Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Thursday, February 22, 2007

THE ROATION SITUATION

On Paper This Staff Looks Very Good. But Now They Have To Go Out And Prove It.

The overhauled Red Sox starting rotation needs to make a significant improvement over last season's staff, which went 61-56 with a 5.00 ERA, the 11th highest in the league and the team's second highest in the last 50 years The only Sox staff that was worse, though marginally so, was the 1996 staff headed by Roger Clemens, which posted a 5.01 ERA.

The pitching staff, as a whole, had had the fifth-worst team ERA in all of baseball (4.83), the sixth-worst opponent’s batting average (.278), and only six teams in the American League allowed more home runs. Injuries certainly played a part, as the Sox trotted out AA pitchers and cast-offs from other clubs in a desperate attempt to keep the ship from sinking.

While Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett each topped 200 innings last season, the only other Red Sox pitcher to log more than 100 innings was Tim Wakefield. And that led to a lot of improvising, and using a cast of not-ready-for-prime-time characters.

The Sox used 14 starting pitchers in 2006, their most in a season in 40 years, including names like Jason Johnson, Kyle Snyder, Lenny Dinardo, David Pauley, Kason Gabbard, Kevin Jarvis and Devern Hansack.

The Red Sox needed to add two solid, front-line pitchers to their rotation this year, and they may have succeeded in doing that. The additions of Daisuke Matsuzaka and Jonathan Papelbon should help the club overcome the weaknesses of an aged 2006 staff. Both pitchers are younger, and hopefully healthier, than the pitchers they're replacing.

The Red Sox biggest offseason prize, Matsuzaka, will have to make numerous adjustments in the transition from Japanese baseball to the potent American League: A different strike zone. Talented batting orders that can run nine-deep. Making starts on four days rest instead of five. In short, the pressure's on.

On paper this team looks good, but they have to go out and prove it. Questions remain.

While Josh Beckett led the team with 16 wins last year, 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 has to be able to change speeds and locations at will to reach his true potential in the challenging A.L.

And with two starters over the age of 40, injuries, breakdown, or inconsistency have to be expected. And the team seems to realize this.

Schilling was recently informed that the Red Sox will not offer him a contract extension in spring training.

Sox President Larry Lucchino said, "Out of respect for him, we met and discussed it, considered it, and thought at this age and stage it was probably more appropriate to make that contract decision at the end of the season."

Epstein and Co. are to be commended for showing reason and restraint in not offering a 40-year-old pitcher a $13-$14 million contract extension when the grind of another 162-game season could affect him physically. Schilling is just two years removed from a lengthy rehab following ankle surgery. Returning from the injury in 2005, the right-hander went 8-8 with a 5.69 ERA. Then last year, Schilling struggled down the stretch, finishing with a 15-7 record and 3.97 ERA.

The more sensible approach, especially with such a young staff and another 40-something pitcher in Tim Wakefield, is to wait and see how Schilling performs this season. Looking ahead, the Sox are well-positioned with the youthful bunch of Beckett, Matsuzaka, Papelbon and Jon Lester.

Last year, Lester displayed just how much upside he possesses and how bright his future could be. Though he's young and still has some rough edges, he showed why the organization was so high on him. He has the potential to be a vital part of the rotation for years to come, and he'll be a lot cheaper and offer much more flexibility than Schilling.

For his part, Schilling said he understood but was disappointed. "It is a business," he said.

Copyright © 2007 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.


Saturday, February 17, 2007

SHORTSIGHTED, MISGUIDED & ILL-CONCEIVED

The Proposed DirecTV Deal Will Be Bad For Fans And Bad For Baseball

This week, I wrote a letter to Commissioner Selig, as I'm sure thousands of other baseball fans already have, asking him to reconsider the proposal to move the "Extra Innings" pay-per-view package exclusively to DirecTV.

