Sunday, January 29, 2006

Theo Why Deal-O?
By Ben Valentine

Rejoice Red Sox Nation. The boy wonder is back. He’s here to save the Red Sox from the bottomless pit which his two month absence left the team; you know the one with no centerfielder, shortstop and hope of competing with the Yankees and Blue Jays?

Well Theo Epstein made his first move as the “new” old Red Sox G.M. Friday, and many cheered. Young Skywalker returned to strike at the heart of the Evil Empire. Why Darth Steinbrenner has to watch in horror as the “good guys” replaced Johnny Damon and are now ready to contend again for the postseason.

Excuse me if I don’t quite share that sentiment.

Mind you, I don’t feel that the Red Sox were in that terrible shape anyway. Josh Beckett is light years better than anyone on that staff from 05’ and Edgar Renteria wasn’t particularly useful at short. Damon was a solid offensive player and pretty much useless in the field. So all and all, replacing Damon and Renteria with Coco Crisp, Alex Gonzalez (as rumored) and Beckett seems to have made the Sox a better team right?

Unfortunately there is such a thing as overpaying.

The Red Sox need not have given up a great prospect like Andy Marte for Crisp. Look great name aside, Crisp is a solid player, but nothing to write home about. He’s a centerfielder in theory, having played there before, but didn’t even man the position for the Indians in 05’. Grady Sizemore did. Crisp posted a solid .300/.345/.465/.810 line, which ironically was better than Damon’s .316/.366/.439/.805. But is that going to be a difference maker for the Red Sox? I doubt it. Now if Crisp were a great defensive player, one could overlook it. I don’t have defensive stats in front of me, and they are hard to judge anyway, but if Crisp were so good, then why was he playing in left field last season?

Meanwhile, the Red Sox surrendered Marte, who is one of baseball’s best hitting prospects. A third baseman, two years ago, many said he was better than David Wright. The 22 year old has done little to discredit his believers, posting a very good .275/.372/.506/.878 mark at AAA Richmond last year. He jacked 20 Hrs and 26 doubles in 389 ABs. He struggled in 57 ABs for the Braves but it was just 57 ABs.

No one is doubting Crisp’s ability as a player, but couldn’t the Red Sox have found an alternative and kept Marte? What about Aaron Rowand, who while he had a down year offensively, is renown as a great defensive centerfielder and is just a year removed from being one of the better young players in the game? I mean just some players who were within .25 OPS points of Crisp on the negative side; David DeJesus, Emil Brown, Carl Crawford, Brady Clark, Preston Wilson. Not exactly the most impressive group out there, but it shows that Crisp isn’t exactly Jim Edmonds.

Or if you want to look deeper and find players Theo could have acquired on the cheap with a big upside, how about Brad Wilkerson, who is rumored to be on the block in Texas? He posted a mediocre .756 OPS last year but a large factor in that was playing his home games at baseball’s best pitcher’s park, RFK stadium. Wilkerson had a .842 and .872 OPS in Montreal in 03’ and 04’ respectively! I highly doubt it would have cost the Sox a player of Marte’s caliber to grab him.

Are the Red Sox a better team than they were Thursday? Sure. But could they have been a better team than they are today? I believe so. You don’t trade top near ready prospects like Marte for above average players like Crisp. That’s what the Red Sox did.

That’s why Theo’s return so far is a lot like the “Phantom Menace”; an over hyped big budget picture that produces a lot of fluff but so far hasn’t lived up to the billing of the original.

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