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

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04-04-08-PawSox-02, originally uploaded by jasonandrewlayne.

What a difference a week makes.

Had we entered the break mired in second place, I would have made some statements to the effect that the standings at the All Star break count for little. So I’m little inclined to make too much of a half game lead. Particularly after a game in which Matsuzaka threw only 68 of 115 pitches for strikes and the offense left 20 men on base.

Still, first tastes better than second. It’s not often you make up five games in a week. And while it’ll ultimately be of minimal import, the fact that the Tampa kids are hearing footsteps is not terrible news.

Lest we get carried away, bear in mind that our club yet has serious problems. Even as we slightly underperform our Pythagorean expectations and Tampa outperforms theirs, as the Joy of Sox notes.

The bullpen is yet unreliable, as last night’s contest reminds us, and our offense – the explosions against the Twins and O’s this week aside – is streaky. Masterson should help the former and the Large Father the latter (knock on wood), but I assume that Theo and folks are working the phones.

Yes, Tampa just dropped seven games in a row, but should they, for example, pull off a Murton and Street trade, we may have a problem.

Anyway, on to this week’s ICYHBKUWCE…

Ellsbury

A number of you have suggested that Ellsbury’s struggles of late might be attributable to his June 5th injury; the diving catch that resulted in a sprained wrist. You may be right.

It’s not conclusive, but the before and after numbers leave open the possibility of a connection:

AB BA BB K HR
Before 190 .284 28 24 4
After 129 .256 5 22 1

Granted, it’s 60 fewer at bats, but still. Here’s hoping the break does the kid some good.

Lars Anderson

Though he hasn’t gotten too much ink here, Lars Anderson is, according to many, both our best power prospect and our best first base prospect. A couple of updates on his progress:

Baseball America:

Sending big Lars Anderson to the hitter’s haven that is Lancaster figured to produce some fireworks, and Anderson hasn’t disappointed. As hot as Anderson was in June, when he hit .360/.440/.490, he’s been even better in July. Anderson has already cracked four home runs in nine games this month, three of which have come away from Lancaster. He did more than hit for power this week, as Anderson reached base at least once in every game and strung together four multi-hit games. For the season, Anderson is batting .324/.416/.529, ranking him fifth in the league in average and third in on-base percentage.

John Sickels:

Anderson currently ranks seventh in the California League with a .916 OPS, with a complete line of .317/.411/.505, 18 doubles, 11 homers, 45 walks, and 57 strikeouts in 281 at-bats. The league OPS is .744, so his OPS is 23 percent above league context. A left-handed hitter, he’s destroying southpaws to the tune of .383/.462/.617. Against right-handers he’s at .290/.391/.460, an interesting reverse platoon split but one that likely indicates he won’t have to be platoooned at higher levels. I like the high walk rate along with reasonable strikeouts. His home run power may be a bit less than you’d expect from a 6-4, 215 pounder, although he’s obviously dangerous and his home run power is expected to continue to increase. He is still just 20 years old.

On the negative side, Anderson has a sharp home/road split, .359/.451/.579 at home in the friendly confines of Lancaster, .272/.365/.426 on the road. On the other hand, the home/road split has lessened of late. He spent some time on the DL with a sore wrist in May, and has been blistering hot since returning to action in June, hitting .369/.450/.533 in 30 games since returning from the wrist injury.

It’ll be interesting to see if the presence of Anderson influences our appetite for Texeira, if or when he becomes available as a free agent.

Lowrie vs Lugo

Five days ago, Allen Chace over at Over the Monster said this with respect to our shortstop situation:

I don’t think we’re going to see any changes real soon. Lugo is the starter for the time being. There are no terribly appetizing trade options, so until Lugo’s OBP goes down below, say, .330, we’re not going to see Lowrie brought up and given a shot.

At the time, I agreed. And we all know what’s happened since: Lugo strained or tore – depending on who you believe – his quad, and is out for four to six weeks. And just like that, Lowrie replaces Lugo.

The question is for how long? Probably four to six weeks. Particularly if Lowrie is as minimal a factor as he was in yesterday’s contest. Which could be a concern, as he’s been in something of a funk to open July, putting up a .176/.275/.294 down at Pawtucket in 9 games this month.

But what if the kid plays well? Lugo lamented his injury, claiming that he’d just “found his swing.” Which is interesting, since July was shaping up to be his worst month since April (.259/.323/.259). When he comes back, assuming he won’t be a hundred percent in the field, the only thing arguing in his favor for playing time will be the inexplicable $9M we’re paying him.

