Playing nine innings while wondering if A-Rod is actually a "Saturday Night Live" skit come to life . . .
1. While Theo Epstein said Sunday that the Red Sox and Jason Bay have broken off contract talks for now, the strong hunch here is that the sides will quietly work on a deal through the spring, and the good news of its completion will probably arrive when we're not expecting it. An agreement just makes too much sense for both parties. Bay fell for Boston and the Fenway experience not long after being rescued from Pittsburgh purgatory last July 31, and while his impending free agency makes it extremely unlikely that he'll accept a deal that's as team-friendly as those signed by Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, and Jon Lester, it doesn't sound like he's trying to shake every last coin out of John Henry's pockets, either. And it would be beyond wise for the Red Sox to make it a priority to retain him. He has legitimate 30-homer power, and next year's free-agent class lacks a true knock-down-the-fences slugger (the holdouts and rubes will realize this year that Bay is a superior offensive player to Coors Field-dependent Matt Holliday, who's about to be exposed in that cavernous ballpark in Oakland.) Bottom line: Bay's happy here, he cured the club's Manny headache, he's a good fit skill-wise, and in the next few months, he'll sign a reasonable deal to remain here for the next few seasons. (Completely off track: Is it me, or does Bay look like Gabe Kapler here?)
2. Can't blame Kevin Youkilis for being annoyed with David Ortiz's recurring comments that he needs protection in the lineup. After all, Youk did win the Henry Aaron Award as the top hitter in the AL last season while batting immediately behind Ortiz in the lineup -- what more is he supposed to do? While I actually agree with Papi's point to a degree -- Mark Teixeira would have been the perfect fit, and there are a couple of potential sinkholes in the lineup if certain things don't go right, such as Jason Varitek's bat being resuscitated from the dead -- it's time to let it go and move on. The more Papi mentions it, the more it appears he was spoiled by having Manny batting behind him for all of those years.
3. Daniel Bard has generated some "Next Papelbon" buzz this spring because of his triple-digit fastball. While that's hyperbolic to some degree, it is easy to be encouraged about the 23-year-old former No. 1 pick, particularly since he's walked just two while whiffing 10 in seven innings. Sure, that's a minuscule sample size, but considering this is a pitcher whose command was so completely on the fritz two years ago that he walked 78 batters in 75.1 innings at two stops in Single A, it's nonetheless a reminder of how far he has come. That Bard is at the point where he could be a significant contributor to the big club's bullpen later this season is a credit not only to his own toughness, but also to Red Sox brain trust for the way they handled him during his struggles.
4. Not to be cruel, but I suppose if a Red Sox regular had to get hurt, it might as well be Julio Lugo, though you do have to feel bad for him in a way since he was having something of a redemptive spring. The only way I can see this affecting the Sox is if Mike Lowell suffers some sort of setback during the next few weeks in his recovery from hip surgery. With Jed Lowrie now taking over full-time at short instead of filling the super-sub sort of role the Sox envisioned for him, the club has lost its best backup plan at third base for the time being. In the meantime, I'll continue to daydream about a midseason upgrade at shortstop, since I'm not particularly thrilled with either Lugo or Lowrie. J.J. Hardy, anyone?
5. I may have mentioned this before, but it still staggers me. I don't know if this is the most prescient comment Bill James has ever written, but it certainly has to rate somewhere among his greatest hits, doesn't it? It comes from "The Baseball Book 1991," and it's about a player who hadn't played an inning above Double A at that point. You'll know who it is before you're even through the first sentence:
"You never know exactly how good a young player will be, but with some luck [for the player], Lou Gorman will hear about the . . . trade until the day he dies. It could be one of those deals, like Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio, Nolan Ryan for Jim Fregosi, and Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas, that haunts the man who made it."
Jeff Bagwell never won a batting title -- James suggested in the piece that he would have won "some" playing at Fenway -- but he did hit .368 in 1994, finishing second in the NL.
One other question: Considering that the Sox put all of the "Curse" silliness behind them, does that make the mistakes along the way -- such as the Bagwell deal -- easier to accept? I vote yes. Then again, I'm the one who just dredged this up for no apparent reason.
6. While poking around BaseballAnalysts.com -- one of my daily must-reads -- the other day, I came across this old column by the progressive Yankees blogger and beat reporter Peter Abraham on what it was like to deal with Joe Torre on a daily basis. I don't recall reading this piece previously, which is strange since I found it quite insightful regarding Torre's strengths as a manager -- namely, his uncanny ability to charm the media and calm the perpetually stormy seas around his ball club. While Torre pretty much torched the every bridge in New York with his recent book "The Yankee Years," it's worth remembering that he was the perfect manager at the perfect time for that club, and one of the reasons I think the Yankees will be absent from the playoffs for the second straight season is because his replacement, Joe Girardi, lacks every last one of the subtle, calming character traits that made Torre so effective.
7. My brothers-in-bloggin' over at Sox and Pinstripes are pushing for the Red Sox to keep Jeff Bailey over veteran Brad Wilkerson as a stick off the bench -- going so far as to start a petition to promote their cause. While I appreciate their initiative and wouldn't mind seeing a loyal organizational player get a fair shot, I'm not completely sold on Bailey, and at age 30, it's probably now or never for him -- most likely the latter. Ideally, I hope Chris Carter -- who is four years younger than Bailey but also seems on the verge of getting tagged with the dreaded Quadruple A label -- can improve his defense to the point that he's no longer reminiscent of Sam Horn with the glove. I'm convinced Carter can be a productive hitter in the majors -- more so than I am about Bailey, anyway.
8. Despite its inherent flaws, I have to admit I've become a fan of the World Baseball Classic -- the first Netherlands/Dominican classic got me hooked. While it's enjoyable stuff, though, ultimately you just hope your team's players get through it without any harm. Should Pedroia's injury linger beyond, say, this weekend, I suspect I won't be the only one screeching from his soap box for the WBC's immediate cancellation. I still haven't exhaled since hearing the initial reports that the reigning AL MVP was "injured." Talk about a bullet dodged.
9. As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:
"Luck of the Irish, I guess."
-- Troy O'Leary, after his two-homer, seven-RBI performance in Game 5 of the 1999 ALDS.
We raise our Guinness to you, Mr. O'Leary. Actually, let's make it two -- one for each improbable homer that memorable October night. Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone.
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.