Ask Amalie Red Sox mailbag

The spring training non-roster invites are out, Truck Day is on Friday, and those who live in Fort Myers, Fla. year-round are readying for the influx. That is to say that spring training is coming quickly, with that magical pitchers and catchers reporting date coming up in just nine days. Much is settled about the 2010 Red Sox. There will be a new starting pitcher, a new third baseman, a new center fielder, and a new shortstop. But not everything has been decided, with the starting rotation, the final members of the bullpen, and the exact composition of the 25-man roster still up in the air. In fact, there should be some interesting story lines to follow in spring training, from Mike Lowell’s status to Jed Lowrie’s ability to win the utility job to how David Ortiz looks and what he can bring to the table.

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Some of that is contained within this final version of the offseason mailbag. Some of it will be addressed once spring training starts. For now, we have questions (and answers) about arbitration, Daisuke Matsuzaka’s communication issues, and the likelihood of a couple of veteran Red Sox making the Hall of Fame.

So enjoy the next week or so of anticipation, enjoy the dispatches from the Fort, and enjoy imagining the thwack of a pitch hitting a mitt among the palm trees. It’s coming soon. And, besides, now that football season is over, what else do you have to do with your days?

That being said, I’ll see you back here in two weeks. I know it has been three weeks since the last mailbag, but we’ll get on our regular rotation beginning with this edition. Thanks for reading.

Lisa from Feeding Hills, Mass. asks: With the arbitration process underway we keep hearing that Theo has a perfect record for avoiding hearings…Why is it beneficial for the team to not reach a hearing? And if it benefits a player to reach a hearing, why aren’t more Red Sox players pushing it to that point?

Answer: Good question, Lisa. You do see us write that Theo Epstein has a perfect record whenever we write about arbitration. It’s a difficult situation for both teams and players once they get to arbitration. The team is spending time and money to prove why it shouldn’t pay a player what it wants, not exactly the way to create warm and fuzzy feelings. Essentially the Red Sox would have to denigrate the skills of one of their own in order not to pay him what he wants to be paid. It’s not exactly a fun process. The arbitrator also ends up picking one of the two numbers submitted — either the one by the team or by the player. Mostly, when a player and a team avoid arbitration, they end up deciding on a salary approximately midway between those two numbers. That way the player gets a raise (often a substantial one), but the team doesn’t have to pay him what he has requested, and doesn’t run the risk of alienating a player as well. At this point, the negotiation process rarely ends up at an arbitration hearing because it’s often in the best interests of both sides to simply settle.

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Steve from Brandon, Vt. asks: Amalie, since the Sox now have a deep, quality starting rotation and game-changing defense, is it fair to wonder if they will elect to go with six relievers instead of seven? If so, it will allow them to carry an extra bench player, perhaps Mike Lowell? What are your thoughts on this? Thank you.

Answer: It’s certainly possible, though the Sox have been pretty consistent in recent years in keeping seven relievers in their bullpen. There have been stretches that it hasn’t been necessary, and stretches where even seven relievers hasn’t been enough. While their top three pitchers — Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and John Lackey — are all likely to regularly go deep into games, there is some uncertainty with the ability of others (Matsuzaka, for instance) to pitch a lot of innings. There’s also a comfort with keeping seven relievers, especially on a team that doesn’t really use its bench all that often. I know that, barring an injury situation, Te
rry Francona appears far happier when he has an extra reliever, rather than an extra position player who might not get a chance to play very often. On the Lowell situation, I’m generally of the opinion that he’s unlikely to be with the Sox come the regular season. But it’s certainly possible that he will be — in that case, he’ll absolutely be on the roster.


Ed from Concord, N.H. asks: Who will the Sox be inviting to Spring Training?? Whatever happened to Charlie Zink??

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Answer:
The Sox just announced their non-roster invitees to spring training on
Friday. They are bringing in 10 pitchers, two catchers, four
infielders, and four outfielders. The pitchers are Randor Bierd,
Fernando Cabrera, Kris Johnson, Casey Kelly, Adam Mills, Edwin Moreno,
Joe Nelson, Brian Shouse, Jorge Sosa, and Kyle Weiland. The catchers
are Luis Exposito and Gustavo Molina. The infielders are Lars Anderson,
Yamaico Navarro, Angel Sanchez, and Gil Velazquez. The outfielders are
Zach Daeges, Ryan Kalish, Che-Hsuan Lin, and Darnell McDonald. As for
Charlie Zink, he signed a deal with the Cardinals that includes an
invite to major league spring training. In talking to Zink’s agent, I
know that he’s excited about the possibility of working with Dave
Duncan, the Cardinals’ pitching coach.