For the last five years, the "Extra Innings" package has been available on cable, DirecTV, and the Dish Network to about 75 million viewers. But if the proposed deal is approved, it will be available to just 15 million current subscribers. The reason? Well it couldn't be more clear - $700 million over seven years. Yet, such a deal would be penny wise, pound foolish.

Via the internet and sports-talk radio, baseball fans from across the nation have made their feelings clear. Unequivocally, these fans are very unhappy about this proposal. Its very suggestion has bred a tremendous amount of ill will and a very negative sentiment among the sport’s core audience, its consumers, its constituency -- the genuine, loyal fans of Major League Baseball.

For a sport awash in such an unprecedented amount of money, the proposed deal with DirecTV reeks of greed and avarice. It is a smack in the face to a significant portion of the game’s audience. It is inconsiderate, and extremely short-sighted. Baseball suffered considerably as a result of the last strike and this potential move couldn’t be worse for the sport, considering that many fans already find the experience of going to a ballgame too expensive -- which is exactly how most view player salaries.

Furthermore, many fans live out of market from their favorite teams and cannot attend games, even if they could afford to. These fans, including myself, rely on "Extra Innings," and on the option of choosing which carrier to purchase it from. The whole deal simply smacks of an anti-trust violation.

As Senator John Kerry wrote in a letter to FCC chairman Kevin Martin: "I am opposed to anything that deprives people of reasonable choices. In this day and age, consumers should have more choices -- not fewer. A Red Sox fan ought to be able to watch their team without having to witch to DirecTV."

There is nothing that MLB has done since the strike that could be more detrimental to the game, aside from the steroids issue. Fans are already turned off by the fact that the game seems to have become more about money than family entertainment, and the DirecTV deal only serves to reinforce that view.

I’ve asked the Commissioner to reconsider this proposal for the benefit of the game and its fans, and I encourage all concerned fans to contact the Commissioner’s office by phone, or better yet by mail, to express their opinions and let their voices be heard.



The Office of the Commissioner of Baseball
Allan H. (Bud) Selig, Commissioner
245 Park Avenue, 31st Floor
New York, NY 10167
Phone: (212) 931-7800

Sunday, February 11, 2007

CONSTANT CHANGE IS HERE TO STAY

Only Seven Players From the 2004 World Series Champions Remain

Last season, the Sox introduced an entirely new infield and a new center fielder. And this year, the changes keep on coming. If you'd left the country for a few years, and hadn't seen the Red Sox, you'd hardly recognize this current team.

One constancy; Jason Varitek will start at catcher for the Red Sox for the eighth straight Opening Day -- the longest streak in team history. In fact, no other catcher has even been behind the dish for seven openers, period, never mind eight consecutively.

Remarkably, Dustin Pedrioa will become Boston’s 13th different Opening Day second baseman in the last 14 years.

How many of them can you name? Give it a try before looking at this list:

2006: Mark Loretta
2005: Mark Bellhorn
2004: Mark Bellhorn
2003: Todd Walker
2002: Rey Sanchez
2001: Chris Stynes
2000: Jose Offerman
1999: Jeff Frye
1998: Donnie Sadler
1997: John Valentin
1996: Wil Cordero
1995: Luis Alicea
1994: Scott Fletcher

The Red Sox have changed quite considerably in the past couple of seasons. Some fan favorites are now gone, and few of the heroes from 2004 are returning this year.

Varitek, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz are the sole returnees from the Red Sox’ Opening Day lineup in 2005. And aside from those three, only four other players still remain from the 2004 World Series Champion team; Curt Schilling, Tim Wakefield, Mike Timlin, and Doug Mirabelli. That's just seven players on a 25-man roster. Time changes everything, but those changes came rather quickly.

For the second year in a row, the Sox will have a new shortstop (Julio Lugo) and a new second baseman (Pedroia), and for the first time since 1999 they'll have a new right fielder (JD Drew). The bullpen has been entirely overhauled -- though there is still an absence of a bona fide closer -- and two-fifths of the starting rotation will be new this year as well (Jonathan Papelbon and Daisuke Matsuzaka).

