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Sunday baseball notes

Red Sox could get help from unexpected sources

By Nick Cafardo
January 22, 2012
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Ben Cherington and Bobby Valentine were pretty convincing at Thursday’s Baseball Writers Dinner when talking about their happiness with the Red Sox roster. Are we suckers for buying this?

Not at all.

The general manager emphasized the fact that you never stop building your team, whether it’s the offseason, spring training, April 5, July 31, or Aug. 31. Every team is a work in progress.

The manager pointed out that at this time last season, the Yankees had two end-of-the-rotation spots that were cloudy at best, but Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia wound up filling them admirably and the Yankees won the AL East.

Cherington also pointed out the Cardinals went into the season with Albert Pujols unsigned, Adam Wainwright out for the year, and Ryan Franklin as their closer. And they won the World Series.

The Red Sox, on the other hand, had signed Carl Crawford and traded for Adrian Gonzalez. They had one of the deepest rotations in baseball. They won the offseason, hands down. But they didn’t make the playoffs.

So do we overreact to the Hot Stove? Aren’t the teams that win the teams that evolve, whether it’s through a young player coming on (as Buster Posey did with the Giants in 2010) or some guy who comes out of the clear blue and performs above and beyond?

Cherington and Valentine are correct. The pennant and the World Series aren’t won in December or January.

“That’s why you play the games,’’ said Valentine.

The 2004 Sox really didn’t find their identity until Theo Epstein made a trade-deadline deal in which he boldly sent Nomar Garciaparra to the Cubs in a three-team deal that netted Boston Orlando Cabrera, Dave Roberts, and Doug Mientkiewicz, who immediately changed the dynamic of the team.

Sometimes this way of thinking is an excuse for not getting things done in the offseason. Sometimes ownership tells the GM to draw the line on expenses. But once the season starts and there’s a feeling that one key piece will get you over the hump, the competitive juices take over and teams extend themselves to get that piece.

There is nothing wrong with trying to get by with what you have.

Some of the greatest GMs in the game - folks like Epstein, Terry Ryan in Minnesota, the Yankees’ Brian Cashman - have taken the approach that, “OK, let’s see where we get with the team we have early in the season, and if we have to adjust, we’ll adjust.’’

Epstein always said that you have to get lucky with certain positions because you can’t sign an All-Star at every spot. That was his thinking with Jarrod Saltalamacchia when he acquired the catcher at the 2010 trade deadline. He also had that approach with Alfredo Aceves, a rehab guy whom you couldn’t really project anywhere until he showed he was really good. And after the Sox trotted out a few lefty relief specialists, Rich Hill emerged as the best of them until he popped his elbow.

Giants GM Brian Sabean understands the angst of fans when you don’t have that kick-butt roster from the get-go.

“In this information age, the average fan has so much information at his/her disposal, they have all the players, stats, projections right there,’’ said Sabean. “But this game is so much more than those stats and analysis and metrics. It’s ultimately about human beings.

“In 2010, we had a few things happen. We brought Buster Posey up, and at first we had him at first base just to provide some offense for us. As we saw him catch, it enabled us to trade Bengie Molina.

“We had the emergence of Madison Bumgarner that happened ahead of our schedule for him, and then we needed bullpen help and we add Ramon Ramirez and Javy Lopez, and what they gave us was beyond what we expected.’’

Sabean added, “Everyone wants a great roster heading into Opening Day. That’s the goal of every team. Coming out of 2009, we thought we had that. We won 87 games that year. We felt good about 2010, but once we got into it, there were some things that we had to correct.’’

Sabean never thought Pablo Sandoval would go from .330 in 2009 to .268 in 2010. Injuries beset important players like Freddy Sanchez, but Aubrey Huff stepped up. Cody Ross was a late acquisition who had big hits in the postseason. Juan Uribe stepped in for Sandoval, and Edgar Renteria turned out to be the World Series MVP.

Every team needs the unexpected.

“One thing I’ve learned about a roster,’’ Sabean said. “Every year, you’re going to have one pitcher do better than you expected and one pitcher do worse. One reliever to do better and one to do worse. And one hitter do better and one do worse. It never fails.’’

So where can those “unexpecteds’’ show up on the Red Sox?

Is Daniel Bard excelling as a dominant fourth starter possible? Will Andrew Miller emerge as a solid fifth starter? Is Felix Doubront the guy from the farm system who finally emerges? Or will Junichi Tazawa or Alex Wilson be that guy?

