Friday, August 01, 2008

the Manny trade

"They won't trade Manny"
- Me, just three days ago

I was wrong.

In the end, the Boston Red Sox were so eager to end the Manny Ramirez era that they added prospects to the deal in order to have the privilege of paying him to play for the Los Angeles Dodgers for the remainder of the season. Manny was unhappy with his contract situation and effectively "shot his way out of town."

The Record

The Boston Red Sox, over the course of 7 1/2 season, compiled a 615-468 record with Manny Ramirez in the lineup. That's a .568 winning percentage, a 92-win season pace. Manny was a big part of that.

Manny Ramirez in a Red Sox Uniform


He has the 4th most HR in MLB over that time span. I don't like RBI as a statistic, but a lot of people do, and Manny's 868 are the 3rd highest.

When we look at the "slash stats," AVG/OBP/SLG, it's the mark of a great player to have a line that is at least .300/.400/.500. There are 8 Major League players who have managed it with at least 2000 plate appearances over the last 7 1/2 years. Manny Ramirez is one of them. His OPS+ (on-base plus slugging, adjusted for league and park) is 3rd, behind Bonds and Pujols.

The team has gone to the post-season four times in the Manny Ramirez era. They're 7-2 in post-season series, with two World Series championships. During those post-season games, Manny has hit .321/.422/.558/.990, with 11 HR. He was the MVP of the 2004 World Series.

In short, Manny has done exactly what the Red Sox have paid him to do. They've paid him an enormous amount of money, and he's performed like the future Hall-of-Famer that he is.

The Divorce

I'm sure that Manny has been, in many ways, a frustrating employee. He has gone through a period, in almost every season, of apparent disinterest. He's a mediocre defender at best. He has a tendency to jog to first on balls hit at infielders, and to jog out of the box on balls that end up staying in the park. Certainly, there is reason to be skeptical of his claim of knee soreness that kept him out of the lineup twice last week, and his words and actions for the past couple of weeks support the theory that this trade happened because he forced their hand. The little snippets that I've seen and heard suggest that the local sports media is going to be 100% behind the management team on this one, blaming Manny, and only Manny, for what has happened.

I'm going to politely disagree.

I'm not going to let Manny off the hook for his share of it. As I say, there doesn't appear to be any question that he really did force their hands this time. And, as noted, Manny is not a perfect player, or a perfect person. But many of the shortcomings have been, in my opinion, vastly overblown. By my estimation, Manny has missed out on somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 bases because of "failure to hustle" in the course of his Red Sox career, infield singles turned into outs, doubles turned into singles. At this point, I stop and point at the numbers above. Would everyone be happier if Manny busted it on every play, if he were a "dirt dog" like Trot Nixon or Dustin Pedroia? Of course. But what's more valuable, someone who sprints out of the box on every hit and hits .274/.364/.464, or someone who jogs on obvious outs and hits .312/.411/.588? You'd love to have someone capable of the latter who played like the former, but sometimes that's not realistic.

Here's the problem - everyone who ever played the game can watch it and say, "man, I could run out of the box! For what they're paying him, I could sprint to first on every ground ball to the short-stop!" And for many people, that's true. It apparently isn't for Manny. While you'd love to have him be the same Manny, only better, this is the only Manny you've got. You need to either live with him, or get rid of him. If you're going to live with him, then you live with him. You don't drop anonymous tips to the media every time your suspicious of his knee problems. You don't, as a front office, go out of your way to make it clear that you don't like his contract. There have been stories since this ownership first took over about how displeased they are with Manny's contract and Manny's behavior. They've tried repeatedly to trade him - they've made no secret about it.

Someone wondered the other day whether Manny and Varitek were the last two players on the team who were acquired before the current ownership group took over. They were not - Wakefield and Youkilis were Duquette acquisitions. But this is true - Manny's was the last contract that the current owners inherited with the team. Other than the approximately $7 million that they still owe Manny for this year, there are no player contract obligations for which this management team is not responsible.

And they have undermined him in the press. Constantly. Little anonymous jabs. Did they have to "beg" or "cajole" or "threaten" him to get him onto the field last Saturday? Steve Buckley says they did. How does he know? Well, he knows because someone in the front office told him that (unless you think it was Manny, but I doubt it.) How many times over the past five years have we heard about the front office being upset, displeased, offended, what have you with Manny's behavior? They've been greasing the skids since they got here, so that when they finally were able to get rid of his contract, he'd be the bad guy. Period.

And, from the looks of garbage like this, they managed.

