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Sunday Mail: The curious and uninformed coveting of Mark Trumbo needs to stop

  November 17, 2013 10:52 AM

Thumbnail image for trumbomarkfinn1116.JPG

LEADING OFF

If the answer is Mark Trumbo, I can only guess at what the question might be:

Which current all-or-nothing slugger's top three career comps are Marcus Thames, Brandon Moss and Mike Jacobs?

Which Angels hitter are casual Red Sox fans unforgivably confusing with Mike Trout, probably because of his initials?

Which player acquisition would make us wonder whether Ben Cherington so emboldened by his brilliant 2012/13 offseason that he's going for middlebrookswillfinn1115.JPGdegree-of-difficulty points now?

Pardon the facetiousness, and I apologize if you've already endured my rants about this on Twitter earlier this week, but I'm just sort of stunned that anyone would think Trumbo, the 27-year-old Angel with 95 homers and a .299 on-base percentage in three seasons, would have much appeal to the Red Sox.

First, let's eliminate any kind of notion that he'd be a suitable replacement for Mike Napoli should everyone's favorite Boylston Street shirtless wanderer head elsewhere in free agency.

Napoli may look like a hacker upon a cursory glance at his statistics -- he strikes out a ton, hits moonshot home runs, and has just an adequate batting average -- but we know better around here. He is an expert at working the count and the more-than-occasional walk, an approach that was crucial in helping the Red Sox overcome the likes of Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Adam Wainwright and David Price en route to that third World Series title in a decade.

Trumbo is nothing like that. He's a free-swinger, one who will get himself out, and if you want to compare him to a current Red Sox righthanded hitter, take a hack at this. Here are Trumbo's averages over 162 games in his career:

PA AB R H 2B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
653 605 77 151 28 33 100 6 41 164 .250 .299 .469 .768 114
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/15/2013.

And here are those belonging to Will Middlebrooks:

PA AB R H 2B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
633 590 72 150 31 31 99 7 32 161 .254 .294 .462 .756 102
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/15/2013.

Uncanny, right? Sure, I recognize there are some quirks here. Trumbo deserves a credit for essentially averaging those numbers over three seasons, while with Middlebrooks, the averages are based on two partial seasons and disregard his midsummer hiatus in Rhode Island.

Trumbo is the more accomplished player at this point, and in an offseason in which there are exactly zero free agents who hit 30 or more homers, his consistent power (he had 34 this year) has some appeal.

But he's also three years older than Middlebrooks, put up career-lows in batting, on-base, and slugging in '13 (.234/.294/.453), and isn't as capable defensively. I'm on record as being skeptical of what Middlebrooks might be going forward, and I think he gets traded this offseason. But all things considered, I'd take a chance on his future before Trumbo's, a player who slipped in his age-27 season.

As you can probably tell, it drives me nuts when someone on my radio or in my inbox suggests the Sox should pursue Giancarlo Stanton or Trumbo, which is like saying you'll pay the same amount for a classic Corvette or your weird aunt's '82 Chevette.

I mean, I heard one radio host say this week that the Red Sox should offer the Angels Middlebrooks and lefthander Felix Doubront for Trumbo. Said it seriously, too, completely unaware that Middlebrooks straight up for Trumbo would essentially be a wash without including the cost-effective 26-year-old lefthander who strikes out a batter per inning and just played an enormous if unheralded role in helping win the World Series.

Middlebrooks for Trumbo? OK, I get the suggestion, at least. Middlebrooks and Doubront for Trumbo?

Suddenly, that overmatched Seattle writer who left John Farrell off her Manager of the Year ballot is no longer the most clueless of her ilk.

THE MAILBOX

Chad - I don't see the logic in signing Stephen Drew long-term. You have Deven Marrero coming up quickly and can switch Xander Bogaerts to third and trade Middlebrooks if needed. I personally feel Middlebrooks would make a good first baseman and reminds me of Richie Sexson, tall and athletic.
-- BoSox Fan

Depends how long Drew's contract is. Two years would be perfect, three would be acceptable, and for the record, I don't believe for a second that the Sox are out of the picture on him. He loved it here, they do want him back, and the attached draft pick probably curtails his market to some degree. That sounded like something between negotiating and posturing, not a farewell. Middlebrooks isn't moving to first; much of his value is in his ability to play third base. I don't think Marrero is a guaranteed solution to anything -- he had a .655 OPS between Salem and Portland in 2013. His glove will get him to the majors, but will his bat allow him to stay there?

I normally hate the idea of tanking, but I think this year has to be an exception. I watched the college games on Tuesday and was surprised that all three guys lived up to the hype. This draft class is special, there are 3-4 franchise players and another 3-4 all stars.
-- Arthur

If there's any justice in the world, the Celtics end up with Jabari Parker, who is drawing comparisons to Paul Pierce that actually are pretty impossible to resist once you watch him play. It would be like the Colts going from Peyton Manning to Andrew Luck, not that we'd be putting any pressure on the kid or anything. As far as tanking goes, there's no need to worry about it at this point. After watching the last three games, reality has set in: God bless their effort, but the Celtics are just lousy enough to lose by a couple of points to a bad team, and aren't going to hold their own with any contenders unless its one of those nights where the opponent takes the W for granted. I'm recalibrating the over/under to 22.5 wins. And taking the under.

If there was a local sports media draft, who would be the No. 1 pick?
-- Brian

Bill Simmons doesn't count as local anymore, agreed? Then it's gotta be Felger. Co-host and driving force of the top-rated afternoon drive program, has about 47 shows on Comcast, and all of you guys talk about him even when you want to strangle him with his mic cord. In a related note, I'm desperately trying to trade down in that draft.

A lot of people are putting David Ortiz in the same sentence with Larry Bird, Ted Williams, Bobby Orr and Bill Russell. I like him, but can't think of him in those terms. Am I just getting old and ornery and Ortiz is in that class or do you, like me, think it's a little overreaction to how good he was in World Series?
-- Bob in Naples, Fla.

No Tom Brady on that list, Bob? You are ornery. I actually think he's in that argument now. But the real context will come easier after he's retired, when we watch the highlight films of the walkoffs, and all that he did in the 2004 and '07 postseasons in particular, and see all of his ridiculous feats in one three-minute package, and then the truth will really hit home: the day the Red Sox signed him is on the short list of the most important in Red Sox history. Know what's weird? He's now passing some of those guys on the Boston longevity list. He's played 11 years with the Sox. Orr played just 10 for the Bruins -- nine-plus, really, since he was limited to 10 games in 1975-76. Bird was a Celtic for 13 years -- the same as Russell. It's conceivable that Papi could have a longer run here than all of them except for Brady, who somehow is now in Year 14.

FULL ENTRY

Sunday Mail: Is Aqib Talib worthy of a new deal, the odd benefit of Bobby V, and more

  October 6, 2013 07:07 AM

Because of late-night Red Sox duties, this week's Sunday Mail is abbreviated to your email and chat comments. But rain, snow, or a stunning hailstorm of offense against David Price, I'll always deliver ...

talib-2605.jpgTime to lock up Aqib Talib with an extension?
-- Jay

Man, he's fun to watch, isn't he? Those four picks in four games tell only part of the story regarding how well he's playing. He's the Patriots' best all-around cornerback since Ty Law, and that includes Asante Samuel. who went to the Deion Sanders "Prime Time" Night School of Contact Avoidance. But you know what? The status quo is just fine. He still needs to prove his reliability in a couple of ways. He must stay healthy -- something he couldn't do late last season, when he had hip and hamstring issues. And he needs to stay out of trouble. We all know about his issues with the Bucs and at Kansas. The Patriots, for obvious reasons, are particularly sensitive to off-the-field drama right now, and their tolerance for knuckleheads is going to be low for a long time. Let's find out if Talib, who is an absolute riot, has matured. If so, and he keeps playing like this, there will be plenty of money for him after the confetti falls.

davis_st2201_spts-thumb-650x510-64390.jpgI have been thinking for some time that Bobby Valentine in 2012 was the best thing that could have happened to the Sox in 2013. The players embraced John Farrell as the non-Bobby V upon his arrival, and he did his part by treating them like adults and avoiding the self-defeating passive aggressive comments to the press like his predecessor. If Farrell immediately followed Terry Francona, I don't think things would have played out quite so neatly. Thoughts?
-- Bobby V.

I wish I'd thought to write about this before Alex Speier wrote his typically excellent piece on the subject for WEEI.com the other day. It's absolutely true that The Lost Year of the Wrap Impresario significantly contributed to the shape of this year's team. Think about it: If the Sox don't stink in every way last year, the slate-cleaning blockbuster with the Dodgers never happens, and the likes of Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, and Shane Victorino never end up in Boston. (Is there a less impressive player in baseball, taking salary and talent into consideration, than Carl Crawford at the moment?) As for the holdover core veterans -- who to a man have had better (and yes, healthier) seasons than they did a year ago -- they have to appreciate the professionalism like they never have before. Without Bobby V's incompetence leading to the full meltdown, we never would have had the ultimate blessing of the season that followed. I'm not saying thank goodness for Bobby V., but it really did turn out to be worth it. Thanks, Lucchino!

What was up with your Richard Seymour column? Really not one of your best efforts. Doesn't fit a need at all, especially combined with his age and the fact he hasn't played in months.
-- Augustus

Yeah, not my favorite piece I've ever written, either. Wrote in circles, intending to pay homage to Vince Wilfork and all he's meant and instead veering out of control over to HAY BILL GO RECONCILE WITH BIG SEY! territory. Headline was somewhat misleading (and wrote it). I remember Bob Ryan saying something to the effect that as a columnist, you don't have to hit a home run every time. There's nothing wrong with a nice stand-up double once in a while. Good advice. It's easy to ruin a good thing by overwriting. Unfortunately, my Wilfork/Seymour column wasn't a double. It was a one-hopper back to the pitcher with the bases juiced. Know what's really weird? It's one of the top five most-read columns I've ever written. I don't consider that a good thing.

Loved Pedro in the studio on TBS. Is he being groomed for a color commentary gig at all? You think he could end up working on NESN in the future or have you heard any rumblings?
-- When Ellsbury Met Salty

He told me there was a possibility of him filling in at NESN late in the season, but it never worked out schedule-wise beyond his visit to the booth to join Don Orsillo and Derek Lowe when the Red Sox were in St. Petersburg facing the Rays. He's going national if anything now, with the good reviews he's getting for his work with TBS the postseason. He basically admitted to me that one of the reasons he was trying TV was because he was bored -- he's even taking up golf, for heaven's sake. Here's hoping he finds a fulfilling balance between his role with the Red Sox and whatever he ends up doing on TV beyond this postseason, because he has real value at both.

bettsmookiefinn104.JPGHow soon is too early to wave the "I want Pedroia out and Mookie in" banner?
-- Hoss (Austin)

[Checks Saturday's night's box score]

[Sees Pedroia's line: double, sac fly, three RBIs, two crucial double plays started defensively.]

I'm gonna say 2027, tops, Hoss.

