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

Maybe it’ll become a Sunday tradition, this current events bit, but in the meantime, my apologies for the radio silence the past few days. First I was ambushed by some sort of evil cold/flu hybrid, and then I was up in the mountains where Atingular has decided against providing even basic connectivity.

Hopefully you haven’t missed me as it’s been a quiet week. Or it had, until the last 24 hours or so. Since I left town, all hell broke loose. That, or it’s the regular slate of minor spring training injuries and trade rumors.

You make the call.

Analysts and Reporters

If you’ve been reading this site religiously (all 10 of you) or you know me personally (the same 10 of you), you may have gotten the impression that I favor certain analysts and reporters over others.

This impressions is, in fact, true, and you need look no further than the blogroll on the left for the quote unquote recommended sources. Occasionally during the season I’ll pull a quote or a conclusion that I find noteworthy; whether that’s for positive or negative reasons.

  • Cafardo:
    The reporter singled out today is none other than Boston’s Nick Cafardo. I’ve always preferred his colleague Gordon Edes’ work (with the exception of Edes’ treatment of Manny over the years) over Cafardo’s, and while his Sunday Notes columns is worth reading, his conclusions – in my view – frequently leave something to be desired. Unless you think that CC Sabathia – who approximated Beckett’s numbers last year over 40+ more IP – deserved to place fourth in the Cy Young voting.

    With that background in mind, be aware that I may be reading too much into this, but I can’t get anything from the following except that Cafardo considers himself “old school” regarding pitcher usage:
    “Bravo to Mike Mussina for his take on limiting the innings of young pitchers such as Kennedy, Philip Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Clay Buchholz, “I’m from the old school,” said Mussina, who threw 241 innings as a rookie. “I’m one of the few guys left that pitched last century. My opinion of what wears your arm down isn’t necessarily how many innings you throw in a starter situation. Wearing down happens when you’re out there a lot and you don’t get the proper rest in between those turns. That’s what beats you up.”

    Exactly. Let’s ignore innings because that worked so well for Baker and Riggleman when they managed Prior and Wood. All I can say is that I’m glad Cafardo’s not responsible for the careers of Buchholz, Lester, et al.

  • Neyer:
    I consider myself a fan of Rob Neyer’s, even if I don’t agree with every last thing he writes. Much of my appreciation for his work derives from his approach: much like Google in the technology world, he strives to make decisions based on actual data.

    That said, I’m at a loss to defend his Top 10 Baseball Movies. Any man that believes that Fever Pitch is a better film than The Natural…well, I just don’t know what to say. Words fail me. My faith in Neyer’s analysis skills is not exactly shattered, but I’ll admit that I’m unlikely to solicit his opinion on movies in the future. Ever.

    And that’s coming from someone who counts Tremors as one of his favorite movies.

Injuries

Would that it weren’t the case, but sadly, there’s a lot to report on this front. I have to tell you, there are very few things more terrifying than being in the mountains with limited or no connectivity, and see a Rotoworld headline screeching “Beckett Scratched.”

  • Beckett:
    Sox manager Terry Francona had a good report on Josh Beckett, who left Saturday’s game with back spasms after throwing six warm-up pitches. The manager said Beckett “looked way better than we expected,” but would not commit as to whether Beckett would be ready for the opener in Japan.” (link)

    This, candidly, is bad news. It won’t be horrible news until I hear either that it’s disc related or involves him missing a significant portion of the season, but it’s not what I wanted to hear. We could be looking at opening the season without our top 2 starters (Matsuzaka’s wife is expecting), which is not the end of the world but not how you’d draw it up either.
  • Crisp:
    In a video over on Boston.com, Crisp says, “I feel good right now, like I’m ready to play, other than I can’t get out there and run.” This does not strike me as good news, particularly for a player whose value is largely based on his ability to run.
  • Lugo:
    Shortstop Julio Lugo missed his sixth straight game with lower back tightness.” (link)

    What interests me here is how little actual reporting has been done on this injury. Coming off a down year, and with a very credible prospect in Lowrie poised to push him, I find the general lack of interest in Lugo’s condition as somewhat curious.

