Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Lackey Signing An Unusual Risk For Epstein

The signing of John Lackey to a five-year deal is a curious decision for Theo Epstein. The Red Sox GM has typically stayed away from long term deals with 30-something pitchers who come with a history of injury or obvious risk.

Since Epstein became general manager before the 2003 season, he has signed just one free-agent pitcher for more than three years – Daisuke Matsuzaka. Given his age (26), good health, and success in international competition, that was perhaps a special circumstance.

This time around, there are greater risks.

In 2008, Lackey missed the Angels' first 41 games with what was diagnosed as triceps tendinitis.

In 2009, Lackey had an MRI in spring training that revealed inflammation in his right elbow, had a cortisone shot, and missed the Angels' first 34 games.

As a result, Lackey has only thrown 163 1/3 and 176 1/3 innings the last two seasons. Depending on how you look at it, that's either a good or a bad thing.

The Red Sox were concerned enough to put language in his contract that will protect them from a pre-existing medical issue.

After making just 51 starts over the last two years, some might take the view that Lackey's arm hasn't received as much wear as if he'd made the customary 30-plus starts each year. Perhaps his arm has been somewhat preserved, making him fresh next year and beyond.

The Red Sox must think so. They had better hope so.

After striking out 199 and 190 batters in consecutive seasons in 2005-06, Lackey's strikeout rate has dipped dramatically, down to 179, then 130, and 139 each of the last three seasons.

Hopefully he will reverse that trend with the Red Sox next season, and remain healthy and effective for the duration of his contract. That is by no means a given.

Since 1990, only 16 pitchers have signed deals for five years or more. Only two pitchers on that list -- Greg Maddux and Mike Mussina -- averaged 30 or more starts per season over the life of their contracts.

Half of those pitchers ended up as busts -- Barry Zito, Mike Hampton, Chan Ho Park, Darren Dreifort, Denny Neagle, Kei Igawa, Wilson Alvarez and Alex Fernandez.

Obviously, the odds are against Lackey remaining healthy and making consistent starts over the life of the contract. Yet, Epstein went out on a limb on this one to make a splash, and to bridge the gap between his team and the Yankees.

Hopefully, when we look back on this moment five years from now, we'll have the hindsight, and the satisfaction, that his gamble paid off.

Mike Cameron Is No Star, But He's The Red Sox Bridge to 2012

Red Sox fans are just getting used to the idea of Mike Cameron patrolling left field for the Red Sox next season. And for many, it's not a particularly sexy idea.

After all, Cameron is 37 and has a lifetime .250 average. Among active players, only Jim Thome (2,313) has struck out more times than Cameron (1,798).

It's tough to get excited about that.

However, Cameron is a three time Gold Glover who can still go get the ball. Left field in Fenway should be a piece of cake for this guy, even if he's lost a step–and I've heard no indications that he has.

Additionally, JD Drew has averaged just 121 games a year over the last eleven seasons, and has never played in more than 146 in any of them. As customary, he will miss time for various reasons, and Cameron's ability to play terrific defense in all three outfield positions gives Terry Francona great flexibility.

The reason the Red Sox ended up with the 37-year-old Cameron is that there was a really limited market for corner outfielders after Jason Bay and Matt Holliday, both of whom are grossly overpriced.

Initially, I was hoping the Sox might sign Marlon Byrd or Xavier Nady, who was a rising star until he hurt his shoulder and had surgery last season. Perhaps that shoulder hasn't fully healed. You have to wonder if the Sox ever asked for his medical records?

And if the Red Sox are forced to part with Jacoby Ellsbury in an Adrian Gonzalez trade, then we may see Nady's name resurface, with Cameron going back to his natural position in center field.

The good news is that the Sox were able to get Cameron on a two year deal, at nearly $8 million per season. That may seem a bit pricey to some, but it's a short term arrangement that gets the Sox to their minor league kids, like Redick, Kalish and Westmoreland.

Cameron is the "bridge" that the Sox were talking about this offseason. And if they want to make a bid for someone like Carl Crawford next year, it will be easy to unload Cameron at that price.

It's worth noting that, with Cameron signing for just two years, the Red Sox will now have two outfield spots (left and right) opening up after the 2011 season.

I like that Cameron is said to be a a high character guy and a great clubhouse presence. Apparently, everyone loves him because he's a funny guy and a unifying figure. For whatever it's worth, he should keep things light and relaxed in the Sox clubhouse.

While Cameron's batting average worries me a bit, he has a career .340 OBP, which softens that a little. And he hit at least 20 homers eight times in his career. Over the last 11 years he's averaged 22 HR per season. And it can't be forgotten that he's played his career in expansive pitcher's parks in San Diego, Seattle and New York. He should fare well in the smaller confines of Fenway Park.

The combination of Cameron and Jeremy Hermida should be able to make up for Bay's lost offense.

On a side note, I think everyone is really curious to watch Hermida play, and find out if he can live up to the potential that once had him ranked so highly throughout baseball.

In the end, Cameron will also improve the Red Sox run prevention next year. As a whole, team defense should improve across the board, depending on who's at third / first.

So while Cameron isn't a star attraction, or a big name like Holliday or Bay, he should make a positive impact on the Red Sox in a variety of ways. And the Red Sox were able to acquire him short term, at a cost they can easily afford.

By the way, FanGraphs has this interesting bit here which says that Cameron is actually a better all around player than Bay.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Could Garrett Atkins be the Red Sox Next Third Baseman?

The Colorado Rockies chose not to tender a contract to third baseman Garrett Atkins last night, making him a free agent.

Colorado had been trying to trade Atkins since last summer, but found no suitable, or willing, trade partners,

Over the past four seasons, the 30-year-old Atkins' OPS has continually declined, from .965, to .853, to.780 to .650.

That ultimately led to him being supplanted by third baseman Ian Stewart at mid-season.

Atkins made just over $7 million last season, and the Rockies weren't wiling to risk an an increase in arbitration for a backup third baseman.

In 2006, when he was just 26, Atkins took the NL by storm, posting a .329 average ( fourth in the NL), a .965 OPS, plus a career-high 29 homers and 120 RBI. He followed that up by batting .301 with 25 homers and 111 RBI in 2007, and .286 with 21 homers and 99 RBI in 2008.

Each year, Atkins declined not only in OPS, but also in batting average, home runs, and RBI. But though his numbers were in retreat, Atkins was still productive – until this year.

In 2009, Atkins gradual devolution morphed into a massive regression, as he slumped to a .226 average, with nine homers and 48 RBI in 126 games.

Atkins is known as a patient hitter with good plate discipline. He has a strong arm, though the rest of his defensive skills are questionable (career fielding percentage of .954 at third). However, his experience at first base (105 career games) also gives him some versatility.

Without question, some team will certainly take a flyer on Atkins (who just turned 30 on Saturday), hoping he can regain his previous form. Perhaps a change of scenery would do him good.

The question for Red Sox fans is whether Boston might be that team.

Regardless of whether the proposed Mike Lowell-for-Max Ramirez deal is consummated, the Red Sox obviously don't feel comfortable with Lowell as their everyday, starting third baseman in 2010.

Though the speculation has been that 31-year-old Adrian Beltre will be Lowell's eventual successor, it's important to remember that his agent is Scott Boras. As such, his contract will be both lengthy and large. Seattle would like to re-sign Beltre, and he will surely have other suitors as well.

Atkins would be a less expensive alternative, and one who will require a much shorter contract to boot. It's likely that Atkins can be had on a one-year deal. He simply needs the opportunity to redeem himself and resurrect his career.

One way or the other, it's a good bet that Atkins will have a new team this week.

After all, Adrian Beltre had an off year in 2009 too. And there is still a developing market for him, though at a much higher price.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Is Jason's Bay's Short Stay in Boston Over?

Jason Bay's brief career in Boston may be over.

Bay has rejected the Red Sox' latest offer (four years, $60 million) and is entertaining better proposals from other clubs, according to his agent, Joe Urbon.

"We don't agree with their evaluation of the player," Urbon said. "Frankly, we have other offers on the table that are of greater interest to Jason."

Though Urbon left open the possibility that the Red Sox could rejoin the negotiations, he didn't sound optimistic about that possibility, saying Bay was prepared to "move on."

The Mets reportedly offered Bay a four-year, $65 million deal, and the Angels and Mariners are among the other clubs showing interest.

The Red Sox have a history of placing a value on a player and not budging from it. They don't get emotionally invested in, or attached to, their players – though some would argue that in the past they've become too enamored with other team's free agents (i.e.Julio Lugo and JD Drew). In recent years, the Red Sox have let Bill Meuller, Kevin Millar, Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe and Johnny Damon all walk away to better offers.

The 31-year-old Bay is believed to be seeking a five-year contract. The Red Sox don't generally like to enter into deals of five years or longer with players in their 30's. However, the Sox did grant JD Drew an eyebrow raising five-year contract three years ago, when he was also 31.

For what it’s worth, during his major league career as a starter (2004-09), Bay ranks in the top 10 of all major league outfielders in OPS, a statistic on which the Sox have placed great emphasis and in which Bay and Drew have been a virtual dead heat over the last six years. However, Bay beats Drew handily in games played (892-749), home runs (181-120), runs scored (564-497) and RBI (596-425).

In the absence of Bay, the Red Sox could move on to negotiations with Scott Boras regarding Matt Holliday. As it stands, the Sox and Boras are already negotiating the parameters of a contract with Adrian Beltre. But knowing how long and protracted negotiations with Boras are, and how highly he values (some would say overvalues) his clients, the Holliday option could be very costly, and perhaps a dead end. In addition, Holliday is likely seeking a contract in excess of five years.

With that in mind, the Sox are also considering Mike Cameron, who will be 37 next month. Cameron is a center fielder, but appears willing to move to a corner outfield spot. In 149 games last season, Cameron posted a .250/.342/.452 line, all essentially matching his career averages. Cameron also had 24 homers and 70 RBI in 2009.

Obviously, that won't make up for the loss of Bay's production, and Cameron seems like a very weak fall back plan. However, Cameron is a far superior defender to Bay, and the Red Sox are placing ever-greater emphasis on run prevention.

Another option for the Sox is free agent Marlon Byrd, who was offered salary arbitration by the Rangers. The 32-year-old outfielder had 20 homers and 89 RBI last season, to go along with a .283/.329/.422 line.

