If I had to choose one move that Theo Epstein has made in his nearly eight years as the Red Sox GM to show why I think he's great at his job, it would be last year's deal for Billy Wagner.
Not signing David Ortiz. Not the various low-cost OBP pickups that made the 2004 Championship, but the acquisition of a late-inning reliever who didn't even pitch 15 innings for the Red Sox.
Poster Radiohix at Over the Monster sums up the deal, and what's great about it, pretty well:
So let me get this straight: Theo traded Chris Carter and Eddie Lora for 2 months of Billy Wagner, Kobrin Vitek, and Anthony Ranaudo?
If those last two names aren't familiar to you, they are the first and third picks by the Boston Red Sox in the 2010 MLB Draft. Vitek was a clear first round pick who will likely end up as a starter at second base, third base, or center field, while Anthony Ranaudo has ace potential, and likely would have gone in the top five if not for injury concerns.
The Red Sox acquired those first and third picks when the Braves signed Wagner -- who had let it be known that he would be leaving for a team that needed a closer before the trade even went through -- a Type-A free agent, entitling the Red Sox to both their pick in the first round, and a bonus pick in the supplemental sandwich round that follows immediately after.
Now, with the Red Sox clearly struggling in middle relief, why not try to go back to the well?
First, there's the same ol' Mets, and reliever Pedro Feliciano. Currently pegged by MLBTradeRumors.com's Elias Rankings as a Type-A free agent, Feliciano is a quality arm that can both strike guys out and induce ground balls. He's having some control problems this year, and there's some precedent for that, but he's a guy that gets the job done.
Of course, the Mets are still in contention, and might not be inclined to deal a good reliever. So how about a less-competitive team like Arizona, where Type-B Aaron Heilman would likely be available. Maybe Chicago's asking price on Matt Thornton looks that much more reasonable when you consider compensation that will come from free agency after his club option.
The Billy Wagner deal was an ideal situation: A team that does not focus much on the draft with an aging Type-A free-agent to be that they didn't want to pay. Unless the Mets do fall out of contention, such a perfect storm may not present itself with Feliciano, and even if it does, his contract is not so cumbersome that the Mets will just be willing to cut him loose.
But the Sox definitely need help, and if they're going to have to pay to get it, they may as well aim high knowing that there will be a long-term return on their investment.