Hall of Fame baseball writer Peter Gammons made his weekly appearance on the Mut & Merloni show Wednesday
A recurring theme in the discussion was the financial restraints the Red Sox and other major league teams are dealing with this season. Gammons took a question about Marco Scutaro accepting a utility role (now that he’s been replaced by Jed Lowrie as starting shortstop) and showed how the finances will play a key role in Scutaro’s future in Boston.
“I think he’d accept [the utility role].” Gammons said. “I think the question is going to be: Do the Red Sox feel they need to clear his money to be able to get a catcher or another pitcher in time if they need one. I think that would be a question. I think a lot of teams — I know the Mets would love to have Scutaro play second base, but they don’t want to pay him. There’s one of the problems that you run into. He’s an ideal utility guy, because he can play second, short and third, and he’s so great around the clubhouse. But the question is, Do you want to pay that kind of money if indeed ownership doesn’t want to go any further until the trading deadline and you need another catcher and it costs 5, 6 million dollars.”
Asked if the Red Sox have extended themselves close to their financial limit, Gammons said: “I think so. And I think that will change in the middle of the season. The Phillies are going through the same thing. [Phillies general manager] Ruben Amaro said last week — the question was posted actually about Scutaro, because they still don’t know when [injured second baseman] Chase Utley‘s coming back. They can say bravely, ‘He’ll be back at the end of May.’ They don’t know that. The thinking was Scutaro’s the perfect guy. And Ruben said, ‘I have no more money. We can’t make any moves.’
“I think a lot of teams went right to the luxury tax threshold and spent a lot of money and said, ‘OK, we’re not spending any more until we desperately need something. So, figure out what’s wrong.’ I think the Red Sox, the Angels, the Phillies, Texas, the White Sox, I think a lot of them are in that position right now.”
Added Gammons: “I think most teams in baseball this winter, I think most of the big-market teams spent to their limit before the season. I hear that from the Phillies, I hear it from the White Sox, I heard it from the Tigers, I hear it from a lot of people. It’s not unusual, but people don’t want to add money right now. And they’re not sure where the economy’s going, they’re not sure where the labor agreement is going — although I still don’t believe the labor agreement is going to greatly impact the game. But a lot of teams just are holding. It’s not just the Dodgers and Mets, it’s a lot of teams.”
Money also was mentioned when talking about the Red Sox’ catching situation, as Jarrod Saltalamacchia‘s early season struggles have meant more playing time for Jason Varitek.
“I know what they were trying to do. They looked around. They didn’t have money to spend,” Gammons said. “They couldn’t go get Bengie Molina. They weren’t going to spend the money at this point. So, they decided that the best way to go was to let Jason catch a lot for a couple of weeks, let Salty work and hopefully get him back to where he was in spring training, when the season opened.
“Whether that holds up, it’s still a precarious situation. They clearly don’t feel they have the answer in the minor leagues. So, what do they do? I don’t know. I know they’ve reached out to backup guys with the Mets that haven’t been able to do anything. Backup catchers who can catch four days a week are really hard to find. They’re finding that right now.
“What the alternative is, they just don’t seem to have it. So, they have to hope that Saltalamacchia works out on this homestand and takes over and goes back to where they thought he was going to be. Otherwise, this whole medical staff declaring Russell Martin unsignable will raise its head the way it did with Jason Bay two years ago.”
Adrian Gonzalez‘ numbers are not what were expected from the former Padres standout. Gammons isn’t too concerned.
“I think part of it is the number of left-handers they’ve seen,” he said. “He hits for average against left-handers, but they do diminish his power a little bit. And I think the other thing is, I think the adjustment of being pitched in so much. In the National League, they pitched him away, because, ‘Nobody can hit the ball out of Petco, who cares?’ But here, they’ve really pounded him in, and I think he’s in the process of making adjustments.
“I find it hard to worry about him. I still think he’ll hit, and he’ll hit big. It kind of reminds me a little bit of Mark Teixeira‘s first month with the Yankees, after he signed as a free agent. I think he will hit, and that it will work for him. I still think they’re going to score a ton of runs. I think that [Carl] Crawford and Gonzalez, we may look back in three months and say, ‘Wow, I can’t believe how little they hit in the first month of the season.’ ”
On a positive note, Jonathan Papelbon has shown signs that he has regained his dominating form.
Said Gammons: “Near the end of last year, I had a couple of long conversations with him. He said, ‘I cannot find my landing. I just can’t get my landing the right way. So therefore, I end up with no command of my fastball. And when I’m behind, no one’s going to swing at that split if I’m behind.’ Which is obvious. You know, he throws a split in the strike zone, it’s a hanger.
“Near the end of spring training, I did a thing for MLB.TV with Papelbon and he was really good — very thoughtful about his pitching. And he talked about that driving the fastball, getting the right landing leg, getting the right drive in his delivery, driving the ball down and away to right-handed hitters, but throwing strikes. And that’s what he did all the way through, like, 2007, in the minor leagues and the major leagues. He was a strike machine. And then he lost that. I thought he lost it with his fastball and then the other pitches followed.
“But I think that’s what we’ve seen. And I think the more confidence he has in it —he is an adrenaline guy. And adrenaline guys usually need that confidence. And then all of a sudden the slider gets a little bit better, guys start swinging at the split.
“His comeback has been one of the more encouraging things for the Red Sox in the first month. I agree with you, I think he looks different. He wears his emotions. You can tell how he feels when he’s on the mound. It’s not like a guy who plays the poker face. He’s not Rollie Fingers, he never looks any different. We all know where Pap comes from. That’s not a bad thing for a reliever, but it’s a fragile thing for a reliever.”
With Papelbon anchoring a solid bullpen and the additions via free agency of some high-powered offensive players, the Sox were expected to win some high-scoring games this season. Tuesday night’s 4-1 loss to the Orioles is an example of the reason that hasn’t happened, as the offense has struggled mightily.
“They spent a lot of money on Bobby Jenks, and they have developed of the best No. 2 guys in the game in Daniel Bard. So, they’re geared to winning [high-scoring games], in theory,” Gammons said. “They spent a lot of money on the bullpen. They did that to win a lot of 7-5, 8-6 games. And they haven’t had those games thus far. The bullpen did win the one game on that road trip. But that’s what their supposed to do. They’re supposed to win those games. And the offense hasn’t provided them with that opportunity thus far.”