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Nine Innings

Carping on various Red Sox matters

  February 20, 2013 11:37 AM

Playing nine innings while presuming Jerry Trupiano is chattering about his All-Fish Team at this very moment ...

carpmikfinn120.JPG1. If you can ignore the fact that the Mariners, who scored nearly a third of a run less per game than the second-worst offense in the American League last season, essentially gave Mike Carp to the Red Sox for a half-eaten chicken parm Doug Mirabelli left behind, he's a mildly interesting pickup. He was plagued by injuries and pretty terrible last year, but two years ago he hit 12 homers with a .791 OPS in 313 plate-appearances. Suggestions that the 26-year-old could be a Brian Daubach-type are beyond wishful, but at the least he'll battle Daniel Nava for a roster spot (both are out of options) while allowing us to quit pretending that Lyle Overbay was the answer to anything other than the question, "Will the Red Sox ever sign a veteran first baseman more useless than J.T. Snow?"

2. Will Middlebrooks strikes me as someone who will become the quintessential No. 5 hitter, but I'm not sure he'll be up for the task of protecting David Ortiz (if such a thing is even necessary) this season. The 13/70 BB/K ratio as a rookie is somewhat concerning, and as much as I like his short, quick swing, I suspect he's going to be a .275-.280 hitter at his peak with 25 to 30 homers annually rather than the second coming of David Wright. Middlebrooks's projections this season are pretty interesting: ZIPS has him at .255 with a .726 OPS, 19 homers, and a 23/135 BB/K rate. PECOTA has him at .258 with a .748 OPS. Interesting take, by the way, by the excellent Marc Normandin at Over The Monster on how PECOTA views other Sox hitters.

3. I understand the sentiment that the Red Sox need to get versatile knucklehead Alfredo Aceves out of here for chemistry reasons. The 2004 Red Sox were the figurative Idiots. There have been too many literal idiots on the roster in the past couple of seasons, and we're all tired of it. But the more I think about it, the more I believe that this team is constructed well enough in terms of character and chemistry to be able to handle a goof like Aceves without it becoming a distraction. This year's team is structured so much better than the past couple of versions.

4. Sorry, this one lost me at the Red Sox' "already light" bullpen. It's not news that relief pitching is habitually volatile, but the Sox are stocked well enough with depth and versatility that they may be able to overcome even more than the usual attrition.

5. Prediction: Red Sox fans and various others who still pine for the shiny ornament by the name of Josh Hamilton will grow curiously silent as we get into the summer months. Coveting star power is certainly understandable, but Hamilton turns 32 in May, defines injury prone, struggled in the second half last year to the point that some scouts wondered if he'd devolved into a guess hitter, and has shed 20 pounds he probably didn't need to lose.

6. Stephen Drew was my pick for the Red Sox newcomer whose production most exceeds the collective expectations, and this tweet this morning did nothing to change my perception:

Relatedly, can we cool it on Jose Iglesias until he masters Triple A? Please?

7. It was already easy enough to feel for Ryan Kalish, whose considerable promise has been blunted by injuries that have or will essentially cost him three seasons of his career. He's making Tim Naehring's abbreviated career look utterly fulfilling. But then I stumbled upon the Bill James Handbook's projections for Kalish entering the 2011 season, and I felt even worse. Perhaps their numbers -- which put him down for a .271 average, a .791 OPS, 20 home runs, and 43 stolen bases -- were rather optimistic considering no one in Red Sox history has had a 20/40 season (though Jacoby Ellsbury went 32/39 that season). Still, it's a clue to the talent Kalish had -- and hopefully still has, so many bad breaks later.

8. Red Sox fans are going to adore Jackie Bradley Jr., and not just because he is a spectacular defensive player with a knack for getting on base by any means necessary. The kid simply gets it, something my friends in Portland told me time and again last summer, and something I saw for myself recently at the Boston Baseball Writers Dinner. Bradley was the recipient of the Greg Montalbano Award, given annually to the individual who has made the greatest impact in the minor leagues that particular season. Rather than offering the usual thank-yous and brief platitudes, Bradley revealed that he had done some research on Montalbano, the former Northeastern lefty and Red Sox prospect who died of cancer at 31, so he could understand what winning the honor really meant. It was a heartwarming and classy gesture by a 22-year-old whose maturity well exceeds his years.

9. As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

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Because sometimes, it really is random. Ah, who am I kidding? Jeff Stone is never random.

Cherington is taking the right approach

  December 6, 2012 01:38 PM

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Playing nine innings while waiting for the Dodgers to sign every remaining free agent ...

1. I'm surprised so many fans/readers/Twitter pals are incredulous about the money the Sox are paying to Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, and Jonny Gomes. Again, don't sweat the few extra bucks on the average annual value they'll pay above the current perception of these guys' worth. It's not going to prevent them from doing anything else. The important part is the length of the deals; two or three-year contracts are fine for useful veterans who are here as that bridge to Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley, and the next generation of Red Sox.

2. To put it another way, there's serious revisionist history, amnesia, or hypocrisy going on here if you celebrated the extraction of the Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, and Josh Beckett contracts but are already annoyed that the perceived cash influx hasn't been used to make "a big splash'' yet, barely a week into December. Cherington is rebuilding this thing the prudent, smart way -- by bringing in dependable, well-regarded professionals on short terms without sacrificing a single draft pick or prospect. Good thing he has the patience that so many among us lack.

3. And to put it yet another way, the Red Sox' level of success next season is going to be dependent not on bringing in big-name free-agents, but by how well their holdovers who fell off or were injured last year recover toward a previous high level of play. If to varying degrees Jon Lester, Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Andrew Bailey and Clay Buchholz perform at somewhere near their previously established peak in 2013, the Red Sox will be better no matter how the likes of Victorino -- whose signing did catch me looking -- and Napoli fit in.

4.Koji Uehara's WHIP the past three seasons, beginning in 2010: .995, .723, .639. And his successive strikeout/9 rates, beginning the same year: 11.3, 11.8. 10.8. His career strikeout/walk ratio is 7.97/1. Even at age 37, he should be an outstanding fit, and for those who were looking for one, his willingness to join the Sox on a one-year deal offers another explanation for why Scott Atchison was non-tendered.

5. 5. Interesting that Terry Francona told reporters at the Winter Meetings that he thought the a href="http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/BOS/2008.shtml">2008 Red Sox, who lost to the Rays in seven games in the ALCS, was the best team he managed here. I don't see it. Oh, there was a lot to like -- Dustin Pedroia won the MVP, Kevin Youkilis had a huge year, Justin Masterson emerged in the bullpen, Daisuke Matsuzaka had that perfectly managed 18-3 season, Jason Bay was stellar in replacing Manny. But looking back, there were also real flaws. Tim Wakefield was second on the staff in innings. Papi hit .264. Julio Lugo was prominently involved for a while. Clay Buchholz and Josh Beckett were a combined 14-19. I can't imagine it's ahead of 2004, with the ferocious lineup, Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez at the front of the staff and Keith Foulke in the ninth inning. And 2003 and 2007 might also rate higher. But Tito knows his reasons.

6. I'm beginning to suspect Daniel Nava, who was second among Red Sox regulars only to David Ortiz in on-base percentage (.352) last season, will end up as the lefthanded-hitting half of a platoon with Jonny Gomes in left field. I don't particularly like that idea -- Nava has no discernible skill beyond a decent ability to reach base -- but the switch-hitter does have a career .768 OPS against righthanded pitching vs. .621 against lefties.

7. So Eric Chavez's decision to sign a one-year deal with the Diamondbacks ruined my theory that the Yankees would sign him, Scott Rolen, and Kevin Youkilis to play 54 games apiece at third base in Alex Rodriguez's absence. It's nice to Chavez reestablished as a viable, relatively valuable big league player after his career was all but ended by back injuries, because in his youth he was building an interesting case as a future Hall of Fame candidate, averaging 29 homers and winning six straight Gold Gloves from 2001-06.

8. It'll be an interesting dynamic in the Yankees' clubhouse if Youkilis does accept their one-year, $12 million offer given his long history of ducking out of the way of Joba Chamberlain fastballs. Still, you have to figure their relationship would be no more awkward than A-Rod and Derek Jeter's.

Thumbnail image for nicholsreidfinn.jpg9. As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

As I'm sure you've discovered on your own many times over, Google kindly informs you when searching for Reid Nichols that people also search for Dave Stapleton, Glenn Hoffman, Ed Jurak, Chico Walker, and Gary Allenson.

Yep, seems about right.

David Ortiz has another pressing matter

  June 22, 2012 11:19 AM

Playing nine innings while presuming David Ortiz is going to let his ESPN Insider subscription run out ...

ortizmarlins623.jpg1. In all seriousness, I feel the same way about the media sometimes -- specifically sports radio -- as Papi does. Oftentimes, the transparent caterwauling about and microsurgery of every potentially controversial issue gets to be too much, and that's coming from someone who at least gets paid to pay attention to it. But let's also admit that Ortiz probably isn't feeling this way had the Red Sox, say, given him a two-year, $30 million contract two weeks ago. The big fella is sensitive, he's never had a huge payday, and it wouldn't be the first time frustration with his contract has led him to burst with frustration about ancillary things. Quick, Dr. Charles, have the engraver whip up another plaque, pronto. Preferably one made of platinum.

2. The second act of the Daniel Nava story is even more amazing than the first, to the point that I'm not quite sure what to make of him now, other than that he belongs somewhere in the major leagues. The 29-year-old's slash-line this season is phenomenal -- .340/.455/.519 -- and while it's hard to see a corner outfielder without much home-run power or speed becoming an essential player to the Red Sox, he is a guy who has always hit in the minors, with a .317 batting average and .911 OPS in the six seasons since they found him in someplace called the Frontier Golden League. Perhaps his best bet is to go to the National League and play out his early 30s as a John Vander Wal/Jim Eisenreich type, but hey, I've underestimated him before.

3. I think in general Bobby Valentine has done a pretty decent job this season, though he'd be nowhere near my top five if I ranked all of the current managers. Top half, maybe. He's manipulated the bullpen well but may well burn them out, he bunts way too much, he saw something that made him think Franklin Morales could start ... lots of pros and cons so far, and the season isn't half over. I do think it would benefit him to knock off his casual, passive-aggressive, oops-did-I-just-say-that? revelations, though, such as noting that Clay Buchholz passed on a chance to start last Sunday. It stirs the hornets' nest with the media -- something he is well aware of and possibly addicted to -- and it drives the players nuts. I'm not sure who shoots him more hate lasers these days, Dustin Pedroia or Jon Lester.

valentinefinnbobb622y.jpg4. Loved Bobby V.'s comment to my colleague Nick Cafardo when he was informed that a scout said Angels phenom Mike Trout reminds him of Valentine as a young player. “As a matter of fact, he’s the only player I’ve ever thought was a similar player.’’ While some might take that as another foray into the depths of Bobby V's ego, consider this: As a 20-year-old shortstop in Triple A in 1970, Valentine hit .340 with a .910 OPS, had 14 homers, 16 triples and 39 doubles, and stole 29 bases. Those stats suggest a similar skill-set, don't they?

5. With Jarrod Saltalamacchia emerging as an All-Star-caliber catcher -- arguably the most pleasant development of this season so far given his likability and what he's endured to get to this point -- I'm not sure I get the rush to ditch Kelly Shoppach and call up Ryan Lavarnway. I know Lavarnway has heated up recently -- he's up to .306 with 7 homers and an .877 OPS at Pawtucket -- but it benefits him to catch every day down there, and with Saltalamacchia seizing his opportunity, it's a good situation with the defensively steady Shoppach as the backup. Lavarnway's day will come soon enough.


FULL ENTRY

Adrian Gonzalez has glove, will travel

  May 23, 2012 08:10 AM

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Playing nine innings while trying to figure out whether this Getty Images shot is real or a screen cap from an MLB '12: The Show game the photographer was playing when he realized he was supposed to be at the ballpark ...

1. All right, I'll get the obligatory weak joke out of the way right off the bat here: Are we sure Adrian Gonzalez has enough power to make it as a corner outfielder? [Pause for boos, hisses and readers to abandon this blog and click over to a "50 Worst Adam Sandler Movies Of All Time" gallery or something.] Other than fan-suggested trades that make no sense for the team that isn't the Red Sox ("Glenn, I think the Dodgers would have to seriously consider trading Matt Kemp if we offered them Lars Anderson, Dice-K, and a couple of B-level prospects. He does have a hamstring injury, you know"), nothing usually drives me crazier than the suggestion players should move to a completely unfamiliar position for the purpose of shoehorning someone else into the lineup. So pardon me while I go full hypocrite here, but I actually have come around on the idea of Gonzalez playing right field from time to time. He's not terrible out there, it allows the Sox to keep Will Middlebrooks in the big leagues, and playing the less-demanding position of first base again may help Kevin Youkilis revive his bat and remain healthy. Plus, maybe Gonzalez's attitude about it may help his perception around here. As Peter Abraham noted Wednesday, not a lot of players of Gonzalez's caliber would tell the manager to "play me wherever you want,'' as Gonzalez did before Wednesday's win. Now, if he'd just start hitting some home runs ...

2. I have no idea what to make of this incredible Daniel Nava sequel. None. I was sure he'd played his last game with the Red Sox, and considering he wasn't even invited to big league camp this spring, I imagine Ben Cherington felt the same way. Yet here he is, after beginning the season somewhere around eighth among outfielders on the organizational depth chart, absolutely rescuing the Red Sox right now. He entered Wednesday's game hitting .324 with a .984 OPS, then promptly clubbed his second homer of the season in the sixth inning off Jake Arrieta. I'm not sure how long this can last and I don't really care to consider that right now. All I know is that it's been a blast, and it says something for Nava that he can come up and do this. Others may have given up on him. Obviously didn't give up on himself.

3. For whatever frustration there is at times with Jon Lester -- whether we're talking the nonsense of last September, his habitually sluggish Aprils, or the perception that he's stagnated and isn't a true No. 1 starter -- it is pretty remarkable that he is still first among active pitchers in won-lost percentage (79-37, .681) and eighth all-time. Of course I recognize that there are many superior ways to measure a pitcher's performance before considering his victory total, but the company he keeps atop that list is also telling: Nos. 2-5 are Roy Halladay (.667), Justin Verlander (.659), Johan Santana (.654), and the underrated Tim Hudson (.653).

4. This is David Ortiz's 10th season with the Red Sox. We should have a pretty good read on him by now, shouldn't we? We know the man probably rates an 80 on the scouting scale when it comes to admirable qualities (humor, kindness, taking Paul Quantrill deep). We also know that his flaws aren't always masked. He's sensitive, he worries about his contract status, and every now and then -- such as, oh, this week -- he'll have an outburst that seems to come out of nowhere. While any issue he may have with management is probably misguided given the going rate for designated hitters these days, unless he smashes his "Greatest Clutch Hitter in Red Sox History'' plaque in full view of NESN cameras, I don't see what the big deal is. This fits with his history and personality, and all things considered, there's a heck of a lot more good than bad.

5. Red Sox fans based in Portland and Pawtucket have been aware of this for a while, but if Wednesday was your introduction to Che-Hsuan Lin, you're now in on what he's all about, too: The kid is a breathtakingly talented defensive outfielder, arguably superior to incumbent Gold Glove-winning center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury (and their throwing arms are no contest). Lin's offensive game is a work in progress -- he had a .644 OPS between the Sea Dogs and PawSox last year, and was at .716 this year in Triple A. But if he can hit at all, he's going to have a long major league career (perhaps as a useful bench player in the National League) because of that otherworldly defense.

podsednikfinn525.jpg6. As fun as it was to see the latter's contribution Wednesday, I never thought I'd see the day when Scrappy 'N' Gutty Hall of Famers Nick Punto and Scott Podsednik were on the Red Sox roster. Somewhere, David Eckstein stands alone on a Little League field, air bunting, sprinting out imaginary walks, and waiting for his phone to ring.

7. Alfredo Aceves since his five-runs-without-recording-an-out disaster during the Sox' April 21 meltdown against the Yankees: 18.2 innings, 13 hits, 2 earned runs, 5 walks, 19 strikeouts. Yep, I'd say he's taken to the closer's role just fine, and I'm glad there's no hesitance by Bobby Valentine to use him for more than three outs at a time since one of his strengths is his ability to pitch multiple innings without requiring much rest.

8. If you somehow missed me pummeling my long-suffering followers over the head with this on Twitter, here's a link to my guest column on Baseball Prospectus Tuesday, something I was thrilled to be asked to do. It's a rambling essay-type-thingy on players who put up big numbers in small sample sizes, focusing on Ted Williams's ridiculous 1953 season, when he hit .407 with 13 homers in 91 at-bats. Check it out, and let me know who you thought I missed. I'm already kicking myself for overlooking Rudy Pemberton, who hit .512 in 45 plate appearances for the '96 Sox. I'm kind of surprised Dan Duquette hasn't given him a shot with the Orioles.

9. As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

ochoaalex523.jpg

I'm not sure whether there's ever been an outfielder-slash-first-base coach in baseball history, but the Red Sox are probably a pulled Podsednik hamstring away from this guy possibly becoming the first. (Also: Killer glamor shot, Ochoa.)

Nine thoughts on Red Sox pitching

  April 30, 2012 10:42 AM

Playing nine innings (special commemorative all-pitching edition) while figuring the Red Sox should have traded for Gavin Floyd just so they wouldn't have to face him ...

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1. The most important start of Clay Buchholz's career was Game 3 of the 2009 American League Division Series against the Angels. He allowed two earned run in five innings, left with a three-run lead, but Jonathan Papelbon melted down and the season ended with a 7-6 loss. His second-biggest start? It's not too much of an exaggeration to suggest that it might be tonight. April is not a traditionally strong month for the 27-year-old righthander -- he has a 5.00 ERA and a 1.56 WHIP in 18 career starts during the month, allowing 16 of the 49 homers he's permitted in his career. But those numbers are skewed further by his horrendous start this year -- he has an 8.87 ERA in four starts, with 10 walks, just 11 strikeouts, and 6 homers allowed. They are an accurate representation of his stuff. Blessed with the deepest repertoire on the Sox' staff, his changeup has fooled no one, in part because his fastball hasn't had it's usual buzz. According to Fangraphs' PitchFx data, Buchholz averaged 94.1 miles per hour on his fastball in 2010, when he went 17-7 with a 2.33 ERA and finished sixth in the AL Cy Young voting. This year, his fastball has averaged 91.9 mph. Gulp. It's fair to wonder whether he's still shaking off the rust from the back injury that ended his season in mid-June or still wary of letting it fly. But with Felix Doubront and Daniel Bard pitching well at the back of the rotation, if Buchholz gets lit up by the A's tonight, his spot could be the one in jeopardy presuming the Red Sox call up Aaron Cook by tomorrow, when he can opt out of his deal at Pawtucket. Big start for Buchholz tonight. Big, big start.

2. Presuming Buchholz gets his act together tonight, there are two solutions to the potential log-jam in the rotation. Put Cook in the bullpen, or go with a six-man rotation. While I'd vote for the former, the latter isn't unreasonable given that the Sox have a 20-games-in-20-days stretch coming up from May 4-23.

3. Tailoring their rotation around Cook's opt-out clause does strike me as unnecessarily drastic, and I doubt the Red Sox will do anything major unless there's a revelation about Buchholz's health. Cook is a decent depth guy, and they could have used about three of him last September. But he's also a pitcher who had a 4.53 ERA in the National League over the course of his career, and as a sinkerballer, he's not exactly going to benefit from having the Youkilis-Aviles tandem backing him up on the left side of the infield. They should keep him because there's value in his competence, just as they should have kept Kevin Millwood last year, but making room for him in the rotation is going a step too far.

4. In his last three appearances, Alfredo Aceves has held a one-run lead to earn the save. I'd say he's taken to the role, and should he continue to pitch well, I hope Bobby Valentine does become comfortable using him for more than an inning at a time when the situation calls for it. Part of Aceves's value is his ability to go multiple innings without requiring much maintenance afterward.

5. Happy trails down I-95 to Justin Thomas, your 2.571 WHIP, and the inexplicable hold you apparently had on your manager, who more than once put you in situations that called for a pitcher of greater accomplishment, experience, and repertoire. It's no fault of your own, but when the story of the 2012 Red Sox is complete, you'll be relegated to the dust-bin at the back of our memories, where you'll find kinship with Dennys Reyes '11 and Bobby Jones '04 and others whose best days as a Red Sox pitcher were in Ft. Myers.

FULL ENTRY

Youkilis deserves more time

  April 23, 2012 12:01 PM

finnmcdonald422.jpgPlaying nine innings while presuming the Marlon Byrd/Vicente Padilla reunion will be terrific for team chemistry ...

1. I'm still not sure what to make of Kevin Youkilis. I wouldn't be surprised if his career is in descent, as his manager seems to believe. I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up having .290-25-95 season, either, because Youk always looks horrible when he's not going well. Heck, he doesn't look great when he's on fire. The Red Sox need to give him until the end of May (or his next injury) before turning toward Will Middlebrooks, the third base prospect currently tearing it up at Pawtucket (1.118 OPS, seven homers in 66 plate-appearances). As promising as Middlebrooks is -- he's excellent defensively and has continued to improve as a hitter as he's climbed the ladder -- the Sox shouldn't abandon Youkilis just yet.

2. A quick search doesn't tell me where this originated or whether it's based in substance at all, but a few Twitter followers suggested that there's a rumor the Red Sox could trade Youk to his hometown Reds for Bronson Arroyo. That's a pretty good litmus test for where you stand on the Red Sox these days -- if you think it's a good trade, I'm going to have to presume you've already shattered your panic button with repeated poundings and probably haven't seen Arroyo since he was pretending to be Johnny Rzeznik at "Hot Stove, Cool Music" in 2005 or so. We all liked him here, and trading him for Wily Mo Pena backfired, and he had some fine years for the Reds ... and he allowed 46 home runs last season, in the National League, which is more than Tim Wakefield (25) and John Lackey (20) allowed combined last season, and possibly more than Mark Melancon allowed last week. This isn't someone who is going to help their rotation at this point. This is someone you hope joins a rival's rotation and serves a few meatballs to get your offense going.

3. How about we play the small-sample-size game, shortstop edition. Too bad, I'm doing it anyway.

Jed Lowrie:.229 average/.357 on-base/.257 slugging with one RBI in 42 plate-appearances.

Marco Scutaro: .222/.300/.259 with one RBI in 61 plate-appearances.