Byrd is a versatile fielder with good range, who has played all three outfield positions. That, coupled with the fact that he is also a right handed hitter with some power, might make him a great fit at Fenway Park.

As an indication of Byrd's terrific character, he won the Rangers' Harold McKinney "Good Guy Award" in 2007.

With highly touted minor league outfielders like Ryan Kalish, Ryan Westmoreland and Josh Reddick just a couple of yeas away from contributing to the big league team, the Red Sox don't seem eager to invest in the defensively limited Bay for more than four years. They believe that before his contract is through, they will have better defensive options at a far lower cost, and that Bay will eventually wind up as an overpriced DH.

With that in mind, it is conceivable that we've seen the last of Jason Bay in a Red Sox uniform.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Why Pay Lowell to Play for Rangers?

Mike Lowell for Max Ramirez is a proposal / deal that leaves everyone but the Red Sox puzzled. Why would the Red Sox pay up to three-quarters of Lowell's 2010 salary, amounting to $8 or $9 million, to play for Texas?

Yes, Lowell has been hobbled by his surgically repaired hip, but he has told both reporters and the Red Sox that he feels better than at any time since the injury that led to the surgery.

Lowell's doctors told him it would take at least a year to fully recover, which is about now. His hip has become arthritic, which may permanently affect his range and mobility, but Lowell is still a dangerous hitter and could well serve the Red Sox in a variety of capacities: third base, first base, and right handed DH.

The veteran third baseman is a high character guy, widely respected throughout baseball. Red Sox management loves him, despite shopping him (hey, this is a business after all), the fans love him, and his teammates love and respect him.

Lowell is said to be a very positive and professional influence inside the Red Sox clubhouse; you never any scandals or dirty laundry attached to his name.

Most importantly Lowell can still hit. Though he only played in 113 games in 2008, he still notched 17 homers and 73 RBI, which was more than JD Drew.

And last season, despite playing in just 119 games, Lowell once again posted 17 homers and 75 RBI (the latter of which was again better than JD Drew). In fact, Lowell's 75 RBI were fifth highest on the team.

Why wouldn't the Red Sox keep a guy with that kind of offense to platoon at first, third, and DH? Wouldn't he make an ideal pinch hitter? Last season, Lowell became the first Red Sox player to hit two home runs off the bench in the same game since Joe Foy in 1967.

It's understandable that the Red Sox have concerns about Lowell's potential, or continuing, defensive limitations in 2010. But does paying most of his salary to play for another team make any sense? If the deal is consummated, the Red Sox will have payed Lowell about $34 million for just two years of service. That's not a very good return on their investment.

The only way a trade for Max Ramirez makes any sense is if he is simply a trade chip that the Sox will spin off as part of a larger swap.

The Mariners are said to be discussing a deal for the Padres' Adrian Gonzalez, renewing a pursuit that began prior to last season's trade deadline. The fact that the Padres are even listening means that they are at least considering a trade of their franchise player and local hero.

A source told Fox Spots Thursday that the slugging first baseman "could be had in the right deal."

The Padres' new GM Jed Hoyer obviously has close ties to Theo Epstein, and he knows the Red Sox system better than any other team's. Making a deal with the Red Sox for his star first baseman makes more sense than dealing with any other club.

Perhaps the Red Sox are trying to give the Padres an additional trade chip, another young (25), slugging first baseman/catcher. Ramirez is leading the Venezuelan Winter League with 12 homers.

With two catchers already on the Red Sox roster at a combined total of over $10 million next year, there doesn't seem to be a place for the defensively challenged Ramirez in that role. And since the Red Sox will offer a contract to Casey Kotchman to once again be their backup first baseman, that also seems to preclude Ramirez.

So unless the Red Sox are planning to spin off Ramirez in some larger deal, exchanging a veteran hitter and clubhouse leader like Lowell for a player who likely won't impact the big league roster this season is unfathomable. Lowell is a known quantity, while Ramirez is anything but.

At 25, Ramirez still hasn't proven that he can perform at the Major League level. In 57 plate appearances during the 2008 season, Ramirez has a .217 batting average and a .715 OPS, with two homers and nine RBIs.

According to Baseball America, he was the 84th-best prospect in baseball and the 10th-best in the Rangers organization entering last season.

However, injuries to both wrists limited him to just 76 games in 2009, affecting his hitting (.234 avg.) and sapping his power (5 HR).

Despite four All Star selections, two World Series Championships and a World Series MVP, apparently that's all Mike Lowell is worth these days.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Red Sox Trying to Balance Present and Future

Don't hold your breath for the Red Sox to make big, newsworthy deals for players such as Adrian Gonzalez, Felix Hernandez, or especially Roy Halladay. The cost in terms of prospects is just too high, and the Sox have far fewer chips today than earlier this year.

In the case of Halladay, the cost would also include a massive long term contract for a pitcher entering his mid-thirties. That's just the kind the Red Sox are loathe to give.

In deals for Victor Martinez, Adam LaRoche/Casey Kotchman, Alex Gonzalez and Billy Wagner, the Sox gave up eight minor leaguers. That impacted their upper minor league ranks. And two of their most highly anticipated prospects–Michael Bowden and Lars Anderson–took big steps backward this year and may have been overrated from the start.

Theo Epstein always has an eye on the future, and on future payroll costs. The GM wants to use free agency and trades to supplement and deepen a roster built on homegrown talent.

With that in mind, the Red Sox are not likely to strip down their minor league system any further, and the chances of them parting with some combination of Clay Buchholz, Daniel Bard and/or Casey Kelly are slim and none.

At this point, Buchholz and Bard are beyond prospects. They have proven themselves, to varying degrees, at the Major League level.

Kelly is now the Red Sox' prized pitching prospect, and could be ready for the Majors by 2011 or 2012, at the latest. He will be under team control, and therefore very cost effective, for six years thereafter. That makes him a keeper.

No doubt, Kelly could eventually implode, as Bowden has. But Kelly was more highly rated from the start. For what it's worth, Yankees scouting director Damon Oppenheimer said Kelly has a bright future as a pitcher and called him a "great kid."

"One of the best kids I've ever dealt with. Very mature," raves Oppenheimer.

The Red Sox will have a full season of Victor Martinez next year, and won't be saddled by the daily presence of Jason Varitek's bat in the everyday lineup. That's a big improvement by itself.

And it's likely that the Red Sox will retain Jason Bay after all. The Mariners have already spent big on Chone Figgins and are still in play for John Lackey. That would doubly hurt their division rival Angels.

Speaking of the Angels, last month Angels owner Arte Moreno said that he has roughly $12 million to spend on improving the club. That seems to preclude them from signing Bay or Lackey.

And manager Mike Scioscia has said the Angels have "more pressing needs... right now than the talent that Jason can bring," and that Bay might not be "a great fit for our club."

Unless that's a smokescreen, there's one less potential big market suitor for Bay.

And the left fielder probably has a limited market anyway, since his tepid defensive skills make him better suited for a DH role during the later years of a long term contract. It's hard to envision anyone topping the Red Sox' four-year, $60 million offer.

Assuming the Red Sox re-sign Bay (or sign Matt Holliday), their offense should be improved next year with the addition of Marco Scutaro and a full season of Martinez. As it was, their offense was very good in 2009.

The Red Sox 212 homers and 872 runs last season were better than the 166 homers and 867 runs they produced during their 2007 World Championship season.

Last season, the Red Sox were in the top five in all of baseball in ALL major categories. In fact, the Sox finished in the top two in many areas – second only to the Yankees.

They will be a playoff competitor again next year. But they will return with largely the same team as last season, which was swept in the ALDS.

But Epstein will not sacrifice his long term plan for a short term splash.

As he put it recently, “I’d say 90 percent of our time as baseball operations is spent trying to build the foundation and build our long-term outlook. Ten percent of our time is spent maximizing our competitiveness in any one particular year."

Unless the Red Sox sign free agents, trades would merely result in addition by subtraction, which doesn't seem like a great strategy. Other teams aren't eager to trade for Big Papi or Mike Lowell and their $12 million salaries. The players other teams call about are Ellsbury, Lester, Buchholz, Bard, etc.

The Red Sox will spend big next winter when the contracts of Papi, Lowell, Josh Beckett, and Julio Lugo come off the books, and the free agent market will be deeper.

In the meantime, they will resist the temptation of a short term payoff, focusing instead on larger, long term rewards. They will try to balance wise trades and free agent signings with the goal of keeping the pipeline of talented prospects flowing to the big league club. All the while, they will attempt to do this without ever entering into a rebuilding mode.

"The short fix – the shiny toy – it’s always attractive," said Epstein. "It’s always a temptation. There’s always a seduction there. I think we talk to each other about staying disciplined and making the move when it actually will have an impact, but not if it hurts us more in the long term than it helps us.’’

Keeping the GM's perspective in mind will help to temper any unrealistic expectations this offseason.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Scutaro Was the Best They Could Do?

Pending a physical, the Red Sox and free agent shortstop Marco Scutaro have reached an agreement on a two-year deal, with an option for a third year.

Scutaro had the best season of his career in 2009, putting up .282/.379/.409 numbers. He had career highs in runs (100), homers (12), doubles (35), steals (14) and matched his career high with 60 RBI.

The numbers that particularly stand out are his OBP (which was third among AL shortstops), doubles, and runs scored.

But my bet is that this guy has peaked. He had a career year at the age of 34.

This is the Red Sox first significant move of this offseason (Jeremy Hermida notwithstanding), and the feeling I'm left with is: This is it? This is the best the Red Sox could do?

It's simply difficult to get excited about Marco Scutaro, who, at age 34, is coming off a career year.

Scutaro's career stat line is .265/.337/.384, which is tough to get excited about. Over the past six seasons he's averaged 8 homers and 47 RBI. Getting excited yet?

Scutaro has played 415 career games at shortstop, 306 at second base, 98 at third base, 18 in the outfield, and three at first base.

As a shortstop, Scutaro has a .973 career fielding percentage.

For comparison's sake, Alex Gonzalez has a .970 career FP over 1206 games, a significantly higher sample size. Orlando Cabrera also has a .970 career FP, over 1684 career games at short. And Edgar Renteria also has a career .970 FP, over 1960 games at short.

Ultimately, after all the chaos and flux at the shortstop position for the Red Sox, many of us were hoping for something more dramatic, and player who is far more dynamic. But it was not to be.

