Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Addition Through Subtraction?

Will Manny's Absence Really Make the Sox Better?

By most accounts, the three-way deal between the Red Sox, Marlins and Pirates died because the Sox felt that the Marlins and Pirates were asking for too much. Boston simply felt like they were being held hostage and squeezed in the Manny Ramirez negotiations.

Despite the Red Sox' willingness to give up a future Hall of Famer who is having another All Star season, and the fact that they were wiling to pick up all of his remaining 2008 salary, the Marlins and Pirates actually wanted the Sox to sweeten the pot even further with prospects and/or cash. Obviously, both clubs thought they could hold a desperate Red Sox club over the proverbial barrel. Incredibly, the Marlins were in a position to acquire a $20 million superstar and still make money on the deal. Yet, it wasn't enough.

So the Dodgers stepped in. They sent third baseman Andy Laroche -- a player who hit .226 in 35 games last year, and who is hitting just .203 in 27 games this year -- along with minor league pitcher Bryan Morris in exchange for the great Manny Ramirez. Oh yeah, and the Sox will be paying Manny to play for the Dodgers for the rest of the year. What a deal -- what a steal -- for the Dodgers.

To obtaIn left fielder Jason Bay from Pittsburgh, the Red Sox not only parted with the All Star and future Hall of Famer Ramirez, but in addition they also sent outfielder Brandon Moss and reliever Craig Hansen to Pittsburgh. Oh, and did I mention the fact that the Red Sox will also be paying Manny to play for the Dodgers?

This move reeks of desperation. The Red Sox acted out of emotion and a burning desire to rid themselves of Manny Ramirez. That's how bad the relationship had become.

That sense of desperation has resulted in a rather uneven swap. Undoubtedly, it's yet to be determined if this was ultimately the best move for the Red Sox. But one has to ask; is this really the best they could do? And that's for one simple reason; they probably aren't a better team -- at least on paper -- after this trade. Jason Bay is a very good player, but he's no Manny Ramirez. Despite Manny's mental and emotional deficiencies, and as much of a headache as he was to John Henry, Theo Epstein and co., he's still a very good hitter. His best years may be behind him, but he's still a threat to opposing pitchers at this moment.

It's easy to assume that there were some bad vibes in the Sox clubhouse; some players were said to be fed up with Manny, while others still publicly supported him. That's to be expected on a veteran club. Obviously the sentiment was bad enough to force the Red Sox to act. Veteran players were surely consulted about the effect Manny was having on the team. The Sox recent performances speak volumes; this was a highly distracted ball club. Terry Francona is said to have lost 15 pounds in recent weeks as the stress mounted.

But everyone had seen this movie before; Manny usually got over his emotional outbursts and played well. During past disputes/trade demands, there were still years remaining on his contract. This time it was just months. Yet, the Sox had no faith that, in little time remaining in the "Manny Era," they could actually count on him. He had quit on his teammates two years ago, and he did it again this month. He was temperamental, moody and unpredictable. For management it was enough to consummate a lopsided trade.

Obviously, every other A.L. team was hoping this deal would go through, and surely they are all celebrating this evening. A Red Sox team that's already looked suspect since the break, going 4-8, may have grown even weaker. Time will tell.

Yes, Bay is younger and cheaper, but he's not better than Ramirez. Cheaper doesn't matter to the Sox; they can afford any price tag. And they could have addressed left field and gotten younger in the offseason. As much of a prima donna, malcontent, "me first" player as Manny is, losing his presence in the lineup could hurt the Sox down the stretch. He provided protection for Big Papi in the batting order. That lineup will now be shuffled in a way it hasn't for years. Ortiz and Ramirez were married in the lineup and were the game's most lethal combo for the past six seasons.

Furthermore, putting a small-market-type player, like Bay, in the glare of the Boston spotlight and asking him to fill Manny's rather large shoes amounts to enormous pressure. Many players would wilt under such expectations. We can only hope that Bay is not one of them. He has never played in the post-season before. Baseball is an afterthought in Pittsburgh, and there is no pressure in playing there. No one expects the Pirates to win, or for Pirates' players to perform at the highest level. It's a perfect environment for the young Moss and Hansen. Perhaps they will thrive there.

For all the comparisons to the historic Nomar Garciaparra trade, Nomar was a faded star when the Sox dealt him in July of 2004. At the time he had just 7 doubles, 5 homers, and 21 RBI. If Manny had those sort of numbers, there wouldn't be nearly the same concern about the Red Sox losing him.

