Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Sunday, December 28, 2008

THE WORLD SERIES IS WON IN OCTOBER - NOT DECEMBER

It's a loss that surely pains Red Sox fans, as it may for years to come. And it's a loss that certainly perplexes millions of baseball fans in general. After clearing payroll over the course of the past year, the Red Sox had somewhere between $40-$60 million to spend this winter alone.

In the most basic terms, the Red Sox lost out on Mark Texiera because they wouldn't offer a 10-year contract, or enter into a protracted bidding war.

The Sox, as always, place a value on a player and refuse to go above it. Naturally, they start negotiations below that number, giving them room to move up to, but not above, it. They have generally negotiated in a rational and unemotional manner during the Theo Epstein era. The exceptions may be the four-year, $36 million deal for Julio Lugo, and the five-year, $70 million deal given to JD Drew. Neither player was worth their contract, and the Red Sox overbid against only themselves in both cases.

Going beyond a player's perceived value is a violation of organizational philosophy.

The Red Sox have largely adhered to that philosophy since the John Henry ownership/management group bought the Red Sox in December, 2001. The team is very leery of long term deals, as evidenced by the fact that the longest pacts granted over the past seven years are the six-year deals given to 26-year-old Daisuke Matsuzaka and 25-year-old Dustin Pedroia.

Though he was seeking a 10-year contract that would have reached $220 million with vesting options, Teixeira eventually settled on an eight-year deal with the Yankees. And though the Red Sox truly desired the slugging first baseman, a 10-year deal was out of the question from the start. In fact, Henry recently expressed concern about a contract of eight years or more.

“We all have limits,” he said. “Eight years is a very long time in baseball and everywhere else.”

Henry also said the amount the Red Sox are willing to spend on a free agent “depends on both” the economy and the player being sought.

“Baseball as a whole has not yet been hit by the financial crisis, but it will,” Henry noted. “The degree is in question and won’t be answered for a while.”

Apparently the Yankees don’t recognize this, or don’t agree. Sometimes it seems as if they operate in their own separate financial universe.

So far this winter, the Yankees’ spending spree amounts to $423.5 million — more than every other team in baseball combined. That amount, spent on just three free agents (CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett and Mark Teixeira), is more than the value of 16 of Major League Baseball’s 30 teams. Chew on that for a while.

It also means that the four highest paid players in the game are now on the Yankees' roster.

In fact, the Yankees will have nine players being paid $13 million or more in 2009. Those nine players – Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, A.J. Burnett, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon – combine for $159.1 million, more than the payroll of any other team. For the record, all teams have 25-man rosters.

But none of this means the Yankees will win the AL East or the Pennant, much less the World Series. They've gone this route for years, and signing the most highly touted and expensive free agents hasn't served them very well in this decade.

Mike Mussina, Jason Giambi, Jose Contreras, Hideki Matsui, Jaret Wright, Carl Pavano, Gary Sheffield, A-Rod, and Johnny Damon were all high priced free agents who were supposed to be the lynchpins to the Yankees 27th World Series championship. Obviously, it hasn't worked out as they all had intended.

Not everyone responds well to the pressure of playing in New York, to the intense media and fan scrutiny, or to the expectations of the Steinbrenners. It didn't sit well with Hideki Irabu, Randy Johnson, Javier Vazquez, or Jose Contreras.

The Yankees have had the best team in baseball, on paper, for most of this decade, and they have just one World Series title in this period to speak for it. That's because it's tough to repeat as champions in baseball. Despite the inequities in small and large markets, payrolls, and the ability to attract free agents, baseball has surprising parity, compared with other sports.

Let's put it in perspective:

- Over the past 10 years, eight different teams have won the World Series. In all, 15 teams made the World Series - half of the teams in baseball.

- Over the past 20 years, 14 different teams have won the World Series. In all, 22 teams made the World Series - two-thirds of the teams in baseball.

- Over the last 30 years, 20 different teams have won the World Series, and only four - Cubs, Mariners, Rangers and the Expos/Nationals - have failed to get there.

And by comparison:

- Only 14 teams have won the Super Bowl over the last 30 years.
- Only 14 different men have won Wimbledon over the last 30 years.
- Only 13 teams have won the Stanley Cup over the last 30 years.
- Only nine teams have won an NBA title over the last 30 years.

So, baseball has more parity than many might think, and only one team with a payroll north of $100 million has ever won the World Series – the Boston Red Sox, twice.

The reality is that games are won on the field, during the summer and fall; not in executive offices during the winter.

The Red Sox won't, and can't, make the same sort of free agent market splash as the Yankees this offseason. And they might not next winter either.

They will obtain a catcher, a utility infielder, a fourth outfielder, and perhaps another starting pitcher (Brad Penny, Ben Sheets or John Smoltz on a short term deal). But it isn't likely that any of them will be high priced, superstar free agents, or true difference makers. And a regrettable trade may have to be executed, particularly for a catcher (Miguel Monterro or perhaps Chris Iannetta).

Naturally, the Red Sox will never abandon free agents all together, not even the high priced ones. The upside is that they only cost money, not the highly prized players/prospects lost in trades.

However, the Sox will remain focused on a long term plan, protect their top prospects, and continue trying to improve from within through the draft and player development – the old fashioned way.

In times like these, it may be a requisite.

Copyright © 2008 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author’s consent.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Empire Strikes Back

If you’re a Yankees fan, you’ve got to be thrilled with the Bombers’ latest blockbuster signing. And you surely love their management team; they always get their man. Nothing stands in their way. They have the benefit of being financially loaded, which has lead to a roster equally loaded with high-powered, highly paid stars over the years.

What has to be most appealing to the Yankees and their fans is this: they stuck it to the Red Sox by stealthily striking at the last moment, stealing Boston’s free agent prize.

The Yankees quiet interest in Teixeira grew when the Red Sox couldn’t seal the deal in Dallas, and when the Angels announced that they had pulled out of the Teixeira sweepstakes. Apparently, Teixeira favored the Yankees all along and he conveyed that to them this week. And the Yankees were willing and able to trump the Red Sox $170 million offer. What's more, the first baseman also received a $5 million signing bonus, bringing the contract’s full value to $185 million.

However, it should be noted that over the last eight years the Yankees ability to attract the most coveted free agents hasn’t served them very well: Hideki Irabu, Jason Giambi, Jose Contreras, Javier Vazquez, Randy Johnson, Hideki Matsui, Jaret Wright, Carl Pavano, Kevin Brown, Kei Igawa, A-Rod, and Johnny Damon were all supposed to be key pieces to a championship, and even a dynasty. Obviously, it hasn’t worked out like that. Many of them were flat-out busts.

The Yanks free agent bonanza this offseason will cost them their first, second and third-round draft picks, further retarding a player development system that was once the best in the major leagues.

As for the Red Sox, while some may expect them to redirect their focus toward another free agent slugger, the question is who? It's hard to imagine the Sox contemplating any of the second tier guys, such as Milton Bradley, Adam Dunn, Bobby Abreau, or Pat Burrell, who are all corner outfielders. That's simply not their need at this time. And Jason Giambi is a soon-to-be 38-year-old first baseman/DH with defensive liabilities.

The reality is that the Sox don't need a corner outfielder or a first baseman. Teixeira was the most unique player available this winter, and the Red Sox were willing to reconstitute their roster to obtain him. He was perfect for the Sox due to his age (29), plate discipline (more walks than Ks last year), switch-hitting ability, and defensive skill (two Gold Gloves).

Now the Red Sox will have to burnish their relationship with Mike Lowell, who probably came to feel unwanted as this saga unfolded. After leaving more than $12 million dollars on the table from the Phillies last offseason (in the form of a guaranteed fourth year, which the Red Sox wouldn't match), you have to wonder if he is now regretting that decision.

The absence of Teixeira makes the re-signing of Jason Varitek less likely at this point. The Sox need offense from all positions now, in a way they wouldn't have with Teixeira in the order. Now the Sox need an offensive-oriented catcher, as well as a utility infielder and fourth outfielder that can hit. With Teixeira, the Sox would have also felt more comfortable with letting Jed Lowrie mature and develop. There would have been less pressure on the young shortstop, and if he hit .270, with six to eight homers, it would have been acceptable. Is that the case now?

The Red Sox need offense, and Teixeira would have been a difference maker. Their loss is the Yankees' gain. That's a double-whammy.

The offseason has developed into its own unique theater between the Red Sox and Yankees. At this point, all the Yankees have won is the PR battle and the headlines. Whether that translates into victories on the field remains to be seen.

On paper, at least, the Yankees have gotten better, while the Red Sox have largely remained the same to this point. They may still improve themselves in some way, or ways, but nothing will likely compare to the impact Teixeira would have had on the batting order. Offensively, the Sox may only be able to improve marginally now. If they could find a way to land an ace like Roy Oswalt or Jake Peavy, that would supplant the loss of Teixeira. But such an acquisition is probably just a pipe dream.

One thing's for certain in the highly competitive AL East; if you're not getting better, you're getting worse.

Copyright © 2008 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author’s consent.

Monday, December 22, 2008

THE ERROR OF THEIR WAYS

Scott Boras and Mark Teixeira may have finally overplayed their hand.

First, Red Sox owner John Henry said that the Red Sox "are not going to be a factor" in signing the free agent first baseman. And now the Angels have publicly, perhaps decisively, removed themselves from the bidding by withdrawing their reported eight-year, $160 million offer. Angels GM Tony Reagins called the offer both "fair" and "substantial." It was also final. And now it's evidently off the table.

Having the Red Sox and Angels drop out of the running for your client is not beneficial. The fact that two of the richest, big-market teams in baseball have withdraw from negotiations has only weakened Boras's and Teixeira's bargaining power and leverage.

However, I'm inclined to believe that the Red Sox are not truly out of this — and the Angels retreat will surely help them. Apparently the executives in Anaheim surmised that Teixeira really does want to play for an eastern team after all.

That leaves the Orioles and their seven-year, $140 million offer, plus the Nationals and their eight-year, $160 million dollar offer.

The Yankees initial offer has been pulled from the table, and Hal Steinbrenner says the team has no intention of getting further involved. Sure, this could merely be a decoy before they swoop in with a massive offer that outsizes all the others. But the Yanks have already dropped nearly a quarter-billion dollars on just two pitchers this offseason. No matter what anyone is inclined to believe, they are not immune to a crumbling economy.

