Lester = Nails: Game 1 Reaction

I love being wrong. Truly. Particularly when it results in us taking the first game of what will be a tough series, whoever ends up moving on.

While I focused on his poor showing against the Angels this season in my preview, Lester battled through some early command problems, settled down, and essentially destroyed a pretty solid lineup. True, perennial irritant Garret Anderson had a couple of hits, and there was the unearned run courtesy of a nervous Lowrie, but the lefty standing in for Beckett was – there really isn’t any other word for it – nails. Beckett himself couldn’t have done much better.

Which was excellent timing, because Lackey – inexplicably pulled after 97 pitches – was outstanding himself. Apart from an outside fastball to Bay, who looked truly awful against the breaking ball in his first two at bats, the Angels’ ace pitched a solid ballgame.

The question that everyone – including myself – has at this point is: what happens from here? Senor Churbuck seems optimistic, arguing that I didn’t account for my Navajo brother’s (sorry, ahl) resurgence at the plate. Which is true; Ells was all over the basepaths last night, and the insurance run he knocked in was big.

As is typical, I have no idea what happens next. To advance, our job is pretty straightforward: we need to win two of the next four ballgames.

The matchups, again, will be:

  1. Matsuzaka vs Santana
  2. Beckett (in theory) vs Saunders
  3. Lester vs Lackey
  4. Matsuzaka vs Santana

If Beckett is Beckett, or a close enough approximation thereof, our chances in Game 3 are good. It’s very far from a given – remember that Beckett has lost to luminaries like Andy Sonnanstine and Brian Moehler this year – but the matchup, on paper, has to be considered a good one for us.

Should we win his start, that obviously means we would need to take one of two Matsuzaka starts and another from Lester. Possible? Absolutely. Likely? I’m not sure I would go that far.

Remember that while a win is a win, last night was not exactly a drubbing. There were several points in that game – Lester’s early command issues, Ellsbury’s unreal grab of a sinking liner, Vlad’s blind man’s baserunning – which potentially would have led to a different, less favorable, outcome.

I’m happy we won, you’re happy we won, and merciful Poseidon is happy we won, but the kids didn’t exactly light it up. 8-35 is good for a .229 batting average; most nights that’s not good enough. Not that the Angels were that stellar either, mind you, at 9-36.

All of which is a fancy way of saying that we got a little lucky, which is nothing to be ashamed of in the postseason, and that in another Lackey v Lester game, it’s reasonable to expect that things could go either way.

Which brings us to Matsuzaka v Santana; to my mind, the least favorable matchup of the three. Even if we throw Matsuzaka’s poor start against the Angels this year out – because Lester certainly outperformed his – there’s Santana to consider.

Always a talented pitcher, Santana has had something of a bizarre career. Exhibit A was last season, when he was dominant at home (3.27 ERA) and essentially useless on the road (8.38 ERA). This year, however, he’s put things together and had a fine season. 3.49 ERA, 214 strikeouts, 47 walks, and a .237 allowed average in 219 innings pitched. His home / road split even reverted: 4.03 at home, 3.02 on the road. Yeah, you got me.

He didn’t throw against us this year, but how do we hit him historically? Not bad, actually. 26-77, good for a .338 average, to go with a .414 OBP and a .597 slugging percentage. Crisp is 2-2, Cora 2-3, Ortiz 5-9 with a home run, and Kotsay (who, reportedly, is playing first) is 7-18 with two doubles. Casey, Tek, Pedroia and Ells, meanwhile, are hitless in a handful of at bats.

But none of the above, of course, means much. If it did, Lester would have gotten shelled last night. This is the playoffs, those are small sample sizes, and who knows what the hell will happen.

Tomorrow night is big, obviously. If we can steal both games against the Angels best pitchers, with our ace yet to throw, we’re in excellent shape. It’s not a must win: if you’d told me we’d split to open the series, I probably would have taken it. But a loss would put immense pressure on the Angels, who are already dealing with questions about all of the playoff exits, the recent history, etc etc, ad nauseam.

So from a predictive standpoint, to answer the question: am I more optimistic than I was prior to the series start? Certainly. With one game won, our odds cannot help but increase. But a win tomorrow night would make me even more positive.

Fastball, Fastball, Fastball

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Papelbon Pitches, originally uploaded by waldoj.

Let’s get a couple of things out of the way. Papelbon is absolutely correct: this game is not the end of the world. Red is right that “that shit’s just gonna happen.” John Farrell obviously has forgotten more about pitching than I ever will. And Cafardo, as he is wont to do, is clearly blowing things way out of proportion.

