The Clay Rules?

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Clay Buchholz, originally uploaded by andywirtanen.

In discussing the news that Joba Chamberlain will begin the season in the Yankee bullpen, in a plan aimed at keeping him available while not overextending him innings-wise, Rob Neyer wrote the following:

This is simply where we’re at now, with young starting pitchers. We are not going to see Joba Chamberlain throw 180 innings in his first season as a major league starter, and we are not going to see Clay Buchholz throw 180 innings in his first season as a major league starter. What makes this even trickier, for the Yankees and the Red Sox, is October. They have to plan for seven months of high-intensity baseball rather than six.

Emphasis Rob’s. Forgoing the cliche about great minds – as I’m about 12 mentally – Rob and I clearly think alike. I said the following, after all, a week ago today:

Nor can, in my view, Buchholz be expected to shoulder a Schilling-like role at his age and experience level. The guess here is that Buchholz will be capped in ‘08 to ~165 IP, meaning that a year long starter role in the rotation would be problematic, even without the complication of potential playoff innings. If I had a gun to my head, I’d predict the Sox would begin the season with a rotation of Beckett, Matsuzaka, Wakefield, Lester, and Tavarez, and integrate Buchholz down the stretch after some seasoning in Pawtucket or the Sox bullpen. And I don’t know about you, but that prospect doesn’t do much for me.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I see that John Farrell taking the over on 165. From the Boston Globe:

“We had a target number of innings before the season started last year, which we’ll have this year,” Farrell said. “It’ll certainly be an increase over the 150 innings that we targeted last year. I think it’s a reasonable number to think that Clay is going to be in line for 180-190 innings, in that range.”

Is he being optimistic? Is it gamesmanship, for competitive or trade purposes? Or are the front office and Tito legitimately counting on Buchholz for 180+ IP?

Frankly, I haven’t the foggiest. But if I were a betting man, I still would not take the over on 170. 175, tops. Regardless of what Farrell may be quoted as saying to a Boston beat writer on the eve of spring training.

Bars of Red Sox Nation: Tripoli Tap, Chicago, IL

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Tripoli Tavern, originally uploaded by sogrady.

Introduction: While I’m enough of a fan that I actually move back East each summer just to be closer to the mecca that is Fenway Park, even I can’t manage to be in Boston for every game. So get off my back about it.

Anyway, with Red Sox nation being as populous as it is belligerent, it should come as absolutely no surprise that expat fans all over the globe have banded together to collectively anoint certain drinking establishments as “Red Sox” bars. Whether this occurs with the consent of the owners of said establishment or is more of a hostile takeover is ultimately irrelevant, as far as I’m concerned. All that matters is that there exist, for the serious and dedicated fan, virtual embassies or oases for Sox pilgrims that regrettably find themselves far from home.

Over the coming months we’ll review some of the favorites here so that you unfortunates that are abroad know where to watch the game with people just as angry as yourselves. If you have your own suggestions or reviews, don’t be shy: you know where to find me.
– sog

Normally I impose strict restrictions on travel during the playoffs, unless of course it’s to Boston (as it was for Game 3 of the ALDS). For Game 1 of the ALDS, however, I made an exception and agreed to travel to Chicago for a conference. Not because the client requested it, but rather because it meant that I’d be able to watch the game with my buddy Napes who’s strayed far from his New England roots and now calls the Windy City home. Blasphemous, I know, but he’s a good guy otherwise.

Anyway, Napes’ suggestion for our venue was the Tripoli Tap, located in the scenic and confusing as hell Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago. As suggestions go, this one was a winner.

Many Red Sox bars are nominal in their affiliation with the club: a couple of signs here and there, maybe a jerseyed employee or two, and that’s about it. The Tripoli Tap was and is a Sox bar top to bottom. First, the signs: there’s nothing understated about their affection for Boston fans. Second, the staff: they can’t pronounce their R’s, which is always a good sign, but it gets better. For Game 1 of the ALDS several of the bartenders were decked out not in the obvious jersey, but far more subtle t-shirts dating back to the 2004 playoffs that were adorned with the phrase: “Why Not Us?” If you weren’t a fan, you probably didn’t get it. We all got it.

Why not us indeed.

