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Posts Tagged ‘Casey Kotchman’

Buffalo Springfield and I were totally right.  I love being right when being right is a good thing.  Before yesterday’s game, Buchholz had gone through what Lester went through right after the All-Star break: a slump.  The two were strikingly similar.  Lester’s was four games and Buchholz’s was three, but in both situations you had young pitchers who’d been solid all year but who suddenly had to battle to make their signature pitches work, but to no avail.  Both of them even had utter shellackings to their credit.  The only difference is that it was entirely new experience for Lester, while Buchholz is very well acquainted with ugliness from his lost year of 2008.

The game kicked off with an out for Buchholz, but a gem of a defensive play got the ball rolling (no pun intended).  A ball was hit that looked like it was headed for left field, but somehow Navarro used all his powers of timing to literally leap into the air as high as he could possibly go and snag the ball.  That may be the highest such leap I’ve seen in that situation.  He barely got his glove on it; he was holding the ball with the top of the glove, barely keeping it in there.  Not bad for a callup.  Not bad at all.

Fortunately, last night was Buchholz ending his slump, five days after his complete and total implosion in Oakland.  One thing we’ve learned this year is that starting pitching is absolutely crucial, so it was vitally important that he return to form as soon as possible.  And he most definitely returned to form.  He won for the sweep.  One run on four hits over seven innings with three walks and six K’s says he’s back.  And that one run was the result of his only mistake of the entire night.  Seriously.  He only threw one bad pitch his whole night, a fastball exactly in the middle of the strike zone, and Branyan hit it out, but other than that he was rock-solid.  And efficient; he needed only 109 pitches to crush.  His ERA is now down to 2.48.  He can also thank V-Mart for that, who in the second inning with runners on second and third fired to Beltre to pick off Kotchman.  It was perfectly executed.  Kotchman had absolutely no chance whatsoever.

Buchholz’s fastball was impressively vivacious.  He worked it up to ninety-six miles per hour, and on top of that he put some life on it.  He’s not known for heat, but he’s certainly very capable of it.  His changeup was excellent, and his slider and curveball were really sharp.  He threw twenty-seven pitches in the sixth, a game high, but bounced back in the seventh before he was relieved.

He was relieved by Okajima, who allowed two hits but no runs in the eighth.  Atchison pitched a perfect ninth.

The offense had given Buchholz room to work.  Beltre answered Branyan’s homer with one of his own.  It was huge.  It was an enormous missile to left, and we’re talking upper deck here.  It was a blast in every sense of the word, and you knew the ball was headed out the minute his knee hit the ground.  That’s his twenty-eighth of the year.  It was a changeup up and in, and believe me, it was duly clobbered.

In the sixth, Papi scored on Figgins’s fielding error.  Nava chopped one toward Figgins, so he tried to get behind it but ran out of time to position himself, and the ball went through his legs.  I think I speak for all of Red Sox Nation when I say that that will always be a chilling phrase.  The bad news is that Papi later left the game with a stiff neck.  I can’t believe this.  I really can’t.  In the seventh, V-Mart doubled in two.  He’s been impressive against southpaws this year, now batting .402 with nine long balls and thirty RBIs in 132 at-bats.  In the eighth, Kalish tripled in one by barely sneaking the ball past Kotchman down the first base line.  And just like that, we won it, 5-1.  We swept a series!

I don’t care if anyone says that we’ve had a soft schedule recently; baseball is baseball, and we are playing it well.  I don’t know where this baseball is coming from.  This is the kind of baseball we’ve been waiting to play all season.  We started playing it right before we started dropping like flies, and somehow we have some sort of groove back.  It’s absolutely fantastic.  And it makes you think.  Listen, I’ve never been a naysayer, and keeping the faith always makes me optimistic, but even if you’re skeptical, you have to believe that something’s going on here.  We’re on a four-game winning streak, the Yankees are losing, we’re six games out, we have sixteen games left, and six of those are against New York.  I’m just saying.  We’re off today, and tomorrow we’re hosting the Jays at home.  Let’s see how we do.

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Lackey must have taken a page from Buchholz’s book.  Last night, he borrowed a piece of The Zone.  That was easily his best start of the season.  Ladies and gentlemen, I think we just witnessed a preview of what we’re getting next year.  And if last night is what we can expect from Lackey next year on a regular basis, we have a lot to look forward to.

