Saturday, September 1, 2012

4 comments Bill Simmons Waits Until He Has Something to Whine About Before Writing His First Red Sox Column of This Season Part 2

Yesterday I posted the longer-than-expected post on Bill Simmons' brief return to writing about the Boston Red Sox. "Writing" is probably not the correct term to use. He was really trying to elicit sympathy from his readers because his favorite baseball team is having a bad year and he seemed to want to elicit this sympathy through being a little whiny. Because I hate you all, I have broken this column into two parts. So here is the second part of that Simmons-Red Sox cry-fest.

Not long ago, the Red Sox organization ranked among the most thoughtful in baseball. Epstein played the market's inefficiencies just about perfectly in 2003 and 2004 (power/OBP bargains mixed with expensive, sure-thing pitchers), then created a long-term strategy: We're avoiding mammoth contracts for free agents hitting their 30s; we're using much of our financial advantage to outspend competitors on draft picks, scouting and foreign-born prospects; and hopefully, we're "growing" our own potential stars and either locking them up to long-term deals or flipping them for elite players. I loved this plan. Everybody did.

Bill didn't love this plan, he loved the fact this plan worked. Bill also liked the plan from the late 2000's where the Red Sox acquired the best possible players on the free agent market, he just doesn't like it now that this plan didn't work.

So what changed? Everyone else in baseball started emulating what the smarter teams were doing (Boston, Oakland, etc.), leaving Theo without any real market inefficiencies to exploit other than defense (they tried, with limited success) and this one: He could simply outspend 95 percent of the league.

So it isn't Theo Epstein's fault the Red Sox started throwing money at expensive free agents. That's how the market forced him to behave. After every other team started copying the Red Sox (and of course, to a lesser extent Oakland) Theo had no choice but to abandon his plan not to spend on free agents. That's what Bill wants us to believe.

Of course, this half-assed theory about what changed doesn't answer the biggest question I have...why didn't Theo keep using the financial advantage that Bill states the Red Sox had over other teams in order to,

outspend competitors on draft picks, scouting and foreign-born prospects; and hopefully, we're "growing" our own potential stars and either locking them up to long-term deals or flipping them for elite players.

This was still possible. Regardless of whether the rest of the league had caught up to market inadequacies the Red Sox still had the financial advantage over nearly every other major league team. The Red Sox could outspend on draft picks, still scout foreign-prospects and grow potential stars or flip these potential stars for elite players through trade. This did not have to change because the Red Sox could use their financial advantage to outspend on draft picks and scout foreign-born prospects. I hope Bill realizes this didn't have to change. The fact other teams caught up with the market inadequacies would not have prevented the Red Sox from sticking to this part of the plan.

What Bill Simmons is really doing is (surprise, surprise) making shit up in order to make it seem like Theo Epstein and Red Sox ownership had no choice but to sign expensive free agents when this couldn't be further from the truth. Yes, other teams caught on to market inadequacies and found players who may not seem to fit the bill as a major league talent, but truly were a major league talent. The fact other teams caught up with this market inadequacy doesn't preclude the Red Sox from using the other market inadequacies, namely playing for a high-profile team (the Red Sox) and being able to offer more money, to continue building a winning team.

In fact, the Red Sox built this current team using the exact plan Bill claims the Red Sox got away from. They signed Daisuke Matsuzaka from Japan and traded some of their prospects for elite players. Bill is so ignorant about baseball and even his own Red Sox team (in some ways) it amazes me. He outlines a plan Theo Epstein followed that led to success (that Bill and everyone loved), then claims the Red Sox got away from it. Did they get away from it completely though? Isn't part of this plan Bill claims Theo got away from a similar plan to how the 2012 Red Sox team was built? Yes, the Red Sox didn't stay away from expensive free agents, but otherwise the plan stayed intact in some ways.

Remember that asshole Josh Beckett? The same Josh Beckett that Bill Simmons is so thankful he didn't name his child after? How did the Red Sox acquire him? They traded Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez for him. The Red Sox traded their top prospects for elite players, just like the masterplan that was supposed to work (and Bill loved) said to do.

Remember Adrian Gonzalez? How did the Red Sox acquire him? They traded Casey Kelly and Anthony Rizzo for him. The Red Sox, again, traded top prospects in order to acquire an elite player. This is part of what the masterplan that was supposed to work (and Bill loved) said to do.

Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Kevin Youkilis, and Clay Buchholz? All homegrown players.

My point is the Red Sox didn't get entirely away from the plan Bill is claiming they got away from because they could no longer exploit market inadequacies. This plan just didn't work. Sometimes a plan is good, but the execution fails. Sure, the Red Sox signed expensive free agents. That's the part of the plan that was deviated from, but otherwise the plan stayed intact. It just didn't work for the 2012 season. Bill is always trying to push a theory on his readers when this season's struggles can simply be explained by a bad season. In Bill's mind the Red Sox can't just have a bad season, there has to be an underlying reason or he has to create a reason to explain what happened.

