A mound of questions
Readers wonder what the Sox rotation will look like if everyone's healthy
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It's almost six weeks into spring training, and already one member of the Red Sox has had surgery, pitchers are headed toward five innings at a clip, and my bracket is shredded beyond recognition. (No, I'm not bitter at all.)
More importantly, there has been movement toward the start of the regular season. The first cuts have been made from major league camp as the number gets whittled down to the magic 25. The Red Sox players in the World Baseball Classic have started to return, though far more of that has been injury-related than the Sox would like. And apparently everyone out there is concerned about the starting rotation.
Not about having too few pitchers, but about having too many. Go figure.
We've got lots of information in here, both about the major leaguers and minor leaguers. I apologize to those whose questions didn't get answered -- I got tons again. Please resend your questions if I didn't get to them, and I'll try to answer them in the next mailbag. Until then, we've got the differences between Jeff Bailey and Chris Carter, the Papelbon brothers, and some sedatives for all those up in arms about the potential for the Sox to have about seven starting pitchers by midseason.
With that in mind, I'm off to watch some basketball -- I mean spring training baseball. Close enough ...
We hear a lot about Lars Anderson as the first baseman of the future but we don't hear much about Jeff Bailey, who I believe plays first as well. Wasn't he the Triple-A player of the year? What kind of a player is he and why isn't he someone to keep on the roster instead of a Mark Kotsay or especially a Brad Wilkerson, who is a weak hitter. I understand Bailey may not be a great outfielder but he has played the position. Thanks.
Lenny, New York
A: Yes, Jeff Bailey was the International League MVP. And Terry Francona likes him a lot, as well. He's not really in the mix to be the team's first baseman of the future -- that's definitely Lars Anderson -- but he is in the mix to be on the roster this season. He's a strong offensive player with adequate defensive skills. He used to be a catcher until he got a mental block that wouldn't allow him to throw back to the pitcher's mound. Bailey is one of the players who is vying for the spot vacated, for now, by Mark Kotsay. Until Kotsay is recovered from the back surgery he had at the end of January, the Sox will add another player to the roster. Right now, that player will come from the group of Bailey, Chris Carter, Brad Wilkerson, and Paul McAnulty.
Love your insight on the Sox. In looking at the schedules for the Sox, the Rays and They Who Will Not Be Named, I believe the schedules actually favor the Sox. By mid-May they are done with their quota of left coast trips. The Rays are not done until mid-August and The Team Who Will Not Be Named finishes late September. The lack of travel has to favor the boys of Fenway heading into October. Your thoughts....
Rob, Scarsdale, NY
A: I think there is something to that. While each team has its own struggles with the schedule -- from two-game series to tough opponents, etc. -- having no West Coast games after May can only help the Sox. In addition to that, there's an extended home streak in September that includes the Royals and Orioles, and the Sox spend much of the month at home. In my opinion, it can't hurt, and can possibly help. Of course, there are a lot more factors than just the schedule.
OK, here we go ... Should Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jon Lester, Tim Wakefield and Brad Penny (or maybe a fifth starter to be named later in Penny's place) all be healthy and doing good enough to keep their spot in the rotation when John Smoltz comes in June, why would you put Wake in the pen? That's the thing I've been hearing and reading that leaves me feeling ... confused? Worried? Why would you want a knuckleball in the bullpen when you could put Penny in the pen? I remember reading something about Penny's contract included some clauses for appearances, saves and things of that sort. Your thoughts? Keep kicking @$$ and taking names with the mailbag.
A: That's a big if, of course. These things usually have a way of working themselves out in the end, with injuries or ineffectiveness (and sometimes both) combining to knock a starter or two out of the running. That being said, I tend to think that Tim Wakefield belongs in the starting rotation and not in the bullpen. He's been there before, of course, but that doesn't mean it's a good idea at this point. Not only does Terry Francona not exactly favor a long reliever, which is what Wakefield could end up being in the bullpen, but the catching situation complicates matters as well. As for the clauses in contracts about appearances and saves, that's not uncommon. You might remember that Bartolo Colon had similar clauses in his contract last season.
