Wednesday, November 30, 2005

"Attitude Reflects Leadership"

Okay, so I lifted the title from Remember the Titans. Who's watched that lately. As for the Red Sox, do they have a leadership vacuum? Well, there's Bill Lajoie, a fossil who doesn't have to listen to any sabermetric mumbo-jumbo anymore, Jerry Kapstein, reborn from the Dark Side of his former player agent life, and the gang of well, however many, until they abandon ship.

So what do you want, attitude or performance? I'll take Manny, who is, yes underrated, in left, and produces at the plate. So he doesn't run out a ground ball once in awhile. A patient came in the other day and said, 'you can't replace performance. You may like your job, but aren't there days when your office door looks like Mount Everest, and you don't want to climb it? Nobody loves their job every day.' Well, nobody on the Red Sox anyway.

The Celtics' pregame show asks, "if the Colts can't win the Super Bowl, who's your next pick?' Tanguay liked the Bengals, with Carson Palmer and Chad Johnson. Holley liked the Carolina Panthers and their defense. I guess I'm pulling for the Vikings. I mean, can anybody else celebrate with the Vikes?

What's the difference between this year's Bruins and last year's team. This team wins a game occasionally.

The word seems to be that Tony Graffanino will resign with the Sox, and possibly Mark Grudzielanek. AND the Sox have been talking about Alfanso Soriano. Who's next Robbie Alomar, or Nellie Fox? Whatever became of Dustin Pedroia? Must be a Bill Lajoie thing about Pedroia. NO JOY, NO JOY for landing the 'young rookie' in the Sox lineup.

Kelly Shoppach needs to get off the schneid, too. Is he the new AAAA catcher, with no hits in 2005 in MLB?

Billy Wagner gets 43 extra large, Konerko 60 mill, and they're talking 55 mill for 5 years for Brian Giles. Giles numbers are not too shabby compared with Johnny Damon. Scott Boras, the new Hans Christian Andersen of baseball literature, has his spiral binder with the 'Legend That Is Johnny Damon'. Damon will get 3000 hits, and no doubt eclipse the stolen base records of Lou Brock.

Damon's an excellent player. He could get 3000 hits. He plays hard and he plays hurt. But it's an economic decision. You can't pay top dollar for everybody, in both terms of annual salary and years. Maybe Nomar could come back and play center for a year. That's what I love about the Mother Tongue...because slim chance, fat chance, and no chance all mean the same.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

"Hot" Stove

Hide and go seek, Larry. "Larry out in free." We know you're out there somewhere, you rascal, you.

So, Peter Woodfork leaves to join Josh Byrnes in Arizona. Say hi to Tom DeMark for me. Guess that you could have stuck a fork in Woodfork's chances at the GM spot. Anybody else on the junior GM circuit in need of some sunshine/vitamin D.

We can group the candidates into three categories. First, the "Chorus Line" cast of characters, "I need this job." Right. That would be the Slim Jims, Jim Bowden, Jim Beattie, and probably Jim Bunning, Jim Bouton, and Jim Lonborg. Second, you have the "anonymous" category, which could include just about anybody, critics of the administration excepted. Third, you have the residents in training, like Jed Hoyer. Of course, the biggest group is the "Don't call me, I'll call you group from the Sabeans, Towers, Moores, LaCavas, and so on." They're are in the George Carlin group of "can you work with Larry LuQueeno" as in "are you out of your bleeping mind?"

Steve Silva has the Red Sox 'Apprentice' countdown going, and The Commissioner, Peter Gammons is still alive. Gotta DQ (disqualify) Peter, because he knows too many secrets.

There are an awful lot of rumors going about Mike Lowell and steroids. Lowell had cancer a few years ago, if I recall correctly, and anabolic steroids have medicinal uses in post-surgical patients (rarely). The problem historically has been that physiologic doses don't produce performance-enhancing effects, as do pharmacologic doses. I'm not accusing Lowell of anything, just wondering if smoke begets fire.

