Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Red Sox Acquisition of Dan Wheeler Should Complete Pen

As difficult as it is to believe, last season Red Sox relievers pitched among the fewest innings in the American League. Even though Sox' starters went deep into games, the bullpen was still overmatched far too often.

So, the Sox' relievers' troubles cannot be blamed on being overworked. The relatively light workload should have been a benefit, and yet it wasn't. That's why Theo Epstein was so determined so rectify those bullpen issues entering this offseason.

In signing former Rays' reliever Dan Wheeler, the reworking of the Sox' bullpen seems to be complete. The Sox operated with caution, only giving Wheeler a one-year deal, not the three-year pact that other set-up men have gotten this offseason.

Though Wheeler ended up with an option that vests in 2012 if he makes 65 appearances next season, the Sox have to be satisfied. If Wheeler is pitching consistently, obviously it will indicate he's having success.

The fact that Wheeler's workload has declined in each of the last three years (70, 69 and 64 appearances) has to be viewed positively. Hopefully, it means he’ll have a fresh arm in 2011.

Wheeler struck out 8.6 batters per nine innings last season, a fantastic rate. And his WHIP was a lowly 1.075. Yet, in the two previous years it was an even better 0.995 and 0.87, which are simply outstanding numbers. That means less than one batter per inning, on average, reached base when Wheeler pitched.

Apparently, the Sox still have an offer out to Brain Fuentes. However, the lefty wants a multi-year deal as a closer.

At present, the Sox have lefties Rich Hill and Andrew Miller on their roster, both of whom will be given an opportunity to earn a spot in the pen.

Regardless, the Sox may do all right against lefties as presently constructed.

Last season, Jenks held lefthanded batters to a .648 OPS; for his career, the number is .617. Bard, meanwhile, ranked second in the American League among all qualifying righthanders by holding lefthanded batters to just a .462 OPS. And during his career, Papelbon has been one of the most consistent relievers in baseball against lefthanders, holding them to a .585 OPS.

Red Sox fans have to feel good about this bullpen going into 2011. On paper, at least, it is a marked improvement over last year's relief squad.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Red Sox Bullpen Being Remade In Rapid Order

The Red Sox may have shored up their bullpen Thursday with the addition of former White Sox closer Bobby Jenks.

Jenks had a career-high 4.44 ERA last season, but he had 27 saves and struck out 61 batters in 52.2 innings, a phenomenal strikeout ratio. Jenks' fastball has been clocked at over 100 mph. That's a serious power pitcher.

Both Jonathan Papelbon and Jenks will be 30 next season. According to Buster Olney, Jenks will be given a chance to compete for the position of closer when Papelbon is eligible for free agency after next season.

The pressure will be on Papelbon with both Jenks and Daniel Bard waiting behind him. The presence of two possible successors may bring out the best in the Sox longtime closer.

Over six seasons with the White Sox, Jenks was 14-18 with a 3.40 ERA and 334 strikeouts in 341.2 innings. He had 173 saves in those six seasons, ranking second in franchise history.

Jenks had back-to-back 40-save seasons for the White Sox in 2006 and 2007, but posted career lows in saves (27), innings (52 2/3) and ERA (4.44) last season.

The upside is that Jenks averaged 10.4 strikeouts per 9 innings in 2010, his highest ratio since his rookie season (11.4).

In rapid succession, the Sox have added old friend Lenny DiNardo, Matt Albers, Rich Hill and Andrew Miller, whom the club traded for last month and then abruptly non-tendered.

DiNardo was with the Red Sox from 2004-06, going 1-3 with a 5.53 ERA in 43 appearances as a reliever and spot starter. The lefty has a 5.36 ERA over six seasons. Given his ERA, it's no wonder the Sox only signed him to a minor league deal. He may never see Fenway again, unless he's sitting in the stands.

The 27-year-old Albers is a bit of a project. The righty was 5-3 with a 4.52 ERA in 62 games for the Orioles in 2010, striking out 49 and walking 34 in 75 2/3 innings. The combination of the poor ERA and the high walk-per-strikeout ratio make Albers a bit of a long shot to make the team out of spring training.

Over parts of the last five seasons in the majors, mostly as a reliever, Albers has a 5.11 ERA. And his career strikeout numbers (5.8 per nine innings) are fairly unimpressive as well.

Albers' strength is his career 1.05 groundball-to-flyball rate, which is roughly 33 percent better than league average. In 2010, that jumped to a 1.33 groundball-to-flyball ratio, the sixth-highest mark in the AL (min. 50 innings).

The Sox also re-signed Milton native Rich Hill, granting him another minor league contact. The 30-year-old veteran has a career 22-20 record and 4.82 ERA in 84 career appearances (70 starts), spanning parts of six major league seasons. The lefty has posted 358 strikeouts in 399.1 innings.

After trading Dustin Richardson for Miller in November, the Sox chose not to offer the 6'7" lefty a contract, making him a free agent. The 25-year-old was rushed to the majors by Florida, making his big league debut just three weeks after being drafted.

Though Miller needed time for more development in the minors, he was out of options. Had the Sox tendered him, it would have mandated an assignment to the big league team. Considering his 5.84 ERA in 79 appearances over parts of five seasons, that was not a given in Boston.

By non-tendering Miller, the Red Sox were able to give him a minor league contract and avoid arbitration, which might have meant a raise on the $1.8 million he made last season with the Marlins.

Miller will get an invitation to big league camp and the opportunity to compete for a spot in the Red Sox' bullpen.

The Sox pen is now composed of righties Papelbon, Bard, Jenks, Scott Atchison, and Tim Wakefield, plus lefties Miller and Felix Dubront. Additionally, righties Hill, Albers, Matt Fox, Michael Bowden and Robert Coello are also in the mix.

Aside from Jenks, the one thing all of the new additions have in common is that they do not have strong track records or histories of great success at the major league level. That's a problem that could come back to haunt the Red Sox next season. And even Jenks has declined in recent years.

The Red Sox bullpen still seems to be one piece away from completion. The club may yet seek a proven lefty specialist, like Brian Fuentes, before they can consider this work in progress to be completed. At this point, the reconstruction of the bullpen still appears to be a work in progress.

However, the addition of all the new faces, plus the absence of Hideki Okajima, Ramon Ramirez and Manny Delcarmen, will certainly give the Red Sox pen a very different look next season.

That's a good start. It seems they're almost there.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Despite Major Offseason Moves, Red Sox Toughest Task Is Rebuilding Bullpen

After the way that the Red Sox' season unceremoniously ended, it was a safe bet that management felt determined to improve the team this offseason.

For just the second time since 2002 (aka the John Henry era), the Red Sox failed to win at least 90 games.

As a result, for just the second time in 13 seasons, the Red Sox did not finish in first or second place in the American League East. Playing in a city that now has much greater expectations (as a result of two World Series Championships in the last decade), that simply wouldn't suffice.

So, this offseason was sure to be a time of big, critical decisions for the Red Sox front office.

The team seemed poised to lose a couple of their better hitters in Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez, leaving the prospect that Theo Epstein and Co. might have to rebuild the offense.

Though the Red Sox scored 818 runs in 2010, which was good enough for second in the AL, it was the fewest runs they'd scored since 2001.

But beyond that, some of the Red Sox' hard-earned luster seemed to have been lost in 2010.

For the first time in eight years, the Red Sox didn't lead the majors in local TV ratings. According to FoxSports.com, the Sox finished tied for fifth, behind the Cardinals, Twins, Phillies, Reds and tied with the Rays.

The Sox' ratings on NESN fell 36.6 percent from '09 to '10. Only one team, the Cubs, had a larger percentage dropoff on local cable. The Cubs, though, had a less severe decline than the Sox in their 70 over-the-air network games.

All of those problems were likely solved in a remarkable 72-hour period when the Red Sox traded for 28-year-old first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, and then signed 29-year-old free agent left fielder Carl Crawford.

The newly constructed Red Sox will be an offensive juggernaut, capable of producing runs in abundance. They now have a couple of guys (Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury) that can score from first. And if Josh Beckett and John Lackey bounce back to form, the Red Sox are now the odds on favorite to win the AL Pennant.

Over seven seasons with the Rangers and Padres, Gonzalez hit .284 and averaged 32 home runs and 99 RBI. He is a three-time All-Star who, in five full-time seasons with San Diego, has 161 homers and 501 RBIs.

Simply put, Gonzalez is one of very best hitters in the game, with a left-handed swing that seems tailor-made for Fenway. Given the combination of the shallower right field fence next season, plus his ability to hit the other way, Gonzalez should absolutely rake in Boston. Additionally, Gonzalez is a two-time Gold Glove winner.

Crawford is a four-time All-Star who brings an intriguing combination of speed, power, and Gold Glove defense. He is one of only two players in Major League history (Rogers Hornsby) to raise his average and home run totals in five consecutive seasons (2002-2006).

The left fielder hit .307 with 19 home runs, 90 RBIs, 13 triples, and 47 stolen bases last season and is the youngest player in history to amass 100 homers, 400 steals, and 100 triples. The 2010 season was a career-year for Crawford, and he is just now entering his prime.

With two bold moves, the Red Sox simultaneously got younger and better defensively. And they—presumably—now have both players secured for the long term.

Theo Epstein summed up the Red Sox offseason additions succinctly: “Adding players the caliber of Gonzalez and Crawford, who are 28 and 29 years old, respectively, and having them through their prime years makes a ton of sense for us. We’re not going to apologize for it.’’

But offense was not the Red Sox problem in 2010. The team lost substantial portions of its lineup (Victor Martinez, Jason Varitek, Kevn Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Mike Cameron) for long stretches of the season and still managed to win 89 games.

More than anything else, the Red Sox' bullpen was their key weakness last season. The team lost far too many games in the late innings due to bullpen implosions.

The Red Sox were 22-26 in games decided by one run, and 6-12 in extra inning games. If not for the pen, the Sox' season might have been very different.

The Sox finished 12th out of 14 AL teams in relief ERA, at 4.24. Only the Orioles and Royals had higher relief ERAs. The Sox were next-to-last in blown saves, with 22. And they also were 13th in save percentage, at 67 percent.

It's worth noting that the top four teams in relief ERA (Rays - 3.33; Rangers - 3.38; Yankees - 3.47; and Twins - 3.49) all made the playoffs.

The bullpen is an area that the Red Sox need to rebuild on an almost annual basis, which says a lot about the inconsistency of relief pitchers in general. Middle relievers are the worst of the lot; they are neither good enough to start, nor good enough to close.

The majority of relievers are journeymen who lack consistency from month-to-month, much less year-to-year. But without a solid, reliable bullpen, no team makes it to the playoffs, much less the World Series.