So this plan, the same one everyone loved, was still being used in some ways by the Red Sox. It just didn't work for the 2012 season. The idea other teams caught up to the Red Sox and affected this plan is simply bullshit. The Red Sox still could have executed the plan by using their financial advantage and hoping the personnel moves they made worked out.

The Red Sox splurged heavily on their minor league system, using their money to sway tough-to-sign picks and highly regarded foreign players.

Which is exactly what Theo Epstein's plan called for them to do. Bill seems to be criticizing this move, which I think he should not do.

They overpaid for J.D. Drew, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Lackey, Beckett and Crawford. They tried to overpay Mark Teixeira. They paid veterans market value to stick around. They paid, they paid and they paid.

And Bill liked it, liked it, liked it when the Red Sox did this. Wasn't part of the plan that Bill liked where the Red Sox would go out and acquire foreign talent or trade prospects for elite players? That's how the Red Sox acquired Daisuke and Josh Beckett. I'm sure it made him a little nervous to sign these players but Bill didn't want to see Crawford/Matsuzaka/Lackey go to the Yankees or another team did he? Not when they filled a need the Red Sox had. Beckett had pitched well for the Red Sox, why would the Red Sox not re-sign him after trading for him? Were the Red Sox really going to let Beckett go after his 2007 and 2009 season? The Red Sox fans would have revolted at the thought of letting Beckett go. Don't let Bill tell you differently and revise history to make himself seem smarter.

Maybe he knew going from a now-spoiled, relentlessly passionate fan base that expected 100 wins and a World Series appearance every season and cared a little too much to an emotionally scarred fan base with comically low expectations was a safer move.

Bill is talking about Theo Epstein here. Red Sox fans are too passionate and care a little bit too much. Bill even manages to make the negatives seem like positives, like he is at a job interview, reinforcing the super-specialness of the Red Sox in his own mind.

"A negative about me? Sometimes I am a little too-detail oriented."

I'd be about 100 times more skeptical if they hadn't just pulled off that hijacking of a Dodgers trade — somehow convincing them to assume Crawford and Beckett as a Gonzalez trade tax while forking over two highly regarded pitching prospects. This seemed utterly and totally improbable as recently as early Friday afternoon,

Throughout this whole column, Bill sometimes glosses over the fact the Red Sox were able to get rid of expensive, long-term contracts while getting two of the Dodgers top prospects in return for these players. They managed to dip themselves in shit and then come out completely clean by trading $250+ million in contracts when every single contract traded away was in the first or second year of that contract. Bill sometimes glosses over this because he calls the Los Angeles Lakers during his NBA columns, but wants his readers to ignore how incredibly fucking lucky it was for the Red Sox to pull this off. It's not an equal comparison, but this trade was twice as lucky as the Grizzlies handing Gasol to the Lakers on a silver platter or waiting it out until they got Howard. This Red Sox-Dodgers trade got rid of payroll and gave the Red Sox a chance to rebuild with elite prospects. You know Bill is self-conscious about the Red Sox being considered lucky to be bailed out by the Dodgers and is afraid it will be brought up by his readers whenever he does his weekly whining about how lucky the Lakers are.

It was a great job by Ben Cherington and he managed to unload salary and get top prospects back in one trade. There is nothing to complain about if you are a Red Sox fan. How did he even do that? Who cares if the Red Sox got lucky? Well, Bill does because he would have a heart attack if the Yankees managed to pull a trade off like this and we all know his previous comments about how lucky the Lakers are.

I never imagined Crawford's contract (five years remaining, $102.5 million) was tradable because of reasons like, "He clearly lost the ability to play baseball at a high level," "His body is breaking down in multiple places," "In a best-case scenario, you probably have to platoon him" and, "Oh, he just had Tommy John surgery THIS WEEK." Somehow, none of this deterred the Dodgers, who were so desperate to acquire Gonzalez (who started out slowly before returning to Rake Mode these past few weeks) that they probably looked at the big picture and thought …

Notice again, how Bill slips in there that Crawford returned to Rake Mode over the last few weeks, as if Crawford didn't just have Tommy John surgery and isn't due four more years at $80+ million on his contract. Bill is terrified readers will email him and mock him for every time he wrote about how the Lakers have gotten lucky in acquiring the players they have acquired. At least that's my theory.

You can't say enough about this trade from Boston's perspective: In the span of 24 hours, we went from "How the hell are we ever going to be good again?" to "Wait, there's a chance we're going to be good again!"

