Extra Bases

Ask Amalie: On Papi, prospects, and platooning

One game done, 161 to go. And that first game, Sunday’s Opening Night, certainly lived up to the advance billing. Unless, of course, you were counting on excellence on the mound from Josh Beckett or CC Sabathia.

In fact, the first game made all those offseason stories, all that offseason talk about run prevention and offensive inadequacies seem a little silly. But it’s only one game in a season full of them. So there is still quite a bit of time to get to know this year’s version of the Sox, to understand who they are and who they will be when October comes around — and whether they’ll still be playing.

To kick off the 2010 season, we’ve got a mailbag that includes questions about upcoming prospects, a potential platoon with Mike Lowell and David Ortiz, and the worth of Clay Buchholz. So enjoy the answers, and make sure to participate in the next edition. By that time, we’ll have seen the Sox off on their first road trip of the year, made the acquaintance of the new Target Field, and checked out a couple starts from each of the members of the rotations.

But if Sunday night is any indication, this season might be pretty interesting.

Mike from Newton, Mass., asks: It was great to be at the park last night, the world is a better place when meaningful baseball games are happening. Granted it’s only one game, but the new guys certainly looked like they belonged on the field with the Yankees in a pretty intense game for early April. My question is what’s happening with Papi and Tek? Is Ortiz going to be able to hit anywhere above a replacement level DH? His swings are starting slow and he just doesn’t look like a guy who’s going to hit the ball hard every time like he used to. As for Tek, has Francona made any indication of what he’ll be doing this year? Will he have a regular once-every-5-days job or will it solely be up to Martinez/Youk needing a breather? Thanks for keeping us updated about all things Sox!

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Answer: Mike, I agree — it was great to be at the park on Sunday night, especially with the fantastic weather. I have to say that I’m a little concerned about Ortiz. And, from discussions with various front office and scouting types, it’s a popular opinion. There’s really just a sense that he isn’t going to rebound from 2009, but also that his rebound is a key to the Sox season. Even though he ended up with good numbers, it did seem that they were somewhat misleading, with Ortiz picking up statistics against some of the lesser lights of the pitching world. It will be interesting to see how long the team sticks with him if he starts like he did last year. I would tend to say that the odds are against that. As for Jason Varitek, Terry Francona has said that it will be a bit more of a traditional catcher/backup catcher arrangement. He won’t be paired with one specific pitcher in the rotation, as the Sox have had for a number of years with Tim Wakefield’s personal catchers. Varitek might play on day games after night games, or after a tough travel turnaround. But it’s going to be a little difficult to fit him into the lineup, given that the Sox have three guys in Adrian Beltre, Kevin Youkilis, and Victor Martinez who they aren’t going to want out of the lineup very frequently. So it seems as if it will be a more here-and-there situation rather than a regular role for Varitek.

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Megan from Columbus, Ohio asks: My question is about a day-to-day aspect of baseball: do players still receive meal money during spring training and the regular season? If they do, how does it work logistically? Is a staff member responsible for handing out cash each day? Is it direct-deposited into their bank account? Does every single player take the money, or do some (like those with really lucrative contracts) decline it? And, if you’re so inclined, can you let us know how the postgame spread factors into all of this? Thanks for your great coverage of the Red Sox!

Answer: Thanks, Megan. Baseball players do receive meal money during spring training and the regular season (while on the road). They get one envelope while the team is at the minor league complex for the first two weeks, then every Friday in spring training. They also get one before each road trip during the season. The envelopes, which contain cash, are handed out by traveling secretary Jack McCormick. Every player accepts the money, no matter how well compensated he is. That probably wouldn’t be a sound financial move to decline, even with some of the salaries of the players on the Sox. Plus they don’t get their first paycheck until April 15, as players are only paid during the season, not in the offseason.

Jim from Austin, Texas asks: I’m a huge Mike Lowell fan on every level. I also see his skills compromised, especially base running and defensive range. His hip issue appears to be a cartilage problem, that can only be realistically helped with hip replacement surgery. Is the paycheck the only reason he’s not retiring to take care of himself physically for the long term?

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Answer: Lowell believes that he can still play the game of baseball. He has said all spring that he remains good enough and healthy enough to be a starter in the major leagues, and he isn’t interested in settling into a backup role. Lowell is a smart guy. He’s not the kind of person who is going to willingly jeopardize his health or his future, even for baseball. That’s not an issue at this point, according to his doctors. The way Lowell has walked around the clubhouse, especially in spring training, was a clear message that he wasn’t happy with the situation. I’m sure he understands that ultimately he might need additional surgery — though taking away the pressure of playing baseball every day will certainly help. The paycheck is, of course, a reason to play baseball. But to get to the major leagues, baseball must be life for these players. It’s not easy to let that go, and Lowell isn’t ready.

