Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

J.D. DREW: A DISASTER WAITING TO HAPPEN

Realizing the justified concerns of many, the Red Sox have signed free agent outfielder J.D. Drew to a five-year, $70 million contract. The annual salary ($14 million) isn't the problem; the length of the contract is.

Drew has had problems with his knees, wrist, shoulder, back, ankle and quadriceps at various points in his career. The various injuries have forced him onto the disabled list seven times in the last eight years.. Since becoming an everyday player in 1999, Drew has averaged just 118 games per season. The 31-year-old is a career .286 hitter, with 162 homers and 509 RBIs, averaging 20 and 64 per year, respectively. And though he has never been an All Star, Drew will now be among the highest paid outfielders in the game.

Signing Drew for 2-3 years might be justifiable, due to his career .393 on base percentage. But a five year deal is a disaster waiting to happen. It's only a matter of time before Drew gets hurt again and disappoints the team and the fans. Then the heat will be on.

Here's a prediction; Due to injuries and an underachieving performance, the Red Sox will try to move Drew before this contract is up. But they'll have to eat some of this oversized, bloated deal because a wiser team will see him as the overpaid, damaged goods he is. And at that point, said team will have the Sox over a barrel. Just you wait and see.

Copyright © 2006 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

MATSUZAKA DEAL WILL BE REACHED

Daisuke Matsuzaka will become a member of the Red Sox. Don't you worry.

There is so much to gain for all parties involved in the Matsuzaka negotiations that the deal will get done, though it may go down to the December 14 deadline.

The Seibu Lions certainly have much to gain - $51.11 million to be exact - and they will do all they can to assure that an agreement is reached between agent Scott Boras and the Sox.

Initially, most executives believed that Boras would seek a short-term contract of only three or four years, allowing Matsuzaka to then file for free agency and an even more lucrative payday. But the latest reports indicate that Boras is now be seeking a six-year deal in the $12 million-a-year range. Including the $51.1 million posting fee paid for the right to negotiate with Matsuzaka, the total annual cost to the Sox would rise to more than $20 million a year, an unprecedented long-term contract for a pitcher.

But at this point, the two sides appear to be far apart in determining the Japanese hurler's value. The team is said to have made an offer of about $7 million to $8 million annually, and that could go as high as $10 million per season before the negotiations conclude.

If Matsuzaka doesn't come to terms with the Sox, the Lions must return the posting bid. Since the Lions had initially hoped for a bid in the $25-$30 million range, the Red Sox' ginormous post entirely exceeded their expectations. Considering the potential windfall, the Lions will do all they can to ensure that Matsuzaka dons a Red Sox uniform in 2007. And it's hard to imagine Matsuzaka returning to Japan rather than accepting a multi-million dollar offer from the Red Sox.

After asking the Lions to post him for the last two seasons, the heat will be on Matsuzaka to accept the Sox' offer, which could potentially triple his 2006 Lions salary of $3 million. By Japanese cultural standards, rejecting the Sox' offer and returning to Seibu would be viewed as greedy and dishonorable. Matsuzaka will not allow that to happen, and he will realize his dream of pitching in the Majors.

And if Boras hopes to represent other Japanese players in the future, this deal must get done. There are no other bidders this year. There is no one else to use as leverage. Ten percent of whatever the Sox are offering is better than nothing at all.

The Sox breathtaking posting fee was a sound move for a few reasons. 1.) It guaranteed exclusivity in the negotiations and kept all other competitors (namely the Yankees) at bay. 2.) It doesn't count toward the luxury tax since the post is exempt from such accounting. 3.) The Red Sox think it is wiser to spend $20 million a year, or more, on Matsuzaka, than to invest $15 million-plus a year in Barry Zito and Jason Schmidt, who many baseball people view as No. 2 starters, not true dominators.

Lastly, the Sox have put the pressure squarely on Matsuzaka. But that isn't enough. The Sox have to bring home the prize. They have the season's biggest fish on the line, but it only matters if they reel him in - which is why they will.

Copyright © 2006 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

MANNY TO PADRES FOR PEAVY & GONZALEZ?

Whether or not capricious slugger Manny Ramirez will be traded by the Red Sox is a matter of much speculation, hinged on whether the Sox can get adequate value in return and whether Ramirez will agree to a trade. Ramirez can veto any deal because of his 10/5 status, and as such an unpredictable space shot, he might just change his mind and decide he wants to stay in Boston.

But an intriguing report out of San Diego indicates that the Padres have offered starting pitcher Jake Peavy and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez in exchange for Ramirez.

Though Ramirez has never publicly stated that he wants to be traded, Curt Schilling confirmed the widely held assumption, though somewhat esoterically.

“I live with the guys, I have some insight,” Schilling said. “I don’t know for sure. I do know that I’ve spoken with Manny. Manny does want to be traded. Manny wants to play somewhere else.”

Perhaps only Schilling understands how he could not know for sure, yet still be so sure. Go figure.

The Dodgers, Giants, Padres, White Sox, and Rangers have all been mentioned as potential trading partners in the Ramirez sweepstakes. But so far, none of them has made a sufficient offer to the Sox to make the trade a reality. If San Diego's offer is for real, that may be about to change.

Getting fair value for Ramirez has been an issue for the Red Sox in previous trade talks. In his six seasons in Boston, Ramirez has averaged .316, 39 homers, 119 RBI, been a World Series MVP, won a batting title, a home-run title, and five Silver Slugger Awards. But the Padres offer is, perhaps, the best the Sox have yet received. Maybe by far.

The 25-year-old Peavey, the undisputed ace of the Padres' staff, had an off year in 2006, going 11-14 with a 4.09 ERA. That was in the weaker hitting NL, and in a pitcher's dream, the spacious Petco Park. The 6'1", 180 pound righty is 57-45 in five seasons, but has never won more than 15 games in any one of them. That came in 2004, his best year by far, when he went 15-6 with 2.27 ERA, and opened the eyes of baseball people everywhere. He followed that campaign with a 13-7, 2.88 effort in 2005. In both of those seasons, Peavey topped 200 innings and 200 strike outs.

Gonzalez, whom the Sox spoke to the Rangers about last offseason before he was traded to San Diego, is a 6'2", 220 pound left-handed slugger. In 2006, his first full season, Gonzalez hit .304 with 24 homers and 82 RBI. Of course, the acquisition of Gonzalez would precipitate the trade of Mike Lowell and the shifting of Kevin Youkilis back to third base.

Another potential stumbling block is that Ramirez has previously expressed an interest in remaining in the American League, where he feels comfortable with the pitchers and the parks. So San Diego, or any other NL team, may be out of the question. But with Manny, no one knows for sure, perhaps not even Man-Ram himself. It would hardly be surprising if he wakes up and goes to sleep with differing views.

Yet, money can somehow be a cure-all for almost anything. Getting his two option years picked up might be very persuasive. Right now, Ramirez has only two guaranteed years remaining on his current contract, and that would stand to double to four years if he accepts a trade. Even if Ramirez insists on a trade partner exercising his two option years at $20 million apiece in order for him to waive his no-trade rights, four years and $76 million suddenly seems quite reasonable for a player of his caliber in this current market.

Alfonso Soriano just agreed to an eight-year, $136 million deal with the Chicago Cubs. Soriano had 46 homers, 41 stolen bases and 41 doubles last season with Washington, while batting .277 with 95 RBIs. Meanwhile, Ramirez has averaged 40 homers and 127 RBIs over the past nine years. Manny has consistently delivered, and if there's a way to earn an average of $20 million annually playing baseball, he's done it every year. A lifetime .314 hitter, with 470 homers and 1,516 RBI, Ramirez is a surefire, first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Copyright © 2006 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

DREADING DREW

Rumors continue to swirl about the imminent signing of J.D. Drew by the Red Sox. In fact, SI.com is reporting that the two sides may finalize an agreement this week. In need of a right fielder to replace Trot Nixon, the Sox have been pursuing Drew since the start of the free agency period. The field has grown thinner in recent weeks with the signings of Alfonso Soriano, Gary Matthews Jr., Juan Pierre, Frank Catalanotto, and Carlos Lee.

Drew is an intriguing player, who has shown flashes of greatness - when healthy. Considered an above-average defensive outfielder, Drew has the flexibility to play both right and center field. But it's at the plate where he's shown his greatest strengths.

At first glance, some of Drew's numbers look impressive. His .415 on-base percentage over the last three seasons ranked sixth overall, and third among outfielders, trailing only Lance Berkman (.428) and Bobby Abreu (.419). Drew's .946 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) over the last three seasons ranks 11th among players with at least 1,200 plate appearances, just ahead of Alex Rodriguez (.945). And only four outfielders had a higher OPS: Manny Ramírez (1.014), Lance Berkman (1.000), Vladimir Guerrero (.961), and Jim Edmonds (.947).

And last season, Drew led the Dodgers with 100 RBIs, 89 walks, 34 doubles, and a .393 OBP, and tied Nomar Garciaparra for the team lead in home runs with 20.

But there is another side to that coin. Drew has hit 30 home runs just once. He has hit .300 only twice. And his 100 RBI for the Dodgers last year were a career high. His best season in the majors came in 2004, with the Atlanta Braves, when he hit .305 (.436 OBP) with 31 home runs and 93 RBIs, and finished sixth in the National League MVP voting. That's very similar to Trot Nixon's best season (2003), and no one's offering him $14 million a year. And one of the Sox' primary issues with Nixon has been his frequent injuries and lack of dependability. With Drew, the Sox may be getting more of the same - except without the heart, desire, and hustle.

Throughout his career, Drew has been perceived by many as a slacker who refuses to hustle. Fans and management alike, in such laid back cities as St. Louis and Atlanta, were turned off by his apparent lack of passion for the game. Just imagine how that would go over in Boston.

Over the course of his nine-year career, Drew has developed the reputation of being injury-prone. In fact, Dodger fans claimed J.D. stood for "Just Disabled." Drew's 146 games with the Dodgers in 2006 were a career high. Cursed with either bad luck or a lack of motivation, Drew has been on the disabled list seven times in eight years. In fact, in only four of his nine seasons has Drew played 130 or more games. That can only be described as fragile, and it hasn't earned admirers.

Even the polite and professional Tony La Russa, who managed Drew for five seasons in St. Louis, questioned the heart of his former right fielder in the book “Three Nights in August:” “(Some players) settle for some percent under their max. If you have a chance to be a two-million-dollar-a-year player, they might settle for 75 percent of that. In the case of J.D., if you have a chance to be a 12-to-15-million-dollar-a-year player, you settle for 75 percent of that.”

