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

Or, the inaugural edition of a recurring series.

The Beckett Update

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

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

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

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

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

The Catching Update

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

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

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

BA shares my concern about our catching depth, saying:

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

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

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

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

The Schilling Update

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

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

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

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

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

The Yankee Update

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

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

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

Schilling's Shoulder

By now I’m sure you’ve heard that Curt Schilling is injured. Seriously enough to jeopardize this season, if not his remaining career. If you haven’t heard, let the lovely and talented and hopefully single Amalie Benjamin bring you up to speed.

Following the predictable media frenzy of speculation, the pitcher himself spoke directly on the subject late today.

In his missive, Schilling denies that he has been diagnosed with a torn rotator cuff, and that rotator cuff surgery had been recommended. He acknowledges, however, that there were differences of opinion regarding potential solutions. Which is, as Curt himself wrote, far from atypical. But the assumption is that Morgan – the surgeon in whom Schilling has the most confidence – recommended surgery.

While the media reactions have been preoccupied with the disconnects between the pitcher and the club, I frankly find that subject spectacularly uninteresting. Consider me not shocked that the player and the club might have different motivations, goals, concerns and responsibilities in this situation. Nor do I think speculation as to the actual nature of the injury is a productive line of discussion, since I’m unqualified to render any meaningful opinion on the subject.

Instead, let’s discuss a few potential outcomes and the resulting impact of those outcomes.

Rehabilitation is Successful, Schilling Misses Portion of the Season

The only outcome more unlikely than this is that Schilling misses no time whatsoever, but as Papi, Schilling and others demonstrated last year the wonders of cortisone coupled with a tolerance for pain make some surprising things possible. Let’s say for the sake of argument that Schilling misses the first two months: this, to me, is the best possible scenario for three reasons:

  1. It would provide Buchholz with a rotation opening
  2. It would not require Buchholz to spend the entire season in the rotation
  3. It would mean that Schilling could provide us with 120+ innings of league average better innings in return for the $8M investment

But ultimately I think this scenario unlikely.

Rehabilitation is Successful, Schilling Misses Half the Season

This is the Boston Globe’s prediction:

Even without surgery, the 41-year-old Schilling is not expected to be ready to pitch until at least the All-Star break, according to several sources familiar with his condition.

Note particularly the “at least” qualifier in the above.

Half a season or more of downtime would raise more serious rotation questions for the Sox, the biggest of which is this: where are we going to find 150+ ~4 ERA (Schilling was at 3.87 last year) ERA innings? Is Buchholz capable of that? Indeed. But if he gives us 100 innings in the first half plus, he’d have to be used sparingly down the stretch to ensure his availability for any potential playoff appearance. Lest we forget, the Sox are rigid in their innings restrictions for young pitchers, and Buchholz was shut down last year at 146.6 innings for precautionary health reasons.

Rehabilitation is Unsuccessful, Schilling Misses the Season

Depending on the nature of the diagnosis, this scenario may be the most likely. Morgan seems to have felt so, anyway. This, unlike some of the folks who wrote in to ask me about it, is highly problematic for the Red Sox. We didn’t need Schilling to be a 200+ inning workhorse this year, as we do have depth in the rotation with the aforementioned Buchholz and even the forgotten Tavarez, but I think the current roster construction did assume something akin to last year’s injury shortened output.

As Rob Neyer notes, we’re far from sunk if the big righthander misses the ’08 season, but it will require some definite juggling. He speculates that Justin Masterson, a sinkerballer I saw throw in Portland last year, would be in the mix to make up the innings, but most observers – Keith Law among them – are convinced Masterson is likely to be limited to a bullpen role in the context of the major leagues.

Nor can, in my view, Buchholz be expected to shoulder a Schilling-like role at his age and experience level. The guess here is that Buchholz will be capped in ’08 to ~165 IP, meaning that a year long starter role in the rotation would be problematic, even without the complication of potential playoff innings. If I had a gun to my head, I’d predict the Sox would begin the season with a rotation of Beckett, Matsuzaka, Wakefield, Lester, and Tavarez, and integrate Buchholz down the stretch after some seasoning in Pawtucket or the Sox bullpen. And I don’t know about you, but that prospect doesn’t do much for me.

The Net?

It’s not terribly surprising given the pitcher’s age and recent injury history, and we’ll be able to deal. And it’s not like we have a choice either way.

As usual, the folks at Surviving Grady have the best take:

we have some options here. One is to run around and scream that the season’s over and we’re toast and we’re never going to find out just why Penny’s dad hates Desmond so much on Lost. Another is to somehow go back in time to just before the Mets landed Santana, and “intercept” them with the help of a few killer robots and some Mafiosa. Yet another is to get Schilling on Roger’s innovative, career-saving vitamin B-12 program, which, as we know, did wonders for the Rocket. The last and most plausible is to explore the free agent market, or promote the newly-bulked Buchholz to the starting rotation.

I don’t watch Lost, so that option’s not available to me, and I’m not a sky-is-falling type anyhow, but I can’t say that I feel good that Theo may be on the phone with Josh Fogg’s agent as we speak.