In eight innings, he gave up three runs, two earned, on six hits while walking two and striking out a season-high ten, all on 112 pitches, seventy-six of which were strikes.  That’s a sixty-eight percent strike rate.  No wonder he was so efficient.  He used six pitches: the changeup, slider, curveball, cutter, and both fastballs, and all of them were basically unhittable.  His cutter was his worst pitch, and he still threw it for a strike sixty-three percent of the time.  The zone was packed.  He now leads the team in quality starts with sixteen.  The strange thing about the year that Lackey has had is that he goes deep in games all the time, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he walks away with a win.  Usually if a starter stays deep in a game, it’s because he’s got a W on the way.  Not necessarily so with Lackey.  Often he just hasn’t been backed by enough offense to lock it up.  He just goes deep into most games because he can.  It’s just what he does.  When Dice-K had that minor tiff with the training staff in the offseason about their training program, he said that the endurance he built up while constantly just throwing the ball in Japan was the reason for his success.  Lackey is almost a manifestation of that.  His normal pitch count is not one hundred; Tito doesn’t just automatically take him out after he’s fired his hundredth pitch.  Lackey will usually stay to throw 115; by count alone, Tito would probably remove him around 120.  So he gives Tito as a manager a lot of flexibility with the bullpen.

But that’s only half the story.  The other half is Scutaro.  He got us on the board with the lead in the fifth with a two-RBI single with the bases loaded.  He is now six for eleven with the bases loaded this year.  Lowrie may have bobbled a single in the third that resulted in Lackey’s unearned run, but he took second when his own fly ball was mishandled and eventually came around to score.  Then Drew singled in Nava for the third run of the inning.

Unfortunately for Lackey, the Mariners copied us in the sixth.  Lackey made an error that loaded the bases, and Kotchman partially unloaded them with a two-RBI single of his own.

We got really lucky with those errors.  Actually, it wasn’t so much luck as it was an offense that was getting the job done.  Otherwise, those errors could have amounted to something.  Making errors is a dangerous game that I really don’t like to see played.

We posted another three-spot in the seventh, when Scutaro hit another two-RBI single and then scored a run on V-Mart’s sac fly.  So he finished the night two for four with four RBIs despite his inflamed right rotator cuff.  On the bright side, he’s not on the DL.

Paps recorded his thirty-first save.

I should also mention the spectacular throw by Kalish in the second.  Kotchman hit a ball to left center and tried to stretch it into a double, but by the time he started sliding into second base, the ball was waiting for him, and he was tagged out.  Kalish has some arm on him.

Salty was released from the hospital and will do some rehab in Pawtucket.

The Yankees finally lost, so we gain.  Beckett is pitching tonight.  I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that.  There used to be a time when you saw Beckett’s name on the sortable schedule and you knew we were going to win.  Now you see Beckett’s name on the sortable schedule and you watch precisely because you have absolutely no idea how it will turn out, and you want to see how it all unfolds.  If it’s good, you just watched yourself a good ballgame.  If it’s bad, you’re fan enough to handle it.  Either way, we need the win, so let’s make sure we get it.

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And again, the frustration continues.  Again, mostly as a result of a single play.  Ironically, this one had the same flavor of another play that destroyed an entire game made by his teammate, also a pitcher, acquired in the same deal: Dice-K looking to third and failing to throw to first base that one time.

This time, it was Okajima who made the pitching mistake and then had the play at third but hesitated and threw too late to first.

Dice-K, for his part, pitched swimmingly.  He tossed six complete frames gave up a run on four hits, walked five, and struck out four.  So he regressed a bit as far as his Houdini act was concerned with the walks, but as long as he minimizes the damage and pitches well, who are we to fix what isn’t broken.  Getting out of jams is a rare talent.  It was a quality start, at 110 pitches the consistency of his efficiency is improving, and he mixed his pitches quite nicely.  His curveball was his most effective pitch, followed by his slider, followed by his cutter, followed by his most frequent pitch: the fastball.  He topped out at ninety-three miles per hour.

He threw twenty-eight pitches in the third but gave up only one run in the inning, the game’s first.  He threw only eight pitches in the sixth, by far his best, which is good because performing that well in his last inning shows his endurance and durability.  He uncorked a wild pitch and definitely threw some crazy ones at the upper left and lower right corners of the zone, but when he threw in the zone, he focused on the left three quarters of it.