Apparently some of Drew's Dodger teammates didn't think too highly of him either. According to one big league coach, the delicate perception earned him the nickname "Nancy Drew" in the Dodger clubhouse. And one unidentified major leaguer claims that a Dodger teammate greeted the news of Drew's departure by phoning friends in jubilation.

In light of the current market, Drew, who turned 31 Monday, is reportedly seeking a deal of at least five years in length, with an annual value of least $14 million. That's $4 million a year more than the Sox offered to Johnny Damon last winter before he signed a four-year, $52 million deal with the Yankees. Can anyone reasonably argue that Drew is a superior talent to Damon? Meanwhile, no Sox player has been given a contract of longer than four years by the current ownership. And for comparison's sake, David Ortiz, arguably the team's MVP, receives an average salary of $12.5 million. Drew is simply not more valuable than Ortiz, even if he plays defense. Yet, the Red Sox are preparing to invest superstar money in a player who is not a superstar, and never will be. Point of fact: J.D. Drew has never been an All Star. Not even once.

If Drew lives up to his past history, the Red Sox may regret making such a large investment in a player who doesn't play - either due to injury or a lack of intensity. And Red Sox fans won't tolerate that for a second. Given Drew's record of injury and absence, he appears to be worthy of a three-year contract - at best - in the $30 million range. But considering this hyper-inflated market, Drew is poised to become a grossly overpaid mistake.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

ANAHEIM MAY NOT BE MANNY'S DESTINATION AFTER ALL

The money being spent in this free agency period has become absurd. Case in point; Alfonso Soriano gets an eight-year, $136 million deal from the Cubs, and now Gary Matthews Jr. gets a five-year, $50 million deal from the Angels after having just one good year.

Prior to last season, the 32-year-old Matthews was a lifetime .249 hitter who was viewed as nothing more than a journeyman - someone who couldn't keep his job with any team for more than a year. In fact, Matthews signed a minor league deal with the Rangers just two years ago, after having been released by the Braves that spring. Before that, Matthews had played for five teams (Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, New York Mets and San Diego) in the previous three seasons.

But then, wah-lah. After a career year in Texas, in which he became an All-Star for the first time and hit .313 with 19 home runs, 44 doubles, 79 RBI and a .371 on-base percentage, a mediocre guy like Matthews suddenly becomes a $50 millionaire.

So how does the Matthews signing affect the Red Sox? Well, the Angels have long been rumored as a destination for left fielder Manny Ramirez. But now that the Angels have found a legitimate center fielder and leadoff hitter, GM Bill Stoneman indicated that the team could be done making big moves this offseason. Stoneman says he's decided that keeping Ervin Santana in the rotation and Scot Shields in the bullpen is more important than trading one or both pitchers for Vernon Wells, Andruw Jones, Miguel Tejada, or even Ramirez.

"We want Shields and Santana," Stoneman said. "Losing them to other clubs to fill other positions would be a tough thing to do."

Matthews clearly wasn't Stoneman's first choice, and he's acknowledged that the Angels' top two targets (Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano) slipped out of his grasp. But the Angles needed a center fielder more than a corner outfielder anyway.

After watching how far talented young pitching carried both the White Sox and Tigers in each of the last two years, most GMs acknowledge that it's pitching, not offense, that wins pennants and even Championships. And young pitchers who can't file for free agency are ideal because a team can control them for years at a reasonable cost through the arbitration process.

With seven different World Series Champions in the last seven years, including small market clubs such as Arizona, Florida, and St. Louis, the old adage that "money can buy a championship" hasn't necessarily proven correct. For example, this year the Yankees' $200 million payroll was $56 million more than the combined payrolls of the two teams that vied for the A.L. pennant -- the Tigers ($82 million) and A's ($62 million).

So this could be more than just a smoke screen. Stoneman really may choose to hang on to his young arms (Joe Saunders included), save the money that would otherwise go to Manny, and instead invest it in another pitcher, such as Barry Zito or Jason Schmidt - two West Coast guys who are both inclined to stay out West.

Where does that leave the Red Sox? Well, with Soriano no longer available and the market for Carlos Lee approaching insanity - the Baltimore Sun is reporting that the Orioles have offered Lee a six-year contract worth about $80 million to $90 million - legitimate sluggers are in limited supply and great demand. Sure Adam Dunn or Richie Sexon could be had for quality young pitching, but who wants to give up a good young arm for guys who strike out so often? Dunn led MLB with 194 whiffs last year, while Sexon finished seventh in that category with 154. Manny Ramirez is a true hitter (.321 last year), a guy who doesn't strike out often (102 Ks), and who suddenly appears quite valuable with just two years and $38 million remaining on his once onerous contract.

I, for one, am a Manny fan and would love to see him finish out his storied career in a Red Sox uniform. During his six years in Boston, Manny has knocked 234 home runs and 712 RBI. But apparently Manny doesn't want to return - again. Theo Epstein may finally have grown weary of the Man-Child's annual trade requests - he's apparently been given a list of ten teams Manny would accept a trade to. Theo has tried, unsuccessfully, to move him before, but the market for his services was never as hot as it is right now.

The Sox will move on and continue exploring other options. They would love to get Michael Young from Texas in exchange for Manny, but so far the Rangers have balked. The Sox will need an answer soon so they can know whether to continue their pursuit of Julio Lugo, who is garnering interest from other teams such as the Cubs and Blue Jays. The Hot Stove season can be like a chess match where one move leads to, or blocks, another. A team can quickly lose out while waiting for other pieces to fall into place. And each player signing also sets the market for others at the position, or those with similar numbers and skill sets.

As we all know, replacing Manny will be next to impossible, and a player of his stature is worth much more than mere prospects. The Sox would expect to receive an everyday impact player in the exchange. Having Manny protecting Big Papi again this year would be ideal with many of us, but let's just hope his manager and teammates feel the same way. Manny's act may have finally grown old. He quit on his team in the stretch, and his MRI proved it. Yes, he's a complicated and expensive headache, as Phillie GM Pat Gillick pointed out, but he's a very talented one too - Hall of fame caliber, in fact.

Those types of headaches don't come along often.

Copyright © 2006 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

AN UNPRECEDENTED MOVE

Wow. In a move unprecedented in the world of sports, the Red Sox have paid more than $51 million just for the right negotiate a contract with Seibu Lions star pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, the MVP of the World Baseball Classic. Yes, the Red Sox have spent more than $51 million just for the right to spend additional tens of millions on a single player. Wow.

The Japanese hurler is considered this best available pitcher in a thin free agent class. Matsuzaka has a career record of 108-60 with a 2.95 ERA. And he reportedly has a repertoire which includes a mid-90s fastball that rides up and in to fool or overpowers hitters, a forkball, a cutter, a slider, a splitter, a changeup, and a curveball. And then there is his signature "gyroball", which breaks down and away to righthanded batters. If he really has that many effective pitches, he'll probably be worth all the money.

But the concern among some is the fact that 26-year-old righthander has been ridden hard, throwing more than 1,400 innings in his eight-year career. Of greatest concern, Matsuzaka missed most of 2002 with an elbow injury. Following his recovery, he completed at least 10 games for three straight years, and in one 11-inning game, he threw 150 pitches.

The question is whether his elbow and shoulder have too many "miles" on them, and if they could break down under continued stress.

The good news is that pitchers in Japan only make one start per week, and Matsuzaka has pitched in excess of 200 innings in only two seasons. In fact, he's averaged just 175 innings per season during his career.

Former Mets and Rangers manager Bobby Valentine, who has managed in Japan and watched Matsuzaka pitch, compared him with Mike Mussina and Greg Maddux but "with more pitches." Still others have described him as the next Tom Seaver, Curt Schilling, or David Cone -- or a combination of all of them.

Adjustments will have to be made -- both to Major League hitters and a foreign nation. Boston is not known for its Japanese immigrant population or culture. And Matsuzaka will have to face the scrutiny of rabid Red Sox fans and the Boston media -- no easy task for an American pitcher. But he will be a marked man because of his whopping, potentially $100 million, price tag. Expectations will be high, and there will be little room for failure. How he holds up under the pressure will be critical. Will he shine, or will he wilt? That remains to be seen.

One thing's for sure -- he won't have any Japanese teammates to turn to for help or advice. And communication with his teammates will be an issue. He will be a stranger in a strange land, a man truly on his own. Don't be surprised to see him sitting alone in the dugout all season. It has all the makings of a disaster. But, of course, if he pitches up to expectations, or rather the hype, he will be a golden boy from the land of the rising sun, earning the love of Red Sox Nation, and he will learn just how precious that can be.

But first the Sox must sign him. The enormous posting fee may present a challenge to Matsuzaka's agent, Scott Boras, in his effort to squeeze anything close to Matsuzaka's true open-market value from the Sox. Yes, Boras is a master negotiator, but this time the circumstances are different.

If Matsuzaka is unhappy with the Sox' offer, his lone option is to return to Japan and try to post again next year, or wait two years to become a free agent. While Boras is used to getting what he wants, he is facing two extraordinary challenges here. For one, only the Red Sox will be negotiating with Matsuzaka. For another, there's a 30-day time limit to negotiate, so Boras can't use the clock to his advantage, as usual. Under the circumstances, Boras would seem to lack leverage in negotiations.

But to land a pitcher of Matsuzaka's caliber, at his young age, in such a thin market, the Sox will pay dearly. At the least, they've kept him from the Yankees, but this is not good enough. Now they much bring home the prize. Feeling that the marketing rights and the foothold gained in Japan will be worth the investment, the Red Sox are probably in for at least four years and $40 million, perhaps even more.

The move will either prove to be an epic disaster or an epic windfall. We can only hope for the latter, and eagerly anticipate Spring and Matsuzaka's first start. A rotation that includes Curt Schilling, and three 26-year-olds - Matsuzaka, Josh Beckett, and Jonathan Papelbon - could be among the very best in baseball, and something Sox fans have long since dreamed of.

Play ball!

Copyright © 2006 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

A ZEST FOR ZITO

The free agency period is finally upon us. Eligible players must file by the November 11 deadline, and can start talking contract terms with all teams the following day. Prior to November 12, players can only negotiate and sign with their present team. So, for about 200 players, and all 30 teams, things will get interesting next Sunday.

For the most part, the biggest transactions won't take place in the first couple of weeks of the signing period. First come the General managers' meetings in Naples, Florida, from November 13-17, where players and their agents will be feeling out the market, and where clubs will try to determine which players they can afford. Some low to mid-level free agents may sign early on, but the big deals won’t happen until after the Baseball Winter Meetings, which take will take place in Orlando, from December 4-7 .

