The Red Sox Chaos From Afar

(Elise Amendola/AP)

You’ve surely seen it by now, but The Boston Globe’s Bob Hohler published this exposé on the Red Sox and their clubhouse issues on Wednesday, shedding light on some very real problems. I recommended reading the whole thing, but if you don’t have time, Craig Calcaterra has a nice little recap. The stuff about starting pitchers drinking in the clubhouse during games, Jacoby Ellsbury‘s isolation, and the general lack of leadership are genuine problems, but there’s also some personal stuff about Terry Francona that I don’t think was relevant or anyone’s business. The Francona stuff is a classic Red Sox smear job, a tactic they’ve employed after every major break-up during the John Henry era.

While all that was going on, long-time GM Theo Epstein was busy finalizing a deal to go to the Cubs, eschewing the final year of his Red Sox contract so he could try to end another curse*. Joel Sherman says Epstein had already made it clear he was leaving after his contract expired for personal and professional reasons, so ownership let him go now. Ben Cherington, one of the best GM prospects in the game, figures to take over after serving as Epstein’s top lieutenant for basically forever.

Reportedly, Epstein’s new deal with the Cubs will pay him $15M over five years, which almost assuredly makes him the highest paid GM in the game. The Yankees are in the middle of supposedly peaceful talks with Brian Cashman about a new contract, and despite what Ken Rosenthal says, I have to think Epstein’s deal will have a trickle down affect. Cashman’s tenure with New York has been more successful than Epstein’s with the Sox, especially if you want to look at the short-term, the last four or five years. Point to the payroll if you want, but I’m pretty sure those guys in Boston have done a bang-up job of proving that spending money on free agents isn’t as easy as it looks.

The last six weeks or so have been a full blown collapse for the Sox, and not just in the standings. Epstein’s gone, Francona’s gone (and ownership is bringing up personal info to throw him under the bus), revelations about a fractured clubhouse are coming to light … it makes you appreciate the Yankees, doesn’t it? Cashman’s contract talks are going smoothly, just like Joe Girardi‘s did last year, there are no issues (we know of) in the clubhouse, there’s no chaos at all. The Red Sox franchise has to be embarrassed by what’s happened over the last few weeks, but it’s nice and quiet for the Yankees. Yeah, they lost in the ALDS, but as our neighbors to the north are showing, there are much worse fates than that.

* Can you imagine that? Ending the Red Sox curse then ending the Cubs curse? That would be some legacy.

Claiborne gives up a hit, throws four pitches in one inning

Finally starting to get some winter ball assignments. Pat Venditte, Jorge Vazquez, and Walt Ibarra are playing in the Mexican Pacific League while Josh Schmidt, Maldueno Gonzalez (Dominican Summer League kid), Jose Lopez (DSL kid), Ali Castillo, Jose Pirela, Frankie Cervelli, Juan Marcano, Jose Gil, Luis Nunez, Francisco Duran (DSL kid), Jesus Montero, Jackson Valera, and Reegie Corona will play in the Venezuelan Winter League. We’re still waiting on rosters from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.

Remember, just because these guys are on the roster, doesn’t mean they’ll play. These are competitive leagues that play to win, so if someone doesn’t perform well, they’ll get benched. Also, I would be surprised if Cervelli played this winter given his latest concussion.

AzFL Phoenix Desert Dogs (5-3 loss to Surprise)
Corban Joseph, 2B: 1 for 5, 1 2B, 1 K
Rob Segedin, LF: 0 for 4, 1 K – threw a runner out at second
Chase Whitley, RHP: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 0-1 GB/FB – eight of 14 pitches were strikes (.571)
Preston Claiborne, RHP: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 1-1 GB/ FB – dude threw just four pitches, all strikes … how about that?

Open Thread: More Rain

(Photo Credit: USA Today)

Man, the story of the 2011 season is rain, isn’t it? The Yankees dealt with a ton of it during the regular season and again in the ALDS, and recently the other playoff series have been dealing with it as well. This afternoon’s ALCS game was delayed for a few hours because of rain, and there’s a pretty good chance that tonight’s NLCS game will be delayed as well. Comerica Park and Busch Stadium are relatively new parks, why weren’t these places built with retractable roofs?!? Grumble grumble grumble.

