Red Sox Trade Deadline 2012: Blow It Up!

July 31st has been an important day several times in the history of the John Henry era Red Sox. Nomar Garciaparra was traded in 2004, leading of course to the magical World Series run. The following year, Jonathan Papelbon made his debut while Manny Ramirez failed to start, although he pinch hit after the deadline had come and gone, signaling that he had reached the first of many accords with the Red Sox. Manny would find himself the focus of the trading deadline in 2008 when he journeyed to the West Coast and Jason Bay took over left field duties. Victor Martinez would be the 2009 acquisition, signaling the beginning of the end for Jason Varitek, whose role would continue to diminish over the following two seasons.

The takeaway: the Red Sox have been buyers and sellers – at the same time – when the trade deadline rolls around, looking to make a deal that give each side something of value, not simply dumping salary or taking on a bad contract from another club. With the four o’clock deadline rushing towards us, Ben Charington’s club is at the bottom of the AL East, the back of the pack for the Wild Card spots. Fans are disappointed that the club has missed the playoffs the past two years, but they understand that 2012 is most likely a lost year. The Sox GM can take this time to make the Red Sox his team, not Theo Epstein’s, rebuild, and plan for 2013 without substantially hurting what are already long odds of a postseason berth two months from now.

The Keepers

Despite rumors about Carl Crawford and the Marlins last week, the troubled left fielder isn’t going anywhere. Ditto Adrian Gonzalez. [Man, the Dodgers blew that logic out of the water} Moving either player would require the Red Sox eating a lot of cash or taking on another big contract. Despite the frustrations each player has had during the past season and a half, both are likely better bets to perform well over their remaining tenure than most of the bad contracts out there. David Ortiz won’t be going anywhere either, although if he were not on the DL, he would be an interesting piece to move. Dustin Pedroia is probably as safe as any player.

The Parts

Should the Red Sox explore buying and selling in the remaining hours, Cody Ross and Mike Aviles are obvious names to move. Ross is having a great year while hitting .260/.331/.523 with 16 home runs, but as a free agent at the end of the year, and a crowded Red Sox outfield, his future with the team is limited. Ross might be able to bring back another piece, maybe a back end starter who is also approaching free agency and could shore up the rotation, or simply a prospect along the lines of Clayton Mortenson, who has lost some luster but might be able to right the ship.

Aviles has struggled since a fast start to the season; he’s hit just .241/.259/.354 since May 1st. While the shortstop has 11 home runs on the season, eight of those came in April and May. With Pedro Ciriaco, Nick Punto (also tradable), and Jose Iglesias, the Sox could probably get by with a more defense-oriented player since Aviles hasn’t been hitting well for a few months. Again, the return wouldn’t be great, but another team might have a need and could take a flyer on the former Royal. After all, in his transition to the Red Sox, Aviles thrived, maybe a change of scenery once in awhile is all he needs to get things working again.

The bullpen is full of extra pieces that could be desirable to other teams: Andrew Miller, Matt Albers, and Vicente Padilla could be replaced by the Sox with Mortenson, Andrew Bailey, and Daisuke Matsuzaka (or Aaron Cook).

Kelly Shoppach is another extra piece. The catcher is having a fine season in limited at bats, .261/.346/.504, but could be an upgrade for another team. If the front office considers Ryan Lavarneway capable of stepping in to handle backup catching duties, trading Shoppach could be a nice favor to the player (who doesn’t want to end up on a contender?), let the Sox get a long look at a guy on the farm, and not risk a large drop off is production.

These are minor moves that could let the Red Sox turn over a good portion of the roster, cut some payroll by promoting minor leaguers, and generally shake up the team. With the ground they need to make up, Matt Albers is not the answer. The problem has been and remains the starting rotation.

The Crazy Possibilities

Josh Beckett. Jon Lester. Jacoby Ellsbury. All three have become the subject of trade rumors, especially Beckett. While Gordon Edes is reporting that Beckett is not on the move, until 4 PM nothing is certain.

Reports have linked Beckett to the Rangers, Dodgers, and Braves, but so far nothing has come together. While there were rumors of a deal with the Rangers this afternoon, the idea died off quickly. Given the nearly $40 million remaining on Beckett’s contract, the Sox would likely have to eat a significant amount of salary to move their Texan this summer. Should Beckett finish strong, maybe a deal could be worked out in the winter. Because Beckett has 10/5 rights, he can’t be traded without his permission, although if he wants out as much as the fans would like to see him gone, getting that permission may not be an issue. Like the Manny Ramirez situation, the Red Sox may not have a trading partner for Beckett until the waning minutes of the three o’clock hour.

