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Baseball Notes

Phillies and Sox seem to match up — in trade pieces

By Nick Cafardo
March 13, 2011

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So far, the Red Sox have held up their end of this Philadelphia-Boston dream World Series scenario, but the Phillies may be messing it up with injuries. But it’s early enough for them to recover, and the injuries have not played havoc with the Fearsome Foursome pitching rotation.

The Red Sox found out last season that no team, no matter how deep, has that big a margin for error. There isn’t enough distance between the Phillies and Atlanta that they can incur major injuries and still expect to win the NL East, be the best team in the league, and get to the World Series.

This past week was a downer for the Phillies, who lost right fielder Domonic Brown, a future star, with a broken hamate bone in his right hand that could keep him out for two months of the season. Brown was slated to take over for Jayson Werth, who took Washington’s seven-year, $126 million offer without blinking an eye.

Much worse, however, is the “indefinite’’ loss of second baseman Chase Utley, their No. 3 hitter, to a knee injury (patella tendinitis) that could fell the All-Star for many months. Utley is the heart and soul of the team, one of the best players in baseball.

They still have Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels to go out there four out of five days and keep them in games.

The Phillies aren’t acting desperate, as well they shouldn’t, with Opening Day three weeks away. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is looking within the organization first to fill the holes, but he also has one of the best scouting staffs in baseball looking at possible fits. They have fifth starter Joe Blanton to dangle in trade, but whether he can bring a starting outfielder and a second baseman is highly questionable.

The Phillies usually are very coy about their plans, but while they downplay, downplay, they will likely come up with something.

The Phillies pay a lot of attention to the Red Sox, and if they feel Wilson Valdez isn’t a good enough in-house replacement for Utley, they know Jed Lowrie can be a very good second baseman and hits from both sides of the plate. They know Marco Scutaro is in the final year of his contract.

It’s interesting that the two teams many think will meet in the World Series have players the other could use. In place of Brown, the Phillies will go with Ben Francisco for now, but they could also use Mike Cameron or Darnell McDonald.

Then again, the Sox really have no need to trade anyone, unless they feel Blanton is better than Daisuke Matsuzaka or Tim Wakefield as a No. 5 starter. Blanton did pitch for Sox pitching coach Curt Young in Oakland.

Obviously, the Phillies can’t replace what Utley gives them, but they could replace a good percentage of it.

“He’s your 3-hole hitter and second baseman, and he’s a big part of the team,’’ said Lee. “Any time you’re missing that, it’s going to make an impact.

“As a pitcher, you’re certainly not worried about that [i.e. injuries] during the game when you’re trying to get hitters out. That’s something you can’t control. Injuries happen, but we’d rather have him out there. That’s a no-brainer.’’

Lee has often said that Josh Hamilton is the best player he’s ever been around, but he rates Utley, Ryan Howard, and Ichiro Suzuki “in the next tier.’’

Utley, said Lee, is “definitely the heart and soul of the team and plays hard on every single pitch. Those kind of things, when you have a leader like that, it rubs off on other guys. It definitely helps the group.

“Life goes on, and we have to continue to win with or without him.’’

But having a less potent lineup has to be a concern for any pitching staff. The Phillies may now be looking at a lot of 2-1 games, and which side of those they end up on will go far in determining whether Boston vs. Philly happens.

At the same time, having that kind of rotation provides a comfort level.

“I would like to think so and hope so,’’ Lee said. “It eases some of the worries when guys like that get injured. Pitching is what carries a team and gets a team into the playoffs and wins in the playoffs, and we’ve got that. Still, it’s hard to replace a guy like him. He’s one of the best in the game.’’

There’s a consensus in the clubhouse that manager Charlie Manuel (who just got a two-year contract extension) is a good leader to help a team through this.

“He’s not going to be able to get Chase to heal any faster — he doesn’t have those powers,’’ Lee said. “But the calming part, the stuff he does with talking to every player and making sure every player is on the same page, that stuff, sure. He’s very good at that.

“I like his style and the way he manages the team, so you’d expect he’d manage this situation well.’’

A Sox-Phillies World Series would have really good story lines. The intense Philadelphia fans could make J.D. Drew public enemy No. 1 for spurning them as a No. 1 pick years ago. There’d be debate about who is better, Utley or Dustin Pedroia, Ryan Howard or Adrian Gonzalez?

The pitching matchups would be interesting: Jon Lester vs. Halladay, Clay Buchholz vs. Lee, Josh Beckett vs. Oswalt, John Lackey vs. Hamels. There would be the closers — Brad Lidge vs. Jonathan Papelbon — and the managers — Terry Francona (a former Phillies skipper) vs. Manuel.