Dice-K left with a 2-1 lead, courtesy of an RBI double by Youk and an RBI single by Beltre in the fourth.  Bard came on for a hold in the seventh.  And it all start with a single by Drew, who is now batting second because he can get on base.  That was it.  We didn’t even manage to get any hits for the next four frames.  Now, because Dice-K came out in the sixth, Bard came in for the seventh instead of the eighth.  If Dice-K had come out in the seventh, Bard would have come out for the eighth, and the outcome of the game would perhaps have been very different.  I’m just saying.

Tito left Bard in for the beginning of the eighth, but he left without recording an out.  Okajima then proceeded to allow an inherited runner and two of his own to score.

And now we come to the disastrous play of the day.

With runners on first and third and nobody out, Kotchman laid down a bunt.  Okajima had the ball.  He looked at third base.  He held the ball.  He fired to first.  It was too late.  Everyone was safe.  The bases were loaded.  And the very next at-bat resulted in a single that scored two.

It’s no secret among the teammates that the offense just isn’t performing well in the absence of three of its key members.  As a result, there is absolutely no room for any mistakes whatsoever in the field.  None.  So not only did Okajima not pitch well, but he also failed to make an absolutely crucial play that ended up deciding the game.  I mean, Beltre was just standing there waiting! And it didn’t even look like he unloaded to first in any sort of a hurry!

As if that weren’t enough, we had a repeat performance.  Bradley laid down another bunt, and in some sort of strange switch of sports, Okajima made like Youk was a hockey goalie and screened him.  As a result, Youk couldn’t see a thing and couldn’t make what would have been a precise and effective throw home to stop the Mariners lead at one.  Seriously, because it’s not like Kotchman was off as soon as the pitch left Okajima’s hand.

We have now scored four or less runs in ten of our last eleven games.  We were perfectly in position to win our last two and dropped both of them.  We were six outs away yesterday from beating a team that’s just not good and we couldn’t do it.  As a result, we’re a full five games out of the Wild Card and a full eight out of first place.  This is terrible.  Something must be done, and fast.  The defense and offense both need to improve now.  Literally.  Right now.  As in, before tonight.  Lastly, we expect V-Mart to return to action tonight in Anaheim.  And we really, really hope that makes a difference.

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Making sense of the Beltre deal.  Which is not at all as easy as it sounds.

Let’s review, shall we?

Stage One: Theo Epstein looks to trade Mike Lowell to the Rangers for catching prospect Max Ramirez.  This makes sense.  Mike Lowell had a tough year last year, and it’s only going to get tougher.  It’s true that he showed flashes brilliance in the field, but that was in Anaheim, where the weather is nice and warm.  Not so in Boston.  In Boston, it’s either freezing cold or scorching hot.  Lowell would’ve flourished in Texas, with its mild climate and considerably less pressure-cooker-like atmosphere, and the Rangers’ catching prospect would’ve been put to good use in our system, where he would’ve been groomed to give Tek some days off.

Stage Two: The deal is called on account of Mike Lowell’s right thumb.  To emphasize, it was the thumb, not the hip.  Let me repeat: thumb, problem; hip, not so much.  This makes sense.  From Lowell’s performance toward the end of last season, it was clear that his hip was no longer a big issue.  (That is to say, it’s still an issue but not a focus.) Given the right atmosphere, environment, and amount of days off, all signs pointed to a fairly productive year, both at the plate and in the field.  This, however, was with the understanding that Lowell’s thumb was sprained, not injured.  After he failed the physical, what Texas basically had on their hands was a choice between keeping tMax Ramirez or trading him for a third baseman who, in addition to a well-established health concern, would need surgery.  And that wasn’t a gamble Texas was willing to make.  From their perspective, they didn’t want to chance having to start someone at the hot corner who was slated to make multiple trips to the DL, not to mention the fact that the hip affects Lowell’s defense more than his offense.  The thumb would affect Lowell’s defense as well as his offense.  Simply put, no thumb, no swing, no runs, no deal.

