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

rain delay

Yeah, yeah, I missed a week – that’s what happens when you hit Fenway. Anyway, more importantly the first half came to a close. About a week earlier than normal, in fact. The good news is that we ended the first half, as we did last year, in first place. The bad news is that the lead this time around was a half game, rather than the ten and a half it was last year.

Practically speaking, this has both positive and negative impacts, but I’m most concerned about the fact that it makes the resting of our starters more problematic. If you drop a game on a spot starter and you’re up by ten plus games, you might not enjoy it, but you’re not likely to lose sleep over it. With a half game lead, on the other hand, every last game is precious.

Breaking Players In

Wherever we got it, there’s little question that our player development program is paying serious dividends. It’s one thing to be able to draft well – thanks Jason McLeod – it’s an entirely different matter to progress the talent and ensure that, when they arrive, they’re prepared on and off the field.

According to Peter Gammons, in fact, as relayed by Hacks with Haggs, the Sox are among the best in the game at that:

I don’t think many other teams understand that, and I think they really get that. I have no doubt in my mind that Jed Lowrie will come back up here and be good, or that Michael Bowden will make three or four starts at some point and be very good. I really give them credit. It’s a combination of all that Mike Hazen and Ben Cherington and all of the minor league development people have done, and what John Farrell and all of the Sox pitching instruction people have done.

Buchholz v Masterson, Round 50

I like Justin Masterson, I really do. He seems like a great kid, and he’s clearly a future major league pitcher. But I’m getting very tired of hearing from the media that he’s a better pitcher than Buchholz. That might be true right now – though it’s certainly debatable – but it’s terribly unlikely to be true in future.

The performance thus far, however, leads media members, myopically focused on the present, to conclude that the one in Triple A is the one that’s expendable:

Why would the Red Sox be interested in trading for C.C. Sabathia? First, because they can. They have the money to sign him long term. They also have the prospects to give up, including what might be the most attractive player any team could include in a package – Clay Buchholz. With Justin Masterson making a solid impression in the majors and Buchholz down in Triple A, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out which of the two starters the Sox are higher on at the moment.

Never mind the minor league histories, never mind the no hitter thrown just last season, never mind the small sample size: clearly Buchholz is expendable. I mean, what has he done for us lately?

So let’s look at a few numbers. You know, just to prove that Buchholz is trade bait.

Innings BAA Ks BBs K/9 BB/9 K/BB
Buchholz 65.0 .256 65 30 9.00 4.15 2.17
Masterson 42.0 .197 32 21 6.86 4.50 1.52

In short, in 23 more Major League innings pitched, Buchholz is striking out more hitters while walking fewer. But he’s allowing a batting average against that is 60 points higher, so we must trade him.

But if you’re thoughtful, you might stop and ask: why is his allowed average that much worse? And his ERA a full run higher? Which could – if you knew about it – prompt you to think about the batting average on balls put in play, a statistic which gives depth to the basic performance metrics. The average is about .290; pitchers giving up a BABIP much higher are likely to perform better over time as they revert to the mean, while pitchers giving up a BABIP considerably worse are likely to perform that way as they do too. The numbers? Buchholz’ MLB BABIP is .337, while Masterson’s number is .210. In other words, Masterson’s been very lucky, and Buchholz has been somewhat unlucky.

But apparently it’s too much to ask that a mainstream Boston beat reporter understand the concept of a small sample size or the nuances of statistics beyond ERA and wins and losses. True, the numbers say that both pitchers will eventually be useful. Also true, that they say that Masterson has been more useful over the first half of this season. But it’s quotes like the above that make me thank Jebus that Theo and co are running the club rather than the likes of Cafardo, because the numbers tell us pretty clearly that if you’re going to trade a pitcher, Buchholz is the last one you’d want to give up.

Bullpen Woes Continue

Just when you thought it was safe to dip into the Red Sox pen, well, there’s last night. After last Sunday’s game (which I attended), when the one reliable piece in the pen proved not to be and his mates picked him up for four innings, many argued that it marked a turning point.

Not so much.

Oki is still having problems – to the extent that McAdam thinks the Sox could look at the possibility of trading for Fuentes. MDC continues to be lights out one night, torched the next. Hansen is slightly more reliable, but still prone to overthrowing. Aardsma’s striking out everyone, but still being used in games where we trail, which tells you something.

Besides Fuentes and a few other high cost options, the relief market doesn’t look particularly compelling. Meaning that the time to evaluate our internal options could be within the next few weeks.