For more questions and answers, click the Full Entry button.


Jeffrey from North Carolina asks: The Red Sox definitely must develop young talent to replace the veteran talent that eventually will either move on to other teams or retire. But I don’t understand why the Red Sox still hold on to Clay Buchholz. It seems to me that he is still struggling with his control and is not the big game pitcher that we typically need. Add to that, couldn’t we use him in a trade to get some more offensive power? It seems like we need more of that than we need starting pitching.
Answer: Jeffrey, a team can never really have too much starting pitching. And now, with the Sox having signed Josh Beckett to a four-year deal, they have four starters (Beckett, John Lackey, Jon Lester, and Buchholz) under their control through 2014. That’s an excellent foundation on which to build. But it also means that someone like Buchholz could eventually be available in a trade for offense. Still, the Sox have shown an impressive desire to keep Buchholz around, even as his name has come up again and again in trade talks. There are reasons for this. Buchholz has outstanding pure stuff, and has had an ability to feed off his breaking pitches from early on in his career. That’s not something that comes along very often, and it’s something to which teams cling. Even with the up-and-down years that Buchholz has had, with too much inconsistency, he has the potential to be a No. 1 starter in the major leagues. Why would you shove that out of your organization?
Ted from Penfield, N.Y., asks: Hi Amalie, I just read that the Cardinals traded Lugo to the Orioles. The article stated that “The Cardinals will pay most of Lugo’s 2010 salary of $9 million. He is in the final year of the four-year, $36 million contract he signed with the Red Sox before 2007.” I thought the Red Sox were paying most of Lugo’s contract. Now that the Cardinals traded him, does this mean the Sox are off the hook for his salary? The article also said there is a $9M option for 2011. Who is responsible for his salary if his option kicks in? Either way, I really doubt that the Orioles will pick up his option at $9M. I don’t think he is even worth half that.
Answer: The Cardinals will, in fact, not pay any of Julio Lugo’s salary in 2010. The Sox are still responsible for the bulk of the salary, all but the major league minimum in 2009 and 2010. That was paid by the Cardinals in 2009 and will be paid by the Orioles in 2010. That’s just $400,000 for Baltimore this season. So, no, the Sox are not off the hook. As for Lugo’s option, it’s actually a vesting option. Lugo would need 2,400 plate appearances from 2007 to 2010. He only has 1,230 plate appearances from 2007 through 2009. There should be no chance that the 2011 option will vest.
Fran from Cottonwood Heights, Utah asks: Hi – Is there any update on Outfielder Ryan Westmoreland? Thanks!
Answer: We actually just received the first official update since March 19. After Ryan Westmoreland attended the Sox home opener, sitting in Theo Epstein’s box, the Sox sent out a release yesterday saying that Westmoreland is undergoing treatment at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. The 19-year-old will go through physical and occupational therapy at Spaulding. The release said, “He has been making steady progress and is in great spirits.” When Westmoreland was at Fenway Park, it also appeared that members of the Sox team greeted him before the day’s win over the Yankees in the home clubhouse.
Ben from Milwaukee asks: Amalie, I’m a Brewer fan due to geography but I’ve loved the Red Sox my whole life. Do the Bo-Sox realize how much they’ve over paid Cameron? He’s going to hit around .250 and maybe knock in 16 HRs. Would Sox have been better served leaving Ellsbury in center and picking up a Jermaine Dye?
Answer: I think you’re spot-on with the average for Mike Cameron, but I do think you’re underestimating the number of home runs that Cameron might hit with the Sox. In the end, though, the Sox are paying for more than the offensive contribution that their new centerfielder might offer. As my colleague Peter Abraham wrote in his excellent piece in our season preview issue, the price for Cameron skyrocketed this offseason based on the skill set that he brings. While other free agent outfielders saw their prices sink (or saw no interest at all), Cameron was able to get two years and $15.5 million out of the Red Sox. It’s entirely possible that number might turn out to be an excessive sum by the end of the deal, especially for a player who is already 37. Or, the Sox might get exactly what they want out of Cameron, which is two years of about .250 hitting, 25 homers each season, and excellent defense in center field, while giving Jacoby Ellsbury a chance to develop in left field. Jermaine Dye would never really have been an option. With the Sox wanting to go with defense this season, Dye doesn’t compute at all. He has been a pretty terrible fielder over the past four years, with a UZR of -20 in three of the last four years. (In the other year, it was -19.4.) That, plus the fact that he is almost as old as Cameron and not a significantly better offensive player, meant that Dye simply wasn’t a fit with the Sox.