JSL from San Francisco, Calif. asks:
Looks like the Red Sox roster is pretty set now as Spring Training
approaches. I keep hearing that the Sox ’10 payroll is coming in a
little under the $170 million luxury tax. When I do a quick crunch of
the #’s I don’t come close to this amount (I come in around $150 mil).
Obviously I’m missing something. Could you provide a quick breakdown of
the payroll? Thanks!

Answer: Sure, though things can
certainly change before the tax is calculated at the end of the year.
Also, remember that for purposes of the competitive balance tax, it’s
the average annual value of a contract that is used, not each year’s
salary. And mind you that some of these numbers are approximations,
either because some salaries are not yet determined or because there
might be escalators in contracts that would affect the CBT hit. Let’s
start with the rotation. The Sox’ six starting pitchers are John Lackey
($16.5 million), Josh Beckett ($10 million), Jon Lester ($6 million),
Daisuke Matsuzaka ($8.66 million), Clay Buchholz (around $450,000), and
Tim Wakefield ($2.5 million). Their starting position players are
Victor Martinez ($3.1 million), Kevin Youkilis ($10.31 million), Dustin
Pedroia ($6.75 million), Marco Scutaro ($6.25 million), Adrian Beltre
($7 million), Jacoby Ellsbury (around $450,000), Mike Cameron ($7.75
million), J.D. Drew ($14 million), and David Ortiz ($13 million). Their
bench players (with some assumptions) are Jeremy Hermida ($3.345
million), Bill Hall ($6 million), Jason Varitek ($4 million), Mike
Lowell ($12.5 million), and Jed Lowrie (around $450,000). Their bullpen
pitchers (are Jonathan Papelbon ($9.35 million), Hideki Okajima ($2.75
million), Ramon Ramirez ($1.155 million), Manny Delcarmen ($905,000),
Boof Bonser ($650,000), Daniel Bard (around $400,000), and Scott
Atchison ($420,000). Yes, there are more than 25 players’ salaries
listed. The salary of every player on the 40-man roster (not just on
the major league club) counts toward the CBT. That includes players
like Michael Bowden, Fabio Castro, Felix Doubront, Dustin Richardson,
and Mark Wagner. They also have to pay parts of the salary for players
no longer on the team. This year that’s Julio Lugo ($9.35 million),
though not Billy Wagner or Alex Gonzalez, whose payments were applied
in 2009. The Sox also got $7.15 million in the deal for Hall, which is
taken away from their CBT hit. There are two more major league
contracts that factor in, Jose Iglesias’s ($2.0625 million) and Junichi
Tazawa ($1.1 million), as well as the approximately $10-11 million that
all teams pay in benefits. That comes out to approximately $170.5
million. That number is already over the CBT threshold for 2010, and
doesn’t include those aforementioned salaries for the players on the
40-man (but not the 25-man) rosters, performance/award bonuses, players
called up to replace someone on the disabled list (when they’re paid
the major league rate), September call-ups, and any trades the Sox make.

Shoichi from Yokohama, Japan asks/writes:
I would have to be against how you wrote “Matsuzaka’s communication
issues.” I believe that it is NOT only his issue. It’s an issue that
involves both the Sox and Daisuke. I must say that it’s not just a
matter of communication. You’ve got to try to understand other cultures
and their mentality. I believe that Daisuke thought he could pitch at
some level by changing his normal mechanics in order to feel less pain
in the motion. Obviously he didn’t want to give the team some trouble
by skipping his outings. That is more of Japanese mentality or virtue
to do your best no matter what your conditions are. It seems that only
solution for this issue would be that it is necessary for the Sox to
give Daisuke more room to do his own way. A good indication is that
pitching count has been loosened up. The more Daisuke throws, the
better he becomes. 2010 will be the year for him to “REVENGE,” which is
his favorite word.