One of the most sought after free agents this year will be Oakland pitcher Barry Zito.

Zito and his agent, Scott Boras, will be seeking a contract valued at $15 million-$16 million per year. Will the Sox be a player in the negotiations? It's certainly a huge expense for a guy who hasn't pitched very well at Fenway (2-2, 4.65 ERA) and has been dreadful against the Yankees (3-9, 5.20 ERA).

This season, Zito went 16-10, with a 3.83 ERA, 151 strike outs, 99 walks, and just 211 hits in 221 innings. And though the lefty has never had a losing season, he's won 20 games just once in career. That was in 2002, the year he won the Cy Young award, when he went 23-5 with a 2.75 ERA. In his seven-year career, Zito is an impressive 102-63 with a 3.55 ERA.

Known for his looping curve ball, Zito is not a power pitcher, and has struck out at least 200 batters in only one season -- 2001. But that may have served him well. Perhaps most impressively, Zito has never spent time on the DL. Aside from his rookie season in 2000, he's averaged 223 innings and 35 starts per year. That's dependability, and all else aside, it's what his next employer will be paying for. Another positive factor; only once in his career has Zito given up more hits than innings pitched. That's truly impressive.

The Sox have four rotation spots already pencilled in for next season, (Schilling, Beckett, Papelbon, and Wakefield) leaving one glaring opening. Schilling and Wakefield will be 40 and 41, respectively, next season, Beckett failed to impress in his inaugural AL campaign, Papelbon was sidelined with shoulder woes at the end of the year, and the Sox revealed themselves to be desperately thin on pitching in 2006. The Sox need a resilient, reliable, frontline pitcher, and Zito is the best, most proven, available (Daisuke Matsuzaka is not proven in the majors).

Yes, the bidding will be costly, but there aren't a lot of options this year and Zito could be just what the Red Sox need to regain competitive advantage in the American League next year, and beyond. A lot of money was saved when the Sox chose not to retain their own free agents over the past couple of years -- Pedro, Lowe, and Damon, for instance. Zito has proven himself dependable and consistent, and therefore worthy of the four or five year deal he'll be seeking. The Sox have the money to afford him and, considering the market for his services, not to mention their own needs, he's worth it. At the youthful age of 28, Zito should be seen as an investment in the future.

Copyright © 2006 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

ROCKIES INTERESTED IN CRISP

Now that the World Series has concluded, the free agency period is set to begin in what is sure to be an interesting, and potentially exciting, offseason for the Red Sox.

According to the Denver Post, the Rockies think the price of acquiring a center fielder through free agency could be too high, which may lead them to explore a trade for a player currently not in that position. The Rockies have a particular interest in Houston's Chris Burke, who hit .276 with nine home runs and 40 RBIs in a part-time role for the Astros last season.

If the Rockies can't acquire Burke in a trade, it's said they'll instead pursue Coco Crisp in a deal with the Red Sox. The Rockies are looking for a center fielder with some power who can hit first or second in the lineup. In an injury-shortened season with the Sox, Crisp batted .264 with 8 homers and 36 RBI in 105 games. Most disappointingly, his .293 on-base average is the lowest among American League leadoff men.

Crisp's poor performance at the plate was largely excused due to missing so much time with a finger injury. However, it's worth noting that Crisp still managed 413 at bats -- more than Alex Gonzalez, Trot Nixon, Jason Varitek and Wily Mo Pena.

Despite his down year, Crisp is just the type of player that Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd would like to have patrolling center field next season. Crisp’s current deal has three years remaining, at a grand total of $15.5 million (plus an $8 million club option for 2010). At that price, the Rockies may not be the only interested party. If the Sox seek to move Crisp, almost any team could afford his salary and there could be a number of potential suitors.

WHAT'S NEXT?

With just 83 wins this season, the St. louis Cardinals have the distinction of having the worst regular-season record of any World Series winner in history.

By way of comparison, the Red Sox won 86 games and didn't even qualify for the playoffs. Which goes to show that in baseball anything can happen, and outcomes are often quite unpredictable.

One prediction is fairly certain -- the highly competitive American League will be even more so next year.

Three teams -- New York, Minnesota and Detroit -- won at least 95 games. A fourth team, Oakland, won 93 games and a fifth, Chicago, won 90 games.

That's five teams with 90 or more wins, and two others came close -- Los Angeles (89) and Toronto (87). That means, including the Red Sox, eight teams finished the season with 86 or more victories.

And the Red Sox should be concerned; all of their competitors will likely be just as good next season, if not better.

As Sox skipper Terry Francona said at season's end:  “We have to have an open, honest assessment of where we are. There are some teams in our league that have gotten pretty good and they’re probably not going to go away. We have to find a way to get deeper. It’s not going to be easy because there are some teams out there that can do some spending.”

The Sox will not only have to contend with free spending competitors, but with many of their own issues as well. There are plenty of holes to fill for 2007. Aside from the starting rotation and bullpen questions, of which there are many, the Sox currently have vacancies at shortstop, second base, and right field -- meaning that one third of their starting lineup may be replaced. And if the club accommodates Manny Ramirez's trade request, that would mean nearly half of their nine starters could be in transition.

Without a doubt, any of the moves that Sox GM Theo Epstein makes this season will be under great scrutiny. The honeymoon period from the 2004 World Series Championship is long since over. In retrospect, many of Epstein's decisions since that time were clearly in error.

The trade of Josh Bard and Cla Merrideth is one Epstein would surely like to have back. Both players shined in San Diego while Doug Mirabelli bombed in his return to Boston. Mirabelli didn't even bat his weight.

And after After successive minor-league seasons of .334, .318 and .341 batting averages, Epstein traded Freddie Sanchez to the Pirates in 2003 for the mediocre Jeff Suppan, who was abused by A.L. hitters and didn't even make the Sox playoff roster that year. Meanwhile, Sanchez won the N.L. batting title this season with a .344 average and made his first All Star team.

Derek Lowe, whom Epstein deemed expendable after helping the team win the World Series in 2004, went 16-9 for the Dodgers this season, and finished ninth in the N.L. with a 3.63 ERA, after posting a 3.61 ERA in 2005. Lowe wanted a hefty long-term contract (4 years, $36 million), but instead Epstein gave Matt Clement similar money for three, instead of four, years. Meanwhile, Lowe threw 222 innings for the Dodgers in 2005 and 218 this season. And Matt Clement... well we all know the story by now.

And then there was the trade of the rubber-armed Bronson Arroyo, who at 29 was young, inexpensive, and reliable. Arroyo won 14 games for the Reds this season and finished the year with a 3.29 ERA, fourth best in the N.L. He also led the league in innings pitched.

There were also the regrettable acts of not signing Orlando Cabrera, in favor of Edgar Renteria -- whom the Sox are still paying (in part) to play in Atlanta -- and letting Johnny Damon leave for the Yankees, with whom he had yet another highly productive season. In Damon's case, it was simply the result of a below-market bid. Damon's replacement, Coco Crisp, though injured much of the season, did play in 105 games with 413 at bats, and had a 293 on-base average as a leadoff hitter -- the lowest among American League leadoff men.

The trade of Hanley Ramirez (a Rookie of the Year candidate) and Anibal Sanchez (who threw a no hitter, and went 10-3 with a 2.83 ERA in the weaker NL) to the Marlins can, and will, be debated for quite some time. Mike Lowell had a productive year for the Sox, though he faded in the second half. Meanwhile, Josh Beckett led the Sox with 16 wins, though he also tied Tim Wakefield with the most losses at 11. And among the 40 qualifying pitchers for the American League ERA title, Beckett ranked 36th. Among the 83 qualifying pitchers in the majors, Beckett ranked 75th. For some, the jury is still out on the trade. For others the ruling is in; mistake.

Finally, as of this moment, Craig Hansen, Manny Delcarmen and Dustin Pedroia do not appear to be future stars in the making. Of course it's still quite early in their careers and all could blossom, but none looked as good as the league's other brilliant rookies this year.

The question is, are the Red Sox a team that is reloading for another World Series run in 2007, or are they a team in the process of rebuilding? Once again, they will send two forty-something pitchers (Curt Schilling and Tim Wakefield) to the mound every fifth day. Jason Varitek looked like he suddenly turned 40 himself this year, and he has no proven backup as of right now. Who knows which Mike Lowell will return to Boston next spring -- the one who was red hot in the first half, or the one who managed only one extra base hit in August, highlighting a disappointing second half? Will Coco Crisp ever be the player the Sox envisioned when they traded for him and gave him a three year extension? Will Wily Mo Pena ever be more than a project in development? Will Jon Lester ever return, and if he does, will he return to the promise he showed this season? Where will the Sox find the pieces to fix their beleaguered bullpen, especially since every other team will looking for the same fixes?

In essence, there are many, many questions, and very few answers at this moment. In fact, we may not have all the answers until well into next season. But if the St. Louis Cardinals proved anything on Friday night, it's that anything is possible in baseball.

Copyright © 2006 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

OUTFIELD OPTIONS

Assuming the Red Sox don't renew Trot Nixon's contract for next season, and that seems quite probable, there will be at least one outfield position to fill for 2007. Of course there is the possibility that the team could choose to start either Coco Crisp or Wily Mo Pena in right, but Pena's defensive liabilities were glaringly obvious over the course of the summer. He's just as likely to cost the team a run in the field as he is to produce one at the plate. Pena revealed himself to be more comfortable in center during Crisp's absence, and shifting the two players may be considered.

But unfortunately, even after four big league seasons, Pena is still viewed as a "project" within the organization, failing to win the confidence of Sox management. Though his plate discipline did improve and he managed to hit .300, at times Pena still swung wildly at pitches well out of the strike zone, and embarrassed himself in the outfield on numerous occasions. The most likely scenario is that the club will keep Pena on the bench, use him as a reserve outfielder and pinch hitter, and hope he continues to develop.

With Crisp having the ability to play either center or right field, he provides the team with flexibility in their quest to replace Nixon. So who are the top candidates? There are a number of interesting possibilities, to be sure.

At the top of the list is Braves center fielder Andruw Jones. The five-time All Star will turn 30 in April, and is coming off of back-to-back 40-homer seasons. The Sox are known to have long-coveted the talented Jones, who is under contract to the Braves for 2007, necessitating a trade if the Sox are to acquire him. Aside from the player costs in securing Jones, signing him to a long-term deal would be expensive. With that in mind, the Sox may choose to go with a free agent instead.

