The signing of Yoan Moncada out from under the acquisitive New York Yankees leaves a funny taste in the mouth of the Red Sox fan. Is this sweet vindication for the loss of Johnny Damon and Jacoby Ellsbury? Is it an act of desperation to avoid losing another free agent import to New York? Is it the passing of the torch to the new Empire? What kind of Empire is it? Calculating or Ruthless?
No one has anointed the Red Sox the new “Evil Empire,” which is strange, given the taint carried by the New England Patriots into the off-season. By outspending the Yankees and the Dodgers for the Cuban phenom, the Sox would appear to be the heir-apparent to the dollar-sllnging East-West coast juggernauts– the teams always named when bidding wars break out. But no, the Red Sox are called strategic, building their stockpile of position-players, as the wisest of the Major League teams have planned. The lucre heaped up on the table carries no stigma of reckless greed. Ben Cherrington is mentioned in tandem with the great empire-builder Theo Epstein, another big spender dreaming large.
Anyone for a Cubs-Red Sox World Series? Perhaps they can keep their underdog identities until October, without mention of their payroll largesse. Perhaps they will merely answer to the name “pace-setter” without mention of the stars they bought out from under their rivals. Perhaps they will vie for the distinction of a line-up built for the new baseball, the faster, pitcher-driven game, the deep bullpen and the ample bench. Perhaps it is genius and not boundless wealth that wins games in 2015.
Maybe the Red Sox were spared the “evil” moniker because they were overspent on Jon Lester. Maybe their reluctance to deal for the so-called “ace” for their pitching staff made them appear middle class and frugal. What if they suddenly unload their treasure chest for Cole Hamels. Would that turn the tide?
The Red Sox are one trade away from acquiring the “evil” taint. If they step into the season as the prohibitive favorite in the American League, they may yet lose their Fenway lustre, the reconstructed team playing in a rickety ball park. With the flick of a pen, they could become the team they hated, the team representing the one per cent, the team America loves to hate.
Still it beats being the lovable losers.
“No … the Red Sox need a true No. 1 starter at the top of the rotation. Without one, I don’t like their chances in 2015.” So say 57% in yesterday’s ESPN poll.
Ben Cherrington sounds like he believes the pitching staff he’s assembled is the real deal. Maybe he has prophetic vision the rest of us lack, but a staff without a stopper is a staff that can plunge into depression at intervals of the long season. There is no one in the proposed rotation that can step in to stop a slump.
A year ago I was arguing Clay Bucholz was the stopper, even with Lester in the rotation. Now I feel less confident. No one knows what Bucholz will bring in the spring–Cy Young apparent or a half-vast command of his pitches. No one can say he will live up to the promise of 2012, when, for a few months, he was the best pitcher in baseball.
It is not enough to hope for an ace to emerge from the pack, as Justin Masterson suggested yesterday. Masterson, himself, could assume that role, but so much depends on his health and getting his control back. Another wild card. The Red Sox have rolled the dice on their pitching staff before and come up empty.
We don’t want to rely on “maybe-his-sinker-will-sink” stuff. It’s clear the Red Sox are interested in the low-ball pitcher who throws strikes. We love them on their good days. On the days when the ball gets up in the strike zone, you are looking at 5-0 before you get to the third inning.
So we need a shutdown pitcher. Someone who dominates and sends the hitters back to the dugout shaking their heads. Jon Lester was like that many times last year, but that was yesterday and yesterday’s gone. We need a Cole Hamels or Johnny Cueto who can lead the struggling sinker-ballers out of the wilderness.
Your work is not done, Mr. Cherrington. Get in the top pitcher sweepstakes. If you can do it without sacrificing Mookie Betts or Blake Swihart, that would be great, but make the deal or sign the free agent. Boston wants an ace.
So you’ve brought the hitting mercenaries in for the next battle. The hired guns cost $200 million. Now let’s bring back the field commander, the guy Boston loves and who loves Boston– Jon Lester. What would you pay to anchor a pitching staff?
If you let Lester go, you might as well put David Ortiz up for sale and auction the Green Monster. You might as well trade “Sweet Caroline” to the Yankees, who could really use some decent music. You might as well tear up the Fenway sod and spread a carpet in Ted Williams’ back yard.
This workhorse came up in the system, took his early licks as a pitcher, then some more licks with cancer, then a year of proving himself all over again, then a year when he anchored a World Champion pitching staff. That’s local history. That’s the last remnant of a pitching tradition following the likes of Martinez and Schilling. That’s Jon Legend.
