Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

DEFENSE RULES THE DAY

THE RECONSTRUCTED SOX DEFENSE SHOULD HELP THEIR PITCHERS AND REDUCE RUNS SCORED AGAINST THEM

The Sox made a smart move by committing to only a one-year, $3 million dollar deal with shortstop Alex Gonzalez. The free agent had been seeking a two-year deal worth a reported $10 million. The Sox don't need to be committed that long, or for that much, to a guy who has a such hard time handling the bat. That's because they have young Dustin Pedroia, their No. 1 pick two years ago, waiting in the wings. He should be ready to go in 2007.

Gonzalez, who will be 29 at the start of spring training, is a defensive whiz who struggles at the plate. He's .245 career hitter with a career on-base percentage of just .291. But Gonzalez made some nice improvements last season with the Marlins. His 31 walks were just two off his career high and, more impressively, his strikeout total shrunk from a career-high of 126 in 2004 down to 81. Continuing that trend, his on-base percentage increased to .319 while his batting average rose to . 264.

Working with hitting coach Ron Jackson should be of great benefit to Gonzalez, and could help continue the improvement of his stroke. In each of "Papa Jack's" first 2 years with the club, the Sox led the majors in runs, batting average, doubles, extra-base hits, total bases, on-base percentage and slugging.

Jackson's tutelage should also aid the reemergence of third baseman Mike Lowell, who along with Gonzalez constituted the left side of the Marlins infield for the last several years. Lowell was the 2005 Gold Glove winner after committing just six errors in 135 games at third. And in 2004, Lowell set a NL record for the fewest errors (7) by a third baseman playing in a minimum of 150 games. But after being a consistent offensive force for the previous five seasons, in which he averaged 25 homers, 95 RBI and a .280 average, Lowell had an off year offensely, experiencing career lows in batting average (.236), home runs (eight) and RBI (58).

What's impressive about Lowell's stats in those previous years was that he was able to be so productive playing in what is known as a pitcher's park, Dolphins Stadium. Fenway Park, as well as Jackson, should help Lowell's return to form. You've got to figure that he really wants to prove himself to his new teammates, coaches, as well as the Boston fans.

One way or the other, the Red Sox defense figures to be significantly improved this season with Lowell, Gonzalez, Mark Loretta at second, and JT Snow at first. If Kevin Youkilis proves to be as able at first as he was at third, then he will provide solid defense as well. And with Alex Cora coming off the bench late in games when the Sox hold a lead, or to rest a starter on any given day, the Sox should be in fine shape. Even with his below average arm, Coco Crisp should also be an upgrade in center over Johnny Damon, who may have the weakest throwing arm in the Majors.

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

Sunday, January 29, 2006

OBTAINING CRISP THE RIGHT MOVE

All things considered, I really like this deal for the Red Sox.

The Sox now have a speedy, switch hitting leadoff hitter to replace Johnny Damon.

Though he played left field for Cleveland last year, Crisp was a center fielder prior to the emergence of Grady Sizemore in 2005. While the average AL left fielder hit .278/.333/.437 in 2005, Crisp hit .300/.345/.465.  And even if he'd played center, only three other center fielders hit for a higher average than Crisp.

In each of his four seasons, Crisp's numbers have continued to improve. His average steadily climbed from .260 to .266 to .297. to .300 last year. He also collected 62 extra-base hits last season (more than Damon), compared to a total of 77 in his first three. It's a trend the Sox brass expect to continue.

While the Sox gave up 22-year-old prospect Andy Marte to acquire Crisp, Crisp is only 26 himself and is just starting to emerge. Right now, the primary difference between Crisp and Marte is that Crisp has proven himself at the big league level, and shown that he's more than just a prospect.

A classic line-drive hitter, Crisp hit 42 his doubles last year - fifth-best in the American League. He should be a fixture on second base, just waiting to score, for years to come.

As for the relief pitchers exchanged, the Sox managed to get younger. The 29-year-old Riske has fanned 318 batters in 317 career innings. That's a higher strike out ratio than Guillermo Mota. And Riske always has been able to get both lefties and righties out, which makes him more than just a matchup reliever. Last year, righties hit just .204 vs. Riske, and lefties had little more success, hitting only .213.

Riske had an amazing WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) of 0.96 last season. To give that some framework, only four AL relievers (New York's Mariano Rivera - 0.87, Cleveland's Bobby Howry - 0.89, Chicago's Cliff Politte - 0.94, and Toronto's Justin Speier - 0.95) registered a better WHIP than Riske.