Answer: I know there isn’t really a
question in here, but I wanted to respond anyway. I don’t think that
it’s only the fault of Daisuke Matsuzaka. But I do think that he bears
a large burden for his decision not to let the Sox in on his medical
issues. How is a team expected to correctly diagnose problems if a
player isn’t willing to reveal injuries to his employers? I understand
that the sides come from different cultures, and that there is a great
deal of pride involved in taking the ball every fifth day for Matsuzaka
or for any other Japanese starting pitcher. But, at the same time, the
Sox are spending millions of dollars to have Matsuzaka in their
rotation. To maintain his place in that rotation, he needs to both
pitch well and remain healthy. He was putting both of those things in
jeopardy by keeping silent about his injury last offseason. In not
wanting to give the team trouble, he ended up becoming even more
trouble than he had anticipated. He could have done the rehab in the
offseason, skipped the World Baseball Classic, and been ready by the
start of the season. He chose not to do so, to leave his team in the
dark, and was not able to do his best until about September. In my
mind, it seemed as if he ended up doing exactly what he didn’t want to
do. While I understand that there are complicated issues here, I think
that Matsuzaka, like any player (Japanese or not) has a great deal of
responsibility to his employers to do the right thing — and that
includes being honest about injuries.

Peter from Thessaloniki, Greece asks:
Ours is a very player intrusive and hero worship baseball fanbase. I
can imagine the difficulties for players in attempting to approximate
some semblance of privacy for them and their families away from Fenway.
How do they, with support of the team, do it?  From simple things like
going out to dinner or a movie to taking the kids to dinner…….how
to they achieve some normalcy without Red Sox Nation constantly at
their feet? Thanks.

Answer: Peter, it’s really different
for every player. Some players chafe under the expectations and
scrutiny that they endure as a member of the Red Sox. Some revel in it,
at least to a degree. It’s true that many players lead somewhat
isolated lives during the time they are in Boston. I recall David Wells
being very vocal about his discomfort with his life off the field in
Boston. “This town is hard to play in,” he said, in 2005. “You can have
no life here. You leave the stadium, you can’t go out with family and
friends without being subject to the town wanting a part of you. We
understand it, but I don’t think [the fans] do. That takes a toll on
you.” So, in other words, some do it better than others. Some are able
to survive living and playing in Boston for years, others are happy to
leave when they can get a chance. I found it interesting, in talking to
John Lackey recently, that he doesn’t appear worried at all that he’ll
be affected by the enthusiastic fanbase. In fact, his response was:
“It’s going to be different, but it’ll be cool. I get along with people
fine. Whatever. I’m not opposed to having a beer with a guy.” It will
be intriguing to see if he feels the same way after time spent in
Boston. In short, players find their own niche, wherever that might be.
Francona, for his part, has regaled the media with stories of his
interactions with fans — whether those were comical, frightening, or
driven by not-always-so-helpful advice for the manager. While I don’t
believe the Sox give players particular support in this area, it’s
certainly something they’re aware of, and something they address with
their minor leaguers. Players who sign with the Sox as free agents have
to understand the place they will be playing. But I would also hope
that most fans are respectful in their dealings with the players,
especially outside of the ballpark, allowing them to have that normalcy.

Dave from Hernando, Fla. asks: Thank
you for your thoughtful responses to the many questions posed to you.
What is the most current status of Jed Lowrie’s recovery from his
injuries and what is your prognosis for his future with the Red Sox?

Answer:
Jed Lowrie should be healthy to start spring training. He’s been
rehabbing his left wrist, on which he had surgery last year, and has
been working hard through the offseason. He came to spring training
last year having just used rest and rehab to get his wrist better. That
wasn’t enough. He should be in a much better position after this
offseason when he arrives in Fort Myers. As for Lowrie’s future with
the Red Sox, that mostly depends on whether he can remain healthy and
prove to the Sox that he’s a dependable option in their infield. There
was definitely some frustration in the organization last season with
Lowrie’s slow recovery from the wrist surgery that he had at the
beginning of the regular season. And it’s clear that the team has
indicated to Lowrie that he has the ability to play himself into a role
with the major league club. As Epstein said, in a seeming challenge to
Lowrie after the end of the season, “We have not seen the type of
player he can be yet at the big league level, because he’s been hurt
the entire time. At some point, the player has to get healthy to be
able to show what he can do and be able to help the organization. I
don’t think we can hand a job to him, because he hasn’t proved his
health yet at this point. At the same time, I wouldn’t be surprised if
we’re sitting here this time next year, hopefully soaked in champagne
and not having one of these post-mortems, but looking back and say,
wow, he really got healthy and proved himself and ended up winning that
job or taking that job, playing his way into a meaningful role. So now
we’ll see. It’s on him. He’s got to get himself healthy and make an
impact. We can’t stake our season on the hope that he’ll be healthy. We
have to have other options.” So the Sox signed Marco Scutaro as their
shortstop, and have brought in a few other options for utility
infielders. They’d like to see Lowrie seize the backup infielder’s job,
but there are no guarantees for him at the moment. It seems like Lowrie
understands his situation, wants to be an everyday shortstop, and now
just has to go prove to the Sox that he can help them.

