(The following is a debate between Rob Bradford and Michael Felger regarding Felger's assertion that, if offered, the Red Sox shouldn't trade Clay Buchholz for Albert Pujols.)
Bradford: So I'm driving along, perfectly content listening to another Sunday morning Michael Felger rant -- presumably about how stupid college basketball is -- when the words come through my speakers: "I wouldn't trade Clay Buchholz for Albert Pujols". My reaction? Concern. I understand you are a big boy and can usually navigate the seemingly 'Dead End' paths of opinion, but I honestly believed that once those words left your mouth the straight-jacket was finally going to be broken out of the Entercom offices. I knew you weren't going to back off the statement (you never do), thereby presumably leading to phone lines full of Felger vitriol the likes of which hasn't been seen in some time.
But, low and behold, the Felger Kool-Aid is evidently still in circulation. Some callers actually agreed with you. Yikes! Well, knowing you aren't going to back off this stance I feel obligated to integrate the voice of reason into this illogical opinion, and thereby sobering up some of your blinded followers in the process.
I actually agree with the basic tenet of your argument, that you should not trade away potential top-of-the-rotation pitching if you can help it. I get that, and agree with it. I am, and have been, in the camp that if you're talking about trading away the Clay Buchholz who has reappeared this spring training for the anything-but-lock type of talent such as either the two Texas catchers or Arizona's Miguel Montero, forget it. But we aren't referencing a player with any semblance of doubt. We are pointing to Albert Pujols. Albert Pujols!
In case you didn't realize, Felger, since Pujols broke into the majors in 2001 he has the second-most homers (319), the second-best slugging percentage (.624), the third-best on-base percentage (.425), the second-most RBI (977), and the best batting average (.334). And if you want to go down the road of "I don't believe he is really 29 and his production is surely going to drop off", know that he had the second-best batting average (.357) of his career last season, to go with and insane .462 on-base percentage ( a career-high) and 37 homers in 148 games.
There is a case for holding onto Buchholz at all costs ... just not one which involves a straight-up trade for Pujols.
Felger: Yes, I said it. In the course of making a simple point -- holding on to young pitching is the smart thing to do -- I picked an extreme example to illustrate my opinion. I tend to do that. It started with my telling Callahan on Friday I wouldn't trade Buchholz for Joe Mauer. By the time the Sunday show was two hours old, I had inserted Pujols into the argument. Yes, Rob, Albert Pujols! Arguably the best player in the game. Way to go Felger. I blame it on the Miller Lite on ice I was drinking Saturday night (that's right, ice cubes in my Miller Lite; maybe Willie McGinest was right....And, for the record Rob, I was drinking those Lites while witnessing, in person, the Villanova-Pitt game at the Garden....and that game definitely wasn't stupid).
But you know what? Just like I'm not ashamed to say I like Lite on the rocks (try it, folks; I promise you'll never have it straight up again), I stand by not giving up Buchholz for Pujols in our mythical, fantasy-land, sports radio argument.
If you were listening, I never said Buchholz was untradable. Hanley Ramirez. David Wright. Evan Longoria. Ryan Braun. In some respect, I'd feel better about those guys. I know the numbers on their birth certificates are for real (Well, Ramirez is from the Dominican, so that's not a lock). I know the bulk of their production came during the testing era. I know their contracts won't put me at great risk. Longoria is a steal (six years, $17.5 million). Ramirez' deal (six years, $70 million) gives him an annual average value in Julio Lugo's neighborhood. Wright (six years, $55 million) is even cheaper.
Pujols? Maybe I'm a bad person, but I have a natural skepticism towards massive, Dominican sluggers of uncertain ages. (Again, I'm conveniently ignoring Ramirez' nationality). And his contract -- seven years, $100 million -- is a whopper.
But I'm not here to bash Pujols. Yes, Peter Gammons, I've heard of him and I watch the games. I'm well aware of the numbers. He's probably the best hitter of this generation. This isn't about him. And it's not even about Buhholtz. I think he's going to be great, but I fully acknowledge he might not be.
This is about the Red Sox philosophy, one that has produced five playoff appearances, four trips to the ALCS and two World Series titles in the last six years. Looks to me like they're the new Atlanta Braves, only with the hardware. And here's the thing about philosophies, Rob: they only work when you stick with them.
The name of the game is drafting and developing young talent, particularly pitching. But beyond that, it's about being patient with it. It's about not giving up on players before they've had a chance to break out. It's about showing restraint and keeping unproven guys you believe in instead of trading them away for established, expensive names. You don't send Dustin Pedroia back to the minors after one bad month. You don't trade Jon Lester just because he had some problems early in his career. And you don't trade Clay Buchholz because he lost his way his second year in the majors. It took the Red Sox eight decades to figure that out, but Theo and the minions finally got it right.
When you do what the Sox have done -- draft, develop and patiently bring along young talent -- you become a perennial winner.
When you do what you're suggesting, Rob, you become the Mets.
Bradford: Sure, blame it on the beer. After you referenced your one-night stand with a bunch of Miller Lite's on ice, everything else is tainted. It's like me saying, "Oh, I did sign that check for Michael Felger, but it's been tricky executing such tasks ever since I started using that invisible ink pen.''