Odds are Lugo will get his job back. And those of you that have been around a while know that Lugo’s not exactly my favorite player. But I do think it’s worth questioning how far we’re going to go with a shortstop that was essentially terrible before he tore his quad.

Masterson’s Replacing…Who?

Last week, I expressed surprise that Buchholz hadn’t been brought up and Masterson shifted to the pen. Well, it looks as if I was a week early, because Bucky’s back and Masterson will be soon. And none too soon, though he’s not likely to help our walk numbers out there.

When I first heard the news, my first thought was – predictably – why not lsat week? My second, however, was the question Kevin Thomas is asking: “When Masterson returns to Boston, which reliever goes?”

Looking at the staff, I think the conclusion is obvious:

  • David Aardsma
  • Manny Delcarmen
  • Craig Hansen
  • Javier Lopez
  • Hideki Okajima
  • Jonathan Papelbon
  • Mike Timlin

Barring an injury, I think Hansen’s not long for our pen. If he was able to throw even a few more strikes, I might argue for a Timlin exit (as I’m of the opinion that there’s a giant fork sticking out of his back), but the young reliever’s not giving me a leg to stand on.

Couple Timlin’s marginally improved performance since his return from the DL (4 IP, 1 ER, 3 H, 3 K, 1 BB) with Hansen’s ongoing inability to throw balls over the plate (26.1 IP, 25 H, 18BB, 22Ks), and I can’t see anyone but Hansen being sent down.

Not least because he’s the only one that actually can be sent down, as far as I know.

Trade Chips

Given the abovementioned issues with the roster, the Sox front office is undoubtedly doing the due diligence on who’s available. While that subject is covered in detail elsewhere – MLB Trade Rumors is always my first stop – the question of who we’re likely to be asked for is less well documented. Fortunately, Sean McAdam’s broken that down for us. His list looks like this:

Elite Prospects

  • Michael Bowden
  • Lars Anderson
  • Josh Reddick
  • Ryan Kalish
  • Jed Lowrie

Next Level Down

  • Kris Johnson
  • Daniel Bard
  • Oscar Tejeda
  • Che-Hsuan Lin
  • Mark Wagner

Could Draw Interest

  • Brandon Moss
  • David Pauley
  • Chris Carter

There are probably a couple of other players that would be of potential interest – Michael Almanzar, Bubba Bell, or even George Kottaras – that’s a reasonably complete list.

The one thing I haven’t heard many people discuss: Bowden might be overvalued at the moment, his calf injury notwithstanding. Given his performance at Double A, he might be considered by other clubs an elite pitching prospect, but his ceiling is likely considerably lower than that. That doesn’t mean you trade him; pitchers of his caliber don’t grow on trees. But it may make him more of a tradeable commodity than he would otherwise be, particularly in a deal involving young catching talent.

Varitek’s Future

One of the conversations I’ve been having over and over concern’s Varitek’s future. On the one hand, he’s been absolutely miserable with the bat this season. Out of 19 MLB catchers that have seen 250+ ABs this year, Tek is 17th in average,16th in OBP, and SLG. That’s not good.

On the other hand, there’s his celebrated reputation for working with pitchers, his tenure and stature with the club, and the fact that catching around the majors is horribly scarce.

Between those two positions, you might think, lies a compromise path that would keep our captain in a Red Sox uni for the remainder of his career.

According to Hacks with Haggs, however, Peter Gammons is skeptical:

He’s a 36-year-old guy who has played his heart out for a long time. He was not exactly a gifted hitter. He really hasn’t had a good offensive year since 2005, so where is he at this point in his career. What worries me about this for the Red Sox is that this becomes ugly as it comes to the end of the year and he approaches free agency.

I know we have people saying you have to sign him no matter what, but if you have Jason Varitek for four years and $40 million or you have Brian Schneider for one-year and $3 million, there’s no question you take Brian Schneider for the $3 million in my mind.

As much as I really like Varitek, he’s at the point where you really worry about where he’s going to be. Two years at $7 million is fine, but I think that Scott Boras is going to convince someone out there that he’ll make the difference with the pitching staff. And you’ve always got the Mets. They offered Jorge Posada five years at the age of 36, which is one of the most laughable offers of all time. I think if they get down to the end of the year and there’s no progress and Scott is looking for those four years. Jason is a very loyal guy to Scott and it could create a chasm between Varitek and the club that could be a problem coming down the stretch.

It’s not so much that I’m wedded to the idea of having Varitek; it’s more that I don’t know who we’d replace him with.

