Friday, August 04, 2006

Tradesman's Exit

Theo Epstein didn't play the game, and now all of New England and every baseball writer in America are upset with him.

The general manager of the Red Sox decided there weren't any deals that met his price and stood pat at the July 31 trade deadline. This prompted many folks who should know better to declare Boston's 2006 playoff chances irrevocably damaged. When the Yankees essentially purchased Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle from the Phillies in a salary dump, the tut-tutting in this community sounded like a plague of locusts.

It's not as if Epstein has shown an innate reluctance to pull the deadline trigger. In 2004, he swapped Nomar Garciaparra for Orlando Cabrera, Doug Mientkiewicz, and Dave Roberts, a hair-raising risk that turned out well. In 2003, he acquired reliever Scott Sauerbeck, a less successful decision. If the market didn't suit the Sox this time around, one might think their front office would get the benefit of the doubt, especially given the team's record.

It's easy to understand why sportswriters and ESPN commentators place such a distortedly high value on deadline trades and trade rumors. News and speculation about potential news are their stock in trade. They have a built-in prejudice in favor of clubs that make deals as opposed to those who don't.

What baffles me, and has for all the decades I've lived in Boston, is why the citizenry feels the same way. For Red Sox fans, July 31 is a regional holiday on the order of Patriots' Day, a civic festival preceded by days, weeks, and even months of ever-more frenzied discussion and delicious debate.

Months? Yes, months. Outsiders may find this hard to believe, but I swear on the grave of Ol" Hoss Radbourn that I once heard an entire WEEI talk show devoted to potential trades so far before the deadline it was also before Easter. The Sox record at the time was 2-1.

At this time, the Sox are going through their rash of inevitable old team injuries as the Yanks did in the spring, so the local panic level is high. There's no doubt Epstein had to be tempted by some of the potential deals offered him. My guess, however, is the prospects the Sox sent to the Marlins for Mike Lowell and Josh Beckett, a trade that's worked spectacularly well for both sides, was Epstein's 2006 pot limit for removing under-30 talent from the organization. Using Wily Mo Pena as Trot Nixon's replacement is also about $10 million cheaper than employing Abreu, a point worth considering if it's your boss' 10 mil.

Standing pat is hard on the nerves, which is why all casinos have blackjack tables. It took just as much guts for Epstein to sit tight last Sunday as it did to send Nomar away, which remains the chanciest deal I've ever seen a contender make. The GM deserves credit for taking a position, whether it works out or not.

Epstein, however, was well aware he went against the natural grain of his constituency. He couldn't make up by sending candy and flowers to all 5-10 million Red Sox fans, so last night the Sox made a waiver deal and picked up Javy Lopez from the Orioles.

A backup catcher isn't likely to sway the AL East race. But it's nice to know the Sox are run by a true gentleman.


At 8:27 PM, Blogger BostonSportPage.Com said...

I could not agree with your dead-on assessment of the Sox making the right move holding tight at the trade deadline anymore, Mike.

I have been spouting the same all week, and after listening to those Big mOrons on sports radio all week trashing Theo for not pulling a Dan Duquette and trading every ounce of talent away, I was slowly beginning to think maybe I was wrong after all.

Thanks for the breath of common sense!!!


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