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Posts Tagged ‘Atlanta Braves’

On June 12, we beat the Marlins, 2-1, in an obviously close game.  Buchholz was a big part of that; he pitched seven innings and gave up only one run on five hits, while walking one and striking out two.  One of those five hits was a solo shot in the seventh.  Padilla received a hold for the seventh, and Aceves got the save in the ninth.  We scored both of our runs via small ball in the seventh; Youk grounded out, Middlebrooks singled, Gonzalez flied out, Shoppach doubled in Middlebrooks, and Aviles singled in Shoppach.  We completed our series against the Marlins with a win as lopsided as that one was close, winning by a final score of 10-2.  Doubront delivered unquestionably his best start of the season, pitching a full seven innings and giving up two runs on three hits while walking one and striking out nine.  One of those three hits was a solo shot with two out in the sixth.  Padilla, Miller, and Albers combined to pitch the rest of the game.  And our hits were really busy; Aviles scored on a groundout in the third, Papi homered in the fourth, three consecutive singles and a sac fly in the sixth yielded two more, and we put up a six-spot in the eighth, when we sent eleven batters to the plate! Punto doubled, four straight singles yielded three runs, Middlebrooks got hit, Salty scored another with a sac fly, Sweeney lined out, and two straight singles scored our last run.

On June15, we started our series against the Cubs, and I am both relieved and pleased to say that Dice-K had himself a phenomenal start! He pitched six innings and gave up three runs on four hits while walking three and striking out three.  He threw ninety-three pitches, sixty-two of which were strikes.  Atchison and Melancon finished the game on the mound.  But we were shut out and lost, 3-0.  We had better luck in the next game, which we won, 4-3.  Lester went six and two-thirds innings and allowed three runs on seven hits while walking one and striking out eight; he gave up a two-run shot with one out in the seventh.  Salty homered with Papi on in the fourth, Middlebrooks singled in another run in the sixth, and then Podsednik singled in our final run in the seventh.  We ended up winning the rubber game by a final score of 7-4.  Beckett was out with inflammation in his right shoulder, so all those times I called for the bullpen to start rather than the starter finally paid off.  Morales pitched five innings and gave up two runs on four hits while walking none and striking out five; all in all, I’d say he was spectacular given the circumstances, including the fact that it was his first start since 2009.  He threw eighty pitches.  Albers then received a blown save for giving up the tying run; Miller, Melancon, and Atchison held the fort until Aceves allowed a run in the ninth.  In the first, Pedroia doubled and Papi singled for two, Papi led off the fourth with a solo shot, we scored three in the seventh on a single and two sacrifices, and we scored one in the eighth on a force out.

We played the Marlins again starting on Monday, this time at home, and this time we swept them.  The first game’s score was 7-5; Buchholz gave up five runs on nine hits while walking one and striking out three.  Albers, Miller, and Padilla performed well in middle relief, and Aceves picked up the save.  Papi hit a two-run shot in the first, Shoppach hit a two-run shot in the second, Ross hit a solo shot in the fourth, Gonzalez hit a sac fly in the fifth, and Middlebrooks doubled another in in the sixth.  The second game was a 15-5 blowout.  Doubront gave up four runs on nine hits while walking one and striking out four; Mortensen gave up one run, and Melancon pitched a shutout inning.  Aviles hit a three-run shot in the second to start the scoring.  Ross hit a bases-loaded, bases-clearing double in the third for three more runs.  We blew it wide open in the fourth; Kalish singled in one, Papi smacked a grand slam, and Salty hit a solo shot! Punto scored on a wild pitch in the fifth, and Middlebrooks hit a two-run shot in the eighth.  We barely won a nailbiter to complete the sweep.  Dice-K gave up four runs on four hits over five and a third innings; he walked one and struck out four.  Miller gave up one run, and it was Atchison who picked up the win and Aceves the save.  We got on the board in the fourth when a single and a sac fly brought in two, and we tied it up in the fifth with a single.  Then they led by two until the eighth, when Middlebrooks hit a two-run shot and Nava singled in a third run.  After Aceves’s performance, we had the sweep in hand.

After the Marlins, we hosted the Braves.  We lost on Friday, 4-1, but it wasn’t for lack of starting pitching.  Lester pitched seven innings and gave up three runs on ten hits while walking one and striking out five.  This time it was Melancon who allowed a run while Mortensen recorded the game’s last out successfully.  We scored our only run in the eighth on a double by Nava.  We won on Saturday, 8-4; Morales started again and was fantastic.  He gave up three runs, two earned, on seven hits over six innings while walking one and striking out eight; he threw eighty-six pitches.  Atchison, Miller, Padilla, and Aceves all appeared in relief.  Gonzalez singled in one and Middlebrooks doubled in another in the first, Pedroia doubled in two in the second, Middlebrooks homered in the third, Ross doubled in another in the fifth, and Nava singled in two in the seventh.  We ended up winning the series yesterday with a final score of 9-4.  Cook started in place of Buchholz, who was hospitalized due to a gastrointestinal problem.  Cook gave up three runs, two earned, on six hits over five innings.  He walked none and struck out none.  Albers allowed another run in relief; other than that, Miller, Atchison, and Melancon performed well and took care of the rest of the game.  Ross hit a three-run shot in the fourth, followed by a solo shot by Gonzalez.  Middlebrooks brought another one in with a sac fly in the fifth, followed by another home run by Ross, this one for two runs.  Nava doubled in another run in the sixth, and Youk tripled in our final run in the seventh.

It turned out that that run would be the last that Youk would bring home and third base would be the last base that Youk would defend and that game would be the last that Youk would play in a Boston uniform.  He was traded yesterday with cash to cover the remainder of this year’s salary before that at-bat to the Other Sox for utility man Brent Lillibridge and right-hander Zach Stewart, who the team has been scouting apparently since his college days.

Even before the at-bat, the crowd knew it was probably their last time seeing this phenomenal player playing for them; they had already given him a well-deserved standing ovation before his first at-bat in the second, and Youk had already returned it with a tip of his helmet.  In classic dirt-dog fashion, Youk legged out that triple, admittedly with a little help from the Braves, and went into the slide, and the standing ovation that he received afterwards was huge, thunderous, and extremely well-deserved.  Punto came out to pinch-run, since Ben didn’t want him injured, and after an emotional hug, as the two have been friends for years and years through Athletes Performance in Arizona, Youk returned to the dugout.  He tipped his helmet and was greeted by everyone at the entrance for more hugs and then emerged for a curtain call for both the crowd and his teammates, initiated by none other than Big Papi himself.