That is the reality facing Theo Epstein and his minions.

The Red Sox currently have Jonathan Papelbon as their closer, who had 7 losses and 8 blown saves last season, both career highs. Papelbon's 8 blown saves lead the AL and his 3.90 ERA more than doubled from 2009.

Papelbon's primary set-up man will once again be Daniel Bard, and Tim Wakefield projects to be the long-reliever and occasional spot-starter. The Red Sox need a lefty out of the pen and, at this point, young Felix Dubront may assume that role.

That leaves three open spots, assuming the Sox go with a 12-man staff again. Look for two of those spots to be filled by trade or free agency and the final opening to be won in a battle among assorted journeymen and in-house candidates, such as Scott Atchison, Michael Bowden, Robert Coello, Matt Fox, Rich Hill, and the newly acquired Matt Albers.

The Red Sox also are at least pondering bringing back lefty Hideki Okajima, plus lefty Andrew Miller and righty Taylor Buchholz, the later two of whom the Sox recently acquired and then curiously chose to non-tender.

The Red Sox have feelers, and in some case offers, out to a number of lefties, such as Brian Fuentes, Ron Mahay, Arthur Rhodes, and Pedro Feliciano.

Though Scott Downs, Joaquin Benoit and Matt Guerrier recently signed three-year deals with the Angels, Tigers and Dodgers respectively, it is unlikely that the Red Sox will go to that length with any reliever—unless he is one of the best in the game. But those types tend to be closers, and the Sox are set in that department through 2011.

As GM, Theo Epstein has given only one three-year deal to a reliever — closer Keith Foulke, following the 2003 season. Foulke had one very good season, in which he helped the Sox win the 2004 World Series. However, in 2005 and 2006 Foulke missed substantial time due to injuries, performed poorly, and ultimately lost his job to Papelbon.

However, the Sox have signed relievers to two-year deals that included vesting options. Both Alan Embree and Julian Tavarez were signed to such deals. Embree made enough appearances for his option to vest. Tavarez did not, but he had his option picked up after emerging as a valuable swingman in 2006 and 2007. Yet, both pitchers ended up being designated for assignment in the third year of their deals.

So it's easy to understand Epstein's reluctance to get involved in long-term deals with relief pitchers that are inherently unreliable. There's a reason these guys float from team to team, year after year. They often provide little relief and lots of headaches.

Ultimately, building a consistent, dependable bullpen may prove to be Theo Epstein's greatest offseason task, despite his rather bold and splashy moves to this point.

Injuries aside, the pen was the Sox' Achilles Heel in 2010, and they can't let this deep roster, loaded with talent, go to waste with a bullpen that once again melts down under pressure, like it did last year.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Jason Varitek Signing Gives Red Sox Flexibility For Bigger Moves

Jason Varitek will be back for his 15th season with the Red Sox in 2011, after agreeing to a one-year, $2 million contract that includes $300,000 in incentives based on playing time.

Varitek got off to a hot start over the first two months of last season, with seven homers and a 1.024 OPS. However, he hit just .163 after that great start and missed substantial time due to a foot injury.

The veteran catcher was on the DL from July 2 through September 6, and was limited to just 39 games. He finished the season batting .232, with seven homers and 16 RBIs.

Despite turning 39 in April, Varitek is still an able back-up and the ideal mentor to 25-year-old Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Simply put, he is the right man for the job.

Clearly Saltalamacchia agrees. After hearing the news, the young catcher texted, "That's great. Thrilled he's coming back.''

Varitek was named Red Sox captain after the 2004 season. He was granted that distinction because of his leadership skills, his unmatched preparation, and the respect that his teammates—and even opposing players—have for him.

Among active catchers, Varitek ranks third in home runs (182), third in walks (593) fourth in RBI (721), fourth in doubles (296), fourth in extra-base hits (491), fourth in runs (632), fourth in total bases (2,126) and sixth in hits (1,258).

Both Varitek and Saltalamacchia are switch-hitters and should create an effective platoon. Varitek's career line against lefties is .279/.359/.471 and Saltalamacchia's career line against righthanders is .273/.343/.422. If they reach those averages in 2011, the Red Sox will get well above league-average production compared to other catchers.

And, by paying Varitek just $2 million and Saltalamacchia just $750,000 next season, the Sox have a lot more money for some combination of Adrian Beltre/Carl Crawford/ Jayson Werth.

The Red Sox will clearly spend money this offseason, as they always do. They just want to spend it wisely and in the areas of greatest need, with an eye on the prospects who may be ready to assume a big league role in the next two, or so, years.

Since John Henry and Co. purchased the club in 2002, the Sox have been number two in payroll expenditures, spending $1.145 billion. That's second only to the Yankees, who have outspent the Red Sox by 46.6 percent, at $1.679 billion (thanks to Peter Abraham over at Boston.com for doing that research).

The Red Sox will no longer be paying Mike Lowell, Victor Martinez and even Julio Lugo in 2011. So they have the resources to re-sign Adrian Beltre and add either Carl Crawford or Jayson Werth, in addition.

Bringing back Jason Varitek at such a team-friendly price, and pairing him with Saltalamacchia—who isn't even arbitration eligible—frees up plenty of resources for the Red Sox to make a much bigger long-term impact for their ball club.

As always, Theo Epstein has his eyes not only on next season, but the next few seasons.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Marco Scutaro Is A Bargain The Red Sox Should Hold Onto

There is persistent talk this offseason that the Red Sox may shop Marco Scutaro and that, at the least, they will receive inquiries from teams in need of a shortstop. The Giants, Padres, Orioles and the Pirates all fit that description.

Scutaro would be very affordable for any team, and he has only one year remaining on his current deal. He will make just $5 million next season, and there is a $6 million club option/$3 million player option, with a $1.5 million buyout, for 2012. That makes him a steal.

And he's more than just affordable.

Scutaro led all Major League shortstops with 38 doubles, even though he played most the season with a bum shoulder. The next closest shortstop had 33 doubles. And among Major League shortstops, Scutaro was second with 632 at-bats, second with 174 hits and third with 92 runs. He was also sixth in total bases, sixth in walks, 10th in RBI, and 17th in strike outs.

By these measures, Scutaro was among the best shortstops in all of baseball last season.

Scutaro's .965 fielding percentage was 12th best in baseball among shortstops with at least 500 total chances. Most of his 18 errors were throwing errors, the product of that troubled shoulder. The inflammation in Scutaro's right rotator cuff got so bad that it forced his move from shortstop to second base for most of September. All indications are that he will be healthier next season.

The bottom line is that Scutaro is a steal at what the Red Sox are paying him, and he is a gamer. The guy doesn't take days off; he just goes out and plays hard. He is the perfect bridge to either Jose Iglesias or Yamaico Navarro.

The Red Sox will be well-served to have Marco Scutaro as their shortstop in 2011, and perhaps even 2012.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Remove Dodgers From List of Potential Daisuke Matsuzaka Suitors

Earlier this offseason, there had been speculation that the Dodgers may have interest in trading for Daisuke Matsuzaka, and that the Red Sox would be even more interested in obtaining Dodgers' outfielders Matt Kemp or Andre Ethier.

Such a scenario seems to have been all but eliminated this week as the Dodgers reached an agreement with free agent Jon Garland.

The right-hander will join Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda and Ted Lilly to round out the Dodgers rotation.

Los Angeles came to terms with Garland on a very affordable $5 million, one-year, incentive-laden contract, which includes a club option that could be worth $16 million over two seasons.

Meanwhile, Matsuzaka is owed $10 million in each of the next two seasons.

Considering the similarities between the two pitchers, the Dodgers seem to have gotten themselves a relative steal.

Garland went 14-12 with a 3.47 ERA in 200 innings for the Padres in 2010. Matsuzaka went 9-6 with a 4.69 ERA in 153.2 innings for the Red Sox.

It's worth noting that Matsuzaka pitched in the tougher AL East, facing deeper lineups that wear pitchers out. Meanwhile, Garland pitched in the weaker NL West, which is dominated by pitcher-friendly ballparks.

That said, Garland is an innings eater, something that Matsuzaka simply isn't.

Garland has pitched at least 190 innings every season since 2002, his first full year as a starter. That's a nine-year streak.

Matsuzaka, on the other hand, has pitched at least 190 innings just once during his four years in the majors (204.2 in 2007). His next best effort was 167.2 innings in 2008.

Garland has also posted double-digit win totals in every season since 2002. Matsuzaka has accomplished that in just two of his four seasons.

Looked at from those vantage points, the Dodgers made a much wiser move by signing Garland than trading for Matsuzaka. In addition to the cheaper cost, the Dodgers didn't need to surrender a player to obtain Garland, as they would have for Matsuzaka.

Unfortunately for the Red Sox, and any of their fans who have grown tired of waiting for Matsuzaka to live up to his much-heralded hype, one potential trade partner has been eliminated.

It's reasonable to assume that Matsuzaka would fare better in the National League, with its weaker lineups. And it's been speculated that Matsuzaka might be more inclined to waive his no-trade clause to a West Coast team. There is the assumption that he would like to be closer to his native Japan.

Yet, given the 5,500 miles between the West Coast and Japan (not to mention crossing multiple time-zones), Matsuzaka may be just as unlikely to get back to Japan during the season as he is in Boston.

The one exception might be the All Star break, which Matsuzaka is as likely to enjoy as most other players.

Matsuzaka was originally projected as a No. 1 or No. 2 starter for the Red Sox. The reality is that, if not traded, he will be the team's No. 5 starter going into the 2011 season. In all but one of his four seasons, Matsuzaka has posted an ERA of at least 4.40.

Matsuzaka has been an enigma, at times showing flashes of brilliance, while at others exhibiting a maddening futility. It is not uncommon for him to have thrown in excess of 100 pitches by the fifth inning. His lack of command often results in consistently deep counts and excessive walk totals.

That said, he may be the best No. 5 starter in baseball. Even at $10 million per season, the Red Sox can easily afford him for two more years.

However, if any team makes an attractive enough offer, the Red Sox will surely ask Matsuzaka if he's willing to waive his no-trade clause.

At this point, that just might be the best scenario for all parties.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Losing Martinez Saves Red Sox Money, Creates Big Hole In Lineup

The Red Sox lost Victor Martinez to the Tigers because they were outbid by $8 million dollars over four years. That amounts to just $2 million per season.

While the Red Sox were willing to offer Martinez the four-year deal he wanted, they weren't willing to go to $50 million for him. But the Tigers were.

The Red Sox made two separate offers to Martinez; a three-year deal worth $36 million and a four-year deal worth $42 million.

Even though Martinez and his agents made it clear to the Red Sox on Monday night that he was prepared to accept another offer elsewhere, the Red Sox held their ground. In the end, Martinez accepted Detroit's four-year, $50 million offer.

