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

.flickr-photo { border: solid 2px #000000; }
.flickr-yourcomment { }
.flickr-frame { text-align: left; padding: 3px; }
.flickr-caption { font-size: 0.8em; margin-top: 0px; }

And we’re back. What, you thought I was going to post in the middle of the 11 game winning streak and risk screwing that up?

C’mon. You know better than that.

Sure, that ended a while back, but you try selling a loft and organizing not one, not two, not three but four moves. Anyway, in spite of what ahl and his pink hat taunting might argue, this particular entry was planned over the weekend. In other words, hating on the blog will not get you posts on demand.

Unless they were already planned, in which case it will. Anyway, on to In Case You Haven’t Been Keeping Up With Current Events.

General

  • Offense: You know the basics: after an abysmal start, the offense has performed acceptably: 5.78 R/G (2nd in the AL), .371 OBP (1st), .834 (1st), and we’re fifth in home runs and third in stolen bases. This, in spite of essentially nothing from Papi and our catching tandem. While I would not be opposed to an upgrade here – yes, I’d still love to see Miguel Cabrera once Detroit figures out that their local economy isn’t coming back before the End Times – our is capable and reasonably versatile.
  • Pitching: Expected to be a strength, our pitching thus far has been a substantial weakness. The defense, which I’ll get to in a moment, is admittedly doing them no favors, but the rotation has up until the past few starts simply been poor. Raise your hand if you thought Beckett and Lester would own ERAs north of 6 this far in. Matsuzaka making an appearance on the DL was comparatively predictable, as were Masterson’s struggles the last few times out (kid pitchers need to make adjustments). The question is what we do at this point. The answer? Not much, I think. Unless they’re injured, Beckett and Lester will continue to run out every fifth day and they’ll get it figured out, I think. Or at least Beckett will; I’m frankly worried about Lester’s innings jump, just as I was last season and this spring training. Wake’s been stellar thus far, and Penny’s shown enough the past two starts that someone may trade for him. The bullpen – Pap’s struggles aside – has been uniformly excellent, although the rotation’s struggles are burning them out.
  • Defense: There’s no way to sugarcoat it, to paraphrase a recent reality show: we’ve just been bad. In the AL, we’re fourth from the bottom in Fielding Percentage, second from the bottom in caught stealing, and third from the bottom in defensive efficiency. And it’s not all the shortstop position: this one’s a team effort. This is perhaps my greatest concern with the team right now, because it’s going to be difficult to fix the pitching if we keep giving the bad guys extra outs.

Bard

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard the kid with the big arm is with the big club. But while I haven’t always been a believer – as it’s not so long ago that the kid had as much idea as I did about where the ball was going – I’m in favor of this promotion. Not that he’s ready to assume Pap’s mantel – he may never be – but it’s definitely time to see what we have. Keith Law apparently agrees:

Tom (Watertown, MA) : You think Daniel Bard has the mental fortitude to succeed in a high-leverage bullpen role in Boston? He seems like the type that may not be cut out for that kind of pressure…

SportsNation Keith Law: That’s been the knock on him, and when I’ve seen him in pro ball, it’s been an issue. I understand he is throwing incredibly well in AAA, so it’s probably time to find out, right? Call him up, start him in mop-up, work him slowly up towards a leveraged role.

Couldn’t agree more. Bard definitely has – as he’s allowed in interviews – much left to learn, but it’s not clear he’d get the necessary instruction in Pawtucket: in 16 IP, he struck out 29 guys, walking 5. Let’s see what he can do for us.

And not have him face Richie Sexon with the bases loaded, preferably.

Buchholz

How about an update for wicked clevah’s personal hobby horse? In 27 IP (he tweaked a hammy), Buchholz has struck out 27 while giving up 12 hits and 4 earned runs for a batting average against of .126 and an ERA of 1.33. The kid’s alright, methinks. The only black mark is that he’s walked 10 guys: he needs to improve that or the big league hitters are going to force him to throw something right down the pipe with all the guys on base.

Lowrie

I’ve heard it suggested here and there that Lowrie could have played through his wrist injury. Gammons’ kind of nips that one in the bud:

Red Sox players take turns checking out the bone removed from Jed Lowrie’s wrist. Huge. “I had [Dustin] Pedroia floating around in there,” says Lowrie. “How in the world did you play?” asks David Ortiz.

Get well soon kid. Seriously. Have you seen our shortstops?

Lugo

What do you want from me? I told you he was bad, and that was when he was healthy. What on earth are we going to do with him if he can’t move?

Masterson

Today’s internet rumor du jour comes courtesy of the fabled “message boards” and Klaw’s ESPN chat:

john (charlotte, nc): I heard today on the “message boards” they’re reports out of Anaheim that the Angels are offering Brandon Wood to the Red Sox for Justin Masterson…if this is even true, does it make sense?

