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Going Back in Time to October 2007, Vol. I: Some Basics and 2008-2009

Well, the time is nearly at hand. As I polish off the finishing touches on my time machine, I am stepping up my research on the previous five years. I have decided to use my marvelous invention to the betterment of humanity by increasing the fortunes of the Boston Red Sox since their last World Series victory. Do not try to convince me to go back farther. I'm certain that a bird in the hand is worth more than two in the bush, and I am not willing to mess up with 2007's victory.

But I'm taking with me a box score from the postseason, and I intend to use this foreknowledge to impress my way into the front offices at Fenway. Maybe at first I'll tell them of the impending Matt Garza-for-Delmon Young trade, and this plausible bit of intelligence will get my foot in the door. Then soon enough Theo, Larry, and crew will all understand that I'm from the future and have extremely valuable information for them. I highly look forward to working with them to correct the past five years and then never returning to this awful, awful timeline ever again.

But before I go I thought it would be worthwhile to run my ideas past folks and see if I can't improve and augment them. First, let's get the big mistakes out of the way.

Correcting the Big Mistakes

No Lackey.

No Crawford.

No Cameron or Jenks.

No Bard to the rotation.

Bobby Valentine to the Red Sox will remain the poor joke we all thought it was when we first heard about it last year.

Daisuke Matsuzaka cannot be allowed to pitch in the World Baseball Classic in March 2009. While I'm not going back in time far enough to fix his contract, with what we know now, we should still be able to achieve this more modest goal to improve our return on that investment.

While training for the WBC, Dice-K injured his hip but did not tell anybody, neither the Red Sox nor his Japanese team. Compensating for this injury, he put too much burden on his arm while pitching lights out in the WBC, and that was the beginning of all his disasters in Boston. Using this secret knowledge of the hip injury as leverage, we should be able to prevent him from pitching in the Classic.

There is perhaps also the option of being more forceful and not allowing him even to train for the WBC. As I see it though, if he's going to injure his hip while training that year, the earlier he do it the better, so he has time to rehabilitate for the MLB season. The Red Sox have to be on top of it, though.

*

One last item I'll mention here may not appear to be on the same scale as the others, but it is a big mistake in its own right. In the summer of 2009 the Red Sox attempted to sign 17-year-old Dominican right-handed pitcher Carlos Matias for $160,000. The paperwork did not pass MLB's inspection, however, nullifying the deal and earning young Carlos a one-year suspension from signing with a team. His birth documentation had been falsified, but not for baseball reasons, and his age was not misrepresented. His mother had died shortly after his birth, and his aunt and uncle took him in. Documentation for his birth was not arranged until he was eight, when his uncle gave him his name, Matias.

His proper name was Carlos Martinez, and during his suspension he added a great deal of velocity, touching 100 mph and earning a $1.5M bonus from the Cardinals on June 2, 2010. Two years later the 20-year-old is ranked the 24th/26th best overall prospect by Sickels and Baseball America, respectively. We could have had him and cheap if we had done our homework properly.

**

Buy-Low Candidates

We must do what is necessary to get Cliff Lee from the Indians after the 2007 season. That was his down year. After many struggles and clubhouse problems, he spent all of August at Triple-A and only had four appearances out of the bullpen in September. Being owed $9.5M over the next two years (with a $1M buyout after that), hopefully Cliff Lee is a burden that the Indians would be willing to unload. Meanwhile 2008 was his Cy Young year. Get Cliff Lee and extend him immediately through at least 2012. If there's one prospect you don't want to trade for him, though, it's Clay Buchholz...

Josh Hamilton was acquired by the Rangers from the Reds on December 21, 2007 for Edinson Volquez and Danny Herrera. I'd try to beat that trade if possible; to do so, we'd have to include Clay Buchholz. I'm fine with that. Clay was great in 2010, but otherwise has been too problematic. Hamilton has had problems of his own, but it is much easier to work around an outfielder injury than a starting pitcher injury. And since the time of trade Hamilton has been nearly three times more valuable in terms of WAR (21.6 to Buchholz's 7.5).

Jose Bautista is all ours. The Blue Jays acquired him from the Pirates in August 2008 for a PTBNL (Robinzon Diaz). I think we can beat that offer. Extend him for cheap before the 2010 season. Reinforce the Green Monster so he doesn't destroy it.

Adrian Beltre and his "pillow contract" for 2010 -- it's like they knew all along. That I wouldn't change anything in this regard, as great a player as he is, is something I'll get into at the start of Vol. II (it concerns the draft).

