Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

For Red Sox, Like All Others, Prospects Are a Gamble, Not a Guarantee

Pawtucket outfield prospect Ryan Kalish is escorted from the field by a team trainer on April 21, 2011

According to Alex Speier of WEEI, Ryan Kalish will undergo season-ending surgery on Thursday. Kalish has a bulging disc in his cervical spine that is impinging a nerve.

Kalish played only 22 games for Class AAA Pawtucket this season because of a partial tear of the labrum in his left shoulder, which occurred while diving for a ball in the outfield in April.

That was then followed by the disc problem in his neck.

This season turned out to be an utter disaster for the highly-touted Kalish, as the back-to-back injuries disrupted his development and progress.

However, Kalish, who turns 24 in March, is expected to be ready for spring training. But who knows how he'll be playing at that time, and what may have been lost due to the combination of injuries and all that time off.

Just last year, nearly everyone was penciling in Kalish as JD Drew's right field replacement for 2012 and beyond. But this year, he got hurt and you hardly heard his name mentioned.

Soon enough, Josh Reddick emerged and suddenly he was the Sox' future right fielder. But ultimately Reddick's hitting cooled off considerably and some of the former shine was gone.

Reddick's future at this point? Who knows?

There are countless cautionary tales about prospects. Some come with a lot of hype and don't pan out as projected. Others are derailed by injury.

Ryan Westmoreland was the No. 1 prospect in the Red Sox' system two years ago, well ahead of Kalish and Reddick. Then he had brain-stem surgery to save his life, and now he's not even on the radar anymore.

It would be a miracle if Westmoreland even makes it back to Triple A, where he left off.

Prospects are a gamble. There are always guys like the much-heralded Brian Rose, a can't-miss Sox prospect who missed.

Then there are guys like Justin Masterson, traded for Cleveland catcher Victor Martinez in 2009, who will likely haunt the Red Sox for years to come.

Who knows if Casey Kelly, Anthony Rizzo and Reymond Fuentes will all become future All Stars? Maybe it will be just one of them will, or perhaps none at all? But the Red Sox undoubtedly got a perennial All Star in return, Adrian Gonzalez.

It's important to remember that prospects aren't just valuable in terms of their direct future impact on your big league ball club, but also in what they might procure in a trade.

When dealing, or dealing with, prospects, there will always be winners and losers — in many ways.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Jacoby Ellsbury Emerging As An Elite Player

Against the Yankees yesterday, Jacoby Ellsbury belted a home run and drove in six runs to help the Red Sox to a 10-4 victory.

The performance exemplified the stellar season the Red Sox' leadoff hitter is having.

Ellsbury is batting .321 with 19 homers, 72 RBIs and 31 stolen bases. Incredibly, 13 of those home runs have come in the last month.

Prior to this year, Ellsbury's single season highs were nine home runs (2008) and 60 RBI (2009). In fact, Ellsbury's career home run total was just 20; he is now just two home runs away from surpassing that total.

Remarkably, Ellsbury has more homers than proven sluggers Adrian Gonzalez, Alex Rodriguez, Matt Holliday, Jayson Werth and Adam Dunn.

Frankly, Ellsbury looks as much like a middle-of-the-order hitter as a leadoff hitter.

Ellsbury hit eight home runs in July, the second highest by any Red Sox center fielder in one month since 1946. In May 2000, Carl Everett had nine.

The Sox' center fielder has suddenly emerged as a super star.

Among all Major Leaguers, Ellsbury is 20th in slugging, 16th in RBI, 9th in batting, 6th in steals, 5th in doubles, 4th in hits and 2nd in runs.

The most stunning aspect is that he's a leadoff hitter.

If he continues to play this way, Ellsbury will likely be among the Most Valuable Player Award candidates at season's end.

Ellsbury becomes a free agent following the 2013 season, meaning the Red Sox have him under their control for just two more years. After that, he will be available to the highest bidder.

Ellsbury will be 30-years-old at that time, and given that Scott boras is his agent, he will become a very rich man.

The Sox certainly have the money to pay Ellsbury. But if Carl Crawford is worth $142 million, how much is Ellsbury worth?

It seems the Sox shot themselves in the foot with the Crawford deal.

His poor 2011 season aside, it's hard to see how Crawford ever lives up to that contract. No player who had ever failed to hit at least 20 homers in a season had previously been given a $20 million-per-year deal.

