Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Monday, April 18, 2016

Clay Buchholz Lacks the Passion, Will and Desire to be Great

Clay Buchholz is now 31-years-old (32 in August) and in his 10th season with the Red Sox (though he pitched in just four games in 2007).

During his time in Boston, Buchholz has shown flashes of brilliance, but has mostly confounded all observers. How can a guy with so much potential never fully realize it?

It’s rather stunning that after a decade in the majors, Buchholz has never made 30 starts or thrown 200 innings in a season. He has spent too much time on a a trainer’s table, and not enough on he mound.

The righty was on the disabled list seven times in his first nine years. Yes, he’s fragile, and that’s well established.

Here's a look at Buchholz's injury history:

15-day DL: Right fingernail tear (blister)

Games missed: 16

15-day DL: Left hamstring strain

Games missed: 18

60-day DL: Low back stress fracture

Games missed: 93

15-day DL: Esophagitis

Games missed: 20

60-day DL: Right shoulder bursitis (neck strain)

Games missed: 82

15-day DL: Left knee hyperextension

Games missed: 28

Yet, I think there’s more to Buchholz’s struggles than just the physical ailments. I think he is mentally weak and totally dispassionate, and I’m not alone.

In 2014, Buchholz went 8-11 with a 5.34 ERA in 28 starts, logging only 170 1/3 innings.

The following spring, his former teammate, Curt Schilling, said the problem is that Buchholz lacks a true competitive spirit and a passion for the game.

“I don’t think he wants to be (an ace),” Schilling told reporters. “I think there’s a level of commitment mentally and physically you have to have, and there’s a ‑‑ you have to have a little bit of a dark side, I think, in the sense that losing has to hurt so bad, that you do whatever you can do to make sure it never happens again. I’ve never felt like that was... Clay is just kind of, hey, I’m going to pitch today.”

Schilling also said he sees mental weakness in Buchholz.

“He’s unbelievably talented, obviously, physically. But there’s another level to the game, and I think that's the reason he’s been inconsistent. Cy Young potential in numbers one year to what-the-hell-happened next year is upstairs,” Schilling continued. “I think it’s all above his shoulders.”

Perhaps the expectations were too high for Buchholz after he no-hit the Orioles in 2007, in what was just his second career big-league start.

But he’s been an All Star twice: in 2010, when he posted a 2.33 ERA over 28 starts, and in 2013, when he posted a 1.74 ERA over 16 starts.

Schilling recently added to his April 2014 critique of his former teammate.

“We need to move on from an expectations perspective,” Schilling said on WEEI. “Here is the thing: sometimes you are what you are. Clay Buchholz was not going to come out of the gates this year and throw 222 innings, win 19 games and make 33 starts. He’s never done it. I am convinced — and this is not a personal thing. I like Clay. It’s just, he’s not the guy. That no-hitter skewed it all. We go back to one game and a couple stretches where he was as good as anyone in the game, but that is something he ended up not wanting bad enough to make it happen.”

And there’s the heart of the matter: Buchholz simply doesn’t want it badly enough. That’s the sort of thing that will always eat at those with less aptitude, but more passion. How can a guy with so much raw talent be so cool and emotionless about the game?

Ask yourself this: have you ever seen Buchholz get excited? It’s that lack of passion and commitment which has kept him from achieving his full potential and becoming a truly great pitcher — rather than a mediocre, unpredictable one.

As much as Buchholz has shown flashes of brilliance, and even dominance, he has at other times looked completely overmatched and way out of his league for entire seasons.

2008: 6.75 ERA and 1.76 WHIP over 15 starts

2012: 4.56 ERA and 1.33 WHIP over 29 starts

2014: 5.34 ERA and 1.39 WHIP over 28 starts

Some fans are still waiting for Buchholz to blossom, realize his full potential and become a Cy Young winner. That ship has sailed.

It’s long since time accept that Buchholz is a No. 3 starter who will at times look like an ace, yet at other times will look like a guy who is lucky to be in the majors.

The frustration of fans, scouts and executives will continue because Buchholz simply lacks the will and desire to be truly great on a consistent basis.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Red Sox Will Long Regret Replacing Jon Lester With Rick Porcello

Who would you rather have, Red Sox fans: Jon Lester or Rick Porcello?

It’s a no-brainer, isn’t it?

The Red Sox famously lowballed Lester with a four-year, $70 million offer during spring training in 2014.

Most people in baseball thought contract negotiations with Lester should have started at five-years, $100 million. That would have been a reasonable lowball offer, and Lester would have surely negotiated the figure somewhat higher.

When Lester was asked by WEEI in December 2014 if he would have signed a contract extension with Boston that spring if the team had offered him something in the range of five years and $120 million, the lefty replied, “Probably, yes.”

