ortiz in the 9th and pitching to him. For all that Drew has good numbers, Drew is ultimately a complementary player. He's not The Man, and he's never gonna be.

    It looks like our 3/4/5 is going to be Drew/Papi/Wily Mo. I could see that working, but I'm about as sure of Wily Mo hitting 30 HR as I am of Drew staying healthy. So I'm kinda concerned.

    I dunno. My part of this discussion has certainly shot past the Verbal Diarrhea barrier for me. I think I'm going to wait until we see what comes back for Manny (or, you know, waiting for Drew to actually SIGN) before saying more.

    By Blogger Jeff, at 2:36 PM  

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