Wednesday October 26, 2011
MLB reports – Jonathan Hacohen: The Boston Red Sox announced this week that starting pitching John Lackey would be undergoing Tommy John surgery, ending his 2012 season before it began. In a twist of irony, this move actually comes as relief to Red Sox nation as Lackey has been anything but stellar since coming to Boston.
In 8 seasons with the Angels, Lackey had a 102-71 record, good for a 3.81 ERA and 1.306 WHIP. In his past 2 seasons with the Red Sox, Lackey’s numbers ballooned to a 26-23 record, with an unsightly 5.26 ERA and 1.504 WHIP. Lackey’s winning record in Boston is attributable more to the Red Sox strong offense, rather than Lackey’s own production. 2011 was a miserable season statistically for Lackey with 2012 not looking much promising either.
In hindsight, John Lackey’s contract is one of the worst in baseball. Lackey is signed to a 5-year, $82.5 million deal running through 2014. For the final 3 years (2012-14), Lackey will get paid $15,250,000 per season. The one bit of relief to the Red Sox is that the injury kicks in a 2015 vesting option, whereby Lackey will only be paid $500K for that season. A small consolation given the magnitude of the money and disappointing numbers from Lackey to-date.
For whatever reason(s), the relationship between John Lackey and the Boston Red Sox is not working out. Lackey has battled personal issues while in Boston, including his wife’s health and battle with Cancer. While clearly we can all sympathize with Lackey’s difficulties in playing while dealing with personal issues, the reports from the end of the season of his involvement with drinking in the clubhouse and eating fried chicken during games brings into question Lackey’s commitment and focus to the team and game. Before news of his surgery, many outlets were reported that the Red Sox were actively shopping Lackey in the hopes of removing him from the team. A strong rumor was a swap with the Padres and reuniting Lackey with his old pitching coach from his Angels’ days, Bud Black. The Padres and Petco would have been an ideal environment for Lackey, provided that the Red Sox would have picked up the majority of his contract in the deal.
But the reconstructive elbow surgery has brough the Lackey rumors to a halt. He will be staying in Boston for the foreseeable future. The Red Sox have faced bad luck this year with Tommy John, as pitchers Daisuke Matsuzaka and Rich Hill both underwent the same procedure in 2011. Theo Epstein was wise to include the injury provision in the Lackey contract; but then again, he may have been better off avoiding the pitcher all-together. News of the Lackey injury was the first announcement by Ben Cherington as the new Red Sox GM. From all the offseason transactions and news that will follow in Boston, this one will be taken as one of the more positive moves.
The Red Sox have many decisions facing them this offseason. The re-signing of David Ortiz and Jonathan Papelbon. The integration and structure of the organization with a new GM. The hiring of a new manager. The departure of J.D. Drew and possibly Marco Scutaro. The comeback of Carl Crawford. These are surely hectic times in Boston. The team will need to make many roster changes for 2012, including the signing of 1-2 new starting pitchers. The injury to Lackey could prove to be a blessing in disguise. The surgery may pinpoint that his terrible numbers in Boston were based more on declining health than eroding skills. With a year-off to rehabilitate and re-energize, the Red Sox may see a new and focused John Lackey. The team would have had to eat most of his contract to trade him; perhaps they are better off paying and playing him.
In the worst case scenario, the Red Sox will need to either trade or release John Lackey between now and 2014, if they do not believe that he can rebound and be a useful asset for the team. There is always the chance that Lackey is not able to recapture the form he displayed back in his Angels days. Also, there may be enough bad feelings between the player and organization that a fresh start will be in order. At this point, the Red Sox are best off to take a “break” so to speak for a year from John Lackey. Come to 2013, the team may find that they have a new valuable asset that they never counted on. John Lackey at the end of the day is a classic example of the risk involved handing a 30 something year-old pitcher a 4+ years contract for big dollars. The Red Sox in this case gambled and lost. But at least the decision can be put off for a year whether to write John Lackey off completely or try to recover pennies on the dollar. I wish John Lackey a successful surgery and healthy recovery. While I don’t expect to see him emerge as a MLB ace upon his return, my sense is that we will see an older and wiser John Lackey on the mound. The talent has always been there. Now he just needs to find the health and heart to fulfill the remainder of his potential.
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Rob Bland (Baseball Writer – MLB reports): On October 12, 2011, Theo Epstein, former GM of the Boston Red Sox agreed to a 5 year deal worth more than $15M. With the Chicago Cubs. This all comes as no real surprise to anyone, as it had been speculated since the Cubs fired GM Jim Hendry in August that Epstein was their top target. The real surprise is that Epstein and the Boston Red Sox’s falling out happened so swiftly. Within two weeks of the Red Sox collapse, which has been widely discussed by everyone in baseball circles, manager Terry Francona and the team parted ways, as well as, now, their general manager Theo Epstein.
It has been well-documented that Epstein was able to overcome the “Curse of the Bambino” by employing a bunch of “idiots” in the locker room that went on to win a World Series in 2004. This mentality has been a similar mantra of the Red Sox throughout his tenure. Because they won in 2004, and also in 2007, it was completely acceptable for players to do what they pleased in the locker room. Now that the epic collapse took place, the organization needed a change, and true accountability never took place for the Red Sox.
Epstein is a GM of great stature. He is trusted and many people believe in his abilities. He employs a “Moneyball” type strategy, which is also aided by having a large payroll, something he will also have the ability to create in Chicago. Ownership of the Cubs have not been afraid to spend money, and most of the time have put themselves in unfortunate situations.
Two contracts come to mind when I think of the Cubs. Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Zambrano. Prior to the 2007 season, Soriano inked a contract worth $136M over 8 years. In 2007, Zambrano signed an extension for the 2008-2012 seasons, with a vesting option for 2013 worth $91.5M. Epstein has a lot of work cut out for him with an aging, mediocre core, but finding a suitor for these two players, or finding a way for them to produce and not be distractions in the clubhouse is paramount.
Another major task for him is to figure out what he wants to do with incumbent manager, Mike Quade. Quade was hired as the Cubs’ interim manager on August 22, 2010, and in October, the interim title was stripped. Quade led the Cubs to a 71-91 record and a 5th place finish in the NL Central, only ahead of the lowly Houston Astros. This record was tied for the 5th worst in all of baseball. When Quade was hired, much to the dismay of Cubs fans, who wanted Ryne Sandberg to take the helm, he was highly regarded as a smart, methodical baseball thinker. Was the year and month enough of a trial, or will Epstein want to bring in his own talent to manage this struggling franchise?
Epstein will also consider bringing in his own front office, using members from his group with the Red Sox. With news breaking that Senior Vice President and Assistant General Manager Ben Cherington will take over as GM in Boston, Epstein will be fighting to bring his favorite guys over with him.
The last thing holding up this deal is compensation for the Red Sox. Since Epstein had one year remaining on his contract with Boston, the Cubs had to ask permission to even speak with him. Epstein had made it known to the organization that he would be leaving after 2012, so the Red Sox allowed talks to run smoothly, as they would have owed him $3M for the season, and a contract bonus of $4M. Cash and/or prospects will easily get the job done.
The deal has not yet been completed due to some of these complications, but should be done by the beginning of next week. Epstein will have a major challenge in Chicago, as they are not even close to competing. Major decisions need to be made, and even with his high level of competency, it will take up to five years for the Cubs to be a major contender in the NL Central.
***Today’s feature was prepared by our Baseball Writer, Rob Bland. We highly encourage you to leave your comments and feedback at the bottom of the page and share in the discussion with our readers. You can also follow Rob on Twitter.***
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