That leaves the Red Sox, whose offer has been reported as being at least $170 over eight years. The only team with two World Series titles and four ALCS appearances in the past six years made the biggest offer, and it still wasn't enough. It makes you wonder, what else would it take to get the deal done? A partial ownership stake in the team?

These negotiations have turned quite unsavory. Boras's less-than-stellar reputation amongst fans and baseball executives has likely declined even further. The strange thing is that Teixeira, whose rep had been rock solid and respectable to this point, will likely be tainted as well.

When the economy is tanking and so many Americans are laid off, evicted, foreclosed on, or otherwise suffering, having some guy insist that $170 million just isn't enough sounds disgusting, selfish and out-of-touch. Let's face it, this guy will collect at least $20 million annually to play baseball for seven months a year.

This is Christmastime, and for Mr. Teixeira it really is a "Wonderful Life."

Perhaps, hopefully, his guardian angel will teach him the error of his ways.

Copyright © 2008 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author’s consent.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Red Sox and Teixeira Divorced Before the Marriage?

It seems the Red Sox were quite serious and determined in their pursuit of free agent Mark Teixeira. After all, the top brass flew to Texas to meet with the highly prized first baseman.

When John Henry, Larry Luchino, and Theo Epstein arrive in mass to present a reported eight-year, $184 million offer ($23 million annually), it's clear that they are sincere and they mean business. But, apparently, it was not the highest bid.

It seems there was a high stakes of chicken going on between the Red Sox brass and the Teixeira/Boras camp. And the Red Sox blinked. It must have caught Teixeira off guard. I can't help but wonder if he is, or will be, angry with Boras. Taking the Red Sox out of any negotiation certainly doesn't help a player's bargaining leverage.

In the end, what's the difference between $180 million and $190 million? Once you reach a certain level of wealth, doesn't a few million just cease to matter? Not that I would know, but I can't imagine it affects the size of the house you live in, the boat you cruise around on, or the fleet of cars you drive.

A-Rod should have been Teixeira's example; you can take the highest offer from a bad team (Texas) and still end up miserable. No one likes continually losing games; the season loses all significance very quickly. For both the Orioles and Nationals -- the Red Sox primary bidding competitors -- the 2009 season is likely already over. The Nats lost a league-worst 102 games last season. The O's haven't had a winning season in 12 years. Wouldn't $23 million per year with the Red Sox be superior to even $25 million per with either of those two teams?

The reality is, Boras doesn't have to play for a bad team and suffer through years of losing seasons. Naturally, he wants his client to go to the highest bidder since he directly benefits as a result. That seems like a conflict of interest, in my view.

When asked what Teixeira was looking for in a team, Boras had this to say:

"The club's ability to win and win in the long term. Commitment by the owners, long term, to the franchise being successful. Where they play, the city they're in. He's played in both leagues. He's had an opportunity to make an analysis of what's best for he and his family. And, of course, the economics too."

It all sounds like so much bullshit now -- except for the part about the "economics."

However, this may not yet be over for the Sox and Teixeira. At least Teixeira got the straight talk from the Sox brass, without Boras as the filter. They were clearly and accurately represented and Teixeira surely knows how much they admire and covet him.

A-Rod was said to be furious with Boras for his horrible advice a year ago. He ended up going back to the Yankees and negotiating his own deal with his tail between his legs. And Gary Sheffield had a rather contentious parting with Boras when he felt that he was poorly represented, as well.

I don't know if that will happen again this time, but I think that Boras has once again lost some of his remaining luster. Other players are watching, and they will remember this no matter how it eventually turns out.

Will Red Sox Feel the Economic Pinch?

The Red Sox have seen a number salaries come off the books this winter, giving them as much as $40 million-$60 million to spend on free agents, namely Mark Teixeira.

In between the end of 2007 and the start of 2008, the club cut payroll by roughly $15 million. And since the middle of this year, Theo Epstein has cut roughly an additional $40 million in the contracts of Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling, Coco Crisp, Jason Varitek, Paul Byrd, Mark Kotsay, Sean Casey and Mike Timlin, etc.

This would allow the Sox to pay Teixeira in excess of $20 million annually and still come in at, or below, last year's payroll. And if the Sox are able to deal Mike Lowell and Julio Lugo as well, there would be even more savings.

However, in the midst all the speculation about the Red Sox offer to Teixeira (rumored to be eight-years and at least $160 million), here's something to consider:

In November, Red Sox officials froze ticket prices for the first time since baseball’s bitter work stoppage in 1994-95, signaling their concerns about the economy and the willingness of fans to continually shell out for the most expensive tickets in baseball. Perhaps these officials recognize that the longest sellout streak in the history of major league baseball could come to an abrupt end in 2009.

The warning signs are clear.

Close to 2,000 seats for the final two American League Championship Series games at Fenway Park went unclaimed online at face value.

National television ratings for the 2008 Major League Baseball regular season were down for FOX, ESPN, and TBS, with declines posted at the regional level, as well. The declines weren't isolated to just the smaller markets either. Even the vaunted Red Sox, and their network, were affected.

Though the Red Sox drew more than 3 million fans for the first time in their history last season, NESN’s ratings for Red Sox games dropped by roughly 20 percent, which will have an affect on the network’s advertising rates.

I'm sure John Henry, like most other owners, is taking all of this into consideration, and perhaps that's why the Hot Stove has been so cool so far this off-season. Will families finally decide that $250 for a family of four at Fenway Park is too expensive?

One GM said the following to Peter Gammons during the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas:

"I believe that the economy is going to have a much greater impact on the baseball industry than most of those people wandering the halls of the Bellagio realize. I believe that if one manages one's payroll, there will be some very attractive, impactful players available come June and July because their teams have to deal with economic realities. So if some big-market teams lose out on certain players now, they can wait and add significantly during the season if they have the capital."

It's a strategy that many teams are surely pondering right now.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Yanks Signings Reek of Desperation

After missing the playoffs for the first time in 13 years, the Yankees appear desperate.

First, they gave CC Sabathia—listed by the Brewers as 311 pounds—the largest-ever contract for a pitcher. And then they gave AJ Burnett—who has been on the disabled list nine times since 2000 -- a five-year contract.

It’s hard to understand why the Yanks gave Sabathia an out clause after just three years. What’s in it for them? If he’s successful, he’ll simply opt out for a longer, richer deal. And if he hates NYC, its fans, its media, and the pressure-cooker environment, he’ll also opt out. But if he’s injured, or otherwise a bust, the Yanks are on the hook for the whole seven years.

I always believed that any talk of the Red Sox signing Burnett was nothing more than a smoke screen. His injury history is a virtual red flag. At 32, he has won more than 12 games exactly once and made more than 30 starts just twice. It’s hardly a coincidence that his two best seasons came when he was either entering the final year of a long-term deal or entering a year in which he could opt out of a contract. His injury history and lack of motivation were more than enough reason for any team not to grant him a five-year, $82.5 million deal. But these are the uber-wealthy New York Yankees. And they are clearly desperate.

They are opening a new ballpark this spring, and they are a team that has always used marquee names to sell seats. They need to do that now more than ever. All that new construction means that there are rather large bills to pay. Yet the team just committed more than $243 million to just two pitchers in the span of just 48 hours. Or, put another way, they're on the hook for nearly a quarter-of-a-billion dollars. Wow. They must have their own money printing machine in the Bronx. Perhaps the most striking aspect is that these two players will only take the field every five days.

So far, the 28-year-old Sabathia has proven reliable, making at least 30 starts in all but one of his eight seasons. But how long that trend will last is anybody's guess. Perhaps some of the concern is overstated. Prior to 2007, the huge righty had thrown 200+ innings just once (2002). However, over the last two seasons, Sabathia has tossed a whopping 494 innings; that's the core of the concern. And it's not just the stress on his left shoulder and elbow, either. Scouts wonder how his knees will hold up under the stress of his 300-pound mass. That's anybody's guess. Though you can train muscles to become stronger, the same cannot be said for knee joints. Daisuke Matsuzka's knees are just as strong, and they're only supporting 185 pounds. You can't change the inherent design, or limitations, of the human knee structure.

Even as the Yankees doled out $161 million to Sabathia, there were plentiful cautionary tales for them to have considered.

Long-term contracts for pitchers are generally considered risky by baseball executives, and seven years is one hell of a commitment. But when it comes to $100 million deals, teams are simply flirting with disaster. Prior to this week, there had been only four $100 million contracts for pitchers, all of whom have been plagued by injuries, ineffectiveness or both.

Kevin Brown got a seven-year, $105 million deal from the Dodgers before the 1999 season. For their investment, the Doggers got 58 wins and 32 losses over five years. That prompted them to deal the disappointing Brown to the Yankees, for whom he went 14-13 in two years. That amounts to a 72-45 record over seven seasons, or roughly ten wins per year. Can you say bust?

The Rockies gave Mike Hampton an eight-year, $121 million deal before the 2001 season. For their money, the Rox got 21 wins and 28 losses. That had to hurt. Speaking of hurt, Hampton missed the entire 2006 and 2007 seasons and was slowed by injuries in other seasons, as well. Colorado gave up on Hampton, shipping him to Atlanta, where he proceeded to go 35-24. For the record, Hampton recorded 56 wins and 52 losses over the span of his monster pact. Put that one in the "bad investment" column.

Barry Zito won the 2002 AL Cy Young award with the A's, which got him a seven-year, $126 million pact from the Giants after the 2006 season. In return for this largesse, Zito has gone 21-30 in two highly disappointing seasons in San Francisco.

Finally, last winter, the Mets gave ace lefty Johan Santana a six-year, $137.5 million contract. After going 16-7 with a 2.53 ERA this year, he is the only one who has panned out -- so far.

None of the four previous $100 million pitchers -- Brown, Hampton, Zito or Santana -- has pitched in the playoffs for the team he signed with. In fact, none of the teams that have signed a pitcher to a nine-figure deal has made the playoffs while that pitcher has been on their roster.

However, the Yankees were unfazed, offering Sabathia an initial six-year, $140 million pact. Yet, Sabathia was also unfazed; he ignored it. Though the offer was one-year and $40 million better than the Brewers' offer -- the only other offer -- he wouldn't bite. He really wanted to go home to play on the West Coast and, more specifically, to play in the National League, where he could hit. That's old school. Yet, for all their talk, the Angles, Dodgers, and Giants never even made formal offers.