So let's ignore your alcohol-based excuses and focus on what you did dig in on. I understand this is a Red Sox philosophy to draft and develop, one which has worked out quite well. But there are always exceptions. Remember Johan Santana? Exception. And if Miguel Cabrera was offered straight-up for Clay Buchholz last year ... exception (perhaps). Pujols is everybody's exception. Every team in the major leagues would love to alter their philosophy to acquire Albert Pujols ...(pause) I can't believe I'm even debating this. Clay Buchholz for Albert Pujols?!
Let's forget for a minute the players you're talking about and pretend there is somewhat equal value. Look at it from another point of view in regards to the Red Sox .... (pause again) I can't believe I'm arguing this ... Don't you think a priority for the Red Sox is to get a middle of the order bat for years to come. Other than top of the rotation pitching, meat of the order guys are the most rare of commodities these days. It is why signing Jason Bay is so important. It was why extending Kevin Youkilis was a must. So let's just say Buchholz is the pitcher we project him to be. Because of the aforementioned philosophy, the Red Sox have more of those guys than most. What they won't have (especially when the contracts of David Ortiz and Mike Lowell go bye-bye) are hitters who can influence a game and a season like Pujols. No hitter in baseball can influence a game or a season like Pujols, even A-Rod, whose influence would ultimately be toxic at some point and time.
And in case you were wondering, you would have Pujols under your control for three more years at a rate just slightly higher than you're paying J.D. Drew. And, much like, Mark Teixeira, he is one guy that the financial flexibility argument flies out the window on. They were ready to pay Teixeira and they would pay Pujols. So, again, I understand that 'young pitchers under your control while developing into aces' argument. A good one ... when you're not talking about Albert Pujols.
We're talking about Albert Pujols! Albert Pujols! (Pause) .... I still can't believe ...
Felger: ... that your wife lets you keep that thing on your face?
And what do you mean, Johan Santana "exception"? Yes, the Sox wouldn't have been able to get Santana in a straight-up, one-for-one deal involving one of their prospects, but they certainly could have made that deal happen if they wanted to. Jon Lester plus another good prospect and a third lesser guy would have gotten it done. And when the Santana rumors were going around over a year ago, most of the folks on this station said it was a no-brainer to do it. At that point, Lester was a guy who couldn't get out of the fifth inning. He had health issues. An ERA of 4.76 in 2006 and 4.57 in 2007. Couldn't throw it over 93 MPH. You all said trade him. And when the Sox didn't, you howled. I'm sure you, Rob, wrote something similar then to one of your Internet geek buddies: "I can't believe I'm even debating this....(pause). Jon Lester for Johan Santana?....(pause) Johan Santana?! (pause) Maybe I should try and grow a goatee. (pause)....And not trim it, etc.''
Then Lester saved the season (16 wins, 3.21 ERA) and the Sox won 95 games en route to another ALCS. Oops. Maybe they didn't need Santana after all. The Sox got to keep a young stud in Lester (who none of us felt was a stud, by the way; the Sox just believed in their scouting), AND they still got to keep Ellsbury, Buchholz, Bard, Bowden, Masterson, Youkilis, Pedroia, or whoever else the Twins might have wanted for Santana.
The Sox could have had Cabrera, too. They could have beaten the Tigers' offer just as easily as they could have beaten the Mets' offer. But they declined. Again, it wasn't a one-for-one as we're discussing here. But they could have put together a winning package for one of the best young power hitters in the game. Instead, the Tigers took the cheese and finished in last place.
The Santana and Cabrera cases prove my point, Rob. And I won't even get into the A-Rod deal. That's another one. The Sox were prevented from doing that one by outside forces, and it turned out to be the best intervention the Sox could ever have hoped for.
Once again, I'm not going to make the case here that Buchholz is a can't-miss prospect. He could be Craig Hansen for all we know. Personally, I think he'll be an ace. But we don't know. I just believe you have to let it play out. As you say, the Sox project him as a top-of-the-rotation guy. Just like they projected Lester as an elite power lefty and Papelbon and a front-line closer. I'll take my chances with them on Buchholz.
As for your point about the Sox needing young power, that's obviously correct. But you can say that about a lot of the teams in major league baseball, and it's only going to get worse. Here's a news flash for you, mangina boy: THEY TEST FOR STEROIDS NOW. Power is going to be harder to come by across the board. You've got to score runs in other ways. You've got to win with pitching and all-around players, guys like Pedroia, Youkilis and Ellsbury. In other words, just the kind of guys the Sox are -- all together now -- drafting and developing.
It would be one thing if the Sox hadn't been winning at such a high level under their current philosophy. If their young players were merely good and not great, if the Sox weren't making the playoffs every year, then I'd say go nuts. Trade them all. In that case, we'd have the right to expect that the players the Sox were getting in return were better bets than the ones they were giving away. But it seems to me that the players they've kept have produced and won at a higher level than the ones they've passed on.
So quit fighting it, Rob. Crack a Miller Lite, pour it over some ice and sit back and enjoy the young guns.
And thanks for listening.
Bradford: For the record, I did trim my goatee this morning, and I still think your argument stinks. It was made even worse by the steroid line of conversation. Yes, there will be less meat-of-the-order guys, but guess what? Pujols is not only one, he is THE one. And as soon as you start referencing trade packages instead of one-for-one scenarios, you've crossed over to an entirely different argument. I think you knew you dug yourself a hole at approximately 11:30 Sunday morning that only went deeper with each word typed by your dainty fingers.
And since I'm the boss, I get the last word ... Put that in your illogical pipe and smoke it.