Ask Amalie: Who is the Red Sox’ MVP so far?

How many injuries can one team sustain? That was the key question coming out of this past weekend in San Francisco, a place the Red Sox were all too keen to leave after Dustin Pedroia went down with a fractured navicular bone in his left foot, Clay Buchholz pulled up with a left hamstring strain, and Victor Martinez suffered a minimally displaced fracture at the tip of his left thumb.

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That’s three of the Red Sox’ most important and most indispensable players going down with injuries in the course of a three-game series. And that’s not to mention the list of wounded before this week, including Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Cameron, Jeremy Hermida, Josh Beckett, and Mike Lowell. That’s a big chunk of the Sox’ starting lineup.

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So, after writing the word “fracture” far more than I ever expected to in a single season, the Red Sox have still managed to keep pace in the American League East, currently standing in second place to the Yankees at two games back. But when will all these injuries catch up to the Red Sox? Will they? Or can Boston continue to survive the loss of most of its stars for months on end? I tend to think it will be difficult, especially with the crushing blow of Pedroia being out for potentially six weeks. That, to me, could be the one injury that the Sox simply can’t get over.

As most of these questions came in before this weekend, there aren’t a lot of injury-related queries, though I expect quite a few of those in my mailbag in the upcoming two weeks. So ask away. But in the meantime, stay a while and read the current edition of the mailbag, with questions about celebratory pies, the future of an outfielder, and the return of a prospect. And as there are lots of questions that bear discussions, don’t shy away from using the comments section of the mailbag to let me know what you think on some of the key questions. First half MVP, anyone?

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So, with no further ado, off we go.

Mike from The Woodlands, Texas asks: We are now 71 games into the season and very quietly the Sox have gotten into the thick of things in the AL East. Let’s talk about the Red Sox MVP to date. Youkilis, Beltre, Buchholz and Lester might be the leaders in the clubhouse to steal a golf axiom, but my pick is Daniel Bard. The bullpen would be lost without him. He’s appeared in 35 games, a great set-up man and he’s closed effectively when Papelbon has been unavailable. Who’s your pick?

Answer: Great question, Mike. And really good answer on your part. You’re absolutely right that the Sox would be lost in the bullpen without Daniel Bard, and that also speaks to the importance of the Bard-Jonathan Papelbon tandem. While clearly there are those who aren’t so happy with the Sox closer after he imploded twice against the Rockies, the best combination the Sox have is using Bard in the eighth and Papelbon in the ninth with the other arms they have in the bullpen. While that certainly might change in the future — Papelbon is a good candidate to get traded at some point, as the Sox don’t seem all that interested in a long-term deal with him — this is the best arrangement they have at the moment.

For me, I’d go with Buchholz. With the trouble the Sox have had with their starting pitching, it’s been huge that Buchholz has come in and been one of their top two starters. Beckett’s absence could have been significant, and it hasn’t been nearly as bad as feared because of Buchholz. The still-young pitcher has blossomed into what the Sox were hoping he would, even after some tough years between his no-hitter and his potential All-Star campaign of this season. He’s been entirely reliable, and more than that, he’s been fantastic. So, Buchholz, come on down! You’re my three-month Red Sox MVP. You should feel honored.

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Bill from Falmouth asks: Should Pedroia be named team captain?
Answer: I’m not sure that the Sox will name a captain once the Jason Varitek era is over, or at least how soon they will do so. It’s a pretty rare thing, and not many teams do it. Varitek was, in fact, just the third captain for the Sox since 1923, along with Carl Yastrzemski (1969 to 1983) and Jim Rice (1985 to 1989). That means it had been 15 years without a captain before Varitek got the honor upon re-signing with the Sox in 2004.

As for whether Pedroia would deserve the honor of captain, I do believe he would. He certainly leads the team in his own way, especially by the way he plays the game. In that, I do see quite a few similarities to Varitek, with the toughness and the all-out playing every single day. He just seems to get better every day, which is a near impossibility given the high level that he’s always played it. Not that I make the decisions, but I have an incredible amount of respect for the way that Pedroia plays the game and the way he represents the team. He manages to be boastful and funny in a way that rarely spells cocky, with his teammates finding it more amusing than anything else.

So, in other words, I believe he could be a candidate for captain, but I don’t know if the Sox would do that again, especially so soon. I did find it interesting that Bill Hall referred to Pedroia as a “second captain” for the team on Saturday in discussing Pedroia’s fracture. “He means a lot,” Hall said. “To me, he’s our second captain. Obviously, [Jason Varitek’s] No. 1. Pedey with his emotion and how hard he plays and the big hits he gets, he means a lot to this team emotionally and as much as playing baseball itself.” As I mentioned earlier, the loss of Pedroia will be the single biggest issue that the Sox face this season. He is, simply, irreplaceable.


