WTF?

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opening day, originally uploaded by sogrady.

You’re thinking it, I’m thinking it, and you can be damn sure Tito’s thinking it. If I’d known that the only home game we would have won to date would be the one I attended – that’d be Opening Day, for those who haven’t been keeping up with current events – I probably would have made an effort to get to more games.

But seriously, who would – could – have called this? 4-9, 6 games back of the division leading Rays. I sure didn’t. To try to ground the discussion, let’s look at where we are, and where we might expect grounds for improvement.

What’s Gone Wrong?

In a word, everything. And no, that’s not hyperbole. There is quite literally nothing we’re doing right at the moment.

The offense? Being 17th in the league in average is bad enough, being 20th in OBP is worse. Far worse. When the bright spot in your offense is a 9th place finish in slugging percentage, you’ve got problems. Frankly I was surprised we were only 15th in the league in strikeout percentage; Drew and Ortiz are between them striking out in 42.5% of their at bats. As an aside, I do find it interesting that everyone’s written off Ortiz while it’s just a slump for Drew, just as I find it curious that Lester’s just not good early while Buchholz is again being popularly consigned to the bullpen or someone else’s roster. The psychology of player evaluation is a really fascinating phenomenon. But we’ve got bigger problems to look at at the moment.

So the offense is not good. How about the vaunted defense? If anything, it’s worse. We’re 27th in Defensive Runs Saved, 18th in Fielding Percentage and we’re in such desperate shape at throwing out runners that there’s already talk of bringing up Mark Wagner, whose CHONE projected line is .232/.298/.341.

But at least the pitching is good, right? I wish. Our ERA could be worse, I guess, at 18th in the league, and actually our 25th ranking in FIP suggests that we’re actually lucky it isn’t worse. Not surprisingly, given those numbers, we’re bad at striking people out (27th in K/9) but much better at walking them: 10th best team in the majors at issuing the free pass. In case it’s not clear, being good at walking people is not a desirable skill.

Nor was there, as I had hoped before looking, any indications that the above numbers, both offensively and pitching-wise, are flukes. Our hitters’ BABIP is .287, and our pitchers’ is .279. Meaning that we have neither been exceptionally lucky or unlucky.

We are what we are, in other words. Except that we’re not.

What’s Likely to Go Right?

All of the above. The most plate appearances anyone on the club has is Pedroia at 57. That’s not as small a sample as the two games that had the writers penning Papi’s obit, but it’s statistically not significant.

It’s early. I know that’s hard to believe when we’re a few weeks into the season, already back by six games and with our offseason plan looking as intelligent as real estate investing circa 2010.

But before you take a leap from the Zakim, consider the following:

  1. Our hitters and pitchers alike will regress to the mean. For better and for worse. Pedroia’s sadly not going to put up a 1.159 OPS for the year, but neither is Drew going to put up an OBP of .233, V-Mart a SLG of .367, or Youk an average of .238. These things will fix themselves over time.
  2. No one likes to make excuses because of injuries, but remember that that two thirds of our starting outfielders this weekend were bench players. So when you see Hermida butchering balls in left, remember that he is not the starting left fielder, Ells is. And thankfully, he’ll be back because Beltre didn’t kill him. As will Cameron, after his current senior ailment – kidney stones – remedy themselves. Will that fix Scutaro’s jitters or V-Mart’s tendency to sail throws “just a bit outside?” Nope. But again: they’ll regress to the mean. Although in V-Mart’s case that’s not good news.
  3. A couple of folks have bitched that this is all the front office’s doing; if only we signed Jason Bay, we’d be right there with the Rays and Yankees. Setting aside the question of how a single player could fix all that has gone wrong thus far, there is the problem with the numbers. Namely, Bay’s. Thus far in a Mets uniform, he’s putting up a .217/.321/.283 line, while leading both leagues in strikeouts with 18 (narrowly edging our own Drew). Our left-fielders, meanwhile, have put up an unimpressive and still superior .240/.255/.400. So not only is Jason Bay not walking through that door, it probably wouldn’t help much if he did. Like everyone else, he’ll regress to the mean – which in his case means he’ll get a lot better – but in the early going, it doesn’t appear as if he’d be a difference maker.

What’s Not Likely to Improve?

I am worried with a capital W about the pen. The starters, I think, will ultimately be fine. Beckett’s been better, Lester’s history says he’ll be better, Lackey just had a bad start today, and between Wake, Buch and Matsuzaka – throwing well in Pawtucket, from reports – I feel pretty good. One through five (or six), we’ll have a chance to win most days, however much it doesn’t feel that way right now.