More determined than ever, the Yankees continued bidding against themselves, and raising the stakes. With only two offers to choose from, and $40 million separating them, Sabathia took the offer he couldn't refuse -- along with his three-year out clause. The Yankees got suckered.

And when they signed AJ Burnett to a guaranteed five-year, $82.5 million deal two days later, they got suckered again. But they did it to themselves.

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Prediction: Red Sox Will Nab Teixeira

ESPN is reporting that the Nationals have offered Mark Teixeira an 8-year, $160 million contract.

At the same time, SI.com is reporting that, “The Red Sox are one of the most aggressive pursuers of Teixeira, with several executives predicting he may wind up there.”

The Nationals’ offer sets the bar for Teixeira’s services. Will the Sox have to offer more money and/or years, or does playing in Boston, for a winning team, with very a passionate fan base mean more than playing near his hometown in Maryland?

Naturally Scott Boras will try to draw this out as long as he can. However, Teixeira has said he would like a resolution by Christmas.

The question is, now that the Angels have lost out on CC Sabathia, will they be all the more motivated to retain Teixeira? Could they swoop in with an overwhelming offer? The LA Times says the Angels are reluctant to go past seven years for Teixeira. And though they still need more pitching, the Yankees can never be discounted.

However, unfortunately for the Angels, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reports that two major-league sources said Teixeira would prefer to be on the East Coast for family reasons. With that in mind, the Nationals and Orioles are pushing hard to bring Teixeira back to the Maryland area.

Last night, Rosenthal reported that, according to a major-league source, the Red Sox are making progress in their quest to sign Teixeira. “Headway was being made earlier today,” the source said. And a rival general manager whose plans could be affected by the Red Sox’s addition of Teixeira also indicated that a deal was getting closer.

Teixeira is seeking a 10-year contract for at least $20 million per season. The Red Sox preference would be to sign him to a deal between six and eight years.

The free-agent first baseman will be 29 on April 11, coinciding with the opening week of the 2009 season. By all indications, he’s a solid long-term investment. Eight years seems like a reasonable contract-length for a player of Teixeira’s age and ability. But if the Sox are pushed to 10 years, they would likely deem it acceptable. They will do whatever it takes to get it done. Teixeira is the big fish they’re determined not to let slip away.

Having never hit fewer than 26 homers in his six major-league seasons, Teixeira certainly seems like a better long-term investment than Sabathia. Paying astronomical money to a guy who plays every day makes more sense than guaranteeing it to one who plays every five days, and who has weight issues. Questions about his long term durability will continue to dog Sabathia for at least the next couple of years.

Teixeira remains the hottest commodity on the free agent market because he’s been durable, injury-free, and highly productive. Over six full seasons, his career stat line looks like this: .290 average, .919 OPS, 203 HR, 676 RBI

Last season, split between the Braves and Angels, Teixeira hit .308, with 33 home runs and 121 RBI. He’s proven himself in both leagues. He is an All Star, a two-time Gold Glove winner, and a two-time Silver Slugger winner.

Without question, Teixeira is a very solid hitter and a bona fide slugger; he is one of just five players in Major League history to hit at least 100 home runs in his first three seasons.

For these reasons, he has been described as the “apple of Theo Epstein’s eye.” This is why the Red Sox will not fail in their effort to bring home their single highest priority this offseason.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

CRISP/RAMIREZ DEAL IS THE LYNCHPIN FOR NEXT DEAL

In a perfect world, Theo Epstein would have preferred to see where Mark Texiera lands in the free agency process before trading Coco Crisp. But, knowing Scott Boras' tactics and game-plan, the final outcome may not be decided until after the new year.

That would leave the Sox little time to address other issues. And the 25-or-so other teams not involved in the Texiera bidding won't be waiting around to act; they'll be busy addressing their own needs. As a result, critical pieces will be coming off the table in short order. So, Epstein felt compelled to act.

The conventional wisdom says that the acquisition of Ramon Ramirez means that Justin Masterson is headed into the Red Sox rotation. The speculation is that Ramirez will fill the spot otherwise held by Masterson in the bullpen. But, there is another possibility.

The acquisition of Ramirez may well be a precursor to a trade with Texas for a catcher. In any such deal, the Sox will likely be compelled to trade a young pitcher, generally anticipated to be either Clay Buchholz or Michael Bowden.

But it shouldn't be the least bit surprising if Masterson is the pitcher involved in any such deal. In that event, the Ramirez/Crisp deal takes on a different significance. After showing that he can start or come out of the pen, and showing a steely confidence as a rookie in high pressure playoff situations, Masterson's value has skyrocketed. Lots of teams would like to have him on their roster right now.

It all comes down to which young pitcher the Sox value more -- Buchholz or Masterson -- and who they think has greater Major League potential and value -- as a starter. Some scouts have said that they don't think that Masterson's arm angle makes him an ideal starter; they believe he'll eventually begin to break down.

Bowden has just one Major League start, so he's a completely unproven commodity. It's hard to imagine Texas agreeing to take him over Buchholz, who's already thrown a no-hitter in the Bigs, or Masterson. Yet, scouts say Bowden, who is presently projecting as a solid third starter at the Major League level, has a "top of the rotation ceiling."

It's said that pitching wins championships, but right now quality catching is much harder to find. To land either Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Taylor Teagarden, the Sox will have to part with a promising young pitcher. Thank goodness they've got three of them on hand.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Lugo for D-Train or Robertson?

A Boston/Detroit Swap Would Make Sense For Both Teams

After two years of waiting for their investment to finally pay off, the Red Sox are clearly hoping to find a taker for the highly disappointing, and highly overpaid, Julio Lugo.

The shortstop has been a liability both in the field and at the plate during his tenure with the Red Sox.

Defensively, Lugo has displayed little of the athleticism and range that prompted Theo Epstein to sign him to a four-year, $36 million contract two years ago. Lugo made 16 errors in just 81 games this past season, after making 19 errors in 145 games in 2007. Only six Major League shortstops made more errors than Lugo this year, but no one made so many in so few chances (292). In fact, no one else was even close.

But fielding isn't the only aspect of the game in which Lugo has been an abject failure. After being obtained by the Dodgers in a deadline trade with the Rays in 2006, the light-hitting infielder batted just .219. It wasn't a fluke; Lugo followed that by hitting just .237 in his first season with the Red Sox, before raising his average to .268 in limited action this year.

Ever the rally killer, Lugo (.139) was the worst hitter in baseball with runners in scoring position this year. To make matters worse for the Sox, Jason Varitek (.179) was fifth.

Yet Lugo, who just turned 33 today, may still have value in a salary-swap trade.

The Tigers are considering a deal with the Sox that would send either Nate Robertson (2 years, $17 million remaining) or Dontrelle Willis (2 years, $22 million remaining) to Boston in exchange for Lugo. However, some money issues are said to need resolution. With 2 years and $18 million remaining on Lugo's contract, the stickler could be this; a $9M option for 2011 that vests with 2,400 plate appearances from 2007-2010, and 600 plate appearances in 2010.

However, since Lugo had just 831 at-bats over the past two years, such an issue doesn’t seem to be of great concern. And going forward, limiting his plate appearances seems to be a mere formality. One of Lugo’s major problems is the fact that he can’t hit. That would likely move him to the bottom of anyone’s order, guaranteeing fewer plate appearances. It would be highly unlikely that any player could reach 600 ABs batting 8th or 9th. Furthermore, a team could sit Lugo in the final weeks of the 2010 season to limit his at bat’s and assure less than 600 plate appearances. This would prevent the option from kicking in.

Willis, who turns 27 in January, was 0-2 with a 9.38 ERA in just eight games with Detroit this year. After trading for what they expected to be a top of the rotation pitcher, the stunned Tigers quickly demoted the floundering lefty to the Minors on June 10. He returned to make three September starts, going 0-1 with a 8.53 ERA.

The 31-year-old Robertson was 7-11 with a 6.35 ERA in 32 games (28 starts) with Detroit. Also a southpaw, he recorded 108 strikeouts and issued 62 walks over 168 2/3 innings.

The Red Sox would acquire either pitcher with the hope that John Farrell, and a change of scenery, could somehow straighten him out. Willis, though possessing the fatter contract, would still seem to be the better value. Not only is he more than four years younger than Robertson, he also won 22 games for he Marlins in 2005. And prior to this year, Willis had averaged nearly 14 wins and a 3.78 ERA over the five previous seasons.

On the other hand, since becoming a full-time starter in 2004, Robertson has had just one winning season, to go along with a 4.87 ERA.

Naturally, there are risks with both pitchers, and the Red Sox would surely be concerned about the long-term health of Willis. But Lugo has played his way out of Boston and has a prohibitive contract for a bench warmer. If not for the possibility of swapping two equally bad contracts, the Red Sox would likely have to eat as much as two-thirds of Lugo's remaining pact while potentially settling for little more than a mid-level prospect in return. That won't help in 2009, if at all.

The Sox would be better served to take a flier on Willis than to let Lugo play behind Jed Lowrie, or pay him to play for the opposition. The Tigers need a shortstop, and considering the similarity of the contracts in play, they would assume no more risk than they already face at present.

Copyright © 2008 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author’s consent.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

SOX NEED AN IMPACT BAT

Even David Ortiz says the Red Sox need another power bat. "You definitely need to find another guy who can produce here," the Sox resident slugger said recently.

Mark Teixeira is the obvious No. 1 choice, but he will be had at great cost. And even if the Sox have a "sky's the limit" mentality in pursuing him, as a free agent, Teixeira has the privilege of going wherever he wants. The player has all the power in this instance.

Whoever is targeted, it's clear that the Sox need more thump in the lineup.

Kevin Youkilis had a career year and cracked 29 homers, 13 more than his previous best in 2007. And Mike Lowell, though on the disabled list twice and playing in just 113 games as a result, still hit 17 homers. The third baseman says his rehab is going well, and that he feels pain free for the first time in quite a while.

Doctors were pleased to see that his hip was in better condition than they had originally anticipated and called his surgery a complete success. He is expected to be fully recovered and ready for spring training. A healthy Lowell could likely be counted on for at least 20 homers next season.

