Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Who's Coming, Who's Going?

There are just three days left until the trade deadline, and Larry Luchino recently said that the team would look into satisfying Manny Ramirez's trade request. But don't count on them finding any suitable takers. Nobody but Steinbrenner - with the possible exception of Omar Minaya - would touch Manny's contract, and we all know management would never let him end up in pinstripes. Although a change of scenery might be best for Manny and the club, it would be very difficult for the Sox to make up that kind of incredible offensive production. Players with that level of talent don't come along every day, and aren't always available on the trade market.

Red Sox Nation needs to brace itself. The club will have to give up some good talent to get a good player in return. The question is who? Manny's been a vital component to the club in terms of both chemistry and production. But all of the guys that everyone has wanted to run out of town - Belhorn, Millar, Embree etc. have little trade value. Even Bill Meuller won't garner much in return (due to his age, ailing knees and pending free agency) and the fans love him - for good reason. Most of the organization's trading leverage comes from the minor league system. They certainly don't need anyone else's prospects. Their system is filled with them. The Sox need impact pitching now, and so Red Sox Nation should be prepared for what could transpire. We likely won't see the least productive or least popular players leaving town. Quite the opposite is true. And at least one or two or the team's heralded prospects may realize their true potential in another city, and in another uniform.

Copyright © 2005 Kennedy's Commentary. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Time for the Man-Child to Grow Up

Despite the fact that his teammate, Trot Nixon, was disabled due to an oblique strain in last night's game, Manny Ramirez still insisted on taking the day off today. Even though tomorrow is an off day for the team anyway, Manny still needed a little extra personal time. Notwithstanding the fact that he draws the team's highest salary, one of the two highest in baseball, Man-Ram couldn't play today for his own reasons. So the Sox were without two thirds of their starting outfield in this afternoon's contest against the D-Rays. Fortunately, they won despite Manny's absence.

Over the weekend, Terry Francona told Manny he could sit out tonight's game. But with the ensuing circumstances, he later asked his left fielder if he'd reconsider because the team was "in a bit of bind." The answer; no can-do.

Perhaps this is Manny's way of assuring the team that his trade request was for real. After all, this is the third request in four years. Apparently this request took his teammates by surprise. No one seemed to have been aware of the star fielder's unhappiness.

In recent weeks, Manny has had numerous mental lapses. Oddly, they've all come against the Devil Rays. The slugger has left himself wide open to criticism for a mid-game bathroom break inside the Monster; for being the last player back onto the field after a brief rain delay - arriving just before the first pitch; for asking to be taken out of a game because of "tight hamstrings"; and for not hustling down to first base on an infield grounder last night. What appeared to but a surefire double play ended up in Manny being ruled safe because of a wide throw. It was a critical play in the game, allowing the eventual winning run.

Manny has always been very popular in the clubhouse but, understandably, some of his teammates are upset with his attitude and behavior. Loafing isn't going to win any friends or admirers, and being selfish when the team is in need won't either. His teammates feel that he gets special treatment from the management and the media, and their mostly right. Putting up such staggering numbers year after year has earned Manny some leeway. And with a contract the size of his, he knows as well as everyone else that no one else wants him. With a contract that will pay him $57 million over the next three years, the man is simply untradable. The team once placed him on waivers, and there were no takers. Though there would have been no compensation to the Sox - it was simply a matter of picking up the remaining contract - not one team in baseball would bite. At the end of the season he'll become a 10/5 man, and will have veto power over any trade, but in reality his massive contract already has that power. For better, or worse - or both - the Sox own him through 2008.

Manny has outlasted the GM who signed him, and a couple of managers that he's played for. That's the problem with sports today; the superstar players hold all the cards - and they all know it. They make more than their bosses, and they know they'll be around longer than them too.

What's odd is that Manny allegedly wants out of Boston because of a lack of privacy, but he hasn't spoken to the media since he hit his 400th homer in late May. And if he wants to avoid the unnecessary spotlight, then he should avoid calling attention to himself in such a myriad of negative ways.

Who knew he was unhappy anyway? When isn't the guy smiling? And why shouldn't he be? He's multi-millionaire who earns his money playing baseball. He's great at what he does, and is consistently at the top of almost all offensive categories. The fans generally love him, as do his teammates, and he plays on the defending World Series Champions - a team that is contending for another championship this year. Guys in Kansas City might have a reason to be unhappy, but Manny? Give me a break!

Theo needs to have a sit down with the Man-child and set things straight. It's time for Manny to start acting like a big boy, and not a selfish child. It's time for a time out. Manny needs to understand that he doesn't run the show and that, though he is a tremendously gifted athlete whose talents are greatly appreciated by the organization, he does not live by a different set of rules than the rest of his teammates. For the benefit of all, hopefully he'll have an awakening, an enlightenment, an epiphany. At least we can always hope.