This deal makes the Sox stronger not only now, but in the future as well. Center field was the current priority right, not third base. Kevin Youkilis is another young infielder, and the Sox can always move him back to third if necessary 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.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

NEW CHEMISTRY IN THE LAB

Much has been made of the Red Sox team chemistry during a three-year playoff run that resulted in a 2004 World Series Championship. That run was unprecedented in team history, and saw the club average 95 wins per season.

We all know about the "Idiots", and "Cowboy Up!" Now many fans are sorry to see the likes of Johnny Damon, Bill Mueller, Kevin Millar, and Doug Miribelli leave Boston for other cities.

But what's often overlooked is that the clubhouse chemistry wasn't all good, all the time.

Toward the end of last season, a Sox player who chose to remain anonymous (meaning he's a coward) suggested that Curt Schilling had unfairly escaped the same public criticism that other Sox players had endured for their lackluster performances.

After Schilling sacrificed his health, and potentially his career, to pitch on a severely damaged ankle during the 2004 playoffs and World Series, his cowardly teammate said, ''When he comes into the game, people cheer him like he's the Pope? You think they'd let Pedro [Martinez] get away with this? Why does he get a free pass?"

Though the player chose to remain publicly anonymous, Schilling seemed to know who it was, calling him "somebody who's not wired right." And there's a good chance that player is no longer on the team.

Thirteen days after the Sox won the World Series, Schilling underwent three hours of surgery on his right ankle to repair a dislocated and torn tendon, a bone defect, and cartilage damage, among other problems. Other than when he used crutches for several public appearances, the next eight weeks were spent at home in a wheelchair. By the time Schilling was out of the wheelchair, spring training was little more than four weeks away. Even if his ankle had healed perfectly, which it clearly hadn't, there wasn't sufficient time to get in game shape.

But Schilling had deservedly earned a free pass from the fans, the media, and most of his teammates. His poor performance was warranted, and had a legitimate excuse. The same could not be said of Kevin Millar, Mark Belhorn or Alan Embree. All of them tanked for, seemingly, no good reason.

Schilling realized that the fans were very appreciative of his on field exploits and his personal sacrifices, and last fall he was quick to credit his teammates for the 2004 Championship.

''I've been given a long leash this year by the fans, which I'm very appreciative of," he said at the time. ''But my teammates were just as responsible as I was for helping to win the World Series last year, and it has been really, really uncomfortable for me to see them go through what they have gone through this year," he said in reference to teammates like Millar, Belhorn, Embree and Keith Foulke.

But that wasn't the first crack in the facade. In July, when Schilling returned from the DL to take over the closer's role after Foulke made his own trip to the injured squad, the sniping began almost immediately. Johnny Damon aired his opinion loud and clear.

''I don't think he's ready to be our closer," Damon said of Schilling.

''He's never done it. He throws 60 pitches to get loose for a game. He needs to get loose.... He can't do it."

But Damon saved his best zinger for last. "Schilling's a little too old and it takes too long to get loose to be in that closer role."

Clearly, opinions like that should be discussed internally, and left in the clubhouse - not in the media. Not to mention that the guy Damon was lobbying for, Mike Timlin, was even older than Schilling.

So not everything was so honky dory in Red Sox Land. Maybe it was more than just team defense and pitching that needed an overhaul this off season. Perhaps the team chemistry needed a shot in the arm, and a little manipulating to rid itself of any malcontents, snipers, or overly outspoken players who liked the camera and the microphone just a little too much (read, Millar and Damon).

To that end, extend a welcome to a group of dignified professionals such as Mark Loretta, Mike Lowell, and JT Snow. These guys do their talking on the field and have earned the respect of their teammates wherever they've played. Schilling, for one, is looking forward to playing with the new guys.

"It certainly is a different team. It’s going to be tremendously different team chemistry wise, and I’m not really sure that’s going to end up being a bad thing."

Referring to Lowell and Loretta, Schilling said, "(You) could not find two more quality human beings. I’ve never heard a bad word said about either one of those guys. In this day and age, that’s rare. I fully expect Mike Lowell, given what I know about what happened to him last year, to have a Mike Lowell-type season this year.

Mark Loretta is a guy that fits right in with the philosophy here. He’s an impossible out. He makes productive outs when he does make outs. Fantastic ballplayer that’s exciting, but I think I look at it more as a whole.