Here's how Ramirez and Bay stack up:

Ramirez: BA .299, HR 20, RBI 68, OBP .398, Slugging .590

Bay: BA .282, HR 22, RBI 64, OBP .375, Slugging .515

Yes, the numbers are quite similar. But.hanging on to Manny Ramirez would given the Red Sox a better chance of getting to the post-season and of winning. He has a history of being a clutch hitter the playoffs, as well as the World Series. The Sox could have picked up his option in November and then traded him. Manny had no leverage in this matter. He put himself at the Red Sox' mercy when he agreed to that contract in December 2000. Now he's gotten the leverage and control he wanted by forcing the Sox to move him at such a steep price. Keeping Manny would have given the Sox the opportunity to find the best possible trade partner in the offseason, with the luxury of more suitors and more time. This was clearly a rash decision made under duress and in a limited time frame. Not ideal circumstances for making a critical decision.

At this point in his career, Manny is a 30-homer, 100 RBI player -- not the monster hitting machine he was in years past. There are other players of similar calibre available at a much lower cost. That fact, in addition to Manny's attitude and antics, might have dissuaded potential trade partners this winter. It's very telling that the Sox found it so difficult to interest anyone in taking him today -- even though they were willing to eat the remainder of his 2008 salary.

Paying Manny to play for the Dodgers for the rest of the season, plus paying Jason Bay's salary this year and next, will still amount to less than the $20 million that the Sox would have owed Ramirez in 2009 had they exercised their option on him. Surely, that was part of their rationale.

Apparently, owner John Henry was the most hesitant to trade Ramirez. He felt that the Sox could not get sufficient value in return and that Manny would give the team the best chance of winning. After all, the Sox had been down this road with their savant slugger before, and it had worked out pretty well for them.

But the need to restore sanity in the clubhouse prevailed. Management believed that its very integrity was at stake. Manny had been treated differently than his teammates for far too long. There were the "Manny Rules," and then there were the rules that everyone else had to abide by. That sort of thing is like a cancer, and it undermines team unity and harmony. And for that reason, Manny had to go.

Excluding this season, Manny had already made $143,328,346 in his career. And yet he is still worried about things like money, respect, and "peace." The Red Sox will no longer have to put up with the headache that is Manny Ramirez. And they can only hope they are better without him than with him. The next two months will be a revelation.

It was inevitable; Manny's time with the Red Sox had to come to an end. It just came sooner, rather than later.

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

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

BEWARE THE MIDDLE RELIEVERS

Ron Mahay, Geoff Geary, Huston Street and other middle relivers being discussed as possible trade bait. We should all be concerned.

Middle relievers are the worst bunch; not good enough to start and not good enough to close. They seem to be up and down each year and change teams often. Good with one team, bad with the next. Good one year, bad the next. Yet there is a premium on their services (as much as they rarely deserve it) to bridge the gap between the starters and the closer.

Modern starters are six-inning pitchers. It's sad. The game has changed so much. Roy Halladay leads the Majors with seven complete games this year, and five others are tied at three. Contemporary starters have it easy compared to their predecessors. And contemporary closers have a chance to ring up the saves in a way that their predecessors never had.

No one expects a starter to be perfect every inning -- even the ace. If he gives up a couple of runs in an inning, it's probably manageable and not devastating. We tend to look at the big picture; their performance over six or seven innings, not just one.

That's the tough part about being a middle reliever. You only get one inning -- at best. Every pitch and every out is huge, and every run is magnified way beyond that of the starers. It's a thankless job.

That said, most of them are still pathetic. Let's hope the Red Sox don't do anything regrettable. Remember Larry Andersen? Remember Eric Gag-me?

Need I say more?

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

Saturday, July 26, 2008

DON'T LET THE DOOR HIT YOU ON THE ASS, MANNY

More than just being a fan of his numbers, I've always been a fan of Manny Ramirez. You could call me a Manny supporter. The guy makes me laugh. He seems to possess the simplicity of a child. He's goofy. He's wacky. He has his own strange way of viewing the world. He's simply carefree and unburdened. Hitting slump? "Don't worry about it," Many would intone. And sure enough, he come around, as always.