My problem is far more prosaic: what gives with the fastball heavy approach? As noted yesterday, as the fastball percentage has gone up, the numbers have gone down. From inhuman levels, true, but it’s still worth noting.

As many have noted, over the past two games, Pap threw 30 fastballs in one stretch. That’s a problem. Or two problems, actually. As Keith Law puts it:

Relying exclusively on a fastball — even a good one like Papelbon’s — poses two problems. First, the hitter can mostly look at one level within the zone for a pitch to hit. Pitchers use off-speed pitches to change hitters’ eye levels, forcing them to consider that the pitch might finish up in the zone, down in the zone or below the zone. Secondly, hitters can “cheat” and start their bats a little earlier when they know — or can reasonably guess — that a fastball is coming. Johnson absolutely was doing it Tuesday, as was Aybar, although he does that all the time anyway. Papelbon has to start mixing in a second pitch, preferably the splitter, or hitters will keep timing his fastball and driving it to the outfield or out of the park.

What about Papelbon’s defense, you ask? “I don’t feel there’s a reason for me going to my second-best pitch when I’m effective with my No. 1.” With all due respect to the best closer we’ve had in my lifetime, that strikes me as absurd.

The same kind of absurd that saw Beckett throw little but fastballs in his first trip around the AL. The trip that saw his ERA jump to north of 5 and his home runs allowed to 36. Even pitchers with dominant fastballs – pitchers like Beckett or Papelbon – need something else. In shelving his secondary pitches, Pap is doing the hitters a major favor, and, one has to think, himself a disservice. Becaause there will come a time where he doesn’t have the good fastball. A time where he needs the split, the slider, maybe even both. And if he’s not throwing them, the confidence in them must suffer.

My hope, actually, is that Pap is just being stubborn. Stubborn like Beckett. Because that’s correctable. Potentially easily, after a lesson like last night.

My fear, however, is that he’s not throwing his secondary pitches because he can’t, because it hurts. Both the split and the slider torque the arm to a greater degree than the fastball, and I’m worried that may be playing its part. It’s, sadly, the most plausible explanation

Because as much as Farrell talks about how locating the fastball to four different quadrants can make it “like four different pitches,” it is not four different pitches.

Just ask Dan Johnson.

I'm Back, Bitches

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In the words of Peter Griffin, “That kill me? Yeah, I was afraid of that.” Instead of a discount surgeon this time, however, it was vacation.

But I’m back now. And badder than before. Hope all you guys are getting this via a feed rather than regular visits.

Anyway, ahl has requested a remaining schedule analysis. Sadly, I don’t have time for anything as detailed as that at the moment, what with the post-vacation hangover crushing me.

That said, let’s take a (reasonably) quick look at the realities of the schedule – and a few other items – in an edition of In Case You Haven’t Been Keeping Up With Current Events.

Shall we?

Beckett

Like most of you – I feel safe in assuming – the words “Dr. James Andrews,” as recently applied to Beckett, absolutely terrified me. As the news was read to me all I could think was “please not Andrews, please not Andrews, please not Andrews.” Not because I’m convinced he’s the difference between a title and not – though we’re obviously not winning one without him, I’m not convinced we’re winning one with our bullpen as currently constituted – but more because of what it could have meant beyond this season. Losing our ace, with all due apologies to Jon Lester, for 18 months to Tommy John surgery would have been devastating.

But the news there, of course, was good. Or at least as good as a visit to Andrews gets. There’s clearly something still wrong, but at least they’ve done all the due diligence they can.

Incidentally, anyone care to place bets that it was Schilling’s experience with the club doctors that led to Beckett’s personal request to see Andrews? If so, I will happily take your money.

Buchholz

A whole slew of folks has checked in to see whether or not my expectations for Buchholz have been rethought in the wake of his flameout and subsequent demotion. The short answer? No. To quote Rob Neyer, “Buchholz is 23, and going through the sort of thing that 23-year-old pitchers often go through.” The list of pitchers – good ones – that have come up and struggled mightily is far too long to be of interest.

Did I expect him to struggle as much as he did? Nope. But does his performance, which was exceedingly poor, change the fact he has the ability to dominate in the big leagues? No again.

Yes, his command deserted him (93 hits and 41 walks in 76 IP). But he’s still striking guys out: 72Ks for a K/9 of 8.53, which is better than Matsuzaka’s 7.93 and Lester’s 6.32, and only slightly worse than Beckett’s 8.74.