Those two guys are what you call professional players on and off the field. They handle themselves in both places. They’re both fantastic people and they can play the game. Boston is merciless if you suck, and I don’t see any of the guys coming in here as being guys that are going to suck."

That sounds like a ringing endorsement. And as far as those are concerned, Schilling gave another to his own health and preparedness to pitch this spring.

"About 14-17 days ago, I woke up and my foot was normal. Going through workouts and doing the stuff I’m doing here, and I don’t know what the combination was, but it feels right again. It feels normal. It feels like it’s always felt. I have some aches and pains early in the morning, but it’s felt normal for the first time in a long, long time."

"I don’t know what it was, but I really noticed it more throwing than anything."

"I just started noticing everything changing about three weeks ago."

"Being able to run, and being able to move extensively to do workouts has changed my body comp dramatically in the last month, month and a half. And that’s something I haven’t been able to do for almost a year, so I knew that was going to have a dramatic impact on how I felt, how my foot felt, how my body felt going into spring training."

With a healthy Schilling and a rehabilitated Foulke - who is said to be in his best shape in years - back in the bullpen, the new additions to this year's roster should make the Red Sox a very competitive team once again. Pitching and defense will be their strengths, and they should be a similar offensive squad as well. They should be able to count on more offensive production at first and second, more power at third, and something similar at short. If the Coco Crisp trade is finally consummated, the 2006 Red Sox will be a very competitive team indeed.

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

Sunday, January 22, 2006

DEAL FOR CRISP APPEARS IMMINENT

Reports indicate that the Red Sox and Indians have reached a preliminary agreement in a deal involving center fielder Coco Crisp, and highly touted third base prospect Andy Marte. Marte is coveted by the Indians, and has been their focus in any trade with the Sox.

To obtain Josh Beckett, the Sox had to part with the organization's top position-player prospect, Hanley Ramirez. In acquiring Marte from the Braves in exchange for Edgar Renteria, the Sox filled that void with yet another elite prospect. But almost immediately, other teams began inquiring about the young third baseman in trade talks with the Red Sox this offseason. However, the Sox have appeared reluctant to deal Marte before he's even donned a team jersey.

For the Sox, Marte's arrival softened the blow of losing their most highly regarded prospect - one who could have become a mainstay of the infield for years to come. But if they are now grudgingly forced to part with him - to fill the gaping hole in center - they would be obligated to make up for having mortgaged their future by acquiring yet another frontline prospect.

That player could be Dodgers third base prospect Willy Aybar. If the Sox are able to secure Aybar in a trade for David Wells, that would make Marte expendable.

Last year in 26 games with the Dodgers, Aybar hit .326 with a .448 on base percentage. If the Sox can pry him away from L.A., the deal for Crisp looks even better. Aybar would easily make up for the loss of Marte, who hit just .140 with a .227 OBP in 24 games with the Braves last season.

The 26-year-old Crisp would fill both the center field and leadoff holes for the Sox.

Crisp appeals to the Red Sox not only because he's very inexpensive - and won't be eligible for free agency for another four years - but also because he hit .300 last season, to go along with an .810 OPS, 16 home runs and 69 RBI. His 178 hits and 44 walks resulted in a .345 OBP. A speedster, Crisp hit 43 doubles and stole 15 bases. Hardball Times also ranked him as the best defensive left fielder in baseball. Furthermore, Crisp can play all three outfield positions and, perhaps most importantly, can bat leadoff. Compare his numbers to Damon's last season, and the results are surprisingly pleasing. The two match up quite well:

Damon - Crisp
Age: 32 26
AVG. .316 .300
OBP: .366 .345
HR: 10 16
RBI: 75 69
SB: 18 15
Hits: 197 178
BB: 53 44
2B: 35 43

As you can see, the numbers are quite comparable. But at 32, Damon is as good as he'll ever be. In other words, this is as good as he gets. However, at just 26, Crisp is still developing and likely has his best years still ahead of him. Damon also had the luxury of being a part of baseball's best offense the last three seasons. Plug Crisp into that lineup, and watch his numbers grow. And with a little more plate discipline, his average and on base percentage will surely rise. If Crisp played 81 games a season at Fenway, it's not difficult to imagine him standing on second base quite regularly. Crisp also hit 48 points higher away from Jacobs Field, so hitting in the friendly confines of Fenway Park would likely be quite satisfactory, and equally rewarding, to him.

