Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Monday, February 20, 2012

Red Sox Facing Series of Questions in 2012

Going into the 2012 season, the Red Sox have this trio. And then who?

For what it's worth, the new ‘Bill James Handbook’ does not project any Red Sox starter to reach 200 innings this season.

It's not a unrealistic projection.

Jon Lester is the only one among them that has fairly consistently pitched 200 innings over the last few years. Though he missed the mark last season, from 2008 to 2010 Lester eclipsed 200 innings and 30 starts. Last year he pitched just 191.2 innings, yet made 31 starts.

Josh Becket has reached 200 innings just once in the last four years. Additionally, Becket has made at least 30 starts just twice in the last four seasons, and never consecutively.

For his part, Clay Buchholz has never made 30 starts in any season and has an innings high of 173.2. Last year, Buchholz pitched just 82.2 innings.

Young pitchers are supposed to increase their innings incrementally over their first few seasons, working their way up to the 200 mark and beyond. In that regard, Buchholz has regressed. With that in mind, it's not easy to project the 27-year-old reaching 200 innings this season.

As a reliever during his three years in the majors, Daniel Bard has maxed out at 74.2 innings. Obviously, that's not even half way to 200. Of greatest concern, Bard has shown signs of fatigue down the stretch, with his walk rate increasingly as much as 400 percent in August and September the last two seasons.

With this in mind, it's hard to believe the Red Sox will enter this season with Bard slated as the No. 4 starter. And who knows who will be No. 5?

The Sox have a whole series of reclamation projects competing for that final spot. However, Aaron Cook, Carlos Silva, Vicente Padilla, John Maine and Ross Ohlendorf all flamed out in the NL. And now one or two of them is expected to recover and succeed in the AL East? That just seems more absurd than dicey.

That group also represents the depth the Red Sox will surely need when an injury ultimately occurs to one of the initial five starters.

Lefthanders Felix Doubront and Andrew Miller are both out of options. The Sox will give both of them a shot at winning that last slot in the rotation. The odd man out could then vie for a spot in the bullpen.

That bullpen will be without Jonathan Papelbon, one of the best closers in the game over the last six seasons. And it seemingly has lost Bard as well, assuming his successful transition to the rotation.

In their places are new closer Andrew Bailey and setup man Mark Melancon. The Sox will also rely on the returning Alfredo Aceves, Matt Albers and Franklin Morales. The seven-man pen will be rounded out by some combination of Bobby Jenks (whenever he is healthy and ready), Clayton Mortensen, Michael Bowden, Doubront and/or Miller.

On paper, at least, the bullpen should be young, strong and effective.

Clearly, though, the offense will once again be the Red Sox' primary strength.

It's a fair bet that the Sox will see more offense from catcher this season, particularly if Ryan Lavarnway wins a spot at some point.

After his first full season in the Majors last year, Jarrod Saltalamacchia should be buoyed by greater confidence and stamina this season, resulting in a better performance. And Kelly Shoppach should give the Sox at least as much offense as Jason Varitek provided last year (11 HR, 36 RBI, .221/.300/.423).

The Sox can likely expect equal levels of potent offense from Adrian Gonzalez and Dustin Pedroia at first and second, respectively.

Shortstop remains a mystery. Mike Aviles can hit, but will he play regularly enough for it to matter? His defense will be the key. Nick Punto should be Aviles' backup and a solid utility man.

Shortstop is a position where preventing runs may be even more important than creating them with one's bat. Though Bobby Valentine says he is looking for complete players at every position, which is a good thing, neither Punto nor Aviles can match Jose Iglesias' defensive wizardry.

That said, Iglesias batted just .235 with a .285 OBP in 101 games at Pawtucket last season. If he fared that poorly against Triple-A pitching, he'll be overwhelmed by big league pitchers. It's fair to say a big league hitter must have an OBP of at least .300 to warrant a roster spot, no matter how good he is defensively.

Iglesias has fewer than 700 minor league at-bats and should have at least 1,000 in preparation for the majors. He could be ready by mid-season. Even if he can't hit, he at least needs to work on pitch recognition and the ability to draw walks.

It's a good bet that after he recovers from wrist surgery, Carl Crawford will rebound this season, resuming his career norms offensively.

It's also reasonable to figure that Jacoby Ellsbury will regress slightly. The center fielder was playing out of his head last year, putting up numbers that stunned all of baseball. That kind of MVP-like production came out of nowhere and may not be matched again this year.

