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Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Those Who Have No Sense Of History

are condemned to repeat it.

Sure, after last season, everyone was saluting the Boston Red Sox' front office. The salutes were genuine and warranted, as Theo Epstein et al. crafted together an outstanding team -- the World Series winner.

But as is the case with contemporary sports teams, it's hard to keep a championship team together (or any team, for that matter). Everyone wants a piece of a winner, and in the age of free agency it's easy to get that piece. Players who excel in the post-season suddenly have a tremendous amount of value, such as Derek Lowe, who had pitched his way out of the BoSox' rotation in the regular season only to win two key post-season games and earn a nice free-agent payday with the Dodgers. Others end up landing big contracts at the right time, such as Jason Varitek, thereby taking dollars away from other key needs.

In baseball you win with pitching. The Red Sox had holes to fill in their rotation, and while they couldn't swing a trade for Randy Johnson or sign Carl Pavano, they did get Matt Clement and they also signed David Wells.

And therein lies the problem. You don't have to be a Yale grad (like Theo Epstein) or a Princeton grad (like team president Larry Lucchino) to realize that overweight 41 year-old pitchers are prime candidates to break down (the same way you don't have to be a rocket scientist or brain surgeon to figure out that with a team whose players average 34 years in age, the Yankees are old).

Did they honestly believe that David Wells would last for the entire season without breaking down? Do they have a valid back-up plan? Is John Halama, a once highly touted prospect with a history of injuries, the guy to do so? Or is he just a filler until gimpy-winged Wade Miller enters into the picture for Boston?

What demonstrates the true genius of any GM is not when they sign Carlos Beltran in his prime or Carl Pavano in his and then the players put up big numbers. Instead, it's when they have the appropriate level of personnel planning and player development so that if one player goes down, the entire team can figure out a way to compensate for his loss, or, better yet, for what he was being counted on to do. Which, to my estimation, was to win about 10-15 games.

It may be that Theo Epstein and Company signed the best starter available, hoped for the best and then decided to plan for a bunch of contingencies. Or, it may be that they actually thought Wells could rekindle some of his old magic and bedevil his old team, the Yankees, for one more season.

Certainly in Halama and Miller it would appear that the BoSox have the names who can help make the difference. What the course of the season will prove is whether those fellows can still pitch, or whether they're just names whose past promise or past accomplishments give false hope to the Red Sox faithful.

There's a saying that makes the political blogs that is that one shouldn't get into a land war in Asia. Perhaps there's another tautology that should make the rounds of the sports blogs: don't sign overweight pitchers who are in their forties.

Or at least don't count on them for too much.


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