In all seriousness, Mookie Betts has become a very interesting prospect, and not just because he has one of those names that you don't forget. He was the Red Sox' minor league offensive player of the year this season after hitting .314 with 15 homers, 65 RBIs, 36 doubles and 38 steals between Greenville and Salem. He turns 21 Monday, is said to be good defensively at second with the potential to move back to shortstop, and perhaps most impressively, he has a very advanced approach, reaching base at a .417 clip between the two levels. We'll know much more about his future prospects after we see what he does at Double A, the level where the prospects are most often separated from the suspects. But it looks promising to say the least. While there's no reason to start searching for Pedroia's successor now -- he's signed through 2021, for one thing -- Betts looks like someone whose cool name we'll be hearing more and more.

Sunday Mail: On cutting Tim Tebow, the dream Boston sports roundtable, and more

  September 1, 2013 07:23 AM

tebowfinnsundaymail91.jpg

LEADING OFF

I do wish Tim Tebow was a worthy NFL player. Whether you agree with his personal beliefs or not, he does seem to be a genuinely kind human being who habitually goes above and beyond to make other people feel good about themselves.

Football matters to him, and as someone who fulfills wishes of so many others, you'd like to see his rewarded too, especially because he works so hard to make it happen.

The problem, as confirmed by the Patriots Saturday, is that he's just not good enough at the game to make it happen. You know the flaws: Uncle Rico had better mechanics, and Tebow's painfully slow decision-making only serves to show how difficult it is to play quarterback in the NFL adequately, let alone at the level of Tom Brady.

The decision to cut him told us this: Bill Belichick wasn't seeing anything there that we couldn't recognize, no unique way of utilizing that weird array of skills that were historically useful at the college level but just don't translate to the NFL.

And we can all admit that John Elway was right: his success two years ago makes Jose Iglesias's offensive success this year look like the most logical thing in the world. I joked yesterday that the Bills would sign Tebow and start him against the Patriots in Week 1, a warped version of the Lawyer Milloy situation a decade ago. But the truth is that the Bills cut a better pure passer earlier in the week. And Matt Leinart is a disaster in his own right.


The truly remarkable thing is that there was any doubt at all about whether he'd stick. If a player without the cultural reverence and reference of Tebow had performed the way he did in the preseason, you'd wonder why he wasn't cut long before the final pruning of the roster. The Patriots cut better players Saturday -- Zoltan Mesko, for one, and he's every bit Tebow's peer in the community. I'd bet George Winn has an NFL future, and I'm pretty sure no one bought his jersey during training camp.

It's always sad to see an athlete's dream deferred. Tebow has our sympathy for that. But he wasn't good enough, and letting him go for a better, lesser-known player is the right kind of justice.

THE MAILBOX

Three Boston sports figures, living or not at your table at Union Oyster House. I got Gammons, Oil Can, and In Bill We Trust in the hopes I can get him drunk enough to spill 30+ years of unfiltered knowledge/stories. Who do you have?
-- Andy

I love questions like this. Pretty tough to top what "Sports Final" did back in, I believe, '92, getting Larry Bird, Ted Williams, and Bobby Orr together for one show.

That's pretty great. Imagine how much greater it would be with the beverages flowing. (Or on cable.) I'm with you on Belichick, though. He can join our panel too. I hope his love of football books leads him to write the one to trump them all when his career is over. Personally, as someone whose adoration for the '80s Celtics grows each year, I'd love to have a few beers with Bird, Kevin McHale, and Bill Walton. And we're going to Santarpio's, by the way. Unless Larry says otherwise.

davisericfinn91mail.jpgAm I crazy to see a young Ellis Burks when I watch Adam Jones play? Burks was a joy to watch in his early years. Such a shame that injuries kept him from fully realizing his potential.
-- John

Very similar -- Burks is actually fifth on Jones's similarity scores list on baseball-reference.com through age 26. (No. 1 is another ex-Red Sox outfielder, Reggie Smith, which is a great comp.) Burks was a little faster and Jones has more power and durability. Both are hugely likable players and regarded as class acts. But when I actually see Jones, I can't help but think of another supreme late-'80s outfielder, Eric Davis. He looks just like him. Davis could be his cool uncle or something.


I really hate the chatter that Stephen Drew will be resigned. Nothing against him but can we just give Xander Bogaerts a chance at shortstop? And why move Will Middlebrooks to first right now? I just don't get it.
-- MLB-54

Bogaerts will be in there somewhere. He's the surest thing to be a part of the 2014 Red Sox among the three. If they re-sign Drew, I don't think it impacts Bogaerts beyond a positional change for a couple of years, and maybe he'd still play short against lefties. But keeping Drew around ... I do wonder if that suggests Middlebrooks might be a piece in a blockbuster, a third or fourth prospect in a deal for Giancarlo Stanton or something like that. I've been skeptical of the move to first base because that's traditionally a power position, and his Russ Davis-like numbers thus far in his career really don't suggest he'd even be an average producer at that position. But third base is just as much of a power/production position as first base right now, so maybe they would move him across the diamond. If I had to guess, though, I'd say the more likely move is to another organization.

troutmikefinnmail91.jpgHow do you explain the drop-off for Mike Trout this year?
-- Ryan T.

[Activate Jim Mora "Playoffs?!" Voice:] Dropoff?! Dropoff?! Well, I guess he does have fewer homers (23 this year, 30 a year ago) and steals (29, down from 49). But ... dropoff?! There's no dropoff. His batting average, on-base percentage, walk total, slugging percentage, adjusted OPS, and OPS are all higher than a season ago, and he needs 32 total bases to surpass last year's total. He's been just as brilliant as he was during one of the greatest season's we'll ever see, and you should probably be made aware, sir, that the debate is going to rage again: Trout, not Miguel Cabera, leads the American League in WAR according to baseball-reference, and leads the majors according to Fangraphs version. (I'd vote for Miggy this year, but still ... Trout has been phenomenal again.)

Let's take one from Twitter:

I said a good question, James. I'm kind of kidding but isn't it a little early to judge anything that happened this offseason? I'm bummed it didn't work out with Wilson, just as I was bummed when it didn't work out with Tank Williams and John Lynch, because it's always fun to add a big-hitting safety to the secondary. But declaring the offseason a failure before they've played a regular-season down is something even Felger and Mazz would dismiss as premature. Maybe Tommy Kelly is just what they need to complement Vince Wilfork on the defensive line. They should be credited for keeping some of their own key guys, starting with Aqib Talib at a bargain rate. Danny Amendola is a fine signing, and aren't you excited about some of the apparent finds at receiver and tight end? I know it's disappointing when the name signings don't stick, but it's better than the alternative: keeping a player around just because of his name or because you don't want to look bad. (And for the record, Nick Offerman was just OK.)

THIS WEEK IN ANCIENT MEDIA GUIDES

The guide: 1977-78 New York Rangers.

rangers197778.jpg

Looks like Espo just punched a rebound in from the far post. No. 8 is very happy about that. So is his mustache.

The discovery: Could have gone with Ron Duguay in full Andy Gibb mode, but it was tough to trump this, an actual photo of a human head being engulfed by a swarm of hair:

tkazukwaltfinn.jpg

By the way, how often over the last 20 years or so do you think he had to say, "No, Keith isn't my son. No relation, actually. Yes, I'm serious. Different spelling. See, he's T-K-A-C-H-U-K ..."


Until next Sunday, the mailbox is closed. Exit music, please:

Manny, we gonna get that a.m. dial just right/I'll hold that hanger up/As long as the Sox put up a fight ...

Sunday Mail: Interleague intrigue?

  August 24, 2013 08:59 PM

d007780392d34916850d4ae1687d0972-d007780392d34916850d4ae1687d0972-0[1].jpg

LEADING OFF

I don't like interleague baseball as a concept or usually in execution, and I never will.

Don't like interleague play late in the regular season, when a postseason berth is up for grabs and division rivalries should be front and center.

I don't like that it takes the Red Sox' best hitter out of the lineup in a National League ballpark. It's a natural disadvantage to AL teams.

I don't like that it cheapens the All-Star Game and World Series.

I don't like it. But even a conscientious objector to interleague play has to admit that this Red Sox-Dodgers series is pretty damned fun.

I mean, I'd like it better if it weren't so late in the season and the Red Sox didn't have to deal with a team that had entered the series with 45 wins in its last 55 games. I'd like it better if this were, you know, the World Series.

But the Sox and Dodgers are fairly kindred spirits, having dealt with the Yankees bullying through different eras and decades. And the do have a shared recent history, what with The Trade last year and the Dodgers' recent status as Red Sox West, with Manny Ramirez, Bill Mueller, Derek Lowe, and Hanley Ramirez all ending up there in recent seasons.

Plus, there's one real benefit -- hearing Vin Scully call a Red Sox game.

I suppose I'm OK with this series right now. Better yet, here's hoping there's a rematch in October.

THE MAILBOX

Do you see eight teams better than the Celtics in the East. I don't. This could be one of those 35-wins-is-good-enough-for-the-eighth-seed type of seasons. Pretty top heavy.
-- Nick Esasky

foxrickfinn824.JPGWhat you see now is not what you'll see in January -- Danny Ainge is going to make sure they are horrible, even if it means playing his 54-year-old self at shooting guard. The last thing they want, particularly in a year in which the draft is expected to be stacked with talent, is to get lost in that 30-, 35-win purgatory. He's not going to allow that to happen. I'm convinced Rajon Rondo is traded the moment he proves healthy and there's a reasonable deal to be made. As it is, none of the pieces on the roster fit. There are some interesting parts, but they were role players on a .500 team last year that is now without its defensive fulcrum and it's best scorer. It's 1996-97 all over again, I'm telling you. Jared Sullinger is Rick Fox, the dependable role player who will be valuable to a championship-caliber team some day. Avery Bradley is David Wesley, a nice third guard. MarShon Brooks is Todd Day, the inefficient gunner. Courtney Lee is Dee Brown, Brandon Bass is Eric Williams, Jeff Green is Antoine Walker, Kris Humphries is Dino Radja ... granted, all the comps aren't perfect, but you see where I'm getting at. That team had some individual talent. And it won 15 games. I'm putting down this year's team for 22-25, with the temptation of taking the under.

nixonotisfinn826.JPGOne of the dumb NESN polls from the other week was "most memorable Sox deadline moves". The usual suspects (Nomar Garciaparra/Orlando Cabrera, Manny Ramirez/Jason Bay, Victor Martinez/Justin Masterson, Heathcliff Slocumb/Jason Varitek & Derek Lowe) were included. And the Slocumb deal "won". However, I doubt many people remember that deal, just the aftermath. At the moment it did not hold a flame to the hysteria around the Nomar or Manny deals. Disclaimer out of the way, most memorable early/mid-90s Sox trade: Frankie Rodriguez/Rick Aguilera, Jeff Russell/Jose Canseco, or Jamie Moyer/Darren Bragg? In all seriousness, it has to be Canseco right?
-- Neil (DC)

I'll answer any question in which I get to say, "Actually, it wasn't Russell for Canseco. The Sox gave up -- David Caruso-style pause -- Otis Nixon. Of those deals, getting Canseco probably was the biggest deal at the time. He wasn't that far removed from being one of the most charismatic and productive stars in the game, and he was only 29. But people were ticked off at baseball when the deal happened in December 1994, so it didn't generate the excitement it would have had it occurred, you know, when there wasn't a strike going on and the World Series hadn't just just been canceled. Canseco was pretty good in his two years for the Sox -- 52 homers, .960 OPS -- but his act was tired enough by the end that there weren't a lot protests when he was traded for John Wasdin. Canseco's top career comp is Jason Giambi, by the way. Funny thing about the Moyer/Bragg deal is that it happened a year and a day earlier than the Tek/Lowe deal. Moyer went on to win 145 games in 11 years in Seattle, yet I don't think they get credit for that heist like the Sox do for Tek/Lowe.