Also, his luck was hideous. His BABIP for the 08 season was an appalling .366. Batters are hitting nearly 80 points better than they should, then, on balls put in play. Which screams for a reversion to the mean. Again, for comparison, Matsuzaka (.266), Lester (.303), Beckett (.330).

It is, then, still my firm expectation that the man called Clay will be fine. As Kevin Thomas reports, it would appear that he’s already righting the ship.

It may be true that There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect, but I’d still rather have Buchholz than just about any other pitcher from the minor leagues.

Byrd, Kotsay, et al

True, I should be doing individual pieces on each. But I’m not, so let’s just focus on the big picture: Theo and the gang did well. Neither, of course, are studs. Nor are they likely to be major difference makers. Byrd is no Sabathia (though what’s left of him come the playoffs should be interesting to see), Kotsay is no Texeira, but you knew that.

What they are, rather, are credible reinforcements. Help for a club that finds itself shorthanded due to injury and performance issues alike.

Nor was the cost prohibitive, although Sumoza’s power is more than I would have liked to surrender, especially considering our system’s deficiencies in that regard. And frankly, I probably would have given up more to get Mrs. Kotsay on our side.

Lester

His one start blip aside, the kid’s been a stud. This is the pitcher everyone valued over Papelbon, over Buchholz, over everyone. He’s emerged a legitimate #2 starter to Beckett, and I feel pretty good when he takes the mound.

My question: what about his innings? He’s at 176.2 right now, with three starts remaining. Say he goes 6 in each: that would put him, at season’s end, at 194.2. Given that he threw 134.2 last year, 200+ innings pitched would seem to be a lot to ask. Particularly for an organization that protects its kids as ours does.

In which case, it would be logical to suspect that they’d skip him for a start or two. But how can they, realistically, when the division is more or less out of our grasp and the wild card is likely to be a down-to-the-wire affair?

A reemergence from Buchholz in the Portland playoffs could be the best thing to happen to Lester’s ’07 season. Because otherwise I’m not sure how the lefty would be available for the playoffs should we be fortunate enough to make it.

MDC

Yes, Mirabelli told Amalie last season that Delcarmen’s stuff was the best on the team, bar none, and yes he’s unscored upon in his last 7 outings (7.1 IP).

But no, I don’t trust him. And I’m not sure Tito does, either.

Sandwiched into that little run, of course, is his one third of an inning appearance at Yankee Stadium in which MDC managed to allow a hit and two walks in the time it took to get one out.

As Baseball Prospectus has written in the last, he’s missed bats at every level, and he’s got all of the tools necessary to be successful. But he’s 26 years old, and this is his fourth year seeing time with the club, and you still don’t know what you’re going to get day-to-day.

Frustrating, because we need him. Badly.

Pedroia

I would love to take credit for the little guy’s resurgence since I wrote this piece refusing to dismiss him, since he’s hitting .391/.432/.609 in that time with 10 stolen bases and more walks than strikeouts, but I can’t.

It’s all him, and bless him for it. We need more of that, as offense is going to be at a premium with our bullpen.

The Division vs The Schedule

Allan’s got the right of it, I think: this is a Wild Card race, not a battle for the division. Sure, we need to try and take the division (I fear the Angels) and, sure, it’s possible that we could take all or most of the six remaining head to head contests with the Rays and make things interesting. But it’s improbable.

We won twice as many games as we lost in August (18-9), and actually dropped two and a half games in the standings (3 GB to 5.5 GB). All you can do is tip your cap to the Rays, and focus on trying to get into the playoffs any which way we can.

Sure, our ‘pen is combustible and likely to prove our undoing, but that’s what we said in ’03 as well, and Embree, Timlin and Williamson suddenly and unexpectedly settled down. Stranger things have happened, then. Not many, but they have.

The Kids & The Playoffs

Finally made it to a Seadogs game this past week, and Lars Anderson – to my completely untrained eye – looks good. I’m always suspect of subjective phrases like “the ball comes off his bat differently,” but, well, it does. The lineout he made in the second damn near killed their shortstop it was hit so hard. Kudos to the Fire Brand guys for getting an interview with him. Sadly, Bard (back) and Reddick (ankle) didn’t play, but it was good to see Diaz (looked not so good with the bat) and others in person.

Also, on a related note, the news that all seven minor league clubs finished with winning records and four (including the Seadogs) are going to the playoffs is welcome. Our front office isn’t perfect – damn you, Lugo – but they’ve legitimately done wonders with the farm system. Which should pay dividends both immediate and long term.

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

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The blues, originally uploaded by jurek d..

We got swept. By the A’s. It sucked. I don’t know about you, but I liked it better when we were sweeping folks, rather than getting swept.