Bard, in particular, seems like a candidate for Pawtucket in the very near future, if not a trial with the big club. His first pitch today arrived at 98, and Bob Stanley was reportedly very impressed:

Pawtucket Red Sox color man Bob Montgomery said Bob Stanley recently gushed about Sox reliever Daniel Bard. “Ninety-seven, 98 miles per hour with a 12-6 curveball,” said Montgomery. “[Stanley] said he was one of the nastiest relievers he’s seen.”

Fireside Chats w/ Art Martone

I’m only a few minutes into it, but I wanted to be sure and congratulate our friends over at Fire Brand for scoring the inestimable Art Martone as a guest for their Fireside Chats podcast.

I’m a fan of the MVN guys’ work in general, and my appreciation for Art’s work goes back years. Prior to my introduction to SoSH, Art’s old ProJo columns were along with Gammons’ work a key component of my Red Sox intelligence gathering. He had the unique ability to respond rationally to situations which other fans and even journalists could not; an approach, candidly, that I’ve tried to learn from and emulate.

Great to see that combination, and congrats again to Tim and the gang.

Nixon Still Loves Us

Count me among those that is rooting hard for Trot as he fights to stay up in the majors with the Mets. My affection for Nixon goes back a long, long way – to his draft day, in fact – and I wish him nothing but the best.

And according to the Globe, he feels the same way:

Thanks to all the Red Sox fans out there. It means a lot to any athlete to be remembered that way. Thanks for ’04. I miss ya. I may not show it, but it’s pretty cool the way they remember you. I was in Portland and one guy had my old No. 7 jersey on and told me he skipped out of work. It really is a Nation.

We miss you too, sir. And we have no problem showing it.

Gas Out of the Bullpen: Not Exactly What I Had in Mind

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Danger, originally uploaded by Clearly Ambiguous.

So the bullpen’s been, um, run prevention challenged of late: tell me something I don’t know, you’re probably thinking. Well, ok smart guy, how about some numbers (courtesy of Inside Edge, courtesy of ESPN)?:

Red Sox bullpen — 2007 vs. 2008 (regular season, through Thursday)
2007 2007 MLB rank 2008 2008 MLB rank
ERA 3.10 2nd 4.56 27th
WHIP 1.21 1st 1.46 19th
Opp. batting average .226 1st .270 27th

The fact that the bullpen has cost us nine games already (NINE games, Mrs Bueller) is likely, as Tim notes, high on Theo’s radar.

Corey and Snyder are long since banished: the former for San Diego and the latter for Pawtucket. Tavarez was recently jettisoned, and according to Jason Stark the Brewers have some interest in the Crazy One. In the same piece, Stark mentions that both Aardsma and Lopez have been shopped – though individually – by our front office, seeking either a left handed relief pitcher or prospect. Though both have had their moments, I’m not going to be broken up if either departs (particularly Lopez).

Paps, outside of one Lugo blown save and one legitimate blown save, is still Paps: i.e. one of the best relievers in the league. His numbers, frankly, are inhuman. .560 OPS against? 23 Ks and 2 BBs in 18.2 IP? Screw the consecutive speed bumps, he’s fine.

Oki, for all the flak he’s absorbed for the admittedly hideous numbers with inherited runners, has been fine when not placed in exceedingly high leverage situations (bases loaded, no one out? c’mon). This assumes that the wrist injury doesn’t linger, of course. Apres that? Well, perhaps not le deluge, but close.

MDC has recovered somewhat from his late April string of four straight scored on appearances, but his 1 hit, 1 1/3 appearance today aside, he’s clearly not emerging as the relief ace that some had hoped for (and that I didn’t expect). Still, he’s here for the duration.

Timlin, as nearly as I can determine, is cooked. With the caveat that it’s an obviously small sample size, he’s been scored on in 50% of his last 6 outings, and has recently lowered his ERA to 9.00. The other metrics? In 10 IP, hitters are putting up a .405/.426/.714 line against him. That’s 17 hits in 10 IP, along with 3 HRs and 3 BBs and 10 ERs. Lefties are hitting him worse (OPS of 1.264), but righties aren’t exactly weak with the stick (OPS of 1.019). True, we all thought he was done last year – and he probably was – but nothing in his performance thus far indicates a bounceback is imminent.

Hansen, of course, was already up and effectively took Tavarez’ roster spot. On the surface, his numbers aren’t much better than Timlin’s in an admittedly small sample size – 8.44 ERA vs the aforementioned 9 – but his sample size is smaller and a closer look reveals some reasons to hope. First, he’s only allowing a line of .238/.333/.381, which is far from terrible. Second, he’s striking people out – 4 K’s in 5.1 IP. Unfortunately, Driveline Mechanics is extremely pessimistic about Hansen’s prospects: both in terms of performance and the potential for injury.

