Monday, August 16, 2010

Reduced Expectations for the 2010 Red Sox

Granted the baseball regular season still has seven weeks to go; however, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Boston Red Sox will not make the playoffs this season. It’s just not happening. The starting rotation has been inconsistent, the closer, Jonathan Papelbon has had his worst season, most of the relief pitchers have performed poorly, and there have been too many injuries to overcome.

Despite this, the 2010 Boston Red Sox have vastly overachieved. In terms of starting players, they’ve played significant chunks of games without Victor Martinez, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jason Varitek, and Josh Beckett. In three games back in June, the Red Sox starting outfield consisted of Daniel Nava, Darnell McDonald, and Bill Hall.

Josh Beckett has been atrocious all season (think Theo wishes he hadn’t extended that contract back in April?) and John Lackey has been at disappointment. More often than not, Lackey has pitched like a number five starter. He has allowed a career high 1.52 WHIP. In a rare case where ERA doesn’t accurately reflect the performance of the pitcher, Jonathan Papelbon’s ERA of 3.20, is very good, but his 6 blown saves have been killer. The 6 blown saves are a career high.

However, the season has been worthwhile to watch for a number of reasons. There have been several nice surprises on this team, none more than the offensive season Adrian Beltre has put up. Beltre leads the team in RBI and batting average. His defense hasn’t been as good as advertised, but he’s still very good at 3B. Darnell McDonald was called up in April to fill in the OF due to injuries. McDonald, a career minor leaguer, proved himself worthy of being in the majors with a hot start and playing steady ball. He’s hit .263 with 7 HR and 29 RBI – excellent numbers for a fourth outfielder.

Bill Hall has filled in at several different positions, and has 15 HR in a reserve role. Clay Buchholz has emerged as the ace of the pitching staff with a 13-5 record with a 2.49 ERA. Back in April there was media discussion that David Ortiz might be released after his horrid April. However, Big Papi put it together and has 26 HR and 77 RBI and is hitting .261. Daniel Bard has been lights out as the setup man, putting up a 2.01 ERA.

Looking forward for the rest of the season, it’ll be worth watching newly acquired catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. He’s got a strong arm and in his two games so far, has received compliments for his work behind the plate from starters John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka. It will also will be fun to watch Buchholz continue to build on his success, whether Ortiz can get on a tear and get to 40 HR, and Jed Lowrie, now back from injuries and mononucleosis, to try and play up to his potential. Lowrie has looked very good since returning.

Some say that this is Terry Francona’s best job managing, yet. I’m not about to say it’s better than 2004, but he’s done a fine job plugging holes, managing to get veterans like Ortiz, Wakefield, Lowell, and Varitek to consider diminished roles without tearing up the team, and showing faith in struggling players.

So despite the likelihood of being on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoff picture, the 2010 Red Sox have overcome a lot of adversity and performed beyond most folks’ expectations.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ranking the Boston Sports Team GM's

As Boston sports fans, we are very fortunate to currently have highly competent management teams running our pro sports organizations. Long gone are the days when the likes of Dan Duquette, Sam Jankovich, Rick Pitino, and Mike O'Connell caused local sports fans to gnash their teeth in anger. Dan Duquette quite possibly was the one primarily responsible for WEEI's ratings going into the stratosphere with his questionable baseball decisions. Fans would call The Big Show, looking for a place to vent their frustration at the mediocrity of the mid-late 1990's Boston Red Sox.

Due to three of the four teams winning championships over the last decade, ranking the GM's isn't exactly an easy task. As with any GM, there are some decisions that worked, and others that didn't work. Regardless of the ranking, all four of the GM's are doing a fine job with their respective teams.

1.) Theo Epstein - When then 28 year old Theo Epstein was named Red Sox GM in 2003, there was a lot of snickering from the cynical media and fans, who were in the midst of an 85 year drought since the last World Series championship. Seven years and two World Series Championships later, anyone who questions Epstein's tenure and success, should have their head examined. The Boston Red Sox were named The Sporting News Baseball Team of the Decade and Theo Epstein was named Baseball Executive of the Decade in December 2009. Here's why:

What Worked:
  • After years of a farm system that was barren during the Dan Duquette era, Theo Epstein turned the Red Sox farm system into a player development machine, particularly for pitching. Dustin Pedroia, Jonathan Papelbon, Clay Buchholz, David Murphy, Jacoby Ellsbury, Justin Masterson, and Daniel Bard are all quality major leaguers drafted by Theo Epstein.
  • Signing David Ortiz as a free agent in 2003. The Greatest Clutch Hitter in Red Sox history.
  • Signing Mike Timlin as a free agent in 2003. Mike Timlin is the most underrated Epstein acquisition. He was a stalwart in the Red Sox bullpen, providing the late inning bridge to the 9th inning for years, until Father Time caught up to him in 2008.
  • The trade in November 2003 for Curt Schilling for Brandon Lyon and three minor leaguers.
  • 2004 season - Signing Keith Foulke to be the closer. Hiring Terry Francona to manage the Red Sox. The 2004 trade deadline deal of Nomar Garciaparra and the acquisition of Orlando Cabrera, Dave Roberts, and Doug Mientkewicz.
  • Signing Hideki Okajima in 2007.
  • Trading for Victor Martinez in 2009.
  • Signing Adrian Beltre as a free agent in 2010.

What Didn't Work:
  • Signing Matt Clement and Edgar Renteria as free agents for 2005. Neither was cut out for the intense Boston atmosphere.
  • Drafting RP Craig Hansen in the first round in 2005. Once he reached the majors, Hansen's vaunted slider betrayed him. He was traded to Pittsburgh in 2008 as part of a package for Jason Bay.
  • Trading Bronson Arroyo to Cincinnati in the spring of 2006 for Wily Mo Pena. The Red Sox wound up short of starting pitching due to injuries that summer. The Red Sox were forced to start career stiffs like Kevin Jarvis and Jason Johnson during the pennant race.
  • Theo whiffed badly by signing Julio Lugo as a free agent in 2007 to a 4 year $40 million contract. Lugo's tenure was a dreadful one at SS in Boston.
  • Inability to develop power in the minor league system. The Red Sox first round pick in 2006, OF Jason Place, has been a major bust in the minor leagues. They drafted Place due to his power potential.
One of Epstein's best traits is his ability to admit a mistake. In the cases of Edgar Renteria and Julio Lugo, Epstein was able to trade them away to other teams, albeit with the Red Sox eating a portion of their salaries.

NOTE - Theo Epstein was not the GM in 2005, when the trade for Mike Lowell and Josh Beckett was made. He was on his sabbatical at that time.

2.) Bill Belichick - When Bill Belichick took over the Patriots in 2000, the team was on the downside. After the departure of Bill Parcells following Super Bowl XXXI, the Patriots started a 3 year slide under the Pete Carroll/Bobby Grier era getting progressively worse each season. In his second season as Patriots Coach/GM, the Patriots shocked the sporting world by defeating the heavily favored Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI. The Patriots also won Super Bowl XXXVIII and Super Bowl XXXIX, bringing the NFL its first dynasty since the 1990's Dallas Cowboys. Until 2009, Bill Belichick worked in concert with Director of Player Personnel Scott Pioli on Patriots player acquisitions. Due to Belichick's notorious secrecy regarding the team operations, it is unclear as to how much credit goes to Pioli compared to Belichick. However, Belichick does have final say on personnel matters.

What Worked:
  • Drafting Tom Brady in the 6th round of the 2000 draft. Sometimes you have to be lucky!
  • 2001 free agency - everything Belichick/Pioli touched turned to gold - Mike Vrabel, Antowain Smith, Roman Phifer, Bryan Cox, David Patten, Mike Compton, and Anthony Pleasant.
  • The draft - Richard Seymour and Matt Light in the 2001 draft. Daniel Graham, Deion Branch, and David Givens in the 2002 draft. Ty Warren, Eugene Wilson, and Asante Samuel in the 2003 draft. Vince Wilfork in the 2004 draft. Logan Mankins and Matt Cassel in 2005. Stephen Gostkowski in 2006. Jerod Mayo in 2008.
  • Signing Rodney Harrison as a free agent in 2003.
  • Trading for Corey Dillon in 2004 and for Randy Moss in 2007.
  • Trading for Wes Welker in 2007.

What Didn't Work:
  • Signing WR Donald Hayes in 2002.
  • Missing with 2nd round picks in the draft - Bethel Johnson, Marquise Hill, Chad Jackson, Terrence Wheatley. Last year's 2nd rounder Ron Brace appears headed for Bust-ville, as well.
  • Most of the drafts since 2005, have been bereft of impact players.
  • Free agent signing of Adalius Thomas in 2007, proved to be a bust.
  • Other than Sebastian Vollmer, not upgrading the OL from the same five starters who were manhandled in the Super Bowl loss to the NY Giants, destroying up to that point, an 18-0 season.
  • The Duane Starks and Antonio Langham debacles in the secondary.
Unlike Epstein, Belichick isn't one to easily admit a mistake. He kept Benjamin Watson around for too long. It is also perplexing how underachieving RB Laurence Maroney is still listed as the starting RB.

