Friday, August 01, 2008

The Deadline

Cincinnati Reds trade Ken Griffey, Jr. to Chicago White Sox for 2B Danny Richar and P Nick Masset
Joe Sheehan, Baseball Prospectus:

Now, there are a lot of permutations here, and not a single one looks attractive. Neither Dye nor Quentin is equipped to move to center field for more than an inning or so. Griffey isn't remotely a center fielder any longer, and an outfield featuring those three in any configuration, well, you probably can hear Javier Vazquez's teeth grinding as he contemplates the idea. You can't sit Thome, who's a better hitter than Griffey. If you give Konerko's playing time to Griffey, you force either Swisher to first base, Griffey to the outfield and Vazquez to a dentist, or Thome to
first base. The Sox have had Thome don a glove four times in three seasons, and if they go that route, they run the risk of off-field drama as Konerko adjusts to the bench and his legions of fans in Chicago go nuts. Keep something else in mind: the only one of the five players Griffey is better than, and even this is arguable, is Konerko.
The Sox gave up so little that you can't fault them for making the deal, but it's not clear what it does for them.

Sheehan is right on the mark. I can't say how Griffey really makes the White Sox better. I would also argue that Griffey is not better -- at this point in his career -- than Paul Konerko. Griffey, 38 years old, was hitting 245/355/432 in a good hitter's park in the worst division in the worst league. As a right fielder, Griffey was -11 Fielding Runs Above Average, making him one of the worst defensive right fielders in the NL. Konerko, 32 years old, was hitting 214/312/349. Even considering the difference in leagues, Konerko's offense was worse, yes. But he was also a perfectly average defensive first baseman, whereas Griffey was a liability. Konerko hit 259/351/490 last year, so what we're seeing from him is a slump, whereas Griffey is nearing the end of his career.
But what really cinches it is that the White Sox want Griffey to play center field. Most of Sheehan's favorable permutations of the trade involve Griffey playing somewhere else. Griffey hasn't played center field regularly since 2006. He hasn't played center field well since 2000, eight years ago. Every year since then, Griffey has posted a negative FRAA, with most seasons in the double digits, meaning his presence in right field is actually costing the team almost as much as a win. The move to right field has helped level off the decline in his defense, but a move back to center field now would be catastrophic. Whatever Griffey hit, he would be perhaps the worst defensive center fielder in the American League. That wouldn't be any better than Nick Swisher, who can hit as well as Griffey and is also better defensively.
I don't agree with Sheehan that the Sox don't have much to lose on this deal. This is no big mistake, but the White Sox' farm system is so barren that they can't afford to give up any potential trading chits unless it's absolutely necessary. Nick Masset isn't much of a prospect on most teams, but he is for Chicago. And they're also (apparently, I haven't seen this specified in any article) on the hook for the rest of Griffey's salary, plus an option for 2009.

I used to be one of Kenny Williams' defenders, but his poor handling of his team the past two seasons has changed my opinion of his baseball acumen, and not for the better.

Three-team trade: Los Angeles Dodgers get Manny Ramirez; Boston Red Sox get Jason Bay; Pittsburgh Pirates get Andy LaRoche, pitching prospect Bryan Morris, Craig Hansen, and Brandon Moss.

There was a lot that ran through my mind as I heard about the Ramirez deal. Despite all the rumors and hubbub, I just didn't think the Sox were going to trade him; this same thing happens at every deadline, but the Sox end up with Manny and win again.
This time was different, as has been well-documented.
On one hand, I simply cannot get inside the heads of Theo Epstein, Terry Francona, Larry Lucchino, and Tom Werner to know how important it was for them to get rid of Manny. The Red Sox know -- I don't need to point it out -- that replacing Manny with Jason Bay hurts them in the short run, and they're also losing two useful (if not too important) players and are paying the balance of Manny's salary this season. To intentionally weaken your team in the middle of a tense three-way race for the division title takes some sizable cojones. And the Red Sox ownership has gained enough of my respect for me to understand why they made this deal.

I won't, however, jump on the vicious anti-Manny bandwagon taken up by a number of people including, unfortunately, Peter Gammons. Peter feels very strongly about the subject, and he has every right too, especially since he's so close to the players and executives inside the organization that have been put through hell by Manny. But I think the idea that Manny would shut himself down again and again as the season went on is ridiculous. As uncontrollable and petulant as Manny is, he would have everyone in his life, including his agent Scott Boras, on his back telling him that this shit is not something you do when you're about to become a free agent. So while losing Manny is undoubtedly a load off the collective backs of the Red Sox, I refuse to believe that Manny was going to sabotage the team on the field, even if he has backed out of key games like a three-year old coward.
Gammons, who is usually above this, made a Bissinger-esque statement to the tune of "human beings play the game, not computers, in relation to Manny's still-potent on-field value. Now, I don't mind the Red Sox giving up value if they know what they're doing. But let's not argue that Manny's homers and RBIs somehow "don't count" because he's a diva. We can demonize Manny quite effectively without having to dismiss his on-field production.
For the Red Sox, I'm glad at least that they were able to get back a player as good as Jason Bay. Bay isn't as good as Manny, and he'll face the big challenge of moving from the NL Central to the AL East, but he should be at least an average left fielder, if not slightly better. And the good news is that if he's surrounded by Youkilis, Ortiz, Drew, and Lowell, he doesn't have to be a superstar. The Red Sox' lineup is good enough to handle it if Bay is just good. The other benefit of getting Bay as opposed to someone like Adam Dunn is that the Sox get a big upgrade in left field defense (although to be fair, even Dunn is a better defender than Manny) and they also get a player who will be under their control beyond this year. Bay is under contract for just $7.5 million next year. In a world where Jose Guillen is making $12 million a year (and I hate to gloat, but a lot of sabermetricians liked that Guillen contract. How's it working out for ya now, fellas?), getting Jason Bay for that kind of money is a steal. It also gives them the freedom to look for an upgrade in left, trade Bay, or just keep him and work with a versatile Bay-Ellsbury-Crisp-Drew outfield. The team is finally freed from having to carry two DHs on the roster and is also free from any drama coming after this season when Manny's option comes up.
As for the Dodgers -- how can you not like this? Two months is hardly enough time for Manny to get grumpy for the powers that be, and he's still an All Star-caliber player. The Dodgers desperately needed an impact bat, especially in the outfield, and now they've got one and the cash to pay him. Their only problem now is dealing with the two outfield albatrosses on their roster: Juan Pierre and Andruw Jones.
It sucks that the Dodgers never gave Adam LaRoche a chance, but now we can just say it's their loss, and be happy that Pittsburgh has a good third baseman for the foreseeable future (third base, and the infield in general, being a trouble spot for them). Pitching prospect Bryan Morris has high upside, even if does have his flaws. Other than that, though, the Pirates took quantity over quality. This isn't a good habit to get into, as they did the same thing with the Nady/Marte deal. But I think the Pirates are smarter now; they probably weren't going to get an A-list prospect for any of these guys, so they set about filling out their roster and their farm system with some useful players. It won't make the team winners in the long run, but it will save them from overspending on part-time players as they have so many times in the past. The Pirates are a better organization, and if they can start getting some high-upside players in the draft, they just might be respectable in a few years. And that's the most optimistic statement I've made about the Pirates since 1992.

A lot has happened at this trade deadline. I'm still overdue on my mid-season reviews of the AL Central and AL West, but hopefully I'll be able to take care of those soon. Right now I'm planning a mini-vacation through Tennessee to visit some Civil War battlefields, historic sites, and minor league ballparks.

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