On the day, Youk went two for four with the triple and the one RBI.  Obviously, he also walked once and was involved in a controversial defensive play in the third during which there was some concern that he may have sustained an injury but flashed his characteristic leather throughout.  Also obviously though, there is more to a player than his final at-bat for a ballclub.  Youk was more to us than a triple and some good plays at third.  We picked him in the eighth round of the First-Year Player Draft in 2001 and raised him ourselves on the farm, and his first year in the Majors culminated in a World Series ring, our first in eighty-six years; with this trade, Papi is now the only member of that team still playing for us today.  Three years later, he added another in 2007.  He finishes his career in Boston with a batting average of .287, an on-base percentage of .388, 728 strikeouts, twenty-six stolen bases in forty attempts, and 961 hits.  Of those, 239 were doubles, seventeen were triples, and 133 were homers.  He batted in 564 runs and scored 594.  He played in 953 games and accumulated 3,352 at-bats.  Last but not least offensively, two of the stats for which he is most renowned throughout Major League Baseball, he walked 494 times and was hit by eighty-six pitches.  Now that’s a combination of eyes and patience if I’ve ever seen it.

In addition to his offense, the second aspect to Youk’s incredible game as his fielding, and this was where his versatility really shone.  Youk was a fixture at the corners.  Both of them.  It is fitting that he ended his Boston career at the bag where he began it, but he will be remembered as someone who routinely crossed the diamond without a word or a hiccup.  His fielding percentage at third in 362 games and 320 starts is .966; his fielding percentage at first in 594 games and 546 starts is .997.  In his career thus far, he has also played second base, left field, and right field and has made 986 assists, 4,788 putouts, and only forty-four errors.

There are all sorts of comparisons to be made between his stats and those of other greats the game has seen, but he was such a unique player that he shines in his own right, which brings me to the third and final aspect of Youk’s game, which was his character and leadership off the field.  As is the case so often for veterans who have played here, he was an extremely classy player.  He gave everything he had for every single at-bat at the plate and every single play in the field; he was completely invested in the well-being of the team, as evidenced by his visible and often physical expressions of frustration at his recent lack of production.  Every extra-base hit he legged out, every diving play he made, every walk he worked, and every batting helmet he threw were all the result of a fierce desire to see this team succeed.  He was a terrific mentor to the younger guys, including his replacement even as he was conscious of the fact that he was being replaced, and had a fierce, determined, and committed will.  He earned every All-Star vote he ever received and represented us three times as someone who really embodied the spirit of what it means to play here.  He was committed to his teammates as well, as evidenced in their extremely heartfelt goodbyes.  Pedroia said he loves the guy, as do well all.

We all knew this was coming.  Youk was being sidelined by Middlebrooks constantly, and the lineup was all convoluted to try to fit him in, and he didn’t exactly get along with Bobby V., and the rumors were steady.  But putting all of that aside, it speaks volumes about the type of player but also the type of guy that Youk was that after a big win that gave us the best record we’ve had all year, the mood in the clubhouse was sad, somber, and serious.  Youk helped us win two World Series championships and gave his all to this team, this city, and this game.  To say that he will be missed is an extreme understatement.  Youk, we salute you.

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Let’s start with a recap of the end of two weeks ago.  On Thursday, Andrew Miller turned in his third quality outing of Spring Training against the Rays.  One hit and one K over one and a third innings.  Good for him; his previous outing wasn’t so quality.  Cameron returned to the lineup after sitting out with tendonitis in his left knee.  Obviously the biggest story was Crawford’s debut against his former team; he got a hit and made a spectacular diving catch to end the fourth.  Crawford even stole the show from Damon, who claims that he would have approved a trade to Boston if he knew that Detroit wouldn’t re-sign him.  I think he’s just saying that now because he sees a World Series-winning team.  Anyway, we lost, 8-6, and the rest of the game was a different story.  Dice-K gave up five hits and as many runs over three and two-thirds innings with two walks to lead off the game and two K’s.  Over his last six and two-thirds innings, he’s given up ten earned runs.  In three outings, he’s got an ERA of 11.42.  He is not concerned.  Tito isn’t concerned.  And if this were any time of the baseball-playing year besides Spring Training, they would be about the only two people not concerned.  But it is Spring Training, and Dice-K is taking some liberties that he otherwise wouldn’t.  I would suggest bearing with him.  He’s working on his changeup and cutter a lot this spring, and he wants to be more aggressive with the zone this year, so while he works on that, it could look ugly.  But now is not the time to worry.

We scored five runs in the first two innings of Fridays’ game against the Astros and won it, 9-3.  Scutaro and Pedroia were the only regulars in the game because the squad was split, but they took care of business.  Pedroia went two for three, both for extra bases, plus two RBIs, and a walk.  Meanwhile, it took Paps twenty-nine pitches to record one out and three walks and give up one hit and three runs.  And that’s how the Twins won, 3-2.  Crawford made an error.  Lester, however, fired off four spotless innings; he allowed four hits and struck out five.

Adrian Gonzalez batted third and manned first on Saturday in his debut against the Marlins.  He turned his first pitch into a single.  His second and last at-bat resulted in a sac fly.  And his goal is to play in every single game this year.  If he continues his good work, that’s fine with me.  Ellsbury and Pedroia both went three for three, the former with two doubles and a homer and the latter with a single.  Lackey gave up a run on six hits over four and two-thirds innings with three K’s and no walks.  Lackey threw forty-nine of seventy-five pitches for strikes.  We won, 9-2.  Saturday also marked the premiere of “Down the Line,” a documentary on MLB Network at Fenway’s staff.  Make no mistake; that is where the magic happens.  And according to a Major League source, the team has let it be known that they’re willing to trade Dice-K for a young catcher and Wakefield for a southpaw reliever.  Cameron and McDonald, in light of the options on Kalish and Reddick, could also be on the block, and the team may entertain offers for Scutaro.  Theo has denied all accuracy of this report, explicitly labeling it as false.  I’m going to listen to Theo for now.  At the very least, you can be confident that, given his full no-trade clause and salary and performance (or lack thereof), Dice-K will not be moving anytime soon.  Meanwhile, he’s changing his side schedule; instead of throwing both a long toss and his side session two days after each start, he’s going to throw a long toss the first day after his start, another the second, and his side session on the third.  This idea, of course, is courtesy of Curt Young.  At this point, I think I speak for all of Red Sox Nation when I say that it’s all well and good to know everything that’s going on with his various training adjustments and throwing adjustments and workout adjustments, but I just want them to find the problem with him and fix it as soon as possible.