If Brad Penny and John Smoltz are both eventually healthy -- and indeed those are a couple of big "ifs" -- doesn't the Red Sox rotation get awfully crowded, especially with the way Clay Buchholz has been pitching this spring? It would be a nice problem to have, and it's some time off, but can't help but wonder about it?
Chris, Fairport, NY
A: Again, don't get too far ahead of yourself. Though Brad Penny looked good, reaching 95 miles an hour, in his first start of the spring on Wednesday, he's a long way from being ready to start in a regular season game. And John Smoltz is even further away. With the way Clay Buchholz ended last season, I wouldn't be surprised if the team wanted to see him start in the minors this year, especially with the ability to start Justin Masterson in the short term. Of course, the team could deem Buchholz ready for that fifth spot to start the season, since they're not under any obligation to make final decisions for another couple of weeks. He has looked really good this spring, with Brad Mills praising his "mound presence" this morning. As for the crowded rotation that seems to worry everyone, don't worry about it. Things happen. Pitchers, especially, get injured. As Theo Epstein said on Wednesday, the attrition rate for starting pitching is tremendous. And if Buchholz is ready and the rest of the rotation is healthy, the team has a way of making room for their young stars. If they think he's ready to be the Buchholz they think he can be, they will find room.
Any chance the Red Sox would consider leaving their Fort Myers spring training location for an Arizona spring training site? I've heard there is a dispute between the city of Fort Myers and the team over the stadium. Is this true? Tucson would be a natural site for the team given that NL powers the D-Backs and Rockies are already there and Terry Francona is a University of Arizona alum. And, even at 100 miles to Phoenix, the travel time is a lot less than the Florida location. Any comment?
Paul, Dallas, Texas
A: While a lot of us would love for the Sox to head to Arizona (including players and the writers, who are both subjected to significantly longer drives than we would have in Arizona), that's not going to happen. This past summer the Sox agreed to remain in Lee County for the foreseeable future, though that was with the stipulation that the county would build a new stadium for the Sox. There are four sites left as possibilities, but it will certainly be one of those sites. We'll have to keep Arizona as wishful thinking for now . . .
When I saw a list of players from the Red Sox who were playing in the WBC in the Globe, I was surprised to see that Mitch Dening's name wasn't on it. Then I checked the Australia rosters, and sure enough, there he was. Did I miss something, or did the Globe just forget about Mitch? Thanks.
A: Poor Mitch Dening. We must have forgotten about him, because he was off with Australia until the team was eliminated from the tournament. Dening, in fact, went on the road trip with the Sox to Sarasota to play the Reds last night.
Which farm club will Lars Anderson be spending the most time with in 2009?
A: Lars Anderson is likely to spend much of his time with Pawtucket in 2009, though I wouldn't rule out a start in Portland -- or an end to the season in Boston.
I have a quick minor league question for you ... Papelbon. No, not Jonathan. Didn't the Sox (and one other team) draft his twin brothers Jeremy and Josh? Are either of them playing, and if so what can be expected of them?
Jeff, Richmond, Va.
A: You're almost correct. The Sox drafted one of Jonathan Papelbon's brothers, Josh Papelbon, in the 48th round of the 2006 draft. He's not at all the same type of pitcher that his older brother is, though. Josh is a righthanded sidearm reliever. He had a 4-3 record with a 4.46 ERA in Single A Lancaster last year. I was actually talking to him a few days ago, and he said he's really hoping to get to Double A Portland this season. I'm not yet sure if that's a realistic goal for him, but it could be. Essentially I wouldn't be looking for him to make a major impact with the big league club. His twin brother Jeremy is the better prospect. The lefty was drafted by the Cubs in the 19th round in 2006, and had a 2.57 ERA as a reliever (mostly) with the Cubs' high Single A affiliate in 2008.