Help, we need. Clearly. But from whence shall it come?

Of the internal candidates previously discussed in this space, the news is mostly negative.

Masterson, since his electric debut in Portland and his outstanding spot start for the big boys, has been hit. His last outing on the 15th saw him give up 9 hits and 7 earned runs in 6 IP, though he only walked 2. Since April 30th, in fact, he’s given up the following in earned runs: 4, 4, 1, and 7. Haven’t heard what the problem might be, but he’s probably not going to be a boost struggling like that.

Richardson, if anything, has been worse. I saw him throw against Bowie down in Portland on the 9th, and he allowed 8 hits and 6 tuns in 5 IP while walking 3. None of the hits were cheap, either. His last five starts, by earned runs, are 3, 4, 1, 6 and 4. Which accounts for the 4.83 ERA. I don’t have the splits, so it’s possible his numbers left on left are better, but again, he doesn’t appear poised to help in the near term.

Bard, on the other hand, might. The pitcher I’ve been notably skeptical of – he’s been walking better than a guy an inning professionally, remember – was recently promoted to good old Portland this week. Though old for the league, Bard dominated Greenville, striking out 43 of the 100 batters he faced over 28 innings, but more importantly only walking 4. The shift to the bullpen, it would seem, might be paying dividends; I’ll try to get to a few Portland games to see first hand. Will he be up? The last time they promoted a 22 year old in Hansen it set him back years, so I tend to doubt it. But with the bullpen in the shape it’s in, it’s not out of the realm of possibility. Particularly if he puts up numbers at Portland similar to those we’ve seen in Greenville.

Who’s left? Well, Gronkiewicz was throwing well, but is hurt. Michael Bowden, with Masterson one of the top starter prospects at Portland, is throwing well (2.57 ERA in 42 IP with 41 Ks and 12 BBs), but doesn’t necessarily profile that well in a relief role this season because he doesn’t have a single dominant pitch like Bard (fastball) or Masterson (sinker). Hunter Jones might have been a candidate, after the lefty struck out 26 in 22.2 IP at Portland, but his Pawtucket debut was rocky (3 H, 1 ER in 1 IP).

My dark horse? Buchholz. If Colon comes back and can take his slot in the rotation, Bucky could be a real weapon – not to mention a godsend – coming out of the bullpen, and it would help keep his innings down.

As for external candidates, well, it’s best not to speak of that. Not because of how poorly the Gagne trade turned out, but rather because there really aren’t any obvious Gagne’s to trade for at the moment. Give the front office credit: while their bullpen construction is suspect, they are creative when it comes to trades.

It may take not just a portion, but all of that creativity to find a solution to this year’s bullpen crisis. Because a crisis it most certainly is. Unless you’re happy with how those nine (NINE) games turned out.

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

We just got our asses kicked, pal. As previously discussed.

But what profit is it to dwell on our sub.500 record after a mere seven games? Let’s be mature about the situation, and indulge rather in our usual Sunday habit of Sox related news and anecdotes and Cafardo bashing.

Blue Plate Special

We’re old, or so says Major League Baseball. Via the Globe’s Nick Cafardo comes the following:

The average age of 861 Major League players on 25-man active rosters, disabled lists, and restricted lists as of April 1 was recorded at 29.46 years old. The Boston Red Sox are the oldest club in the majors with an average age of 31.33, while the Houston Astros pace the National League at 31.09 years old. The Florida Marlins are the youngest team in baseball with an average age of 27.78, and the Oakland Athletics field the youngest squad in the American League at 28.20 years old.

It would have been nice of Cafardo to provide some context and note that some of the elder statesmen that skew those numbers – Schilling, Timlin, Wakefield – are question marks for next season’s roster, or that four of our current starters are 27 or younger, but maybe that’s too much to ask.

Catching Conundrums

Remember when we discussed our precarious catching situation? It persists. Here’s the latest from Olney:

Scouts and officials with other teams say the Red Sox have been actively making inquiries about catchers, which makes sense, because among AL contenders, their backup situation isn’t strong. For example: Toronto has Gregg Zaun and Rod Barajas, the Indians have Victor Martinez and Kelly Shoppach, the Yankees have Jorge Posada and Jose Molina.

I’d predict that we would be dealing for catching, but the position is at such a premium at the moment we’d be required to significantly overpay, which the front office generally prefers not to do. So we’ll have to wait and see.

