Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

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.