The final day of 2009 seemed like a good time to clear out the in-box and answer some actual e-mails from actual readers.
Mike writes: I have this nagging feeling that the Sox regret moving Adam LaRoche and Mark Kotsay. One is clearly superior to Casey Kotchmann, while the other is as good as, plus is more versatile (OF and 1B). So, that brings me to this: LaRoche is a free agent. Why isn't he on the radar?
Answer: Mike, while I have not heard his name mentioned in connection with the Sox. LaRoche strikes me as one of those players who will be available close to spring training and could come cheaply. That said, they let him go once already.
Ryan writes: Why does it seem that no one is talking about the possibility that the Sox keep Mike Lowell and move him to first? Wouldn't Youkilis be a better defensive option at third? I would be incredibly disappointed if they signed a guy like Adrian Beltre for multiple years. Wouldn't it make more sense to make the best out of the Lowell situation for the year rather than paying him to play somewhere else?
Answer: I suspect, Ryan, that a lot of fans feel the same way. Terry Francona mentioned the idea of using Lowell at 1B "a little" during a recent Q&A he did for NESN.com, so maybe you're on the right track. But I do think many people underestimate how hard it can be to play first base. Lowell has never been over there before coming off the hip and thumb injuries, it might be asking too much to have him switch positions. But he certainly would make a good candidate.
David writes: I was just wondering since you cover the Sox, what is Dice-K like to talk to? We know so little about him because of the language barrier and all. How much English does he know?
Answer: That is something I do not know, David. I started up on the Sox beat at the start of the playoffs and did not get a chance to meet Daisuke. My understanding from talking to other people is that Matsuzaka uses his translator when he deals with the English-speaking media. Unfortunately, Asian players often suffer from a lack of fan support in the United States because fans don't get to know them very well via the media.
Jim writes: What am I missing with UZR and similar metrics? Jacoby Ellsbury is the worst center fielder in the Major Leagues? That's not what I see when I watch him play. I see the ball hit into center and I see him catch it. He makes ALL the routine plays and he makes most of the spectacular plays. What am I missing?
Answer: I hear this from a lot of people, Jim. I'm not a big fan of UZR because it can't possibly take into account all the variables that go into defense, particularly how a player is positioned. In essence, UZR is the measure of how well a fielder turns batted balls into outs within the zone he defends. There's a far more detailed explanation here, at Baseball Think Factory. That all said, I do think Ellsbury has some trouble on balls he has to go straight back for and doesn't cover the amount of ground his speed suggests he should. But few scouts would agree with the notion that he's not a good center fielder.
Peter writes: Who is going to be the utility backup guy for the Red Sox? Is it Jed Lowrie? I would rather see Lowrie play everyday in Pawtuckett. He has missed a lot of baseball and I think he needs to play every day to get back in the groove and even prove that he is durable enough.
Answer: I agree with you, Pete. Lowrie can't prove he can stay healthy by playing off the bench. He needs to play at this stage. I would guess the Red Sox will invite assorted AAAA guys to spring training and hope a utility guy shakes out.
Subodh writes: How much do you think the Sox front office uses defensive metrics to make evaluations? I have a feeling they are putting way too much faith in +/- and UZR this offseason. Aren't you worried that this faith in these relatively immature statistical tools (coupled with inevitable regression in defensive ability) could prove disastrous?
Answer: Very good question, Subodh. Theo Epstein is not answering e-mails these days. But I would guess that he would say he tries to take everything into account when he makes decisions. That would include the metrics, scouting reports and the opinions of his staff, managers and coaches. I do think defensive stats are the new OBP and that smart teams are placing more value on defense in general. The Rays were a great example of that in 2008. But I would be surprised if the Sox are basing everything on the metrics.
Tom writes: Do you see the Sox attempting to resign any of their free agents during the year? Beckett, Papelbon, Martinez? Any that you see as critical they attempt to keep?
Answer: Yes, yes and yes. The Sox do not reveal much about contract negotiations, but indications are they have started to try and work something out with Beckett and are open to a deal with V-Mart. Papelbon seems pretty intent on getting to free agency. As to who is more critical, I believe a front-end starter like Beckett has the most value to a team.
Elaine writes: During those stretches of the season when all five starters are healthy, when will Tim Wakefeld get in his work? Are the Sox likely to pencil him in in a semi-regular capacity, scheduling rest for each of the top five starters more or less in advance? Or will he be the long man in the pen? The latter seems sort of unlikely given Tim's recent back issues. But how solid is his feel for the knuckler likely to be if he pitches once every two weeks? Or am I foolish for positing any period in the year when all five starters will be healthy?
Elaine: The problem of too much pitching is rarely one teams are worried about. I would think the Red Sox would try and use Wakefield every 8-10 days as a sort of No. 6 starter. That would allow them to give their regulars extra rest from time to time. They also could use him as a long man, too. Invariably there are games when a reliever is needed in the second or third inning and Wakfield could give them a bullpen-saving four innings. As for the feel of the knuckler, Tim has been around long enough to know what he needs to do to prepare. Excellent question, Elaine.
TMarg writes: I think the Sox should sign Russell Branyan to a short-term deal to play first, bat him ninth and let him hit 30 home runs. This will give the Sox some options come the trading deadline. Teams like the Astros (Lance Berkman), Cubs (Derek Lee) have expiring contracts with both these players. If these teams are out of playoff contention they will be looking to dump payroll. I think the Sox should stay away from Adrian Gonzalez. The price will be too high at this point. His price will come down a lot next year with the glut of free agent first baseman available). Also signing Branyan short-term will provide insurance at DH as well, if Sox do trade for a first baseman mid-year and Ortiz goes back to his non-steroid production.
TMarg: That is a well-reasoned argument. But Branyan has hit 30 homers once in 12 seasons and has played for an incredible seven teams since 2005 if you count Milwaukee twice. Teams look for that boom, boom pow from him and don't get it, or at least not enough of it.
Thanks for the questions. We'll do another one of these again soon. Feel free to e-mail me with any questions or suggestions for the blog.
Stay safe this weekend. Lots of amateurs on the road.