Lastly

Farewell, Bobby Murcer. Though a Yankee, you were by all accounts a classy individual and a credit to your city and club. RIP.

Lugo: The Question, Not the Answer

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Lugo on Second, originally uploaded by Eric Kilby.

In that other blog I write, disclosure usually revolves around commercial relationships we have with various commercial entities. Here on wicked clevah, they’ll most often reveal personal biases I have either for or against players.

Yes, I do have biases against certain players, even Red Sox. I don’t believe in booing our own players under any circumstances – what happened to Mark Bellhorn was, in my view, just plain wrong – but I don’t have quite the same affection for each and every one of them that I do for, say, my Navajo brother.

Naturally.

So, full disclosure: on the current edition of the Boston Red Sox, the player I’m least fond of is one Julio Lugo. Besides his play in the field, I haven’t been terribly impressed by his attitude, either in interviews or when asked to fill in in left.

I’m hardly the only one guilty of being less than fond of our current starting shortstop, of course, but I was under the impression that I was leading that campaign until I read Sarah Green’s post over on UmpBump. Sweet lord.

I’m not quite that bad.

But I am not a fan, and the front office’s obsession with Lugo absolutely mystified me. Theo and the gang first tried to pry him away from the Rays prior to his trade to the Dodgers, next he was a rumored piece coming back in return for Andy Marte at one point, and once he hit the free agent market they couldn’t throw $36 million at him fast enough.

Which I never understood. He was a nice player, certainly. And we did have an opening at shortstop at the time. But $9 million? After the 2006 season, when we signed him, he was a lifetime .269/.335/.386 player. And offense, you’ll remember, was his strength.

Was he an upgrade, offensively, over Alex Gonzalez? You’d think so. And if your metric is OBP, the answer is yes. Barely, even though Gonzo was positively allergic to walks. Lugo was not, however, an upgrade in the power department. Gonzalez’ line in his single season with us?
.255/.299/.397/.696
And what has Lugo done is his season plus?
.259/.323/.341/.664
Not, I’d argue, an upgrade worth $4,625,000 (the delta between Gonzalez’ and Lugo’s ’08 salaries: I’m not even factoring in the rest of the deal).

And if offense was why he was brought in, what of his defense? Well, actually, until this year, it was better than advertised. As a shortstop, his Fielding Percentage was a tie for the fourth best of his career and he only made 19 errors, though his Range Factor was the third worst and his Zone Rating was the fourth worst.

But this year? Though it’s early, it’s the worst year of his career in a couple of categories: Fielding Percentage (excluding 2006’s 8 games at SS) and Range Factor. It’s his third worst in terms of Zone Rating, and he’s on a 46 error pace.

Things are bad enough, in fact, that Tito has taken to replacing Lugo in the late innings with Alex Cora. The same Alex Cora that several of the SOSH folks believe to be the inferior fielder. As an aside on that subject, Cora’s career numbers at SS are superior to Lugo’s in both Fielding Percentage (.971 to .964) and Zone Rating (.858 to .844), and Lugo’s edge in range factor is slight (4.57 to 4.52).

The question now is what comes next. 40 error shortstops putting up a .664 OPS for $9M+ are not the most marketable of commodities. As has been noted elsewhere, the Red Sox are unusually willing – a benefit of enlightened ownership, no doubt – to recognize a sunk cost when they see one and correct the situation, but I think a solution this season is unlikely.

To me, much depends on whether or not the club feels Jed Lowrie can handle shortstop on an everyday basis (no, I’m not a believer in Omar Vizquel, even if the rumor did originate with the great Gammons). Chad Finn, for one, is convinced that he can’t, while a scout that Baseball America spoke to was more positive (though the Eckstein comp is damning):

“Lowrie definitely profiles at the position,” the scout said. “He’s one of those guys that moves up a level and makes the big wigs go, ‘God, this guy just does everything so easy–he just does it and does it.’

“He’s kind of like David Eckstein with a lot better tools. You sit there and say to yourself, ‘That guy’s an everyday shortstop.’ He makes the plays–nothing necessarily real flashy, but he’s going to get it done. He’s made some flashy plays so far this year, but I think he was kind of playing out of his butt a little bit. I know going to the hole to get balls has been something where people have killed him in the past, but I saw him get three or four average runners to above in the first two series. He can go get it.”

Whatever the answer is on Lowrie, however, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that Lugo is not the answer he felt he would be.

Which I probably could have told Theo, had he but asked.