Mike Aviles: .294/.333/.471 with two homers and eight RBIs in 55 plate-appearances.

Jose Iglesias (Triple A): .241/.333/.259, 1 double in 67 plate-appearances.

I'd say it's one thing that's gone right.

4. It makes perfect sense to skip Daniel Bard's turn in the rotation. I just hope his next turn doesn't come in Ft. Myers next spring. He's had his hiccups, such as the seven walks in his last start. But his stuff has translated (13 strikeouts in 11.2 innings) well, and his WHIP would be lower than 1.71 had his manager not left him in to walk 19 or so Rays when he was clearly cooked in his last start. I understand the temptation to put him in the bullpen now. But the Red Sox will be better served over the course of the season if he remains in the rotation. The upgrade that Felix Doubront and Bard are giving them over John Lackey and Tim Wakefield from a year ago should be significant through the summer if they can just remain patient now.

5. I'm not saying "Sweet Caroline" should be banned when the Red Sox are losing. It's a fun tradition for a lot of people who spend a lot of money to go to a ballgame. But to hear it in the eighth inning Saturday after the Red Sox had punted away a 9-0 lead on the Yankees is the kind of are-you-kidding-me? nonsense that reminds you that Red Sox management is considerably more tone-deaf than even warbling ol' touching-you, touching-me Neil Diamond.

6. You can say you were clamoring for Bobby Valentine to leave Felix Doubront in for one more inning Saturday when the Red Sox had a 9-1 lead over the Yankees, but forgive me for suspecting you of revising history. Doubront was at 99 pitches (the second-highest count of his brief career) and the lead was eight runs with nine outs to go. That's exactly the time you try to get your struggling bullpen a couple of quality innings and hope they build some momentum. Valentine has made some curious decisions with the pitching -- it's perhaps the most frustrating aspect of his early tenure, since bullpen management was said to be a strength -- but you're reaching if you're going to fault him for this.

7. As your reward for getting this far through my jabbering, here's a great take on the state of the Red Sox by Friend of TATB Matthew Kory at Baseball Prospectus. Check it out for the ridiculous Mark Melancon headshot, stay for a funny and painfully accurate perspective.

8. The 2011 Red Sox began last season 2-10 and did not reach .500 until May 15, their 40th game. They proceeded to go 63-32 from then until September 1. I'm not saying this team is capable of such a scorching summer as currently constituted. But considering the Red Sox' opponents from now until May 15 are Minnesota, Chicago, Oakland, Baltimore, Kansas City, Cleveland and Seattle, I think its more than reasonable to give them until that date again before making any concrete judgments. And I'll bet you they are above .500 when the day comes around.

9. As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

Totally unnecessary final update on the former players in attendance at Friday's Fenway Park festivities. Wayne Housie, yes. Dwayne Hosey, no.

Foretelling good things for Felix Doubront

  April 10, 2012 12:42 PM

Playing nine innings while waiting for Kevin Youkilis's .000 batting average to go the way of Alfredo Aceves's infinity ERA . . .

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1. Maybe the jury is deliberating on the immediate state of the Nos. 2 and No. 3 starters, but I'm willing to render a verdict on this four games into the season: The Red Sox are going to better off in the No. 4 spot than they ever were a year ago. Maybe that's not such a daring statement considering John Lackey was the slack-jawed embodiment of professional ineptitude every fifth day, but I do love what I saw out of Felix Doubront Monday night. We all agree he needs to be more efficient -- he threw 101 pitches in five innings, reminiscent of Jon Lester's first starts upon coming up in June 2006. But a lefthander who throws in the low 90s with a polished curveball? Count me in. Watching him keep Jose Bautista off-balance with soft stuff away, then have the guts to come inside with a fastball and get him out . . . well, I don't know how it gets more encouraging than that.

2. I've often written since, oh, October 2004 that Bill Mueller is one player every Red Sox fan appreciates and admires. Manny, Pedro, Nomar, Mo . . . they all had their detractors, as ridiculous as that is in at least Pedro's case. But Mueller is a player everyone liked and wished could stay longer. I'm long overdue in amending that sentiment, however. If you don't like Dustin Pedroia, you're either a transparent contrarian, poorly disguised Yankees fan, or Sergio Santos.

3. It's probably due to circumstances of a particular ballgame more than anything else, but I do think it's interesting that Bobby Valentine has used one reliever for four innings (Vicente Padilla Sunday) and another for three (Scott Atchison last night). Neither allowed a run, and I wonder whether he'll be encouraged to use more relievers over multiple innings. Peter Abraham, who covered Valentine in New York, speaks highly of his ability to handle a bullpen (we discussed this on the podcast that will be posted later today). This is a manager who, among other pitching successes, got a 121 adjusted ERA (and an 8-0 record, if that's your thing) out of journeyman Pat Mahomes in 1999.

CanoJoseFinn49.jpg4. Mahomes, as some Red Sox fans will recall, was one of those pitchers who too often found himself throwing in-game batting practice during the PED heyday. It's no surprise his career comps include other '90s dinger artists such as Tanyon Sturtze, Todd Van Poppel and John Wasdin. And speaking of Wasdin -- how about that as a segue? -- I'm sure I wasn't the only one who muttered his name around the time Josh Beckett allowed his third ... or fourth ... or fifth home run in his first start. Good ol' "Way Back" -- accidental copyright, Jerry Trupiano -- gave up 54 homers in 339.2 innings over parts of four seasons with the Red Sox. But as Tim Britton, one of the Providence Journal's excellent baseball writers, pointed out to me via Twitter, Wasdin's defining work came during a three-game stint with the Blue Jays in 2003. In 5 innings, he allowed 16 hits, 13 earned runs, four walks, and two homers, for a nice, crisp 23.40 ERA. Jose Cano had better stats than that pitching to his son in last year's Home Run Derby

5. One note of optimism regarding Beckett: He began last season with a subpar first start, allowing three earned runs, five hits and four walks in five innings of a 3-1 loss to the Indians. How did he follow it up? With a gem. On April 10, he pitched two-hit ball over eight innings, striking out 10 in a 4-0 victory over the Yankees. Should he be so good in his second start this season, it would go a long way toward winning back the fans who remember him as a chief culprit from September rather than the guy who had best season with the Red Sox -- from April through August, anyway.

FULL ENTRY

Springing some Red Sox predictions

  March 12, 2012 11:40 AM

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While we keep an eye on the Red Sox against Giancarlo Cruz-Michael Stanton and the Marlins on ESPN, here are nine cowardly fearless Red Sox predictions for the season ahead. I'll come up with some more thorough thoughts on how the season might go as Opening Day nears, but feel free to have at these now, because I'm sticking to 'em ...

1. Because it wouldn't be spring without me making this prediction, I'll get it out of the way now -- Jon Lester will win 20 games. Mean it, too.

2. If Jose Iglesias starts the season with the Red Sox, he and his sub-.500 OPS will be back in Pawtucket by May.

3. Mike Aviles will have a better offensive season in Boston than Marco Scutaro will in Colorado.

4. Ryan Sweeney's excellent defense and the fact that's not named J.D. Drew will make him a fan favorite, and he'll even surpass his career high of six home runs.

5. Andrew Miller (pictured) will open the season as the No. 5 starter, but fellow out-of-options lefty Felix Doubront will eventually seize the role and thrive.

6. Bobby Valentine and Josh Beckett will bicker publicly at least once early in the season, but an angry Beckett is an effective Beckett and he'll have a strong season.

7. Kevin Youkilis will put up numbers similar to his career 162-game average (23 homers, 98 RBIs), but he won't come within 20 games of playing all 162.

8. Jenny Dell will eventually appear on NESN.

9. As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

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I'll be conservative and put him down for 25 homers, but I have zero doubt what we saw last year was real.

Wakefield was a winner even in defeat

  February 17, 2012 01:48 PM

Playing nine innings while presuming Josh Beckett's 50-pitch bullpen session took two hours and 45 minutes to complete . . .

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1. My memories of Tim Wakefield's 17 seasons with the Red Sox can essentially be distilled down to two images from two postseasons and one grand redemption.

The first image is the look of sheer devastation on his face as he trudged off the Yankee Stadium mound after Aaron Boone took him deep to win Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. I cannot recall ever seeing an athlete look so terribly sad when the moment of defeat was barely complete as Wakefield did that night. Even while enduring your own disappointment, prolonged for another year, you felt for him.

Wakefield once said that one of his immediate thoughts was that he was now going to be regarded as a goat, like poor Bill Buckner. It never happened, in part because Grady Little rightfully felt the brunt of the wrath for that loss, and in part because Wakefield, whose steady success (he won 11 games or more in 11 of his 17 seasons in Boston), durability, and willingness to take the ball under virtually any circumstances had long since won him the enduring respect of Red Sox fans. His two victories earlier in the series -- Games 1 and 4, over the star Mike Mussina -- didn't hurt, either. He was poised to be the hero.

Nearly a year later, of course, came the redemption, for Wakefield and for all of us. You'll hear about this a lot today, but that's fine, because it deserves mention: His selfless performance in Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS, taking the ball, giving up a potential start, and saving the bullpen for 3 1/3 innings in a 19-8 loss to the Yankees, proved crucial in allowing the rest of the staff some semblance of rest just in case a miracle might happen. That just-in-case became delightful, long-awaited reality, as you may recall, and Wakefield's Game 5 contribution of three shutout innings in relief was one among many essential and improbable plot twists along the way.

Three years later, the Sox won it again, and that brings me to the second image -- or a video, really. In the celebration after the Red Sox' four-game sweep of the Rockies in the World Series, Wakefield was being interviewed on the field when reliever Mike Timlin approached with something to say:

The look on Wakefield's face after his teammate's expression of admiration wasn't that much different from the one he wore after the Boone homer. The emotion, of course, was entirely different. Wakefield knuckleballed his way to 186 victories for the Red Sox, and he desperately wanted six more to join Cy Young and Roger Clemens at the top. But no matter where he stands in the record books, he will always remain in admired standing with his teammates and the fans who knew better than to scapegoat someone who gave so much. He spent two years in Pittsburgh, and he's retiring today, but we know the truth. Tim Wakefield is a Red Sox for life.

2. If you didn't catch up on these already, a couple of great reads by great writers related to Dwight Evans (no, Wakefield did not play with him): Bill James on why Dewey belongs in the Hall of Fame, and this from Joe Posnanski revealing something I didn't know about No. 24, that Evans actually reached base more times than Lou Brock. I go back and forth on whether Evans belongs in Cooperstown, and if you have to vacillate on it, that probably means he's not quite good enough. But I do know it's absolutely absurd that he was on the ballot for just three years, receiving a high of 10.4 percent in 1999. His career deserved far more consideration than that.

3. Of all of the roster fodder the Red Sox have signed this offseason in an attempt to find a fifth starter before Daisuke Matsuzaka returns, the move I like best occurred yesterday. Ross Ohlendorf threw just 38.2 innings for the Pirates last season because of a shoulder injury, and an injury to that hinge of course can be much more damaging to a pitcher's long-term prospects than an elbow injury. But he did not require surgery, he's just 29 years old, and he pitched pretty decently for the Pirates in 2009-10, posting adjusted ERAs of 106 and 99. Plus, he's a Princeton guy, and we all know by now that Ivy Leaguers are the new market inefficiency in all professional sports.

4. Recommended reading from Bob Ryan this morning: Johnette Howard's clever piece on dealing with Bobby Valentine, titled "The Bobby V 5.0™ Owners Manual.'' Have to say, I'm encouraged after what we've seen so far. The reorganized, efficient workouts can't hurt after two consecutive sluggish starts for this team under Terry Francona, and while Bobby V.'s can't-help-himself candor about some players "frowning'' about the new setup may annoy his players, well, who really cares? Players like Beckett, who seems more concerned about exposing clubhouse leaks than admitting culpability in last September's disaster, could stand to be made uncomfortable every now and then.

bogaertsxanderfinn.jpg5. Given that Xander Bogaerts doesn't turn 20 until October (he was born eight days before Wakefield's first postseason win) and hasn't played above the Sally League, I know I'm getting irrationally excited about this kid, who was rated 32d on Kevin Goldstein's top 101 prospects list at Baseball Prospectus. But it's been awhile since the Red Sox developed a legitimate power hitter (though we may need to start regarding Ellsbury as such), but Bogaerts's pop is expected to translate to serious production in the major leagues some day. Maybe he's not quite a Hanley-level prospect yet and won't stay at shortstop, but it's going to be a blast to follow his progression.

FULL ENTRY

Easy to envy Yankees' Pineda deal

  January 16, 2012 02:28 PM

Playing nine innings while begrudgingly admiring Brian Cashman's stealth approach to major signings and trades ...

pinedamichaelfinn116.jpg1. Oh, yeah, of course we have serious trade envy. That rascal Cashman did it again. The Yankees' stunning acquisition of soon-to-be 23-year-old Michael Pineda from the Mariners Saturday was a crusher to Red Sox fans who have spent the winter wondering how Ben Cherington will fill out the rest of the rotation beyond Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz. Pineda, a 6-foot-7-inch fireballer who turns 23 tomorrow, looks like what Jose Contreras must have looked like in the early '70s and, at his electric best, features a repertoire that makes you wonder if he's a relative of Pedro and Ramon Martinez. While no young pitcher is a sure thing, Pineda, who has uncommonly consistent command for a young, lanky hurler, seems to be a pretty secure bet, and it's frustrating to see the Yankees revitalize their rotation in one swift move. There's of course a chance that the deal turns out to favor Seattle -- some young hitters are sure things, and Jesus Montero appears to be one cut from that rare mold. But in an offseason in which the Red Sox notebooks have been filled with names like Aaron Cook and Carlos Silva and -- woo-hoo! -- Vincente Padilla, it's going to be difficult to see Pineda in pinstripes that first time and not mutter "damn Yankees" a time or three.

2. Hey, but at least they didn't get King Felix, right?

3. Obviously from that first item, I do get Red Sox fans' frustration that the Yankees were able to swing the Pineda deal. But the suggestion that Cherington could have trumped the package the Mariners received is a myopic one. To trade a pitcher like Pineda, the Mariners had to get back an elite bat, and by all accounts Montero will be just that. He may not catch long-term, but as arguably the best pure hitting prospect in baseball, one who has been the Yankees' top prospect for three years running according to Baseball America and who tore the cover off the ball with the Yankees in September (.996 OPS in 69 at-bats), he's exactly what the feeble Mariners need. It requires very little hyperbole to envision him as their next Edgar Martinez. Yes, Ryan Lavarnway is a promising power hitter. But he's more than two years older, less experienced, and not nearly as well-rounded at the plate. There's no comparison right now. Think a young Mike Napoli compared to a young Miguel Cabrera.

4. I'm confident in saying that Cherington, like Theo Epstein before him, won't be the reactionary sort when it comes to constructing a roster. Chasing what the Yankees do is the pathway to regrettable transactions. What I hope is that their interest in Roy Oswalt has been genuine from the beginning and that luxury tax be damned, they find a way to come to terms with him in the next couple of days. It's a smart move and the right one, independent of what the Yankees have or haven't done.

5. I'll admit, I'm still somewhat reluctant to expect Clay Buchholz to be everything he was in 2010, when he went 17-7 and battled King Felix right down to the finish for the ERA title. He's just 27 and obviously an outstanding pitcher when healthy, but "when healthy" is also the caveat. He hasn't thrown a pitch with meaning since June, has never thrown more than 173 innings in a season, and there has to be some concern about a prime-of-career pitcher who is in excellent shape having an injury as odd as a stress fracture in his back.

6. It seemed nonsensical to me at first, like they were pandering to the element of the fan base that wants Jason Varitek on the Red Sox roster even if he hits .221 and throws out 14 percent of base-stealers . . . which is exactly what he did last year. But I think I get why the Red Sox have apparently given him an open-ended invitation to spring training as a non-roster player. It gives them some depth and insurance should Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Kelly Shoppach suffer an injury, and should it appear he's not going to make the team, there's the possibility to give him a proper sendoff similar to the one the Patriots gave Tedy Bruschi before the 2009 season when he retired at the end of camp. Varitek could then ease in to a job in the organization, though the hunch here is that he ends up with the Orioles if he's adamant about playing another year.

7. I was initially intrigued by the Aaron Cook signing -- he was an All-Star not so long ago!. At least, right up until I took more than a cursory glance at his statistics. His K/BB rate is abysmal (below 2/1 each of the past three years), his career WHIP is slightly below 1.50 lifetime and trending ominously downward, and even during his All-Star season in 2006 2008 he led the league in hits allowed (237 in 211.1 innings). Getting out of Colorado probably won't matter -- his home/road splits are pretty much identical. He's nothing more than an extra arm. Maybe he can rent Kevin Millwood's old place in Pawtucket.

8. One of the fun sidebars from the 2012 season will be watching the Cubs from afar, not only to see how deftly Theo Epstein gets out from the bad contracts he inherited (there is no way the Red Sox should be interested in Marlon Byrd) or what he gets in return for his most appealing trade chip, Red Sox nuisance Matt Garza. Whenever Epstein makes a transaction for the Cubs -- signing David DeJesus, trading for Ian Stewart and Anthony Rizzo -- I find myself still looking at it through the prism of whether he'd pursue some of the same players if he were still in Boston. When he re-signed Kerry Wood last week, I couldn't help but think he finally got him, two years too late.

9. As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

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Maybe this Kendrick Perkins will become familiar to Boston sports fans in a few years, though he's a long drive away right now. The other Perk -- the one already familiar and beloved -- returns to the Garden tonight, and I'm looking forward to his reaction to the rousing ovation he deserves.

Larkin was still blown away by Pedro

  January 10, 2012 01:33 PM

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Last summer, I had a chance to chat with Barry Larkin for 20 minutes or so at Fenway when he was in town with ESPN's "Baseball Tonight" traveling road show. I wish I'd had the sense to publish the full Q&A here on TATB, because he was just as friendly and articulate as you surely heard yesterday when he was getting his due praise for his election to the Baseball Hall of Fame. He'd easily rank in my top five favorite interviews since taking over the media beat roughly three years ago.

When I asked Larkin then about his probable election this year, he wouldn't bite beyond some generalities-- I almost got the sense he was superstitious about it, like he didn't want to jinx himself. He deftly dodged that question like a runner barreling into second while he was in the middle of turning two, but he was engaging and insightful with every other question.

It was, however, his shortest answer that I'll always remember, and with a chuckle. When I asked him about any personal memories he has of Fenway, in particular the 1999 All-Star Game. That night Pedro Martinez was as good as he ever was, striking out five of the first six National League hitters, including Larkin leading off the game. Larkin considered the question, then, with a look on his face as if he were back in the batter's box and the moment, shook his head and smiled. "No. Chance,'' he said of his fortunes that night against Pedro. "No chance."

I'm happy Barry Larkin, a wonderful player who certainly seems to meet a similar standard as a person, is headed to the Hall of Fame. But we probably never would have figured 13 years ago, when Pedro blew away Larkin, Larry Walker, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Jeff Bagwell in those first two innings, that he'd have been the first among that potent group elected.

Just for the sport of it, here are thoughts on nine other players who received votes in this year's balloting. Some will get in in the coming years. Others have ... No. Chance.

1. Lee Smith (50.6 percent of the vote): Closer referendum: Gossage, yes. Sutter, evict him. Rivera, unanimously if such a thing ever happened. Smoltz, yes, with some similarity to the Eck's case. Hoffman, yes. Smith? Nope. Just an above-average accumulator, and one whose career rWAR (29.7) is below that of one-and-done candidates Brian Jordan and Brad Radke, among many others who will not approach Cooperstown.

2. Tim Raines (48.7 percent): No, he wasn't Rickey. But he was the next best thing, and his leap from 37.5 percent this year is an encouraging sign that Cooperstown will eventually call. I'll start my lineup with his.294/.385/.425, 170 homers and 880 steals rather than Lou Brock's .293/.343/.410 with 149 homers and 938 steals every single game. Brock, by the way, was elected with 79.7 percent of the vote in 1985, his first year of eligibility.

martinezedgarfinn110.jpg3. Edgar Martinez, 36.5 percent: You don't see too many pictures of Martinez with a glove on his left hand, and his status as essentially a career-long designated hitter hurts him in the eyes of many voters. Which is a shame -- this is one of the best all-around hitters in the history of the game. Skeptical? OK. I'll spot you Martinez's name, and you go look up the other 19 hitters who had a batting average over .300, an on-base percentage over .400, and a slugging percentage over .500.

4. Fred McGriff (23.9 percent): When I mentioned who I'd vote for in yesterday's post, several of you wrote to plead McGriff's candidacy. He did surpass Mark McGwire in the voting this year, and maybe he deserves more consideration with 493 homers and not a hint of scandal.

5. Dale Murphy (14.5 percent): He might have been the best player in baseball at his peak from 1982-85, when he won two National League MVP awards and led the league in homers the two seasons in that window in which he didn't win the hardware. But after 14 years on the ballot, you know why he's not getting in: short peak, rapid decline.

FULL ENTRY

Digging through the Red Sox rubble

  October 4, 2011 02:11 PM

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Playing nine innings while waiting for John Henry to park the yacht, turn off Roush Racing Liverpool FC Network NESN, and hustle over to Fenway to explain this mess . . .

1. Seriously, I still can't get over the utter tone-deafness of Linda Pizzuti's tweet Saturday about the condition of her husband, John Henry, who as you may have heard suffered a fall on his yacht Friday at roughly the same time Terry Francona was made the fall guy for September's sunken ship.

Happy John is home! He slipped down stairs, injuring his neck. Kept at hospital as a precautionary measure, but was home for the derby.

Home for the derby. That's just swell. The update on his condition was appropriate, even a relief. But those last six words? Exactly what Red Sox fans wanted to know in the aftermath of the awkward departure of the most successful manager modern franchise history -- that the boss made it home to watch the soccer match. As if suspicions that the Red Sox were no longer the top priority in his portfolio weren't strong enough. Yet so much was still left unsaid. Hey, any word how Carl Edwards is doing in the Chase for the Cup. AND WHO WON "SCHOOLED"? MICHAEL SHOWALTER IS A MAJOR STAR. Sheesh, did Friday really happen?

2. Read the spin any way you want, but the bottom line to me is that if John Henry wanted Francona here, that option would have been picked up sometime over the course of what looked through the summer to be an extremely promising season.

Never happened. Never was rumored to be happening. Tells you all you need to know.