Even the Orioles, who offered just $2 million less, outbid the Red Sox.

The Red Sox were unwilling to go to four years, $52 million with Johnny Damon, which ended up being a regrettable decision by Theo Epstein. They can only hope that their decision with Martinez doesn't end up being similarly regrettable in the next couple of years.

The Red Sox now have a gaping hole in the middle of the order that needs to be filled by opening day. Fortunately, that is more than four months away. There is time to find a suitable, or superior, replacement.

But one thing is for sure; the Red Sox won't get the same kind of production from their catcher next season, no matter who it is. Martinez is one of the two or three best offensive catchers in the game today, behind Joe Mauer, and along with Brian McCann.

Martinez is a career .300 hitter, which is especially impressive for a catcher. Excluding the 2008 season (in which he was injured), Martinez has averaged 18 homers and 83 RBI each year since he became a full-time player in 2004.

While those are nice numbers for a catcher, the RBI and home run totals are not particularly striking. In fact, Martinez has hit 25 homers just once and driven in 100 RBI just three times in his eight full seasons in the majors. As a first baseman or DH, those numbers would be rather pedestrian.

But Martinez's offense wasn't the Red Sox' primary concern. His age (32 next month) and defensive shortcomings were the things that gave them pause. Martinez threw out only 27 of 99 base-stealers last season.

And the Sox also had questions about Martinez's game-calling skills. Red Sox pitchers had a 4.28 earned run average throwing to Martinez. With other catchers, Sox pitchers had a 4.05 ERA. Additionally, opponents had a .738 OPS with Martinez behind the plate — just above the American League average — and a .706 OPS with other catchers.

The Red Sox felt that Martinez would only remain an effective catcher for perhaps the next two seasons and that he would then need to shift to first base or DH after that. While they felt he would be worth the price of a top-notch catcher for the first two years of the contract, they didn't feel he'd be worth $12.5 million per season beyond that.

However, it's interesting that the Sox are willing to pay David Ortiz (who can’t hit lefties) $12.5 million to DH when the going rate is $6 million — tops. They’ll also wind up paying Jonathan Papelbon nearly $12 million next season, despite his regression. And J.D. Drew will will continue to be wildly overpaid in 2011, making another $14 million.

Yet, the Red Sox deemed that Martinez — a switch-hitter who crushes left-handed pitching — was not worth $12.5 million per year for the next four years.

The money they've saved can be spent elsewhere to address other needs. While the Sox may go with an inexpensive platoon of Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek behind the plate, they will need to make up for loss of Martinez's offense somehow. And should they also lose Adrian Beltre, there will then be two gaping holes in the lineup.

If Saltalamacchia ever delivers on the promise that so many scouts and talent evaluators have seen in him for so long, he will be quite a bargain for the Sox. His big body and swing make 18 homers and 83 RBI seem within reason. That would make up for the loss of Martinez for a whole lot less money.

The names Carl Crawford, Jayson Werth, Justin Upton and Adrian Gonzalez have all been mentioned as potential Red Sox targets. The reality is the the Red Sox may now need two of them — or two hitters of the same caliber — to maintain their high-powered offense.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Red Sox Let V-Mart Walk; Bigger Moves Must Be In Store

The Red Sox certainly had their chances with Victor Martinez. It seemed that his heart was in Boston all along.

After the final game of last season, Martinez made it clear that he wanted to remain in Boston.

"It’s no question, eyes closed, come back to here. This is a place that I really want to be," said Martinez.

Yet, it seems that Martinez wanted to return to the Red Sox more than they wanted him back. Once again, as is customary, the Sox put a value on a player and refused to exceed it.

Instead, Martinez will play for the Tigers next year and beyond, after agreeing to a four-year, $50 million deal with Detroit earlier today.

Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reports that that the Red Sox offered Martinez either three years and $36 million, or four years and $42 million.

But Martinez wanted a four-year deal and apparently the Red Sox didn't want him under contract for that long. After all, they offered him a mere two-year deal during the 2010 season. In the end, it seems that long term security meant more to Martinez than anything else.

Reportedly, Martinez was offered four years and $48 million by the Orioles and three years and $48 million by the White Sox. It's odd that he took $12.5 million a year from Detroit and passed up $16 million a year from Chicago. If that's accurate, Martinez could have made more money by hitting free agency again (albeit for a lot less money) in three years instead of four.

Though $12.5 million per season seems like a reasonable sum for a catcher of Matinez's stature, the Red Sox seem to believe that Martinez won't remain a capable catcher for more than two years, or so. And the Red Sox never seem comfortable committing themselves to long term deals with players in their 30s.

As a catcher, Martinez is an outstanding hitter. But as a first baseman or DH, he is far closer to the league average and would be overpaid at $12.5 million a year.

Martinez, who turns 32 on Dec. 23, is a below-average runner and below-average catcher. No doubt, he's an outstanding hitter and teammate. But his numbers, if he were a full-time first baseman, would rank him only slightly ahead of say, free agent Adam LaRoche.

The Red Sox clearly saw this possibility developing when they made a trade with Texas in July for 25-year-old catcher Jarrod Saltalamachia. At a minimum, that move was an insurance policy against today's news.

It also seems to signal that the Sox feel comfortable going forward with Saltalamachia at catcher next season, perhaps bringing back Jason Varitek as his backup and mentor. Both players are switch hitters, but Saltalamacchia is better against righthanders and Varitek is far better against lefthanders.

The Red Sox decision not to re-sign Martinez frees up a lot of money to sign a couple of free agents. The Sox still have roughly $40 million to spend if they are to reach their payroll of last season, and last week Chairman Tom Werner said the club may in fact exceed that amount.

It's reasonable to assume the Sox will be aggressive in the free agent market and in other efforts to improve a team that missed the playoffs last season. The team's NESN ratings declined in 2010, and it seems necessary to instill some excitement in the fans this offseason.

It's a good bet that the Sox will make serious runs at Carl Crawford and Jason Werth, though they may not want to go to six and five years, respectively.

Once again, the Red Sox will place a value on each player and they will not go above it. They will not let emotion get in the way and they won't get into unwise bidding wars, especially when it comes to players in their 30s.

The current compensation system is a mess. Players often hit free agency in their 30s and expect to be paid for past performance. But most guys start slowing down in their mid-30s, just when their contracts are at their peak. The Red Sox are very wary of this.

Players should instead be paid according to current performance, starting in their rookie year. If you excel, you get paid. If you don't, you don't get paid. Older players shouldn't be getting paid in excess of younger players just because of past performance.

But, at least for the present, this is the system that the Red Sox and everyone else will have to live with. The Sox will work within the confines of this system and improve their team.

When it comes to the maneuverings of Theo Epstein, expect the unexpected. Something big may be in store. He clearly wants a young star who is entering his prime, and who the Sox can keep for the long term while he is most productive.

A big trade may be as likely as a free agent signing, and it may also come in addition to such a signing. Adrian Gonzalez and Justin Upton are the most obvious candidates, but Theo could surprise us all.

One way or the other, expect the Red Sox to make a splash and improve a team that did not finish in first or second place in the AL East for just the second time in 13 seasons.

Theo and the rest of the Red Sox front office are fully aware that that is not good enough in Boston. To the fans at least, it's simply unacceptable.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

In Andrew Miller, Red Sox May Have Found Diamond In The Rough

The Red Sox may have found a diamond in the rough in their acquisition of power pitcher Andrew Miller from the Marlins.

Miller was Detroit's first-round draft pick in the 2006 amateur draft, going to the Tigers with the sixth overall selection. He was so highly touted that he was chosen one pick ahead of Dodgers' rising star Clayton Kershaw and four picks ahead of the Giants' Tim Lincecum, a two-time Cy Young Award winner.

Miller, a 6-foot-7 lefty, was the National Collegiate Player of the Year at the University of North Carolina that year. However, he never found that kind of success at the professional level.

With almost no development time in the minors, Miller made his major league debut the very year he was drafted. Miller wasn't a late-season call up either; he was promoted to the big leagues just three weeks after inking a four-year, $5.4 million deal.

The projections for Miller were so good that the Marlins insisted that he be included as part of any package that Detroit put together for Miguel Cabrera in the winter of 2007.

But Miller became a major disappointment in Florida, going 10-20 with a 5.89 ERA.

The Marlins identified Miller's problem as a failure to repeat his delivery due to a tendency to throw across his body.

However, Daniel Bard, Miller's college teammate at UNC, said that the Marlins seem to have tinkered with Miller's delivery too much and that it had a negative effect on him.

"I think they just changed a lot of things and it kind of took away from the pitcher he was when he was drafted," said Bard. "He looks quite a bit different than his 2006, college version. It seems like [his delivery] had changed gradually ever since then."

Despite those issues, Bard thinks that Miller will turn out to be a good acquisition for the Red Sox.

"I think it will be good, change of scenery, good organization. I think it will be a positive thing for him," said Bard. "All the tools are still there. Nothing has changed."

The Red Sox starting rotation appears to be set. Even if the Sox trade Daisuke Matsuzaka, it is highly unlikely that Miller would be the answer. The would certainly look for a starter with much greater Major League success than Miller.

What is more likely is that Miller will be given a chance to earn a spot in the bullpen out of spring training. Given that the 25-year-old is out of options, both he and the Red Sox have a lot riding on this experiment. Miler would first have to clear options to be assigned to Triple A.

However, Miller has a four-pitch repertoire, including a four-seam fastball that has touched 99 mph, plus a 12-to-6 curve, a slider and a change-up. He's even said to be working on a cutter.

That assortment of pitches will make him an interesting, if not irresistible, project for new pitching coach Curt Young. As a reliever, all those pitches could make him tough on hitters — if his mechanics are refined and his delivery is consistent.

More than anything else, Miller may just need a confidence booster and the knowledge that he has the support of his pitching coach and the organization.

Miller was such a highly regarded prospect when the Tigers drafted him that the consensus was they had a future ace on their hands. It would hardly be surprising if Miller feels that he let a lot of people down, not the least of which is himself.

Being projected as a future superstar is quite a burden for any young player. The Red Sox will be happy if Miller simply becomes a successful, consistent power lefty out of the pen next season.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Red Sox Pick Up Ortiz's Option; Best For Player And Team

The Red Sox chose to pick up David Ortiz's option because they want the iconic player back next season and they didn't want negotiations to get messy.

As a result, it is obvious that the Red Sox overpaid for a one-dimensional hitter who cannot play defense.

Ortiz wanted the security of a longer-term deal that would give him the comfort of playing out his days in Boston, a city he has come to embrace as much as it has embraced him.

