Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Likely 25-Man Roster As Red Sox Break Spring Training

It will be very interesting to see how the Red Sox 25-man roster finally shapes up as the team breaks camp in Fort Meyers.

There will be a few tough calls, in part because some players are out of options and can't be sent down to the minors.

The team will likely carry their customary 12-man pitching staff. Which players ultimately fill out the bullpen is still in flux.

Jonathan Papelbon, Daniel Bard, Hideki Okajima, Ramon Ramirez, and Manny Delcarmen seem to be assured spots. The remaining two are up fro grabs.

Scott Atchison, Boof Bonser, Joe Nelson, Alan Embree and Scott Schoeneweis are all battling for the last two spots.

Bonser, who is out of options, has had some groin problems this spring. So he'll start the season on the DL, which buys both him and the Red Sox some time.

Embree got shelled on Wednesday, and since there is just one more available spot for a lefty (in addition to Okajima), Schoeneweis will likely get the nod. Atchison, who has been praised by Terry Francona, will probably get the other spot.

The Sox will carry 13 position players, which means there are four open bench spots. Jason Varitek will get one of them, as will Jeremy Hermida.

This means that Tug Hulett and Josh Reddick (who have both opened some eyes this spring), plus the versatile Bill Hall and Mike Lowell are competing for the final two spots.

Hulett, who made his debut in 2008, still has options, So, he will likely start the season in Pawtucket, along with newly acquired infielder Kevin Frandsen.

It's unfortunate that Hulett won't break camp will the big league club because he's earned it. The 27-year-old has baited .289 this spring, has two homers (tied for second) and leads the team with 15 RBI.

Another casualty of the numbers game is Reddick. The young outfielder has had a fantastic spring, leading the club with a .393 batting average and a .696 slugging percentage. He also has two homers, nine doubles and nine RBI.

Despite making the case that he belongs on the big league roster, Reddick still has options and will start the season in the minors. Unfortunately for him, he will be the odd man out, though he has proven himself more deserving than other players.

Bill Hall, though he's batted just .196, will likely make the roster due to his versatility; Hall can play multiple infield and outfield positions.

Furthermore, the Red Sox gave up Casey Kotchman for him, so they probably feel compelled to see how the 30-year-old veteran fares over the season's first couple of months. If he doesn't perform, Hulett will be waiting.

If the Sox can trade Lowell, their roster problem is solved. They would just need to receive a minor league player in return, someone who doesn't need to go on the big league roster right away.

However, with David Ortiz's continuing struggles, the club may think twice before dealing Lowell, who seems to have found his stroke at the plate.

The Sox will have to pay at least $9 million of Lowell's salary to any trade partner. At that cost, it may make more sense just to keep the veteran third baseman. If the team is convinced he can occasionally play first, his value to them is only increased.

The roster will be finalized over the next couple days, at least publicly. The team has likely made its decisions internally at this point, and it will be interesting to see how it all plays out.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Waiting For David Ortiz To Rebound May Be Wishful Thinking

David Ortiz'z struggles in 2009 are well-documented.

Through 40 games and 149 at-bats last year, Ortiz was batting under .200 and had no home runs. By June 1, he was batting .185 and had one home run.

It was the longest power drought in history to start a season by a player who had hit 50 home runs in a season, as Ortiz did in 2006.

At the All-Star break, Ortiz was batting .222 with 12 homers and 47 RBI. And he continued to come on strong; over the last 69 games of the season, Ortiz hit .258 with 16 home runs and 52 RBI. And over the season's final 104 games, the Red Sox DH had 27 homers and 81 RBI.

But Ortiz went backward in the postseason, posting an anemic .083 batting average that was the result of one hit in 12 at-bats. There were no heroic home runs, no RBI, not even a walk. Ortiz had just one single and four strike outs.

The deep fears the Red Sox faced early in the season came back in a flash. Once again, Ortiz looked like a spent player.

And so far this spring, Ortiz has done nothing to convince anyone that he isn't a shell of the star he once was.

Through most of spring training, Ortiz has reverted, looking like a feeble, frustrated former slugger. He still can't consistently catch up to fastballs, and too often fouls off, pops up, or swings and misses.

In truth, Ortiz's struggles began in 2008, his worst year ever as a Red Sox player. That year he posted a .264/.369/.507 batting line that included just 23 home runs and 89 RBIs. He followed that by hitting .186 with just one home run in the postseason.

For two consecutive seasons, Ortiz has struck out more often than he's walked, a radical departure from his prime years.

And last year, though his power numbers advanced slightly from 2008, his averaged dipped to just .238. That was a huge decline for a player who had hit at least .300 three times in his first six years with the Sox.

Last season, scouts noted that Ortiz was aware he couldn't catch up to the fastball. So he cheated and started so early that he couldn't adjust to the breaking ball. Ortiz was late on fastballs, and early on breaking balls and change-ups.