Could Bobby Jenks put his physical woes behind him and effectively take Bard’s spot as the lights-out set-up guy in the bullpen? Does Ryan Sweeney put his game together to be that lefthanded-hitting guy who goes the other way, tattoos the wall, and plays a solid right field?

Does Ryan Lavarnway emerge as the catcher, unseat Saltalamacchia, and never look back?

Who among Aaron Cook, Vicente Padilla, and Carlos Silva will surprise you?

“Everyone has a budget threshold,’’ Sabean said, “even the teams that traditionally have the highest payrolls. Somewhere within that roster, you need to have someone emerge. You have to believe in your player development, that you can find the needed piece from within.’’

So the Sox have elected to be the team that may not be complete but could emerge.

Cherington said he felt good about his roster entering spring training, but conceded that the Yankees and Rays had fewer questions in their rotation. On paper, the Red Sox don’t have enough innings from their starters.

Sometimes it’s better to go in as the underdog. Sometimes it’s good to have competition and create hunger among the players. When your entire team is set, a malaise can set in.

After last September’s fiasco, competition and a little hunger would be good for this Red Sox team.

Etc.

Apropos of nothing

1. Even Hall of Famers have their down moments. Pat Gillick, as general manager of the Phillies, once traded Gio Gonzalez and Gavin Floyd to the White Sox for Freddy Garcia.

2. Jamie Moyer, 49, is getting a spring training invite from the Rockies. It would be great to see him pitch at 50. Class act.

3. Will Curt Schilling benefit in Hall of Fame voting next year from backlash against Roger Clemens, who is also on the ballot for the first time?

4. Yes, I believe Mike Mussina should get serious consideration for the Hall of Fame. Two-hundred and 70 wins playing his entire career in the AL East. He pitched for the Orioles when they were good. He won seven Gold Gloves. And he ended his career in 2008 with his only 20-win season.

5. The Red Sox revamped their medical department, but the entire staff is from Mass. General. Nothing really changed except that Thomas Gill is no longer the head physician, though he remains in that capacity with the Patriots.

6. Larry Lucchino won’t say whether he has re-upped with the Red Sox long-term. I’ll take that as a yes.

7. One of the most impressive and heartfelt speeches at the writers dinner was by lefty reliever Tommy Hottovy, who spent eight years in the Red Sox system before getting a cup of coffee in the majors late last year. Hottovy won the first Lou Gorman Award for perseverance and gave a warm speech about the former Sox GM, saying he reminded him of his grandfather, who also died last year. Hottovy has signed on with his hometown Kansas City Royals, another organization Gorman worked for. Lou would have loved this kid.

8. Yes, I did ask Ben Cherington if he would consider bringing back J.D. Drew. The answer was no.

9. It was former Pawtucket hitting coach Chili Davis, now the Oakland hitting coach, who insisted that the A’s deal for Josh Reddick.

10. Bobby Valentine’s parents are Italian immigrants. His dad was Neapolitan and his mother Abruzzese.

11. Still good trade values out there. Floyd, Matt Garza, and Wade Davis could be had for the right price. Wandy Rodriguez remains available. Jair Jurrjens could be had, but teams are concerned about his knee. Garza is under control this year and next, though he’s asking for $12.5 million in arbitration while the Cubs are at $7.9 million. Still, who wouldn’t pay $10 million-$12 million for a pitcher of that caliber? Don’t be shocked if the Yankees try to move one of their starters. They’d love to find a taker for A.J. Burnett and would assume most of the freight.

12. There has been talk that Victor Martinez’s injury could open the door for the Cubs to move some of their overpriced players, such as Alfonso Soriano or Marlon Byrd. Not buying it.

13. OK, I’m officially sick of hearing about Yoennis Cespedes. Let’s get him legal and put him in a Tigers, Marlins, Nationals, Cubs, or White Sox jersey.

14. You’ll probably see Joba Chamberlain (Tommy John surgery) back with the Yankees around mid-May.

15. Rich Hill informs me that his rehab from Tommy John surgery is going well. He could be a neat midseason addition to Boston’s bullpen.

16. Good seeing Wally the Green Monster at the writers dinner. Glad he wasn’t blamed for the September collapse.

17. Shout out to loyal reader Harvey Ludwin, who has been calling for the Red Sox to land Vicente Padilla for a couple of years now.

