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Red Sox Hot Stove Report 
Money Ball, December 7, 2010

Is it the end of practical Money Ball in Boston?

The Red Sox have signed two top-shelf players in Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez to seven year deals. Both players are in the prime of their careers, and yet, the Red Sox may be turning away from the money ball approach they have adhered to since Theo Epstein became the GM before the 2003 season.

The Red Sox look to have a payroll of almost $180 million dollars next year as it stands, and I don't think they are finished scraping the bottom of the free-agent barrel for relief pitching. Three of their starting pitchers are in long term contracts over $50 million dollars, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Josh Beckett, and John Lackey. The Red Sox under Epstein were famous for not giving long term contracts to pitchers, especially those over age 30, famously letting two World Series heroes, Derek Lowe and Pedro Martinez walk after the 2004 season. Both of those turned out to be shrewd moves, as Derek Lowe never pitched as well as he had in the three series-clinching games in the playoffs that year, and Pedro's durability and velocity continued to deteriorate.

John Lackey is 33 years old, and although he still pitches well, he'll never again throw at the velocity or be as steadfast as he was for the Angels in the 2002 World Series at age 24. Josh Beckett may never regain his 2007 form, yet Theo Epstein inked him to a five-year deal. By losing out on Victor Martinez, probably the second-best hitting catcher behind Joe Mauer, with the Detroit Tigers giving Martinez $8 million more, the Sox may be pinching pennies in the wrong areas.

The bullpen is another area where the Sox let a reliable ace in Billy Wagner leave town in the 2009 off season, over the fact that he wanted to be a closer and make a closer-sized salary, and the bullpen suffered in 2010 because of it. Was it not possible the Sox could have made Wagner an offer he could not refuse, and keep him in middle relief?

With the signing of Crawford and Gonzalez, Red Sox Nation is looking forward to another run at a World Championship, but this is certainly not the approach that a money ball middle-market team like the Oakland A's and GM Billy Beane would be taking. But then again, a true purely money-ball low-risk short term contract team has never won a World Series.

Editor's Note: Money ball is the philosophy espoused by Billy Beane, GM of the Oakland Athletics. Some of the money ball rules are: (1) a middle market club which is unable to keep up with the spending of large market teams, should never give big contracts to players who have already given their best performances in their primes, which is how most teams reward players, (2) for pitching, the most desirable pitchers in the minor leagues are those that strike out many batters and don't walk a lot, and (3) most importantly, for hitters, seek out players with high on-base and slugging percentages. Those averages are the most revealing "traditional" baseball statistics, as opposed to "counting" statistics like homeruns, batting average, and RBIs, which is how most hitters are evaluated by fans and GMs alike. This method of evaluation was adapted by Theo Epstein, who originally worked under Sandy Alderson, another money ball disciple, for the San Diego Padres. More recently, the Sox appear to have put less credence on the money ball principle in judging talent, and more on the strategy of signing aging stars, especially pitchers, to long term contracts.

— Roman Llimar

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