Lester faces a different problem than Beckett: he has been really bad this year. While his start against the Yankees on Saturday was encouraging, the guy who was so good from 2008 to 2011 hasn’t been taking the mound this year. The lefty is owed $11,625,000 in 2013 but his contract includes a $13 million team option for 2014. Should the Red Sox trade Lester, the receiving team would only be on the hook for $13 million plus the remainder of what he is owed this season, minus whatever cash Boston sends along. If Lester remounds, that 2014 option looks like a pretty good deal.

Unsurprisingly, Edes also reported that the Sox have no plans to trade Jacoby Ellsbury, although there have been calls from other teams about his availability. Ellsbury is probably the most valuable major leaguer the Red Sox have to trade. The center fielder is coming off an MVP-caliber season, has looked healthy since since return, and is under team control for 2013 before hitting free agency. Unlike Beckett and Lester there is no large contract hanging like an albatross around his trade value.

While he is the least likely of the potential trade candidates, Ellsbury would also fetch the most in return. In a dream scenario, the Sox could extract a package similar to what the Braves paid for Mark Teixeira: a couple of top prospects. Like Teixeira, the receiving team would have a full year of control beyond this season rather than a rental. With B.J. Upton and Michael Bourn – both center fielders – hitting free agency this fall, Ellsbury could be a very attractive trade chip this winter as well.

(cross-posted from Sports of Boston)

Did the Red Sox Miss Out on Roy Oswalt?

The past offseason didn’t just have an elephant in the room – it had an elephant the entire room was on top of stampeding down the streets of Boston like a pachyderm “rolling rally.” If this elephant had a first name, like the song goes, it would be P-I-T-C-H, and it’s second name would be I-N-G. Beckett, Lester, Buchholz, Bard, Lackey, you name it, pitching was a problem for Ben Cherington to solve during his early days as Red Sox General Manager. But how? Well, one potential solution was to sign Roy Oswalt.

Theo Epstein had a philosophy when it came to pitchers: the shorter the better. No one-year deal, unless outrageously expensive, could really come back to hurt a big market team like the Red Sox. It’s a sound strategy that any team could get behind. While John Smoltz and Brad Penny didn’t work out, the highest profile pitchers the Sox practiced this strategy with, teams often pick up a guy from the scrapheap and hope for the best. Just look at the Kevin Millwood and Bartolo Colon renaissances of the past few years. Yes, Millwood was let go by the Sox, but he wasn’t showing the same stuff in the minors that he would in the majors. No one could have seen this type of run coming from the veteran.

Back to Oswalt: rumors during the winter and spring were that he wanted to pitch close to home in Mississippi. When he eventually signed with the Texas Rangers, it made a lot of sense. Now, Oswalt has come out to defend his choice, and has said in no uncertain terms “I never got anything” from the Red Sox. Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal discussed the recruitment process with the hurler and Oswalt said that while a number of teams expressed interest, the Dodgers, Phillies, and Red Sox never actually pulled the trigger to make formal, final offers to sign him.

Oswalt isn’t the young gun he was when the Astros were in the World Series – the righty has chronic back issues – and the Red Sox had Daisuke Matsuzaka and Aaron Cook waiting in the wings to help out a beleaguered rotation. Not making an offer, with the team already spending a considerable amount of money on pitchers (John Lackey) who wouldn’t even play this season, might not have been the best use of money. The bullpen at the time was a complete unknown, the outfield was in shambles, and Kevin Youkilis was a shadow of himself after missing the end of the 2011 season.

So what did the Red Sox miss out on? To start with, Oswalt has taken his lumps with the Rangers: in 29.1 innings he has a 5.22 ERA. However, things aren’t as bad as they look, at least results wise. Additionally, sandwiched by strong outings, Oswalt had back-to-back disastrous outings. On June 27th he gave up five runs in six innings to the potent Tigers lineup. Next time out: eleven runs (nine earned) in just four and two-thirds innings against the White Sox. His other three starts: 18.2 innings and just three runs allowed.