Stage Three: Mike Lowell’s surgery is a success.  Red Sox players, staff, fans, and writers welcome Mike Lowell back into the fold.  Red Sox Nation is urged to table our wishes for infielders named Adrian.  Lou Merloni writes a column urging us to separate Mike Lowell from the Edgar Renterias of the baseball world.  As in, when did Mike Lowell reach that point where he was dragging us down to the point where exploring other options became a necessity at all costs? (I mean that literally.  Moving Lowell would necessitate us eating a big chunk of his salary.) I mean, teams routinely field much worse than Mike Lowell.  Presumably, with additional days off in the form of Youk-Lowell shifting to Kotchman-Youk, Lowell would be able to minimize the effects of his hip on his range and maximize his plate appearances.  Recovery from his surgery is fairly brief, and only one or two weeks of Spring Training would be missed.  So not the end of the world.

Stage Four: In complete defiance of Scott Boras’s obsession with long-term contracts, Theo Epstein signs Adrian Beltre to a one-year deal.  Let’s walk through it. The deal is worth nine million dollars with a player option worth six million that will increase to ten million if he makes 640 plate appearances.  The deal was contingent on a physical, which Beltre passed, despite last season’s left shoulder issues.  The deal was a product of interest that’s been expressed since November.  And the deal is very consistent with Theo’s commitment to a major defensive upgrade.  He is expected to bat in the bottom third of the lineup.  (Ellsbury, Pedroia, V-Mart, Youk, Papi, Drew, Cameron, Beltre, Scutaro.  Bang.)

Stage Five: Theo Epstein trades Casey Kotchman to the Mariners for utility man Bill Hall, a prospect to be named later, and cash.  Kotchman is happy to reunite with good friend Chone Figgins.  Lou Merloni writes a column in which he changes his mind, citing the flexibility and ability that a one-year deal with Beltre gives us.

Before we get to the confusing part, let’s take a moment to celebrate what we’re getting.  Beltre put up barely decent numbers at Safeco and Dodger Stadium, so coming to a park that’s friendly to right-handed power hitters promises a nice statistical boost.  Home numbers: .253 average, .311 on-base percentage, .416 slugging percentage.  Road numbers: .287, .338, .488, respectively.  Now, check out the similarity between that latter series and Lowell’s career stats: .280, .343, .468, respectively.  And just to leave no stone unturned, in 162 games Lowell hits on average forty doubles, twenty-three home runs, and ninety-eight RBIs.  Compare that to Beltre’s average thirty-nine doubles, twenty-six homers and ninety-nine RBIs in 162 road games.  Coincidence? I think not.  Also, the deal, coupled with the Kotchman transaction, will have minimal impact on our finances.  And it kept Boras off our backs because, after said statistical boost, Beltre’s marketing value will increase substantially.  The brevity of the contract keeps the Major League option open for our top prospects.  So our defense goes through the roof, our pitching is way too solid for words, our offense will in all likelihood defy expectations, our top prospects stay in our organization, and we maintain flexibility, both financially and baseball-wise.

But in light of Lowell’s remainder with us, the fourth and fifth stages of this saga aren’t easy to explain.  After Lowell-to-Texas failed, everyone more or less accepted the fact that Lowell would be the face of Fenway’s third base in 2010.  That thought process was fueled by the fact that we’ve had our foot in Beltre’s door since November; we wanted to trade Lowell to make room for Beltre, so as soon as Lowell wasn’t going anywhere, it seemed pretty obvious that neither was Beltre.  Then we suddenly signed Beltre and made room for him by shipping Kotchman across the country.  What’s unclear to me is the effect this will have on Lowell’s role.  Will playing time be split fifty-fifty, sixty-forty, or eighty-twenty? It’s a Crisp-y situation; once it became apparent that Ellsbury was about to start in center field, Coco Crisp was allowed to walk, and rightly so.  Coco Crisp is a starter, not a benchwarmer.  Same with Lowell, but also with Beltre.  What do you do when you have two starters, one of whom was explicitly acquired to replace the other before the other left the picture, a state of affairs that received extra emphasis when Kotchman was shipped off? With all eyes on Beltre, what is Lowell’s fate in 2010?