Cashing Out Mirabelli

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Best Catching Tandem in the Majors, originally uploaded by sogrady.

Let me get the first question out of the way: no, I have no idea what prompted this morning’s shocking-for-Sox-fans release of Dougie Parm. If you deduce from that that I don’t buy the simplistic “Kevin Cash is a better defensive catcher” explanation, well aren’t you just the genius?

It’s not that I doubt that Cash actually is Mirabelli’s superior defensively. I’m quite sure that is, in fact, the case. Cash impressed with his work with Wakefield last year, and I confess that I was a bit surprised that Mirabelli was actually retained this past offseason because of that, even at the low guaranteed dollars. Apparently Jed Hoyer hesitated similarly, before ultimately bringing the backup backstop back.

No, the question here is the timing. If, as Epstein said, this “was a debate early in camp,” why release him before the game? Maybe there’s no good time to release a veteran like Mirabelli, who has a long history with the club, but just prior to a game? A game that he was scheduled to start? I’m with the crowd that smells something piscean.

In any event, Mirabelli is gone. True, we thought that before only to be proven wrong (that link is absolute comedy), but if forced to bet I’d say he’s gone for good this time. Assuming that he’s not going to be ferried back to the park by police escort any time soon, however, the question is what now?

I see two possibilities.

One, the team intends to carry Cash as its backup indefinitely. Defensively, Cash is better than Mirabelli in most respects with the exception of his handling of Wakefield. But even there Cash is capable in way that, say, Josh Bard was not, though it will be interesting to see how the pitcher reacts to having his personal caddy dumped. Rather unceremoniusly.

Offensively, Mirabelli is not even a shadow of his 2004 self when – as the picture argues – Tek and Dougie Parm combined to be the best catching tandem in the majors. But even at his reduced levels, he’s a better offensive option. PECOTA sees Mirabelli putting up a .214/.294/.354 line this year, against Cash’s .206/.278/.327. It’s true that neither one was likely to be any kind of offensive factor, due to the limitations of both skills and playing time, but Cash is essentially a zero at the plate. When you’re giving up 20 points in projected OBP and 30 points in projected SLG to Mirabelli, you’ve got problems. As Allan Wood points out, one of the SOSHers has noted that Clemens has a better lifetime OBP. Yes, Roger Clemens, the pitcher.

Anyone think Kevin Towers is on the phone with the cut catcher as we speak, hoping to pry loose another Meredith?

Anyway, the other obvious possibility is that Cash is nothing more than a placeholder, keeping a seat warm for an asset to be named later – whether that’s via a trade or the progression of one of the kids (Brown or Kottaras, presumably). The former strikes me as the more likely, not only because neither Brown nor Kottaras is ready for the show yet (no, I’m not getting too excited vis a vis Kottaras after 10 spring training ABs), but more because it seems unlikely that you’d break in a rookie catcher with…Wake.

Even with the move made, however, I’m still surprised. I’m not quite as pessimistic as Rotoworld, who reacted as follows:

It’s a very surprising move that they’d risk upsetting chemistry and take Tim Wakefield out of his comfort zone in order to go with Kevin Cash as their No. 2 catcher. Cash is an excellent defender and he did impress while catching Wakefield during Mirabelli’s DL stint last year, but he’s one of the very worst hitters at the upper levels of the game. Maybe it’s an upgrade for Boston, but the difference in performance shouldn’t be worth even one game in the standings. Depending on how Wakefield reacts, it might be necessary to drop him in draft lists.

But I am surprised. More than you’d expect with the departure of a 37 year old number 2 catcher coming off a .638 OPS season, because it’s not just him we’re talking about of course. His roster spot has been entirely dependent on Wakefield’s for years now, and you have to wonder whether or not this has implications for the knuckleballer in ’09. As Neyer puts it:

Obviously, not a lot of games are won and lost by backup catchers. But as much as I love Tim Wakefield, one can’t help but wonder if his contribution is worth all this fuss.

But for now it’ll be interesting to watch. While Dougie waits by the phone.

What's Colon Got Left? A Q&A

Look, if Sean Casey got his own Q&A, I can’t very well not produce one for a pitcher that won the Cy Young three seasons ago, can I? Even if it’s a non-guaranteed, minor league deal?

Exactly.

Q: So what’s the deal with Colon?
A: ESPN is reporting that the deal is minor league in nature, including no guaranteed money. Fire Brand of the American League puts the potential cash outlay should Colon make the major league roster at around a million.