However, the other side of the coin is that Lowell will turn 35 before spring training begins, and there's no guarantee that he'll recover quickly, or fully, at his age. He will remain a question mark until he proves otherwise.

There is a total power outage at shortstop; Julio Lugo and Jed Lowrie combined for a whopping three home runs this year—hold your hats, everyone! And the Sox also lack power in the outfield. Jason Bay is the only bona fide power hitter in the bunch, averaging 29 homers over the past five seasons. In fact, Bay has hit less than 25 homers just once in that span (21 in 2007).

For the 2008 season, the Bill James Handbook projected that Jacoby Ellsbury would hit six home runs. The light-hitting center fielder ended up surpassing the projection, barely, by hitting nine. No one in baseball foresees Ellsbury developing into a power hitter, and a 15-homer season would surpass all reasonable expectations. He is a base-stealer, not a power threat.

Coco Crisp, whose value is higher than at any time since he came to the Red Sox, hit seven homers and will likely be traded. J.D. Drew never was, and never will be, a power hitter. Drew hit just 19 jacks in 2008, and 11 the previous year.

The four current Red Sox outfielders accounted for 66 home runs last year—an average of 16.5 apiece. Thank goodness for Bay; excluding him, the remaining three averaged just 11.7 apiece. That's obviously pretty weak.

The Red Sox were 12th of 30 teams, with 173 home runs in 2008. Just one homer separated them from the middle-of-the-pack. So another power hitter would certainly improve the 2009 team. The Sox were good at manufacturing runs this year through bunting, sacrificing, stealing, and hitting; they finished third in baseball with 845 runs.

But there's no doubt that the addition of Teixeira would spark the offense and perhaps get the Sox over the hump they simply couldn't vault this year. After Tex and Manny Ramirez, the ranks of good free agent power bats gets pretty thin.

Adam Dunn has hit 40 or more homers in five straight seasons, and drawn 100 walks or more walks in four straight seasons. But he strikes out mercilessly, can't hit for average, and plays poor defense. That's not the type of player the Sox covet.

There are older outfielders that the Sox probably wouldn't invest in, such as Moises Alou (42), Luis Gonzalez (41), and Garret Anderson (37). And the free agent ranks are filled with re-treads and washed-up or past-their-prime players like Cliff Floyd, Jay Payton, and Trot Nixon, all of whom have already played in Boston.

Yes, there are more productive, and more expensive, free agents, such as Pat Burrell and Bobby Abreu, but it doesn't seem the Sox would follow such a path.

So, a trade would seem more likely, with Crisp and the underwhelming Lugo being available. But the question is, who else? All teams will be interested in the Sox young and deep pitching talent, such as Clay Buchholz, Justin Masterson, and Michael Bowden. To get Teixeira, a true impact bat, will only cost dollars. Getting an impact bat via trade will cost young players, as well as dollars.

It's the Sox move.

Copyright © 2008 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author’s consent.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Tek & Sox Facing Big Decisions

The Red Sox and Jason Varitek will soon be faced with critical decisions; to remain in partnership or to part ways.

For both parties, the decision will be a difficult and perhaps emotional one. Varitek has been with the Red Sox for 11 seasons, longer than any current player other than Tim Wakefield. Varitek is the team leader, and because of this unquestioned status was named team captain four years ago when he signed his last contract. The organization loves "Tek" and he loves the Red Sox.

But baseball is a multi-million dollar business and the Red Sox have a history of generally making good, sound business decisions, absent irrational emotion. They don't let their hearts get in the way of their own best interests.

Varitek is widely lauded for his gritty, hard-nosed leadership. He has also been credited with helping to groom the club's young pitchers, and getting the best out of its veterans. However, he is not the player he once was. At age 36, he experienced a precipitous decline this season. And he will be 37 in the second month of the 2009 season, an advanced age for any catcher. That would seem to merit a two-year offer from the Sox -- at most.

With him or without him, the Red Sox need additional help behind the plate.

During the regular season, Sox catchers ranked 13th among the 14 American League teams in OPS, 13th in slugging, 10th in on-base percentage, last in batting average, 12th in RBIs, 13th in total bases, and last in runs scored.

“Red Sox catchers” essentially means Jason Varitek, since Kevin Cash only played every fifth day and had just 142 at-bats this season. That said, Cash batted just .225 in limited action. However, Varitek was even worse, hitting just .220 in over 400 at-bats. And Varitek also had career lows in both on-base (.346) and slugging (.439) percentages.

Varitek’s woes extended into the post-season; he hit .214 (3/14) in the ALDS, and then had just one hit in 20 at-bats -- his much celebrated homer in Game 6 -- during the ALCS. If you’re scoring at home, that’s a .050 average. And over the entire playoffs, Varitek hit just .088 in 32 at-bats. How pitiful.

By August, things had gotten so bad that the Sox -- perhaps as a contingency plan for the post-Varitek era -- signed catcher David Ross to a minor-league contract after he was released by the Reds. Ross hit 17 homers in 311 ABs in 2007, and 21 homers in 247 ABs in 2006. Yet, he had a .369 OBP, .231 average, with 3 homers and 13 RBI in 60 games of action last season.

The 31-year-old finished the season at Pawtucket and could conceivably compete for a roster spot next season, depending on what happens with Varitek and Cash. The Red Sox would be his fifth team, and first in the American League. Considering Ross' poor offensive skills, it says a lot about the dearth of catching throughout baseball that he would even considered a possibility.

Varitek’s agent, Scott Boras, emphasizes that his client's value comes from his leadership and defense. Over the past three seasons, including the playoffs, the Red Sox have a .596 winning percentage in games in which Varitek has appeared, and a .508 winning percentage when he did not. This season, the Red Sox went 78-53 with him and 17-14 without him.

However, that record is actually the result of the fact that Tim Wakefield pitches on Varitek’s off days; Wakefield is an average pitcher who has lost more games than he’s won in two of the last three years. Would Wakefield and the Sox really have better winning percentages if Varitek caught him as well? It's highly doubtful.

Boras can come will all the charts, graphs and statistics that he wants to, but none of it can mask the fact that Jason Varitek is an aging catcher in decline. It's truly hard to imagine a big market or serious demand for him and his faded offensive skills. What's more, Varitek only caught 16 of 72 (22%) of base-stealers this year.

Hopefully the same loyalty and comfort with playing in Boston will compel him to accept a two-year offer from the Sox. Remaining in Boston would also keep Varitek on a highly competitive team that has a legitimate chance to win the World Series each year. And a two-year deal would also give the Sox time to groom Varitek's successor, whether it's Mark Wagner, Luis Exposito, George Kotteras, or some player who isn't even in the Red Sox organization right now.

But one thing's for sure; neither Varitek or the Red Sox will have many other good options. That's why it's likely they'll remain in partnership for a couple more years. And then if all goes right, Varitek will continue with the organization as a coach, something he seems destined for.

Copyright © 2008 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author’s consent.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

WHERE DO SOX GO FROM HERE?

Unquestionably, The Offense Needs To Be Addressed This Off-Season

This is the story I was hoping I wouldn't have to write. Even after the Dodgers were eliminated from the NLCS, I still had hope that the Red Sox might prevail as the American League Champs. But it was not meant to be.

The reality is, Manny Ramirez was better off with the Red Sox, and they were better off with him. The Red Sox were undoubtedly a superior team to the Dodgers; they played in a tougher league, in a much tougher division, and had a much better record. The Red Sox won 95 games, while the Dodgers won just 84. The Mets, Cardinals, and Astros all had better records than the Blue Crew, and yet none made the playoffs. The Yankees had a better record too, and they finished third in the AL East.

As amazing as Manny was after his arrival in LA -- and he was truly remarkable -- it wasn't enough to get the Dodgers over the hump. They just weren't that good. But Manny did everything humanly possible -- almost superhumanly -- to make an average ball club a playoff-caliber team.

Manny hit .396 with 17 homers and 53 RBIs in 53 regular-season games for the Dodgers after being acquired on July 31 from the Red Sox. It was a mind-boggling level of offensive production. Then the slugging left fielder hit .520 with four homers, 10 RBIs and 11 walks in eight playoff games; also truly incredible.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox offense clearly struggled in the post-season without Manny. In the ALDS, the Sox scored an average of 4.5 runs per game. In the ALCS, the Sox averaged 4 runs per game, including two 1-run games and one 2-run game. However, the Rays averaged just over six runs per game, despite being blanked in Game 1.

Without Manny, the Sox just couldn't generate enough offense. Jason Bay is a terrific player, and I'm very happy that he's a member of the Red Sox; I just wish he was the center fielder and that Manny had been patrolling left and batting cleanup at season's end. Yes, Manny is a total mental case, but he is a savant with a bat in his hands. The Sox needed him -- at least until they could address their offensive needs this offseason. And in retrospect, he clearly needed them, as well. Both were better of with each other. It was an imperfect marriage, but one of convenience to both parties.

The Red Sox shortcomings are certainly not the fault of Jason Bay, and he did an admirable job in the post-season. In the ALDS, Bay hit .412, with 2 homers and 5 RBI. But in the ALCS, Bay declined to .292, with one homer and four RBI in seven games. Simply put, he was merely good when the Sox needed him to be great. Why? If not him, who was going to step up and fill the rather massive void left in Manny's absence?

Kevin Youkilis had a break out year at the plate and became an All Star for the first time. He was the Sox only true, and consistent, power threat, helping to carry the team down the stretch. He led the team with 29 HR and 115 RBI. For the first time this decade, no Sox player hit as many as 30 home runs. And Youkilis was the only player to reach at least 100 RBI.

That may be somewhat misleading since Jason Bay finished the year with a combined 31 HR and 101 RBI between the Pirates and Sox. But it's just conjecture; we won't know until next year how he'll fare over a full season in the AL. However, I figure he'll do quite well.

Clearly, one of the Sox' primary problems is offensive production. The Sox hit a total of 173 home runs this year, after hitting just 166 last season. They have traditionally been viewed as a power-hitting team, and they certainly lived up to that reputation in this decade, hitting 238 homers in '03; 222 in '04; 199 in '05; and 192 in '06. As you can see, they've mostly been in decline in tis category for the past six years.

In fact, you have to go back to 2000 to find a Sox team that lacked home run power to the degree this one does. That year, the Sox hit 167 home runs.