Likewise, our offense will hit. It’s looked brutal in the early going, but it is always does when 70% or 80% of your lineup isn’t hitting. Moreover, I think the front office will be aggressive if it looks like that’s a problem, and adding offense in season is always easier than adding pitching.

But we may be forced to give something away to get some help in relief, because there’s no real help available on the farm. Tazawa’s out with Tommy John. Richardson isn’t exactly lighting it up with a 1.80 WHIP at Pawtucket, and Kelly – for all of his poise – was born in 1989 (though I find his innings limits intriguing). I’ve been worried about our pen since the offseason, not least because our PECOTA projections were terrifying. And yes, I’m aware that PECOTA’s had its issues this offseason.

ESPN’s Jeremy Lundblad has the best breakdown of the issues out of our pen that I’ve seen. You really should read it, but the short version for the link averse? Delcarmen’s lost about three miles an hour off his fastball since 2008, and his usage reflects that. Ramirez Uno’s K rate is in sharp decline, and his walk rate is up. Also not good.

Oki’s still great versus lefties, but he’s become mortal versus righties. Which probably explains why he’s given up the 8th inning to Bard. And speaking of, while Lundblad’s not particularly worried about the young fireballer, I am. His K rate is down sharply in the early going, never a good sign, although that could just be a blip. His HR rate is higher as well. Like Keith Law, I’ve struggled to understand how people who watch him pitch right now think he’s ready to take Papelbon’s place. He just doesn’t command well enough yet.

Which brings us to Pap. You might recall that last season I, along with a great many other people, worried about the fact that Pap had basically reverted to a one pitch pitcher. Well, the good news is that he is indeed throwing the split more: 17.9% thus far, well up from last season’s 9.3%. The bad news is that his pitch selection may be impacting his performance – negatively. As Lundblad put it,

Papelbon has issued four walks in four appearances so far this season. In 2008, he didn’t issue his fourth walk until June 22, his 33rd appearance. Factor in just one strikeout, and this is the first time in Papelbon’s career that he has more walks than strikeouts.

Add it up, and I think the pen will be this team’s weakness.

Big Picture?

We’re going to play better, and things will turn around. I’m not going to guarantee 95 wins like a lot of people – the BP guys’ latest simulations are currently predicting an 80 win season and 24% chance of the playoffs, but we’re clearly better than that. Just as we’re better than this.

Will it be enough to make up six games in the toughest division in baseball? Who knows. But we can’t worry about that right now. Our only concern should be getting these guys playing better.

Meaning don’t boo them, it’s not going to help anything.

The Red Sox Offense, Circa 2010

Obviously, the focus has shifted to run prevention. Just as obviously, Jason Bay is a better hitter than Mike Cameron, whatever the latter’s run prevention advantages.

But while I think it unlikely that Theo’s done tweaking the roster, I frankly don’t think the one we have right now is all that bad. It’s not the Yankee’s lineup, to be sure, but neither is it Seattle 2009 lineup.

Here’s Keith Law on our roster construction for next year:

Between the Lackey deal and the reported discussions with Mike Cameron, Boston’s front office appears to have changed its approach to roster construction away from the OBP/slug-heavy clubs around which they won two World Series toward run prevention through superior pitching and defense. We’ve already seen Boston sign Marco Scutaro, an above-average defensive shortstop who was even better than that before a heel injury ruined his 2009 season, in addition to paying heavily for Cuban teenage shortstop Jose Iglesias, a pair of moves they hope will secure the shortstop position for the next seven or eight years.

And here’s Buster Olney on the same subject, today:

The Red Sox have tried to sign Adrian Beltre — widely regarded by talent evaluators as the best third baseman in the majors — but they may not be successful in reaching the middle ground between what they want to pay Beltre and what agent Scott Boras is asking for (an eight-figure annual salary). If they can’t get a Beltre deal done, they will go with Casey Kotchman at first base and Kevin Youkilis at third. Either way, the Red Sox will be in position to fight it out with the Mariners about who has the best pitching-and-defense team in the majors. A rotation of Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, Lackey, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Clay Buchholz could be backed by an infield of Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Marco Scutaro and Beltre (or Kotchman), and an outfield of Cameron, Jacoby Ellsbury and J.D. Drew.

Conversely, the Boston lineup could have the least amount of impact we’ve seen in Theo Epstein’s time as general manager. The Red Sox have posted the following team OPS marks over the past seven seasons, starting in 2003: .851, .832, .811, .786, .806, .805, .806.