Copyright © 2005 Kennedy's Commentary. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Craig Hansen - Bullpen Savior?

The Red Sox have finally signed their number two pick, Craig Hansen. The St. John's University star, the 26th player chosen in the draft, has reportedly agreed to a four-year, $4 million contract. The final draftee to come to terms with the club, Hansen is represented by uber agent Scott Boras, accounting for the relatively lengthy negotiations. There was speculation that Hansen could go as high as number one in the draft, but the prospect of dealing with Boras scared other suitors away. The Sox took a chance and now they have their man.

Many Sox fans hope that Hansen will be the answer, or the salvation, to the Sox bullpen woes. Normally it would be awhile before a pitcher who'd never even thrown a minor league pitch to make an appearance at Fenway, but barring better options, we could soon see Hansen. The young pitcher will likely begin work outs at the team's training facility in Fort Meyers, before being assigned to one of the minor league affiliates.

Hansen was the Big East pitcher of the year and a first-team All-America selection, but expecting a college player to make the leap to the big leagues so quickly may be unrealistic. Though he throws a fastball clocked at around 97 miles per hour, the outsized expectations during a playoff push could put undue pressure on the young man. Yet, in an effort to stabilize the bullpen, the club could add Hansen to the big-league roster before season's end.

At St. John's, he had 77 strikeouts in just 57 innings, while giving up only 17 walks. Very impressive numbers, indeed. But the big league is a totally different ball game and it may be in Hansen's best interest to some get some extra seasoning in the minors before coming up. But the Sox might not have that luxury.

After losing both Matt Mantai and Keith Foulke to injuries, and then designating Alan Embree, the Sox have made up for the losses by bolstering the pen with the likes of Chad Bradford, a player coming off back surgery who hadn't pitched since last year. Mantai will likely never pitch for the Sox again, and at best Foulke could be back by mid-August. At that point, who knows what kind of pitcher he'll be. Many believe that his poor performance was due to more than just bad knees. Foulke's ERA was over 10 in save situations, and just over three in non-save situations. That's a mental problem that arthroscopic surgery won't fix.

The jury is still out on the Curt Schilling bullpen experiment, and it's still unclear if Schilling will ever regain his old form. Returning from any kind of surgery is tough for a 39-year-old. The body just doesn't heal as quickly, or as fully, as it once did. So the Sox have their finger on the pulse of a very thin trade market, with the deadline just one week away. If the Sox aren't able to get a talent like JC Romero from the Twins, or Billy Wagner from the Phillies, then they may turn to Hansen as early as September. It could be trial by fire for the young man, and we can only hope it works out better for him, and the Sox, than it did for Cla Merrideth. With his 97 mile per hour fastball and tremendous college success, Hansen will arrive with greater expectations and a lot more pressure to perform. That's the nature of a late season pennant race in Boston. It's crunch time.

Copyright © 2005 Kennedy's Commentary. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Bronson or Burnett?

Two years ago AJ Burnett had Tommy John surgery, at the age of just 26. He gives up more walks than Bronson Arroyo, but offsets that with his huge strike out total and fewer hits allowed. When it comes to numbers, at first glance, Burnett clearly looks like the winner. But Burnet pitches in the National League and in a pitcher's park. Arroyo, on the other hand, pitches in the tougher AL, and in a hitter's park. The big question is - is Burnett a durable investment? He made only 4 starts in 2003 before injuring his elbow, and then just 20 starts upon his return last year. However, he's already made 19 starts this season. Another consideration; Burnett is a free agent at seaon's end and will command a hefty contract. Arroyo isn't up for free agency until after the 2008 season. Here's a comparison of the two:

Bronson Arroyo:
Age 28
W/L 8-5
ERA 4.05
Hits / IP 121 / 122
HR 14
BB 27
SO 68

AJ Burnett:
Age 28
W/L 6-6
ERA 3.68
Hits / IP 111 / 124
HR 9
BB 47
SO 120

Copyright © 2005 Kennedy's Commentary. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Who's on Third?

