Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

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.