How About Them Red Sox?

The Red Sox entered the 2012-2013 off season in a bit of an interesting situation. Thanks to the Punto trade, the Sox actually fell below the luxury tax limit for 2012, and had a boatload of room under the limit for 2013. They also had several players who could conceivably perform at a near MVP/Cy Young level, David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Dustin Pedroia on the offensive side, and Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz on the pitching side.

Of course, with each of them there is also a pretty good chance that they don’t. Ortiz is getting old, Ellsbury has really only had the one great year, Pedroia has had several injuries the past few years, Lester was just terrible last year, and Buchholz has never put up a single season where he was consistently excellent for the whole season.

At the same time, there were utter vacancies in left field, right field, and at first base. Also, the incumbent at short, Jose Iglesias, has yet to prove he can hit at the minimum required level.

I argued at the time that the Sox should pursue a strategy of signing non compensation free agents who are good but not great. The general idea was that if the players mentioned above have good seasons, the Sox could win the World Series, even if the talent brought in is fairly mediocre.

Meanwhile, there is a boatload of talent with some AA experience Jackie Bradley, Jr. and Xander Bogaerts are the headliners but there’s also Bryce Brentz and Allen Webster. In addition, there’s Rubby de la Rosa who should be mixed into the major league roster at some point during 2013.

The goal, then, is to compete as well as possible while not messing up the talent that is almost major league ready.

I think they did a pretty good job of doing that. The largest contract they gave out was for three years and thirty-nine million to Shane Victorino. There’s two ways to look at this. One, getting Victorino provides a potential alternative to Ellsbury in center, which would allow the Sox to trade Ellsbury if he’s having a good season and the team isn’t. On the other hand, should the Sox end up signing Ellsbury in the next off season, Victorino would have 2/26 left, and be an excellent trade candidate to clear some dollars for Ellsbury and the roster spot for Jackie Bradley, Jr.

Other signings include Ryan Dempster for 2/26.5. With Lester, Buchholz, Doubront, and Lackey cemented in the rotation, the idea candidate would be one who could be counted on for enough starts that Rubby de la Rosa didn’t have to be counted on for thirty starts, and should be tradeable enough that he doesn’t block de la Rosa from the 2014 rotation. I think Dempster fits that bill. He’s unlikely to be terrible and he’s unlikely to be excellent. Nobody is going to care if the Sox trade him at the deadline and promote de la Rosa.

Stephen Drew came in on a one year make good deal at short, and that’s fine. I don’t think anyone is ready to hand the job to Iglesias, which was my fear going into the offseason, and it’s clear that Bogaerts isn’t ready for the big club. A year of Drew gets us closer to the Bogaerts era, and that’s a good thing.

Mike Napoli on a one year, incentive laden deal? That’s probably the bargain of the offseason if he stays reasonably healthy. This is a bit of an iffy situation for the Sox as they have no other good options at first. Mauro Gomez can play the position, but not well and the team should be on the lookout for some AAA options there for depth if nothing else.

Jonny Gomes is getting a bit overpaid for his talent level. I rather suspect the Sox are hoping Ryan Kalish takes that position. If not, a Gomes/Nava platoon in left wouldn’t be terrible.

The Sox also brought in David Ross to play catcher, presumably in some sort of rotation with Ryan Lavarnway, which means Jarrod Saltalamacchia will likely find himself a new home sometime soon. One of the problems the Sox have had recently is a lack of the grinder mentality that leads to tough at bats and higher on base percentages. Salty’s value came from his power, and that’s not a bad thing, but the switch to Ross and Lavarnway should mean an increase in on base percentage.

The most interesting deal of the offseason is, I think, the deal for Joel Hanrahan. It’s not terribly interesting in itself. The Sox sent a bunch of mostly fungible parts for something they didn’t need. The Sox were already in pretty good shape at short relief with Andrew Bailey, Junichi Tazawa, and Koji Uehara. The addition of Hanrahan means the Sox should have a really excellent bullpen with these four, Franklin Morales, Craig Breslow, and, conceivably, Daniel Bard.

Here’s the marble that’s bouncing around in the back of my brain. Relievers are often traded at the deadline. It is entirely possible that the Sox bought Hanrahan with the express intent of trading him at the deadline, effectively turning Mark Melancon, Stolmy Pimental, et al for some real prospects.

It’s also more than conceivable that a simple injury makes room for someone else, or that someone goes in trade with Saltalamacchia for some kind of first base depth.

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The Problem with the BBWAA

The problem with the BBWAA isn’t that they failed to elect anyone to the Hall of Fame, but the reason why.

Not the plethora of reasonable sounding reasons that they no doubt gave us in their columns but the underlying worldview that makes those excuses as relevant as they are.

The writers of the BBWAA view themselves as the defenders of the realm, a puerile hubris that blinds them to their real function in the Hall of Fame selection process. Their job is to decide who is good enough, not who is pure enough, and their obsession with the latter overwhelms their incompetence at the former.

Like their medieval predecessors, these Knights of the Keyboard have taken the ideal of serving justice and turned it into a crusade to inflict their own view of morality upon people who neither need nor want it.

The quest for purity from PEDs has extended itself to the ridiculous extreme. It is not enough to exclude from the Hall those who have been proven to have used. It is not enough to exclude from the Hall those who have been accused of using. Now it extends to excluding from the Hall those who look like they may have used. Are we supposed to believe that there is a different–legitimate–reason for not voting in Jeff Bagwell whose 76.7 career WAR (bbref version) is eclipsed on this ballot only by two men, one of whom is a candidate to be considered the best hitter of all time, and the other of whom is a candidate to be the best pitcher of all time?

