The Boston Red Sox simply had to cut their ties with controversial slugger Manny Ramirez, who has become a major distraction for his team in recent weeks. While Ramirez has helped Boston to two World Series titles in four years and is among the most productive pure hitters in the game, Theo Epstein did not want to take the risk of having him dog it and take a mental vacation the rest of the way. With all of the negative talk back and forth and with the “Manny-Being-Manny” antics reaching a whole new level, it was clear that Epstein had to get rid of him somehow.
After the Florida Marlins got greedy and killed the initial possibility for it to happen, the Red Sox spent the afternoon trying to find another team to send him to while keeping the Pittsburgh Pirates in the loop. They were not going to get rid of such a key hitter without adding another impact bat, with their eye on Pirates outfielder Jason Bay.
Epstein found his match in the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are looking to win the lowly National League West. With Los Angeles on board, the three teams pulled off a last-second shocker, combining to form the third blockbuster trade in July.
Ramirez was sent to Los Angeles, which dealt prospects Andy LaRoche and Bryan Morris to Pittsburgh.
The Pirates then shipped Bay to Boston, who will cover the remaining money left on Ramirez’s contract and also had to offer up Craig Hansen and Brandon Moss to the Bucs.
Interestingly enough, the deal seems to have worked for all parties involved, to a certain extent.
Pittsburgh, though, appears to be the short-term winner. They have finally put the necessary resources into player development, have a potential future All-Star outfielder, Andrew McCutchen, waiting in the wings in Triple-A, several other exciting young prospects and will add another impact bat if they can sign number two overall pick Pedro Alvarez before the August 15 deadline. Alvarez and his agent, Scott Boras, are reportedly not close to an agreement with the organization, however. They received a much better package than they were offered by the Tampa Bay Rays, who would not meet the Pirates' asking price for an “elite” pitching prospect.
Hansen has not lived up to the hype that surrounded him when he was taken in the first round after a standout career at St. John’s three years ago. While he has excellent stuff, he has major command issues and has yet to turn into an effective reliever at the major league level. He has struggled again in Boston this year, posting a 5.58 ERA and 25-to-23 K/W ratio in 30.2 innings pitched after starting the season in the minors. Still, at 24, Hansen is a nice arm to add and will benefit from playing in a smaller market.
LaRoche is an excellent third base prospect who was blocked by numerous obstacles in Los Angeles. Sure, he has not posted great numbers in his brief time at the highest level, hitting .217/.348/.316 with only three homers in 152 career at-bats. But that is too small of a sample size to justify overlooking LaRoche, who posted a .987 OPS with 18 homers before getting called up in 2007. For some reason, Ned Colletti, who has made some horrendous personnel decisions (Juan Pierre, anyone?) in the recent past, did not see him as a major player in the Dodgers’ future, and short-term, success.
One of the top infield prospects for some time, LaRoche should flourish by moving to another organization where he is fully appreciated. All he really needs is a chance, which he will finally get in Pittsburgh. Plus, he gets reunited with his brother, Adam, who is the Pirates' starting first baseman.
Morris, the Dodgers’ first-round pick back in 2006, is a solid addition and a nice long-term pitching prospect as well. He missed a year of development in ’07, undergoing Tommy John surgery after injuring his elbow during his short-season debut two years ago. The 21-year-old right-hander has been effective in a nice bounce back stint in the Midwest League so far, posting a 3.20 ERA and 72-to-31 K/W ratio in 17 starts for the Great Lakes Loons.
Moss has not received a great look in the majors with Boston's deep outfield, but has some solid tools and the ability to turn into an excellent fourth outfielder. Still only 24 himself, he has put together a nice campaign, batting .282/.346/.528 with eight home runs and 30 RBIs in 163 at-bats at Triple-A Pawtucket. He has also spent some time in the show, where he posted a .799 OPS in 78 at-bats. While he will never hit for a ton of power, he is another solid organizational player who is ready to contribute in the majors.
The Pirates not only received “quantity,” they received some “quality” as well, it seems, with a high-ceiling arm, a potential impact corner infielder and a few solid pieces to the puzzle.
On the Dodgers’ end, they had no need for LaRoche anymore after trading for Casey Blake. As good as he has the chance to become, it was simply not going to happen for him in Dodger blue. The club even put up with Blake DeWitt and his sub-.700 OPS for three months before giving him a shot. With Morris, his value was down because of the surgery.
For Ramirez, who will be motivated to produce now that the options on his contract are out of the equation, this was a price that they were willing to pay. Going for it right now, the controversial slugger will help L.A. in its attempt to unseat the Arizona Diamondbacks in the West, taking away at-bats from Andruw Jones and Pierre. This will improve the Dodgers’ offensive unit by default.
Boston needed to get rid of the Manny show, though. Things had a chance to go from bad to worse. While they had to pay a lot to essentially give him away, Bay will not be as much of downgrade offensively as some fans might think, anyway. In fact, Bay currently has an OPS in the same range as Ramirez and is a much better defender. Ramirez has the track record—after all, how many hitters have a career .999 OPS?— and can crush the ball when he is focused, but the gap between production between the two is only minimal at this point of his career, especially considering the defensive aspect.
Bay, 29, is also under control for next year, at a reasonable price. This will free up Epstein to improve his roster in other ways while receiving, similar, cost-effective production. The Canadian, a former Rookie of the Year, has been one of the most productive performers in the NL for the past five years—excluding his injury-plagued ’07 campaign in which he posted a .745 OPS. He is batting .282/.375/.519—right around his career line—with 22 home runs and 64 RBIs already, and will improve by moving into a nice place to hit for right-handed hitters, Fenway Park. Considering all of the factors, including the off-the-field issues, Boston did not lose as much as advertised.
Ramirez had to be moved, was replaced by a solid-hitting outfielder and his sideshow is now Joe Torre’s problem. Boston will certainly miss his production, but his time in the city was nearing its end, regardless, and Hansen and Moss were never going to play a major role for the club. And if the Red Sox—who did not miss a beat in the absence of David Ortiz, now back in the lineup—fail to make the playoffs with the surging New York Yankees and Rays each vying for spots, it will most likely be because of other issues, not the loss of Ramirez. Plus, they will improve in 2009, as they were not going to bring back the Future Hall of Famer, who would have had to be replaced with an expensive free agent addition. So the remaining money on his contract, which Boston will pick up, is not that big of a deal, either, given the savings that they will gain with Bay filling the need on the cheap.
It was certainly an interesting day.
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