Now that Francona has departed -- a somewhat friendlier word for scapegoated, I guess -- there has damn well better be some fallout on those most responsible for messing up this season. The starting rotation was historically inept in September -- and if presuming the yet-to-be-denied reports of in-game beverage consumption are true, it turns out they let the team down more than we even suspected.

John Lackey has to go; I can't believe it's possible that he's a worse influence than he is a pitcher, but that seems to be the case. Josh Beckett should be ashamed, and they should shop him, though it's hard to figure right now how he would be replaced.

As for the everyday players, I don't doubt for a second that Kevin Youkilis's temper and sarcastic attitude are issues at times. David Ortiz didn't have his manager's back . . . ah, you know the list of suspects.

All we can hope at this point is that as the transgressions keep leaking out -- and they will -- those guilty of submarining this season from within are held accountable for their gross entitlement.

3. If Jon Lester is among the "Hell, Yeah, I Like Beer (In The Clubhouse During The Game Don't Mess With Texas Or Tacoma Redneck Remix)" crew, man, that must feel like the biggest betrayal of all to Francona.

I keep thinking back to Lester's no-hitter against the Royals in May 2008 -- a moment that came with an additional layer of emotion because of his battle with lymphoma two years earlier -- and Francona's obvious pride in and happiness for the pitcher.

"He's a wonderful kid, not just because he threw the no-hitter," Francona said that night. "To watch him do that tonight was beyond words. What a story. You feel like a proud parent."

The admiration was reciprocated by Lester.

"It's something I'll remember for a long time. "[Francona] has been like a second dad to me. He cares a lot about his players. It's not just about what you can do on the field."

It would be a shame if something changed in their relationship along the way.

hinchajfinn.jpg4 My first choice to replace Francona as manager among the rumored candidates?

Actually, I can't think of a realistic one at the moment, particularly since there's no chance of getting John Farrell or Joe Maddon.

My last choice: Trey Hillman, whose issues in Kansas City indicate he's not a great bet to learn from his mistakes as Francona did in Philadelphia.

My best guess as to who will get it: A.J. Hinch, the former D-Backs manager who has sabermetric bona fides and is working for Jed Hoyer in San Diego.

Of course, I'm the same person who thought they'd hire Glenn Hoffman over Tito before the 2004 season.

5. The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced the Red Sox should make Daniel Bard a starter. He has enough of a repertoire beyond his blazing fastball to be a very good rotation regular, perhaps an excellent one. As valuable as he was as the relief ace before his September nosedive, he'd be even more valuable as a 200-inning starter.

While keeping in mind that he'd probably pace himself more in the rotation -- at his best, he can come in and let it fly Gossage-style in his current role -- his career numbers right now look like one extremely impressive season for a starting pitcher: 197 innings, 132 hits, 76 walks, 213 strikeouts, 1.06 WHIP, 2.88 ERA.

FULL ENTRY

On CC, Cervelli, and praise-worthy Sox

  August 31, 2011 04:23 PM

Playing nine innings while being surprised that Jarrod Saltamacchia's arm didn't shatter like so many doomed Louisville Sluggers to come in contact with Mariano Rivera's cutter through the years . . .

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1. I guess five wins against CC Sabathia in one regular season is probably too much for the Red Sox to ask; heck, being 4-0 against him this season entering last night's game seemed on the fringe of greed. Even though he didn't have his best command last night, that was an admirable pitching performance. He hit 95 miles per hour effortlessly, kept the ball down as if his next meal depended on it, and made Adrian Gonzalez look like an imposter in the batter's box. His performance was an impressive mix of ability, savvy and relentlessness, though I still like the Sox' chances against him in the postseason. He does have a 6.39 ERA against them this year, and he was in and out of danger all night; chances are the Sox won't go 2 for 13 with runners in scoring position again. It will be interesting to see where Sabathia ends up historically. While his girth may abbreviate his career, he's smart enough to get by as a Tanana-ish junkballing lefty even after his best stuff fades, and he's the best bet to be baseball's next 300-game winner. He's fourth among active players with 175 victories and he just turned 31 in July. Wakefield is first among active pitchers in wins (and losses), while 34-year-old Roy Halladay is second (185). It may surprise you who is third on the list -- Tim Hudson, who has 178 wins. Old friend Derek Lowe is sixth with 165, which makes you wonder where he might be had he become a full-time starter before his 21-win 2002 season at age 29.

2. John Lackey seems to be winning the begrudging respect of Red Sox fans, at least that segment that can temporarily forget about his salary and respect his knack for pitching six-plus innings and give up three or four runs. (I suspect these same people remember John Burkett's work fondly and are going to be stunned when Tim Wakefield is one-and-done on the Hall of Fame ballot.) But Lackey really could have boosted his popularity last night had he channeled his inner Pedro when asked whether he hit a certain .688-OPSing Yankee showboat catcher on purpose: "Who is Francisco Cervelli?" He's A.J. Pierzynski with a giant helmet and without the talent.

3. Terry Francona has handled the delicate balance betweenWakefield's proud and prolonged pursuit of 200 wins and what's best for the Red Sox with extraordinary grace. Since winning No. 199 -- a 6.1-inning, 7-run grinder July 24 -- Wakefield has made six starts, with one hard-luck loss, two losses he probably deserved, and three no-decisions. Francona has given Wakefield every chance to get the milestone win, but there have also been a couple of occasions where the pitcher looked annoyed to be coming out of a tight game and Tito didn't hesitate to take the ball. Skipping Wakefield's turn in the rotation is one more decision that might have been difficult when the pitcher's personal goals were considered, but really shouldn't be difficult at all when sentiment is removed from the equation. That's not always the easiest thing to do, though, and Francona deserves credit for making the right decisions for the Red Sox -- as usual.

4. Tough to watch Darnell McDonald whiff with the bases loaded and the Sox down three runs in the seventh inning last night. But any howls that the Red Sox need a significant upgrade for a backup righthanded-hitting outfielder probably haven't noticed that McDonald has been dependable in the second half, going .264/.355/.509, with three homers in 62 plate appearances. Now, if he could just get that batting average above .200.

davis_bosny19_spts.jpg5. He's wearing the years a little more noticeably than the last time we saw him, but it's always cool to see Oil Can Boyd put in an appearance at Fenway. He was, as Peter Abraham reported in his notebook this morning, on the field for batting practice and in the legends' suite last night. But given his have-curveball, will-travel attitude and affinity for pitching, I wouldn't be stunned if he tried to talk Terry Francona into giving him a turn in the rotation. After all, when he was Tim Wakefield's age (45), The Can put up a 3.83 ERA in 17 games for the 2005 Brockton Rox.

FULL ENTRY

Don't take Lester for granted

  August 17, 2011 12:01 PM

Playing nine innings while assuming Adrian Gonzalez's stiff neck explains his Casey Kotchman imitation lately . . .

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1. Last Friday on Twitter -- @GlobeChadFinn, if you're so inclined -- I made this observation about the local perception a certain Red Sox lefthander:

Surprised how many chatters were down on Jon Lester today. The list of pitchers I'd trade him for is short. (Felix, Verlander, who else?)

Keep in mind that this came after he had lost two consecutive starts and obviously before his seven-inning, three-hit, one-run gem against the Rays to earn his 12th win of the season. The hunch here is that Lester was back in the majority's good graces after that more typical performance. Still, I was a bit taken aback at how many readers were arguing that he's really not an ace-caliber pitcher.

Sure, Josh Beckett has been the superior pitcher this year, a genuine Cy Young candidate if not for a lack of run support. But it also struck me that perhaps Lester is being taken for granted somewhat. No, he hasn't lived up to the predictions by the likes of yours truly that he will win the AL Cy Young award this season. But he has 12 wins, a 3.32 ERA, has been in the top five for rWAR among AL pitchers the previous three seasons and is seventh this year, has the best winning percentage (.702) of any active pitcher and the third-best in baseball history, has won the clinching game a World Series . . . and just turned 27 in January.

The Sox are fortunate to have a prime-of-career lefty who is both accomplished and promising. The days of Matt Clement starting a postseason opener weren't that long ago, you know?

As for the answers some of you submitted: Yovani Gallardo, Tim Lincecum, Cliff Lee, CC Sabathia, Jered Weaver, Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels (Lester's No. 1 comp), Michael Pineda, Stephen Strasburg, and the younger and perhaps slightly more talented lefthander pictured above who is the only one I'd add to my previous duo, Clayton Kershaw.

All right, and for the long term, maybe I'd add today's version of David Price, too. But that's it.

2. There are plenty of worthwhile questions to ask about Jacoby Ellsbury right now. Is he the Red Sox' Most Valuable Player? Is he the AL's Most Valuable Player? Is he even the AL East's most valuable center fielder with the season Curtis Granderson is having in the Bronx? Is this power upgrade sustainable now that he's not only learned how to hit the low, inside fastball, but to drive it 370-plus feet over the visiting bullpen? How sinister is Scott Boras's laugh every time Ellsbury does something to enhance his spectacular statistics?

And the one I wonder about the most of all: Would he have become this incredibly well-rounded and dynamic player last year if he'd not had that high-impact collision with Adrian Beltre that cost him the season and, unfortunately, his reputation?

I'm beginning to think Ellsbury -- who has always had wiry strength, batting-practice power, and a tireless work ethic -- would have hit 15 or so homers a year ago, making his segue into an all-around force this season easier to foresee.

3. jim_thome.jpgA letterman's jacket. The perfect accessory for the aw-shucks Midwestern farm boy, and I mean that only half-facetiously. By all accounts,Thome is a gem of guy, genuine and habitually friendly, and while it's probably fitting in some way that his quest for 600 homers got a small fraction of the publicity of Captain Jeter fist pumping his way his 3,000th hit received, he's just the eighth player to join the club, and that's worth celebrating.

Yes, he played on some suspiciously muscle-bound Indians teams, and three of the seven sluggers ahead of him on the home run list are his generational peers who have been implicated in performance-enhancing drug use.

But I don't believe Ken Griffey Jr. used PEDs, I don't believe Jeter did, or Frank Thomas, and I don't believe Jim Thome juiced, either. Maybe I'm naive, but you've got to have leftover faith in something from that era besides Pedro Martinez's repertoire. And if you're going to tell me that after this photo was taken that Thome went down to the soda fountain with Malph and Potsie before meeting up with his steady girl at the sock hop, well heck, I'll buy that, too.

4. The occasion of Thome's 600th homer jostled a vague recollection about a season early last decade when the Red Sox were in hot pursuit of the then-Indians slugger at the July 31 deadline. The details were a bit dusty, so I took a quick search through the Globe archives to reacquaint myself with the facts, mostly out of curiosity regarding the prospects the Red Sox would have supposedly parted with from their then-barren farm system.

Turns out the season was 2002, which was my guess. The centerpiece, according to the rumor, was Casey Fossum. And after pursuing Thome -- something that apparently never got close to happening -- and Phillies third baseman Scott Rolen, interim general manager Mike Port ended up getting Cliff Floyd from the Expos.

Always did wish Thome played for the Sox, but consider this bit of retrospective whimsy: Had the Sox traded Fossum in a deal for Thome, would the Red Sox have had enough to acquire Curt Schilling from Arizona a year-plus later? I don't think Brandon Lyon, Jorge de la Rosa and Michael Goss would have gotten it done.

5. If there's a chance the Red Sox can re-sign Marco Scutaro to a one-year deal over the winter, count me in.

I'm on record as a fan of Jed Lowrie's offensive potential, but he has the Luis Rivera double-whammy of lacking range and botching too many routine plays at shortstop, and I'm beginning to think someone in baseball ops actually built him out of leftover parts from Nomar, Tim Naehring, and Bret Saberhagen.

And let's hold off on anointing Jose Iglesias as the imminent replacement until he gets that elusive seventh extra-base hit in Triple A. Scutaro is somewhere between adequate and average, and that's usually good enough.

FULL ENTRY

Right ideas

  July 19, 2011 11:52 AM

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The Jose Reyes daydream is a pleasant one for us lineup junkies . . . Ellsbury, Reyes, Gonzalez, Youkilis, Ortiz, Pedroia, Crawford . . . -- but the clear-eyed thinking here is that there's a better chance of the Red Sox bringing back Julio Lugo on another four-year deal than parting with the bushel of prospects it would take to pry the superb but injury prone shortstop away from the Mets in his contract year.

Yes, for once in this neighborhood, the focus is on realistic matters. And so the attention turns to right field, where perhaps the Red Sox' greatest need offensively -- presuming you buy that a team that is leading the league in just about every hitting category has a greatest need -- is a bat, preferably righthanded, to complement/replace Josh Reddick or J.D. Drew.

The rumor mill has included some big names (Hunter Pence, Carlos Beltran), some relatively appealing role players (Jeff Baker, Ryan Ludwick), and various degrees of liklihood that any one of these players could end up with the Red Sox. There is also the status quo, which for now includes Reddick's spot-on Andre Ethier imitation and Drew's quest for his 23d RBI.

What will the Red Sox do? Well, that's why July 31 is such dramatic fun, isn't it? But as the trade deadline approaches, here's how I'd rate the potential right fielders -- present company included -- in terms of appeal, while disregarding for the most part what it might take to acquire them. As always, let's yap about it further in the comments:


Thumbnail image for pencefinn718.jpg1. Hunter Pence, Astros: The Astros didn't arrive at their current hapless and perhaps hopeless situation by making savvy personnel decisions, so maybe there's a small chance that they would consider trading Pence, their All-Star right fielder who is in the middle of the best season (.321, .852 OPS) of his outstanding five-year career. But unless they are presented an overwhelming offer even they know better than to refuse, it makes no sense to deal Pence. He's 28, makes $6.9 million, has two more years of arbitration eligibility ahead, and is their only appealing asset, other than arguably Bud Norris and Wandy Rodriguez. If the Astros can make a deal that instantly revives their barren farm system, only then does trading him make sense. But that offer won't come from the Red Sox. He's listed first here because he's the best potentially available right fielder rather than because of any expecation he'll be cramming to learn the nooks and crannies of Fenway come August 1.

2. Carlos Beltran, Mets: It sounds like the Red Sox appeal to him -- he's said he'd waive his no-trade clause to come to Boston, and wouldn't a Crawford-Ellsbury-Beltran outfield be fun? But I do wonder how much he appeals to the Sox. His contract stipulates that he cannot be offered arbitration, thus preventing the Red Sox from getting compensatory picks to help replenish the farm system and replace the prospects they gave up for him. That could prevent the Sox from paying the relatively steep price the Mets would demand for the 34-year-old, who has his highest adjusted OPS, 147, since 2006, when he hit 41 homers. But for those of us who look at the trade deadline as summer's version of Christmas, the idea of acquiring Beltran is extremely appealing, cost excluded. (It's interesting to note that there are Red Sox all over his career and single-age comps: Ellis Burks, Reggie Smith, Fred Lynn, Andre Dawson . . . good company.)

3. Michael Cuddyer, Twins: Twins management said this week that it has no plans to trade the 32-year-old rightfielder/first baseman, who has been with the organization since he was chosen with the ninth pick in the 1997 draft. To say as much is makes sense given that Minnesota is just five games back in the AL Central and trading a popular player would be a sign that its pennant aspirations have given way to a white flag. But Cuddyer is a free agent at season's end, and should Minnesota slump the next two weeks, wouldn't they have to consider a deal? Even if they are serious about re-signing him, trade him for a package of prospects, then bring him back over the winter. Cuddyer would have tremendous appeal to the Red Sox -- he's hitting .364 with an 1.186 OPS and eight homers in 88 at-bats against lefties -- and I still say he's the most realistic high-quality option for the Red Sox.

reddickfinn718.jpg4. Josh Reddick, Red Sox: No, I'm not sold. But man, I want to be. The tools -- a quick bat, a vertical leap apparently higher than Jacoby Ellsbury's judging by that Fred Lynn-caliber catch Sunday night -- are all there, and he made significant strides in plate discipline at Pawtucket this season. Still, Reddick was hitting .230 with the PawSox, with tells you something, and he was prone to prolonged slumps in the minors. While he has been dazzling (1.056 OPS in 87 plate appearances) this season, the real test will come after he strings together a couple of 0-for-4s. At the very least, he's earned the chance to try to play through a slump.

5. Ryan Ludwick, Padres: Marc Normandin at Over The Monster makes a compelling case why the Red Sox would be wise to target the 33-year-old Padres outfielder, who has .238/.306/.376 line this season playing half his games in the hitters' hell formally known as Petco Park. As Normandin points out, coming to Fenway and playing in a park that suits his skills for the first time in his career might bring the best out of him, and his best has been pretty darn good in the past (he hit 37 homers for the Cardinals in 2009). With Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod's deep knowledge of the Red Sox farm system, chances are there is a player they like that Theo Epstein would be willing to part with. (For what it's worth, Ludwick's No. 1 comp for his career and through age 31 is Josh Willingham, another potential candidate. I like Ludwick better for durability reasons alone.)

6. J.D. Drew, Red Sox: There's no chance I'm firing up the argument on the overall merits of his signing again; he's as polarizing as any recent Red Sox player I can recall, and no minds are going to be changed about his value and usefulness at this point. What we can all agree on is that he's had a horrendous season -- Reddick has five fewer RBIs in 184 fewer plate appearances -- and that the likelihood of Drew going on one of his hot streaks shrivels by the day. He's about to fill the dubious role vacated by Mike Cameron as baseball's best-compensated fourth outfielder.

7. Jeff Baker, Cubs: With a career .326 on-base percentage, it's tempting to suggest he's a depth piece more than a solution to any problem. But he's hammered lefties in his career, posting a .318/.367/.543 line with 21 homers in 521 plate appearances, and he's hit nearly 50 points higher in the second half over his seven seasons. The Cubs have said they aren't inclined to trade him, which is a perfectly Cubs thing to do.

francoeurfinn718.jpg8. Jeff Francoeur, Royals: If Reddick ends up as the lefthanded-hitting version of Francoeur -- excellent defense, double-digit home run power, and incurably brutal plate discipline -- would that be a disappointment? Because a month ago, that's who I would have told you Reddick would become. Francoeur gets bonus points for growing up a Red Sox fan, but his OBP this season, .310, is exactly the same as his career number. Watching him whiff on 1-2 sliders in the dirt would get old in a hurry.

9. Dwight Evans, Red Sox: Baseball-reference.com tells me he's 59 years old now, which of course cannot be true. But even if it is, you're not going to convince me that he couldn't go up there and work a walk once in a while (his on-base percentage in his final season, unfortunately spent with the Orioles, was .393), or still gun down some foolish baserunner trying for an extra base. (He also deserved an Oscar nom for his turn as Jenna Fischer's character's dad in "Hall Pass." But you knew that.) And even if he really is 59 and those skills are gone, can't, well hell, it's always worthwhile to acknowledge his greatness at any opportunity. Retire that No. 24 already.

The book on Dick Williams

  July 12, 2011 01:34 PM

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Whenever I'm charged with cleaning out the garage or the attic or some other cobwebbed and possibly tarantula-infested cranny of our home, I always seem to stumble upon a terrible sports book such as this relatively recent discovery that has been lost, generally with good reason.

I'm never sure why I bought them, beyond the usual obssession-with-sports thing that led me to purchase and read other literary gems such as "Nails," in which Lenny Dykstra proved it is possible to "write" more books than you've read. But I always remember where I bought them. They came from an old discount bookstore at Cook's Corner in Brunswick, Maine. Though the name of the place eludes me (Nonesuch Books, perhaps?), I loved the place and usually stopped in a time or two to load up every trip home from college. Most books weren't always worth the buck or two they cost -- Obsession: Timberwolves Stalk the NBA, anyone? -- but for an aspiring sports writer they were a joy to mine, and every now and then one proved to be solid gold.

williamsdickexpos.jpgOn my desk here is one of those bargains amid the bargains: "No More Mr. Nice Guy: A Life of Hardball, by Dick Williams and Bill Plaschke. (Nope, it's not written in one-sentence paragraphs.) It's memoir of one of the superior managers in modern baseball history, a Hall of Famer who won a pair of championships with the Oakland A's in the early '70s, managed some supremely talented Montreal Expos teams later in the decade, and even took the San Diego Padres to the '84 World Series. (This morning, Chris Jaffe at the Hardball Times has a thorough look at Williams's career highlights.)

Of course, in this corner of the baseball universe, only one line -- one year, one season -- on his impressive résumé matters. As the dugout mastermind of the 1967 Red Sox, the irascible Williams was more responsible than anyone, Yaz included, for shaking off the lethargy and cronyism of the Tom Yawkey ownership and making the Impossible Dream season a reality. You're damn right they would win more than they lose. Like the Big, Bad Bruins, the '67 Sox are the forever enduring darlings of Boston sports fans of a certain generation, the team who made all of this happen. Williams's death last Thursday at age 82 was a somber reminder of how long ago that was, and yet it also brought reminiscences of a summer at Fenway never to be forgotten.

Later Thursday night, I pulled Williams's book, published in 1990, from a shelf in my home office and began skimming through it. It's a remarkably entertaining memoir for anyone, let alone a sports figure Williams comes across as a charming, funny, stubborn, politically incorrect, brilliant, unapologetic grump. Pretty much how he was always perceived, in other words. But it's his candor about the famous players he managed -- and almost to a man, feuded with at one time or another -- that makes the book such a fun read.

He has nothing but praise and admiration for Nolan Ryan, who played for him with the Angels, or Tony Gwynn, who came up with the Padres during Williams's reign. Many of his other players weren't so lucky. So consider this a special edition of Nine Innings, featuring nine comments from Williams's book about those who played for him. I could list about 90. And if you ever see a copy or run across it on Amazon, buy it. It's way better than "Nails."

yaz717.jpg1. On taking away Carl Yastrzemski's captaincy upon taking over as manager: "Maybe I could have done it more gracefully. Maybe Yaz and I could have gotten off to a better start if I'd called him into my office and asked him to resign as captain. Yeah, and maybe I should have asked everyone on the team how many games they wanted to play. And maybe I would have lasted in Boston about six months. And had my [expletive] living room repossessed. The hell with grace. I wanted wins. . . . Yaz didn't have the outgoing and enthusiastic makeup to be a chief anyway, but he could be one hell of an Indian. And I needed that Indian."