The Pirates beat us, 9-4, on Sunday.  Beckett gave up a run on four hits through his first four innings.  Then he gave up a homer, a walk, a double, and a bases-loading hit-by-pitch in the fifth, and that was the end of that.  Fortunately for everybody, Beckett made an extra effort to incorporate his changeup, which has been the distinguishing feature of each of the best years of his career.  Unfortunately for everybody, he lost it last year.  So he’s trying to get it back this year.  Atchison then proceeded to allow all his inherited runners to score.  Bard’s inning was scoreless.

Buchholz and Wake both threw productive simulated games on Monday rather than face the Yankees for the second time this spring.  Meanwhile, we beat the Yankees, 2-1; Paps turned in a scoreless frame.

We beat the Tigers by the same score on Tuesday.  Dice-K two-hit Detroit through five innings while striking out five.  His curveball was absolutely unhittable.  On the field and at the plate, Ellsbury stole the show with a homer and a spectacular catch.  McDonald also homered as well as DH.

We barely lost to the Braves on Wednesday, 3-4.  Lester allowed three runs on eight hits over four and two-thirds innings.  He walked two and led off the game with three consecutive singles.  Scutaro went deep on the Braves’ second pitch of the game.  Salty hit an RBI double, and Reddick hit an RBI single.  V-Mart expressed thanks for his time in Boston and believes that Salty and Tek will do well.

We beat the Mets on Thursday, 8-5.  Lackey allowed a run on five hits over five and a third innings with two strikeouts and his first walk of Spring Training.  Paps got rocked; he gave up two consecutive doubles and four runs.  He insists that he knows exactly what his problem is.  Honestly, it’s not that hard to figure out: he’s not locating the zone right now.  Crawford went two for three with a steal.

We lost to the Tigers yesterday, 3-8.  Buchholz was not his best.  He gave up three runs, only one earned, on five hits with two walks and a strikeout.  That one earned run was the product of a homer that led off the second.  He retired the side in the fourth, but that was it for ease.  His mechanics were just off.  And you can thank Youk and Gonzalez for the unearned runs.  Pedroia homered for the first time this spring.

We followed that loss with two more today.  Wake allowed four homers, six runs on seven hits in total, and one walk in only three innings en route to a 3-7 loss to Tampa Bay.  Meanwhile, Beckett allowed one earned run and four unearned over four and two-thirds innings en route to a 5-7 loss to the Pirates.  Scutaro and Pedroia posted multi-hit games, and Wheeler’s appearance was scoreless.

We also completed our first round of roster cuts this past week, sending five down.  Our lineup, by the way, has more or less quietly taken shape: Ellsbury, Pedroia, Crawford, Gonzalez, Youk, Papi, Drew, Salty, and Scutaro have batted in that order during almost all full squad games this spring.  That’s not a real surprise; it follows my prediction pretty closely, and it’s a lineup built for success.  Tito is doing his best not to cluster the lefties too much and to spread the tools evenly.  Not to mention the fact that we are so stacked, it’s not even funny.  And we have officially finalized our pitching staff.  Lester got the nod to start on Opening Day.  As it should be.  Given his general sub-par game lately, not only should Beckett not be offended by that, but he should also not be surprised that he was dropped to fourth.  And Tito had his other reasons: he’d rather have Beckett start his season against the Indians than against the Rangers.  He is not happy.  He wanted the Opening Day nod, and he explicitly disagreed with the drop.  He doesn’t think that the extra time will matter much, and he’s a competitor, so naturally he doesn’t want to accept the fact that lately he’s been not good in a general sense.  Lackey is the Number Two, followed by Buchholz, and Dice-K of course will start fifth.  So as it stands now, Lackey will be pitching our home opener against the Yanks.  I’m just wondering why it’s Lackey followed by Buchholz and not the other way around.  I’m sure Tito has his reasons, but that one-two punch was almost unbeatable last year.  I wouldn’t want to split it up.

In other news, the Bruins lost to the Sabres in overtime on Thursday and to the Islanders on Friday.  We beat the Blue Jackets in a shootout on Tuesday but lost to the Predators in overtime on Thursday and to the Leafs today.

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We lost our Spring Training opener with the Twins, 8-4.  And this is the part where everyone collectively remembers how insignificant the outcomes of Spring Training games actually are.  They’re good workouts and warmups for the teams, and they’re essential for roster spot contests, but it really puts it in perspective for you when you see all the starters being unconditionally pulled by the fifth inning.  However, there are still observations to be made.  Beckett started and pitched two innings, allowing one run on two hits.  Buchholz followed with two scoreless frames.  Okajima followed with a truly uninspired performance, and Wheeler gave up a home run.

We beat the Twins on Monday, 7-6.  Dice-K started and allowed a hit in the first inning, but that was it for his two innings.  He threw twenty-five pitches, fourteen of which were strikes.  All in all, not too shabby.  Wake gave up three unearned runs, and Bard was terrible.  Papi went two for two with a home run.  In his debut, Crawford went 0 for 3.  More importantly, Beckett was hit in the head by a ball during batting practice in left field.  He’s been diagnosed with mild concussion symptoms, with an emphasis on the “mild.” He didn’t have to go to the hospital and was treated right at the park and was sent home to get some rest.  He was back at the park the next day feeling good, and although he missed his next start on Thursday, he simulated an outing on Friday.  It went well; he threw forty pitches over three innings to minor leaguers, and he’ll pitch again on Tuesday.  Twins fans will tell you after Morneau’s bought with his concussion last season that it’s the most frustrating injury a player could possibly have due to its unpredictability; it could be mild one day and severe the next, and you might think that a sting on the fifteen-day DL is enough but you end up on the sixty.  All I’m saying is that I’d rather he stay on the DL than be terrible and lose a whole bunch of games.  I’m also glad his back is still fine, because Beckett on the DL with a concussion is better than Beckett not on the DL with a bad back.  Recall all of last season.  But we should focus on the positive: it doesn’t look too serious, and it’ll affect his Spring Training, but perhaps by the time the regular season rolls around, he’ll be good to go.

