Just about everyone connected to the Red Sox -- players to members of the front office to the media -- is ready for the season to start. The time spent in Fort Myers is beginning to drag, the allure of the regular season, of results that matter, becoming great. While spring training is, of course, an important time for the players to prove their worth and get their work in, the monotony eventually gets to even the most dedicated workers. They are getting that anxious feeling, with the excitement building to return to Fenway Park and begin their 2010 campaign.
But there are things left to do in Fort Myers. The pitchers still need to get their pitch counts higher. The batters need more at-bats. The final spots need to be filled. The evaluations of the minor leaguers need to continue.
That being said, it's less than two weeks until opening day (opening night, really). To keep you occupied until then -- or at least for a few minutes -- here's a mailbag full of good questions, about Joe Mauer's deal and Tim Wakefield's status and Jed Lowrie's health. So please enjoy, and make sure to send in more questions. Just remember that by the time the next edition comes out, the Sox will have played their first game of the season. Unless, of course, it's snowed out.
Brian from Storrs, Conn., asks: What does the Joe Mauer deal mean for both the Red Sox and the Yankees?
Answer: The Joe Mauer deal is fairly significant for the Red Sox. It appeared to be a foregone conclusion that Mauer was going to eventually sign with the Twins, since he means too much to that franchise for them to have let him go. But had he not signed with Minnesota, the Sox would have gone after him. With the Sox not having a catcher under contract past the 2010 season, as both Victor Martinez and Jason Varitek become free agents, it would have been perfect timing for them to spend on a franchise player. Now that Mauer won't be on the market this offseason, the Sox will have to find an alternate solution behind the plate. That is good for Martinez, who is likely to earn a very nice payday this winter. It also increases the pressure on the Sox to re-sign him or make a trade, given that they probably don't have an alternative in their minor league system. They might have a backup catcher who could be ready for 2011, but it's unlikely that they have anyone ready to be the starter for a team looking to contend for a championship. The Yankees also would have been in the market for Mauer, since Jorge Posada could be ready for a move to DH by next season, his last under contract with New York. The Yankees do have a couple of highly regarded prospects in their system at catcher, including Jesus Montero, but Mauer would have been a major attraction.
Blaise from Leominster, Mass., asks: Okay, now I know we're not going to get the '04 Adrian Beltre (.334 AVG, 48 HR, 121 RBIs) this season. However is it too unrealistic to envision Beltre hitting .309, and maybe hitting 30 HRs? His predecessors at his position (Mueller hit 30 points higher and 9 more home runs than his best season, Lowell rebounded from a dismal '05 with the Marlins. Both of those in their first season with the BoSox.) And to add to that, Beltre has a 1 year deal and has plenty to prove.
Answer: No, you won't see the 2004 Adrian Beltre. But -- despite not having a crystal ball -- I think it's certain that we'll see a better offensive performance than last season, and quite possibly a pretty good one. There are a number of factors that contributed to Beltre's down season in 2009 -- .265 batting average, eight homers, 44 RBI -- including health and ballpark. Moving from Safeco Field to Fenway Park will help Beltre's offense. I spoke to former teammate Raul Ibanez this spring about Beltre, and he commented that Safeco was a "bear," particularly for Beltre. As Ibanez said, "He hits a lot of long drives to that big part of the field, even to left field that are outs. In Seattle, they're outs. It's going to be a good situation for him." I'm not quite sure we'll see him up around .309 and 30, as you suggested, but I think we could easily see .280 and 25 homers, slightly above his career average. Of course, that's only my opinion. But I think that, yes, he does have a motive for proving that he can still be a good offensive player, and coupled with his new environment (and more protection in the lineup), that might be enough to swing him in the right direction in Boston.
Sean from Covesville, Va., asks: Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. Red Sox pitchers, especially the starters, seem to be throwing a lot of strikes this spring. Could this have anything to do with the improved Sox defense? Are pitchers more willing to "pitch to contact" because of increased confidence in the players behind them?