Meet your new shortstop, Red Sox fans. Get used to him; apparently he'll be around for at least two years.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Pedroia's Selfless Gesture Gives Red Sox Greater Options

The news that Dustin Pedroia is willing to move to shortstop to accommodate the Red Sox is a sign of his selflessness. It is a clear indication of his willingness to do whatever it takes to help his team win.

But, naturally, questions have arisen as to whether Pedroia can actually play short, whether he has the range and, particularly, the arm strength for the position.

However, it's important to remember that Pedroia has a long history of success at shortstop, going all the way back to college.

At Arizona State, Pedroia was a star shortstop that gained national attention. In fact, he beat out Ian Kinsler, another future All-Star middle infielder, for the position.

Pedroia was nothing less than a sensation at short, twice a first-team All-American, and the national Defensive Player of the Year in 2003.

When the Red Sox drafted him out of ASU in 2004, they were particularly compelled by his defensive prowess at the position.

In 2004, Pedroia played 42 games at shortstop in the South Atlantic and Florida State leagues without making an error. He only moved to second base in 2005 at Portland because the Red Sox had another rising sensation at shortstop, Hanley Ramirez.

Despite this, Pedroia still played shortstop in both Portland and Pawtucket. Over 270 minor league games, he made a total of just seven errors.

The evidence is compelling; the guy can indeed play short.

But why would the Red Sox move their MVP, two-time All Star, and Gold Glove winner to shortstop? Because there are better, more affordable, short term possibilities available at second base this offseason.

The Dodgers did not offer arbitration to free agent second baseman Orlando Hudson. The eight-year veteran, who will be 32 in a matter of days, is a career .282/.348/.431 hitter. More importantly, he is a four-time Gold Glove winner.

Hudson made only $3.38 million this past season, and would be a very affordable option to the Red Sox.

The financially struggling Reds need to shed payroll and are apparently willing to part with second baseman Brandon Phillips.

Phillips' contract calls for a guaranteed $17.75 million over the next two seasons, making him too expensive for the Reds. But he is an affordable option for the Red Sox, with a contract that will pay him $6.75M in 2010 and $11M in 2011. There is also a $12M club option in 2012, with a $1M buyout.

The 28-year-old hit .276 with 20 homers and 98 RBI this year, obviously very appealing numbers. And the guy can play defense too, winning the Gold Glove in 2008.

Thirty-four-year-old Placido Polanco is another option. A two-time Gold Glove winner with Detroit (2007, 2009), Polanco is a career .303/.348/.414 hitter. And over the last three seasons he has scored an average of 92 runs.

At this stage of his career, Polanco would represent yet another affordable, short term option to the Red Sox, especially since he wasn't offered arbitration by Detroit.

Eleven-year veteran Ronnie Belliard is one more option for the Red Sox.

Though he will 35 at the start of next season, Belliard is an excellent defensive player and a career .275/.339/.418 hitter. Over the last five seasons, Belliard has averaged 12 homers and 58 RBI, making his defense the essence of his appeal.

Like Hudson, the Dodgers did not offer Belliard arbitration. His last contract only paid him $3.5 million over two years, making him an easily affordable option to the Red Sox. That said, he is a long shot.

The Red Sox clearly aren't eager to move Pedroia to short, but the idea is at least under consideration. There are still other available options at short, via the free agent market.

Miguel Tejada wasn't given arbitration by the Astros, significantly lifting his appeal.

At 35, he might accept a two-year offer from the Red Sox to play short in 2010, then move to third in 2011 when Mike Lowell's contract is up.

Though his power has diminished greatly, Tejada is still an offensive force, batting .313 with 199 hits last season.

Tejada may be the most desirable of the free agent shortstops on the market. Players such as Khalil Greene and Adam Everett aren't very enticing, and Marco Scutaro was offered arbitration by the Blue Jays, lessening his appeal.

Orlando Cabrera is a bit of a long shot to fill the gap for the Red Sox.

Now 35, Cabrera led all shortstops with 25 errors last season, while hitting 284/.316/.389.

Aside from his defensive shortcomings, Cabrera's low OBP doesn't fit the profile the Red Sox favor.

Cabrera has diminishing leverage as a free agent. He is coming off a one-year, $4 million deal with Oakland, a figure he won't likely command this winter.

Considering the dearth of quality shortstops available, it's easy to understand why the Red Sox are considering a variety of second basemen instead.

Having their incumbent second baseman so willing and able to move to shortstop may ultimately provide much better options to the club this offseason.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Miguel Tejada to Red Sox?

At 35, Miguel Tejada is no longer the fearsome power hitter he once was.

And his range at shortstop may be slipping.

However, the free agent is still a skilled hitter; batting .313 with 199 hits last season.

So, Tejada may choose to market himself as a better alternative to third baseman such as Adrian Beltre, Mark DeRosa and Pedro Feliz.

One National League executive told Fox Sports that he could envision the Red Sox signing Tejada to a multiyear contract, with the idea that he would be their shortstop in 2010 and third baseman in 2011, after Mike Lowell departs as a free agent.

"If I was Boston, I'd have interest in Tejada," the official said. "He's a winning player. He inspires a team and makes you better."

At this stage of his career, facing declining skills, Tejada would likely have to take a pay cut from the $13 million annual salary he earned with the Astros this year.

Despite his offensive drop off, Tejada has averaged 15 home runs and 78 RBIs over the past three seasons.

Last season, Tejada hit 14 homers, with 46 doubles and 86 RBI.

But, Tejada will be 36 in May – the same age as Lowell. So, he will not assist the Red Sox in their goal of getting younger and more athletic at third and/or short.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Alex Gonzalez to Toronto; What Will Red Sox Do Next?

You have to wonder if Theo Epstein knew Toronto was going to sign Alex Gonzalez and just let it happen, or if he was blindsided by it?

With the move, one of the Red Sox best short term options is now off the table.

The Red Sox were prepared to offer Gonzalez a one-year deal for $3M. But the veteran shortstop wasn't going to wait around for a potential offer, and took the sure thing instead.

You have to hope the Sox have a better backup plan than Marco Scutaro. He's coming off a career year at age 34, and won't likely replicate it.

Scutaro had a nice season in 2009 (.282/.379/.409), but it's hard to get excited about him since his career stat line is .265/.337/.384

In essence, he's a pretty average hitter who's coming off a career year, which just happened to be a contract year.

With Toronto having signed Gonzalez, it seems highly unlikely that the Jays will offer Scutaro salary arbitration, meaning the Sox could sign him without losing draft choices. That broadens his appeal somewhat.

Nonetheless, Red Sox fans have to hope that Epstein has a bigger and better plan.

However, the Red Sox probably don't want to engage any shortstop in a high-value, long term contract with Jose Iglesias waiting in the wings.

Iglesias is a 19-year-old defensive whiz from Cuba who tore up the Arizona Fall League this year.

The best guess is that the Sox offer Scutaro, or another experienced veteran, a one-year deal with an option.

It's tough to imagine the Red Sox investing big dollars in Miguel Tejada, or feeling enticed by the likes of Adam Everett, Bobby Crosby or Khalil Greene.

One possibility, in addition to Scutaro, is that the Sox will bring back old friend Orlando Cabrera on a short term deal.

The Red Sox were alleged to have been put off by some of his behavior during his brief stint in 2004, but it's unclear just what that was. However, Cabrera brought a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the team and was a fan favorite in Boston.

In a 2009 season split between Oakland and Minnesota, Cabrera hit .284/.316/.389 and his career line is .275/.322/..398.

So, he's not the kind of on-base machine the Red Sox prefer, but then again, neither was Alex Gonzalez.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Red Sox May Take a Step Back in 2010, to Take Two Steps Forward in 2011

In my estimation, the Red Sox are in a precarious position right now, and could very well return with essentially the same team next season.

They weren't good enough to beat the Yankees this year, and that may not change next year.

The Sox can only hope for the best from Mike Lowell and David Ortiz. Both player's salaries are essentially $12M in 2010, and both contracts expire at season's end. The Sox will live or die with this pair of veterans. They are stuck with both players, for better of worse, and will have to ride out those contracts.

When those pacts expire after next season, the Sox will have about $25M to play with in next year's free agent market. This year's crop isn't particularly enticing anyway.

The Sox have spots to fill at shortstop and in left field. Beyond that, they have young, affordable, franchise players that they would be loathe to trade (Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis), or overpriced, underperforming players that will be very difficult to trade (Ortiz, Lowell, JD Drew).

Look for the Sox to give Alex Gonzalez a low dollar, one-year deal, with the notion that Jose Iglesias is waiting in the wings.

You can forget the Marco Scutaro talk; he a Type A free agent and, assuming Toronto offers him arbitration, the Red Sox will not surrender two picks for a 34-year-old player of his caliber.

Going after Adrian Gonzalez would gut the Red Sox farm system; Jed Hoyer will ask for the moon and stars, as he should. Clay Buchholz would certainly be required in any such deal, leaving a gaping hole in the Sox' rotation.

Junichi Tazawa and Michael Bowden are not ready for the Majors. Therefore, the Red Sox would need to acquire a free agent pitcher to replace Buchholz. There are few enticing candidates beyond John Lackey.

I'm skeptical that the Red Sox will sign a big star, other than Jason Bay. And if they lose Bay, don't be the least bit surprised if they acquire some lesser player, such as Xavier Nady, Rick Ankiel or Cody Ross, to platoon with Jeremy Hermida.

Prepare yourself for the distinct possibility of a very underwhelming replacement/acquisition. It won't likely be Matt Holliday.

The Red Sox have inquired about the Marlins' Dan Uggla, envisioning him as a potential replacement for Bay in left field. Uggla, 29, projects to earn approximately $8 million in arbitration. In four major-league seasons, he has averaged 30 homers and 90 RBIs.

So, Uggla has Bay-like numbers at less than half the cost. He would give the Sox more leeway to acquire another big-time hitter or pitcher.

One interesting possibility is that the Sox could still acquire the two-time All Star, even if they re-sign Bay. In that scenario, the Sox would move Pedroia, a college shortstop, back to his natural position, and have Uggla play second, his current position with the Marlins.

Expect Bay to be back with the Sox. It would be surprising if any team offers him more than four years, at $15M annually. He can't carry a team by himself, and he was very streaky this year.

Bay is 31, has hit .300 just once, and is coming off a career year. At this stage of his career, he won't get any better. You can only hope that his production remains consistent and that he doesn't decline during the contract.

