Because the ol’ crystal ball happens to be as clear as the Fort Myers sky at the moment, what say we fire off nine innings’ worth of fearless predictions for your 2009 Red Sox …
1. John Smoltz wins more than twice as many games as Brad Penny. I know, not exactly going out on a limb here, given that Penny showed up at camp looking as though he’d swallowed Larry Bowa whole and has already had his first spring start pushed back because of “weakness” in his right shoulder. That’s the same shoulder that bothered him last season when he put up a 6.27 ERA in the feeble-hitting National League West. Maybe he’ll surprise us, but right now he looks like a prime candidate to be the one among the Red Sox’ low-risk, high-reward pitching acquisitions who doesn’t pan out. Smoltz, meanwhile, has wowed everyone at Sox camp with his conditioning and professionalism, and when he says his arm feels as good as it has in a long time, you can’t help but be giddy about the possibilities, considering that he has — and let’s emphasize this — never been anything less than outstanding in his career. Smoltz will be 42 in May, but he’s one of those blessed freaks of nature, and we’re going to be very glad he’s on this team long before October comes around.
2. Jason Varitek does something almost unheard of for 37-year-old catchers. He improves statistically over his age 36 season. As you might be aware, I’m not exactly a member in good standing of the Varitek Army. I’m on record (all right, repeatedly) as believing that his intangibles have become exaggerated as his tangibles — such as hitting major league pitching adequately — have eroded. But if manager Terry Francona can resist the urge to start him more than 110 or so times — and sit him out against the most overpowering right-handers, who have little trouble exposing his slow bat from the left side — there’s no reason a rested Varitek can’t hit around .235 to .240, with double-digit home runs.
3. J.D. Drew plays fewer games than he did a season ago. The club and the player are both downplaying his decision to have an injection in his problematic lower back. But it’s worth remembering that Drew missed all but two regular-season games after Aug. 17 last season with back issues, finishing with 109 games played overall, and he isn’t known as someone who is comfortable taking the field at less than 100 percent. With a lineup that isn’t as deep as it was during the Papi/Manny heyday, the Red Sox are depending on Drew to be productive and reasonably durable. Right now, the former seems much more likely than the latter. Story of his career, really.
4. The Red Sox will trade for a big bat before the July 31 deadline. David Ortiz is never going to approach 54 home runs again, but he’ll rediscover his Big Papi mojo to some degree — let’s put his over/under on home runs at 33. Mike Lowell I’m not so sure about, and although he’s an integral part of this team in many ways, if he struggles to come all the way back from his hip injury, the Sox will have no choice but to add at least one significant reinforcement. With the economy being what it is, teams that struggle in the first few months are going to be sellers come July, and some enticing hitters might be available. Wouldn’t the Sox have to at least give it some thought if, say, the Tigers shop Miguel Cabrera?FULL ENTRY
In the immortal words of Kevin Garnett, "Anything's possible."
That’s how Jacoby Ellsbury assesses his potential for the upcoming season. Entering his second full season playing in the major leagues, Ellsbury is expected to be the every-day center fielder for the Red Sox now that Coco Crisp is with the Kansas City Royals.
I spoke with Ellsbury, 25, about leading the American League with 50 stolen bases last year, what he did to improve himself in the off-season, and the increased expectations that come with winning the starting job on a big-league team.
TC: You played a lot of baseball last season. How did that shape your workouts this winter?
Ellsbury: I worked real hard last season. Real hard. I was in very, very good shape, but I don’t think I was necessarily in the best baseball shape, in a sense. I had a lot more opportunity to throw and hit in the off-season, and that is helping out a lot. Just being in the warm climate in Arizona, being around big-league guys and training with them in the off-season, talking to them when we’re working out, that sort of thing helps a lot.
TC: What was different? What do you do differently as you progress off-season to off-season, learning about what you need to do to be ready for the season?
Ellsbury: A lot of it is flexibility as far as strength. The stronger you get, you still have to maintain that flexibility, whether it’s the shoulders, legs, or hips. And then I did a lot of baseball stuff in the off-season. Hitting, throwing … I think this year I’m in my best baseball condition. I’ve always been in great shape, that’s never been an issue, but I think maybe [I’m in] the best baseball-condition shape.FULL ENTRY
The World Baseball Classic will have a definite impact on the Red Sox for the remainder of spring training — both for the players participating in the tournament and the roster hopefuls left behind.
Five players from the team’s 40-man roster — second baseman Dustin Pedroia (United States), first baseman Kevin Youkilis (U.S.), designated hitter David Ortiz (Dominican Republic), left-hander Javier Lopez (Puerto Rico), and left fielder Jason Bay (Canada) — left City of Palms Park this week to join their national teams for the second WBC. Non-roster invitees Fernando Cabrera (pitcher, Puerto Rico), Enrique Gonzalez (pitcher, Venezuela), and Angel Chavez (infielder, Panama) also departed camp to join their squads.
Pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka has yet to report to camp, opting to stay in Japan — with permission from the Sox — and work out with his national team.
“They just told us to have fun, be smart, and come back healthy,” Lopez said of the Sox’ instructions upon his departure.
Depending upon how their teams fare, players could be gone for up to three weeks. The first round of the tournament begins Thursday with pool play in Tokyo, Mexico City, Toronto, and San Juan. The championship round is scheduled for March 21 through 23 at Dodger Stadium.
Though happy his players will have a chance to participate in an elite tournament, Sox manager Terry Francona will be happier when they all return to camp healthy.FULL ENTRY
I have yet to catch Sean Penn's Best Actor Oscar performance in Milk, but it has certainly already been far better received than John Henry’s last week in what we can only catalog as “sour milk.”
The Red Sox want a salary cap? How convenient. It seems like only a half-decade ago that Henry was shoveling the same line after losing out on Alex Rodriguez, a knee-jerk call to control the liberal spending ways of Boston’s rival to the south. Five years later, the Yankees are coming off the biggest free-agent spending frenzy in baseball history — including, most notably, swiping Boston’s desired prize first baseman right from under its collective nose — and the Red Sox respond with another disingenuous call to implement some sort of salary structure.
It’s plainly obvious that if Mark Teixeira had accepted the Red Sox’ offer of $170 million over eight years in December instead of signing with the Yankees for $10 million more, the Red Sox hierarchy would have never broached the topic. But once again, the Sox lost out on what they believed was the franchise player of their future, once again to their hated rivals. And their petty response, in lieu of chalking it up to being wildly duped during the negotiations, is to call for a cap on spending. That’s rich.
It’s nice of Henry to try to play Robin Hood, but if I want a serious discourse on the benefits of a salary cap in baseball, I’m probably not going to go to the owner of the team with the game’s fourth-highest payroll as my No. 1 source. Yet there were Henry and Larry Lucchino last week in Fort Myers, Fla., trying to tell the assembled media with straight faces how a salary cap is for the good of the game.FULL ENTRY
BY DICK TRUST
Jim Lonborg hasn't pitched in the major leagues since June 1979, but he's still close to the game of baseball and remains a big — well, he is 6-foot-5 — Red Sox fan.
“I really enjoy having them on the radio during the summer and reading about them in the newspapers,” said Dr. Lonborg, who has been a dentist for 25 years. “I get a chance to go to Fenway Park once a month and do some meet-and-greets up in the Legends Suite.”
Lonborg, who’ll be 67 on April 16, won the American League Cy Young Award in 1967, when the Red Sox’ Impossible Dream team came within a game of winning the World Series. Forty-two years later, the Red Sox have won two World Series titles, in 2004 and 2007. Shooting for a third in this decade, Boston has made a few moves this off-season, and the right-hander gives his old team a thumbs-up.
“I’m very happy with the way they’ve positioned themselves,” he said. “I know they have some money to spend after not having to pay for Manny [Ramirez]’s contract or [Curt] Schilling’s contract. That gives them a little space.
“They’ve gotten a couple of guys who are question marks, but there’s a good chance that John Smoltz and Rocco Baldelli will have good health and be able to help them. Brad Penny certainly has been a productive pitcher when he’s healthy.
“I’m just looking forward to [David] Ortiz, [Mike] Lowell, and J.D. Drew all being healthy. With that lineup, we can compete with anybody. Unfortunately, they’re in the toughest division in all of baseball, with the Yankees and Tampa Bay. One of those three teams is not going to make it to the playoffs.
“On paper, [the Yankees] have some wonderful ballplayers, but a lot of it is going to depend on how good their pitching is,” said Lonborg, a native of Santa Maria, Calif., and a longtime resident of Scituate, where he and his wife, Rosemary, raised six children (they now have three grandchildren). “And I think that our pitching matches up with anybody’s in baseball.”FULL ENTRY
Julio Lugo is entering his 10th year in Major League Baseball. HeÕs in the third year of a four-year, $36 million contract with the Red Sox but has struggled since coming to Boston. After hitting .237 in 2007 with the Sox, Lugo battled through injuries that ultimately knocked him to the sidelines for good last season on July 12. His batting average for 2008 was .268 with just one home run in 261 at-bats.
Now, Lugo, 33, is healthy and determined to reclaim his position as an every-day big-league shortstop. We spoke about his condition, the competition for his job, and what it will take for him to return to the form that led him to a .308 batting average with Tampa Bay in 2006 (although he struggled after being traded to the Dodgers late that season).
TC: You look a little bigger this spring. Have you added weight in the off-season?
Lugo: I worked out a little more. I added 10 pounds. At the end of last season, I was this same size. When I went home, I was able to work out and get more rest even though I didn’t want that rest.
TC: Jed Lowrie played well in your absence last year. There’s been talk about a battle for the shortstop position this year. Are you the starting shortstop on this team?
Lugo: That’s the way I look at it. That’s the way I’m always going to see it no matter what happens. I didn’t play last year for a period of time, and he came in and played well. People are going to forget about you. That’s human nature. You know what? Now I’m here, and people are going to see me working, and people are going to remember me. That’s why I get paid a lot of money. You get paid this much money for a reason. You don’t get paid that money just to be here or to be on the bench.FULL ENTRY
Josh Bard knows. He remembers his brief time in a Red Sox uniform three years ago as well as anyone. Allowing 10 passed balls and 12 stolen bases in seven games is hard to forget.
Although he appeared in seven games in 2006, he was behind the plate for just six — his final appearance in a Sox uniform came April 27, a one-at-bat, pinch-hit turn. During the other six, Bard caught Tim Wakefield’s knuckleball in five starts. In four of those five games, the fluttering pitch inflicted its damage on Bard.
“Yeah,” Bard replied emphatically, when asked if those games got him down. “It was really frustrating.”
At the time, he felt that his baseball future rode on every pitch.
But “other than bleeding out of my ears,” it wasn’t too bad.
Bard was ultimately sent out of town, traded to the Padres on May 1, while catcher Doug Mirabelli played the part of the returning hero, complete with a memorable cross-country flight on a private jet and a police escort from Logan Airport in time to catch Wakefield against the Yankees that night.
But Bard is back, in line for the Sox backup catcher’s job and the opportunity to catch Wakefield’s knuckleball once again.
It’s different this time.FULL ENTRY
None of our usual goofing off before we dig into the batter’s box today — let’s get right to it. Here’s our completely subjective, not at all scientific, yet absolutely inarguable rankings of the 25 most important Red Sox entering the 2009 season, from worst to first.
Knowing full well you’ll argue with us anyway, let’s go . . .
25. Julio Lugo
Unless he miraculously channels Barry Larkin this spring, he’s poised to become a $9 million-a-year utility player/pinch runner. Tell us again what you saw in him, Theo.
24. Josh Bard
Back for another shot at catching Tim Wakefield? There’s something to be said for having a masochist on the roster.
23. Manny Delcarmen
We don’t mean to suggest that the pride of Hyde Park is disposable. It’s just that despite his overpowering repertoire, he’ll fall into a middle relief role while the likes of Ramon Ramirez and
Justin Masterson handle the later innings.
22. Tim Wakefield
Although there is tremendous value in having a pitcher gobble up 150 to 180 innings at a league-average ERA, he has become injury-prone in his 40s, and the Sox may have better options, such as . . .
21. Brad Penny
He’s essentially had the same career as A.J. Burnett, but he had the misfortune of suffering his injury in a contract year.
20. Rocco Baldelli
With Mark Kotsay injured, J.D. Drew sending off warning signals regarding his back, and Brad Wilkerson officially useless since 2004, the Sox may be counting on 300 at-bats from the former Ray. He could be a huge asset if — yes, that’s a big “if” — he is healthy.
BY LENNY MEGLIOLA
If you were a Red Sox fan, there were pitchers you just had to see when they were in their glory years. Luis Tiant in the 1970s, Roger Clemens in the ’80s, and Pedro Martinez in the late ’90s, and into the new millennium.
The twisting, gyrating Tiant long ago departed, but he remains a smiling, cigar-puffing presence on the Boston scene. Clemens is gone, too, his greatness undeniably powerful, yet so much of it diluted by the steroids cloud. In their day, Tiant and Clemens locked up the Fenway fans’ rapt attention every time, pitch by pitch. Martinez, possibly, even more so.