But it's not home runs that win games, it's runs. And the Sox have been an offensive juggernaut this decade. But they have suffered from an unbalanced attack that relied too heavily on just two players -- Ramirez and David Ortiz.

But Manny is now gone and, rather suddenly, Ortiz looks old, slow, overweight, and hobbled by injuries. However, Ortiz doesn't even turn 33 until next month and should still be in the prime of his career. But he has to lose weight. Just imagine if the guy actually had to play in the field each day? As it is, all he does is take about 4-5 at-bats per game and it looks as if it's become a burden on him.

The name "Big Papi" was given to him for his big hits. These days, he just looks plain big -- too big. Some people even refer to him as "Big Sloppy." His bat speed has been slowed significantly, and the former clutch hitter was a bust in the playoffs, going .235, 0 HR, 1RBI in the ALDS, and .154, 1 HR, 4 RBI in the ALCS. That's ugly for a one-time Super Man.

The Sox had no power and no punch in the playoffs. They simply couldn't generate enough runs to win. The diminutive Dustin Pedroia led the team with three homers in the ALCS. Youkilis (2) was the only other Sox player with more than one homer. When a 5'5", 150-pound second baseman is your deep threat, you've got issues. Jason Bay and JD Drew were the only Sox players to homer in the ALDS. Personally, I think the Sox got lucky in that series. I thought the Angels should have won; but they choked -- again.

The Sox have big decisions to make this offseason; what do they do with Tim Wakefield and Paul Byrd? Wakefield is 42, has a career ERA of 4.32 and has been injured in each of the last two seasons. He lost more games than he won for the second time in three years and is, at best, a #5 starter.

Meanwhile, Byrd was 11-12, with a 4.60 ERA this year (4-2, 4.78 with Sox). He'll be 38 in December. But even so, he pitched more innings than Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka this year (180). And he is a control pitcher, tying Beckett for the fewest walks among Sox starters (34). He should come cheap, and seems to like playing in Boston for a contender. Most importantly, he would provide insurance. Will Clay Buchholz bounce back this year, regain his confidence, and realize his potential? Will Justin Masterson start, or remain in the bullpen? Who knows? But by now we've learned that the Sox will surely need more than five starters each year.

Jason Varitek -- the captain, the heart and soul of this team -- is a free agent. He'll be 37 at the start of next season (ancient for a catcher) and has been in steady decline. Varitek looked old and washed up at the plate all season. When he steps into the batter’s box, he now amounts to an almost certain out. The Captain my call a good game and be a master of preparation, but he is a disaster offensively. This year, Varitek couldn’t even bat his weight (.220), and only managed to drive in a meager 43 runs—both career lows with a minimum of 250 at-bats.

The Sox should ceremoniously retire Wakefield, and with him the need for a personal, or speciality, catcher. Guys like Roger Clemens Pedro Martinez, or Greg Maddux deserved a personal catcher -- not Tim Wakefield. I love him and all he's meant to the team, but he's just not that kind of pitcher. The Sox offense has struggled because of it, and he would need an ERA under 3 to justify it. If the Sox can resign Varitek to a two-year pact, and deal for a solid offensive catcher who can split time with him, it could benefit Tek and extend his career. He could then help groom and develop his successor, whoever that happens to be.

The Sox need to address the issue of run production. Where will the runs come from? Sean Casey (0 HR, 17 RBI), Coco Crisp (7, 41) , Mark Kotsay (6, 49), Jed Lowrie (2, 46), and Jacoby Ellsbury (9, 47) are not exactly offensive powerhouses. The five players combined for a grand total of 24 homers and 200 RBI this season. That’s one more homer than Ortiz had in an off year, and fewer RBI than the combination of Ortiz and Kevin Youkilis.

The Sox need juice. They also need Mike Lowell, JD Drew and Ortiz to remain healthy next year. Anyone willing to lay odds on that? It's certainly not a bet I'm willing to make. All three players are over 30 and have a history of injuries.

Lowell and Drew are un-tradable. No one would touch them, or their contracts, given their age and injury status. Youkilis and Pedroia are the team's best young players and its future. They are untouchable.

Bay is a very good, 30-year-old player who is under contract for next season. That's the good news.

Julio Lugo will be traded, but for what? Who wants an under-performing player who earns $9 million in each of the next two years? That signing definitely goes in the category of "Epstein's Folly."

Jed Lowrie started hot, then cooled considerably, hitting a miserable .111 in the ALCS.

The only reasonably attractive trade chips the Sox possess at the Big League level are Coco Crisp and Jacoby Ellsbury. They are essentially the same player at the same position. That needs to be addressed. Neither hits well, neither has power, but both are exceptionally fast and are great defensive outfielders. Ellsbury is younger and would seem to have more upside after stealing 50 bases this year. Does that make him a keeper? The Sox weren't willing to part with him as part of a package for Johan Santana last winter. Are they even more in love now? He would certainly be a more attractive trade chip than Crisp, who interested absolutely no one this year when made available.

A case could be made for trading Manny Delcarmen as well, who seems to have either regressed or to have been over-rated from the beginning. He's young, but how desirable he is to other teams is anyone's guess. Do you really want him pitching in a critical situation? Neither does Terry Francona. Delcarmen spent the playoffs mostly siting down, pitching a total of 4.1 innings in 11 games.

As is often the case, the Sox have big decisions to make in the coming months. They are a team comprised by a mix of older veterans and more youthful players. Trading the younger players could irrevocably alter the team's future. Yet those are the types of players that other teams covet; younger, healthier, cheaper, and with greater upside.

Some decisions will be easy, such as trading Lugo. But the Sox will pay him to play for another team, just like Edgar Renteria and Manny. That has become an ugly precedent. Other decisions, such as saying farewell to Wakefield, Varitek, or Ellsbury, for example, will be more difficult.

But this is a "change" year, and like it or not, change is coming.

Copyright © 2008 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author’s consent.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

TONIGHT, ALL WILL BE REVEALED

Who faces the most pressure tonight? If the Red Sox lose, their season is unceremoniously ended. But if the Rays lose, they live to play another game. Advantage Rays.

Much is made of playoff experience, which this young Rays team mostly lacks; the franchise has played a grand total of nine playoff games -- all of them this season. But, as of yet, it hasn't seemed to matter. Will the Rays' monumental Game 5 implosion come back to haunt them? Was it the start of a post-season meltdown by a young and inexperienced team? We'll know soon enough, as the Rays are given a chance to reveal their mettle this evening.

Tampa sends James "Big Game" Shields to the mound tonight -- a player who had never pitched in any big games before earning his absurd nickname. As it stands, Shields has pitched in exactly two "Big Games," both this season. In those two playoff games, "BIg Game James" is 1-1, with a 3.29 ERA. When you're the Rays, that constitutes Big Game status. Meanwhile, back in reality, it amounts to novice status. Simply put, Shields was anointed far too early.

That's not to say that Shields and the Rays won't win. At this point, to call Josh Beckett unpredictable is not only overly kind, but also inaccurate. The big Texan's fastball -- his best and most dominating pitch -- has dropped from about 97 mph to around 92, a huge difference to a big league pitcher and the big league hitters he faces. Whether it's Beckett's elbow, his oblique muscle, or both, is unknown. And what difference does it make? He needs to undergo a rather spontaneous and miraculous healing, one way or the other, if the Sox are to stand a chance.

The fact that the Rays find themselves on the brink of a World Series birth is phenomenal; it's like something out of the Twilight Zone. Suddenly, the world has been turned upside down; nothing seems right. After all, this is a team that never won more than 70 games in any of its first ten seasons. And now here they are, hoping to eliminate the defending World Series Champions with a win tonight, and subsequently earn a chance at their own World Championship.

Yes, this seems rather bizarre. All of it seems too soon, too early, for the Rays. They don't seem to have earned their place at the playoff table. And yet, here they are anyway. The Red Sox -- a truly historic franchise, and the best team this decade -- appear worthy of the opportunity to return to the World Series; but not the Rays.

However, the Rays won the AL East and finished two games ahead of the Red Sox. Don't tell them they don't belong. They are playing out of their minds and above their heads this post-season, just as they did all year long. They're too green and too naive to know any better, or to face any self-doubt or jitters this post-season. They feel that all the pressure is still on the Red Sox, and it is. The Sox were expected to prevail -- the defending Champs are supposed to prevail -- and now they are facing elimination once again, just as they have in eight consecutive ALCS games, dating back to 2004.

At some point the Red Sox incredible streak of victories in must-win games has to run out; the odds dictate it. The question is, when? The Sox (and their fans) hope that streak continues for at least two more games, and that the supposed advantage of post-season experience finally adds up and benefits them, while the lack of it finally catches up to the Rays.

Tonight we'll find out which pitcher really is Big Game. Can an injured and diminished Josh Beckett get by on guile, will, smarts and experience alone, despite not possessing his best stuff? Or will "Big Game James" finally be worthy of his prematurely granted nickname?

It's not all on Beckett; the Sox offense must show up too. They've been trounced by scores of 9-1 and 13-4 in this series. For the better part of three consecutive games, the Sox have shown no heart, no honor, no desire and no championship spirit. Players talk about "leaving it all on the field." During most of this aforementioned stretch, the Sox have looked as if they left it all in the locker room.

Maybe the sleeping giant has finally been stirred. Maybe veteran presence and experience really does matter after all. The Red Sox have come back after being down 3-0 against the Yanks in '04, and 3-1 against Cleveland last year. They've been here before. Tonight they need both the real Josh Beckett and the real Sox offense to show up, simultaneously. That is the key.

Starting at 8PM EST, all will be revealed.

Copyright © 2008 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author’s consent.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

No Pitching + No Power = No Championship

Where, you might be asking, has the Red Sox offense gone?

Aside from an offensive explosion in Game 2 (resulting in nine runs), the Red Sox scored an anemic total of three combined runs in Games 1 & 3 of the ALCS. It's not an isolated circumstance.

In four games against the Angels in the ALDS, the Red Sox batted a mere .250 and hit just three home runs.

There is no oomph, no punch, and no power in the Sox lineup. When a 5'5", 150-pound second baseman is your deep-ball threat, you have issues.

But, you ask, this is the super-slugging Boston Red Sox, isn't it? No, this isn't the same team we've become used to for so many years.