These are the OPS numbers of 2009 for what the Red Sox lineup might look like:

SS Scutaro — .788
2B Pedroia — .819
1B Youkilis — .961
C Martinez — .861
RF Drew — .912
LF Cameron — .794
DH Ortiz — .794
3B Beltre — .683 (or Kotchman, .721)
CF Ellsbury — .770

It’s possible that the lineup would be pretty good — if Drew stays healthy, if Cameron continues to be productive at age 37, if Ortiz hits more consistently than he did in the first half of 2009. Keep in mind that the Red Sox (and other big-market teams) always will have flexibility to go out and make in-season deals. Are the Red Sox as good as the Yankees, in the aftermath of the Lackey and Cameron agreements?

Maybe not.

It seems fairly clear, though, with more moves to come, that Boston is one of the four best teams in the AL, with a couple of months to go in the offseason.

Olney, probably for the sake of convenience, ignores the possibility of platoons. But given that folks that will be penciled into the lineup next year have rather pronounced splits, I thought I’d take a quick look at the roster possibilities. Obviously I am not assuming a Beltre acquisition, but have anticipated the signing of Cameron and the acqusition of Max Ramirez for Lowell. A couple of other notes: one, the lineups are obviously unrealistic, because Tito is highly unlikely to platoon his regulars this heavily. Two, we have sample size problems, most obviously with Lowrie and Ramirez. Third, these numbers are career, not last year, so they do not reflect recent declines – or improvements, for that matter – in player performance. Last, the batting order has been given essentially zero thought.

All that being said, I think the roster, even without (likely) further additions, is both flexible and adequate. Unless Ortiz returns to his former level, it’s not going to be a scary offense, it lacks pop and we’re not stellar against lefties, but we should score runs. Again: this is even if we do nothing else. So let’s not all panic about the presumed loss of Bay just yet, shall we?

More on the signings and the front office’s plan later.

MARCO…SCUTARO. MARCO…SCUTARO.

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Marco Scutaro, originally uploaded by Dinur.

True, I didn’t believe that Scutaro would end up here. But how likely was it, really, that a 34 year old shortstop coming off a career year would turn down a guaranteed third year from the A’s to come here?

To judge from the press conference this week, more likely than you’d think.

Anyway, it’s all over now but the crying. We’ve got our hundredth shortstop of the post-Nomar era, and at least my prediction that we wouldn’t see Pedroia move west across the diamond is holding up. For now.

The remaining question is simple: is this a good thing? The magic eight ball consensus is: cannot say at this time.

He’ll be better than our shortstop numbers from last year, I’m sure. Our shortstops last year put up a collective .234/.297/.358, so barring a return of his plantar fasciatis, Scutaro should easily better that line. Even with it, actually. Bill James says he’s good for .264/.347/.381 output in 2010. Defensively, he put up an eye-popping 20.3 UZR/150 at short in 2008, then came back down to earth with a 1.0 in 1252.2 innings last season, with his injury plagued August and September likely a negatively weighting factor. For context, Gonzo put up a 10.5 in ’09. Hardly world-beating, but given what I saw us trot out last year, I’ll take it.

In that sense then, yes, the Scutaro signing is a good thing. And the cost – financially – was eminently reasonable. I think Olney mixed up the player and team options here, but the $14 million maximum exposure is cost effective even if, as many suspect he will, Scutaro regresses. But let’s come back to that.

The loss of the pick, on the other hand, is significant. True, it’s offset by the choice we gained when Atlanta ponied up for Wagner, but two picks are always better than one pick. Particularly if the loss of Jason McLeod to San Diego negatively impacts our drafts. Here’s Law:

The worst part of the deal for the Red Sox is the loss of the first-round pick. Yes, the Red Sox got — or stole, if you’re a bitter Met fan — a first-round pick for Billy Wagner, but that pick was theirs whether or not they signed Scutaro or another Type-A free agent. Few teams have been as productive in the draft as the Red Sox have been over the past five years under recently-departed scouting director Jason McLeod, so the value of a first-round pick to Boston should be quite high, knowing how well they’ve converted those picks into assets.

What are we getting for that lost first rounder? Good question.

Edes – bless him – busts out the numbers:

Scutaro fits the profile of what the Sox like in a hitter. This past season, he batted leadoff for the Blue Jays, and he had an on-base percentage during the past two seasons of .362, second among American League shortstops only to Derek Jeter’s .385.

Look at some of the more exotic numbers measuring plate discipline, as calculated by FanGraphs.com, and Scutaro’s attractiveness to the Sox becomes even more apparent. He ranked first among American Leaguers in swinging at the fewest pitches outside the strike zone (12.3 percent), a category in which the Sox had three players (J.D. Drew, Kevin Youkilis and Bay) among the top 17. Scutaro also ranked first in the AL at making contact (93.3 percent), just ahead of Dustin Pedroia (93 percent) and second to Bobby Abreu for lowest percentage of swings taken (34.5 percent to Abreu’s 32.9 percent).