Oswalt still remembers how to strike people out too: 25 Ks in his 29.1 innings this year compared to just 6 walks.

At the end of the day, the Red Sox probably just didn’t think Oswalt could stay healthy. Sure enough, Oswalt was supposed to face the Sox during their series this week but was scratched because his back, as it has in recent years, acted up. Oswalt is on track to start Monday, but just a day ago that start was to be Sunday. And a few days before that, he was certain to start on Saturday. Given the Red Sox substantial disabled list obligations at the time Oswalt signed, the front office probably couldn’t justify adding a player who, no matter what the upside, wasn’t likely to remain healthy for even half a season.

(cross-posted at Sports of Boston)

Thoughts from Google I/O or a Three Day Tour

Last month I set out on a trip to California to visit with family, investigate working on the Left Coast, and attend Google I/O. I/O (Input/Output) is Google’s annual developer conference and their stage to announce products, strategy, and outlook for the year to come. I/O has been home to the unveiling of several big efforts by Google over the years: Google Wave, Google Music, Google TV, and less known but nonetheless interesting developments like Android @ Home,a home automation project using Android OS and Arduino processors. 

This year was no different. From a product standpoint the Google Nexus 7 tablet, Nexus Q, Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, and the continued evolution and integration of Google+ into their overall family of services, the conference gave developers and consumers a good look at what Google will emphasize over the next twelve months. 

Plus skydiving with Google Glass.

Aside from the whimsy and excitement, there were a lot of telling moves and advancements coming out of the conference. Android will continue to play an ever larger role in the way people interact with Google. One of the potentially most transformational announcements though, while not directly Android related, is the continuing Google+ strategy coming into focus.

Timeline

For the last year or so, Facebook’s biggest feature rollout has been the move from the traditional profile to the Timeline, both for personal and brand accounts. Like many of Facebook’s advancements, Timeline caused a panic. For some, Timeline is a whimsical look through the past, chronicling a user’s Facebook history along, what else, a time line. Facebook users and visiters to their pofile alike can scroll through a running chronology of status updates, photos, and more. But what really makes Timeline compelling, for those who don’t mind the stalker aspect, is the ability of a user to fill their in their profile for events that didn’t happen on Facebook or happened before Facebook existed. My Timeline begins in the fall of 2004, but if I chose to do so, could be expanded back to the day I was born.

On this last part, as people/investors worry about Facebook’s ability to generate profits, making the Timeline a pathway to baby books or photo albums, physical or electronic – it doesn’t matter – just in a format that can survive should Facebook shutdown or decide to end Timeline for “the next big thing.” Facebook is in the position to make a really compelling real-life version of the dream advertised in Google’s Dear Sophie video.

One of the announcements about the future of Google+ was, in my opinion, the foundation for Timeline done right: history. History is a private collection of “moments” which can be written to your account by third party apps through an API. Google+ users are already familiar with this feature in its initial form, Instant Upload. Instant Upload sends pictures taken on your smartphone to a private photo gallery connected to your Google+ account, automatically. 

Moments restores sharing power to the user and does away with the concept of frictionless sharing. What’s nice is that someone can use the latest social apps all the time, but only share certain pieces of information. This can be for privacy or simplicity. I am a big fan of Instant Upload because I don’t have to go through all my photos and select which ones to upload, which to keep on the phone, which to post etc. Like a Dropbox folder, my photo gallery is the same on my phone and in the cloud. I can share from either device, but I don’t need to make anything public. 

Someone could create a personal implementation of Path using the Google+ history API and an artful presentation of moments. Even if Google were to shut down Google+, the data is in your Google account, it isn’t something that will cease to exist. If Path gets acquired, the creators get bored, or whatever scenario you can imagine occurs, will user be able to export their journeys? Unlikely. at least, not in a human usable format. This isn’t a shot at Path, but the social network built around chronicling your day is a good comparison to the sort of experience that Google+ moments could allow.

Glass

Project Glass aka Google Glass, the smart headware being developed by Google made as big a non-release debut as possible during I/O. 

There were Google employees with (inactive) units on their heads and the previously mentioned skydiving stunt. 

A large section of wall, and several display counters were devoted to taking developer pre-orders (and a few basic, questions), a commitment to pay $1500 dollars at some time in 2013 for a developer version of the futuristic eyewear. While the sight of Glass upon the heads of Googlers, and the skydiving, and a few heart-tugging videos of babies smiling at their mother, rather than a camera, make Glass appear on the horizon, this is a device that can’t quite be called a product yet. It rises above the level of vaporware solely because Google has the muscle and vision to make the dream a reality.