Does Bronson Arroyo have a future in the Red Sox rotation? Maybe it's just me, but I'd really appreciate him more with a less 'casual' approach, supplemented by a third pitch. The rotation with Beckett and Papelbon would sure look a lot younger and less anemic than last year's crowd. Sure, I'd really like Jon Lester to have a breakout spring training, and have both Delcarmen and Hansen in the pen as power arms. Hard stuff and just wild enough to keep the opposition a bit on their heels.

If the Mets have traded for Delgado, is New York just an intermediary in the Delgado and Milledge for Manny Ramirez deal?

Is the relative silence on Damon a good sign or a bad sign? If Youkilis and Pedroia get legitimate shots next year, it would be the first time in a very long time that the Sox developed a position player.

Nomar's not walking in that door again, either, in centerfield or elsewhere.

There's talk about trading Manny Ramirez for Ichiro, too. We definitely need more guys who can't read the newspaper.

If I could own any franchise in MLB as an investment, which one would it be? Gotta be Kansas City. Low salaries, low expectation. Worst case scenario, status quo, best case, relocation to Las Vegas.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Lowdown on the Beckett Deal - a Yankee View

Let's face it, as Sox fans, we aren't the most objective cards in the deck. Sox fans thought the Gator was the best thing since sliced bread, paid homage to the Millar altar, and on the Red Sox Usenet board, there are fans who believe that a hustling Bill Mueller is worth more than Manny Ramirez.

First, we won't have to 'worry' about Manny having a bad influence on Hanley Ramirez, who seemed destined to wind up somewhere else in the wake of the Renteria deal. Second, the Sox didn't sacrifice either Lester or Hansen to the Floridians.

What are Yankee fans saying? Here's a smattering of comments I've heard. "It's a great deal for the Red Sox." "What's the downside for the Red Sox?" "A real commissioner would block this deal." THAT is definitely my favorite, when Yankee fans whine about exploitation of the system.

Okay, now where's Waldo, er, Larry, standing up to take credit for the deal? Like OJ, he's probably searching continuously for the next GM. Everybody's getting their second interview.

Here are some of the sample questions that you get during a second interview, to see whether you can pass LuQueeno's muster.

1. How do you spell 'loyalty'?
2. Can you sing the Red Sox fight song (trick question)?
3. Who's your Daddy?
4. What is the distance between home plate and second base?
5. Did you play baseball in college?
6. Did you have a higher batting average than I had in college?
7. Can you explain the formula for runs created?
8. Who hit John Wyatt in the head throwing to second base (Bob Tillman)?
9. Do you have a copy of 'The Impossible Dream"?
10.When would you like to trade Manny?
11. How much is too much for Johnny Damon?
12. How much do you hate Scott Boras?
13. Do you have any great marketing ideas for the Red Sox?
14. Do you have a conscience?
15. How many scoops of coffee go into the Bunn percolator in the morning?

They are pretty hard questions, but that explains why the Sox still don't have a GM, right?

Monday, November 21, 2005

Wheelin' and Dealin'

Peter Gammons announces via ESPN that the Sox have acquired Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell in trade for Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez, and an unspecified minor league pitcher.

The Sox get an overpaid and once productive third baseman (Lowell) and a top-of-the rotation pitcher in return for their top position prospect (Ramirez) and a highly regarded righthanded pitcher (Sanchez). The Sox show a willingness to add payroll, and they do not lose key lefthander Jon Lester.

The Sox pitching staff now features Schilling, Beckett, Papelbon, Wakefield, and Clement (who knows), with power arms Hansen and Delcarmen in the bullpen to develop alongside their veterans. Where Lester winds up, we don't know.

Presumably, David Wells returns to the left coast for an unspecified spare part.

Lowell, a Gold Glover steps in at third, and whether Kevin Youkilis becomes expendable or a discount first base alternative.

The bullpen isn't entirely stabilized, Johnny Damon is on the market, and who knows whether Manny Ramirez is staying, or headed back toward New York (the Mets).

The other key to the deal is who were the principals, and do they have any inside track to the keys to the GMs office?