Mac from Tallahassee, Fla., asks: Please tell me there is at least one major league team that does not do the juvenile pie-in-the-face foolishness. Perhaps the Red Sox, led by Captain Varitek?
Answer: You are right that the Red Sox don’t do the pie-in-the-face trick after walk-off wins, and haven’t for quite a while. They did, however, have a pie fascination in 2004, when the team was a little looser, when they had the likes of Johnny Damon and Kevin Millar. The Sox haven’t taken on the tradition since, as they’ve been changed into a more “professional” team by general manager Theo Epstein.
Bill from Berlin, N.H., asks: Do you know if the Sox are leaning to try and sign Beltre to a long term contract? One would think that he also would realize that hitting in Fenway and playing for a winner has benefited his career and would be agreeable to staying.
Answer: Given Adrian Beltre’s agent, this will be an interesting case. Beltre, who has played even better than the Red Sox could have expected, is on pace for 657 plate appearances. He needs 640 plate appearances to bring his 2011 option from $5 million to $10 million, which would be a nice payout. But with Scott Boras on his side, I would guess that Beltre would test the free agent market. He certainly has done very well at Fenway Park, a place that we all knew was going to be far better for his swing than Safeco Field. The Red Sox could be in the mix for Beltre long-term, as they’ll need a first or third baseman next year, but it could also very easily be a one-and-done situation for them, given how much Beltre could command on the open market. If he continues to play this way, he could certain get something in the $12-13 million per year range. My early guess is that he’s with another team in 2011.
Ed Baker from Power Springs, Ga., asks: What is the status of Jason Place with Portland? I notice he is not on the active roster and does not appear to be on the DL. Thanks.
Answer: According to director of player personnel Mike Hazen, Jason Place is currently in Fort Myers, Fla., getting into game shape. Place left the Sea Dogs for personal reasons, which Hazen didn’t want to disclose, and has not played since May 12. By way of background, Place was a first-round pick in 2006 out of Wren High School in Piedmont, South Carolina. But he has yet to reach his potential over his three years in the minors with the Sox and has run into personality conflicts with teammates and coaches, getting into fights and rubbing some the wrong way. The cause of his leave of absence from the organization is still unknown, but he left in the middle of an 0-for-18 skid and with a season-long batting average of just .127 with Portland. It will be interesting to see how the 22-year-old Place handles returning to baseball, and whether he can eventually make it.
Jeff from Braintree asks: My question is regarding Mike Cameron. It’s been said that he’s going to need surgery at the end of the season and my eyes are telling me that even when his is in the lineup he’s not at 100 percent. Is it time to make a move for an established everyday outfielder?
Answer: What about Ellsbury? When Ellsbury comes back — not that anyone seems to know when that will be — he will be the one playing center field every day, with Cameron heading to left field. But, of course, there’s as little certainty with Ellsbury as there is with Cameron. That being said, the Sox could clearly use another outfielder. While Darnell McDonald and Daniel Nava have done extremely impressive jobs as fill-in starters, it would be hard for a team hoping to make the postseason to rely on them for much longer.
The Red Sox continue to treat Cameron with kid gloves, starting him in no more than two straight games for fear of losing him for the long-term, which is a significant concern. It’s difficult to rely on an outfielder whom you can trust no more than four times a week. I know that he’s working extremely hard to get back in the lineup as much as he can, but some of it is out of his control. While he hasn’t admitted that he absolutely needs to get surgery at some point, it seems clear that would be a strong possibility. His limitations, though, would be much less detrimental if his four games per week were being paired with Hermida or Bill Hall in left field (not that either of those options is perfect) and Ellsbury in center field. So, in the end, some of this is hinging on exactly how long Ellsbury is going to be out. But right now? Another legitimate starter in the outfield would be nice.
Gary from Hubert, N.C., asks: Can you give us some kind of update on the Jed Lowrie situation ? We surely could use his help at this point in a injury plagued season.
Answer: It certainly would be significant for the Sox to be able to insert Jed Lowrie into the lineup with Pedroia down for six weeks or so. He would be exactly the kind of player that could fit in well, with the ability to play second base on a regular basis. Unfortunately for the Sox, Lowrie has been extremely slow in his progress back from mononucleosis, which was diagnosed in spring training. In fact, it’s been so slow that Lowrie has been trying to figure out whether there’s anything else going on, any other issues that have gone undiagnosed. There doesn’t appear to be anything else wrong, though, according to manager Terry Francona. He has seen a specialist in Atlanta and will see that specialist again before heading back to Boston from Fort Myers, Fla., where he has been most of this season. In about a week, the Sox are planning to have him begin a 20-day rehab stint with the Lowell Spinners, so it’s possible that he could be in the mix at some point. But, after all he’s been through with injuries throughout his career, it’s difficult to fully rely on him, though he obviously would be an attractive candidate in the Sox’ current predicament.
