Unconventional Wisdom: A Manny splendored thing?
I was sitting in front of a camera at about 4:45 p.m. yesterday, phone off, waiting to go on ESPNews to talk about what had been a very mild trade deadline. While wondering how I could stretch the White Sox' outfield/first base logjam into 10 minutes, with a kicker on the wonder of Arthur Rhodes' illustrious career, I heard a voice in my ear: I was being pushed back to 5 p.m. No problem...more time to build the case for Rhodes as the best reliever in the Marlins' pen.
I fired up my Blackberry -- it's the iPhone for people who aren't intimidated by moving parts -- and all hell broke loose. There was another Manny Ramirez deal in the works, and unlike the previous 81 Manny Ramirez deals, it was happening. For reals. As first reported by SI.com's Jon Heyman, the Red Sox, Dodgers and Pirates were about to disappoint the shut-ins desperately hoping for more news about Brett Favre. In July.
After getting the particulars, and coming up woefully empty as I wracked my brain for information on Bryan Morris, I quickly concluded that all three teams had done pretty well for themselves. Quickly being the operative word. I can honestly say I've never had to process baseball information for large-audience analysis with that little time for reflection, and I didn't like it. I called the trade a win for all three teams on air twice, and while I was comfortable with that conclusion at the time, the more I think about it the more I think it's not quite that simple.
A three-team trade can be broken down more easily by looking at three two-team swaps. Let's start with the part getting the most attention:
I like this trade for the Sox even if you ignore everything but the baseball. They trade two months of Ramirez, his options and two prospects who aren't in their system's top eight or so. They get back Bay, whom they'll have under contract for next season at a cost of $9 million.
The more I thought about this deal, the more I focused in on the Ramirez-for-Bay aspect. Hansen is a failed No. 1 prospect who in a supposed revival year has 25 strikeouts and 23 walks in the majors. He was never going to get an extended opportunity with the Red Sox. Moss is a fourth outfielder on a good team or a starter on a bad one, someone who'll hit .270 and be average in every other aspect of the game. Think Xavier Nady with less power and a better glove. Losing those two guys doesn't impact the Sox at all, and the cash is a wash; they would probably have had to spend $7 million above the cost of Bay to fill a lineup hole next season anyway.
No, the key thing here is one small fact that gets lost in the names and the cities and the reputations: The Red Sox may have landed the best player in the deal. Outside of a 2007 season in which he played through a bad knee injury, Bay has been one of the most productive outfielders in baseball. Since 2003, he has been inferior to Ramirez, but not by nearly as much as you might expect.
Bay's defense has fallen off a cliff the past two seasons, and he rates as worse than Ramirez in this system. Even if Bay's knee injury has taken its toll it seems likely that the difference between the two defensively is exaggerated statistically. Bay is outhitting Ramirez this season by 15 points of EqA (.320 to .305), and given the seven years between them that's not likely to be a fluke. The Red Sox have at worst made a lateral move in 2008, and they may well have gotten better.
Now throw in everything else. I'm inclined to believe that if Ramirez had stayed in Boston he would have moved past his little snit, hit some homers, walked off to a standing ovation at some point, and all of this would have been forgotten. That has happened a number of times in the past eight years and it seems to have all worked out for the team that has won two of the past four World Series. The notion that Manny Ramirez absolutely, positively had to be with another team this morning is silly, and anyone who has watched this little drama play out over and over and over again should know better.
The Red Sox used the cover of Ramirez's bad behavior to make a trade that might not have flown three weeks prior. They made themselves better while making it look like they were addressing some nebulous chemistry issue. They picked up a great undervalued asset for 2009. This is a steal for Theo Epstein, his Bobby Abreu trade, and he deserves a ton of credit for making it happen. The Sox win.
Los Angeles trades Andy LaRoche and Bryan Morris for Manny Ramirez, with the Red Sox paying Ramirez's salary through the end of the year.
This looks like a good deal for the Dodgers. They replace Juan Pierre and Andruw Jones with Ramirez, which is a huge upgrade even taking Manny out of Fenway, both offensively and defensively. They trade LaRoche, who had no place to play in the wake of the Casey Blake deal. The Dodgers dealt a prospect they weren't going to use for a two-win upgrade in the middle of the pennant race, at no cost to payroll. That sounds really, really good.
The problem is that this trade is the equivalent of hooking your drive into the water, topping your third shot 25 yards, coming up short with the eight-iron, chipping way over the green and then back to the fringe...then burying the 35-footer for triple bogey. Sure, the putt was nice, but it's a seven on the card and you're down three strokes and a skin. (Rick Reilly's lawyer just called, by the way.)
By evaluating the trade the way I initially did, I ignored the salient fact that Dodgers GM Ned Colletti got himself into a position where he could trade LaRoche and Morris for two months of Ramirez and have it make sense. It makes sense because so much money was wasted on Pierre, and then on Jones (full disclosure: I liked that deal). It makes sense because the Dodgers have done everything but activate Mariano Duncan in an effort to keep LaRoche from contributing. It makes sense because Colletti traded two really good prospects for Blake, making LaRoche invisible and turning the last 60 games of the season into a desperate attempt to save Colletti's job.
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