Should he struggle again at the start of next season, or at any time time, Ortiz hoped not to deal with the constant pressure and scrutiny from the media and fans alike, and all the questions of whether he may finally be released.

The heft of his 2011 salary alone now makes that somewhat less likely.

But Theo Epstein knows that, despite his solid season in 2010, Ortiz is a player whose best years are now clearly behind him. The reality is that, on the open market, Ortiz would command a salary of about half what the Red Sox will pay him next year.

Yet, the Red Sox still overpaid. Epstein didn't want to be saddled with a longer term pact based on sentimentality or nostalgia. So the easiest, cleanest thing to do was to pick up the option. Perhaps the team will benefit from having a highly motivated Ortiz playing for another contract next year.

The good news is that Ortiz finished the 2010 season batting .270 (which he finally reached in the last game of the season), with 32 homers, 36 doubles, 102 RBI and a .529 slugging percentage.

On the other hand, Ortiz struck out 145 times in 2010, fourth most in the AL. It was also a career high for the Red Sox DH, breaking the previous high he had set in 2009.

Yes, Ortiz has whiffed an awful lot the last two years for a guy who was once a very good hitter, not just a slugger.

Strikeouts are an example of futility and are the worst kind of out. Since the ball isn't even put into play, it doesn't stand a chance of producing a hit or scoring a run, as in the case of a sacrifice or reaching on a fielder's choice.

Of even greater concern, Ortiz was positively inept against lefties last season, hitting only .222, notching just two of his 32 homers, and slugging a mere .324 in repeatedly futile at-bats.

Ortiz will be greatly disappointed to learn that he will often sit against lefties next season. Whether or not he expects it, he'd better learn to accept it. And the truth is, if Ortiz doesn't expect it, he is delusional.

Great players are always the last to accept their decline. They are always the last to realize that their skills are diminishing. They always think they can still make the big play, get the key hit, and come through in the clutch, just like they always used to.

The unfortunate thing for the Red Sox is that, at $12.5 million next season, Ortiz takes up too much salary space for them to go out and get another solidly capable right-handed hitter to complement him.

For that price, the Sox should have been able to employ a combination of left-handed and a right-handed hitters who could both DH and adequately field their positions.

Ortiz's defensive shortcomings are also a liability to the team, and his lack of ability in the field clearly limits manager Terry Francona's options.

But Ortiz still murders right-handed pitching, and the Sox hope that continues in 2011.

It should be a milestone season for the Sox' slugger. Already fifth in team history with 291 career homers, next season Ortiz will join the likes of Red Sox legends Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice and Dwight Evans in the 300-homer club.

What's more, Ortiz will begin 2011 with 932 RBI, and should become just the sixth player in team history to surpass 1,000 RBI.

Yes, the Red Sox overpaid Ortiz by picking up his option. But they wanted to avoid an ugly, protracted negotiation with him in which they would have to point out all of his shortcomings.

Nothing good comes from telling the greatest clutch hitter in team history that he has slipped considerably, even if it's true.

As much as anything, the Red Sox have accepted that they are indeed paying for past performance. Ortiz holds a special place in Red Sox history, and in the hearts of the fans. He is a two-time World Series winner with the Sox, and he is a leader both in the clubhouse and in the community.

Ortiz now has seven seasons with at least 25 home runs for the Red Sox. Only Jim Rice (7) and Ted Williams (14) have accomplished that feat. And Ortiz now has six 30-homer, 100-RBI seasons with the Red Sox.

Those six 30-homer seasons tie Ortiz with Manny Ramirez for second most in franchise history behind Ted Williams, who did in eight times. And only Williams (9) and Rice (8) had more 100-RBI seasons than Ortiz in Red Sox history.

The Sox determined that it is better to overpay Ortiz, keep him happy, satisfied, and upbeat, yet hungry and motivated for another contract in 2012. A disgruntled Ortiz would have been bad for team chemistry.

Over the past two seasons, the images of him moping back to the dugout after yet another strike out, and then sulking about it on the bench, were both sad and disappointing.

The Red Sox can only hope that there are more of the highs and fewer of the lows in 2011. And that will likely be the case as long as Ortiz plays against righties and sits against lefties.

Count on it.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Will the David Ortiz Era Soon End in Boston?

David Ortiz struck out three more times yesterday, reminding us that he has truly become an all-or-nothing hitter.

Ortiz now has 109 whiffs in 340 at-bats this season, which means he's striking out a whopping 32% of the time. That's just staggering.

The Boston DH's strikeout total is third highest in the AL, behind Austin Jackson (114) and Carlos Pena (111). For the record, the latter two are both position players who make an impact defensively, at least mitigating some of the impact of their frequent strike outs.

However, Ortiz's 24 homers are fourth in the AL and tied for 10th best in baseball. And his 73 RBI are 10th in the AL and 16th in baseball.

The Red Sox have a big decision to make with Ortiz this winter. Do they pick up the $12.5 million option on his contract, which would pay him about twice what other DHs around the league are making? Or do they try to renegotiate the deal to two years at roughly the same price?

Would Ortiz even be willing to accept the same dollars for two years instead of one?

Despite his power resurgence, Ortiz is only hitting .259 this season, and just .209 against lefties. In previous years, he was considered a one dimensional player because he couldn't field. Now he's even more one-dimensional because he can only hit for power.

Ortiz has just 88 hits this season, putting him on track for less than 120 for the entire year. That's a paltry sum. During his peak years with the Red Sox (2004-2007), Ortiz averaged 174 hits a year.

Ortiz is an important figure in the Red Sox' success this decade. A member of two World Series winners, he has become the face of the franchise and is a truly beloved figure throughout New England.

In fact, Ortiz is one of the few players universally loved throughout baseball. Remember how his peers cheered for him during the Home Run Derby in Anaheim last month?

Ortiz is one of baseball's goodwill ambassadors. He is a smiling, lovable character that fans and players alike seem to gravitate toward and root for.

Without question, Big Papi's place in Red Sox history is secure; his 283 homers with the club are fifth best all time. If Ortiz returns to the team next season, he will join Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice and Dwight Evans as the only Red Sox players with 300 home runs. That's some pretty nice company.

And, with 903 RBI as a Red Sox, he could become just the sixth player to drive in 1,000 runs with the team (Yastrzemski, Williams, Rice, Evans and Doerr).

In addition, with 341 career homers (as a member of the Twins and Red Sox), Ortiz has an outside shot at 400 for his career. Assuming he hits 10 more this season (which is a conservative estimate), Ortiz would need to average about 25 homers over the next two years to reach the mark.

The question is whether he will get a chance to do it with the Red Sox.

A player like Adam Dunn may be a far more attractive alternative to the Red Sox. Since 2004, only Albert Pujols (279) has more homers than Dunn (272).

At 30-years of age, Dunn is younger than the 34-year-old Ortiz, and he is a better, more consistent run producer. Dunn also offers more versatility in that he can play first base and the corner outfield positions, though not particularly well. Right field at Fenway could be a disaster for the 6'6", 285 pound behemoth.

But Dunn has said he is willing to DH, and the Red Sox would presumably use him in that capacity the vast majority of the time. However, his versatility is a great asset.

Going forward, the best DH for the Red Sox is one that offers them the versatility of being able to field a position, as well as hit for power, drive in runs, and get on base. At this point, Ortiz doesn't adequately fulfill all of those objectives.

Indeed, Ortiz can still get draw a walk; his 61 free passes are fifth best in the AL and are tied for 11th in baseball. But, due to his declining average, Ortiz's on-base percentage has suffered in recent years.

In his first five seasons in Boston, Ortiz batted .302. But those days are now long gone. Over the past three seasons, Ortiz is batting just .254.

Defensive shortcomings aside, with his advancing age, declining batting average, and high strikeout totals, Oriz isn't the same player he was a few years ago when he among the game's most potent offensive forces.

As a result, free agency won't offer as many options as it once would have. There is no question that Ortiz is suited only for the American League.

For his part, the affable Red Sox star says he would like to finish his career with the club.

"I'm going to tell you, I ain't going nowhere,'' Ortiz said last month, in reference to his contract status.

Ortiz isn't just thinking about his option-year either; he says he wants an extension. However, if he intends to stay, it will be on the Red Sox terms.

The only question at this point is whether he's willing to play two seasons for essentially the price of one. The Red Sox will almost certainly decline his 2011 option and seek to renegotiate the base price down, perhaps seeking to fill it with performance incentives instead.

Will Ortiz's ego get in the way of such a decision?

There is no doubt that Ortiz is heavily invested in the local community, which could impact his decision. Aside from his numerous charitable works, he is a co-owner of the recently opened Big Papi's Grill in Framingham, MA.

We'll soon find out how much he wants to remain a member of the Red Sox, and if the team believes there are better alternatives available this offseason.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Red Sox' Season May Have Already Ended

Weeks ago, most of Red Sox Nation seemed to give up on the idea that the Sox could overtake the Yankees and win the AL East. The conventional wisdom was that the team was now fighting to overtake the Rays for the wild card spot.

But things have recently changed.

In the last 10 games, the Yankees are 5-5, while the Rays have gone 9-1, tying New York for the AL East lead.

For their part, the Red Sox are 6-4 in the last 10 games. But they are just 8-9 since the All Star break, putting them 6 ½ in back of the Yankees and Rays for both the AL East title and the wild card.

It is increasingly looking like 95 wins won't be enough to get the Sox into the post-season this year. To win 100 games, they will need to go 40-16 the rest of the way, which includes 10 games against the Yankees, six against the Rays, and seven against the first-place White Sox.

I'm not here to say that's impossible, but it's fair to say it's highly unlikely.

The Red Sox are the walking wounded and look like a MASH unit. Last night, Eric Patterson, Ryan Kalish, and Daniel Nava played in the outfield. Who could have imagined that in April? Most fans had never even heard of any of them.

Jason Varitek, Dustin Pedroia, Mike Cameron and Jacoby Ellsbury are all out. As customary, Terry Francona never knows when JD Drew will be hurt and unable to play.

Drew has played in 94 games so far this season. If he plays in the remaining 56 (an unlikely scenario), he will reach 150 games, or four more than he's ever played in any season of his 12-year career.

Francona is dealing with unpredictability on a nightly basis.

Darnell McDonald has played in more big league games this season than in his entire career with three previous clubs. And when the season started, who could have guessed that Bill Hall would have appeared in 76 games and have over 200 at-bats for the Sox? That's more than Varitek, Ellsbury, and Cameron; simply unpredictable.

The surprising Red Sox offense has suddenly cooled. In the 17 games since the break, the Sox have scored more than four runs just six times. And they have scored three or less seven times.