Anyway, here’s tonight’s open thread. The Tigers and Rangers started just a few minutes ago (FOX), then the Cardinals and Brewers are scheduled to start a little later (8pm ET on TBS). Like I said though, no guarantee that one starts on time. Talk about whatever you like here, anything goes.

Yanks give Angels okay to talk to Eppler, Oppenheimer about GM gig

Update (Oct. 12th): Via Joel Sherman, and Mark Feinsand, the Angels have asked for and received permission from the Yankees to interview Oppenheimer and pro scouting director Billy Eppler for their GM vacancy. That’s kind of a big deal, they haven’t let them interview for GM jobs before (that we know of).

Original Post (Oct. 11th): Via Jon Heyman, the Angels have Yankees amateur scouting director Damon Oppenheimer on a list of candidates for their vacant GM position. Tony Reagins stepped down as GM last month, surely shamed by the Vernon Wells trade. Kidding, just kidding. Or am I?

Anyway, this is not the first time Oppenheimer has been a candidate for a GM job. The Diamondbacks wanted to speak to him last offseason, but the Yankees denied them permission to do so, their contractual right. Oppenheimer is a Southern California guy and is widely considered to be one of the top GM prospects in the game, so we’ll have to see how this goes. With Brian Cashman set to ink a new deal soon, it seems more and more likely that Opp’s first GM gig will come away from the Bronx.

Tejeda among Baseball America’s just misses

Baseball America wrapped up their league top 20’s earlier this week, and today they posted a list of players that just missed those lists (subs. req’d). Catcher Isaias Tejeda just missed the Rookie Level GCL list, which was topped by Dante Bichette Jr. and Ravel Santana. “His tools have improved and he used a compact swing to bat .331/.404/.568 in 148 at-bats,” said the article. “[Tejeda] doesn’t chase many pitches out of the strike zone and works the gaps as a hitter. Behind the plate he blocks balls well and has good footwork, though his arm is just average.”

Three other Yankees farmhands were mentioned in the article: “Shortstop-turned-righthander Reynaldo Polanco has a promising fastball/curveball combination, outfielder Daniel Lopez has premium speed and second baseman Jose Rosario has a promising set of raw tools as well.” That GCL team was stacked this year, though it was a bit top heavy with position players.

DH should be far down the list of needs

In terms of position players, the Yankees appear set. Seven of their eight starters are essentially guaranteed to return. Only Nick Swisher remains a question, and it appears likely that the Yankees will exercise his 2012 option. That leaves only one hole in the every day lineup: DH. Yet the Yankees appear to be set here, too. That is, unless you’ve read some mainstream opinions on the matter.

Yesterday Joel Sherman tried to squeeze Carlos Beltran into the fray, opining that the Yankees could give him 50-60 games at DH. Today Ken Davidoff offered a slightly different suggestion, offering up David DeJesus as a more affordable option. Both writers peg their guy as a part-time DH and part-time corner outfielder. That would still leave room for Jesus Montero to get plenty of reps at DH, while working in as part-time catcher. I’m just not sure that signing a free agent who will spend 1/3 of the season at DH is such a hot idea, given the current roster construction.

Sherman presents the best case scenario for Montero: 80 games at catcher, 80 games at DH. That’s best case, because it 1) allows him to audition as the catcher of the future, and 2) keeps his bat in the lineup for the most possible games. Chances are, however, that Montero will catch far fewer games than that, leaving Russell Martin to handle the pitching staff. With fewer games behind the plate Montero will find more reps at DH. A more realistic scenario would have Montero behind the plate for 45 games while DHing in 105-110.

That’s where Alex Rodriguez comes into play. Joe Girardi said that they expect Rodriguez to be their third baseman, and if he remains healthy there’s no doubt he should take the majority of games out there. But keeping him healthy is certainly a priority. Giving him reps at DH could represent a means to that end. If Montero DHs in 110 games, A-Rod could then take 40, leaving him in the field for the rest. That would leave few DH reps for a potential free agent. Hence, the Yankees should look to reinforce their roster elsewhere.