Q: What kind of pitcher is Colon now?
A: Colon came up essentially a fireballing workhorse. Though my 2004 Scouting Notebook lists him at 5 foot 11, it also lists his weight – conservatively – at 240. Earlier in his career, he essentially was a one pitch pitcher, pumping in high 90’s fastballs with good and occasionally exceptional control. For show, he’d also feature a changeup and a hard breaking ball, but Colon was a fastball pitcher most nights.

In recent years, however, all of the innings – he averaged 215 per for 8 seasons beginning in 1998 (a year in which he went from 98 IP to 204, interestingly) – appear to have caught up with the big righthander. Heading into last season, he was rehabbing a partially torn rotator cuff, and the results of that rehab were not promising. A 6.34 ERA in 99.1 IP for the Angels, during which he coughed up 15 HRs and 29 BBs, while striking out 76. The strikeout numbers aren’t terrible, and may indicate that he’s got something left. The problem is the batting numbers against, which are terrifying. Opposing hitters put up a .320/.366/.490 against him in 412 ABs. Essentially, every hitter in the lineup was Kevin Youkilis. Not good.

Also not good were the scouting reports from winter ball: Rotoworld reported that he was working mainly in the 88-91 range when giving up 2 runs in 4.1 IP against Venezuela. If you’re Pedro, you can make that work, but, well, you know where I’m going.

Q: How about the projections?
A: They’re actually not as bad as you might predict. PECOTA sees him putting up a 4.77 ERA in 92.3 IP, striking out 62 and walking 26. Bill James calls for a 4.24 ERA in 20 fewer IP, predicting 51 Ks and 22 BBs in 70.0 innings even.

For what it’s worth, however, PECOTA was significantly optimistic last year. It forecast a 4.77 ERA in 121 IP. The actuals, again, were 6.34 in 99.1 IP.

Prediction is a tough science.

Q: So you’re against the trade?
A: Not at all. Frankly, for a fifth starter, I’d be fine with even the PECOTA projection to slightly worse. And frankly, we could use 90+ innings of credible major league pitching.

Besides, with no guaranteed money on the table, it’s essentially a zero risk move for the club. So I’m positive on it.

Q: Why make the move?
A: It’s a hedge against the Schilling injury, obviously. As Theo and company have said multiple times, no one was counting on Schilling for a 200+ inning season this year, but neither were they forecasting zero which appears to be a distinct possibility at this point.

While everyone expects both Buchholz and Lester to pitch and pitch effectively on the major league roster this year – and certainly I’d expect both to give us superior innings relative to Colon – the fact is that neither should be expected to give us a full starters workload. Buchholz and Lester both were around ~150 IP last year – 146.6 and 153.2 IP, respectively – and expecting them to take that to 200 is a stretch. Not to mention that it might compromise their playoff availability, should we be lucky enough to make it that far.

So in short, we need innings. The higher quality those innings the better, obviously, but we’re going to need innings.

Q: How do you expect him to be deployed?
A: It depends on how he’s throwing, of course, but ultimately I think Evan Brunnell over at Fire Brand said it best:

Colon should be a safey net. If Buchholz or Lester completely blows up in April, you bring Colon up. If Colon is still with the club after May 1 (I’m assuming he has the standard May 1 opt-out clause if he’s not in the major leagues) and injury strikes, you call him up. If the Red Sox want to send Buchholz down in July just to limit his innings and Schilling’s not back yet, you call Colon up.

I expect the Sox to get him in to see what they’ve got, then use him tactically to control and keep manageable our young starters’ workloads.

Q: What is the value of Colon relative to some of the other available options?
A: Significant. Unless you’re excited by the likes of Eric Milton, Jeff Weaver, Kyle Lohse, Rodrigo Lopez or Russ Ortiz – a few of whom might require not only guaranteed deals but multi-year ones at that – Colon is a good risk/reward play. The only other pitcher I would have been interested in from the list of rehabbing players would have been Freddy Garcia, who I think will make a contribution somewhere in the second half.

Should we expect much from Colon? Certainly not. But does he have some upside as a candidate for innings at the back end of the rotation? Sure.

Four More Years

I like Stephen King. He’s no Gabriel García Márquez, obviously, but then who is? King, in my view, takes his craft seriously and does have legitimate strengths as a writer (besides the obvious productivity) that his fellow Hudson News bestsellers lack. More even than his absurd commercial success, however, I have a great deal of respect for the way that King has never forgotten the economically challenged state he hails from. That kind of loyalty is as admirable as it is rare in this day and age.