I literally cringe every time I see Carl Crawford's numbers. Thank you to whatever divine intervention occurred that made the Dodgers take that contract.
-- Rich

You call it divine intervention. I call it Magic.

If Tim Tebow suffered a concussion, would ESPN cover it?
-- Cy Cranium

Great question. Imagine they would use a euphemism -- he got his bell rung, something like that -- and then Skip Bayless would hiss through his bat fangs that that the guy who hit him should receive a lifetime ban. With ESPN apparently aware of their marching orders regarding concussions -- see no evil, hear no evil, and for heaven's sake, don't ever talk to "Frontline" -- Big Brother Goodell wouldn't even have to send the memo to look the other way. I wonder what their own Steve Young, a bright man who looked like he was dead on the hashmarks after taking a vicious shot to the head on his final NFL play, makes of all of this.

Let's say you are pitched a deal similar to Bill Simmons/Peter King and can start up your own site. You are allowed to pick one writer/blogger to cover each of the following sports --NFL/NBA/MLB/NHL-- for your site, plus someone to write one general sports opinion type column. The only stipulation is that the writers/bloggers have to be considered "up and comer" types, plus current Globe staff are excluded. Folks that the average fan across the country are just becoming familiar with. I think I go with Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com (NFL), Alex Speier WEEI (MLB), Matt Moore of CBS.com (NBA), & Katie Baker of Grantland (NHL). My general opinion column would be Bomani Jones from ESPN. Who you got?
-- Winston Wolfe

Funny, I was thinking about this the other day in terms of how right Simmons and his brain-trust got it with most of their hires. Jonah Keri writes about every team with the insight of someone who covers each daily. Love Bill Barnwell's football stuff. Baker might be my first choice for a hockey writer. That's a hell of a job of building a staff. If I were putting something like that together -- and I was always proud that I used people like Barnwell and Doug Farrar for those old Maple Street Press Patriots Annuals that I used to put together -- I'd probably daydream of something like this:

NBA: Gimme any one of Adrian Wojnarowski, Paul Flannery, and Chris Ballard (he's one of Sports Illustrated's finest takeout writers now, but he's a hoops guy at heart.)

NHL: Baker is a great call. I like Jesse Spector's work at Sporting News (though he's on baseball now) and Sarah Kwak at SI is a pro. If I could have anyone, though, it would be Michael Farber.

MLB: Can't go wrong with Jonah. Speier is great, but I don't know that he could cover a national beat like he covers the Sox and their farm system. (He probably could.) Dave Schoenfield for ESPN is someone who does consistently excellent work without much fanfare. Would love to have Gabe Kapler write an "In My Experience'' type of column; can't exaggerate how insightful his stuff has been for WEEI and Baseball Prospectus.

NFL: I probably have the least amount of knowledge here in terms of up-and-coming writers, probably because it's my least-favorite sport. Barnwell and Greg Bedard would make a pretty good 1-2 punch.

Columnist: Bruce Arthur from Canada's National Post is my favorite read on just about anything. Love pretty much everything Drew Magary does. Bob Ryan can write anytime he wishes. Would love to see Joe Posnanski back in a place that gives him the proper forum and promotion. I think you'd need a fantasy sports writer, and though I've never read a word he's written in his 4,000-word this-is-my-life intros, Matthew Berry really does give smart advice. And that young fella Leigh Montville seems to be quite the up-and-comer at Sports On Earth.

I know, more established writers there than up-and-comers. Man, I'm going to be thinking about this all day now. Let me know who I overlooked.

THIS WEEK IN ANCIENT MEDIA GUIDES

Wasn't in the office this week to snatch an ancient media guide, so it's on hiatus for this week and this week only.

Until next Sunday.

I'd like to lay my weary bones tonight/On a bed/Of California stars ...

Sunday Mail: Red Sox keep the faith, the rise of Dodgers, Jake Ballard's role ...

  August 18, 2013 06:22 AM

sorianoalfonsofinn816.jpg

(This is episode 2 of the new Sunday Mail column. Episode 1 and a primer can be found here.)

LEADING OFF

Can't think of many more affirming victories the Red Sox have pulled out this season than Saturday's 6-1 win over the Yankees.

Beloved Fan-Favorite John Lackey, so dependable in 2013, finally got some 2011-style run-support. Better, the Red Sox offense did it against Yankees ace Hiroki Kuroda, who is on the fringes of the American League Cy Young race.

Will Middlebrooks had a couple more Iglesian flares fall in, Mike Carp bolstered his already strong case for more playing time with couple of hits from the No. 5 spot in the order, David Ortiz hit his 24th home run and it felt like his 44th, scorching Jacoby Ellsbury contributed three hits, Koji Uehara added the punctuation mark ...

It was pretty much a total team effort, in other words, which has been the formula for so many of their AL-best 73 wins through the season's first 125 games. It's a formula they particularly needed to work Saturday, because given their reason struggles, that 73d win ended up feeling more meaningful than most that came before.

The Sox returned from a 10-game road trip through Houston, Kansas City, and Toronto with a 4-6 mark, a two-game lead on the Rays in the AL East standings, and no advantage in the loss column. NESN spun the trip as a success -- the Red Sox departed with a one-game lead -- but it sure didn't feel that way to anyone in possession of independent thought.

Then they promptly dropped Friday night's opener to the weird, mishmashed Yankees, who somehow hover near the outskirts of the wild-card race with no Derek Jeter, an unwanted Alex Rodriguez, and Mariano Rivera blowing three straight recent save opportunities. (Alfonso Soriano's eight homers in 83 plate appearances probably has something to do with their recent revitalization.)

The lead was back down to a game over the Rays entering Saturday, and there was no denying it: It felt like one of those Gotta Have This One games that have occurred a handful of times this season, the most recent previously being Jon Lester's win over the Rays July 23 to keep the Sox in first place.

Once again, the Red Sox rose to the occasion, a trait familiar to this year's crew and so unfamiliar in previous seasons. There are 37 games remaining, eight with the Yankees, including Sunday night's rubber match. Then it's off to the west coast.

It's a grueling road toward October, and maybe the incurable Chicken Littles regarding this team will prove right. But I doubt it. When faith begins to wane, these Red Sox, as they showed Saturday, have a pretty convincing way of restoring it.

THE MAILBOX

ramirezhanleyfinn817.JPGI think the series this weekend is big, but next weekend against the Dodgers is bigger. They're the best team in MLB right now, and if the Sox go to L.A. clinging to a one-or two-game lead they could leave in second place. Personally, I'm more excited to see how they perform against the best team in the land than some has-been rivals.
-- BostonBrahmin

Just wish they got to face Josh Beckett. Yeah, pretty tough to argue that there's a better team in baseball than the Dodgers in recent seasons, let alone right now. They're 42-8 since June 22, the best 50-game stretch since the '42 Cardinals did the same thing. Clayton Kershaw (1.80 ERA) is actually underrated at this point. Yasiel Puig is ridiculous by every definition. Hanley Ramirez seems to play every other month, but he's hitting .363 with a 1.063 OPS. And Carl Crawford has five homers and 11 steals! All right, suppose they don't regret That Trade like we thought they would.

Why doesn't WEEI have Mike Giardi and Tom E. Curran host a show? I'd listen to the two of them talk football, hockey or anything else to the exclusion of any other show on Boston sports radio. Think the new PD would consider them? Would they do it? Would this idea be nixed because it would mean too many Mikes in the Boston sports radio market?
-- Pete S.

Imagine they'd arrive at the expense of a Mike or two. Sign me up for that show, absolutely. I've mentioned this before, but some of my favorite Boston sports radio I've ever heard was Giardi, Michael Smith and Bill Simmons filling on 1510 during the raising-the-bar days in the early 2000s. He could definitely handle the host role. I've had radio people tell me they're not sure how Curran's quirky sense of humor would play over four hours a day, five days a week, but that sounds to me like an excuse to avoid taking a chance on someone who's a little different. He was great with Mike Salk this week (rattling off all the obscure names on the Patriots roster who are better than Tim Tebow was hilarious and true), he doesn't play the usual melodrama games -- yes, an actual voice of reason who is entertaining -- and he knows his stuff beyond football. The Giardi and Curran Show? I'd listen, and not just out of professional obligation.

When Bill Belichick snagged Jake Ballard away from the Giants, I thought it was a pretty slick move- and when Aaron Hernandez ceased to be on the team, I thought it was an even better move because the Pats already had some depth at TE. But I really haven't heard much about him at camp and am wondering if he is going to be one of the surprise cuts at the end of the preseason. What do you think?
-- T. Coughlin

I was wondering the same thing, but Belichick had fairly high praise for him (particularly his blocking) after the Bucs game, and it looks like he's not in any danger. Remember, the only reason he was available is because he was seriously hurt in Super Bowl XLVI and the Giants tried to sneak him through waivers. He's coming back from a torn ACL and microfracture surgery, and he was briefly on the physically-unable-to-perform list in camp. It's been a long road. Remember noticing he still had a bit of a limp during those first few days of camp, but he's progressing, he's an asset now, and it sure looks like he'll be on the field for the opener against Buffalo. By the way, "ceased to be on the team'' is certainly a new and understated way of describing Aaron Hernandez's situation.

melofabfinn817.JPGIs the basketball player personnel system so different from baseball's that the Celtics can't rebuild on the fly like the Red Sox? Trying to stink on the chance you get the right ping-pong ball and the 18- or 19-year-old you pick develops seems like a horrible way of doing business.
-- John

Well, yeah, it is, for several reasons. In baseball, there are so many different ways you can repair and improve a roster. In the NBA. you have just five players on a court at a time, and it's a superstar-dependent sport. If you don't have that star, you're pretty much doomed. Plus, it's much more difficult to get that star in the NBA -- trading is difficult because of the salary-cap complexities, and the best free agents tend to form their own supergroups and flock to warm weather or New York-based markets. Plus, in baseball, you have a real chance to develop stars through savvy drafting and intelligent player development. In the NBA, if you're getting a quality player in the 20s of the first round -- a Jared Sullinger rather than a Fab Melo -- you're doing OK. And you have no farm system, just the luck or cruelty of the lottery after you stink it up effectively enough to put yourself in the position to hit a jackpot. It's a bummer it's that way, but I don't see how it changes. It's the nature of the sport and system.

Basing ones opinion of the fan base on the radio callers and comment clowns is the equivalent of basing an opinion of the Irish on the Lucky Charms leprechaun.
-- Nomah

I don't care that this is not in the form of a question. It's wisdom, and I'm getting it carved in mahogany and bolting it to my desk, to remind myself not to make such judgments. One of the very few things that aggravates me about this gig is that since TATB has been around, the comments sections have morphed from a fun community into a cesspool. Used to enjoy the discourse -- even found it magically delicious at times -- but as the site as grown the comment section has become overrun with mean-spirited, reactionary nonsense. I get plenty of reminders, usually via email, that there is a very smart audience out there. I need to make sure I don't forget that.

