Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Friday, November 25, 2005

CLEMENT FOR OVERBAY?

Even in the aftermath of the Josh Beckett acquisition, there's been speculation that the Red Sox may not yet be done in their attempts to overhaul their 2005 rotation. Assuming that David Wells will be traded, the Sox opening day staff could include Beckett, Curt Schilling, Tim Wakefield, Bronson Arroyo, Matt Clement, and likely Jonathan Papelbon. That means there are already six starters on the staff before another pitcher is acquired.

As I've written in the past, Arroyo would seem like the most likely trade option because of his low cost and durability. While not exceptional, Arroyo's numbers last year were good enough to make him a solid back of the rotation starter, and many teams might be interested in the right deal.

But Red Sox Nation might be much happier to see the Sox part company with Matt Clement and his large contract instead. Clement faded miserably in the season's second half - for the second year in a row. See a pattern developing here? But it seemed that Clement's $8 million plus annual salary would scare away any potential trade partners. The Sox overbid on a mediocre pitcher, and it seemed they were stuck with him for two more years. Or, maybe not.

According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the Red Sox have inquired about Brewers first baseman Lyle Overbay. The paper claims that a rumor is "circulating" that the Sox have offered Clement as compensation. Overbay's production took a dip last year when he hit .276 for the Brewers with 19 home runs and 72 runs-batted in, along with a .367 on-base percentage and a .449 slugging percentage. But in 2004, the left-handed Overbay, who turns 29 in January, hit .301/.385/.478, with 16 homers, 53 doubles and 87 RBI. After earning $446,000 last season he is arbitration eligible and could potentially triple his salary in 2006. That would still be a deal. The Blue Jays are also said to interested in Overbay's services.

If the Sox can dump Clement, they can make a run at free agent Kevin Millwood, who led the AL with a 2.86 ERA last season in Cleveland. Millwood will only be 31 next season. AJ Burnett may be too pricey, considering the 5-year $50 million offer that the Blue Jays recently tendered, while Matt Morris and Jarrod Washburn (3.20 ERA) remain other possibilities. All of them had better ERA's than Clement's 4.57. Clement also gave up more than a hit an inning, so if the Sox could lose him and upgrade, particularly with Millwood, they would have a much better staff next season.

That's something to look forward to.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

WOULDN'T IT BE NICE?

The Red Sox have been searching for an answer at first base since the end of the season. Heck, they were searching for an answer during the season as well. Kevin Millar seemed to get old overnight, and John Olerud is even older. Did you see him run the bases last year after off-season foot surgery? Sure, Olerud can still play some excellent defense and still hits well too. But he is not a long term solution. He could be a temporary fix and would make a fine veteran back-up next season.

Paul Konerko has proclaimed his desire to stay in Chicago or go to the West Coast. The Angels would happy to oblige him. The Mets just picked up Carlos Delgado in a trade, which removes him from the market and could put Manny Ramirez out of the Mets price range too. The Angels won't pay Manny $20 million to DH, and if they land Konerko, Manny would be removed from their wish list anyway.

So the Sox will likely (hopefully) end up with Manny playing left field again next year. Johnny Damon will cost them if they hope to keep him, and they've just committed $18 million to Mike Lowell over the next two years. What this all adds up to is the Sox needing an affordable, young first baseman, who can provide some much needed punch from the position.

Adrian Gonzalez just might be that guy.

Two major league sources have revealed that the Sox and the Texas Rangers have spoken about a trade that would send the first baseman, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2000 draft, to Boston. A lefthanded hitter, the 23-year-old Gonzalez, tore up Triple A Oklahoma last year, hitting .338 with 18 homers and 65 RBIs. When he was called up to Texas at the end of the season he cooled off considerably. In 150 at-bats for the Rangers, he hit .227 with 6 homers and 17 RBIs. So he didn't exactly light up big league pitching, but how often does a team get a chance to snag a 23-year-old former No. 1 pick? Not often. The Rangers like Gonzalez, but he's become expendable due to the emergence of All Star Mark Texiera.