Jason Varitek has looked old and washed up at the plate all season. When he steps into the batter's box, he now amounts to an almost certain out. The Captain my call a good game and be a master of preparation, but he is a disaster offensively. This year, Varitek couldn't even bat his weight (.220) and only drove in a meager 43 runs -- both career lows with a minimum of 250 at-bats.

David Ortiz, adoringly known as "Big Papi" for his big blasts and clutch hits, just looks plain big these days. However, his bat has looked small for the better part of two years. Ortiz has been hobbled by injuries, and probably excess weight. In seven post-season games this fall, Ortiz has come up short, hitting no home runs and just one RBI. At this point, he doesn't appear to be a hitter that opposing pitchers fear or respect.

And there is no Mike Lowell to spike the offense. So where will the runs come from? Sean Casey (0 HR, 17 RBI), Coco Crisp (7, 41) , Mark Kotsay (6, 49), Jed Lowrie (2, 46), and Jacoby Ellsbury (9, 47) are not exactly offensive juggernauts. The five players combined for a grand total of 24 homers and 200 RBI this season. That's one more homer than Ortiz had in an off year, and fewer RBI than the combination of Ortiz and Kevin Youkilis.

The Sox had exactly one player with at least 100 RBI this year -- Youkilis (115). They did not have a single player who hit 30 homers, though Youkilis hit 29. Manny Ramirez, who didn't even play for the Sox over the season's final two months, finished third with 20 homers. JD Drew was injured at season's end and fell into offensive oblivion.

The point is, this team lacks power and punch, and it should be no surprise that they've struggled to find offense in the post-season.

And if a team can't score runs, it has to rely on dominant pitching. But in Games 2 & 3 of this series, the Sox starting pitching has been anything but dominant.

Josh Beckett's regular season struggles have continued, and he is winless in two starts this post-season. The big Texan has a mind-boggling 11.57 ERA, surrendering 18 hits and 12 runs in just 9.1 innings. And Jon Lester, after looking un-hittable in the ALDS (two starts, 14 innings, no earned runs), suddenly looked quite mortal, getting touched for five runs (2 HR) on eight hits in 5.2 innings of Game 3.

The Sox averaged 4.5 runs per game in the ALDS, and if they could get that sort of output in the ALCS, they could win the series with excellent pitching performances. As the old axiom goes, pitching and defense win championships.

But Beckett looks like a number four starter (at best) and is probably still affected by the injuries that plagued him all year. He certainly is not the same pitcher that built a reputation as one of the best big-game pitchers in recent history (6-2, 2.85).

In the absence of that greatness, Lester needs to be perfect; there is no room for error. Yet that obviously wasn't the case on Monday.

So now the Sox put their hopes in Tim Wakefield for Game 4. How does that make you feel? Are you any more confident now?

Copyright © 2008 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author’s consent.

Friday, October 10, 2008

DICE-K WHISTLES THROUGH THE GRAVEYARD -- AGAIN

Whistling through the graveyard. That's the only way to describe it when Dice-K pitches.

The Japanese hurler started the game inauspiciously when he loaded the bases -- on walks -- in the first. It was white-knuckle time right off the bat, so to speak. Yet, not much went off the Tampa bats, and Dice-K managed to record the requisite three outs and escape what appeared to be a harrowing jam. As always, Matsuzaka remained cool and composed. It was the 15th time this season that he has escaped a bases loaded jam without allowing a run.

Dice-K remained poised throughout, going an uncustomary seven-plus shutout innings, allowing four hits and four walks, while fanning nine. And with Dice-K leading the way, the Red Sox managed to match their regular season win total at Tropicana Field, the lame equivalent of a Triple A park. Along with the Metrodome, it has got to be the worst park in the Majors.

Matsuzaka, the 18-game winner, actually had a no-hitter going when the speedy Carl Crawford singled to right to lead of the seventh. Cliff Floyd followed with another single to left-center, putting runners at first and third with no outs. That was the moment when it appeared that Dice-K's shutout bid would soon be lost. Yet somehow, most amazingly and incomprehensibly, the high-wire walking pitcher managed to record three consecutive outs and maneuvered his way out of a mess once again.

Watching him pitch is an occasion for Alka Seltzer and sedatives.

With the Sox leading by two (Jed Lowries sac fly, Kevin Youkilis RBI double), Jonathan Papelbon took his customary place on the mound to close out a very tight game.

Joe Niekro had previously held the career record with 20 post-season innings pitched without allowing a run. But in the 9th inning of Game 1 of the ALCS, Papelbon surpassed that mark, recording three consecutive outs, two on strike outs.

The Sox have already managed to achieve the minimum requirement in Tampa -- splitting the series. They will now try to return home to Boston with a two-games-to-none lead. Game 2 is Saturday night.

You don't have any other plans, do you?

Monday, October 06, 2008

SOX TO MAKE 4TH ALCS APPEARANCE IN 6 YEARS

After it was all said and done, Jason Bay put it this way: "There are no superstars on this team, no egos. We all just get along."

Though that wasn't a direct jab at the man he replaced, one can't help but recognize that Manny Ramirez's departure changed the culture, changed the attitude and changed the demeanor of this team. And that is a critical distinction; this club is now the epitome of a team. There are no more prima donnas and no more me-first players.

Despite his awesome talent and breakout season, there could be no better example of that than the incredibly humble and deferential Jon Lester.

At this point, the lefty has to be considered the staff ace; he's earned the right and the distinction. Lester pitched seven shutout innings in the clinching game, surrendering just four hits and striking out four, while throwing 109 pitches. In his two ALDS starts, Lester, who won Game 1, pitched 14 innings without allowing an earned run. And in the 23 1/3 innings of his post-season career, Lester has allowed a measly three runs. That's flat out awesome. To top it off, he's now 12-1 at Fenway this season.

The Red Sox started rookie Jed Lowrie at shortstop in the ALDS, a position he inherited when Julio Lugo pulled his quadriceps. Lowrie was a revelation from the get-go. And once again, in the clinching game of the ALDS, the 24-year-old rose to the occasion and didn't disappoint. Stepping into the batter's box -- with two outs in the bottom of the ninth of a tie game -- Lowrie ignored the weight of the moment and lined the game-winning single into right field, scoring Jason Bay from second. Bay had arrived there on a ground-rule double.

That's right, two players who weren't even on the roster at the start of the season combined to win the game for the Red Sox in walk-off fashion.

The Red Sox suffered through a great assortment of injuries this season (15 different players did a total of 20 stints on the DL), and they filled the voids with a combination of rookies and veterans.

Aside from Lowrie, another rookie, Justin Maserson, made his playoff debut in the ALDS. However, his Game 4 outing wasn't pretty. After Hideki Okajima got two eighth inning outs and then surrendered a walk, he gave way to Masterson. The rookie quickly proceeded to walk an additional batter, throw a ball past Jason Varitek (who deserves his share of the blame -- it was ruled a wild pitch), and give up a two-out, two-run, game-tying single. The unseasoned pitcher -- who typically looks cool under pressure -- didn't look ready-for-prime-time on this night.

And aside from Bay, several other newcomers joined the Sox at various points this season and made their presence felt as well: Sean Casey, David Aardsma, Bartolo Colon, Paul Byrd, and Mark Kotsay (who made a couple of fantastic catches in the clinching game) all made key contributions in 2008.

The Red Sox will now make their fourth ALCS appearance in the last six years, a rather remarkable run that has resulted in two World Series Championships. At this point, the Sox are playing for history and a chance to be remembered as the first dynasty of the 21st Century. They are now 31-16 in October since the start of the millennium.

When it comes to experience, in this year's playoffs the Red Sox can't be beat.

On the other hand, the Tampa Bay Rays have that, "How did they get here?" quality. But make no mistake, the Rays were the real deal this year. A year after finishing with the worst record in the Majors, the Cinderella Story Rays finished two games ahead of the Sox and won their first-ever AL East crown this season. And in head-to-head competition this year, the Rays came out on top, 10-8.

But the Angels beat the Sox even more convincingly in the regular season, 8-1. Yet, as they quickly learned, that doesn't always matter in the post-season; especially against an experienced, veteran playoff team -- like the defending World Series Champions, the Boston Red Sox.

Copyright © 2008 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author’s consent.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Roller Coaster Ride Ends Nicely For Sox In Anaheim

We should be used to it now; high pitch counts, too many base runners, and a seeming high wire act.

Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched his customary five innings, giving up three runs on eight hits and three walks. If you're keeping score, that's 11 base runners and 108 pitches in just five innings. As noted previously, it's always ugly with this guy, and it's always an adventure. Yet, he always seems to win despite these tendencies. Apparently, 18-3 wasn't an accident.

Jason Bay remained hot, hitting his second home run in as many games in the first, and now has five RBI in the ALDS. In the process, he became the first Red Sox player to homer in each of his first two post-season games with the club. At this point you can't help but ask, Manny who?

The unpredictable Hideki Okajima pitched a 1-2-3 6th, with the assistance of a great leaping catch at the wall by JD Drew to end the inning.

Oki returned to start the seventh, but couldn't record an out, allowing two consecutive singles. Justin Masterson came in to try to thwart the Angels' rally. The big reliever recorded one out before walking the next batter and loading the bases. The kid then buckled down and proceeded to fan Howie Kendrick on three pitches. But then things got really interesting when he walked in a run. Suddenly, the Red Sox lead was shrunk to 5-4. Disney Land doesn't have that much adventure. After walking a long tightrope, Masterson finally struck out Erick Aybar, ending the inning.

Masterson started the eighth, and promptly gave up the first extra-base hit the Angels had all night, a triple to Chone (I can't spell my name) Figgins. That put an end to Masterson's uneven outing.

Unwilling to take any more chances, Terry Francona went to Jonathan Papelbon to secure the eighth. It was pressure time for Paps, a situation he seems to thrive in. After a Garrett Anderson popup, Mark Texiera quickly tied the game, driving in Figgins with a deep sacrifice. Suddenly, the prospect of having Papelbon trying to record six outs seemed daunting. But Paps induced yet another infield popup, this time to Vlad Guerrero. End of inning. Sigh of relief.

David Ortiz, having already hit safely in 12 straight ALDS games, hit the first pitch of the 9th off the right field wall for a double. Coco Crisp was quickly brought in to run for Papi. It didn't matter. The next batter, JD Drew, blasted a deep shot that cleared the center field wall for a two-run homer. Blown save -- K-Rod. More Drew playoff magic, a-la-2007. The long blast was the difference maker and the eventual game-winner.

