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.

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.

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.