THIS WEEK IN ANCIENT MEDIA GUIDES

The guide: 1972-73 Chicago Blawkhawks

7273blackhawks.JPG

The discovery: Well, it wasn't a reference to Stan Mikita's donuts, because there wasn't one. Or the multiple references to the Blackhawks' most eligible bachelors (Jerry Korab was apparently quite the ladies' man and after-dinner speaker.) The Pit Martin comment made me laugh: "His slight French accent sets him off from everyone and gives his speech an individual quality." You can almost hear him say, "Two minutes, by yourself, you know and you feel shame, you know. And then you get free."

Oh, but the discovery is this:

friglenfinn816.JPG

We're two weeks into this thing, and this headshot and name may never be topped no matter how long we do it.

On behalf of Len Frig, Pit Martin, and Denis Lemieux, until next week.

No plane on Sunday/Check it again come Monday ...

Sunday Mail: Will Middlebrooks returns, surprise cuts, strong arms and '78 prices

  August 11, 2013 05:54 AM

Note to loyal readers, random stragglers and everyone in between: No matter your route here, thanks for finding my shiny new weekend column, "Sunday Mail.'' This is episode 1, and I'm still sorting out what it will and will not be. What you're seeing now is the rough parameters: a brief, topical (and perhaps even interesting!) lead item, a half-dozen or so responses to reader questions, and a couple of other goofy items. "Sunday Mail'' will be posted right here, coincidentally enough, every Sunday morning. It's been my favorite day to read since I began devouring the Sunday Globe sports section when was around 8, and I'm really thrilled to have something to contribute to Boston.com on that particular day of the week. Hope you'll add this to your reading list, and know that the column will evolve, even though I probably won't.

* * *

middlebrooksortizfinn810.JPGLEADING OFF

Saying this as someone who believes Xander Bogaerts could and should be helping the Red Sox against the Bruce Chens of the world right now ... it's nice to see Will Middlebrooks back.

Not just because he collected two hits -- including a Jose Iglesias Tribute infield special, but so what? -- and a couple of RBIs in the Red Sox' reassuring 5-3 win over the Royals Saturday night.

Think about: Middlebrooks must have been crushed to be back in Pawtucket, a place he was never supposed to visit again except perhaps as a guest of honor. He had great success as a rookie -- he really did with, 15 homers and an .835 OPS -- and was counted on as a cornerstone not just of the future, but the present.

Yet there he was headed south, back in Triple A by midsummer. It must have been puzzling on the best days and the catalyst for angry soul-searching on the worst. But by all accounts he put in the time, tried to become more disciplined and selective, got hot (.316/.357/.500 over his last 10 games), then found success his first day back, not to mention a warm greeting:

I'm glad the whatever-Papi-called-him is back, too. I do hope Bogaerts arrives before the September 1 roster expansion -- I want his talent on a playoff team. But it's not like the Sox are wasting his youth -- with Middlebrooks in the bigs, he can get plenty of time at shortstop and third base so he's ready for whatever is asked of him when he comes to Boston.

But for now, Middlebrooks is here, and given Ben Cherington's track record this year, I'm cool with that decision. I trust that they made the right call. Or the right recall.

THE MAILBOX

Before we got to the mail, a quick acknowledgment: Several of you noted that Vlad Guerrero should have been on my list of the best outfield arms this week. Can't argue that. But I did keep it to six, and my appreciation for Ellis Valentine led to him receiving the designated cannon-armed former Expo slot on the list. As a peace offering, here are two videos of ridiculous Vladi throws, including one with a Pedro Martinez cameo:

At this point, the Red Sox' best offseason acquisition has to be Koji Uehara, right? Great teammate, fun to watch, and the guy always comes up big. He's the best, most reliable closer we've had in a while and we didn't even sign him to be the closer.
-- Joyce

With you, Joyce. Since coming stateside in 2009, Uehara has been an excellent pitcher when healthy. But this is his best season -- his 1.38 ERA is a career-best, as is his 12.9 K/9 rate, he's been superb as a closer, and he allowed exactly zero earned runs in July. And the bonus is that he's as fun as he is effective.

Just for the fun of it, let's grade Ben Cherington's offseason signings:

ueharakojifinn810.JPGUehara: Epitomizes what this team is all about. A+

Shane Victorino: Best defensive right fielder since Dwight Evans, battles every at-bat. A-

Joel Hanrahan: Stop trading positional talent for "proven" closers, please. F

Mike Napoli: August has been cruel, but remember, he helped get this thing started right with 27 RBIs in 26 games in April. C+

Jonny Gomes: The right-handed Bernie Carbo, minus the melodrama. Winning does follow him. B

Stephen Drew: The complaints seemed to have ceased. Judging him on his own merits finally? B-

Mike Carp: Great find as a bench bat, with perhaps a bigger role ahead. A-

Ryan Dempster: He's basically the conventional version of late-career Tim Wakefield. There are worse roles. C-

What gives with the ovation for that traitor/cheater Roger Clemens at Fenway? And why did Jim Rice stay away from the Morgan Magic celebration? They could have shown footage of him tossing Walpole Joe down the runway stairs.
-- Ed Romero

Rice was there, but I could be wrong. Was disappointed at the turnout. It's always good to see Evans, but Clemens and Oil Can Boyd say hello when you wish they'd say goodbye for a while, you know? (Clemens was charming and anecdotal that night while sitting in with Joe Castig. I hate myself for saying that.) And it was kind of jarring to see players for the first time since they were active -- I thought Tom Bolton was Bob Stanley upon first glance, and that's probably not a compliment. The weak turnout was a little bit of a bummer -- I mean, those guys won 24 straight games at Fenway. From June 25 to August 13, they didn't lose a home game. That's incredible. It's not, say, an 8-year-anniversary of a championship team, but it's a legit anniversary and a feat worth celebrating for sure.

I enjoy Greg Bedard and Peter King, but I can't spend more than two minutes on MMQB.com. The site is a visual atrocity. Having said that, are you impressed with MMQB content? SI seems to have launched at the right time.
-- Matt from Cincinnati

It's actually theMMQB.com -- MMQB.com takes you to a site dedicated to the "business of the contract furnishings industry,'' where the poll questions aren't "Who's loftier, Brett Favre or Peyton Manning? but "What would you say is currently THE MOST important element in the decision process for clinets [sic] when deciding what furniture to buy?" I imagine the proprietor has seen something of a spike in accidental traffic, while theMMQB is stuck being reminded of the one useful lesson from the Sean Parker character in "The Social Network" -- drop the the before "Facebook." Anyway, to answer the actual question, I love the site -- Andrew Brandt's stuff is great, and it's cool to read Bedard writing with his usual depth about teams other than the Patriots -- but it is tricky to navigate. King has been directing readers to the archive bar for an accurate ordering of the stories, but they really shouldn't be asked to execute an extra step; the new material should be obvious. And the columns bar is doubly puzzling. They have catchy titles, but the author's names aren't obvious until you click a link. I have no idea why Don Banks is "The Conscience." I thought he was Donny Brasco.

If there's ever a baseball site similar this, I'd have a new homepage.

I have to say that [Friday's] experiment with broadcasting a Patriots' game should be significantly revised by Channel 4 before the next broadcast. I cannot remember a more annoying sports telecast. It seemed that the objective was to recreate Phil Spector's wall of sound. No moment was left unfilled by commentary that may have had some nuggets of useful information, but, if so, they were lost in the unrelenting white noise. There was simply far too much talking about topics, extraneous and otherwise, while the game itself called for some more commentary...and for some short bursts of silence.
-- Richard C.

Completely agree, Richard. Because it was their first real run-through of something fairly innovative, and because the intent is good -- Matt Smith and Kraft Sports Productions want to make the preseason game experience better -- I'll give them the benefit of the doubt on the opener. Dan Roche seemed so eager to involve everyone -- Christian Fauria, Matt Chatham, the PFW guys, Steve Burton, one of the musket dudes, and, if I'm not mistaken, Clayton Weishuhn -- that the game wasn't allowed to breathe. Let's have some quiet time. And when it's time to analyze, give Fauria a word count and Chatham all the time he needs and it should be much better.

Chad, will Ras-I Dowling and Jermaine Cunningham make the team or are we looking at, can't make the club from the tub.
-- Jack Brohamer

It kind of looks that way, doesn't it? Too bad, because they have talent, and were relatively high picks. But you'll never catch me doing one of those roster projections. (Well, unless my boss tells me to. Then I'll do one of those roster projections, but dammit, I will sigh first.) There are always cutdown curveballs with the Patriots that no one in the media sees coming. Remember last year, when Jabar Gaffney and Donte' Stallworth and Deion Branch were all cut? Brian Hoyer was a surprise too, and many probably thought Dan Koppen would stick even coming off an injury. With Bill Belichick, you're better off admitting that thinking you know probably isn't the same thing as knowing. Here's my question: Who is the biggest name to get cut? If you want me to go way off the board, how about Adrian Wilson? Oh, I do think he sticks. But he's slowed down from his heyday, and he's probably not the mortal lock is accomplishments would suggest.

soxguide.JPGTHIS WEEK IN ANCIENT MEDIA GUIDES

The Globe is in an old building with lots of cool old things. (What? Me? I'm one of those middle-aged things, thank you very much.) For an incurable sports nostalgist, it's pretty easy to get lost among the old photos and clips in the libraries on a slow day.

Also, every now and then, I'll also make a one-man expedition into the filing cabinets of ancient media guides dating as far back as the late '60s. They're a temptation just a few feet from my desk, right here in the sports department.

There's usually something interesting, enlightening, or just plain strange to be found within the yellowed pages.

I've long searched for some time to find a way to incorporate them here. I think this it.

Hope you find it as fun as I do. This week's submission.

The guide: 1978 Red Sox. Ah, Boomer.

The discovery: Look at those ticket prices!

tixfinn78.jpg

I'm not sure what counted as a roof seat in 1978's version of Fenway, but it's the most expensive ticket available at $7.

Which is, I believe, 50 cents less than a bottle of Poland Spring bottled water will cost you now. You could take a family of six then for less than it costs to park on Boylston.

I know, it's been a long time, but still.

This column has been a long time, too. So thanks for reading this far. Keep the correspondence coming.

Oh, and the answer to the Manning/Favre poll question: It was a trick -- they're both lofty to infinity. But you knew that.

Until next time.

A few have moved on back to Maine ...

Monday mailbag: Iglesias or Drew?

  February 24, 2013 01:32 PM

harperbrycefinn222.jpg

Realized the other day that it's been about three years since I last pulled together a mailbag. Not sure why I got away from it -- they're always fun to do, and I'm inexcusably awful at staying on top of email these days, so I figure this is a good way to catch up on some of it. Other questions arrived via Twitter as well as outtakes from the Friday chat. We'll do another one before 2016, I promise. In the meantime, let's get to it, and keep the questions coming ...

troutmikefinn222.JPGBeyond the fact that it is creepy do you have a problem with sportswriters jumping all over themselves to document the increase in body mass of Bryce Harper and Mike Trout? I get that it is a "story" in the sense that these are two of the biggest stars in baseball, but at the same time if these writers were reading stories written in this manner that were published back in 1998 there would be a chorus of "we should have known betters". Are "BEST SHAPE OF THEIR CAREER" stories really that enticing? Or just that easy? -- Neil (DC)

"Best shape of their career" is of course one of the great recurring cliches of spring training, at least unless you're talking about Felix Doubront, aka Southpaw Guapo. The guys at "Hardball Talk'' especially have a great bit of fun with that particular spring-training narrative, and it's understandable, but in the case of Trout in particular, it's actually a worthwhile storyline. He came in at 241 pounds, which is huge given that he's a rangy center fielder and one of the most electric and efficient basestealers we've ever seen. For someone coming off a historically brilliant rookie season, it's a bit jarring to see him make such a drastic change to his physique. His first year was so incredible that it's a reasonable to ask whether he will ever have a better one. If he slips a bit this year -- and as Baseball Prospectus's Ben Lindbergh writes today, it's reasonable to expect that he will -- there will be questions about his offseason workout regimen, whether that's fair or not.