Papelbon came on again in the bottom of the 9th, running on pure playoff adrenaline. Kevin Youkilis made a spectacular catch, reaching into the camera pit in foul territory, and taking an at-bat away from Gary Matthews Jr. Papelbon retired the side, earning the win, and the Sox find themselves sitting pretty.

Both Bay and Drew finished the night going 3-5, with a home run and three RBI apiece. Those types of contributions are exactly what the Sox needed from them to win.

Suddenly, an Angels team that won a club-record 100 games -- the best in baseball this year -- is down 0-2, and heading back to Boston. The Angles have now lost 11 consecutive playoff games to the Red Sox, going back to 1986 -- a new MLB record. Think there's some psychology at play here?

This win was a dagger in the heart of the Angels, and it may prove to be fatal. The Sox merely need to win one of the next three games to advance to their fourth ALCS this decade. The Angles need to win all three, including he next two at Fenway, where the Sox are 56-25 this year.

Don't start the celebration yet. But keep the champaign (or beer) chilled in preparation.

It's not over until someone wins three, and Red Sox fans have seen the improbable happen before. But this is an experienced, veteran team and it knows how to win. And for this generation of Red Sox, October has become winning time.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Game 1: Sox Roll Behind Lester & Bay

Jon Lester put it best.

"Any time you can come in to another team's ballpark and take the first game, it's huge."

The Red Sox took a huge step in their quest to repeat as World Series Champions last night in Anaheim. And Jon Lester was the driving force in the statement victory. Lester pitched seven strong innings, striking out seven, walking just one, and giving up only one earned run.

"Hopefully we can do it again tomorrow and go from there," said the highly poised left-hander in his on-field, post-game interview.

But as good as Lester was, he didn't do it alone. Rookie Justin Masterson seemed amazingly cool and confident, pitching a scoreless 8th in his first career playoff appearance. And closer Jonathan Papelbon guilefully struck out the side in the 9th to secure the game.

Angels' starter John Lackey didn't give the Sox a lot to work with, going 6.2 innings and giving up just two runs on four hits. Both of those runs were the result of Jason Bay's 6th inning, two-out homer that finally put the Sox on the board.

After 771 Major League games, over five full seasons, Bay finally got a taste of the playoffs. And the Canadian native seemed unfazed by the glare of the media spotlight, hitting the game-winning home run, as well as a double later in the game.

Bay has been a difference maker for the Red Sox since arriving on August 1st, accounting for 9 HR and 37 RBI in 49 games. But most telling was the way he seemed to inspire his teammates after his arrival. The following is an illustration of the "Bay Affect."

Red Sox W/Manny W/Bay
Record 61-48 34-19
Win Pct. .560 .642
Runs/Game 4.9 5.8

Chemistry is a critical component, and as opposed to the previous dissension and enmity in the clubhouse caused by the previous left fielder, the newcomer seemed to know his place and fit right in from the start. Bay's good-natured demeanor seems entirely well-suited to the veteran ball club.

Bay's heroics saved rookie Jed Lowrie, also playing in his first career playoff game, from being "The Goat."

In the bottom of the third, with no score, Garret Anderson on first, and two outs (both strike outs), Lowrie misplayed a routine ground ball off the bat of Vlad Guerrero that should have been an easy force at second. But the error resulted in Anderson reaching second. Torri Hunter then knocked a bloop to right, and the Angels scored the game's first run.

All you could think was, Lester deserved better.

The Angels actually out-hit the Sox, 9-8, and each team committed an embarrassing error. But the Red Sox were able to put four runs on the board (to the Angels one), and extended their MLB-record 10th consecutive playoff victory over the Angels.

The Red Sox made a statement and picked up a critical win in a short series. Just two more victories are needed for the Sox to return to the ALCS for the forth time in seven years. It's not over yet by a long shot. But the Red Sox have now stolen home field advantage, and they are lethal at Fenway Park.

Copyright © 2008 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author’s consent.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

SOX/ANGELS SERIES PREVIEW

Historically, the Red Sox have fared well against the Angels.

The Sox swept Orange County's favorite sons in the 2004 and 2007 AL Division Series, going on to win the World Series both times. So history is on their side.

But what does that matter? The past is behind us. This is a new season. The Angels should have tons of confidence based on their success against Boston in 2008; they absolutely owned the Sox this year, going 8-1. In fact, they owned everybody, finishing with an MLB-best 100 wins.

The playoffs are all about being simultaneously hot and healthy. The Angles were all banged up last year. They had a MASH unit taking the field against the Red Sox during the 2007 ALDS. It's a different story this year. This time it's the Sox who are all banged up.

Mike Lowell and JD Drew will either be absent or limited, at best. And as a result, the Sox will suffer from diminished offensive power.

Lowell had 17 HR and 73 RBI this season, in limited action due to two stints on the DL. His hip is in such bad shape that it will require offseason surgery. And if the Sox weren't in the playoffs, he'd probably be under the knife this week. That will have to wait, for at least a little while longer.

Drew has had just four at-bats since August 17. He's suffering from an aggravation of an old herniated disc injury. This season Drew stroked 19 HR and 64 RBI. His speed, defense, and hitting will be diminished, if not lost entirely.

The Sox will try to take up the slack by utilizing Mark Kotsay in right and Sean Casey at first. It probably won't help much; the pair combined for just six homers and 66 RBI this season -- that's just six more homers than Johnny Pesky. You get the point.

Then there's Josh Beckett and his strained oblique. Beckett is arguably the best big-game pitcher of his generation (6-2, 1.73, in nine starts), but this was a down year for him. He went from 20 wins in 2007, and a runner-up finish in the Cy Young balloting, to a 12-10 record with an ERA over 4 this year. That's solidly mediocre, and now he's hurt too. Beckett had his second-worst outing of the season on July 30 against the Angels, when he allowed eight runs in 5.1 innings of a 9-2 loss.

Meanwhile, Jon Lester (16-6, 3.21) looked like the staff ace this year, throwing a no-hitter, and leading the team with two complete games and 210 innings.

However, with a team-leading 18-3 record and 2.90 ERA, Daisuke Matsuzaka would seem to be a Cy Young candidate. Crazy stat: Opponents are 0-14 against him this season with the bases loaded.

The guy sure does whistle his way through the graveyard, doesn't he? He's got to be the sloppiest 18-game winner, sub-3 ERA pitcher, I've ever seen.

In last year's ALDS, Dice-K went just 4.2 innings, allowing seven hits, three walks and three runs, in a no-decision. His cumulative post-season pitching line looks like this: 2-1 (with 1 no decision), 5.03 ERA, 17 strike outs and 22 hits, in 19.2 innings over four starts.

The Angels hit .305 and averaged 6.8 runs in the nine regular-season meetings, while the Red Sox batted .252 and averaged 3.7 runs. Los Angeles' ERA was 3.60, Boston's was 6.23.

The bottom line is that Red Sox pitchers haven't fared well against the Angels this year; the Red Sox no longer have Manny Ramirez in the lineup; and two of their most potent and important remaining bats are questionable, at best. On top of that, the Angels have home field advantage.

It's for these reasons that I predict an Angles victory in the ALDS. After losing nine consecutive playoff games to the Red Sox, they're due to turn it around and come out on the winning end.

That said, I really hope I'm wrong.

Copyright © 2008 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author’s consent.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

SOX MVP: PEDEY OR YOUK?

Over the past five years, with David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez carrying the bulk of the offensive load for the Red Sox (not just the stats, but the big, key hits as well), the team MVP was generally a toss up between either member of the Dynamic Duo.

But last year Mike Lowell had a career year and, with Ortiz injured and diminished for much of the year, Lowell picked up the slack and was undoubtedly the Sox’ MVP.

This season, Manny started strong, then had another of his annual mental meltdowns, forcing a trade. Ortiz was injured yet again, missing almost two months with a wrist problem. And Lowell has also been hobbled by injuries, doing two stints on the DL.

Into the void leapt Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis. Both players are having career years, and far exceeding any and all expectations.

Pedroia, presently second at .324, could win the A.L. batting title; Joe Mauer is currently the leader at .329. The Boston second baseman leads the league in runs scored (117), as well as leading the Majors in hits (208).

After winning the A.L. ROY in 2007, Pedroia has proven that he was just getting warmed up. This year he became the 23 rd player in the Red Sox storied 108-year history to record as many as 200 hits in a season. He is just the seventh Sox player to record at least 50 doubles in a season, and is now tied for third, at 53, with Tris Speaker (1912). And he is just the third to accomplish both feats (Speaker in 1912, and Wade Boggs in 1989).

Simply put, Pedroia is having the best season of any Sox second baseman—ever. The player who formerly held that distinction, Bobby Doerr, is in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Pedroia now holds the club record for hits, doubles, runs, extra-bases, and total bases by a second baseman.

Pedroia leads the Majors in hits (208) and doubles (53), is second in multi-hit games (58), first in the AL in runs, second in batting, fourth in total bases, and sixth in the AL in extra-base hits. That puts him in the top-ten in seven different offensive categories.

And on top of all that, he’s played stellar defense and prevented runs. He’s the total package.

And then there’s Youk.

In a season when the Sox usual (or expected) power-hitters and run producers (Ortiz. Lowell and JD Drew) have been slowed by injuries, on the DL, or simply dogging it (Manny), Youkilis has picked up the slack and delivered. The smooth-fielding first baseman has been a force and has carried the offensive load.

Youk is third in the AL in slugging, fourth in homers, fourth in OPS, fourth in extra-base hits, sixth in batting, sixth in OBP, seventh in doubles, eighth in multi-hit games, and ninth in total bases. That puts him in the top-ten in nine separate offensive categories.

Not only is he hitting .314—26 points higher than is carer average—he also has a career-best 27 HR and 111 RBI. With five games remaining, those numbers are already 11 HR and 28 RBI better than his previous bests. He has done more than the Sox ever could have hoped for or imagined. As stated, he is having a career year. He has finally arrived. His All Star selection and the gaudy numbers attest to it.

On top of all the offensive production, this year (extending from last) Youkilis set the MLB record for errorless chances and games by a first baseman. He has just four errors at first this year and should earn his second-consecutive Gold Glove Award.