That’s actually a fairly easy question to answer.  We’ll either move him or we won’t.  If we don’t, he’d contribute in the field when he’s called upon and wouldn’t when he isn’t.  And he’d see a good amount of time at the plate as a pinch-hitter.  The upside of this is that it builds in much-needed rest time for Lowell and gives us a considerable upgrade in defense and age in Beltre.  And one thing that we can’t altogether rule out if we keep Lowell is the possibility that Beltre may turn out to be a chip for Adrian Gonzalez come the trading deadline.  It would be swapping one corner infielder for another, but Youk’s versatility would allow us to do that.  Besides, when you’re talking about someone like Adrian Gonzalez, you trade first and maneuver later.

Our last piece of big news is our outfield situation.  Ellsbury has officially been moved to left in order to make more room for Cameron in center.  This is way better than having Ellsbury in center than Cameron in left, even though having Ellsbury in left is a complete waste of his talents.  Whatever; when Cameron leaves Boston, Ellsbury goes back to center.  Meanwhile, it’s a wise choice.  Cameron’s only start in left was in 2000, and he hasn’t been in either corner since that nasty collision he had with Carlos Beltran back in ’05.  Meanwhile, Ellsbury is young, skilled, adaptable, and flexible.  He’s so good that he could handle any of the three outfield positions.  In fact, the relative ease of playing left as opposed to center decreases his risk of injury, and the decrease in covered territory could translate to an increased application of his abilities to the basepaths.  Basically, it comes down to the fact that Ellsbury would be infinitely better in left than Cameron but would be less better, though still better, than Cameron in center, while Cameron’s performance in left would presumably be abysmal to his performance in center.

Loose ends for the week: Josh Beckett will be gold this year because he’s up for contract, Papi will be feeling the offensive pressure (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing if it means a really good workout regimen), and Randy Johnson finally retired.  Also, congratulations to three New Haven County, Connecticut communities that successfully pressured Cablevision into adding NESN to its basic lineup in those markets.

In other news, the Bruins lost to the Rangers, beat the Sens, got smoked by the Blackhawks, and lost to the Rangers again.  The Patriots continue to power through the loss of Wes Welker as the postseason starts tomorrow with a confrontation with the Ravens.

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Almost nothing happened.  No surprises.  Seriously.  I guess that’s sort of expected; after a big signing like John Lackey, there’s really not much else you can do.  (Unless you’re last year’s Yankees, in which case you break the bank twice more.  Think of it as “wash, rinse, repeat,” but with money.)

The Lowell trade to Texas is off.  During his physical, it was discovered that he needs radial collateral ligament surgery on his right thumb.  Bottom line: it is, in fact, not a sprain.  The surgery was successful.  He’ll need six to eight weeks to recover, after which he should be back to one hundred percent, and he’ll report to Spring Training a week or two late.  What does this mean? You can forget about the two Adrians for the moment, and you can expect Casey Kotchman’s playing time at first to increase, if the need arises.  (Personally, I think built-in days off for Lowell will be crucial.  A word to the wise: don’t skimp with the days off after a veteran has surgery.  In other words, don’t make the same mistake twice.) But that’s not really the end of the world because you can also expect a productive year from Lowell.  He says he has no problem with the circumstances amidst which he’s returning.  I believe that.  In other cases, you could probably safely assume the guy’s just saying that, but it’s Mike Lowell.  He’s a veteran.  He’s been around the league, and he knows how baseball works.  Part of being a successful player and having a long career is learning that you just can’t take these things personally.  I think we’ll be very strong with Lowell at the hot corner, and I think I speak for all of Red Sox Nation when I say we’re looking forward to welcoming him back.  Think about it.  A healthy Mike Lowell would be great for our defensive upgrade.

Jason Bay signed with the Mets.  That’s just about the most exciting thing I’ve heard in the last ten minutes.  It’s a four-year deal worth $66 million with an option for a fifth year.  But he’ll want to cash all of it in and come play for us for free after his first game in Citi Field.  His bad knees, his bad throwing arm, and the open space, gaps, and seemingly towering in that outfield are a recipe for disaster.  He’ll hit all the home runs he wants thanks to National League pitching, but I’m telling you he’s in for a bucket of cold water.  Ring? No chance.  Postseason appearance? Not likely.   Reality check? By the truckload.  Just to review, our last offer was four years for sixty million.  I have no way of knowing the ins and outs of the negotiating process, but let it be written here that Jason Bay just made a huge mistake.  There is no way on this planet that the experience waiting for him as a New York Met is worth an extra six million dollars.