But another intriguing possibility is Carl Crawford, who is also currently under contract to his present team, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The Rays are reportedly willing to shop Crawford, who plays left field but could slide into center. Crawford has four years remaining on a six-year, $31 million contract. That's a very reasonable price for a player with his talent and skill sets. The 25-year-old collected 183 hits this year, while batting .305, with 18 homers, 77 RBI and 58 stolen bases. Those are the kind of numbers the Sox thought they'd be getting from Coco Crisp this season, and it's possible that the two players are too similar to be in the same lineup. The Sox would prefer a power bat, so aside from the fact that acquiring Crawford would likely cost them young pitching talent, the Sox would then have to acquire a bona fide power hitter as well. That could get complicated.

Alfonso Soriano will clearly be one of the hottest free agents this winter. Soriano, who made $10 million this season, reportedly turned down a five-year, $70 million offer to stay in Washington. I'll do the math for you; that's $14 million per season, and it wasn't enough. Signing the 40-40 man is going to require some very deep pockets -- like the kind that go all the way down to the ankles. Though he's said he's willing to remain in the outfield and isn't determined to return to second base, it's reasonable to question if Soriano could handle Fenway's tricky right field. It would certainly be a costly experiment.

There have been reports that the Red Sox might be interested in Gary Matthews Jr., who hit .313 with 19 home runs and 79 RBI for the Rangers this year, earning his first All-Star appearance. Matthews is an excellent defensive player, who may earn his first Gold Glove, ending Torii Hunter's streak of five consecutive awards. The 6-3, 225-pound center fielder has a powerful arm, and is also a quality leadoff hitter who scored 102 runs this year. But Matthews is 32, has played 13 seasons, and is coming off a career year. He'll probably be looking for three-year deal at around $27 million, and the Sox may be looking for a younger hitter with more power.

Free agent Carlos Lee would fit the bill, and he'll also be a player of significant interest this offseason. The 30-year-old belted a career high 37 homers, and drove in 116 runs, playing for the Brewers and Rangers this season. But Lee also hit .300 while notching 187 hits and 102 runs, so he's more than just a bopper. Lee played in his second consecutive All-Star game this year and recorded his fifth consecutive season of 25-or-more homers. No doubt, he will have many suitors and will fetch a hefty long-term contract for his efforts. Could the Sox have an interest? If internal scouting reports reveal that Lee could fit comfortably in right, expect them to be a player in the bidding.

As stated, there are a number of interesting possibilities and candidates, and this promises to be yet another exciting and active Hot Stove season for the Red Sox. After such a disappointing summer, the club will surely want to stir things up in the free agent market and give the fans legitimate reason to be optimistic for a better 2007. A more potent and balanced hitting attack will surely be a focus, and the team needs to successfully address that need, among others.


Copyright © 2006 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

LOOKING BACK, LOOKING AHEAD

For a team that was in first place at the All-Star break, and remained there through the July 31 trade deadline, this season was one of great frustration, and regret, for the Red Sox.

The Sox finished the 2006 campaign with a disappointing 86-76 record. It was the first time in five years the team failed to win at least 90 games, after having done so in six of the last eight. They also finished the year in third place, after having finished second to the Yankees for eight consecutive seasons. Most importantly, the Sox failed to make the postseason for the first time in four years.

The reasons for such a fall off were manifold; injuries, a lack of depth, and underachieving players.

The Red Sox had the fifth-worst team ERA (4.83) in all of baseball this season, and the sixth-worst opponent’s batting average (.278). Only six teams in the American League allowed more home runs. Injuries certainly played a part, as the Sox started 14 different pitchers this season.

The Sox single biggest offseason acquisition didn't quite live up to the hype, or the expectations. While Josh Beckett led the team with 16 wins, he also tied Tim Wakefield for the most losses with 11. Will Beckett develop into a frontline starter? Among the 40 qualifying pitchers for the American League ERA title, Beckett ranked 36th. Among the 83 qualifying pitchers in the majors, Beckett ranked 75th. The powerful righty has to develop more pitches in his repertoire, other than his fastball, and needs to be able to change speeds and locations at will to reach his true potential in the challenging A.L.

The Red Sox hit .269 for the season, which was third worst in the American League. After three straight seasons of leading the majors in runs, they finished sixth in that category. The falloff in production was particularly stark after the All Star break; the Sox ranked last in the league in batting average, 10th in on-base percentage, last in slugging, and ahead of only the Devil Rays in runs. Injuries certainly took their toll, but that doesn't tell the whole story: During the second half, Kevin Youkilis had just three home runs and slugged .379; Mike Lowell hit .252 and slugged .411; Coco Crisp had an on-base percentage of .312; Eric Hinske hit only one home run. All of them are under contract for next season.

David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez accounted for 30 percent of the team's RBIs and 45 percent of its home runs. Papi and Manny became the first pair of teammates to average 40 home runs a season over four seasons. In that span, Ramirez belted 160 homers while Ortiz smashed 173 long balls. While very impressive, it reveals the lack of balance in the team's offense. Other players have got to produce runs. The Sox are lacking a potent, and consistent, number five hitter. They clearly need two more reliable hitters who can produce runs in at least the 25 HR, 90 RBI range.

Changes are a-coming, just as in the last two off-seasons.

After returning from a month-long stint on the disabled list on Sept. 3, Jason Varitek proceeded to strike out 29 times in 61 at-bats, the most K's he's had in any month in his career. Varitek batted a career-low .238 in 103 games this season, 34 points below his previous career average of .272. The Sox captain turns 35 April 11, and there have been questions about the physical toll on his body and his ability to be effective in the final two years of his contract.

With that in mind, and because they have no solid catching prospects in their system, the Red Sox acquired lefthanded-hitting catcher George Kottaras from the Padres in exchange for David Wells. Whether or not Kottaras is ready to jump to the big league level remains to be seen, but the Sox will have high hopes come Spring Training. One way or another, the Sox need a solid and dependable backup up to spell Varitek next year and beyond. Doug Mirabelli is no longer that player.

Kevin Youkilis showed a knack for getting on base, as evidenced by his .381 OBP (Johnny Damon had a .359 OBP), and played solid - sometimes stellar - defense in his inaugural year at first base. It would be nice if the club could count on Youkilis for at least 20 homers, and consistent production in the second half. Another second half fizzle won't work. Look for Youk to make adjustments.

Once again, as it has been for so many years, second base remains in a state of flux and is in question for next season. The middle infield spot has unfortunately been without consistency for entirely too long. Mark Loretta, Mark Belhorn, Todd Walker, Rey Sanchez, Jose Offerman, Mike Benjamin, Jeff Frye, and Luis Alicea have all played the position in succession. Offerman was the last to hold the position for at least three consecutive seasons ('99-'01), and you have to go all the way back to Jody Reed to find a player who held the position longer ('89-'92).

Loretta would like to return, but will be seeking a multi-year deal in the millions of dollars. Meanwhile, heir apparent Dustin Pedroia is as inexpensive as he is inexperienced. The rookie hit just .191 in 31 games, and hardly won the confidence of anyone. Another year of Loretta manning second, with Pedroia as his understudy, would be ideal.

Alex Gonzalez may have earned himself his first, and much-deserved, Gold Glove award. The defensive wizard wowed Boston fans with his splendid glove work but was streaky at the plate, finishing the year with a .255 average and a .299 OBP. The organizational fascination with Julio Lugo is kind of hard to figure (.278, .341 OBP, 12 HR 37 RBI), but the team may make a run at him in the free agent market. If Pedroia gets the nod over Loretta, the Sox may elect to go with a more potent offensive shortstop than Gonzalez, despite his jaw-dropping defensive skills.

Mike Lowell rebounded nicely after an off year in 2005. Lowell made every play at third look routine, and batted .284 with 20 homers, 80 RBI, and 47 doubles. His $9 million salary next year would make him difficult to move, but the Sox should be pleased enough with his performance to gladly bring him back for one more go-around. Lowell proved himself to be a quiet, durable leader who won the respect of the fans, his teammates, and management.

Odds are that the Sox will have a new right fielder next year. Old friend Trot Nixon has likely played his last game in Sox uniform. Nixon's injury woes persisted as his plate performances continued to dwindle. Nixon routinely played great defense in Fenway's tricky right field and possesses a strong arm. That, coupled with his gritty "Dirt Dog" demeanor endeared him to Sox fans throughout the Nation, but expect a new face in his spot next season.

Wily Mo Pena, with his defensive liabilities, hardly seems like the ideal candidate. But if the Sox can acquire the highly coveted Andruw Jones via trade, they may well move Crisp over to right. That is, if they don't trade Crisp first. But knowing that a serious finger injury hindered Crisp's ability to properly grip the bat and hit, the Sox may decide to let the young speedster continue his development in Boston.

The Manny Ramirez saga will continue. With only two years remaining on Ramirez's deal, it's hard for the Sox to claim that they need to "get out from under the contract," for "financial flexibility". With Ramirez's stellar and amazingly consistent production, he earns his every dollar. Replacing Manny in the order will be next to impossible. The Sox should continue to tolerate Manny's eccentricity knowing that we are witnessing a Hall of Fame career before our very eyes. Present day Sox fans will speak of Manny's on-field exploits for generations to come.

David Murphy will probably be given a chance at the big league level over Gabe Kapler, and either George Kottaras, or another veteran, will replace the ineffective Doug Mirabelli (.191, 6 HR, 25 RBI) as Varitek's backup. Alex Cora, who could start elsewhere, will have to be persuaded to come back as the league's best utility player. His ability at a number of positions, his baseball smarts, and his awareness of everything around him, have won the confidence of the Sox brass. Cora rarely makes mental mistakes.

Rebuilding the beleaguered bullpen will require the work of an alchemist, as the task has continually frustrated Theo Epstein and company. The free agent market is thin, but with Jonathan Papelbon slated for the rotation, some big shoes need to be filled. Keith Foulke, for lack of better opportunities, will trigger his option and return. What the Red Sox will get in return is anybody's guess. The Sox may take a flyer on often-injured, but once-brilliant, closer Eric Gagne. Mike Timlin would like to return as a set-up man, but his best years are well behind him now. Craig Hansen and Manny Delcarmen are still green and, out of necessity, were promoted too soon. One thing's for sure -- the pen needs help badly.

Finally, the starting rotation needs another marquee pitcher, and the bidding will be steep for both lefty Barry Zito, and righty flame thrower Jason Schmidt. There will be many suitors, many dollars, and both cream-of-the-crop pitchers will have no shortage of intriguing choices. But the Sox will be seeking someone to anchor the staff not only for next year, but for the next few years as well, long after Curt Schilling and Tim Wakefield are retired.