We beat the Twins again on Tuesday, 5-0.  Lester cruised through his two innings, yielding one hit, one walk, and one K.  Paps pitched a one-two-three fifth.  Reddick and Lowrie each recorded an RBI, and Salty walked on eight pitches.

We lost to the Braves on Wednesday, 6-1.  Lackey gave up a run, a solo homer, on four hits during his two innings; he threw forty-one pitches, twenty-five for strikes.  He threw one two-seam, and the rest were all four-seams.  We saw this from him last spring as well; he pitches to contact so he’ll be healthy by the time Opening Day rolls around.  But he needs to find a balance between pitching to contact for that purpose and maintaining arm strength.  Ellsbury hit, Pedroia walked on a full count, and Papi had three hits and a stand-up stolen base.  Okajima struck out two in a perfect inning of work.

We were shut out by the Phillies on Thursday, 2-0.  Stolmy Pimentel filled in for Beckett.  Jenks debuted with a scoreless inning, and Wheeler allowed two hits.  Oh, and Ruben Amaro, Jr., the Phillies’ general manager, said that we’re the best team in the Majors.  Us.  Not them.  Us.  Keeping in mind of course that this is Spring Training, not a preview of October, so that doesn’t count for much.  Although I’m rather inclined to think that it does at least count for something.  At the very least, it’s someone recognizing what Red Sox Nation already knows.

On Friday, we beat the Yankees.  5-3.  I don’t care if it’s Spring Training, the regular season, or the postseason; I love beating the Yankees anytime, anywhere.  Buchholz pitched three scoreless innings.  Adrian Gonzalez took his first batting practice.  He took eighty swings, five more than his scheduled amount.  Everything looked good

On Saturday, the Marlins crushed us, 11-2.  Dice-K allowed seven runs, five earned on six hits.  It wasn’t pretty.  Wake gave up two runs on five hits in two and two-thirds innings of work.  Salty caught him for the first time and, given the fact that he’d hardly had any experience with knuckleballs in his career, he actually fared quite well.  Paps turned in a scoreless inning, and Jenks was impressive.  Meanwhile, Ellsbury and Crawford played into the seventh, with Crawford posting his first hit, against the Orioles.  He went two for three with a walk.

Lester was supposed to start today but he’s got the flu, so Michael Bowden will fill in.

One other thing.  Yes, the Cardinals failed to iron out a deal with Albert Pujols, despite the fact that he made it perfectly clear that he’s not interested in negotiating during the season.  Why they didn’t just fork over the cash, I have no idea.  It’s not like they could possibly spend it on anyone better.  Whether the Cards will actually allow Pujols of all people to reach free agency is unclear.  What is clear is that he is not coming to Boston.  No matter how great of a player he might be, it makes absolutely no sense to bring him here.  We just traded substantially for an awesome first baseman; we didn’t do that to purposefully not work out a deal with him, let him walk during free agency, and sign away all our financial resources for the next decade for one guy.  So, provided we keep Gonzalez, which is basically the whole point of that entire move, what would we do with Pujols? We could make him a DH, I guess.  But he’s thirty-one years old and headed for the Hall of Fame.  He’s not a DH.  He’s a first baseman.  And he is not coming to Boston.  But that’s fine.  We don’t need him.  What we do need is to work out a deal with Gonzalez before Pujols hits free agency so that Pujols in no way affects Gonzalez’s contract.  Gonzalez is awesome, like I said, but if we’re not going to sign away all our financial resources for the next decade to Pujols, we’re not going to sign away half our financial resources for the next decade on Gonzalez just because he’s the next best thing.  Will not happen.  I actually wouldn’t be surprised if the deal is already done but they’re keeping it quiet until after the season starts to minimize luxury tax ramifications.  The point is that we’re going to keep it reasonable and responsible.  That’s just how we roll.

In other news, the Bruins beat the Oilers and shut out the Sens, and beat the Lightning.  We lost to the Pens in overtime, but at least we got a point.  So we crushed this week.  By the way, we’re second in the Eastern Conference, two points behind the Flyers, but we’ll close that gap.  Yup.  This could be the year.

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Wow.  Just, wow.  Hugeness this week.  Trust me, there is epicness to discuss.

Beltre and Felipe Lopez both declined arbitration, but there is still hope for the former.  We all know that the A’s are offering Beltre a sweet deal, but he’s taking his equally sweet time in signing it.  He stated publicly that he wants to return to Boston, so he’s waiting to see what Theo’s got.

It turns out that what Theo’s got is a seriously awesome replacement.  Adrian Gonzalez, welcome to Boston! Finally! He went to Boston yesterday for a physical to make sure his right shoulder is on track after his surgery, and he passed.  We’ll be sending Anthony Rizzo, Casey Kelly, outfielder Reymond Fuentes, and a player to be named later to the Padres, which fortunately shouldn’t hurt our farm system too much because last year’s draft was so successful.  Although it’ll be rough to see them all go.  The important thing to keep in mind about prospects is that you never know.  They could be awesome like Hanley Ramirez.  Or they could be terrible like Craig Hansen.  We already know what Adrian Gonzalez is capable of at the Major League level.

There’s room for a contract extension; Gonzalez is entering the last year of his current deal and we already acquired permission from Major League Baseball to hammer out a new one by this afternoon.  That didn’t happen, so Theo might wait to watch his shoulder in the spring, and of course there are the luxury tax implications.  But he won’t be giving up all those top prospects if he weren’t assured that an extension could be worked out, which would give us stability at all three bags.  Given Gonzalez’s age, anything from five to eight years can be considered feasible.  We offered six, but he wanted eight.  So there you go.

But one thing’s for sure: celebration is indeed in order.  Gonzalez will succeed in Boston.  His lefty swing was practically built exclusively for Fenway Park, and he was able to excel in a quintessential pitcher’s park.  Seriously.  Most of his fly balls in Petco would’ve been out in Fenway.  That’s why I’m convinced that he’ll get over his National League-ness in a hurry.  By the way, he’s got two Gold Gloves at first.  And he started almost every single game for about the last five years.  Without DHing once.  So here’s to you, Theo.  Two years later, you finally closed the deal.  And the fact that the Padres’ general manager and assistant general manager of scouting and player development both used to work with Theo is the icing on the cake that didn’t necessarily work to our advantage since they basically knew our farm system inside-out.  Gonzalez will play first and replace V-Mart’s bat, we’ll move Youk to third, and Beltre, who’s older anyway, will now probably sign with the A’s.  The deal is done on principle.  All they need to do is announce it on Monday at Fenway and that’s it.  The Adrian Gonzalez Era in Boston has begun!