SportsNation Keith Law: Those “message boards” are super-reliable, too. Why would the Red Sox want another corner infielder?

I’ll be honest: I like Masterson a lot, but if I thought Wood could play shortstop I’d have to consider this, at least trying to interest the Angels in Bowden instead. Wood’s not going to hit for average, but he’s a legit power threat. From the answer, though, it would appear that Law thinks he needs to move.

Papi

Yes, I’m watching the same games as you, yes, I’m worried, and no, I have no idea when or if he’ll come out of it. This isn’t like Pedroia or Ellsbury last year, where the age profile and history says it’ll ultimately be fine. I don’t know that he’s cooked, but he just doesn’t look right at the plate. To me or the Baseball Prospectus guys:

Despite hitting more fly balls and liners than in previous seasons, Ortiz hasn’t had the timing to make solid contact and instead has hit just .221 while popping out on more than 16 percent of his fly balls. He has yet to homer, even though we are approaching mid-May in a year when the long ball is flying out of parks everywhere. He hasn’t been able to hit the ball the other way nor take advantage of the Green Monster for wall balls and towering homers, either, because pitchers are challenging him inside, knowing that he’s having trouble catching up. Pitchers also are challenging him earlier in the count; Ortiz is seeing first-pitch strikes 58 percent of the time, right at the league average and well above the rates he had seen the previous few seasons, when he was one of the dominant sluggers in the game.

Ortiz is seeing more pitches per plate appearance, but he isn’t seeing better pitches to hit and is chasing more balls out of the zone. Although he has been able to hit balls out of the zone at the same rate as in previous years, he’s not making good contact on them. The old Ortiz would have sat on those pitches and forced a pitcher to go back in the zone, but with more pitchers putting him in the hole early, he hasn’t been able to control the count.

All told, this means that the league is less afraid of Ortiz than it used to be, and that’s not a good sign for either him or Boston. If you listen to Magadan talk about where the bat-speed issues are coming from, Ortiz still should be able to make the league pay for this indiscretion once he sorts himself out, but the longer he takes to reach that point, the more likely it will be that his bat speed has truly diminished.

All of that said, I’ll go on the record as saying that I think Francona’s doing the right thing, which also just so happens to be the only thing he can do. You can’t take a player like Ortiz and drop him to seventh or eighth, in my opinion, after a month and a half. If we hit June, fine, but let’s see what happens between now and then.

Penny

Remember when I said this?

What will be interesting to me, beyond the obvious “where will Smoltz fit when he’s ready?,” as I’ve already argued that that someone will be a.) injured or b.) rested, is whether or not we’d consider trading one of the pieces to a contender. Not that I’m saying it’s likely, but let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the following things happen: a.) Penny pitches like a 2/3 starter in the fifth starter spot for the first two months, b.) Buchholz pitches dominant baseball at Pawtucket, c.) Smoltz remains on track for a June re-entry.

Wouldn’t you have to consider making Penny available at the deadline in that scenario? Particularly if the lineup proves to be somewhat to significantly anemic? You’d have Smoltz coming back with Buchholz as insurance. Sure, it’d be better to hang on to them all, but Penny’s not locked up for next year, so you might want to maximize your return on that investment, maybe with an eye toward the longer term (controllable power).

Well, I do. Anyway, Buster Olney’s apparently getting on that bandwagon:

Something to watch: Boston’s pitching surplus might lead to an early-season trade. Clay Buchholz has been absolutely dominant in the minors so far this year, and very soon, Daisuke Matsuzaka will return to the big leagues.

Eventually, it figures that Justin Masterson will go back to the Boston bullpen, and that will create the spot in the rotation for Matsuzaka. If the Red Sox want to create another for Buchholz, they would always have the option of taking offers for a veteran pitcher who has had quality starts in four of his six outings. That guy is Brad Penny, who might be a nice fit for a team like the Milwaukee Brewers or the Mets. That’s all speculation at this point.

Speculation, it might be, but we have holes we need to fix. If Penny or a package including Penny could bring us someone who could at least catch the ball at short, it could be an upgrade of two positions.

One of them – please God – being shortstop.

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

(Image courtesy of the Boston Globe)

Yes, I’m a couple of days late with this, but did you really want me to post something on Sunday? Trust me, you did not. Besides, I’ve been a little busy preparing for a cross-country move.

Anyway, In Case You Haven’t Been Keeping Up With Current Events, we lost five in a row then won an absolute gem tonight. So we’ve got that going for us.

Also, we’re tied for first and we were swept first by the bubonic plague and then by a rash of injuries. Not good times.