Colon Pitched Well – Not As Good as Reported – But Well

You may have read reports that Bartolo Colon was throwing in the mid 90’s during his Pawtucket start – I know I did. As I’d guessed, however, some of that was just an optimistic radar gun. From Soxprospects.com’s Clem21 (via Fire Brand of the American League):

Had excellent command tonight considering the conditions. His breaking pitches were pretty sharp and he was in control of the hitters for his outing. AB touched on his velocity in his post. He seemed to have pretty good velocity for innings 1-3, but it trailed off in innings 4-5. Generated a good amount of swings and misses from the AAA hitters in the beginning innings, but they started fouling off a lot of his pitches as the outing went on. I saw him hit 95 on the stadium gun as pointed out, but I checked in with a Cubs scout sitting next to me and he had him at 92 on his gun for the same pitch. He had Colon at 88-91 for the outing with him dipping down to 87-88 in the 5th inning before reaching back to 92 on his last pitch. Overall, it was a positive outing for Colon, but I don’t see the arm strength there as of yet and see it being another 2-3 outings before we see what he’s really got.

Some of you might read that as terrible news, but I find that scouter very encouraging. Sure, I’d prefer a Colon throwing gas, gas and more gas just like the old days. But I’m far more concerned about his command; that, you might remember, was his undoing in his spring training start against the Empire.

If he can throw low 90’s consistently and locate, I’d expect him to bump Buchholz back down to Pawtucket for both seasoning and innings limitation purposes one or two starts into the future.

Four Man Rotations, Pitch Counts, and More: Bill James

A terrific – particularly compared to 60 Minutes – Freakonomics interview with Bill James in the NY Times yielded this gem:

Q: Do you feel, given the right personnel, that some teams should try a four man rotation. If not, why not? If so, which team do you think is best suited and why?

A: I think it is plausible that that could happen and could succeed. I would explain my feelings about it this way: that between 1975 and 1990, two changes were made to reduce the workload of starting pitchers in an effort to reduce injuries. First, we switched from a four-man to a five-man rotation. Second, we imposed pitch-count limits on starting pitchers, starting at about 140 and then gradually reducing that to about 110.

I think it is clear that at least one of those changes was unnecessary, and accomplished nothing. It is possible that both of them were unnecessary and accomplished nothing, but the better evidence is on the side of the pitch limits. I think it is possible, based on what I know, that the starting rotations could go back to four pitchers with no negative consequences.

It’s possible that it’s solely because I’m a pitching geek, but I find this fascinating. Particularly because it comes from someone on our own staff.

Interviewing Cashman

A number of outlets have pointed to LoHud’s interview with Brian Cashman, and I’d agree that it’s informative, insightful, and all that good stuff. Worth a read, in other words. But one of the more interesting answers, from my perspective, was this:

Neil asked: What do you think is the most significant move you have made as GM of the Yankees? For good or bad?

Brian Cashman: “I don’t know if you can say one’s significant over another. This is how many years I have done this? Ten or 11? This is my 11th year. It varies. It depends on where the organization is. There are a number of moves we made to finish off championship runs. Like 2000, when we built that team on the run. In 2000, we changed over a big part of that roster in season to get our third championship in three years and then our fourth world championship appearance in five years. That was pretty special. But I think after 05, making the tough decision to take the steps back to rebuild the farm system and be patient and try to teach patience where patience doesn’t exist within the recent history of this franchise. I think that’s going to be a big turning point for this franchise for a long time.”

Unfortunately, I agree with him.

More Japan

Call me unsurprised: the players have nothing positive to say about the Japan trip. I sympathize, because I think the entire concept is asinine, not to mention hideously inconvenient to fans here in the US, but I’m tired of hearing about it.

Improved international relations aside, this trip has been officially classified as an absolute joke.

Believe me, Papelbon isn’t on an island with his opinion. Even before the final out was registered last night, the Sox’ well-worn description of the 19-day road trip as “a business trip” had morphed into downright disgust.

My prediction? The volume of Japan trip mentions – for the season – will be inversely proportional to our win total.

No More Red Sox are the New Yankees

From the Globe’s David Lefort comes the interesting – more on that in a moment – word that we’re no longer second in MLB payroll. Nor even third.

Figures obtained by the Associated Press indicated that the Red Sox opened the season with a payroll of $133,440,037 (click here for a player-by-player breakdown), which is down $10 million from their Opening Day payroll last season and ranks as the fourth-highest in the majors. Not surprisingly, the Yankees lead the way with just over $209 million.

Remember this the next time someone tries to persuade you that we’re “just like the Yankees.” We spend more than the majority of other clubs, it’s true, but the payroll delta this season comes to better than $75M according to my rudimentary math.

Why is this interesting? Because it may indicate that we’ll have some flexibility come the trading deadline. Never to early to begin speculating.