Law’s reasonably optimistic:

Even if Scutaro’s 2009 was — as it appears — a fluke year at the plate, his offensive advantage over Gonzalez well outweighs the small defensive disadvantage, leaving the Sox better off and with a player who, with some regression, will still represent a good value for his salary.

Scutaro did play the second half of the year with plantar fasciitis that required surgery when the tendon finally tore in September, and it’s possible that the injury affected him defensively; he played better with more range in the field in 2008 and the first half of 2009. He also spent time in Toronto working with coach Brian Butterfield, one of the best infield coaches in the game and the man who turned Orlando Hudson and Aaron Hill into Gold Glove winners (deserving ones) at second base. On the other hand, Scutaro is 34 and has never had great speed, so there’s reason to fear that age and loss of athleticism will start to bring his defense down over the life of the contract.

So’s Neyer:

This is a solid move, and the money — whatever it winds up being — is essentially irrelevant because the Red Sox can afford anyone on the market this winter, and anyway Scutaro isn’t going to bust anybody’s budget.

Gammons, meanwhile, relays word of the state of his injury, along with some perspective on his defense:

“In order for that injury to heal properly, it has to tear,” one Red Sox official said. “It finally tore the last week of the season, and he’s ready to play. Allard was very impressed.”

In mid-July, Scutaro’s defensive metrics — according to three teams’ valuations — were the best in the American League. Then the foot began bothering him, and the numbers were affected in August and September.

R.J. Anderson from Fangraphs is less optimistic:

Dave Allen penned a masterful breakdown of Scutaro’s game here, and there’s not much to add. He is 34 years old and coming off what appears to be an anomalous performance. His 2010 wOBA will probably land somewhere below league average and his defense is a mixed bag.

The piece by Dave Allen he linked to is similarly tempered in its enthusiasm:

Scutaro is due for some serious regression to his offensive level, as is anyone who posts 2400 PAs at wOBA of .311 and then 680 at .354. But I think that, because the change is supported by the per-pitch level data, which is not immune from regression itself, we can temper that regression somewhat.

Scutaro can play average defense at second or slightly below average at short, is 34 coming off far and away a career year at the plate.

The net of all of the above? There’s almost no chance Scutaro’s will be as good as he was last year. He’ll still be better – significantly better – than what we ran out there every day last year. This improves the club, and if you can get beyond the loss of the pick, the cost is acceptable. Better, the years are perfect.

For next season, we have a major league shortstop that is assumed to be healthy, unlike Lowrie. The season after, the club will have options. If Lowrie has a healthy season under his belt, they can let the two battle it out for the starting spot with the loser relegated to a utility role. Five million is a bit much for a utility guy, even for the Sox, but it’s not going to kill you. If, by some chance, Iglesias is ready ahead of schedule, they have more options, including a trade.

If it seems like the signing of Scutaro screws Lowrie, that’s because it does, as Peter Abraham notes. You have to wonder whether Lowrie’s window with the club closed this week. It’s reasonable to assume that the front office is in regular contact with Lowrie this offseason, and if they thought there was any chance the wrist would be full speed, I think they would have been more reluctant to cough up the pick. The fact they didn’t speaks volumes about their perception of Lowrie’s current health, and his prospects going forward.

In all likelihood, he’ll be a big part of the Sox bench this year, but that’s well short of the club’s – and presumably his own – one time expectations. How they handle Lowrie’s future will in all likelihood depend on how Iglesias hits in his first professional season. If he shows progress and a reasonable approach, Lowrie’s probably bait. If the Cuban is a hacking mess at the plate, one imagines the Sox will keep Lowrie around as a hedge against a delayed arrival of the shortstop of the future, a decline/injury from Scutaro, or both.

Scutaro’s a bridge, then, to the future, rather than the future itself. And not a particularly expensive one. We’re a better team, defensively and offensively, with Scutaro than we were without him. How long that remains true is open to question, but given that we didn’t hand him an abominable Lugo-esque four year, big money deal, I can’t say I’m all that worried.

Plus, like everyone else, I can’t wait to play MARCO…SCUTARO this summer.

Pedroia at Short: Desperation or Due Diligence?

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redsox 255, originally uploaded by h8rnet.

The moment Peter Gammons elevated the talk of Pedroia moving from second back to short from rumor to fact via a couple of quotes typical for last year’s MVP, it was on. Cafardo, scooped, effectively dismissed the suggestion. To Mazz, it predictably was read as a sign that the club was a “little desperate“. Edes – and I’ll get to his return to the scene eventually – characterized the conversations as “casual.”