But now it’s time for this week’s ICYHBKUWCE…

The Crisp

The complexion of these rumors has likely changed dramatically in the wake of Kielty’s broken hand and my Navajo brother’s gimpy groin, but I still think Crisp is going sooner or later. The Great Gammons’ money appears to be on the Cubs:

With the Orioles strong, hustling start, there is an increased belief that Peter Angelos won’t allow Brian Roberts to be traded, hence the [I think he meant Cubs] renewed discussions with the Red Sox concerning Coco Crisp. Boston is still interested in Cubs right-handed pitcher Sean Gallagher and a Class A prospect in return for Crisp.

Gallagher, for the record, is the Cubs 5th best prospect according to BP, with a 90-94 MPH fastball, 11-5 curveball and a change. Ceiling appears to be #3 starter.

Still, Gammons’ acknowledges that Beane is still lurking:

Billy Beane called Theo Epstein again Friday, trying to talk him into dealing Coco Crisp.

Olney, on the other hand, suggests that we explore a deal with M’s for the now blocked catcher Clement:

The Mariners locked up Kenji Johjima to a long-term deal…What follows is pure speculation; to repeat, pure speculation. With the Mariners now committed to Johjima for the next few years, it might make sense for Seattle to offer catching prospect Jeff Clement to the Red Sox in return for outfielder Coco Crisp, with other players also involved in the deal; the Red Sox would have to include some pitching.

That would be an interesting deal, frankly. I’m not sure how we’d integrate him into this year’s roster, given that Wake needs a catcher with stellar hands and that from all reports is not Clement, but it would potentially address our future catching situation. Clement does not project to offer the same defense that Tek does, but his bat should be top notch for the position.

What Olney doesn’t state, however, is that a Clement acquisition would likely spell the end of Tek’s tenure. And I’m not sure how I feel about that.

The Debut

Prior to his emergency start this past week, the Baseball Prospectus guys were discussing Justin Masterson and mentioned that their analyst Kevin Goldstein had called Masterson’s sinker “arguably the best in all of the minor leagues.” Normally these kinds of enthusiastic endorsements spell doom for the pitcher.

Not so, fortunately, though Lopez and MDC (Oki gets a free pass b/c, seriously, bases loaded no one out?) didn’t just blow the game they torched it. Molotov Cocktails and everything.

The numbers for the big sinkerballer? 95 pitches over 6 innings, 2 hits, 1 run (nicked for a dinger by Napoli). 11 of his 18 outs were groundballs, and he walked four against four K’s.

The two questions for me following his outing? First, will he be down in Portland long enough for me to see him throw? Second, if his changeup has improved enough to use it effectively in his very first major league start, does he still profile as a reliever?

This season, that’s certainly how he’ll contribute. But longer term, I’m beginning wondering if there are 3/4 starter innings in his future.

The Homer

The Iwamura homer was a crushing blow, without a doubt. Buchholz was dominant, as was Jackson for that matter, and piling another one into the losing column in such a fashion was a kick in the teeth. But I’m in full agreement with Chad Finn when he said the following, and not just because he’s a Bath, ME native:

Call me a Tito Apologist if you must, but I don’t blame him at all for leaving Clay Buchholz in during the eighth inning Saturday night, when his spectacular performance was spoiled by Akinori Iwamura’s two-run homer. Seems to me the same people who were charbroiling Francona for leaving Buchholz in are the same ones who would be yowling if he pulled him and either Hideki Okajima or Jonathan Papelbon had coughed up the game. The kid was cruising, and he was beaten when a good hitter hit a good pitch. Sometimes that happens.

Sometimes that happens, indeed. I won’t resort to the “tip your cap” cliche, but I’m tempted. Sorely.

The Return

One other pitcher on the roster merry go round we’ve had the past few weeks was none other than one time future closer, turned potential bust, turned, well, listen to his catcher:

“I thought he threw the ball excellent,” said Red Sox catcher Kevin Cash. “From seeing him in Pawtucket last year, a little bit in spring training, that was definitely a bright spot. I look forward to seeing him out there again. His slider has improved drastically. He showed pretty good fastball command other than that one pitch.”

Call me crazy, but I think we’re going to need Hansen before all is said and done. Here’s hoping he keeps it up down in Pawtucket. His first appearance after his recall, he was excellent: 3K in 2 IP, to go with no hits and no walks. Tonight? Not so much. 2 hits, a walk, a K and 3 runs in 1.1 IP.

What About the Fans? Won't Somebody Please Think About the Fans?

Every so often, Buster Olney – who is otherwise one of my favorite non-statistically focused baseball writers – careens off the rails into the type of mawkish story typical of the more traditional beat writers. So it was Thursday, I’d argue, when the headline to Olney’s blog read “Red Sox protest hurtful to fans.”

Huh.