For all his misadventures in left field, and there have been many (none more obvious, or gruesome, as the one in Anaheim last weekend), Manny is actually an underrated fielder -- especially at Fenway, where he really knows how to play the wall. He has a great arm and a quick release, and he always seems to be among league leaders in outfield assists. How many base runners have tested Manny by trying to take second only to find themselves sitting in the dugout moments later?

The catch, high-five, and relay for a double play in Baltimore is one of my favorite plays -- ever. Baseball, after all, is a game and it should be fun. And no one seems to have more fun than Manny Ramirez.

But there is a difference between a carefree attitude and indifference. There is a difference between having fun and showing disrespect for your manager, your coaches, your teammates, the owners who pay your salary, and the fans who support you. Manny Ramirez has crossed that line.

Pushing 64-year-old traveling secretary Jack McCormick to the ground in Houston over a ticket allotment is way over the line.

Pissing and moaning about a contract extension when you are in the eighth year of a $160 milion contract is over the line. Countless Red Sox fans of average means have to pay the highest ticket prices in baseball to help pay that monster salary.

Quitting on your team in September 2006 was over the line, Manny. I didn't buy that "bad knee" story then, and I don't buy it now either. I call bullshit.

"Manny being Manny" was cute when he was doing something innocently odd and amusing to the point of being charming. Going inside the Monster during a pitching change was cute at first, but now it's grown old. Been there, done that. It's old news. Just like the repeated trade demands got old.

The E-Bay grill, and the classic car auction affairs -- who cares? I'm more concerned about a guy who forgets Little League fundamentals and who doesn't care enough to run hard to first on infield grounders. What an an example; the highest paid player, the star, who won't hustle and who shows no fire, no passion.

Isn't that the issue? Manny is always so nonchalant. He has that Alfred E. Neuman, "What, Me Worry?" quality that can be maddening. In fact he says it all the time; "Don't worry about it."

It's arrogance, pure and simple. It's an attitude that says, I'm different. I'm special. I'm better than the others. I play by my own set of rules. It's the worst kind of attitude a teammate can have because it isn't the attitude of a true team player. With Manny it's always "Me First." But as the old saying goes, there's no "I" in team.

The Man Child behaves like a child. He is juvenile and often petulant. Bailing on his teammates during a pennant race was disgraceful the first time. It is disgusting and unforgivable this time.

Manny doesn't get it. He the center of his own universe. He lives in Manny Land -- population 1. But he is an aging star who is clearly in decline. Want to bet he won't knock in 100 runs again this year? There was a time when Manny routinely had a slugging percentage over .600, but this year it's .530. Not bad, but not what it once was.

Manny will be 37 early next season. I'm assuming -- I'm hoping -- that the Red Sox will read the writing on the wall and move on from Manny and look to the future. That $40 million, two-year, club option could be better spent elsewhere.

Thanks for the funny, kooky moments, Manny (my favorite was cutting off Johnny Damon's throw at about 20 feet -- absolutely hilarious!). And thanks for your contributions to two World Series teams. For all of that, thanks.

But don't let the door hit you on the ass on the way out of Boston this winter.

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

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

THE ROAD WORRIERS

The good news is that the Red Sox have won two games in a row—on the road, no less. Unfortunately, that has been the exception. Losing on the road has become rather customary. The three-game sweep at the hands of the Angels over the weekend, though embarrassing, was hardly unusual or unexpected to anyone paying attention. The last time the Sox won a series on the road was June 16-18, when they took two out of three in Philly.

The Red Sox are now 59-43 -- sixteen games over .500. And that is largely due to their exceptional 36-11 record at Fenway Park. The club’s 77% home winning percentage is the best in baseball. But on the road, it’s another story entirely.

Away from Fenway, the Sox are 23-32, or nine games below .500. This deficiency is hard to figure since they lead the league in on-base percentage (.338) and slugging percentage (.425) in road games.

For whatever reason, when they are not in the comfy confines of Ye Ole Ballpark, the Red Sox manage to win just 42% of the time. That’s a clear indication that they need to win the AL East and gain home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Tampa Bay may fade down the stretch, but they’re not going away quickly or quietly. They have shown they won’t go down without a fight. The Rays have depth and will be buyers, not sellers, in the deadline trade market for the firs time.

And the Yankees aren’t dead yet. Aren’t they just like Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees? Just when you think they’re dead... With the trade deadline just over a week away, expect them to act. Loudmouth Hank would have it no other way. He’s got to prove himself as he hopelessly tries to live up to Daddy’s image and history.