Chad, the likelihood of all the things you say in your Unconventional Preview column today that need to happen for the Red Sox to be a winning team actually happening is remote. Like winning the lottery remote.
-- Your Name

Sure. But I don't think all of those things -- everyone staying healthy, the Victorino/Napoli/Drew newbies bouncing back, Buchholz and Lester thriving -- will happen. But I think it's reasonable to expect that, oh, half of it does. And if Lester finds his old form but Buchholz can't stay healthy, Victorino hits like he did in '11 while Napoli needs a walker by midseason, Ellsbury is an MVP candidate while Papi gets hurt, that sort of split -- they still have a chance to be pretty good.Everything went wrong last year. They won 18 of their final 60 games. They lacked more than talent. They lacked competence. They will be much better in both regards this season.

Hope you're right with your prediction of 87 wins [for the Red Sox]. Maybe it's the pre-2004 in me popping up, but I'm not so optimistic. I'm old and old-school when it comes to baseball, and a shortstop who can save 50 runs a year really appeals to me. I should not judge Stephen by J.D., but I drew my conclusions by watching the former No. 7 and having him on a few Rotisserie teams. Except for the grand slam [in the 2007 ALCS against the Indians], of course, almost as big a hit as David Ortiz's homer in the first inning of Game 7 vs. the Yankees.
-- Peter S.

If Iglesias saves 50 runs over the course of a season, he will be the greatest defensive shortstop in the history of baseball, bar none. Brendan Ryan -- a decent comp for what Iglesias might ultimately become -- led the majors in Defensive Runs Saved by a shortstop last year ... with 27. Iglesias's sensational defense simply will not compensate for his wet noodle bat at this point. Give Drew a chance. If his ankle is right, he'll be capable at shortstop and an asset in the lineup.

finnshaq222.jpg I agree with your feelings on a trade involving either Paul Pierce or Kevin Garnett for guys with questionable attitudes. It's just incredibly frustrating as a Celtics fan to see this team continue to fail to get a decent true center. Garnett doesn't count. He's told you he's really a 4; and at age 36 I think he might collapse from exhaustion banging around at the 5, basically by himself. I like Danny Ainge, but am I crazy to say he has completely failed in this regard? The best center we've had since Perk has been a 39-year-old Shaq. Is it really that hard?
-- Bob P.

You know ... it kind of is that hard. The results haven't been great, but given how challenging it is to fill in a roster already dotted with highly-compensated stars, I have no problem with the process. Trying to wring a little more high-quality play out of Shaq, Rasheed Wallace, and even Jermaine O'Neal as complementary players to the Garnett-Pierce-Allen-Rondo core made a lot of sense. It was something Red would have done, and did, with players like Pete Maravich, Bill Walton, Scott Wedman, or the Lakers with a guy like Bob McAdoo. It just didn't happen to work, but because it's so difficult to find a decent big man -- I mean, Michael Olowakandi was a No. 1 overall pick, Todd Fuller went ahead of Kobe Bryant, and on and on -- that it seems the best way to go is to take that risk on a player who actually has accomplished some things.

marrerodevenfinn222.JPGNo longer sold that Jose Iglesias is the shorttop of the future. He is more likely the next Rey Ordonez. I say let Drew man the job until Xander Bogaerts is ready, because he is the SS of the future. Or until they convert Will Middlebrooks to 1B and Bogaerts to 3B, when Deven Marerro is ready at SS. Either way, Iglesias is not the answer. If he can't hit AAA pitching after 2 years, he's a lost cause.
-- Peter G.

I don't know that he's a lost cause. While comparing him to Ozzie Smith or Alan Trammell at the same age, as his defenders have done, simply does not work (Ozzie was in the majors after one minor league season, and Trammell hit .300 at age 22 in his third full season). And anyone who thinks being the next Rey Ordonez is a compliment was familiar with him only from Web Gems. He had a .600 OPS in the majors -- miserable, and yet better than Iglesias's in Triple A after two years. I suppose there's a glimmer of hope in the Omar Vizquel comps -- he had just a .598 OPS in Triple A. But the hunch here is he gets passed by Bogaerts, and with Deven Marrero getting a chance to advance quickly, it's now or never for Iglesias with the Red Sox.

Given the media's recent (last two seasons) predictions of grandeur, why exactly should The Nation listen now that they predict A Bridge To Nowhere?
-- BigONo

Depends who you're listening to in the media. Lot of reasonable voices out there who explain their thinking -- PeteAbe, Gordon Edes, Alex Speier, and many others. I try to be among them. The "Best Team Ever'' stuff is the work of headline writers trying to get you to buy the paper. Be discerning in who you read and who you believe. Also, read and believe me, always.

I enjoy your coverage of the radio wars. While I listen to both stations the question I have is why is Jason Wolfe not taking a huge hit for WEEI?s troubles? A lot of this is on him and his decisions.
-- Howard F.

Been getting this question a lot lately, for obvious reasons. Jason played a huge role in WEEI's success, and also contributed to the institutional arrogance that put them into their current position. But I think he is taking a huge hit -- he had to fire Glenn Ordway, someone with whom he had a long, successful, lucrative run, and presumably someone who is a good friend. That couldn't have been easy, and it won't be his last difficult task. If he does survive this, and I actually believe he should, some of the burden should be off him. These recent decisions are on Jeff Brown, Entercom Boston's VP market manager and Jason's boss, and if they don't work beyond saving a few bucks, he deserves as much heat as Jason is receiving.

lewisreggiefinn222.jpgWhen I look back on Celts after 1st Big 3, I see Len Bias, Reggie Lewis and a bum lottery ping-pong ball. Can't the Celts hope for better draft luck next time around?
-- Duncan

It's certainly overdue -- perhaps sending someone other than M.L. Carr and his lousy just-tanked-for-this-chance karma would be a better idea this time. (Who was the lottery rep in the Greg Oden/Kevin Durant year? It was Wyc, right?) Sheesh, the first time around they weren't even lucky enough to get Keith Van-Bleepin' Horn. But the history of the post-Big Three Celtics is often retold without enough of an emphasis on Reggie Lewis's death. Len Bias was incredible, but given how many players in that '86 draft washed out because of drugs, who's to say that wouldn't have been his fate had he survived past the night after the draft? Reggie, though ... we already knew what we had and what he could be. It didn't go straight from Larry Bird to Dominique Wilkins, you know? Also: Ainge would have totally taken Durant.

Gun to your head, which game 7 are you taking back; Lakers in 2010 or Miami last year? Banner 18 or the chance to say you beat the team nobody said you could beat and that pill LeBron doesnt have a ring. I think I'm taking Miami. Thoughts?
-- Jake

Lakers. No doubt. None. If Perk had been healthy ... if Doc had given Nate Robinson a few extra minutes ... If Artest's cheap-shot on Ray Allen earlier in the series hadn't mess up his quad ... If Sheed didn't run out of gas ... If Artest's heave doesn't drop ...If KG didn't get out-rebounded by 15 by Pau Gasol, and yes, I feel horrible for bringing it up ... those are the ifs you've got to live with. LeBron? I have the utmost respect for the way he plays the game. Game 6 was the pivotal performance of his career, and in retrospect, it's starting to feel inevitable. Plus, that Celtics team overachieved.

RANDOM LaSCHELLE TARVER INTERLUDE

tarverlaschelle.JPG

END OF RANDOM LaSCHELLE TARVER INTERLUDE

Are you still convinced the Sox are going to trade Andrew Bailey? I never understood your logic. He was hurt most of last year, and had 7.04 ERA. Talk about selling low.
-- Todd

Not so much, in part because there will probably be attrition, and also because I haven't heard a peep about him wanting to close elsewhere. (Doesn't hurt that Bruce Rondon is hitting 100 miles per hour in Tigers camp, either.) But it still wouldn't completely surprise me -- there were rumors he was headed to Toronto as compensation for John Farrell before it ended up being Mike Aviles.

hernandezaaronretro222.JPGThe Aaron Hernandez deal seemed smart at the time. It was the exact thing they didn't do with other guys (Vince Wilfork, Logan Mankins) that eventually got them into trouble. Doing Rob Gronkowski deal early certainly seemed smart too.

But did they swing too much to the other guardrail with Hernandez? Especially after they already locked up Gronkowski? Should they have waited for it to play out with Hernandez?

If they didn't do Hernandez deal early, he would be going into the last year of his rookie deal this year, at chump change.

What they gave him is more total dollars than it would take to keep Welker at this point, and the $16 million guaranteed dollars Hernandez got is probably in spitting distance of the guaranteed dollars Welker would want at this point. Same for the $8 million a year Hernandez is getting.

Anyway if you had to have one guy next year, Welker or Hernandez who would it be? in my opinion, hands down, Welker.
-- Larry

Interesting take. Hernandez is so talented and versatile, but he's lost some luster because of his struggles to stay on the field and his inconsistency in big games. (Is that fair? I think that's fair.) But given the choice right now, I take Hernandez without a second thought. He's just 23, and his best days should be ahead. No matter where Welker signs or the amount he signs for, at 32, there's no denying he'll be getting paid for past performance rather than what he is likely to be. Welker should have a couple more highly productive seasons ahead. I hope the Pats keep him. But forced to make a choice between one or the other, there's not really a choice at all.

Ever wonder what your demographic is for the chat? Might be interesting to put that up as a question (ie, are you 18-34, 34-50, etc.) Might be risky for you though. :)
-- DMV

Tend to think my demo is roughly my age group or younger, extraordinarily handsome, and generally much smarter than me. I suspect there's pretty decent demographic appeal there than, say, what you'd find in the comments section of a Bleacher Report slideshow.

I can't be the only one who thinks that Big Papi plays in less than 81 games this year.
-- Jackie

Beginning to think the same way, Jackie. He's 37, admitted recently that there was a partial tear in the Achilles' has played one game since last July 16, and doesn't exactly look like he was addicted to cardio (for understandable reasons) this offseason. He was great when healthy last year, but it's hard to fathom right now that he has 150 games or so ahead of him this year.

Alfonso Soriano is available from Cubs with significant salary relief. His OPS '10-12 .816/.754/.815. Jonny Gomes in the same span: .749/.704/.853. Worth a shot?
-- Thom H.

Meh. He did hit 32 homers last year, but he's redundant with Gomes. Maybe if he hit lefthanded. Actually wonder if he ends up with the Yankees since Curtis Granderson is out for a couple of months. Brian Cashman has denied it, which sometimes foreshadows it actually happening. By the way, I refuse to believe Soriano is 37. I still think of him as the young fella in the Yankees lineup who couldn't hit Pedro's breaking ball even if he had one of those giant red plastic bats.

dempsjefffinn222.JPGHow do you see Jeff Demps fitting into the Patriots offense next year?
-- Eric M.