Given that Beckett was dealing on the particular evening in question, I have absolutely no recollection of the quality of the food, but what are you looking for: a Sox bar or a five star restaurant? What’s important here is the fact that they have cold beer, and that your fellow patrons are extraordinarily likely to be members of the same faith.

Which means the Tripoli Tap is always a good time. Unless the Sox lose, in which case I’d keep your head down.

The verdict: highly recommended.

Quick Links: New Radio Team, Why I Love Amalie, and More

mmm...Amalie

Or not so quick.

Anyway, another day, another new feature here at wicked clevah. Bringing you the news quickly. If not succinctly.

Bullpen Breakdown

Firebrand of the American League: I’ll be taking my own look at the roster – probably after we have more to go on, say midway through Spring Training – but in the meantime, Evan Brunell over on Firebrand of the American League has an interesting look at the battle for the final few bullpen roles. I think it under emphasizes slightly the role that roster status will play in the decision making process – I’d personally be shocked if any of the folks that don’t have to pass through waivers make the club from the outset – but it’s a good roundup of the candidates and their strengths and weaknesses.

One note worth adding: FBAL’s Dave B is not unique in his fascination with non-roster invitee Lee Gronkiewicz. Baseball Prospectus’ Joe Sheehan had this to say in his AL East preview:

Journeyman right-hander Lee Gronkiewicz has a 2.48 career ERA in the minors with nearly a 4:1 career K/BB. That ratio was 85/12 last year in 78 2/3 innings at three levels. There’s not much room in Fenway’s bullpen, but an injury to somebody could create an opportunity for the veteran to be this year’s Lee Gardner.

A long shot? Of course. But if there’s any front office that will give him credit for those numbers, it’s ours.

More Truck Day

Kelly O’Connor: Via Surviving Grady comes word of Kelly O’Connor’s Truck Day pictures. In case you, like me, can’t get enough.

New Radio Team Announced

Boston Globe: I’ll be honest: I never really cared for Jerry Trupiano, the long term radio partner of Joe Castiglione. His delivery was nothing to write home about, but the grating factor for me was his stale humor. A few summers back he had a running joke about some karaoke that Castiglione had done – Runaround Sue, I think it was – that became one of his running gags. It wasn’t particularly amusing the first time around, and to say it never grew on me was putting it mildly.

But neither was I big fan of Dave O’Brien (who other folks love) or Glenn Gefner (whom other folks most certainly did not). Most particularly, however, I didn’t like the transition back and forth between the two, and the obvious lack of chemistry between the boothmates, where chemistry = knowing who says what, and when, and who fills silences, and how.

Apparently, things are going to get worse in that department this season: not only are we not consolidating things in the booth, we’re adding a fourth. Castiglione remains, which is good, as does O’Brien, but when the latter is absent he’ll be replaced by a tag team of Dale Arnold or Jon Rish. I’ve heard both before, of course, in the context of their respective WEEI duties, and neither inspires strong feelings one way or the other.

I’ll reserve judgement until I hear the three pairings play out, but I’m not optimistic about the state of Red Sox radio in ’08. Which pains me in particular, because I don’t have TV set up in the cottage I live in in the summer (it’s in the one next door), meaning that radio is my primary medium whether I’m at home, on the boat or in the car.

Why I Love Amalie

Boston Globe: I’m far from alone in the massive crush I have on Amalie Benjamin – see the page footer over on the brilliance that is Surviving Grady – but a piece of hers today may win you over as well. In discussing Matsuzaka, she penned the following:

Matsuzaka, meanwhile, has turned his Mohawk from last season into something of a mullet. It’s definitely a party in the back.

Priceless, I think we can all agree.

But it’s even more valuable in the context of her competition: crusty old embittered white men. To me she’s a breath of fresh air in an increasingly stale medium. Also, there’s the hotness.

You Know You're From Boston When

Surely, you think, he’s not reduced to inflicting upon us the type of content typically reserved for email forwards. And with that, if your next thought wasn’t “and don’t call me Shirley,” I’ve lost all respect for you and will punch you.

To address the point, yes, this is a forward, and yes I hate them at least as much as you do. More. But this one is funny. For serious. It’s a total pissah.

Because I’m often accused of being from Boston – a claim I’ve never made, please note – I thought it would be useful to turn this into an ad hoc test.

Let’s see how I did.