Monday, November 14, 2005

No Fenway Out

Okay. So the Red Sox couldn't hang on to GM Theo Epstein. Life goes on. At least as fans we can celebrate the American League MVP, David Ortiz. What? No DHs allowed.

What came out of the General Managers' meetings? Let's examine this closely. Four of baseball's version of 101 Dalmations made the trip, on their own until Cruellarry De Ville, I mean Cruel Larry De Hub showed up to supervise Jed Hoyer, Craig Shipley, Peter Woodfork, and Ben Cherington. Maybe they're the Spy Kids. Surely, upper management required each to write, "I will not seek to become a New England icon" on the chalkboard at least a 100 times. Meanwhile, Cruellary, cloaked in Darth Vader gear, mumbled, "I am your father, " and reported back to principal owner John Henry, "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids."

Actually, Sox management has an affinity for Disney. There's Never a Dull Moment. Derek Lowe's gone because he wandered far from the Snow White image the club wants. The decision-making process leading to Theogate was really Goofy. With the quotes attributable to L-squared and John Henry, we're reminded (pun intended) of the Lion King. Lucchino says there's no problem between Theo and him. Pinocchio, we say. Based on the recent Werner-Lucchino statements, I guess we should call them Tom and Huck. I know how as a Bostonian I feel about Cruellary, "Cheetah."

Are we being unfair to the Sox CEO, who reminds us a lot more of Dumbo than The Incredibles? Surely John Henry comes off as either The Absent Minded Professor or Sleeping Beauty during the key negotiations. Will Theo Epstein be Spirited Away by Frank McCourt and the Dodgers? It's our personal Nightmare Before Christmas.

Now we're hearing that the Sox are trying to trade Manny Ramirez. Does that mean Manny goes west and we have Angels in the Outfield next season?

Well, at this point we can be sure that Theo's not Homeward Bound. No matter, Mr. Henry's still The Happiest Millionaire. Ultimately, the front office can only choose between too assignations, Mickey Mouse or Flubber.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Games People Play

Simple minds would believe the Red Sox exist solely for the purpose of playing baseball. Recent events belie that truth. Only the Patriots ascension prevents them from playing 'Monopoly' (sorry Danny) and the Sox have revealed their Parchesi Management style. However, the Sox are all about playing high stakes baseball chess, 'Battle Chess' style.

From the top, we have King Henry with the all-powerful Queen, Larry Lucchino at his side. Think of him as Luqueeno. The next most powerful pieces on the board are the cornerstones/castles, David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. The bishops? Statesmen of the team Curt Schilling and Tim Wakefield. The knights of the team were, of course, Theo Epstein (on his high horse apparently) and free agent jumper Johnny Damon. Of course, most of the players are pawns, but pawns are not exclusively players. Globe scribe Dan Shaughnessy got into the game as a pawn, too.

Henry's performance the other day brought tears to my eyes, Crock of Dial up streaming radio tears naturally, as we heard how the owner couldn't imagine that Theo Epstein might leave. Henry's legendary investing brilliance contrasted with his lack of imagination as el jefe of the regional treasure.

Ah, but there's the rub. As Red Sox fans, we suffer the delusion (according to colleague Dr. Edward Fischer) that we control a 'private issue in the public domain.' The Red Sox maintain a highly profitable, highly successful business that they rule. Remember the Golden Rule of business, "he who has the gold makes the rules."

We ask ourselves ponderous questions about 'our team'. What is the mission and the vision of the Boston Red Sox, the 'Prime Directive'. The Red Sox mission statement would read something like, "to provide entertainment to the baseball fans of New England, providing an exciting atmosphere and a winning team (while making money hand over fist)". Events demonstrate that management believes the position of General Manager to be fungible and secondary to business operations. Second, we can't know what constitutes management's vision. From a strictly business standpoint, if the Sox could develop the talent evaluation, development, and procurement success of (let's say) Oakland or Minnesota, then they could field playoff caliber teams with payroll perhaps 75 percent or less of current.

