Monday, January 30, 2006

Two Trades

Within the past week, two professional Boston sports teams made two major trades. Here is my analysis:

Celtics Trade Davis & Assorted Chaff For Sczerbiak, Draft Choice, & Assorted Chaff:

Last week the Celtics traded gunner and unexpected good citizen Ricky Davis, contract dead weight Mark Blount, talented but increasingly marginalized Marcus Banks, "who-dat?" Justin Reed, and two conditional second-round picks to the Minnesota Timberwolves and old friend Kevin McHale for the gem of the players involved, Miami of Ohio's Wally Szczerbiak, former #1 draft pick and uber-bust Michael Olowokandi, Dwayne Jones of the development league, and a conditional first-round pick that the Celts are likely to be able to use in 2008. (See the Globe story here.)

Color me fully on board with this. I had come to like Ricky Davis. He had been a troublemaker elsewhere, but in Boston was a good citizen, could electrify a crowd at least once a game, and was a legit second scoring threat. Assessments of his defensive skills vary widely, but he has athletic ability and the capacity to get in the way. But the Celtics were not going anywhere as constituted last week, and they have managed to shed the disastrous contract of Blount (Ainge's single worst decision in his tenure as GM), to pick up a player in Sczerbiak who will complement Paul Pierce (quietly having an All-Star year that really ought to boost him right back into discussions of the top 10 players in the league), to grab an always-valuable first-round draft pick, and to make room under the salary cap for next year, when the Kandi-man's contract expires. I may be seeing this through rose-colored glasses, but the Celtics just got better for right now, and they got better for the future. I love Kevin McHale, but unless he is seeing steps down the road that I do not, I think we just fleeced our simian Hall of Fame forward.

Red Sox Trade Vaunted Prospect for Coco Crisp:

This rumor had the message boards over at Sons of Sam Horn burning up. In the space of just a few days, from when Tony Mazzarotti of the Boston Herald last Sunday night reported rumors of a trade involving highly touted prospect Andy Marte for Coco Crisp, SoSH had hundreds of posts and more than 500,000 viewers. Red Sox fans are obsessed and insane. The debate began to rage: Was a consensus top 5 prospect in baseball (and at times #1 prospect) worth the young and rising Coco Crisp? The debate has not yet been settled and probably will not for ten years when we know the full outcome. Some believe that by giving up Marte (whom we had acquired in the Renteria trade to Atlanta) we were sacrificing a potential superstar. Maybe a Hall of Famer. Others opined that Crisp not only filled a vital need, but that he is poised to become an All Star and will be a more than satisfactory replacement for Johnny Damon, who sold his soul for filthy lucre.

The particulars are key here: The Red Sox gave up not only Marte, but also another one of their other top 10 prospects, catcher Kelly Schoppach, as well as Guillermo Mota, whose health has been the source of much debate, and who failed a physical with the Indians last week (some speculate that Cleveland GM Mark Shapiro got cold feet and thus Mota's failure -- after all, if he failed the physical, why did Cleveland continue to want him?) a player to be named later, and cash. The Sox in return got Crisp, righthanded reliever David Riske and catcher Josh Bard.

The Red Sox obviously received the best current player in the deal by obtaining Crisp, who will become an instant folk hero in Boston by virtue of his cuddly name, the long-awaited replacement in that category for Pokey Reese, perhaps. He is just hitting his prime and as important, will not even be eligible for free agency until 2009. Riske is a good acquisition inasmuch as he may not offer Mota's upside, but he is likely not as much of an injury risk. Bard does not have Shoppach's upside, but with Jason Varitek signed for the next three seasons and ensconced as both starter and team captain, whoever plays the backup role needs to be able to fill a niche. Bard, who will not be assured the backup role this season, as the Sox acquired John Flaherty earlier this offseason, nonetheless is serviceable and is supposed to be a good defensive backstop, which may get him in games is he can handle the chores of being Tim Wakefield's knuckleball catching specialist, a role ably filled by Doug Mirabelli the last few years.

So this leaves the question of the future -- did we give up too much for Crisp and parts? My gut instinct is no. Maybe Marte will become a Hall of Famer. Maybe he is the next Mike Schmidt. If so, this trade may end up looking bad -- but how many Mike Schmidts have their been? And did Mike Schmidt barely hit above the Mendoza line in the Dominican Winter League (admittedly after tearing up Triple A) as Marte did this offseason? And why were two of the best run teams in baseball, the Sox and the Braves, willing to trade Marte in the same offseason (though the Indians belong in any discussion of the best run front offices these days)? And is it even important if Crisp ends up as a star and championship anchor as well?