3.) Danny Ainge - Ainge was hired in 2003 as Executive Director of Basketball Operations and proceeded to dismantle a mediocre Celtics team that had made some noise in the playoffs the previous season. The Celtics took the proverbial "step back", with Ainge making some shrewd choices in the draft, as the team played terrible basketball. This culminated in 2007, with the Ray Allen trade and then the blockbuster deal of Al Jefferson and Ryan Gomes as part of a package to Minnesota for Kevin Garnett. The 2007-2008, Boston Celtics won their first World Championship since 1986. The Garnett-less Celtics gutted out two playoff series in 2008-2009, and lost Game Seven of the NBA Championship to the Lakers in 2009-2010.

What Worked:
  • Danny Ainge is a great evaluator of young collegiate and high school talent. Al Jefferson, Kendrick Perkins, Ryan Gomes, Delonte West, Tony Allen, Rajon Rondo, Glen Davis, and Leon Powe were all picks made during Ainge's tenure as GM. All have been solid to excellent NBA players.
  • Trading for Ray Allen and the pick that brought Glen Davis in 2007.
  • Signing high quality, high character veteran bench players James Posey, Eddie House, and P.J. Brown in 2007-08.
  • The blockbuster trade for Garnett, who changed the entire culture of the team to an unselfish, defense oriented group.
  • Signing Doc Rivers to coach.

What Didn't Work:
  • Signing C Mark Blount to a long term deal. Blount was a dog who stopped playing hard after he got his big contract. He also had the worst hands of any Celtic player in recent memory.
  • Missing on first round draft picks Marcus Banks and Gerald Green.
  • Trading Randy Foye in a package for Sebastian Telfair, so that Telfair could be the starting point guard.
  • Not re-signing James Posey after the 2007-08 season.
  • Acquiring big men Patrick O'Bryant and Mikki Moore in 2008-09.

4.) Peter Chiarelli - The Boston Bruins were mired in a decade of mediocrity, when finally the Harry Sinden/Mike O'Connell/Jeff Gorton group was removed in 2006, and Peter Chiarelli was hired from the Ottawa Senators to be GM. Chiarelli immediately put his stamp on the team by signing D Zdeno Chara and C Marc Savard in the early dawn of that free agent season. Alas, the Boston Bruins still haven't won a Stanley Cup since 1972, and in 2010, blew a 3-0 playoff series lead. This series wound up ending in an embarrassing loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 7.

What Worked:
  • Signing free agents Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard in 2006.
  • Trading Phil Kessel to Toronto for the Leafs' 1st and 2nd round picks in 2010 and the Leafs 1st round pick in 2011. The Bruins wound up with the 2nd pick in the entire draft and selected C Tyler Seguin.
  • Hiring Claude Julien to be head coach in 2007. Julien was exactly what the Bruins needed at the time of his hire and despite heavy criticism during the 2009-10 season, has overall done a solid job.
  • Trading for Chuck Kobasew - he was a solid performer potting over 20 goals in his first 2 full seasons, until he was traded in 2009.
  • Acquiring steady defenseman Aaron Ward from the Rangers for Paul Mara in 2007. Ward was a key contributor for the Bruins before being traded before the 2009-2010 offseason.

What Didn't Work:
  • Hiring Dave Lewis to coach the 2006-2007 team. Lewis was overmatched in his only season as head coach.
  • Trading Brad Boyes for D Dennis Wideman - Boyes was in the midst of a scoring slump when he was traded to St. Louis. As a member of the Blues, Boyes scored 43 and 33 goals in his first 2 full seasons with the team. Wideman was a reckless player, who didn't take care of the puck in his own end.
  • Drafting Phil Kessel in 2007 with the 5th overall pick in the draft. Kessel is a fast skater and has a deft scoring touch. However, he's allergic to defense and is a soft player, who can easily be taken out of his game by physical play.
  • Not addressing the team's lack of scoring punch after the trade of Kessel. During the regular season of 2009-2010, the Boston Bruins struggled to score goals.
  • Chiarelli has yet to draft an impact player for the Bruins, since his tenure as GM began.

Based upon the above analysis, you can see that no GM bats 1.000 when it comes to personnel moves. The best GM's are the ones who know how to tweak their teams each year and add significant value to the teams via the draft. Other than Chiarelli, the GM's in Boston have been very successful in this regard. Here's hoping for the Bruins, youngsters like Zach Hamill and Tyler Seguin can be those draftees who can make a large impact.