Boston Globe baseball writer Gordon Edes checks in every Wednesday or Thursday (today's mailbag is a special Opening Day at Fenway edition) with his take on the Red Sox. Ask your question now, and come back next week to see if it was answered.
When I look at Jonathan Papelbon I see a scenario similar to Bob Welch. Welch was a closer with the Dodgers and then became a starter for the A's. Could that be the progression for our boy Jonathan?
Joe Gill, Titusville, NJ
A: Joe, many of us remember Bob Welch coming out of the bullpen at age 21 and whiffing Reggie Jackson in the 1978 World Series in one of the most dramatic Series at-bats of our lifetimes, so in that regard there are some parallels, as you note, to Papelbon's situation. The difference is, the Dodgers never used Welch as a closer per se. Even in his rookie season, 1978, he made 13 starts and just 10 relief appearances, and by his third season he was a regular member of the Dodgers' rotation. Many pitchers over the years have started in the bullpen and graduated to the rotation. Curt Schilling in 1990 and 1991 for the Orioles and Astros, made a total of 91 appearances, all out of the 'pen, before becoming a full-time starter for the Phillies in '92. I was playing with some numbers on Lee Sinins' Sabermetric Encyclopedia -- which I highly recommend, BTW -- and there have been just 26 pitchers in big-league history who have made 100 or more starts, saved 50 or more games, and won 100 or more decisions in their career. Two of the more notable, of course, are Dennis Eckersley and John Smoltz, who went the opposite route -- starting to relieving -- in their careers. I believe, as you do, that Papelbon's future with the club is as a starter, and the idea that Keith Foulke will reclaim his spot as closer should not be summarily dismissed. The club also has Craig Hansen waiting in the wings to close, But shoot, if Papelbon is as lights out as he was in the first week, the Sox reserve the right to keep him in that role.
With Coco Crisp being out at least two weeks, how much of Wily Mo Pena can we
expect to see? Also since the Sox planned on sending down Adam Stern when
Julian Tavarez was eligible to come back, who will they send down now because
the Sox obviously will need Stern until Coco comes back? Finally, is there any
other outfielders that we might see come up while Coco is out, like Jacoby
Ellsbury or something? Thanks
Josh Wasserteil, Portland, Ore.
A: Josh, Theo Epstein has indicated that the Sox will get by without Coco with some combination of Adam Stern, Willie Harris -- who was expected to be summoned from Pawtucket in time for today's opener -- and Pena. Harris, you may recall, was with the White Sox last season and scored the winning run in the clinching Game 4 of the World Series. He did not have a particularly good spring. Stern, meanwhile, opened some eyes with his play for Canada in the WBC, while Pena remains a work in progress at the plate and a barely adequate option defensively, especially in center. Ellsbury is playing A ball -- he's still a long ways away.
I value your perspective, so help me out here! I have a "friend" -- let's call
him "Wily Mo." In Saturday's game, he looked lost at home plate. It was just two
ABs, but six strikes on seven pitches, none in the strike zone? He appeared to
have no plan whatsoever. Is he this raw? If so, is there hope for him? He's
young, but shouldn't he know better than this by now? I fear he won't get many
opportunities to display his vaunted power because no one will throw the ball
over the plate. Why would they? Signed, Worried, Manic, Perturbed ...
Paul Goode, Redmond, Wash.
A: Paul, your concern for your friend is well-placed. The story is well known by now how Wily Mo's development as a player was hurt because he signed a five-year, big-league deal with the Yanks at 17 and thus had to be kept in the majors at a point in his career where he would have profited from spending time playing every day in the big leagues instead of sitting on Cincinnati's bench. In some ways, he remains very raw, and like most sluggers, there will be times he'll look awful at the plate. The Red Sox took a calculated risk when they traded Bronson Arroyo for him, believing that if things would ever fall in place for him, the power potential would be enormous. He's at that point in his career where we will soon learn if he is more Sam Horn or Sammy Sosa.
Big fan of the mailbag. Why is Trot wearing one of those double earflap helmets. I feel like Mark Bellhorn was the only major leaguer I can remember using one, and he was a switch hitter. Trot's been up here for 10 years ... why the change now?
John Grady, Medway
A: You know, I noticed that Trot was wearing the double-flap, John, but I hadn't asked him about it yet. I did see that my friends at the Herald (they'll deny under oath that they fit that description) asked Trot over the weekend in Baltimore and he said that the double-flap helmet is better balanced and gives him a more consistent, less obstructed view of the plate. Hey, if wearing a beanie made him more comfortable at the plate, I'd be all for it.
Are you aware that Ken Ray actually pitched for the North Shore Spirit in 2005, not the Brockton Rox? Did you know that Ken Ray was signed as a free agent by Jeff Kunion, not Van Schley?
Luke Erickson, Centreville, Va.