Honestly, no clue. He obviously has electric speed and should be what they desperately need in the kicking game, but he's coming off a redshirt season and needed to put on some weight after making the transition from Olympic sprinter. Seems like overall expectations are higher than they should be. He was productive at Florida, but let's not anoint him the second coming of Percy Harvin until he, you know, actually plays some football. What did he have, three catches last preseason?

Every time I see a writer take a shot at Bobby Valentine, I'm reminded of a quote from "Married with Children"--"If you give a gun to a chimp, and the chimp shoots someone, don't blame the chimp." Thanks for 2012, Larry Lucchino!
-- Studio 00

Obviously. What you should do is name the chimp athletic director. Standard procedure.

Lost baggage

  May 5, 2010 06:27 PM

ortizwince.jpgWhen I started piecing together this angry maelstrom of a semi-mailbag Monday night, I was beginning to wonder if I was the Last Rational Baseball Fan in New England.

My cries from atop my creaky soapbox that these disappointing Red Sox, coming off a three-game sweep to the Baltimore Orioles, were too talented to continue to fail were drowned out by the wails of an aggrieved majority.

(Completely unnecessary early digression here, but the Orioles, despite a hideous start, aren't the pathetic sad-sack operation they're being made out to be. They have a nice core of potential cornerstones -- Jones, Markakis, Wieters, Matusz -- and they absolutely will finish ahead of Toronto. Though Garrett Atkins does kinda stink. Agree there.)

I believe TATB readers tend to be more thoughtful, informed and grounded than the typical three-Bud Lights-and-a-screechy-call-to-Ordway type, so it was a little disconcerting to watch them abandon the bandwagon before May was a week old. According to my e-mail inbox (and Twitter account, and Facebook page), Sox fans not only were racing to declare this team a lost cause, but they were racing to say they saw it coming before anyone else.

While it was disappointing, I understood it to a degree. The Sox had been stunningly inept, they have a new, relatively unfamiliar additions to the cast who need to win over the fandom, their two rivals in the division have been terrific, and Theo Epstein's offseason mantras of "run prevention" and "the bridge" -- sources of skepticism from the moment the words rolled out of his mouth -- had become full-blown talking points of mockery and derision.

Yeah, that's right -- had. Past tense. Maybe I'm still exuding too much optimism here for the entitled and short-sighted bleacher cynics, but I do still expect those with faith to be rewarded to some degree by this team when October comes around. The postseason remains a reasonable goal. We've seen encouraging signs since the Baltimore debacle -- two straight wins over the Angels, the team that ended their 2009 season, some thump from various sources in the lineup (will you please give Adrian Beltre a chance?), a third straight sterling start from Jon Lester. It's not all good, but they're getting there.

It's probably not fair that I'm addressing the negative mail now. It may even seem disingenuous, coming after two victories. But you know how slowly I roll -- I started this post four days ago, and I'm not about to abandon it now.

All facetiousness aside, I suspect the small progress of the last couple of days doesn't change the perspective of the stubborn doubters who are convinced a 6.5-game deficit in the division to a very good Rays team with 135 games to play is too steep to overcome.

But we're sticking to our positive approach anyway. Let's get to the questions and comments . . .

The first game of the season I predicted [you will have to confirm with my brother] that the Sox will miss the playoffs this year. . . . This team hits when the pitching stinks and doesnt hit when the pitching is good. The vaunted defense stinks. If youre an opposing pitcher, does a regular outfield of Cameron, Drew, and Ellsbury scare you? There is not one power guy there and then throw in Papi and there are many holes here in relation to the Yankees and the Rays. All in all I dont see progression or improvement in the roster or the players on it in that many are on the decline. . . . They are built for Fenway and that is it. There is no speed sans Ellsbury and there is no big bopper in the lineup. Dice-K is a colossal waste of $ . . .

I am 48 years old and I remember the times before 2004 and I am not the newfangled breed. This ownership group is very good but to think this team as constituted is a playoff team will be born out. -- Ken M.

I should note that this reader went on to note that he doesn't much like the Beckett signing, he's not sold on Buchholz, and kids these days, will all their video games and roller skates and other gadgets of the devil, they have it too easy, and . . . HEY, YOU LITTLE PUNK, GET OFF MY LAWN! (OK, just the Beckett/Buchholz stuff is true.)

As for the other gripes, let's go to the always trusty bullet points to respond:

  • The vaunted defense has underperformed. But I will take Beltre, his six errors, his knack for the spectacular, his tasering-a-Philly-moron arm, and his ridiculous range (I might start keeping track of all of the grounders he cuts off before they get to Scutaro) over last year's third baseman, whose range was essentially a wave of his glove in either direction.

  • I would like to see Drew, Cameron and Ellsbury play together for more than six games before I judge their cumulative skills. But I know this: They will be great defensively (despite Cameron's early hiccups), and better than you think offensively. His batting helmet may be too clean for you loyal Trot-O-Philes to notice, but J.D. Drew is on one of his pitcher-tormenting hot streaks right now. And he's pretty fun to watch.

  • There is not one power guy, and yes, Papi looks equal parts dilapidated and despondent. Yet the Sox are second to the Blue Jays in the AL in home runs (37). Power isn't the issue, and it won't be going forward. Kevin Youkilis is a premier hitter, and once again he is being inexplicable sold short by someone who watches him every day. Dustin Pedroia is off to a hellacious start. And Victor Martinez will have his .300-20-100 by season's end.

    Which reminds me: Of all the players to feel the wrath of the fans this season, Martinez probably deserves it the least. This team doesn't make the postseason without him last season. He has a long track record of producing at a high level, and he also has a long track record of streakiness. A hot stretch is coming, he's improving his throwing, and he's one of this team's true assets.

  • Dice-K is maddening. He's overpaid. He's no fun to watch. He's not what he was supposed to be, and he never will come close to that. But as a fourth or fifth starter, he can be an asset. With health and his usual five-inning, 120-pitch walking-the-tightrope victories, he could win a dozen games. I'm willing to give him more than one start to judge. Heck, I might even give him three.

  • Your brother does not return my calls since "the incident." And that shall never be spoken of again.

    OK, that's way too much time on this one question/comment. Let's move on.

    Still enjoying the Theo Kool-Aid Chad? This team is unwatchable, boring and old. I continue to be amazed at your over the top optimism in your weekly chats. They are ill-conceived and destined to be a middle of the pack team...maybe after the embarrassing performance this weekend, you will find a dose of reality. Your loyalty and optimism are admirable...but naive and short-sighted. -- PRC

    Theo Kool-Aid? I don't know, seems like he's been pretty successful here: six playoff berths in seven years, two World Series titles, and rich and productive farm system, which, as you might recall, was a pile of rubble at the end of Dan Duquette's tenure. I'm not claiming Theo is flawless -- I think he may have finally found a shortstop in Marco Scutaro after multiple failed efforts and millions of wasted dollars -- but compared to every other Sox GM of my lifetime, he's far and away the most well-rounded and competent. Tell me: Which MLB GM would you rather have?

    050510pedroia.jpgPedey's remarks after [last] Monday's loss reminded me of when Jeter got critical of the Yankees in 2002 (the Mondesi Year). Derek told the writers "this isn't the same team as last year." same goes for this year's Sox, who have different starters at four different key positions.

    I could see them having the kind of year Tampa had last year. You knew the Rays were good last summer but they started poorly and wore themselves out trying to catch up.
    -- Terry N.

    The Tampa point is a great one -- you burn a lot more fuel in accelerated pursuit, and perhaps having to play catch-up virtually all season will affect them in the dog days of August.

    And the Jeter point is an even better one. For all of the shots that we take at him here -- many as a reaction to the over-the-top fawning, some due to pinstripe envy, but most just for the sport of tweaking our delicate Yankee-fan lurkers -- there is no arguing with his professionalism or the respect he commands among his peers.

    It didn't escape our notice around here that Pedroia and Jeter hit it off like little brother/big brother at the World Baseball Classic last year, and it's impressive and reassuring to watch Pedroia evolve into a similar -- if yappier -- leader with the Sox. Varitek is the captain and Ortiz is long the emotional fulcrum, but make no mistake, this is Pedroia's team now.

    That became apparent -- to my great amusement, and probably yours as well -- Tuesday night, when he offered these pitch-perfect postgame comments after being asked about Ortiz's struggles:

    "He's had 60-something at-bats A couple years ago I had 60 at-bats I was hitting .170 and everyone was ready to kill me too," Pedroia said. "What happened? [Pause] Laser show. So, relax.

    "I'm tired of looking at the NESN poll, 'Why's David Struggling.' David's fine, he's one of our teammates. He came out of it last year, he's going to come out of it this year. Put that online -- I'm going to go online and vote. Papi's fine. Thanks for playing."

    Now that's leadership. And the comedy only makes it better. When I heard that, I'm pretty sure I did a one-man slow clap from the La-Z-Boy.

    Chad, it's ovah--and was BEFORE the truck arrived in Ft. Myers. -- David S.

    That's a very efficient way to judge a team -- make up your mind before they've even taken the field. Saves you a lot of time wasted watching baseball in the summer.

    Hey, even if you're down on the Beltre-Cameron-Scutaro-Lackey pickups, it's worth remembering that this isn't the roster that the Sox will end the season with. They could conceivably need two things -- a quality bat and a relief arm. They also happen to be the two easiest things to acquire before or at the trade deadline, as Theo reminded us last July after the Victor Martinez deal.

    050510lars.jpgAnd given Lars Anderson's encouraging resurgence, the Red Sox may be able to put a more appealing package together for a premier hitter than we would have thought a few weeks ago.

    Adrian Beltre = Edgar Renteria, the Sox run generating defense not working quite as planned. That's at least 4 games lost by the offensive defense. Time to sit Beltre and Ortiz and play Lowell and Varitek. Martinez makes a nice DH option. What do you think? -- Alan M. (via Facebook)

    I think that would be regrettable. You cannot play Varitek every day. It's easy to forget given how he fell apart last season, but he was also similarly excellent last April (four homers, .881 OPS) before getting worn out and beaten down. He's perfect in the role he's in. Besides, he's not a whole hell of a lot better at throwing out runners than Martinez.

    As far as sitting Beltre. No . . . just . . . no. I will grant you this in your comparison to Renteria -- Beltre would probably have more range at shortstop.

    Via Twitter, @Loren1006 Maybe now those idiots who say "it's still early in the season" will realize all 162 count the same. 7 1/2 a lot to overcome

    It's only 6.5 now! The comeback is happening right before our eyes! Join me for the magic carpet ride to October? (Anyone?)

    Via Twitter, @jcraw33: u can say that again sox lineup is on par with baltimore and kc cameron, beltre, lackey bridge year to nowhere.

    Any Sox fan who dares to compare the Red Sox' current plight -- in any way, whether its sarcastic or serious -- to what's happening with the Royals deserves a five-year sentence of watching Yuniesky Betancourt flail at two-strike sliders in the dirt, Alex Gordon slinking around like baseball is some kind of chore, and poor Zack Greinke lose 1-0 game after 1-0 game. Perspective, people. Perspective.