As if it wasn’t bad enough that the Good Guys were stranded out on the West Coast for Memorial Day weekend – putting a serious dent in my boating and social scheduling – we only managed to put up six runs in three games.

Blame’s tough to figure here. The offense, well, we know what they did. Or didn’t do. And the starters? Wake didn’t pitch well enough to win, didn’t. Beckett did, didn’t. Lester, well, let’s just say he was more hittable than his last outing. The bullpen, however, tipped the odds seriously in Oakland’s favor. After Lopez served one up to Cust, our win probability went from ~19% to ~5%.

We’re seriously going to have to do something about the bullpen.

Speaking of, one of the candidates continues to shine.

Bard

As the Portland Press Herald’s Kevin Thomas – who, as an aside, is rapidly becoming one of my favorites of the Sox beat writers – relates, recently promoted Daniel Bard’s introduction to the Sea Dog faithful went smoothly. 2K’s in 2IP, the final batter going down on a 99 MPH fastball. In 5 IP at Portland, Bard’s K’d 8, walked 1, and given up a mere 2 hits. The 16 batters that he’s faced are hitting .125.

With the obvious and understood small sample size caveat, if he keeps this up he may force Team Theo’s hand. We’ve talked before about why the Sox would be hesitant to promote the kid – see Hansen, Craig, or Meredith, Cla – but seriously: his K/9 is 14.4. At AA.

I make no promises that he’ll keep it up – particularly the control side of the equation – but if he does, I think you have to consider whether or not he could be an ’03 Papelbon type late season addition.

Beckett

One pitcher who’s been less impressive of late has been Josh Beckett. He hasn’t been terrible, but the two outings that preceded his Oakland start, he gave up 5 and 6 earned, off 5 home runs. The homers, for me, are the most worrisome trend, as he’s on a 31 homer pace. I for one would love to avoid a repeat of ’06 season, which saw him surrender 36.

Chad Finn thinks it’s too early to hit the panic button, and I agree. But it does bear watching.

The Inside Edge folks attribute Beckett’s struggles to pitching from the stretch, noting that he’s actually giving up a lower BAA and OBP than he did last year. From the windup, opposing batters are hitting .177. With guys on base, they skyrocket to .379, with a horrific .690 slugging percentage.

But wait, it gets worse. Same situation, guys on base, but behind in the count and forced to throw a fastball, the numbers are just terrifying. The batting average is .692, and the slugging is 1.385. For real. In the same situation last year, hitters were at .303/.485.

I don’t know whether it’s a mechanical thing, if he’s tipping his pitches from the stretch, or what, but I trust that Farrell and co are on it.

Buchholz

Spitting on my idea of bringing Bucky back and throwing him in the pen – Colon, after all, was reasonably effective – the Sox sent him back to Pawtucket for a start. While I’d much prefer his innings to come from us, though I know he’s been up and down, the Sox brass – who are clearly in a much better position to know what’s good for the kid than I – clearly feels that he’s got some work to do.

Specifically, as Mike Scandura over at Fire Brand reports, on his fastball.

“(Boston) told me they wanted me to throw 60-to-65 percent fastballs, so that’s what I tried to do,” said Buchholz who worked four innings plus one batter. “I felt like there were a lot of off-speed counts where I could have thrown off-speed pitches and maybe get some swings and misses. But I stuck with the fastball and overall I felt like it worked out good.”

Other items worth noting. Buchholz’ fastball reportedly topped out at 96, and the righthander walked two against 3 K’s in his outing. Interestingly, he was apparently told he was coming down for two rehab starts. Makes you wonder what the plan is for him going forward.

Lugo

One of you kind readers had the temerity to call into question my indictment of Julio Lugo by virtue of a lack of context. Well, not really, but sort of. So for you, kind readers, here’s some context: out of 21 shortstops that ESPN’s gimpy player stats page maintains, Julio Lugo is 14th on the list in terms of OPS. The players ahead of him on the list?

  1. Rafael Furcal
  2. Hanley Ramirez
  3. Miguel Tejada
  4. Stephen Drew
  5. Jeff Keppinger
  6. Yunel Escobar
  7. Ryan Theriot
  8. Jose Reyes
  9. Cristian Guzman
  10. Michael Young
  11. Derek Jeter
  12. Bobby Crosby
  13. Edgar Renteria

There are a couple of obvious names that should be on that list ahead of him, but there are some that really should not. Keppinger? Escobar? Theriot? Christian Guzman, even?

So given further context, the point stands: Lugo’s a problem. And his error today didn’t help his case.