With whatever debt service the Sox have, good businessmen and women certainly must desire to increase their net cashflow, both through revenue growth (ticket prices, additional seating, merchandise, cable and media), debt reduction if possible, and through cost reduction (farm system success raising lower salaried talent, bargain free agents, attrition of expensive contracts, jettisoning problem contracts like Manny Ramirez'). I can't fault them for exercising good business acumen.

As fans, we have to ask when or if sound business thinking results in inreparable damage to the franchise. Certainly, the apotheosis of Theo overstates his value ("the show must go on"), but John Henry also knows that the majority of profits come from the minority of trades (home runs). The Red Sox calculated Epstein's loss as wholely acceptable. Luqeeno's statement yesterday reaffirms that judgement.

From a 'risk management' standpoint (that is how these guys think), everyone is expendable (pawns) as long as the proprietary business status remains. There's no National League franchise showing up at Nickerson Field and the reporters will soon focus (happening already) on moving on and discounting the administrative faux pas that will soon enough be a footnote in Red Sox history. Game on.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

GM by Committee

Boston (AP) "Our baseball operations team is armed with an offseason plan and alist of priorities,'' club president Larry Lucchino said. "Like 29 other clubs, they are heading to Palm Springs to listen and gather information for later in the winter, but make no mistake, they are also empowered to speak with other clubs and with agents and to consummate any deal they feel will be in the best interest of the Boston RedSox.''

The Sox tried the Bullpen by Committee experiment and have graduated to GM by Committee. Maybe it's the new wave, and also the dissolution of authority prevents any of the young upstarts from usurping Master Luke's 'Star Wars' prima donna status. Way to go.

On the other hand, maybe it commences a new internal power struggle among Jed Hoyer, Craig Shipley, Ben Cherington, and Peter Woodfork. Too many guys for 'stone, paper, scissors' and the Sox are definitely too out of tune to consider 'musical chairs.' A Texas Death Match wrassling tournament could work, or maybe they could do karaoke, with Derek Lowe coming in as a celebrity judge.

Or maybe, they might team up to try to recruit another team's GM, enticing him with a clandestine trip to a strip joint, plying him with a few rounds, and getting some compromising pictures. That might seem underhanded, but the Sox will emphasize both creativity and achievement going forward. Machiavelli would be proud.

Friday, November 04, 2005

"Nothing Cheaper Than Free Advice"

So what should we talk about today? Which first baseman the Red Sox should look to acquire or how do the Sox try to dig themselves out of the PR hole they've dug?

As best we can tell, Larry Lucchino dug this hole, and he should have the fortitude to explain himself. Or not? Larry's in the press and on television more often than almost everything except the World Poker Tour and Paris Hilton. All of a sudden, we've seen more of Howard Hughes.

Okay, Larry's busy, making phone calls and reviewing resumes for the next GM. Let's see. Kevin Towers...previously worked with Larry...'Hello, Kevin?' "Click..." Gerry Hunsicker, signed with Tampa. Doug Melvin. He's rumored to be resigning an extension with Milwaukee. Why can't we resign executives like that? What about Tony LaCava, ostensibly young, a 'nice guy', and a personnel/development guy. He hasn't worked with Larry before (so he won't automatically refuse) and he'd probably work cheap?

Seriously, finding a GM replacement won't be that easy. Let's start making out our list:

1. Preferably young and malleable.
2. Lacks excessive self-confidence.
3. Can work with autonomy more limited than average GM.
4. Salary negotiable.
5. Doesn't hate New England weather.
6. Knows Rotisserie isn't about cooking and sabermetrics isn't about swordsmanship.
7. Hasn't worked with Larry Lucchino
8. Doesn't read the newspapers.
9. Willing to do donut commercials (Theo donated his proceeds to charity)
10.High stress tolerance.
11.Doesn't desire to become New England icon.
12.Capable of mixing smoothly with volatile personalities.
13.Can read and write (see hockey news)
14.Appreciates 'unique' position of franchise in New England culture
15.Understands franchise vision must not be his vision, however likely to succeed or logical.

So, for current GMs, it's more abuse, more money, and less autonomy. For wannabe GMs, it's the opportunity, more money, more abuse, and one hand on the wheel. Let's see. Who's not going to leap at that? Welcome, Tony!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Where's Larry?