How do you rate Nick Green's defense?
L.E. Robinson, Ashland, Ore.
A: From what I've seen, I think Nick Green is a good to very good defender in the infield. I've seen him make some impressive off-balance throws from shortstop, but he's been solid at all the positions he's played so far this spring. He would be an excellent candidate to start the season on the major league roster with Julio Lugo's knee still recovering from the surgery on Tuesday. I'd give Green the inside track on that open spot behind Jed Lowrie. He's been tearing the cover off the ball at the plate, not that spring training statistics necessarily correlate in any way to regular season statistics, and, as I mentioned, has been more than holding his own at second base, shortstop, and third base.
Amalie . . . greetings from the Midwest. Love the mailbag -- you and Mike Reiss help me keep my sanity out here! Quick question on the Yankees' "amazing" signings. I know everyone thinks they've upgraded significantly, and on paper they have. But one thing has been bothering me, that no one pointed out: While CC Sabathia might be a great pitcher overall, haven't we historically owned him? I mean, I know we only play Cleveland 6-8 times a year, and honestly I don't remember regular season games against him. What I do remember is beating him like the proverbial red-headed stepchild in Game 1 of the ALCS and then doing it all over again in Game 5. Didn't he have something like a 10.45 ERA for that series? I guess my point is, that particular signing seems to be a lessing in disguise for the Sox. What do you think?
Matt Holmes, St. Paul, Minn.
A: Nope. Not at all. I don't think that the signing of CC Sabathia was a blessing in disguise for the Red Sox. But just to answer your question about the splits, Sabathia has started against the Red Sox seven times in his career. He has a 2-4 record and a 3.91 ERA in the regular season over 48 1/3 innings. (All this information is according to baseball-reference.com.) In Fenway Park, Sabathia is 1-1 with a 2.35 ERA. Yes, you are right about the postseason. In the 2007 ALCS against the Sox, Sabathia had a 10.45 ERA in two losses. He hasn't exactly distinguished himself in the postseason thus far in his career. But if he pitches the Yankees into the playoffs during the regular season, leaving the Sox playing golf in October, I'm guessing there aren't going to be a lot of Sox fans calling him a blessing -- no matter what he does in the playoffs at that point.
Amalie: I know it's probably at least a year or two away, and he's proven nothing at the major league level, but given Daniel Bard's potential and physical makeup, do you see a chance that the Red Sox will deal Papelbon before he reaches free agency and make Bard their closer? Or will the Sox be willing at pony up long-term big bucks and take their chances with Pap's shoulder -- and mouth -- for the long term?
Pete, Collierville, Tenn.
A: While I'm not sure that Jonathan Papelbon's mouth makes much of a difference to the Sox in terms of his long-term future with the club, his shoulder does. He's been healthy so far since that subluxation back in 2006, but there's reason for the Sox to remain cautious with his health. There's a reason that when discussing which young Sox might be signed to long-term deals this offseason I mentioned Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, and Jon Lester -- but not Papelbon. As much as he keeps saying he's not interested in taking a deal at a lower salary level in exchange for security, as the rest of those mentioned did, the Sox are going to be careful with the length and the amount of money they offer him. I think it's a little soon to consider Daniel Bard as the heir to the closer-ship, but he has been ridiculously impressive this spring. So is it a possibility? Sure, most things are at least a possibility. But I can't give you any more of a solid answer than that.
I am a longtime Braves fan and was wanting to know what role John Smoltz is going to play for the Sox this year. Starter, middle releiver or set up man for Pap. I spent many years watching Smoltz perform in different roles from the mound. I now read The Boston Globe to try and find information about him at spring training but dont find anything. In my opinion the Sox and Smoltz made good moves and I hope to see the Sox prevail in the AL this year.
David Mayhall, Fresno, Calif.