Even if the Sox retain Bay, that won't be enough to get it done in 2010. It wasn't enough this year. More would still need to be done.

With Ortiz and Lowell aging/declining, plus a fairly weak free agent class, there is a distinct possibility that the Sox might not be quite so close to the top of the American League next season.

The club may choose to ride out the final year of Otiz' and Lowell's contracts and hope to retool after the 2010 season, when Joe Mauer, Carl Crawford, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee might all be free agents.

As much as we love Big Papi, the Red Sox will never again have such a one-dimensional player on their roster; all stick, no glove.

The Sox need a more versatile, multi-dimensional DH/position player going forward. Bay would provide the Red Sox the ability to play DH and the outfield, even if his defensive skills erode slightly during the course of the contract.

One interesting question is whether the Sox would possibly trade Josh Beckett, particularly if contract extension talks stall?

Obtaining a pitcher (like John Lackey) and hitter (Bay) through free-agency would be helpful because the Red Sox could then devote a package of young players toward someone like Adrian Gonzalez.

Becket may seem more appealing than Lackey, but he hasn't quite been the stud that the Red Sox were expecting when they traded Hanley Ramirez for him.

Since arriving in Boston, Beckett's ERA is 4.04, which is good, but not ace-like; his WHIP is 1.20; he's never struck out 200 batters in a season; and opponents have batted .300 against him.

Four years is a pretty good sample size. Beckett has been good, but not great. He's going to want a big-money deal after taking the hometown discount last time, and you have to wonder if the Sox might determine that money could be better spent elsewhere.

Lackey is not as desirable as Beckett, especially since his agent is seeking an A.J. Burnett-type contract (five years, $82.5 million).

Lackey will be an asset to any team's rotation; he has a career 3.81 ERA, all in the AL. He's reached 200 innings in four seasons, and 198 in another.

However, Lackey hasn't come close to 200 the last two seasons, missing a month-plus in each due to arm trouble. In 2008 he made just 24 starts, and this year he made 27.

The big Texan is 31 and has never won more than 19 games. Overall, he has won just 102 games in eight seasons – an average of 13 wins per year. And he has never struck out 200 batters in any season, though he did fan 199 in 2005.

The reality is that Lackey is worth about four years at $15M annually – tops.

Though he is not a true frontline ace, he would be a #1 on most teams and he would be a great #2 on the Red Sox.

Signing Lackey would also give the Red Sox the ability to leverage Beckett in a deal for more offense.

Acquiring Felix Hernandez will cost the farm; Lackey will only coast money, and the Sox have plenty of it since they didn't spend it on Mark Teixeira last winter.

After restructuring Tim Wakefield's contract, which will save the Sox $1.5 million on the competitive balance tax, Theo Epstein made an interesting statement.

"That's important because there's some things we want to do this winter and we don't have a ton of room under the CBT," Epstein said.

The tax threshold for 2010 will be $170 million; the Sox were around $122 million in 2009. Is Epstein really planning that much additional spending?

The club obviously has plenty of payroll space for Roy Halladay or some other superstar acquired via trade.

However, the Red Sox have a long history of going after talented – but previously injured – pitchers still seen as having a strong upside: think Wade Miller, Bartolo Colon, Brad Penny and John Smoltz..

The club deemed these acquisitions "low risk, high reward" since they were all signed to short-term contracts. Yet, not one of them worked out well.

Despite this, expect the Sox in on Ben Sheets, Rich Harden, Eric Bedard, and/or Carl Pavano.

If that doesn't seem inspiring, prepare yourself. This may be a very unexciting winter for Red Sox Nation.

Signing Jason Bay will not put the Red Sox over the hump, and the rest of the free agent field is thin.

While free agents only cost money (which the Red Sox have plenty of), trades will cost prospects, and the Red Sox do not have a lot of upper-level depth in their system.

Acquiring Felix Hernandez, Roy Halladay or Adrian Gonzalez would cost the Red Sox so much minor league talent that it could take years for the system to recover.

The Red Sox may instead wait until next year, when some of their big contracts expire, when the free agent field will be more attractive, and when more of their minor league talent is better developed.

In the meantime, they may look for bargains – the arbitration-eligible players that small-market teams can no longer afford. These types of players will either be traded (like Jeremy Hermida) or simply non-tendered.

Players of that variety may not be superstars or headline grabbers, but they are easily affordable options to a team like the Red Sox, who may take a step back in 2010 to take two steps forward in 2011.

Brace yourself for that possibility.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Farewell George Kottaras, We Hardly Knew Ye

The Red Sox released Kottaras today. The 26-year-old catcher was out of options and couldn't be sent to the minors again.

Kottaras hit .237 last season in only 93 at-bats, an exceptionally small sample size.

Playing once a week as Tim Wakefield's personal catcher gave him no chance to develop a rhythm and prove himself.

Then Kottaras was placed on the disabled list on August 2, after suffering back spasms.

That happened to coincide with Wakefield going on the DL and the arrival of Victor Martinez. In truth, it was more than coincidence; the club needed to make room on the 25-man roster.

And that's what Kottaras was up against again this time; not enough room on the 40-man roster.

It's still unclear how Kottaras would fare over a full season at the Major League level, and what kind of hitter he might yet become. The scouting report on Kottaras notes that he has "20-home run power potential and good plate discipline," and that he is a "hard worker."

Kottaras will likely find a job elsewhere, as catchers are in short supply at the Major League level.

If you remember, Kottaras was the player the Sox got from the Padres in exchange for David Wells. Kottaras was highly regarded in the Padres' system, and the Red Sox thought they were getting the catcher of the future, the heir apparent to Jason Varitek.

It's doubtful that Kottaras' release will change the Sox interest in any catcher outside the organization this year. They've already got $10M invested in two catchers (Martinez and Varitek) for the 2010 season.

If they need a third catcher, they'll turn to either Dusty Brown or Mark Wagner, who are already in their system.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Red Sox Mistakes: Goodbye Johnny Damon, Hello JD Drew

At the end of the 2005 season, Johnny Damon's agent, Scott Boras, was seeking a seven-year contract valued at $84 million for his client. That amounted to an average annual salary of $12 million.

However, Red Sox officials (absent then departed GM Theo Epstein) made the strategic decision that Damon was not worth more than $40 million over four seasons. That was their best offer.

But the Yankees placed a higher value on Damon. They had no qualms with the annual salary; they just made a shorter-term offer of four-years, $52 million.

At the time, Damon was 32 and had just completed his tenth consecutive season of playing in at least 145 games. He was the picture of consistency.

Yet the Red Sox, sticking to their formula of placing a value on a player and not going over that limit, made what turned out to be a lowball offer. Despite whatever affinity they had for Damon, they weren't about to let emotion get in the way.

Their view was that Damon was an aging player, with a poor throwing arm, who would begin breaking down. But he was exceptionally popular with the fans, and they had to at least make an offer for PR purposes. In retrospect, it seems that the Red Sox just didn't really value Damon after all.

However, it turned out that the Yankees got plenty of value for their investment in the durable and consistent outfielder. Over four years in the Bronx, Damon's numbers are strikingly similar to those in his four years with Boston.

Damon played in 576 games with the Yanks, almost the same as the 597 he played in his four seasons with the Red Sox. He has exactly the same .362 OBP in both NY and Boston. He has 21 more Yankee homers and three more Red Sox RBIs. He has 5 more Sox stolen bases and the same 21 times caught stealing. His Red Sox batting average was 10 points higher, but his Yankee slugging average is 17 points higher.

But the year after letting Damon defect to their arch rival, the Red Sox did something very strange; they made a 5-year, $70 million offer to JD Drew that raised eyebrows throughout the sport. At the time, Drew was 31 and had played in as many as 140 games just twice in his eight full seasons in the Majors.

But he was praised for his perfect swing, his intangibles, and his "potential."

After three years in Boston, we're still waiting for all of that to materialize.

Over the last three years of a contract during which Red Sox officials believed Damon would be overpaid, Damon has more hits (467 to 355), runs scored (295 to 247) and RBIs (216 to 196), than Drew. And Damon has a nearly identical home run total (53 to 54).

Yet, Drew has made an average of $1 million more per season (Drew: $14 million, Damon: $13 million) and is signed for two more years. Damon, on the other hand, is now a free agent.

If the Red Sox had signed him to the same deal the Yankees offered, they would be out from under that contract right now. But considering his high level of play, Damon will once again be sought after.

Drew, on the other hand, is still under contract for two more years.

It's worth noting that the Red Sox rank 13th among the 14 American League teams in on-base percentage from the leadoff spot since Damon departed. Damon eventually became the no. 2 hitter for the Yankees, but he certainly would have been the ideal solution for the Red Sox in the three years prior to the ascension of Jacoby Ellsbury.

Despite the lack of faith by Sox brass, Damon had yet another productive season this year, hitting .282, with 155 hits, 24 home runs and 82 RBIs. His 107 runs were tied for fourth in the AL. Damon also had a healthy .365 on-base percentage.

And it was the 14th season in a row in which Damon played at least 140 games, a testament to his durability. The only players who have done that more frequently are Hank Aaron, Brooks Robinson and Pete Rose (16 straight years) and Willie Mays (15).

On the other hand, Drew has played in 140 games in just one season for the Red Sox. And over the course of his 11-year career, Drew has averaged just 121 games per season.

This year, Drew batted .279, had 126 hits, 24 HR, 68 RBI and scored 84 runs,. If Red Sox fans weren't certain three years ago, they now know that Drew is not a premier hitter or run producer.

Drew reached 20 homers this year for just the fourth time in his career, but the first since 2006 when he was with the Dodgers. However, he has yet to drive in 100 runs, score 100 runs, or hit .300 as a member of the Red Sox.

Theo Epstein defends Drew by talking up his .879 OPS as a member of the Red Sox. But it's important to remember that Drew was brought to Boston to be a heart-of-the-order, no. 5 hitter.

Drew is a corner outfielder; and was not signed to simply get on base. Drawing walks is not the job of a no. 5 hitter. That job is to produce, to drive in runs.

Yet Drew does not do this particularly well; he has driven in 100 runs just once in his career, as a member of the Dodgers. Drawing a walk with men in scoring position doesn't cut it. Drew has never had 200 hits in a season, has drawn 100 walks just once, and scored 100 runs just once.