A: Luke, I think it would be only fitting if Nick Lopardo, owner of the Spirit, gave me a rake and put me on the grounds crew at Fraser Field for a week after the error in my Sunday column in which I mistakenly credited the Rox for Ken Ray, the independent league grad who was pitching for the Spirit last season and made his big-league debut last week for the Braves, striking out Barry Bonds after coming in from the pen. Ray, like another indy alum who made it to the big leagues, Kevin Millar, beat great odds to get to the bigs, and Jeff Kunion, wherever you are, I congratulate you on your scouting vision.
Do you have any idea how the blackout system for broadcasting rights works? I
subscribed to MLBTV to get Sox games down here in NC, only to find out this past
weekend that I'm in an Orioles blackout zone. Is this some kind of Peter Angelos inferiority complex thing? Who makes these decisions? They don't broadcast Orioles games here and I assure you people couldn't care less about the Birds down here.
I recognize this is more of a rant than a question, but maybe it will resonate
with some other expats. Do us a favor, make some calls and stop the insanity! Thanks. Love your stuff by the way ...
Bronson Pinchot, Durham, NC
A: Bronson (or should I just call you Balki), I'm a subscriber to MLBTV also, and I think the only reason you were blacked out on the weekend is because they were playing the Orioles and your area falls within Orioles TV territory, though you say the games aren't televised there. I know when I was in Texas last week and tried to pull up the Sox game on my laptop, I couldn't, because of similar blackout restrictions. That's all carved out by MLB in their negotiations with their TV partners as well as with MLB Advanced Media, the controlling entity of Internet broadcasts.
I know it's early, but so far the mop up crew in the bullpen looks unimpressive. Rudy Seanez and David Riske look to follow in the impressive footsteps of Mantei, Fox, Howry, etc., not to mention the health of Foulke. I'm wondering if the Sox will have as long a leash as they did last year before cutting anyone loose? Once again I know it's too early but it seems every year you can chalk up about 5 losses to relievers we've run through the bullpen before finding a solution. On a side note, with all the talk of the young guns I'm wondering if Abe Alvarez is in contention for bullpen or spot starts, as he seems to be an afterthought by most in Sox Nation? Thanks a lot, love the columns.
Zac, San Diego
A: Zac, as you acknowledge, the operative word here is early. Far too soon to get a read on the effectiveness of this 'pen. Remember in 2003, when the committee flopped coming out of the chute, but actually got some strong performances from a number of guys once they slid into regular roles instead of closing by committee? Tavarez hasn't even pitched yet because of his suspension. Riske had a bad spring and Seanez wasn't much better, but Riske won't be getting the ball very often in close games and Seanez's strong performance in the previous two years entitles him to some benefit of the doubt. But the good news is if these guys stumble, the Sox have people like Manny Delcarmen and Craig Hansen waiting in the wings, and Lenny DiNardo could also step up as a lefty with a strong upside. Alvarez, because he's lefty and throws strikes (109 K's, 31 walks in 144 2/3 innings), is another guy just a phone call away in Pawtucket and though his stuff doesn't dazzle like a Papelbon or Jon Lester, guys like Alvarez usually wind up finding useful work in the big leagues.
Gordon, over the past three years, I've constantly read where the Sox' young players "need another year in Pawtucket". We heard this with Hanley Ramirez, and we hear the same thing with Craig Hansen and Jon Lester. Part of me thinks the same would be written about Papelbon if there were no room for him in the bullpen, since there is currently no room for him in the rotation. My thought is, let the young kids play. Papelbon has shown he can play, and Ramirez has shown he can play. If Hanley were still here, he'd be spending another year in the minors. Bottom line is, we have this young talent, let them play while we still have enough veterans on the squad to help them grow. The future looks bright for the Red Sox, let's not waste their potential in Triple-A.
What are your thoughts?
Ron Eccher, Pueblo West, Colo.
A: Ron, my thought is, the Marlins will have the luxury of enduring Hanley struggling in the big leagues, which he will, his .429 start notwithstanding. The Sox, because they are perennial contenders, don't have that luxury. Lester showed in spring training he wasn't ready yet for prime time, but check back with me at midseason -- if he doesn't get the call then, he'll be making a strong bid for the rotation next spring. Craig Hansen is another who will benefit from more seasoning. Far from potential being wasted, I respectfully would suggest that these guys are being placed in the best possible position to succeed. Yes, Papelbon came quickly, but he was a polished college pitcher when he was drafted. Ramirez was a teen-ager when he signed with the Sox; Lester a high school grad. There's time for them to grow up.
Hey Gordon, I've noticed that starting probably just this offseason, you and the other staffers who write on the Red Sox are using email to get comments from Theo and the Trio. How did this come about -- was it at their suggestion? Do you think they like it b/c they can take time to carefully formulate a response and not be caught off guard by a question? Does it make it harder to get useful info? Thanks for your work.
