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Ask Amalie: A call to arms

Posted by Amalie Benjamin  July 27, 2010 11:12 AM

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It's four days until July 31, until we finally have resolution on what the Red Sox will do at the trading deadline, or whether they'll do anything at all. After their performance against the Mariners this weekend -- losing a pair of winnable games, and splitting with a bad team -- it seems even more imperative that the Red Sox do something, especially in the bullpen. Because, while there is hope for the offense in the form of Victor Martinez and Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury, there is little hope for the bullpen, outside of the potential reappearance of Michael Bowden.

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So, as baseball's general managers burn through the phone lines and we in the media attempt to catch up to all those trade talks, we have a few areas to explore in this week's mailbag. First on the agenda is the Hideki Okajima flap, something that was controversial, at least if you took a look at my Twitter feed on Sunday afternoon and evening. I hope my explanations in the first two answers in the mailbag explain why I -- and other members in the media -- made a big deal out of Okajima not speaking. Other than that, we have trade deadline deals and Daniel Nava and rehab assignments.

With that, I'll leave you to the mailbag. Feel free to debate the Okajima topic (or any others) in the comments section of this post. A healthy debate is good for everyone. Also, make sure to send in a question for the next mailbag. By the time that comes out, two weeks from today, we might have a few new faces to discuss. Until then, enjoy what the Sox have for now, and enjoy the mailbag.

Cathy from Shrewsbury, Massachusetts asks: Can you explain why the collective media covering the Red Sox had such a complete and utter meltdown yesterday when Okajima wouldn't talk to you? Calling him names didn't help (not that you did that). Did you really need him to say "I screwed up" in order to write your stories? Most of what players say is pablum anyway. Not to mention, Oki never speaks to the media regardless of his performance. You all need to get a grip.

Answer: Thanks for asking this, Cathy. While I love Twitter, it will be far easier to explain this in more than 140 characters. It's not about whether we (the media) need Okajima's comments to do our jobs. I can (and did) easily write my game story without hearing his comments. I know what happened and, with the explanations of Terry Francona and Adrian Beltre, I had more than enough to explain to the readers what had gone on. We were trying to explain to fans and readers that Okajima needs to be accountable for his actions, and that includes being accountable to his teammates. No one likes to talk to the media after they have erred. I know that it wasn't exactly fun for Eric Patterson to answer questions after his error in center field broke up Jon Lester's perfect game. Can you imagine how hard that was for him? Or for Manny Delcarmen after his difficulty on Thursday night? Or for Jonathan Papelbon after he blew two consecutive saves in Colorado? Ultimately, talking to the media is part of a player's job -- whether you'd like to believe that or not. And the players want to see their fellow teammates speak up after they've made a mistake. They want to see what their teammates say, they want to see them speak in a difficult position, and most importantly they don't want to be forced to speak for their teammates' errors. It's not about Beltre being able to ask Okajima what happened himself. It's about not being asked to speak for him, when the error wasn't his. That's not fair. In their minds, if one of them has to speak to us than all should have to speak to us. One example that sticks out in my mind came a few years ago, when Eric Gagne had joined the Sox. Gagne, as you might remember, struggled night after night. He blew games repeatedly. And, after one blown game in Boston, he wasn't at his locker after the game. He didn't want to speak, so he left. I recall talking to Alex Cora about that, as Cora was a close friend of Gagne's from their days with the Dodgers. Cora was extremely unhappy at what Gagne had done, at the fact that Gagne had left his teammates to answer for him, and told me that he was going to speak to Gagne about the fact that this behavior was unacceptable and unprofessional. So, no, we didn't need to hear Okajima say that he screwed up. His teammates needed to hear that. (As for what you said about Okajima never speaking to the media, that's not true. He rarely does, but that's because he's rarely asked to speak. He has an interpreter for that purpose, just as Daisuke Matsuzaka does. And we have spoken to him in the past, even this season.) I hope that explains what happened on Sunday in Seattle. It doesn't affect my life if he does or does not talk. But there are people that it does affect, and you can be sure that they were not pleased with his actions.

Jeff from New York, New York asks: I noted the minor Twitter dust-up yesterday in which you were criticized for publicly asking for accountability and professionalism from a player who refused to speak with the media about his play (Okajima). Thank you for your engagement with your 10,000 followers. I also noted the lack of those two words in your actual boston.com reporting. Is there an "official" difference in journalistic standards between your real-time Twitter feed and your reporting? Are you encouraged by editors to reveal more opinion in the former vs. the latter, and does this create any journalistic conflicts?