And both of whom undoubtedly enhanced their performance with drugs barred by Major League Baseball.

Jeff Bagwell has, to the best of my knowledge, never been so much as accused of taking performance enhancing drugs but he was big and strong and really good for a long time so of course he was juicing.

We don’t need writers so obsessed with purity that they would rather deny an innocent man the induction he deserves in an attempt to deny those malfeasant miscreants an honor they did not deserve.

We don’t need writers who think Jack Morris is more deserving of induction than Curt Schilling.

We don’t need writers who cast what I can only hope were joke votes for Sandy Alomar, Aaron Sele, Julio Franco, and Shawn Green.

We don’t need writers telling us who is and isn’t a First Ballot Hall of Famer ™ because the notion that there’s a difference between a first ballot hall of famer and a second ballot hall of famer is infantile. A player is either worthy enough for the Hall or he isn’t and that worthiness doesn’t change between their first year on the ballot and their second.

It’s supposed to be about the baseball, and rewarding those who, among all their peers, outperformed damn near everybody. It’s supposed to be about recognizing achievement. It’s supposed to be about celebrating the game. It’s supposed to be about the visceral pleasure of a good sports argument. It’s supposed to be about joy.

It’s not supposed to be about the writers.

Hall of Fame Ballot

The 2013 Hall of Fame class will be announced on Jan. 9 so it’s time, and while there is very little I like more than celebrating the game, we can’t do it this year because the steroid thing gets in the way because Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are no doubt Hall of Famers whom everyone knows did steroids.

I hate this. I hate the fact that we have to talk about it. I hate the fact that I have to think about it because I hate where it leads me.

There are a lot of despicable cretins in the Hall of Fame. It pains me to say this about a game I love so much but a lot of the people who made the game what is is are just plain horrible people.

Kennesaw Mountain Landis probably takes the cake simply because his racism closed the game to African American players for decades. Tom Yawkey makes the list because his racism was one of the biggest contributing factors to the Red Sox not willing the World Series in his tenure.

And they’re the tip of the iceberg. Babe Ruth was hanging around with gangsters and you can’t tell me he wouldn’t be doing every drug available if he were alive today.

I end up being forced into the conclusion that character questions don’t matter. When you tell me that steroids impacted their play on the field, I’ll tell you that all the other drugs, uppers, cocaine, whatever, also impacted their play on the field. I don’t know where to draw the line so I draw it at what was done on the field.*

So I look at the field of candidates (which you can find here) and the first names that strike me as no doubters are Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Mike Piazza. Their qualifications are obvious.

Who else?

Curt Schilling: He pitched enough, twenty years, three thousand innings, four hundred starts. He pitched pretty well overall, a 127 ERA+ and he’s got post season heroics on his resume from both Arizona and Boston. Good enough for me.

Craig Biggio: Twenty years, first as a catcher, then as a second baseman, lots of black ink, lots of gray ink, a little light in the power but a .363 career OBP. As a second baseman and a catcher. He gets a vote.

Jeff Bagwell: Why did he not get in last year? A career .948 OPS and OPS+ of 149. Yeah, it’s a power position and has higher standards. He met them in spades. He gets a vote.

That’s six votes, max is ten, who’s left?

Larry Walker: Big offensive numbers, largely put up in Colorado, at a power position. Yes, he did well outside Colorado, but he doesn’t even hit 400 homers. I’ll pass.

Allen Trammel: Not a ton of black or gray ink, but he’s a shortstop. Gold gloves, lots of MVP votes, good offensive production at a defensive position. He’s worth a vote.

Tim Raines: Not a ton of power, but holy mother of all that is holy did he get on base. Six years with an OBP over .400 and five more over .390. Eight hundred steals with an 85% success rate. He’s worth a vote.

Kenny Lofton: In a lot of ways he’s Tim Raines light. Light on the power, not as much of an on base machine as Raines, only five years higher than .390 OBP. He went to the post season almost every year for a decade and his overall performance is nothing special. I’ll pass.

Edgar Martinez: An offensive force who would probably be an easy vote if he had any defensive value. He played two thousand games, less than six hundred of them in the field. For comparison’s sake, both his career WAR and his seven year peak WAR (BBREF version) are lower than Kenny Lofton’s. I’ll pass.

Mark McGwire: He’s all about the home runs. Lots of black ink, mostly from home runs, less gray ink. He had prodigious power while playing a power position. He played in forty-two post season games over ten series and overall didn’t perform terribly well. I think it comes down to whether the 586 career home runs and the 70 in 1998 are enough to get him in on their own. I have a little sympathy for that position, but I’m not quite there yet.

Sammy Sosa: Similar to McGwire, his candidacy is based on the homers. He hit over 60 three times and didn’t lead the league in any of those seasons. He didn’t get a chance to do much in the post season. His career homer total is over 600. Thing is, his peak was pretty short. He was nothing special defensively. Again, sympathy, but I’ll pass.

And that’s pretty much it. None of the other guys really have much of a case. Maybe you can make a case for Palmeiro or Bernie Williams but I’m not seeing it yet.

So there it is. Bonds, Clemens, Piazza, Schilling, Trammel, Bagwell, Biggio, Raines.

*And yes, this means Pete Rose should be in the Hall.