Among the national media, Law was skeptical he could handle the position and Neyer intimated that the Sox wouldn’t consider the move if they didn’t believe – based on the data – that he could potentially handle it. Also, that it meant Pedroia was a great teammate.

Myself? I think this is posturing. Nothing more.

Did the Sox talk to Pedroia? I’m sure they did. Did they consider the option of moving him? Undoubtedly. As they should.

Consider the infielders we’ve been linked to this offseaon: Scutaro, Kennedy, Everett, DeRosa and Crosby. And those are just the ones we know about. Who’s to say how much time Theo’s spent on the phone talking Stephen Drew, Yunel Escobar or someone really cool we don’t even know about.

Point being: the Red Sox are doing, in talking to Pedroia and pretty much every available free agent, what they always do, and what they should always do: explore every option. Every option. Trades. Signings. New training regimens. Coaching staff alterations. And yes, positional shifts.

It doesn’t mean that every option is actually on the table, let alone a probable outcome. Just that the club’s done its due diligence and are aware of the implications of the choices available to them.

This has the obvious benefit is that the front office is not guessing. If the Marlins call and offer Uggla for a reasonable acquisition cost, they know that Pedroia’s game for short if need be. They don’t suspect he is, they don’t think he is, they know he is. Because they’ve been proactive, and they asked. Does that make it likely? Hardly. I’d bet a pretty reasonable chunk of change that when we open next spring, Pedroia’s not at short. But it can’t hurt to ask. If anything, it can only help.

The less appreciated benefit to this news, and likely one of the reasons the front office is probably happy with the interview (assuming it wasn’t a plant), is that it improves their negotiating position. Even if Scutaro’s advisors suspect that the front office doesn’t want to move their second baseman, they can’t be certain it won’t happen. Which improves, if only slightly, the Red Sox negotiating position.

The interesting question, to me, isn’t whether or not Pedroia can play short. I’m sure he could play the position passably, if not at the level he can handle second or one that we’d be happy with.

The interesting question is whether or not Pedroia knows all of the above; that, effectively, his interview was a negotiating tactic. Because if he knows that and was still so genuine, he’s an even better teammate that Neyer and company think he is.

Why I Still Believe In Buchholz (No, It's Not a Mancrush)

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Welcome to the Major Leagues, Clay, originally uploaded by cardamom.

Following my continuing defense of Buchholz – and my best efforts to expose the incompetent efforts of his detractors – even a few friends have begun to question whether there might not be an ulterior motive at work. Perhaps even an unhealthy mancrush.

To which I’d reply: nonsense. No one can unseat Pedro in that regard.

I’m not even opposed to trading the kid, actually. All that I want is for the player to be valued properly. Which, as even a reluctant Nick Cafardo seems to have conceded, he is, thanks to our front office.

Asked in a Boston.com chat yesterday by Dave M, “Why are the Sox so unwilling to trade Clay?” Tony Massarotti replied, “No idea. I’d do it in a minute.” Which I would characterize as a stupid, uneducated answer; not that he’ll ever know, because as we know from the good folks at Over the Monster’s interview, Tony doesn’t have the time to read blogs.

Why do I keep making that argument, however? Because young players – young pitchers, in particular – often struggle. It’s so common that I find it at least mildly horrifying that our current staff of professional writers seems fundamentally unable to remember it when forming opinions on our players.

Consider the cases of two players that we all now accept as regulars.

Pedroia

Few remember it now, in the wake of his MVP award, but El Caballito struggled mightily upon not just his first but his second introduction to the major leagues.

  • In 2006, in 31 games played, Pedroia put up a less than sparkling .191/.258/.303 line. That’s right; this year’s AL MVP OPS’d .561. To put that in contrast for you, the Mets’ Luis Castillo’s OPS this past year was .660. Who’s Castillo, you ask? Exactly, I answer.
  • In 2007, for the first 19 games to open the season, Pedroia was worse, putting up a .182/.308/.236 line for a .544. You may remember that that was when the media – and some fans, to be sure, was calling for Dustin to be replaced as the everyday second baseman by Alex Cora.

In short, over his first fifty games in the majors, Pedroia was awful, and the media was leading the charge to run him out of the yard. Fortunately, they don’t run the show, and we now have an MVP at second.

How many games has Buchholz played in the majors to date, you might reasonably wonder? Twenty. And his minor league track record is significantly more impressive than Pedroia’s.

Lester

But maybe you think that the struggles of pitching and positional player prospects are too apples to oranges. Surely Cafardo, Mazz and the rest of the crew that’s dismissed Buchholz as a flash in the pan couldn’t have missed similar prospect struggles from players that play the same position?

Well, actually they have.