Answer: Love journalism questions. This is certainly something that I have struggled with since going on Twitter. It's easy to rip off a quick, 140-character post without some of the thought that goes into my longer pieces, ones that are gone over in detail by editors. That being said, I stand by each and every one of my Tweets, including the ones from Sunday about Okajima. I do think that it was unprofessional of him not to explain what happened to the media, and I do think that he needs to be accountable for what happened, though as I mentioned above, it's accountable to his teammates in addition to the media and the fans. Ultimately, the standards have to be the same for my articles, my blog posts, and my Tweets. While I'm able to be slightly less formal in my Tweets and blog posts than I am in many of my stories, there has to be the same accountability for me in all media. It's encouraged for us to make casual observations in our Tweets, to share things that might not fit in our stories. But there has to be the same depth of reporting, the same sourcing, and the same truth that we stand behind in the pages of the Boston Globe. As I explained above, in the answer to the prior question, I continue to believe that Okajima was both unprofessional and not accountable -- as many of my colleagues in the media also believed -- and perhaps I should have used one or both words in my story.

Robert from Chelmsford, Massachusetts asks: With Jon Lester having a Cy Young season, I thought I would ask what your take is on what it takes to win the Cy Young award. Is it 90 percent ERA, which has very little to do with what team you play on, or is it weighted substantially by W-L record, SOs, walks and so on, which are more influenced by your team of origin, if you will.

Answer: This is a particularly interesting question for me, Bob, as I have one of the two Cy Young votes for the Boston chapter of the Baseball Writers of America (BBWAA). And I've never voted for the Cy Young (though I've voted for MVP, Manager of the Year, and Rookie of the Year in the last three seasons). To me, win-loss record is one of the least important factors, as we saw last year with Zack Greinke. There are so many things that can impact whether a pitcher gets a win or a loss, many of which have nothing to do with how well he pitches. I'll take things like ERA, strikeout-to-walk ratio, and WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) into account, along with ERA-plus, which adjusts ERA to ballpark and league. For example, at the moment, Cliff Lee leads the American League in ERA-plus with a 162. (Over 100 indicates better than average). Ultimately, I'll look at a lot of factors, as I take my voting responsibilities very seriously.

Paul from Sacramento, California asks: Amalie: In addition to being a great story, Daniel Nava is a very intriguing player. He's been a consistent hitter in the minors on his way to MLB. What's his potential ceiling? Any chance the Red Sox might consider trading/shopping Jeremy Hermida when he comes off the DL, and retaining the switch-hitting Nava as fourth outfielder? Hermida is an adequate bat, and not a plus fielder. Does Nava have more upside? (I'd favor keeping Darnell McDonald as well.) Keep up the great work.

Answer: This question came in before Daniel Nava was sent down to the minors last week, when the Sox brought back Jeremy Hermida. Nava is a good hitter, there's no question about that, though not a great one. He's not exactly great defensively, meaning he could end up being your typical AAAA guy, a player who is caught in between Triple A and the majors in terms of talent, though it's possible he could catch on as a fourth outfielder somewhere. Hermida simply has a higher talent ceiling, despite not exactly showing it either with the Sox this season or in most of his career with the Marlins. There's just something there that teams are willing to keep around, in the hope that he'll put it together someday. So, no, Nava doesn't have more upside than Hermida, though Hermida needs to show the Sox something soon, or it might be a short stay in Boston. As for Nava, I'll leave you with some interesting comments by Francona from the day the Sox sent the outfielder back to Pawtucket. "Really professional hitter," Francona said. "We try to impress upon young guys when they come here how much urgency there is in our games. I think young guys, they see the games on TV, and ... they get in the dugout and I think it surprises them. I think it was a big surprise for him. It was like hey, every play means a lot. When you're coming up through Double A, Triple A, you make a mistake, it's development. Here it's on SportsCenter. I think that took him a little bit of time to figure that out. But he's a good hitter."

Andy from Brighton, Massachusetts asks: Amalie, who's call is it on whether to do a rehab assignment or just be put on the active roster after a stint on the DL? Player or management? I don't really see the reason a guy needs to come off the DL then spend a week in the minors getting re-acclimated. What's the benefit? What can you do in the minors that you couldn't do in the majors? It makes no sense that theoretically a guy can ride the pine as a backup for two weeks never seeing the field and then all of a sudden find himself in the lineup, and that's fine; but if a guy spends 15 days on the DL seeing no action he automatically needs to play three or four minor league games before returning to the Major League lineup. I just don't get it.

Answer: Ultimately, the team makes the call. But the Sox get a lot of input from their players as to whether or not they need (or want) rehab assignments. For example, Pedroia talked recently about his desire not to go on a rehab assignment. As Pedroia said on the topic a few days ago, "It depends on how we're doing as a team. We're trying to get everybody back as fast as possible. I think the Red Sox need us more than the PawSox do." That was a major factor in the Sox bringing Martinez back without a rehab stint. So, yes, the team's need can impact whether they give a guy a few days or a week or no time at all to get back to game speed. There is a benefit to going. It's hard to get back to major league game speed after having been out for three weeks or a month or six weeks. The longer players are out, the harder it is. It matters more at the plate than in the field, as the players need to get some at bats under their belts to feel comfortable at the plate, and to be able to catch up with, say, a 95-mile per hour fastball, though Martinez didn't seem to need much time last night. For that matter, it's usually the guys who are out longer than 15 days that end up with a rehab assignment, as the longer they're out, the harder it is to re-acclimate. Plus, if a guy is on the roster, taking regular BP and/or hitting early, he'll likely to be more in tune with his swing than if he were on the DL. It's pretty rare in that case to not have a single at bat for two solid weeks.