There have been published reports that the Red Sox may trade either Bill Mueller or Kevin Youkilis to the Twins in exchange for relief pitcher, J.C. Romero. This sort of move seems inevitable. Youkilis is young (26) and less experienced at the big league level, but cheap. Mueller, 34, is an experienced veteran with damaged knees, and is a free agent at season's end. I love Mueller. He's been a clutch player in his time with the Sox, and plays great defense. But he is not the future. Here's a statistical comparison:

Bill Mueller

Avg. .281 Slg. .399 OBP .427 G 85 AB 281 R 39 H 79 TB 112 2B 17 3B 2 HR 4 RBI 38 BB 41 SO 42 E 5

Kevin Youkilis

Avg. .286 Slg. .429 OBP .413 G 31 AB 63 R 10 H 18 TB 27 2B 6 3B 0 HR 1 RBI 9 BB 8 SO 14 E 0

Their numbers are strikingly similar, and who knows what Youk could do if he played every day. You ususally expect a little more offensive output at the hot corner than Mueller has provided. Youk has had a little less than a quarter of the at bats, and yet his power numbers are similar.

Mueller might have more open market value for a team, like the Twins, that is vying for a playoff spot. If one of them has to go in exchange for some needed pitching - as much as I'd hate to see it - I think Mueller should, and will be, the guy.

Copyright © 2005 Kennedy's Commentary. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The Future at Second

Sox second baseman Mark Belhorn, who inured his thumb in a game against the Yankees on Sunday, was subsequently placed on the DL. At the time, Belhorn was batting a paltry .216 - the lowest batting average of any everyday second baseman in the league. That lowly average can largely be attributed to the fact that Belhorn has a whopping 109 strike outs in just 85 games. Amazingly, Belhorn has managed to whif a phenomenal 38% of the time he's come to the plate. With only 61 hits to his credit, Belhorn was well on his way easily shattering his own club record of 177 strike outs in a single season. That is certainly not the kind of team record that any player wants to be remembered for. Being in both first and second place on that ignominious list would be quite a dishonor. A free agent at season's end, it's hard to imagine him returning to the team next year.

To replace Belhorn at second base, it's been reported that the Sox have acquired Kansas City infielder, Tony Graffanino. Graffanino, who played all four infield positions for the Royals this year while batting .298, will likely split time with recently acquired utility man, Alex Cora. Unfortunately, Cora, a lifetime .242 hitter, has an even lower average than Belhorn this season, hitting only .205. Clearly, he is not the longterm solution.

That begs the question; who will be the Sox starting second baseman in 2006? In late June, the organization promoted young second base prospect Dustin Pedroia to Pawtucket, and it's believed they may promote him once again in September. Management would like to assess his skills at the major league level. Pedroia, who was just drafted last year, is widely admired within the organization and is heralded as the second baseman of the future. Many believe he could be ready for a full time role as soon as next season.

The Sox sure could use some stability at the position. Belhorn is in his second season at the sack, and before him Todd Walker had the reigns for just one year. Jose Offerman was the last player to hold the position for at least three consecutive seasons ('99-'01), and prior to that you have to go all the way back to Jody Reed to find a player who held the position longer ('89-'92). Pedrioia has the potential to anchor the middle infield spot for years to come, and so this may be the last we'll see of Mark Belhorn in a Sox uniform. Most will say good riddance.

After struggling mightily throughout last year's playoff run, Belhorn's bat finally came alive against the Yankees, contributing to the team's historic comeback against the Bombers. Prior to that, fans had been calling for his head, or least his benching. And after struggling so much again this year, most fans turned against him once more. It's too bad it's worked out this way. Belhorn, known for his quiet and steady demeanor, was born in Boston and could have been a local favorite - if he'd been more consistent. Actually, he has been consistent, but it's just been the wrong kind of consistency.

Just wait until September, Sox fans. We may get a peak of what's in store for the future at second base. Dustin Pedroia could make us all forget about Mark Belhorn, and Todd Walker, Rey Sanchez, Jose Offerman, Mike Benjamin, Jeff Frye, Luis Alicea and on, and on, and on.

Copyright © 2005 Kennedy's Commentary. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Second Half Outlook

Yes, right now things look bad. But they will get better. Just hold on and be patient, Sox fans. Despite a bullpen that's been agonizingly disappointing thus far, our boys were in first place at the break for the first time in a decade - and they did it without their ace. In fact, they did it without their two best pitchers from last season. Despite this, the team had one more win at this year's break than they did last year, despite having the thrid highest ERA in the league. This ignominy is due, in large part, to the ERAs of relievers John Halama (6.05), Keith Foulke (6.23), Matt Mantei (6.49), and Alan Embree (7.82).

Undoubtedly, the Sox are in the midst of a rough patch of baseball, losing seven of their last nine games. But the team is looking to improve by the trade deadline, and they will. Owner John Henry said, ''there is a very good probability that we will increase payroll before the trading deadline."

The pen will be better in the second half because there will be changes. I think the Sox will go after one established reliever, but I think that a couple of youngsters in their system (Papelbon, Lester, Delcarmen, Hansen etc.) will be given a chance to prove themselves at the big league level. Schilling will return, and by shear determination, willpower and craft, will be a steadying force in the pen, and eventually the rotation.

