Monday, August 27, 2012


Major League Baseball has been turned upside down in New England with the blockbuster trade that made martyrs out of first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, pitcher Josh Beckett and outfielder Carl Crawford.
The part that amuses me the most to hear how the Red Sox fan on the street analyzes the loss of players once touted as Hall of Famers now relegated to the rear of The Nation’s pock-marked history. They’re beloved heroes one day, banished infidels the next.
However you stack it up, the 2012 season joins the 2011 finish as an embarrassing disaster for a fan base that expects and demands victory at all costs, even at their own cost. No matter how many billions management has spent to light up the Boston headlines and incessant talk shows during the Hot Stove portion of the year, the team stuffs its satchels with the booty gained from exorbitant prices for seats and ballgame amenities.
Now comes the pronouncement that even all that money (over $100 million to sign Daisuke Matsuzaka?) can’t buy happiness in the Hub. It couldn’t be Boston if the fans and the 24/7 media didn’t blame somebody.
But here’s where my tone changes.
General manager Ben Cherington has seen that victories have come a lot cheaper for the teams that draft wisely and develop talent well. For example, a gander at the American League West standings reveal that the austere Oakland A’s are in position to challenge the stacked Texas Rangers for first place and have a four-game lead over the fat-cat Angels in the fight for a possible wild-card berth.
And as an A’s fan dating back to the days in Municipal Stadium Kansas City where Charlie O. the Mule grazed and a mechanical bunny would come out of the ground to re-supply the home-plate ump with baseballs, I would like to thank the Red Sox for helping Oakland along with the generous gift of right fielder Josh Reddick.
Reddick is the case-in-point why Cherington and company should succeed in the long run. Instead of trusting their draft-and-development people, the Epstein regime was blinded by greed and paid dearly to land players like Crawford. Meanwhile, Reddick has become the top-notch clubhouse guy that the Red Sox could have used.
The Red Sox have drafted and developed talent admirably over the last decade. The nature of the business, like everything in which human beings engage, is cyclical.
Consider the talent that was pumped into the system through the draft: Kevin Youkilis (the White Sox thank you) and Kelly Shoppach in 2001; Jon Lester and Brandon Moss (the A’s thank you) in 2002; David Murphy (the Rangers thank you) and Jonathan Papelbon (the Phillies thank you) in 2003; Dustin Pedroia in 2004; Jacoby Ellsbury and Clay Buchholz in 2005; Daniel Bard, Justin Masterson (the Indians thank you), Ryan Kalish and Reddick in 2006; Will Middlebrooks in 2007; Ryan Lavarnway in 2008.
That’s a substantial amount of big league-caliber talent as far as a decade’s worth of drafts go.
When it comes to development, I have the utmost respect for those who toil away in virtual anonymity in the minor leagues.
How many Red Sox fans can identify Ralph Treuel? I had the chance to know Treuel when he was a roving pitchers instructor in the Detroit Tigers system in the mid-1980s and minor league pitching coordinators don’t come much better.
Some astute Connecticut fans may recognize the name Ray Fagnant. Fagnant, longtime Red Sox Northeast scout, played for the New Britain Red Sox and is a frequent visitor to New Britain Stadium after the amateur draft in June as he becomes more familiar with Double-A talent.
Pawtucket manager Arnie Beyeler and former Double-A manager Todd Claus were stand-up, no-nonsense guys who continue to do great things for Boston’s future.
Kevin Boles is near and dear to my heart. Boles, the manager of the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs, is the son of former Marlins manager John Boles. When John managed the Glens Falls (N.Y.) White Sox in 1984 (I was assistant general manager), his 9-year-old always had a glove in hand, eager to play ball and learn the game. It’s paid off for him and the Sox.
Kevin has been at the heart of the Sea Dogs’ 2012 turnaround, never wavering from a horribly slow start and nurturing a clubhouse climate conducive to winning.
Aah, chemistry. No fan, no intrusive media reports can fully reveal its exact nature, or what part it plays in building championship atmospheres. It transcends batting averages, slugging percentages and on-base ratios; ERAs, WHIPs and OPS. It’s far more intangible than anything even the most intricate analysis any computer may spit out.
But as Crawford, Gonzalez and Beckett leave their tangled Red Sox legacies behind, Cherington has chosen to “trust his stuff” in the parlance of pitching professionals; to trust the outstanding people he has aligned behind him in the Red Sox hierarchy.
It’s likely the Sox won’t be challenging for a pennant next year. Questions about veterans like David Ortiz still abound. But keep some of the following names in mind: Bryce Brentz, Travis Shaw, Matt Barnes, Jeremy Hazelbaker, Derrik Gibson, Jackie Bradley, Drake Britton. If the Sox are as patient as Cherington seems to be, some of these will be names you’ll see on the backs of blue t-shirts around Red Sox Nation in the years ahead.
SHOW SOME LOVE: If you want to praise somebody for baseball insight, give it up for A’s GM Billy Beane and his shrewd troupe.
Shackled with bargain-basement payroll limitations, Beane has once again displayed his savvy by cobbling together homegrown talent, other organizations’ top minor league pitching through trades deemed questionable when they were made, and a handful of modest free-agent acquisitions that would have only brought scorn in places like Boston.
So as August turns to September, where are the ramshackle A’s when New England sports fans are gearing up for the Patriots? Getting ready to print playoff tickets.
As a seasoned baseball observer, I didn’t think this was possible, but there it is: Oakland 69-57.
Do I see any hands raised for Bob Melvin as manager of the year? It’s 2012. Technology is wonderful. Tune in to an A’s game someday soon and visualize just how much chemistry truly means. It can happen in Boston, too, and Cherington is ready to let it rip.