The good news? Last year Lugo ended the year 19th out of 22 in OPS. Bad as he is, he’s better than he was last year.

Santana

Everybody and their mother is bringing up Buster Olney’s two pieces which note that the prized and pricey lefthander’s velocity is down and that he’s throwing with more effort. Immediately following this observation comes the qualification that, even if he’s not what he was, Santana is still better than the overwhelming majority of starters in the league.

Now I don’t want to say I told you so, but I told you so:

Just as important as the cost, is the predictability of the returns on that cost: i.e. the injury risk. Like many, I’m concerned by his late season fade (check his September splits). I seriously doubt that he forgot how to pitch, meaning that the most logical conclusion is that he wasn’t entirely right. Keith Law seems to share those concerns, saying:

“I haven’t read any of the others (I was on vacation), but I’d take A-Rod, Beckett, and Sabathia (because I’m a little concerned about how Santana finished 2007).

And then there’s the fact that virtually all of the players mentioned in connection to a potential Santana trade – Bowden, Ellsbury, Lester, Lowrie, and Masterson – have performed well, most at the major league level, and the deal becomes even a more obvious win.

I’m not saying that Santana’s not an excellent pitcher: he is. But for how long? Long enough to outweigh the value of three or four of the above players? Plus 20M+ per? I don’t think so.

Tampa

You know what else I told you? That Tampa was good.

With today’s sweep, we’re a half game out of first place. Behind the Rays.

Last But Not Least: Our Best Wishes

On the subject of things that are more important than baseball comes some bad news: two members of the Red Sox family have been diagnosed with cancer. Greenville (Class A) prospect Anthony Rizzo will miss the rest of the season following a diagnosis of Limited Stage Classical Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and Jon Lester’s father John was also has, as his son did, lymphoma.

Fortunately, the prognosis is both cases seems to be excellent. But as a family that has seen its share of cancer – my father’s had it twice and my uncle once – the news has a terrible resonance with me.

Not that either will read this, but we at wicked clevah would like to extend our best wishes and hopes for a full recovery to both individuals and their families. There’s a reason I give to the Jimmy Fund every year. This is it.

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

Why this video? Because now that the meaningless games are officially out the way, that’s what I want: an Encore.

And yes, I know this is two weekly features back to back. So sue me.

Anyway, this week’s edition of In Case You Haven’t Been Keeping Up With Current Events, such as it is, comes to you from the road. Where the road equals Georgetown, ME. While tomorrow will see me journey to yours and my favorite city, it won’t be until next week that I actually catch a game live.

That’s right: should I be able to wrangle the travel – and I think I’ll be able to – next Wednesday night I’ll be seeing the good guys take on the Tigers. Whose lineup, frankly, is just unfair. But we’ll get there.

In the meantime, here’s what I’ve got for you.

Best 1-2 Punch of the AL? Not in Boston

With all due respect to the Fire Brand of the American League’s Guest Columnist Bottom Line Rob, I could not disagree more with his assessment of the best one/two starter tandems in the good half of the league.

Nearly as I can determine, he seems to base it primarily on wins. The combination that I – and apparently MVN’s Tim Daloisio as well – would pick, Bedard/Hernandez from the M’s, is dismissed with the following:

Neither of these guys have come close to winning 20 games, but with J.J. Putz as their closer and a solid offense, both youngsters have the stuff to each that goal. That said, Seattle was 2nd to the Yankees with a .287 team BA last year, but they only scored 794 runs… and that makes it tough for any pitcher to earn the win.

Which may be true, but not at all how I’d judge the pitchers.

Let’s look at how his qualified pick – Beckett/Matsuzaka – fared against mine and Tim’s Bedard/Hernandez choice last seasion. First, Boston’s guys:

Player K/9 BB/9 BAA IP
Beckett 8.70 1.79 .237 200.2
Matsuzaka 8.84 3.52 .249 204.2

Not bad at all. Matsuzaka walks too many guys, and neither is a premium strikeout pitcher, but that’s a pretty good front of the rotation. And that’s without the improvement in Matsuzaka I expect to see this season, even if it wasn’t apparent in his first outing.

Now what about the Seattle kids?

Player K/9 BB/9 BAA IP
Bedard 10.93 2.82 .217 182
Hernandez 7.8 2.51 .280 190.2

For my money, better. True, the M’s duo is giving up 30 innings to Beckett and Matsuzaka, but I wouldn’t bet on that being the case in ’08. Bedard was sidelined with an injury not expected to affect him this season, and Felix is young. Like two years younger than Clay Buchholz young.

