Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

If Only Victor Martinez Could Pitch

In last year's ALCS, the Red Sox were outgunned offensively by the Rays. The loss of Mike Lowell, due to a hip injury, hurt the Sox considerably.

After Lowell's subsequent surgery, there were concerns that he wouldn't be 100% ready and completely effective this season, which is why the Sox made a bid for Mark Teixeira during the winter. When that fell through, the Sox brass held its collective breath and hoped for the best.

To the surprise of many, the season started well for both Lowell and the Sox. But when he faltered due to his still healing labrum, the rest of the offense faltered with him.

The Sox initially added Adam LaRoche to the lineup. But he isn't the type of player who could single-handedly buoy the Sox lagging offense. The left-handed first baseman was simply an insurance plan in case a larger deal couldn't be consummated.

In Victor Martinez, the Sox found the versatile weapon they were looking for; a switch-hitting first baseman/catcher who can also DH effectively.

And, in a move that seemed a bit peculiar at first glance, the Sox also dealt for Casey Kotchman. Another left-handed first baseman, Kotchman has less power than LaRoche (6 HR this season). However, the addition of Martinez made that less important. The Sox simply felt Kotchman could handle being a part time player better than LaRoche. The at-bats and playing time will be diminished with the multi-faceted Martinez on the roster, a player who can catch and play first, as well as DH. Most of all, LaRoche is a free agent after this season, but the Sox can control Kotchman for the next 2-3 years.

The acquisition of Martinez was a coup for the Red Sox. The Venezuelan native is a high character, solid clubhouse leader who will fit in well this year and next. However, he is not the long term solution at catcher.

Scouts note that Martinez is not great defensively, doesn't have a great arm, and regularly squatting behind the plate makes his legs fatigue, which affects his hitting. In addition, he's 30-years-old and has never caught a knuckleball.

Martinez is making $5.7 million this season, and the Sox can bring him back for $7 million next year. After that, he will be eligible for free agency.

To obtain Martinez, the Sox surrendered Justin Masterson, plus minor league pitchers Nick Hagadone and Bryan Price. Masterson will likely be a very solid starter (which the Indians plan to use him as next year), but he needs to learn to get lefties out. And scouts think Hagadone will be a very good big league pitcher. It would have been fun watching him develop in the Sox organization.

However, the Sox hung onto Clay Buchholz, Daniel Bard, Michael Bowden and Junichi Tazawa, all of whom are either in the Majors or could be very soon. The rotation will need new blood next year; John Smoltz and Brad Penny will be gone. And although Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield will both likely be back, that still leaves at least one open spot.

Wakefield is now 43 and can't pitch forever. He's been on the DL for three consecutive years, and requires a specialty catcher that can handle the knuckleball. Those things make him a liability. It's yet to be determined if Martinez can effectively be his battery-mate.

All in all, getting Martinez was a good move, especially considering that the Sox didn't have to give up their very best prospects.

That said, the Sox may eventually regret not trading Buchholz when his value was at his zenith. He will be 25 this month and is not developing as anticipated.

The Texas native has not made it out of the sixth inning in any of his four starts this year, and his ERA is 6.05. That's especially worrisome considering that last season he was 2-9 with a 6.75 ERA.

There is still time for him to shine, but that time is running out. If he continues on this path, the word "bust" will be tossed around liberally and his value will have plummeted precipitously.

It would be unfortunate if Buchholz becomes the latest cautionary tale in over-hyping and over-valuing a prospect, and then refusing to trade him for a quality Major Leaguer when his value is peaking.

Brad Penny has not gone seven innings in any of his 20 starts this season, which is the most in the Majors. It's also the longest single-season streak by a Red Sox pitcher since 1954. He is currently 7-5 with a lofty 5.07 ERA.

John Smoltz is 42, recovering from shoulder surgery, has a 2-4 record, and a 7.12 ERA.

In their last starts, Buchholz, Penny, and Smoltz have combined for 15 innings, 24 hits, and 19 earned runs. That has hurt the bullpen, and it cannot continue.

All of which makes it clear that the Red Sox need a pitcher and may have missed a vital opportunity at the deadline. They might soon regret that.

It wasn't for lack of tying; we now know that Theo Epstein made creative bids for Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez, before landing Martinez.

If only Victor Martinez could pitch.

However, the Sox needed ofense too, and they addresed that with Martinez, but not before exhausting all attempts to secure Adrian Gonzalez from the Padres. We may not have seen the last of that foray.

The Red Sox and Padres could certainly rekindle those trade talks in the offseason. Casey Kotchman, under control for the next two seasons, could be a component in such a deal. That flexibility made Kotchman more attractive than LaRoche, who is a free agent at season's end.

Under such a scenario, Martinez would assume full-time catching duties, but that creates problems, as earlier noted.

Ultimately, the Sox needed a starter and couldn't make it happen. They can only hope that more of their vaunted prospects continue to pan out. But does anybody really think that either Bowden or Tazawa is ready to step up this year and help the Sox in a Pennant drive, much less in October?

Does anyone really envision Dice-K being the rotation's savior, swooping into Fenway wearing a cape emblazoned with the Japanese rising sun? Unlikely.

The truth is, as presently constructed, the Red Sox do not have a playoff-caliber pitching staff. And the August waiver period is unlikely to change that. Paul Byrd was not the answer last year, and pitchers of that caliber are usually all that's available at this time of year.

Aside from that, all lesser teams can block the Sox in any attempt to land another starter anyway.

That spells trouble for the Olde Towne Team. They needed offense indeed, and Martinez will surely help in that regard.

But they also need pitching, and there seems to be no answer in sight.

If only Victor Martinez could pitch.

Copyright © 2009 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author’s consent.

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