But the deal could be held up if the Indians can't find a suitable replacement for Crisp.

To that end, Cleveland has had talks with the Phillies about acquiring outfielder Jason Michaels in exchange for Rafael Betancourt, plus David Riske or Arthur Rhodes. However, those negotiations have proven unsuccessful to this point.

The reason could be that Michaels comes with baggage. On Friday he agreed to complete 100 hours of community service to settle charges that he allegedly assaulted a Philadelphia police officer.

The 29-year-old was charged with aggravated assault and resisting arrest after he allegedly punched Officer Timothy Taylor, wrestled him to the ground, and ripped his shirt outside a nightclub on July 3. Other officers had to subdue Michaels during the incident.

Michaels agreed to a $1.5 million, one-year contract with the Phillies this week after hitting .304 with four homers and 31 RBI in 289 at-bats last season.

Let's hope Cleveland is willing to take a gamble on him, and isn't scared off by his seemingly out of control behavior.

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

Saturday, January 21, 2006

HOW COCO CRISP COULD COME TO BOSTON

Right now, trade discussions between the Red Sox and Indians regarding Coco Crisp center around third base prospect Andy Marte. Marte is coveted by the Indians, and would be their center piece in any trade with the Sox.

If the Red Sox are able to secure third base prospect Willy Aybar from the Dodgers in a trade for David Wells, that would make Marte expendable.

Last year in 26 games with the Dodgers, Aybar hit .326 with a .448 on base percentage. If the Sox can pry him away from the Dodgers, all of the other pieces could fall neatly into place. Aybar would easily make up for the loss of Marte, who hit just .140 with a .227 OBP in 24 games with the Braves last season.

The 26-year-old Crisp would fill both the center field and leadoff holes for the Sox.

Crisp appeals to the Red Sox not only because he's very inexpensive - and won't be eligible for free agency for another four years - but also because he hit .300 last season, to go along with an .810 OPS, 16 home runs and 69 RBI. His 178 hits and 44 walks resulted in a .345 OBP. A speedster, Crisp hit 43 doubles and stole 15 bases. Hardball Times also ranked him as the best defensive left fielder in baseball. Furthermore, Crisp can play all three outfield positions and, perhaps most importantly, can bat leadoff. Compare his numbers to Damon's last season, and the results are surprisingly pleasing. The two match up quite well:

Damon - Crisp
Age: 32 26
AVG. .316 .300
OBP: .366 .345
HR: 10 16
RBI: 75 69
SB: 18 15
Hits: 197 178
BB: 53 44
2B: 35 43

As you can see, the numbers are quite comparable. But at 32, Damon is as good as he'll ever be. In other words, this is as good as he gets. However, at just 26, Crisp is still developing and likely has his best years still ahead of him. Damon also had the luxury of being a part of baseball's best offense the last three seasons. Plug Crisp into that lineup, and watch his numbers grow. And with a little more plate discipline, his average and on base percentage will surely rise. If Crisp played 81 games a season at Fenway, it's not difficult to imagine him standing on second base quite regularly. Crisp also hit 48 points higher away from Jacobs Field, so hitting in the friendly confines of Fenway Park would likely be quite satisfactory, and equally rewarding, to him.

But the Indians won't trade Crisp unless they found someone to replace him.

To that end, Cleveland has had talks with the Phillies about acquiring outfielder Jason Michaels in exchange for Rafael Betancourt, plus David Riske or Arthur Rhodes. However, those negotiations have proven unsuccessful to this point.

The reason could be that Michaels comes with baggage. On Friday he agreed to complete 100 hours of community service to settle charges that he allegedly assaulted a Philadelphia police officer.

The 29-year-old was charged with aggravated assault and resisting arrest after he allegedly punched Officer Timothy Taylor, wrestled him to the ground, and ripped his shirt outside a nightclub on July 3. Other officers had to subdue Michaels during the incident.

Michaels agreed to a $1.5 million, one-year contract with the Phillies this week after hitting .304 with four homers and 31 RBI in 289 at-bats last season.

Let's hope Cleveland is willing to take a gamble on him, and isn't scared off by his seemingly out of control behavior.