As a result, teams just pounded Ortiz with fastballs inside because he couldn't consistently drive them.

Red Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan diagnosed Ortiz's problems last year.

"When you start earlier you've got to make up your mind sooner about whether to swing and when you do that you swing at a lot of balls out of the strike zone. When you're able to wait and allow the ball to travel, your ball-strike recognition is better. Once he has trust in being short and direct to the ball, that's when he's going to recognize pitches a little better and that's when we're going to see him driving the ball."

What's worrisome is that Ortiz hasn't been able to maintain proper adjustments, and his negative tendencies have returned.

This spring, through 53 at-bats, Ortiz is hitting .226 with 12 strike outs. He has no walks and a .293 on-base percentage.

It's part of a decline that's been ongoing for a couple of years. However, now that he's in the final year of a contract that will pay him $12.5 million this year, the Red Sox may not be as patient as they were last year.

If Ortiz continues to struggle early on, the Red Sox will likely cut bait and make a move for a reliable hitter.

Ortiz's rapid fade is eerily reminiscent of another former Sox star. Jim Rice was an MVP candidate in 1986, declined rapidly, and was completely washed up by '89. He was just 36 at the time.

Like Rice, the 34-year-old Ortiz has often been mislabeled as a slugger. Both players were viewed as power hitters because each had a proclivity for home runs.

But the truth is, in their primes, both were simply great hitters. Both players hit over .300 numerous times, and because they were big, strong men who often made contact, balls regularly left the park.

But when vision goes, as was the case with Rice, it's over. And when bat speed decreases, as seems to be the case with Ortiz, a hitter's career faces the same consequences.

Just like Rice's sudden and rapid decline, watching David Ortiz wilt is both sad and disappointing.

The Red Sox were hoping for one last hurrah from Ortiz this year, but that appears to be nothing more than wishful thinking at this point.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Will The Red Sox Get Big Papi or Just David Ortiz?

Over the past couple of seasons, the rapid decline of David Ortiz has been somewhat spectacular.

Ortiz has not hit 30 or more home runs since 2007. His batting average dropped to .264 in 2008, and .238 last year. Meanwhile, his OBP dipped to an anemic .332 last season.

In 2006 and '07, Ortiz had more walks than strikeouts. But last season, Ortiz struck out 134 times and drew 74 walks. And in '08, Ortiz posted 74 strike outs 70 walks.

His current trend is a bad one. He has been going in the wrong direction for two straight years.

That's why there was so much interest in Ortiz going into spring training. If Ortiz swings a potent bat this season, the Red Sox offense will be all the better for it.

But there is reason for concern.

The Red Sox DH started miserably last year, and looked impotent for two solid months. At times Ortiz seemed to lack a pulse. But he still managed to finish the year with 28 homers and 99 RBI. While those are solid numbers for most hitters, they were tepid for the player who became a cult hero over his first five years in Boston.

Much to everyone's disappointment, Ortiz is hitting .214 since the start of spring training. Sadly, many of us are hardly surprised. The scary thought is that, at age 34, Ortiz may be washed up. He looks the same way he did for much of last year at the plate; lost.

Ortiz is fond of saying, "It's not how you start – it's how you finish."

But considering that this is his last year under contract in Boston, if he doesn't start strong, he may not finish the season in Boston.

Mike Lowell is still on the roster, and if he's healthy (a big "if" at this point), he could be seen as a better alternative in the DH spot. Ortiz is a very one-dimensional player; all stick, no glove. And if he has no stick, then what's his value and function?

Lowell suffered a left knee contusion in today's game, the effects of which are unknown at present.

Perhaps of greater concern, he told reporters the other day that his right hip may never recover the mobility he'd been hoping for. He also recognizes that he may be best suited for a DH role in the AL.

While that doesn't exactly inspire hope that he'll ever be the stellar defensive player he once was, Lowell still believes he can hit and there's little reason to doubt him.

Despite his hip injury and subsequent surgery in 2008, Lowell has remained an offensive threat.

That year, Lowell was still a productive hitter, batting .274 with 17 homers, 73 RBI, and a .798 OPS. He followed that last season by batting .290 with 17 homers, 75 RBI, and an .811 OPS.

So while his eventual trade has been widely viewed as a foregone conclusion, given David Ortiz's continued struggles, that may not be the case after all.

Will The Red Sox Get Big Papi or Just David Ortiz?

Over the past couple of seasons, the rapid decline of David Ortiz has been somewhat spectacular.

Ortiz has not hit 30 or more home runs since 2007. His batting average dropped to .264 in 2008, and .238 last year. Meanwhile, his OBP dipped to an anemic .332 last season.

In 2006 and '07, Ortiz had more walks than strikeouts. But last season, Ortiz struck out 134 times and drew 74 walks. And in '08, Ortiz posted 74 strike outs 70 walks.