    Of course, if could be nothing more than a tacit acknowledgement that with an $8+ million price tag, he’s virtually unmovable.

Players

Besides injuries, there have been some notable player developments over the past week. Unfortunately, few of them good. Meaningless as spring training games are, it’d be nice to win a few. But anyhow, two quick player items.

  • Ellsbury:
    Echoing the thoughts of a number of fans I’ve spoken with, Allen Chace of Over the Monster said the following yesterday:
    As Rotoworld points out, Jacoby has hit pretty terribly thusfar, and Coco Crisp, seemingly, hasn’t played since the Carter administration.

    I have to disagree with our omnipresent sidebar companion. I don’t think it is necessarily doing anything for Tacoby’s case that Coco hasn’t played in awhile. They’re not going to let this kid back into the job, no matter how good he was down the stretch last season. It’s already been speculated here and elsewhere that the Sox would need to see quite a bit from Ellsbury unless Crisp is traded: they don’t need any kind of distraction that Crisp might be, and his value would only get lower as he sees more time riding the pine.

    While acknowledging that it’s easier to say this given that my Navajo brother went 3-5 this afternoon with a bomb and a double, I must – in turn – respectfully disagree with Mr. Chace. For three reasons.

    1. There’s no denying that – until today – Ellsbury hadn’t been good. But there’s also no denying that our other starters haven’t been much better (Crisp doesn’t count: he’s had 4 ABs). It’s true that Ellsbury’s hitting .190. But it’s also true that Manny’s at .188, and Lowell’s at .200. As is Drew. And Pedroia, last year’s ROY? .174. I’d love for all of the above to be lighting it up, but I can’t force myself to take their performances at this point seriously.
    2. I think the competition is more than mere performance. Trade value, particularly for the asset that is Crisp, has to factor in. If they can get a useful reliever or a couple of prospects for Crisp, I don’t think the Sox would hesitate to let Ellsbury back into the job.
    3. I think the front office is savvy enough to recognize that prior minor and major league performance is a better indicator of future performance than a handful or three of spring training at bats. They demonstrated this last year, trusting that Pedroia’s minor league success would manifest itself at the big league level in the face of an abysmal early performance.
  • Lester:
    A minor note, but I hadn’t seen Lester’s velocity peaks yet. The Great Gammons is reporting the following “[Lester’s] velocity is up in the mid-90s, his curveball is sharp, and they’re holding back on his cutter until the rest of his arsenal is ready.”
  • Papelbon:
    Papelbon went into the offseason with the idea of adding a third pitch to his fastball and split-finger fastball and chose the slider.

    Yesterday, in his second appearance of the spring, he used it to get two of the three outs he recorded in the fourth
    .” (link)

    I guess this means the “slutter” didn’t work out?

Trade Rumors

Remember when I mentioned that it was Theo’s opinion that the prospects for a Crisp trade were poor? Yeah, let’s just forget about that. Because right now it’s all Crisp, all the time on the trade rumors front. A quick recap of the least far fetched.

  • Chicago:
    While major league sources indicate the Chicago Cubs have Coco Crisp on their wish list, the Red Sox have no interest in expendable starting pitcher Jason Marquis or Arizona League MVP outfielder Sam Fuld.” (Nick Cafardo)

    Glad to hear this one shot down, personally. I don’t think I’d take Marquis for a bag of balls at this point, let alone a Gold Glove quality center fielder signed to an affordable contract. Two years removed from a 6.02 ERA in the NL Central, PECOTA sees him putting up a 5.04 in the same league. In other words, he’d get chewed up and spit out in the AL East. And there’s the fact that he’s already at odds with Piniella over his role on the staff.