Good for you. Everyone loves it when a large-market team spends a ton of money on free agents who underperform and then that team gets their ass bailed out by another large-market team who can't seem to take on enough payroll. Gosh, we are so happy for Bill and would feel even better for him if he had not spent the previous 75% of this column needlessly beating the corpse of the 2012 Red Sox team.

Here's the irony: More often than not, big-market teams make the fatal mistake of thinking, We have to do something to get our fans excited!

I would agree with this, even though it isn't ironic. More often than not, fans of big-market teams get upset when their team doesn't spend enough money on free agents. A guy like Mark Teixeira hits the free agent market and fans of large-market teams want their team to go after this guy. Sure, the front office doesn't have to do this, but as Bill said earlier in the column,

After all, you are in a relationship with your favorite teams, right? We purchase tickets and merchandise; they purchase the players. We agree to remain loyal; they agree not to defecate on that loyalty.

Teams that can afford not to defecate on that loyalty go make a move to get fans excited for the season and hopefully improve the team. Imagine if the Red Sox don't go after a guy like John Lackey and then sign a pitcher like Kevin Correia to fill that rotation spot. How would the Red Sox fans feel? What if Carl Crawford is available in free agency and the Yankees make no move to sign him and end up platooning Andruw Jones and Eric Hinske out in left field all season? Fans would wonder why the hell the Yankees, who can afford to sign Crawford, just don't do it. So I do blame the organization, but fans also have expectations, regardless of whether they are fair or unfair expectations.

But you know what's more amazing? That these teams haven't realized how smart WE are. In 2012, fans are embarrassingly sophisticated about their favorite teams...For any big-market team to think, We have to do something to get our fans excited! in 2012 is legitimately, categorically insane.

Again, I would agree with this. Once Bill moves his point of view away from beating the corpse of the Red Sox and reminding us how lucky they were to get out from under these large contracts and get prospects in return, he is making a few good points.

You know what gets us excited? Shrewd, logical moves. Patience over recklessness.

I disagree in some ways. What gets fans excited is when a team makes a big move and adds a big, important piece to their team. Drafting well and signing a mid-market free agent who is a good platoon candidate is a shrewd, logical move, but these moves don't always excite fans. Smart fans get excited, that's true, but splashy moves can get an entire fan base excited.

When the Lakers finally landed Dwight Howard a few weeks ago, what made it special wasn't the move itself — a big-market team swallowing up yet another superstar — but the unflappable patience they exhibited for months and months leading up to that specific moment. I hate the Lakers with every fiber of my being. And you know what? I respect the hell out of them, too. They're a really smart franchise that always puts thought into their moves.

In six months Bill will be talking yet again how lucky the Lakers got in landing Howard. He may even throw a "6 for 24" joke in there as well just to thrash that unfunny joke to death one more time.

I thought the Red Sox were like that once upon a time. We won twice in four years. Somewhere along the line, we lost our way. I don't know if we found it. Time will tell. I just know that I'm interested again.

Now that Bill can whine about how bad things in Red Sox Land are, Bill is interested in following baseball again. Bill thrives on misery. I feel terrible for Red Sox fans this man represents your team in the minds of many people.

Last thought: It's strange to think how many Red Sox fans bought Gonzalez jerseys these past two years (and now they're stuck with them), or how many Red Sox fans out there did name their son "Beckett." That's another thing this trade banged home: As Jerry Seinfeld once warned us, we're rooting for laundry.

(looks away introspectively)

Don't get me wrong — I want to live in a world in which we could name our children after our favorite athletes without worrying about the consequences. I just don't think it exists.

Deep. Athletes and teams aren't loyal and fans are irresponsible for expecting players and teams to be loyal. These are new facts we've never been presented with before.

I guess the fact Bill is interested in the Red Sox again means we will get more than one column per summer in the future, followed by an eventual Red Sox World Series victory, followed by a book about the World Series victory written by Bill, followed by the Red Sox signing Bryce Harper and Justin Verlander, followed by a few years of the Red Sox going down "the wrong path" when Bill doesn't write about the Red Sox as much, followed by Bill writing a column saying he knew three years ago the Red Sox never should have signed Bryce Harper and Verlander, and finally he will be interested again in the Red Sox again when he can soak in their misery. Lather, rinse, repeat.


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure that Bill knows what term "market inefficency" means... Being able to outspend isn't an inefficency.

Zidane Valor said...

I just know that I'm interested again.

I'm stunned a supposed die-hard fan like Simmons didn't proofread this sentence and immediately realize that he just flat-out admitted he's a front runner.

rich said...

we're using much of our financial advantage to outspend competitors on draft picks, scouting and foreign-born prospects

Like anon said... how is outspending teams on draft picks and foreign players a market inefficiency? They really played the market inefficiencies when they got Matsuzaka...