It seems reasonable to assume that the Sox will get more production from the platoon of Ryan Sweeney and Cody Ross in right field. JD Drew was like a black hole in the order last season, batting .222/.315/.302, It won't take much to improve upon that.

The key for the Sox offense may be a healthy Kevin Youkilis. Over the last three seasons, Youkilis played in 358 games; J.D Drew played in 357. That's amazing, given Drew's reputation for being delicate and often out of action.

Lastly, the Sox need David Ortiz to start and finish strong, as he did last year. The presence of Gonzalez seems to have really helped him. Observing Gonzo's approach at the plate brought out the best in Ortiz and seemed to revive him last season.

It appears that this Red Sox team will need to catch lightning in a bottle with its rotation. And it will also rely on its entire roster staying healthy. In short, the Sox will need a lot of luck just to make the playoffs, much less advance.

The Yankees, Angels, Tigers and even Rangers all got better this offseason, and all of them may be better than the Red Sox in 2012.

At this point, the Red Sox have questions at shortstop, in right field and in the bullpen. But, above all, the biggest questions are in the starting rotation. There are just three known starters at the moment, yet doubts exist even about them.

As with most teams, the Red Sox season will be determined by their starting rotation — the same group facing so much uncertainty right now.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Tim Wakefield Bids Farewell to Red Sox, Calls it a Career

Tim Wakefield announced his retirement today. However, the occasion was a forgone conclusion.

The truth is, the 30 teams of Major League Baseball had already made the decision for him; not one of them offered Wakefield a big league contract.

Even the Red Sox, Wakefield's employer for 17 seasons, only offered him a minor league contract, an invitation to spring training and the opportunity to compete for a job.

That had to be a bitter pill for a 200-game winner.

Unfortunately, all careers must come to an end, and that time is now for the Red Sox veteran.

Wakefield is no longer a quality starter and can no longer be depended on. Over the last two seasons, Wakefield has a 5.21 ERA; over the last three it's 5.00. It's the right time to say goodbye.

Wakefield was called into action last season after the Red Sox endured a rash of injuries to the starting rotation. When the season began, it was uncertain where he even fit on the roster and some speculated that he might not even make the team out of spring training.

No one could have anticipated that Wakefield would give the Sox 154.2 innings in 2011. In that span, Wakefield made 23 starts.

The problem was that just eight of them were quality starts.

The 19-year veteran retires with exactly 200 career wins, to go along with 180 losses. Wakefield will be remembered as an above average pitcher. He also finishes with a 4.41 career ERA, the highest of any pitcher to ever win 200 games. Yet, that's not bad considering he played 17 seasons in the AL East.

Wakefield finishes his Red Sox career ranked first in innings (3,006), first in starts (430), first in losses (168), second in games pitched (590), second in strikeouts (2,046) and third in wins (186).

His 97 career wins at Fenway are second only Roger Clemens' 100 victories at the grand old ballpark.

Not bad for a guy who started his career as a first baseman and quickly learned how to throw the knuckleball after being told by a scout that he would never get above Double-A-ball as a position player.

But Wakefield's love for the game prevailed and he carved out a nearly two-decade-long career throwing the elusive pitch.

That one pitch made Wakefield wealthy beyond his wildest dreams and gave him a long and enduring career. It also allowed him an important place in Red Sox history.

In 2010, Wakefield became the oldest pitcher to ever step on the mound for the Red Sox and the oldest to ever win a game for them.

But 2011 proved to be a season of even bigger milestones for Wakefield. And since it turned out to be his last, it was all the more fitting.

Last year, Wakefield became just the 89th pitcher since 1900 to reach 200 career wins. And he was just the fifth player to do so in a Red Sox uniform, joining Curt Schilling (2006), Luis Tiant (1978), Fergie Jenkins (1976) and Lefty Grove (1934).

At 45 years, 42 days, Wakefield also became the second oldest pitcher to ever record 200 victories, behind Jack Quinn, who was 46 years, 339 days.

Earlier in the season, Wakefield became just the second pitcher in Red Sox history to record 2,000 strikeouts.

Wakefield defied the odds and put together a remarkable career.

However, in recent years, it was a bit of a crapshoot every time he took the mound.

When Wakefield threw his knuckleball, even he had absolutely no idea where it was going to end up after it left his hand. There were always an assortment of wild pitches and passed balls whenever Wakefield was on the hill. Moreover, base runners took advantage of the knuckler and ran wild on him.

Over the last two seasons, the writing was on the wall; Wakefield's best days were behind him and he was running out of road. In 2010, Wakefield went 4-10 and posted a 5.34 ERA. The Sox were 6-13 in games he started. Last year, he went 7-8, with a 5.12 ERA.