Daniel Heim, Washington, DC
A: Daniel, good to hear from you-hope life in the capital is treating you well. E-mail is definitely John W. Henry's preferred form of correspondence, and you know, you just can't call a billionaire at any time of the day or night and expect he'll take your call. E-mail affords him the opportunity to respond to questions on his time. Theo is open -- as far as he is open to anything these days -- to either phone or e-mailed messages. In this era of Blackberrys, both get delivered at the same time. From my end, I find e-mails somewhat less intrusive. ... There are times I prefer to e-mail someone rather than calling him in the middle of a meal or something.
Hi Gordon, I've seen a couple of people write in to you about Trot Nixon being a liability and I'm sad to see that. Nixon had one of the biggest hits in Sox history in Game 4 of the World Series. Not to mention the fact that he's what every baseball player should be. Gritty-gutty guy who plays with his heart on his sleeve. Can you please continue to squash the rumors that Nixon is done? Love your work.
Andrew, Reston, Va.
A: Andrew, I'm sure Trot appreciates that there are fans like you who stand by him. Look, he was hurt the last two seasons, his performance suffered accordingly. He's healthy now and in a big contract year, with free agency looming; I think he'll have a big year, and his commitment to playing hard should never come into question.
Hi Gordon. It was really great to see Jonathan Papelbon close out the finale of the series with the Rangers on April 5 -- he certainly proved that right now he's the man for the job. I also believe Terry Francona when he said that the Red Sox will certainly give Foulke the chance to keep his job. I have a lot of faith in Keith Foulke but if he falters and Papelbon takes over, it worries me that it would be taking away from Papelbon's gaining experience as a major league starter. After all, we know that Papelbon has the potential to be a fantastic starting pitcher, not just a great closer. Are there any other plans on the table so that if the need should arise to replace Foulke, Jonathan Papelbon can still get into the rotation at some point?
Dave Finstein, Framingham
A: Dave, I addressed your question to some extent earlier in the bag, and again, I would remind everyone not to forget Craig Hansen. The Sox believe he has the stuff to be a dominant closer in the big leagues.
Gordo, do we really want a rookie closing out big games in October? I can't help but think of Game 6 in 1986. Could we be heading for a similar fate?
Steven Picariello, Boynton Beach, Fla.
A: Well, Steven, as Joe Gil noted in the letter at the top of the 'Bag, young guns have done OK on the big stage, too, Bob Welch being only 21 when he faced down Reggie in '78. Francisco Rodriguez had been in the big leagues for less than a month when he emerged as the star of the '02 postseason for the Angels. Based on what Papelbon has shown thus far, I think there's flimsy evidence to connect him to Calvin Schiraldi.
Hey Gordon! Love your work. I think Hee Seop Choi can transform into an offensive force a la David Ortiz. They are both lefties and have serious power. The Sox just gotta fix his swing similar to Big Papi. What's your take? Thanks for your time!
Vinny, New Jersey
A: Vinny, from what I hear, that's going to take an awful lot of fixing. Choi had 80 whiffs and just 34 walks in 320 at-bats with the Dodgers last season. We're already looking for one makeover in Wily Mo; it might be asking too much to get two.
In response to the question last week (and your response) about Harry Hooper's
.403 OBP; You might have gotten that number from BasebalLibrary.com It says
that Harry Hooper had a .403 OBP as a leadoff hitter for Boston from 1909-1920.
Perhaps his OBP in other spots in the order were lower bringing his overall OBP
down. Keep up the good work.
Len Rodriguez, Chester
A: Len, thanks for coming to my rescue. That's exactly where I found it. Now, where they found his splits, I have no idea, but that was indeed my source.
You haven't seen anyone fall from grace like Nomar? How about Mo Vaughn?
Frank, Cheshire, Conn.
A: Frank, here's Mo from 1991-98 with the Sox: .304 BA, .394 OBP, .542 SGP, 230 HRs.
Mo from '99-03, with the Angels and Mets: .267, .356, .481, 98 HRs
But I would still maintain that Nomar's fall since leaving the Sox has been more precipitous, primarily because of injuries. Mo, despite his fall into the dugout his first game with the Angels, still had seasons in which he hit 33 and 36 home runs after he left Boston.
Do you think that with Papelbon looking electric early, and with Hansen, Lester, and Delcarmen continuing to work in Pawtucket, that there is any possibility that if Foulke improves to his 2004 self that he has the potential to be midseason trade bait for maybe another young pitcher or prospect? Or do you think the Sox will try and hold onto him for the season if he improves?
Jonathan Fox, Assonet
A: Jonathan, I think you're absolutely correct in seeing Foulke's value as a potential trading chip, but money will make that tough. He's due $7.75 mill this season, and he has a mutual option for next season.