So what changed?

Or the team got old. Guys like Wakefield and Schilling retired, while Youk and Ortiz started their decline.

They had an outfield consisting of Coco Crisp, Manny, JD Drew, Willy Mo Pena and Elssbury. Ramirez started declining as well (then became a even more of a headcase).

It's the same thing with most successful teams, you get good, you hang onto the guys who won and they get old. When you have a team that hasn't won in a while, there's a greater sense of urgency to keep the winning team together because they're heros.

That's the one great thing the Yankees have going for them - they win so often that with the exception of a very few players, they can release and trade whomever they want and the fans won't care. The Phillies have handed out two fucking retarded contracts (Rollins and Howard) to keep those guys in Philly because like it or not, they're city heros.

The fact that Boston fans went from "Oh god, we suck, everyone feel bad for us" to "oh god, we won" to "shit we suck again, well fuck them."

You didn't win shit for 90 years, one bad season isn't a big deal.

leaving Theo without any real market inefficiencies to exploit other than defense

And three of the players on Bill's list of overpaid players helped the Red Sox win a fucking world series, a fourth helped the Yankees win one.

Overpaying for elite talent hasn't exactly proven to be a bad thing for them.

"How the hell are we ever going to be good again?"

Holy shit... seriously? The Red Sox just won 90 games LAST YEAR. They've sucked for literally 1 month of 2011 and the 2012 season and he's asking "how will we ever be good again?" Is there a more clueless individual on the planet.

It's like fucking a supermodel one night, getting turned down by a bar bimbo the next and asking your buddies how you'll ever get laid again.

What gets fans excited is when a team makes a big move and adds a big, important piece to their team.

I couldn't agree more with this. Ask a typical Yankee fan who they have in their minor league system and most will look at you funny, but you talk to them about who the upcoming FA are you'll have to listen to the insanity.

Put it another way, if a team has an opening in the starting rotation at the 5th spot, no one gives two shits that a guy like Joe Blanton is available and sure as shit aren't getting ramped up about the season.

Shrewd logical moves are necessary, but no one, including Bill, is getting excited when their team is adding depth to the roster.

I want to live in a world in which we could name our children after our favorite athletes without worrying about the consequences.

What the fuck? I'm not naming my kid after a fucking athlete. Sorry, that's borderline retarded. Unless the athlete changed the game or the world (Roberto Clemente comes to mind) naming your kid after an athlete is borderline child abuse.

What if your kid doesn't grow up to be a fan of the same team you are? What if the guy turns out to be a major asshole or a criminal?

That and naming your kid after a guy who your team traded for is pretty stupid. If you're going to name your kid after an athlete, at least pick on that only played with your team. Name him "Tom" or "Tom Brady Simmons."

Or name your kid after your favorite athlete and just don't tell your damn kid until the guy retires with your team. If he gets traded or turns out to be a dick, you can just tell your kid "that's the name your mom and I agreed on."

It's not that big a god damn deal Bill.

Bengoodfella said...

Anon, I don't think he knows either. Being able to outspend is not a market inefficiency.

Zidane, he isn't a front runner though! The Red Sox haven't earned his fandom and respect, so that's why he wasn't interested. It has to do with the Red Sox not being good enough to deserve Bill. Once they start winning again, they will be good enough for him. He doesn't believe this makes him a front runner...which it does.

Rich, that's what I find so funny. The Red Sox collapsed last year, but overall have had one bad season over the last decade. Grow some balls and deal with the outrageous idea your team can't be successful every year.

That's a good way to put it. The Red Sox just done sleeping with a supermodel and now they are concerned b/c a D-list actress turned them down. Shit happens and sometimes things go wrong and a team has a bad year. There's no need to write an entire column whining and complaining about "when will we ever be good again!?"

I think it is hilarious that Bill thinks shrewd moves are appreciated by fan bases. This is not something Bill was ever saying over the past few seasons. I really don't recall him complaining about the Red Sox trying to sign Tex, signing Crawford, trading for A-Gon, or signing Lackey. I do recall him complaining about the Red Sox relying on Mike Cameron and guys like Salty at catcher. Salty was a shrewd signing, but at the time of the signing I don't recall Bill stating what a brilliant move it was.

Basically, Bill loves it when his team signs big name free agents, but because it didn't work he thinks (now, he thinks this of course) it is a bad idea. Prior to this, Bill was perfectly fine with the Red Sox trying to keep up with the Yankees.

If I named my kid after an athlete, it would only be because I liked that name. It would not be because I want to name him after my favorite athlete. It's fine to name your child after an athlete, but in the free agency era, be a man and be prepared for that player to not live up to you naming your child after him.