I know you're out there somewhere
Somewhere, somewhere
I know I'll find you somehow
Somehow, somehow
And somehow
I'll return again to you

The mist is lifting slowly
I can see the way ahead
And I've left behind the empty streets
That once inspired my life
And the strength of the emotion
Is like thunder in the air'
Cos the promise that we made each other
Haunts me to the end

I know you're out there somewhere
Somewhere, somewhere
I know you're out there somewhere
Somewhere you can hear my voice
I know I'll find you somehow
Somehow, somehowI know
I'll find you somehow
And somehow I'll return again to you

-from the Moody Blues

The Sox management is starting to emerge from their bunker after botching the Theo Epstein negotiations. At least that's the story. They'll fess up to failed negotiations, not the John McKay Question. McKay when asked about the execution of his team replied, "I'm in favor of it."

So we have to ask, "where's Larry?"

1. Anybody see him at the Celtics game last night?

2. Have we checked the rolls of the French foreign legion?

3. A wag on WEEI suggested a Silence of the Lambs scenario, with Larry telling Dan Shaughnessy "the writer puts the story in the basket." (Gawd, I wish I'd thought of that one)

4. Could Larry be working on the Big Dig? After all, he's good with a shovel.

5. Is Larry in the Counting House?

6. Is Larry the new spokesperson for Southwest Airlines? "Need to get away?"

7. Has he signed on as David Copperfield's lovely assistant in the disappearing act?

8. Maybe Larry's going to be on The Apprentice.

9. Maybe Larry's gone walkabout, like Diogenes, in search of an honest man.

10.Larry's at the movies. There's a remake just out called "The Puppetmasters."

Heck I know where Larry is, he's looking for a new GM. "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The Other Side of the Trade

In the stock market, traders sometimes talk about knowing who is on the other side of the trade. What do they know? What do they hope to accomplish?

The 'other side' of the Theo Epstein trade is Larry Lucchino and the power on the throne, John Henry. As they say in Hollywood, "what's my motivation?" As I wrote on the Dirt Dogs site, Lucchino would clearly come down as the Fall Guy if Theo Epstein walked. So far, it's played out that way.

Does anyone think that Larry Lucchino gives a rat's patootie about that? Lucchino runs the business side of the house, skillfully maneuvering among the politicians, contractors, and vendors to enhance the ballpark, expand revenues, and increase club value. From an ownership perspective, you care about widget sales, top and bottom line growth, cash flow, debt service, and ultimately market capitalization. If you're John Henry, the trend is good.

If you're Henry, do you care about fan reaction to the departure of the sentimental favorite son? You don't achieve Fortune 400 status (richest people on the planet) because of sentimentality. Do you think one less fan will cross through Fenway turnstiles because Theo Epstein isn't sitting behind home plate or in the owner's box? Your investment is about dollars. Will seats suddenly become vacant and fans abandon Red Sox paraphernalia? Don't bet on it.

Dollars aside, you can already point to three playoff appearances, two ALCS rounds, and a World Series title. How dare you say ownership doesn't care about winning, or committing resources to the process?

What fans have to ask is becomes is John Henry the next James Orthwein, a sports carpetbagger, or planning to sell out in the near future. If he and Lucchino continue to increase cashflow, especially by moving Manny Ramirez, by not signing Johnny Damon, by 'going young' and allowing other contracts (e.g. Schilling) to die of attrition, then cash flow could increase dramatically and increase the real (not theoretical) value of the investment. On Wall Street they call that good business.

We fans often become trapped in concepts of loyalty and tradition. Shrewd baseball owners don't suffer the same failings, as they increase their empire through all possible means. The Sox continue to increase ticket prices, and the payoff of farm system productivity is the option of decreasing 'overhead', that is, the cost of the product on the field.

I've discussed the distinction of decision-making by ego or by money. Theo Epstein rendered a decision based on ego, walking away from Megabucks. We must presume that intolerable working conditions contributed. The motivation for the other side of the trade remains unexplained. Did ownership consider Epstein too popular, expendable at this point before his status grew uncontrollable and a threat to their longer-term goals? What are their goals?