Alan from Hamilton, N.Y. asks: Looking into the distant future, what would you think of Ortiz and Varitek’s chances of making the Hall of Fame?

Answer:
Let me put it this way, Alan: I wouldn’t spend much time booking hotel
rooms in Cooperstown for their induction ceremonies. But let’s look a
little bit more closely at the numbers. First, David Ortiz. His career
statistics over his 13 years in the major leagues are: .282 batting
average, .377 on-base percentage, .922 on-base plus slugging, 317 home
runs, and 1,068 RBI. Without another couple of years, at least, at a
high production level, I don’t think that Ortiz will be worthy of the
Hall of Fame. His run of five straight years in the top five in MVP
voting in the American League is a boost in that direction, but he just
wasn’t dominant for long enough that he is likely to be voted in.
According to the four measures listed on baseball-reference.com, Ortiz
falls short in each category. Ortiz gets a 16 on the Black-Ink test (a
measure of how often a player leads the league in certain categories).
The average Hall of Famer is approximately 27. Ortiz gets a 75 on the
Gray-Ink test (similar to the Black-Ink test, but measures top 10
finishes). The average Hall of Famer is 144. Ortiz gets a 92 on the
Hall of Fame Monitor (used to measure how likely it is that a player
makes the Hall). The average Hall of Famer is approximately 100.
Lastly, Ortiz gets a 29 on the Hall of Fame Standards test (used to
measure the overall quality of a player’s career). The average Hall of
Famer is approximately 50. His comparable players, also according to
baseball-reference.com, are also not exactly slam-dunk Hall of Famers,
with Mo Vaughn, Lance Berkman, Paul Konerko, Derek Lee, and Kent Hrbek
as his top five. Plus his status as a full-time designated hitter for
his career doesn’t help his case. Believe me, I understand what Ortiz
has meant to Boston, and what he has done for the franchise. It has
been a wonderful ride to watch him. I just don’t think he’s quite Hall
of Fame worthy. But I think that Ortiz will get his fair share of
votes, whereas I don’t think that Jason Varitek will get too much
support. Of course, Varitek has been just as valuable as Ortiz in some
ways, bolstering the pitching staff for years and serving as the Red
Sox captain. But let’s go to the numbers. Varitek has a .259 batting
average, .344 OBP, .779 OPS, 175 home runs, and 705 RBI, to go along
with everything he has done defensively. That’s just unlikely to be
enough, even having caught four no-hitters. As for his marks on the
Hall of Fame scales, Varitek has a two on the Gray-Ink test, a 39 on
the Hall of Fame Monitor, and a 30 on the Hall of Fame Standards. All
in all, Ortiz was a dominant player for a half dozen years. But he
likely won’t quite make Cooperstown. And Varitek won’t even come that
close.

Carl Amorosino from New York City asks:
Hi
Amalie. Can you send me the youtube link of Betre’s highlight reel that
you posted a few weeks ago? It was great and I can’t find it.

Answer:
You weren’t the only one looking for that Adrian Beltre highlight reel.
Wish I could help you out, but the video was removed from Youtube on a
copyright claim by Major League Baseball. Sorry about that!

Tim from Plano, Tex. asks: Hi
Amalie, I really enjoy reading the mailbag, especially this time of
year. The Sox struggled to score runs and win on the road last year. 
Do you think part of the reason they fortified their pitching and
defense for the 2010 season was to address their lack of success away
from Fenway?