For a team that has been almost entirely remade and reconfigured since the 2004 World Series Championship, just two short years ago, the 2007 edition of the Red Sox will likely seem much different once again. It's a continuing trend that all of us must get used to. Hopefully, it will be for the best.

Changes are coming, so be prepared. Things are about to get interesting.

Copyright © 2006 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

LOWELL ESTABLISHES NEW CAREER MARK

With his his first inning double last night, his 47th of the season, Mike Lowell established a new career high. Lowell's total is the second highest of any third basemen in Sox history. Wade Boggs had seasons of 47 and 51. With two games to go, it's not unimaginable that Lowell could notch 50.

Only five players in club history hit as many as 50 doubles in a single season. Here's a look:

Earl Webb - 67 (1931) (MLB Record)
Nomar Garciaparra - 56 (2002)
Tris Speaker - 53 (1912)
Nomar Garciaparra - 51 (2000)
Wade Boggs - 51 (1989)
Joe Cronin - 51 (1938)

Playing for a club with a 106-year history, Lowell has already joined an elite few. On just 17 occasions has a Sox player hit as many as 45 doubles in a season. And now Lowell is poised to join an even more illustrious group.

Already safely in third place with 19 home runs for the Sox this season, Lowell could notch 20 for the fifth time in his career if he can go deep again this weekend. The quests may give some fans additional reasons to watch the season's final two games.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

CRISP DONE - FOR GOOD?

Red Sox manager Terry Francona has confirmed reports that Coco Crisp will undergo surgery on his left index finger Monday, which will effectively end his season much as it began. Crisp has a a bone fracture that will require a pin or a screw to be inserted. The speedy center fielder originally injured the finger while stealing third base in April. That resulted in Crisp going on the DL after just five games in a Sox uniform, and limiting him to only 105 games this season.

The question is, will we ever see him in a Sox uniform again?

According to the Rocky Mountain News, the Red Sox are determined to find a way to acquire center fielder Andruw Jones from Atlanta, but first must find a way to unload the disappointing Crisp. Much was expected, perhaps unrealistically, of the Sox new leadoff hitter, but he finishes the season with a .264 average, a .317 OBP, 58 runs, 8 home runs, and 36 RBIs in 105 games. His .293 on-base average is the lowest among American League leadoff men.

Despite that, the Denver post says that Crisp is just the type of player that Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd would like to have patrolling center field next season. Crisp’s current deal has three years remaining, at a grand total of $15.5 million (plus an $8 million club option for 2010). At that price, there could be a number of potential suitors.

Another possibility is that the Sox will pursue Twins center fielder Torii Hunter, the former teammate and friend of David Ortiz. Big Papi may back such a move for the five-time Gold Glove winner, which might be an easy sell after Hunter's potent offensive production this season. The 31-year-old Hunter is hitting .276 ( eight points above his carer average), with a .337 OBP, 28 homers and 90 RBI. If the Twins decide not to pick up the $12 million option on Hunter's contract, or buy him out for $2.5 million, the Sox may pounce.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

MIKE LOWELL: DOUBLES MACHINE

Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell started the 2006 season on fire and seemed to hit a double in nearly every other at bat. Though he cooled in the season's second half and is now hitting just .286 (after being over .300 for much of the season), Lowell has 17 homers, 69 RBI, and 42 doubles.

Early on, Lowell set a pace that made him seem destined for at least 50 doubles this season, something that has only been accomplished six times, by five different players, in club history.

Incredibly, the Red Sox record for doubles in a single season is also the Major League record. Red Sox outfielder Earl Webb hit an astounding 67 two-baggers in 1931.

The gap between Sox players who've hit 40 doubles in a season and those who've hit at least 50 is canyon-like.

A Red Sox player has hit 40 doubles in a season 11 times, and players have hit between 41 and 47 doubles in a season on 31 occasions. The list includes Hall of Famers like like Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Tris Speaker, and Wade Boggs, as well fan favorites like Johnny Pesky, Fred Lynn, Nomar Garciaparra, and David Ortiz.

But there are some modern Sox players on that list that might surprise some: John Valentin hit 47 doubles in 1997, Bill Buckner hit 46 in 1985, Bill Mueller hit 45 in 2003, and Jody Reed hit 45 in 1990.

Some players made the achievement a habit. Wade Boggs leads the list, notching at least 40 doubles an amazing 8 times. Nomar Garciaparra did it 4 times. Williams, Yastrzemski, and Valentin each hit the mark 3 times. And Tris Speaker, Joe Cronin, Eddie Bressoud, Fred Lynn, Jody Reed, and David Ortiz all hit at least 40 doubles twice.

But the list of players who've hit a whopping 50 doubles or more is quite short and reads like a who's who list of Sox greats:

Earl Webb - 67 (1931) (MLB Record)
Nomar Garciaparra - 56 (2002)
Tris Speaker - 53 (1912)
Nomar Garciaparra - 51 (2000)
Wade Boggs - 51 (1989)
Joe Cronin - 51 (1938)

Should Lowell accomplish the seemingly impossible, and hit eight more doubles in the next 18 games, he would join this illustrious group. Though that seems unlikely, he has a good shot at hitting 45 -- a number that has been reached by a Sox player only 17 times in the club's 106-year history.

That, in itself, would be quite an impressive achievement.

Copyright © 2006 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

SOX MAKE POSITIVE MOVE FOR THE FUTURE

In signing North Carolina righthander Daniel Bard on Monday, the Red Sox took a positive step in securing a potential fixture of their future pitching staff.

Baseball America ranked the 21-year-old pitcher as the No. 13 pitching prospect, and the No. 15 overall prospect, in this year's draft. The Sox obtained the pick as compensation for losing center fielder Johnny Damon to the Yankees via free agency.

Bard was the 28th overall pick in the draft, and the Sox second overall pick (high school outfielder Jason Place was chosen at No. 27). No terms were announced, but Bard implied, during a conference call, that the Sox gave him a bigger signing bonus than the $1 million or so that had been slotted for the No. 28 spot.

There had been a concern that the Sox and the young hurler wouldn't come to an agreement. Had he attended classes last week at North Carolina, the Sox would have lost all negotiating rights, and Bard would have gone back into next year's draft. Originally drafted in the 20th round by the New York Yankees in 2003, Bard had already shown a willingness to turn down a Major League offer in favor of returning to North Carolina. But fortunately a repeat of that scenario did not take place and the good news is that Bard will report to the Florida Instructional League in Fort Myers on September 18.

Bard went 3-3 for the Wareham Gatemen of the Cape Cod League in 2005, recording an impressive 82 strikeouts in just 65 innings of work. As a result, he led the league in strikeouts and ranked third with a 1.25 ERA. Bard's gaudy stats impressed scouts and made him a highly touted, and much-sought-after, prospect.

After going 8-3 with a 3.47 ERA this season, Bard gained big game experience by pitching the Tar Heels into the finals of the 2006 College World Series in Omaha. He earned two playoff victories en route to the CWS Finals versus Oregon State. "I guess I kind of thrive in that situation. It's added pressure, but it's really just all fun," said Bard. However, his hot streak ran out when he lost the third and deciding game of the Championship Series, allowing six hits and three runs (1 ER) in 7 2/3 innings in a 3-2 defeat.

The 6-foot-4, 200-pound pitcher, who touches 97 mph on the gun, will join the Sox trio of young power arms led by Josh Beckett, Jonathan Papelbon and Craig Hansen.

While he won't likely help the rotation for at least another 2-3 years, his signing is a positive step for a Red Sox farm system that has sought to groom its own big league talent. If he develops as expected, Bard could impact the Sox rotation for years to come at a relatively low cost.


Copyright © 2006 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

THE REBUILDING WILL BEGIN WITH PITCHING

After his most recent loss, Curt Schilling -- the Sox best pitcher -- is now 14-7. The veteran righty dropped his third straight decision and hasn't won in five starts since beating Tampa Bay on August 4.

The Sox ace was out-dueled by Oakland's ace, the 28-year-old Barry Zito, who improved to 15-8 and is undefeated in his last three starts.

The one bit of good news was that Schilling became the 14th pitcher with 3,000 career strikeouts. But after his recent performances, Schilling appears to be in the twilight of a great career, one he intends to end after next season. Though Schilling isn't always the dominating pitcher he once was, remove him from the rotation and the Sox suddenly look like a basement dweller.

Knowing that, and that pitching has been their achilles heel all year long, the Sox will have to make some significant moves this offseason. The starting rotation needs to get younger in a hurry.

The Red Sox have used 27 different pitchers this season -- a new club record -- including 13 starters. The last time the team used 13 different starters was the 2000 season. The Cleveland Indians hold the AL record with 32 different pitchers, set in the 2000 season, and the ML record is 37, set by the San Diego Padres in 2002.

Going forward, and until Tim Wakefield and Curt Schilling are able to return, the Sox rotation looks like this: Josh Beckett, Julian Tavarez, Kevin Jarvis, Lenny DiNardo, Kason Gabbard, and Kyle Snyder. That won't inspire confidence in the rest of the team, or instill fear in opposing hitters.

Josh Beckett has proven himself to be anything but a potential ace in his first year in the AL. David Wells is gone. Tim Wakefield is 40 and coming off a significant injury. Matt Clement has been inconsistent, unreliable and expensive; the Sox may have to cut ties with him at any cost. The up and down Kyle Snyder has reminded everyone was he was released by the woeful Royals earlier this year. Jon Lester may be a bright spot for the future. Though he's young and still has some rough edges, he's shown potential and even moments of brilliance. Unfortunately, his latest health scare could possibly jeopardize his promising career. Jarvis, DiNardo, and Gabard are, at best, number five starters and really don't belong in the Sox rotation.

The end result is that the Sox, like many other teams, will have to turn to the free agent market this offseason to upgrade was has been an old, injured, and unproductive staff.

Some of the big-name free agents this fall will be: Barry Zito, Jason Schmidt, Mark Mulder, Jason Marquis, Greg Maddux, Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina, Vicente Padilla, Brad Radke and Mark Redman.

Zito, the 28-year-old lefty, is the cream of the crop and will be the prize free agent this offseason. The former Cy Young winner is 15-8 this season with a 3.57 ERA. His best season was 2002, when he went 23-5 with a 2.75 ERA and won the award as the league's top pitcher. Since that time, Zito has struggled, going 14-12, 11-11, 14-13. This year is shaping up to be his best since 2002. Zito is not a power pitcher and has only passed the 200-strike plateau once, notching 205 in 2001. But his career 3.51 ERA, all in the AL, make him highly coveted and will earn him a top dollar, multi-year contract. One of Zito's most appealing qualities is that he's been injury free throughout his career, likely the product of not being a fireballer.