One more thing.  Fundamentally this deal was not about New York; it’s about us, our team, our organization, and our hunger.  But while we’re on the subject, I would just like to point out that, not only is Adrian Gonzalez the answer to Mark Teixeira, but we now have a young infield that’s locked and entering its prime while the Yanks have guys on the downward slope of their careers.  I’m just saying.  I would advise New York to be afraid.  Very afraid.

Tek signed a one-year deal with two million dollars plus incentives; those rumors about him going to the Dodgers couldn’t have been more wrong.  They started circulating because the Dodgers had to decide whether to tender Russell Martin, who’s awesome except for injuries.  We didn’t tender Okajima, given his poor performance last season, but we already tendered Paps and will be making offers to Ellsbury and Taylor Buchholz.  Rumor has it that we made an offer to Mariano Rivera before he signed a two-year deal with the Yanks.  The Yanks seem to be avenging this action by showing interest in Carl Crawford to drive up his price.  I honestly don’t think the offer to Rivera was serious.  And I honestly don’t think New York’s interest in Crawford is serious.  Unless they don’t get Cliff Lee.  If Lee stays in Texas, New York might seriously start looking at Crawford because they could always deal Brett Gardner for a starter.

Pedroia’s foot is almost at one hundred percent.  He’s been cleared to jog and will be ready for Spring Training.  We have officially met with both Crawford and Werth, who, according to Dwight Evans, is the best right fielder in baseball and similar to himself.  This is Dwight Evans, people.  That’s seriously high praise.

Not that that’s going to help anyone.  Not even Werth himself.  Werth is now officially out of the picture and off the deep end.  He signed a deal for seven years and 126 million dollars.  With the Washington Nationals.  I’m not kidding.  That tells me two things: one, he’s not hungry, and two, he’s essentially a fool.  He’s not going to win a ring with the Nats, and seven years from now, when his contract is up, he won’t be starter material, which is obviously something that the Nationals don’t care about.  So his ring with the Phillies will be the last of his career as a starter.  If he wanted security, he sure got it.  He knows where he’ll be for the majority of the next decade, and he’s getting a whole heap of money for it.  To be honest with you, he would have been great in a Boston uniform, but I wouldn’t want someone only interested in money and years to play for us.  Especially not someone who would ever seriously consider both money and years with the Nationals.  I mean, they’re the Nationals.  Not only are they National League, they’re the worst in the National League; in fact, they’re the worst in the Major Leagues.

But wait; it gets better.  He says he’s been considering signing with the Nats since hiring Scott Boras as his agent last season.  Let me get this straight: he hired Scott Boras to get him a deal with the Washington Nationals.  That’s ridiculous.  Why would you hire Scott Boras to cut a deal with the Nationals? Jayson Werth doesn’t need an agent to negotiate a deal with the Washington Nationals; Jayson Werth can walk up to the Washington Nationals, write down a year amount and a dollar amount on a piece of paper, hand it to whoever is spearheading the process, and receive a “yes” to everything in five seconds flat.  He says he’s impressed with the Nats’ acquisition of young talent? Give me a break.  Nobody expects all that young talent to stay there; as soon as they’re able, they’re writing one-way tickets into free agency and out of town.  And then he went on this tangent in which he basically implied that he only signed with the Nationals because they assured him that they’d continue to acquire the talent necessary to compete and win, because that is very important to him.  Oh, sure.  If it’s that important to him, he would not have signed with the Nationals.  So they present their future plans to him and he asks questions about the team.  Great.  Now let’s see the Nationals follow that plan, the young talent stay put, and Werth stay in shape long enough to merit his salary at the end of his contract.  I don’t think so.

We signed starter Brandon Duckworth to a minor league deal.  He was part of the Billy Wagner trade.  We are supposedly interested in reliever Matt Guerrier.

Oh, and I fully expect Mike Cameron to morph into some sort of hitting specialist against lefties, being that many of the AL East’s elite pitchers are lefties and some of our middle bats struggled against lefties last season.  The only potential hindrance to that expectation is playing time.  Cameron has the potential to get rolling, but he can’t get rolling if he never gets going.

The Spring Training schedule is out.  We’re opening with an exhibition doubleheader with Boston College followed by Northeastern.  March features competition with Minnesota, Atlanta, Philly, both New York teams, Florida, Baltimore, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Toronto, and Houston.

On Saturday, Sox Pax and tickets for twenty-one games in April and May will go on sale.

Get psyched.  The Winter Meetings are starting on Monday, and they’re going to be very interesting.  And by interesting I also mean hectic, since most of the important offseason deadlines have moved up.  Theo has his work cut out for him; we have a bat to replace V-Mart, but we’ll need another, preferably a righty, to replace Beltre since he’ll sign elsewhere, and relievers.  Good ones.  We’ve already made a splash; the key is to fill the club’s needs without removing all of our flexibility for next year.

In other news, the Bruins dropped Sunday’s game to the Thrashers, 1-4.  But then we shut out the Flyers, three-zip, and completely decimated the Lightning, 8-1.  Krejci and Ryder each racked up three points.  It was awesome.  If this were baseball, that would be considered a slugfest.  Then we lost in a shootout to the Leafs, but at least we get a point.  The Pats take on the Jets tomorrow.

NESN.com

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The offseason started.  We waited.  The offseason progressed.  We waited.  Our free agents filed.  We waited some more.  The GM meetings ended, and still we waited.  The Winter Meetings started, and we waited.  Things looked bleak.  Were we destined for waiting through the entire offseason? Would we open 2010 without a single big addition? Was Theo Epstein all talk but no game?

Not a chance.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the newest member of the Boston Red Sox: John Lackey! Five years and eighty-five million dollars later, we signed the dude who helped usher us out of the playoffs.  But that’s okay with me.  I’d much rather be on the throwing end of the first-pitch-strike machine than on the receiving end.