Answer: The struggles of the Red Sox on the
road last season were well documented and, in some cases, baffling. It
was a team built for Fenway Park, of course, with particular hitters
especially prone to hitting well at home. But a team that was pretty
good — though certainly not great — probably shouldn’t have done
nearly as poorly away from home as the Sox did last season. The biggest
problem for the Sox on the road, however, wasn’t pitching or defense.
The problem was offense. While the Sox had a .365 on-base percentage
and .498 slugging percentage at Fenway, they had only a .340 OBP and
.414 slugging on the road. They scored 481 runs at home, and just 391
away from home, building a 56-25 record at home and a 39-42 record on
the road. Admittedly, they pitched better at Fenway, with a 4.07 ERA,
as opposed to the 4.64 they put up elsewhere. The focus on pitching and
defense had more to do with improving the team as a whole, rather than
just addressing the team’s issues on the road. Pitching and defense
generally translate across the board, whether at home or away, and that
was definitely the direction in which Epstein took his team this
offseason. To me, though, the problem seemed to have more to do with
the offense on the road than anything else — including a particularly
bad trip to start the second half of the season last year. As Francona
said this offseason, “We were third in the league in runs last year.
Now, we were inconsistent and that would be nice to try to change some
of that. Our home-road splits were atrocious. The good news is our home
[numbers] were better than our away [numbers] were bad. But it still
wasn’t very good.” That clearly needs to change this season.

Michael from New Hope, Penn. asks:
Amalie, thanks for keeping the fire going until Pitchers and Catchers!
My question is on Tek’s BA and OPS for 2010. Given his backup status,
could he be projected to give more pop from his bat this year, in his
backup role and as a pinch hitter and potential DH for lefties? He’s
always been ground down in the past and his BA and others stats have
taken a hit in the successive months. Could we see him giving a
surprising extra boost to the team that way?

Answer: It’s
entirely possible that the new backup role for Varitek might just help
him be more effective as an offensive weapon in the time he spends in
the lineup. Over his career, all of Varitek’s offensive numbers go down
in the second half of the season — his batting average from .265 to
.249, his OBP from .348 to .338, his OPS from .795 to .756. We could
look at last season as an interesting case study, when Varitek went
from playing every day in the first half of the season to playing a
more limited role in the second half. It’s not a perfect example, since
Varitek had worn down already with a heavy load in the first half. But
he didn’t perform better in the second half. In fact, he performed
quite a bit worse. He went from a .239 average to a .157 average, a
.348 OBP to .250, and a .826 OPS to .489. That might indicate that
Varitek could have difficulty maintaining his offensive performance in
an unfamiliar role, when he doesn’t have regular work. Not everyone has
the ability or temperament to perform at the plate when they’re playing
inconsistently, or coming off the bench, especially when it’s an
adjustment that is made at 37 years old. In other words, I wouldn’t
expect to get a big boost offensively from Varitek in his new role —
but anything is possible.

Neil from Woodstock, Conn. asks:
Hey Amalie, Don’t you agree that the most satisfying aspect of being a
baseball fan (and a sports fan in general) is watching the young
prospects develop into key contributors at the major league level? 
Sure, we all like winning, but there’s not much riding on a team manned
by players developed elsewhere then purchased in their prime for oodles
of money.  Apart from player development being a satisfying part of the
game I would make the argument its the most consistent way to field a
great team.  Great scouts see potential, great coaches develop that
potential, and the team reaps the benefits for years at low monetary
cost.  Aside from my asking for your agreement on these points do you
not also agree we are experiencing an increase in “buy the best player
in baseball possible no matter what the cost” sentiment from our Sox
fans?  Isn’t that why we hate the Yankees?  And don’t you think that’s
pretty unhealthy to be both hypocritical and in it for the quick fix?

Answer: Neil,
Epstein would entirely agree with you on many of your points. But I’m
not entirely sure I agree that that particular sentiment exists among
the majority of Sox fans. I think there are a lot of people, at least
judging from my in-box, that believe in the way that Epstein is
building the Sox. They believe in the farm system, believe in
supplementing a team created mostly of homegrown talent by making some
free agent acquisitions. I do agree that it is wonderful to watch
players get drafted, listen to the reports as they mature through a
system, and finally watch as they make their debuts and contribute to a
major league team. And I don’t think that many in Red Sox Nation would
argue with that. Sure, there’s a frustration when fans see a team —
like the Yankees — go out and spend millions and millions of dollars
on top-level talent on the free agent market. But when Epstein first
discussed 2010 as being a potential “bridge” year, I heard a lot of
support for that from fans of the Sox. They weren’t upset about
Epstein’s tactic, about keeping the talent that is in the system,
waiting for some of it to progress, and keeping a grasp on the
philosophy that has sustained the team for the past few years. So while
I’m sure some fans are all about keeping up with the Yankees, I would
hardly say that the majority are in that camp.