My gut instinct is that this is the right thing. The Sox minor league system is full of potential superstars, and the fact is, some prospects are best used as trade bait, as they are not all going to pan out. Sox fans can go through the list -- Jeff Suppan, Frankie Rodriquez, Casey Fossum, Hanley Ramirez -- of untouchable guys. Some of them are still active. But your options with young players eventually reaches a critical point -- play 'em or trade 'em. They can be every bit as valuable as trade bait as they can be on the roster, especially if you have other guys to hold on to, as the Sox do with a host of young guys, especially pitchers such as Lester, Papelbon, DelCarmen, and Hanson.

What it comes down to for me is simply this: The Red Sox are one of the few organizations in baseball that does not have to choose between winning now and winning later. The Red Sox can plan for 2008 while still fielding a team that can contend for a title in 2006. It would have been great if we could have gotten a center fielder who could have helped us to contend this year and still keep Marte. But the front office (I think wisely) decided that of the options out there, Crisp was the best to help us win now while still being a potential star for years to come. The Indians did very well in this transaction. But for the Red Sox, this trade also works out very well. They enter 2006 with a team that should once again contend for the AL East, and as we have seen in recent years, if you contend for the AL East, the odds are at least pretty good that you'll have a shot at the ALCS and beyond.

Andy Marte, we hardly knew ye. Coco Crisp, welcome aboard. (And I'd strongly advise getting off to a hot start.)

Tom, Don -- I anxiously await the Cleveland perspective.


Donnie Baseball said...

My take on this is "wait and see". I really like Coco, but being the homer that I am I will cut Shapiro and the organization a bit of slack. Clearly, a lot will depend on how Jason Michaels plays. I think a large part of Shapiro's decision hinged on getting Michaels. Cleveland has been interested in him for a while. Marte is less of a question mark for me, as he will undoubtedly be an upgrade from the post-injury Boone, even if he doesn't end up being the next Mike Schmidt or Brooks Robinson.

Boston will be fine with Coco (assuming that other issues with the Sox rotation and bullpen don't cause problems). I still think, however, that the Central will be the tougher division in '06 and probably '07, probably the toughest in Baseball.

Tom said...

Here's the problem: Shapiro has done a pretty amazing job so far, but I have to wonder when the streak is going to end. It was a miracle that the Indians had such a good pitching staff last year (due in no small part to the rotation staying healthy for the entire season, another miracle). That pitching allowed them to be competitive with Casey Blake and Ben Broussard playing every day, but I cannot believe they will get away with all that again.

The upshot is that Blake and Broussard are still scheduled to play everyday, we now have a question mark in left field (I thought Crisp played above his head, but at least he played), we've lost one of our best starting pitchers in Millwood, and we lost two of our best relievers in Howry and Rhodes.

Since Dolan refuses to spend any money, the question is how long is Shapiro's luck going to hold?

dcat said...

I think Shapiro is being forced into a pure Moneyball approach, which might have been great for the A's a few years ago, but now that you have teams like the Red Sox and Braves effectively playing hwat I call "Moneyball plus," by which i mean, Moneyball, but with the extra juice to go after stars, pay your own free agents, and make trades when necessary, it will be increasingly tough to compete. And Tom hints at the frutrations Indians fans must face -- there is no reason why the Indians have to play Moneyball. hey have resources, and if they win those fans have shown they'll fill up that big old beautiful stadium and thus bring in the revenue. It has to be maddening.
And I agree, the problem with having to be smart and savvy about young talent is that you will never always be right, and if most of the time you are trading guys who have shown something for prospects, it can turn sour awfully quickly on you.
Meanwhile I'd hold off on the talk about the Central becoming a burgeoing power. Yes, Chicago and the Indians will be tough, but in the East you have the Sox and Yanks and a much improved Toronto team, as well as a slowly improving rays and the O's who can be pesky.
Jason Michaels just strikes me as a stopgap. I am glad we did not go for him when it looked like the trade talks with Cleveland were fading.
As for the outfield -- the reason that Crisp was available was that Sizemore is a man-sized star in the making, right?
This is supposed to be the year the Indians make the move, but I am going to wait and see. I still suspect that it will be either the Indians or White Sox in the postseason, maybe Minny, but not more than one -- the Wild Card will still come from the east or the always competitive west.