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Baseball notes

At Fenway, seats are full but something is missing

By Nick Cafardo
May 9, 2010

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Star power, electricity, pizzazz, call it what you want. It’s lacking in Boston.

There’s no Joe Mauer, Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard, Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter, Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Gonzalez, Prince Fielder . . . name your superstar of choice.

The Red Sox have Dustin Pedroia, a former MVP and a great player. But as a second baseman and a top-of-the-order hitter, he just doesn’t generate the edge-of-your-seat thrills that some of those other players do.

What a difference walking into the Yankees clubhouse as opposed to the Red Sox’. There’s A-Rod, Jeter, Teixeira, CC Sabathia, Mo Rivera.

The Sox used to have players who were events unto themselves. Roger Clemens excited the masses. Fans were on the edge of their seats every time Pedro Martinez pitched. Mo Vaughn hit monster home runs. David Ortiz, in his prime, was worth the price of admission. Manny Ramirez had to get out of town because of his behavior, but when he did play, you watched when he stepped to the plate.

It doesn’t mean you’re not a good team if you don’t have this. The Sox could very well end up being a very good team in 2010, but if so, they’ll do it without the marquee player. Sometimes that’s a more rewarding way to win, with a bunch of lunch-pail guys who come together.

In 2004, the Sox had Curt Schilling, a must-see guy. They had Martinez, who could still spin a masterpiece. They had characters like Kevin Millar and Johnny Damon. The 2007 team had a dominant Josh Beckett, who looked like Clemens and Martinez for that one year.

Sox teams in the past had Hall of Famers like Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski. They had Wade Boggs, one of the greatest hitters ever. They had a young Nomar Garciaparra, who was as good as there was in baseball.

This year’s Sox have an All-Star starting staff. But do you buy a ticket because you want to see any of them pitch? Do you buy a ticket to watch Marco Scutaro or Adrian Beltre? Collectively, it’s a very good team, but individually? Eh.

General manager Theo Epstein tried to obtain a marquee player in Teixeira, but management and ownership couldn’t quite the seal the deal.

This has been called a “bridge year,’’ of course, so the Sox were intent on acquiring players with one- or two-year contracts, so they could then move on. Starting next offseason, or even perhaps at the trading deadline, look for this to change.

The lack of marquee players doesn’t seem to affect attendance. The Sox still have their sellout streak. They have more than 23,000 season tickets sold. But in the absence of the “must-see’’ player — as the Patriots have in Tom Brady — the excitement factor isn’t what it once was.

The Sox are fully aware that, with some of the highest ticket prices in sports, they must keep reinventing themselves.

The best way to do that is with star power.

So . . . who?

The Sox will shed some serious payroll after this year. Mike Lowell and Ortiz account for $24 million. They will be off the hook for Julio Lugo’s $9 million. Beltre could be gone. Victor Martinez is a free agent.

The big first basemen who will be free agents after the 2011 season — Fielder, Gonzalez, and Pujols — would be players they’d like to go after. It’s hard to imagine the Cardinals wouldn’t pay Pujols whatever he wants, but Gonzalez or Fielder could be available in deals prior to that. You know Scott Boras is looking at Boston’s roster and licking his chops about a long-term deal for Fielder if he doesn’t re-sign in Milwaukee.

The Sox will likely have their eye on free agent outfielder Jayson Werth, a big-time player on a high-profile Phillies team that has won a championship. He could help the Sox from a production point of view and eventually be J.D. Drew’s replacement.

Mauer, of course, would have been the perfect superstar; until he signed with the Twins (for the remainder of his career), Boston was likely going to be his second choice.

You’ll note that at last season’s trading deadline and again during the offseason, one of the pitchers Epstein targeted was Felix Hernandez. Now there’s an event.

OVER TIME?
This old hand starts to sound like a retiree
John Smoltz (left), who worked the MLB Network broadcast of Sox-Angels Thursday, said he’s content with his career being over, if in fact it is. Which gives rise to speculation as to who will be the veteran second-halfers that teams will call upon for help.