Most of us have likewise forgotten that Lester’s first year in the majors was…less than impressive. To be fair, it was cut short by cancer, but I’ve read nothing to indicate that the illness directly impacted his performance. Here’s what Lester did in his first 80+ innings.

IP H BB SO ERA K/9 BB/9
81.3 91 43 60 4.76 6.64 4.76

Some bumps, some bruises, but all in all that’s not a bad line for a young pitcher adjusting to the majors. And we all saw how Lester pitched this season, with more innings under his belt. Before faltering in his first start in the ALCS, he was dominant.

And now, how about that bust Buchholz?

IP H BB SO ERA K/9 BB/9
79.8 83 39 80 4.62 9.02 4.40

Yes, you’re reading that right: at a similar major league innings mark, Buchholz had a lower ERA, was striking out 2+ more batters per nine innings, while walking fewer.

And yet the media, in their infinite wisdom, has concluded that Buchholz has nothing to offer us, and is best kicked out of town for whatever return we can get.

Because no young player’s ever struggled to make the jump to the majors, after all. And especially not here in Boston. If that had happened, and kids that struggled went on to win MVP’s and to pitch like aces, we’d remember.

Wouldn’t we?

Rumors of My Death Etc Etc

from the pressbox

So it’s been a while. But hear me now and understand me later, I needed the time off. And whether you know it or not, you did too. Even if you didn’t, what are you going to do about it?

Because either way, we’re back, baby, and a lot has happened since the last time you and I checked in. Which, in turn, begs the question: why are we wasting time talking about how many months it’s been since our last chat? Let’s just get to it.

Now.

Buchholz

In spite of the best efforts of the Boston media (read: Cafardo and Massarotti) to drive me completely insane, it would appear that the front office and I are on the same page with respect to Buchholz. Last week, the MLB.com Rangers beat reporter put it this way:

The Red Sox have made it clear that they aren’t interested in trading Clay Buchholz under any circumstances.

This week, Peter Gammons validated that while talking to our friends from Fire Brand:

I don’t think Texas will trade Teagarden, and their asking price for Saltalamacchia has been either Buchholz or Masterson and Bowden; not happening.

To which I say: thank Jebus. It’s not that I’m unwilling to part with Buchholz under the right circumstances; it’s just that – as discussed – I think trading him now is the very essence of selling low.

Which, fortunately, it seems like our front office is smart enough to recognize. Now if only the media could see the light…

Lowe

As I said in one of the Fire Brand Roundtables, I’m all for bringing our own prodigal son dlowe back.

“Call me crazy, but I say DLowe – provided you can get him at reasonable (for the Red Sox) dollars for three years or less, and that you do your homework on his off the field status. Much as I’d love Teixeira, he’s going to get a massive six plus year deal from someone, and it won’t be us. Ditto for CC, and with him you have overuse/weight issues potentially complicating the back end of the deal. Burnett and Sheets, meanwhile, are terrific pitchers…when they take the field. Which isn’t often. Sheets hasn’t thrown 200 innings since ’04, and Burnett’s done it only twice in the last six years. Plus, they’ll command a significant premium as high strikeout pitchers. Lowe, meanwhile, has thrown 200 four out of the last six (and just missed in ’07), while keeping his ERA since leaving Boston comfortably under 4. Park effects have a lot to do with that, of course, but with his groundball ratio it’s less true than it might be with other pitchers. If you have some assurances that the pitcher wouldn’t spend every available evening at Daisy Buchanan’s, then, and he’s willing to sacrifice either years or dollars to play where he wants, I think you have to consider it.”

Not much has happened to change that opinion: if anything, Lowe has ramped up his “I’d love to play in Boston” rhetoric. I still think it’s a long shot, given what he’s likely to be offered elsewhere, but I take him over Sheets and even Burnett easy. As does Neyer.

Pedroia

What can you say, except: I can’t believe I singlehandedly turned El Caballito’s season around with this post and he’s offered me nothing? Ungrateful little pony…But otherwise, I couldn’t be happier. After what he went through early in ’07, when everyone was burying the tiny rookie with the big swing, this is a veritable storybook turnaround.

As much as I admire his play, however, I’m even more appreciative of his willingness to compromise and share a little risk with the club, sacrificing overall dollars in the process. We are unlikely to see this with our other young kids, with Pap looking to max his dollars and Ells having signed with Boras, but I admit to an unreasonable appreciation for Dustin’s willingness to take a hometown discount in return for security. The $40M+ guaranteed presumably doesn’t hurt, either.

