The Oakland Athletics are known for Moneyball, both the book and the film, and General Manager Billy Beane, who was behind the philosophy, is continuing the cycle. Heading the low-payroll American League team, he has consistently been unable to afford to retain star players. This offseason, he has once again turned those stars into talented youth, trading three All-Stars pitchers in an effort to rebuild once more.
The latter of the three sent packing, 27-year-old closer Andrew Bailey, was acquired by the Boston Red Sox for 24-year-old right-fielder Josh Reddick and two lower level minor-leaguers. Compared to the trades that put Trevor Cahill in Arizona and Gio Gonzalez in Washington, this move didn’t require a king’s ransom of minor-leaguers. Nonetheless, Beane added three prospects to the seven he received for the Cahill and Gonzalez.
The deal was immediately perceived by many in the media to be a win for Boston. They get a young closer, appearing to fill a void, for an outfielder Boston’s brass evidently thinks can be easily replaced. Contrary to this belief, it is hard not to see this decision by new General Manager Ben Cherington as strange. The reasons are clear, revolving around Reddick’s inclusion.
The outfielder didn’t put together incredible numbers last season but he was consistent and more than serviceable. He hit .280 with seven homers and 28 rbi’s. His future prospects were bright, too, which is the main reason why parting with him may prove problematic for the Red Sox. Over a full season, he could have been great. And instead of giving him that chance, of having a fan-favorite with experience and a great deal of confidence in right-field, the team is deservedly left scrambling for a replacement.
The in-house options include Ryan Sweeney, who was acquired along with Bailey, Darnell McDonald, and Mike Aviles. Sweeney is a career .283 hitter spread in limited action spread over five seasons. His best performance at the plate came in 2009 with Oakland, when he hit .294 with 31 doubles in 134 games. He is renowned for his defense, having made only four errors in his career while playing all three outfield positions. Right-field is tricky to defend, with the treacherous corner that can act as a pinball machine, so it appears he is a good fit. This may be the case, but he is nonetheless an underwhelming option to take over full-time for Reddick. McDonald and Aviles, albeit serviceable, aren’t altogether appealing, either.
Boston didn’t need to make this move. That is why it is hard to back it. Bailey will be a good pitcher to have. He will be the Red Sox closer. Unless he can’t handle the pressure of pitching in Boston, he should succeed. And having Mark Melancon, who saved 20 games for the Houston Astros last season, as a set-up man should be a plus. There is a lot to like here. Yet, it would have been more appropriate to use Daniel Bard in the closer role, have Melancon set-up, keep Reddick as the everyday right-fielder, and throw some money at one of the starting pitchers left on the market. Instead, they are left with unknowns at Reddick’s position and Bard might be forced into a starting role. Who knows how he would perform. He may have struggled at times setting up Papelbon, but he deserves to be the closer if his ideal situation is to remain a reliever. That can’t happen now.
If Bard is moved into the rotation, Boston will have the chore of finding out what players at five important positions can do. This is why their offseason strategy has been a puzzling one thus far. They trade away important utility man Jed Lowrie, move an up-and-coming right-fielder, let closer Jonathan Papelbon go, and get two relievers who have never pitched for winning teams in such a hostile environment. While Beane continues to stock up on young players, Boston has some explaining to do.