If you had bought Red Sox tickets over the winter, you prayed Pedro would be pitching that day. The guy was mesmerizing. Many times he just seemed to be teasing batters, such as during the 2000 season, when he won 18 games with a 1.74 ERA. Martinez stared down batters after punching them out. He was the best thing going, and he knew it. Fans ate it up.
The roar of the crowd has long since subsided for Tiant and Clemens, and it may be a thing of the past for Pedro, too. When the New York Mets signed Oliver Perez to a three-year deal worth $36 million last month, the starting rotation for 2009 looked set: Johan Santana, John Maine, Perez, and Mike Pelfrey, with Freddy Garcia, Jonathon Niese, and Tim Redding vying for the fifth slot. What, no room for Pedro?FULL ENTRY
Clay Buchholz is only 24 years old, but he’s already seen the peaks and valleys of a Major League Baseball career. On Sept. 1, 2007, he pitched a no-hitter in his second big-league start, becoming the third-youngest pitcher in Red Sox history to throw a no-hitter.
Last year, Buchholz went 2-9 with a 6.75 ERA before finishing the season at Double-A Portland. After the season, he played winter ball and worked to improve himself mentally and physically. I talked to him about his hopes for 2009 and where he fits in Boston’s plans for the future.
TC: After the way last season went, I would guess you just wanted to get away from baseball and go home. What was your reaction when Red Sox management told you it wanted you to work on some things and play winter ball?
Buchholz: Probably exactly what you’d think it would be. I told them I really didn’t want to go, I wanted to take some time off and clear my head. I thought that would be the best thing for me. So, they gave me two weeks off and said, “OK, you had two weeks off. Now you go to Arizona.” So I went to Arizona, and I didn’t really want to be there at first, but after about the first week I was there, I figured out there really were some things I could work on and get better at. That was my mindset, and it definitely helped me out.
TC: So there were some physical things, some mechanics for you to work on?
Buchholz: Definitely. By the time I left there, I felt about as good physically as I’ve ever felt at the end of the season. I got that mental break after I left and felt really good.FULL ENTRY
The Red Sox have built their roster over the past few seasons with an equal mix of veterans and young players. Those ingredients have given the team certain intangible benefits — the knowledge, experience, and presence of established players such as 2007 World Series MVP Mike Lowell and 2003 World Series MVP Josh Beckett, as well as the drive and energy of young players such as Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury.
The roster makeup has given the organization more tangible advantages, too. With just five players on the 40-man roster who are out of options — the fewest in baseball — the Sox enjoy a degree of flexibility that will serve them throughout the season.
“We’ve made an effort to have that flexibility on our roster,” said assistant general manager Jed Hoyer. “With our veteran team, a lot of these guys, they might have options, but contractually they’re on the team. So in order to get some flexibility, you have to get some players with options.”
A player maintains options when he has been on the 40-man roster for parts of less than three seasons. A player who is out of options has been on the 40-man roster at some point in three different seasons.FULL ENTRY
It's understandable for a Red Sox fan to revel in watching Alex Rodriguez, that pathological narcissist, suffer yet another self-inflicted puncture wound to his image. Hell, it's practically our duty to savor the schadenfreude as another layer of the Yankees superstar's phoniness is peeled back and exposed. And yet again we find ourselves thanking the baseball gods — or Gene Orza — that the players union aborted the 2003 trade to the Red Sox. A-Rod, with his cheatin’ heart, is a true Yankee. He’s where he belongs.
But a word of warning: Don’t gloat too much about A-Rod’s circumstances, because all logic suggests one of the cherished Red Sox heroes in your little boy’s baseball card collection could be next. Or two. Or a half-dozen. One hundred three unrevealed names remain on the list of players who flunked that now-infamous ’03 test. There are 30 major league teams. My rudimentary math skills tell me that’s roughly 3.433 busted players per team. If the list eventually goes public, there is no doubt that perceptions and reputations of players we’ve cheered easily will be damaged beyond repair.
If you doubt that a McNamee or a Radomski lurked in the shadows of every last major league ballpark — including the one on Yawkey Way — well, keep clinging to your naïveté. A cynic, how ever, might see it this way: If the 2003 Red Sox scored 961 runs and slugged .491 as a team with an entirely clean lineup, then mark it down as one of the greatest feats in modern sports history.
Our willingness to turn a collective blind eye is the reason the sport is in this mess in the first place, and the more information that spills about the circumstances and culture of baseball in the mid-’90s and beyond, the more convinced I become that clean players were in the vast, vast minority. It wouldn’t stun me if steroid idiot savant Jose Canseco’s guesstimate that 70 percent of players were juicing ends up being on the conservative side. It’s enough to dull us to the devastating implications of it all. Nothing comes as a shock anymore.
There is, however, one name that might make me reevaluate my lifelong and unfailing passion for baseball:
Pedro Jaime Martinez.FULL ENTRY
How's the view from your new glass house? As if we didn't want Alex Rodriguez here in our town. A-Rod, A-Fraud, A-Roid, and so on. Of course, we wanted him in the worst way when he was available after the 2003 season. We felt betrayed by the Texas Rangers, by Major League Baseball, by his agent, so betrayed that losing out on free agent Mark Teixeira last month to the Yankees hardly hurt at all. It was just another one of those betrayals.
Now, catching enemy superheroes from the dark side is especially rewarding. It’s like hearing that the neighbor you hate has found termites in his wall. Guess what? The termites could be in your walls next.
To be blunt, how many Red Sox on the 2004 World Series championship team were juicing? Would it matter to you if we found out the way we found out last weekend about A-Rod?
Remember, he was close to being in a Boston uniform for the 2004 season.
What if we discovered that Johnny Damon or Mark Bellhorn or David Ortiz or Pedro Martinez or Curt Schilling was on the same list of subjects of random testing back in 2003 and came up positive for steroids? I guess the point is that you have to get over it.
All hands on deck! Pass the needles and bless them all. Who wouldn’t take performance-enhancing drugs if they were not against MLB rules? Anybody who didn’t do it would be kind of stupid, wouldn’t he?
You wouldn’t necessarily want your players on this list. But at least the people on the list wanted to be better at their craft. How else can you look at it? You can call them cheaters. Does that make them feel worse? A-Rod was a cheater. Does that make you feel better? Remember the glass house you now live in. The day will come when so-and-so of the Boston Red Sox will be front and center on some such list.FULL ENTRY
They can't all be like Kevin Millar and Dave Roberts.
For every player who is unconditionally adored by teammates and fans even after leaving Boston, there's another who can't seem to get out fast enough. Manny Ramirez is the poster child for this bunch, doing anything and everything in his power to get out of town. It got so bad that even his teammates were whispering that he ought to be traded, often the surest signal that conditions have passed the point of no return. Although he is gone, he is surely not forgotten, and the shock waves caused by his exit still reverberate throughout Red Sox Nation.
Although the Manny debacle is particularly vivid in our minds, it is certainly not an isolated incident. Red Sox history is littered with players, coaches, managers, and front-office types who refused to go quietly. With the advent of free agency in 1976, the past 30-plus years have been particularly contentious.
Once the separation is finally complete, the parting words of the Red Sox are always clear and strong: Don't let the door hit you on the butt on the way out.
< 1B > Mo Vaughn The hefty Vaughn hit .326 with 44 homers and 143 RBI in 1996 but caused some trouble off the field, reportedly punching a man in a nightclub and getting into an accident on the way back from a strip club in Providence. After public feuds with Sox management as well as Globe columnists Dan Shaughnessy and Will McDonough, the 1995 AL MVP signed a six-year, $80 million contract with the Angels.
< 2B > Wil Cordero After playing in just 59 games for the Sox in 1996, Cordero was coming into his own in ’97 before it was reported that he hit his wife with a phone. Later, court documents showed that Cordero’s first wife also claimed he had abused her years before. Cordero was suspended for eight games and released the day after the season ended.FULL ENTRY
Tim Wakefield is back for another spring. Entering his 15th year with the Red Sox, Wake, 42, has the third-highest win total in franchise history. I spoke with him about getting outs, getting older, and getting a catcher who can handle the knuckleball.
TC: Unless Kenny Rogers signs with an American League team today, you’ll report to spring training as the oldest pitcher in the AL. How did that happen?
Wakefield: [laughs] Good question. I don’t know how it happened. I’m honored to have that title, but I guess it’s just a sign of longevity and being with the same club that believes in you for the last 15 years.
TC: Thank God for Jamie Moyer in the NL.
Wakefield: Yeah, no kidding. I think Jamie is 46, and watching him last year in the World Series put a smile on my face knowing that he throws just about as hard as I do and he’s still getting outs without a knuckleball.
TC: The Red Sox have added Brad Penny and John Smoltz to the staff. One thing we’ve learned in Boston over the years is that rotational depth is so important, and it takes more than five guys to last the season.
Wakefield: I think so. You never know what injuries may pop up, and you need that depth. What’s good about our club is we’ve also got a lot of young guys who can step in and fill those roles, too. With Clay Buchholz or Justin Masterson or Michael Bowden, [we have] guys like that who have been in the big leagues before and have shown that they can fill in for somebody who may be on the DL for 15 days. With the addition of John Smoltz and Brad Penny, we’ve got six bona fide major league starters who can get it done.FULL ENTRY
Forget about robins and groundhogs. For Red Sox fans, the true harbinger of spring is the day pitchers and catchers report to spring training in Fort Myers, Fla. This year, that day is Thursday.
Although some pitchers, including newcomers John Smoltz, Brad Penny, and Takashi Saito, have known ailments, the rest of the staff is relatively healthy.
“More importantly, at this point there’s been no surprises,” pitching coach John Farrell said of his staff in a phone interview last weekend. Farrell will have an interesting camp ahead, with a projected starting rotation that includes Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Tim Wakefield, and an impending battle for the fifth slot.
Beckett started 2008 on the disabled list with an ailing lower back and right hip, and ended the season with an oblique strain. In between, he compiled a record of 12-10 with a 4.03 ERA. He was second in the American League in strikeouts per nine innings with 8.9.
“Beckett’s doing well,” said Farrell. “The off-season, the time down was needed. All the ailments that he went through during the season are behind him. I actually had a chance to see him throw a bullpen [session on Jan. 30] in San Antonio, and based on the one bullpen, I think he looks closer to the start of 2007 spring training than 2008.”
Lester, who threw a no-hitter against the Royals on May 19, led the team in innings pitched with 210‚ (seventh in the AL) en route to a 16-6 record. He had a 3.21 ERA (fourth in the AL) and went 11-1 with a 2.49 ERA at home. Many consider him at least a co-ace with Beckett.
“[He’s grown] in many ways that I think all of us can see,” said Farrell. “The gains in strength, return to his normal weight, the further physical maturity that he’s going through, for a guy who’s just turned 25 years old [Jan. 7].FULL ENTRY
Philosophically speaking, we know what the Red Sox are. Or at the very least, we know what they prefer to be. Nonetheless, in 2009, there is the chance we all may need to reintroduce ourselves.
The irony, of course, is that the Red Sox who start 2009 will look very much like the Sox who finished 2008, at least with regard to the batting order. For all of the frugal additions the Sox have made this off-season, their nine best position players remain unchanged. That prompts us to wonder just what we can expect from the offense this year, the first since 2000 in which the Red Sox will play an entire season without Manny Ramirez.
Just as important, it inspires us to wonder if the Sox might have to at least modify their style. If their lineup is not as deep, will they need to put more men in motion? Will they need to hit and run? And if so, would the Sox go so far as to reintroduce us to a familiar four-letter word?
Yes, we're talking about B-U-N-T.
Particularly during the Theo Epstein Era, the Red Sox' offensive philosophy has been clear, if for no other reason than the fact that the Sox stole it from the New York Yankees. During all of those seasons when the Yankees were finding ways to beat Pedro Martinez, the logic was simple: Extend the count, make the opposing starter work, get into the bullpen early.
Then, tee off.FULL ENTRY
Later this month, Jerry Remy will head to Fort Myers, Fla., to begin his 22nd season analyzing Red Sox games on NESN. Since that rookie broadcasting season in 1988, he has become as popular as any player on the field. He was elected president of Red Sox Nation, created a popular fan website, and will soon open Jerry Remy’s Sports Bar & Grille around the corner from Fenway.
I spoke with Remy about heading to spring training, this year’s team, and walking the fine line between baseball analyst and television entertainer.
TC: When was the last time you didn’t go to spring training to get the season started?
Remy: Just the one year after I retired. I didn’t go down the following season, so it’s been every year but that one since I was probably 19 years old coming out of high school. It is strange. I don’t know what I’d do if it came to be March and I didn’t go somewhere warm for baseball.
TC: Seems like the Sox are hoping their pitching depth will be the key to this season.