Coming out of the All Star break, 49 of the Red Sox final 59 games are in the Eastern Time Zone. That will help the Sox. The Yankees, on the other hand, play 24 of their first 27 games after break against teams with winning records. That should hurt the Yanks. And the Rays have 12 games in 17 days during September against the Red Sox and Yankees. That will ultimately prove whether or not they are truly a playoff team.

Meanwhile, the Angels, at 61-39, have the best record in baseball. And after the way they handled the Sox in Anaheim, the Halos look like they are indeed the best AL team at this moment. We’ll see what happens in October. The month hasn’t been very good to them in recent years.

Notes......

- How happy are you that Julio “The $9 Million Man” is out of the lineup? What a relief!

The guy is a total rally killer with a penchant for grounding into double plays. He was batting a meager .268 this year, an improvement over the anemic .237 he posted last year. And his RBI (22) and home run (1) production were also way down this year. He was on pace for just 24 extra-base hits, which would have been his lowest total of any full season in his big league career, and he was the team’s worst hitter with runners in scoring position (.139, 11 for 79). As I said, rally killer.

And then there’s the other crucial element to the game—fielding, which he’s not very good at. Lugo’s 16 errors were the most by a shortstop in the American League and tied Florida’s Hanley Ramírez for most in the majors. His .945 fielding percentage was the lowest among major league shortstops. Please, Julio.... don’t come back!

It will be nice to see Jed Lowrie play every day and find out if he is indeed the “shortstop of the future.” You know, the guy we’ve been waiting for since this same time four years ago. Thought we had him in Orlando Cabrerra, but that’s another story.

- Daisuke Matsuzaka has given up just three runs in his last 30 2/3 innings. Only twice in 17 starts has he allowed more than three runs, resulting in an impressive 2.63 ERA and 11-1 record this season. Opponents are 0-for-11 this season with the bases loaded against Matsuzaka.

- The best deadline pickup for the Red Sox would be the return of slugger David Ortiz, who leads the club with 297 RBI over the last three seasons. Mike Lowell is second with 257, and Manny Ramirez is third with 214.

- Though the All Star break is ostensibly the season’s halfway point, the Red Sox had already played 97 games, meaning that there were just 65 games remaining in the season’s “second half.”

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

Sunday, July 13, 2008

PAPELBON CHASING HISTORY

YOUNG CLOSER MOVING IN ON CLUB'S ALL TIME SAVES MARK

In just his third season as the Red Sox closer, Jonathan Papelbon is already poised to make Sox history. With his 28th save in 32 chances on Sunday, Papelbon became just the third Red Sox reliever to record 100 career saves. And in the coming weeks, Papelbon will move into second place on the team's all-time saves list.

Papelbon got his 100th save in his 176th career appearance. The only American League pitcher with more saves in his first 176 outings is Kazuhiro Sasaki, who had 111 with Seattle in that period. Sasaki got his 100th save in his 160th game.

"One hundred down, I guess three or four hundred more to go," said the Louisiana native after the game.

Possessing a fastball that has been clocked at 99 miles per hour, plus a nasty split and changeup, Papelbon is arguably the game's premier closer right now. Surely, he is the best closer most Sox fans have ever seen in Boston. Perhaps that's because he is. The affable hurler began the season in seventh place on the club's all-time saves list. But during the season's first half, Papelbon has leap-frogged past Derek Lowe, Jeff Reardon and Ellis Kinder, in succession.

But here's what's truly impressive; Papelbon will soon surpass Dick Radatz (104) and become #2 on the team's all time saves list -- in just his third year in the Majors. And it's worth noting that he missed the final month of the 2006 campaign, despite this impressive achievement.

Though he's averaged 36 saves over the last two seasons, Papelbon is currently on pace for 45-50 this year. It's a pace unmatched in team history. In fact, Papelbon is the first Boston pitcher to ever have two 30-save seasons, and he did it in back-to-back years. What's more, he's almost reached 30 already this season, and it's only the All Star break.

The club's all-time saves leader is Bob "The Steamer" Stanley, who amassed 132 career saves over 13 seasons with the Sox. Though Stanley has held the team record since retiring in 1989, at this point he is not long for that distinction. If history is a guide, Papebon will become the new Red Sox all-time saves leader before the conclusion of the 2009 season.