  1. You think of Philadelphia as the Midwest.
    Dude, I live in Denver.
  2. You think it’s your God-given right to cut someone off in traffic.
    Especially people from Connecticut.
  3. You think there are only 25 letters in the alphabet (no R’s).
    This one depends on who you believe; my friends or me. Also, how drunk I am at the time.
  4. You think three straight days of 90+ temperatures is a heatwave.
    I flee Denver in the summer for a reason, people.
  5. All your pets are named after Celtics or Bruins.
    Celtics or Bruins? Seriously? Where’s the guy making these questions up from? LA? Montreal?
  6. You refer to 6 inches of snow as a “dusting.”
    When you split your time between Colorado and Maine, anything under 2 feet is a dusting.
  7. Just hearing the words “New York” puts you in an angry mood.
    You and me are going to tangle. Like right now.
  8. You don’t think you have an attitude.
    I don’t think it, I know it
  9. You always ‘bang a left’ as soon as the light turns green, and oncoming traffic always expects it.
    Denver folken expect this less.
  10. Everything in town is “a five minute walk.”
    Well, it is.
  11. When out of town, you think the natives of the area are all whacked.
    Look, when “how’re you doing?” is anything but a rhetorical question, you are whacked.
  12. You still can’t bear to watch highlights from game 6 of the 1986 World Series.
    Now we know where this guy’s from: New York. Let’s get him.
  13. You have no idea what the word compromise means.
    Wrong. I’ve got a dictionary.
  14. You believe using your turn signal is a sign of weakness.
    The lessons the Pats and Sox learned from the NSA have made an impression on me, what can I say?
  15. You don’t realize that you walk and talk twice as fast as everyone else.
    Until I met a girlfriend from Texas’ grandmother and she couldn’t understand a thing I said, I didn’t.
  16. You’re anal, neurotic, pessimistic and stubborn.
    Just because I took the same route to the office, wore the same clothes, and ate the same meals for the duration of the ’04 playoffs doesn’t mean I’m neurotic. Or didn’t you see how that turned out, you New York loving bastard?
  17. You think if someone is nice to you, they must want something or are from out of town.
    I hated my best friend from college when we first met and kicked him out of a party my roommates and I were throwing for precisely this reason.
  18. Your favorite adjective is “wicked.”
    Uh. No comment.
  19. You think 63 degree ocean water is warm.
    Beats 50 something, don’t it?
  20. You think the Kennedy’s are misunderstood.
    Not after Teddy butchered Mick McGwire and Sammy Sooser’s names, I don’t.

Based on the above, I think I check out as born and raised in Jersey, don’t you?

Anyway, read the rest. It’s funny. And if you don’t think so, it’s not my fault you’re retahded.

In Case You Haven't Been Keeping Up With Current Events

Or, the inaugural edition of a recurring series.

The Beckett Update

Meant to mention this last week but, well, you know how it goes. If you haven’t seen it yet, Peter Gammons spoke with one member of the Red Sox front office who’s of the opinion that after Beckett’s current deal expires in 2010, we’ll be unable to sign the righthander.

“We’d better enjoy [Josh] Beckett the next three years,” one Boston Red Sox official said, “Because we won’t be able to sign him after his deal is up after 2010.”

Which is a grim prospect, not only because the Yankees will presumably have interest, but also because that’s just about the time that Tampa will be getting good (but more on that later).

Now even I can acknowledge that a problem three years away is a problem for another day, and I won’t get in a twist about it. At least, no more than usual.

But I think it’s worth noting that the $30M deal Beckett signed – much lamented by the Sports Guy during Beckett’s rough introduction to the AL – was in retrospect a masterstroke. Even if Beckett is hurt for a significant portion of it.

The Catching Update

In celebration of Truck Day, I treated myself to a copy of the Baseball America Prospect Handbook for 2008. It’s mildly alarming just how excited I was to get home and crack it, but that’s a subject for another day. Of greater interest was the catching depth chart, which BA lists as follows:

  1. Mark Wagner
  2. George Kottaras
  3. Dusty Brown
  4. Tyler Weeden
  5. Jon Egan

The good news is that – as previously discussed – Wagner owns the #20 spot on Boston’s Top 30 prospects list. The bad news is that Kottaras was last year’s #12, and Egan was last year’s #24, and both failed to make this year’s list. It would be inaccurate to say that it’s entirely a reflection on their respective seasons, as the overall depth of our system took a step forward last year, but neither did they progress as anticipated.