18. Tim Bogar looks managerial.

19. Frustration Dept.: Lefty reliever Neal Cotts is 31 years old and has not pitched in the majors in two years, but can’t pass a physical because of a bad hip. Yet he is throwing very well and could easily pitch in the majors, bad hip and all.

Updates on nine

1. Brandon Belt, 1B, Giants - After a strong winter season, he has a great chance of making the roster out of spring training. “We’ll have to decide whether we’re better off with Belt at first or Aubrey Huff in left, or Angel Pagan in center or Melky [Cabrera] in right or Melky in left,’’ said general manager Brian Sabean. “But Belt did some good things this winter.’’

2. Prince Fielder, 1B, free agent - The fact that one of the best hitters in the game is unsigned as we head into late January is the story of the winter. Who will give Fielder seven years? One AL East GM thinks it comes down to the Rangers and Nationals, with the Brewers and Cubs taking a shot if he settles for a one-year deal and elects to become a free agent again.

3. Craig Shipley, former Red Sox international scouting director - He resigned because of differences with Red Sox executives. He could have had a job with the Cubs and Theo Epstein but has decided to lie low for a while. Shipley’s influence landed the Sox Daisuke Matsuzaka a few years back, but differences of opinion developed with Ben Cherington after he took over.

4. Carlos Pena, 1B, Rays - He is back where he’s always felt most comfortable: Tampa Bay. The Rays have now added two lefthanded power bats in Pena and Luke Scott. Scott will likely DH most of the time, while Pena will replace departed free agent Casey Kotchman. Pena spent one season with the Cubs but declined arbitration after making $10 million last season. He signed for $7.25 million for one year with the Rays. The Rays could now accelerate a deal for B.J. Upton to get a shortstop. Currently, Sean Rodriguez is slated to play there over Reid Brignac. The Rays could also use an everyday catcher, with veteran backup Jose Molina currently slated to start. The Tigers also tried hard for Pena.

5. Johnny Damon, DH/LF, free agent - If the Orioles, Tigers, or Yankees don’t come through soon, Damon could be in a real bind as far as finding a job. The Rays didn’t go back to him because they felt they needed more power from the DH spot. Yet his value in the clubhouse is immeasurable. He’d be great in Detroit to replace Martinez, who has developed into a team leader. Damon knows the Tigers well.

6. David Eckstein, SS/2B, free agent - The former Red Sox farmhand, who didn’t play last season, has decided to retire, even though there were teams willing to bring him into camp. Eckstein, 37, played 10 seasons and was a .280 career hitter.

7. Vlad Guerrero, DH, free agent - With DH openings few and far between, you wonder whether Guerrero’s time is just about up. It’s not that he can’t hit, but his power numbers started to go south last season. You also wonder about Hideki Matsui, Magglio Ordonez, Raul Ibanez, and J.D. Drew.

8. Victor Martinez, DH, Tigers - His ACL injury has highlighted the issue of players using outside personal trainers in the offseason and how difficult it is for teams to keep track of what each individual player is up to. “It’s become a real problem and real headache for the medical staff,’’ said a GM. “It’s just hard to monitor the routines of every player. Even if you have it on paper, you can’t visibly see what they’re doing.’’ Martinez was injured performing an agility drill when he slipped - a freak injury, hard to blame anyone for. According to a major league source, the Tigers are well-insured on Martinez’s contract and should be able to replace him with a significant player.

9. Carlos Lee, 1B, Astros - We’ve mentioned him as an option for a team looking for a first baseman/DH. Lee has not been receptive to waiving his no-trade clauses, and now he has 10-5 rights, which means he has to approve any deal. He is scheduled to earn $18.5 million, but the Astros have said they are willing to eat half of it - maybe more, to appeal to a team like the Tigers.

Short hops

From the Bill Chuck files: “Over the last four seasons, there have been four players with at least 1,000 at-bats who have cumulatively hit .220 or lower: Jeff Mathis (.193), Andruw Jones (.213), Jason Varitek (.218), and Kelly Shoppach (.220).’’ And, “Over the last three seasons, Troy Tulowitzki may edge Hanley Ramirez, .304 to .303, for the best average among shortstops, but it’s not even close when it comes to homers. Tulo leads Hanley, 89-55.’’ . . . Happy birthday to Ramon Aviles (60), and belated wishes (yesterday) to Mike Smithson (57) and Sam Mele (90).

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