But one area where I break with America’s bestselling author is on the subject of one Terry Tito Francona. As has been documented, King and his co-author Stewart O’Nan spent much of the very readable Faithful slagging the Red Sox manager, much as an average fan might be expected to do.

Today, however, with the benefit of a second world series under his belt, the man King and O’Nan came to call Francoma received a contract that values him as the upper echelon manager his record proclaims him to be. Where value equates to $12 million, guaranteed, over a three year period.

Not that I’ve been a fan of Francona’s from day one. While I can’t dig up the actual text – and certainly I wasn’t writing here at the time, my recollection of my reaction to the signing within an email to a few friends can be summarized in one word: skeptical. Much like all of the Patriots fans in the audience probably were after Robert Kraft brought on Bill Belichick who had been fired in Cleveland. As Francona had been fired in Philly.

Nor am I convinced that the one-time Philly outcast is the perfect manager. I have frequent issues with his bullpen usage, occasional questions about his loyalty to certain players, and infrequent problems with his in-game tactics.

But for all that, I’m aware that Francona has forgotten more about baseball than I’ll ever know, and has access to information – quantitative, injury, personality, morale and otherwise – that I lack. Which is important, and can – at times – trump the numbers.

Francona was hired in part because of his acceptance of the numbers – the data wrangled by the front office into meaningful, actionable information. The front office makes a point of employing both traditional scouting techniques and modern statistical analysis side by side, rather than excessively favoring one over the other. It’s clear that Tito, for his part, augments his decision making process with the information fed to him by the front office. Whom he clearly trusts, and has forged an excellent working relationship with. Tito listens.

Where Little before him was content to leave the reams of statistical data provided him by the front office collecting dust on his manager’s desk, Francona seems to honestly and genuinely appreciate the additional data. He seems to uniquely understand that more data is generally a good, rather than a threatening, thing.

Off the field, Francona also seems to have the singularly unique yet utterly necessary talent for putting Red Sox nation in its place – without offending.

The fans, media and wicked clevah alike jump to the conclusion that Crisp is out in favor of my Navajo brother? Francona tells us that while it’s ok if we forget, it’s his responsibility to remember what Crisp brings to the table (which is, not coincidentally, almost perfectly aligned with the GM’s view). The fanbase is bitter after a mere 101 wins? Francona has no problem calling us on it, but does it so deftly we don’t even remember to be offended.

No, I’m not prepared to make the argument that Francona is the perfect manager. But I could certainly build and defend the case that he’s the perfect manager for this town, and this team.

All of which is a long winded way of saying that I’m very pleased the front office and ownership saw things the same way.

Quick Links: Drunk Ortiz, Hansen Thoughts, Jeter Leader?

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the_scene, originally uploaded by sogrady.

Good news, everyone! I survived a weekend spent in an 8×6 shack on a frozen lake in sub-zero Minnesota temperatures with three other dudes. More or less in one piece.

Honestly, though, if there’s anything better than ice fishing for getting me ready for baseball, I’m not sure what it would be.

Age Surprises

Peter Gammons: Every so often I’m surprised by age comparisons. Sometimes I’m more impressed with a player because they’re younger than I believed, others I’m less impressed because they’re older. Either way, it’s always interesting.

Gammons mentioned one today:

Remember that Jon Garland is six months younger than Bedard and has 52 more career wins.

In the immortal words of Carsenio, “I did not know that.” But the one that really put things in perspective for me?

Clay Buchholz will be 23 to start the season, while Seattle’s Felix Hernandez – you remember the one hitter last year, don’t you? – will be 21.

In the only slightly less immortal words of Stephen Colbert, “Think about that. I haven’t.”

Battle Royale in Bullpen

Amalie Benjamin: According to everyone’s favorite Amalie, the Sox will open with 12 pitchers on the roster rather than 11. With Papelbon, Okajima, Delcarmen, Timlin, and Tavarez all but guaranteed of spots if they’re healthy – whether it’s for contract reasons, talent, or ideally both – that leaves two spots up to the likes of Aardsma, Hansen, Lopez, Snyder, and the non-roster invitees in Michael Bowden, Lee Gronkiewicz, Hunter Jones, Dan Kolb, Justin Masterson, Jon Switzer and Michael Tejera. Unless – and maybe even if – Bowden and Masterson allow no hits and no walks for all of spring training, they’re ticketed for the minors. Jones too. The rest of the folks on that list are real long shots.

