Thursday, January 27, 2011
For the most part, there will be little drama and little suspense.
The Red Sox will enter spring training with virtual locks at almost every position — except the bullpen.
Beginning just 18 days from now, the battle of the lefty relievers will present the greatest level of competition and intrigue. Currently, the Red Sox have Andrew Miller, Rich Hill, Lenny DiNardo, and Hideki Okajima battling for just one spot.
Though the Sox want lefty Felix Doubront to be a starter and to begin the year in Pawtucket, if no one else steps up, he will be strongly considered for a spot in the pen.
And there is still the possibility of another free agent being added to the mix. The agent for lefty Joe Beimel says the Sox are one of five teams pursuing his client, and that a decision could come as soon as today.
Here's a look at the current crop of lefty candidates for the Red Sox:
The 30-year-old Hill has a devastating curveball, resulting in 358 strikeouts in 399.1 career innings. But he's had trouble locating in the past. Over parts of six major league seasons, including 84 appearances and 70 starts, Hill has a career 22-20 record and a 4.82 ERA.
After spending 2004-2006 with the Red Sox, the 31-year-old DiNardo is back with the team again. The lefty has a 5.36 ERA over six seasons and, consequently, was only granted a minor league deal by the club. Undoubtedly, he is a long shot. However, he does have Major League experience and may find a role in the pen at some point this season.
DiNardo had surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow last August. It remains to be seen how that affects his ability to pitch or his mechanics. DiNardo was with the A's at the time, and Oakland director of player development Keith Lieppman described the lefty as having "a miraculously quick recovery."
The 35-year-old Okajima dealt with a dead arm and back problems throughout last season, his worst in four years with the Red Sox. But it was merely a continuation of a very troubling, longer term trend.
For four consecutive seasons, Okajima's ERA has steadily risen, more than doubling from 2.22 in 2007 to 4.50 last year. Of equal concern, over that same span, the soft-tossing lefty's WHIP has also risen continually, going from 0.97 in 2007, all the way to 1.72 in 2010. Lastly, Okajima's strikeout total has also dropped for three straight seasons.
"Hello, Boston? We have a problem."
The 6'7" Miller possesses a fastball that has been clocked at 100 mph. New pitching coach Curt Young recently worked with Miller at Boston College, which can only be a good thing. Miller has long had trouble with his command, but if that powerful fastball can be harnessed, the Sox may have found a diamond in the rough.
Young is working with Miller on refining his delivery and mechanics, which clearly got out of whack since leaving college. Miller was named Baseball America National Player of the Year, and won the Roger Clemens Award as the nation's top collegiate pitcher, in 2006.
That same year, Miller was the sixth pick in the draft and was rushed to the majors after just three weeks. He was given no time to develop and it showed; Miller posted a 5.84 ERA in 79 appearances over parts of five seasons. However, he is still just 25 years old.
With five years of service time, Miller is out of options. Yet, he accepted a minor league contract with the Red Sox, so he can start the season in the minors, if necessary.
However, once he joins the big league club, he must remain with the team. Miller would first need to pass through waivers before being allowed to go back to the minors.
If Miller doesn't make the team out of spring training, he will likely begin the season as a starter in Pawtucket and continue his development.
There will be plenty of competition for just one spot, and that will be one of the most interesting things to monitor in Fort Meyers when spring training opens on February 15th.
Currently, the bullpen looks like this: Jonathan Papelbon, closer; Daniel Bard and Bobby Jenks, setup; Dan Wheeler, Matt Albers, and Scott Atchison, middle; Tim Wakefield, long relief/situational.
That's seven relievers right there, before the Sox have even determined who their lefty is. Given that the club will only break camp with seven relievers, an excess already exists in the reliever core, even before a much-needed lefty wins the final spot.
Something's got to give, and somebody's got to go. The Sox will undoubtedly carry a lefty, which makes it a good bet that either Albers or Atchison won't make the team out of spring training.
As they say, stay tuned...
Monday, January 24, 2011
Some potential Hall of Famers have had a hard time finding work this winter, while others have had to settle for rather humbling deals.
The Twins signed 40-year-old DH Jim Thome to a one-year, $3 million deal. And Tampa came to terms with 38-year-old DH Manny Ramirez on a one-year deal for just $2 million.
Ramirez made $45 million over the past two seasons. That's quite a pay cut.
Thome had 25 homers and a 1.039 OPS over 340 plate appearances last season. Ramirez had a .298 average and an .870 OPS over 320 PAs.
The A's signed 36-year-old DH Hideki Matsui, to a one-year, $4.25 million deal.
Matsui batted .274 with 21 homers and 84 RBI for the Angels last season. Though not a HOF candidate, Matsui can still produce and the A's got him at an affordable price.