    Which leaves Fuld, who, with all due respect, would have very little upside in our organization. This particular package making the rounds, then, would seem to me to be nothing but a rumor. I’m sure the Cubs would make that deal in a heartbeat, but if the Sox bite their sanity would be called into question.
  • Oakland:
    The Red Sox continue to talk with the Oakland Athletics about center fielder Coco Crisp. ” (Buster Olney)

    Little information to work with in this case, although the rumors were floated earlier in the office season that Beane might work to acquire Crisp so that he in turn could flip the player. What’s unclear would be what would be coming back. The primary assets of interest – Blanton and Street – would require far more than Crisp in return, so I’m not sure what we could expect. Still, bears watching.
  • San Diego:
    San Diego is considering trying to trade for Boston’s Coco Crisp now that center fielder Jim Edmonds has already broken down with a calf injury.” (John Perrotto)

    The primary reason that this one makes sense to me? If you’re trying to approximate Cameron, and keep your fly ball prone staff happy in a sizable park, Crisp is your best available bet to do that.
  • Seattle:
    The Mariners, unhappy with their in-house options, are in the market for a veteran right-handed hitting outfielder. Why not Coco Crisp? Sure, he’s a switch-hitter, but his splits suggest it could make some sense.” (Matt Birt)

    This one, to be clear, is nothing more than speculation. Informed speculation, as it comes courtesy of MLB Trade Rumor’s Matt Birt, but speculation nonetheless. Still, like San Diego has a sizable park to cover and if Ichiro and Crisp were two thirds of the M’s outfield, their staff – Horacio Ramirez and all – is going to look much better than they actually are. Which they probably know, having watched Cameron for years.

I Gotta Admit, I'm Gonna Miss 'Em

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Shot of the Back of the Park, originally uploaded by sogrady.

According to Evan Brunell, the ringleader over at Fire Brand of the American League, we’re about to lose the not-really-iconic Coke bottles from behind the Monster. And while I can’t say that I had strong feelings about them one way or another when they went up – though they really got some of the traditionalists in a twist – like Evan, I’m going to miss them when they’re gone.

Not like I miss my childhood pets, perhaps, but it’ll be weird seeing Manny’s bombs go into orbit rather than ricocheting wildly off a giant fake glass bottle.

Vaya con dios, my friends.

Ballplayer Wants to Get Paid: News at 11

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Red Sox vanity, originally uploaded by sixes & sevens.

So Papelbon wants to get paid. And the club is reluctant to pay him more than they have to. Both of these things I know. What I don’t is why this is qualifies as news. Or, more pertinently, why this should be anything but expected.

Is Papelbon’s overt drive for a better financial return flattering? Hardly. It’s clearly left a sour taste in Rob’s mouth. But is it really that surprising that a 27 year old kid wants to be paid like one of the best in the league, when he’s begun like one of the best in the league’s history?

If Cole Hamels, Nick Markakis, Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard, or innumerable other young players serving their time are anything to judge by, the answer is no. Pap’s behavior is both predictable and anything but illogical.

Papelbon’s dealing from a position of public relations strength, after all, even as he’s not from a contractual and service time perspective. Or maybe you believe that the World Series clinching closer, much beloved for his…ahem…free spirit, will be booed on opening day for publicly requesting a raise of ~$400K. You know, since we’re paying Drew $12M+ to hit .270 and slug .423.

Sure, some will be turned off, and the Herald is already doing its best to fan those flames with a little editorializing in its headline (which, I suppose, is to be expected during an otherwise quiet camp). But most fans, I suspect, will sympathize. Just pay the man, they’ll say. Excuse me, are saying. What’s a couple of hundred large to a team that can afford to pay Lugo $8M per?

There is precedent, after all. As Sox and Pinstripes notes, the Rockies just ponied up a guaranteed $8.025 million for their closer, who – while the owner of absolutely filthy stuff – is far less accomplished than Papelbon. Which, incidentally, you can be sure that Papelbon and the flying Levinson brothers (better known as his agents) have duly noted.

The question from a club perspective, I’m guessing, is this: what’s the return on effectively doubling (Paps made $425K last year, and is asking for $900K this one) the cost of the player? The $900K figure, after all, derives explicitly from the voluntary payroll escalation the Phillies committed to with the aforementioned Ryan Howard. Does anyone think that Howard is genuinely more likely to sign with the Phillies when he becomes a free agent two years from now?