Mitch from Los Angeles asks: Hey Amalie, Sometimes there comes a time in a man’s life when he is single after being in a very long-term relationship. He then enters a new “phase” in his life and becomes a masculine juggernaut. Which player do you think is ready to break out of their rut and post a monstrous second half?
Answer: Juggernaut, eh? There are actually quite a few candidates on the Sox, as quite a few players have had abbreviated first halves, mostly due to injury. So, off the top of my head, the names that come to mind are Ellsbury and Beckett. Neither player has contributed much in the first half, with Ellsbury missing all but nine games with five fractured ribs and Beckett starting only eight times with a back and lat issue. With those two candidates in mind, I’m going to have to give the nod to Beckett. I remain concerned about Ellsbury’s recovery process from the broken ribs and about his decision to leave the team for Arizona. There has been little information coming from Athletes Performance about his progress and about his return to Boston. As for Beckett, he should certainly improve on that 7.29 first-half ERA, not that that’s much of an accomplishment. But he’s a pitcher with a lot of determination and a lot of pride, and he’s clearly unhappy with having to miss most of the first half of the season and with his performance in the times when he was able to pitch. Beckett still won’t be back until after the All-Star break, with the Sox giving him plenty of time to recover from his injuries and build back up with three or four rehab starts in the minors. But I believe that, when he does finally return, the Sox opening day starter could be in line for a big second half.
Justin from Brooklyn, N.Y., asks: The Sox just called up Gustavo Molina to fill the spot vacated because of Victor’s trip to the DL. Just curious why we’re not seeing one of those Sox catching prospects we’ve heard so much about.
Answer: There are a couple of reasons. First, the two Triple A catchers that the Sox have are both injured, with Mark Wagner and Dusty Brown both out of commission. That certainly hurt, as either of those two catchers would easily have gotten the call over Gustavo Molina had they been completely healthy, especially as they’re both on the 40-man roster. As for the other Sox catching prospects, none of them are yet ready for the major leagues. Luis Exposito, at Double A, is next in line, but a member of the organization told me in spring training that Exposito was unlikely to be ready in 2011, let alone in 2010. Tim Federowicz, currently toiling in Salem in high Single A, is even further removed from the major leagues than Exposito is. One key tenet of the Red Sox philosophy is not to bring up prospects before they’re ready. The Sox are committed to only promoting their players when they believe that they can handle the next level, when it would not be detrimental to their development. As catchers have a particularly slow pace and high learning curve, it would not be to the organization’s best interests to bring up its actual prospects at this point, no matter how much they need them.
David Humphrey from Arlington, Texas asks: Amalie — Could Darnell McDonald have a long-term future with the Sox? The assumption seems to be that they’ll designate him for assignment as soon as Hermida and/or Ellsbury get back, but hasn’t he proven that he’s a better alternative than Hermida (and more durable than Ellsbury, Cameron, or Drew)? Reddick doesn’t seem ready for prime time, and Nava is too good to be true. Is there a chance for McDonald to stay on with the Sox? Thanks for your insights — Sox Fan in Rangersland
Answer: Honestly, I don’t think so. The Sox were willing to designate McDonald for assignment once, and I think they might need to do it again at some point, when Ellsbury and Hermida finally return from all of those broken ribs. McDonald has been a very competent replacement, filling in for all the Sox injured outfielders, but he’s not really an everyday player. Since his remarkable first week in the majors with the Sox, McDonald has cooled off, batting .271 overall with a .331 on-base percentage and .741 on-base plus slugging, while demonstrating average defense, especially in centerfield. And while those numbers have actually increased in June (.290, .362, .798), there’s a lot more potential upside with Hermida, not that he’s proven all that much this season. I do believe that McDonald will get a chance with another club, as he has shown that he can hold his own as a fourth outfielder, starting occasionally. But I ultimately don’t think that he has a true future with the Sox once they get healthier.

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