So would the Red Sox send a player or two to Philadelphia to help it happen?

NEW THINGS ON HIS PLATE

A strategic move for Hatteberg in Oakland

Scott Hatteberg retired from baseball in 2008 at age 38 and was away from the game for two years, but A’s general manager Billy Beane never forgot Hatteberg and persisted in trying to lure him back to the organization. He finally succeeded.

“I had the itch that I wanted to do something, and Billy always knew that,’’ said Hatteberg, “so he was really cool with trying to find something for me so that I can experience many facets of the organization and also see where it is I want this to go.

“I have three girls, so I needed a situation where I could go home from time to time while still learning all facets of the organization.’’

So Hatteberg was hired as a special assistant to Beane. He spent part of spring training as a batting instructor and will also get involved in scouting.

He attended scouting school in Arizona in the offseason, not to learn how to evaluate players — he is certainly capable of doing that — but more to learn the terminology used in evaluations.

“The scales, the projections, things like that,’’ he said. “I needed to be up to speed on those things.’’

Hatteberg was with the Red Sox from 1995 until 2001 and had two productive years as the starting catcher until losing the job to Jason Varitek. The Sox traded him to Colorado in the winter of 2001 for Pokey Reese, but the Rockies non-tendered him and he became a free agent. He signed with Oakland and had four productive seasons there before finishing his career with three years in Cincinnati.

Hatteberg was always considered a good hitting catcher, but also was known for being a smart player behind the plate.

Where this leads is anyone’s guess. His agent, Joe Urbon, feels it could be a managing job.

“It’s something I could envision down the road,’’ Hatteberg said. “As a catcher, you’re always involved in so many facets of the game that you get an idea of what it’s like.

“The last year in Cincinnati, I played first base and I was amazed at how little interaction you have with the strategy. As a catcher, you spend so much time on every strategic thing that happens on the field. You’re the quarterback out there.’’

ROLL OF THE DICE

Wakefield still may be the best backup option

Hold your horses on dumping Tim Wakefield. The reason? Two words: Daisuke Matsuzaka.

You can certainly argue that unless Wakefield is in the Red Sox rotation, he serves only as a mop-up guy. But we all know that pitchers simply don’t stay healthy for a whole season, and Matsuzaka has been awful this spring, so Wakefield isn’t necessarily at the end of the line.

Wakefield struggled early but has been better lately. That’s the nature of the knuckleball. Sometimes it’s on and sometimes it isn’t. He is perfectly capable of running off a few games in a row in which he’s untouchable.

The Sox like Alfredo Aceves a great deal, and he provides the same type of spot starter/long relief support as Wakefield. But Aceves was on the disabled list last year from May 8 on, and still has a balky back. He didn’t throw one curveball in his first two spring appearances.

The Sox could send Aceves to Pawtucket for a month just to get his body right. In addition, Felix Doubront’s elbow has already acted up in camp, and Stolmy Pimentel isn’t ready.

Matsuzaka may very well get things together, but he has had two down years after two pretty good ones, and what we’ve seen this spring isn’t exactly encouraging.

“I don’t care how old he is or how bad he looks,’’ said a veteran scout of Wakefield, “when that thing is on, you can’t hit it. That’s always been the case.

“He can throw that a long time. But he probably needs consistent work to be effective, and that’s what he hasn’t been getting the past two years.’’

Lefties Andrew Miller and Rich Hill have been starters, but neither has been stretched out in camp. Junichi Tazawa is coming off Tommy John surgery and will be brought back slowly. Michael Bowden isn’t a guy the Sox feel comfortable with as a backup starter, either.

So the starting pitching may not be as deep as we once thought.

Wakefield, who will be 45 in August, still feels he can go out there, and it’s tough for the Sox to say goodbye. As unsure as they are about him, Matsuzaka has proven he’s far from a sure thing as well.

Etc.
Apropos of nothing 1. Red Sox limited partner Tom DiBenedetto should do a nice job with the AS Roma soccer team, which he and other Boston-area investors are purchasing; 2. Carlos Lee is one large hombre; 3. Nick and Colin Barnicle’s “Down the Line,’’ a documentary on Red Sox employees, aired last night and runs through April on the MLB Network. Nick and Colin are Belmont Hill and Georgetown graduates, and this is their first project for Prospect Productions; 4. The Astros would be a good franchise to purchase, and they are for sale; 5. Don’t know all the details yet, but my initial reaction is that Chuck Greenberg got shafted by his fellow Rangers owners.