Cashman Watch, Continued

Bill Madden: First we have this bit from Madden:

At the time [of Pettite's return], there was elation all around, especially from Cashman, who used Pettitte’s “I shall return” proclamation as the incentive for walking away from a deal for the Twins’ Johan Santana – a deal he never wanted to make. With Pettitte taking up $16 million in payroll, the Yankees could no longer afford Santana, Cashman argued, and Hal Steinbrenner, Hank’s partner and the primary financial expert in the business, agreed.

“Take your choice, guys,” Hal reportedly told the group of Yankee higher-ups in a meeting on the Santana deal prior to Cashman’s departure for the winter meetings. “Pettitte or Santana?”

And then we have this bit from the great Gammons:

But if all the spotlight causes the respectful, quiet Pettitte to go into a shell and turn into a 35-year-old .500 pitcher, his grab for the $16 million that steered the Yankees away from Johan Santana may cost a few jobs. Which will not be fair.

Anyone care to give me odds that Cashman is one of those jobs?

Hansen, Hansen, Hansen – So Hot Right Now?

Speaking of Hansen, he’s received a lot of attention in the Globe. Granted, some of the coverage was for the novelty of the surgery he had to correct sleep apnea; in his own words, he used to snore like a 500 pound fat man. But he’s also being discussed almost daily by the beat writers as a legitimate candidate for one of the last spots in the pen.

Certainly, if he can throw strikes with a slider resembling the one he threw at St John’s, I’d bet on him for a spot. The kid throws hard, after all. Unfortunately, I’d put the odds of that precondition being met as long indeed. Keith Law is, if anything, even more convinced of this than I am. In fact, he’s gone as far as arguing that Daniel Bard is a better bet than Hansen, saying:

I saw Hansen again in the Fall League … it’s not there, at least not yet. I’d be more inclined to put money on Bard taking a step forward in ’08 than Hansen.

Given that Bard’s walked nearly 2 guys for every one he’s struck out as a pro (78BB/47K), and better than 1/IP (78BB/75IP), well, that can’t really be taken as a positive report on Hansen.

Good Times, Good Times

Steve Buckley: I don’t think this qualifies as throwing your teammate under the bus simply because it’s high comedy, but, well, you make the call:

“Last year after we won it,” [Papelbon] said yesterday, “I was in a hotel room partying, and Ortiz was there trying to show me how to do the breakdance. And he fell over, and he didn’t know what he was doing. Either that or he was just too drunk. I don’t know.”

The good folks over at Surviving Grady are absolutely right: Papelbon must be miced 24/7/365. That would be the first and only reality show I’d ever watch. Unless someone sticks a camera on Marissa Miller (sorry, Amalie).

Rest as a Trend

Rob Bradford: It’s clear from Rob’s latest and some of the other commentary leading up to and follow last year’s playoffs that enforced rest may become a prescribed part of the Red Sox pitching management strategy. As an aside, I was a bit surprised – and pleased – to see Beckett recognize the benefits of the approach, given that it is at odds with the Herschiser like ideal that starting pitchers are a horse to be ridden until they die.

What I’m curious about now is whether or not this strategy of enforced rest will be emulated more broadly within the league. Certain factors – the lack of starting pitching to support the approach, the lack of intelligence within some front offices, or incompatible pitching management philosophies – are likely to limit the spread of the tactic. But baseball front offices are smarter and more creative than they were even a few years ago, and even the conservative clubs are willing to try and emulate what’s been successful for Word Series winners.

Taking One for the Team?

John Mazor: Fortunately, I don’t need to take apart this crime against sports journalism, because the pros at Fire Joe Morgan have already done that for you. Nor do I have to explain why Jeter is not a pre-eminent or even average shortstop, because the Penn researchers Mazor is trying to slag have explained that in sufficient detail for all but the most ardent homers.

For an article that bases much of its argument on the fact that Jeter has won three Gold Gloves – in spite of the fact that that award means nothing (disagree? then explain how Palmeiro won it for 1B in ’99 while playing only 28 games at the position) – I find it surprising that Mazor fails to mention that the two Gold Gloves that Rodriguez wore came in his last two years as a shortstop. The years, put differently, before he moved to third base to accommodate the statistically and observably inferior shortstop. As one of the researchers put it, “The Yankees have one of the best defensive shortstops playing out of position in deference to one of the worst defensive shortstops.”

Is Jeter an excellent player? Indeed. But is he the leader, and the Cap’n Intangibles, that Yankee fans believe him to be? I’m not sure how you make that argument. To me, a real leader would have done what was best for the team: let the best shortstop man that position.