Seriously?

So if the benefit isn’t an ease of retention come free agency, the question is what’s in it for the club? Because as much as I’d like them to throw around hundreds of thousands of dollars, none of that has conveniently found its way into my pockets. Hypothetically speaking, I think it’s safe to assume that in return for our $475K, we’d receive an unknown quantity of goodwill. Maybe $475K’s worth, maybe less, it’s tough to say. As it always is, even on balance sheets.

What’s the goodwill balanced against, is the next question. Yes, aside from the cash. And the answer to that, as far as I’m concerned, is precedent. Which is the answer to the impasse here, I suspect.

As Paps himself observes, the Red Sox will have no shortage of similar cases in the future – unlike the Phillies, who don’t have quite the same stable of kids on the way. Next year there’s Pedro, the year after (presumably) Buchholz and Ellsbury, and maybe the year after that Bowden, Kalish, Masterson et al.

So if the Red Sox set, with Papelbon, the precedent that goodwill is worth doubling a contract before contractually obligated to do so, and before the big raises start with arbitration, it seems extraordinarily likely that the respective agents for the aforementioned players will all remember that a year from now, two years from now, three years from now. Even if they’re not the caliber player that Papelbon is, because for all of his obvious excellence, let’s remember that a year ago this time no one was certain whether or not the closer’s shoulder was capable of holding up for a calendar year. Ellsbury in particular, you might recall, got scooped up by Scott Boras this past offseason. He tends to file away things like that, unfortunately for all of us.

What happens, then? Well, my guess is that the Red Sox – as usual – have a value that they will not exceed for Papelbon. It’s also very possible that they’d like to see another season from him to gain further insight into his injury risk. You know, for those actuarial tables they use to spit out the valuation. And speaking of the valuation, it seems likely, based at least on the public commentary, that Papelbon’s opinion of it is not entirely aligned with the club’s.

Meaning that I’m guessing they’ll renew with a slight raise, without giving Papelbon what he wants financially. Or without coming to a long term agreement.

Does that bode ill for the future? Very probably. Frankly, I’m terrified of 2010. Not just because we’ll only have 2 years left before the end of the world, but because all of the kids we value highly now because they’re not just good but cheap will be good but expensive. Not to mention the fact that Tampa is likely to be very, very good by then.

But that’s a conversation for another time. For now, just try and shrug off attempts to manufacture controversy, understanding that both sides are acting entirely predictably and in their own self interests. That’s what I’m doing, anyway.

Buchholz and Hansen: Second Looks

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Warmup, originally uploaded by Plutor.

If you’re craving reassurance with respect to the rough outings today from first Buchholz and then Hansen, well, you shouldn’t.

Repeat after me: it’s. their. first. outing. Against the pros, anyway.

But I was curious to see what – precisely – went wrong for the two on the day, because the box score doesn’t always tell the full story. Herewith is my quick scouter on the pair’s efforts today, which – considering that I’m completely untrained for the task – isn’t terribly valuable.

Anyway.

Buchholz

Not a terrible outing, overall, Buchholz just got some balls up in the first inning and had some balls hit just far enough away from defenders to cause problems. More:

  • The NESN gun had his fastball between 88-92, and in his post-game remarks he mentioned that he sees himself sitting between 90-93 easy, with a couple extra available when he needs it.
  • Four seam fastballs that dominated the first IP were frequently up, which has been a bit of a problem in his “last two bullpens.”
  • Mentioned that he “might have been trying to throw too hard”
  • Great separation velocity-wise with his changeup: arm action is good and the gun had them generally at 78 with an occasional 75
  • Second IP was much smoother, primarily because he went to a two seam fastball that generated some quick outs on the ground
  • All three pitches – fastball, curve, and change – got hit, but all three looked good at times
  • First few hits came in two strike counts

Hansen

Hansen’s outing was less promising than Buchholz’, primarily because his velocity crept down but his control – particularly of the slider – did not improve. Still, if the infield behind him had managed to turn a double play his line would have looked very different. More:

  • The NESN gun had Hansen’s fastball between 90-95, and his slider was fairly consistent at 83.
  • Fastballs were generally thrown down in the zone, but command within it was spotty.
  • Sliders were so-so on the day, with one or two good ones thrown against several way out of the zone. Remy’s characterization of the pitch was “flat”
  • Clearly had difficulty throwing strikes with either the fastball or the slider
  • Subtracting velocity did not necessarily improve his control: the third batter of the inning took four straight balls, which came in at 93-92-91-90
  • While several of the non-strikes were borderline pitches, several – particularly after runs scored – missed by a significant margin
  • Fastball showed good velocity to close out the inning (95)

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

So I walked two miles through the freezing, blowing snow for a thin meal of gruel to bring you today’s entry. That, or I walked a hundred yards for Eggs Mazatlan.

At least the snow was real. Promise.

Anyway, we’ve got a full slate for this week’s In Case You Haven’t Been Keeping Up With Current Events, so let’s get to it.

Colon’s Arm

I’ve weighed in on the Colon signing previously, but there were a couple of interesting tidbits this week. First, from Andrew Jackson Peter Gammons himself,

Red Sox conditioning guru Mike Reinhold is satisfied with what he’s seen in Bartolo Colon’s shoulder and pitching coach John Farrell likes his velocity, so there was nothing to lose.

If you’re looking for validation, Buster Olney’s got you covered:

Heard this: The Red Sox team doctors were pleasantly surprised by the condition of Bartolo Colon’s arm when they examined him.

Neither offers any guarantees, obviously, but it’s mildly promising.

Which is nice, considering that Keith Law had gotten the following quote from a front office official this offseason: “his medicals are a disaster.” I still don’t think we’re going to get much, if anything from him, but if his velocity is adequate it’s not unreasonable to predict we could get a couple of league average starts out of the righthander.

Garcia?

In the Colon piece linked to earlier, I also mentioned that I’m somewhat interested in Freddy Garcia as a candidate for some second half innings. Which meant the following Gammons bit was of significant interest:

Freddy Garcia checked in at Fort Myers to be examined Wednesday. Garcia hopes to be back in August, so if the Red Sox were to have a rash of pitching injuries, they will have a means to compare shoulder examinations and see his progress.

As with Colon, it seems to be another obvious “can’t hurt” move.

Hansen: All Growns’d Up?

For the record, I’m not one who yearns for all of the off the field details that inevitably result when a bunch of 20 something athletes – some of whom are rich – are thrown together for months at a time. I may not pine for the days when the Mick’s antics were glossed over in nod nod nudge nudge wink wink fashion…er, actually, yes I do. I wish fervently that I was kept less informed about the bullshit (you may have noticed a distinct lack of Clemens coverage hereabouts…this is not an accident).

All of that said, I do find some of the language employed towards oblique references to carousing hilarious. Witness this aside from Tito on Hansen:

I think he’s grown up. That doesn’t mean it all clicks in this week. He’s young, and did not necessarily make the best decisions all the time. I hope [the maturity] shows up on the field.

What these kids do off the diamond is something I regard as none of my business. But that won’t prevent me from laughing at the linguistic machinations managers and front office employees will resort to to hint at underlying issues.

But perhaps you prefer to take the comments literally? When Baseball America says of Hansen:

Hansen did hit a couple of speed bumps after his resurgence, missing three weeks in August after he banged his forearm when he slipped and fell against a nightstand.

You think, sure, that’s just what happened. Hell, it’s certainly possible.

For my part, however, I think there are a couple of things to read between those lines. Not that I want to.

Masterson: Bullpen or Starter?

Many baseball observers – including Rob Neyer – have mentioned Justin Masterson as a potential asset to offset the potential loss of Schilling’s innings. Which based on his minor league performance to date, not to mention the performance I saw firsthand last summer in his second AA start, is eminently sane and reasonable.

But the question remains: will be contribute as a starter or a reliever? As discussed previously, many think his arm profiles better in the bullpen. What I hadn’t heard was a Red Sox opinion on that subject.

Until this week.