Bartolo Colon, 2011 version (more on the 2008 version below) -- if only to keep the Yankees from benefiting from his magically repaired arm. You'd probably want to sell him mid-season before his body breaks down. Likewise Freddy Garcia is also somehow good in 2011. But we'll discuss that season more when the time comes.

Scout Venezuelan winter ball in 2010, and you will find an ex-major leaguer turning his career around. Ryan Vogelsong will add instant value on the cheap to the Red Sox rotation beginning in 2011.

The Red Sox successfully bought low on Alfredo Aceves before the 2011 season, but there's no reason why they shouldn't with foreknowledge buy low on Aceves before the 2008 season. That's when the Yankees originally bought him out of the Mexican League along with Manny Banuelos and two others for a total of $450,000. That's a deal. Aceves, already 25 years old when he signed, was ready to debut at the end of 2008, and in 2009 put up a season for the Yankees that was in many ways better than his 2011 effort for the Sox.

On a similar note, after the 2011 season a 22-year-old Colombian pitcher in the Yankees' low minors will elect for minor league free agency and within a week sign on with the White Sox. Jose Quintana would be a good buy-low candidate to get if you could be quick and beat Chicago's offer. Call him Aceves the Second.

That last one comes to mind just because it's a brand new phenomenon. There are probably lots of other buy-low candidates that I'm not recalling here. Some of them will come up when I go through and build the team season by season.

**

Sell-High Candidates

Jed Lowrie needs to be sold high on before the 2009 season and all his wrist problems that year. I have an idea of how to use him, which I will explain under "The 2009 Season."

I can think of no other Red Sox prospect busts bigger than Lars Anderson and Michael Bowden. I'm going to start looking to sell them before the 2009 season and will discuss that below. The timing could not be better to sell on Anderson. In January 2009, Keith Law ranked him the seventh overall best prospect, calling him "the best of a fairly deep class of first base prospects in the minors right now, separating himself by his relative youth and advanced approach." A year later his stock will be greatly decreased. In that time he fell in Baseball America's rankings from 17th overall with an ETA of 2009 to 87th overall with an ETA of mid-2011. Meanwhile he still hasn't arrived. Lars Anderson must be sold in the '08-'09 off-season, even if it's for another prospect. We know which ones to pursue, after all. The names of prospects esteemed less than Anderson at that point in time are astounding.

As for Michael Bowden, his stock was never as high as Lars'. Baseball America ranked him 83rd before the 2009 season, and he doesn't reappear in those rankings the following year. It seems this is the best time to sell him too, and that gives us three pieces -- Lowrie, Anderson, and Bowden -- to sell before the 2009 season.

But first let's prepare ourselves for the 2008 season.

**

The 2008 Season

3B/SS

We need help on the left side of the infield. In the 2008 season we're looking at a mix of Julio Lugo, Jed Lowrie, Alex Cora, and Mike Lowell at short and third. The big question after the World Series was whether to re-sign Lowell, and it eventually happened, at 3 years/$37.5M. That's too much. He provided some value in 2008, but only played 113 games and was absent for the post-season (0-for-8 in two Division Series games). His plate production was virtually identical in 2009 (119 games), but his atrocious defense canceled out any value. In 2010 he was little more than a folk hero.

It's tough to find help here. One man that's available is a familiar face. In November of 2007 the Toronto Blue Jays sent two pitchers in the low minors with unimpressive numbers (Kristian Bell and Graham Godfrey) to the Oakland A's for Marco Scutaro. If the Red Sox could scoop the Blue Jays here (and they have the assets to do so -- even Coco Crisp if you have to overspend), they would acquire a decent infielder for 2008 (2.9 WAR), and then of course benefit from Scutaro's career year in 2009 (4.5 WAR). Then he could be re-signed for 2010-2011 without the cost of a draft pick.

So whom exactly would Scutaro replace in '08? Ideally it would be Lugo's production of 0.8 WAR in 307 PAs, rather than Lowell's 2.4 WAR production in 468 PAs. But Lowell would have to be signed to make that happen. Could he be bargained down to two years, and then the second year could just be swallowed? I don't know. I wouldn't think it preferable.

A better short-term solution, perhaps, would be Jorge Cantu. The former Devil Ray third baseman, who also plays first, had a bad 2006-2007. He had to sign a minor-league contract with the Marlins in February 2008 but won a starting job out of spring training. That season was a career year with a .346 wOBA and 3.0 WAR in 685 PAs. His defense at third is poor, however, so he might end up pushing Youkilis off first base (which happened late in '08 anyway when Lowell was injured); hopefully that wouldn't have negative impact on Youk's '08-'09 production.

