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In defense of Dice-K

Posted by Peter Abraham, Globe Staff  October 11, 2010 02:03 PM

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Back when I covered the Mets, the first order of business every winter was to get the promotional schedule for the coming season and find out when "Merengue Night" was and immediately schedule surgery. Or a family wedding. Anything to get that day off.

It was the worst day of the year to work. Immediately after the game, they would wheel a stage behind second base and for the next two hours, there would be insanely loud music as you tried to write your story. By the end, you had a headache and had written a bunch of gibberish.

I feel the same way about Daisuke Matsuzaka. If the Red Sox could provide a list of games he will be starting in 2011, I would immediately contract deputy sports editor Greg Lee and ask for those days off.

Watching Dice-K pitch is painful. He's not willing to throw strikes. But he is willing to walk around the mound for a while before he decides to throw the ball. The guys behind him get bored. The fans get bored.

Then afterward you try and ask him questions about giving up five runs over four innings and he says he has no idea what happened, only that he feels great and he's sorry about it.

Let's be honest, if they traded him tomorrow, nobody would be too broken up about it. Dice K is 13-12 with a 4.99 ERA and a 1.51 WHIP the last two seasons.

One popular idea is that the Sox should trade Matsuzaka to the Mets for Carlos Beltran. Matsuzaka is owed $20 million for two years and Beltran $18.5 million for one. The Mets need an arm, the Sox need an outfielder. Bad contract for bad contract.

Beltran, who turns 34 in April, would be in a contract year. He switch hits, plays the OF well and hit .321/.365 /.603 in his last 21 games this season. He could be another Adrian Beltre, a guy anxious to do the right thing for a year. Then kick him out the door and it's Ryan Kalish time.

But it would be a mistake to trade Matsuzaka.

Starting pitchers are hard to find. The Sox kept Tim Wakefield around all year and let him stare daggers at everybody because they knew he'd be able to give them a start when they needed one. If Matsuzaka is the No. 5 starter to start the 2011 season, the Red Sox would be in pretty good shape.

They are 22-17 in the games he has started the last two seasons. And it probably will surprise you to learn that only 48 pitchers in the AL threw more innings than the 153.2 he did last season.

Those innings have value.

Here are the pitchers who started 15 or more games for Pawtucket in 2010 Adam Mills, Kris Johnson, Michael Bowden and Fabio Castro. That's it. Bowden is now a reliever, Castro is a journeyman and the other two are mid-level prospects.

Sure, the Red Sox have Felix Doubront. But he threw a grand total of 105 innings last season (majors and minors) and spent the final month of the season recovering from a muscle pull near his shoulder. He's not giving you 153.2 innings.

Wakefield threw 140 innings this season. But if he's the No. 5 starter, who's the No. 6? Unless you can guarantee Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Josh Beckett and John Lackey are going to stay healthy, the Sox are going to need at least six starters next season, probably more.

As a No. 5 starter, Dice-K can get skipped sometimes or lined up against weaker teams. Who knows? Maybe being the last man in the rotation will serve as a wake-up call for him. Add it up and there is value to keeping him around.

The Sox have plenty of issues to address this winter. But dealing Matsuzaka away would be short-sighted.

He's a one-man Merengue Night. But sometimes that's not so bad.

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