Stay Klassy, Cafardo

Paps and Oki aside, the bullpen has sucked to date, you’ll get no argument on that here. Still, I was personally offended on behalf of Aardsma/Corey/Snyder when Cafardo reacted to the bullpen implosion on the 5th with the following:

Looks like there’ll be plenty of candidates for Josh Beckett’s roster spot.

You want to dog their performance, fine. But I draw the line at sarcasm when it comes to roster spots: these are people’s lives and careers we’re talking about. A little bit less angry fan would be appreciated from a theoretically objective reporter.

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

As assumptions go, the one that says that everyone reading this knows we’re 1-1 for the season seems pretty unlikely to make an ass out of either you or me. It also seems reasonable to guess that you’re all aware that this week has yet to see a In Case You Haven’t Been Keeping Up With Current Events.

So I’ll forgo informing you of the former, and instead deliver an abbreviated version of the latter. That work?

Injury News

Good news, for once. Crisp is playing, as you’ve seen. And Beckett K’d 6 minor leaguers in 4 scoreless innings today, which you may not have.

McCracken

Many or all of you may not have heard of Voros McCracken, but suffice it to say that he’s the creator of Defense Independent Pitching Statistics (DIPS), a very interesting statistic. He also is a former member of our resident nerdery, one whom chose to fly the coop. Apparently, he wasn’t a terribly happy camper:

In terms of my work with the Red Sox it was mostly enjoyable but occasionally frustrating. Being able to have the ear of an MLB GM is something most of the people who do what I do aspire to and it was indeed very {searching for a word} exhilarating? On the other hand the money was lousy, and at times I was left without any real idea of what kind of effect I was having on things. When you work on something for five months, deliver the final product and hear little back about it, it can be disheartening.

One of the things that kind of bugged me with the Red Sox was a somewhat implied expectation that I’d come up with something like DIPS on a regular basis. Whether that’s reasonable for someone else or not, I personally just don’t have that in me.

There are echoes of Bill James’ interview in there, and I’m wondering if it might not behoove us to give our number crunchers a slightly better sense of the value of their input. A bit management 101, I realize, but still.

Pitching Performances from Japan in One Sentence

I promised not to rehash the loss, and I won’t, but some quick reactions to a few of the pitching performances – theirs and ours – in the first two games.

  • Aardsma:
    He lit it up early last year too, but I’m not complaining.
  • Corey:
    Probably needs to be perfect; wasn’t.
  • Foulke:
    Still have a soft spot for him, and still can’t figure how that delivery works.
  • Harden:
    On the rare occasions he’s healthy, it’s rare for him to pitch poorly.
  • Lester:
    He’ll have better days this season, but also worse ones.
  • Matsuzaka:
    Like last year, not exactly pounding the strikezone.
  • Oki:
    Heard his crazy Japanese entrance song; seriously, WTF?

  • Papelbon:
    Not a strong outing; couldn’t be less concerned.

Trade Rumors

More trade rumors swirling this week.

First, Crisp:
[Tampa] are also taking a look at Coco Crisp; Tampa Bay is loaded with a wide range of pitching prospects, so it would seem that Boston could find a fit if it wanted to make a deal.” (link)

Seems far fetched to me, but Crisp would be excellent for their young pitchers, and they’ve got a full cupboard to deal from.

Then the pitchers:
Speaking of the Sox, the team is drawing interest in three right-handed pitchers who are out of options — David Aardsma, Bryan Corey and Kyle Snyder. Any of the three would make sense for a pitching-hungry team such as the Giants, Astros or Cardinals. The Sox, who can’t keep them all, don’t figure to seek a great deal in return.” (link)

This one’s interesting because if I’m not mistaken we have to make a roster move shortly, as the extra spots we were granted for the Japan trip expire.

Lastly, this puzzler about Matt Murton:
There is talk that the Red Sox may strike a deal with the Cubs for Matt Murton eventually, and the Cubs may deliver Murton to a place where he could play.” (link)

I get why we like Murton, but where, precisely, is he supposed to play?

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.

Ballplayer Wants to Get Paid: News at 11

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Red Sox vanity, originally uploaded by sixes & sevens.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seriously?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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the_scene, originally uploaded by sogrady.

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

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

Age Surprises

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

Gammons mentioned one today:

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

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

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

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

Battle Royale in Bullpen

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

Cashman Watch, Continued

Bill Madden: First we have this bit from Madden:

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

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

And then we have this bit from the great Gammons:

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

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

Hansen, Hansen, Hansen – So Hot Right Now?

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

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

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

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

Good Times, Good Times

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

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

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

Rest as a Trend

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

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

Taking One for the Team?

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

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

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

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