Earlier today Media Nation received a private e-mail from J.M. about my first Theo item that ended with this: “What does that say about the stewardship of Theo and the owners? Seems to me they took a World Series winner and dismantled it.”
It’s a serious notion, worth analyzing. So, sorry for the baseball obsession today, but here we go.
At the end of the 2004 World Series, the Red Sox had a problem: its championship core was either aging or declining for other reasons, and couldn’t be expected to perform at the same high level in 2005 or beyond. Keeping the team together was not an option. Don’t believe me? Consider who they’ve gotten rid of over the past two years and why:
Pedro Martínez: This was the big one — Petey was #1A to Curt Schilling’s #1 in ’04. But he didn’t want to re-sign with the Red Sox, so he was leaving in any case. And he’s been hurt a lot over the past two seasons, something that was eminently predictable.
Derek Lowe: His well-documented personal problems made it a given that the Sox would let him go. You’d like to think he could have turned it around after his astounding post-season performance, but he had a lousy ’05 for the Dodgers. He’s pitching better lately, though.
Orlando Cabrera: Yes, in retrospect the Sox should have signed Cabrera rather than obtaining Edgar Renteria. At the time, though, virtually every knowledgeable baseball person believed Renteria would be an upgrade. And now the Sox have Alex Gonzalez, the greatest defensive shortstop ever to wear a Red Sox uniform.
Bill Mueller: The oft-injured third baseman is probably finished following yet another knee operation. A fine player and a class act, but it’s a good thing the Sox picked up Mike Lowell.
Mark Bellhorn: An overachiever in 2004. Mark Loretta is a huge upgrade. For that matter, Tony Graffanino was a huge upgrade.
Kevin Millar: No explanation needed.
Johnny Damon: Yes, I was among those who thought Coco Crisp could grow into a more-than-adequate replacement for Damon, and maybe he still can. But what Damon brought to the Red Sox, both on and off the field, is harder to replace than we realized at the time. Caveat: It’s possible that, like Pedro, he wasn’t going to re-sign no matter what. Damon might just see himself as someone who was born to play in New York.
Bronson Arroyo: This move is actually looking less dumb, not because of Arroyo’s recent slump, but because the Sox are worse than we thought. Wily Mo Peña might be a star in a couple of years, and we’re now officially in wait-till-next-year mode.
If Damon was willing to sign, then letting him go was the dumbest move that Theo and company have made since October 2004. And if that’s the worst you can say, then that’s not so bad.
As for whom the Sox have brought in to replace the guys they lost, well, that’s another story. Josh Beckett has obviously been a huge disappointment, but he’s got a world of talent. If he can listen and learn, he may yet be a star. Crisp was hurt, and I suspect he then started pressing. Seanez and Tavares were obviously busts. Timlin got old. Wakefield, Wells and Clement got hurt. And the absence of Varitek colors everything.
Epstein wasn’t that good when his decision to trade away Nomar turned to instant gold, and he’s not that bad now. Let’s see what he does this off-season, which should be the least tumultuous (i.e., no gorilla suits) of his short career.