Remy: They’ve been doing that for the last couple of years. They did it with [Bartolo] Colon last year, and hopefully they get more out of both [Brad] Penny and John Smoltz than they did out of Colon. I think they probably will. They do have some depth, but they really wanted [Mark] Teixeira. He was a guy that they could plug in the middle of that lineup for the next six, seven years, and you could tell at the end of last year that the lineup was not the same without [Manny] Ramirez in it, and it was pretty obvious in the playoffs. I think that’s something they really wanted to do, and I think they were stunned that they didn’t get it done.FULL ENTRY
Now that catcher Jason Varitek has been re-signed, the Red Sox have their roster set in time for pitchers and catchers to report to spring training in Fort Myers, Fla., on Feb. 12. Although the roster will likely undergo some changes before Opening Day — the arrival of a power bat and the departure of a relief pitcher are among the possibilities — the main pieces are in place.
The question is, how does the Sox roster stack up in the American League East? Three major league scouts from teams outside of the division offer their takes:
“I’ve got my doubts a little bit about the Red Sox, just because of all the questions. The health of [third baseman Mike] Lowell. Is [Jed] Lowrie really a bona fide shortstop on a championship club? The catching situation — you’re not getting much offensive output there. [David Ortiz] is diminished, I think. They’re getting long in the tooth overall, except for [second baseman Dustin] Pedroia, and I don’t know if he can duplicate what he did [in 2008]. I hate to sound negative, but they might have enough to beat Toronto, and then again they may not. And the Yankees spent half a billion dollars to win it. So I can’t see Boston being the favorite right now in the division.
Surely you're already familiar with some of the juicier tidbits in the upcoming guaranteed bestseller by Joe Torre and Tom Verducci, The Yankee Years.
Torre, the longtime Yankees manager, has pulled off the neat trick of earning an author’s credit on a book written by someone else in the third person. The Dodgers’ skipper reportedly expounds on Alex Rodriguez’s “obsession” with Derek Jeter, essentially accuses general manager Brian Cashman of stabbing him in the back, and reveals that management was informed of his cancer diagnosis before he was. It should make a fine gift for a Red Sox fan.
What you may not know is that the basis for the book was a journal Torre kept during his tenure with the Yankees. (True story. It’s a little pink pinstriped number with a picture of a baby unicorn on it. Gift from Jeter.) And we here at OT just happen to have stumbled upon a copy. Without revealing our sources, we gladly offer you some of Joe Torre’s innermost thoughts as a Yankee.
Nov. 3, 1995: My first day on the job, and I’m greeted by this headline in the Daily News: “Clueless Joe.” Sigh. I’ll show you, New York! If I can make it here, I can make it … aw, who am I kidding? I have a sub-.500 career winning percentage and I have to put up with the whims of that nut job Steinbrenner. Better keep the ol’ resume updated.
Feb. 3, 1998: News of the day: Bob Watson is out as our GM, and Brian Cashman is in. Count me on board with this. Sure, Cash is a squirrelly-looking sort, but I know he’s got my back.
May 17, 1998: David Wells pitched a perfect game at the Stadium — what a moment for Boomer and the New York Yankees! On a related note, I never knew that a human being could smell like a combination of whiskey, Fritos, and old tube socks until we were lugging him off the field. I think I have a hernia.FULL ENTRY
Red Sox executive vice president and general manager Theo Epstein thinks he has his club ready to make another charge into October. There are obviously more moves to be made -- unless you're comfortable with a Josh Bard/George Kottaras/Dusty Brown combination behind the plate -- but Epstein has received praise for making moves that should improve the club.
He missed out on signing free agent Mark Teixeira, but the additions of Brad Penny, John Smoltz, and Rocco Baldelli fill needs and round out a roster that made it to Game 7 of the ALCS last year.
I spoke with Epstein about the finances of building a team in a recession, the key off-season additions, and keeping up with the Joneses in the AL East.
TC: How much do you have to keep the state of the economy in mind as you make deals? What could happen to the future of baseball in this economy?
Epstein: Obviously, no one has the answer to what’s going to happen to this economy on the whole, and more specifically its impact on baseball in 2009. All things being equal, we just felt the more flexibility we could maintain, the better. It gives us the ability to read and react, which is never a bad thing. If you have younger, more cost-controlled and affordable talent, when is that ever a bad thing? In these economic times it could prove to be a very valuable thing.
TC: How do your off-season moves thus far compare with the plan you had going into November?
Epstein: Actually, you don’t go in with one plan. You go in with several different versions of a plan because you’re never sure if you’re going to be able to land certain players and you’re never sure if certain trades are going to come to fruition. The theme, I guess, is that we felt we had a really good team coming back. We didn’t have any desperate needs at any one position per se. We were returning a team that was really, really injured and still came within one big hit of getting to the World Series with a lot of young players that should get better. We felt if we were going to make moves we wanted to find potential impact players, whether it be a big free agent or a number of shorter-term deals with potential impact players who are coming off an injury or coming off a down year. So we’ve ended up really following that second path, and we like the players we’ve signed.FULL ENTRY
Having grown up in Boston, Manny Delcarmen knows how important the off-season is to Red Sox fans. Now, as a regular fixture in the bullpen, he continues to monitor the team’s winter moves.
He’s happy with the signings of Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia to multiyear contracts and of closer Jonathan Papelbon to a one-year deal.
“It’s always good to get guys and lock them down for a couple of years, especially guys like Pedroia and Youkilis, who did what they did last year,” said Delcarmen. “And what Pap’s been doing for the last few years is unbelievable. I called Pap and I was like, ‘I’m never paying for lunch ever again.’ And he was like, ‘All right, I’ll take you to Taco Bell.’”
The pride of Hyde Park is also happy with the added bullpen depth.
“It seemed like we signed about 100 relievers,” Delcarmen said. “I think it’s always good to have extra arms in case something happens.”
He is not concerned about the moves made by the Yankees, who spent more than $423 million to acquire pitchers CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett and first baseman Mark Teixeira.
“Oh, they spent a lot of money before and it hasn’t paid off for them, but we’ll see what happens,” he said. “I mean, it’s baseball — you never know what can happen. Obviously, they’re trying to make their team better. They got Teixeira, and I know we can get to Sabathia. We’ve done it before.”FULL ENTRY
Well, I'm feeling all postpartisan and bygones-be-bygones, how about you?
Now that we have embarked on a new era of change and goodwill — and if you can’t believe flash-frozen CNN haircuts, who can you believe? — I think it’s time for the folks around here who work in and around sports to get with the program. For example, I think it’s time for us to invite Bill Polian down to Foxborough to see a show, shop for lingerie, buy a hamburger at an adjustable rate of interest, or whatever else he wants to do at the Kraft Family Empire along Route 1. Maybe he can go to the great big fishing shop and buy something that won’t sink before the third weekend of the playoffs. Let’s have Brian Cashman, Randy Levine, Hank Steinbrenner, and all the Yankee pooh-bahs over for some Triscuits and cheese, and we can ask them how they manage to stick up the entire state of New York without a gun.
There is one reconciliation devoutly to be wished, though. I have grown concerned about the local baseball team, and it’s not because I believe that the earth will open along Lansdowne Street and giant winged lizards will rise to devour the Cask ’n Flagon if the team doesn’t sign a 36-year-old catcher who hit .220 last year. (Note to the local hysterics: Josh Beckett has won two World Series with two different teams. He doesn’t need a nanny. Pass it on.) No, I’m concerned that the team will not hit well enough in the middle of the lineup, what with Jason Bay being the only incumbent thereabouts who is not both aging and injured. (David Ortiz says his wrist feels fine. Mazel tov. It’s January.)
I realize that they were good enough to get to within one game of defeating the Tampa Bay Rays last season for the right to have Cole Hamels stand them on their heads in the World Series, but I think they need a little additional pop to make sure that Ortiz and Mike Lowell can work their way back into shape carefully.
Cruising the sports pages the other day, I noticed that there is a free agent out there who’s hitting .314 lifetime with 527 home runs and who, last year, almost singlehandedly lifted a mediocre bunch of Los Angeles Dodgers into the playoffs. He hit 17 home runs down the stretch and knocked in 53 runs in as many games. And, almost unbelievably, he’s on the market. Right now. There seem to be some whispers about the San Francisco Giants, but they shouldn’t be that hard to outmaneuver, since they have Barry Zito tied to one leg like an anchor. A team with the sparkling young brainpower of the Boston Red Sox should be able to sabermetric the Giants back to the Island of Misfit Ballclubs, where they belong.
So what's standing in the way of the Red Sox solving all their offensive problems by signing free agent Manny Ramirez?FULL ENTRY
I know, it's difficult to believe considering you've got enough snow in your yard at the moment to open your own ski resort, but this is the honest truth, thank goodness: Pitchers and catchers report to Fort Myers on Feb. 12 — just 21 days from now.
Well, pitchers will report, anyway. In a leap of faith, we’re simply going to assume Theo Epstein will have secured a legitimate starting catcher by then. We’d hate to see the puzzled look on Daisuke Matsuzaka’s face as John Farrell tells him to get loose by throwing to a Spalding 15275 Pitching Target Return Throw Back Stop. (Catchy name, no?)
So while we endure our own ongoing wintry version of the Big Dig, here is an inning’s worth of Red Sox items to keep you warm. (What’s that? You say snow isn’t the only thing I’m shoveling? Cheap, cheap shot ...)
We await Varitek’s fate
At this writing, longtime and generally beloved Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek remains in self-inflicted limbo, having turned down arbitration only to discover this cold truth: He and his agent, the execrable but usually remarkably effective Scott Boras, made a serious miscalculation about Varitek’s perceived value, particularly when a first-round pick is attached as compensation. So much for matching Jorge Posada’s four-year, $52 million benchmark, eh, Scottie?
It seemed a resolution might have been imminent late last week when Varitek requested a one-on-one meeting with Red Sox owner John Henry at the catcher’s home in Atlanta, but both men have been purposefully vague regarding what was said and if any matters were settled, though the apparently well-sourced Heidi Watney indicated on NESN that Varitek’s primary desire is a two-year deal.FULL ENTRY
It must be a great time to be a baseball fan in New York.
Yes, there’s that little matter of neither the Yankees nor the Mets making it to the postseason last October, the first time that has happened to the Yankees since 1993, but just look at the commitment to rectifying that. The Yankees have returned to their roots, pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into free agents CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeira. Over in Queens, the Mets have done yeoman’s work shoring up their bullpen, signing free agent closer Francisco Rodriguez, making a deal for J.J. Putz, and — hey, Casey Fossum.
The Yankees have spent a mind-boggling $423 million this winter in attempting to overcome the embarrassment that was the 2008 season, which ended with a third-place finish in the American League East. Think about that for a moment. Almost a half-billion dollars spent on limited personnel. That has some people (rightfully) bellyaching about revisiting a salary cap in Major League Baseball, a proposal that has (predictably) fallen upon deaf ears.
But that’s not even the most ludicrous allotment of funds these days in New York, where the Yankees and Mets last week had their requests for additional public financing for their new ballparks granted. Already receiving $940 million in tax-exempt bonds and $25 million in taxable bonds, the Yankees are now the recipients of an additional $259 million in tax-exempt bonds. Likewise, the Mets, who received $615 million in tax-exempt bonds, now have $83 million more to work with.
Hey, as long as everybody else is getting handouts.FULL ENTRY
BY DICK TRUST
Bobby Doerr knows what it's like to wait for the greatest honor in baseball. Thirty-five years after he played his last major league game, Doerr was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. "There were a lot of ballplayers back then who deserved to be in the Hall of Fame. I had to wait my turn, I guess,” said the retired Red Sox second baseman, for whom the gates to Coo-perstown swung open in 1986 in balloting by the Veterans Committee.
“That’s one of the great thrills of your lifetime. It’s the ultimate of everything,” the nine-time All-Star said by phone from his home in Junction City, Ore.
“It’s quite a privilege to be put in the Hall of Fame. Not that many people get voted in. It’s one of the nicest things a ballplayer can have happen to him.”
The oldest living player in baseball’s Hall of Fame — he’ll be 91 on April 7 — Doerr has enjoyed more than two decades of recognition as one of the game’s elite performers. So it was with great reverence, and understanding, that he welcomed Jim Rice as good company in Cooperstown.
The former Red Sox slugger had to wait only 20 years after his retirement — and until his 15th and final year of eligibility in balloting by the baseball writers — before gaining entry on Jan. 12.
“I think it’s great. I was hoping he’d make it,” Doerr said of Rice, who will be inducted with Rickey Henderson, tapped in his first year of eligibility. “I’m glad both of them got in, not just one. Both of them deserve to be in. [Rice] is one of the top guys who should have been in years ago. But that’s the way it goes, I guess.”FULL ENTRY
Although Casey Kelly never got around to memorizing “Rocky Top,” he did tune in this fall when the University of Tennessee took the gridiron.
“But I don’t miss waking up at 6:30 for weights and two-a-days,” Kelly said. “I don’t miss that part of football at all.”
Good thing. The erstwhile Volunteer quarterback (and shortstop) recruit will have enough on his plate this spring.
Kelly, the Red Sox’ No. 1 pick (30th overall) in last year’s draft out of Sarasota High, will have the unusual task of pitching and playing shortstop this year, likely starting at Single-A Greenville. He is expected to throw approximately 100 innings as a starter and then move to the field.