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

Thursday, January 12, 2006

INDIANS MAY LOOK TO DEAL

With the signing of free agent first baseman Eduardo Perez, the Indians need to make room for him on the 40-man roster by releasing or trading another player. With six outfielders on their roster, this might be an ideal time for the Tribe to work out a deal with the Red Sox for 26-year-old switch-hitter Coco Crisp.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

AN INJUSTICE FOR RICE

For the twelfth consecutive year Jim Rice fell short of qualifying for the Hall of Fame. Rice finished second in the voting (64.8 percent) to Bruce Sutter, once again failing to get the requisite 75 percent the votes needed for induction.

Though Rice had eight seasons of 100-plus RBIs and hit .300 seven times, for some voters it just wasn't enough. Rice slugged 382 home runs, 2,452 hits and 1,451 RBIs to go along with a .298 average in 2,089 games. He was clearly dominant in his era, perhaps the most dominant hitter of his time, but what he lacked was longevity.

That lack of longevity didn't hurt Twins outfielder Kirby Puckett. Playing only 12 seasons, Puckett was inferior to Rice in every offensive category, except batting, and yet he still achieved the immortality that induction confers. Either Puckett's induction was a mistake, or Rice has been unfairly left out.

While it's often said that Rice played 16 season in the majors, he didn't. Rice was a September call up in 1974 and had only 67 at bats in 24 games. It wasn't enough to qualify him as a rookie, and it's not enough to be considered a season. Furthermore, Rice only played in 56 games in 1989, his final season. That year Rice had just 209 at bats. To be considered for a batting title, a player must have at least 400 at bats. In a typical season, an everyday player might see as many as 600 at bats. So the reality is that Rice played just 14 seasons, and in that time he amassed absolutely phenomenal statistics. The truth is, if Rice had just sat out those 56 games in 1989 - when his eyesight had long since failed him - he would have finished his career with a magical .300 average. I say magical because many believe that if he'd lifted his average a measly .002 points that he'd have been in years ago.

From 1975-1986 Rice averaged 29 homers, 106 RBI, 91 runs and a .303 average. During this period, Rice led all American League players in 12 different offensive categories, including home runs (350), RBI (1,276), total bases (3,670), slugging percentage (.520), runs (1,098) and hits (2,145), as well as games, at bats, extra base hits, multiple hit games, go-ahead RBI, and outfield assists.

Rice dominated his era, finishing in the top five in the MVP voting six times in an eight-year span. He won the MVP award in 1978, when he became the first American League player to collect 400 total bases since Joe Dimaggio. He led the AL in homers three times, RBI twice, total bases four times, and was an All-Star eight times. He is the only player in major league history with three consecutive seasons of 35 homers and 200 hits. He led the AL in total bases for three straight seasons, tying a record held by Ted Williams and Ty Cobb. And Rice joined Babe Ruth and Jimmy Foxx as the only players in AL history with three consecutive 39 homer, .315 average seasons. Need I say more?

Rice was often perceived as a power hitter because of those three consecutive 39 + homers seasons, and because he hit 25 or more homers seven times in a ten year span. But Rice wasn't a power hitter so much as he was a hitter, plain and simple. Between '75-'86, he collected over 200 hits four times, hit .300 or better seven times, and .290 or better nine times.

First baseman Tony Perez was considered worthy of the Hall after batting .279 with 379 home runs and 1,652 RBI over 23 seasons. He certainly had the longevity, and therefore the durability, but a lifetime .279 average can qualify one for the Hall? And Perez only averaged 16 home runs and 72 RBI per season. That is not dominant.

But Rice doesn't just outshine Hall of Famers Puckett and Perez. Some would argue that it's only fair to compare players by position. For example, second basemen generally don't hold up well against outfielders in terms of offensive production. They generally get into the Hall based on their their defensive prowess and how they compare to other second basemen offensively. But for argument's sake, I think it's fair to compare Rice to other Hall of Fame players of similar offensive stature.

Rice outperformed Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda in every offensive category; runs, hits, homers, RBI, total bases, walks, OBP, slugging, and hitting. Rice also had more homers, RBI and a higher slugging percentage than Roberto Clemente. Rice had more hits, home runs, and total bases than Joe Dimaggio. Rice had more runs, hits, homers, RBI, and total bases than Hank Greenberg. Rice crushes Ralph Kiner in runs, hits, home runs, RBI, total bases and batting. Rice had more hits, total bases and a higher average than Eddie Mathews - not to mention a nearly identical slugging percentage and RBI total. Rice had more runs, hits, total bases and a higher average than Willie McCovey. Rice bested Johnny Mize in runs, hits, total bases, home runs and RBI. Rice surpassed Enos Slaughter in runs, hits, total bases, home runs, RBI, slugging percentage and had a nearly identical average. Rice had more hits, total bases, RBI, and a higher average than Duke Snider. Rice had more runs, hits, total bases, and a higher average than Willie Stargell. And finally, Rice had more runs, hits, total bases, homers, and RBI than Hack Wilson.