    And really, down on Lackey already? After five starts, four of which were pretty high quality? C'mon, now. This isn't Matt Clement we're talking about here.

    If the Red Sox want to make the playoffs they will have to get a lot better real quick. If the plan is to expect the Yankees to regress it's probably not going to happen. The Yankees are [winning] and they're not even close to clicking on all cylinders. The Yankees just lost Curtis Granderson for a month and nobody's batting an eyelash because they have the depth to cover it. Our veteran players are turning back the clock. I consider Posada the most vulnerable but we have tremendous depth at that position and our backup is hitting .300. Javy Vazquez will get better [couldn't get much worse] and we have three more capable starters hiding in the bullpen. The Yankees are a second half team off to a hot start. The Red Sox usually start out hot and finish the year so-so. I doubt that the Rays can keep up this pace but I don't think they're going away. I'm not counting out the Red Sox anytime soon but the Yankees and Rays are not going fall off the map for them. Pitching and defense wins games but in the AL East you still need to score runs. With Manny and Jason Bay long gone and Ortiz fossilizing before our eyes I'm not sure Boston has enough stick to hang around. -- Rob S.

    What's this? A rational Yankees fan nearly sympathizing with the Sox? My goodness, I take it all back. Things have gotten bad.

    A couple of points:

  • Not sure Javy Vazquez is going to get better -- at least as a Yankee -- considering they're already down on him to the point that they're skipping his start at Fenway. Maybe Ozzie Guillen was right about him.

  • The Red Sox' habit of starting fast has no relevance to how they started this season. Different season, different chemistry, different schedule, different players in certain key roles.

  • Posada and Rivera are banged up. It's a nice start. Now if Pettitte and Jeter could just act their age, we might be on to something here.

  • All right, I suppose I should address the .149-hitting elephant in the room -- the Big Papi "fossilization." Even those of us who have defended him, who have said and written (and written, and written) that the Sox should give him time, are coming to grips with the fact that his baseball judgment day may be very near.

    It's just speculation, but you do wonder if it could come sooner rather than later, given that there is a definite "last chance" vibe to his start against Joel Pineiro tonight, a pitcher he habitually mauled during his glory days. There's no way of avoiding the desperate times: He needs a good game tonight.

    The Red Sox, given their current place in the standings, cannot afford to give him the leeway they gave him during last season's agonizing start, when he didn't hit his first homer until Game 54. They need him to hit, now, and while his two-homer game May 1 against the Orioles might have been a cause for optimism, there is a stronger sense given his ongoing struggles to make contact that his performance in that game was merely a brief delay of the inevitable. The fan in me would like to disagree with Keith Law's assessment of Papi's status, but the analyst in me agrees with every coldly honest word:

    "You saw last year that his bat speed was starting to slip. And now it looks at this point its all but gone. He is getting beaten within the strike zone on average stuff. You can throw 90-92 [miles per hour] right by him within the strike zone. A couple of years ago that is a pitch he absolutely murdered . . .

    "I think you finally see the decline taken right over the cliff at this point. I think there is very little chance for a recovery."

    The inevitability of it all at this point is a bummer, and I think I made my point clear about booing the man on my Twitter page last night: It's unforgivable. It's not from a lack of effort that he's failing, and it clearly pains him a hell of a lot more than it pains you (especially if you've had a couple of $8 beers already).

    Groan at his struggles, curse his failings, but damn, cheer than man for all he's done for this franchise. The opportunities to do so, we fear, could be dwindling to the final days.

  • Answers

      December 8, 2009 12:19 AM

    If you missed our chat last Friday, you didn't miss much -- that is, unless you're into trainwrecks, epic disasters, public humiliations of moderately clued-in, semi-coherent sportswriters, and that sort of perverse stuff.

    A quick and whiny recap: The questions didn't load. Then I couldn't see the answers. Then I turned into Fluto Shinzawa, at least according to the screen name. (OK, that part was a little bit liberating.) Then Cover It Live crashed totally. Then came the sobbing and whimpering and heaving. As you probably know, only that last part is usually included in my Friday routine.

    If my year-old HD television hadn't blown out Sunday -- I suspect the doomed Samsung was as sick of watching the Patriots as I was -- the chat debacle might have been the most annoying thing to happen to me this week. Did I mention we bought the TV at Circuit City? At least returning it should be a breeze. (What?)

    As usual I've drowned the actual point in blather. At last, here it is: Taking a cue from a fine football writer I once knew, I managed to salvage the unused questions from the chat. The numbers tell me I allegedly answered 28 of 222 on Friday, or roughly 12.612 percent.

    Analysis: I'm stunned nearly 800 people stuck around for a chat that was clearly becoming nothing but a nitwit's confused monologue, the online equivalent of a hack comedian tapping a microphone and saying, "Is this thing on?"

    So the least I can do is actually answer some of the questions here, in sort of a mailbag/chat/column combo. Hey, it's not like I have a decent TV to watch or anything.

    (One last digression: We had to dig out our ancient non-HD model for the time being, the one with the tint problem that makes everyone look like they have hepatitis. When my 3-year-old woke up this morning, tuned in to Nick Jr. before school, and noticed the color issues, he immediately shot me a concerned look and said, "Daddy, you won't be able to watch the Red Sox -- everything is yellow!" I know, I know, it'd be cuter if your kid said it.)

    Let's kick this sucker off with one massive answer to three Patriots questions, all of which apply to both last week's disheartening loss and this week's disheartening loss . . .

    I am wondering if the Patriots' second-half collapses are due in some part to other teams' coaches continuing to adjust to the Patriots' adjustments. I still think Belichick is a genius but I am wondering if these up-and-coming young head coaches are starting to know what he knows and his knowledge/ideas aren't so innovative anymore. Like he's becoming a version of old-school or something. The resurgence of the Wildcat that we couldn't handle in the beginning of the season is one example. I'm not really explaining this well, but do you know what I mean and what do you think? -- Gracie

    One problem with the Pats D is the lack of leadership, don't you think? That and Adalius Thomas being a bust, of course. -- Chris

    Hey Chad, the problem with the Pats, in my opinion, is they have had substantial turnover in their front office/coaching staff the last few years and I think it's starting to catch up to them; the assistant coaches are inexperienced and it spreads BB too thin, why not bring Weis back to lesson the load for BB and also bring some ingenuity back to what I believe is a predictable offense (shotgun: long overthrown ball to Moss or dump off to Welker-handoff to Maroney up the middle of off tackle) Your thoughts? -- Kenny

    Again: All of these questions came in (obviously) before the Miami game, but they're relevant since many of the problems from the Saints debacle were again evident -- and even magnified -- this Sunday.

    Anyway, the short answer is that I'm with Bert Breer on this -- the defensive issues are due to an utter lack of a pass rush more than anything else.

    I know I'm in the minority today, but I think Darius Butler and Jonathan Wilhite are going to be good cornerbacks. Wilhite reminds me somewhat of Asante Samuel in 2003-04, when he seemed to be just close enough in coverage to look like he almost made a play while getting burned. To expect them to cover receivers for five seconds or more because no one is getting within an arm's length of the quarterback, well, that's an impossible task even against the Hennes of the world.

    (Keeping Seymour and Vrabel, by the way, would not have been the answer to the pass rush. Every time I've seen the Raiders, Seymour has been hard to find even when you're looking for him. And it's OK to admit it: Vrabel was declining before our eyes last year.)

    As for the guy in the hoodie . . .

    Maybe Belichick isn't quite as sharp or devious or singleminded as he was a decade ago, when he had so much more to prove and his legacy was that of a defensive mastermind who failed in his shot as a head coach (Parcells reportedly was not shy about reminding him about this); his legacy is secure now as one of the greatest coaches in the sport's history, and it's natural for him to be less hungry, even if it's a subconscious thing.

    I'm not saying that is definitely the case, but I do agree that maybe he is spread too thin, particularly when it comes to the offense. If you can tell me what Bill O'Brien's offensive expertise is other than apparently saying, "What the hell, let's chuck it deep!" on the third and 6, please, clue me in. But for all of the caterwauling today after two straight ugly losses, I challenge you to name a coach you'd rather have leading them out of this mess than Belichick. I thought so.

    What the hell am I going to do now? -- Charlie Weis

    What are you going to do? Here's exactly what you're going to do:

    When you see that 617 area code pop up on the caller ID, and it's your old buddy Bill on the other end of the line, and he mentions getting band back together, he's not talking about Bon Jovi, OK? Hop in the Cadillac, stop to pick up ol' Romeo along the way, and be here by, oh, 1 p.m. next Sunday.

    And when a guy who is dressed like a GQ model and looks like he might have cuddled a goat or two along the way hugs you like you're a Brazilian supermodel or something, don't be alarmed. That's Tommy. He might have changed a little, but trust us: He's really, really missed you lately.

    if you were Theo, and money were available for a game-changing trade or acquisition, who would you sign? -- SAJ

    Well, that's tough to answer directly because the free agent market is so thin that the two biggest names are obviously Jason Bay and Matt Holliday, and since they are so similar, signing one or the other is basically the status quo from last year. Plus, the level of compensation in a trade also has to be taken into consideration. But all things being relatively equal, I'd put Felix Hernandez and Adrian Gonzalez at 1 and 1A of any and all names that we've heard.

    And as I've written 10 times if I've written it once, the steep price is worth paying for players of that magnitude.

    Casey Kelly -- who, as Peter Abraham reports, has decided to pitch full time -- and Ryan Westmoreland are terrific prospects, but again, you just don't know. You don't. You're going to make me do it again, aren't you? OK, I'll do it again -- I'm grabbing a random old Baseball America Prospects Handbook here and rattling off their Top 10 prospects in the game from that year.

    Here goes, from the 2005 Handbook (with Delmon Young on the cover). This is BA founder Allan Simpson's list:

      1. Joe Mauer. OK, decent start to the rankings, I'll grant you.
      2. Delmon Young. Career .322 OBP.
      3. Felix Hernandez. Not helping my point whatsoever here, King.
      4. Joel Guzman. Point helped. A complete and epic bust, rated 10 spots below Hanley Ramirez,
      5. Rickey Weeks. Talented kid. Injuries happen.
      6. Scott Kazmir
      7. Ian Stewart
      8. Lastings Milledge
      9. Casey Kotchman
      10. Jeff Francouer.

    And these are the alleged can't-miss guys. I don't believe Kelly, whom the consensus seems to view as a No. 2 starter, and Westmoreland, who is still in A ball and has had injury problems, are viewed in that regard. Hey, Lars Anderson was a year ago, and all it took was one lousy season in Double A to damage his status.

    The Red Sox in the Epstein Era have an excellent track record of separating their true prospects from the minor-league mirages, but it's safe to say there are no Mauers or King Felixes in the system right now; everyone should be available for someone like Hernandez. All but the most elite prospects are nothing more than lottery tickets. Lottery tickets. You have to trade them for the sure payout when you can.

    Scutaro may be no great shakes, but there's something exciting about waking up to discover the Sox have a new everyday position player, no? -- Booyah

    Oh, sure, absolutely, even if the Red Sox's press release earlier Friday that they would have a "major announcement" later in the day certainly stretched the boundaries of the phrase. Matt Holliday or Roy Halladay = major announcements. Marco Scutaro, at least in a well-balanced baseball universe, is a couple of paragraphs leading a Red Sox notebook and a line in the transactions.