One would appear to be Pedro Martinez, who was at Fenway’s Opening Day and did not declare his career over. The youngest candidate would be Jarrod Washburn, a Scott Boras client who remains unsigned. There’s always Paul Byrd, who has been able to blend in on the Sox staff when needed.

Smoltz said that, given his broadcast schedule and his attempt to qualify for the US Open, he doesn’t have the time to devote himself to getting ready to pitch again.

“I’m OK with that,’’ Smoltz said. “I know a lot of people speculated I’d do a Pedro Martinez thing and pitch in August or whatever, but I don’t see it happening.

“I’m very content with the way things ended, if that’s the case. The only thing I would have changed is that I would have done things more on my terms here in Boston. That’s the only small part of this that didn’t end the way I wanted it to.

“But that’s OK. I had a long career and did a lot of things I wanted to do in this game.’’

TROUBLE SPOTS
Could Astro help Seattle’s sinking ship?
There’s still skepticism among some in the Houston organization that Lance Berkman really would leave his beloved Houston. But if he does indeed waive his no trade-clause, said one Astros organizational person, “He’d fit Boston like a fiddle. He’s got natural power to left and left-center. He works the count like they like and has always had a high on-base percentage.’’

The Sox have had interest in Berkman in the past, but now he’s 34 and is hitting .196 after spending the first part of the season on the disabled list. He’s being paid $14.5 million this year and has a club option for $15 million next season with a $2 million buyout.

Teams such as the Mariners and White Sox could really use a hitter, and Berkman would have appeal.

The Mariners, the sexy pick to win the West, just can’t hit; they have Casey Kotchman playing first base and batting third. And Milton Bradley is on the restricted list as he seeks mental-health help.

General manager Jack Zduriencik is looking everywhere for a solution, but few teams are in selling mode in the second month of the season.

One outfielder who would seem to fit them is Jeremy Hermida, but it doesn’t appear the Red Sox would entertain any offer at this juncture. Jermaine Dye remains on the market, but teams are leery that he’s declined too much.

The performance of Ken Griffey at DH (one extra-base hit since Opening Day) hasn’t helped. Franklin Gutierrez, a superb defensive outfielder, ended a 76-inning homer drought for the Mariners when he went yard Wednesday night.

Earlier in the week, the Mariners released outfielder Eric Byrnes after a 3-for-32 spell. He had been released by Arizona over the winter, and the Mariners were only on the hook for $400,000. They had hoped the energetic Byrnes would give them a spark. He is only 34 but it sure looks like it’s over for him.

ETC.
Apropos of nothing
1. Robin Roberts gave up an all-time-high 505 homers. Right behind him is Jamie Moyer, another Phillie, at 498; 2. Justin Masterson is 1-10 since the Victor Martinez deal; 3. This past week only reaffirmed how much the Angels need to sign Carl Crawford in the offseason; 4) Do the Nationals really have to go through this minor league formality with Stephen Strasburg?; 5. The three Scott Boras clients who signed one-year deals — Adrian Beltre, Andruw Jones, and Johnny Damon — are all having very good years.

Updates on nine
1. Koby Clemens, 1B, Astros — The young Clemens, who led all of minor league baseball with 123 RBIs last season in Single A, has picked up where he left off with Double A Corpus Christi. Through Thursday, he had 8 homers and 19 RBIs. Clemens was hitting only .253 and had 32 strikeouts, but he is making a positive impression in his next step up. A scout who has watched him said, “To think he could make it to the big leagues is a legitimate possibility. Like any hitter, as he moves up he’ll see more off-speed stuff, and how he adjusts to it will determine how quickly he rises. Don’t forget, I’m sure he’s seen a pretty good split from his dad.’’