Increasingly, Red Sox starters have to be dominant, and go at least seven innings, for the team to win. The Sox' bullpen has been lamentable, to say the least, this season.

Yes, there are still waiver deals that can be completed in August, but it's likely that none of them will have significant impact. For better or worse, this is the team.

Yes, they will eventually see the returns of Varitek, Pedroia and perhaps even Ellsbury (don't hold your breath). But by then, it may be too little, too late.

To further add to the team's woes and misery, Kevin Youkilis was placed on the 15-day DL today due to a ruptured muscle in his right thumb. If the muscle fully tears, it would result a serious injury requiring surgery. Such an injury could potentially affect his career.

As it is, Youlilis' season, like that of the Red Sox, is in jeopardy.

In this decade, It's unusual to declare that the Red Sox season is over and lost in August But at this point, that seems to be the case.

One hundred wins is just wildly unrealistic.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Tim Wakefield May Have Made Final Start For Red Sox

Watching Tim Wakefield pitch last night in Oakland, I couldn't help but think it might have been his final start with the Red Sox; not just this season, but ever.

With Clay Buchholz and Josh Beckett returning to the rotation today and Friday, respectively, Wakefield will be the odd man out.

Though Wakefield was unhappy with his move to the bullpen earlier this season, given the way he's pitched this year, he can't rightly complain. The 43-year-old pitcher is just 3-8 in 16 starts this season, with a 5.58 ERA and a 1.34 WHIP.

Considering Wakefield's age (he'll be 44 next month) and poor performance this year, it's entirely possible — if not likely — the Sox will decline to bring him back next season. If that is the case, Wakefield has had a fascinating and overachieving career.

After being released by the Pirates on April 20, 1995, Wakefield was signed by the Red Sox six days later. The knuckle-baller has been with the Sox ever since, becoming the team's longest-tenured player in the process. That longevity has advanced Wakefield in the Sox' record book.

Wakefield is the Red Sox career leader in starts and innings pitched, and he is second to Roger Clemens in strikeouts.

However, Wakefield is also the Red Sox career leader in many less desirable categories, such as hits allowed, runs, earned runs, walks, and hit batsman. And in each of those categories, Wakefield leads by a long shot.

Trailing Clemens by only 70 Ks, it is possible that Wakefield could overtake the former Red Sox star next season. And more importantly to Wakefield, his 178 Red Sox victories put him just 14 behind Clemens and the legendary Cy Young. It was Wakefield's intention to surpass the two most famous Red Sox hurlers by the end of next season.

But with just three wins in 16 starts this year, that is looking increasingly less likely. As much as the Red Sox might like to see Wakefield reach the strikeouts and wins milestones, they don't want to see him hanging on just to do so.

After pitching 108 innings this season — third most on the team — Wakefield has certainly had his chances. No one can reasonably argue otherwise.

If Wakefield were to have gotten within striking distance of the two records this season, brining him back next year would be a no-brainer. Loyalty aside, the PR and marketing opportunities alone would make it worth the Red Sox' while.

But with Wakefield pitching poorly and now headed back to the pen, his chances of surpassing Clemens and Young seem doubtful. And as much of a good soldier as Wakefield has been — a true leader both on and off the field — the Sox won't bring him back if they don't think he can give them a chance to win consistently.

Wakefield's knuckleball hasn't just frustrated opposing hitters; it's also frustrated a host of Red Sox catchers and managers. While Wakefield can often confuse and confound hitters, when he gets hit, he often gets hit hard. In addition, costly passed balls and wild pitches are to be expected.

Because Wakefield's primary pitch is so unpredictable, his starts are equally unpredictable. Each time he takes the mound, the results seem to be to a roll of the dice. Consistency has never been Wakefield's strong suit.

With all of this in mind, it's conceivable that we have finally seen the last start in Tim Wakefield's enduring career.

If it was indeed Wakefield's final start, it's quite fitting that it was such a mixed bag, which has defined his career.

Staked to a 4-0 lead in the second inning, Wakefield couldn't hold on, surrendering four runs in the bottom of the third. Wakefield loaded the bases on a double, a walk, and a hit batter. The runs then scored on a double, a passed ball, and a sacrifice fly. All of it was par for the course during a typical Wakefield outing.

But, as is also customary for Tim Wakefield, he then shut down Oakland over the next three innings, allowing no further runs. The mixed performance was vintage Wakefield.

If it was indeed his final start, all we can say is, Thanks for the memories, Tim. Thanks for all the effort. Thanks for being a man of such great character and integrity.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Lackluster Lackey Facing Must-Win Game

John Lackey has been nothing less than a tremendous disappointment this season.

After signing for more than $82 million in the offseason, certainly a lot more was expected of him than he has provided.

In 18 starts, Lackey has given the Red Sox 118 innings, which is the good news.

However, Lackey has a 4.78 ERA and opponents are batting an astounding .298 against him.

Of equal concern, Lackey has given up far too many walks (46) and hasn't had nearly enough strike outs (68).

Lackey has surrendered 135 hits to along with those 46 walks, resulting in a whopping 181 base runners in his 118 innings. That amounts to a stunning 1.60 WHIP.

Folks, that ranks 107 out of 109 MLB pitchers — simply abysmal.

If batters don't reach base, they can't score. But in Lackey's case, they do both far too often.

The fact that Lackey has a 9-5 record is misleading. The Red Sox are 9-9 in the games he has started this season.

Yet, he plays for a team that has scored the most runs in baseball. Lackey, in particular, benefits from extraordinary run support each time he pitches. In fact, no other Red Sox pitcher has been so fortunate.

If Lackey were pitching like the guy the Red Sox thought they were getting, he might be undefeated with all that run support.

However, Lackey is 1-2, with a 5.61 ERA in his last three starts.

And Lackey's last outing, against the Blue Jays one week ago, was an unmitigated disaster: 4.2 innings, eight hits, seven runs (all earned), six walks, and two strike outs.

In those 4.2 innings, Lackey threw a highly inefficient 105 pitches — just 58 for strikes.

Lackey was advertised as a big time pitcher who would step up when it was his turn to take the mound. But so far, he looks like a no. 5 starter — not the purported ace we were all expecting.

With losses in seven of their last nine games, including two straight, today's game qualifies as a "must win" for Lackey and the Red Sox. In that sense, it really is time for Lackey to step up.

The Red Sox are 3.5 games out of the Wild Card, it is July 17, and the clock is ticking on their season. By the time all their regulars return, there is a danger that it won't even matter any more.

If there is such a thing as a "must win" game in July, this is it.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

As Trade Deadline Approaches, Red Sox May Seek More In-House Solutions

As the Red Sox approach the July 31, non-waiver trade deadline, they find their roster decimated by injuries.

With Manny Delcarmen and Jason Varitek joining the ranks of the wounded, the Red Sox now have 10 players on the disabled list — five since June 24.

Going into last night's game, Red Sox players had missed a total of 424 games to the DL this season. And yet the team just keeps on winning. The Red Sox are now just a half game out of first place, the closest they've been since the second game of the season.

In May, the playoffs seemed like a long shot and there was even speculation that the Red Sox could be uncustomary sellers at the deadline.

Clearly, that will not be the case.

The Red Sox may seek to make additions that will improve the team for the season's final 2-2 1/2 months. But soon after the All Start break, the club will benefit from the returns of Josh Beckett, Jeremy Hermida, and perhaps even Jacoby Ellsbury.

For what it's worth, Jed Lowrie (remember him?) will begin a rehab assignment on Monday in Lowell. He was supposed to be the Sox' utility infielder this season and may be ready before Dustin Pedroia. Lowrie is still just 26-years-old and quite talented. His wrist must be fully healed by now and his bout with mono behind him.

And after the deadline passes, the Red Sox should finally be able to field the starting lineup they had envisioned on Opening Day, seeing the returns of Pedroia, Varitek, Delcarmen and Victor Martinez.

As a result, it's unlikely management will make any desperate moves to fill roster spots.

Even with Mike Cameron playing at about 50% capacity, the team continues to win with the likes of minor leaguers Darnell McDonald, Daniel Nava and Eric Patterson. In addition, journeyman Bill Hall has played a much larger role than anyone could have reasonably envisioned.

Incredibly, despite this unlikely cast of characters, the team hasn't just been holding its own, it's been gaining ground on the Yankees. As long as the Sox don't start to slide too far, too fast, the team will make-do primarily with what they've got.

The one area the Sox could conceivably seek to improve the team via trade is the bullpen, which is next to last in the AL with a 4.80 ERA and has allowed the most home runs (35).

However, a trade could be a dicey proposition. The club will be loathe to give up a formidable prospect for a short term solution in the pen. Anyone remember Larry Andersen for Jef Bagwell?

Trades for bullpen pitchers often regrettable; you usually end up overpaying. On top of that, middle relievers are notoriously unreliable and streaky. At best, you might get a journeyman who is in the midst of a good season. There's a reason these guys change teams all the time; inconsistency.

Ultimately, middle relievers are not good enough to start, and not god enough to close either.

That's why the Red Sox may go with in-house solutions, such as their own minor leaguers.

Robert Manuel has a 1.54 ERA at Pawtucket, and righthanders were hitting just .154 against him. In addition, his career WHIP is just 1.06 in the minors.

Once one of the most highly regarded pitchers in the organization, Michael Bowden seemed to regress, but has looked good this season. Bowden has a 3.77 ERA at Pawtucket, leading all starters with a 1.10 WHIP, and leading the team with 59 strike outs.

Dustin Richardson, already on the 25-man roster, could become the primary lefty out of the pen, instead of Hideki Okajima. The Japanese reliever has been in continual decline and his last four appearances have produced six runs on 10 hits over three innings. Opponents were 10 for 19 against him.

Lastly, Felix Dubront is another in-house candidate. In 26.2 innings at Pawtucket this season, the lefty has allowed just 22 hits while striking out 24. He's walked just nine batters, has a 1.16 WHIP to go along with a 2.36 ERA. Dubront made one start for the Red Sox this season, going five innings and allowing five runs on six hits.

Each of these pitchers represents a young arm that will not require a costly or regrettable trade. In a trade scenario, the Sox could end up essentially renting a bullpen arm for just two months, then losing the player to free agency at season's end.

Theo Epstein and co. have shown restraint thus far, trading only for old friend Kevin Cash. And that deal was consummated only because both catchers on the active roster went down with injuries. Minor League catchers Mark Wagner and Dusty Brown are both also on the DL.

It's as if the Red Sox have been struck by a plague.

July is the month when most trades are made. This is when clubs determine if they are buyers or sellers, based on their records and their playoff chances. Trades will heat up, but it isn't likely the Red Sox will be involved in any blockbusters.