Answer: Sean, that's partially a function of it being spring training. Pitchers are more willing to pitch to contact in a game in which their results don't matter. John Lackey discussed that after his start on Wednesday. As he said, "If I get to three balls, most of the time I'll just throw it in there." That's partially how he has ended up not walking a single batter in his 14 innings of work, though Lackey doesn't walk a whole lot of batters in the regular season either. I do think that there could be a psychological aspect to throwing so many strikes with a weak defense behind them, but I don't think many pitchers change their style depending on their defenders. It can certainly increase their confidence in being able to turn a grounder into a double play, for example, but I'm guessing that Jon Lester and Josh Beckett aren't going to do much differently than they did before because of the defense. So we'll have to see if it's a trend that continues. (Daisuke Matsuzaka's absence from the spring training rotation might also have a bit to do with that, as well.) It would certainly be welcome for everyone, including the defense and the fans.
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Rick from Gorham, Maine, asks: Do you think Josh Reddick will be able to earn a job this spring? He sure looks good in all facets of the game.
Answer: As well as Josh Reddick has played so far this spring -- he has a .447 average with .722 slugging percentage -- most of those decisions are not actually made in spring training. The Sox would, obviously, like to have all of their players do well, but it's not exactly a good environment to judge talent. Terry Francona cited the axiom the other day that you can't judge players in March or September. Batters are often facing minor league pitching, playing with strong winds blowing out, or facing a pitcher working mostly on his changeup, for instance. There are a lot of factors that can skew stats in the spring. As Francona said on Sunday, "You want guys to have good camps and you hope you get a good evaluation on them, but I think after 20 at bats if somebody hits their way onto your team, you're opening yourself up for a mistake." That being said, the Sox do like Reddick a lot. He's unlikely to make the team out of spring training, unless something happens to Jeremy Hermida, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him in the majors at some point this year.
Andy from Reston, Va., asks: Hi Amalie, Once again you do an awesome job covering the Sox and add a really positive perspective that gets us excited about the season. I am beyond sad to hear about Ryan Westmoreland's medical condition and hope he's able to fully recover and lead a normal life - baseball aside. The kid seems to be snake-bit and that's a shame. But I'm actually concerned about Jed Lowrie. He continues to exhibit an injured wrist and now fatigue. Are the Red Sox showing signs of frustration at this point? It seems the once promising career of Jed Lowrie is headed in the direction of the Kevin Morton/Brian Rose/Frankie Rodriguez abyss. Is he in trouble?
Answer: Thanks, Andy. As you may have read this week, the fatigue for Jed Lowrie actually ended up being mononucleosis. But I understand your point. Lowrie has had to go through quite a bit over the past three seasons, mostly as a result of the left wrist injury. I think there is some frustration, though nothing that the team would spell out publicly. There was some confusion last season as to why the wrist simply didn't get better. And it still wasn't 100 percent this spring, even before Lowrie got sick. I don't think that it's time to quite call it a career for the infielder, but it's definitely a problem that he can't get on the field. While he came into camp with a chance to make the team to start the season -- though that probably would have necessitated a trade of Mike Lowell -- he will clearly begin the season at Triple A at this point, with the mononucleosis having robbed him of working out for nearly two weeks. Is he in trouble? Not exactly. But the Sox do need to see him perform and need to see that he can remain healthy for an extended length of time. They need to know that they can depend on him, and he just hasn't been able to demonstrate that for the last two years. That's a problem.
strong>Rob from Scarsdale, N.Y., asks: Hello Amalie, glad to see that the mailbag is back and thriving under your stewardship. My question is regarding Tim Wakefield. He signed a team-friendly 2-year extension that will probably end his career hopefully as the winningest pitcher in Red Sox history. I hope, given the unsettled status of the starting rotation, that Theo does not use the contract against Mr. Wakefield as trade leverage later on given the modest dollar value.
Answer: The Sox actually can't trade Tim Wakefield without his permission. Wakefield has 10-5 rights, meaning that he's been in the majors for 10 years and has spent the last five with his current team. So there's no chance of this happening. But, on the topic of Wakefield, watching his situation this spring has been quite interesting. There were a lot of assumptions made that Wakefield would not be in the starting rotation, given that he was coming off surgery and that the Sox had five other starters on their team. Wakefield just sat back, did his work, made his pitches, and is now in line to be a part of the rotation at the start of the season. He has pitched well and efficiently, looking far more like he did at the beginning of last season -- when he made the All-Star team for the first time -- than he did at the end. But, to answer your question, Wakefield should absolutely be able to retire as a member of the Red Sox.
Marcus from Milton, Mass., asks: Hey Amalie, thanks for your outstanding preseason coverage. I really love our squad this year, especially our depth both pitching and defensively. One question I have is how Victor Martinez will hold up being the every day catcher? Will Varitek work specifically with certain pitchers? I'm curious on how Tito will juggle this especially with V-Mart's ability to play first.