Hopefully the Rangers can be persuaded to swap Gonzalez for Triple A catcher Kelly Shoppach, a Texas native. The Sox will have no use for Shoppach for at least the next couple of seasons, and they are known to have shopped him last summer.

If the Sox acquire Gonzalez, they could platoon him at first-base with the righthanded-hitting Kevin Youkilis. That might be good for Youk because he's not a natural first baseman. Both players are young and hungry, and they could push each other to be their very best.

The Sox need to continue their youth movement, blending those youngsters with their seasoned veterans. That'll make for a very nice compliment of players, and the young guys come cheap. Perhaps Adrian Gonzalez could be one of them. A young, inexpensive infield comprised, for the foreseeable future, by the likes of Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, and Adrian Gonzalez. Wouldn't it be nice?

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

A MATTER OF PROOF OVER POTENTIAL

Josh Beckett and MIke Lowell for Hanley Ramirez, Anibel Sanchez, and Jesus Delgado.

I like this move. It shows that, even without a GM, the Red Sox organization isn't asleep at the wheel. The Sox had plenty of offense last season, but pitching was their Achilles heel. Their 4.74 team ERA ranked 24th out of 30 teams. They were 15th in complete games (6), 18th in shut outs (8), and 21st in strike out per game (5.9). They needed to get better if they genuinely hoped to repeat as World Series Champions. This trade shows just how genuine those aspirations are.

Sure, there are risks, but there is also the significant likelihood of great reward. The Sox starting rotation was old last year and getting older this year. Everyone knew that changes had to be made. The additions of Josh Beckett and Jon Papelbon to the rotation will make the staff younger in a hurry. And the Sox may not be done yet. They could still pursue someone like Kevin Millwood. The Blue Jays 5-year, $50 million offer to AJ Burnett may have priced him right out of the market, considering that he's a game under .500 lifetime.

Yes, there are some worries about Beckett's reliability. In four big league seasons, he's struggled with nine trips to the DL -- but six were for blisters on the middle finger of his throwing hand. That can be overcome. It's important to remember that in those four years, Beckett averaged 150 K's per season. Though he's struggled to stay healthy throughout his career, he is coming off a year in which he notched career highs in wins (15), starts (29), innings (178 2/3) and strikeouts (166).

The Marlins were concerned enough about Beckett's shoulder to have him undergo two MRIs at the end of the season. If there are any problems, they should be revealed in his pending physical. There probably won't be. If there were any significant issues, they would have been disclosed during trade talks and if so, the Sox would have balked. The good news is that Beckett's shoulder likely didn't suffer from overuse. The 25-year-old righty has yet to make as many as 30 starts or pitch as many as 180 innings in a season. You could say he has low miles.

Beckett proved himself to be a big game performer during the 2003 postseason. At just the tender age of 23, he pitched a complete-game shutout against the Cubs in Game 5 of the NLCS, and then only three days later pitched four innings of relief in Game 7, allowing just one run. He followed up those incredible performances with another complete-game shutout -- a Game 6 World Series clincher against the Yankees -- again on just three days' rest.

In all, he made six postseason appearances that year, going 2-2 with a 2.11 ERA, 47 strike outs, and only 12 walks in 42 2/3 innings. He has proven himself big-game ready, and he is a Yankee killer. Need I say more?

One major league executive said of Beckett, "Everybody in the game would love to have him. He's got a plus fastball, a plus breaking ball, and a plus changeup, and he comes right at you. He's a horse. He's a legitimate No. 1, and I don't know how many of those exist anymore. He's special. He wanted the ball in New York in Game 6. He's a special guy."

The Marlins were so desperate to rid themselves of third baseman Mike Lowell's burdensome contract that they were willing to part with one of the game's finest young arms to make it happen. They weren't trying to get rid of Beckett; they were trying to get rid of Lowell and had to toss in Beckett to make it happen. The Marlins have attendance issues down in Miami and can't afford a competitive big league payroll. They ranked 28 out of 30 teams in home attendance despite three straight winning seasons, including a World Series championship. They deal with oppressive heat plus constant rain outs / delays in South Florida, and the club is threatening to relocate if they don't get a baseball-only stadium with a retractable roof. The Marlins have issues, but Beckett wasn't one of them.

