Thursday, October 12, 2006

Strategic Initiatives

Let's pretend that we're the 'collective' GM for the Boston Red Sox. How would we approach the retooling of the franchise for the upcoming season? Some issues for consideration including pitching, defense, offense, reorganization of the minor leagues (development versus free agency), budgeting, coaching staff changes, and the role of sabermetrics (quantitative player analysis).

I don't see any tectonic organizational shift away from 'Moneyball', particularly because 1) John Henry believes in trends and 2) it worked well enough prior to this season.

Coaching staff changes grab some headlines, but don't promise transcendental performance shifts. Ron Jackson and Dave Wallace departures don't translate into major win-loss shifts.

You can reorganize the minor leagues, but like commodity infrastructure (planning oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico) doesn't change the end product for years to come. The Sox minor leagues seem to underproduce major league players relative to the Clevelands and Minnesotas of the world, or at least it seems that way.

Will the Red Sox open up their checkbooks for free agents? Who's out there? What's the competition bidding? Do their needs mesh with the Red Sox? Obviously a lot depends on the Sox approach to Manny Ramirez. Do they end up paying Manny's salary fractionally for someone else, only to end up paying Alfonso Soriano or Carlos Lee? This doesn't sound that attractive to me.

From an offensive standpoint, the Sox didn't have an inferiority compley, they were inferior. If you accept the outfield of Ramirez, Coco Crisp (obviously played hurt), and Wily Mo Pena, then how do you fix the infield production? Kevin Youkilis nullifies the salary of Mike Lowell, and the pair produced more than the Sox could have expected, with Lowell making a solid comeback. If you picked up Soriano to play second, you sacrifice defense for offense, a trade most Sox fans would do. At best, the jury is out on Dustin Pedroia, who had holes both in the field and at the bat.

Defense might win championships in football, but arguably the best defense in the AL (statistics aren't perfect here) didn't come close for Boston. Jason Varitek's injury exposed the Sox lack of catching depth, and the Javy Lopez acquisition compounded it. Lopez lacked either the skills or the interest to get the job done.

Which brings us naturally back to pitching, with issues at both the front end (the age of Schilling and Wakefield, the health of Papelbon and Lester, the mental framework of Beckett), and the back end. With Papelbon into the rotation, the Sox have openings throughout the bullpen. Getting another premium starter might free Wakefield to assume a more versatile role, and where Timlin (free agent), Foulke, Breslow, Delcarmen, and Hansen fit in remains to be seen.

Although the Sox have a lot of talent at the 'A' level, I dount that they expect much immediate help from the higher minors.

Yahoo has a list of the best baseball free agents available, including some possible Sox targets, like Jason Schmidt, Ted Lilly, Soriano, Adam Eaton, or Frank Catalanotto. Lilly and Catalanotto are Sox killers, and addition by subtraction from other rosters. And as for Nomar at 3 years for 35 million, I'd consider that stealing, by Nomar, whose productivity will almost certainly be limited by age and injuries if not declining skill.

We know that Theo and the Baseball Bunch are probably at work now trying to rebuild the franchise. We can only hope they get some luck, which always trumps skill.

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