In August, Drew had his first ever two home run game, and just his second ever 4-for-4 game.

It makes you wonder what he'd ever done to earn, or deserve, his current contract from the Red Sox.

Though he came to Boston a year after Damon left, Drew hasn't made up for the loss created by Damon's departure.

Over the course of his 15-year career, Damon has 2,425 hits, 1,483 runs, 996 RBIs, 207 home runs, and 374 stolen bases.

Only five players - Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Rickey Henderson, Paul Molitor, and Joe Morgan - have compiled 2,500 hits, 1,500 runs, 1,000 RBIs, 225 home runs, and 400 stolen bases. Damon could very well join them next year.

While Damon makes a bid for the Hall of Fame, Drew will be remembered for his "perfect swing" and untapped potential.

Drew is a good fielder, who throws well and runs well. But he's never stolen more than 19 bases in any season, and that was 10 years ago. His offense, however, has been grossly over-rated by Theo Epstein.

And it's not just the relative absence of power either: Drew is a career .284 hitter; has never hit as many as 35 doubles in a season; never amassed 300 total bases; has drawn 100 walks just once; and has struck out at least 100 times in five seasons, including this year.

Over eleven full seasons, Drew has averaged 19 HR and 63 RBI. He simply isn't a serious run producer. Despite this, he is one of the highest paid outfielders in the game. And it was all predicated on a pretty slim resume.

Let's face it -- Drew just isn't a great player. One thing's for certain; he has always been over-rated, and he's certainly overpaid. Simply put, it's time to stop talking about his potential.

Drew has been in the Majors for over a decade and he's nearly 34 years old. The Red Sox have invested star money in a player who clearly isn't a star, and never will be. At this point he is what he is; an average player with an out-sized, undeserved contract.

So, the Red Sox and their fans are stuck with mediocrity for the next two years. That is, of course, unless the Red Sox are willing to eat some of his hefty salary after convincing some other team to give him more "time to develop."

Damon was not expected to be a power-hitter with the Sox. He was expected to get on base and score, which he did with regularity.

Drew, on the other hand, was brought to Boston to be the no. 5 hitter and to drive in runs. He was expected to be a productive offensive weapon, who would help drive the offense. This he has not done.

It's abundantly clear that the Red Sox would have been better off with Damon in their lineup these last four years, despite his weak arm. The money spent on Drew would have been better off allocated elsewhere.

Damon since 2006
576 games, 77 HR, 296 RBI, 1042 TB, .285 AVG., .457 SLG., 93 SB

Drew since 2006
532 games, 74 HR, 296 RBI, 872 TB, .278 AVG., .491 SLG. 12 SB

Damon since 2007
427 games, 53 HR, 216 RBI, 756 TB, ..285 AVG. .449 SLG., 68 SB

Drew since 2007
386 games, 54 HR, 196 RBI, 624 TB, .276 AVG., .488 SLG., 10 SB

Thursday, November 05, 2009

The New York Yankees: The Best Team That Money Can Buy

The Yankees' 27th World Series title is a testament to what money can buy.

The Yankees bid farewell to high-priced (but aging or diminished) players like Mike Mussina, Carl Pavano, Jason Giambi, and Bobby Abreu last offseason, and then replaced them with younger, fresher free agents.

The team signed CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett in a $423.5 million offseason spending spree. It's the kind of money few other teams had the capacity to spend. The three players were immediately amongst the top five highest paid players on the Yankees' very expensive roster.

With their $201.5 million payroll, the Yankees were in a class by themselves.

On Opening Day, the difference between the Yankees (No. 1 in payroll) and the Mets (No. 2 in payroll) was nearly $66M. That was greater than the entire payrolls of the Twins, Rays, A’s, Nationals, Pirates, Padres, and Marlins.

And the Yankees' payroll was bigger than the bottom four teams combined.

Since their loss in the desert to the Diamondbacks in 2001, the Yankees have spent more than $1.6 billion on player salaries in an effort to regain the World Series crown.

Indeed, the Yankees spent their way to their 27th title, the most in North American sports. The next closest Major League teams are the Cardinals, with 10 WS victories; the A's, with nine; the Red Sox, with seven, and the Dodgers, with six championships.

While nine seasons without a championship would seem like a short spell for most teams, for the Yankees—who view the title as a birthright—it was almost an eternity. The gap was the third-longest stretch without a championship for the Yankees since their first one, following gaps of 17 years (1979-95) and 14 years (1963-76).

The Yankees' aging roster defied the odds.

The previous seven World Champions had used a combined total of only seven starting everyday players who were 33 or older, including just four players who were playing past their 35th birthday.

The Yankees, with their cast of high-priced veterans, bucked that trend by starting Alex Rodriguez , 34, Derek Jeter , 35, Hideki Matsui, 35, Johnny Damon , 36, and Jorge Posada, 38.

No team had even won the pennant with a 35-or-older shortstop since the 1956 Brooklyn Dodgers with Pee Wee Reese. Only two of the 240 teams to make the postseason since then used such an old shortstop: the 1996 Orioles (Cal Ripken) and 1981 Phillies (Larry Bowa).

The Bombers will face some interesting decisions with that lineup this winter, and in coming years.

Matsui and Damon are both free agents. Given Damon's durability, base running prowess, and ability to still play left field, he seems more likely to return than Matsui, the World Series MVP.

Andy Pettitte, who won all three clinching playoff games for the Yankees, is a free agent once again. Where does he fit into the team's plans? Does he just want to ride off into the sunset and enjoy the glory of his accomplishments?

Captain Derek Jeter becomes a free agent after next season. It's impossible to imagine him playing elsewhere. And with the team's all-time hits leader having another strong season and approaching 3,000 career hits, the club will surely want to extend him. But for how long, and where will he play? Jeter will be 36 at the end of his current contract, and his range at short will be an issue in the near future.

Team management will worry about these things later. For now they will bask in the afterglow of their accomplishments. They are truly the best team that $201.5 million can buy.

Right now, the Yankees are in a class all by themselves. And, financially, they are in a league of their own.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Aroldis Chapman has "Very Good" Visit with Red Sox

Cuban pitching sensation Aroldis Chapman was scheduled to throw a bullpen session on Wednesday at Fenway Park. However, due to the weather in Boston, it is unclear whether he actually threw for Red Sox officials.

Yet, according to Chapman's agent, Edwin Mejia, a meeting between Red Sox management and the pitcher still took place. Mejia reported that Chapman was impressed with the organization and called it a "very good visit."

The 21-year-old left-hander has hit 102 mph on radar guns and, with a lean 6-foot-4 frame, is said to project well in the Majors.

While he throws a triple-digit heater, Chapman is said to lack command of his secondary pitches and scouts believe that he still needs time to develop in the minors.

The young Cuban defected defected on July 1 and is now officially a free agent who can go to the highest bidder. The bids are expected to be quite high.

This year's shallow free-agent pitching pool will likely make him one of the most expensive players on the market this offseason.

In addition to the Red Sox, Chapman has already met with both the Yankees and the Mets.

While the young hurler is drawing interest from other clubs, such as the Tigers, the Cardinals and even the Mariners, the quest for his services will probably come down to yet another contest between the Sox and Yankees.

The other clubs are probably just window shopping and aren't likely to cough up the $40-$60 million that the Cuban left-hander is expecting.

Only the Sox and the Yanks can plunk down that kind of cash. It's difficult to imagine anyone else handing out that kind of money to a pitcher who's unproven at the big-league level

The experience with Daisuke Matsuzaka, another high-priced, foreign-born pitcher with no prior big league experience, could cause the Red Sox to exercise caution.

The Yankees are still the marquee team around the world, and their appearance in the World Series this year will give them a leg up on the Sox.

Money being equal, Chapman will want to go with a winner, and the team with the greatest chance of future success. Despite not having won a World Series since 2000, the Yankees still have international cache.

Whether they win or lose the Fall Classic, expect the Yankees to make their usual full-court press.

Consider this: The Yankees paid Cuban right-hander Jose Contreras $32 million in 2002. How much they will bid for Chapman this year is anybody's guess.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Red Sox Efforts to Improve May Be Limited

Despite scoring the third most runs in baseball this season, the Red Sox offense couldn't rise to the occasion in their brief post-season. That's because two of those three games were played away from Fenway Park.

The Red Sox 481 runs scored at home led the Majors. But they were ninth in the Majors (fifth in the AL) in runs scored on the road, with 391. That 90 run differential is their Achilles heel.

The Red Sox season can be defined as a tale of two teams; the Red Sox at home, and the Red Sox on the road.

The team's lackluster road offense haunted them all season; they were was just 39-42 away from Fenway. And the Sox batted just .257 on the road, a number that ranked ninth in the American League behind teams like Cleveland, Oakland and Chicago.

The Sox road deficiencies were especially obvious in the ALDS; the Sox hit just .131 in Anaheim. But they exploded for six runs in Game 3 upon returning to Fenway.

Fenway is clearly designed for offense, and naturally the Red Sox should thrive there; seven Sox regulars hit at least 30 points higher at home. That can also be attributed to the familiarity of home field, waking up in your own bed, and playing in front of a very supportive home crowd.

But no team can realistically expect to win a World Series with a losing road record, and an anemic road offense.

The Sox .257 road batting average ranked 17th in the major leagues, behind the Nationals. And they were 12th in slugging at .414. That is in direct contrast to their offense at home, where they were first in slugging at .498 and fifth in average at .294.

In last year's ALDS against Anaheim, the Red Sox averaged 4.5 runs per game over the four-game series. Then, in the ALCS against Tampa, the Sox averaged just four runs per game over the seven-game series.

In this year's ALDS, the Sox averaged just 2.33 runs per game. Unless its pitching is overwhelmingly dominant, no team will win while averaging so few runs.

As constructed, the current Sox team is built for the regular season, where it can beat up on weaker AL teams. But it is not built for the post-season.

So what can realistically be done about this? How can the offense be re-tooled?

The key word is realism. The Sox can't trade underperforming players for superstars. And if they make a trade for a high-caliber player, that would mean sacrificing a high caliber player, or players, of their own.

However, this year's free agent class will be thin, so a trade is still a distinct possibility.

Let's work our way around the diamond to see where the Sox might improve for 2010.