2. On Jim Lonborg, the eventual AL Cy Young winner in 1967, proving his toughness to Williams during a July 21 game against the Yankees by hitting Thad Tillotson, who had beaned the Red Sox' Joe Foy earlier in the game: "For Lonborg, the season of his life was just getting started. In that one incident, he had proved to me and to the rest of the league that he wasn't just going to be another frightened kid with talent. He was going to be a scary kid with talent. All by not being afraid to pitch inside."

boomerscott717.JPG3. On a certain infamous comment about slugging first baseman George Scott: "Scott was a likable guy with a weight problem -- in both his belly and his head. I once said, 'Talking to him is like talking to a block of cement.' Everybody thought I was joking, and even Yaz told somebody it was a rather cruel joke. But it was no joke. I meant it."

4. On Tony C. "In the end he did come back [from his tragic beaning in 1967] and I was very happy for him, just as I was deeply troubled by his heart attack several years ago and his death in early 1990. Say what you will, the guy was a fighter. Between the lines there was nobody who played harder, as his great comeback years witness. He was a fighter and so am I, and that's probably why we got into so many verbal scrapes. I'm never sure who got the better of who, but I know that by having Tony Conigliaro in there fighting every day, the game of baseball was the winner."

remyjerry717.jpeg5. On the 1975 Angels, who hit just 55 home runs all season: "These Angels were cursed with several things, beginning with what obviously bored reporters called an incubator infield. Indeed, we were young: first baseman Bruce Bochte was in his second season; second baseman Jerry Remy was a rookie; shortstop Orlando Ramirez was in his second season; third baseman Dave Chalk was in his second full season. It wouldn't have bothered me that their combined total of home runs was just seven, or that none of them batted better than .285 or knocked in more than 82 runs. I could have lived with that had I seen promise of improvement in the near future. The problem was, only one of them, Remy, really got much better. It was obvious that my Angels were the Peter Pans of baseball -- nice, cute kids who would never grow up."

6. On Reggie Jackson and the early '70s Oakland A's, who won three straight World Series, two under Williams: "The clubhouse had three leaders. Reggie, [Sal] Bando, and Catfish [Hunter]. Reggie was the guy with the lungs, the vocal one. His constant talking gave his teammates something to both laugh at and rally behind, and the best thing about it was that it was an act. I knew, because I used to be the same kind of actor myself. Reggie was really just a talented but very sensitive and insecure person. In other words, get through his bull and you found a guy who'd play his [expletive] off for you."

dawsonandre717.jpg7. On the Montreal Expos superb young late '70s outfield of Andre Dawson, Warren Cromartie, and Ellis Valentine: "I'll always mention Dawson first, because he was everyone else's third choice. Of the three, he was always the slow learner, the who'd need the most work and wouldn't go nearly as far. Our scouts would sit around and collect foam at the corners of their mouths while talking about Valentine's natural all-around ability and Cromartie's incredible bat. 'And,' they always would say, 'we've always got Dawson.' As if Dawson didn't even belong in the same speech. You know what happened. You could have never left the beer garden and still know what would happen. Dawson, working every day . . . became a future Gold Glove and Most Valuable Player and one of baseball's leading citizens."

langstonmark717.jpg8. On Mark Langston, who Williams accused of asking out of games when he managed him in Seattle: "I perceived Langston as I feel much of baseball finally perceived him when he cost the Montreal Expos the pennanty in the late summer of 1989 by choking on his next few starts. Gutless. Anybody can pitch for a loser, which Langston did very well for the Mariners before I arrived. But let's see you pitch for a winner. That's the sign of a true competitor, which Langston is not. . . . C'mon Langston. Let's see you pitch for a winner. Let's see you be a winner."

9. On Bill Lee, whom Williams managed as a rookie with the Red Sox and later in Montreal: "Once when I needed Lee to pitch, he showed up at the clubhouse with bruises and cuts, looking like he'd just left a 10-rounder. He told me he'd been hin by taxicab while jogging. How had he gotten to the clubhouse? I asked. The guilty cabbie had driven him. Lee said he'd even tipped him. I tried not to faint before telling him to sit out the game. Later that season, on a trip, I spotted him jogging along a marina and shouted to him, "Be careful, you don't want any boats to jump out and hit you!"

Manny vs. Gonzo and much more

  May 24, 2011 06:54 PM
Playing nine innings while wondering whether the Sox are better off with Wakefield/Aceves than Lackey/Matsuzaka . . .

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1. Red Sox fans exhaled in unison when the surprising news arrived after last night's game that Dustin Pedroia's injury wasn't nearly as serious as it appeared and he would probably miss only a game or two. It looked bad, season-altering bad, and you couldn't help think the worst. The last time I had that queasy feeling watching a Boston athlete try to pick himself up after an injury was the moment after Bernard Pollard plunged into Tom Brady's knee. Pedroia's injury is undoubtedly a bullet dodged, though I think we're all pretty close to unanimous in believing that the "stingers" and any other painful nuisances going on with his surgically-repaired foot are more responsible for his .246/.362/.316 batting line than anyone with the Red Sox is letting on. Getting healthy and continuing to play is a difficult trick to pull off, but Pedroia has a rather admirable track record of success when he's faced with a challenge.

2. Nothing more so I tweeted the other day that I look forward to Adrian Gonzalez's at-bats with the same anticipation that I did when Manny came over from Cleveland in 2001. Every one is a must-see event; you know a hitter is truly great when he can stop me in my tracks en route to the fridge. Out of curiosity, I compared Gonzalez's start through his first 47 games with the Red Sox to the first 47 games of the Manny era. Just for the fun of it -- and perhaps to daydream about the feats a lineup with prime-of-career Manny and Gonzo might accomplish -- here's how the $314 million worth of sluggers compare:

Manny 2001: 209 PAs, 72 hits, 15 homers, 56 RBIs, .400/.483/.733, 1.270 OPS.

Gonzo: 2011: 211 PAs, 66 hits, 9 homers, 41 RBIs, .342/.393/.570, .983 OPS.

Conclusion: Um . . . wow. Even taking into consideration that Manny's early Red Sox days were in the heart of the steroid ere, he annihilates the comparison like it's a hanging curve from K-Rod. So let me ask you this: Are you enjoying Gonzalez's start with the Red Sox more than you did Manny's a decade ago?

3. David Ortiz's impressive start (.298, 9 homers, 22 RBIs, .894 OPS) actually isn't that much of an improvement over where he was at this date last season (.259, 9 homers, 23 RBIs, .870 OPS) after his awful April. But one statistic in particular does stand out as exceptional even by Papi's standards: Through 45 games and 189 plate appearances this season, he has a 1/1 K/BB ratio, having walked 20 times and struck out 20 times. This wouldn't have been unusual five or so years ago. During his 2006-07 height-of-his-powers heyday, he walked more than he struck out both seasons. But in 2009? Sixty more whiffs than walks. Last year? Sixty-four more. I honestly have no idea what to make of this.

russelljefffinn525.jpg4. I was in the house with a few old friends Sunday night to watch the anticipated James Russell/Tim Wakefield duel -- and watch the pitchers I did since from section 13, row 2, seat 17 there was a lovely green pole blocking any possible view of home plate. That's what they mean when they call Fenway "quaint," right? But of course any day at the ballpark is a good day, even with the quaint obstructions, and even after I did the rudimentary calculations and figured Wakefield has probably started 80 percent of the games I've seen as a fan the last 17 years. (The rest of the breakdown is 19 percent Frank Castillo, 1 percent Pedro, I believe.) But Wakefield's remarkable longevity in this city and with this team was put into further perspective a little later, when I realized that Russell was the son of former Sox closer Jeff Russell . . . who pitched here last in 1994, meaning he missed being Wakefield's teammate by a year. The way Ol' Knucksie pitched the other night, I wouldn't be surprised if he has aspirations to pitch against Russell's grandchildren someday.

5. Though he's apparently no Asdrubal Cabrera, who has already exceeded his career high in homers by four, I'm comfortable in my April assertion that Jed Lowrie will finish among the top five most productive shortstops in baseball this season. Defensively, however, that .942 fielding percentage and minus-25.2 UZR/150 go a long way toward explaining why Terry Francona speaks highly of him as a potential third baseman.

FULL ENTRY

Beckett at his best

  April 11, 2011 02:23 PM

Playing nine innings while wondering whether Orel Hershiser has gotten a word in edgewise yet . . .

beckettjosh414.jpg1. Well, that was beyond encouraging, wasn't it? Josh Beckett's eight-inning, two-hit masterpiece -- against a Yankees lineup (minus A-Rod) that he held to a sparkling 10.04 ERA in five starts last season, with just nine homers allowed in 26 innings -- was as excellent as it was surprising. It's funny, I remember thinking before the game that it wasn't so long ago that Beckett vs. Sabathia would have been a matchup worth anticipating, but with his struggles last season and his recent ugly history against the Yankees, there was almost a sense of foreboding entering this game. Instead, he threw his rediscovered sharp curve for strikes, had the two-seamer working to keep the lefties in the lineup honest, and his velocity was consistently at 94. Derek Jeter said he was "filthy" after the game, and that was confirmed by the 10 strikeouts next to Beckett's name on the scoresheet. It was his first double-figure strikeout game since July 27, 2009, and this may well be the best game he's pitched since then. Now, for his next challenge: let's see him do it with Jarrod Saltalamacchia behind the plate.

2. The best thing about the Red Sox thus far this season is one of the best things about any recent season: Dustin Pedroia. After his third three-hit game of the Yankees series last night, he's now hitting .400, and any concerns we had during spring training that his foot injury might linger have been put to rest. Perhaps as importantly, he's been a voice of reason during the Sox' slow start, noting bluntly that they need to pitch better after Saturday's loss, but also putting it all into perspective last night: "We're four games out of first place with 153 to go. ... It looks doable." Robinson Cano might be a better player, but there's no way he means as much to the Yankees as Pedroia does to the Red Sox.

3. Over the past four seasons, Adrian Gonzalez has played 161, 162, 160, and 160 games. When he got drilled on the hand by a Sabathia pitch in the fifth inning, I immediately wondered if his remarkable record of durability would be a casualty of this bizarre, unpredictable start to the season, and the ESPN crew didn't ease our concerns by emphasizing how much he was shaking his beaned pinkie and speculating on whether it might be broken. So to read in the paper this morning that he didn't even get an X-ray . . . well, it felt good to exhale.

4. You could make the argument that Marco Scutaro's two-run double in the seventh inning last night was the biggest hit of the season. Suddenly, after taking two of three from the Yankees, it feels like the reset button has been hit on this season and all will be well going forward. Had the Red Sox wasted Beckett's gem and lost the game (and the series) by leaving 16 runners on base? Hell, I might have called the Whiner Line to howl that they're ruining my summah. So, huge hit . . . but I'm not changing my stance. Jed Lowrie should have more than 12 plate appearances at this point.

5. Carl Crawford has spent nine years in the major leagues before this one. In every single month from May through September, his career batting average is at least .296 and his lowest OPS is .770 (in August). In April, however, he's a .276 hitter with a .716 OPS. He's a traditionally slow starter who is off to an even slower start than usual in his new baseball home. This doesn't mean he's struggling with the pressure or can't play in a big market. You know what it means? That much better things are to come. Why some are so quick to screech about his problems -- particularly since he's a player we should be rather familiar with given that he's tormented the Red Sox -- is one of the real disappointments of the season's early days.

6. If you're one of those stubborn old-schoolers who remain adamant in the face of common sense that the won-lost record gives a good accounting of a pitcher's actual performance, I counter with this: John Lackey got a W next to his name for that mess Friday, a day after Jon Lester had nothing to show for his seven-inning, no-run, nine-K gem at Cleveland. Explain, please. And show your work. I want to see this logic unfold.

ramirezmanny414finn.JPG7. I don't think any of us are surprised that Manny Ramirez's departure from the game is bizarre; it just figured he wouldn't show up to the ballpark one day and that would be that. But I never thought it would be so sad, and I mean that in every sense. I'll miss him -- hell, I still miss watching him for the Red Sox, and you know there were many more good times as bad. But even his most ardent apologist can't begin to defend how he carelessly abandoned the Rays, and it's hard to defend his legacy when it's apparent how little it matters to him.

8. I know I've been preaching that it's much too early to draw any real, concrete conclusions about this season. But we'll slap an asterisk on that when it comes to judging the Yankees, because . . . well, because rash judgments are pretty darn fun when it comes a rival, as honest Yankees fans will attest themselves. So, three thoughts on the eventual 2011 AL East runner-up: 1) The Red Sox are grateful that Phil Hughes left his fastball in Florida, but as an impartial baseball fan, 2) Used to work with a Yankee fan who liked to tell me that Derek Jeter would make a run at 4,000 hits. Watching Jeter now -- and over the second half of last season, when he hit .265 with a .342 slugging percentage -- I'm wondering how many beyond 3,000 he'll get, and how long of a plod it will be to reach that milestone. He just doesn't seem to hit the ball hard anymore. 3) Not to kick a calm-eyed captain while he's down, but the Yankees' infield defense would be better with Eric Chavez at third and a slimmed-down A-Rod at short.

9.Carl Yastrzemski was the perfect choice to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day. But after last night, when Ron Johnson's beaming 11-year-old daughter Bridget did the honors, ol' Yaz is already relegated to the No. 2 starter in this rotation.

Because it's always baseball season

  January 12, 2011 09:29 AM

Playing a snowy nine innings while figuring the Sox will claim Max Ramirez on waivers from the Cubs any day now . . .

crimedog.jpg1. Didn't get a chance last week to weigh in on the Hall of Fame balloting, and admittedly, the moment to do so has probably passed. Yeah, as if timeliness is isn't going to stop me from being the last sports writer in America to chime in on one of my favorite topics. Besides, on days like today, when the world turns into a snow globe and summer seems so far awway, any baseball talk is good baseball talk, I say. So here are a couple of scattered thoughts to start off this long overdue and unapologically outdated monster-beast of a column . . .

The voting played out pretty much according to prediction. Roberto Alomar should have been in last year, but he paid his apparent one-year penance for the spitting incident, and the greatest second baseman of my lifetime not named Joe Morgan has his rightful place in Cooperstown. Would have been cool if Barry Larkin, who got 62.1 percent of the vote this time around and should make it next year, got elected at the same time as Alomar? Now that's an impressive double play combination . . . Bert Blyleven should have been in probably, what, a dozen years before he finally got in? Hell, make it 14 years. I despise the illogical subjectivity of the Hall of Fame waiting period in most cases -- so far as I can tell, he hasn't struck out another batter or thrown another meaningful knee-buckling curveball since his career ended in 1992, and yet he gained 62.2 percent in the voting since his first year of eligibility. That makes about as much sense as Murray Chass. But in the end, the early and ongoing mistake of overlooking his career was amended, and as Blyleven will surely mention in his speech, the validity of his candidacy -- and the absurdity of his delay -- was pointed out tirelessly and with logic rather than rancor by, most notably, Rich Lederer blyleven.jpgat Baseball Analysts. If you write about baseball on the internet, you can't help but take pride in the impact Lederer and several other terrific online writers had on Blyleven's overdue election. Next get-'im-in project for the progressive, insightful and convincing among us: Tim Raines, please . . . Thought Fred McGriff had a shot at being his generation's Jim Rice -- the great but perhaps not-quite-great-enough slugger who gets in eventually in part because of the fallout from the steroid era and the belief that his accomplishments were on the level. But after this year's vote, in which McGriff fell from 21.5. percent to 17.9, it's fair to presume he never gets there, despite those 493 homers . . . One who should get more support: Larry Walker, who batted .313 with 383 homers, 230 steals, and a career .965 OPS. The perception is that his fattest stats -- his three straight seasons from 1997-99 with an average of .363 or higher, namely -- were the result of playing his home games at Coors Field isn't entirely fair; his road OPS was .865 in his career, which is higher than the overall OPS of George Brett, Wade Boggs, Tony Gwynn, and Al Kaline, among others. In retrospect, he probably retired too early. In his final season, in 2005, he had a 130 adjusted OPS, with a .289 average and 15 homers in 367 plate appearances. He could still hit when he quit, just like another late-career Cardinal, Will Clark, who hit .345 with 12 homers and a 1.081 OPS in 197 plate appearances for the 2000 Cardinals . . . One who I'm glad is off the ballot: Kevin Brown. Comparing his case to Curt Schilling's -- his most similar career comp -- is like comparing Tom Brady to Dave Kreig because they've both thrown 261 touchdown passes. Schilling's Hall of Fame case will be built not on his regular season feats, which are borderline Cooperstown-worthy, but on his otherworldly postseason record, with the Legend of the Bloody Sock standing as the symbolic image. Brown was OK in the postseason -- he had a 4.19 ERA in 13 starts -- but his legacy is his Game 7 meltdown in 2004 against the Sox. His meltdown came as no surprise to Joe Torre, who described him in "The Yankee Years" as "a beaten man . . . he was never a fighter." Now there's something you won't read on plaque . . . John Olerud fell off the ballot in Year 1 of his candidacy, earning four votes (0.7 percent) after a 17-year career in which he hit 255 homers with a .295 average and an .863 OPS. Don Mattingly -- his most similar player from ages 31-34 -- earned 13.6 percent of the vote in his 11th year on the ballot after a 14-year career in which he hit 222 homers with a .307 average and an .830 OPS. Didn't realize they were so close. Donnie Baseball probably benefits more from his higher peak than his New York affiliation . . . Next year's ballot, save for borderline candidate Bernie Williams, looks like a 2008 tryout camp for the Atlantic League: Carl Everett, Javy Lopez, Vinny Castilla, Ruben Sierra, Jeromy Burnitz, Danny Graves, Phil Nevin . . . you get the gist. The most interesting name for Red Sox fans? Bill Mueller, who will forever be remembered here as the guy who made sure Dave Roberts didn't get stranded on second base. Bet he gets a couple of votes.

2. Someone on the MLB Network -- I think it was Ken Rosenthal, but I'm not 100 percent sure -- said half-jokingly last week that Andy Pettitte, baseball's preeminent hemmer and hawer when it comes to his future, is in danger of becoming baseball's version of Brett Favre. (I'll pause while you Mad Lib your own punchline here. We good? OK, moving along . . .) While there was some accuracy in the sentiment -- Pettitte is holding the Yankees hostage at this point, which is just fine from this perspective -- the reality is that the Brett Favre of baseball was really Pettitte's best old ex-friend Roger, he of the Goodness, Gracious entrance music. Pettitte? He's like Don Majkowski or Aaron Rodgers or . . . well, I can't find the analogy. Ryan Longwell?

3. Adios, Adrian Beltre. With apologies to Nick Esasky, you'll be remembered as our favorite one-and-done Sox player of all time. During a somewhat turbulent season in which not much went according to plan, there was fun to be found in watching you play and play hard every day, whether you were swinging and connecting from your heels (and sometimes, a knee), flashing a shortstop's range at third base, or threatening to annihilate Victor Martinez after he disobeyed your threats and rubbed your head anyway. The Sox did the right thing in bringing in Adrian Gonzalez, but you'll be missed around here. Oh, and those commission fees you're paying Scott Boras? Money well spent. Now we understand why those reported $70 million offers from Oakland were allowed to pass without much consideration. See you in Arlington on Opening Day.

4. As I'm sure you've been pleasantly reminded in the aftermath of his signing as Unofficial Lowrie Insurance with the Sox, Hector Luna was the second out in the eighth inning of Game 4 of the 2004 World Series. What's semi-interesting -- meaning it's interesting to me, dammit -- in flashing back to the moments before the moment we'd all be waiting for is that following Luna, those final for outs were all remarkably high quality players. Larry Walker -- the final out of the eighth inning -- and ninth-inning outs Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds, and Edgar "There's a groundball/stabbed by Foulke" Renteria have combined for 8,305 major league hits and 1,214 homers. And that excludes Albert Pujols, who led off the ninth inning with a single and is apparently rather accomplished in his own right.

5. In case you missed it, the Reds have replaced Orlando Cabrera at shortstop with Renteria, who got a one-year, $2.1 million deal apparently on the merits of his improbably dazzling postseason rather than his shrimpy .707 OPS at age 34 next season. By my calculations, this pretty much guarantees that Reds general manager Walt Jocketty will make a terrible mistake with Julio Lugo next offseason.

davischili.jpg6. Love the Sox' hiring of Chili Davis as the PawSox' hitting coach, if only because every time his name is mentioned, we're reminded of this, arguably the best-pitched game we've ever seen. (For now, I proclaim a tie with Kerry Wood's 20-K one-hitter.) Wonder if he cops to having his eyes closed when he connected with Pedro's pitch? Because he totally did.

7. Even with the additions of more accomplished righty relievers Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler, I was hoping the Sox would bring back Taylor Buchholz, based on the success he had in Colorado in 2008 before undergoing Tommy John surgery as well as the theory that quantity of reasonable quality is never a bad thing in a bullpen since relief pitching is so unpredictable. Pretty sure the following words have not been structured in this order recently, but that's a smart signing by the Mets. Oh, well, at least we'll always have the memories. That sure was a magical 17 days Buchholz spent on the roster, wasn't it?

8. I didn't get the chance to write about this in last Friday's media column, but It was fascinating to watch the reaction to Steve Buckley’s revelation in his Boston Herald column that he is gay travel across various social and conventional mediums at the speed of a couple of clicks of a mouse. We’re comfortable presuming he is the first sports columnist ever to be discussed in relative depth on ‘‘The View.’’ Better still than the speed and magnitude of the reaction was the public tone. From Keith Olbermann to author Jeff Pearlman to CBS Sports rabblerouser Gregg Doyel, the reaction on Twitter, where Buckley was a trending topic for much of the day, was one of overwhelming encouragement. As someone who has been an admirer of Buckley’s work since he was the Portland Press Herald’s beat writer for the Triple A Maine Guides 20-some years ago, and we've e-mailed many times over the years to reminisce about those teams. Buckley's a great guy, and here’s hoping that messages of support and friendship continue to find him.

williamsrikcy3.jpgAs for today's Completely Random Baseball Card Of A Football Player:

9. In the wake of Williams's candid comments about the state of the Dolphins during a radio interview last week, I mentioned that I'd love to see Ditka's former football bride in the Fred Taylor role on the Patriots next season. (No, not the designated often-injured back a few cuts past his prime, wise-guy. As a genuine contributor/team yoga instructor.) Greg Bedard, our go-to guy for all things NFL here at the Globe, used to cover the Dolphins for the Palm Beach Post, and he passed along an interesting bit of insight, noting that former Miami coach Nick Saban loved Williams when he coached him. Saban, of course, is a Bill Belichick disciple/confidante. Here's hoping those dots connect and Williams continues his fascinating career in Foxborough next season. (As for his baseball skills: .211 average, four homers in 568 at-bats in Single A, with 46 steals in 63 attempts. Bo Jackson he wasn't.)

