The deal that no one thought could ever happen, that looked like it would flop again heading into the last few hours before the July 31st trade deadline, the one that had been attempted each of the last few years (fast becoming a summer ritual in Boston) finally went down in 2008. Manny Ramirez, along with two high level prospects, was shipped out of Boston. The trade polarized Red Sox fans, and was hotly debated in the press. The sole return on the trade for the Red Sox was Jason Bay, the former Rookie of the Year and all-star, and the face of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
One side howled that Manny had been traded for pennies on the dollar, especially given that Brandon Moss, Craig Hansen, and seven million dollars were on the way out of town with him. The other camp, including many statheads, was delighted by the prospect of the team sacrificing its playoff hopes this year, having cheap young(er) talent locked up for next year, and getting rid of a guy who had alienated his teammates so badly that they almost unanimously agreed that shipping him out was a necessity. So now it's been a few weeks and 60 at bats, or so; in other words not even close to an adequate sample size for comparison. But just for fun, let's check in and see how things worked out for Boston and LA.
First the raw stats since the trade (both have conveniently played 16 games):
Manny: .424/.514/.780, 1.294 OPS, 11 R, 21 RBI, 0 SB
Bay: .348/.411/.561, .972 OPS, 17 R, 16 RBI, 3 SB
The first thing that jumps out at you is that those are just monster numbers Manny has put up, which shows you what he can really do when he is motivated. He slid right into the clean-up spot for the Dodgers, and is by far the most feared bat in their line-up. Getting 20 million dollars or more a year over a 3-4 year contract will be a breeze if he even comes close to keeping this up.
Bay's numbers are not as spectacular, but they exceed what Manny put up in Boston this year and last, and are close to Manny's career averages (.313/.410/.591). Bay, at .972, now leads the team in OPS (just edging out Kevin Youkilis' .958), and looks like a legitimate middle of the order threat, even if manager Terry Francona is easing him into that role by thus far batting him most often in the sixth spot. So, the initial question of whether Bay could replace Manny's production at the plate this year seems to be yes... so far.
The real question is what we can expect from this pair going forward. Let's take a closer look at each of these sluggers.
Starting with the obvious, Manny can't maintain a .424/.514/.780 line. Doing so would bring him into Williams/Ruth/Bonds territory, and as good as he is, he isn't that good. Manny's line is almost surely a statistical anomaly, a combination of luck, Manny's adrenaline rush from being on a new team, and NL pitchers not knowing how to handle him yet. Manny has never put up numbers even close to these over any significant time period at any point in his career, and he is probably not going to start now at age 36. He did post a .351/.457/.697 season during his last contract year, so he does have a flair for the dramatic when tens of millions of dollars are on the line. But that was 8 years ago, and at age 28 he was firmly in his peak years then. Manny, and the devil on his shoulder (agent Scott Boras), would be ecstatic to see Manny merely maintain his current combined 2008 line (.316/.414/.564) while reaching 500 at bats for the first time since 2005. On pace for 35 HR, 100+ runs and RBI, and an OPS over .950, Manny is sure to bring in a huge haul this winter as a free agent, and maybe even get inked into his age 40 season.
If Ramirez carries the Dodgers deep into the playoffs, Dodger GM Ned Colletti will face tremendous pressure to be the high bidder for his services. The Dodgers couldn't have scripted it all better, and aren't likely to regret parting with the tandem of prospects they gave up for Manny's services, Andy LaRoche and Bryan Morris. This will be especially so if the Dodgers make it back to the Big Show on the strength of Manny's presence in the heart of an otherwise middle-of-the-road lineup.
Who could have guessed that Bay would bat in the mid .300s, get on base more than 40 percent of the time, and slug .561 and still have to endure the question of whether the Sox should have kept Manny? Not only has Bay been great at the dish, and in meaningful spots no less, he's also adapted well to Fenway's tricky left field, and has made a difference on the base-paths, swiping three bags, and taking the extra base in situations Manny could only dream of. Yet still, due to Manny's offensive explosion since putting on the Dodger blue, there are those who question the trade. Of course, comparing Bay's numbers in Boston to Manny's in La-La-Land is unfair (you know there's a Manny-being-Manny joke there, but it's just too easy). As noted above, Ramirez is a sure Hall of Famer, but he's not going to be better now than in 1999-2002, the heyday of his prime. He'll come back down to earth, and merely be a top ten outfield bat, and no one in L.A. will complain about that.