“That is a lot of money to turn down," Lester said. “That would have made it very difficult to turn it down.”

The Red Sox’s final offer was reportedly six years and $135 million. But it was too little, too late. The organization had already screwed up with its initial offer.

Ultimately, Lester signed a six-year, $155 million contract with the Chicago Cubs that month, bringing an end to his excellent Red Sox career.

Lester was, perhaps, the greatest lefty in Red Sox history, helping the Old Towne team win two World Series Championships during his eight-plus seasons in Boston.

I think any reasonable person would concede that the Cubs wildly overpaid for Lester, a pitcher who was entering his age-31 season.

But five-years, $120 million? That seems about right, and the Sox probably could have re-signed Lester with such an offer, as the pitcher himself admitted.

Instead, the Sox ultimately traded Lester to Oakland for Yoenis Cespedes at the 2014 trade deadline, before flipping Cespedes to Detroit in exchange for Porcello later that winter.

So, the Red Sox essentially swapped Lester for Porcello. What a huge mistake.

Boston then offered Porcello a four-year, $82.5 million contract before he had even thrown a single pitch for the team; the righty was already under contract for the 2015 season.

In other words, the Sox could have used that year — which proved to be a disaster for Porcello — as an audition of sorts. They could have waited to see how he responded to pitching in Boston, but they didn't.

I’ve long been on the record as saying that Lester is not an ace. But he is a solid No. 1 on most clubs, and a proven playoff pitcher who rises to the occasion in October.

Lester has never won a Cy Young Award, an ERA crown, a strikeout title or even won 20 games, much less led his league in wins. In fact, he is just a three-time All Star in 10 seasons.

That said, he is heads and shoulders above Porcello, who continues to disappoint the Red Sox and their fans. Porcello has a 4.96 ERA since joining Red Sox last season.

As I noted recently, former GM Ben Cherington gave Porcello his whopper of a contract despite the fact that the righty had reached 200 innings just once in six seasons, while posting a 4.33 career ERA to that point.

Porcello responded in 2015 by having the worst season of his rather unremarkable career, going 9-15 with a 4.92 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP over just 172 innings. In short, he was a disaster.

Meanwhile, Lester gave the Cubs 205 innings last year (the seventh time he’s reached the mark in 10 seasons), while posting a 3.34 ERA and leading the team to the playoffs.

The Red Sox and their fans are left to wonder what could have been.

Lester would have likely cost the Red Sox just $37.5 million more than Porcello ($120 million vs. $82.5 million). While that’s an enormous sum in the real world, it’s a reasonable cost in Major League Baseball for a pitcher of Lester’s caliber — and it’s pocket change to the Red Sox billionaire owner, John Henry.

It was yet another grievous error by Ben Cherington, who compounded his bad decision of not making a reasonable offer to Lester by grossly overpaying for Porcello — a player who had done nothing to warrant such a large contract.

Oh, and by the way, Porcello is now the Red Sox fourth starter and will make more than $20 million for that this season.

Good grief.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Red Sox Still Haunted by Ben Cherington's Horrible Legacy

Ben Cherington wasn’t fired by the Red Sox; he resigned. No matter, there are good reasons that he is no longer the team's General Manager.

The Red Sox won 71 games in 2014 and 78 games in 2015, finishing in last place both seasons.

The poor performance of the team aside, Cherington made a series of terrible personnel decisions that are still hampering the Red Sox.

At this point, it is well established that Cherington wildly overpaid for the underperforming Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez.

Cherington gave Sandoval — an obese third baseman, whose OPS had declined for three consecutive years before coming to Boston — a five year, $95 million contract with a sixth-year option that requires a $5 million buyout. This means Sandoval is guaranteed $100 by the Red Sox.

Sandoval responded by posting the following numbers last season: .245/.292/.366/.658, with 10 home runs and 47 RBI over 126 games.

If Sandoval had been playing for the league minimum, those numbers would have been unacceptable, and likely would have cost him his job at some point in the season.

However, considering the size of his contract, those numbers were disgraceful. Then there were the 15 errors, poor range and generally weak defense, as well.

Cherington gave Ramirez — a career shortstop — a four-year, $88 million contract to play left field. The pact has a fifth-year vesting option worth $22 million, which almost certainly will vest. If so, that brings the total value of the deal to $110 million.

Ramirez responded by tying a club record with 10 homers in April, but hit just nine more over the next five months. Ramirez ultimately posted a slash line of .249/.291/.426/.717, with just 53 RBI, over 105 games. He failed miserably in the field and at the plate, and became a lightning rod for criticism (deservedly so).