That would be an incredible feat, considering that it would only be his fourth season in the role of closer.

Papelbon is at the top of his game and says that he feels stronger than ever before. And he got the confidence to match. It can be seen each time he takes the mound. A fierce competitor with a bulldog mentality, the young righty is absolutely dominating and inspires fear in the hearts of opposing batters. For most, just making contact probably feels like an accomplishment. Papelbon went the entire month of April without walking a batter, and has granted just seven free passes all season. That coincides with 51 strike outs in just 40 2/3 innings.

Only three Red Sox closers have notched at least 40 saves in a season; Reardon, Ugueth Urbina, Lowe, and Tom Gordon, who had a club-record 46 saves in 1998. Papelbon is currently on pace to break that record by season's end.

The young phenom is both respected and feared throughout the baseball, and every team would rather have him than have to face him. The organization did a great job grooming him, and have the good fortunate of having the three-time All Star under their control for the next few years.

The numbers just keep piling up, and with each additional save Papelbon continues to stake his place in the Red Sox' storied history.

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

Thursday, July 03, 2008

TEK IS TANKING

What was Terry Francona thinking in the 9th inning last night? Sending Mike Lowell -- a slow runner -- to second on a hit-and-run, with Jason Varitek -- a poor contact hitter -- at the plate, had disaster written all over it. And Lowell had already taken off on the previous pitch, which Varitek fouled off. So everyone at Tropicana Field knew what was up. The element of surprise was gone.

Instead of pulling magic out of his proverbial hat, Francona was left looking foolish. Lowell was out by about eight feet when Varitek missed the pitch. And when the captain proceeded to strike out in that same at-bat, the game, and the attempted rally, was over.

The Sox bullpen had given up the lead in a six-run seventh, and then the offense clawed their way back to within one run in the ninth. But then that truly ill-advised hit run was attempted, in which a guy who can't run was relying on a guy who can't hit; Varitek struck out three times in four plate appearances last night.

Undoubtedly, Jason Varitek is a leader. He calls a great game and his preparation is second to none. But hitting is no longer his forte. Varitek is now batting a meager .216, which is, sadly, less than his listed weight of 230 pounds. This should be a surprise to no one. Varitek hit a disappointing .255 last year, and that was a rebound from the pathetic .238 average he posted in 2006.

The most striking element of Varitek's decline at the plate this year is the fact that he is striking out 29% of the time, and is second on the team with 66 whiffs. The team leader in this ignominious category is Manny Ramirez, with 74. But Ramirez, though this hardly sounds much better, is fanning "just" 25% of the time.

Over the past few years, the drop-off in Varitek's power numbers is also glaring. The burly catcher hit just 12 homers in 2006, stroked 17 last season, and so far, more than midway through this season, has just seven. Only three times in his eleven-year career has Varitek hit at least 20 homers, the highest being 25 in 2003. At this point, it looks like his power days are long-since over. Varitek last knocked at least 20 dingers (22) in 2005, and at age 36 seems squarely in decline.

And it's not just the strike outs and home run drought that are of concern. Varitek hasn't been able to drive in more than 70 runs in three years, and with just 26 to date, he won't break 70 again this year. The truth is, Varitek has never had more than 85 RBI (2003), and his next best total was 76 (1999).

Varitek cannot be counted on for extra-base hits, and has never had more than 233 total bases in any season. In fact, he hasn't even cracked 200 in either of the past two seasons, and he won't reach 200 again this year. This has resulted in a slugging percentage of just .364 this year, and .443 lifetime.

The unfortunate truth is that Varitek has become a liability at the plate, and it was never more apparent than last night.

Catching is at an even higher premium than pitching these days. There is a dearth of quality catchers in the minors, in college, and even internationally. So much is required of the position; knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your pitchers and opposing hitters, as well as preventing passed balls, throwing out base runners, and hitting.

The Sox will take all of this into consideration during the offseason when they need to make a decision on whether to bring the captain back on a new contract. Since neither George Kottaras, Dusty Brown, or Mark Wagner seem prepared to make the jump from the minors to replace Varitek, odds are he'll be back. And, of course, he's a longtime fan favorite. Not re-signing him would present a PR problem.

But his anemic offensive performance is a concern, and will surely be taken into consideration when the Sox ultimately make their offer. In the meantime, we'll have to be thankful for his strengths, but his weaknesses can no longer be ignored.

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