In recent years, Wakefield became continually less effective. The last season in which he posted an ERA below 4.00 was 2002, when it was 2.81.

Though the last few years were a bit rough, they don't diminish Wakefield's accomplishments.

Wakefield was the classic overachiever. He built an entire two-decade career on just one pitch.

Though his career was not marked by greatness — Wakefield had just four 15-win seasons in his 17 years with the Red Sox — it was marked by longevity, determination, commitment and compassion.

The veteran pitcher was a caring and giving member of the Boston community. For his numerous charitable efforts, Wakefield was nominated for the Roberto Clemente award eight times and won it in 2010.

By all accounts, Wakefield was also a great teammate, selflessly doing whatever was asked of him. He started, closed, pitched middle-relief and even mopped up during his lengthy career with the Red Sox.

That's what we should all remember.

Though he is not a Hall of Fame-caliber pitcher, Tim Wakefield ranks among the greatest Red Sox pitchers and has staked his place in the annals of Red Sox history.

Thanks for the memories, Tim. And congratulations on your rather remarkable career.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Roy Oswalt and the Red Sox Need One Another

Roy Oswalt seems to be running out of options. His preferred destinations, Texas and St. Louis, have full rotations and/or little payroll flexibility.

The Cardinals have reportedly made a low ball offer and may want the 34-year-old to pitch out of the bullpen, something he does not want to do.

The Red Sox, on the other hand, have an available rotation spot and have reportedly offered Oswalt a one-year contract in the $5 million to $7 million range.

Reportedly, Oswalt would like to pitch for a contender in 2012 (Texas and St. Louis played in the World Series last year). Yet, he remains reluctant to pitch in Boston. That's the puzzler.

Considering the great tradition of the Red Sox, the fact that they are perennial contenders, and that they have some of the most knowledgeable and passionate fans in the game, it’s rare that a player doesn’t want to play in Boston.

The issue seems to be Oswalt's desire to pitch closer to his home in Mississippi.

However, the Red Sox and Oswalt seem to be a perfect fit for one another. The Sox are in desperate need of a fourth starter and a veteran presence for rotation that showed a lack of maturity last season. In return, the Sox can provide Oswalt the opportunity to compete for a playoff bid.

The reason so few teams have shown any genuine interest in Oswalt is due to the degenerative disc issue that affected his 2011 season. The issue is a classic red flag. Degenerative disorders get progressively worse over time. But the Red Sox only need/want Oswalt for one year.

The question for the Sox (or any other club) is, how many innings can Oswalt realistically give them?

Due to his back condition, Oswalt was limited to 23 starts last season, posting a 3.69 ERA and 93/33 K/BB ratio over 139 innings.

Given the unlikeliness that Clay Buchholz and Daniel Bard will give the Red Sox anything even approaching 200 innings this season, and that even Josh Beckett has only done so once in the past four years, the Sox need another workhorse aside from Jon Lester. At a minimum, they need more depth.

Oswalt isn't likely to be a workhorse ever again. However, prior to last year, he had thrown at least 200 innings in six of the prior seven seasons and seven of the previous nine. Simply put, Oswalt used to be quite reliable.

At his best, Oswalt has consistently been among the top pitchers in the game, posting a 159-93 record and a stellar 3.21 ERA over 11 seasons with the Astros and the Phillies.

Though Oswalt may no longer be an innings-eater, an All Star (three times) or a 20-game winner (two times), he is a veteran presence who would bolster a very suspicious Red Sox rotation.

Whether he pitches in Texas (and the latest reports indicate that this is increasingly unlikely), St. Louis, or Boston, how often will Oswalt go home to Mississippi during the course of the season?

Pitchers aren't allowed to leave their team on non-pitching days to go home and visit their families. And teams generally get just one off day each week, Monday or Thursday.

So what would it matter if Oswalt had to catch the occasional flight out of Boston? After all, Logan is an international airport that surely has daily flights, or connections, to Mississippi.

The entire notion that Oswalt needs to be close to home is a bit absurd. And it really brings his competitive fire into question.

If Oswalt's heart isn't into pitching for Red Sox, then he wouldn't be a good fit. Such an absence of desire could easily lead to him being overwhelmed by the offensive fire power of the AL East.

But the truth is, at this point, Roy Oswalt and the Red Sox seem to really need one another. They are, perhaps, each other's last, best hope for the 2012 season.

Come to Boston, Roy.