Friday, December 23, 2005

So long, Johnny D.

Boston sports fans, as you'll no doubt have heard, received a nice Christmas gift this year from Johnny Damon, Scott Boras, and one George Steinbrenner:
His hair trimmed and his beard shorn, Johnny Damon put on the pinstripes for the first time Friday after finalizing his $52 million, four-year contract with the New York Yankees. After spending four seasons with the Boston Red Sox, Damon switched sides in baseball's hottest rivalry. He passed his physical Thursday, then went to Salon Ishi on Manhattan's East Side for a new look. With Damon's wife, Michelle, looking on along with a Yankees' photographer, a stylist identified as "Chantal" rid Damon of his facial hair and long locks, putting him in compliance with the code of Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. "First of all, what do you guys think?" Damon said, looking at the cameras and stroking his chin. "Obviously, keep on snapping away."The Boss seemed pleased."He looks like a Yankee, he sounds like a Yankee and he is a Yankee," Steinbrenner said in a statement.
Is all hope of Red Sox success next season vanished? As much as Johnny Damon was a huge component of the '04 World Series team, I think Red Sox fans shouldn't be overly despondent about the team's prospects. I like Dan Drezner's take very much:
...consider that each of the individual trades/signings that the Red Sox have made this offseason can be defended. No one except the Yankees thought Johnny Damon was worth $13 million a year. Trading a backup catcher for a former All-Star second baseman seems like a shrewd move. Renteria was never comfortable in Boston, and in trading him the Red Sox got one of the top ten prospects in all of baseball. Getting Josh Beckett was worth the costs in prospects -- especially since the Sox also got a premier set-up man and a Gold Glove third baseman. The problem isn't with the individual moves -- it's whether one can see an overall plan when the moves are combined.

Second, left unsaid in all the critiques is the fact that the Sox have done a very good job of rebuilding their pitching staff. In the past few months the Sox have lost Mike Myers and Chad Bradford while acquiring Josh Beckett, Guillermo Mota, and Jermaine Van Buren via trade, re-signing Mike Timlin, signing Rudy Seanez, and picking up Jamie Vermilyea via the Rule V draft. They have also developed a raft of quality arms -- Jonathan Papelbon, Manny Delcarmen, Craig Hansen, and Jon Lester -- from their own farm system.

...Finally, it's worth remembering that at this point last year everyone was trashing White Sox GM Ken Williams for a series of moves that laid the foundation for the 2005 team. The only thing that matters is the how the team performs on the field between April and October.
I agree. Thing is, a big part of the story -- and a tiring, "what else is new" part of the story -- is the existence of the financial gulf between the Yankees and everybody else. Boston was willing to gamble $40 odd million on an aging and increasingly injury-prone (albeit terrific in his last few seasons) center fielder. But they were not willing to gamble $50 odd million on the same. For the Yankees, however, it's not really a gamble -- because there's not really any financial risk involved. If Damon underperforms, the Yankees' ability to sign superstars and pay big salaries in the future won't be hampered in the least.

But the Red Sox, as wealthy an organization as they may be, aren't in the same financial situation.

If there is anything positive about the Red Sox' situation right now (and as a Bostonian I've been wildly grasping at straws to find reasons for optimism), it is that they could well have a dominating pitching staff in '06.

I certainly like their arms better than the Yanks' at this point. The Sox can't possibly hope to compete offensively with New York next year -- no way, no how. They certainly need another bat, and I hope they sign a first class hitter.

But when it comes to their most tradeable asset -- Manny Ramirez -- if I were the Sox I'd try and use him to acquire even more pitching. As a long-suffering Red Sox fan, it's a simple article of faith with me that you can NEVER have too much pitching, especially when you don't have a prayer of matching your arch rival's offensive potency.

More often than not, it comes down to pitching in the end.


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