Ramirez

I think we can file this one under a big miss for wicked clevah, since I saw Crisp as gone last…February. But the return here, I don’t think, was awful. A power arm for the middle innings is nothing to sneer at given our bullpen’s regular season struggles last year. Particularly if, as Gammons argues, the market for Crisp was weak overall:

The Red Sox surveyed what was a surprisingly small market for Crisp — Cincinnati was the other club with the most interest — and decided that with Jeremy Affeldt starting out the 2008 free-agent market by signing a two-year, $8 million deal with the Giants, it likely will be easier to find another outfielder than secure a low-cost power reliever.

That said, not everyone’s on board. Law thinks we could be disappointed in the return:

For the Red Sox, they save a good amount of cash by moving a superfluous player and get a cheap arm for their pen, albeit one with some red flags. Ramon Ramirez works primarily with two pitches — a 91-93 mph fastball that he pounds to his glove side and an upper 80s splitter (or split-change) with a very sharp downward movement. He’ll occasionally mix in a slider around 86-87 mph, but it’s not as effective as the splitter, which he throws almost as often as his fastball. Despite some violence in his delivery, he’s had around average control throughout his pro career (just 25 unintentional walks this year) and has a history of missing bats. The surprise in his performance is that he keeps the ball in the park; he doesn’t have great life or sink on his fastball, and his command of it is fringe-average, yet he has given up just 9 home runs in 156 career big-league innings, half of which came in Colorado. Between that and his moderate platoon split, it seems unlikely that he’s an eighth inning solution for the Red Sox.

Ultimately, while I was surprised – I anticipated Crisp being part of a trade with Texas for one of their catchers – I’m not disappointed in the return. Even if Ramirez is not an eighth inning solution, he gives us another useful, controllable arm, some flexibility in trading someone from the pen if necessary, and salary relief for a player we didn’t need – and who may have been less of a good soldier in his second year of not starting.

I’m cool with that.

Tazawa

First things first: the kid’s highly unlikely to make the major league roster out of the gate. And reports that he’s cranking 97+ with his fastball are – apparently – pure exagerration as he sits 90-93, from the more reasonable reports that I’ve seen. All of that said, I – shockingly – concur with Mazz that this Tazawa is, if nothing else, a hedge against the draft pick that we could conceivably lose:

Now that Junichi Tazawa is here, the smart thing to do would be to consider him as the Sox’ first-round selection in 2009.

Viewed that way, the signing makes a lot of sense, and it was at a reasonable expense as well: $3.3M. Here’s Law’s take:

He’s not major-league ready, having only pitched in an amateur industrial league in Japan, but he should be ready to start in Double-A and could see the majors in late 2009 if all goes well. His splitter (or split-change) should give minor-league hitters nightmares, but he’ll need to work on his fastball command. If his breaking ball doesn’t come along, he projects more as a plus two-pitch reliever than as a starter.

Another of the FO’s decisions that I’m more than fine with.

Teixeira

To address the question posed by Senor Frechette – what becomes of Lars Anderson should we sign Tex – the answer is: I don’t know. There seem to be three possibilities: 1.) he becomes trade bait, 2.) he’s worked into an infield/DH rotation beginning in late 09 or 2010, 3.) he’s inserted into left field following Bay’s departure after the ’09 season.

Here’s what we know:

  1. The Sox value him highly – he’s Baseball America’s #1 Sox prospect
  2. Anderson’s not projected to be ready until midseason at the earliest, with 2010 as a more likely arrival date
  3. Of the spots he could take on the current roster, Bay is up after ’09, Lowell ’10, Papi ’10 (club option for ’11), Youk ’11 (I think, based on his service time)
  4. We’ve got – potentially – a lot of money to play with this offseason, with $40M or so coming off the books

There’s an assumption amongst media members that we’ll take our current projected surplus and apply that to Teixeira, and this makes sense given the uncertainty and frequent inconsistency of our offense last season – particularly with Manny gone. But it remains to be seen whether or not he’s going to try and break the bank and shoot for $200M, even in this economy. If he that’s the case, I think we bow out. But stranger things have happened.

If he’s not signed, Anderson continues on track, I think, to take Lowell’s place (w/ Youk shifting to third) in the 2010 timeframe. If Tex does come on board, I think Anderson is retained if only to provide insurance depending on whether the Large Father a.) recovers adequately and b.) signs with Boston following the expiration of his contract. Given Anderson’s status as the top prospect in a still top shelf farm system, he’s not going anywhere except for a premium talent in return.

Varitek

One of the things that’s perplexed me this offseason has been the talk of securing Varitek – either via arbitration or a short term free agent deal – to train his replacement, to be obtained via trade. Gammons among others has mentioned this as a possibility, and while there’s nothing intrinsically odd about that, except for this question: who catches Wake? Theo addressed that in his comments today:

“We have to be mindful of the fact that Wake can be a challenge for some catchers,” Epstein said. “At the same time, I don’t know that even Wake feels we should limit our options at catcher because of any one pitcher. We just have to strike the right balance. [Varitek’s] caught him in the past. We’ll see. There’s no news on that front. He’s always been an option to catch him. He’s caught him in the past. It’s obviously something that [Terry Francona’s] stayed away from in recent years.”