A: Welcome to the 'bag. John Smoltz is being considered purely for the rotation. He will not be used in a relief role. Smoltz is less than a week away from throwing his first bullpen session of the season, scheduled for Wednesday, and is looking toward June 1 as a target date for returning to the majors. The date might have slight wiggle room, but his role on the Sox would not.
Some years ago, the Sox set up an acadamy in the Dominican. In recent years, I haven't seen a lot of prospects coming through from there, or any of the Latin countries (since Hanley Ramriez). Also, when top prospects from there are being bid on, it seems that the Sox are not in the mix. It appears that the Sox have changed their non-US focus to Japan (maybe because Craig Shipley is highly regarded), Have the Sox been less agreesive in the Dominican, and do you think that is because management has soured on some of their former Dominican players?
Andy, Providence, R.I.
A: Andy, you're right that there haven't been a lot of Dominican (or Venezuelan) prospects making the majors in recent years from the academy. But that doesn't mean that the Sox are necessarily backing off from the academy, or from the Dominican. Some prospects have been used in deals (like Engel Beltre, to the Rangers in the deal for Eric Gagne). Others (like Felix Doubront) are still in the organization and are moving up toward the majors. The Sox made a major signing in Michael Almanzar out of the Dominican, giving him $1.5 million as a signing bonus. (He's a big kid, by the way. I've seen him play a little defense at third so far this spring, and there's definitely athleticism there.) Stolmy Pimentel came through the Dominican Summer League. I wouldn't say the team has been less aggressive in the Dominican, but there is the thought that the Pacific Rim is a place the team can establish itself. The Sox have players now from places as varied as the Netherlands, Australia, Taiwan, as well as the Latin countries. Note: I have been to the Sox' Dominican Academy. It's an interesting place. Jesus Alou, who runs it, admitted back then (two years ago) that the Sox have not produced as much major league talent out of the academy as he would wish. The goal for him is to change that.
Amalie, we have been watching non-roster invitee Josh Reddick with great interest (he's a friend of our grandson's from Georgia baseball). His stats are great -- high batting average, lots of playing time, covers all outfield positions, savvy base runner, etc. Why isn't the media covering him? Is he a surefire prospect? We feel he should be in Pawtucket on the Fenway shuttle soon. Comments???
Bunny, Hobe Sound, Fla.
A: Josh Reddick absolutely had an excellent camp, better than Lars Anderson, in fact. He made one of the defensive plays of the spring, climbing the fence in left field. He also hit .500 this spring. I apologize that there wasn't as much coverage of Reddick as you might have liked, but sometimes the non-roster invitees don't get their fair share -- especially when they're not major-league ready. He's definitely a good prospect, but there are some knocks on him. There's no question that he needs to bulk up a bit, which he's doing with the goal of adding about five to 10 more pounds this season. He also needs to work on his aggressiveness at the plate. Since he signed, the Sox have been trying to get him to become more selective at the plate. In fact, after he was sent back to the minors this week, he mentioned how proud he was that he had walked twice this spring. So there's certainly work that needs to be done before he can think about Fenway Park.
Hi Amalie -- I'm trying to figure out the difference between Jeff Bailey and Chris Carter. Both seem like AAAA players. Good stick, not much of a glove. They also both seem like nice guys and hard workers. That said, what IS the difference between the two and which one stands the better chance of being a useful MLB player? I'm guessing Carter, simply based on his age.
Eric, Los Angeles
A: May I suggest intensity? You're right on all counts. Perhaps the biggest difference is, seriously, the fact that Chris Carter is one of the most intense players I've ever seen. (And I'm not alone in making that statement.) Jeff Bailey is better defensively, though that is relative. He's about adequate, while Carter is below average in the field. Carter is, as you mentioned, four years younger than Bailey. I think it depends on the need. Carter gives you a good bat with higher average at DH, and Bailey could be a backup at first base and in the outfield focused more toward a little power.