Perhaps a veteran bullpen arm will be obtained, but not at the expense of a minor leaguer the Sox envision as part of their future.

The more likely scenario is that the team will give a shot to one of the young pitchers in their own system before making any moves they may come to regret later.

Relievers are a dicy lot. They can be costly gambles and major disappointments.

Sometimes, the best trades are the ones you don't make at all.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Both Armando Galarraga and the Game of Baseball Deserve Better Than This

By now, baseball fans across the nation have seen the video, and the photographic evidence. Armando Galarraga was robbed of a once in a lifetime opportunity – a perfect game. He was robbed of a very special place in the record books. And he was robbed before our eyes, for the whole world to see.

Umpire Jim Joyce admits he blew the call.

"I just cost that kid a perfect game," Joyce said after the game. "I thought he beat the throw. I was convinced he beat the throw, until I saw the replay."

"It was the biggest call of my career," said Joyce, with regret.

All of the Tigers were either stunned or outraged, except for Galarraga, who simply and quietly went back to work as the Detroit crowd booed angrily. Galarraga's manager, Jim Leyland, and his teammates gave Joyce an earful, letting their opinions be heard loud and clear.

"I don't blame them a bit or anything that was said," Joyce said. "I would've said it myself if I had been Galarraga. I would've been the first person in my face, and he never said a word to me."

That just proves that Galarraga is a class act. He deserves better than this. And Joyce's contrition doesn't change the fact that Galarraga will forever live with this unfortunate injustice.

Yet, it was entirely correctable. By the time of Joyce's miscall, 26 consecutive outs had been recorded. And on the play in question, it is abundantly clear that the 27 out was also recorded, without any hitter truly reaching base.

MLB and Commissioner Bud Selig had a chance to make this right for Galarraga, his teammates, the game of baseball, and for posterity. Selig knows what the rest of us know; Jason Donald was out and Galarraga earned a perfect game fairly and squarely.

Yet, Selig has announced that he will not overturn the incorrect call, right this wrong, and award Galarraga his perfect game. The only thing Selig has agreed to review is instant replay, which should already be in effect anyway.

Baseball is a game of history and tradition that goes back a century-and-a-half. And it is rightly proud of most of it. Yet, we are now living in the 21st Century, not the !9th. It's long since time for instant replay. All of the other major sports employ it, and neither history nor tradition is more important than getting the right call. The game and its players deserve it.

The bottom line is that the fans at home watching instant-replay on TV, and those in the stands viewing the Jumbotron, shouldn't know what an umpire doesn't, yet should, know. Within moments, even they can easily see the error of their ways, yet they can't overturn an erroneous call. That's inexcusable. The best thing about instant reply is that it is instant.

Galarraga is the most unlikely pitcher to throw a near-perfect game. He's 28 and was just recalled from Triple-A Toledo on May 16 after pitching poorly during spring training. He lost out in a competition for the final spot in the rotation to Dontrelle Willis and Nate Robertson, both of whom have since been traded.

But on one night he was perfect. Yet Jim Joyce wasn't. And that's okay. It's understandable. To err is human. It's widely noted that nobody is perfect. But last might, Armando Glarraga was.

This injustice was fixable. But Bud Selig chose history and tradition over honesty and integrity, not to mention modern technology. We've learned a lot about Galarraga and Joyce from this unfortunate event. As for Bud Selig, this only reinforces what we already knew; he is stubborn, rigid, and stuck in the past.

The record books may indicate that only 20 perfect games have been thrown in MLB history, and incredibly two of them were this year – a first. Yet everyone now knows that there was a 21st last night. Armando Galarraga, and his perfect performance on one June night, will not be forgotten by history.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Red Sox Suddenly Coming Alive

The poor start to the Red Sox season came as a surprise to many. Especially since the offense, which seemed suspect to many at the start of the season, has been a force.

The Red Sox are fourth in baseball in runs, second in homers, third in doubles, fourth in OPS, and sixth in OBP. And they've done all that without Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron for most of the season.

However, the team built on pitching and defense has been surprisingly deficient in both areas for much of the season.

The Red Sox starter's cumulative ERA of 4.54 is 21st in MLB and ninth in the AL. That's something no one could have predicted, especially with a front three of Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and John Lackey.

And far too often, Red Sox fielders have looked like the Keystone Kops on defense. At times, their bumbling futility has been nothing short of jaw-dropping. But some of those dramatic and egregious misplays have overshadowed the fact that the Red Sox 27 errors are ranked ninth in the AL, and their .985 fielding percentage is fourth in the AL.

Recently the team's defense, pitching, and overall performance, have been trending upward.

The Red Sox have now won four straight, seven of eight, and 15 of 22. And they've succeeded against a succession of winning teams, such as the Yankees, Blue Jays, Tigers, Twins, Phillies, and Rays.

But the Sox started the season terribly against the Rays and Yankees and, despite their recent hot streak, are still 6.5 games out of first as a result. Boston is now 26-21, the first time they've been five games above .500 this season.

There are 115 games yet to play, and if the Sox manage to win 60 percent of their remaining schedule, they'll wind up with 95 wins – exactly the number the club figures it needs to qualify for the playoffs each year.

While finishing in first in the AL East may be a lofty goal at this point, the Wild Card spot suddenly seems a lot more realistic.

The starting pitching finally seems to be coming around and looks like the staff that everyone had been expecting. With the exception of Lackey's last outing, six of their last seven start have been fantastic.

Sox starters are 6-1 with a 1.44 ERA in the last seven games.

There have been some surprises, such as Josh Beckett's 1-1 record and 7.29 ERA.

However, Clay Buchholz seems to have finally delivered on all that promise. Buchholz's 3.07 ERA leads all Sox starters, as do his six wins. And he has the most wins (12) of any AL starter since last August 19.

There are plenty of other reasons for optimism, as well.

Dustin Pedroia's home run and RBI totals are well ahead of his 2008 MVP season.

Adrian Beltre leads the Red Sox with 56 hits and a .327 average. The odd thing is that the Sox signed him for his defense and 25-homer potential. But Beltre has just three homers and seven errors. Despite his lack of power, Beltre is hitting lights out so far, which is something no one ever expected.

Kevin Youkilis is having an MVP-caliber season, batting .316 with three triples, 10 HR, 29 RBI, and a stunning .458 OBP, which is second highest in the Majors. He also leads the Majors in walks (28) and runs (40).

The question for the Red Sox is how they can improve by the trade deadline.

The Sox have a number of veterans with expiring contracts, such as David Ortiz, Mike Lowell, Jason Varitek, and Victor Martinez. Aside from Martinez, none of them have a lot of trade value. Aside from that, their more productive, youthful players are guys they've built their team around (Youkilis, Pedroia, Ellsbury), or are veterans on short-term deals (Beltre, Cameron, and Marco Scutaro).

Mike Lowell can still hit and may still have some trade value. Lowell had three doubles on May 3, becoming the first player since 1952 to accomplished that feat eight times in his career. He surpassed George Brett, who did it seven times. Lowell needs regular at-bats to maintain his rhythm, something he won't get in Boston.

A Rangers official told the Globe's Nick Cafardo last week he’d love to get Lowell in Texas. The Rangers are looking for a righthanded hitter who can produce.

Martinez's defensive deficiencies are the primary reason the Sox have held off on negotiating an extension with him. There are serious concerns about him at catcher going forward, and it's likely the Sox view him as a first baseman / DH in the future.

The Indians said Martinez wore down catching every day, and that it affected his hitting. Unfortunately, he got off to a very slow start this year. Given his defensive deficiencies, if he doesn't hit, he has little value behind the plate.

Depending on the team's record in July, Jonathan Papelbon's name will likely surface in trade discussions.

Boston's closer hasn't been as dominant as in the past, and has been trending downward in recent years.

This year, he's 1-3 with a 3.00 ERA, which is well below is career 1.92 ERA. Over 21 innings he's given up 14 hits, 11 walks, and hit one batsman, amounting to 25 baserunners. That's a WHIP of 1.25, which is decent. And he has fanned 16 batters, which is also decent. However, none of this amounts to the dominance he once showed.

It's hard to envision the Red Sox giving Papelbon the multi-year deal he is seeking before 2011, especially with Daniel Bard waiting in the wings.

Incredibly, Papelbon recently suffered his first regular season blown save since last July.

But because it was against the Yankees, and because of the way the team was playing, it was magnified.

Yet, it was the first walk-off home run given up by Papelbon in his five-year career, which is simply amazing.

Coming into that game, Papelbon had made 22 straight conversions. The only other time he allowed two homers in a game was to Minnesota's Justin Morneau and Jacque Jones in his major league debut on July 31, 2005,

With the exception of Game Three in last year's ALDS, he's been pretty solid and reliable.

To even consider trading him this season, the Red Sox would have to appear to be out of contention by the trade deadline, something that suddenly seems less likely.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

May, a Make or Break Month for Red Sox

The Red Sox are team still struggling to find their identity as they near the midpoint of May.

Having dropped two in a row to the Yankees, the Sox are now back below .500, at 15-16. They find themselves in fourth place in the AL East, and 7.5 games behind the division-leading Rays.

The Red hadn't strung together a winning streak of longer than two games this season, until they swept four in a row from the Angels this week. The offense suddenly awoke, outscoring the Angels 36-16.

But now they've lost two in a row to the Yankees, losing the series before today's game is even played. The Red Sox have proven themselves to be a team of streaks, and the winning variety haven't been long, or frequent, enough.

At this point, the Sox only solace is that the Yankees started 15-17 last season, then ended up with 103 wins and a World Series championship.

But things won't get any easier for the Sox during the rest of May. After this three-game series with the Yankees, the Blue Jays — who are ahead of the Sox in the standings — come to town. After that the Sox go to Detroit, and then to Yankee Stadium. After that, they’re home against the Twins for two games before heading out to Philadelphia and Tampa. All of those teams are over .500, and three are division leaders.

The Sox won't catch a break until May 27, when they return home to host the Royals.

At that point, we should all know if the Red Sox have any chance of competing in the AL East this season. Though they've been without two-thirds of their starting outfield for nearly a month, many would argue that it's already too late for a meaningful recovery anyway.

The Red Sox are essentially relying on the Rays and/or Yankees to collapse – perhaps due to key injuries – to get back into the playoff hunt. But a team wants to chart its own course, be responsible for its own fate, and not rely on another team's demise to provide hope or opportunity. Yet, that's the reality the Sox are facing at this point. They are 1-8 against the Rays and Yanks this year, all at Fenway.

When they leave town Wednesday night, the Sox will have played 23 of their first 35 games at Fenway, where they have traditionally shined. However, they are 9-10 at home this season.

The Red Sox offense has been better than predicted; the Sox are third in the league in batting average, homers, and runs.