This is good.  This is very good.  Think about it: a Lester-Beckett-Lackey starting rotation.  That rotation, my friends, will win championships for sure.  Seriously.  Put those three names in a sentence and you’re talking about what is perhaps the most formidable starting rotation in all of Major League Baseball.

Let’s talk about the contract, because we need to get this out of the way.  Eighty-five dollars is a lot of money to spend on a pitcher, but it’s not something we haven’t done before.  We spent at least that amount on Dice-K, between the “right-to-talk” fee and his salary.  The difference is that there’s no negotiating fee here; it’s all going in Lackey’s pocket.  He’ll earn seventeen million per season.  Make no mistake: that’s a lot.  And I know what you’re thinking: now we’ll have to deal with the pulling of the payroll card.  And you’d be right.  But here’s the kicker: technically that card can’t be pulled.  Looking at 2009, the Yankees obviously had the highest payroll.  We weren’t even second or third.  We were fourth, behind the Mets and Cubbies.  And if you look at the disparity between our payroll and the Yanks’, it’s quite considerable.  And even after we start sending Lackey’s paychecks, that’ll still hold.  But wait; there’s more.  Look at the top twenty-five player salaries for last season.  You’ve got A-Rod at the top making thirty-three million (which is ridiculous, by the way), followed by Manny Ramirez, followed by Derek Jeter, followed by Mark Teixeira.  The Yankees are represented six times on that list; the other teams are the Dodgers, Mets, Astros, Tigers, Cubs, Angels, Giants, Braves, Rockies, Mariners, and Phillies.  You will notice that Boston does not appear once on that list.  Not once.  John Lackey will change that, but he won’t even make the top ten.  He’d be somewhere around thirteenth, maybe fourteenth.  Which puts us in league with teams like the Giants, Mariners, Rockies, and Phillies.  Not necessarily the names that first come to mind when you think of big spenders.  All this is to say that just because we’re going to have someone on that list doesn’t mean we’re like the Yankees, even though there will be plenty of people out there who would like to make that claim.  (By the way, just in case someone also tries to convince you that this is exactly like New York signing AJ Burnett for five years and roughly eighty-two million, I would urge you to remember that AJ Burnett was not, is not, and never will be John Lackey.  There is a huge difference, one that will be made painfully obvious to New York in due time.) It just means our general manager is a genius, because not only is this pitcher actually good, but we get him without shipping all our top prospects off to Anaheim.  Thanks, Theo! In you we trust.

This directly affects our ability to sign Jason Bay.  It means we don’t have the ability to sign Jason Bay.  Once it became obvious that he was looking for an offer we just couldn’t provide, we diverted our attention, and finances, elsewhere.  Basically, we took the money we would’ve used to re-sign Bay and used it to land Lackey.  Who will play left field? Mike Cameron, who signed a two-year deal worth about fifteen million, which would probably have amounted to less than one year’s worth of Bay’s salary.  So Cameron and Lackey were basically a package deal.  We spent so much money on Lackey, we didn’t even have enough left over to sign Holliday, so we had to make do.  And I personally would rather have Lackey and Cameron than Bay for five years.  There are two ways to win: pitching and offense.  Right now the Sox have both.  Without Bay, our offense will take a hit, but Lackey will make up for that in pitching.

Besides, Cameron has his advantages.  He’s ridiculously consistent; no matter what team he’s on or league he’s in, he’ll give you around twenty homers, eighty RBIs, a .250-ish average, and an OPS in the neighborhood of .800.  And he’s patient; he saw 3.96 pitches per plate appearance last year, almost identical to Bay’s 3.99.  He may not steal as often as he used to, but he’s still better than Bay on the basepaths.  And let’s not forget one of his most significant assets: his defense.  Cameron is a phenomenal outfielder.  While it is true that he’s played out his career in center (three Gold Gloves in that position), ability is ability, and if we move him to left, I think he’ll adapt nicely.  Either way, we need the defense.  Let’s face it: we weren’t exactly excelling in that area last year, and I don’t think I need to remind anyone the significance of good defense in our win in 2004.  I’m just saying.  Defense, at this point, seems to be the name of our offensive game.

Incidentally, Roy Halladay is also off the market, gone to Philly just like he probably would have had JP Ricciardi been able to hammer out a deal at the trade deadline.  Cliff Lee goes to Seattle to complete the deal.  Also, the Lowell trade is currently stalling due to Lowell’s thumb injury.  Really? The thumb injury? The hip isn’t the issue; it’s the thumb that’s holding up the deal? It’s not even an injury; it’s a sprain! And he started all three games of the ALDS with it! Along this vein, talks with Adrian Gonzalez yielded nothing; the Padres don’t want to deal him before the season starts.  Rest assured, however, that if they decide to shop him, calls will be made.  Meanwhile, it turns out that Beltre wouldn’t be such a bad alternative.  His defense is solid as a rock, not to mention the fact that his production on the road is through the roof compared to Lowell’s.  And finally, the 2010 season starts with and in Boston.  The first game of the season will take place on April 4 at Fenway; we’ll play the Yanks.  This is going to be epic, even if the schedule won’t be.  We have a game on Sunday night, then two days off, then the rest of that series with New York in Boston and then it’s off to Kansas City (who has the All-Star Game in 2012 which, try as I might, I just can’t seem to forget).  To make matters worse, it’ll be broadcast on ESPN2.  I would be so much more annoyed if I weren’t so psyched that we’re inching closer and closer to next season.  You know baseball’s around the corner when you started talking about opening schedules.

The Bruins lost to the Flyers yesterday.  Great.  We’re now four points behind the Sabres.  On the upside, the Pats bested the Panthers with a cool 20-10 score.  On a different note, I’ll be taking a break for about two weeks.  Aside from the Flyers game, life is good in Boston sports.  Life is most definitely good.