Lowell, an eight-year veteran, was an All-Star for three consecutive seasons prior to 2005, a year in which he still won a Gold Glove. Though he struggled with a .236 average last season, he hit .293 the previous year and is a lifetime .272 hitter. There are baseball scouts and executives who believe that he simply had an off year and will thrive in the friendly confines of Fenway Park - the epitome of a hitter's park. The Monster is only 310 feet from home, and he should take ample advantage of it. There is a reason that Lowell has such a big contract -- he earned it. In 2003, he belted 32 homers and 105 RBI. He followed that up in '04 by hitting 27 homers and driving in 85 runs.

Hanley Ramirez, long hailed for his impressive skills, has been described as a five tool player. But he's yet to develop into a productive offensive force in the Minors. In 2005, Ramirez hit .271 with six homers and 52 RBIs at Double-A Portland. If that's the best he could do in AA, he's clearly not ready for the Bigs. Perhaps Ramirez was the victim of unrealistic hype or excessive pressure, but it wouldn't have gotten any easier if he ever made it to Fenway. He's been in the organization for four years, and at the age of 22 he still isn't ready for prime time. Perhaps he'll thrive in the low-pressure environment of Miami, but if he repeats his 2005 performance his stock will fall considerably by this time next year. That would make a trade like this impossible.

Sanchez, who missed the entire 2003 season due to Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, came back strong the last two years. He opened the 2005 season at Class A Wilmington, going 6-1 with a 2.40 ERA in 14 starts. He was then promoted to Double-A Portland, going 3-5 with a 3.45 ERA in 11 starts. His performance clearly diminished with the promotion, and he obviously isn't even ready for Pawtuckett yet. He's made only 11 starts above Single A, and one high-ranking Sox executive projected him as a middle-of-the-rotation pitcher when he's finally major league-ready. The Sox didn't expect that to be until approximately 2007.

This was the right move for the Red Sox at the right time. Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell are proven big league players. Hanley Ramirez and Anibel Sanchez have proven only that they have potential. I'll take proof over potential any day.

Monday, November 21, 2005

BECKETT AND LOWELL TO SOX

The Red Sox and Marlins have reached a tentative agreement on a trade that will send Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell to Boston for two prospects, shortstop Hanley Ramirez and right-hander Anibal Sanchez, plus another minor-league pitcher.

According to Peter Gammons, the deal is contingent on the completion of paperwork and all players passing physicals. Gammons said an official announcement is not expected until at least Tuesday, meaning that the deal could still fall apart.

Jayson Stark said the deal appears to be held up only by last-minute haggling over dollars. Florida will pick up an undetermined portion of the $18 million owed to Lowell over the next two seasons.

In return, the Red Sox will send their much heralded shortstop prospect Ramirez, as well as the highly touted Sanchez. According to Stark, the Marlins had originally sought left-hander Jon Lester, but the Sox balked at including him in the trade. Instead, Boston agreed to add a second, as yet unnamed, minor leaguer if Florida agreed to take Sanchez instead.

Lowell, who will be 32 next season, won the NL Gold Glove at third base last season. Though he had an uncharacteristically off year at the plate, hitting just .236 with eight homers and 58 RBI, it's worth noting that he averaged 24 homers and 94 RBI in the five previous seasons.

RUMOR HAS IT...

In an effort to clear payroll and make room for long-term contract offers to Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera, the Florida Marlins are said to be deep in trade discussions involving Josh Beckett and Carlos Delgado.

The Red Sox are said to be one of the teams negotiating with Florida to get Beckett. As part of the deal, the Sox would have to take on Mike Lowell's bloated contract, which has nearly $18 million remaining over the next two seasons. The Marlins also want shortstop Hanley Ramirez and a young pitcher, either Jon Lester or Anibel Sanchez, in return.

The Sox already balked at taking Lowell as part of the AJ Burnett trade package at July's trade deadline, so it's hard to imagine what would persuade them at this point. Perhaps it's simply the opportunity to get a very talented 25-year-old starting pitcher, which the team could desperately use. Beckett was the 2003 World Series MVP for the Marlins.