However, the pitching and defense – the very things this team was purported to have been built on – have been disappointing, to say the least.

The Sox’ staff ERA is 5.11, putting them near the bottom of the American League. And it's not the bullpen's fault; the starter's ERA is 5.21. This was supposed to be the best starting three, maybe four, in baseball. Not so much.

Adrian Beltre, who was alleged to be the best defensive third baseman in the AL, now has seven errors, and it's only the second week of May. Believe it or not, Beltre has more errors than any other player in baseball. Indeed, Beltre's .327 average has been a welcome surprise, but the Red Sox brought him to Boston for his defense.

Defense begins up the middle, and unfortunately Victor Martinez can't play defense. He is simply a liability behind the plate. Bill Hall doesn't belong in the outfield, and Jeremy Hermida is not a defensive standout either.

May will be a definitive month for the Red Sox. By the end of the month, we will all know whether this is a playoff caliber team, or not. Management may already know, regardless of their optimistic pronouncements.

Theo Epstein and Co. may have to make uncomfortable decisions about players such as David Ortiz, Mike Lowell, and even Martinez by the end of this month, or next. Lowell and Ortiz can't run or effectively play defense, and at $12 million apiece, neither has any trade value.

Martinez will be a free agent at season's end and doesn't appear to be the team's catcher of the future. So, unless the club sees him as a DH or first baseman going forward, they may choose to trade him by the deadline.

The Sox are not in a position to do a salary dump. No club will pick up any meaningful amount of Ortiz's or Lowell's remaining salaries, and JD Drew is also untradable. Even if the Sox believe the season is lost and want to groom Josh Reddick for a spot in the outfield, facing big league pitching, they can't make room for him by moving the $14 million-a-year Drew, who is signed through next season.

The Red Sox may not be able to fix this team by the deadline, and considering that their payroll is already in excess of $170 million, owner John Henry may be unwilling to invest further in a team of overpriced underachievers.

Considering the talent of their chief rivals in the AL East, May is a make or break month for the Red Sox. In just a few short weeks we should know if this team will buyers, or sellers, in July.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Red Sox Experiencing Power Outage

Twenty-two games into this season, the Red Sox have finally drawn even at 11-11, putting them alone in third place.

The Sox have won five of their last six games and seven out of nine. With the exception of Wednesday's 2-0 victory, every one of them was won by one run. That hasn't happened since 1943. Over those eight games, the Sox have scored 47 runs and their opponents 45.

That's just squeaking by.

The Red Sox are eighth out of the 14 AL teams in runs this season, and seventh in batting average, putting them solidly in the middle of the pack.

That's clearly not the sign of a playoff team.

Dustin Pedroia continues to lead the team in home runs with five, yet he hasn't hit one out of the park since April 17. That's how impotent Red Sox' bats have been so far this season.

David Ortiz, JD Drew, Victor Martinez and Bill Hall are doing nothing but making outs. Yet, thirty-one-year-old minor league outfielder Darnell McDonald is suddenly one of the team's offensive stars.

McDonald has driven in six runs since he arrived, more than Martinez and Ortiz. He is 8 for 24 with five runs scored, four extra-base hits, three walks and six RBI in the nine games since arriving in Boston.

While McDonald is a great story, he's not the solution to the Red Sox offensive woes. The Sox' primary bats need to wake up soon, or they'll need to get help elsewhere.

That's why the promotion of Lars Anderson to Pawtucket is so interesting.

Anderson was hitting .355, with five homers, five doubles, 15 RBI, and a 1.086 OPS through 17 games, when he was advanced.

His promotion is an intriguing development because it came so early in the season. Are the Sox hoping that he responds positively and can contribute to the big league team before the season is over?

Anderson is only 22, and he struggled mightily last year in Portland. Yet, you can't help but think this is a reaction to the struggles of Ortiz and the lack of a true masher in the Sox lineup.

After having built the team around its pitching staff, and with Clay Buchholz being their most consistent and effective starter so far this year, the Sox surely don't want to trade him for a power hitter right now. Yet, they're going to need an upgrade at some point if the offense doesn't come alive.

However, a trade for a premier hitter would be very costly in terms of prospects, potentially upsetting the balance of everything Theo Epstein has been working toward the last few seasons; inexpensive, club-controlled, homegrown talent.

As it stands, the team payroll is approaching $175 million.

It's hard to figure that the young Anderson can be the solution to the Sox' offensive needs, but it sure would be one hell of a story if he continues to tattoo the ball and earns his way onto the big league club this season.

The Red Sox could use some firepower from wherever they can get it. Look no further than Darnell McDonald.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Red Sox Facing Bad Breaks, Playing Bad Baseball

Coming into this season, there were many concerns — even some predictions — that the Red Sox wouldn't have the offense to prevail in the AL East, much less win the Pennant.

So far, those concerns appear valid. In the first 17 games of this season, the Sox have scored two or fewer runs seven times, including two shut outs.

David Ortiz's struggles have continued, which hasn't come as a surprise to many. What is surprising is that the heart of the Sox order has also struggled so far. No one could have predicted that so many of the Sox premier hitters would look positively anemic in April.

Consider the following:

Victor Martinez: 262, 1 HR, 5 RBI
Kevin Youkilis: .234, 2 HR, 7 RBI
JD Drew: .158, 2 HR, 7 RBI

Diminutive second baseman Dustin Pedroia leads the club with five homers, more than twice as many as anyone else.

The 2010 Red Sox were supposedly built on a foundation of pitching and defense, but so far you'd never know it.

The Red Sox have the second hIghest starter's ERA in the AL (5.31), behind only the White Sox (5.67). The Tigers (5.30) and the Royals (4.87) trail the Red Sox. Given the Red Sox talented young staff, that was definitely not supposed to be the case.

And the Red Sox came into tonight's game with the ninth ranked defense in the AL, having made 12 errors in 17 games. Errors aside, the Red Sox defense has not looked sharp. Sox fielders have often looked tentative and awkward.

The Sox have allowed the most stolen bases in the AL – by a long shot. Boston has allowed 37 steals, more than twice as many as the next closest team, the Tigers, with 17. The Yankees and Indians (15 apiece) are tied for third. What's stunning is that Red Sox catchers have caught only two of the 39 runners attempting to steal this season.

So much for pitching and defense.

With all of this in mind, it's easy to see why the Red Sox came into tonight's game at 7-10, five games out of first place. After spending $170 million on payroll (so far) this season, this is not what the Red Sox thought they were buying.

However, there is at least one encouraging sign as of late; the Sox have won their last three one-run games.

Without question, the best Sox top hitters will eventually come around; it's just a matter of time. Though it's questionable whether Ortiz will ever regain his prior form (Andruw Jones should give us hope), better things can reasonably be expected from Pedroia, Youkilis, Martinez, and Drew.

Further, the Red Sox have been significantly bitten by the injury bug. Tonight's starting outfield is comprised by Bill Hall, Jeremy Hermida, and Darnell McDonald.

Mike Cameron is on the DL with an abdominal injury known as a sports hernia. It's too soon to tell, but the injury could eventually require surgery. Though the natural suspicion is that the injury is age related (Cameron is 37), younger players such as Cliff Lee, Josh Hamilton, and Michael Young have also dealt with the same injury.

The Red Sox haven't yet gotten to witness all that Cameron can offer offensively or defensively, since he's only played in 11 games and had 30 at-bats.

But perhaps the biggest blow to the Red Sox is the loss of Jacoby Ellsbury due to cracked ribs. The injury was the result of a collision with Bill Hall, who was playing short, and should have never happened. If the two players had played together longer and communicated better, they would have avoided each other. Neither player had a sense of the other's tendencies, and the collision appeared completely avoidable.

As a result, the Red Sox have been without their leadoff hitter, which has led to a reshuffling of the lineup and poor results. Ellsbury was batting .333 when he went on the DL.

With any luck, both Ellsbury and Cameron will return soon, and the Red Sox will be able to field the team they envisioned and assembled earlier this spring.

Until then, they have to hope they don't dig themselves a hole so deep they can't get out of it. So far this season, the Sox haven't been able to put together a winning streak longer than two games.

If that doesn't change in a hurry, the Sox may find themselves looking up at the Yankees and Rays in the standings all season long.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Red Sox Offense Living Up To Pre-Season Doubts

The Red Sox were booed as they left the field today. They've suffered five straight losses, including a sweep by the Rays, and now they're six games out of first.

The Sox are now 4-9 this season. You have to go back to 1996 to find a Red Sox team that got off to worse start after 13 games than the current edition.

Of specific concern, the Sox are 1-6 against the Yankees and Rays this season, with all games played at Fenway. The Boston locals are currently facing their worst home start since the 1932 team started 1-9 at home.

Boston has scored just 17 runs over their last 65 innings. They left five runners in scoring position today, are 0-for-30 in that department over the last five games, and 12-for-91 (.103) over the last 12 games.

Over the last five games, the team has struck out 35 times, while walking 19 times. Collectively, the Sox are hitting .249, have an OBP of .313, and are averaging 3.8 runs a game.

This afternoon, David Ortiz went 0-3, and is now batting .158. JD Drew has just two hits, to go along with 12 strike outs, in his last 23 at-bats and is now batting .146. Kevin Youkilis went 0-4 and is now bating .217. Victor Martinez has grounded into six double plays and is now batting 212.

This, folks, was supposed to be the heart of the Red Sox order.

Bill Hall and his .091 average will not come off the bench and save this offense. And after a rocket-like start, Jeremy Hermida has rapidly fallen back to earth, bringing his .219 batting average with him.

And I haven't even mentioned the horrible defensive lapses of a team supposedly built on a foundation of defense. But that's another story, for another day. There's too much to focus on regarding the offense alone, at present.

The conventional wisdom coming into this season was that the Red Sox lacked the offensive fire power to win the AL East, much less the World Series. Just 13 games into the season, the Red Sox have done little to dispute that. Their 5'7" second baseman, Dustin Pedroia, leads the club with five long balls and 13 RBI.

That's a very bad sign.

Many fans and analysts doubted the Red Sox power potential from the outset, and, in fact, the offense in general. Consequently, they also believe that the Sox will eventually have to upgrade the offense via trade. San Diego first baseman Adrian Gonzalez has been the most discussed target, and perhaps the most desired, by Red Sox fans and local media.

However, watching Tampa first baseman Carlos Pena this weekend was a sad reminder of what the Red Sox once had, and what could have been.

The Sox had Pena on the roster for 18 games in 2006, after he was released by Detroit. In that span, Pena batted .273. Yet, the Sox didn't think they had a place for him with Kevin Youkilis at first, Mike Lowell at third, and David Ortiz at DH.