Ramirez is now the team’s first baseman, and if spring training is any indication of what’s to come, he can handle the position better than left field. Being back in the infield appears to be good for him. Handling the ball on virtually every play has reengaged him, and playing first base has more similarities to his natural position than left field ever would.

But those were just the most obvious of Cherington’s terrible decisions.

The former Boston GM gave righty Rick Porcello a four-year, $82.5 million deal that only kicks in this season. Cherington did this despite the fact that Porcello had reached 200 innings just once in six seasons, while posting a 4.33 career ERA to that point.

Given those numbers, does that seem like a reasonable contract offer to you? (It’s a rhetorical question.)

Porcello responded by having the worst season of his rather unremarkable career, going 9-15 with a 4.92 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP over just 172 innings. In short, he was a disaster.

Yet, there were even more bad decisions by Cherington.

The Red Sox GM gave Justin Masterson a 1-year, $9.5 million deal prior to the 2015 season, despite his 2014 struggles with the Indians and Cardinals.

The righty was so ineffective in 2015 that the Sox designated him ‪for assignment on August 9. Masterson compiled a 5.61 ERA, with a 1.60 WHIP and a 49/27 K/BB ratio over 59 1/3 innings — split between nine starts and nine relief appearances.

Though his was just a 1-year deal, Masterson was clearly overpaid -- given that he had gone 7-9 with a 5.88 ERA and a 1.63 WHIP in 2014. To say that the pitcher was overpaid, and underperformed, would be an understatement.

But Sandoval, Ramirez, Porcello and Masterson were merely Cherington’s bad decisions last offseason.

If you go back a year earlier, there were two other horrendous decisions that still haunt the Red Sox today, and that will continue to do so for the next few years.

Cherington signed Rusney Castillo, a Cuban player about whom little was known, to a 7-year, $72.5 million contract. In reality, it was a six-year $72.4 million deal since Castillo signed his deal in late August 2014 and played in just 10 games that season, while being paid $100,000.

Castillo played in just 80 games last season, posting a slash line of .253/.288/.359/.647, with 5 homers, 10 doubles, and 29 RBI. For that, he was paid $10.5 million.

But that’s not the worst of it.

Castillo does not appear to a major league-quality player, and he lost the starting left fielder job to utility infielder Brock Holt, who has a career slugging percentage of .370, with just six homers in 1,027 big league at-bats.

That’s not the profile of a left fielder, yet he still beat Castillo for the position.

That’s an embarrassment for Castillo, but it’s also an embarrassment (and a nightmare) for the Red Sox, who still owe him $56.5 million dollars over the next five seasons. Castillo is a player who could ultimately end up as the richest player in minor league baseball.

But he’ll have competition.

Allen Craig will be paid $9 million by the Red Sox this season to play in Pawtucket. That’s not all; the Sox also owe Craig an additional $11 million for the 2017 season. And here’s the kicker: Craig isn’t even on the 40-man roster anymore. In other words, if the Sox want to call him up to the big league club at any point, they must first cut or trade another player. Stunning!

Cherington obtained Craig and righty Joe Kelly (who was so bad last year that he was demoted to the minors) from St. Louis in exchange for John Lackey. Cherington got fleeced. Lackey won 13 games and threw 218 innings for the Cardinals last season, while posting a terrific 2.77 ERA.

To review, Cherington saddled the Red Sox with expensive long term contracts for Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, Rick Porcello and Rusney Castillo, who cumulatively cost a whopping $365 million.

Include Allen Craig, who will cost the Red Sox a total of $31.25 (including a $1 million buyout after the 2017 season), and Justin Masterson’s $9.5 contract from last year, and it adds another $40.75 million to Cherington’s highly expensive, bad decisions.

These horrible choices cannot be glossed over. They will haunt the Red Sox for years to come.

Yes, Boston is a big market club, and ownership has deep pockets. But these deals have consequences in that they prevent money from being allocated elsewhere for other needs.

But they will also create redundancies, in that the Sox will have to pay other players to assume the roles of, or pick up the slack for, these failed players (yes, Brock Holt and Travis Shaw are cheap, but they may not be long term answers).

Let’s not forget that Sandoval and Castillo will each be paid tens of millions to warm the bench this year (to start the season, at least), while Craig will be paid millions more to play in Pawtucket. Meanwhile, Porcello will be paid a hefty $20 million to be the fourth starter this year.

It’s tough to overstate how bad Cherington’s personnel decisions were, and how much he has hampered this club going forward. It's fitting that he can no longer exercise such poor judgement.

The only thing more fitting would have been if ownership had truly held him accountable, and fired him.

The 2013 World Series was as wonderful as it was unexpected, but the Sox finished in last place in three of Cherington’s four years as general manager.

It’s appropriate that he’s now gone. But, boy, did he leave an epic mess in his wake.