* * *

Rest in peace, Christina-Taylor Green. I wish I could think of something more poignant or profound to say, something like what Jeff MacGregor wrote here. But I just keep thinking about what her family is going through, that unimaginable grief that will be with them forever, and I begin thinking of my own daughter, just a couple of years younger and all innocence and hope and promise and optimism, just like Christina. And I get choked up again, and the words escape once more.

Yankees should give Manny a homecoming

  December 30, 2010 09:13 AM

finnpettitte.jpgPlaying nine innings while waiting for Adrian Beltre to sign with the Angels already . . .

1. Ah, yes, what Yankee fan can forget Andy Pettitte's breakthrough season in Double A with the 1994 Albany-Colonie Yankees, during which he went 7-2 with a 2.71 ERA, earned a promotion to Triple A Columbus where he posted the same won-lost record, established himself as the No. 7 prospect in the organization according to Baseball America . . . then went home to Texas after the season to carefully ponder retirement.

You think I'm kidding, but check out the card; tell me those aren't his retirement papers right there.

Oh, all right, Pettitte's annual offseason waffling about his future doesn't go back quite that far, but sometimes it sure seems that way. Brian Cashman says he thinks Pettitte is leaning toward retirement. Mark Teixeira said he got the same sense.

But I'll believe it when he says no to the Yankees' pleas for one more year, because they're going to give him about 15 million reasons to say yes.

mannyfinn1228.jpg

2. And while we're on the subject of accomplished 38-year-olds who should be on the Yankees' payroll next season, they really ought to sign our old friend Manny.

Yeah, I know, conventional wisdom and a lineup in which half of its hitters probably require a pregame concoction of black coffee and Metamucil suggest the last thing they need is another aging slugger . . . except, you know, they kind of could use this aging slugger.

Their starting outfield as currently constituted features two lefthanded hitters in Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson, and a switch hitter in Nick Swisher. The righthanded options currently on the 40-man roster aren't inspiring even if you're a Scranton-Wilkes/Barre season ticket holder: Greg Golson, Kevin Reese, and former Red Sox dynamo Jordan Parraz.

While Manny is clearly declining -- his .460 slugging percentage last year in stints with the Dodgers and White Sox was the lowest of his career -- he could still have significant value as an offensive player if used correctly, playing left field from time to time on the road while splitting some at-bats at DH with what's left of Jorge Posada's carcass.

His OPS last year (.870) was still excellent, and his adjusted OPS (138) was a point higher than David Ortiz's and just shy of Adrian Beltre's 141. He has a long way to go before he's finished, providing he can accept being a role player. There are the usual concerns about his quirks and antics, but given that he's always wanted to play in the Bronx, where he lived as a teenager, it's a reasonable gamble to think he'd be on his best behavior in pinstripes, especially on a one-year deal.

IThe Yankees have indicated they're not interested, and while I'm not sure I believe them considering their history of signing players they've claimed not to covet, I hope they're speaking the truth in this case.

Manny could help the Yankees. And if somehow if he couldn't, wouldn't it be fun to watch him become their headache for a season?

3. All right, I'll put it in writing: Jonathan Papelbon will bounce back next season. Now here comes the part where I try to talk myself into believing it.

I wish I could offer more concrete reasons than the fact that he's finally pitching for that big payday, something he's set as a goal virtually since the day he arrived in 2005, and that should be motivation enough for him to solve whatever ails him.

And I wish I could offer an explanation why his pinpoint command, which allowed him to dominate with a relatively straight fastball, has gone on the fritz by his standards over the last season-plus.

But I can't. What I can do is look at his half-decade of mostly remarkable success, note than he still struck out over a batter per inning, had a WHIP (1.27) that was lousy for him but better than what Bobby Jenks put up over the last two seasons, then cross our fingers, pretend last year wasn't the beginning of the end for a pitcher in a role with a typically short shelf life, and write it off as the aberration in a terrific career.

Everyone deserves one mulligan. I'm giving him his. Even if it's a struggle to find evidence that it is deserved.

Thumbnail image for finnbagwell.jpg4. My Hall of Fame Ballot, Which Is Hypothetical Because I Don't Really Have One, Never Will, And Now Live Vicariously Through PeteAbe And Colleagues:

Roberto Alomar, who should have been a first-ballot selection last year but apparently had to serve a one-year penance for the Hirschbeck incident.

Bert Blyleven, whose merits should have been obvious years ago.

Barry Larkin, who was essentially Derek Jeter in a small market.

Alan Trammell, whose most similar comp is Larkin.

Tim Raines, the second-best leadoff hitter of his generation, and perhaps, as Joe Posnanski pointed out, of all-time.

And Edgar Martinez, who had an on-base percentage of .423 or better for seven straight seasons.

As for Jeff Bagwell? Meh, I'm still trying to decide if I like him better than Scott Cooper.

5. I've ranted about this before, and much more often than once, and I'll probably do so again next year. So here goes:

Of whatever questionable oversights Hall of Fame voters have made over the years, the fact that Lou Whitaker last just one year on the ballot, receiving a piddling 2.9 percent of the vote in 2001, rates near the top of the list.

His No. 1 comp is Ryne Sandberg, and his No. 2 is his longtime double-play partner Alan Trammell, who thus far also has been shortchanged by votes, though at least he remains on the ballot.

Among second basemen, Whitaker is ninth in homers (244), eighth in runs (1,356), ninth in runs (1,084), and fourth in walks (1,197). In the New Bill James Historical Abstract, which was published in 2001, Whitaker was rated the 13th-best second baseman of all time. But here's the thing: Nos. 14 (Billy Herman), 15 (Nellie Fox), 16 (Joe Gordon), 18 (Bobby Doerr) and 19 (Tony Lazzeri) are all in the Hall of Fame. (No. 17 is Willie Randolph.)

I'm not saying Whitaker should be in; maybe he does just belongs in the Hall of Very Good. But such a decision should have been given more than a year of consideration. You almost wonder whether Whitaker's superb career was given any consideration at all.

larkinbarryfin.jpg6. Looking back on those Reds teams from the early years of Larkin's career, it's hard to imagine that anyone thought then that of all of the incredible young talent Cincinnati developed in the mid-'80s -- Eric Davis, Kal Daniels, even late-blooming Paul O'Neill -- Larkin would be the one to get into the Hall of Fame.

Davis and Daniels in particular were dazzling offensive players almost immediately upon arrival in the big leagues, while there was some debate at the time whether Larkin or Kurt Stillwell was the franchise's shortstop of the future.

Fair to say they made the right choice.

7. Tim Raines -- he of the 1,571 runs scored, 3,977 times on base, and 808 stolen bases -- would already be in the Hall of Fame had his career not overlapped with that of Rickey Henderson, the greatest leadoff hitter of all time.

As it stands, he probably won't get in on his fourth year on the ballot considering he received just 30.4 percent of the vote last year. But he will get in sometime within the next 5-10 years, because there are many smart baseball fans who will continue to point out the absurdity of the oversight until other smart H of F voters see the light and Raines's likeness is displayed on a plaque -- wearing an Expos hat, of course -- alongside the other greats of the game.

8. Gotta say, this old man's old man knows how to deliver on Christmas. Not only did this year's loot include a "Yo Adrian!'' Sox t-shirt, but Dad also got me Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster, which might not be the most well-known of the stat-oriented annuals (though it has been around for 25 years), but is certainly right there with Baseball Prospectus, The Bill James Handbook, and the Hardball Times among the most informative and entertaining.

Two tidbits gleaned from some selective skimming so far:

1) There's a belief that Carl Crawford hasn't hit his peak yet because of his durability and still-elite speed, with his upside set at 25 homers this year.

2) Not to be an alarmist, but Adrian Gonzalez's recovery from shoulder surgery could linger longer than we think given that it's similar to the procedures undergone by B.J. Upton and Travis Hafner over the past couple of years. Like that's going to stop me from wearing my new "Yo Adrian!" high fashion.

Theo wouldn't have made the deal if he wasn't sure he was going to be fine.

snowjackfinn.jpg9. As for today's Completely Random Football Card (But With A Baseball Tie-In, So It Counts):

Always wondered how J.T. Snow, one of the slowest baserunners (non-portly division) I've ever seen, had a dad who played wide receiver -- and played it rather well, even averaging 26.3 yards per catch in '67 -- in the NFL.

Momma Snow must have had a slow time in the 40.

Is losing out on Lee a blessing for Yanks?

  December 14, 2010 05:55 PM

Playing a Cliff Lee fallout edition of nine innings while daydreaming that I'll someday have the opportunity to settle for $100 million . . .

Thumbnail image for leefinn6.jpg1. Don't get me wrong, I love that Lee left the Yankees' giant sacks of cash on the table to take slightly smaller giant sacks of cash from the Phillies. I love that the players' union is no doubt so aggravated that Michael Weiner combed his hair in a rage. I love that it's entirely possible that some Bleacher Buttafuoco turned his wife against New York with some poorly placed expletives and/or expectoration. I love that a player actually went to a place where he knew he'd be happy. I love that the Yankees didn't add another superb southpaw to take on the Red Sox' lefty-heavy lineup.

But -- you knew there would be a but -- I don't think missing out on him is that devastating for the Yankees.

Yes, they were desperate to get Lee for good and obvious reasons. He's awesome right now, (check out that 185-18 K/BB ratio last season) with his excellent (if Lincecum-damaged) postseason history, and he would have given the Yankees a killer 1-2 punch with CC Sabathia at the top of a rotation that is left with question marks and past bad decisions today.

Brian Cashman probably was forced by Randy Levine and the Sons of Steinbrenner to rappel out of his office window last night after the rejection letter arrived. But seven years and $154 million, for a pitcher who will be 33 next summer, one who is reliant on plus-plus command rather than overpowering stuff, one who has had back issues off and on and had a 6.29 ERA as recently as 2007, one whose most similar comp and age 30 and 31 is Denny Neagle? Is he really worth it, or is a just someone who synchronized his peak and free agency perfectly? Maybe I'm more skeptical of Lee than I should be . . . but I can't help it. I am skeptical.

Signing Lee might have helped the Yankees win a championship or two the next couple of years. But there's also a chance that contract could have become extremely regrettable before it was halfway completed, when he's 36 years old. Ultimately, I'm glad we won't be able to find out which way the plot and his career would have turned in New York. He's the Phillies' high-risk, high-reward gamble now.

2. It's not that the point eludes me when it's pointed out -- as it has been frequently in the past 24 hours or so -- that Lee is the first primo free agent coveted by Yankees who has rejected them since Greg Maddux after the '92 season. But sometimes the context is lacking when the reference is made.

The 1992 Yankees were a mess. They went 76-86. Melido Perez was the ace. Sam Militello was the hope. Danny Tartabull was their best hitter. Kevin Maas, their version of Phil Plantier, was the DH. Andy Stankiewicz started at shortstop, while their future franchise shortstop began his pro career by batting .210 and making 21 errors in 57 games in rookie ball.

The franchise lacked all of the cachet it has now. All they had was history, because their present was lousy and the future uncertain. Maddux said no to the money, but who can blame him for not foreseeing the turnaround that was coming? The division belonged to the Blue Jays then.

3. Joe Pawlikowski at FanGraphs came up with a creative and fairly comprehensive list of pitchers the Yankees might pursue after losing out on Lee.

(No Mark Prior, however. Wasn't that the obvious Plan B here? I think it was. Well-played, Cashman, you sly devil. Well-played.)

An interesting name Pawlikowski noted that I haven't read elsewhere: Derek Lowe. Not sure that would be the shrewdest move for the Yankees -- he's owed $30 million over the next two seasons, will turn 38 this summer, and has had respective adjusted ERAs of 88 and 98 over the past two seasons while pitching in the National League. Here's hoping it doesn't happen. I wouldn't want to see him succeed with the Yankees, but I wouldn't want to see him fail, either. I'd prefer that this remains my last crisp recollection of Lowe pitching at Yankee Stadium.

4. The same goes for Zack Greinke. I don't want to see him turn into a puddle pitching in a big market, which some suspect would happen given his well-documented history with social anxiety disorder. And I don't want to see him dealt to the Bronx for DH-in-waiting Jesus Montero and a couple of Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's finest and pitch like he did two years ago, when he won the AL Cy Young Award, led the league in ERA (2.16), WAR (9.0, baseball-reference version), and WHIP 0.95), and had the 33d best adjusted ERA in baseball history. You want an imaginary trade that just might work -- and would be a good place for Greinke to pitch for a fine team without a ton of stress -- that doesn't result in him ending up in Pinstripes? How about dealing him to St. Louis for La Russa nemesis Colby Rasmus, an arm or two, and a couple of low OBP lost causes that Dayton Moore seems to collect?

pavanocarl.jpg5. It's tempting to make (yet another weak) joke about how a reconciliation with Carl Pavano might be the best option for the Yankees right now. But then I remember that he very well could have been the Red Sox' $40 million mistake, take a deep breath, and appreciate a bullet dodged. OK, that, and I already used my best material on Twitter.

6. Roger Clemens is not one for subtle messages, but it is a nice touch wearing a pinstriped suit to a recent court appearance. Even at age 48 and in a wee bit of trouble, we'd almost think he'd be in line for a spot in the 2011 Yankees rotation if not for . . . well, let's just say he looks like he swallowed the other four members of the most recent So-Called Greatest Rotation Ever. Oh my goodness gracious.

7. Other than bringing in a living, breathing reminder for Daniel Nava that he did indeed hit a home run in the big leagues, the only possible explanation for the Red Sox having genuine interest in Phillies righthanded afterthought Joe Blanton is that Curt Young, his pitching coach during his three-plus seasons in Oakland, vouched for something about him. For what it's worth -- and it's worth probably no more than a "huh" -- Young is seventh on Blanton's player similarity comps.

8. Can anyone tell me whether ESPN has interrupted its Brett Favre football funeral coverage to acknowledge Lee's deal with the Phillies yet? I switched over to the MLB Network before he could finish telling us how unselfish he is. (Then again, the MLB Network didn't have anything live, just a couple of cut-ins. But at least it was showing baseball.)

borasscottfinn.jpg9. As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

The lesson we take from all of the Lee shenanigans: Sometimes the mystery team does exist . . . though we will continue to reserve our right to skepticism when the player is a Scott Boras client.

And yes, that is the one and the same pictured right there on a 1977 St. Petersburg Cardinals minor league card. If Boras was at all then like he is now, is there any doubt he took his .288 career batting average, his .708 OPS, his five homers in 1,330 plate appearances in Single A and Double A, added in his .904 career fielding percentage at third base, and presented Cardinals management with reams of creatively interpreted data suggesting he was indeed the second coming of Ken Boyer?

Up in arms

  August 17, 2010 02:19 PM

Playing nine innings while wondering if Anthony Ranaudo ranks among the Sox' top five prospects already . . .

Reds Red Sox Spring Basebal.JPG

1. Believe it or not, that picture is not a photoshopped, ever-so-slight dramatization of how the baseball looks to hitters coming out of Josh Beckett's right hand these days. It's a shot from spring training 2006, his first season with the Red Sox and his worst (16 wins, 5.01 ERA, 95 ERA+) . . . until now.

Dale Arnold mentioned this on WEEI today, and it's something I've been thinking about as the stench lingers from Beckett's last two starts, the no-show in New York and the blown 8-2 lead in Texas: No player is more responsible for the Red Sox' current outside-looking-in status in the playoff race than Beckett. We thought he was hurting them in is absence; turns out he's killing them in his presence.

It's unfair to criticize him for being injured; we all know the team picture should be taken in front of the MRI tube this season. But it's completely fair to criticize him for being lousy, and with three victories in 13 starts, a brutal 6.51 ERA, 1.53 WHIP and 67 ERA+, lousy is exactly what he has been.

Here's a dose of ice cold perspective: Remember what a mess Jeff Suppan was after the Sox acquired him at the July 31 deadline in 2003? He was better in 11 starts that season -- three wins in 11 starts, 5.51 ERA, 84 ERA+ -- than Beckett has been in a similar workload '10. Once more, with emphasis: Jeff. Freaking. Suppan.

I'm not at the point where I wish the Red Sox hadn't re-signed him to a four-year, $68 million deal in spring training; he's only 30, he's no doubt embarrassed by this, and hopefully he has gym installed in his favorite hunting blind this offseason.

But the internal groan becomes audible when you realize the Sox committed more than $150 million to Beckett and his most statically similar pitcher in history -- yup, that would be John Lackey -- this offseason. That's a painful amount to pay for Nos. 4 and 5 starters.

2. I'm not interested in any further battles of semantics between Jacoby Ellsbury and the Red Sox, and I hope it doesn't resort another clubhouse reading of Jacoby's Injury CliffsNotes again after his latest rib injury.

But man, it's hard not lament the lost season, not to mention the lost luster on a career that should be peaking for the 26-year-old center fielder.

It's unlikely we'll ever get the whole story since both sides have too much to lose by being completely honest, and so we're left to draw our own conclusions from what we think we know. And what we think we know is this: The Red Sox doctors' diagnosis may have been a bit too casual in blurring the line between a bruise and a break; Ellsbury has been seriously hurt, and this latest injury makes you wonder if there's some unusual and perhaps chronic problem that will ail him the rest of his career; and he's built a reputation among his teammates as being high-maintenance to the point that he doesn't get the benefit of the doubt.

Listen, there's no denying that his popularity among fans who aren't necessarily at Fenway for the ol' ball game is annoying, and his breathtaking grace and speed tend to exaggerate his contributions compared to the truth on the stat sheet. He's overrated by a large segment of the fandom who don't -- or don't care to -- recognize nuance.

Yet . . . you remember that his performance in the 2007 World Series was so spectacular that it's probably underrated to a degree, that this is a guy who batted a more-than-respectable .301 with 70 steals last year, that the Red Sox are more well-rounded offense when he's doing his thing.

And that's when, despite all of the nonsense this season, you still find yourself hoping such a dynamic (if flawed) player can overcome his injuries and the bruises to his reputation and enjoy his early prime here before Scott Boras takes him to free agency.

Too bad you also have to wonder if the point of no return has already been passed.

3. Let the record show that the Red Sox went a respectable 23-21 in Dustin Pedroia's absence, a .523 winning percentage.

With the essential second baseman returning to the lineup tonight, it's fair to say the Sox need to amp up that winning percentage by about 150 points over their final 39 games if they're going to swipe a spot in the postseason. To do so -- to play spectacular baseball and earn 26 or so victories from now until Game 162 versus the Yankees Oct. 3 -- Pedroia has to be himself immediately.

While he's the last player we'd doubt when presented with a challenge, that could be a lot to ask. Ellsbury was hitless in his first 19 at-bats after he returned. Victor Martinez has one homer and five doubles in 20 games since coming back from his injury.

With time running short and the Sox treading water when they need to be gaining ground (New York, Tampa Bay, and the Sox are all 5-5 over their past 10 games), there's no time for Pedroia to shake off any rust.

He was on a tear when he got hurt -- as my friends at Maple Street Press pointed out on Twitter this morning, in the 14 games before his injury, he batted .491 with 26 hits, four homers, five doubles, an .814 slugging percentage, and a .548 OBP.

The Sox can't ask him to be that impossibly brilliant. Just being his usual self would be perfect.

4. He'd been away so long that I actually forgot how annoying Jed Lowrie's fundamental flaws -- or flawed fundamentals -- are as a defensive player. Not only does he sling the ball off-balance when it's not always necessary, but he's as inaccurate as a Broncos backup quarterback when he does so.

His Nomar-style, off-target sling to first Friday night against the Rangers allowed Josh Hamilton to hustle home with the tying run, and it was reminder that while Lowrie doesn't make many errors as a defensive player, he makes plenty of mistakes.

BZgNybQBGkKGrHgoOKjMEjlLmVUyGBKnBsh4Cz_12.jpg5. It's probably wise to resist projecting a 22-year-old player with 14 games and 50 plate appearances of major league experience as a regular for a big market team the following season. It's tough to separate the Burkses and Greenwells from the Benzingers before the league has had a chance to adjust, and the player has had a chance to re-adjust.

With that pathetic qualifier said . . . I'm convinced Ryan Kalish can handle close to a full-time role next season. Consider what we know to be his strengths:

A strong throwing arm and the versatility to play three outfield positions well . . . speed and relative savvy on the bases for a young player . . . and most importantly, a discerning eye at the plate, which is going to help him reach base even during the inevitable slumps. He's going to be a hell of a player someday -- at his peak, he could be an amalgam of many of the attributes of J.D. Drew and Trot Nixon.

It's not out of the realm of possibility that someday means immediately in Kalish's case.

FULL ENTRY

Extraordinary Joe

  March 22, 2010 12:11 AM

Playing nine innings while hoping the Sox reach a deal with Josh Beckett before heading north for the summer . . .

1. Talk about your good news/bad news scenarios.

On the same day the Twins found out they were losing closer Joe Nathan for the entire season, they signed the extraordinary and essential Joe Mauer to an eight-year, $184 million deal that will keep the local idol with his hometown team though his age-35 season.

Let's just say we're fairly certain the Mauer signing served as a delightful elixir to Twins fans after the grim Nathan news. Make no mistake, Nathan is great, the Twins' version of Jonathan Papelbon (yes, wise guy, right down to the 2009 playoff meltdown). But he's also replaceable.

Mauer is as irreplaceable as a ballplayer gets, a legitimate Gold Glove catcher with three batting titles to his credit at age 26 -- and judging by his power surge last year during his MVP season, he's still improving.

He's the epitome of a franchise player -- and one who is with the right franchise. I guess this reveals me to be more of a baseball fan than a Red Sox fan, but I'm genuinely glad Mauer remained in Minnesota even though the Sox undoubtedly would have been one of the filthy-rich few in the hunt for his services had he hit free agency after this season.

Mauer, a St. Paul native, matters in Minnesota; he'd have been just another superstar mercenary had he gone to Boston or New York or Los Angeles. Oh, I'll admit I was somewhat intrigued by Nick Cafardo's suggestion his Sunday Baseball Notes column last week that Mauer probably would have preferred Boston over New York; I'm convinced, with his knack for hitting to left field, that he could have had multiple George Brett '80 seasons with the Sox, especially if his catching chores were reduced as he entered his late 20s.