His current trend is a bad one. He has been going in the wrong direction for two straight years.

That's why there was so much interest in Ortiz going into spring training. If Ortiz swings a potent bat this season, the Red Sox offense will be all the better for it.

But there is reason for concern.

The Red Sox DH started miserably last year, and looked impotent for two solid months. At times Ortiz seemed to lack a pulse. But he still managed to finish the year with 28 homers and 99 RBI. While those are solid numbers for most hitters, they were tepid for the player who became a cult hero over his first five years in Boston.

Much to everyone's disappointment, Ortiz is hitting .214 since the start of spring training. Sadly, many of us are hardly surprised. The scary thought is that, at age 34, Ortiz may be washed up. He looks the same way he did for much of last year at the plate; lost.

Ortiz is fond of saying, "It's not how you start – it's how you finish."

But considering that this is his last year under contract in Boston, if he doesn't start strong, he may not finish the season in Boston.

Mike Lowell is still on the roster, and if he's healthy (a big "if" at this point), he could be seen as a better alternative in the DH spot. Ortiz is a very one-dimensional player; all stick, no glove. And if he has no stick, then what's his value and function?

Lowell suffered a left knee contusion in today's game, the effects of which are unknown at present.

Perhaps of greater concern, he told reporters the other day that his right hip may never recover the mobility he'd been hoping for. He also recognizes that he may be best suited for a DH role in the AL.

While that doesn't exactly inspire hope that he'll ever be the stellar defensive player he once was, Lowell still believes he can hit and there's little reason to doubt him.

Despite his hip injury and subsequent surgery in 2008, Lowell has remained an offensive threat.

That year, Lowell was still a productive hitter, batting .274 with 17 homers, 73 RBI, and a .798 OPS. He followed that last season by batting .290 with 17 homers, 75 RBI, and an .811 OPS.

So while his eventual trade has been widely viewed as a foregone conclusion, given David Ortiz's continued struggles, that may not be the case after all.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Nomar Garciaparra Retires as a Red Sox

Nomar Garciaparra retiring as a member of the Red Sox is quite fitting. Garciaparra was the face of the franchise for many years.

The shortstop established himself by winning Rookie of the Year in 1997. It was an eye-popping season in which he hit .306 with 122 runs, 44 doubles, 30 homers, 98 RBI, and 22 steals.

In the process, Garciaparra set new MLB records for RBI by a leadoff hitter and most homers by a rookie shortstop. In addition, his 30-game hitting streak also set an AL rookie record. To top it all off, he won the Silver Slugger Award that year.

The Red Sox, and the rest of baseball, knew there were great things to come from the burgeoning young star, and for the better part of the next six years he delivered.

Garciaparra won consecutive AL batting titles in 1999 (.357) and 2000 (.372), becoming just the fourth Red Sox player to accomplish this feat. He was also the first right-handed batter to win consecutive batting titles since Joe DiMaggio. His .372 average in 2000 is the fourth highest in club history.

But a wrist injury in spring training of 2001 ruined his season and was an omen of the injuries that would plague him for the rest of his career. Unknown at that time was that Garciaparra suffered from a degenerative disease that affected his tendons and made him more susceptible to injury.

However, Garciaparra bounced back strongly in the 2002 season, batting .310 with 24 homers and 120 RBI while leading the league with 56 doubles.

In 2003, Garciaparra was second in the Majors in triples (13), fifth in the AL in hits (198), and second in the AL in runs scored (120). Though his average dropped from previous highs, he still managed to hit .301.

Yet the shine was beginning to come off his star in Boston.

Following that season, the Red Sox tried to trade Manny Ramirez to Texas for Alex Rodriguez, who would have supplanted Garciaparra at short. Meanwhile, Garciaparra was to have been traded to the White Sox for Magglio Ordonez. But the Rodriguez trade was aborted due to protests from the players union over the restructuring of his contract.

From that point, the die was cast; Nomar's days in Boston were numbered.

From this vantage point, it's hard to believe that there was once a healthy debate over who was the better shortstop, Garciaparra, Rodriguez, or Derek Jeter. But from 1998-2000, Garciaparra had the highest career OPS of the three, and from 1997-2003, he ranked second in the AL with a .325 batting average.

The trade of Garciaparra at the deadline in 2004 is now the stuff of legend. Many believe that it was the impetus for the club's first World Series Championship in 86 years.

Once loved more than any other player by Red Sox Nation, Nomar was quickly forgotten.

But what can't be forgotten are Garciaparra's impressive stats as a member of the Red Sox.

During his nine seasons in Boston, Garciaparra compiled a .323 batting average, 178 homers, and 690 RBI in 966 games. He tallied 100 runs six times, 100 RBI four times, and 25 homers four times.