Another suggestion is re-signing Eric Hinske. After 2007 the 3B/OF Hinske signed a minor-league contract with the Rays and ended up giving them 2.1 WAR with a .347 wOBA in 432 PAs. Plus, by divine decree he had to go to the World Series from 2007 to 2009 no matter what team he was on. It's one of the few things we can take away from the 2008 homegrown Rays.

So some combination of Scutaro, Cantu, Lowrie, and Hinske is the best I can think of to help the 3B/SS problem. (I might suggest leaning on the rookie Lowrie more, but I wouldn't want to hurt him.) An added benefit to this mix would be to avoid using Mark Kotsay down the stretch.

*

Pitching

We need pitching. Curt Schilling will not be re-signed for 2008, and the whole drama with the shoulder injury will be avoided. Hopefully, as I mentioned above in the "Buy Low" section, we can get Cliff Lee from the Indians after his down year in 2007. I don't know what it would take, but knowing what Cliff Lee is about to do, you make that deal happen.

So we have for a 2008 rotation two stellar lefties, Cliff Lee and Jon Lester, along with Josh Beckett and a still-productive Daisuke Matsuzaka. Wakefield is still a worthy back-end starter and will continue to be so through his All-Star appearance in '09. We'll know not to rely on Buchholz; in fact, as I mentioned above, I would try to trade him for Josh Hamilton. His fifteen starts will need to be re-assigned. We've got Justin Masterson and Paul Byrd as insurance, as well as Bartolo Colon.

Bartolo Colon was a good buy-low candidate in 2008, as he performed well in six starts before throwing his back out swinging a bat in interleague play. If that injury can be avoided, so too can be avoided the drama in September about him leaving to the Dominican Republic and refusing to come back because he was blocked in the rotation by Paul Byrd. If he can be kept healthy through mid-season and is not needed, he can be traded and some value can be recuperated. Anyway, you'd want to avoid any bad blood so that if desirable he can be signed again in 2011 and kept away from the Yankees (and traded away mid-season again -- sorry!).

*

Manny Ramirez/Outfield

Even armed with the knowledge of a time-traveler, I don't think the Red Sox will be able to do anything to fix the Manny situation. Manny will be Manny no matter what; that's kind of how it works. And the Jason Bay trade was the best one possible. I'd want to make that trade again if only for the sake of the 2010 draft picks that Bay's departure achieved.

But there's a bit of a crowd gathering in the outfield. Remember, with a package centered on Clay Buchholz, we've acquired Josh Hamilton in time for his breakout 2008 season. Assuming he would be taking Coco Crisp's spot on the roster (1.6 WAR in 118 games), Hamilton would be added to a mix that already includes Manny (3.0 WAR in 100 games), Jacoby Ellsbury (4.3 WAR in 145 games), and J.D. Drew (4.1 WAR in 109 games). Can we still get Bay? I hope so. I don't mind having four great outfielders, and we'd need him in 2009 when Hamilton's injury woes crop up, assuming the change in scenery from Texas to Boston doesn't change that.

*

ALCS

We'd have Cliff Lee and Josh Hamilton ... and Eric Hinske. With Jorge Cantu instead of Mark Kotsay. You'd hope that would be enough to change the outcome of the ALCS, but who knows what difference Hamilton and Cantu would make in the offense for these particular seven games. It's easier to upgrade the pitching, but it's extremely tricky seeing how to fit Cliff Lee into the rotation.

Each Boston pitcher that started twice in the ALCS -- Dice-K, Beckett, and Lester -- had one great start and one terrible start, resulting in a total of three wins. Beckett's games accordingly resulted in one win and one loss, but both Dice-K games were won, the terrible start being won on account of an amazing Game 5 rally that included key contributions from Crisp and Kotsay, who won't be there anymore -- and suddenly we have to worry about losing five games instead of four. Both Lester games were losses because he was facing the series MVP Matt Garza, against whom the Red Sox could not muster any offense. And replacing Wakefield in Game 4 could very well make no difference, as the offense again couldn't solve Andy Sonnanstine. The run differential was 15 in favor of the Rays for the series; they were just a much better team, and the Red Sox were fortunate to win thrice.

So what do you do? Just replacing Beckett in Game 2 would make a difference, as Scott Kazmir was equally bad in that eventual eleven-inning 9-8 victory for the Rays. That game was easily the most winnable loss in the series for the Red Sox.