Ask the master: Clayton Kershaw said he studied Lester and admired him. He oughta know! The Dodgers could peel off a wad of bills to put another platinum left-hander to their rotation. They’d love to have two or three stoppers. Are you going to let them buy a member of your family?
Don’t blow $100 million on a loose cannon like Hanley Ramirez and say you don’t have enough to sign a Top Gun like Jon Lester. Don’t claim you’ll break the luxury tax ceiling to sign him, and then say he asked for too much. Don’t wait till some maniac with a checkbook throws stupid money at him. Make the next move!
You know the pitching market is going to be calibrated by Lester. No one’s coming cheap after him. There are pretenders out there ready to claim their share of “Lester money.” So don’t plan to bargain your way to a pitching staff. Set the trend with a respectable hometown offer, one that makes the man proud to sign.
Let’s dispense with the coyness, the positioning, the jockeying and bring Jon Lester back to Boston. If he gets away. Mr. Cherrington, it’s your fault.
We’re all wondering if the Red Sox have again succumbed to the temptation to sign the biggest names possible and thrown team chemistry into the disposal. Pablo Sandoval was a likely target for a team without a run-producing third baseman, but Hanley Ramirez has not distinguished himself as a clubhouse guy or a durable every-day player. Could his signing signal the abandonment of Jon Lester in free agent negotiations?
And Sandoval is known as a free-swinger. Bringing him in along with Yoenis Cespedis suggests a change in hitting philosophy. Both of them like to swing outside the strike zone, and neither has an impressive on-base percentage. Does this signal the end of the patient hitting philosophy that has governed the Red Sox for a decade or more? With Sandoval, Cespedes and Mike Napoli in the line-up every day, there is going to be a steady breeze generated in Fenway Park.
So here’s a proposal that would preserve the approach that has won the Red Sox two World Series. Trade Mike Napoli and Yoenis Cespedes for some strong starting pitching. Keep the hustling and versatile Brock Holt and Shane Victorino to conserve the energy they bring to the line-up, wherever they play. Sign Jon Lester and Andrew Miller to preserve what has been great in Red Sox pitching. Count on one young pitcher to fill out the rotation and make sure you have four veterans to anchor it. Which of the many young talents can fill the fifth position is anybody’s guess.
It is heartening to see the Red Sox making bold moves, showing they want to be competitive immediately, but no one wants to see the follies of the past repeated. And certainly no one wants to be compared to the N.Y. Yankees’ revolving door, which has failed to form a successful team for half a decade. We want to see home-grown athletes like Xander Bogaerts and Jon Lester succeed in a Sox uniform. We want to believe that the team has a soul, not inter-changeable parts.
So keep building this team, Ben Cherrington (and John Henry and Larry Lucchino), but build on the foundation. Don’t trade it away.
The jury is still out, but the moves Ben Cherrington made in the July 31 “fire sale” are looking good. If two players can change the momentum of a team, Yoenis Cespedes and Joe Kelly have done it. Allen Craig remains a mixed blessing on the disabled list, but he showed every promise of a consistent hitter in his few appearances.
Cespedes drove in the winning runs in three consecutive games, the Sunday game in Los Angeles and the the two games in Cincinnati. Clearly those games would have been lost without Cespedes, because no other team mates were producing in those low-scoring affairs. Meanwhile Big Papi has now seen better pitches with Cespedes batting behind him. They are becoming another Ortiz-Ramirez duo, this time with Ortiz the primary beneficiary.
Joe Kelly has pitched effectively into the seventh inning of both starts since the trade. He looks like a No. 2 pitcher in the rotation, a comparable to John Lackey. The Cardinals will get their money’s worth out of Lackey if they get into the post-season, but with Allen Craig thrown into this deal, the Red Sox have the potential advantage from the trade.
Kelly is also a complete athlete, fielding, running, even hitting. This could mean durability as a starter as well. He won’t be stumbling off the mound when it comes to fielding a bunt or a squibber. He looks like a good mentor to the younger pitchers, if only because he works fast and throws strikes. Pitchers like Allen Webster and Rubby DeLaRosa could follow his example.
We know Allen Craig can hit good pitching from the World Series. That is what the Red Sox will need to compete with the upper division teams in the future. If he can stay healthy, he will make the 3-4-5 positions in the line-up a force to be reckoned with. That is a big “if,” but considering Joe Kelly’s value in the trade, Craig becomes a bonus.