But frankly, as I used to tell my Yankee friends, I’m just as happy that that didn’t work out. Can you imagine a world in which the Pinstriped ones could throw A-Rod and Jeter at short and second, then find power bats for the corners? It’s too terrifying to even contemplate.

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.

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.

Cashman: Not Long for the Yankees?

You’ll recall that I’ve previously suggested that Brian Cashman’s tenure with the Yankees may be in some jeopardy: I believe the exact phrasing was, “short-timer.” Well, I have news. Good news, at least for the constituency that is of the opinion that a Cashman-less Yankee organization is, in all probability, a weaker organization.

First, there was the near shocking candor of Cashman at a joint charity appearance with Theo this week. I’m not sure what or if the Yankees GM had been drinking that day, but just…wow. First, he restated his preference that the Yankees keep their own pitching rather than trade for Santana. Ok, nothing terribly shocking about that; it could be gamesmanship, could be a statement for the record, but either way it’s contradictory to Hankenstein’s public commentary. But Cashman didn’t stop there. Regarding Yankees fan favorite and could-have-been-a-Sox Bernie Williams, Cashman claimed that the center fielder’s music “took away from his play,” and that his 2005 season was, not to put too fine a point on it, “terrible.” Continuing, he added that Joe Torre had inserted Williams “ahead of guys who could help us win.” Ouch.

Not enough for you? How about publicly calling out Abreu and Damon for reporting to camp out of shape? Or, when asked about the Yankees biblical encounter with the Cleveland insect life, responding “I thought our guys weren’t mentally tough enough to get through it.”

Good lord. Want your job much, Brian?

The presumed source of the friction hasn’t exactly been sitting on his hands during all of this either. Hankenstein, in an interview with the AP yesterday, issued what I’d agree with Olney could be considered a veiled threat to his GM. Unless you think the following is a ringing endorsement:

“I will be patient with the young pitchers and players. There’s no question about that because I know how these players develop,” [Hankenstein] said. “But as far as missing the playoffs – if we miss the playoffs by the end of this year, I don’t know how patient I’ll be. But it won’t be against the players. It won’t be a matter of that. It will be a matter of maybe certain people in the organization could have done something else.”

To recap, for the ADD afflicted:

  1. GM calls out former player
  2. GM calls out former manager
  3. GM calls out two thirds of his current outfield
  4. GM states preference for forgoing a trade that his owner has publicly admitted he wants to make
  5. Owner states that a playoff appearance is mandatory
  6. Owner states that in the absence of said playoff appearance, players are ok, front office is not

Anyone think this will end well? Anyone?

Can We Drop the Whole "The Red Sox Are the New Yankees" Thing Now?

Following the $100M+ the Red Sox shelled out for Daisuke Matsuzaka last offseason, I – like many Red Sox fans – was besieged with claims from (jilted) Yankees fans that “we were just like them.” That by virtue of that single capital expenditure, we were at once on equal financial footing with the Evil Empire. The media, true to form, picked up on this theme, debating such brain teasers as “would it be as fun to win now,” or “have we sold our souls?” Which obviously, I’ll ignore.

Herculean as my efforts were, however, I was entirely unsuccessful in persuading Yankees fans and good people alike that the two clubs remained quite distinct, in fact, in financial terms.

For while it’s convenient for fans of small market clubs like the A’s and Twins to lump all of the big market teams into a single bucket, the fact remains that we weren’t within hailing distance of the Yankees in terms of payroll numbers (the Matsuzaka posting fee aside, which I’ll get to in a moment). This inclination is understandable, given the respective payroll deltas. According to an AP report today, the gap between our roster and Tampa’s last year, for example, was $123.6, against the $62.9 million the Yankees spent above and beyond our costs.

So how are we different, in light of those numbers? Well, fortunately Allan Wood over at the Joy of Sox answered that question for you this past August:

Meaning you could take the Red Sox’s current payroll, add the salaries of

Ichiro Suzuki
Miguel Tejada
Kevin Millwood
Barry Zito
Albert Pujols
Dontrelle Willis

and still be about $1 million shy of the Yankees’ current payroll.

And that was with a payroll differential of $66M, not $62M.

We spend more than most every other club, it’s true. But please, can we drop the fiction that we’re the same as the Yankees?

Oh, and that monster posting fee which doesn’t get counted against officially reported payroll? Well, amortizing the fee over the 6 year life of the deal, I come out with a figure of $8.5 million per season. A hefty chunk of change for you and me, but not one that alters the above argument meaningfully.