A contract of that size is certainly a lot to live up to, and already it appears to be weighing on Crawford.

The Crawford pact has totally altered the baseball landscape. Not only had the left fielder never hit 20 home runs in a season, he had never driven in 100 runs, never slugged .500, never had an OBP above .364 and never had 200 hits in any season.

On the other hand, Ellsbury is on the verge of doing all of that.

Crawford's greatest assets are his speed and defense. Yet, this season, Crawford has just 85 hits, 17 doubles and 13 stolen bases. His base-stealing prowess has been diminished by a meager .287 OBP.

What's more, playing in Fenway Park's shallow left field has muted most of Crawford's speed and defensive skills. Simply put, those skills are being wasted in at least 81 home games a season.

Boras will surely use Crawford as a yardstick for his client. But given that Ellsbury is excelling in areas that leadoff hitters aren't normally expected to, Boras may also compare his client to middle-of-the-order hitters, like Adrian Gonzalez and Mark Teixeira, both of whom got substantially bigger contracts than Crawford.

It's worth saying again; Ellsbury is poised to become an exceedingly rich man at just 30-years of age.

The Red Sox may ultimately regret Carl Crawford's excessive contract; not just because he'll likely fail to earn it, but because of how much it will cost to retain Ellsbury just two years from now.

Having proved himself to be among the elite players in the game today, the emerging super star, Ellsbury, is earning it — unlike Crawford.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Red Sox Roll Dice With Erik Bedard & Hope for the Best

The Red Sox' motivation in trading for Erik Bedard yesterday is glaringly obvious; the organization surely knew the prognosis for Clay Buchholz was not good.

Additionally, John Lackey has a 6.20 ERA, Andrew Miller has a 5.36 ERA and Tim Wakefield has a 5.06 ERA. With three-fifths of the starting rotation possessing ERAs north of 5.00, management was prompted to action.

So, the Sox rolled the dice and traded for an injury-plagued 32-year-old lefty who spent four full seasons (2004-'07) pitching for the Baltimore Orioles in the highly competitive AL East.

The upside for the Red Sox is that Bedard is AL East battle-tested. However, he has never appeared in the post-season.

Pitching for an absolutely horrible Seattle team this year, Bedard was 4-7 with a 3.45 ERA. The latter is the more important statistic here.

Bedard is a control pitcher who throws between 93-95 miles per hour with a good curveball. This season, he has rung up 87 strikeouts and walked just 30 batters in 91 1/3 innings. That's a nearly 3-to-1 strikeout ratio.

Though Bedard has made 16 starts this year, he missed all of last season with an injury to his pitching shoulder. And that's the worry; even before missing all of 2010, Bedard had made just 15 starts in both 2008 and 2009.

However, the Canadian has a 2.35 ERA in his last 12 starts dating to April 27, which ranks fourth among American League pitchers with at least 70 innings during that span.

That kind of performance is no fluke; since 2006, Bedard leads all AL pitchers with a .231 opponents’ batting average and 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings.

And among major leaguers who have thrown at least 500 innings since the start of the 2006 season, Bedard ranks 15th in ERA with a 3.41 mark, slightly ahead of Matt Cain (3.43), Dan Haren (3.44) and Zack Greinke (3.45), and just behind Cole Hamels (3.40).

These statistics provide a sense of the pitcher the Red Sox just traded for, or at least the kind of potential he possesses.

Yet, the enduring question that has plagued Bedard over the past four years is whether he can remain healthy. In fact, the lefty has made just 107 starts over the past six seasons, while a healthy starter might have been expected to make 170-180.

If you're an optimist, you can take solace in the fact that Bedard's latest DL stint was the result of a left knee sprain.

So far this season, the veteran hurler's arm appears healthy. Guys with bum shoulders don't typically throw 93-95 miles per hour.

The Red Sox knew this. They read all the reports in Bedard's medical history and scouted him consistently since spring training. Obviously, management felt confident enough to consummate the deal.

But, given Buchholz's status, their backs were clearly against the wall.

Right now, the Red Sox have just two reliable starters — Josh Beckett and Jon Lester. As good as that duo is, they can't win the Pennant on their own.

So the Sox will hope for the best from John Lackey and their newly acquired lefty. If the two pitch up to their full potential, the Red Sox may be unstoppable in their quest for another World Series title.

If they don't, we may all remember this as yet another season lost.