Friday, November 21, 2008

Add trade for Crisp to Epstein's bust list

Theo Epstein has accumulated quite a bit of bulletproof armor over his first few years as Red Sox general manager -- and rightfully so, in many respects. The fan base trusts Epstein almost without question; when you win two World Series titles for a team that had gone 86 years without one, after all, you deserve quite a bit of slack.

But that's not to say that Epstein hasn't made his share of questionable moves. Most of his free-agent moves have worked, but quite a few of his trades have not. In the process, he's given away a few valuable chips for very little return -- not exactly what you want to see, even out of a big-market general manager who can overspend to cover his mistakes.

With Wednesday's trade drawing to a close the Coco Crisp era in Boston, it's worth looking back at some of those major trades and how they've impacted the Red Sox short-term and long-term.

July 31, 2008: Traded OF Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers and P Craig Hansen and OF Brandon Moss to the Pirates in exchange for OF Jason Bay.
Shedding Ramirez was a necessity for the sake of clubhouse harmony, and the well-documented "Manny Being Manny" moments might have tied Epstein's hands a little bit. But with the Red Sox picking up much of Manny's salary, he and Bay were, at best, a wash, and it's hard to understand why the Red Sox (and not the Dodgers) needed to ship a couple of young players to Pittsburgh to complete the deal.

July 31, 2007: Traded P Kason Gabbard, OF David Murphy and OF Engel Beltre to the Rangers for P Eric Gagne.
This one was an out-and-out disaster -- Gabbard and Murphy weren't necessarily spectacular prospects and Beltre played all of this season at Class A, but Gagne had a 6.75 ERA in 18 2/3 innings during the regular season and allowed three earned runs in 4 1/3 innings in the postseason.

For what it's worth, Murphy hit .275 with 15 home runs while playing all three outfield positions for the Rangers last season; he's a left-handed hitter, but other than that, he'd be nice to have around as a fourth outfielder at this point. Gabbard was 2-3 with a 4.82 ERA this season -- it's clear the Red Sox were selling high on the left-hander after seven solid starts in Boston, and you can't take issue with that.

August 31, 2006: Traded P David Wells to the Padres for C George Kottaras.
Kottaras remains a viable candidate to take over for Jason Varitek at some point in the future should the Red Sox not trade for someone like Taylor Teagarden or Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Wells had just turned 39 and was unnecessary on a team that wasn't going to the playoffs. A reasonable trade, even though Kottaras hasn't really panned out.

May 1, 2006: Traded C Josh Bard, P Cla Meredith and cash to the Padres for C Doug Mirabelli.
Mirabelli showed up at Fenway Park with a police escort and unprecedented fanfare for a backup catcher who routinely hits worse than .240. Yes, he can catch Tim Wakefield. So too, as we discovered, can Kevin Cash. And while Meredith hasn't maintained the 1.07 ERA he put up the rest of that season, he still would have been a valuable right-handed arm in the bullpen for the Red Sox this year.

March 20, 2006: Traded P Bronson Arroyo to the Reds for OF Wily Mo Pena.
Arroyo was a nice find as a waiver pickup in 2003; he went 10-9 with a 4.03 ERA in 2004 and 14-10 with a 4.51 ERA in 2005. But with an apparent surplus of pitching on the Red Sox roster, Arroyo was shipped to Cincinnati for the perpetually underwhelming Pena. Arroyo made the All-Star team and (somewhat strangely) received an MVP vote; he then won 15 games with a 4.77 ERA for the Reds a year ago.

Pena, meanwhile, never made contact consistently enough to earn regular playing time, and he eventually was shipped to Washington for fringe major league first baseman Chris Carter. And that surplus in pitching disappeared in a hurry -- Matt Clement never panned out, and Kyle Snyder and Jason Johnson had to make a combined 22 starts for a team that finished in third place. Arroyo isn't exactly a budding staff ace, but the Red Sox still pretty much gave him away.

January 27, 2006: Traded P Guillermo Mota, 3B Andy Marte and C Kelly Shoppach to the Indians for OF Coco Crisp, P David Riske and C Josh Bard.
When evaluating this trade, you have to keep a couple of things in mind:
* Marte was the return (from Atlanta) for the disappointing Edgar Renteria, and while he's been an underwhelming player in Cleveland (.221 batting average this season), he was a big-time prospect during that particular offseason.
* Crisp was coming off a season in which he'd hit .300 with 16 home runs and hit 42 doubles, making him look like a perfect fit for the departed Johnny Damon.
* Shoppach, meanwhile, was about to turn 26 and had spent two full seasons at Triple-A Pawtucket while waiting for his chance in Boston. With Wakefield needing Mirabelli like the rest of us need oxygen, Shoppach was stuck -- he'd had just 15 career at-bats with the Red Sox.
* On the other hand, catchers often take time to develop; Varitek himself didn't play full-time for the Red Sox until 1999, when he was 27 years old. And Mirabelli had been traded for second baseman Mark Loretta in December, so it wasn't as if he was still blocking the way.

With the book closed on the trade, chalk this one in the loss column for Epstein. Riske was gone by June, dealt to the White Sox for relief pitcher Javier Lopez. Bard never figured out how to catch Wakefield and ended up part of the police-escort trade for Mirabelli.

And Crisp, though he played sensational defense and proved to be a class act, never panned out. Epstein even said this week that Fenway Park wasn't a perfect fit for Crisp's swing; long fly balls died on the Fenway Park warning track that would have gone out in other parks. You'd think that would have been something the Red Sox should have known ahead of time. (On top of all that, the Red Sox drafted Jacoby Ellsbury the previous June, and no one expected him to spend very much time in the minor leagues.)

Meanwhile, Kelly Shoppach is exactly the type of player the Red Sox need right now. (He hit .261 with 21 home runs for the Indians this season.) At the time of the trade, Jason Varitek had just had a productive season at the age of 33, but no one expected him to hit 20 home runs every year until he was 38 or 39. Catchers age fast. Shoppach, though he was temporarily buried in Triple-A, was just itching to be Varitek's replacement.

Now, though, the Red Sox probably will trade Clay Buchholz or Michael Bowden to the Texas Rangers for a young catcher. Shoppach could have been that young catcher, and he already was in the system. And if you consider either Buchholz or Bowden one of the casualties of the Crisp trade, it looks even worse for the Red Sox.

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