Answer: When I asked Victor Martinez how he might hold up being the every day catcher earlier this spring, he nearly laughed. Though there might be some concern given that Martinez started 85 games behind the plate in 2009 and 55 in 2008 (though he only played in 73 games overall that year), Martinez believes he'll have no trouble. He was the starting catcher for the Indians the four years before that, getting the nod the vast majority of games. He is 31, but it appears that the Sox are not worried about his ability to physically get through the season as the starting catcher. We don't know yet whether Jason Varitek will work with particular pitchers, though it's clear that Martinez will catch Wakefield. (Varitek has yet to see any time with Wakefield this spring.) As for Martinez at first base, that will be a bit of a sticky situation. Unlike last season, when the Sox were trying to get Lowell rest instead of having him play third every day, they don't have that issue this season with Kevin Youkilis and Adrian Beltre. "We've got Youk and Beltre," Francona said recently. "They're every day guys. I don't know. It's probably more of when a guy needs a rest or somebody's beat up. We'll see." It will be interesting to see how Francona juggles his lineup on days when Varitek is catching, and how often he actually plays Martinez at first when everyone is healthy.
David from Enfield, Conn., asks: In spring training, when the Sox have a split squad, how is it decided as to who the coaches will be for each game? Are the minor league coaches used? Would they 'play out of position' ... i.e., an outfield coach, coaching at 3rd base?
Answer: That's actually a great question for this week. The Sox had two straight split squad games the last two days, with one at home each day, and one in Dunedin (against the Blue Jays) on Sunday and one in Jupiter (against the Cardinals) yesterday. (That Dunedin game did end up being called because of rain.) Francona attempts to get to as many games as he can, as we saw when he hit Kissimmee and Port Charlotte for two games in the same day last week. But usually Francona will take one game, with bench coach DeMarlo Hale managing the other. The other coaches go to the place they're needed most. If there's a pitcher throwing in one of the games that John Farrell has to watch, he'll go there. If the major league infielders are playing in a certain game, it's likely that third base coach/infield coach Tim Bogar will be there. As for "out of position," that's not really an issue. Ron Johnson, who is coaching first base, coached third the other day against the Astros with his son, Chris, playing third for Houston. With split squad games, they are really just trying to fill in coaches as well as they can. And, yes, some of the minor league coaches go on road trips. Torey Lovullo, the Pawtucket manager, has been around the major leaguers quite a bit this spring.
Moose from Chandler, Ariz., asks: In a worst-case scenario where someone like the Yankees lure away Victor with a huge contract the Sox simply won't meet, would the front office be more likely to go try and pull another catcher off the market or do they think a solution involving Wags is possible next year?
Answer: I know that the Sox would rather allow Mark Wagner -- or any of their minor league catchers -- to gain experience behind a more veteran starting catcher. It's unlikely that they would hand the reins to a rookie, giving him the pressure of learning the major league pitchers and opponents in the pressure-filled environment of Boston. Also, there's no guarantee that Wagner will be ready by 2011. From what I've heard, there's a chance that he might be ready by then (and it's unlikely that any of the other minor league catchers will be), but I think the Sox will have to make a major effort to find a solid starting catcher for 2011. It seems that with the signing of Mauer, that gives the Sox all the more incentive to nail down Martinez, and then potentially use a guy like Wagner as the backup, if he's ready for it at that point.
Steve from Philadelphia asks: I believe you mentioned that the Sox are a bit thin for backup infielders. Is Bill Hall sufficient to serve as the backup guy, or might the Sox have some interest in Angel Berroa?
Answer: I haven't heard anything about Angel Berroa, who was released yesterday by the Dodgers. But the Sox are looking at backup infielders, after being struck by a couple of health-related issues this spring. With Lowrie still struggling with mononucleosis and Gil Velazquez having fractured his left thumb, the Sox don't have much beyond starter Marco Scutaro, utilityman Bill Hall, and infielder Tug Hulett. If something significant were to happen to Scutaro, it's unclear if the Sox would have anyone they would trust long-term at shortstop. The Sox know that Hall can man the position for a couple of games, but they aren't yet sure if he could stick there for longer if needed. As Theo Epstein has said multiple times, the Sox can't rely on Lowrie at this point. That leaves them short at the position, and I would not be surprised if they pick up another infielder at some point soon.