The 19-year-old right-hander, whose arsenal includes a low- to mid-90s fastball, a 12-6 curve, and a change, has acknowledged he prefers the every-day position to the once-every-five-days option of the starting rotation. But conversations with the team before he signed in July convinced him he would have ample opportunity at either position.
“We sat down and talked for a length of time, because they thought I’d be a little better as a pitcher, but they didn’t want to cut out the position player,” he said. “So we bounced some ideas back and forth, and this year’s going to be kind of a see which one works out better. And at the end of the season we’ll see which one projects better.”
For the Sox, it could be a win-win opportunity.FULL ENTRY
John Henry is entering his eighth season as principal owner of the Boston Red Sox. With Henry at the helm, the Red Sox have won two World Series and been to the playoffs five times in seven years.
I asked Henry over e-mail about owning the Red Sox, watching the Yankees commit nearly half a billion dollars to free agents CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeira this winter, and what the current recession means to the Red Sox and Major League Baseball.
TC: What was your immediate reaction when you learned the Yankees had signed Mark Teixeira?
Henry: This was another typical negotiation with [agent] Scott Boras. The Yankees were going to get the last call. We felt that was going to be the case from the beginning and didn’t like our chances — particularly after hearing from the player that Boston was not his preference and [from] the agent that we were the low bidder among clubs. The New York Daily News reported that the player told the Yanks he preferred playing for them from the beginning. So it wasn’t surprising.
TC: That signing was part of a commitment by the Yankees totaling more than $400 million to three free agents this off-season, and they are moving into a new ballpark. Can other teams compete with them in the free-agent market?
Henry: Not at that level.
TC: In the wake of the Mark Teixeira signing, you said the Red Sox “have to be even more careful in deploying our resources” in light of the financial gap between the Yankees and the rest of baseball. Is this a change in philosophy or a continuation of how the Red Sox have always operated under your ownership?
Henry: The timing of that quote was misleading. I gave that quote months ago concerning the impact of the new Yankee Stadium. Right after the Teixeira signing, the Associated Press ran the quote and it appeared to be current. In fact, [Yankees president] Randy Levine responded to it as if it were about the signing — which it wasn’t.FULL ENTRY
And on the eighth day the sports gods gave us veteran players, who have come to appreciated what they have, who have invaluable perspective, who generally have outgrown the petulance and boorish behavior that so frequently come with athletic youth. So John Smoltz is a member of the Red Sox. Watching and listening to him on Tuesday at Fenway Park, it was impossible to feel anything but delighted. Smoltz may or may not prove to be an asset to the Red Sox on the field this season, largely because that depends on the health of his right arm. But off the field, where baseball players spend an inordinate amount of time together, almost everyone in and around the Boston organization can learn something from a man who has seen and done it all.
Said Smoltz, “I value the chemistry inside a locker room and having the ability to talk to players and have an influence.”
At this stage, so should we.
With all due respect to young players, they just don’t get it. They rarely do. Having had nothing but themselves (and their careers) to focus on during most of their lives, young players end up exhibiting varying degrees of cluelessness, selfishness, and egomania. Through high school and college, the large majority of them have been subjects of nothing but hero worship. They spend more time talking about “me” and less time talking about “us” largely because they see themselves as at least one class above the human race.
After all, it takes some good, old-fashioned humility to humble a person, and most young players are accustomed to wiping the floor with inferior athletes.FULL ENTRY
The Hall of Fame second baseman called and requested a lunch with the shortstop who had just finished his rookie season. Honored, the younger player agreed.
“I was a little bit [nervous], yeah,” Jed Lowrie said of meeting fellow Oregon native Bobby Doerr recently. “I heard so much about him. We just met at the Outback there in Eugene. He just showed up in a regular jacket and some khakis, and you would have never known. He talked about Babe Ruth and Bob Feller and all these different guys, Ty Cobb, like they were just normal guys. And these are legends of the game.
“It’s amazing,” Lowrie said. “Bobby’s sitting there talking about how he had Babe Ruth autograph a bat for him, and it’s just amazing. I had a great time. It was only about an hour and a half, two hours, but I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it.”
Well, maybe not every minute.
“We got to talking,” Lowrie said. “Some formalities at first, then about five minutes into it he’s like, ‘Why the hell do you keep popping up the ball? You’re always making contact, why do you keep popping up?’ And I was like, ‘Well, you know, Bobby, I broke my wrist.’ And I didn’t want to make an excuse right away but I was like, ‘I had a broken wrist and I felt like I just didn’t have the strength toward the end of the year.’ And he looked at me like, ‘Well, I guess that’s a pretty good excuse.’”
Lowrie initially injured the wrist while playing for Pawtucket in mid-May. The cumulative effects of the broken ulnar styloid, combined with a partially torn ligament and a bone bruise, led him to overcompensate in his swing.FULL ENTRY
I don't need to explain to the informed citizens of Red Sox Nation why the Tampa Bay Rays will again have to be reckoned with in the season ahead, given the recurring David Price nightmares that surely haunted your autumn. After October’s seven-game grind of an American League Championship Series, the Rays were paid their proper respect in full around here. But a couple hundred miles and several million dollars down the road in New York, it seems they may have already forgotten which team will enter the new season as the reigning American League champion.
It seemed only appropriate that Mark Teixeira, the gaudiest new jewel in the Yankees’ quest to cobble together a crown, nearly neglected to mention the Rays as one of his employer’s chief competitors for AL supremacy during his introductory press conference Tuesday afternoon. Near the end of his “gosh, it’s just so swell to be a [bleepin’ rich] Yankee” dog-and-pony show, Teixeira spoke of the high level of competition in the AL East, rattling off an almost-sincere plaudit about the Red Sox before barely avoiding an inexcusable exclusion. “Oh, and the Devil Rays had an incredible season this year … or the Rays, I’m sorry,” he added casually.
Teixeira apparently has the arrogance part down pat — maybe he is a True Yankee after all. All right, snarkiness aside, perhaps Teixeira’s near-oversight was excusable, given the excitement of his big (pay)day. But there is also a lesson to be found in there: The Rays should be nobody’s afterthought, for this ball club is supremely capable not only on the field, but in the front office as well.FULL ENTRY
When Bill Nowlin wrote a biography of Johnny Pesky, he titled it Mr. Red Sox. How fitting.
Pesky has been with the team in some capacity for the better part of the last 70 years.
He’s been a player, a coach, a manager, and a broadcaster. Now he’s the team’s goodwill ambassador, occupying the first seat on the right as you enter the Sox clubhouse.
I spoke with Johnny, 89 years young, about having his number retired, how he got the right-field foul pole named after him, and the Hall of Fame credentials of one of his pupils, Jim Rice.
TC: You worked with Jim Rice when he was a young ballplayer. You’ve always believed he should be in the Hall of Fame.
Pesky: He should’ve gotten in five years ago. He was a threat. He worked as hard as any player we ever had. When [Don] Zimmer was here, he loved Rice, and Zimmer called me into his office and said, “Johnny, I want you to stay with Rice every day in spring training. If he goes to the toilet, you go with him.” We got real close, and Jimmy worked real hard. He worked after workouts and such. We hit him balls and he worked in the cage. I was his personal guy, and Jimmy got better. When we played a day game, he’d be out there at 9 o’clock in the morning. He used to throw sidearmed, and his ball would tail off. We got him to throw it overhand, and he went from throwing one guy out to throwing 10 to 13 guys out at home plate each year. And a great-looking hitter.
TC: That reminds me of all the work you did with other players, guys like Wade Boggs.
Pesky: Wade Boggs came to me. He said, “Johnny, they say I’m a horse[bleep] third baseman.” I asked him what he wanted to do about it, and told him to come out and work with me. He came out every day at 3 o’clock. He’d stay out there for a half-hour taking ground ball after ground ball. Hard-hit balls, slow-hit balls, everything. He had a good arm, and was always accurate with that arm. Wade Boggs and Jim Rice worked as hard as any player we’ve ever had.FULL ENTRY
The Red Sox’ annual rookie program is designed to acclimate select minor league players to major league life in Boston, while emphasizing conditioning and fundamentals with two-a-day workouts. Participants in the program, which began this week and runs through Jan. 16, include 11 homegrown players: pitchers Daniel Bard, Felix Doubront, Kris Johnson, Richie Lentz, Adam Mills, and Dustin Richardson; catcher Mark Wagner; infielders Lars Anderson and Argenis Diaz; and outfielders Zach Daeges and Josh Reddick. Also in attendance are pitchers Dewon Day and Wes Littleton, acquired during the off-season from the Chicago White Sox and Texas Rangers, respectively
A few scouts weighed in on five rising stars among the prospects attending the program.
The Sox' top prospect and No. 8 in the American League, as rated by Baseball America, the left-handed first baseman was the 22nd pick (553rd overall) in the 2005 draft out of high school. He split 2008 between Lancaster (.317, 13 homers, 50 RBI in 77 games) and Portland (.316, five homers, 30 RBI in 41 games).
Scout's take: “I really like him a lot. I fell in love with him that first year in Greenville. He puts the good part of the bat on the ball. Even when he’s a little bit overmatched physically, he figures out how to do it, and will hit the ball the other way. I think he could be a really good hitter. He’s strong enough that he should hit home runs. He’ll turn on balls. Great fielder, plays hard, plays every day.”
The 6-foot-4, 200-pound right-handed pitcher was the Sox’ second overall pick (first round) in the 2006 draft out of the University of North Carolina. After struggling in 2007 (3-7, 7.08 ERA), last season he compiled a record of 5-1, with a 1.51 ERA, seven saves, 107 strikeouts, and 30 walks in 77„ innings between Single-A Greenville and Double-A Portland. Baseball America rates him as the No. 4 prospect in the organization.
Scout's take: “He’s got a great arm. A lot of people don’t like his makeup. They thought he was going to be a big underachiever. … [But] then last year I saw him, and he was just lights out. He throws 100 mph playing catch. He threw a couple of pitches 96, everything else was 98, 99, 100. He’s got a big breaking ball. His breaking ball, if he can keep getting it close, it’s something you’ve got to swing at, because it could be a strike. [He’s got] a big hard curveball, it’s just a nasty pitch. … If they keep him in the bullpen, he has top-line closer stuff.”FULL ENTRY
Ever since the Grinch, looking suspiciously like Yankees general manager Brian Cashman but with a slightly less greenish tint, swooped down from Mount Steinbrenner (rumored to be nothing more than an enormous stack of cash) and swiped Mark Teixeira from beneath the Red Sox’ Christmas tree, all of the sad citizens of Red Sox Nation have had one collective comment for young Theo Lou Who:
Well, that went well. What now, genius?
What, you expected more of that Dr. Seuss jibber-jabber? Hey, you know how it goes: Here in icy New England, cynicism is a traditional part of the holiday mood. And in the hours after the Yankees surprised just about everyone other than — ahem — me by signing Teixeira when conventional wisdom suggested he was already gift-wrapped for the Red Sox, the frustration was palpable and justified. He was supposed to be ours. But in the time it took for agent Scott Boras to whisper, “The Yankees have made an offer” into a media lackey’s ear, he was gone, to The Enemy, no less, and although the plot twist didn’t necessarily ruin a Red Sox fan’s holiday season, the eggnog didn’t taste quite as good this year, either.
Though it was convenient and cathartic to vent about Epstein and the Red Sox front office in the immediate aftermath of the Teixeira signing, the more consideration that was given to the way the situation unfolded, the more apparent the truth became: The Yankees, hindered a year ago by a lineup featuring a lot of famous names producing a lot of underwhelming numbers, coveted Teixeira, a 28-year-old Goody Two Cleats with 203 homers in six full seasons, at least as much as the Red Sox did, and their intent was to trump each and every high bid until they got their man. We didn’t know it as it was happening, but it turns out the Red Sox never had a chance. Someday, Teixeira might even admit as much.FULL ENTRY
On January 12, the Baseball Hall of Fame will announce its latest group of inductees. It is the 15th and final chance for Red Sox slugger Jim Rice, who came up 16 votes short in 2008. No player has ever come so close without eventually getting in.
Rice hit .298 with 382 home runs and 1,451 runs batted in during his career. In Rice’s 16th and final season, injuries took their toll, and he played in a mere 56 games, hitting just three homers. Now, Rice works with me as a studio analyst on NESN’s Red Sox coverage. We spoke about the upcoming Hall announcement, his career, and today’s players.
TC: You haven’t lobbied for this. A lot of other people have lobbied for you. Why not get out there and campaign for your spot in the Hall?
Rice: From a player’s standpoint, I’d feel like I was begging more than anything else if I did that. I feel like my numbers were as good as [those of] a lot of the guys in the Hall of Fame — the numbers that I put up, the years that I played, being a threat for all of those years. If you’re going by what other players accomplished during their time as far as being in the Hall of Fame, then I should be there, too. So I don’t feel like I have to campaign.