Catcher: The Red Sox made a smart move in dealing for Victor Martinez. The Sox hold a $7 million club option, which they will surely exercise. The only question is whether they will attempt to extend Martinez this offseason. Both parties would be well served, as there is a mutual admiration and respect. The Red Sox offer Martinez a legitimate chance to win each year. Martinez brings versatility, much-needed offense, character and leadership.

The Red Sox will not pick up Jason Varitek's $5 million team option for 2010. But Varitek holds a $3 million player option, which he can, and likely will, exercise. His days as a starter are over, but he brings valuable experience, preparation, knowledge, and leadership in a backup role.

First base: The Sox are set with 31-year-old Kevin Youkilis, who is still in the prime of his career. Youkilis can hit for power and average, and spends a lot of time on base. In addition, he possesses Gold Glove-caliber defense. His ability to play both first and third – quite skillfully – makes him highly versatile.

Casey Kotchman, a mere 26, is an enviable backup who would be a starter on many teams.

Second base: The Sox have 26-year-old Dustin Pedroia, who has already won a Rookie of the Year Award, an MVP Award, a Silver Slugger, and a Gold Glove. Need I say more?

The only question is who the backup infielder will be; Jed Lowrie or Nick Green?

Third base: Next season, Mike Lowell will be 36 and a year removed from hip surgery. He will be entering the final year of a contract that will pay him $12 million. The Red Sox will get what they can out of Lowell, who was still quite productive this season (.290, 17 HR, 75 RBI) despite his limited playing time (119 games). Considering his age, injury history, and hefty 2010 salary, he is not tradable – unless the Red Sox agree to pay about half his salary.

Lowell is still a solid defender, despite his lost range. Whether you think the Sox are stuck with him or lucky to have him, he will be the team's starting third baseman in 2010. And don't surprised if he has a terrific bounce-back season – assuming he's healthy and plays regularly. That's a big if.

Shortstop: This is one of the few areas where the Red Sox can attempt to upgrade the offense through a potential trade. At almost every position, they are either committed to a young, productive player who is under contract, or they are saddled with an aging, unproductive veteran (more on this in a moment). Shortstop is an exception.

The Sox hold a $6 million club option on Alex Gonzalez and seem inclined – at least for now – to bring him back. They might prefer to work a deal for less money that would give them more flexibility next season and beyond. Gonzalez is a terrific defensive player who prevents runs, and he gave the Sox an unexpected jolt of offense upon his return to Boston (.284 Avg. / .789 OPS).

But he will be 33 to start the season. The Sox would like to get younger, and more productive, at the position. Even if he returns, Gonzalez is simply a stopgap. He is yet another short-term solution on the seemingly endless shortstop merry-go-round for the Red Sox.

The club had hoped that Jed Lowrie would step up and stabilize the position. He was given every opportunity to inherit it and prove himself. But Lowrie has been hindered by a wrist injury that may, or may not, improve. Lowrie will only be 26 next year, but he batted .147 this season and just .258 in 2008, when he was healthy. At this point, he nothing more than a question mark. Will he ever develop, and how good can he be?

It should be noted that the Red Sox will be paying Julio Lugo $9 million to play shortstop for the Cardinals next season. That's money that can't be used to address their own needs at the position, and it will surely be factored into any other acquisition.

Left field: Bringing back Jason Bay would be ideal. He loves Boston and Boston loves him. The Sox had leverage earlier this year when everyone was waiting for an economic cataclysm. Then Bay went out and had a career-year, securing all the leverage for himself. Oddly, the Sox may still be waiting for an economic cataclysm to drive Bay's asking price down. The truth is, there aren't many other good options, as I detailed in this story. The Sox still need more offense even if they reacquire Bay. They can ill afford to lose him.

Center field: Jacoby Ellsbury became just the 12th player in Major League history to hit at least .300 and steal at least 70 bases. The 26-year-old has developed into a fine leadoff hitter, with a .310 average and a .355 OBP. He is also a stellar defensive player, though he at times attempts to do too much. With a tendency for the spectacular, Ellsbury often dives for balls that are simply uncatchable. That can lead to extra-bases, and even injury. He will continue to mature. The center fielder is part of the Red Sox core of young, talented, inexpensive, homegrown players, and he will be under team control for four more seasons.

Right field: JD Drew is a prime example of an overpaid, underachiever. The Red Sox are committed to overpaying him $14 million in each of the next two seasons. He is un-tradable – unless the Sox are willing to eat about half his salary. The problem with Drew isn't just that he underperforms (in three years with the Red Sox, he has yet to score, or drive in, 100 runs); it's that his ridiculous salary raises the floor of every other free agent's asking price. With Drew making $14 million annually, just how much is Jason Bay worth? $20 million? Drew's contract distorts all others. If he were making $7 million annually, then we'd feel that he was at least earning his pay and not disrupting the market for corner outfielders.

Designated hitter: Though he salvaged his season by finishing with 28 HR and 99 RBI, David Ortiz was mostly painful to watch. He routinely looked off balance and couldn't catch up to fastballs. He popped all too often, and struck out a career-high 134 times. He has been in decline for three successive seasons, and it's hard to imagine what he's got left in the tank. But it's easy to speculate that his best years are long since behind him. Ortiz is under contract for $12.5 million in 2010, and the Red Sox are stuck with him, for better or for worse. They hold a team option for the same money in 2011, but that is unthinkable at this point.

Ortiz is nothing more than a DH, and cannot play in the NL. That leaves the Sox with little trade leverage and limited trade opportunities. Once again, unless the team is willing to eat a significant portion of his contract, Ortiz will be back.

Ultimately, the Red Sox are deeply financially committed to aging, injured and unproductive players at third, left, and DH. That's one-third of the lineup. It will inhibit them in 2010. Their best trade bait happens to be the young, talented players they are loathe to trade (i.e. Ellsbury, Pedroia, Clay Buchholz, etc.).

Short of bolstering the offense – which may only be possible at shortstop (signing utility infielders and backup outfielders is just tinkering at the margins) – the Sox may look to improve their starting rotation. That rotation was too old this season, with the likes of Tim Wakefield, John Smoltz, and Paul Byrd.

Daisuke Matsuzaka is a mystery. Once thought of as a potential ace, this year he looked like a minor league pitcher. The righty doesn't trust his stuff and avoids the strike zone. He walks all too many batters and throws far too many pitches. At this rate, his Major League career could be brief; if it's not cut short due to injury, he may wash out of the Majors entirely. Who knows what to expect from him in 2010? One way or the other, his trade value has plummeted.

The Sox have two consistent and reliable starters (Jon Lester and Josh Beckett, in that order). Clay Buchholz looks promising. But then again, we've been saying that for a few years.

After all the injuries to the rotation this year – one that was initially viewed as especially deep – the Sox need to add more depth. If they can't win games with a consistently reliable offense, then they must possess a virtually unhittable pitching staff, 1 through 5.

Unless they are willing to part with numerous top level prospects to land Felix Hernandez, the free agency route will be thin. Players young enough and talented to be be worthy of consideration are few and far between.

Erik Bedard has been injured and ineffective. Justin Duchscherer is soon to be 32 and has been a starter for just one season. Tim Hudson, Brandon Webb and Cliff Lee all have team options that will likely be exercised.

There are no easy solutions.

John Lackey, anyone?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Important Dates on the Red Sox/MLB Calendar

Oct. 28 — World Series begins in city of American League champion

Nov. ? —Free agent filing period begins 15 days after World Series ends

Nov. 9-11 — General managers meetings, Chicago

Nov. TBA — The first day teams can sign any free agent

Nov. 20 — Day to file reserve lists for all minor league levels and major leagues

Dec. 1 — Last day for teams to offer salary arbitration to their former players who became ranked free agents in order to be eligible for compensation

Dec. 7-10 — Baseball winter meetings, Indianapolis

Dec. TBA — Last day for free agents to accept an arbitration offer from former team

Dec. 10 — Major League Rule 5 Draft -- Winter Meetings, Indianapolis

Dec. 12 — Last day for teams to offer 2010 contracts to unsigned players

Jan 5-15 — Salary arbitration filing period

Jan. TBA — Owners' meetings

Jan. 19 — Exchange of salary arbitration figures

Feb. 1-21 — Salary arbitration hearings period, St. Petersburg, Fla.

Feb. 18 — Spring training: MLB voluntary reporting date for pitchers, catchers and injured players

Feb. 23 — Spring training: MLB voluntary reporting date for other players

March 2 — Spring training: Mandatory reporting date for players

March 2-11 — Teams may renew contracts of unsigned players

March 3 — First Red Sox spring training game

March 17 — Last day to place a player on unconditional release waivers and pay 30 days termination pay instead of 45 days

March 31 — Last day to request unconditional release waivers on a player without having to pay his full 2010 salary

April 4 — MLB Opening Night: Teams TBA; active rosters reduced to 25 players

April 5 — Opening Day: Red Sox vs. Yankees at Fenway Park

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Red Sox Have Their Backs Against The Wall

Team Hoping That History Is On Their Side

The Red Sox possessed the third most potent offense in the Majors this year. You'd hardly know it judging by the first two games of the ALDS.

The Sox totaled just eight hits (four each game) and one run in the two games in Anaheim. They were simply handcuffed by Angel pitching.

The Red Sox 5-0 loss in Game 1 was their first playoff shutout since a 4-0 defeat at Cleveland in Game 2 of the 1995 division series. The Sox had six baserunners but none made it past second base.

Last night they advanced just two runners past first base.

What's happening?

The Red Sox started six players who batted at least .284 during the regular season. There really aren't any holes in the lineup that Terry Francona put on the field in Anaheim.

Yet, the Red Sox have had 61 at-bats in this series and managed just a meager eight hits. This is how the Sox lineup fared over the two games in Anaheim:

Ellsbury 2-7, Pedroia 1-8, Martinez 1-7, Youkilis 1-8, Ortiz 0-8, Bay 1-5, Lowell 0-7, Drew 1-5, Gonzalez 1-4, Kotchman 0-1, Lowrie 0-1

The Red Sox must be as surprised as anyone by all of this. They certainly didn't enter this series lacking in confidence; history is squarely on their side.

Boston has beaten Los Angeles three times in the division series in the last five seasons. The Red Sox won in four games last year after sweeping the Angels in 2004 and 2007 en route to winning the World Series.

And yet they now find themselves with their backs against the proverbial wall, needing to win all three remaining games to advance to the ALCS. In this case, history is on their side once again.