A better solution, then, would be to seek a player in the mold of Eric Chavez: solid but flawed in a way that prevents him from starting full-time. They might actually have one currently on the roster in Eduardo Nunez. In fact, the Yankees have said that they want to work him out in the outfield corners to get him more playing time. If the Yankees truly do feel this strongly about Nunez’s future, then they really have no pressing needs on offense. They have the DH spot occupied between Montero and Rodriguez, and have Rodriguez’s defensive replacement ready in Nunez. If Nunez is the backup infielder and fourth outfielder, the Yankees can fill out the bench with guys such as Chris Dickerson. There’s no need to beef it up at that point.

Speculating about the DH, then, appears to be a fruitless exercise. In fact, speculating about the offense might prove fruitless. If the Yankees like Nunez as much as they let on, they have no need for any additions this off-season. Their entire offense is already on the 40-man roster. The only way this gets interesting is if the Yankees are putting up a front with Nunez in order to increase his trade value. In that case we could see the Yankees add to the bench. But given the current rhetoric and roster construction, it appears unlikely. We’ll be in for a pitching-heavy 2012 off-season.

Replacing CC in the aggregate

While he likely won’t do it during the final game of the World Series, CC Sabathia is sure to opt out of his contract with the Yankees. By now everyone knows the song and dance. The Yankees gave Sabathia the opt-out and so cannot take umbrage with his exercising it. They’ll clearly make an attempt to re-sign him, and the prevailing opinion is that they’ll succeed. All could be back to normal within a week or so of the World Series.

Still, no one guarantees Sabathia’s return. On the open market he might find a mind-blowing offer from a team on the brink of contention, such as the Nationals. If he does depart, it would leave the Yankees in a short-term bind at the very least. The pitching staff fared well this year, better than anyone expected, but Sabathia was the undisputed ace. Could the Yankees expect similar results next year, even with a lesser pitcher heading the rotation?

The scenario is reminiscent of a scene in Moneyball, both the book and the movie, in which Billy Beane and his staff pondered how to replace Jason Giambi. Beane’s solution was to forget about replacing Giambi with a comparable player. For starters, few existed. Even if one did exist, the A’s clearly could not afford him. Their solution: tally up the production of all their departing players and try to find their replacements in the aggregate. That is, find three players whose production equals the average of the three departing players.

The Yankees rotation features many departing players indeed. If Sabathia goes, they’ll be left with just A.J. Burnett, Ivan Nova, and Phil Hughes — though Hughes provides no guarantees at this point. They’d have to find two or three pitchers to replace the production of Sabathia, Freddy Garcia, and Bartolo Colon, which amounts to 548.1 innings at a 3.46 ERA and 3.51 FIP. That doesn’t exactly represent readily available talent. In fact, only 37 pitchers in all of baseball produced an ERA below 3.46, and only 34 produced a FIP below 3.51. And of those 34, only Sabathia and C.J. Wilson are free agents.

The lack of free agent pitching means the Yankees would have to acquire at least one starter, and perhaps two, via trade. With the scarcity of pitchers who produce at the required aggregate level, the Yankees would have to surrender quite a bit to acquire these arms. At that point they might want to just try their own internal arms, but are guys such as Hector Noesi and Adam Warren capable of producing all those innings at those impressive ERA and FIP levels? While it’s possible, it’s not something that a serious contender can count on. The Yankees simply have to do better.

This brings us all the way back to Sabathia. While the Yankees might have solutions in quantity, they simply cannot reproduce the quality that Sabathia has provided for the past three years. Even if they try to replace their three departing pitchers with internal and external options, it appears unlikely they can match that production in the aggregate. Sabathia is the one elite guy on the market, and the Yanekes have an advantage in pursuing him. Given that their most abundant resource is their capital, they should leverage it in order to bring back the one guy who will make life easier in 2012 and beyond. Otherwise they might find themselves scrambling to find suboptimal solutions to their pitching vacancies.