A 6'5" righty, Beckett is a four-year arbitration-eligible player who made $2.4 million in 2005. Last season he went 15-8 for the Marlins with a 3.38 ERA, and is 41-34 lifetime with a very respectable 3.46 ERA.

The Rangers are also said to be in the hunt for Beckett and are willing to deal third baseman Hank Blalock.

THE GM SEARCH (OR SAGA) CONTINUES

I was wrong. Though I said that Dayton Moore was likely to become the Red Sox next GM, Moore took himself out of consideration and opted to remain with the Braves organization. Moore joined the long list of candidates - Kevin Towers, Doug Melvin, J.P. Ricciardi, Brian Sabean, Terry Ryan, Chris Antonetti, and Tony LaCava - who've told the Red Sox that they're not interested.

The Red Sox are now the only team in baseball without a GM. They are clearly one of the best franchises in baseball, and their GM position is generally considered one of the plum jobs in the sport. They have excellent revenue streams, a top-end payroll, a very dedicated fan base, ownership that has proven itself committed to winning, and a rich history to boot. And yet none of the Sox top choices wanted the job. It now appears that whoever ownership eventually chooses, they'll be settling.

Though some of the candidates declined due to family reasons, many assume that none of them wanted to work with Larry Lucchino. Rightly or wrongly, Lucchino seems to have earned himself a bad reputation, and that could hurt the club in its search for the best candidate.

While Lucchino denies that the Sox are currently in turmoil, it's hard to see how not currently having a GM isn't hurting the team during this free agent period, and with the Winter Meetings just weeks away. No one will be surprised if the club is beaten to the punch in the free agent or trade markets because they are unprepared.

This is a very unfortunate position for the club to be in right now, and it won't just suddenly get better with the selection of a new GM. That person will have to get up to speed very quickly with things such as the team's off season needs, its player personnel, its minor league rosters, and its payroll to name a few.

It shouldn't have come to this. None of this should have ever happened. Theo Epstein told the club back in Spring Training that he wanted to negotiate his contract then so that the organization wouldn't be distracted during a critical free agent period, when there would be other very important decisions to be made. But ownership wouldn't listen, and this is where they find themselves now as a result. That's very unfortunate. And now all we can do is hope for the best.

Monday, November 14, 2005

IS MOORE THE NEXT GM?

Braves assistant general manager Dayton Moore, 38, may have become the front runner in the Red Sox quest to find a new GM. At this point, Moore is the only candidate to have been granted a second interview by the club.

One aspect of Moore's resume that appeals to the Sox brass is that he has coached, managed and scouted at various levels of the game. And under his guidance, Atlanta developed one of the best farm systems in baseball. The Sox like that record and hope to mimic the Braves success in breeding young talent.

Trot Nixon is the only everyday position player to have come up through the Sox farm system, and the club wants to get away from having to continually go after pricey free agents in an effort to fill holes each year. Clearly, Moore shares their way of thinking.

''My philosophy is you should have three or four kids a year competing with your 25-man roster every season. If you don't have that, I think you're going to run into trouble as an organization," he said.

Moore has declined other offers in the past because of his affinity for the Braves organization, the deep minor league talent pool that has kept the club so competitive every year, and because indications are that he'll eventually succeed current Braves GM, John Schuerholz. But Moore has described the Boston job as ''very special." Having already gone through two interviews, it's obvious he genuinely thinks so.

Moore is one candidate to keep your eye on, and his proven track record in Atlanta may, in fact, make him the ideal candidate to succeed Theo Epstein and continue the Red Sox winning tradition.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

THE WRITING'S ON THE WALL

Let's hope that Red Sox management had a contingency plan in place to deal with the loss of GM Theo Epstein. But gauging by the remarks of owner John Henry at Wednesday's highly anticipated Fenway Park press conference, we shouldn't count on it. The organization clearly seems to have been caught flat footed.

Discussing Epstein's surprise resignation, Henry faulted himself for the breakdown in negotiations.

"I hold myself wholly responsible," Henry lamented before a packed conference room. ''This is a great, great loss, to lose Theo. What could I have done? There's plenty I could have done. I have to ask myself, maybe I'm not fit to be principal owner of the Boston Red Sox."