Meanwhile, 35-year-old free agent DH Vladimir Guerrero is still seeking a job.
Of the 11 players last season who hit at least .300, had 25 homers and 100 RBI, Guerrero had the fewest strikeouts (60). Yet no one wants him?
On the other hand, David Ortiz had an .899 OPS over 600 PAs last season, and received a one-year, $12.5 million extension from the Red Sox.
After two years of precipitous decline, the 35-year-old Ortiz brought his average back up to .270 in 2010, and led the team with 32 homers and 102 RBI.
Yet, given the recent developments in the DH market, it looks like Ortiz held a gun to the Red Sox and robbed them blind.
Remember those stories about him possibly being upset about having to take a one-year deal? That seems highly doubtful now. To the contrary, he must feel like one very lucky man.
From 2005-08, Ortiz had a strikeout percentage of 16.4 and a home run percentage of 6.2. However, over the last two seasons, Ortiz's strikeout percentage leapt to 22.6 percent, while his home run percentage dropped to 4.9 percent.
Ortiz struck out a career-high 145 times last season, eclipsing his previous career-high of 134, set in 2009. Setting career highs in strikeouts in back-to-back seasons, at his age, is an ominous sign.
Over his first five seasons in Boston, Ortiz batted .302. But those days are now long gone. Over the past three seasons, his batting average has dropped to just .257.
Without question, Ortiz is a player in decline and he will be grossly overpaid this season. He is probably worth $5 million per year at this point, but the Red Sox didn't want to deal with a malcontent in their clubhouse or on their bench this season.
If Ortiz has another year that mirrors the last, the Red Sox will feel satisfied with his high price tag. However, if he underperforms, they'll have to take solace in the fact that it's only a one-year deal.
Ortiz should feel grateful for his current pact. Never again will he merit a contract with such a high annual value. He will be lucky to make half his $12 million salary in 2012.
But the slugger's place in Red Sox history seems quite secure, another reason for him to feel content.
With 291 homers as a member of the Red Sox, this season Ortiz 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 fine company.
And, with 932 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).
Additionally, with 349 career homers (as a member of the Twins and Red Sox), Ortiz has a reasonable shot at 400 for his career. He needs to average about 25 homers over the next two years to reach the mark, which is certainly possible.
Unlike his contemporaries at the DH spot, Ortiz didn't have to take a pay cut and resort to one-year deal with a new team this winter.
The pay cut will come in 2012, but hopefully it will be with Boston. If Ortiz performs up to par, that would be the best thing for both him and the Red Sox.
Friday, January 07, 2011
The Rangers signing of Adrian Beltre is good news for the Red Sox. The Sox will get Texas' first round pick in the June draft, No. 26 overall, as compensation for losing Beltre, plus a supplemental first rounder.
If Beltre had signed with the Angels or Athletics, whose first-round picks are protected, the return would have been only a supplemental first rounder and a second rounder.
The only way this could change is if the Rangers subsequently sign a more highly ranked Type A free agent than Beltre, such as closer Rafael Soriano. In that case, the Rangers' first-round pick would go to Tampa Bay. Texas has been rumored to be interested in Soriano this offseason.
However, Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports reports that the Rangers do not plan to pursue Soriano.
All of this has worked out quite nicely for the Red Sox. This is the last year that the draft will exist in its current form, and it is projected to be one of the best drafts in years. The 2012 draft is likely to have strict rules (like the NBA and NFL) to control salaries. So the 2011 draft will be especially valuable.
Under the current MLB agreement, there are no fixed rules to determine the financial slotting of draft picks; there are only parameters, which are often ignored. In the past, the Sox have selected hard-to-sign players after the first round by throwing large amounts of money at them. Smaller market teams cannot afford to do that.
So the Sox did quite well in stocking up on draft picks while they could. This will allow them to rebuild their farm system, which took a hit when the Sox traded three top prospects for Adrian Gonzalez.
Boston now has the No. 19 (from the Tigers for Victor Martinez) and No. 26 picks. Though they lost their own first-round selection (No. 24) to the Rays for signing Carl Crawford, the Red Sox will ultimately end up with six of the first 80 or so picks.
So, the Red Sox turned Adrian Beltre, Victor Martinez, three prospects and their own first round pick into Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and four draft picks. Beltre and Martinez would have cost them at least $27 million in 2011. Gonzalez and Crawford will get $26.3 million. That's a well-orchestrated offseason.
The Sox, publicly at least, expressed an interest in retaining Beltre. However, during the winter meetings, it was reported that that they would go no to more than four years, $52 million for him. That's a long way from the six years, $96 million he got from Texas (have the Rangers gone insane?).
The Sox will certainly miss Beltre. His 79 extra-base hits last season were the most ever by a Red Sox third baseman.