Only nine players in Major League history have compiled as high a career batting average and as many homers as Rice. They are: Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Mel Ott, Hank Aaron, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Stan Musial. Naturally, each of them is in the Hall.

Despite the fact that 10% of the voters didn't get it right, the evidence is clear; Jim Rice is worthy and deserving of the Hall of Fame. Hopefully, next year all of the voters will finally do him justice. Rice earned it.

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

Thursday, January 05, 2006

ADDITION BY SUBTRACTION DOESN'T ADD UP

Enough already. The Red Sox latest offer of Manny Ramirez and Matt Clement for Miguel Tejada is absurdly lopsided, and the Orioles' demand for their MVP shortstop is even more absurd. Ramirez for Tejada - straight up - is a fair deal. Ramirez and Clement - both All Stars last season - is too generous, and yet it was still declined by the O's. Ridiculous. Apparently, Baltimore not only wants Ramirez and Clement, but also top prospect Andy Marte, who the Sox received from the Braves in exchange for Edgar Renteria. Even more ridiculous. Essentially the Sox got the Braves to take Renteria by agreeing to pay him $4 million a year for the next three seasons.

So if the Sox were foolish enough to cave to the Orioles outrageous demands, they would in essence be getting Tejada in exchange for Renteria, Ramirez, and Clement. And all the while they'll still be paying Renteria to play for the Braves. Incredibly, the Orioles seemed poised to ask the Sox to do the same for Ramirez and/or Clement. For the Red Sox, that is not what you'd call upgrading. I'd call it the height of lunacy.

One problem with trades is that while they can accomplish the task of filling certain holes, new ones can be created. Minus Ramirez, the Sox would be in need of two starting outfielders with just six weeks to go until spring training.

No one truly knows how good Marte will be, but the Braves organization was very impressed with him. With Chipper Jones manning the hot corner in Atlanta for the forseeable future, there was no room for Marte at third. So the Braves parted with a talented and highly touted 22-year old who one Braves exec called "perhaps the greatest player we've ever traded."

The Sox brass seem equally impressed with Marte. In fact, Sox Senior Advisor Bill Lajoie called Marte the kind of player you build a team around. These types of accolades indicate that the kid is worth keeping. Mike Lowell is under contract for two more years, and upon his departure Marte becomes the third basemen of the future.

The Sox have spent this off season restructuring their team to be centered around pitching and defense. With that in mind, what's wrong with Alex Cora at short? The obvious answer is that he can't hit, but not everyone in the lineup can be expected to bat .280 or better. Someone's got to bat 9th. Yes, Cora has a career .244 average, and in Boston we're accustomed to a shortstop that can hit .300 every year. But Cora plays outstanding defense. In 373 games at short, Cora owns a career .980 fielding percentage. For comparison sake, lets look at some other shortstops: Rafael Furcal - who just signed a 3-year, $39 million contract with the Dodgers - has a .964 career FP, Orlando Cabrera a .968 career FP, and Derek Jeter a .975 career FP.

The Sox really seem to like Devil Rays shortstop Julio Lugo, who would bat leadoff. But the Rays want Marte in return (doesn't everybody?), and Lugo becomes a free agent at the end of 2006. Lugo is a lifetime .276 hitter with a .340 OBP, though last year he had career highs of .295 and .362, respectively. And his career .965 FP at short is lower than Cora's.

There has also been talk of the Sox going after free agent Alex Gonzalez. That would be better since it wouldn't require parting with Marte or any other prospects. But Gonzalez is a lifetime .245 hitter - about the same as Cora - and he possesses a lifetime .968 FP. Though he's viewed as defensive star, is he really any better than Cora? What's more, in his best year Gonzalez hit just .256, and he once hit an embarrassing .200. How much of an upgrade is that?

