There aren't too many ballplayers who generate the emotional reaction produced by the two that the Boston Red Sox mulled over this week: Manny Ramirez and J.D. Drew.
For years, the push and pull of Ramirez's relationship with Boston has had all the magic dysfunction of Ralph and Alice Kramden. Meanwhile, the talented but phlegmatic Drew, whose contract with the Red Sox seemed a fait accompli by the time Thanksgiving weekend ended, confounds a number of baseball fans. Not since Musak's heyday has such blandness caused such aggravation.
More than three years after Michael Lewis' Moneyball became the centerpiece of debate over the values of baseball players, Ramirez and Drew present a fierce conundrum for anyone following the game, old school or new.
Often misunderstood, Moneyball principally suggested that franchises should analyze ballplayers dispassionately to find undervalued talent whose weaknesses were superficial, whose perceived flaws were just a reflection of long-established but irrational biases. But this offseason, the Red Sox are moving to rid themselves of one statistically brilliant, handle-with-care outfielder for a different-but-slightly-less extreme version of the same. What are we to make of this?
It's not definite, but Boston's move toward replacing Ramirez with Drew (although some wonder why the Sox don't just forget about expensive pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka and just go with both outfielders) could represent an ongoing merging of pre- and post-Moneyball thinking, showing that you don't have to be a hardliner in either category.
Though Ramirez is on a path to the Hall of Fame, there are statistical reasons for moving into the future with Drew. Despite his reputation as a player likely to disintegrate at the first strong gust of wind, the 31-year-old Drew racked up 645 plate appearances in 2004 and 594 in 2006; his 2005 season was curtailed with a hit-by-pitch, not a case of the vapors. Using the Wins Above Replacement Player stats (which include defensive contributions) calculated by Baseball Prospectus, in his last two full seasons, Drew was more valuable than Ramirez: 9.8 to 8.2 in '04, 8.6 to 7.7 in '06.
Given that Drew will make millions less than Ramirez, even with the frothy salaries that free agents are commanding, given that Drew is 2 1/2 years younger, given that Ramirez has battled health problems himself that found him playing fewer games than Drew last season, there's a worthy argument to be made that Drew, plus any savings in Ramirez's salary that Boston can invest in other players, plus the loot the Sox can reap in a Ramirez trade, is a sound step forward.
To be sure, there are numbers arguments in Ramirez's favor too: The guy, after all, has a track record like few others in the game today, had 379 total bases (including walks) last season and posted an Equivalent Average, according to Baseball Prospectus, of .352 -- significantly higher than Drew's .306. That statistic leaves defense out of the equation, but nevertheless, there's no guarantee that the loss of Ramirez will be made up on the field by Drew and the Ramirez trade bounty.
So while it would be foolish to ignore the statistics of both players -- and downright moronic to tunnel-vision on misleading traditional stats like RBI when there are more insightful choices to be found -- there is enough doubt about whether Drew or Ramirez has the better statistical future for Boston to glance carefully at the character and personality issues that seem to envelop them.