He is fourth in club history in career batting average (.323) and fifth in slugging (.553) among players with at least 1,500 at-bats.

Garciaparra also ranks among Boston’s top 15 in career doubles (ninth, 279), extra-base hits (ninth, 507), home runs (11th, 178), total bases (11th, 2,194), runs (12th, 709), and hits (14th, 1,281).

It also shouldn't be forgotten that he was voted onto five All-Star teams as a member of the Red Sox, and six in total.

Some accused Garciaparra of not being tough enough to play through his injuries during his time in Boston. But at the time, no one was aware of the disease that afflicted him.

As a member of the Cubs, Garciaparra tore the muscles in his groin while running to first during spring training in 2005. The injury effectively ruined his season. However, he rebounded strongly in 2006, winning the NL Comeback Player of the Year Award.

Allowing Nomar Garciaparra to sign a one-day minor league contract and retire as a member of the Red Sox was a very gracious gesture and the appropriate move by the organization. He is undoubtedly one of the greatest players in team history.

As Curt Schilling noted after the 2004 World Series victory, if not for Nomar, the Sox might not have been in a position to win at all.

Hopefully that will never be forgotten—nor should Nomar's numerous illustrious achievements as a member of the Red Sox.

He is among the team's greats, and today was indeed a very fitting day.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

2010 Red Sox Rotation: New & Improved

There is a widespread consensus that the Red Sox starting rotation was significantly improved this winter. But while most of that improvement is attributed to the signing of John Lackey, there is more to it than just that.

Lackey will no doubt improve the Sox rotation. But in addition to adding the best free agent pitcher on the market, the Red Sox improved their rotation through subtraction.

The Red Sox gave 38 starts to three pitchers (Brad Penny, John Smoltz and Paul Byrd) who posted a cumulative 6.17 ERA last season, and who are no longer with the organization.

Last year, the Red Sox pitching staff often struggled after Josh Beckett and Jon Lester took their turns. The Sox received a quality start only 40 percent of the time last year when someone other than Lester or Beckett took the ball.

However, those struggles went beyond the shortcomings of Penny, Smoltz and Byrd.

Daisuke Matsuzaka was injured and ineffective most of the season, as was Tim Wakefield in the second half. But to the surprise of many, newcomers Penny and Smoltz didn't pan out nearly as well as projected.

In fact, there were 55 games last season in which Red Sox pitchers had a combined 6..28 ERA.

But this year, a healthy and in shape Daisuke Matsuzaka is returning. Dice-K's performance was awful in the eight games before going on the DL. However, in four games after returning, he threw six-plus innings per start and put up an ERA of 2.22.

The Red Sox need more of that pitcher, not the one who who's innings per start have been in steady decline. Dice-K's innings per start have dropped from 6.4 in 2007, to 5.8 in 2008, down to 4.9 last year.

Though Matsuzaka won 33 games over his first two seasons (the fourth most in baseball), of the 12 pitchers to win at least 30 games in that span, he ranked last in innings pitched.

With Clay Buchholz poised to join the rotation on a full-time basis, in addition to the 31-year-old Lackey, the Sox rotation will be a lot younger this season. Gone are the elder-statesmen Smotlz and Byrd, and Wakefield will likely have a diminished role.

Indeed, I do believe that Buchholz is a lock for one of the five rotation spots. Red Sox management believes that he is ready to finally break out, and that he can win as many as 12-15 games this year.

The fifth spot will come down to the health and effectiveness of Matsuzaka and Wakefield. Despite Matsuzka's recent back issues, being 14 years Wakefield's junior likely gives him the advantage.

The hope is that by getting younger the rotation will also be healthier and more effective this season. On Opening Day, Lackey will be 31, Beckett will be 30, Matsuzaka 29, Lester 26, and Buchholz 25. The seasoned veteran, Wakefield, will be 43.

The Sox rotation will be bolstered by three pitchers in the primes of their careers who have each won the deciding game of a World Series (Lackey, Becket and Lester). Each of them would be a viable no. 1 stater on almost any rotation.

However, nothing is guaranteed; the trio still has to go out and prove that they are the best front line in the Majors. If anyone gets injured, the team's high expectations could be dashed. After all, starting pitching should be one of the Red Sox' overwhelming strengths this year.

Lackey should certainly be an asset to the team's rotation; he has a career 3.81 ERA, all in the AL. And he can be innings eater, having reached 200 innings in four seasons, and 198 in another.

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

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

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

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

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

So, there is legitimate reason for concern. Lackey has pitched in – and won – some big games. But his resume does have holes.

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

The Red Sox invested a lot in John Lackey, and they have a lot riding on that investment. At the outset, given his age, experience and history, he seems a better bet for success than Brad Penny, John Smoltz or Paul Byrd ever did last year.

If healthy, the Red Sox' staff should be among the elite rotations in the Majors in 2010, and perhaps beyond.