That revelation was starkly revealing, and Henry seemed genuinely shocked and saddened by Epstein's departure.

''Never in my wildest dreams did I think this would ever happen. I had this romantic notion that Theo's going to be our general manager for the rest of my life. We have the best relationship imaginable. We still have the best relationship. I can't imagine having a better relationship with a human being than I have with Theo."

''This is a great loss. It's a great personal loss."

In claiming personal responsibility, Henry was careful to defend CEO Larry Luchino from the sharp criticism that's been leveled at him by the fans and the Boston media.

"I am much more responsible for this than Larry Luchino is," Henry said. ''Did I blow it? Yeah, I feel that way."

''You may notice Larry Lucchino is not here today. He's been maligned and blamed for this situation over the last couple of days. I think that's wrong. I think that's inaccurate."

"Larry Lucchino is not the root of the problem here. He's going to do what he did before, and build a baseball organization."

Building the team, or more specifically rebuilding it, will be the work of the next general manager - Kevin Towers or whoever else it may be.

And perhaps that is just exactly the task that Epstein wanted to avoid. After careful examination, Epstein may have concluded that, at least for the for time being, the Red Sox have reached the pinnacle of their success and have begun a slow process of decline. Perhaps he sees the last three seasons as a remarkable run that cannot be matched with the personnel that will take the field next spring, including available free agents. Maybe he thinks the Sox have been as good as they'll be for quite a while.

Doubt it? It's not that inconceivable. If ownership is determined to trade Manny Ramirez - no matter what they get in return - and Johnny Damon decides to leave due to a combination of Manny's departure and a better offer from another club, two central components of the vaunted Red Sox offense will have been lost.

And in assessing next year's likely roster, things don't look much better from there. First base remains a mystery, and the top prize, Paul Konerko will likely re-sign with the White Sox. If Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis are the starting second and third basemen, respectively, the infield will be quite inexperienced. Youkilis has never played a full season in the majors, and hasn't had the opportunity to prove himself over the long haul. As for Pedroia, he's never even played a single game in the majors, and yet he may inherit second anyway.

Edgar (Error) Renteria's contract is an albatross slung tightly around the team's collective neck. That signing appears to be one of the glaring errors of Epstein's tenure. Perhaps ER will rebound and have a better all-around performance next year, but he'll never be worth $10 million per season, no matter what.

And then there's the pitching staff. David Wells reportedly wants to be traded back to the West Coast to finish his career. With his 15 wins, he was one of the Sox best pitchers last season - for whatever that's worth. His trade availability may garner some interest this off-season and perhaps a decent player in return. Another pitcher would be nice, but the team certainly has no shortage of of holes to fill. The addition of Jonathan Papelbon to the rotation will help, but it won't be enough to get them back to the World Series, much less win it. The team needs an ace - someone who is consistent and who they can count on at every start. At present that pitcher is not on their staff, and that is their Achilles heal. Or at least one of them.

Even is he's physically healthy, Keith Foulke's mental and emotional problems may continue, and at this point the team should expect that likelihood. Mike Timlin's pending return is the one positive in an off-season that has otherwise gotten off to a rather ominous start. He'll resume his role as the team's top set up man, but a front line closer is needed. Billy Wagner anyone?

The question is money. If ownership is determined to shrink payroll, despite the potential subtraction of Manny's contract, Epstein may have seen the writing on the wall and known that they wouldn't cough up the money needed to fill all the holes, replace all the parts, and make this team a World Series Champion again next year.

Perhaps, in Epstein's view, this Red Sox team was as good as it gets and saw their glory years come and go. As a result, he may have concluded that this was the perfect time to get out of Dodge. Nothing less than greatness is expected in Boston now, and Epstein may see those expectations as being completely unrealistic for the 2006 Red Sox. He's always been praised for his intellect and his youthful wisdom, so who's to doubt that this was his estimation? And perhaps he's right. It certainly doesn't require a leap of logic to come to that conclusion.

When you've seen the top of the mountain at such a young age, and in only your second season, you enjoy the view while it lasts. But deep down inside, you know you can't stay there forever, and that the only place to go is back down.

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