Cora and Lugo are both 30, and Gonzalez turns 29 next month. The Red Sox aren't looking at any of them as long term solutions, but they already have Cora under contract which is a huge plus over any other candidate. Dustin Pedroia provides flexibility beyond this year because he can play both short and second. Options are nice. Should the Sox find a long term replacement for Mark Loretta at second next off-season, Pedroia could move back to his natural position at short in 2007. The 34-year-old Loretta is entering the final year of his current contract. And by the way, while the Sox are searching for a leadoff hitter, Loretta has a higher career OBP (.365) than either Johnny Damon (.353) or Julio Lugo (.340).

Finally, one of the best reasons not to make a deal for a shortstop is that the Sox will likely need to engage in a trade to obtain a center fielder. Since there are no good free agents left on the market, it will necessitate a trade. Though signing Johnny Damon would have been quite expensive, not signing him could have its own expense if the Sox have to part with a talented prospect in order to replace him. David Wells, Matt Clement, Bronson Arroyo and Kelly Shopach could be used in any combination as part of a trade package for a new center fielder, and that would be better than having to part with any of the terrific youngsters that are part of the Red Sox not so distant future.

The Sox should hold off on trading for a shortstop. Right now their most pressing need is for a solid center fielder. For some reason the Sox seem to be taken with the underwhelming Jeremy Reed, but if the Twins are out of the playoff hunt at the All Star break, Torri Hunter could be available. The question is what to do until then, and right now it seems that the Sox have no immediate answers and few good options.

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

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

RICE IS WORTHY AND DESERVING OF HALL

Jim Rice was the most feared hitter in the American League over a 12-year span. That says it all.

But for 11 years, Rice has failed to garner enough votes for entrance into the Hall of Fame. This year, with a weak field of candidates, Rice may have his best, and last, opportunity. As a lifelong Red Sox fan with fond memories of Rice's greatness, my hope is that he finally gets to join the other all-time greats in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown.

Rice might benefit from the fact that this year's ballot lacks any first-timers who are bona fide inductees. Without any newcomers to consider, voters may reevaluate nominees they've passed over in previous years.

And upon closer inspection, Rice's case deserves further examination. In an era when power numbers are suspiciously viewed through the lens of steroids and other performance enhancers, Rice's production over the course of his 16 years merits that additional consideration.

An argument used against Rice was that he wasn't a great fielder. Dale Murphy, another player of Rice's era seeking election again this year, was a five time Gold Glove winner, yet his career fielding percentage is just .002 higher than Rice's. Either the criteria for a Gold Glove wasn't as strict in the NL, or Rice was overlooked. Believe it or not, from 1975-1986 Rice led the American League in outfield assists. Simply put, he was always underated as a defensive player.

Rice's numbers are impressive -- 382 homers, 1,451 RBI -- and they aren't tainted. We live in an era era when 40 homer season became common, and when the achievements of Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds -- the three best power hitters of their generation -- are highly dubious. Yet there is no such suspicion of Rice.

Sure, Rice fell short of the 400 career homer mark which used to almost assure election. But his accomplishments over a twelve year span were nothing short of spectacular, though clearly under appreciated. Rice was the most dominant hitter of his time, outshining all of his contemporaries. That alone qualifies him for the Hall.

Longtime Red Sox public relations executive Dick Bresciani issued a highly detailed four page report on Rice's achievements, and if Rice gets elected to the Hall, he will have Bresciani to thank. That report has surely been studied by the baseball writers of America.

When it comes to stats, Rice's were considerable. Coming from a Red Sox fan, and someone who grew up watching Rice's exploits, this may sound biased. But Rice's numbers speak loudly and convincingly for him, so I'll let them.

Though some have argued that Rice wasn't great for a long enough period of time, for a period of 12 years -- 1975-86 -- Rice led all American League players in 12 different offensive categories, including home runs (350), RBI (1,276), total bases (3,670), slugging percentage (.520), runs (1,098) and hits (2,145). The other categories were games, at bats, extra base hits, multiple hit games, go-ahead RBI, and the previously mentioned outfield assists. What these statistics bear out is that over this remarkable period Rice was not only durable, but consistent and clutch as well.

During that span, Rice averaged 29 homers, 106 RBI, 91 runs scored and a .303 average. Though his career slugging percentage is .502, Rice wasn't just a power hitter - he was a hitter, plain and simple. In four of those seasons he collected over 200 hits, hit .300 or better seven times, and .290 or better nine times.