Updates on nine 1. Scott Kazmir, LHP, Angels — He has become the Daisuke Matsuzaka of this staff, coming off a poor season (9-15, 5.94) and struggling in spring training. In his first eight innings, he has allowed 12 hits and 5 walks. He’s also prime trade bait, if you want to take the leap that his game will turn around. The Rays knew what they were doing when they traded him to the Angels. You know it’s bad when manager Mike Scioscia, trying to accentuate something positive, says that Kazmir “feels good.’’

2. Kevin Cash, C, Rangers — Wonder if he’s due for a third stint with the Red Sox. They are looking for a major league-ready catcher they can keep at Triple A in case of injury, and they always loved Cash. There is still doubt as to whether Mark Wagner or Luis Exposito can be that guy. Some of the younger Sox catchers are impressive in certain areas, but none has emerged as the complete package yet. Ryan Lavarnway can really hit but is still emerging defensively. Tim Federowicz is solid defensively, and if he can keep his swing short, he could emerge offensively.

3. Zack Greinke, RHP, Brewers — Cracking a rib while playing basketball in his spare time (a poor decision), he has left the Brewers reeling to find a fifth starter. They may be able to skip the spot a few times in April, which Greinke is expected to miss. Former starter Manny Parra has been battling a bad back, and rookie righty Mark Rogers is about to start throwing again after a slow start. Right now, the Brewers are going with Yovani Gallardo, Shaun Marcum, Randy Wolf, Chris Narveson, and pray for rain.

4. Michael Young, INF/DH, Rangers — If the Cubs could get some salary relief from the Rangers, a Young deal could be made, with Chicago shifting him to second base. He’s not that good there (or anywhere in the field), but the Cubs don’t have a plethora of talent at the position in Blake DeWitt and Jeff Baker. The Cubs are waiting for D.J. LeMahieu to develop in a year or two.

5. Charlie Morton, RHP, Pirates — On an absolutely dreadful pitching staff, he is probably the most talented guy — yet he went 1-9 with a 9.35 ERA in 10 starts last year before being shipped to Indianapolis. Morton’s problems appeared more mental than physical, so he spent time working on that side of things. Now he is back in Pirates camp with the chance to capture at least the No. 5 spot in the rotation. The Pirates need someone to step up on a team that’s starting to develop talent but still may be staring at 100 losses.

6. Matt Albers, RHP, Red Sox — He could become trade bait, because he has no minor league options left, and with only two spots open in the bullpen, the Sox would have to send down Scott Atchison and Alfredo Aceves to make room for him. The last thing the Sox want is for someone like Albers to get picked on waivers by a team like Tampa Bay and be successful.

7. Felix Hernandez, RHP, Mariners — General manager Jack Zduriencik insists Hernandez is going nowhere, especially not to the Yankees. At least not now. “I keep getting hit with all that stuff,’’ said Zduriencik. “To heck with it. Felix is staying here. I can’t prevent people from making phone calls. Felix is going to stay here. We have Felix signed. We want him to be here. And when we get this thing going to where we want to get to, we’re going to be looking for what he is: a No. 1 starter. And he’s already here.’’

8. Pedro Martinez, RHP, free agent — Martinez told Bob Costas on MLB Network that the only reason he didn’t pitch last season was that he promised his kids a trip to Disney World. On 2011: “I’m not ruling it out, I’m leaving the door open, but at the same time I’m really getting used to being with the family and getting comfortable.’’ He said he’s not throwing off a mound but is playing catch. He considers himself to be in good shape and would need about six weeks to get ready.

9. Yamaico Navarro, INF, Red Sox — He is growing on a lot of scouts. “He’s got a nice swing, hits the ball hard to all fields, some power,’’ said an AL scout. “He can play the left side. This kid could start somewhere.’’ Right now, Navarro is being groomed as a utility player.

Short hops From the Bill Chuck files: “Do spring training results matter? Yes and no. Last spring, the world champion Giants led the Cactus League with a 23-12 (.657) record. The Texas Rangers, their World Series opponents, had the worst record in the Cactus League, going 10-19 (.362).’’ Also, “No lefty allowed more stolen bases last season than Jon Lester, who allowed 22. That was the second most since 1920, to John Tudor’s 27 in 1983.’’ . . . Tomorrow you can wish Bobby Jenks a happy 30th birthday and Mike Rochford a happy 48th.

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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