Before the season began, the Bill James Handbook had these projections for the Sox young infielders:

Kevin Youkilis, 1B
Handbook projection:
Avg. - .290
HRs - 15
RBIs - 78
Runs - 89
BB - 84

Dustin Pedroia, 2B
Handbook projection:
Avg. - .300
HRs - 9
RBIs - 57
Runs - 77
2B - 40

As you can see, the pair have blown away the projections. They’ve both nearly doubled the anticipated home runs.

Who the team MVP is seems to be a toss up. League MVP Awards are generally given to players with eye-popping power numbers. Youkilis’ power numbers are certainly better than Pedroia’s. But Pedey is a diminutive second baseman from whom power is not expected. In fact, his 17 homers are shocking. And as much as Youkilis has exceeded expectations and projections, his power numbers are not beefy enough to win him the MVP.

If Pedroia finishes strong, wins the AL batting title, and leads the Majors in hits, doubles and multi-hit games, his other top-ten AL stats, his stellar defense, and the Sox entry to the playoffs could actually earn him the League MVP—or at last serious consideration.

For that reason, I’d say that Dustin Pedroia is the Red Sox 2008 MVP.

Copyright © 2008 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

PEDROIA'S STAR SHINES BRIGHTLY

This has truly been a remarkable year for Dustin Pedroia, who is setting the standard for Red Sox second baseman. Pedroia is the best Sox second baseman since the great Bobby Doerr, who is a member of the Hall of Fame.

After so many years with an ever-changing array of second-baseman each season, Pedroia is anchoring the position and adding some much-needed stability.

The position was anything but stable from 1999-2001, when Jose Offerman held the position, splitting time with Jeff Frye, Rey Sanchez, Mike Lansing, Lou Merloni and Chris Stynes along the way. Todd Walker had the reigns for just one year, 2003. Mark Belhorn held down the spot in ‘04, and split it with Tony Graffanino in ‘05. Then came Mark Loretta in ‘06, before Pedroia arrived last year.

And what an arrival it was. Pedroia's excellent play earned him the A.L. Rookie of the Year Award. But that was merely a hint at what he was truly capable of.

Pedroia now has 200 hits this season and is just the 23d player in club history to do so. Mo Vaughn was the last, when he hit 205 in 1998. What's more, Pedroia has also smacked 50 doubles this season, just the seventh Sox player to accomplish the feat. The only other Red Sox players to reach the combined marks were Hall of Famers Tris Speaker in 1912, and Wade Boggs in 1989.

Earlier this summer, Pedroia set the record for doubles and runs by as Sox second baseman, both previously held by Doerr. And his 69 extra-base hits this year are now tied with Doerr (1940) for the most by a Red Sox second baseman. Further, his 305 total bases broke Doerr’s second base club mark set in 1950.

The 25-year-old has also been a revelation in the field. as well as at the plate. Pedroia holds a .991 fielding percentage this season, and earned his first All Star selection do to his consistently excellent all-around play. We should get used to it; there will surely be many more Mid-Summer Classics in his future. Last year he made a name for himself, this year he became a star.

Pedroia's name will likely be listed throughout the Red Sox record book, and his legacy a part of fan lore, before his days in Boston are through. Get used to it, enjoy it, and be thankful that he's ours.


Red Sox players with 200-hit seasons (notice the striking absence of Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski):

Year Player Hits
1912 Tris Speaker 222
1934 Bill Werber 200
1938 Joe Vosmik 201
1940 Doc Cramer 200
1942 Johnny Pesky 205
1946 Johnny Pesky 208
1947 Johnny Pesky 207
1977 Jim Rice 206
1978 Jim Rice 213
1979 Jim Rice 201
1983 Wade Boggs 210
1984 Wade Boggs 203
1985 Wade Boggs 240
1985 Bill Buckner 201
1986 Wade Boggs 207
1986 Jim Rice 200
1987 Wade Boggs 200
1988 Wade Boggs 214
1989 Wade Boggs 205
1996 Mo Vaughn 207
1997 Nomar Garciaparra 209
1998 Mo Vaughn 205
2008 Dustin Pedroia 200

Red Sox players with 50-double seasons:

Earl Webb - 67 (1931) (MLB Record)
Nomar Garciaparra - 56 (2002)
Tris Speaker - 53 (1912)
David Ortiz - 52 (2007)
Nomar Garciaparra - 51 (2000)
Wade Boggs - 51 (1989)
Joe Cronin - 51 (1938)
Dustin Pedroia - 50 (2008)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Red Sox MASH Unit

After winning the World Series in 2007, the Red Sox were certainly expected to contend again this year. Before the season began, many prognosticators even thought they had a very solid chance of repeating. But the strength and performance of a team is often directly related to the health of its players. And in that respect, the Red Sox have faced genuine adversity in their quest to repeat as Champions this year.

Case in point, before the season had even started, the Red Sox had lost their staff leader, Curt Schilling, for the year. Additional bad news was quick to follow.

The Sox suffered another blow in March when they lost their new ace, Josh Beckett, to the 15-day DL due to a lower back strain. Beckett, the appointed Opening Day starter, didn't even make the trip to Japan with his teammates. Yet another bit of adversity to start the season for the defending Champs.

But that wasn't all; the Sox have suffered multiple losses to the starting rotation this year. Clay Buchholz was lost to the 15-day disabled list with a broken nail on his right middle finger in May. Later that month, the Sox lost Daisuke Matsuzaka, their wins leader, to the DL due to a mild right rotator cuff strain. Then in June, Bartolo Colon was lost due to back stiffness. In August, Tim Wakefield went on 15-day DL because of posterior shoulder tightness. And, also in August, Beckett went back on the DL once again due to elbow inflammation that caused numbness and tingling in his hand.
But the trouble for Sox pitchers hasn't been relegated to just the starting rotation.

Mike Timlin, who began the season on the DL with a laceration on his right ring finger, went back on 15-day DL in June because of tendinitis in his left knee. And fellow reliever David Aardsma was lost to the DL in July with a right groin strain. That same injury put Aardsma back on the DL again this month. The Sox' shakey bullpen was already looking undermanned most of the year as it was.

And the offense and defense suffered their own losses as well.

Third baseman Mike Lowell also had two stints on the disabled list. He missed almost three weeks in April with a sprained left thumb, and then went on 15-day DL with oblique strain on August 13. The Sox really missed Lowell's leadership, steady defense, and offensive production. Yet they've managed to win without him.

The Sox also lost utility infielder Alex Cora to the 15-day DL in April with an elbow sprain to his throwing arm. Not good for a middle infielder. They lost backup first baseman Sean Casey to the DL that month with a hip strain. Now Casey finds himself back on the DL once again due to neck stiffness. And Julio Lugo went on 15-day DL on July 12 with quadriceps strain.
But perhaps the biggest blow to the Red Sox offense came when David Ortiz went on 15-day DL in June with wrist injury. Ortiz missed 45 games from May 31 to his reactivation on July 25.

That has amounted to 17 separate stints on the DL for 13 different players. It's taken its toll on the team. The Sox have paid a price for those losses, namely the division lead. But they are not just fighting to win the division; they are fighting for their playoff lives in a very tight Wild Card race. Who knows how many losses have resulted from the assorted injuries and missed time, but you can bet the Sox lost more games than they would have otherwise.

Injuries are part of the game. And the Red Sox have played the game pretty well, and contended, despite them.

There's been a lot of talk about the Yankees' disappointing season being the result of injuries. And there's also been a lot of talk about the Rays' success being all the more amazing due to the injuries to Evan Longoria, Carl Crawford and Troy Percival.

While that may be true in both cases, the Red Sox continued success - in the face of these extensive injuries - is quite remarkable itself.

Copyright © 2008 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

SOX STREAK INTO HISTORY

The streak began in May of 2003. That year was a turning point in the history, and the fortunes, of the storied Olde Towne Team.. Red Sox fans obviously knew they were on to something -- a hot, competitive team -- when they launched a streak of 456 consecutive sellouts at Fenway Park, en route to a new MLB record.

That year, the Red Sox won 95 games for the first time since 1986 -- the last time they'd won the A.L. Pennant. Since 2003, they've never won fewer than 95 games. And in that frame, the Red Sox have, of course, won two World Series titles.

Red Sox fans were there to see all of the highlights in every game at Fenway along the way: a historic comeback against, and eventual defeat of, the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS; David Ortiz set the Red Sox single-season home run record; Dustin Pedroia win the AL Rookie of the Year Award; Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz pitch no-hitters before their 25th birthdays, and on and on.

It took Red Sox' fans the better part of six seasons to break the mark previously set by Cleveland Indians' fans between 1995-2001, a seven-season span. Sox fans were clearly rewarded for their patronage and passionate commitment. And the Red Sox organization was also rewarded -- both financially, and with the tremendous energy that results from a Fenway sellout.

The historic park is the not only baseball's oldest, but also it's smallest. With a fan-base that expects a competitive team each season, and a resulting payroll among the highest in baseball, that has resulted in the game's highest ticket prices.It makes the streak all the more impressive. But those high prices have resulted in rewards for attending fans; a consistently great team and the intimacy of Fenway.

Boston sports fans are among the most passionate and most committed in America. In fact, two of the top-six longest sellout streaks were set in Boston. Here's a look:

Pro Sports Longest Sellout Streaks

Number Team Years
744 Portland (NBA) 1977-1995
567 Boston (NBA) 1980-1995
515 Chicago (NBA) 1987-2000
456 Boston (MLB) 2003-2008
455 Cleveland (MLB) 1995-2001
407 Colorado (NHL) 1995-2006

The Red Sox amazing streak shows no sign of letting up and, with a likely playoff run this fall, should extend through next season and beyond. At about the midway point next year, the streak should surpass that of the Chicago Bulls. And early in the 2010 season, it should also hurtle past the Celtics mark, set over a 16-year period in the '80s and '90s.

Could the Portland Trailblazers' mark be broken by the Red Sox and their fans? It's entirely possible. That could happen during the 2012 season, the same year that the club will be celebrating its 100th anniversary at the legendary Fenway Park. Interest in the team, and the park, will likely be at an even more fevered pitch at that point, if that's even possible.

It makes you wonder how much more intense it can get? After all, there are only so many seats, and the team can only sell each of them once per game.

For some fans, who've never had the pleasure of attending Fenway, it's not enough.

Copyright © 2008 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.