BA shares my concern about our catching depth, saying:

“the only unsettled long-term position on the Red Sox is catcher, where there’s no clear heir apparent to Jason Varitek. Wagner is the leading candidate to fill that role, as he has the most well-rounded game among a group of catching prospects that also includes Dusty Brown, Jon Egan, George Kottaras, Jon Still, and Tyler Weeden.”

Their prediction is that Wagner will be up in Portland this year, so I’ll try and get down to see him.

While it’s nice that BA shares my concern, the Red Sox front office is a bit more important in the overall equation. Since they’re in a position to do something about it, and so on. Anyhow it appears that they are applying the same shotgun approach to catching that it does to the bullpen: the more candidates you have, the better the chance that one proves viable. Back in October, we signed 24 year old Dennis Blackmon out of the independent leagues, and three days ago there was word we were close to bringing in Hayato Doue (see above video), a 25 year old Japanese catcher from the independent leagues over there.

Personally, I like these deals. True, the odds of Blackmon or Doue contributing in the long term are thin. But catching is in short supply, and I’d prefer to at least make the effort at finding a diamond in the rough. If we end up discovering nothing, and are forced to trade a Gold Glove caliber CF for a mediocre backstop like Gerald Laird (lifetime OBP of .297) so be it. But let’s at least look around first.

The Schilling Update

Generally, when someone medically trained characterizes a tendon in your shoulder as “irreversibly diseased” and “separate[d] into these bands of spaghetti” it’s not good news, but bad news. Which is what the news on Schilling is, quite obviously. It’s worth noting, as Buster Olney writes, that given the fact that Morgan is legally prevented from speaking without Schilling’s go ahead the aforementioned interview is essentially PR by proxy. Schilling apparently wants Red Sox fans to know that he does not agree with the diagnosis, but is unwilling to do more than hint at said disagreement on his blog, preferring to leave the direct messaging to an authorized mouthpiece. Ok.

Given everything Schilling has pitched through in his career, no one can ever question his ability to pitch with pain: the procedure that resulted in the bloody sock, after all, was first practiced on a cadaver. Seriously. So I have to believe that the big righthander honestly trusts Morgan that surgery offers him a legitimate chance at pitching this year.

Irrespective of what Morgan – and presumably Schilling – would prefer to do to address the current condition, however, the club and the player are apparently going ahead with a cortisone powered rehab.

When asked when Schilling would be able to pitch again using this approach, Morgan’s optimistic answer was: “never.” A real sunbeam, that guy. The guess here is that the two surgeons recommending this course of action are only slightly more hopeful than Morgan when it comes to rehab, but it’s obvious that they are spectacularly less positive about the prospects of a return this season if surgey is pursued. Ergo, the last ditch attempt at rehab.

Don’t know about you guys, but it sounds like it’s time for Plan B here.

The Yankee Update

Leave it to Peter Gammons to explain why it is my fondest wish that Brian Cashman and the Yankees part company, the sooner the better:

As he has done his entire tenure as general manager of the Yankees, Brian Cashman has spent the offseason doing what he believed was in the best long-term interests of the Yankees. Because he eschewed the Santana trade, Cashman’s job now is likely tied to Phil Hughes, Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy, et al. But Cashman wants to build a long-term pitching staff, then take money and fill where he needs to build as the Yankees see a number of big contracts go away in the next two offseasons. With close to a half-dozen pitchers making less than $500,000 in 2009, Cashman next winter will be able to go get Mark Teixeira, C.C. Sabathia and even Joe Nathan, if he so chooses.

I much preferred a Yankee club that spent and spent in a vain effort to solve more fundamental underlying problems. You know, just like our country does.

Schilling's Shoulder

By now I’m sure you’ve heard that Curt Schilling is injured. Seriously enough to jeopardize this season, if not his remaining career. If you haven’t heard, let the lovely and talented and hopefully single Amalie Benjamin bring you up to speed.

Following the predictable media frenzy of speculation, the pitcher himself spoke directly on the subject late today.

In his missive, Schilling denies that he has been diagnosed with a torn rotator cuff, and that rotator cuff surgery had been recommended. He acknowledges, however, that there were differences of opinion regarding potential solutions. Which is, as Curt himself wrote, far from atypical. But the assumption is that Morgan – the surgeon in whom Schilling has the most confidence – recommended surgery.