Bay, on the other hand, has done this before. In 2005 he put up a .306/.402/.559 line, which mirrors his current numbers, save bating average. In other words, his on base percentage consisted of more walks and fewer singles, perhaps owing to the fact that he was surrounded by light hitters in that line-up, and was pitched around often as a consequence. His 2006 numbers were a shade lower, but still very similar to his current numbers with Boston (.286/.396/.532). In fact, adjusting for Fenway's (and the AL's) status as a hitter's haven, Bay is right on target for his 2005-2006 levels (discounting a 2007 season that smacked of injury). Looking at OPS+, which accounts for park factors and league norms (with 100 representing an average ML hitter), Bay's OPS+ of 150 matches his 2005 OPS+ exactly, and is just above his 2006 level of 138 (incidentally he was at 135 for his time as a Pirate this year). In other words, with Fenway as his home park, and with Boston's above average lineup around him, this current production is about what we might expect from Bay, only with a lower batting average and more walks.
If Bay does maintain his bat at nearly this level, Boston loses little production at all from the trade this year, especially considering Bay's contributions as a fielder and a baserunner (I don't think anyone believes that Manny would have put up his recent blistering numbers had he remained in Beantown- most suspected he had nowhere to go but down given his attitude). Although the deal is no bargain in 2008, as the Sox were forced to pick up the tab on Manny's remaining salary, Bay will be a steal next year at $7.5 million if he can even replicate just his 2006 or even 2004 (Rookie of the Year) production, let alone his lofty current numbers.
In the end, this looks like a good deal for both Boston and LA. Los Angeles does give up some long-term potential in LaRoche and Morris, but flags fly forever, and getting Manny (along with the recent trade for Greg Maddux to shore up the rotation) drastically increases their chance of winning it all this year. If you're a Dodger fan you have to like the move, especially if it means that Colletti kept Manny on in L.A. for the next couple seasons to buttress the young talent (Russell Martin, Matt Kemp, Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsly) and seasoned veterans (Jeff Kent, Nomar Garciaparra, Brad Penny) around him. He could be the face of a team that desperately needs some legitimate star power. Of course, he could just as easily stop running out ground balls, and start developing mystery illnesses in year two of his fat new contract. Let the buyer beware (I'm talking to you, Ned).
Boston fans too must be pleased. Not only is this trade a pretty good deal considering the circumstances (both Manny's threat to spend the rest of the season sulking and his cancerous effect on the clubhouse had the potential to ruin the season), it's the kind of deal a forward-thinking organization might have done anyhow. It gives Boston nearly as good a chance to win this year, and it also puts them in good shape next year, making them younger and freeing up money for off-season acquisitions, with a lot of big talent available this winter. In fact, it's just that kind of financial freedom that might have allowed Boston to sign all of it's first sixteen draft selections this year, with several of those signings coming after the big deal had been struck. In short, it's a win-win move for now and the future.
But wait! What about Moss and Hansen? Didn't it sting to have to throw in a couple of prospects on top of the money and one of the best hitters in the game? And what about Manny's special brand of "charisma"?
No doubt Moss and Hansen have the talent to be decent major leaguers, and will help a team like Pittsburgh. But Moss will probably never hit enough to be a corner outfielder for a team built to win, and Hansen could never seem to reign in his control while pitching for the Red Sox. Maybe they will both excel with a fresh start in a place that can appreciate their talents, but it's doubtful Boston will ever regret the deal because of them.
Instead, think of it as two separate deals: In 2008 the Sox paid 7 million dollars to get rid of a clubhouse cancer and perennial embarrassment, and in the process lost maybe a tad at the plate, made up for by significant gains in the field and on the bases. For 2009 they gave up two prospects who had no clear future in Boston (and if anything clearly didn't have a future there) in return for having a young cost-controlled all-star, and by all accounts a good guy in the clubhouse, like Bay to man left field (as opposed to being out in left field, like ManRam so often was). Who wouldn't make that second deal? Exactly. No one.
Finally, will Red Sox fans (or the front office, for that matter) miss those Manny moments? I doubt it. The truth is, they only pretended his antics were funny because otherwise everyone would realize how truly embarrassing it all was.