In all, the team that takes the field this April to start the 2007 season will look very different than the ones we'd become familiar with over the course of the last three seasons. With the Sox, it seems that constant change is here to stay.

Copyright © 2007 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Monday, February 05, 2007

SOX & ROX COULD REKINDLE TALKS

And All Things Considered, That Could Be A Good Thing For The Red Sox.

The much ballyhooed trade proposal between the Red Sox and Rockies now appears to be off. And that's because the Red Sox were driving such a hard bargain. Just imagine, Mike Lowell, Julian Tavarez, and a b-level prospect for one of the game's best hitters -- and the Rockies would have paid up to half of Helton's salary. Oh, and they'd have to take on the recovering, and overpaid, Matt Clement too. Wow. That's the kind of deal that gets proposed by some dreamy eyed fan on a Red Sox message board, only to be savaged by other rabid fans as being ridiculous, absurd, and implausible.

Considering their offer, it's amazing the Sox didn't ask Colorado to pay all of Helton's hefty contract -- $91.1 million over the next five years. Why not go for broke? Maybe get Colorado to throw in house in the Boston area for Helton too?

The most unseemly part of the whole affair was that Lowell and Tavarez had to read their names in the paper and find out out about the potential trade the way the rest of the public did. For his part, Lowell claims to have no bitterness, saying, "I understand that this ultimately is still a business and trades and talks are part of it." Once again, Lowell proved what a classy guy he is. In fact, Lowell said he'd like to play the rest of his career in Boston. Tavarez, on the other hand attacked another phone and a Gatorade cooler. No charges have been filed and the phone and cooler are said to be recovering.

Trades like this almost never happen because they're unrealistic in the first place. And the only conceivable reason the Rockies would have even engaged in such a dialogue is if they view the 33-year-old Helton as a damaged player who is past his prime. Sure he accounts for a lot of payroll, but he's their best player (ever) and the face of the franchise. Perhaps their medical staff examined his records closely and were left with deep concerns. Was Manny Delcarmen really holding up this deal?

When healthy, Helton is a world class hitter, who in 10 big league seasons (9 full) has cranked out 1700 hits, 286 homers and 996 RBI, scored 1018 runs, and posted an amazing .333 career average, .430 OBP, and a .593 slugging percentage. If the guy stays healthy and fulfills the rest of his contract, he'll end up in Cooperstown when all is said and done.

For comparison's sake, in nine big league seasons (eight of them full) Lowell - who turns 33 later this month - has 1132 hits, 163 homers, 658 RBI, 557 runs, a career .273 average, .339 OBP and .463 slugging percentage. Aside from the fact that they're both corner infielders, there is no comparison. Helton's numbers are off the charts compared to Lowell's -- compared to most of his contemporaries.

And as for Tavarez, well phones and coolers fear him a lot more than opposing hitters do. Need I say more. The Sox would be happy to send him and his $3.1 million 2007 salary out to Colorado, or anyplace else beyond the state line.

Incredibly, some baseball officials think this deal isn't dead yet. They believe the Rockies and Red Sox could rekindle talks in spring training. And that prospect is a nightmare for opposing A.L GM's -- especially those in the East. The last thing they want to see is a more potent Sox lineup to go along with a revamped rotation. Almost everyone agrees that a healthy Todd Helton at Fenway would be explosive. And apparently he thinks so too. Helton has a full no-trade clause and is willing to waive it to come play in Boston. He wants to win now, and he knows how much better his chances would be in Boston with its vaunted lineup.

But until he goes out and proves that the downturn he's faced over the last two years was just a bump in the road, questions about his health will linger. And perhaps rightly so. Calf strains, and even intestinal ailments that cause weight and strength loss, can be overcome. But for a great hitter, a bad back is career threatening. That's a scary prospect, and a bit of a gamble. But with the Rockies picking up half the tab, and considering what the Sox would have to give up in return, it's one worth taking should the opportunity arise again.

Copyright © 2007 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.