Over the last two seasons, the top four Red Sox OPS leaders were: Kevin Youkilis, .967 in 853 at-bats; Jason Bay, .921 in 531 at-bats; Adrian Beltre, .919 in 589 at-bats; and Victor Martinez, .865 in 704 at-bats.
The Red Sox are now without three of those four talented players. Yet, the acquisitions of Gonzalez and Crawford should compensate for the losses of Beltre and Martinez this offseason.
Ultimately, the Sox got younger and improved their prospects in a critical draft that is just five months away.
This offseason has gone about as well as anyone could have hoped. As a result of the moves made this winter, the Red Sox appear to have set themselves up to be contenders for years to come.
Sunday, January 02, 2011
In order to be the World Series contenders that many people expect them to be this season, the Red Sox will need all five of their starters to pitch up to their potential.
Last season, Red Sox starting pitching was inconsistent, at best. Despite the rash of injuries, poor starting pitching—more than anything else—was the reason for the Sox' disappointing season.
In 2011, the Red Sox will return an intact rotation, comprised of Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Josh Beckett, John Lackey and Daiuske Matsuzaka.
Without question, Lester and Buchholz have become the staff aces and are among the elite pitchers in the game. Both pitchers are only 26 years old, still improving, and should contend for the Cy Young this season.
Lester finished fourth in the AL Cy Young Award voting after going 19-9 with a 3.25 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 225 strikeouts last season. He overcame a slow start (0-2, 8.44 ERA) and finished the season as arguably the best pitcher in the AL, posting a 19-7 record, 2.81 ERA and 9.89 strikeouts per nine innings.
For his part, Buchholz went 17-7 with a phenomenal 2.33 ERA and 1.20 WHIP.
However, after that young, dynamic duo, the rest of the Sox' starters were huge disappointments. Beckett, Lackey and Matsuzaka combined for over $39 million dollars in salary and an unimpressive 4.84 ERA. For comparison's sake, the entire payrolls of the 2010 Pirates and Padres were the same as, or less than, what the Boston trio made.
Beckett and Matsuzaka fell prey to injuries and never found the form that had made them successful in the past. Lackey was hardly the pitcher the Red Sox were expecting when they signed him last winter and had a lackluster first season in Boston.
Beckett posted a career high 5.78 ERA and 1.54 WHIP. Over the previous three years with the Red Sox, he was 49-23 with a 3.71 ERA and sub 1.20 WHIP.
Lackey posted a 4.40 ERA, the first time his average exceeded 4.00 since 2004. And his 1.42 WHIP was tied for the highest of his career (2003).
Matsuzaka went 9-6 with a 4.69 ERA. Though he had moments of brilliance (like his one-hitter against the Phillies in May), they were far too infrequent and he typically looked like a shadow of the pitcher who went 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA in 2008.
Though the Red Sox let Victor Martinez and Adrian Beltre walk, two of their premier hitters in 2010, the offense should be at least as good (if not better) with the additions of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. But after scoring 818 runs last season (good enough for second in the AL), offense was not the Red Sox shortcoming.
And the additions of Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler, should improve the Red Sox bullpen markedly this season.
For the Red Sox to win the AL Pennant, and ultimately the World Series, all five of their starters must stay healthy and pitch their absolute best in 2011. All of the starters need to consistently make quality starts and go deep into games, taking pressure off the bullpen.
As we saw last season, the Red Sox cannot get by on offense alone. Amongst AL teams, the Red Sox were first in total bases, second in homers, second in runs, second in slugging and third in on-base percentage.
Yet, the Red Sox won just 89 games and missed the playoffs. It was just the second time since 2002 that the Sox failed to win 90 games, and just the second in 13 seasons that they failed to finish in first or second place in the AL East.
All that offense in 2010 couldn't overcome the disappointing efforts of three-fifths of the rotation.
Red Sox starting pitching allowed 517 runs in 2010, fifth worst in the AL. Their 1.35 WHIP was also fifth worst in the AL. Additionally, Red Sox starters allowed a league-high 383 walks, well above the league average of 330, and hit the most batters in the league (45).
The upside is that Sox starters struck out a league-high 833 batters, held opposing batters to a .254 average (fourth-best in the AL), and gave up just 89 home runs, lowest in the league.
Unless the rotation repeats the latter statistics and not the former, the Red Sox new lineup and bullpen won't matter much.
On paper, at least, the Red Sox appear to be the team to beat in 2011. But now they actually have to go out, play the games, and win. There are always surprises. Who picked the Giants to be World Series Champions at this time last year?
It's long been said that pitching wins championships. Without it, the Red Sox may be just another in a long list of overpaid, underachieving teams through baseball history.