Jason Schmidt will be another hot commodity this offseason, but unlike Zito he comes with a history of injuries. He had elbow surgery in 2003, which may have caused the shoulder strain that forced him to the disabled list in 2004. He also missed a total of 14 games with a shoulder injury, as well as 15 games with a groin injury, in 2005. But the hard-throwing righty has made at least 29 starts every season since 2002, and is poised to do so again this year. A strike out pitcher, Schmidt fanned 196 batters in 2002, 208 in 2003, and 251 in 2004. He has a career 2.90 ERA, but that has to be viewed through the lens that it was accomplished entirely in the NL. The three-time All Star relies on a mid-to-upper-90s heater and a hard slider for outs. He also throws a change-up that helps to keep hitters off balance.

In 2001, Schmidt turned down a four-year, $32 million offer from his home-state Seattle Mariners, the team he'd grown up rooting for. Instead, he opted for a four-year, $30 million deal with the Giants that had a $10 million option for this season. Many feel that he won't turn the Mariners down again this year and will finish his career at home if given the chance.

At the time Schmidt said the decision was, "one of the hardest decisions of my life," especially after "thinking back to when I was 8 years old and going to Mariners games, knowing this is what I've wanted to do all of my life." "When you get that opportunity, and to think you're not going to take advantage of it, that's hard."

He's already proven once that money isn't his sole motivation, and it may be difficult for the Red Sox, or Yankees, to persuade him otherwise this time. It also worth noting that Schmidt, who will be 34 at the start of next season, has never been a 20-game winner in his career.

There have been red flags with Mulder this year. After spending time on the DL due to shoulder problems, Mulder has been rocked in his last two stars and may be shut down for the rest of the season. He underwent an MRI which was very similar to the first one taken in June when he went on the DL with impingement and rotator cuff fraying.

After undergoing extensive rehabilitation without success, surgery is a viable option. Mulder is now 6-7 with a 7.14 ERA after entering the season as the winningest pitcher in the majors the previous five seasons.

The Sox faced those same problems with Wade Miller last year and that didn't fare too well. With that experience, they'll be unlikely to go down that road again, especially since Mulder will be a considerably more expensive investment.

After that the talent gets a lot thinner, or a lot older.

Jason Marquis has won 15 games just once in his career. Furthermore, his 4.48 career ERA is uninspiring and doesn't exactly seem tailor made for the AL. Greg Maddux is 40 and is finally pitching closer to home on the West Coast. Assuming he continues playing, he'll likely remain with the Dodgers. The 34-year-old Andy Pettitte is home in Houston, and seems determined to stay put. He's also suffered injury problems and is just 13-13 this year with a 4.44 ERA. After losing Pettite, the Yankees aren't likely to give up on the still able Mussina due to an absence of depth in their rotation. And after that, the pickin's are slim. Padilla, Radke and Redman aren't the answers to the Red Sox problems.

The Red Sox need two solid, front-line pitchers to join their rotation. Anything short of that will be a failure and will lead to more of the same next year. Red Sox fans pay the highest ticket prices in baseball and expect a winner year in and year out. The organization has its work cut out for it, but the money saved on Pedro and Johnny can now be spent on the rotation.

With Lester's health problems, and future unknown, the Sox will enter next season only able to rely on the 40-year-old Schilling, the underwhelming Beckett, and the 40-year-old, and inconsistent, Wakefield. That won't get it done.

While Wakefield is a model citizen and teammate who says and does all the right things in the clubhouse and off the field, he is a mediocre, and old, pitcher. Whenever he pitches, the Sox are constantly undermined by the threat of passed balls/wild pitches. And any pitcher who needs his own personal catcher had better be an ace. On top of that, his personal catcher needs to be younger than Doug Mirabelli (36 next month), and has to at least hit his weight (Mirabelli weighs 220 and is batting .188).

Once again, as in each of the past couple of years, the Red Sox entire pitching staff needs a major overhaul, and that is a monumental task indeed. Considering management's past history, rebuilding the bullpen will be especially tricky. The Sox won't be the only competitive players in the free agent market this offseason. But luckily for them, they have deep pockets and resources that many of their competitors don't have.

Copyright © 2006 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

PAPELBON TAKES THIRD AND FOURTH

One of the lone bright spots for Red Sox pitching this year has been Jonathan Papelbon. Last night in Anaheim, the rookie notched his 33rd save of the season.

With the save, Papelbon moved into third place on the rookie saves list, and closed to within four saves of the record held by Kaz Sasaki.

Here's a look at the all time single-season rookie saves leaders:

Kaz Sasaki (Seattle) - 37 in 2000
Todd Worrell (St. Louis) - 36 in 1986
Jonathan Papelbon (Boston) 33 in 2006
Billy Koch (Toronto) - 31 in 1999
Kerry Ligtenberg (Atlanta) 30 in 1998

And the outstanding rookie closer also continued to rewrite the Red Sox record book. Papelbon is now tied with Jeff Russell and Bob Stanley for fourth place on the Red Sox single-season saves list.

Next up, with 40 saves each, are Ugueth Urbina (2002) and Jeff Reardon (1991), in 3rd place on the list.

The rookie phenom became the first Sox rookie pitcher to be named to the All Star team since Don Schwall in 1961. Schwall also went on to win the Rookie of the Year award that season. Could Papelbon follow suit? It's possible, but Justin Verlanader, Jered Weaver, and Francisco Liriano will also merit consideration. As it stands, the Louisiana native's 20 successful save opportunities to start this season are an MLB rookie record.

As promised, I will continue to update Papelbon's performances and chart his progress as he moves up the list. He has an outside shot at the team record of 46 saves.

Here's a look at the Red Sox all-time single-season saves leaders:

1. Tom Gordon - 46 saves in 1998

2. Derek Lowe - 42 saves in 2000

T- 3.Ugueth Urbina - 40 saves in 2002
Jeff Reardon - 40 saves 1991

T- 4. Jonathan Papelbon - 33 saves in 2006
Jeff Russell - 33 saves in 1993
Bob Stanley - 33 saves 1n 1983

5. Keith Foulke - 32 saves in 2004

T- 6. Heathcliff Slocumb - 31 saves in 1996
Bill Campbell - 31 saves in 1977

T- 7. Lee Smith - 29 saves in 1988
Dick Radatz - 29 saves in 1964

T- 8. Jeff Reardon - 27 saves in 1992
Ellis Kinder - 27 saves in 1953

T- 9. Lee Smith - 25 saves in 1989
Dick Radatz - 25 saves in 1963

THE PROBLEM IS OBVIOUS

Jon Lester may have earned the win on Wednesday night, but once again, as is often he case, it wasn't easy. Lester went just five innings, giving up three runs on six hits and four walks. Over the course of those five innings, Lester threw 96 pitches. Say what you will, but economy is not one of his strengths.

Last week, Mike Timlin said the Sox problems aren't the result of team pitching.

"The pitchers know how to pitch, and they've been pitching well all year long," said the veteran reliever. "We've been throwing the ball really well.... we're pitching well, we're holding teams down, and they're doing the same to us. Right now we're not hitting as well as we're pitching."

Oh, really? Well let's take a look at this team that's been "pitching well all year long," and is "throwing the ball really well."

STARTERS:

Curt Schilling 14-5, 3.84
Josh Beckett 13-8, 5.35
Jon Lester 7-2, 4.76
David Wells 2-3, 5.40
Kyle Snyder 3-2, 6.23
Jason Johnson 0-4, 7.36
Tim Wakefield 7-8, 4.14
Matt Clement 5-5, 6.61
David Pauley 0-2, 7.88
Lenny DiNardo 1-2, 7.11

BULLPEN:

Jonathan Papelbon 4-2, 0.98, 3 saves
Mike Timlin 5-3, 3.97, 2 saves
Manny Delcarmen 1-0, 4,24
Julian Tavarez 2-4, 4.86, 1 save
Rudy Seanez 2-1, 4.82
Keith Foulke 2-1, 4.95
Craig Hansen 1-1, 6.60
Jermaine Van Buren 1-0, 11.77
Javier Lopez 0-0, 4.15

The Red Sox have just one starter and two relievers with an ERA under 4, and one of them -- Timlin -- barely makes the cut.

The Sox 4.83 team ERA is 26th out of the 30 Major League teams, and is 11th out of the 16 American League teams. I'd say Timlin's definition of "pitching well" is a very loose one. It might be relative if we we're talking about a college or a minor league team, but it's not respectable for a Big League team.

Meanwhile, the once mighty Sox offense is now batting .280, good enough for sixth in the AL, and they're third in the AL with 692 runs. Sure, the offense has been struggling as of late, but the pitching has been bad all year long. Let's be honest and lay the blame where it belongs.

If we're looking for the reasons for the Sox second half slump, and why they won't be in the playoffs come October, look no further than the rotation that has seen 11 different starters this season, and the array of relievers coming and going all year long. It's been difficult keeping track of just who's in the Boston bullpen from one day to the next.

The entire pitching staff will require some major overhauling to correct these problems before next season. Barry Zito and Jason Schmidt will be the two most attractive and desirable free agent pitchers this offseason, and ownership should open the checkbook and be prepared to write an eight figure contract with lots of zeros on the end.

Trades may be harder to come by as good pitching is at such a premium. But then again, hardly anyone on the Sox roster is untouchable. We could, once again, be looking at a very different Red Sox team next year.

It all begins and ends with pitching, and the Sox grievous deficiencies can no longer be ignored or avoided.

Copyright © 2006 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

A SEASON LOST

If you're still reeling from the Yankees epic five-game sweep of the Red Sox, you shouldn't be. The writing has been on the wall since the All Star break.

Even before this devastating meltdown against the Bombers, the Red Sox were 16-17 following the Mid-Summer Classic. Yes, the team that so many in Red Sox Nation had such high hopes for were already a game under .500 since July 13 -- and then they proceeded to drop five sraight over the weekend to their arch foes. In fact, the Red Sox were 6-9 in the month of August before the Fenway debacle. This historic shellacking only made a bad situation worse.

The Red Sox suffered their first five-game sweep at Fenway park since September 1943. With that sweep, the Yankees emphatically drove a stake through the heart of the Red Sox and may have put the last nails in the Sox coffin for the 2006 season.