Jared from Busan, South Korea asks: Why is it that when players incur substantial injuries they're sometimes just placed on the 15 day DL? The most recent examples of this that I can recall are Pedroia's and Varitek's foot injuries. Does this have something to do with flexibility regarding the players brought up to replace them?

Answer: The answer is pretty simple. There's no reason to place a player on the 60-day disabled list if it's not necessary. If something happens and a player can come back before those 60 days are up, the team would want the player back as soon as possible. The reason that players are often moved to the 60-day DL is that it opens a spot on the 40-man roster. (Players on the 15-day DL are counted on the 40-man. Players on the 60-day are not.) That was why, for example, Beckett was shifted from the 15-day DL to the 60-day DL, to make room on the 40-man and because the Sox knew for certain that he would not be back before 60 days had elapsed.

Greg from Seal Beach, California asks: What's happening with Mike Lowell? Will we see him again?

Answer: Mike Lowell is currently playing for the PawSox in a rehab assignment in a step before coming back from the disabled list. He's essentially being showcased at the Triple A level right before the trading deadline, so that other teams can see him play after a couple of weeks away from the game. The Sox obviously want to move Lowell, as there is no real role for him on this club. But they don't seem to want to release him, to put him in a position where another AL East team, for example, could pick him up. The feeling I get is that the Sox need to find a place for him that's not in Boston. But I also believed that in spring training, and he remained with the team for the entire first half. My feeling is that Lowell won't be with the club after the deadline. But we'll see.

Penny from Fort Lauderdale, Florida asks: This is so trivial, but it has been bugging me for awhile: What are the round dirt areas on the first and third base lines at Fenway? My memory from childhood is that they used to be the on-deck circles, before they moved the players back for safety reasons...but they are SO CLOSE to the field of play, can that be?

Answer: Nothing is too trivial for the mailbag! Those round dirt circles are fungo circles, not on-deck circles. That's where coaches are supposed to stand when they hit ground balls to players during batting practice. I believe they were originally placed there to protect the grass.

Barb from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania asks: Could I please have some info on Jacoby Ellsbury? When he will return to the Red Sox? Thank you.

Answer: Jacoby Ellsbury started his rehab assignment yesterday, going 1-for-3 as the designated hitter with the Gulf Coast League Red Sox, the lowest level of the Sox minor league system. Ellsbury hadn't played since May 24. The game yesterday began his 20-day rehab window, meaning that he should be back with the Sox after August 14, when the rehab stint ends. It has been a long road for Ellsbury this season, with the outfielder having played in only nine games in the majors after sustaining five fractured ribs. The plan for Ellsbury is to play a couple of games with the GCL Sox before joining Pawtucket to finish out his rehab assignment. It's important to note that Ellsbury doesn't have to stay in the minors rehabbing for 20 days, but he cannot stay longer than that on the same injury.

Graham from Keene, New Hampshire asks: Should Oki buy a flak jacket to protect his ribs after Beltre called him out? Seriously, with the grilling that Magadan got over perceived lack of offense in Spring Training, what does John Farrell have to say about the Sox bullpen woes? I haven't read anything about what's being done to improve the staff. Dominant in the first half last year, dreadful this year. Beyond trades, what is being done to coach and improve the current bullpen staff?

Answer: That's a good question, as I believe that the bullpen could be the difference between the Sox making the playoffs and not making the playoffs this season. The relievers have had disappointing performances all season, giving up leads after the starters put the team in position to win. (The Sox poor record in extra innings is no fluke). I asked John Farrell about the bullpen over the weekend in Seattle, before Okajima's blown game. Here's what he said: "We feel very good obviously with [Jonathan Papelbon] and Daniel [Bard]. Those have been constants. Each have had their moments, but overall they've been very regular for us. The recent outings from Hideki have been very encouraging and we need that look, we need the contributions from him, from a lefthanded reliever. So that is really encouraging. Manny [Delcarmen] and Ramon [Ramirez] have had their moments. They've had stretches where they've been very good, there have been stretches where it's been inconsistent. So in general, or in short, we need the consistency as much as we can. There are going to be games where we're going to need to pitch low-run games to continue to put together wins, and their contributions late in the game and bridging the gap to Pap and Daniel are going to be key." I followed up about the relievers' lack of consistency, asking how the Sox can rectify that situation with their current crop of relievers. "That's where we have to remain steadfast on our approach and preparation," Farrell said. "There is variability with a bullpen. We know that. We anticipate it. But we continually maintain the work that each individual needs, how we see matchups that are the best fit in a given time. We've never been one to ride a hot hand, and we're going to look for contributions from all of them." So there's your answer, though in my mind the Sox really need to find another arm. I'm not sure whether they have an internal option, as we didn't get much time to evaluate Bowden. To my mind, Scott Downs is the reliever with the most impact potential, and he's going to be expensive. We'll see if the Sox go with that option, whether they decide they can afford to go big on a needed addition to the bullpen.

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