While the media reactions have been preoccupied with the disconnects between the pitcher and the club, I frankly find that subject spectacularly uninteresting. Consider me not shocked that the player and the club might have different motivations, goals, concerns and responsibilities in this situation. Nor do I think speculation as to the actual nature of the injury is a productive line of discussion, since I’m unqualified to render any meaningful opinion on the subject.

Instead, let’s discuss a few potential outcomes and the resulting impact of those outcomes.

Rehabilitation is Successful, Schilling Misses Portion of the Season

The only outcome more unlikely than this is that Schilling misses no time whatsoever, but as Papi, Schilling and others demonstrated last year the wonders of cortisone coupled with a tolerance for pain make some surprising things possible. Let’s say for the sake of argument that Schilling misses the first two months: this, to me, is the best possible scenario for three reasons:

  1. It would provide Buchholz with a rotation opening
  2. It would not require Buchholz to spend the entire season in the rotation
  3. It would mean that Schilling could provide us with 120+ innings of league average better innings in return for the $8M investment

But ultimately I think this scenario unlikely.

Rehabilitation is Successful, Schilling Misses Half the Season

This is the Boston Globe’s prediction:

Even without surgery, the 41-year-old Schilling is not expected to be ready to pitch until at least the All-Star break, according to several sources familiar with his condition.

Note particularly the “at least” qualifier in the above.

Half a season or more of downtime would raise more serious rotation questions for the Sox, the biggest of which is this: where are we going to find 150+ ~4 ERA (Schilling was at 3.87 last year) ERA innings? Is Buchholz capable of that? Indeed. But if he gives us 100 innings in the first half plus, he’d have to be used sparingly down the stretch to ensure his availability for any potential playoff appearance. Lest we forget, the Sox are rigid in their innings restrictions for young pitchers, and Buchholz was shut down last year at 146.6 innings for precautionary health reasons.

Rehabilitation is Unsuccessful, Schilling Misses the Season

Depending on the nature of the diagnosis, this scenario may be the most likely. Morgan seems to have felt so, anyway. This, unlike some of the folks who wrote in to ask me about it, is highly problematic for the Red Sox. We didn’t need Schilling to be a 200+ inning workhorse this year, as we do have depth in the rotation with the aforementioned Buchholz and even the forgotten Tavarez, but I think the current roster construction did assume something akin to last year’s injury shortened output.

As Rob Neyer notes, we’re far from sunk if the big righthander misses the ’08 season, but it will require some definite juggling. He speculates that Justin Masterson, a sinkerballer I saw throw in Portland last year, would be in the mix to make up the innings, but most observers – Keith Law among them – are convinced Masterson is likely to be limited to a bullpen role in the context of the major leagues.

Nor can, in my view, Buchholz be expected to shoulder a Schilling-like role at his age and experience level. The guess here is that Buchholz will be capped in ’08 to ~165 IP, meaning that a year long starter role in the rotation would be problematic, even without the complication of potential playoff innings. If I had a gun to my head, I’d predict the Sox would begin the season with a rotation of Beckett, Matsuzaka, Wakefield, Lester, and Tavarez, and integrate Buchholz down the stretch after some seasoning in Pawtucket or the Sox bullpen. And I don’t know about you, but that prospect doesn’t do much for me.

The Net?

It’s not terribly surprising given the pitcher’s age and recent injury history, and we’ll be able to deal. And it’s not like we have a choice either way.

As usual, the folks at Surviving Grady have the best take:

we have some options here. One is to run around and scream that the season’s over and we’re toast and we’re never going to find out just why Penny’s dad hates Desmond so much on Lost. Another is to somehow go back in time to just before the Mets landed Santana, and “intercept” them with the help of a few killer robots and some Mafiosa. Yet another is to get Schilling on Roger’s innovative, career-saving vitamin B-12 program, which, as we know, did wonders for the Rocket. The last and most plausible is to explore the free agent market, or promote the newly-bulked Buchholz to the starting rotation.

I don’t watch Lost, so that option’s not available to me, and I’m not a sky-is-falling type anyhow, but I can’t say that I feel good that Theo may be on the phone with Josh Fogg’s agent as we speak.