What we as fans must accept, like players who are fungible, is that the Theo Epsteins, Chris Correntis, and others are mere pawns on the chessboard of the baseball hierarchy. They are commodities, interchangeable with minimal perceived loss in valuation. You can almost hear the boardroom chatter, "look, we'll just get another guy. The fans won't even notice the difference. The king is dead, long live the king. It's just that simple."

Sentiment doesn't drive franchise value, cash flow does. Ownership retains control of one of thirty-two proprietary businesses, monopolistic, indestructible. Or so they think.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

I Can Do This Job

"Experience is the best teacher, but sometimes the tuition is high."

"Listen, Mr. Henry, I can do this job." I'll go through just a partial list of qualifications, which should surely impress you.

1. Intimately familiar with trends, both following and fading them, including the use of technical analysis parameters such as directional movement and 20 day breakouts, such as Turtle Trading. Believer in 'mean reversion', which portends well for Keith Foulke.

2. Definitely on the wrong side of fifty. No young whippersnapper here.

3. Played Division I baseball in college. Er, sat on the bench in the bullpen specifically. At least I played beyond high school.

4. Can say, "Yes, sir, no sir, right away sir, aye aye sir, and I don't know sir, but I'll find out sir" with the best of them.

5. Know the value of a dollar, and the value of a franc, French, Swiss, or Belgian.

6. Willing to fetch Mr. Lucchino coffee, anytime.

7. Local product, born and raised in Massachusetts.

8. Intimately familiar with "Moneyball" concepts, having played Rotisserie baseball since virtually its inception, with multiple league titles, including from the defunct Prodigy network. Read "Moneyball". Picture of Billy Beane on my desk (not really, but I'll try anything).

9. Outstanding relationship with Boston Dirt Dogs.

10. Son went to school with Chris Snow (wink, wink), so I can potentially manipulate the Boston Globe.

11. Ivy League education (see previous GM)

12. Regular trader, unafraid to make decisions, with appropriate risk management.

13. Creative management style (see previous Dirt Dogs seating capacity expansion plans).

14. Willing to work cheaper than retread, revolving-door GMs you'll be considering.

My number's in the book.

Backpedaling Weasels

Damage control has already begun. After figuratively knifing Theo Epstein in the back with his Sunday column, Daniel Shaughnessy (anagram DAN LIES AS HE HUGS NY) laments the GM's departure. He writes that Theo is too mature to be affected by a few lines in a newspaper column.

Is this the first time that Shaughnessy has trashed local sports figures? Hardly. Robert Parish 'enjoyed' target status for the Globe scribe while in Boston, and 'mean-spirited' sums up Shaughnessy's general approach, as in "I'm a columnist, not a reporter." That's for certain, as reporters report the news, eschewing insinuating themselves into the news.

Now I'm not suggesting that there's a special section in hell for sports writers, or worse, sports bloggers, but did Dagger Dan willfully ingratiate himself to Sox management with the hatchet job on Theo Epstein?

Theo Epstein wasn't perfect. Chad Fox, Jeremy Giambi, Wade Miller, Matt Mantei, and (so far) Edgar Renteria either didn't work out or contributed far less than expected. But the GM's job remains a bottom-line business, and Epstein had one hand on the wheel when the Sox' ship came in.

Any new candidates for the GM job have to be aware of the backstabbing atmosphere currently at Fenway, "America's Most Beloved Ballpark." Landing at Logan, the Towers, Hunsickers, Sabeans, and others won't be rolling over and fawning over the President and the CEO. Maybe they won't have to, because the Powers That Be sought only to knock Theo back down to size, not shove him out the door.

So, we won't need a GM who can schmooze Curt Schilling into Sox whites, or convince David Ortiz that Boston's the place to be. We won't need a new Red Sox media guide with Ortiz, Manny, Schilling, and Wakefield on the cover. John Henry, Larry Lucchino, and Tom Werner can start posing now, because it's all about them.