Damon, Ortiz, Manny and Tek have been fantastic, Nizon has been solid and consistent, and Bill Mueller has come back well after knee surgery. The six of them have driven this offense to incredible heights, and to a statistical lead in almost all categories.

But with the exception of Mueller, the entire infield has been a disappointment. Millar is streaky once again, and we can only hope that he has a blistering second half. This will likely be his final year in Boston. Belhorn has a pathetic average, and enrages the 'Nation' every time he takes another called third strike. He, too, is likely playing his final year with the Sox. Either one them (Millar or Belhorn) could lose his starting spot in the second half, and with Belhorn's recent injury, that may have already happened. Finally, Renteria has been a disappointment, both in the field and at the plate. He already has 17 errors - more than any other shortstop in baseball. And to make matters worse, he's hitting below his career average. Hopefully he'll turn it around in the second half, but thus far he's been their most overpaid player - Manny included. The money spent on ER seems like it could have been better spent elsewhere. I wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't finish the four years of his contract in Boston. Ever hear of Hanley Ramirez? I'd certainly love to see Edgar succeed and earn his money though.

The Sox will have the benefit of playing 43 of their remaining 75 games at home, including 24 of the final 36. In fact, no other team in baseball has more second half home games than the Sox. And they are the best home team in the American League over the past two seasons. They will finally win this very competitive division.

Take hope Sox fans. The team hasn't even played their best ball yet, and things will only get better in the second half. They will soon realize their full potential. Hopefully we'll also get a good look at the future in the second half, in the person of some very talented youngsters in our deep farm system.

Copyright © 2005 Kennedy's Commentary. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Damon Part of Sox Long Term Plans?

With the July 31 trade deadline just weeks away, Red Sox Nation has been buzzing about possible trades and acquisitions. What players might the club pursue in its push for another pennant? Much has been made of the depth in the Sox farm system, and there's been plenty of speculation about whether the team might give up some of that future potential in exchange for an established big leaguer who could deliver an immediate impact in the second half.

It seems that the organization wants to make it clear that they won't "sell the farm" in a myopic deal. Everybody remembers the Larry Anderson for Jeff Bagwell trade. Not willing to make the same mistake again, the Sox undoubtedly have long term plans for remaining a viable contender for years to come. "We're simply not trading certain prospects, period," said Red Sox GM Theo Epstein.

Epstein was recently quoted as saying, "Eventually what we want to build is an organization where we have a couple of players coming to the big leagues every year, players who have come through our system as teammates, who are Red Sox. There's a culture that has to be developed to make that work and make the organization healthy and vibrant for a long period of time, and I'm not going to alter and make a dumb move."

When pitcher Curt Schilling volunteered to come out of the pen in relief, the team gladly accepted. Management appreciates the veteran's selfless offer. "This helps us avoid doing something desperate and shortsighted," Epstein said. So far the organization has been able to avoid parting with any of its highly valued minor league assets.

Last week, the team announced the signing of first round draft pick (#23 overall) Jacob Ellsbury, from Oregon State. The 21-year-old centerfielder, noted for his speed and hitting prowess, earned Pac-10 co-player of the year honors this season. Ellsbury batted .415 in his final year, and hit .368 over his three year college career. Baseball America called him the fastest baserunner among draft-eligible college players.

The Sox are also quite interested in seeing what 25-year-old centerfielder Adam Stern can do at the major league level. The team is expected to keep Stern on the big league roster, perhaps keeping that spot from a now available Gabe Kapler. After an uneventful season, Kapler was recently released by Japan's Yomiuri Giants, and although the Sox will soon sign him, he'll likely be assigned to Pawtucket.

Johnny Damon will be a free agent at season's end, and whether or not he'll return has also been the source of much speculation. Damon, who will be 32 at the start of next season, and ostensibly in the prime of his career, has had two consecutive career years for the Sox. He stands to cash in for those performances, and is said to be seeking a five or six year deal. The Sox new management and ownership have previously balked at deals of that length. Recognizing this, Damon has said he'd be willing to accept a four year offer from the team to stay in Boston.

But Damon won't come cheap. He's already making more than $8 million per season, and he'll likely be looking for at least $10-12 million each year under a new contract. The question is, do the Sox think that Stern can be an every day centerfielder for the team - at least a stop gap for the immediate future? And furthermore, when do they believe that Ellsbury will be ready to join the big league club? Some sources have said they think he'll be ready as soon as 2007. Might that play into whether or not the team decides to negotiate with Damon? It's certainly possible, and time will tell.

Copyright © 2005 Kennedy's Commentary. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.