Paul from Waterford, Conn., asks: What is wrong with Manny Delcarmen. If he can’t get it done and apparently he can’t … try somebody else. Your thoughts?
Answer: That’s a very good question, and it was clearly an issue throughout spring training. Manny Delcarmen’s velocity has been missing since last fall. Back then, at the end of last season, there appeared to be a reason. Delcarmen was hurt in 2009, suffering from arm soreness, and resulting in the loss of both miles per hour on the radar gun and productivity on the mound. He finally revealed the issue to the Sox last September, and has since vowed to not hide injuries from his employer anymore. That brings us to this season. Delcarmen — and the Sox — have said over and over that he is healthy, and that the loss of velocity has resulted from fixes he’s making to his delivery with pitching coach John Farrell. But if he doesn’t prove that he can get outs in the low 90s, or that he can get back to his normal 94-to-96 mile per hour range, he’s not going to be pitching any significant innings for the Sox.
DH from Somerville, Mass., asks: Since the Texas trade talks have seemingly dissipated, it appears we’ll be hanging onto Lowell for a while. How come the only discussion of a DH-platoon I’ve heard, with Lowell facing the LHPs, has been on message boards? It does seem to be the obvious move, considering Papi’s struggles with lefties. Aren’t we better served with Lowell’s .867 OPS versus LHPs than with Ortiz’s .716? Doesn’t that make the DH slot far more valuable?
Answer: Remember that just because you haven’t heard it anywhere other than message boards doesn’t mean it hasn’t been discussed by the Sox. I think, at least for now, the Sox are waiting to see what the returns are on their current designated hitter. It appears that they are going to let him succeed or fail before stepping in and making changes. And, yes, if Lowell remains on the team and Ortiz proves he isn’t capable of being their full-time designated hitter, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some sort of platoon at DH. Francona did stick with Ortiz for a long time last season, seemingly longer than he should have, but finally gave him some time off and dropped him in the order. There is a lot of loyalty with Ortiz, as you’d expect. But that doesn’t ultimately trump the concept that the Sox need offense to win games, and that they might have a more effective one if Lowell is used as their DH in the right situations — like against lefthanders.
Bobby from Lynn, Mass., asks: Who is the biggest bargaining chip the Sox are willing to trade for Adrian Gonzalez? If we get him, possibly for Pap, Bard becomes closer, but how do we make room for Adrian?
Answer: Honestly, I think the assumption that Adrian Gonzalez will end up in Boston is setting Red Sox fans up for disappointment. I don’t think it’s quite the foregone conclusion that many think. (Nor do I think that the Padres would be interested in Jonathan Papelbon at all. Why would a small market team with an excellent closer in Heath Bell take on a $9.35 million salary in Papelbon, even if San Diego does trade Bell?) Casey Kelly is surely at the top of Padres’ general manager Jed Hoyer’s wish list, though there is no guarantee that the Red Sox would be interested in sending him anywhere. And, sadly, the health issues of Westmoreland might have put an additional barrier to such a deal. With the Sox’ top prospect away from baseball for the time being (at a minimum), that gives the Sox less to work with in terms of finding the players to put together for any trade. As for how the Sox would make room for Gonzalez, in the event of a trade, I think Beltre is the obvious chip in that case, the player who could be shipped out.
Guido from Arlington, Texas asks: Amalie, I was wondering what farmhands we might get a chance to check out this summer. Since Tazawa is gone for the year, is there another young pitcher other than Casey Kelly that we should keep a look out for?
Answer: I wouldn’t expect too many prospects to be up in Boston this summer. As Epstein has said before, there’s a bit of a gap in the prospect pool at the upper levels of the system. There’s a ton of talent at the Double A level and below, but not a whole lot in Triple A. Portland is definitely stacked, though it’s unclear how long some of those players will be there. But if you’re looking a pitcher not named Kelly who might make an impact in the majors, I think the hot name would be Felix Doubront. The 22-year-old lefthander pitched impressively in spring training, earning praise from the major league staff. He clearly needs more time to mature and develop, but there could be a future for him in the majors — just not this summer. As for players who might make the big league club in 2010, as I said, there aren’t a lot. I would expect to see both Michael Bowden and Josh Reddick at some point. That might be about it, though.

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