The Sox, who entered the series just 1.5 games behind the Yanks, now find themselves trailing by 6.5 games. People still talk about the first Boston Massacre at the hands of the Yankees back in August of 1978. That ugly event was 28 years ago and it's still etched in the minds of Sox fans everywhere. It's become part of our collective conscience. Think we'll still be talking about this horrific weekend in 2034? Unless the fortunes of these two organizations radically change between now and then, you can bet on it.

The truth is that the Sox playoff hopes were dashed even before the Evil Empire came to town. Since the end of inter-league play on July 2, the Red Sox were 19-21. If the limitations of the 2006 Red Sox weren't evident to even the most optimistic of fans by last Thursday, the events of the last four days should make them abundantly clear.

You cannot realistically expect a team that is 7 games under .500 during July and most of August to be a genuine post-season threat. That's simply unrealistic. Yes, it's nice to dream but then there's always reality, and the Red Sox -- and their fans -- have just been punched in the teeth by it. Welcome back from dreamland. It was nice while it lasted.

Were the Red Sox ever really that good to begin with? Probably not. They were suspect from the beginning just by going into the season with four pitchers who were, or would soon be, 40-somethings. Players that age are ripe for injury, and when they do succumb, they take longer to heal than younger players. Couple that with Matt Clement, who'd undergone a horrible decline in the second half of 2005 and a disastrous playoff appearance, and no one should've been that confident.

The rotation and the bullpen need to be completely overhauled to compete in the American League next year. Let's hope the money saved on Johnny and Pedro will be put to good use. Hello, is Jason Schmidt there?

Will Jon Lester, Craig Hansen, or Many Delcarmen ever become stars? At this point, it's anybody's guess. Red Sox history is replete with "can't miss" kids who never realized all their potential, or all the hype. Aaron Sele was supposed to be a star, as were Scott Cooper and Tim Naehring. None of them will be joining the Red Sox Hall of Fame.

What the future holds for the current crop of "can't miss" kids remains to be seen, but you know that veteran players like Schilling, Wakefield, Timlin, Nixon and Loretta have to be the most disappointed. This could have been the last great hurrah for them. Some won't be back next year, and for the others, 2007 will surely be their last season in Boston. A sad ending indeed.

If this sounds like an obituary, it is -- of sorts. No, the Sox aren't mathematically eliminated yet, and they won't be for some time. But for all intents and purposes, this season was over even before this embarrassing weekend dismantling at the hands of the Pinstripes. Some of us were just maintaining hope in the face of hopelessness. For more than a month-and-a-half, during a critical playoff hunt, this squad has proven that it is not a playoff team. It simply never had the pitching depth. I know, once a team is in the playoffs, anything can happen. But this team won't be there come October. Against .500 plus AL competition, the Sox proved themselves to be entirely mortal, and against their strongest division rivals they were humbled.

So once again in Red Sox Nation, we're left to proclaim, "Wait until next year!"

Copyright © 2006 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

MAKE OR BREAK TIME FOR SOX

The upcoming five-game series against the Yankees could well define the Red Sox season. Undoubtedly, it will be a statement series for both clubs, with each trying to make the point that they are the elite in the East and the team to beat down the stretch. Either could be in first place when it's all said and done and, beyond the standings, the game could have a psychological impact as well. With only two games separating the clubs as they begin their duel, it could hardly be more fascinating.

The Sox are just 6-9 in August and need to turn things around in a hurry. Pitching has been their Achilles heel, and it's time for everyone to step up. Red Sox starters have gone seven innings just four times in the last 24 games (since July 21 in Seattle), and three of those games have been Curt Schilling starts. David Wells had the other.

Both teams have suffered through inconsistent pitching this season, and there will be some interesting match ups at Fenway in the coming days.

Jason Johnson (3-11, 6.26) will have his hands full in the first game of tomorrow's double-header against Chen Mieng Wang (13-8, 3.24). Johnson is still without a win in a Boston uniform and has not won a start since May 28. Advantage: Yankees.

In the second game, rookie Jon Lester (6-2, 4.09) will take on the lackluster Sidney Ponson (4-5, 5.82) who was replaced in the Yankee rotation by Cory Lidle after just two starts in which he posted an ERA of 10.00. Lester has had difficulty pitching beyond the fifth inning in his starts and will be fired up and out to prove himself. Advantage: Red Sox

On Saturday, the struggling Josh Beckett (13-7, 5.02) will take on the unpredictable Randy Johnson (13-9, 4.92). Beckett, who hasn't won since July 24 and hasn't pitched more than six innings in his last five starts, is 1-1 with a 10.80 ERA against the Yankees this year. At this point, who knows what to expect from either pitcher, but it should be an interesting match up nonetheless. Advantage: Toss up

Sunday will provide the marquee match up as Sox ace Curt Schilling (14-5, 3.83) squares off against Yankee ace Mike Mussina (13-5, 3.54), who is 2-0 with a 4.97 ERA against the Red Sox this season. This game could be a pitching duel, and Schilling will be fired up at Fenway in front of the home crowd. Advantage: Slight edge to Schilling

In the final game of the five-game series, David Wells (2-2, 6.06) faces off against the newest Yankee pitcher, Cory Lidle (9-9, 4.64), in what should be another interesting match up. Wells is a proven big game pitcher, and this game has the makings of being a critical contest. Though he's surrendered 8-10 hits in each of his last four starts, Wells has limited the damage on the scoreboard, where it counts. While Lidle is 2-2 with a 6.58 ERA against the Red Sox in his career, Wells is 19-10 with a 3.11 ERA all-time against his former team. Advantage: Wells

The day after the Yankees series concludes, the Sox immediately begin a three-city West Coast swing that will cover nine consecutive games in Anaheim, Seattle and Oakland. Then the Sox return to Fenway, without a day off, to begin a seven game homestand against Toronto and Chicago.

The Sox had better be ready because they are about face an arduous stretch in which they'll play 21 games in just 20 days, an exhausting run that will likely determine their playoff fate.

For the time being, at least, the Sox will remain without the services of Jason Varitek, Trot Nixon and Tim Wakefield, the three seasoned veterans remaining from the club's last five postseason teams, dating back to 1998. The rest of the team will have to find a way to win without them for as long as necessary.

The acquisitions of left-handed hitters Eric Hinske and Carlos Pena may help, but neither appears to be what he once was. However, the Sox don't need additional stars, they need contributors -- players who can deliver key hits in the clutch.

Whether either Hinske or Pena still has that capacity remains to be seen, but right now they're the best the Sox can do in a very thin waiver market.

Hold on tight. This is going to be a crazy ride over the next three weeks, and we're about to find out just what the Red Sox are really made of.

Copyright © 2006 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

SOX ACQUIRE HINSKE & PENA

With Trot Nixon not expected to return until at least August 31, which would be exactly one month to the day since he went on the DL, the Red Sox have acquired Eric Hinske from the Blue Jays for a player to be named, likely a low-to-mid level prospect. The 2002 Rookie of the Year can play both corner infield positions as well as the outfield.

This season with Toronto, Hinske was batting .264 with 12 homers and 29 RBI.

The Sox will reportedly pay the roughly $1.4 million still owed Hinske for this season, and are on the hook for half of the $5.6 million due to him next year. Toronto will pick up the other half.

Nixon's continuing right biceps injury forced the team to seek a capable left-handed hitter. Minus Nixon and the switch-hitting Jason Varitek, the Sox have been lacking two potential left-handed bats in their overwhelmingly right-handed lineup. Hinske will become the team's primary left-handed pinch hitter off the bench.

Earlier, the Sox signed lefty first baseman Carlos Pena, the Rangers' # 1 draft pick in 1998 and the Tiger's starting first baseman from 2003-2005. The Haverhill native and Northeastern graduate will report to Pawtucket tomorrow.

After a decline at the plate early last year, Pena was demoted to Triple-A Toledo before being recalled for the final seven weeks of the season. He homered 15 times over 38 games after the recall, ranking among the best totals in the Majors in that span. In the end, Pena totaled 18 home runs and 44 RBI in 79 games. But his .235 average lost the confidence of Tiger management.

Most recently Pena was playing for the Columbus Clippers, the Yankees Triple-A club, where he hit .260 with 19 home runs and 66 RBI.

The acquisitions of Hinske and Pena give the Sox options at first and third, as well as the outfield. and will add depth to a depleted bench.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

BECKETT'S NO ACE

Since Josh Beckett signed a three year deal with the Sox, worth a guaranteed $30 million, he's won just two games, and one of them was against the AL doormat Kansas City Royals.

Not exactly what the Red Sox, or their fans, anticipated.

After last night's loss to the Tigers, Beckett is now 0-2, with a stratospheric 7.00 ERA, this month. The 26-year-old righty was only able to get through six innings, in which he gave up five runs. Performances like that are becoming habitual; only once in his last eight starts has Beckett lasted more than six innings. Since the All-Star break, Beckett is just 2-3 and he hasn't won in nearly a month.

The Sox "second ace" is now 13-7, and in those seven losses has an ERA of 12.00 -- yes, you read it right. Overall, Beckett sports a hefty 5.02 ERA this season.

An ERA over five is worrisome, and it's not the stuff of an ace. You can make all the excuses you want about him getting adjusted to the AL, but it's mid-August. Adjustment time is over.

When the Sox traded Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez to Florida, it looked as if they were getting a young ace in Becket and some washed up baggage in Mike Lowell. Doesn't look that way anymore, does it?

Beckett has allowed a league-leading 31 homers, and though he's streaking right toward it, Bert Blyleven's MLB record of 50 may remain intact. But this has gotten ugly. Beckett's previous career high had been 16, and he matched that way back on June 5th. And by the way, when Blyleven set his ignominious record back in 1986, hit pitched 271 innings. Beckett may encroach on the record, but he won't even come close to that many innings.

Though Beckett was the first pitcher in either league to win 13 games -- back on July 24 -- he hasn't won since. The truth is, Beckett's record may be a bit inflated from playing on a winning team that has a great offense and defense. He's gotten the benefit of great run support. There may any number of middle-rotation pitchers in the AL who could have won 13 games for the Red Sox to this point.

Beckett's problem is that he's 26-years-old and still lacks maturity. Right now, he's one-dimensional and hitters know it. They sit on his pitches, just waiting for the fastball. Because he's 26, he thinks he has to blow every hitter away with a 97 mile-per-hour heater, and he's playing right into their hands. AL hitters are just feasting on that fastball. Beckett needs to broaden his repertoire and throw a variety of pitches. He needs to show opposing batters more -- he needs to let them see something other than the fastball. At this point, Beckett isn't acting like a crafty pitcher, he's acting like a macho hurler whose ego has gotten in the way while trying to smoke every batter with his power pitch.