    But even with a less-than-major signing, I'm always a sucker for the little dog and pony show. You have to love it when the new guy awkwardly tries on new jersey over the dress shirt and puts on the Jimy Williams-stiff hat; it makes it seem like the new season isn't that far away.

    My favorite, and here's the evidence, is the Manny presser right around Christmas in 2000. What was his comment? "I guess I hate the Yankees now?" Not sure anyone bought that even then, but it was a few months before they acquired his buddy Enrique Wilson.

    OK, let's narrow down the teams the Red Sox will pay to take Marco Scuturo in 2011 ...-- Patrick

    Ouch. You know, while I'm somewhat wary of signing a 33-year-old shortstop who has had one above-average statistical season in the six in which he's played more than 100 games -- and a 33-year-old shortstop who had to convince you in a workout that he was healthy before you signed him -- I really don't mind this deal for a couple of reasons.

    It's a much, much more favorable contract than, say, the Julio Lugo money pit, and at worst (and if he remains healthy), he'll work the count, draw some walks, and field the position well. He is a better all-around player than Alex Gonzalez. And that the A's, for whom he played for four seasons, apparently outbid the Sox is a telling sign that there might be more to Scutaro than meets the eye.

    Of course, that last sentence is also a crucial part of the David Eckstein Is An Adorably Good Player And I Don't Care What Your Calculator Says argument. My apologies. That sort of thing happens when you talk yourself into approving of a signing.

    So Allen Iverson returns to the team he had a messy divorce with on the same day Ron Artest admits he used to drink at halftime. Then, Tim Donaghy says he didn't even need to rig games because the referees were so predictably biased. How much does David Stern love his job right now? -- GreasyWindow

    Now that you mention it, I'm starting to wonder if he had someone bust Greg Oden's knee just as a distraction. I'll never understand why the Donaghy story isn't a bigger deal; maybe it's because people don't trust him, maybe it's because there is indifference about the NBA, maybe it's just that it's been assumed for years that the refs are crooked. But if this happened in the NFL or MLB, we'd never hear the end of it.

    By the way, I'm too cynical -- or realistic -- to feel bad for professional athletes, but Oden, a likable, determined person cursed with either a brittle body or awful luck, is an exception. Being a Blazers center is the equivalent of . . . well, I'm trying to resist another "Spinal Tap" drummers reference here, but you get this gist. Walton, Bowie, now Oden. Heck, even Kevin Duckworth, who died much too young.

    Please tell me I'm not the only guy who says, OK Tiger cheated, lets see what he cheated with!! OK she is at least hot, because if she was so-so, then I would be really mad at him.

    In that case, I'm guessing you were downright enraged at Steve Phillips.

    Chad, Bay versus Holliday, Aren't the Sox going to wind up settling for whoever the Yankees don't sign? -- Bill from CT

    If they're lucky. The worst-case scenario -- and the one I think is going to happen -- is that Bay signs in Anaheim or (most likely) Seattle, then the Yankees pull their usual stunt with yet another big-ticket Boras client who fills an NY need (Damon, Teixeira) and swoop in at the last minute to outbid everyone for Holliday.

    I'm almost as convinced that he's going there as I was with Teixeira last December, and I challenge you to find a national baseball writer who saw that coming. If you're still skeptical about Holliday's desire to be in pinstripes, here's a comment from his father in The New York Times after Holliday was dealt from the Rockies to the A's last November:

    If someone would have called me today and said Matt had gotten traded to the Yankees, Id have been hunting for a place to celebrate."

    In a related note: Are you excited about a Hermida/Xavier Nady left field ticket in 2010?

    chad, using the mindset of red sox ownership, do you think they have asked for the medical records of Bob Feller yet? -- michael

    You'd think they'd have learned their lesson after Smoltz, Penny, and Bob Lemon didn't work out last year. Seriously, might my favorite line I've ever read in the chat, Michael. Congratulations -- your prize, a coveted Garry Hancock rookie card, is in the mail.

    Your favorite Boston movie....Good Will Hunting, The Verdict, Eastwood's Mystic? Please don't say The Departed. I hated that one. -- Alex

    What, no "Celtic Pride"? I'd probably go with "Good Will Hunting." I'll admit it, I think Affleck is a cool dude who has it all figured out, and it was so good not even Robin Williams could ruin it, though I pretty sure he still has no idea who Carlton Fisk is.

    "The Departed" was too implausible at the end, Nicholson chewed scenery so shamelessly, even Al Pacino said, "Sheesh, tone it down, man. Hoo-HA!," and the Boston accents were atrocious (even Damon's was over the top) . . . but I still liked it quite a bit, though it's no "GoodFellas" by any stretch. DiCaprio convinced me he's legit in that movie, and I'll watch anything with Vera Farmiga, even though she sort of looks like Marilyn Manson's super-hot and popular sister.

    The best truly Boston movie I have seen might be "Gone Baby Gone," though it was exceedingly depressing at the end. I told my wife the general plot and she has absolutely no interest in watching it even though it's been on our DVR for about a year.

    What do you think Tito's nickname will be for Scutaro? I'm thinking Scoot, or 'Co. Or perhaps, Nick Green Ice. -- Pete

    Tito sometimes throws a curveball with those. He called Alex Gonzalez "Gonzi" when everyone else was going with the logical "Gonzo," and it's always amused me that he's the only person on the planet who refers to Big Papi simply as "David."

    I suspect for Scutaro, he'll go "Scoots," plural, just to mix it up. Though "Millsy" is another possibility. Even with Brad Mills in Houston, he'll never be able to quit that one cold turkey.

    If Theo is unable to re-sign Bay and Holliday is either unavailable or unwilling to agree to a fair contract, would you be willing to give an Adrian Gonzalez-type trade package to the Brewers for Ryan Braun? -- CloakandSwagger

    So if Theo calls Shapiro and offers to take Kerry Wood and his silly salary and offer back Ellsbury and Bowden, might Theo be able to get Grady Sizemore coming back to Boston too? -- Velvet Jones

    Can't imagine the Brewers would trade Braun, Cloak. According to Cot's, he signed an eight-year, $45 million deal in May 2008, and isn't even making the big bucks yet; he's down for $1 million in '10, then that jumps to $4 million in '11 and $6 million the year after.

    Given that his most similar player through age 25 is Manny (Braun has a pretty eclectic top 10, including Mike Greenwell, Fred Lynn, Vladimir Guerrero, and Danny Tartabull), I'd say he's going to be in scenic Milwaukee for the foreseeable future.

    As for Sizemore, I've also wondered if he might be available, Velvet. He's coming off elbow and abdominal injuries that negatively affected his performance last season. He hit .248 and his slugging percentage and on-base percentage were career-lows in his five seasons as a starter.

    Again, most if not all of that has to be fallout from the injuries, and at 26, it's logical that he'll bounce back. Even if he isn't exactly what he was before the dual surgeries, I can't see the club trading him, because he's still young -- just a year older than Jacoby Ellsbury -- and a total bargain. He's signed to a team-friendly six-year, $23.5 million deal through 2011, with a club option for $8.5 million in '12.

    Does your wife ever get angry at you watching sports or can you watch it endlessly with no negative comments from her because she knows you can simply say, "It's my job; it puts food on the table!"? -- Michael

    Let's just say that approach -- and I do break it out every now and then, usually when "I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant" is on -- is not nearly as effective as I'd hoped.

    Chad, how about for this entire chat we all type in baby talk and you type in Elvis talk? Oaky-doaky Chaddi waddie? -- Peter

    Chad is no longer in the building.


    MLB and mail

      January 14, 2009 01:10 PM

    How awesome is the brand-new MLB Network? I'm watching a recap of the 1986 baseball season as I'm writing this, and they just showed noted TATB ombudsman and temporary major leaguer Rodney Craig sliding into home plate against the Red Sox. Yes, our Rodney! He was out, of course, but at least there's now proof that he actually existed.

    Anyway, I'm pretty sure the MLB Network would spell doom for my marriage if I didn't already have some credit built up with Mrs. TATB for putting up with "What Not To Wear" and "The Biggest Loser" and the like for all these years. I realize it's early, but I'm already hooked, and I'm hopeful it will only continue to get better since there's no affiliation with ESPN. (I'm still infuriated at their gutting of ESPN Classic to make it an in-house promotional vehicle).

    There is already so much to like. It is generous with using the archived footage -- there's been some classic Rice stuff this week that I've never seen -- and it features some innovative and compelling interactive analysis, whether it's Kevin Millar talking about hitting at Fenway while playing soft-toss with Harold Reynolds, or bringing in Tim Lincecum to demonstrate and discuss his quirky mechanics, or having Rickey Henderson and Reynolds teaching the art of stealing a base. The access is unprecedented, and they are utilizing it perfectly. You get the sense that the people behind this launch generally care about baseball and know precisely what fans want to see. Pretty refreshing stuff.

    With that endorsement out of the way, let's check the mail . . .

    Dear Mr. Finn -- If you think Jim Rice is unworthy of being voted into the Hall of Fame, then you're too young to remember. -- Coach Rahj.

    Actually, a better argument would be that I'm so old that I forgot how good he was, but thanks for humoring me. Listen, as someone who fell in love with the Sox as an 8-year-old in '78, believe me when I say that I remember how great Rice was at his peak, 1977-79. The fan in me is thrilled that he made it into the Hall of Fame, and I've really enjoyed having some old memories refreshed by all of the tributes and remembrances of his career the last few days. (The story of him leaping into the stands to aid a young boy who had been bloodied by a foul ball really brought the feelings back regarding how kids my age perceived Rice as a real-life superhero during my childhood.) But it's also reminded me of some frustrating things about Rice -- the rally-killing double plays, the fact that he was never quite the same slugger after breaking his wrist in 1980, the sad realization in the late '80s that his skills were eroding at a rapid pace. I adored Jim Ed, and again, I'm thrilled he's in the Hall; it's been really cool to see just how giddy he is about it. But his final numbers and relatively short period of dominance will always make his inclusion debatable.

    I don't think Rice quite has the numbers to get into the Hall, and I LOVED Jim Rice when I was growing up. In fact, he was my favorite player. Played hard. Played hurt. Played every day. Kept his mouth shut. And on top of that, his "non-clutch" reputation was not a deserved one--because of Bucky Dent, nobody remembers that Rice actually singled in the Sox' 2nd run off Guidry in the 6th inning of the '78 playoff, and because of Yaz's popup to Nettles, nobody remembers that Rice JUST MISSED driving a Gossage fastball into the Sox bullpen in the 9th for the game winning 3-run homer. Piniella caught the ball about 10 feet in front of the fence. I swear to this day that Rice missed hitting it into the bleachers by about 1/16th of an inch. -- Tony

    God's honest truth here, Tony: I was watching the '78 playoff game a few years ago on ESPN Classic, I believe (you know, before it became the World Poker Tour 24-Hour Re-Run Channel), and when Rice just hammered that Gossage pitch, I yelped, "That's gone!" and nearly leaped out of my seat. For a brief moment, I guess I forgot that the outcome of the game wasn't going to change 20-something years later. But man, did he ever crush that ball, and you know what? Had it cleared the fence, he'd have been in the Hall of Fame 10 years ago. It woulda-coulda-shoulda been the defining moment in a big game that he never quite had.

    FULL ENTRY

    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.

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