Sox Tea Party

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It’s time to say goodbye to Mike Lowell; have fun in Texas.  Let me say this: it’s been one seriously great ride.  He was the 2007 World Series MVP for a reason, but unfortunately age happens.  He was the epitome of professionalism.  Talk about classy guys.  Mikey Lowell, ladies and gentlemen, was just about the classiest guy you could find, and his presence in the clubhouse will surely be missed.  Get ready for a standing ovation.  But like I said, age happens, and Theo does have a job to do.  It’s unfortunate that we have to send him off like this, but what other option do we have? The trade would give us catching prospect Max Ramirez, who’s leading the Venezuela Winter League in home runs.  But he’s had some wrist problems, so we’ll have to wait for his medical records to clear.  Then the question becomes, who will replace him? Or conversely, who’ll play first base, being that Youk can move over to third.  And as a result, Youk could save us a lot of money; the market doubles for us because of that flexibility, so we have the freedom to pick and choose someone who’s right for us and who comes at the right price.  I’ve heard we’re talking to Adrian Beltre, but believe me, I would be infinitely more enthusiastic about us talking to Adrian Gonzalez.

Remember Manny Delcarmen’s tragedy of a second half? Turns out he had shoulder fatigue for three months and didn’t say anything about it until September 30.  That’s just infuriating.  I mean, I don’t really know what to do with that.  Theo had him receive a cortisone shot that same night, but after the car accident he was dropped from the postseason roster anyway.  But that’s not the point.  Either you want to help your team win, or you want to help your team win.  If something’s going on, your team has a right to know, no matter how badly you want to play.  As a fan, it’s hard not to play what-if in these situations; with a healthy Delcarmen down the stretch, who knows what would’ve happened.

In an attempt to cover the holes in our bullpen made by the Braves, we signed Scott Atchison to a one-year deal with two options.  He spent the last two seasons in Japan and previous pitched for the Giants.  He had an ERA above four that year.  Whatever; he’s another option, and a bullpen built around options and flexibility is a bullpen poised to win a championship.  Besides, we still have Paps, Bard, Ramirez, and a hopefully healthy Delcarmen.  I think we’ll be okay.

We also acquired Boof Bonser from the Twins for pitching prospect Chris Province.  Bonser isn’t great.  He has a career ERA above five and missed all of last season due to labrum and rotator cuff tears.  But he adds depth to the staff; he’ll have a chance to try for a depth spot in the rotation.  But more likely, think of him as 2010’s Paul Byrd but with one conspicuous difference: the name.  The Boston Red Sox now have a pitcher named “Boof.” Add this to Red Sox Nation’s to-do list for the offseason: preparing to take Boof Bonser seriously come April.

The Yankees traded for Curtis Granderson.  Let’s remind ourselves that this was no feat of business managerial genius.  The Tigers, affected by Detroit’s suffering economy, couldn’t carry his salary anymore.  That’s the theme of this offseason for them; they lost Edwin Jackson, too.  They got four players in return who aren’t as good as either and probably never will be.  It’s a sad situation, but one the rest of the baseball world is taking note of.  Point being that if you’re in need of some talent but want it on the cheap through trade, talk to Detroit.  I’ll bet they’d be willing to listen.

And perhaps most importantly, the Jason Bay plot thickens.  Our offer of four years worth sixty million dollars was rejected because he wants a fifth year.  But we’ve publicly stated our commitment to not offering a fifth year; in fact, we’ve said that if someone else offers him a fifth year, we’re just going to assume that he’s leaving Boston and that’s it.  So far, the Mets haven’t done so; their offer was comparable to ours.  The Mariners are also unlikely to offer the fifth year; they’re more interested in keeping Beltre or signing Lackey.  The Angels have more or less dropped out in order to focus on pitching.  And the Yankees just acquired Granderson.  So more waiting seems to be in line.  Bay wanted to test the free agent market, and he’s testing it.  He’s looking for something specific and good luck to him trying to find it.  I’d rather watch him walk away than break the bank.  In fact, if he doesn’t take a more flexible approach, he could find himself in a bind, because guess who’s also a free agent: Matt Holliday.  And guess who the Red Sox are also interested in: Matt Holliday.  Holliday played pretty well for Oakland.  He struggled at the plate initially, which is to be expected from a guy coming over from not only the National League but Coors Field, with all that thin air.  (Which is something you have to keep in mind when looking at Holliday’s career stats, by the way.) In the end, I agree with Curt Schilling: I’d go with Bay because he’s been tested and proven.  All I’m saying is that the presence of Holliday, who unfortunately is represented by Boras, could soften Bay up a bit (in addition to jacking up his own paycheck because until Bay cuts teams some slack, Holliday would effectively be considered the only available elite left-fielder).  So could our reported interest in Mike Cameron, who would be more than happy to switch from center to left for us.  That’s not likely, but it’s a possibility.  But we’d only seriously consider him after both Bay and Holliday become unavailable, and something tells me that may not be an issue.

Casey Kelly has made a decision: he’s going to pitch.  No more shortstop for him.  I completely agree.  The mound will write his one-way ticket to the big leagues; if he decided to play short, we’d be talking a two-way.

Welcome to NESN, Peter Gammons! He signed a multiyear contract as a regular studio analyst and reporter.  This is fantastic.  Personally, I always thought it was funny that such a prominent representative of Red Sox Nation reported for ESPN, which doesn’t have a major presence in Boston.  Well, the world rights itself eventually, I guess.  And I’ll tell you one thing: Peter Gammons must be thrilled, because any television network is better than ESPN for baseball analysts.  I mean, have you seen “Baseball Tonight?” (If you have, let me applaud you for somehow finding out when it’s on TV.) It’s over by the time it starts, so the analysts never have time to convey any real information.  It really makes you appreciate NESN.

Congratulations to Bill James, who’ll receive the Judge Emil Fuchs Memorial Award for “long and meritorious service to the game.” He’ll be in good company; Hank Aaron and Jim Rice have also received it.  And Bill James definitely deserves it after revolutionizing baseball with his sabermetric approach.  I’m telling you: this game, let alone our team, wouldn’t be where it is today without him.

The Bruins beat the Leafs, 5-2, but lost to the Isles in sudden death.  How we can score five goals against the Leafs and lose to the Isles is beyond me.  The Leafs and Isles are comparable teams, with the Isles only two points ahead.  (Can you believe that? The New York Islanders are third in their division.  Don’t get me wrong; I’m thrilled that the Flyers are at the bottom of the barrel, but I never would’ve expected the Islanders to be anywhere but under the whole conference.) We’ve dropped to second, by the way.  Two points behind the Sabres.  We should get back up within the coming days.  The Patriots lost to the Dolphins by a point.  A point! The final score was 22-21! It was just awful.  That’s our fourth loss this season and our second in a row.  It pains me to say this, but the Pats are officially on a losing streak.  That must be stopped.