So Pena left as a free agent.

Imagine if the Sox had held on to the local boy when they had him four years ago, at the age of 28. They would've had a young, power-hitting first baseman/DH, with Youkilis seamlessly shifting back to third. Then, perhaps, we wouldn't be talking about the need for offense, or a big trade potentially involving Adrian Gonzalez, or any other slugger for that matter.

Under that scenario, Boston would already have a young 40-home run hitter on its roster without having to trade for one this summer.

Letting Pena walk ended up being a big mistake for the Sox; Pena hit 46, 31, and 39 homers in successive seasons for Tampa, as well as driving in at least 100 runs each year. He finished second in the AL in homers and slugging in 2007, the year after the Sox had him. What's more, Pena won a Gold Glove in 2008.

Yes, Pena is just a career .248 hitter with a .356 OBP, but he sure would help the Red Sox a lot right now, as well as over the past two years.

At this point, it seems a foregone conclusion that the Red Sox will seek some offensive help before the season gets away from them. But acquiring any big-name slugger will be costly in terms of prospects. That's what makes giving up on Pena so quickly so lamentable right now.

Indeed, it's quite early in the 2010 season, and there are still a whopping 149 games to go. The Yankees started slowly last year, were five games out as of June 23, and had lost all eight games against the Red Sox at that point.

Things worked out well for the Yanks in the end. But right now, the way the Sox offense looks, it's tough to imagine the same happy ending for them.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

How Long can The Red Sox Wait on Ortiz With Hermida And Lowell In The Wings?

Red Sox manager Terry Francona currently faces two questions that are in essence one and the same; how much longer can he, in good conscience, continue to write David Ortiz's name into the lineup each day, and how much longer can he not write Jeremy Hermida's name into that lineup?

Ortiz has 13 whiffs in 26 at-bats. He has three walks and just four hits (Dustin Pedrioa had four in one game this week), one of which was a ball that bounced in and out of a Twins outfielder's glove. Another hit, an opposite-field double down the third-base line on Friday, was far more of an accident than an accomplishment given that the ball hit the top if his bat.

As of today, Ortiz is sporting a paltry .154 batting average.

Meanwhile, Herrnida notched a hit in his first game with the Sox last week. He had replaced Ortiz, who'd been ejected after arguing a called third strike. Hermida then hit a homer in his first start, which came the very next day. In all, Hermida has five hits in 17 at-bats, resulting in a .294 average. Naturally, this is a very small sample size, but four of the five hits were for extra bases and resulted in six RBI.

Hermida is just 26, and entering the prime of his career. He was the 11th player picked in the 2002 draft. He has a lot of upside and he needs at-bats. Yet, he was brought to the Red Sox to be a fourth outfielder, after being a starter in Florida.

Ortiz, on the other hand, has been in decline for two years. Though he hit 27 homers after June 6 last season, Ortiz had an abysmal first two months of the season, and finished the year batting .238. He followed that by batting .083 in the ALDS, and then proceeded to have a miserable spring training, at one point going 1-for-19.

Francona and hitting coach Dave Magadan said he was just working on his timing, and that it should be taken too seriously.

But his troubles have continued.

And then there''s Mike Lowell, who is unhappily sitting on the bench waiting his turn. In Saturday's game, he surprised many with a nifty diving backhanded stab that snared a ball seemingly destined for left field. Though he may still be a capable defender, with Adrain Beltre in front of him, time at third will be sparing.

But Lowell can still hit, and if Ortiz cannot, at-bats can be had in the role of DH. Lowell only has eight at-bats so far this season, resulting in two hits. But that's just two fewer than Ortiz in less than a third of the at-bats.

The point is, with the young and promising Hermida making a strong case for himself very quickly, and with the versatile veteran Lowell not so patiently awaiting his turn, Ortiz's days may be numbered unless he turns things around quickly.

There's no doubting that Ortiz cares; he was the first Red Sox player to arrive to the ballpark yesterday and took extra hitting,

A couple of years ago, Ortiz was one of the most feared hitters in baseball. Now, it's becoming obvious that teams are taking the bat out of Kevin Youkilis' hands by pitching around him. They no longer respect Ortiz and know he can't beat them.

It's all become so sad for Ortiz, so quickly. It's hard to watch because of all he meant to the team for so long. He was the face of the franchise, a huge man with swagger and a smiling face. Now that swagger is gone, replaced by slow, uncomfortable walks back to the dugout after each strikeout or pop out.


If Ortiz doesn't have one last resurgence very soon, a great Red Sox career will have prematurely ended. The Red Sox can't have him lingering and sulking on the bench.

The sad truth is, if Ortiz can't hit, he's useless to the Red Sox. In addition, Hermida and Lowell are waiting anxiously.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

A Stressed-Out David Ortiz Melts Down On Reporters

David Ortiz went on a profanity-laced tirade against reporters who questioned his 0-for-7 start this season. Ortiz is the only Red Sox regular without a hit after two games.

But that's just it; only two games have been played and perhaps it's premature to question Ortiz after just seven at-bats.

After everything he gave the Red Sox and their fans over his first five years in Boston, Ortiz feels that he's earned the benefit of the doubt.

However, while Ortiz can expect goodwill for his past exploits, it won't buy him acceptance for his current failures. Sports are a "what have you done for me lately?" business. No one would give the love to Jim Rice, Dwight Evans, or Mo Vaughn if they suited up tonight and took a spot in the lineup–unless they produced.

All of Ortiz's problems over the past two seasons are evident once again after just two games. The left-handed hitter is still pull happy, and a simple infield shift thwarts him. If he simply went the other way and hit the ball to left or center, his problems might be solved.

However, for long stretches last season, in the ALDS, and in spring training this year, Ortiz couldn't catch up to the fastball. And he's consistently fooled by the change-up as well, so his timing is off, leading him to pop up and foul off l too frequently.

Clearly, Ortiz is feeling the pressure, something he seemed immune to for many years.

You can't help but feel bad for him. For some guys, it all just slips away so quickly. I truly hope he recovers and he may, to some degree. But my bet is that Ortiz will never again be the hitter he once was, and he can't stand living in his own shadow. He raised the bar so high that he can't get over it any more.

Sure, writing him off at this point seems premature. After all, Josh Beckett and Jon Lester had rough outings this week as well, and no one is talking about jettisoning them.

But had Beckett or Lester been on a two-year downward trend, the media and fans would be a lot more concerned today due to their poor performances. However, based on their recent histories, we're all confident that those games were just aberrations.

And Jacoby Ellsbury was 0-for-5 on Opening Night. Yet, there were no worries due to his progression over the past couple of years.

Though Ortiz was solid after June 1 last year, he still slumped again in July, and batted .083 (1-for-12) with no walks and four K's in the ALDS. Including spring training, his two-year trend reveals a regression.

We're all pulling for the guy. The team really needs him to perform to achieve success, and avoid a desperate trade early in the season. The concern is that the last two years are not just an aberration. We can't forget that Ortiz batted .238 last season.

Unquestionably, Ortiz still has power; he just has to hit the ball cleanly for it to leave the park. The Red Sox would be better served if Ortiz hits .280 this season with just 25 homers, than if he hits .240 and somehow manages to smack 35 homers. The former would likely result in more runs than the latter.

Unfortunately, neither seems very likely.

After what we've seen the past two years, we can remain hopeful, if not optimistic.

Monday, April 05, 2010

A Good Start and Some Good Signs for Red Sox

Though the first game was a bit of a mixed bag, all's well that ends well.

Red Sox resident ace Josh Beckett looked rather ordinary on the mound, throwing 94 pitches in just 4.2 innings. In that span, Beckett surrendered eight hits, three walks, two home runs, and five runs in all. What's more, he had just one strike out, his fewest in nearly two years (June, 2007).

The good news was that the Red Sox came back from deficits of 5-1 and 7-5, scoring the winning run on a passed ball in the seventh.

And the Sox bullpen out dueled the Yankee pen, an optimistic sign for Sox fans everywhere.

Red Sox' bullpen: 4.1 innings, 4 hits, 2 earned runs, 3 walks, 1 strikeout
Yankees' bullpen: 2.2 innings, 6 hits, 3 earned runs, 2 walks, 1 strikeout

It was also encouraging to see the new guys get off to strong starts.

Adrian Beltre went 1 for 3 with two RBIs. Mike Cameron and Marco Scutaro were both 2 for 3. The trio accounted for five hits, two runs scored, two walks, three RBI – and no errors.

Beating the defending champs on Opening Night was uplifting for both the Red Sox and their fans, but as Kevin Youkilis noted, “We’ve still got 161 games to play.’’

Winning at home is one thing, but the Red Sox will need to get it done on the road this season as well.

The Red Sox were a very good home team last year, as they have been for much of the decade. In fact, since 2003, the Red Sox 373 wins, .294 average, 5.9 runs per game, and 1,411 doubles at home lead the Majors.

However, the team's glaring weakness in 2009 was that they were significantly better at home than on the road.

The Red Sox scored 481 runs at Fenway last year, leading 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 was their Achilles heel, and it was exploited by the Angels in the ALDS.

The Red Sox 2009 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 just 39-42 away from Fenway in 2009.

Much of that was due to the fact that the Sox batted just .257 on the road, a number that ranked ninth in the American League behind teams like Cleveland, Oakland and Chicago.

And they were 12th in slugging on the road, at .414. That was in direct contrast to their offense at home, where they were first in slugging, at .498, and fifth in average, at .294.

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

Those were the issues Theo Epstein and company hoped to address this offseason; they needed to create a team with more balance, and more offense away from Fenway.

While the consensus is that the Sox' GM significantly improved the club's pitching and defense, questions remain about the offense.

Once you get past the first four batters in the Red Sox order, the questions begin.

After batting just .238 last year, can David Ortiz still hit?

Is Adrian Beltre's shoulder fully healed, and can he recover his lost offense?

Can JD Drew stay healthy and productive for at least 140 games this year?

Will Mike Cameron's free swinging ways, low average, and high strike out rate prove to be a significant offensive liability?

Can Marco Scurato repeat his 2009 season?

Those questions are yet to be answered, and we may not know the truth until perhaps some time in late May. It should take that long to get a sense of the offense this roster can produce, and for each hitter's cold or hot starts to even out.

Last night was a good sign; the Red Sox scored nine runs with the help of just one homer, a two-run shot by Dustin Pedroia.

To be successful, they will need more road offense than last season, and more balance through batting order as well. If the 5-9 hitters can be productive, the Red Sox will be a premier team, one that can win the World Series.

But there are lots of "ifs". If every batter hits like he's capable of, this will be a very fun and interesting season for the Red Sox.

That remains to be seen, with 161 games still to play.