Theo's Best Trades: Number Four


You may recall that yesterday we started counting down the five best trades Theo Epstein has made in his tenure as General Manager of the Red Sox. Number five was the 2003 Shea Hillenbrand for Byung-Hyun Kim trade. (Click here if you missed it.) Moving forward, here's number four.

A quick reminder, this is a subjective list, not one founded on some obscure mathematical formula. When evaluating the deals, I looked at what happened post-deal, the situation when the deal was made, and the greater significance of the deal. That said, there's room for reasonable discussion.

Without further ado, here's number four:

4. Manny Ramirez (to Dodgers) and Craig Hansen and Brandon Moss (to Pirates) for Jason Bay (2008)

Manny Ramirez may just be one of the best hitters to ever pick up a bat and stand at home plate in Fenway Park. That's saying something, but the guy was that talented. The Red Sox signed Manny to an eight year, $160 million deal in the pre-Theo Epstein days following a 2000 season when Manny hit a ridiculous .351/.457/.697 for Cleveland. In his time in Boston, Manny hit .312/.411/.588 with 274 homers. According to Fan Graphs, Manny accumulated 31.2 WAR, or about half of his career total in his time with Boston.

And still there were always brushes with authority. Copious Manny Being Manny moments. Some of them were endearing (high fiving a fan after catching a fly ball, peeing in the Monster between innings), some were not, but in either case they tended to paint a picture of a genius at the plate who fell short of that standard elsewhere. In 2003, shortly after Epstein took over, the Red Sox put Manny on irrevocable waivers, essentially offering him up to any team free of charge who would pay his salary. In the Boston Globe's article on the move, Eric Wilbur recounted the following:

in early September when Ramirez missed a weekend series against the Yankees with a sore throat and fever, but was spotted with New York infielder Enrique Wilson at a Boston hotel bar. He also failed to show up for an appointment with the team doctor. When former manager Grady Little - let go by the Sox earlier this week -- asked Ramirez to pinch-hit in Philadelphia the next day, the outfielder said he was too weak. Little benched Ramirez the following evening in Chicago, a move the players applauded.

Incidents like those above dogged Ramirez during his time in Boston. Some believe he got a raw deal, but everyone saw it when he got into a fist fight with Kevin Youkilis in the dugout during a game. There was also the reported incident with the Red Sox traveling secretary over tickets that also turned physical, and the comments Manny made to ESPNdeportes.com in 2008, where he said, "The Red Sox don't deserve a player like me."

It became clear to the Red Sox front office that, while Ramirez was still hitting (.299/.398/.529), everyone would be better off if he did so elsewhere. Manny's salary ($10 million for a half year of his services) would be prohibitive to a deal as would his 10/5 rights to prevent a trade. Also, his problems, real or perceived, could be an issue for any acquiring team. Who wants to bring on an attitude problem for the stretch run? 

The Dodgers, as it turned out. But they didn't have a player the Red Sox could accept in return. Enter the Pirates. Epstein deftly engineered a three team deal that seemingly cost the Red Sox a lot, but in the end didn't cost them much at all.  While the Sox gave up Ramirez, who was hitting if not acting well at the time, they also gave up reliever Craig Hansen and outfielder Brandon Moss.

Selected four slots after Jacoby Ellsbury, Hansen was the Sox second first round draft pick in 2005. (Two picks later Colby Rasmus was drafted. Oops.) Hansen was supposed to be almost major league ready when drafted, but unfortunately he proved not ready for the big leagues (a 6 run ERA may have helped decide his fate) and to the minors he went. He was back up again next season but with similar results. The trade to the Pirates should have been a good thing for Hansen, but it ended up as just more of the same and this April the Pirates released him. As far as I can tell he's out of organized baseball.

Moss was picked in the 8th round out of high school in 2002. He had moderate success in the minors and moved up the ladder steadily if not speedily. He could have turned into a decent corner outfielder if maybe not a championship caliber one (think David Murphy) but he regressed when he put on Pirates gold and black. He was released last year and is now in the Phillies system.

Both Moss and Hansen had track records long enough that the front office likely knew what they were dealing with. Epstein may have not known both would wash out with the Pirates, but he knew they didn't have a part in the next championship Red Sox club. Both players were traded at or close to the peak of their value, which is a credit to the GM doing that deal.

The Sox gave up Ramirez and according to one report $7 million to offset his salary to the Dodgers and then handed Hansen and Moss over to the Pirates. It seemed like a crazy gift-giving extravaganza, but the Red Sox did receive one player in return. Jason Bay's first two full seasons in Pittsburgh were awesome. He hit about .300/.400/.540 for the Pirates and signed a four year extension. Then 2007 happened. Bay hit .247/.327/.418 and all of a sudden the bloom was off the rose. Bay was bothered by knee problems all year long and those surely contributed to his sub-par performance. Still, next season when Bay rebounded to his former self (though likely slower) the Pirates couldn't wait to unload him and his huge salary (Bay was set to earn $13.25 million combined between 2008 and 2009). The Sox offer of Moss and Hansen was too much to turn down.

For a hall of fame headache, $7 million, and two tales of a minor league nothing, Theo Epstein got 200 games of .274/.380/.534 with 45 homers for the Red Sox. Also important was that Jason Bay was a fan favorite, a good team mate, and never got into any trouble, real or imagined, during his time in Boston. His production helped the Red Sox reach the seventh game of the ALCS in 2008, though like most of the Red Sox he had lots of trouble with Tampa's pitching during that series.

The Sox tried to re-sign him, but were not able to get him to agree to a contract of their liking. Bay then signed with the New York Mets and as such, the Red Sox received a first round draft pick. It would have normally been two first round picks, but the Mets, so putrid the year prior, had their first round pick protected by MLB rules. The Sox received the 36th pick in the draft for losing Bay and selected the just promoted Bryce Brentz.

Removing an unwanted if still productive player, two minor leaguers and some money and adding a year and a half of all star production plus a first round draft pick? That's called a good day's work.

 * * *

Tomorrow: Number three on the list...

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