Looking at the numbers from ’07, Bedard more or less outpitched Beckett – who had a Cy Young quality season – numbers-wise, and Hernandez struck out one fewer but walked one fewer in roughly comparable innings relative to Matsuzaka.

As a 21 year old. Against major league competition.

So while I like our rotation as a whole against the M’s, I’m with Tim: if I had to pick between our front two and their front two, I’d take the latter. Though I’d want to get Beckett back once the postseason started.

Going or Staying: Kielty

When Kielty signed with the good guys this offseason, I was convinced that a Crisp deal was not only in the works, but in the books. Which shows you what my prediction skills are like.

The question now is what Kielty’s fate will be. The Globe is reporting that it’s dependent on demand:

Kielty said he plans to remain in LA for a couple of days with family while awaiting word on his job prospects. If another job doesn’t materialize, he’ll go to Pawtucket, which opens its season Thursday. (link)

As for the odds that another job materializing, one of the MLB Trade Rumors folks speculates as follows:

With all the rumors swirling recently about teams in need of outfield help, I have to believe that Kielty will land a major league gig. PECOTA projects a line of .253/.331/.418 based on 159 plate appearances and Kielty can play all three outfield spots. (link)

On paper, I agree with that assessment, but I think there’s more to the equation here. If not, why would Kielty have signed here in the first place? He must have known there would be demand, and yet he took a job here, presumably banking on the fact that one of Crisp/Ellsbury would end up gone. Which, frankly, was a reasonable assumption.

Anyhow, it’ll be interesting to see what happens with Kielty. It’s not that he’s indispensable, but I think he is an excellent complementary piece assuming that Crisp eventually is traded. I’m not sure who’d serve as the fourth outfielder in Kielty’s absence. Moss is credible, but probably can’t handle center regularly as Kielty can.

In my perfect world, we extract something useful for Crisp, and move on. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

Pitch Counts and Injuries

There’s been a lot written about pitch counts and the risks to young pitchers the past few years. Witness this little tidbit from Neyer from a recent ESPN Chat:

As you know, the new paradigm suggests that young pitchers risk injury when their innings increase significantly from one season to the next. Carmona went from 103 innings to 215 innings. That doesn’t mean he’s going to get hurt, but it’s something worth worrying about.

That conclusion is even more interesting in light of Carmona’s playoff meltdown. But I also wanted to draw your attention to a recent piece on a very special – and very ominous – pitching club that one of our guys was on the verge of joining in ’07: the 3500 club. Here’s how Brett Greenfield describes it:

Certain pitchers exhibit warning signs from year to year. I’ve always wondered why certain pitchers’ careers take a turn for the worse. Some hurlers just throw too many pitches.

I’ve compiled a list of pitchers who have thrown 3500 or more pitches in a single season since 2005. There only appears to be a handful of them each year. However, there are several recidivists.

When I display for you the list of pitchers who are on this list and you see how their careers have taken a turn for the worse because of overuse, you’ll know why nobody wants to be a part of this club.

The ’07 members? Dontrelle Willis, Daniel Cabrera, Gil Meche, CC Sabathia, Aaron Harang, Scott Kazmir, Jake Peavy, Carlos Zambrano, Dan Haren, Barry Zito, John Lackey and Bronson Arroyo. Great, you’re thinking: Matsuzaka’s not on the list. Well, I’ve got bad news for you: he just missed. Fangraphs has his total pitchcount last year at 3480.

Not convinced that he belongs? Well, Baseball Prospectus has him atop their Pitcher Abuse Points table, some 19000 points ahead of the #3 finisher, AJ Burnett. The other guys in the top 5? Zambrano at #2, Halladay at #4, and Harang at #5.

All guys that work a lot.

I’m not quite recanting my Matsuzaka improvement predictions, but I’ll confess to being worried.

Predictions

I’m no great fan of predictions – actually, I actively hate them. You might have noticed given that I’ve done none myself (though I do think Verlander should be the favorite for the Cy) – but I’ve seen forecasts that are literally all over the map.

Case in point are the good folks over at Baseball Prospectus. The projected records have us finishing at 91-71, along with the Indians and Tigers, while the Yankees run away with the league at 97-65 and the Angels take the West with and 85-77 record. No word on who the wild card would be in such a scenario.

But at the same time, today BP’s Joe Sheehan projected us finishing ahead of the Yankees, strictly according to runs scored/allowed projections, at 96-66 to their 95-67.

Who to believe? None of them, as far as I’m concerned. As the Great Gammons says, any significant downtime to Beckett or Tek (yes, the same Tek who struck out 9 of 11 ABs in Japan – patience, people), and we are in serious trouble – projections or no projections. Hell throw Paps and Oki in there. Papi too.