ArmchairGM

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Finally, it starts to get interesting.

Pitching is Theo’s top priority at the Winter Meetings.  It looks like we’re shifting our focus from Roy Halladay to John Lackey.  That’s very good news.  I don’t want to give up both Clay Buchholz and Casey Kelly for a pitcher who is, in all likelihood, past his prime.  Yes, it’s possible he could be another Randy Johnson, who won four straight Cy Youngs after turning thirty-five, or Curt Schilling, who was a Cy Young runner-up three times after turning thirty-three.  But it’s also possible that he just won’t deliver or that he’ll become a medical liability or, worse yet, the dreaded combination of both.  (See Randy Johnson in pinstripes.  Talk about disasters.) And if you compare the two, Roy Halladay doesn’t even enjoy a complete edge in the numbers.  In his career, he started and won more games, struck out more batters, and had a lower ERA, OPP AVG, and WHIP.  But Lackey’s gone the distance more often (which translates to durability, one of Lackey’s strongest assets) and has allowed fewer earned runs, home runs, bases on balls, and hit batters.  And we land Lackey this offseason, it would be through a signing, not a trade, so we wouldn’t have to mortgage our future.  Besides, we theoretically have some money left over from our decision to not pick up Alex Gonzalez’s option.

Supposedly, we’re also seriously pursuing Rich Harden.  I like that less.  He’s got a 3.39 career ERA with 783 strikeouts and a record of fifty and twenty-nine, but he’s never thrown two hundred innings in a season and has only made more than twenty-six starts once.  Durability? Not so much.  But he’d be a good bargain option, arguably a better one than Smoltz or Penny, because he’s pitched in the American League.

Speaking of pitching, the Braves cleaned out two of our peripheral relievers.  Wagner signed a one-year deal worth seven million dollars to close for them.  I would’ve liked to see him come back to Boston, but he did give us fair warning that he wanted to close, and we don’t exactly have a vacancy in that position.  One day later, the Braves signed Saito also, to a one year deal worth just over three million plus incentives.  I’m not too torn up about it.

Say hello to the latest shortstop to don a Boston uniform: Marco Scutaro.  If I sound cynical, it’s because I am.  He’s wearing Number 16; the last Boston shortstop to wear Number 16 was Edgar Renteria, so here’s hoping this time around will work out a little bit better.  Let’s not kid ourselves: he’s a veteran.  He’s a career .265 hitter with fifty home runs, 294 RBIs, and 297 walks to his credit.  But he’s thirty-four years old.  There’s a reason why the deal was only for two years.  It’s worth eleven million dollars plus a dual option.  Things that made this possible: the draft pick we’re getting from the Braves that will offset the one we have to give to the Jays, another undisclosed team pushing hard for Scutaro that forced the issue, and Scurato has reached that point in his career when he really wants a ring.  (Ironically, Alex Gonzalez signed a one-year deal with the Jays earlier, worth close to three million plus an option.) Either way, we now have a shortstop who is not Dustin Pedroia.

That needs to be cleared up once and for all.  Dustin Pedroia said he would be willing to play shortstop if the team needed him to.  But the team wasn’t about to let that happen.  Trust me.  You don’t move a Gold Glove second baseman to short because you don’t want to spend some money.  You don’t do that for a number of reasons.  Not the least of which is the fact that it doesn’t solve anything.  Fine; you move your second baseman to short.  Now you need a second baseman.  Sure, the market for second basemen is more fluid than that for shortstops, but not when you’re talking about second basemen as good as Dustin Pedroia.  Also, the caliber of Pedroia’s defense at short would be comparable to, if not worse than, any career shortstop on the market, with the obvious exception of Julio Lugo.  Thirdly, shortstop is no defensive walk in the park.  It’s the most difficult infield position.  And that means it carries a higher probability of injury, especially for someone who’s not used to it.  So we would have lost valuable playing time from him, both in the field and at the plate, had he made the switch.  Would he have been capable of doing so? Absolutely.  If anyone could, Dustin Pedroia could.  If there’s one ballplayer who embodies the don’t-tell-me-I-can’t-‘cause-I’ll-show-you-I-can attitude, it’s him.  Not to mention the fact that in 2003 he was the NCAA National Defensive Player of the Year at short.  And he’s actually in a better position to play shortstop at the Major League level now than he was when he first came up, due to his offseason workouts and in-season conditioning that have made him lighter and faster.  But even though he’d use his baseball acumen to compensate, his range would leave much to be desired.  And sometimes, in pressure situations in that part of the field, the range of the shortstop is what it comes down to.  It would have put considerable pressure on Mike Lowell to improve his range as compensation, that’s for sure.  So while I’m not doubting Pedroia’s ability to make the switch, I don’t think it would be a good for him or the team in the long run.  The team wasn’t actually serious about that possibility anyway.  Ultimately, Theo never would have allowed it.  Thankfully, it’s a moot point now either way.

But that would explain our earlier interest in Placido Polanco.  After the Tigers declined to offer him arbitration, we made a call or two.  But like I said, we don’t need a second baseman, and even if we did, he was all but off-limits.  The Phillies have since closed the deal.  So much for Chone Figgins, who ended up signing a four-year deal with Seattle.

Last but not least, we extended arbitration to Bay earlier this week.  (We declined offers to Baldelli and Byrd.) That means that, even if he signs with someone else, we get compensatory draft picks.  So the saga continues.

Congratulations to Joe Castiglione, Dave O’Brien, and Jerry Remy for landing on the ballot for the Hall of Fame’s Frick Award, honoring the baseball’s best announcers.  They definitely deserve it.

We beat the Lightning and the Leafs.  Not so much the Habs.  We lost, 1-5, to Montreal.  Ugh.  That was just an awful game to watch.  Even with that loss, though, we’re in first place in the Northeast! Finally! One point ahead of the Sabres, but I’ll take it.  But the most significant B’s news this week has nothing to do with wins and losses.  Marc Savard signed a seven-year extension.  Ladies and gentlemen, that could very well be the highlight of the regular season.  It’s going to have a hugely positive impact it’s going to have on our future.  There is arguably no other center in the league who is as multi-faceted and deeply talented as Marc Savard.  Things aren’t as cheerful on the football front.  Talk about awful games to watch.  The Saints defeated us, 38-17.  Yeah.  Awful.

Boston Globe Staff/Jim Davis

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