Probably the Red Sox are also better in August because Pedroia and Nava are starting to hit and Bucholz is finding the plate again. You could also point to the blossoming of DeLaRosa and even Webster, but all of these individuals needed some catalysts in the line-up to make the difference. Yoenis Cespedes and Joe Kelly have made that difference.
So, cheers for Cherrington!
The big story of Spring Training is the rehabilitation of Grady Sizemore as a starting center fielder and the sitting of Jacoby Ellsbury with a calf ailment. There’s a long season ahead, but the results of letting Ellsbury go and signing Sizemore has to be Ben Cherrington’s coup of the spring. And ultimately the decision to send Jackie Bradley, Jr. to Pawtucket for seasoning figured shrewdly into the equation.
How can you anticipate that a physically broken player will return to All-Star form and an up-and-coming young star will need more experience before he breaks into a championship line-up? It is the kind of baseball acumen that makes champions. At this early juncture, you have to admire what John Farrell and his boss have wrought.
Ellsbury may yet be the league’s Most Valuable Player and more power to him. But his fragility had to figure in the Red Sox’ reluctance to give him the long-term contract. He only played two seasons in which injuries did not seriously impede his performance, and he was hurt in those seasons, too. He and Sizemore may share stints on the disabled list in 2014, but the difference is that Ellsbury will get hundreds of thousands for those days, while Sizemore will make hundreds of thousands for the entire year.
The Red Sox made a similar switch with Chris Capuano and Franklin Morales, two injury-plagued lefties. Morales was traded back to the Rockies after spending a year rehabbing his arm and then walking himself off the mound in the World Series. He was always a few inches off the plate, the difference between dominance as a reliever and a liability in the mid-innings.
Capuano returned to his home state with a history of shoulder injuries, but a strong record in the National League, both as starter and reliever. Like Sizemore, he was a long shot to make the team. Like Sizemore, he came in shape and worked his way into competition. He beat out the young arms like Drake Britton and Allen Webster. He comes north in a pivotal role as reliever and spot starter. Will he survive the long 162-game trek? No one knows, but from this perspective another shrewd move by the Red Sox management.
A year ago, the Red Sox performed a similar feat signing the physically-suspect Mike Napoli and the aging Koji Uhehara. More calculated risks, which made the difference between also-rans and champions. It appears they have a method to their madness. They find low-profile and physically-battered players and turn them into stars.
Or, to coin a phrase, “To sign big stars is human, To rehab the old ones, divine.”
This is belated praise for the architect of the 2013 Red Sox: Ben Cherrington. Perhaps he stood on Theo Epstein’s shoulders, but what he did in one off-season outshines any year under the Epstein regime.
Look at the box score of the final World Series game: who drove in the six runs? Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, and Stephen Drew, all free-agent signings by Cherrington. Victorino was one of the most-criticized signings, but without him the Red Sox are probably not even American League Champions. He is the definition of a money player, and one who gives up his body to winning every game.
What about the signing of Koji Uhehara after Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey were already in the bullpen? Probably no way to predict what role he would have on the 2013 Red Sox, but maybe a hunch paid off. The word was that Uhehara had an expiration date and could not be counted on for regular bullpen duty. That was no deterrent to Cherrington.
Less dramatically the trade for Jake Peavy surely paid off at the end of the season, as Clay Bucholz never fully recovered and Ryan Dempster became increasingly unreliable. Cherrington sacrificed Jose Iglesias in a three-way trade to bring in Peavy. Then we watched the early-blooming Bogarts make us forget Iglesias. Iglesias will be a full-time gold glove winning shortstop some day, but he might never have gotten that chance on the Red Sox with Bogarts breathing down his neck.
I’m not sure what role Cherrington had in bringing Brandon Workman from Double-A ball to pitching the middle innings of the World Series, but it was shrewd choice. The Red Sox have always promoted young players very cautiously, perhaps allowing them to languish in the Minors. Ryan Lavarnway is in danger of dying on the vine. But Workman had the confidence and aggressiveness with batters that the Red Sox needed throughout the playoffs. That mindset promoted him past the Allen Websters and Rubby DeLaRosas, who could not pound the strike zone.
And of course, Cherrington brought back John Farrell, who managed this menagerie with consummate shrewdness and sensitivity.
Arguably the loss of any of these role players might have brought the Red Sox up short in their run for the World Championship, which suggests that Cherrington was prescient, the most important role player of all. Pretty amazing for one year’s work.
I’m looking forward to the Cherrington years.
Oh, by the way, Ben, could we make a good run at Jacoby Ellsbury?