You get the point: predictions are like battle plans. They never survive the first encounter with the enemy.

Terumasa Matsuo: Who is He, and What Can He Do?

Honestly, I have no idea. Backing up, for those of you who haven’t been keeping up with current events, we signed a 26 year old Japanese pitcher from one of their independent leagues. No scouter on him yet – I’m working on it.

In the meantime, here’s what Rotoworld had to say on the news:

According to Boston’s press release, the 26-year-old Matsuo was the Shikoku Island League MVP in 2007, when he led the league with 15 wins and 159 strikeouts. He had a 1.72 ERA and allowed 85 hits in 152 innings. In 2006, he had an 11-2 record with a 1.82 ERA, 134 strikeouts and 98 hits issued in 138 innings in 2006. Obviously, it’s not nearly the same level of competition as the Japanese Pacific or Central Leagues. He’s not someone to rush out and grab in keeper leagues. (link)

Normally, I’d be less optimistic, but we’ve shown some ability to scout Japan in recent years, so who knows.

More on him when I have it.

The Obligatory Crisp Update

Lastly, the news that I’m sure you’re just as sick of reading as I am writing: teams are interested in Coco, but no one’s shown any inclination to pull the trigger. The latest rumor, courtesy of the Globe’s Nick Cafardo:

The Cubs would still love to get their hands on Coco Crisp, but for now, youngster Felix Pie is their man in center. Sox assistant to the general manager Allard Baird spent a lot of time in Arizona last week scouting the Cubs, among others. (link)

Much as I love his defense – and I really love his defense – I’d almost trade Crisp at this point just so that I wouldn’t have to digest any further trade rumors.

I said almost.

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?

Don't Shoot the Messenger

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Beckett, originally uploaded by culhanen.

But you remember that Beckett news I had for you yesterday? The good news that he was better than anticipated the day after tweaking his back? Well, that’s over.

If I’d had as much progress from yesterday to today as I did from the first day to the second day, I wouldn’t have ruled that out. Today I’;m just holding up my obligation (to talk to media). It probably would have been better to talk to you guys yesterday because I was a little more optimistic. I’m in a pretty crappy mood as far as this thing goes because it was a pretty frustrating day because yesterday was good and today’s kind of horse(bleep).

In the business, this is what’s known as bad news. Maybe not panic news, but certainly not a positive development.

In case that wasn’t enough for you, MLB Trade Rumors throws cold water on the Crisp to the Padres trade rumor from yesterday, while Shysterball takes care of the Cubs version.

At the risk of being less than totally negative, however, I have to admit that I don’t totally buy either of the above objections completely. Of the Padres reputed objections to a deal, two seem bogus: Crisp is obviously on the block, and while Theo and co won’t hand him away, they’ll negotiate. From the Shysterball angle, I fully agree that the presence of Pie would seem to negate the value of Crisp: but what if the former was traded for the O’s Roberts, as has oft been rumored?

And as long as we’re going to slip in some good news, everyone’s favorite rookie centerfield prospect jacked his average all the way up to .240 by banging out 2 hits today – one of them a leadoff single against none other than Best Pitcher on the Planet, Johan Santana. Even better, our own young lefthander – once poised to be traded for the Best Pitcher on the Planet – outpitched his counterpart (2H, 5K, 1BB, 14BF in 4 IP vs 2H, 4K, 15BF in 4). A performance which had the Globe mentioning Lester and opening day in the same sentence (no link b/c Shaugnessy wrote the piece), however premature.

But for those of you still eager to despair over a centerfielder’s poor spring training numbers, turn your eyes towards Ichiro, who is still seeking his first hit.

Anyway, sorry to end on a positive note but, hey, I don’t make the news.

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.

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

Or, the inaugural edition of a recurring series.

The Beckett Update

Meant to mention this last week but, well, you know how it goes. If you haven’t seen it yet, Peter Gammons spoke with one member of the Red Sox front office who’s of the opinion that after Beckett’s current deal expires in 2010, we’ll be unable to sign the righthander.

“We’d better enjoy [Josh] Beckett the next three years,” one Boston Red Sox official said, “Because we won’t be able to sign him after his deal is up after 2010.”

Which is a grim prospect, not only because the Yankees will presumably have interest, but also because that’s just about the time that Tampa will be getting good (but more on that later).

Now even I can acknowledge that a problem three years away is a problem for another day, and I won’t get in a twist about it. At least, no more than usual.