TC: It seems like you were part of a group of hitters in the 1980s that had its numbers overshadowed by the huge power numbers of the ’90s. In the wake of the steroid bombshells of the last few years, it looks like writers are revisiting those numbers of power hitters from the ’80s.FULL ENTRY
Nothing stands in the way this time for Jacoby Ellsbury. The path to center field is clear. That is, if he remains in a Red Sox uniform; rumors swirling this week had Ellsbury possibly heading to the Marlins. Another trade — the November deal that sent Coco Crisp to the Kansas City Royals for reliever Ramon Ramirez — seemingly cleared the path for Ellsbury to be the Sox’ starting center fielder.
“I wasn’t really too surprised,” Ellsbury said of the trade. “I guess anything can happen. But, yeah, it’s a great opportunity for me … and that’s why I’m working so hard this off-season, to be ready and ready to go.”
The situation could have been difficult last year — an incumbent veteran and a flashy rookie vying for the same position.
“[Sox manager Terry Francona] did a very good job of informing us and letting us know what was going on,” said Ellsbury, who turned 25 in September. “Both of us had very good attitudes. Coco had a great attitude with it towards me, at least, from what I could see. And I think we accepted our roles very well. … And this year, yeah, my role is definitely going to change, and I’m excited for the opportunity.”
Ellsbury was speaking by phone from his Oregon home, where he was relaxing during the holidays before returning to Arizona for workouts at the Athletes’ Performance facility with teammates Dustin Pedroia, Jed Lowrie, and Kevin Youkilis.FULL ENTRY
Please, no whining, crying, kvetching, or moaning. The Red Sox had their chance. They have the money. They lost Mark Teixeira to the Yankees for maybe $1 million to $2 million a year, roughly 1 percent of their 2008 payroll.
What a kick in the pants.
Whether or not you wanted to see Teixeira in a Red Sox uniform next year, you're missing the point. The Red Sox wanted him, and they wanted him badly. Roughly two months after making the final payments on Manny Ramirez's eight-year, $160-million contract, the Sox are believed to have offered Teixeira an eight-year deal in the neighborhood of $170 million. The Sox drew a proverbial line in the sand last week when owner John Henry issued the statement that the Sox were "not going to be a factor" in the Teixeira sweepstakes. Tuesday, with agent Scott Boras holding his hand, Teixeira crossed it.
Maybe Henry's remarks were posturing, and maybe they weren't. Maybe he was merely starting the damage control. Whatever the case, the Red Sox now have to deal with the reality that the Yankees are very much back in business in the American League East and that the Sox might be nothing more than a third-place team.
Before we go any further, let us state the obvious: The Red Sox are not going to collapse. They have a good team with good management and a good farm system, and they have the money to compete for any free agent in the business. The Yankees entered this off-season far more desperate than the Red Sox did, which is why New York has spent in excess of $420 million on Teixeira, CC Sabathia, and A.J. Burnett.FULL ENTRY
It’s usually not until after an illustrious career that a player has a landmark named after him. Just ask Carlton Fisk or Johnny Pesky.
But when Lars Anderson makes his Fenway Park debut, possibly sometime in 2009, his surroundings will include a park, an auto museum, and a bonsai collection bearing his name.
“I am aware of that, but it’s spelled with a ‘z’ I think,” said Anderson, referring to the wealthy businessman and ambassador to Japan Larz Anderson. “But I think that would be a cool way to spell my name.”
Anderson, who turned 21 in September, is ready to make a name for himself. Drafted in 2006 out of Jesuit High School in Carmichael, Calif., in the 18th round (553rd overall), Anderson opted for a professional career rather than college at Berkeley. He’s finding the decision worthwhile. After being named Boston’s No. 5 prospect by Baseball America after his first season in 2007, he is currently ranked as the franchise’s best prospect and No. 8 in the American League. BA also rates him the best hitter for average in the Boston system and its best power hitter. He knows expectations are high.
“I guess the proper response is I don’t pay attention to them,” he said. “I have to thank God I’m healthy is the way to approach it. I’m beginning to see that self-awareness is the way to go. I’m aware of [the expectations], that they’re there, there’s no denying they’re there. … So this is just another thing that I’m aware of, but I try not to put too much stock into it because what is the pressure based on? What is the expectation based on?FULL ENTRY
Once home to baseball’s two greatest superpowers, the American League East has been redrawn. The Tampa Bay Rays are now division champions. The New York Yankees are back in business.
For the Red Sox, the challenge is growing more difficult.
Winners of two world titles in the last five seasons and postseason participants during five of the last six Octobers, the Red Sox recently returned from Las Vegas trapped in an unusual place. The Sox had yet to gain on the small-market Rays and had lost ground to the big(ger)-market Yankees, who fortified their rotation with the acquisitions of CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. The AL East looked to be growing even more competitive, a fact that will make any future trips to the postseason all the more grueling.
Of the Red Sox, Rays, and Yankees, after all, at least one of them will miss the postseason in 2009.
And if the division proves as competitive as many believe and fear it will be, the wild card may come from the Central or West.
Bang for the buck
For obvious reasons, let’s start with the Yankees. New York committed $161 million to Sabathia (over seven years) and another $82.5 million to Burnett (over five years). Sabathia has an escape clause that could allow him to leave New York after his third season, but the Yankees have no ability to truncate either contract.
Did the Yankees spend too much? That is irrelevant. For all of the talk that the Yankees spent a quarter-billion dollars on two pitchers, nobody has taken the time to point out that those expenditures are broken up into 12 parts (seven for Sabathia, five for Burnett). The more relevant math is that the Yankees will pay Sabathia and Burnett an average of $39.5 million over each of the next five years, leaving the club with somewhere in the range of $200 million to spend on the balance of its roster each year.
Anyone who’s ever cast a line has a story about the one that got away. General managers are no different than fishermen.
If things had turned out differently in the 1998 draft, Mark Teixeira, one of this off-season’s prize free agents, could have been a member of the Red Sox.
“The Orioles drafted [pitcher Mike] Mussina in like the [11th round in 1987],” said former Red Sox GM Dan Duquette. “He was from Pennsylvania. He had a scholarship to go to Stanford, and the Orioles drafted him in the hope that they might offer him top money and sign him. And that’s kind of the premise that we took when we approached Mark and his family.
“We knew he had a good offer to go to college to Georgia Tech. But we liked his ability a lot and we thought we’d take a crack at him down in the draft and then offer him money comparable to a first-round [pick] and then see if we could sign him. But it didn’t work out. … So, he went to Georgia Tech, got a college education, and got more money [in 2001 as a first-round pick of Texas].”FULL ENTRY
Major League Baseball's annual winter meetings wrapped up in Las Vegas on Wednesday. Red Sox manager Terry Francona was there as part of the team’s contingent led by general manager Theo Epstein.
I spoke with Francona about the difficult position a manager finds himself in during the free agent period, how he has survived five years at the helm of the Red Sox, and what it’s like to manage one of the unlikeliest Most Valuable Player award winners in recent history.
TC: When you’ve got a guy on your team who’s out there in limbo as a free agent, a guy like Jason Varitek who has meant so much to you and the team, how does his status inhibit you from having those normal conversations?
Francona: That’s tough. There’s no getting around it. Fortunately for me, that’s the business side that I’m not responsible for. I don’t want to be. It’s tough enough. He’s going to have to make a huge decision here, probably pretty soon. We talk so much about building these relationships, and that’s so important to what we’re doing, but then comes the business side and that is tough. I want no part of it, because frankly I would make mistakes. I know [Sox general manager] Theo [Epstein] believes in loyalty and things like that, but he has to make business decisions for us to keep going, and it’s not easy.
TC: You grew up in a baseball family, and though there wasn’t much free agency in your father’s time, he still had to deal with the business part of it. You haven’t had to learn this lesson. You’ve known it all your life.
Francona: As a player myself, I found out the hard way, getting released come spring training as a non-roster player trying to make a team after watching my dad do it for a lot of years. I understand it. Certainly the dollars are a lot bigger than they were a long time ago, but it’s the business side, and everybody gets uncomfortable with it. That’s just the way it is. Once it’s over, if players can grasp all that, they handle it better. Some do it better than others. Contracts get personal. You don’t want them to, but that’s part of the game.FULL ENTRY
John Farrell’s name has come up in each of the last two off-seasons as a potential candidate for several managerial vacancies. Although the Red Sox pitching coach is flattered to be considered, a manager’s job is not in his plans — for now.
“It is a career goal at some point, but I don’t wake up each day with the clock ticking or [with] a defined timeline to hopefully arrive at that spot,” Farrell said at the winter meetings in Las Vegas. “I’m firmly entrenched and committed to what I’m doing now, and it’s an honor to be considered. But at the same time, the challenges that we face here and the people that I’m meeting those challenges with are so rewarding that I do feel fortunate to be in the position that I’m in.”
Farrell, 46, just completed his second season with the Sox, after spending five years in the Indians’ front office as director of player development and the five prior seasons coaching at his alma mater, Oklahoma State University. So where does he see himself in five years?
“When I do [think along those lines], they’re fleeting moments because I don’t spend a whole lot of time worrying about what five years from now might bring,” said Farrell. “I am a firm believer that if you do your job well, that people will take notice. The people that you work with day in and day out, the pitchers that go before you, are going to be the voice for the work that you do day in and day out.FULL ENTRY
"We're at a point right now where we're not desperate to improve in any one area."-- Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, Oct. 20
That was roughly six weeks ago, just before the start of the World Series, just after the Red Sox lost to the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. Not much has changed since. Neither the Red Sox nor their competition has improved dramatically so far this offseason, and the winter meetings are now just days away.
We all know where the Red Sox stand. They have traded Coco Crisp. They have secured Junichi Tazawa. General manager Theo Epstein has lots of money to spend and no major holes to fill, per se, though the Sox certainly could benefit in the short term and the long by tweaking a roster that produced 95 regular-season victories last season and came within five wins of a third World Series title in five years.
Indeed, as Major League Baseball convenes in Las Vegas next week for what effectively serves as its annual winter convention, the Red Sox have greater flexibility than at any other time in recent memory. Epstein has money to burn, prospects to trade, a championship-caliber team intact. The Red Sox have questions like anyone else — the health of Mike Lowell chief among them — but the team finds itself in the extraordinary position of being able to do virtually anything or nothing.
Roughly six years ago at this time, when Epstein took over a Red Sox operation that was heavier in talent at the major league level than the minor, he vowed to turn the Sox into “a scouting and player development machine.” The idea was to turn the franchise into a self-sustaining operation that could produce players with the best small-market teams and spend money with the most aggressive big-market clubs. The former would help facilitate the latter, Epstein noted, and accomplishing both would allow the Red Sox to compete for world titles annually.FULL ENTRY
Whether there’s a Johan Santana, a Josh Hamilton, a Joakim Soria, a Roberto Clemente, or a Bobby Bonilla in thisyear’s Rule 5 draft may take several seasons to determine. All went on to have All-Star seasons; Santana won two Cy Young Awards, and Clemente was enshrined in the Hall of Fame after his death. Bonilla was traded back to and established himself with the Pirates, who had lost him to the White Sox just months earlier in the Rule 5 draft.
Several teams are hoping they can find that diamond in the rough in this year’s Rule 5 draft and polish him into a future star. This year’s draft is scheduled for Dec. 11, the final day of the winter meetings in Las Vegas.
That is the potential reward. The risks: It costs $50,000 to draft a Rule 5 player, and he must stay on the big-league roster all season or be offered back to the team from which he was selected for $25,000.
A few of the Red Sox’ recent Rule 5 picks include outfielder Adam Stern (2004), who appeared in just 36 games with just 15 at-bats in 2005 and was traded to the Orioles in 2006; right-handed pitcher Nick Debarr (2006), who was returned to Tampa Bay during the following spring training; and left-handed pitcher Lenny DiNardo (2003), who appeared in 22 games the following season and a total of 43 games with the Sox before being claimed off waivers by Oakland prior to the 2007 season.
With just one slot on the 40-man roster open (pending the signing of Japanese right-hander Junichi Tazawa to a major league contract), the Sox won’t have much room to be active in this year’s draft — and won’t need to be. But if there is one position that would likely interest them, it would be catcher. Finding a major league-ready backstop in the Rule 5 draft, however, would be unlikely.FULL ENTRY
Regardless of Jason Varitek’s fate in free agency, the Red Sox must begin the process of finding their starting catcherof the future.
Several names have surfaced in trade rumors, including the Rangers’ Gerald Laird, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Taylor Teagarden, and the Royals’ Miguel Olivo. The Sox may look within their system, but that’s not as easy at it may sound.
“It’s the most difficult position to scout, draft, and develop,” said one major league source. “There’s the mental aspect, the physical aspect, the offense, the defense. And then you’re trying to project how these guys will be three or four or more years down the road.”