With all due respect to Theo, this strikes me as pure posturing. If Varitek could catch Wake, there would have been no need for the panic deal that sent Bard – more on him in a minute – and Meredith out to San Diego for Mirabelli. Assuming that the Captain can’t catch him regularly, then, that would mean that the job of catching would Wake would either a.) fall to Varitek’s replacement, or b.) Cash, necessitating the extremely suboptimal three catchers on the roster. Frankly, the latter strikes me as a non-starter here in the Big Boy league, meaning that if Tek and a young catcher are acquired, the job of catching Wake is going to be the kid’s.

Not sure about you, but I don’t see that happening. I think either Tek is retained or we get a replacement, not both. Which, I couldn’t tell you, though we’ll know by Sunday whether or not the Captain has accepted arbitration.

Should be fun to watch.

And as a special bonus catching section:

Bard

Last I checked, Josh Bard – the catcher we shipped to San Diego after he proved unable to catch Wake – is available. Probably because in 57 games with the Friars, he put up an abysmal .202/.235/.333 line. Not a typo: he really was a .569 OPS player. That said, ’07 saw him put up a .285/.364/.404 in a tough hitters’ park, and Bill James’ ’09 forecast is .268/.342/.395. Which may not seem like much, until you remember that Tek’s 08 line was .220/.313/.359. And that Tek’s 09 projection is .238/.334/392. And that Bard is six years younger than Varitek.

I’ll admit that a proposed catching tandem of Bard/Cash isn’t all that thrilling, but it could a.) save us from overpaying for the likes of Salty – who may not be able to catch long term anyway (the cat is huge), and b.) give the kids (Exposito, Wagner, et al) another year to develop and tell us whether or not our solution is in house after all.

The ALCS So Far

beckett

It’s pretty simple: Beckett is not healthy. I don’t know if it’s his elbow, his oblique, or something else, but the man is not right. To argue anything else is to insult our collective intelligence, because the available evidence supports no other conclusion. It’s not that he’s surrendering runs; even the best postseason pitcher of this generation will do that, from time to time, and this Rays club is solid one through nine. It is, rather, the manner in which he’s going about his business. You’ve probably read by now that over the course of 93 pitches, Beckett got precisely one fastball by a Ray. One. Also, that his velocity is significantly reduced; he’s reportedly operating from 90-93 at this point.

It’s far from impossible to make the transition from power pitcher to finesse pitcher; that’s effectively what we’ve seen Schilling do the last few seasons here. But I seriously doubt that can be done – or at least done effectively – in playoff games. The stakes are simply too high, and the hitting that much better. Given that Beckett’s not likely to become Jamie Moyer in time for a potential Game 6 start, I hope our manager and the front office are asking themselves the heretical if necessary question: is Beckett our best option as a starter at this point? Or might we get more out of Byrd?

All of that would occur privately, of course. I expect none of Francona, Farrell or Beckett to claim anything other than that the pitcher is fine, because as much as it’s obvious to you, me and the Rays’ hitters that that is demonstrably false, it gains them nothing to allow that the pitcher’s injured. The media in general, I think, has been less inclined to question the official word than one might expect in the days leading up to yesterday’s start, but that’s all over in the wake of a second subpar outing.

The question at this point is what happens next? The good news is that we emerge from Tampa with a split. If you’d told me in advance that we’d get one in spite of a less than five inning start from Beckett, I would have called you a liar. The bad news is that without Beckett, our chances of taking the series are compromised.

Tomorrow’s Lester outing is, as anticipated, a must win game. If we can take that, we would then have to win two out four games started by Wake, Matsuzaka, Beckett and Lester – though it’s possible that Beckett could be bumped in favor of the young lefty if we were facing elimination. Certainly possible – particularly if Matsuzaka pitches as he did in Game 1, but we must win tomorrow. If we don’t, we’re in serious trouble, I think.

In other news, not that I doubted he’d turn things around, but it was nice to see Petey unload yesterday. If we can sustain some of the offense that we got in the early going yesterday – tough to do, since it principally came off a pitcher with a diminished arsenal – I like our chances going forward. The starters, with the exception of Beckett for the reasons noted above, are doing their job, and the pen has greatly exceeded my pessimistic expectations. But to take this series, we’re going to need runs. Quite a few of them, I think. And a fair number of them are going to have to come from Petey, since the Large Father – like Beckett – isn’t the Large Father at the moment.