But actually the easiest way to defeat the Rays in '08 is to take action a year earlier. In November of 2007, the Twins actually gave Matt Garza -- the ALCS MVP-to-be -- Jason Bartlett, and Eduardo Morlan to the Tampa Bay Rays for Delmon Young, Jason Pridie, and Brendan Harris. We somehow have to convince Minnesota not to go through with this trade, and I don't know how we're going to do it. I don't know how to convince them that Delmon Young is not a desirable asset if that's what they think he is. I could try telling them I'm from the future, but I don't know if they'll believe me and I don't think we want the intelligence leaking that the Red Sox have a man from the future helping them.

Blocking that trade, though, is our only real shot of disrupting the construction of the 2008 Rays because all their other key contributors -- Longoria, Upton, Pena, Crawford, Iwamura; Kazmir, Shields, Sonnanstine, Edwin Jackson; and later Zobrist and Price -- were all either homegrown or with the team already for a year or more. Their excellence was long in the works and perfectly timed to burst onto the scene that season.

**

The 2009 Season

Despite the 95 wins, there were a lot of problems this year, particularly with pitching and with injuries. Also this was the year when things finally came together for the 103-win Yankees. I don't know if we can do anything about that -- no one's outbidding them for free agents Sabathia, Teixeira, and Burnett -- but we'll see what we can do.

Rather than free agent contracts, this was the off-season, you'll remember, when the Red Sox handed out extensions, first to Pedroia, then Youkilis, then Lester. I'd re-issue the first two, though I would time the eventual Youkilis trade to get a better return, probably in July 2011. The Lester deal I would hesitate to do, as I do not think he will return to the dominance of 2008-2010. If I did issue that extension, I would plan to deal him with Youkilis before he lost his value. Had he not been extended, Lester would not have hit free agency until after this current 2012 season, and in any case I'd rather not be burdened with him for 2013. What a sad thought that is. Pedroia was on the same arbitration schedule, but Youkilis would have hit free agency after the 2010 season. So there is the option of not extending Youk, letting him go then, and getting more picks in the deep 2011 draft. But you could still have the first four months of his 2011 season and then convince the Giants that, because of his contract, he would be a better return for Zack Wheeler than Carlos Beltran. I'd like to do that. Zack Wheeler > Zach Stewart.

But we need to get back to the 2009 season. We'll start where we did last year, in the infield.

*

3B/1B

We'll have Scutaro's career year at short, so we don't need to worry about the likes of Nick Green and Alex Gonzalez. There's still the vacuum left by Mike Lowell to deal with, and Jorge Cantu won't cut it this year. Jose Bautista will be part of the team at this point as a role player capable of playing third base or the outfield (see above in the "Buy Low" section). I won't take it for granted, however, that we can jump-start his transformation into Joey Bats, something that occurs all at once in the last month of this season. If we don't mind Youkilis sticking at third, moreover, I have another buy-low candidate in mind for first base.

Nick Swisher* had his career-worst season in 2008, his only year in Chicago. The White Sox traded him that November along with Kanekoa Texeira to the New York Yankees for Wilson Betemit, Jeffrey Marquez, and Jhonny Nunez. The Yankees at first planned for Swisher to be the starting first baseman, but he was moved to the bench when Mark Teixeira was signed. He ended up being the starting right fielder when Xavier Nady was injured, and had a 3.2-WAR season in 607 PAs. His park-adjusted wRC+ was 124.

* No, I don't care for Swisher's personality any more than you do. But teammates get along with him, and he's productive. Hopefully enough fans can overlook the rest.

A package centered on Jed Lowrie, I think, can beat Betemit (whom you'd better beat -- a negative WAR player in 2008) for Swisher's services. Lowrie's a pretty valuable prospect at this point, as his injury problems don't crop up until the beginning of the 2009 season. Basically, Lowrie has to be used in a trade this off-season, and this is as good a use as I can think of for him. Swisher is under an affordable contract for three years ('09: $5.3M, '10: $6.75M, '11: $9M, '12: 10.25M club option, $1M buyout), and unbeknownst to the league will be very productive over that time with wRC+ of 124, 132, and 122 in 150 games each year. Swisher can play first base and substitute in the outfield if Hamilton is injured. Taking a three-WAR player away from the Yankees won't exactly close the eight-game gap at season's end by itself -- but it couldn't hurt.