But that brief daydream is gone, and I'm okay with that. I suspect the Yankees would have won the bidding war anyway -- I'm convinced Mauer left over $100 million on the table to remain a Twin -- and he's where he belongs, like Cal Ripken in Baltimore, Tony Gwynn in San Diego, Robin Yount in Milwaukee, and Brett the lifetime Royal.

Joe Mauer, catcher, Minnesota Twins. It just seems right.

2. Not to pick on the USA Today/Sports Weekly Fantasy Baseball Special Edition, because I've found it to be a fairly insightful and user-friendly resource on draft day. But the suggestion in this year's edition that Mike Lowell was "excellent" defensively last year tells me that there's might be a little more emphasis on reputation than there is on research. That description of the sessile 2009 version of Lowell is about as accurate as saying Dustin Pedroia is timid, and demure Jacoby Ellsbury clogs the bases, and Victor Martinez and Jason Varitek will throw out 87 percent of baserunners between them.

3. Speaking of which, my favorite Sox-related nugget from the always-worth-the-cover-price 2010 Bill James Gold Mine:

The Red Sox in 2009 allowed 151 stolen bases, while throwing out 23 would-be base stealers. This was the worst stolen base percentage allowed in the history of the American League.

And somewhere, Carl Crawford laughs maniacally. (Or , more specifically, like Matt Damon at the end of this.)

4. Three thoughts on Alan Embree's return to the Red Sox organization: 1) Dustin Richardson's recurring command issues cost him a decent opportunity at sticking with this team, because it's clear the Sox don't see Brian Shouse as the solution as the second lefty in the pen. 2) It's always nice to have another chance to salute One of the 25, especially the one who recorded the final out on Yankee Stadium soil. But judging by his 1-to-1 K/BB ratio last season in Colorado, his fastball is apparently a misnomer these days, and he never had much in his repertoire in terms of deception. 3) It's nice to see, judging by this card, that I'm not the only one whose mom bought his school clothes from the Montgomery Ward catalog.

5. I've had quite a few e-mail, Twitter, and chat questions the past few weeks suggesting that the Sox should hold on to Mike Lowell as insurance at designated hitter in case David Ortiz's spring struggles lead to another painfully frigid start this season. I admit it makes some practical sense, but I still doubt it's going to happen. Lowell has made it clear he still thinks of himself as a starting third baseman, and there have been strong indications that he had the hardest time among those affected in adjusting to the altered playing time after Victor Martinez was acquired from Cleveland at the trade deadline. The Sox are going to do their best to accommodate him, and I still believe he will be dealt -- with the club picking up all of his salary -- before April 3 arrives.

6. I was doing some research on what the Cardinals' situation is at third base, because from a distance Lowell seems like an ideal fit there, when I came across a story featuring another player who handled the position for the Sox in the past . . . and who may very well be the least accomplished two-time All-Star in franchise history. If you wondered whatever happened to Scott Cooper, here's your answer.

7. I'm trying to give Ron Washington the benefit of the doubt, and I think the Rangers did the right thing in doing the same, at least this once. But my b.s. detector starts beeping rapidly when I read that a 57-year-old man who admits he used amphetamines and pot during his 1970s and '80s playing days claims he was a first-time user of cocaine. The real intrigue of this story, however, is that he was ratted out by what Rangers boss Nolan Ryan described as a disgruntled ex-employee, presumably Jon Heyman's source on the scoop. Have to figure that name will be revealed at some point. Judging by Josh Hamilton's comments on the situation, I wouldn't be surprised if the source was a player.

8. My fantasy baseball sleeper -- can you tell my draft is coming up soon? -- this year isn't really a sleeper at all, I suppose, since he's been a perennial top 10 pick the past several years. But I've seen a few publications and supposed experts say there's some risk attached to Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera, projecting him as a second- or third-round pick in a 10-team league. I don't get it -- to me, he's about as sure a thing as there is. Yeah, I know about his late-night boozing and his domestic issues with his wife and his petulant escapades; his irresponsibility clearly had some impact on the Tigers' late slump last season (though he did homer in the one-game playoff). But this is a guy who at the plate is the second coming of Manny Ramirez even with all of his personal demons, and now he's cleaned up his act (have you seen him? he looks five years younger and 20 pounds lighter this spring), is just 26 (a day older than Mauer), and hit 34 homers with a .923 OPS in 2009, finishing fourth in the AL MVP voting despite all of the self-inflicted drama. As for my pitching sleeper -- and remember, as if I haven't reminded you enough, that I was Gammons's co-conductor on the Zack Greinke Express last spring -- I'm not offering any clues other than this: He's projected to go in the 40-50 range, and I would have no qualms about taking him first overall among pitchers. If you guess it in the comments, only then will I confirm. (Maybe.)

9. Did you see that play Adrian Beltre made the other day? Beyond spectacular, wasn't it? Now, you do you realize that we're going to be repeating that phrase time and again through the summer, provided he stays healthy and remembers to wear a cup? I'm telling you, gang, this pitching and defense thing is going to be as aesthetically pleasing in its own way as watching the Red Sox Home Run Derby of 2003-04, and the lineup, deep, versatile, and without the Dueling Black Holes at the bottom of the order form a season ago, is far better than conventional wisdom suggests. Man, can Opening Day hurry up and get here already?

Yes, that J.D. Drew

  September 30, 2009 11:24 AM

Playing nine innings while looking forward to buying a "2009 AL wild card champions" t-shirt for $3.99 at Olympia a month from now . . .

1. Peter Gammons tweeted this bit of info this morning, and it caught me by such surprise that I had to turn to MLB.com for confirmation, but it is true: J.D. Drew is second among qualifying American League outfielders in OPS this season, behind only teammate Jason Bay. (Adam Lind, who would be first, doesn't count since he's primarily been a DH.) Further, Drew is 11th overall, trailing these 10 boppers: Joe Mauer, Youk, You're On The Mark Teixeira!, Miguel Cabrera, Lind, A-Rod, Ben Zobrist, Bay, Michael Young, and Kendry Morales. Damn good company. I don't know if this is an indictment of OPS as a measuring stick regarding a player's contributions and value, or a sign that we've been sleeping on a very useful season from the player who is in the top five on the Red Sox' all-time list of enigmas. But the conclusion is inescapable: Drew has had a sneaky-excellent season.

2. It's tempting to root for the Morneau-less Twins in this honest-to-goodness pennant race with the Tigers, if for no other reason than the slim chance that it will enhance Joe Mauer's MVP candidacy in the brussels sprout-sized minds of those who believe there is any other logical choice. But . . . but . . . I just can't do it, for two reasons: I can't stand the Twins' addiction to Punto-ing away outs with small-ball tactics, and, more important, I'm fairly sure they'd be roadkill against the Yankees. I've shared this dream before, and I will again, because I'm convinced it can become reality: Justin Verlander, who is 1-1 with a 1.29 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 14 innings against the Yankees this season, beats CC Sabathia in Game 1 . . . and suddenly, the Yankees are counting on maddening A.J. Burnett to win Game 2 . . . and the entitled and desperate jackals get bloodthirsty, and . . .

3. Obviously, the priority over the final four games is to get the pitching staff lined up and the lineup rested for the postseason. But I hope David Ortiz, who undoubtedly could benefit from a day off or two, gets the opportunity to wallop the two homers and drive in the four runs he needs for his sixth career 30 homer/100 RBI season. Considering that he didn't hit his second home run until June 6 -- the 56th game of the season -- it's remarkable that he even has a shot at the dual milestones at all. And for all that has happened to him this season -- and all he did for Sox fans in previous seasons -- it is very, very easy to root for a little bit of redemption for the man

4. The Tek Army, depleted, battered, and on the verge of acknowledging that their idol is barely able to throw to second base in under 2.5 seconds, has been reduced to suggesting that their captain should call pitches from the bench during the postseason. I know it's hard to believe, but I never wanted it to come to this; my problem was never with Varitek, an admirable and important player during the Red Sox' terrific recent run, but with those who exaggerated his secondary abilities when it was apparent that his truly valuable skills were eroding. I actually wouldn't mind if he's behind the plate for Josh Beckett's Game 2 start -- Varitek's presence is of apparent importance to the pitcher, and that's worth something. I just don't want to see him digging in to the batter's box for a meaningful late-inning at-bat. Heck, I'd rather see the suddenly available Eric Wedge get a few swings. Check out that HR rate in '92.

5. Yeah, I suppose it was in questionable taste for Angels players to toast (and douse) the image of Nick Adenhart on the outfield wall with champagne and beer during their playoff-clinching celebration Monday night, given that the promising young pitcher was killed by a drunk driver. But I don't have much of an issue with it, considering that their intent was heartfelt and genuine. What did bug me was Angels broadcaster Rex Hudler's relentless yapping as the Angels' players headed out to pay tribute to their fallen teammate. Even Chris Berman knows that moments such as that one don't need a running commentary.

FULL ENTRY

Just worry about the batter, son

  August 25, 2009 09:58 AM

Playing nine innings while wondering if Clay Buchholz's bizarre habit of throwing to first base at unnecessary times is some sort of tribute to Matt Young . . .

1. Despite losing two of three this weekend and six of their last seven matchups with the Yankees overall, I still feel oddly confident in the Sox' chances.

Why? Here's why: A.J. Burnett, No. 2 starter, all-time enigma. He's 33 years old, is as unhittable as any pitcher in the big leagues when he's on and interested, and yet he still carries himself like Nuke LaLoosh's petulant kid brother. In fact, I'm pretty sure this conversation actually occurred on the Fenway mound sometime around the second inning Saturday:

Burnett:[to himself]: Why's he calling for a curve ball? I want to bring heat. Shake him off. Throw what you want. [Posada gives Burnett the sign for the pitch, Burnett shakes his head again. Posada and his ears walk to the mound.]

Posada: Why are you shaking me off?

Burnett: I want to bring the heater. Announce my presence with authority.

Posada: To announce what?

Burnett: My presence with authority.

Posada: To announce your presence with authority?! This guy's a first ball fastball hitter, looking for the heat.

Burnett: So what? He ain't seen my heat.

Posada: All right, Meat. Give him your heat. [He walks back to his place behind the plate, muttering something about Carl Pavano.]

Burnett: Why's that big-eared guy always calling me Meat? I'm the guy driving a Porsche.

Posada: [to Kevin Youkilis, standing at the plate] Fastball.

[Burnett delivers. Youkilis crushes a home run, pausing to admire it.]

Posada: What are you doing standing here? I gave you a gift. You stand here showing up my pitcher? Run, dummy, or I'll have Chamberlain stick one in your ear.

Yes, that went on way too long, and yes, Burnett actually wanted to throw his curveball more. But other than that minor factual alteration, I am absolutely sticking to my story. With that indulgence out of the way, on to real baseball matters . . .

2. No, I don't think Josh Beckett is injured. I think he's had two lousy starts in a row, the first because he had to pitch to Victor Martinez, and the second because he hadn't recovered from the trauma of having to pitch to Victor Martinez. (Now that the Tek Army loyalists have nodded their heads and moved along to their dream-filled days of ice cream, unicorns, and squared-jawed catchers with brush-cut hairdos who can hit .250, let's try to come up with a sensible reason why Beckett has done the Wasdin thing over his last two starts after about two months of dominant pitching.) And look! Here's one, courtesy of Buster Olney, who suggests on ESPN Insider blog that the Yankees may have solved Beckett's pitching pattern entering Sunday's game.

The Yankees' home run data from Sunday night showed a definite trend in how to approach Beckett -- look for a first-pitch fastball, then curveball with two strikes. Derek Jeter and Hideki Matsui's leadoff homers in the first and second innings were both off fastballs. Robinson Cano and A-Rod later followed with homers off two-strike curveballs. This proved to be a great approach: Beckett threw 25 of 33 first-pitch fastballs (76 percent versus 59 percent overall). Beckett threw curveballs in eight of 18 of at-bats that reached.

This proved to be a great approach. Olney's not one for hyperbole, is he? Someone with the Yankees deserves kudos for cracking the code and allowing the Yankees to hammer a legitimate Cy Young candidate. Conversely, how come the Red Sox seemed to be so complacent in their pitch selection? I realize Beckett can be stubborn -- something tells me he'd like throwing to Posada about as much as Burnett does -- but if you don't mix it up, at some point, an advance scout is going to catch on. You'd think John Farrell and, yes, Varitek, would be aware of this, though I'd be curious to know if the pitching pattern was the same when Beckett threw to Martinez in his previous start at Toronto.

3. Mike Lowell since the All-Star break: .366 batting average, .591 slugging, 1.016 OPS, five homers and 21 RBIs in 93 at-bats. I believe the extra rest has helped him to a degree -- he does seem to be moving laterally better in the field -- but I bet he'd tell you that the numbers are the best evidence yet that he should be playing every day. At this point, I tend to see it his way, if only because the Sox lineup is so much deeper when Lowell and David Ortiz are a part of it.

4. By conventional statistical measures, Jacoby Ellsbury is having a pretty decent second full season in the big leagues. He's hovering around a .300 batting average (.294) at the moment, he plays a borderline Gold Glove center field, and with his next stolen base will break the club record that has been held since 1973, when Tommy Harper swiped 53. But a glance at his baseball-reference page leaves you with one fundamental conclusion: He's been almost the same exact mediocre player he was last season. His adjusted OPS is 87, the same as it was during his rookie season, and lower than Jason Varitek's and David Ortiz's this season. His on-base percentage is up .004 from a season ago, and his OPS is just .010 higher. Really, the only statistical changes are that he will probably score few runs, and he'll strike out less often. Not exactly the leap in production we were hoping from him in Year 2. He's going to be 26 in two weeks. It might be time to start wondering if what you see is what you are going to get with him.

5. I've been doing my best to not allow eight mostly brutal starts with the Red Sox alter my appreciation of John Smoltz's 20 mostly admirable seasons with the Atlanta Braves. So far, so good, though I have to admit it was intensely aggravating to watch him go out and dominate the Padres Saturday as if he'd suddenly discovered the fountain of youth beneath the Gateway Arch. Though the Padres have an offense that would probably finish in the middle of the pack in the Atlantic League, Smoltz, who whiffed nine in five scoreless innings, did look like the pitcher the Sox thought they were getting when they signed him back in January. He looked liked someone truly capable of contributing to a pitching staff through October, and only adding to a Sox fan's frustration was the implication during the game, when the Cardinals announcers were fawning over Yadier Molina and Dave Duncan's work with Smoltz, and afterward, when the Cardinals claimed that Chris Carpenter immediately noticed that Smoltz was tipping his pitches during a bullpen session. The Sox deny this, but if the Cardinals are right, shouldn't John Farrell and a certain catcher with all of those alleged intangibles have picked up on this at some point? Or have we blamed them for enough already today? It would go a long way toward explaining why opposing batters hit Smoltz like they knew what was coming, though I'm not sure I entirely buy it. The Cardinals like to be the smartest guys in the room, and Smoltz's batting-practice fastball didn't help his cause here Boston, either.

FULL ENTRY

Short-term solution

  August 14, 2009 06:03 PM

Playing nine innings while humming the "This Week In Baseball" theme song for no apparent reason (except that it is awesome) . . .

1. An Alex Gonzalez sequel? Eh, I suppose it's an upgrade over Nick Green and Chris Woodward, though at this point the other Alex Gonzalez might be an improvement, and he's been out of baseball since 2006. As we learned first-hand in 2006, Gonzalez has never been much with the bat -- his career-best adjusted OPS is 99, set in 2007 with the Reds -- and he's having an awful year this year, batting .210 with three homers. Of course, we know why the Sox brought him back: He's always been one of the most graceful fielders in the game, and that hasn't changed, though there is some debate as to whether he's lost a significant amount of range since 2006, when he played the best defensive shortstop most Sox fans can recall. (Full disclosure: I thought Pokey was better.) My man Kilgore passes along this tidbit: Fangraphs rates Gonzalez's range as being worse than . . . Nick Green's. Green's biggest weakness is his erratic arm, so if anything, Gonzalez should provide defensive stability in the late innings. I think we're wise enough not going to expect much more than that, though.

2. I'm a little stunned by all the gripes I've heard (particularly in the chat this afternoon) regarding Tito's decision to sit Dustin Pedroia yesterday against Justin Verlander. I sometimes get accused of being a Francona apologist, and I do probably go too far in his defense on occasion simply because it seems he's a permanent target of the miserable I'm-Never-Happy-Unless-I'm-*$(#))ing-About-The-Red Sox-Manager crowd. But Pedroia has been struggling lately (he was hitting .167 over the previous five games), he hasn't had a full day off since early July, and besides, isn't it a good idea to give your hitters a mental health day against an elite pitcher every now and then?

3. I'm a little late on this, but I loved White Sox general manager Kenny Williams's decision to claim overpaid underachiever Alex Rios off waivers from the Blue Jays for a couple of reasons. 1) Williams is one of the few GMs with the daring to make deals that don't jibe with the conventional wisdom (the Jake Peavy swap was another). He has the courage of his distinctive convictions, but more importantly as far as fans are concerned, he has a knack for generating some interesting baseball discussion. 2) I have this completely unjustifiable hunch that Rios, who is only 28, is going to be worth the gamble despite his lackadaisical reputation. 3) If I recall correctly, Williams was mocked by Billy Beane in "Moneyball," so there's some irony in him bailing out J.P. Ricciardi, a former Beane underling, by taking Rios's bad contract off his hands just a few years after the outfielder's value was so high that there were rumors he'd be dealt to the Giants for a kid named Tim Lincecum.

4. Justin Masterson, who makes his second start for the Indians tonight after being dealt at the deadline in the Victor Martinez trade, has a 1.29 in his previous two appearances (one start) with Cleveland. I think that is enough evidence to rest my case that the Sox should have parted with Clay Buchholz, he of the .250 winning percentage, instead. See, now that's how you cherry-pick stats to make an argument. In all seriousness, Buchholz's last couple of starts have been cause for optimism, particularly his gutsy (if losing) effort in New York when the Sox were in the final stages of their disastrous trip. My questions about Buchholz have had little to do with his ability and just about everything to do with his makeup and grace under pressure. If he can continue to pitch consistently well in the bad times as well as good, then that is beyond encouraging concerning his future with the Red Sox.

5. In retrospect, the seemingly puzzling Casey Kotchman acquisition at the trading deadline probably shouldn't have been relegated to afterthought status, though that was easy enough to do after the Victor Martinez deal grabbed the headlines. While he hasn't hit for the 25-homer power that was projected for him when he was the Angels' No. 1 prospect a few seasons ago, he's an adequate hitter (career 97 adjusted OPS) who plays an outstanding first base, and there's certainly some value in that type of player. I thought it was interesting that Theo Epstein, who was surprisingly candid during his interview with WEEI's "Dale and Holley" yesterday, indicated that Kotchman, who is just 26, might be a bigger part of the Red Sox' future plans than we have realized. I wasn't sure why they made the deal when they did, but after watching Kotchman and hearing the Sox' explanation, I like it a lot. Now, if I could just forget that notorious second-half slugger Adam LaRoche has an 1.122 OPS for the Braves since the deal.

FULL ENTRY

Playing catch-up

  July 24, 2009 05:32 PM

Playing nine innings while wondering if Tek sent A-Rod a gift on the five-year anniversary . . .

1. Here's where I stand with the Adam LaRoche deal: I like it a lot, and yet I'm still hoping for something better. Does that make sense? As we've all heard the past couple of days, LaRoche is a notorious second-half hitter, and Terry Francona would be wise -- in lineup terms, if not clubhouse terms -- to institute a straight platoon with the creaky Mike Lowell to see if LaRoche can go on one of his hot streaks. But unless he goes on one of his streaks, I can't see how the slumbering Sox offense is significantly better with him in the lineup instead of Lowell. He's an upgrade, but not enough to offset their other issues. If a couple of core hitters -- say, Youkilis and Bay -- don't get hot at the same time, and soon, then I suspect we'll be frustrated that the Theo Epstein didn't pay the price in prospects on a bigger name with bigger numbers.

2. In a related note: Would you trade Clay Buchholz to Cleveland for Victor Martinez? According to Peter Gammons, the Sox had the chance and declined, leading them to pull the trigger on the longstanding LaRoche offer from Pittsburgh. You know what? The more I consider it, the more I think Theo should have taken a few swigs of his favorite beverage, reminded himself that Buchholz will be 25 next month, is just a half-a-year younger than Jon Lester, and still seems to get the moonie-eyes whenever he finds himself in trouble, and make the deal while his value is highest. Then again, I must confess that I never would have written this in the aftermath of his terrific season debut against Toronto before the All-Star break, and there is a tremendous amount of risk in trading a pitcher of his repertoire and promise. It's a tough call, and that's why Theo gets paid the big bucks. But if he Sox can't entice Mark Shapiro with a package starting with Michael Bowden, it's worth revisiting Buchholz's availability again.

3. The way it's looking right now, I'll keep saying I expect the Red Sox and Jason Bay to come to a contract agreement, right up until he's standing next to a smug Brian Cashman and holding up a pinstriped jersey for $18 mil a year. Actually, if there's any fallout from his recent imitation of Ed Sprague-circa-2000 -- Bay is batting .170 with 16 total bases in July -- let's hope it results in him deciding to lower his asking price with the Sox. Maybe he would benefit from a clearer mind right now. It would also help if a friendly pitcher would throw him something other than a slider once in a while.

4. You wouldn't think a injury-prone outfielder/first baseman who batted .242 with one homer in 210 plate appearances since joining the Sox (hat tip) would be lamented upon his departure, but I'm a little bummed to see Mark Kotsay go. He was still an A-/B+ defender and a class act, and with a little bit of luck last postseason, he could have had a moment or two to remember. (He batted .250 in 10 postseason games, but seemed to sting the ball right at someone just about every time up.) Ideally, he'd clear waivers, go to Pawtucket, and come back Sept. 1. But even with his struggles this season, he's worth a flier for a contender. Just as he was for the Sox last year.

5. You won't catch us lamenting the dismissal of Julio Lugo -- surprising, I know, and kudos to Theo for getting a semi-live body in return for one of the least enjoyable Sox players in recent memory. But it has suddenly become imperative that Jed Lowrie, who is batting a robust .107 right now, shakes off his rust quickly and remains healthy, because Nick Green has turned into Scranton Wilkes-Barre Nick Green, not Feel-Good-Story-of-the-First-Half Nick Green. He's batting .163 with a .568 OPS in July after posting .233/.698 numbers last month. At the least, he could use a rest since he's already played the second-most games of his big league career.