Again, none of this excuses Manny for his misbehaviors. Walking off the field in Tampa in 2003 instead of running to first was unacceptable. Shoving Jack McCormick was unacceptable. Some of the absences (though not as many as were fulminated about) were unacceptable. He was a high maintenance superstar. But he was a superstar, and the maintenance was worth it. They did some of it well, and they did some of it poorly, and they spent the last five years spinning the inevitable departure.

As for why Manny would "shoot his way out of town" now, well, that's rational behavior. (Obviously, "rational" is not a synonym for "right" or "proper.") Right now, he's looking at the possibility of having the team exercise a $20 million option for next year. And possibly again the following year. But if he tears up his knee in spring training next year, if he hits a Jim Rice type cliff, that's it. If he goes out into the market this fall, he probably gets four years at $18-22 million per. The team had no motivation to either exercise the option now or guarantee not to exercise it. But Manny has significant motivation to remove that from play and go into free agency again. So he did, in that sense, instigate the break up.

The Trade

There's been some commentary that they had to make a trade, that the team needed a resolution to the Manny situation. I agree with the latter point (with some minor reservations) but disagree with the former. The situation that needed to be resolved was not, in my opinion, the presence of Manny in the lockerroom, but the presence of a Manny trying to get traded in the lockerroom. I think it likely that 4:00 yesterday would have seen a resolution to the situation whether Manny went or didn't. Indeed, we saw much the same thing three years ago, when everyone said that they needed to trade Manny to get him out of the lockerroom. They didn't, and played .621 (36-22) ball after not trading him, on the way to making the playoffs again. Manny, after that non-trade, hit .323/.417/.632/1.049 with 17 HR while starting 54 of the final 58 games.

So I don't think that they needed to make a trade yesterday. But they did. So, how did they do?

Pretty well, I think.

They traded Manny Ramirez, Craig Hansen and Brandon Moss, plus the rest of Manny's salary (~$7 million) for Jason Bay. Hansen is still young and talented, and I'd bet that he has a fantastic year for someone at some point, but it's hard to see it as a huge loss for the Red Sox. Moss is going to be a competent fourth outfielder, maybe play some as a starter for someone, but again, if not quite fungible talent, he's not a critical piece for this team. It seems odd that they had to throw in talent and money to have someone take a Hall-of-Fame hitter, but they felt like they needed to make the deal, and the big concern is how does it affect this year's team. In that regard, it's Manny for Jason Bay and it may not hurt them on the field at all.

Manny's having a better year offensively than Bay, but it isn't a big difference. Ramirez is hitting .299/.398/.529/.927, Bay is hitting .282/.375/.519/.894. Defensively, Bay clearly represents an upgrade. And this isn't Bay's first good year. By Baseball Prospectus WARP (Wins Against Replacement Player), Bay was actually better than Manny in both 2005 and 2006, and is comparable this year. He's just been playing in anonymity in Pittsburgh, so no one knows it. Bay's not on a Hall of Fame trajectory, he's not going to have Manny's career. But he's a decent bet to provide close to the same value over the next two months as Manny.

Financially, they increase their payroll for the year, as they add Bay's contract while still paying Manny. But it isn't a large increase, and they actually acquire some cost certainty for next year. Bay's signed for $7.5 million next year, while they would have had the options of Manny at $20 million or having to find someone else.

So, they probably have not hurt the team for this year, they may have helped it for next year, and they've removed a distraction. They gave up more than they got from a talent point-of-view, but for a trade they felt forced into making, they actually made a pretty good one.

One concern that I generally deprecate, but warrants mention, is this - Bay's going to be playing in an environment that is significantly different than Pittsburgh. It doesn't worry me much, but many of the people who wanted Manny run out of town are the same ones who thought that JD Drew couldn't play in Boston. For those people, I ask the following - we know that Manny can handle Boston, we know that Manny can perform in the post-season - how do we know whether Bay will? If they make it to the post-season and Bay goes 1-22 as they lose in the first round, can we expect some retroactive front-office castigation for this move?

Bottom Line

I don't think that they needed to make the trade. I was a Manny fan, and I'm sorry to see him go. On the plus side, hopefully the incessant Manny-bashing will soon cease, but I'm not at all happy with the way that the sliming continues on his way out of town. But I don't think that the trade hurts the team, certainly not badly enough to prevent them making the playoffs, and it's possible that it helps. I'm not thrilled with the front office performance that led to the situation as it stood 48 hours ago, but given that situation, I think that they did as well as could be hoped for.

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