*

Pitching

And you know who else provided value for the 2009 Yankees? Alfredo Aceves. But you knew that already because I talked about him under "Buy-Low Candidates." The 2009 season was when Aceves was the king of the vulture win, going 10-1 while working out of the bullpen. He pitched 84 innings in 43 games and somehow put up 1.4 fWAR while posting a 3.54 ERA and 3.75 FIP. That's a good bit of WAR for a reliever in 43 games. In fact it's more fWAR than he gave the Red Sox last year in 55 games, mostly because his strikeout and walk rates were both better in 2009.

But why wait until 2011 to benefit from Aceves? The Yankees purchased Aceves along with Manny Banuelos and two others out of the Mexican League for a total of $450,000 in the winter before the 2008 season. Aceves, who was already 25, spent the season in the minors and earned a late-August call-up. Between Swisher and Aceves, we'd be taking 4.4 WAR from the 2009 Yankees and putting it on the Red Sox. If it were the case that they'd be taking the spots of replacement-level players in Boston and that other replacement-level players took their spots in New York, that could make for a definitive nine-game swing in what was an eight-game race.

Of course reality doesn't actually work that way, and other upgrades in the pitching department will have to help us fill the rest of the gap. We already have Cliff Lee, and that will be our biggest improvement. Also we will keep Dice-K from pitching in the World Baseball Classic as discussed above under "Correcting the Big Mistakes." So that gives us a rotation of Lee, Lester, Beckett, a Matsuzaka whose disastrous season hopefully we can avoid, and Tim Wakefield, who gives a surprisingly All-Star-caliber performance in the first half of the season, but is injured and ineffective in the second half.

We need depth yet in the rotation, however, as the Brad Penny and John Smoltz experiments should dutifully be avoided. Wakefield will break down in July, and Dice-K can't be relied upon. Buchholz is gone in the Hamilton trade. Masterson's not so hot and will be needed in the V-Mart trade, which I'd still do, as I discuss more in-depth at the head of the next volume.

So we need pitching, and remember, we have pieces to sell in Lars Anderson and Michael Bowden. If they could be packaged together for an about-to-be great pitcher like Zack Greinke, Justin Verlander, or Clayton Kershaw, then that's swell -- but those particular guys were pretty well esteemed by their organizations at the time, and I won't count on such a dream trade. What we need at the moment is depth.

Two buy-low candidates come to mind for the 2009 season. Both starters had career years in 2009, coming off of poor showings in 2008. Joel Pineiro, whom the Red Sox basically gave to the Cardinals in 2007, found new success by reinventing himself as a sinkerballer. He would then leave St. Louis as a Type-B free agent and net the Cardinals a sandwich pick in the 2010 draft. There is a risk, though, that his success that year was mostly due to the magic of pitching coach Dave Duncan, as indeed he never did much with his next team, the Angels.

The other pitcher is Scott Feldman, who in 2008 converted to a starter for the Rangers with an ERA and FIP both north of 5.00. The Rangers liked him, but not so much that he started 2009 in the rotation, only making it there when Kris Benson was injured. He surprised everyone by becoming the Rangers' best pitcher that year, notching a 4.08 ERA/4.31 FIP in 189.2 innings. His versatility between starting and relieving is particularly attractive to Red Sox' depth needs in 2009.

So there's some trade currency; there are some trade targets. Go knock yourself out. As I forge ahead, I'm going to count Scott Feldman among the assets of the Boston Red Sox starting in 2009.

*

Post-season

I don't know how to completely overturn the results of the Division Series against the Angels, in which the Red Sox were swept. Maybe we can overtake the Yankees for the Eastern Division crown, and then we'd play the Twins in that round. Nevertheless, I'd hope Cliff Lee and an improved offense could change the Red Sox' fortunes, and I'm particularly giddy about one secret weapon.

Most people know that Jose Bautista's breakout season was 2010, but as I alluded to above, the phenomenon of Joey Bats actually began in the last month of the 2009 season, during which he hit ten home runs. He hit six home runs in the last eight games of the season alone -- three of which were at Fenway. Imagine unleashing a newborn Joey Bats on the 2009 post-season. Pitchers won't have any idea how to pitch to him; they might not even acknowledge that they need to be careful with him. Fans won't understand what they're watching. It could be pretty special -- like Beltran-in-'04 special. I'd let you know if it works out, but once there I don't think I'll be able to communicate back to this dreary old timeline.

As for overcoming the 2009 Yankees, though, I don't know. I don't suppose stealing Swisher and Aceves would be enough. I don't see any other way to interfere with their roster starting in October 2007. There's no certain way to design it; just build the team better and let the games play out.

***

Coming up in Vol. II I will redo the drafts, and in Vol. III I will begin fixing the 2010 season and bring things up to the present.

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