Only four teams have overcome a 0-2 deficit in the ALDS:

1995 Mariners vs. Yankees
1999 Red Sox vs. Indians
2001 Yankees vs. A's
2003 Red Sox vs. A's

As I wrote in a preview of this series, the one thing that may have been working against the Red Sox, and for the Angles, in this series are the odds.

Going back to 1986, the Red Sox have won four consecutive series against the Angels. And, entering this series, they had won nine of the ten post-season games played this decade.

That kind of luck (and baseball is often a game of luck, or good fortune) has to eventually wear out. And if it isn’t luck, then the odds have to change at some point. They always do. The Red Sox finally overcame the Yankees in 2004, after so many years of loss and heartache at the hands of their arch nemesis.

The Angels are hoping for a similar outcome, in which they also finally overcome the adversary that has dominated them for so long. Needing to win just one of the next three games, they are in the proverbial catbird's seat.

The Red Sox, who had the second best home record (52-25) in baseball this season, after the Yankees, are hoping that a return to the familiar and comfy confines of Fenway Park will re-awaken the sleeping giant that is their offense.

And they can take comfort in this; history is on their side. They are just one of three teams to overcome an 0-2 deficit in the ALDS, and they have done it twice.

They have to maintain hope that they can keep that streak, and that history, alive for at least three more games.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Red Sox Vs. Angels in ALDS; Will History Repeat?

One hundred fifty-seven games into the 2009 season, the Red Sox finally secured their sixth post-season appearance this decade.

Well, they didn't actually secure it through their own accord; by losing to the Angels, the Texas Rangers eliminated themselves, allowing the Red Sox entrance into the October sweepstakes.

The outcome sets up a rematch of last year's ALDS between the Red Sox and Angels. It's become something of an October custom; the two clubs have already met three times this decade — 2004, 2007, and 2008.

The Angels will also be making their sixth post-season appearance this decade, and the fourth in the past five years. But aside from 2002, when they won it all, the post-season hasn't been kind to the Angels.

The Red Sox have been their arch nemesis. Going back to 1986, the Red Sox have won four consecutive series. And they have won nine of the ten post-season games played this decade.

The Angels possess a very potent offense; they are first in batting average, second in runs, second in hits, third in on-base percentage, fourth in slugging, and fourth in total bases.

The team from Anaheim has won 93 games so far this season, and clearly sports a balanced attack at the plate. In the past, the Angels' weakness was an inability to score runs; that is a problem no more.

This year, their weakness could be pitching. The Angels have had 14 different people start games this year, and have handed the ball at some point or another to 12 players making their major league debut, both major league highs.

Angels’ closer Brian Fuentes, though leading the AL with 46 saves, also has seven blown saves. In addition, his 4.05 ERA gives him the distinction of being just one of three AL relievers with at least 10 saves to have an ERA over four. And then there’s this; Fuentes’ strikeout rate has declined from 11.78 per nine innings last season to 7.82 this year.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox—who had been on a hot streak, winning 12 of 19 over a five-week span, and looking as good as any team in baseball—suddenly went cold.

First they were swept by the Yankees in New York. Then they followed that up by getting swept yet again; this time by the Blue Jays at home. That was odd; the Red Sox are an impressive 52-25 at Fenway this year, second best in baseball, behind the Yankees.

Ultimately, this is a bad way for a team to enter the playoffs.

Theo Epstein claims he's not concerned, and all that matters is that his team is in the postseason once again.

“If you look at it, I’m sure there’s evidence of teams finishing strong and going on to win the World Series," said the Red Sox GM. "But for every one of those examples, there’s an example of a team finishing strong and getting swept, or a team that lost 15 of its last 18 going into October and winning the World Series. So if you break down the numbers, there’s simply no correlation.’’

Hopefully he's right. In 2007, the Rockies were the hottest team in baseball going into the postseason, and then the World Series. But it didn't matter; the Red Sox swept them in four straight games.

The Red Sox have had some streaky play this year, at one point winning 11 straight games. And their current six-game losing streak ties their season high.

Obviously, a lot will come down to the health of key Sox players, such as Josh Beckett (back), Jon Lester (knee/quad), Mike Lowell (hip), and Kevin Youkilis (back). Injuries to Beckett and Lowell derailed their hopes for another World Series berth last year.

And will Clay Buchholz or Daisuke Matsuzaka prove to be the more reliable third starter? Buchholz seemed to have the spot sewn up until his recent meltdown on Tuesday night.

At times the Sox offense has carried the team this season. At other the times, the offense was impotent and the team won games on the strength of its pitching and defense.

To prevail in the playoffs, they will need it all to come together seamlessly, and to be firing on all cylinders simultaneously.

The Red Sox history against the Angels is a matter of perspective.

History is clearly on the Red Sox' side. But baseball is a numbers game, a game of luck and of odds. The Red Sox had won eleven consecutive playoff games against the Angels (dating back to 1986), before finally losing Game 3 in last year's ALDS. By that point, it was all over but the shouting for Anaheim.

But the odds have to eventually turn in favor of the Angels, don't they? This kind of lopsided playoff winning streak by the Red Sox against the Angels has to come to an end eventually—doesn't it?

The Angles certainly hope so. But the Red Sox would love to see history keep repeating itself.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Francona #2 in Wins Among Red Sox Managers

But He's #1 in the Post-Season, When it Really Counts

Red Sox manager Terry Francona notched a milestone last night, moving into a second-place tie for most wins by a Red Sox skipper (560).

The Red Sox also reached 90 wins for the third consecutive season, and the fifth time in Terry Francona's six seasons at the helm.

Francona's even-tempered professionalism has a lent a sense of ease and calm to a club playing in a city not traditionally marked by ease and calm.

Baseball is a virtual religion in Boston, and the Sox rabid fan base can at times be described as dour, pessimistic and reactionary. Francona's steady presence has unquestionably been a significant aspect of the team's success since 2004.

The Sox skipper is known as a player's manager and is sometimes loyal to a fault, sticking with his players long after the fans and media have called for them to be benched, traded, or released.

Francona stood by players such as Mark Belhorn, Kevin Millar, Trot Nixon and, most recently, David Ortiz, as they struggled. His confidence and commitment to his players often pays off, and he seems to have earned the loyalty and trust of all.

Rarely has Francona had public run-ins with his players of the type that are at times seen with less level-headed managers.

Jay Payton had to force an uncomfortable confrontation to manipulate his way out of Boston. Francona didn't take the bait; he simply gave Payton the exit he desired.

Francona also took the high road with Pedro Martinez's prima donna act. And the same goes with Manny Ramirez's insufferable, selfish behavior. Francona was happy to be rid of the cancer and move on for the betterment of clubhouse chemistry.

Ever the true professional, Francona keeps team business private and within the clubhouse. How much the fans and media never hear about can only be speculated.

Joe Cronin, the winningest manger in club history, had a 13-year tenure as Red Sox manager and is the only skipper in team history to have exceeded Francona's six years of service.

Despite amassing the second most managerial wins in Red Sox history, Francona's success is without precedent. He won two World Series Championships in his first four seasons, and is the only Boston manager to reach the postseason more than twice; Francona has done it four times and this year will mark the fifth.

No previous Red Sox manager had won 90 games as many as four times, and Francona has now done it in five seasons. And Francona's .583 winning percentage the best winning percentage in team history among managers with 400 or more games.

For all he's achieved, hat's off to Terry Francona. And a hearty thanks from Red Sox Nation.

Most wins by Red Sox managers

Joe Cronin 1,071
Terry Francona 560
Pinky Higgins 560
Bill Carrigan 489
Jimmy Collins 455

Francona's Record with Red Sox

2009 90-61
2008 95-67
2007 96-66
2006 86-76
2005 95-67
2004 98-64

Total 560-401

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Jason Bay Set to Become Very Rich Man

Jason Bay has had a productive week. A memorable week. A milestone week. And, likely, a very fortuitous week

On Sunday, Bay turned 31 and, to celebrate, set a new career best with his 110th RBI. Then last night he set another career-best, with his 36 home run.

Bay picked a good season to have a career year; he will become a free agent after the World Series. And he will celebrate once again when he cashes in and signs a very lucrative, long-term pact during the offseason.

The left fielder has been on a tear and could conceivably hit his 40th home run in the Red Sox remaining 13 games. That could push his asking price even higher. At this point, one has to figure that Bay will looking for a minimum of five years and $75 million.

But Bay says he isn't concerned about hitting 40 homers this year, or any year. He says walks and RBI are more important to him. With 89 walks (plus four IBB) and 113 RBI, Bay has plenty to be proud of.

And his 181 HR since 2004 (his Rookie of the Year season) are 15th most in baseball during that period.

For Red Sox fans who didn't follow the National League, or the Prates more specifically, Bay has been a revelation. The guy is hella good.

And that will make him one of the most sought after free agents this offseason. Bay is younger and better than most of the other left fielders who will be vying for contracts.

Here's an alphabetical listing of the upcoming free agent left fielders, with their ages in parenthesis:

Garret Anderson (38)
Marlon Anderson (36)
Jason Bay (31)
Emil Brown (35)
Marlon Byrd (32)
Carl Crawford (28) - $10M club option with a $1.25M buyout
Johnny Damon (36)
David Dellucci (36)
Cliff Floyd (37)
Matt Holliday (30)
Reed Johnson (33)
Jacque Jones (35)
Gabe Kapler (34)
Greg Norton (37)
Wily Mo Pena (28)
Manny Ramirez (38) - $20M player option
Gary Sheffield (41)
Fernando Tatis (35)
Randy Winn (36)

Garret Anderson, Damon, Holliday, and Ramirez are all Scott Boras clients. Considering their age and other factors, it's hard to imagine any of them coming, or coming back, to Boston.

Crawford, Pena and Holiday are the only players younger than Bay in this group. But Holliday appears better suited for the NL after his underwhelming stint with Oakland this season. Pena hardly appears suited suited for the Majors Leagues—period—and the Sox already gave up him. Crawford is fast, great defensively, and is a career .295 hitter (.307 this season). But he doesn't hit for power, which is what the Red Sox need from their left fielder.

Despite his 21 home runs this season, JD Drew is not a true power hitter; he hadn't hit 20 since 2006 (with the Dodgers) and has hit 30 just once. In addition, Jacoby Ellsbury also isn't a power hitter (20 career HR). So the Red Sox need some thump from their left fielder.