Added Sox director of player development Mike Hazen, “I think that minor league catchers, more than anybody else, get more things placed in front of them. …Where position players can spend X many hours in the cage during the course of the day working on their offense, catchers don’t have that luxury. … They also have to be involved with all the pitching meetings, and all the pitching aspects, catching bullpens, working with pitchers, those types of things, and I do think that takes a toll. And until they really know how to balance all those things, I think it really does become much more of a significant challenge earlier in their careers, and I do think it takes them a little while longer to figure it out.”FULL ENTRY
Theo Epstein is nothing if not logical, so we wouldn't be shocked to learn that the Red Sox’ bloodless general manager is quietly shopping David Ortiz this off-season. We have no hard evidence to support this suspicion, mind you. It’s just that, if certain things fall into place during the hot stove season, it makes more sense than some of us wish to admit.
Consider: Should the Red Sox win the Mark Teixeira lottery — and we’re absolutely convinced that a lucrative-bordering-on-obscene offer will be forthcoming from Yawkey Way — manager Terry Francona will be obligated to try to cram four high-quality everyday players (Ortiz, Teixeira, Kevin Youkilis, Mike Lowell) into three positions (third base, first base, designated hitter).
Rather than dealing with that conundrum (not to mention the egos), it’s more likely that the Sox would deal one of the quartet — most likely Lowell, assuming he returns in good form after hip surgery. But it’s no longer blasphemous to suggest that Epstein should at least gauge interest in the 33-year-old Ortiz as well.
Oh, of course some suckers for sentiment would like to believe Big Papi, who will forever stand among the most universally admired Red Sox, will never slow down and never grow old. I’m unabashedly one of them. But alarming signs already indicate that his body is plotting to betray him.FULL ENTRY
Well, heavens to J.P. Morgan, it seems that down there in Dallas, Mark Cuban, aka The World's Smartest Human, has run afoul of the good folks at the Securities and Exchange Commission. I'm sure that this is just an oversight on everyone's part and that TWSH will fight this egregious witch hunt righteously until the very moment at which he can get out of the whole mess by writing a very big check. Then he can go back to blogging relentlessly about the genius it takes to put together a basketball franchise that makes the Western Conference finals nearly every season. He’s certainly not going to be anywhere near the Chicago Cubs anytime soon, and that is a good thing for baseball, the Cubs, and intelligent public discourse generally.
(It’s long past time for some enterprising Internet panjandrum to put together a celebrity blog-off between Cuban and local cyber fave Curt Schilling on the following proposition: Resolved: I Are Smarter Than All Them Media. The decision of the judges will be final as soon as they stop laughing.)
Speaking, as my friend Roy Blount once put it, of things in the wrong hands, I am right in the middle of my annual celebration of the baseball awards season being almost over. Look, when it comes to the media, I am one. A medium, that is. This does not mean that I can communicate with the dead. I can’t talk to Jason Varitek’s batting average for you. But it does mean that I have little patience for the recreational media-bashing beloved of radio hosts, bloggers, and politicians looking for something to do between bribes. However, it also means that I can indulge in a little of my own. It’s time for people in my business to get out of the business of handing out baseball’s awards for it.FULL ENTRY
Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein said the Red Sox would be “selective shoppers” this off-season in the free agency market. It appears other teams are taking the same approach.
While waiting for the hot stove to heat up, and with center fielder Coco Crisp traded to Kansas City for right-handed reliever Ramon Ramirez, a trio of scouts familiar with the Sox evaluated the roster. Speaking before the Crisp deal, they weighed in on what they saw as the team’s biggest needs:
“Their biggest hole was probably their bat behind the plate. I think they were missing [Jason] Varitek’s offense a little bit. It just seemed like he was always coming up with guys on base for some reason.
“Another thing is probably another front-line starting pitcher. You had [Daisuke] Matsuzaka, [Jon] Lester, and [Josh] Beckett. The other ones, it was kind of a flip of a coin. [Tim] Wakefield, to me, has always been that guy that’s eaten up a lot of innings for them, whether he goes .500 or not, and he didn’t do that this year. He wasn’t the same Wakefield as he’s been in the past. So, I think they need another quality starter.
“They could use one arm in the bullpen, but now that you’ve got [Justin] Masterson out there, he’s a tremendous value to that club in the bullpen. They probably thought early on he was going to be the guy to fill one of the rotation spots, but they saw he was better for the team in the bullpen.FULL ENTRY
You probably won't believe me by the time you arrive at the final syllables of this piece, but it is the truth as I know it: There's little satisfaction to be found in criticizing Jason Varitek.
Through his 11 full seasons with the Red Sox, which coincide with the franchise’s modern Golden Age, there has been much to admire about the catcher and captain. He occupies a meaningful place in Red Sox history, having caught four no-hitters and backstopped a pair of world champions. His smell-the-glove beatdown of Yankees narcissist Alex Rodriguez stands as a pivotal and defining event from the emancipating 2004 season. And it does not hurt that his persona and approach fall somewhere between stoic and heroic. With his scrub-brush haircut and impossibly square features, he’s an artist’s rendering of what a Red Sox catcher ought to look like, just as Carlton Fisk was a generation ago.
In many ways, he is our Derek Jeter, though the Yankees’ calm-eyed, fist-pumping captain is obviously superior in talent and production. They both have extremely recognizable profiles as central figures in baseball’s marquee rivalry. They both are greatly respected by their peers. They both loathe A-Rod. And one more commonality: When it became clear that the tangible measures were now suggesting that the player had significant flaws, they both had a well-stocked army of vocal and oblivious supporters who began clinging to the flimsy concept of “intangibles” as a vague means of denying the erosion of their idol’s talent. The emperor has no clothes — and in Jeter’s case, the emperor can’t go to his left, either.
And you can bet your bobblehead that punching holes in that particular argument carries a tremendous amount of satisfaction. For all of Varitek’s alleged intangibles — handling pitchers, hustling, grit, guts, toughness, chewing glass, spitting nails, squatting, scowling, etc. — recent events suggest he’s teetering on becoming one of the most vile subspecies of professional athletes: an aging, subpar performer who demands the salary and security of a prime-of-career star.
I would pay good money — though surely not as much as he’d demand — to read agent Scott Boras’ lengthy treatise on why Varitek, a free agent apparently on an outlandish quest for one last jackpot, is an “inherently valuable” player who deserves a lucrative multiyear deal after putting up an OPS of .672 at age 36. There just isn’t enough genuinely funny fiction these days.FULL ENTRY
There's only one Curt Schilling. Only one. And we had him when we needed him. But now, I can’t seeJoe the Plumber without seeing Curt Schilling. And guess what? I can’t see our Curt without seeing Joe the Plumber. Have they ever been seen together? What makes them so much alike, at least in my eyes? Is it their ability to show up anywhere?
Curt always showed up to pitch. Joe? Always there. Pitching. Even if it was for himself. Schilling was unique. Such a great fund-raiser. Between him and Mike Timlin, few did more to advance a potential cure for ALS. Few did more to advance the cause of Red Sox Nation.
Now, Joe the Plumber, aka Curt the Pitcher, will no doubt become a holiday action figure, with a wrench in one hand and a plunger in the other and no knowledge of how to use either.
Joe showed up and always had an opinion. Kind of like Curt the Pitcher. They were both always available for causes they believed in.
They were not camera-shy, and they exhibited no reluctance to talk about anything, regardless of whether they knew anything about the subject they were talking about. At least Curt and/or Joe wasn’t asked if Africa is a country or a continent.
Joe got his 15 minutes of fame. Curt might actually get elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Joe may end up as a holiday gift, like a safe, non-action figure, maybe even packaged with a flight attendant on Alaska Airlines.
Why do I say that? Well, I swear, four or five years ago on a flight from Los Angeles to Seattle on Alaska Air, Sarah Palin was our flight attendant. At the very least, it sure did look like her. In fact, I’ve heard the rumor. It’s unsubstantiated but reliable (believe me, I have gone on the air with less), and it says that the huge Eskimo man emblazoned on the tail of every Alaska Air plane will be replaced by the current governor of Alaska. Sarah Air.FULL ENTRY
By definition, of course, the award is exclusive. It's the Most Valuable Player. There can be no sharing of a superlative, no splitting of ballots, no compromising of loyalties. Conceivably, two men could win. But you can only vote for one.
So who’s it going to be in 2008?
Kevin Youkilis or Dustin Pedroia?
This year, beyond the city limits, the decision obviously grows in complexity. Come next week, when the Most Valuable Player Award winners are announced for the National League (on Monday) and the American League (on Tuesday), the list of those receiving votes will be considerable. In the NL, the group will include Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols, Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard, and Dodgers outfielder Manny Ramirez, among others. The unofficial AL frontrunners are Twins first baseman Justin Morneau, Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez, and White Sox outfielder Carlos Quentin (who could receive ample support despite a season-ending injury suffered with roughly a month left in the season).
In the AL, the list of favorites also features first baseman Youkilis and second baseman Pedroia, both of the Red Sox. Each is as worthy of the honor as any other candidate in their league, yet only one man could be placed atop each ballot when votes were cast immediately after the regular season, before the start of the playoffs. Two of the 28 AL ballots were cast from Boston — each of the 14 AL cities gets two votes, distributed to members of the media who regularly cover the corresponding team — and even then, choosing between Youkilis and Pedroia was impossibly difficult.
After all, if Bostonians and New Englanders cannot agree on which player is the MVP of the 2008 Red Sox, how can they possibly agree on which is the MVP of the American League?
“It’s a great debate and it’s part of what makes the baseball season so much fun,” said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. “But I don’t need to be in that debate. What I need to do is back both of them. I wish they could split it.”
For that to happen, Youkilis and Pedroia would need to end up with precisely the same number of points. The Baseball Writers Association of America has handed out the MVP Awards since its inception in 1911, and only once have there been co-winners. In 1979, Pirates first baseman Willie Stargell and Cardinals first baseman Keith Hernandez shared the honor. In that case, Hernandez ended up first on 10 of 24 ballots, and Stargell was named first on just four. He made up the difference by being named much higher by the remaining 14 voters.
Numbers make the case for Youkilis
The case for Kevin Youkilis is both comprehensive and indisputable. During the 2008 regular season, Youkilis finished sixth in the AL in batting average (.312), sixth in on-base percentage (.390), third in slugging (.569), and fourth in OPS (.958). He ranked fourth in the league in RBI (115) and fourth in extra-base hits (76), leading the Red Sox in both home runs (29) and RBI.
And yet, none of that even begins to measure Youkilis’ true value to a club hindered by injuries from the very start of the season until the very end.
Proof? One year after spending most of the 2007 season as Francona’s No. 2 hitter, Youkilis batted everywhere from first to seventh this season, frequently filling whatever gap was necessary. Youkilis spent much of that time hitting anywhere from second to sixth, where his batting averages plotted the kind of line that the stock market strives for: .290, .364, .299, .326 and .322.
Before Big Papi brought the crowds to their feet with his huge left-handed swing, there was the Hit Dog.
Mo Vaughn was back in town last week to be inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame. The first baseman spent eight seasons with the Red Sox and was the 1995 American League MVP. Vaughn left as a free agent after a contentious final two years with the team, then battled injuries while playing for the Angels and Mets.
Now he is managing director of Omni New York LLC, which buys, renovates, and manages properties for low-income families in New York. The company is planning its first construction project in the Boston area in 2009.
TC: You’ve said things had gotten to a point in your relationship with the Red Sox that you had to leave. You can’t change history, but as time has gone on, how do you look back on your time in Boston?
Vaughn: People want to talk about it being a business, and it definitely is. I just thought the relationship was fractured so severely that it was never going to be repaired. It was just time to move on regardless of what I knew I was losing or anything. Looking back, it was a great time here. This organization gave Mo Vaughn the name that he has. So I’ll always be appreciative of that.
TC: The injuries happened to you quickly after you left. Once you fell down those dugout stairs in Anaheim in 1999, it seems like physical problems started piling up.
Vaughn: The first play of the year. The first foul ball of the year, and my career was in a downward spiral since then. You want to know why things happen, but you never can tell. You’ve got to move on, and luckily I’ve been able to move on to another life.FULL ENTRY
The hot stove will fire into high gear Friday, when organizations can begin discussions with other teams’ free agents. Although general manager Theo Epstein has said the Red Sox will be “selective shoppers” this off-season, they will likely be at least as active as they were in the last off-season.
“We’re at a point now as an organization where we’re not desperate to improve in any one area,” Epstein said. “We can bring back the same group in any one area and be solid and have all of our bases covered. We can now pick our spots and look for areas to improve. Last off-season was great, because we didn’t have to be desperate. I think that’s the same approach we’ll take this year.”
One area they will likely consider is starting pitching. Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Tim Wakefield will be returning to the rotation in 2009. Clay Buchholz, Justin Masterson, and Michael Bowden could vie for the fifth spot.
“We can bring back our starting corps. We can make minor tweaks and still be solid,” Epstein said. “That said, is there an opportunity to improve our starting pitching? Absolutely. We’ll probably spend a great deal of our time [this off-season] trying to figure out how to improve.”
The Sox have several options for that fifth spot, including left-hander CC Sabathia and righties A.J. Burnett, Ryan Dempster, and Derek Lowe. Then there’s Paul Byrd, who helped stabilize the rotation down the stretch, and two Japanese right-handers, Junichi Tazawa and Kenshin Kawakami.