At this point, you might expect I’m going to furiously defend the players in their recent dispute over the stipends for the coaching and training staff. Which I’m not. At least not furiously. Like many, including – presumably – those who will be receiving said stipends, I appreciate the sentiment. But I agree with the many observers who felt that the situation was clumsily handled at best.

But “hurtful to fans?” Please.

Was it inconvenient? Probably. Was it ideal that fans weren’t kept up-to-date on the situation? Nope. But ultimately, this was the effective equivalent of a rain delay. No more, no less.

Olney, apparently, saw things differently, saying “Instead, the Red Sox walked out on a crowd that had paid in good faith to see a baseball game.” Which would be true, if they had actually “walked out.” But of course they did not. He went on to quote “a major league executive with another team” as saying, “At the end of the day, it is the fans that took the hit.”

What hit? An hour and six minute delay of the game?

Maybe I’ve been hitting the Kool-Aid jug too early and often of late, but I can’t get in a twist about a dispute that lasted less than two hours.

The really offensive bit, as far as I’m concerned, was this:

Given that it was the responsibility of the Red Sox players to understand the situation before it became a crisis, a more magnanimous gesture would have been for some of the Boston players to offer up their stipends to the coaches, given that some of them are paid somewhere between $60,000 and $100,000 a day, rather than victimizing the fans.

Would that have been magnanimous? Absolutely. But given that MLB – a six billion industry – is disgracefully trying to extort the tiny Cape League, you’ll forgive me if I’m not inclined to take the league’s side here. Why, precisely, should the players foot the bill for a trip that benefits the league rather than themselves?

The suggestion, frankly, was ludicrous, and I expected better from Olney.

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.

The Difference Between Steroids and Scuffed Balls

Much like what two consenting adults choose to do in the privacy of their own bedroom, what one consenting adult chooses to put into his or her own body is something I generally would consider to be none of my business. When it’s a major leaguer, I’m marginally more concerned given the potential impact to records that have a special place in my heart, but still default to respecting the right to privacy.

Nor is the stance mere sympathy. In my brief and spectacularly unimpressive high school and college athletic career, I – just like the professionals – sought an edge. True, they were tame by comparison – NODOZ (didn’t work, made everyone jittery), naprosyn (allowed you to play with inflamation), and a variety of protein shakes (tasted like hammered sand) – but still, the motivation is consistent if the tools are not.

So an anti-steroid screed, you will not be reading here.

That said, there is one argument in defense of steroid use and its place in the game that I hear regularly and cannot bear: that it is entirely consistent with the history of cheating within the game. Unlike other, nobler sports, baseball is and as nearly as I can determine always has been a game with room – if not an affection – for circumvention of the rules. Stealing signs, corked bats, foreign substances, scuffed balls – all of these are entirely unremarkable against the game’s colorful backdrop.

Last weekend, Jim Kaat spoke to Buster Olney on the subject of Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs), and made precisely the argument outlined above, saying (the whole thing is excellent):

My reason for pointing out these examples of “performance enhancements” or cheating is that it has been going on as long as the game itself. Steroids that help you perform better are no different except they can affect your health.

With all due respect to Kaat, who had one hell of a career as a pitcher and is credible in the booth as well, I’m not buying it. Besides the health implications, which he mentions, I think there’s a crucial differentiator between the old school and new school cheats: the ability to detect it on the field.

If you think a pitcher is scuffing or applying substances to the ball, you can have him searched. If the suspicion is that a bat is corked, you can have it confiscated and X-rayed. And if a player is stealing signs, you can knock him down. But Barry Bonds? The most they’ve accused him of – Game of Shadows notwithstanding – is perjury. You know, because steroids are difficult to detect period, let alone within the context of the game.

Until such time as in game urine tests are approved by the network censors, however, no such recourse exists for suspected steroid abusers. And with even allegations of steroids carrying with them a heavy price, I suspect many managers find themselves in a Scrabble like situation where they think something is wrong, but don’t dare chance it.

Consider that Sammy Sosa got caught for his corked bat, but not for anything related to steroids. Albert Belle would have been caught for the same offense if not for the daring, Mission Impossible style antics of Jason Grimsley. And a host of pitchers from Brendan Donnelly to Kenny Rogers have been caught applying the omnipresent pine tar to the balls.

Again, my role is not to sit and pass some half-assed judgement down on those who may or may not be guilty of using PEDs. But let’s none of us pretend that steroids are business as usual when it comes to cheating, because they are not. They may or may not confer the advantages assumed by external parties, and they may or may not be detectable by the questionable testing process submitted to by athletes, but they are decidedly not the equivalent of a scuffed ball.

Take whatever position you will on the subject of PEDs, then, but as Judge Harm once said, don’t spit in my cupcake and tell me it’s iciing.