Put Rice's accomplishments in context. He led every player in his league in virtually every significant offensive category for twelve consecutive years. Even if you add in all of the National League players from the same era, Rice still leads in five categories and finishes second in three others.

First or second in eight different categories for a dozen years means that Rice is certainly well qualified for the Hall. If Kirby Puckett is deserving, Rice is more deserving.

Some say that if Rice had just hit 18 more homers and lifted his .298 career batting average a mere two points, that his election would be guaranteed. That's splitting hairs.

Rice dominated his era, finishing in the top five in the MVP voting six times in an eight-year span. He won the MVP award in 1978, when he collected a staggering 406 total bases, becoming the first American League player to crack 400 since Joe Dimaggio. He led the AL in homers three times, RBI twice, total bases four times, and was an All-Star eight times. He is the only player in major league history with three consecutive seasons of 35 homers and 200 hits. He led the AL in total bases for three straight seasons, tying a record held by Ted Williams and Ty Cobb. And Rice, Babe Ruth and Jimmy Foxx are the only players in AL history with three consecutive 39 homer, .315 average seasons. Enough said.

Lest anyone need more convincing, feel free to measure Rice against the all-time greats. Among all major leaguers, only nine players have compiled as high a career batting average (.298) and as many homers. They are: Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Mel Ott, Hank Aaron, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Stan Musial.

All of them are in the Hall of Fame, and Rice should finally join them -- where he rightfully belongs.

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

AN INTERESTING TWIST MAY SIGNAL PENDING MOVE

The potential Manny Ramirez/Miguel Tejada swap took an interesting twist today when outfielder Jeromy Burnitz appeared close to finalizing terms on a one-year contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Less than a week ago it was reported that Burnitz's agent, Howard Simon, was discussing a $12 million, two-year contract with Baltimore, but that agreement was never finalized.

The Orioles need an outfielder after choosing not to re-sign Eric Byrnes, who agreed to a $2.25 million, one-year contract with Arizona last week. Burnitz appeared to be the O's man, and their pursuit of him was said to signal their lack of interest in a deal for Ramirez. But their sudden snubbing of Burnitz may indicate a recent change of heart.

Earlier today, Red Sox president Larry Lucchino said he had "no comment at this time" about any matters relating to a possible Ramirez trade. Yet a deal between the Red Sox and Orioles may be taking shape. It was reported that the Sox have asked the O's for a second player, 22-year-old outfield prospect Nick Markakis, in return for Ramirez and Matt Clement.

If the Pirates finalize the Burnitz contract, they must decide what to do with Craig Wilson, the 29-year-old outfielder-first baseman who missed most of last season with two hand injuries and was limited to 5 homers in 197 at-bats.

The Pirates offered Wilson a contract, but he is eligible for salary arbitration. Since Wilson made $3 million last year and would likely get about $4 million in arbitration, the low-budget Pirates must decided if they can afford to play him that much money to be a part-time player. They may conclude that it's best to trade him now.

Wilson could be a left field solution for the Sox should they indeed swap the unpredictable Ramirez for Tejada. A five-year veteran, Wilson's best season was 2004, not coincidentally the year he saw the most playing time. That year he hit a club-high 29 homers for the Pirates, while driving in 82 RBI and scoring 97 runs. He also had 35 doubles to along with a .354 OBP. The downside is that Wilson is only a lifetime .268 hitter.

And 2005 was a disastrous year for Wilson. He made two trips to the DL that caused him to miss nearly two thirds of the season. In May he tore tissue in the knuckle of his left middle finger while swinging the bat in a game against Arizona, and was subsequently placed on the 15-day disabled list. The following week he had surgery to repair the injury. To make matters worse, he was then hit by a Greg Maddux pitch in July and suffered a fractured fifth metacarpal on the same hand, which put him back on the DL once again.

A combination like Tejada and Wilson could help make up for the losses of Ramirez and Edgar Renteria, both offensively and defensively. The bridge between Manny and the Sox seems so badly burned at this point that the club appears absolutely determined to trade him. That would be an unfortunate end for one of the most productive players in Sox history, but in Tejada the Sox seem to have the best possible replacement for Ramirez's Hall of Fame-like production. Trading a player like that is never ideal, but in Tejada the Sox stand to get a genuine clubhouse leader, who not only plays everyday, but who plays hard and with great enthusiasm and determination.

If the deal is to go down, it should take place by the end of this week - at the latest. Stay tuned.

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