Three scouts weighed in on available pitchers who could fill out the Sox’ rotation.
“I really like Dempster. Of the guys I saw, he was the best every time out, including Sabathia. I saw him four times this season, and he looked really good every time. I would take Dempster over Sabathia based on what I saw. Lowe would be a nice one, but I don’t know if the Sox would want him back. A.J. Burnett can help anybody. But I’m sure they’ll all get a big check from somebody.”
In the baseball agent's perfect world, the consummate free agent would have the leverage of past achievement, the promise of youth. He would be tall. He would be strong. He would hit from both sides of the plate, possess Gold Glove credentials. And he would be regarded as a true professional.
Most important, he would be coveted by those who matter most.
Mark Teixeira just completed his sixth major league season in October, when he went 7-for-15 (a .467 average) with four walks for the Los Angeles Angels against the Red Sox in his first career postseason appearance. He will not turn 29 until April. Teixeira is a switch-hitter with a career OPS of .935 from the left side of the plate, .912 from the right. He has won two Gold Gloves at first base and a pair of Silver Slugger Awards.
Over the last six seasons - the length of his career - Teixeira ranks fifth in the major leagues in RBI behind only Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz, Albert Pujols, and Manny Ramirez. Among those players, only Ramirez is also a free agent, and only the 28-year-old Pujols is also under 30.
That leaves Teixeira with the profitable distinction of being both.
"There are very few players in sports who offer a team a franchise face, the completeness of offense, defense, and of being a good teammate - and we have, for the first time, an idea of his ability in postseason play," said agent Scott Boras, who represents Teixeira. "You're talking really about a franchise player."
A sales pitch?
But in this case, all of it also happens to be true.
Not chump change
At the foundation of every negotiation, without exception, rests a fundamental concept: supply and demand. Without the latter, the former is worthless.
In Teixeira's case, demand this off-season could be at an all-time high.FULL ENTRY
Early on the morning of April 24, San Diego State head baseball coach Tony Gwynn and his staff gathered in his office to watch a baseball game. Not a typical time for baseball on the West Coast, but the early call was an easy one to answer as they watched one of their highest draft picks make his major league debut. It was just the first of many times this season the Hall of Famer would watch former Aztecs starter Justin Masterson pitch for the Red Sox.
“He’s a lot more mature, a lot more composed,” Gwynn said. “To me he’s learned how to pitch. At the college level, like most guys his size [6-foot-6], he could just overpower hitters. And with his stuff, he was able to do that for the most part. But now he’s learned to pitch and it looks like he’s trusting his stuff, and it looks like he’s having fun. It looks like he’s really enjoying himself and really trying to understand how to get guys out, and it looks like he’s really paying attention and doing a good job.
“When he was here, I think you could see that he had that kind of stuff where he would be successful at the big-league level, and I think he’s just scratching the surface.”FULL ENTRY
They were so wrong, you know.
All of those real-life Ron Burgundys who, four Octobers ago, took smug delight in warning us that a Red Sox victory over the Cardinals in the World Series would result in another difficult loss — namely, of our well-established and torturous identity as baseball’s perennial hard-luck losers. (Well, co-identity. Next year, Cubbies. Next year. All right, maybe the year after.)
If they win it all, the Red Sox will become just another franchise, the Burgundys warned us way back when. Be careful what you wish for, they scolded, as if there was some meaningful value in perpetual sadness and misery, as if we’d actually miss the angst that gnawed at the insides of our bellies when our team was on the verge of another creative, agonizing, and inevitable betrayal.
They were so wrong. We suspected it then. Two Red Sox championships later — and, let’s see, quick count ... yup, six major pro sports championships since 2001 — we’re pleased to confirm the sheer ridiculousness of the notion now. In retrospect, Be Careful What You Wish For was the lazy man’s lament, a simple angle for those who found easy comfort in clichéd storylines and the status quo.
That fellowship Rick Pitino so memorably sniveled about? It couldn’t be further from miserable. There’s never been a more enjoyable or rewarding time to be a serious Boston sports fan — and more specifically for the sake of today’s rant, a Red Sox fan — and that’s not solely because of our teams’ habitual success.FULL ENTRY
With nine potential free agents on their roster, the Red Sox have a lot of decisions to make. And it’s safe to say the one that will have the most impact on the team will be the decision to re-sign Jason Varitek — or not.
Varitek, who will turn 37 in the first week of next season, has set the gold standard for catchers in his 12 seasons with the Sox. But he struggled through his most difficult offensive season this year. His .220 average was 43 points below his career mark of .263 and well off his career-best .296 in 2004. The switch-hitter’s right-left splits were significant: He hit just .201 (66-for-328) from the left side and .284 (27-for-95) as a righty.
“I’d take Varitek if he hit .210, just by the way he works hitters and the knowledge he has of how to run a game,” said a major league scout. “He makes bad pitchers into mediocre pitchers, and he makes mediocre pitchers into pretty good pitchers. How he gets some of the stuff he gets out of them, I don’t know. He’s pretty damn good.”
The question facing Sox management is: If not Varitek, who? It’s a familiar question this off-season, with many teams looking for front-line catching.
“That’s a heck of a question, because there sure isn’t much around from what I’ve seen,” said another major league scout. “The only free agent guys that would be worth anything would be Varitek and [the Yankees’ Ivan] Rodriguez. The rest of them, they’re either backup or not very good front guys. If they lose Varitek, they better hope the [replacement] does well. I don’t think there’s anything else around, and anybody that has a catcher that’s worth anything is not going to want to part with them for sure.”FULL ENTRY
Twelve years after Roger Clemens, 10 years after Mo Vaughn, the Red Sox have all the leverage now. Players come and players go. Theocracy rules the fabled kingdom at 4 Yawkey Way.
In the middle of this, we ask:
What will become of Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis?
On the heels of their playoff ouster at the hands of the blossoming Tampa Bay Rays, the Red Sox entered their off-season this week with the usual pair of questions: Who stays? And who goes? Historically, at this time of year, Sox followers have lamented the plight of the franchise, wondering what it might take to someday turn the Sox into winners. Now we unceremoniously open the door for the unwanted and erase any memories of the departed, all because the Red Sox have an assembly-line farm system that might as well be sending players to Boston on a transcontinental conveyor belt.
Out goes Johnny Damon, in comes Jacoby Ellsbury. Out goes Derek Lowe, in comes Justin Masterson. Out goes Curt Schilling, in comes Jon Lester.
Not so long ago, a friend of mine made an interesting observation: Fans in New England don’t root for the players anymore so much as they root for the management. Maybe this is a byproduct from the world of fantasy sports. Manny Ramirez departs and Jason Bay enters, and most everyone recognizes that the Red Sox are making business decisions as much as they are baseball ones.
All of this brings us back to Youkilis and Pedroia, who currently make up the best right side of the infield in baseball this side of Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. Youkilis is ineligible for free agency until the fall of 2010, Pedroia until the fall of 2012. In the interim, you cannot help but wonder if the Red Sox have any intention of signing either to a multiyear contract commensurate with his skill level.FULL ENTRY
Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley just wrapped up his first stint as postseason studio analyst for TBS, having provided analysis for all 21 playoff games televised by the network this month. The studio analyst for Red Sox games will be back on NESN next season, but not before a hard-earned break during this off-season.
As he wrapped up his postseason duties, he stopped by to chat about the Red Sox’ ALCS loss to the Rays, how David Ortiz brought a team and its fans back from the brink, and what he would’ve said before technical difficulties cut off the network’s pregame show prematurely before Game 6.
TC: When the Sox were down 3-1 in the series and trailing 7-0 in Game 5, people were saying this team needed wholesale changes. Instead, they lose in seven games after that dramatic comeback in Game 5. Do fans feel better about this team now than they would have had it ended at Fenway?
Eckersley: No doubt about it. They came so close. If they had lost [Game 5] 7-0, it would’ve been devastating. Who knows what would’ve been said. But they won two of those last three games, and it changes everything. It’s not so desperate. I think you almost felt like, “We’ve got to blow this team up.” Now, because you won three games and went to Game 7, that’s not the feeling. At least that’s how I sense it.
TC: You were sitting up there on the right-field roof during Game 5. How dead was it before the Ortiz homer?
Eckersley: I’ve never seen anything like it, from the first inning on. It was time to go home. Literally. I mean, this was it. Elimination. It had happened three days in a row, you remember. They were taken out of the game three days in a row. So they were just flat.FULL ENTRY
The chants of “M-V-P, M-V-P” regularly rang out at Fenway Park as Dustin Pedroia stepped into the batter’s box this season.
The crowd was showing its appreciation for the second baseman’s numbers — league bests in hits (213), runs scored (118), multiple-hit games (61), and doubles (54); he also racked up a .326 average.
But Pedroia had some work to do before he won over Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan.
“When I first saw him, I wasn’t impressed,” Morgan said of their initial encounter, early in 2007. “He was swinging at the high pitch. He was struggling, and I said, ‘Well, that’s the reason he’s struggling, because he wasn’t handling that high fastball.’
“The next time I saw him, a month or two later, he was finding his groove and he was swinging well. And I was impressed with the fact that he seemed like he had the right level of confidence to play in the big leagues. Anytime you’re struggling, your confidence level is going to struggle. But he was playing well. He’s a very good defensive second baseman. He plays the game, brings energy to the game. He’s a special player.”
Like Morgan — listed at 5-feet-7, 160 pounds in his playing days — Pedroia is vertically challenged, generously listed at 5-feet-9, 180 pounds. For Morgan, that’s where the similarities end.
“I don’t compare anybody to me or me to anybody else,” he said. “We’re all different. Everybody’s different. I [hit] left-handed for one thing. I played the game differently than he does. He plays the way he plays it. The only similarity that you can tell is we both had a passion for the game. I loved playing. You can tell that he loves playing. So that’s where the similarities are. But I don’t think it’s fair for either one of us to do that.”
But, like Pedroia, Morgan also heard that he was too small to play in the big leagues.FULL ENTRY
Here's one foolproof way to find out if a Red Sox fan knows what the hell he or she is talking about. Simply hit him/her with this question: Say there, friend, what do you think of Terry Francona?
If said fan breaks into easy praise of the man they call Tito, cool.
Pull up a barstool, order a couple of frosty beverages, and enjoy some enlightened Sox chatter with a fellow diehard. Good fun.
However, should he/she start in with a raspberry-faced, raspy rant on "that idiot Fran-coma!!," well, we fear you've found yourself a genuine Sports-Talk-Radio Caller, the kind of lonesome loser who waits on hold for an hour and 45 minutes just to get hung up on after 20 seconds of airtime by a swollen, moderately informed professional bloviater. In encountering such beasts, it's best just to nod your head and back away slowly. That is, unless you like getting splattered by a hailstorm of idiot spittle.FULL ENTRY
Manny Ramirez is so far ahead of his time. Eighty-nine years ahead, to be precise. Remember the eight players from the 1919 Black Sox who threw the World Series for money? Perhaps one of the original Black Sox came back as Manny. "Shoeless Joe," back as "Clueless Manny." Black Sox outfielder Oscar Felsch, known as "Happy," back as "Dopey."
Well, the boys are back in town, and they have a new teammate. Keep in mind that the band of eight hatched the plan to throw the Series right here in Boston. Ironically, teammate No. 9 did the same thing. And for the same reasons. It was dissatisfaction with $15,000 back in 1919 and displeasure with $20 million to $40 million in 2008. Their strategy: Play less -- for more pay. And, 89 years later, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Yeah, different circumstances, but the motive is the same. After all, no two bank robberies are identical. It doesn't make 'em different just because they are not the same. Get it? Well, get this:
None of the original eight was found guilty. Nor was the ninth. The eight were banned from baseball and never considered for anything like the Hall of Fame, which, at that time, didn't exist. And by all accounts, "Say it ain't so, Joe," might have made it.FULL ENTRY
He had been accustomed to watching two of his former teams duke it out at this time of year. But Wade Boggs, veteran of the Red Sox, Yankees, and Devil Rays, was not accustomed to one of those teams being from Tampa Bay.
"When you've got new blood like Tampa Bay and various teams like that that make the playoffs, and a formidable old foe like Boston, which has won a couple of championships in the last five years, [it's fun]," said the Hall of Fame third baseman, who played two of his 18 seasons for the (then Devil) Rays. "It's nice to see the new kids on the block holding their own.
"It's nice because I was in on the ground floor, in 1998, and to see where they've come in 11 years is quite remarkable," said Boggs, who hit the franchise's first-ever home run for his first hit with the team. "To keep throwing up numbers the way they are this year, they've turned it around in 11 years, and now they're on the doorstep of going to the World Series.
"It just shows what 25 guys can do collectively that have one common focus. I think [Rays manager] Joe Maddon has really instilled that into all these guys that you don't need a payroll of $230 million to win a championship, and they've done it on basically bread and water."FULL ENTRY
Kevin Cash is certainly not the first name that pops into your mind when you think of the Red Sox, but the catcher has been with the team all season and is on the postseason roster for the second straight year. He and the Red Sox are facing the team from his hometown of Tampa, the very same club that released him in December 2006.