Bay seems comfortable in Boston and has said he enjoys playing there. Being on a contender has got to feel rejuvenating after suffering through the continual grind of a languishing Pittsburgh team for 4 1/2 years.

Most of Bay's fellow free agents will be too old, or not of high enough caliber, for the Red Sox to give them serious consideration. Marlon Byrd could be an exception.

Byrd is 32, and is having a solid season; 17 HR, 79 RBI, 42 2B, .283/.325/..472

Yet he simply isn't as talented as Bay.

And that's why the Red Sox, short of a blockbuster trade, are going to re-sign Bay. The Sox' left fielder started the season scorching hot, cooled after the break, and has since resumed his torrid pace. He will have a lot of leverage in contract negotiations this winter.

For whatever reason, Bay and the Red Sox were unable to reach a mutually beneficial agreement during in-season negotiations, and that will be to Bay's benefit this winter.

The Red Sox used the potential of a widespread economic collapse as their reason for not extending Bay during last offseason. Oddly, they will have to hope for such a calamity to avoid paying Bay a significant salary this time.

Ask yourself this; if JD Drew is worth five-years and $70 million, just how much is Jason Bay worth?

That's the question Bay will surely pose to the Red Sox this winter.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Red Sox Rotation Appears Locked In & Locked Down

With 14 games remaining in the regular season, the Red Sox finally seem to have their starting pitching in order, and perhaps even their playoff rotation set.

It's been a long time coming.

The Red Sox started the year reputed as having the best pitching depth in baseball. Yet, that notion seemed patently absurd over the past few months.

From the very beginning, Brad Penny was never cut out for the AL, particularly the AL East. Daisuke Matsuzaka was ineffective before going on the DL with a weakened shoulder. John Smoltz looked old, lacking in command, and utterly baffled on the mound. And Tim Wakefield broke down for the third year in a row, likely the result of being in his early 40s.

All of a sudden, the Red Sox had fallen out of first place, were slumping badly, and their playoff hopes razor thin.

But over the past month or so, the rotation has settled into a rhythm, and the Red Sox ship has been righted as it sails toward October.

What happened to account for this change for the better?

Smoltz and Penny were jettisoned, Clay Buchholz started to deliver on the promise that had been held out for so long, and Matsuzaka has returned rested and fresh.

But most importantly, Josh Beckett and Jon Lester have established themselves as a premier one-two punch in a rotation that desperately needed stability and consistency. They are the foundation that the rest of the staff is built upon. And their confidence and leadership seem to be having a positive affect.

Over their last two starts each, this is how the Red Sox quartet of young pitchers have fared:

5 innings, 1 ER
8 innings, 3 ER

8 innings, 0 ER
6 innings, 3 ER

7 innings, 1 ER
6 innings, 1 ER

6 innings, 0 ER
5.1 innings, 3 ER

Cumulatively, the four Red Sox starters have combined for 51.1 innings over eight starts, allowing just 12 earned runs.

Odds are, that group comprises the Red Sox post-season rotation.

Tim Wakefield, who will pitch tonight, likely can't be relied upon. Despite his impressive first half, Wakefield has been weakened and sidelined by sciatica. He returned gamely for an excellent start in is last outing, only to be shelved once more. Tonight is another test.

It may break Terry Francona's heart, but it's hard to imagine Wakefield making the playoff roster, much less starting in the post-season.

The real question then is who will comprise the three-man rotation that Francona will likely utilize in the playoffs? Will is be the greener, less experienced, but red hot Buccholz, or the more experienced, yet still unproven (in 2009, at the least) Matsuzaka?

My guess is that Francona will go with Buchholz, given Matsuzaka's issues this year, and his less than stellar start yesterday (5.1 innings, nine base runners allowed, 110 pitches). Of course that could change if Buchholz blows up in his next start, or if Matsuzaka shines in his next appearance.

One way or the other, as long as Matsuzaka's shoulder issues are behind him, the Sox will enter the post-season with three young, healthy, and potentially dominant pitchers. That bodes well for a team with genuine World Series aspirations.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Matsuzaka's Arrival: Better Late Than Never

Watching Daisuke Matsuzaka shut out the powerful Angels lineup for six plus innings was undoubtedly heartening to the Red Sox.

For starters, Matsuzaka made it into the seventh inning for the first time this season. Matsuzaka, who turned 29 just two days earlier, had failed to do so in any of his previous eight starts.

The reason he was finally able to get that deep into the game was effectiveness; 70% of the hitters Dice-K faced tonight had two strikes on them within the first three pitches.

And on those rare occasions when Matsuzaka got behind in the count, opponents batted just .167 against him. In his first eight starts it was .391.

The other reason Dice-K made into the seventh for the first time was economy; the righty threw just 93 pitches, 52 of them for strikes.

Matsuzaka's average fastball was clocked at 91 mph, the same as in his first eight starts before before going on the DL.

On six occasions the Angels put a runner in scoring position against Matsuzaka, and all six times he kept them from scoring.

With Tim Wakefield's status uncertain, Matsuzaka's great outing was the good news the Red Sox needed right now. The playoffs are just over three weeks away, and Wakefield may not pitch again this year.

The strength disparity between Wakefield's legs is obvious to his coaches, and Terry Francona said of his injury, "it's certainly not getting better."

So, Matsuzaka's first quality start of the season couldn't have come at a more opportune time. For his part, Matsuzaka returned lighter and in better shape than at any other point this season.

The Red Sox will need this version of Matsuzaka down the stretch.

Incredibly, aside from Wakefield, Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester and Josh Beckett, Red Sox starters had a total of just three outs after the sixth inning this entire season.

But now, over the last four games, Beckett, Buchholz, Lester and Matsuzaka have allowed a total of just one run, as they prepare for the post-season.

It appears that the Sox staff is getting in synch at just the right time.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Lester Securing His Place Amongst Red Sox Lefties

In just four seasons (only two of them full campaigns), Jon Lester has already put a few notches in his belt: a no-hitter, World Series Game Four winner, and club record for strikeouts in a season by a lefty (204).

Bruce Hurst, the last great Red Sox lefty prior to Lester, previously held the mark for 22 years with 191 Ks.

Having already surpassed Hurst's team record, Lester moved into even more elite company in his last start, becoming just the 10th pitcher in team history to record 200 strikeouts in a season, and the first lefty to do so.

Here's a list of those 10 Red Sox pitchers with 200 K seasons:

Jon Lester
Daisuke Matsuzaka
Curt Schilling
Pedro Martinez
Hideo Nomo
Roger Clemens
Luis Tiant
Jim Longborg
Joe Wood
Cy Young

Lester's 204 Ks are third in the AL and fifth in the Majors. His 3.44 ERA is eighth in the AL and his 20 quality starts are tied for third in the AL.

Having clearly established himself as one of the top lefties in the game today, Lester's rapidly growing list of accomplishments—achieved in such a brief period—already qualify him as one of the best in Red Sox history. In fact, his 7.8 K/9 innings is the best of any lefty in club history.

Other notable Sox lefties have included: Mel Parnell (123 wins), Lefty Grove (105 wins), Bill Lee (94 wins), Dutch Leonard (90 wins), Babe Ruth (89 wins), and Hurst (88 wins).

Parnell's club record for wins by a lefty seems to be within Lester's grasp. At age 25, Lester already has 39 victories. No lefty in team history had won as many games by the age of 25.

With 16 wins last year and 12 so far this year, it seems reasonable that Lester could average 15 wins per season. If he manages that rate, he would surpass Parnell in 2015 at the age of 31.

That would surely secure his status as the best Red Sox lefty of all time.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Crunch Time for Beckett and the Red Sox

For much of the season, Josh Beckett has been totally dominant and looked like a Cy Young candidate.

Beckett leads the Sox' rotation with 175.1 innings, and has allowed just 155 hits while fanning 163 batters.

But then, in August, Beckett began getting rocked.

Coming into his last start, Beckett had been battered in two consecutive outings, resulting in an 0-1 record and 10.12 ERA. In 13 1/3 innings, he had allowed 18 hits, 15 runs, and 8 homers. Opponents had batted .316 against him with an .807 slugging percentage and a 1.129 OPS.

Incredibly, in the midst of these beatings, Beckett had issued just one walk, meaning that opposing hitters were simply teeing off against him.

The Sox were hoping Beckett would return to form in his most recent start against Toronto last week. Instead, they got more of the same from him.

In that start, Beckett lasted just five innings, giving up five runs on five hits, while issuing a season-high five walks. While he did strike out nine Blue Jays, Beckett didn't look like the pitcher who had dominated opposing hitters most of the season.

What's going on?

The Red Sox believe his problems are rooted in his mechanics, the same problems that plagued him earlier this season. Beckett has been over-throwing, which has affected his delivery. The depth on his curve ball has diminished, as has the command on his fastball, which has been staying up in the strike zone. That's resulted in the wealth of home runs he's allowed in his recent outings.

Over his last four starts, Beckett has allowed a whopping 12 homers, after surrendering just 10 in his previous 22 starts this season.

The big righty is 0-1 in his last three starts, and his ERA, which had been 3.10 in his first 23 starts, has reached a whopping 9.82 over his last three outings. These three consecutive dismal performances have likely dropped him out of Cy Young contention.

It's as if he completed a 180˚ turn in August, forgetting all that had led him to success earlier in the season.

That does not bode well for the Red Sox post-season aspirations. As Beckett goes, so go the Red Sox. Without an effective Beckett on the mound, the Sox don't stand a chance in October, assuming they even get that far.

Undoubtedly, pitching coach John Farrell has been working furiously with Beckett to get his mechanics sorted out, and the process has been going on for weeks. Now it's crunch time. The calendar has turned to September and the regular season ends just one month from Friday.

That leaves little time to get it right. But considering Beckett's history and his tough and determined nature, it's hard to bet against him. Beckett is simply suffering through a late season swoon. Yet, while a slump was easier to contend with in April, if it continues in September it will be crushing to the Red Sox and their playoff hopes.

We'll know more tonight, as Beckett makes his 27th start of the 2009 campaign against the Rays in Tampa.

The defending AL champs should pose an interesting challenge for Boston's ace; they are fourth in the AL in runs, home runs and on-base percentage, and fifth in slugging.

They are also just 3.5 games behind the Red Sox in the Wild Card standings.

Will the real Josh Beckett please stand up?