On the 28th, the enterprising and stupidly attractive Amalie Benjamin secured the following quote from Senor John Farrell:

If you want to profile him out, he looks like a reliever just with the pitch mix that he has, a different arm angle that he pitches with. But until he’s fully developed the ability to use three pitches – the slider is going to be a big pitch for him – our plan is going to [be to] continue to start him, but knowing that we wouldn’t hesitate to move him to the bullpen if he shows us he can contribute this year.

Not quite case closed, but I won’t hold my breath waiting for him to get a start in the big leagues.

Putting The Young Pitchers’ Struggles in Context

Jon Lester (1 IP, 2H, 4 ER, 4BB, 0K) got knocked around yesterday . Clay Buchholz (2 IP, 5H, 4 ER, 1BB, 1K) got knocked around today. So obviously we’re screwed, and the sky is falling. Dogs and cats living together, you get the idea.

Just as it is for Johan Santana (2 IP, 3 ER, 4H, 0BB, 1K) and the Mets, and Erik Bedard (2 IP, 3 ER, 4H, 2BB, 1K) and the M’s.

If you hear me argue that Bedard, let alone Santana, should be the expectation for either Buchholz or Lester this season, you have my permission to involuntarily commit me for psychiatric evaluation. But let’s also not write off their minor and major league histories on the basis of a poor spring training outing.

Or three.

The Crisp Update

In his interview with Dennis and Calahan, Grandmaster Theo was fairly blunt about the poor prospects for a Crisp trade. One of the primary issues being the plethora of available center field free agents, a few of whom are still available (Lofton and Patterson, primarily).

But that doesn’t mean that our diligent front office hasn’t been working the phones, attempting to extract blood from the proverbial stone. Earlier this week, Gammons had this to say:

The Cubs have talked to several teams about Matt Murton, including the Rangers (Marlon Byrd) and the Red Sox (Coco Crisp), but neither team will trade a center fielder even up. Boston wants Murton, who took his parents to the first game of the World Series last fall at Fenway, but are wary of trading Crisp because speed players like Crisp and Jacoby Ellsbury can so easily break down with leg problems.

And then today the always timely MLB Trade Rumors updated us on the prospects of a Crisp trade to either of the Chicago ballclubs.

The only thing I’d add to that particular account is the fact that it’s not necessarily Gomez’s ’08 season that blocks a potential Crisp-to-the-Twins trade, but the subsequent seasons in which Crisp is due better than $6M per. Affordable under most circumstances, but not when you have a Gomez in house waiting in the wings.

Yankee Nation?

As just about everybody is aware at this point, Hankenstein continues to disgrace himself and his club [1] by running his mouth at every given opportunity. His latest verbal failing came in the context of a NY Times article, which quoted him as saying the following:

“Red Sox Nation?” Hank says. “What a bunch of [expletive] that is. That was a creation of the Red Sox and ESPN, which is filled with Red Sox fans. Go anywhere in America and you won’t see Red Sox hats and jackets, you’ll see Yankee hats and jackets. This is a Yankee country. We’re going to put the Yankees back on top and restore the universe to order.”

Hankenstein’s obvious mental limitations aside, the above is actually an argument worth considering, given the Pinstriped ones obvious brand strength. So consider it I did, by looking at – gasp! – some actual numbers. From here. What do they tell me?

That the Sox are really giving the Evil Empire a run for their money.

For example, the Red Sox average road attendance in 2007 was? 38,641. The Empire? 37,227. 2006 saw the Sox temporarily bested, 38,028 to 36,098, but 2005 saw the Sox back on top, 37,735 to 37,036. The 3 year averages? Sox are 37,491, while the Yanks are 37,430.

So we win. Narrowly, it’s true, but a win is a win. Which isn’t bad for a city of 590,000 competing with a city of 8.25 million.

Looks like people do honestly prefer good to evil. Who would have guessed?

[1] From an actual email from one of my actual Yankee friends (I know, but he’s an excellent guy): “he blows. i hate him. just when i was starting to actually like the yankees again, he happens. bums me out.”