FULL ENTRY

A few wild swings

  July 10, 2009 11:57 AM

Playing nine innings while wondering whether Jonathan Papelbon will find his AWOL command in the second half . . .

1. Have to imagine the Red Sox front office's internal conversations about Roy Halladay went something like this: "Man, can you imagine a front three of him, Josh, Jon? Pretty close to unbeatable -- well, as long as we have enough offense to score three runs a game, anyway. Which reminds me of the real reason we're gathered here right now -- to figure out how to get the bat this team needs . . . " In other words, a little bit of daydreaming about acquiring the Blue Jays' 32-year-old workhorse/ace, followed by a healthy dose of reality. We'd all love to see Halladay on the Sox, including those who get paid to consider such things. But if Theo Epstein is going to spend his prospects on an upgrade for this year's club, a quality bat (Garrett Atkins need not apply) must come in return, particularly since you have to be skeptical that Mike Lowell can last the season on his gimpy hip. Halladay would make the rich richer. But another hitter would make them better.

2. I'll admit, there is some level of pinstripe paranoia lingering in the back of my mind regarding the supposed Halladay sweepstakes. I don't know if the Yankees could put together a package of prospects to J.P. Ricciardi's liking -- I imagine it would start with Phil Hughes and Austin Jackson -- but they certainly should try. It's noble of Brian Cashman to pretend that he is also following the Red Sox blueprint of trying to build a player development machine, but at some point the Yankees might be best served by admitting they are what they are -- a high-priced collection of big names, most of whom came up through another team's farm system. They should have made the Johan Santana deal two years ago, and they should deal for Halladay now. Here's hoping they're not smart enough to realize as much.

3. Burned a few minutes the other day trying come up with a list of Sox infielders through the years who had a stronger throwing arm than Nick Green. Rick Burleson was one -- he'd hold the ball just so he could show off his hose, unleashing a laser at the last possible second and nipping the runner by a half-step at first. (That also may explain why the Rooster blew out his rotator cuff.) Glenn Hoffman, who in retrospect might have been better served by taking the career path of his kid brother, was another. Who would you add to the list? And don't say Lugo.

4. I've never been happier for or more encouraged by a .224 hitter than I am for David Ortiz right now. He was batting .185 with one homer as of May 31, and the word excruciating doesn't begin to describe the start to his season. But since June 1, he's hit 10 homers and driven in 26 runs in 103 at-bats, and he really does look like his old self. Big Papi is Big Papi again, and it sure is nice to write those words.

5. Baseball is better when Pedro Martinez is involved, and so it's encouraging to hear that he's close to returning to the big leagues and inking a deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. I would have rather seen him end up with the Dodgers or Cubs -- I'm not sure that Williamsport-style bandbox the Phillies play in will treat him well -- but having him back in the majors where he belongs will be reward enough.

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Sixth sense

  May 27, 2009 12:48 PM

Playing nine innings while preparing to eat a heaping helping of crow should Jason Varitek's redemption tour continue . . .

1. Sixth? Seems about right for poor Papi, and his season debut (1 for 3, double, walk) in a spot in the batting order that has been unfamiliar to him since May 2004 was a small success. To be honest, though, I wouldn't be averse to Terry Francona dropping him to seventh or lower since he's still in a prime run-producing position. Tito clearly has more respect for Ortiz than that, and you can't fault the manager for giving one of his most beloved and historically dependable players every opportunity to come out of this tailspin. I just wish I could convince myself it's going to happen. While it was a warm moment, it soon became quite clear that Papi's lone home run this season came off an overwhelmed pitcher, Brett Cecil, who had no business being on that mound, and Ortiz's subsequent slide afterward was confirmation that all was not solved by the one home run. He's still struggling to hit a decent fastball, his mechanics at the plate are a tangled mess, and he looks -- justifiably -- as if he's carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. It's like the Seattle respite never happened. For now, all we can do is cross our fingers and hope against hope that Papi finds his mojo again. Last night was a baby step. It would be nice if Kevin Slowey would play the role of Brett Cecil tonight.

2. If Ortiz doesn't come out of this, I'm still on board with the idea of acquiring Victor Martinez from Cleveland if the cost isn't too prohibitive -- and I do not consider Michael Bowden as too much to sacrifice for a legitimate middle-of-the-order hitter who can catch and play first base. I'm also curious -- as I mentioned on my Twitter feed the other day -- if the Sox might be able to put together a package to acquire Adrian Gonzalez from San Diego. While his contract is appealing to the Padres -- in March 2007 he signed a four-year, $9.5 million with a $5.5 million team option for 2011 -- Gonzalez is a player who has appealed to the Sox since he was buried behind Mark Teixeira and Hank Blalock in Texas, and he might be one they could be willing to overpay for in terms of prospects. Admittedly, this is all speculation, and it would probably only happen if (or when) the surprising Padres (23-22) stumble, but on the surface it makes a lot of sense.

3. At this point, I'm almost wondering whether the Sox should track down Pokey Reese and stick him at short. Sure, he'll be 36 in June, hasn't played in the majors since 2004, and would as usual struggle to hit his weight . . . but at least you know he'd catch the bleepin' ball, which makes him an immediate upgrade over Julio Lugo and Nick Green. Actually, all facetiousness aside, this isn't much different than suggesting the Sox should acquire ancient Omar Vizquel, who is somehow hitting .372 for Texas. And I'd also take him.

4. I'm not particularly concerned about Jonathan Papelbon giving up two-run homers on back to back outings on Saturday and Monday. One came on a poorly located pitch to a hitter, Omir Santos, who was obviously sitting on a fastball and got a fat one, and the other was hit by Joe Mauer, who is so hot right now that he could probably go 3 for 4 with a double and a homer against vintage Koufax. What does concern me is Papelbon's increased walk rate, which is apparently the result of altered mechanics. He has three more bases on balls this season than he had all of 2008 -- and that's in 48.1 fewer innings. His strikeout-to-walk ratio last year was a ridiculous 9.63-to-1. This year, it stands at 2.18. Given that his first three seasons as a closer stack up with any pitcher's in history, it seems to me there was no reason whatsoever to tweak his delivery or his approach unless the Sox have more concerns about the long-term condition of his shoulder than they are letting on. Is there any other reason to mess with such a good thing?

5. The Ramon Ramirez/Coco Crisp deal with the Royals is looking like one of those rare win-win swaps. Ramirez -- who remains something of a mystery to me; do we know anything about this guy? -- has been absolutely lights-out for the Sox, with a 0.74 ERA and a Pedro-like 0.74 WHIP in 24.1 innings over 22 appearances. Although Crisp is hitting just .236 for the Royals -- he has an interesting explanation for this on his Twitter feed (second item down) -- his .751 OPS is the same as it was last season with the Sox, and his sensational defense in center field prompted Zack Greinke to suggest that his approach on the mound is to get the batters to hit the ball in Coco's direction. Not a bad policy, as we learned so memorably around here in 2007.

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Early indications and overreactions

  April 9, 2009 05:12 PM

Playing nine innings while loving the new MLB.tv setup this season . . .

1. A jerk's knee-jerk reactions to the tied-for-fourth-place Red Sox after three of 162: Game 3 against the Rays in this series looked quite a lot like Game 7 last October -- the Sox just couldn't deliver a big hit when they needed one. I'm going to go out on a limb and say it's a little too early to be concerned about the offense as a whole, however. Save the "We Miss Manny" nonsense . . . David Ortiz went just 2 for 9 with no home runs in the series, but there was one very encouraging sign -- he's back in his old familiar waiting-to-pounce crouch at the plate. Last year, when his knees were barking, he was noticeably more upright, and it affected his power . . . Are you concerned at all about Jed Lowrie and/or Jacoby Ellsbury, who are a combined 3 for 24? No? Not even just a little? . . . Yesterday's hiccup aside, Daisuke Matsuzaka will win his usual 14-18 games this season. We might even get through a few of them without pulling our hair out . . . Manny Delcarmen is finally in his ideal role, and you can interpret that as you wish . . . Now that was vintage Josh Beckett. If he can maintain something close to that velocity through the summer, his starts will become must-see events.

2. Still can't decide if I like Rays manager Joe Maddon or not. I do admire his creative thinking and willingness to leave cleat marks on conventional baseball wisdom. And while there's no manager in the game today I'd rather have running the Sox than Terry Francona, I believe Maddon -- the runner-up for the gig after Grady Little was sent back to the barnyard -- would have been a very interesting and progressive choice. On the other hand, he does give off a deliberate "smartest-man-in-the-room" vibe, and sometimes it seems like some of the Rays' strategy and tactics are done in part to show off his unconventionality. I suppose I have 15 more games this season -- and perhaps more -- to make up my mind.

3. Interesting story on Red Sox fan-favorite Mark Teixeira in Newsday this morning. According to reporter Kat O'Brien's story, Hal Steinbrenner -- he's the Steinbrenner son without the Tonka trucks and Army men in his office -- had to be convinced by general manager Brian Cashman to pursue the slugging free agent first baseman. And he was apparently persuaded to get involved only when it looked like Teixeira would end up in Boston:

Perhaps one argument that swayed them was these words from Cashman about the Red Sox: "I know you're not interested, but they're going to get this guy. He's going to fall in their lap, and he's so perfect for us."

Oh, he's perfect for the Yankees all right. He's a (choose your own adjective).

4. I realize Evan Longoria is a budding superstar, the Rays' franchise centerpiece at age 23, and I wouldn't be surprised if he collects an MVP award or two in the next five years. It's hard to believe he doesn't even have a full year of service time yet, because it feels like he's been pounding Red Sox pitching for about a decade at this point. I am really looking forward to the day Sox scouts recognize something resembling a hole in his swing or a weakness in his approach, because every time he comes to Fenway, he turns into some combination of Mike Schmidt and George Brett. And he's not that good. Yet, anyway.

5. Three games into the season, and the relentless Varitek Army is already beating down my door. The demand? That I apologize immediately for having the gall to suggest that his career is on an accelerated down-slope after he hit roughly .220 over the last year-and-a-half. Color me skeptical, but I'm going to wait for another chunk of the next 159 games to pass before I'm convinced that a 37-year-old (as of tomorrow) catcher is capable of bouncing back. That said, I'm perfectly fine with his current pace: .167 average, 108 hits, and 108 home runs over a 162-game season. Look out, Barry Bonds!

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This used to be my playground

  March 16, 2009 06:19 PM

Playing nine innings while wondering if A-Rod is actually a "Saturday Night Live" skit come to life . . .

1. While Theo Epstein said Sunday that the Red Sox and Jason Bay have broken off contract talks for now, the strong hunch here is that the sides will quietly work on a deal through the spring, and the good news of its completion will probably arrive when we're not expecting it. An agreement just makes too much sense for both parties. Bay fell for Boston and the Fenway experience not long after being rescued from Pittsburgh purgatory last July 31, and while his impending free agency makes it extremely unlikely that he'll accept a deal that's as team-friendly as those signed by Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, and Jon Lester, it doesn't sound like he's trying to shake every last coin out of John Henry's pockets, either. And it would be beyond wise for the Red Sox to make it a priority to retain him. He has legitimate 30-homer power, and next year's free-agent class lacks a true knock-down-the-fences slugger (the holdouts and rubes will realize this year that Bay is a superior offensive player to Coors Field-dependent Matt Holliday, who's about to be exposed in that cavernous ballpark in Oakland.) Bottom line: Bay's happy here, he cured the club's Manny headache, he's a good fit skill-wise, and in the next few months, he'll sign a reasonable deal to remain here for the next few seasons. (Completely off track: Is it me, or does Bay look like Gabe Kapler here?)

2. Can't blame Kevin Youkilis for being annoyed with David Ortiz's recurring comments that he needs protection in the lineup. After all, Youk did win the Henry Aaron Award as the top hitter in the AL last season while batting immediately behind Ortiz in the lineup -- what more is he supposed to do? While I actually agree with Papi's point to a degree -- Mark Teixeira would have been the perfect fit, and there are a couple of potential sinkholes in the lineup if certain things don't go right, such as Jason Varitek's bat being resuscitated from the dead -- it's time to let it go and move on. The more Papi mentions it, the more it appears he was spoiled by having Manny batting behind him for all of those years.

3. Daniel Bard has generated some "Next Papelbon" buzz this spring because of his triple-digit fastball. While that's hyperbolic to some degree, it is easy to be encouraged about the 23-year-old former No. 1 pick, particularly since he's walked just two while whiffing 10 in seven innings. Sure, that's a minuscule sample size, but considering this is a pitcher whose command was so completely on the fritz two years ago that he walked 78 batters in 75.1 innings at two stops in Single A, it's nonetheless a reminder of how far he has come. That Bard is at the point where he could be a significant contributor to the big club's bullpen later this season is a credit not only to his own toughness, but also to Red Sox brain trust for the way they handled him during his struggles.

4. Not to be cruel, but I suppose if a Red Sox regular had to get hurt, it might as well be Julio Lugo, though you do have to feel bad for him in a way since he was having something of a redemptive spring. The only way I can see this affecting the Sox is if Mike Lowell suffers some sort of setback during the next few weeks in his recovery from hip surgery. With Jed Lowrie now taking over full-time at short instead of filling the super-sub sort of role the Sox envisioned for him, the club has lost its best backup plan at third base for the time being. In the meantime, I'll continue to daydream about a midseason upgrade at shortstop, since I'm not particularly thrilled with either Lugo or Lowrie. J.J. Hardy, anyone?

5. I may have mentioned this before, but it still staggers me. I don't know if this is the most prescient comment Bill James has ever written, but it certainly has to rate somewhere among his greatest hits, doesn't it? It comes from "The Baseball Book 1991," and it's about a player who hadn't played an inning above Double A at that point. You'll know who it is before you're even through the first sentence:

"You never know exactly how good a young player will be, but with some luck [for the player], Lou Gorman will hear about the . . . trade until the day he dies. It could be one of those deals, like Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio, Nolan Ryan for Jim Fregosi, and Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas, that haunts the man who made it."
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Fill in your own A-Rod pun here

  February 9, 2009 04:55 PM

Playing nine innings while hoping Gene Orza and Scott Boras fight to the death . . .

1. It's understandable for a Red Sox fan to take a certain amount of glee in watching Alex Rodriguez, that pathological narcissist (that’s a nice word for what the New York Post called him this morning), suffer a self-inflicted fall. And it’s easy to savor the schadenfreude as another layer of his phoniness exposed. But the more information that spills about the circumstances and culture of baseball in the mid-'90s and beyond, the more convinced I become that clean players were in the vast, vast minority. And to be honest, I’m roughly the distance of an A-Rod home run in April beyond the point of outrage, and no single name is a surprise anymore. I just wish the whole truth -- every last name, every last positive urine test -- could be revealed in one swoop. Then, and only then, will we be able to put the entire era in perspective and move on. I'm not holding my breath.

2. As for A-Rod's apology, well, pardon the cynicism, but he simply did what he had to do -- a mea culpa was the man's only real option. I still don't believe there is much about this guy that is particularly sincere or honest, and his comments today were nothing but a fundamental approach to damage control – reveal the whole dirty truth as you see it, act contrite (even if you are not), and wait for the populace to move on to tomorrow’s scandal. Andy Pettitte grasped this, though I think we all found a certain level of sincerity in his apology. That steakhead Roger Clemens did not, or at least his Hall of Fame ego would not permit him to. And you know how their stories played out. One is long since forgiven and preparing to pitch a 12th season for the Yankees this year. The other appears obliviously en route to wearing a different kind of stripes. A-Rod and his advisers knew better than to take the contentious Clemens/Bonds path. Sorry, but I'm not praising him for following the only logical option.

3. Been re-reading Seth Mnookin's "Feeding the Monster" lately -- I'd forgotten how detailed and insightful it was, particularly considering we all think we know everything about the Sox -- and I stumbled across a passage that details the tight friendship between Mark Kotsay and John Henry dating back to their time with the Marlins. That was news to me, and in a sense it reassured me that the Sox probably aren't peeved at Kotsay for having back surgery a few weeks after he was signed. However, Brad Wilkerson and his mincemeat shoulder is not a suitable replacement, and I wouldn't mind if Theo found another capable backup outfielder in the bargain bin. I almost wish there was a place for Bobby Abreu.

4. I think I might be giddier about the John Smoltz signing than I would be if the Sox had signed Mark Teixeira. I realize that is somewhat irrational -- okay, very irrational. It's just that I keep looking at the numbers Smoltz put up last season while his shoulder was barking -- 36 strikeouts in 28 innings, a 2.57 ERA, and a 165 adjusted ERA -- and given his history as a big-game bulldog, it is not that much of a leap to think he will be the steal of the offseason, especially since Theo Epstein raves about the workout he had for the Sox before they signed him.

5. Um, Theo does still plan on bringing in a young catcher this season, right? Right? Two more weeks and I might start thinking Buchholz-for-Saltalamacchia is a reasonable idea.

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Mercifully, the final episode of 'Tek Talk

  January 30, 2009 05:23 PM

A special Jason Varitek-is-staying-now-I-can-sleep edition of Nine Innings . . .

1. In the end -- the glorious, waayyyyy overdue end -- I'm glad ol' No. 33 is back with the Red Sox. I know, you probably don't believe me given the snark (and statistical truths) I've utilized while making the case over the past few months that Varitek is cooked as a major league hitter. But it is consistent with what I said all along -- that if he came back on the Red Sox' terms and in a limited role, there should be a place for him. The pitchers -- particularly Jon Lester, from the sounds of his recent comments -- are comfortable with him, and that does count for something. But again, this is the key -- a limited role. Terry Francona must resist the temptation to lean on him like he has in the past, because he simply is not a player capable of performing at an adequate offensive level anymore. Considering Francona's blind spots for certain veterans -- a washed-up Mike Timlin the past two years, Kevin Millar over Kevin Youkilis in '05 -- it's imperative for Theo Epstein to acquire their proverbial Catcher of the Future soon -- and "encourage" the manager to give the new guy at least 50 percent of the playing time. That's the only way this is going to work.

2. I mentioned this in today's chat, but it bears repeating: It's unfair to the Red Sox' veteran pitchers to suggest that they depend greatly on Varitek's wisdom or guidance. Look at their histories: Brad Penny and Josh Beckett pitched the Marlins to a World Championship with Pudge Rodriguez -- universally panned as a game-caller -- behind the plate. John Smoltz threw to Javy Bleepin' Lopez for years, and we learned the hard way what he's all about. Dice-K seems to do his own thing, Varitek doesn't even catch Wakefield, and to suggest he's the secret to the success of the likes of Jonathan Papelbon and Jon Lester does a great disservice to their talent, dedication, and competitiveness of those pitchers. Yes, to a man, the Sox staff respects him and is comfortable with him, and yes, I suppose he calls a good game, though there's no way to measure beyond anecdotal evidence. But in the end, it's not Jason Varitek who delivers the pitch. It's worth remembering that.

3. The suggestion -- spewed forth all too frequently in the comments section -- that Varitek should or will fire Scott Boras is only slightly less foolish than the notion that Varitek was ever going to get a Posada-type deal as a free agent. It sounds good, but it's never going to happen. Sure, Boras botched this offseason from the moment he declined arbitration -- he seriously misread the marketplace and the effects of the economy, and Varitek certainly has the right to be annoyed about that. But in the big picture, Boras has served Varitek extremely well since becoming his agent 15 years ago. This is a player whose most similar comps include Mike Lieberthal and Mike Stanley (yes, that Mike Stanley), and yet he has made $57 million in his career. Boras bollixed the situation this time around. But overall, Varitek is well ahead on the financial scoreboard in his career, and he has his career-long agent to thank for that.

4. Phrases I never want to hear again in relation to Varitek: They should make him a player coach . . . gritty and gutty . . . he's our captain! . . . best game-caller in baseball . . . selfless leader on and off the field . . . the .220 average was a fluke -- he'll bounce back!. . . and probably a few others I have blacked out. The Varitek Army is still permitted to use "knowledgeable" and "prepared," but that's it.

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Anticipation

  December 10, 2008 11:44 PM

Playing nine innings while snickering that the Yankees have almost replaced Mike Mussina's 20 wins . . .

1. When the topic is Mark Teixeira and free agency, I have held two beliefs all along: 1) He's going to get at least $200 million. 2) The winning bid will come from the Yankees. I remain convinced of No. 1. I'm no longer convinced of No. 2, though if I had to bet, I still say the Yankees, whose offense was just as mediocre last season as their pitching staff, are going to swoop in with the insane offer Scott Boras has been waiting for, just as they did for Johnny Damon after the 2005 season. Part of this is my lifelong (but recently dormant) Yankees paranoia talking, but if they threw 10 years and $250 million Teixeira's way Thursday morning, I wouldn't be surprised. As someone who has coveted Teixeira in Boston since Texas first put him on the market midway through the '07 season, you know I'm desperately hoping the Sox are the team that makes him the proverbial Offer He Can't Refuse, though I'm also preparing myself to be disappointed. I want to believe all of the vague reports coming out of the Bellagio that the Sox are the frontrunner for the 28-year-old slugging first baseman, but then I remember that Theo Epstein is essentially giving reporters the mime treatment and Scott Boras isn't offering too many updates from his lair, either, and I can't help but think the notion is little more than the speculation at this point. Teixeira has said he wants to know his destination before Christmas. I hope it's settled much sooner than that. The anticipation is exhausting.

2. Jon Lester should be the Sox' next target for a long-term contract. Jonathan Papelbon seems intent on gambling that he will remain healthy and dominant long enough to hit the jackpot in free agency, and it's still to be determined whether Kevin Youkilis will continue to be the force he was in '08, or whether it was a career year -- I want to see him do it again. I have no doubt that Lester, assuming he avoids significant injury, is going to become one of the game's premier lefthanders for the next 5-6 years. And in certain ways he's already a franchise icon, though I suppose the same could be said for Papelbon and Youkilis to a lesser degree.

3. If the reports that the Yankees will offer Derek Lowe a four-year, $66 million deal are true, he'd be nuts to turn it down, simply because of the ridiculous amount of loot. But baseball-wise, D-Lowe in the Bronx might be doomed to fail. Lowe is master at getting groundballs, as you might recall, and the Yankees' infield defense isn't exactly conducive to supporting a sinkerballer, as you also might recall. To put it another way: There are statues on Easter Island that have better range than Jump-Throwin' Jeter at this point, and second baseman Robinson Cano considers defense an excellent time to catch up on his sleep. I can see Lowe's first season stats in New York now: 12 wins, 14 losses, 4.36 ERA, 203 innings, 356 hits, 222 of which would be groundball singles up the middle.