They were the Devil Rays then, and they were still two years away from packed houses and cowbell-ringing fans. I spoke with Cash about his old team, his place on his current team, and the Zen of catching a knuckleball.
TC: Two years ago, could you have possibly imagined being here today?
Cash: A couple years ago, I was with the Devil Rays, in Triple-A Durham, probably the most miserable year of my career. So, no, I couldn't have envisioned two, three years past that, being a part of a World Series last year and having the chance to do it again this year.
TC: Last year, a lot of people were surprised when you were on the playoff roster. A year ago, were you not counting your chickens before they hatched?
Cash: People talk a lot about Tim Wakefield's mastery of the knuckleball, but they don't talk much about the mastery of receiving the knuckleball.FULL ENTRY
We can begin the story, of course, in any number of places, but the reality is that we need to go only as far back as the universally perceived turning point to all this, the moment the Red Sox went from annual postseason bridesmaid to perennial hardball powerhouse.
Since Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS, the humiliating evening when all seemed lost, when the Yankees rolled to a 19-8 win at Fenway, the Boston Red Sox are an astounding 22-7 in postseason play, a remarkable winning percentage of .759.
No other team since last decade’s Yankee dynasty, the one effectively ended by the Sox’ historic ALCS comeback in, yes, 2004, has been able to boast October success like that of the Red Sox, the only team this decade to have won a pair of World Series titles.
The Sox now head back to the ALCS to face the Rays with the chance for one more, and with Jon Lester throwing the ball better than anyone in baseball, it’s not a stretch to think New England may soon have a second sports dynasty to add to its decade of dominance.
There is, however, another burgeoning story to compel baseball fans here.FULL ENTRY
It had been more than a generation since the Red Sox farm system produced an impact left-handed pitcher. Twenty-six years separated Bruce Hurst, drafted in 1976, and Jon Lester, drafted in 2002.
This year, Lester (16-6, 3.21 ERA in the regular season) recorded the most wins by a Sox lefty since Hurst went 18-6 (3.66) in 1988, his last and, statistically speaking, best season with the Sox. In games Lester started this season, the team was 22-11, the same record the Red Sox had in games Hurst started in 1988.
“I think there are some similarities,” said Dick Berardino, a Sox player development consultant who was Hurst’s first manager, with Elmira in the New York-Penn League in 1976. “Their physiques were very similar, their deliveries, finishes. Bruce was more overhand, had a 12-to-6 curveball, a little different curveball. They both have great curveballs.
“Both have an inner toughness with a very calm outside demeanor.”
They’re hardly twins, though.
After his inaugural 49 games as a Boston Red Sox, this much we are certain of regarding Jason Bay: He is a very easy ballplayer to admire, particularly in direct comparison to his petulant predecessor in left field.
By all accounts and appearances, Bay is a pro's pro, a natural fit in Theo Epstein's post-Idiots, businesslike clubhouse. He runs out every last grounder, wields a more-than-capable glove in left field, and deftly makes his way around the bases without requiring a GPS system.
There are no whispers that he needs to be talked onto the team plane, and he seems to lack a toddler's imagination for coming up with fictional injuries. Chances are he'll never be the subject of a Curt Schilling "Clubhouse Confidential'' report on a sports radio station near you.
His statistics -- 31 homers and 101 RBI this season between Boston and Pittsburgh -- insist he's a star, but his demeanor suggests Friendly Next-Door Neighbor.
Yes, Jason Bay is the anti-Manny. And that, Sox fans, is the catch as the Sox immerse themselves in their American League Divisional Series matchup with the Los Angeles Angels.FULL ENTRY
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Better go to the market now, because there is likely to be a mad rush. Load up on canned goods and sundries, and buy lots of bottled water. As a pre-emptive measure, you might even want to call in sick.
Daisuke Matsuzaka returns to the playoffs in Game 2 of the American League Division Series this week, and you know what that means: It's going to be a long night. Matsuzaka could win or lose in his scheduled outing against Angels right-hander Ervin Santana, and there really is no way of knowing what kind of performance he will deliver. The only relative certainty is that Matsuzaka will need more time to get through five innings than it took Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. For those of us with an interest in watching, it may be just as debilitating.
Jason Bay's wife could have another baby in the time it takes Matsuzaka to work through an opposing lineup. Cher could make another comeback. Jacoby Ellsbury could end up in an assisted living facility, for goodness' sake, and the Bruins might actually be able to win another Stanley Cup. (OK, maybe not.)
Wait a minute.
Maybe the Red Sox actually can exploit Matsuzaka's maddening inefficiency. Is there any way Josh Beckett can get an extra day of rest from this?FULL ENTRY
With the Seattle Mariners searching for a general manager -- Lee Pelekoudas is the interim GM, replacing Bill Bavasi, who was fired in June -- and several other teams likely to join the hunt this off-season, some familiar names could be among the candidates, including that of Red Sox assistant general manager Jed Hoyer.
"It's really flattering to hear something like that," Hoyer said. "I know a lot of it has to do with the success we've had as an organization. But I love it here and I'm really happy working with [general manager] Theo [Epstein]. I feel like I'm still learning a ton."
Hoyer interviewed for the Pirates GM position last year but has not had contact with any teams this year.
"Heading into the playoffs, that's the last thing on my mind," he said.
Hoyer, 34, joined the Sox' baseball operations department in 2002. He served as assistant to the GM in 2004 and 2005 and was named co-GM, with Ben Cherington (now vice president of player personnel), when Epstein briefly left the organization from October 2004 to January 2005. That's when Hoyer was appointed to his current position.
Twice is nice for Lester
One major league scout who has watched pitcher Jon Lester since the left-hander was in high school in Tacoma, Wash., will not be surprised that Lester was named pitcher of the month for the second time this season. Lester went 4-1 with a 2.14 ERA and 28 strikeouts in five September starts.
"I've seen him since he was in high school and I loved him then, his makeup, his stuff," the scout said. "It would not surprise me at all if he won a couple of Cy Youngs before he's done. You could be looking at a future Hall of Famer."FULL ENTRY
The first thing that always comes to mind whenever I greet the grand new blooming day is, "Gee, I wonder what Curt Schilling is thinking about things this morning?" Is it Our Nation's Economic Crisis? I go to the 38pitches blog and learn that Curt has posted a piece from the Bloomberg News Service in which Democrats are to blame. (The author, whose byline Curt fails to include in what I am sure is an unfortunate oversight, is Kevin Hassett, who is one of the economic advisors to Republican candidate John McCain. Quelle surprise, as they say around the batting cage.) Is it The War of Civilizations? Curt agrees with William (Nickel Slots) Bennett and some retired generals about who's a sheep and who's a wolf. (Turns out, we're sheep and we should watch out for wolves. Our soldiers are sheepdogs. Curt considers this very profound. You couldn't make this stuff up.) Or maybe I'll tune in to Curt's weekly discussion of professionalism with the sports-radio METCO Gorilla Morning Zoo Crew and find out what the ex post facto departed-teammate slander of the day is. After all of this, I take an aspirin or five and go back to bed, because it seems like a better option to me than driving tenpenny nails into my eyes.
(OT digital illustration)
In 2004, they were a team on a mission. In 2005, they were a team on fumes. In 2007, they were a team on top from wire to wire, the indisputable class of major league baseball and a seeming dynasty in the making.
YOUR GUESS IS AS GOOD AS MINE: Jason Bay (right) confers with Kevin Youkilis on the field at Fenway. (Jim Davis / Boston Globe)
And so here we are again, Sox followers: More big games, more excruciating moments and more bloodshot eyes. Beyond that, we really are not quite sure what to expect. At times this season, the Sox have oscillated from contenders to pretenders (and back) with astonishing swiftness and unpredictability, and it is difficult to guess whether they are a veteran team to be feared or a developing team on the verge of being exposed.
Or, perhaps, a little of both.FULL ENTRY
Jason Bay has finally made it to the postseason. Mired for parts of five seasons in the baseball abyss that is the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Sox left fielder had the dubious distinction of being the longest-tenured major league player on Boston's roster who has not been part of a postseason team. That changed Tuesday night. (Catcher Kevin Cash made his major league debut earlier than Bay, and although he didn't get into any postseason games, he was part of the team.)
"The way things were going, it could have been a lot longer," said Bay, 30. "No one likes to be that guy. I'm not saying the guys who come here right from Day 1 get spoiled with it, but I think being from where I was, I kind of feel like I want it more. But I have a different perspective than a lot of people.
"Sean Casey was talking about it, and we were talking about celebrating after you clinch a playoff spot. And he was like, 'It's the big dance. Some people never get there. Enjoy it while you can.' And that's something I definitely agree with.
"It's a completely foreign feeling to me. Right now, I'd be counting [four] days down to my flight back to Seattle and my offseason life. And there's nothing that excites me more than sticking around here and not doing that. I'm good friends with a guy over in Cleveland and I talked to him last year after they went in. He said you could never imagine, words can't describe how much fun it is. That's something I always wanted to be a part of."
Pitcher Justin Masterson, on the other hand, advances to the postseason in his first major league season. Finishing with Double-A Portland last season, he watched the Sox' run to the World Series on TV.
"It's probably the same as it is for [Bay]," said Masterson, at 23 the youngest player on the team. "It's probably more fun to be around a lot of guys who've been there many times, and you try to take a little bit from them. So, definitely I'm going to embrace it and I think the adrenaline's going to take you through it."FULL ENTRY
Wild card or American League East division winner. In the Red Sox' last two World Series appearances, their road to baseball's championship showdown made scant difference. They swept the St. Louis Cardinals in 2004 as the AL wild card and bestowed the same ignominy on the Colorado Rockies last season as the AL East division winners.
They secured their fifth playoff berth in six seasons on Tuesday night, sewing up at least the AL wild card, and the division title remains a possibility. The wild-card berth was certainly not a deterrent to the Sox' first World Series title in 86 years in 2004, but to a man, the players will tell you the division title is what they really want.
At this writing, the Sox' have four games left and their opponent could be the White Sox or Twins, depending upon who wins the AL Central -- or, more likely, the Angels. If the Sox win the division, they will play the AL Central winner. If they go in as the wild card, they will play the Angels. The only team the Sox are certain not to play in the first round is Tampa Bay, because the wild-card team does not play the winner from its own division in the first round.
Against the Angels -- the only team in the AL with a winning record on the road -- the Sox are 1-8 this season, including 0-3 in Anaheim in the first series after the All-Star break. Starting pitchers were a combined 0-6, with three no-decisions, a cumulative 6.97 ERA and just one quality start, by Justin Masterson in his major league debut April 24 at Fenway. He allowed just one earned run over six innings. (Granted, the Angels caught the Sox at Fenway in April when a bug was working its way through the clubhouse, forcing manager Terry Francona to juggle his starting pitchers for the series.)
Subtracting the games started by Masterson, who will not start in the playoffs; Clay Buchholz, sent to Double-A Portland in August; and David Pauley, unlikely to be on the playoff roster, those numbers change to 0-4, one no-decision and a 7.42 ERA. The only pitcher to record a win against the Angels this season? The beleaguered Mike Timlin, in relief in the teams' first meeting, April 22 at Fenway.
Against the White Sox, Boston is 4-3 -- 2-1 at home -- with starting pitchers posting an identical record and a 3.20 ERA. Against the Twins, the Sox are 4-3, including 3-0 at Fenway, while starting pitchers are 2-2, with three no-decisions and a combined 6.46 ERA.
"I don't like their matchup with the Angels and I do like their matchup with the other two," said one major league scout. "The one team I see giving [the Red Sox] fits would be the Angels. I know the White Sox beat [Boston] in Chicago, and the White Sox are awful tough at home, as are the Twins. But the Twins just don't seem to be playing good ball at all.
"Their younger kids seem to be getting a little tired pitching-wise and their bullpen's fading rapidly, whereas the White Sox still have some veterans and they have some power and they can still do some damage. I just think at Fenway, I can't see them having a chance. Whereas the Angels played great all year on the road."
"The Angels, I think, got the best ballclub in baseball," said another major league scout. "They're balanced. They've got good pitching, starting and the bullpen. If you want to go down position by position, overall, I think the Angels got a better ballclub, and pitching is a big part of it. If I were going to bet, I'd bet on the Angels against Boston.
"With the White Sox, I think right now, player for player, I would bet on the Red Sox. And, I think, the Red Sox have a better bullpen than the White Sox. If I'm going to match up, I'd rather have a [Jonathan] Papelbon going for me than a [Bobby] Jenks or anybody else they got.
"The Twins, I don't see how the hell they're even in contention with the club they have. They're breaking down... I don't think Minnesota's going to win that. I think the White Sox will, unless the White Sox completely run out of gas."FULL ENTRY
OT beat writersMaureen Mullen brings you Red Sox information and insights.
Tom Wilcox covers the Patriots.
Scott Souza is all over the Celtics.
Danny Picard is on the ice with the Bruins.
Mike McDonald takes a look at the humorous side of Boston sports