But I think it’s worth noting that the $30M deal Beckett signed – much lamented by the Sports Guy during Beckett’s rough introduction to the AL – was in retrospect a masterstroke. Even if Beckett is hurt for a significant portion of it.

The Catching Update

In celebration of Truck Day, I treated myself to a copy of the Baseball America Prospect Handbook for 2008. It’s mildly alarming just how excited I was to get home and crack it, but that’s a subject for another day. Of greater interest was the catching depth chart, which BA lists as follows:

  1. Mark Wagner
  2. George Kottaras
  3. Dusty Brown
  4. Tyler Weeden
  5. Jon Egan

The good news is that – as previously discussed – Wagner owns the #20 spot on Boston’s Top 30 prospects list. The bad news is that Kottaras was last year’s #12, and Egan was last year’s #24, and both failed to make this year’s list. It would be inaccurate to say that it’s entirely a reflection on their respective seasons, as the overall depth of our system took a step forward last year, but neither did they progress as anticipated.

BA shares my concern about our catching depth, saying:

“the only unsettled long-term position on the Red Sox is catcher, where there’s no clear heir apparent to Jason Varitek. Wagner is the leading candidate to fill that role, as he has the most well-rounded game among a group of catching prospects that also includes Dusty Brown, Jon Egan, George Kottaras, Jon Still, and Tyler Weeden.”

Their prediction is that Wagner will be up in Portland this year, so I’ll try and get down to see him.

While it’s nice that BA shares my concern, the Red Sox front office is a bit more important in the overall equation. Since they’re in a position to do something about it, and so on. Anyhow it appears that they are applying the same shotgun approach to catching that it does to the bullpen: the more candidates you have, the better the chance that one proves viable. Back in October, we signed 24 year old Dennis Blackmon out of the independent leagues, and three days ago there was word we were close to bringing in Hayato Doue (see above video), a 25 year old Japanese catcher from the independent leagues over there.

Personally, I like these deals. True, the odds of Blackmon or Doue contributing in the long term are thin. But catching is in short supply, and I’d prefer to at least make the effort at finding a diamond in the rough. If we end up discovering nothing, and are forced to trade a Gold Glove caliber CF for a mediocre backstop like Gerald Laird (lifetime OBP of .297) so be it. But let’s at least look around first.

The Schilling Update

Generally, when someone medically trained characterizes a tendon in your shoulder as “irreversibly diseased” and “separate[d] into these bands of spaghetti” it’s not good news, but bad news. Which is what the news on Schilling is, quite obviously. It’s worth noting, as Buster Olney writes, that given the fact that Morgan is legally prevented from speaking without Schilling’s go ahead the aforementioned interview is essentially PR by proxy. Schilling apparently wants Red Sox fans to know that he does not agree with the diagnosis, but is unwilling to do more than hint at said disagreement on his blog, preferring to leave the direct messaging to an authorized mouthpiece. Ok.

Given everything Schilling has pitched through in his career, no one can ever question his ability to pitch with pain: the procedure that resulted in the bloody sock, after all, was first practiced on a cadaver. Seriously. So I have to believe that the big righthander honestly trusts Morgan that surgery offers him a legitimate chance at pitching this year.

Irrespective of what Morgan – and presumably Schilling – would prefer to do to address the current condition, however, the club and the player are apparently going ahead with a cortisone powered rehab.

When asked when Schilling would be able to pitch again using this approach, Morgan’s optimistic answer was: “never.” A real sunbeam, that guy. The guess here is that the two surgeons recommending this course of action are only slightly more hopeful than Morgan when it comes to rehab, but it’s obvious that they are spectacularly less positive about the prospects of a return this season if surgey is pursued. Ergo, the last ditch attempt at rehab.

Don’t know about you guys, but it sounds like it’s time for Plan B here.

The Yankee Update

Leave it to Peter Gammons to explain why it is my fondest wish that Brian Cashman and the Yankees part company, the sooner the better:

As he has done his entire tenure as general manager of the Yankees, Brian Cashman has spent the offseason doing what he believed was in the best long-term interests of the Yankees. Because he eschewed the Santana trade, Cashman’s job now is likely tied to Phil Hughes, Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy, et al. But Cashman wants to build a long-term pitching staff, then take money and fill where he needs to build as the Yankees see a number of big contracts go away in the next two offseasons. With close to a half-dozen pitchers making less than $500,000 in 2009, Cashman next winter will be able to go get Mark Teixeira, C.C. Sabathia and even Joe Nathan, if he so chooses.

I much preferred a Yankee club that spent and spent in a vain effort to solve more fundamental underlying problems. You know, just like our country does.