4. Just for the fun of it, here's how I currently rank the Red Sox' Big Four pitching prospects in terms of value:

1. Justin Masterson. A little bit of The Eck, a little bit of D-Lowe. Untouchable.

2. Clay Buchholz. Yes, he was shockingly brutal a season ago, and there are questions about his makeup. But he has the stuff and his health, and it wasn't that long ago he was one the premier prospects in baseball. I'd be shocked if the Red Sox sold low, though a deal for Jarrod Saltalamacchia makes plenty of sense.

3. Michael Bowden. The opposite of Buchholz. He's a bulldog by all accounts -- I loved Sea Dogs manager Arnie Beyeler's comments to Adam Kilgore after Bowden's debut -- but I'm not the only one who isn't quite convinced that he has a top starter's repertoire.

4. Daniel Bard. An unreal arm -- it seems like he hits 98 effortlessly -- but the couple of times I saw him in Portland, he really made the catcher work. Watching him made me appreciate Papelbon's command for some reason.

5. I was never much of a Greg Maddux fan -- I was always more entertained by the flash of Pedro Martinez in his prime, or even the rage of Roger Clemens in those suspicious seasons after the twilight of his career should have arrived. Heck, among among the Braves, I enjoyed watching John Smoltz and his electric slider more. (Brief aside: I'm on board with the thought of the Sox signing him, provided it's an incentive-laden deal.) But I was smart enough to appreciate Maddux, and I actually found myself wishing he'd hang around a little longer for this reason: Once he's gone, there's a good chance we'll never see anyone quite like him again. Maddux's accomplishments are staggering -- he won at least 15 games for 17 straight seasons -- but I think his most impressive feat is posting back to back adjusted ERAs of 271 and 262 in 1994-95, the fourth- and fifth-best ERA+ seasons in history. He was every bit as dominating as Pedro during the steroid era, just in a subtler way.

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Just throw the pitch already

  October 6, 2008 10:37 AM

Playing nine innings while wondering when Josh Beckett turned into Steve Trachsel . . .

1. I never thought the day would come when I'd think the Sox would be better off with Mark Kotsay in the lineup over Mike Lowell, but, well, here we are. I haven't seen a Sox third baseman so obviously impaired by an injury since Butch Hobson was juggling bone chips in his elbow and endangering the patrons in the first-base side box seats with his scattershot throws during the summah of 1978. Hobson, whom we later learned was also impaired by other things in his career, eventually went to titanium-skulled manager Don Zimmer and asked out of the lineup for the betterment of the team. Terry Francona, who, thank goodness, has nothing common with Zimmer but a hairline, won't allow the situation with Lowell come to that -- I can't imagine he'll be in the lineup tonight after his tough but helpless performance in Game 3. He looked like he was playing his last innings of the season.

2. Anyone who doubts Jon Lester tonight simply hasn't been paying attention since last October. I have no doubts he'll deliver another outstanding performance tonight. What worries me is the Red Sox lineup versus Angels starter John Lackey, who seems to have finally solved his longtime nemesis, save for one ill-advised fastball to Jason Bay. Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz went a combined 0 for 8 last night, and are 3 for 26 in the series overall. At least one of them needs to snap out of it tonight against the Angels' alleged ace, and right now it looks like Pedroia is closer to coming through than the sadly lethargic Papi, though all it takes is one mighty swing to make things right.


3. For the record, Mike Scioscia, who had the speed of a three-legged end table, swiped 29 bases in 53 attempts in his big league career. So if you were wondering why he doesn't seem to be particularly concerned with playing the percentages on the basepaths, that might be a small clue. He was both slow and somewhat reckless, and at least the latter also describes him as a manager.

4. Welcome to the enemies list , Mike Napoli. As far as we're concerned, you're Jonny Gomes with a catcher's mitt.

5. I don't care if Jonathan Papelbon threw 31 or 131 pitches last night. He must be available tonight if the Sox are holding a slim lead in the late innings. To put it another way: The Sox have to do everything they can to avoid a return trip to Anaheim, and that includes deploying their weary closer if the moment calls for it. This isn't a must-win, but it's pretty damn close, unless you feel confident in Dice-K on the road in Game 5. (Yeah, didn't think so.)

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An ace that I could keep

  October 3, 2008 04:04 PM

Playing nine innings while wondering if the Angels are capable of being patient against Dice-K . . .

1. I've probably written this a half-dozen other times this season, but I have to say it again: I couldn't have more respect for Jon Lester. At age 24, he's become everything you'd want in a starting pitcher: durable, clutch, smart, efficient, overpowering, and as a bonus, lefthanded. I used to think his ceiling was as a Bruce Hurst clone. Then, after his final flourish last season, I raised the bar to Andy Pettitte. Now I see him as a harder-throwing version of Pettitte, a true ace whereas Roger Clemens's former BFF was more of a very good No. 2. Lester is 27-8 with a 3.81 ERA in the regular season through his first 59 career starts. Through his first 60 starts, Pettitte was 33-17 with a 4.00 ERA. Looks like the ideal comp to me.

2. I'm not saying TBS analyst Buck Martinez talks too much, but I think he said more words in the third inning Wednesday night than Vin Scully has in his entire career. And there's not exactly a whole lot of insight amid the nasally jabber, either: His favorite topic was the intangible value and game-calling skills of Jason Varitek, which made sense once I realized Buck (real name: John Albert Martinez) spent parts of 17 seasons in the big leagues and had an OPS+ over 95 exactly once. He spent his entire career as the player Varitek is now. (But for the sake of saying something nice about the guy, he does have really great hair for a guy about to turn 60 in a month. I bet even the Eck is envious.)

3. While I believe Tito Francona stands alone at the peak of his profession, I imagine the Angels' Mike Scioscia would be voted the consensus "Top Manager In Baseball" by those who decide such things. There's no doubt he's very good at his job, but I also think a lot of the praise he gets is because his team typically plays a brand of baseball that appeals to the old-school stat-phobes in the media, bunting and stealing bases and playing the game the "way it should be played" . . . right up to the point where their aggressiveness turns on them with an inexcusable gaffe like Vladi Guerrero's in the eighth inning Wednesday night. The Angels give away way too many outs -- and we won't even get started on their see-it, hack-at-it approach at the plate -- and that sort of recklessness has come back to haunt them more than once in recent postseasons. In the end, doesn't that have to reflect on the man in charge?

4. You probably suspect it anyway, so I might as well admit it: I'm enjoying the Manny Ramirez Show in the postseason. Loving it, actually, though I do want the Cubs to win the series (and believe they still can). I guess I look at it like this: I've never enjoyed watching someone hit like I do Manny, I'm a complete sucker for his goofball charisma, and I reconciled myself a long time ago to the fact that he would be maddeningly irresponsible, usually without any logic or explanation. I'll never be glad he's gone, but I completely understand why he is. He's a 36-year-old man who acted like a toddler, he faked an injury -- again, he faked an injury -- and near the end he made the clubhouse such a miserable place that his teammates cited the execrable Carl Everett in describing Manny's divisive behavior. I like Manny, and I always will. Can't help myself. But even I know there's no point in trying to defend the indefensible.

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Welcome everybody to the wild, wild west

  October 1, 2008 05:32 PM

Let's hold off on our look back at the Bill James Handbook projections for another day (or month). After all, it's now October (and you know what that half-wit Dane Cook says about that), our minds are focused on the Angels and tonight's opener, and so it just seems right to spin through a special pregame edition of Nine Innings instead . . .

1. You tell me who wins tonight's game, and I'll tell you who's going to win this series. (How's that for getting to the point? So unlike me.) But I mean it. If Jon Lester comes out and pitches the way he did in September -- actually, the way he did during practically his entire breakthrough 16-6, 3.21 season -- and the rested, favored, and supposedly ready Angels struggle to generate offense, you have to figure thoughts of "Here we go again" will creep into their heads, and the banged up Sox will no longer be underdogs against a franchise they've defeated in their last nine postseason games. But if Lester struggles, the Angels ' jackrabbits generate a few runs, and the Teixeira/Guerrero/Hunter thumpers do their thing against the pitcher who has been the Sox' de facto ace virtually all season, I fear that all of those prognosticators who are picking the Angels to gain redemption in this series with relative ease will be proven right. I think you know where I stand on this -- I could not have more faith in Lester. Sox win tonight. Sox take the series in four.

2. I was almost as encouraged by the inclusion of third-string catcher David Ross on the final roster as I was by the news that Mike Lowell and J.D. Drew were among the final 25, for this reason: It's a clear sign that Tito Francona intends to pinch hit for the mummified remains of Jason Varitek when the situation calls for it. One of the countless things I admire about Francona as a manager is that he consciously changes his approach in the postseason. He manages with more inning-to-inning urgency, whereas from April to September he always has the big picture and the long season in focus. There were a handful of times during the regular season when I'd catch myself screaming at the Samsung after Francona refused to hit for Varitek in a key situation. (Varitek, of course, either whiffed or grounded into a routine double play, depending if there was a runner on first). Ross's presence on the roster is all the proof I need that Tito is about to change his ways again.

3. I admire Lowell for trying to gut it out in this series, but unless he's secretly been fitted with a bionic hip in the last week, I can't imagine he's going to survive for long against the hyper-aggressive Angels. I hate saying it, because the 2007 World Series MVP is obviously an integral part of the Sox' championship hopes, but he's hobbling and wincing like a guy who needs the offseason to hurry up and get here.

4. If any other significant Sox pitcher besides Josh Beckett suffered an oblique injury so close to the postseason, I'd be worried-bordering-on-panic-bordering-on-a-tantrum. But I honestly believe Beckett is one of those true aces of October, like Curt Schilling before him, who can almost will himself to be successful in big moments, even if he doesn't have his best stuff and is not at peak health. To put it another way: If Beckett takes the mound for Game 3, he will deliver.

5. Can someone please explain the following stat to me, courtesy of longtime Friend of TATB Chuck Waseleski (who, from what I hear, is quite maniacal):

The Red Sox were 63-35 (.643) in games Coco Crisp started, 32-32 (.500) in games that he did not start.

I always find myself rooting for Coco for some reason, so I'm glad to see this, but by most measures he had an adequate season at best (94 OPS+). So what am I missing here? Is this just a fluke? Help me, Stat Gurus! (Sending out bat signal to Keith Law . . .)

FULL ENTRY

Who needs a day off?

  September 4, 2008 11:19 AM

Playing nine innings while wishing the sizzling Sox had a ballgame tonight . . .

1. Theo Epstein deserves endless credit for his shrewd maneuvering after the trading deadline. In both Paul Byrd and Mark Kotsay, he's acquired exactly what the Red Sox needed, a dependable old pro capable of steady if not spectacular contributions. It reminds of the way the Yankees always used to seem to get what they needed in late July and August; they'd add a David Justice, while the Sox would bring in some stiff like Ed Sprague. In a related note, on the days when Terry Francona pencils in an outfield of Kotsay, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Coco Crisp, is that the best defensive trio in Red Sox history? All three of those guys are above-average center fielders. And no, Jimy Williams, your Lewis-Buford-Bragg daydream does not qualify.

2. I've enjoyed watching A.J. Burnett pitch dating back to his days with the Sea Dogs a decade ago, and I realize the brash righty has long been a favorite of John Henry's. But I can't imagine that there's much legitimacy to this report (via SoSH) that the Sox will pursue him in the offseason should he opt out of his deal with the Jays as expected. For all of Burnett's ability - and he has a ton, perhaps the best arm in the AL - he's a 31-year-old injury-prone underachiever, a real-life Nuke LaLoosh whose similarity comp is career 74-game winner Chuck Dobson. I'd rather he gets his next ridiculous eight-figure contract elsewhere. Preferably the Bronx.

3. Until the Yankees are officially, mathematically, stake-through-their-cold-hearts dead when it comes to their playoff hopes, I just can't bring myself to root for them, even when they're playing the team the Sox are chasing in the standings. Wanting the Yankees to lose - and lose painfully - is an instinct that you can't turn off just because they're suddenly irrelevant . . . though with a few more seasons of practice I suppose I could learn.

4. Looks like the player we pegged in yesterday's post as Dustin Pedroia's main competition for the AL Most Valuable Player award may not be able to make his case for at least a few games, and perhaps more. White Sox slugger Carlos Quentin, who has had a remarkable breakthrough season with 36 homers and 100 RBIs, is sidelined with a sore right forearm, and the team says he'll miss a week and maybe longer. If Quentin can't come back anytime soon, Pedroia has to be considered the easy favorite for MVP, and no, I never would have thought three months ago that I'd be writing those words.

5. It's not quite Pedroia-esque, but Brandon Moss has been on an impressive tear himself lately for the Pirates, batting .366 with four homers since Aug. 20, and posting multiple hits in five of his last eight games. You might recall that Moss was a binky of ours around here - I still think he will be a better hitter than David Murphy and could have Trot Nixon's career - but there was no real place for him with the Sox, and it's nice to see him getting his deserved and overdue chance to establish himself in the big leagues.

FULL ENTRY

Second to one

  July 18, 2008 08:48 PM

Playing a weekend edition of nine innings while wondering if Josh Hamilton is still waiting for Willie Mays to turn around and acknowledge him . . .

1. It's absurd to suggest Manny tanked that now-infamous, 1-2-3-sit at-bat against Mariano Rivera. Absurd. Not only was Manny in the early stages of one of his hot streaks (he had reached base 8 of 13 times in the series to that point, and went 11 for 22 in the following six games), but hitting is the one thing he has always taken seriously. Even when he's going well, Manny often guesses, not only at the pitch but the location, and Rivera froze him with three straight damn near unhittable cutters on the black. That wasn't tanking; it was one future Hall of Famer getting the best of another future Hall of Famer. It happens. And for what it's worth, I put the odds of a Manny return next season at 50/50, though if there really is a front-office mole conveniently leaking information to the likes of Bob Lobel, then I'll greatly lower the odds, because that would suggest to me that certain members of the Sox front office are already greasing the skids for his departure.

Tedy Bruschi
(Arizona State Photo)
2. I'm probably the last one to learn about this, but it turns out there was some pretty interesting history between AL All-Star second basemen Dustin Pedroia and Texas's Ian Kinsler. They were teammates in 2002 at Arizona State, but after Pedroia beat out Kinsler for the starting shortstop gig, the current AL batting leader transferred to Missouri. I have a feeling how the majority will vote on this one, but I'll ask anyway: If you could have either player for the next five years, which one would you take? I'll go with Pedroia, if only because I'd hate to be so wrong about him again.

3. I'll remember James Posey as I remember Dave Roberts: an athlete whose stay in Boston was brief, but who made a crucial, unforgettable contribution to a champion. As was the case with Roberts, who was dealt by the Sox because of his wish to play every day, I don't fault Posey for leaving. It was his last shot at legitimate NBA riches, and he took the best offer once it was obvious Danny Ainge was keeping the long-term interests of the franchise in mind and wasn't going to give him a fourth year. Posey will be missed - I don't see how they can come close to replacing him for the coming season, for he was everything you could want in a role player - but at least he left behind a season's worth of lasting memories.

4. All right, quick and supremely dorky trivia question for you . . . and believe me, this is trivial. I was killing some downtime digging through some old sports sections at work the other day (nothing ever gets thrown out around here) when I came upon a Sept. 1987 edition of the Sunday Globe. While scanning the Eastern League season-ending leaders on the Scoreboard page, it dawned on me that the pitcher who finished dead last in ERA is the only player listed in the 21-year-old piece of agate who has been on a big-league roster this season. Two hints: He never pitched in the majors for the team that owned his rights at that time, and he's not Curt Schilling. Your answer is right here.

5. I hope Jonathan Papelbon's experience with the New York tabloids and the bloodthirsty jackals at that ill-conceived All-Star parade doesn't affect his personality. While he's probably not the sharpest barb on the wire - Josh Beckett calls him a redneck, which tells you all you need to know - and he's sometimes a little too glib with the media, his affability is genuine, mostly harmless, and downright refreshing when compared to the canned, robotic responses most players of his stature offer when the cameras are on.

FULL ENTRY

Captain bruisin'

  May 15, 2008 07:11 PM

Playing nine innings while assuming J.D. Drew will be day to day until August . . .

1. I'm not saying the two aggravating losses in Baltimore took a terrible toll on interim manager Brad Mills, but the photo to the left? That's what he looked like before this road trip started. Man, the Sox bullpen can age a man in a hurry. Okay, all silliness aside, it would be nice to see Mills get a legitimate managerial shot of his own once this season is complete. He's been Terry Francona's sounding board, vice principal, and strategic counselor for a pair of world championship winners, and Francona is the first to say that Mills's organizational skills and ability to act as a respected liason between the manager and his players have been invaluable to the Red Sox's success. Here's hoping he gets a team of his own to run, because people smarter than me believe he'll be a fine manager someday, despite the results of the past couple of days.

2. This week's discovery from the addictive and potentially life-altering SI Vault: a March 22, 1982 feature, written by Steve Wulf and titled, "Let's Play Ball, Dad," on a pair of emerging young stars whose fathers were well-known in big league circles: Baltimore's Cal Ripken Jr. and Montreal's Terry Francona. Not sure whatever happened to the Ripken boy, but Francona seems to have turned out okay, finding his true baseball calling after his playing days. I hadn't heard a lot of the stuff on Young Tito, and I especially liked this snippet, when he's talking about first signing with Montreal out of college.

[Expos Director of Player Personnel] Jim Fanning wanted to send his new acquisition to Class A ball, but Terry insisted he could play in Double A, at Memphis. "I still can't believe I had the nerve," says Terry. "I go into the meeting and I say, 'What's this garbage about sending me to A ball?' As it turns out, Mr. Fanning had said the garbage." But Fanning capitulated, and Terry went to Memphis and hit .300. "Mr. Fanning was right, though. I hit a weak .300."

After reading that, you get a sense for why he's so fond of Dustin Pedroia. When he was young, he was just as brash.

(And as bonus Tito coverage from SI, here is his Faces in the Crowd writeup from 1976, when he was a high school senior. I highly recommend clicking on the "view this issue" link to see his ridiculously goofy headshot.)

3. Maybe it's because the Celtics are commanding center stage right now, but you know the mentality of Red Sox fans has officially changed for the better when the team can lose four games in a row and 5 out of 6, and yet the prevailing mood is that it's a mere hiccup, everything will be fine, and the mighty Rays will be overcome in the long run. It's so much more fun being a fan when you don't expect the worst and your faith is . . . well, rewarded.

4. I'm fairly confident in saying that Kevin Cash won't approach his current stats - .375 batting average, 147 OPS+, .910 OPS - once the season is done. But even if he reverts to his career average of .188, he's already a borderline folk hero in my mind for proving once and for all that Doug Mirabelli isn't the only person on the planet who can squat and catch a knuckleball at the same time. Cash is a heck of a defensive catcher, and Tim Wakefield doesn't seem to miss Mirabelli in the slightest. Neither does anyone else.

5. I suspect Clay Buchholz's trip to the disabled list has less to do with an owie on his fingernail, and more to do with keeping him on pace for no more than 175-180 innings. The hiatus is probably a wise idea from a mental health perspective as well. While I expect Buchholz to be one of the ballclub's most dependable starters by the end of the season, he's having Arroyo-like command problems with his fastball, and he's suffering though the growing pains that most young players must endure before fulfilling their potential.

FULL ENTRY

Nine innings: 04.08.08

  April 8, 2008 03:05 AM

Playing nine innings while hoping Terry Cashman is banned from the premises today . . .

Tedy Bruschi
(AP Photo)
1. Might as well get used to it: Until the Red Sox, 3-4 and slumbering at the bottom of the AL East, start playing up to their capabilities and string a few wins together, we're going to continue hearing about the effects of the trip to Japan. I'm not saying that's how it should be: Really, it's impossible to tell whether their uninspired performance in Toronto this weekend was due to the lingering hangover from all the travel, or the fact that they ran into a pretty damn good opponent, one that has had their number lately. But I will be disappointed if the excuses and gripes come from within the Red Sox clubhouse; the last thing we want is for someone on this accountable team to pull a Mussina and use the whole thing as a chronic excuse for lousy play. While we've heard a couple of mild complaints from Papi, Mike Lowell, and Jonathan Papelbon, I hope the rest of the team leaves the why-me melodrama to the WEEI banshees and mimics Dustin Pedroia's typically blunt take on the whole thing: "Yeah, we had to go to Japan and yeah, we had a 19-day road trip, but that’s the schedule, we have to accept it, no excuses. We played like (expletive) for three games and got our (butt) kicked, how’s that?” Yes, the trip was an ill-conceived money grab. Yes, the abbreviated spring training put their starting pitchers at a disadvantage. Yes, the schedule is hellacious. They have plenty of excuses within their grasp. But this team is rich with talent and has a roster full of experienced professionals, and they have too much going for them to ever have to reach for them.

2. I'm not one of those contrarian dopes who picked the Blue Jays to win the AL East; I still think that when all the innings are accounted for come October, Toronto will end up in its usual spot in third place behind the two superpowers in the division. But after watching them rake the field with the Sox in a three-game sweep over the weekend, I have to admit that the Jays have the potential to be a summer-long aggravation, and if everything falls right, a legitimate contender for a playoff spot. They probably have more "ifs" than the Sox and Yankees do - if A.J. Burnett pitches up to his talent level, if Vernon Wells bounces back, if B.J. Ryan's elbow is sound, if Scott Rolen can stay off the operating table - but it's apparent to me now that J.P. (Sure, I'll Give You A Quote) Ricciardi has put together a pretty damn good baseball team north of the border.

3. Judging by a couple of threads on SoSH (this is the milder one), it appears I was the last remaining human being in New England who had any use for Kyle Snyder. Honestly, I don't get the venom. He was fine for what he was - an 11th or 12th man who knew his role, handled it at least adequately (3.81 ERA, 124 ERA+ a season ago), and had an odd knack for the Three True Outcomes (32 walks, 41 strikeouts, and 7 home runs in 54.3 innings last season). I'm not convinced Julian Tavarez is a better or more useful pitcher, and while David Aardsma and Bryan Corey may prove to be upgrades, there's also a reasonable chance that they will be worse. Snyder will get a big league job, and he deserves one.

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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