While Googlers could reveal bits and pieces of their experience, for instance, Glass can be worn with a baseball hat, little is known about the interface, operation, hardware, software…etc. Episode 153 of TWiG (This Week in Google) boils down what Google is willing to share about Glass into an episode title “Did I Mention it Takes Pictures?” 

The technology displayed in the initial concept video is still a ways off, but this is the technology to watch over the next few years. For the curious, the song is “lover’s carvings” by Biblio. Ironically, it is not available in the Play Store. But licensing and copyright issues are a matter for another time.

Google Now is the first step in a radical shift for the search engine: giving people what they want before they know they want it based on their search and travel history, and probably lies at the core of Glass. Google Now is a Siri competitor as well as a look into the future of search, powered by intelligence and location awareness. 

Nexus 7

This is the most practical, most ambitious, and potentially most profitable consumer product Google has launched in a while (disclaimer: as a Google I/O attendee, I received a Nexus 7). 

The Nexus 7 is a seven inch tablet running the latest version of the Android OS, 4.1 Jelly Bean. It’s loaded with processing power, unlike many previous Android devices, is light in the hand, easy to read, and fully integrated into the Google Play Store. Essentially, the device is a Google-centric version of the Kindle Fire. Ideally, all the content downloaded to the Nexus 7 – apps, movies and TV, books and magazines, and music will be purchased from the Play Store, with Google getting a cut of each sale. 

Over the next year Google will try to change our perception of the company. Not just a search engine, but a smart guide. The Play Store, Google Now, and Nexus devices form a continuum of information, media, and suggested knowledge. In another year, the next Nexus device may be a Google version of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy capable of directing, informing, and entertaining.

The Marlins Become a Supervillain

This past winter the Marlins were the talk of the town. Rather than cutting salary and penny-pinching, the Fish were binging on “new stadium revenue” while signing Mark Buehrle, Heath Bell, and Jose Reyes.

One disappointing half-season later, the team is selling once again. It started yesterday when the team shipped Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante to the Detroit tigers for pitching prospect Justin Turner. 

Turner, forced into the Tigers rotation, had struggled in three starts this season, giving up 1 1 runs in 12.1 innings. In fourteen minor league starts this season, Turner threw 84.1 innings to a 3.16 ERA while striking out 57 and walking 31. Not dominating numbers, but in their 2012 annual, Baseball Prospectus said he could “become Rick Porcello with more punchouts. That’s even better than it sounds.” And he seems on track to do just that. Plus, facing the pitcher three times a game in the DH-less league never hurts either.

Of course, Sanchez is a pending free agent and with the reworked compensation picks for departing players, if a team doesn’t plan on making a large offer, it might be better served to take a lesser package of prospects than the potential draft pick.

Josh Johnson, Heath Bell, and Hanley Ramirez are not free agents at the end of this season, yet all three are rumored to be on the block. Ken Rosenthal reports that all three, plus Randy Choate and recent acquisition Carlos Lee are being made available. Rosenthal reports that the team would “absolutely try and try hard” to trade Bell months after signing him is concerning on several levels.

Bob Nightengale says that the Hanley Ramirez sweepstakes incudes the Athletics, Blue Jays, and Red Sox. 

Ramirez, of course, began his career as a Red Sox and was traded, along with Anibal Sanchez, for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell. Unfortunately for Ramirez, since his career year in 2008, where he won the NL batting title, his power and speed have declined to levels not approaching his superstar talent. Still just 28, he’s the prefect “change of scenery” guy to acquire.

Oh yeah, the supervillain part, courtesty of Out of My Vulcan Mind: trade everything!

At Which Time Watching Cartoons Paid Off

As I’ve said before, I’m a big fan of the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) and the corresponding twitter account OEDonline, which I recommend everyone follow for their tremendous word of the day feature.

Today turned out to be better than most, as it justified all the hours I put into Scooby Doo cartoons as a kid.

Of course, as any good Scooby Doo fan knows, Velma (the brains of the bunch) often exclaims “jinkies” when surprised. I had to investigate.

Once again: watching cartoons will eventually pay off. Take this as a vaulable lesson, kids.