Unfortunately, Beckett throws his fastball 71 percent of the time, and when he's behind in the count, he'll throw it 78 percent of the time. Despite the fact that the opposition has a .127 batting average when he throws his curve, he throws it just 16 percent of the time; the changeup 12 percent.

All we can hope is that Beckett will mature and continue to develop over the next three or four years. But that won't help this year in a playoff chase, and it seems kind of weird since he's already won a World Series in Yankee Stadium. The Sox expected him to assume the mantle of number one starter when Schilling retires at the end of next year, but at this point that may be just wishful thinking.

Copyright © 2006 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

SOX NEED PENA TO STEP UP

The Red Sox have a host of problems as they head into the stretch drive of the 2006 season. Two of their opening day starters are on the DL, and a designated third just got his first win of the season on Friday night.

The inability of the starters to get past six innings with any regularity has worn out a bullpen full of young and inexperienced relievers, old and tired relievers, and generally ineffective relievers.

All of that has been well-documented. What hasn't been as well recognized is just how much the Red Sox rely on just two players for a disproportionate amount of their offense.

Consider the following:

David Ortiz - 41 HR, 110 RBI
Manny Ramirez - 32 HR, 93 RBI
Pair's Total = 73 HR, 203 RBI
Team Total - 152 HR, 608 RBI

Ortiz and Ramirez, the most potent offensive paring since the the immortal Ruth / Gehrig combo, are responsible for nearly half the team's home runs and a third of its RBI. That's two players from a nine man batting order. Not good.

The next best offensive output has come from Mike Lowell, who has 13 HR and 55 RBI. That's a third of Ortiz's home run total and half of his RBI total. This makes the Red Sox essentially a two-dimensional team. If they're to get into the playoffs, and to advance to the World Series, they'll need to get more offense from other hitters as well.

To that end, there has been a positive development as of late. Some of that much-needed offense could well come from the club's current right fielder Wily Mo Peña, whose recent power surge could be a good omen.

Peña homered, tripled, and doubled today, coming up a single short of the cycle. The blast was Peña's third homer in five games, putting him on pace for a 27 homer campaign if he played the entire season. That's just exactly what the Red Sox have been lacking the last couple of years -- a third power hitter who is vital and dangerous.

Although Peña has played in only 54 games this season, the 24-year-old Dominican is hitting .314 with 9 home runs and 34 RBI. Trot Nixon, on the other hand, has just seven homers and 47 RBI in 92 games. Peña has a .365 on-base percentage and a .550 slugging percentage, resulting in an OPS of .915 -- Nixon's is .822. Surprisingly, the righthanded-hitting strongman is performing better against righthanders (.371, 8 home runs) than lefthanders (.219, 1 HR).

But Peña entered Thursday's game with 54 strikeouts in 169 at-bats (Nixon has struck out 41 times in 310 at-bats), signaling the work that needs to be done in order for him to master the strike zone.

As for the corner infielders, Mike Lowell has bounced back nicely from last year's .236 debacle, but he'll be lucky to total 20 homers this season, and Kevin Youkilis has certainly hit quite well but isn't a true power threat. And though Alex Gonzalez and Alex Cora have hit better than anyone should have expected, the pair of middle infielders won't strike fear in the hearts of opposing pitchers.

The Sox will need to get some power output from someone else.

Nixon was hitting well for most of the season, then came an ugly July and his current injury. But even prior that, the veteran's power drop-off had been disturbing. Considering his injury history -- time on the DL in each of the last three seasons -- it's hard to imagine the Sox bringing him back next year. In fact, the Sox tried to move Nixon before the deadline and could find no takers.

Though the Sox shopped Peña too, it's a good bet he'll get the nod over Nixon next season. And, at present, the Sox will be counting on Pena to deliver on the promise they had for him when they shipped Bronson Arroyo to Cincinnati to acquire his services. Consistency at the plate is the main thing they'll be looking for.

At this point, the Sox can only hope Peña will live up to his enormous potential. To be a successful playoff team, they'll truly need it.

Copyright © 2006 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

FADING FAST

If the once mighty-looking Red Sox look like a fading team these days, it's for good reason.

Since July 25, when they had a 2 ½ game lead, the Sox have lost 4 ½ games total on the Yankees.

The team that spent so much of the season in first place is just 15-17 since the end of interleague play early last month. The Sox impressive record was built on the back of weak NL teams and the sub-.500 AL teams. After splitting a series with the lowly Indians, losing a series to the basement-dweller D-Rays, and losing to a pathetic KC team tonight, the Red Sox will hardly instill fear in anyone.

The Sox have dropped 6 of their last ten games, and were very fortunate to earn victories in the two games that Mark Loretta and David Ortiz won with game-winning hits last week. If not for those clutch performances, the Sox would be 2-8 in that stretch.

Though we're only a week into August, the Sox have gotten off to a rough start, winning just twice since the month began. One of those was Curt Schilling's victory against Tampa on Friday. Though Schilling was strong against the D-Rays, he's had trouble during this stretch as well, as evidenced by his 6.00 ERA over his last three starts.

In fact, the last Boston starter to record a victory besides Schilling was Josh Beckett, way back on July 24. But Beckett sports a 5.00 ERA and was tagged for 7 runs in his last start against the Indians, which included three more home runs against him. Beckett leads all MLB pitchers with 31 homers allowed.

Right now, as it has been for a while, the Red Sox staff is a mess.

Through six games this month, opposing hitters are batting .316 against Red Sox pitchers -- the third worst opponents batting average in the majors after Arizona and Kansas City. The staff's 4.89 ERA for the month is higher only than Tampa Bay, Toronto, and Kansas City.

Is it any wonder?

Jason Johnson, Kason Gabbard, David Wells, David Pauley, Lenny DiNardo, and Kyle Snyder have combined to give the Red Sox a grand total of three wins from the No. 4-5 slots in the rotation, and two of those belong to Snyder. Go figure.

None of this should be any surprise.

Over the last 15 games, the four starters who have taken turns in the four and five spot are winless in six starts (0-4); none of them have pitched beyond the sixth inning, and their combined ERA is 5.35.

As has been a problem in most of his starts, rookie Jon Lester lasted just five innings again tonight, in which threw 105 pitches, allowing four runs, six hits, three walks and a hit batter. Outings like these have put excessive strain on a bullpen that has not responded.

The Sox pen hasn't been able to bail out the starters with any consistency. They've given up too many hits and runs, and haven't been able to keep the team in games often enough.

There's plenty of blame to go around. Craig Hansen has a 6.75 ERA in seven appearances, and has been scored upon in four of his last five. In 25.2 innings this year, Hansen has given up 30 hits, including 2 homers, and has just 21 Ks. Not good enough.

Manny Delcarmen is 12.60 ERA in six appearances, and was scored upon in four. And since returning from the DL, the once reliable Mike Timlin has been something other than his former self. In his last six appearances he has a 9.53 ERA, and has allowed an alarming 4 home runs in just 5 2/3 innings. Rudy Seanez and Julian Tavarez.... need I say more? The pen can no longer be trusted.

Next week, the Sox begin an 11-game stretch against the Tigers, Yankees, and Angels -- consecutive series that could end their pennant hopes once and for all.

If they don't turn it around by then, their season could be lost. What a shame that would be.

Copyright © 2006 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

ORTIZ THE FASTEST TO 40

Today, David Ortiz hit his 40th home run in just 109 games -- the fastest of any Red Sox player in history. The previous mark had been 127 games, held by Jimmy Foxx in 1938 -- the year he hit his club-record 50 home runs.

Ortiz now appears poised to shatter that mark.

Only three Red Sox players have had three 40-home run seasons; Carl Yastrzemski ('67, '69, '70) Manny Ramirez ('01, '04, '05), and Ortiz. But Big Papi became the first to have three consecutive 40-homer seasons.

Ramirez, with a season total of 31 homers so far, will likely match Ortiz's feat, and become the team's all-time leader in 40-homer seasons.

Ortiz's blast was his 159th career homer with the Sox, just three behind Carlton Fisk and Tony Conigliaro who are tied for 12th place on the club's all-time list.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

PAPELBON TAKES HIS PLACE

After a lengthy stretch -- dating back to July 19th -- in which he hadn't recorded a save, Jonathan Papelbon notched his 30th save in 33 opportunities on Friday night against the Devil Rays.

With the save, Papelbon encroached upon the rookie saves record held by Kaz Sasaki.

Here's a look at the all time single-season rookie saves leaders:

Kaz Sasaki (Seattle) - 37 in 2000
Todd Worrell (St. Louis) - 36 in 1986
Billy Koch (Toronto) - 31 in 1999
Jonathan Papelbon (Boston) 30 in 2006
Kerry Ligtenberg (Atlanta) 30 in 1998

And the outstanding rookie closer also continued to rewrite the Red Sox record book. Papelbon is now in sole possession of seventh place on the Red Sox single-season saves list.

Next up, with 31 saves each, are Heathcliff Slocumb (1996) and Bill Campbell (1977), in 6th place on the list.

The rookie phenom became the first Sox rookie pitcher to be named to the All Star team since Don Schwall in 1961. Schwall also went on to win the Rookie of the Year award that season. Could Papelbon follow suit? I'd bet on it.

As promised, I will continue to update Papelbon's performances and chart his progress as he moves up the list. He has a genuine shot at 50 saves this year, which would be the top performance by any Sox closer in team history. With each successive outing, Papelbon continues to make his case for Rookie of the Year. As it stands, the Louisiana native's 20 successful save opportunities to start this season are an MLB rookie record.

Here's a look at the Red Sox all-time single-season saves leaders:

1. Tom Gordon - 46 saves in 1998

2. Derek Lowe - 42 saves in 2000

T- 3.Ugueth Urbina - 40 saves in 2002
Jeff Reardon - 40 saves 1991

T- 4. Jeff Russell - 33 saves in 1993
Bob Stanley - 33 saves 1n 1983

5. Keith Foulke - 32 saves in 2004

T- 6. Heathcliff Slocumb - 31 saves in 1996
Bill Campbell - 31 saves in 1977

7. Jonathan Papelbon - 30 saves in 2006

T- 8. Lee Smith - 29 saves in 1988
Dick Radatz - 29 saves in 1964

T- 9. Jeff Reardon - 27 saves in 1992
Ellis Kinder - 27 saves in 1953

T- 10. Lee Smith - 25 saves in 1989
Dick Radatz - 25 saves in 1963