2. Jason Castro, C, Astros — The young phenom has struggled offensively at Triple A Round Rock, but old friend Kevin Cash, recently recalled by the Astros, said, “The thing that’s impressive about him is that he calls a really good game for a guy of his age and his experience. When you watch him, you understand the excitement about him because he has a chance to be a very good all-around catcher. The pitchers feel comfortable with him, and that’s a great sign.’’

3. Barry Zito, LHP, Giants — Give him credit for quite a turnaround. Considered a bust after he signed a $126 million deal with the Giants, he is 5-0 with a 1.49 ERA. Zito was 31-43 in his first three seasons with San Francisco and even started 0-8 in 2008, when he was sent to the bullpen for a while. Zito told Bay area reporters that he has unburdened himself from the expectations of the contract and is finally at peace with the pressures it brought. Makes sense.

4. Eric Chavez, DH, A’s — Like Ken Griffey and David Ortiz, he is a beloved player in his city whom his team may have to make a tough choice on soon. Chavez is hitting .220 and the A’s are struggling offensively. They have Jack Cust at Sacramento, champing to get back to the big leagues, but he isn’t that attractive an option.

5. Kerry Wood, RHP, Indians — He was recalled from his rehab assignment in Akron Friday, so let the clock begin ticking toward the trade deadline. If Wood has shown he’s healthy — always a big if — he should attract a contending team. His $10.5 million salary is pricy, but by the deadline, that’s more than cut in half.

6. Wilson Ramos, C, Twins — When Joe Mauer signed his megadeal in Fort Myers, I made the comment that the most depressed people in baseball had to be the catchers in the Twins organization. Ramos started out hitting .179 at Rochester before Mauer’s heel injury brought him up. He took the opportunity by storm. Now what do they do with this talented catcher? Suggestions abound, including moving him to another position or having him catch a couple of times a week so Mauer can DH and take it easy. GM Bill Smith thinks it’s too early to make determinations, but there is no future for him as a Twins catcher, so something has to give.

7. David DeJesus, OF, Royals — He is more than available for teams needing a lefthanded-hitting outfielder. In return, the Royals would want bullpen help and some sort of a positional prospect. DeJesus gets on base and can drive in the tough run, can play all three outfield positions, and is still young enough (31) to be incorporated in either short- or long-term plans. He earns $4.5 million this season and has a $6 million option for next year.

8. Gerald Laird, C, Detroit — Is there anyone playing better at the catcher position than Laird? His bat is a liability, but Laird, according to one scout, “is such a presence behind the plate. You have to put up with his offense, or lack thereof, but for a team looking for a catcher, he’d solidify it. He might shut down the running game as well as anyone in the AL and maybe in both leagues.’’ Laird has allowed 15 of 21 runners to steal, but, said the scout, “If they’re stealing, it’s off the pitchers, because his release is really quick.’’

9. Terry Francona and Ozzie Guillen, managers, Red Sox and White Sox — Francona managed his 1,000th game for Boston Wednesday, a day after Guillen managed his 1,000th for Chicago. Francona’s record was 579-421, while Guillen was 523-477. Francona won two pennants and two World Series, Guillen one pennant and one World Series. Francona was the 22d player taken in the 1980 draft. Guillen was signed as an amateur free agent out of Venezuela in the summer of 1980.

Short hops
From the Bill Chuck files: “Through Thursday, in Manny Acta’s last 162 games managing the Nationals and the Indians, his record was 53-109 (.327)’’ . . . Also, “According to Wezen-Ball.com’s ‘Tater Trot Tracker,’ it took Alex Gonzalez 29.28 seconds to circle the bases after his April 21 home run. Next slowest was David Ortiz’s 28.95-second run after his second HR on May 1. I personally think Big Papi was going at full speed.’’ . . . Tiverton (R.I.) High School catching prospect Zach Kapstein is enhancing his position for next month’s draft. In 16 games, he’s hitting .571 with 4 homers, 20 RBIs, and 21 runs, and has 13 steals in 13 attempts . . . Happy 74th birthday, Floyd Robinson.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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