Kevin Youkilis was named our MVP by the Baseball Writer’s Association of America’s Boston chapter.  Jacoby Ellsbury was named Defensive Player of the Year and Jon Lester was named Red Sox Pitcher of the Year by MLB.com.  All extremely well-deserved.

And, of course, the highlight: the Winter Classic! Fenway Park looked absolutely epic; the rink covered the infield and was bound by the foul lines.  The center dot was right over second base.  The banners outside were all decked out in black and gold.  And the Green Monster kept score.  The weather was perfect; it was a cool forty degrees when the Bruins walked out of the Red Sox dugout, and it snowed.  The game was phenomenal; it was tied at one, and Marco Sturm scored the winning goal in sudden death.  Timmy Thomas even got into it; Scott Hartnell knocked him off his skates so he cross-checked him and allowed Danny Syvret to score.  The results were significant; this was our fifth win in six games after a period of extremely annoying struggle.  And thus, we are the first home team to win the Winter Classic.  It was a surreal event, but it was so incredibly awesome.  But something just occurred to me: maybe Major League Baseball didn’t want to give us the All-Star Game in 2012 because we just had the Winter Classic now.  Maybe they didn’t want Fenway to enjoy two such significant events within three years of each other.  If that’s the case, it’s ridiculous and low.  Two different sports, people.  Two vastly different sports.  Completely unrelated.

And that’s a rap.  Nothing too bad but, believe me, a whole lot of awesome.

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This week was basically all about options.  If we weren’t busy exercising somebody’s option, we were busy declining somebody else’s.  Hey, why not? They’re basically cheap locks; it’s a good way to keep a guy on board for minimal funds and minimal years.  That translates to flexibility, which is always a good thing.  Plus, it postpones contract negotiations, a solid strategy if you’ve got a lot on your plate during a particular offseason.

Case in point for that last one: Victor Martinez.  We exercised his option to bring him back as our starting catcher.  No surprise there.  And it’s no surprise that locking Victor Martinez for the long run is a top priority.  But that’s going to be a big project, so keeping him under contract until we can hammer out a new one is a good strategy.  The option effectively means that there’s no rush.  Expect Martinez to be back in a Boston uniform for the first of many years in 2011.  Although the arrival of Joe Mauer in the free agent market could potentially make that interesting.  It would probably play into our hands, being that Mauer will likely steal the show that year, leaving Martinez and us to take care of business.

Speaking of catchers, we declined our five-million-dollar option on Tek, but he picked up his three-million-dollar option, which includes another two million dollars’ worth of incentives, so our captain is coming back as a backup for three million dollars.  Not too bad, I’d say.  In terms of the role he plays on this team, there’s no better backup catcher out there for us, and being that he still has something left in the tank, it’s a pretty good deal.

Wakefield is coming back, folks.  Our deadline to pick up his option was Monday, and we agreed to a two-year deal with incentives that could boost the value of the contract up to ten million.  Within those two years, he’ll likely reach two hundred wins and 193 wins in a Red Sox uniform, a total that would break the current franchise record, held by both Roger Clemens and Cy Young.  Make no mistake: Wakefield would definitely be deserving.  How many other starting pitchers out there accept less money in favor of a tenure with a team that hadn’t won the World Series in almost a century, then voluntarily removed himself from the roster of the second World Series that team would go on to win because he felt he wouldn’t perform as well as another pitcher? Not many.  Believe that.

We declined our option on Alex Gonzalez, which was expected, but we’re still interested.  That’s also expected.  Jed Lowrie’s wrist sidelined him for essentially the entire season last year, and we need not just an everyday shortstop, but an everyday shortstop we can depend on.  That’s a luxury we haven’t had since Nomar wrote his one-way ticket out of town.  And with the improvement in offense he showed last year, Gonzalez would be a great fit.  Of course, what this gesture shows is that he’ll have to come at the right price.  Otherwise Theo won’t bite.

That’s basically all the news so far.  The GM meetings ended on Wednesday, so aside from these moves and Jeremy Hermida, we’ve been pretty quiet, but I don’t think that’ll last long.  Before the meetings ended, Theo met with John Lackey’s agent.  Smile, Red Sox Nation; Scott Boras is not John Lackey’s agent.  Free-agent negotiations with other teams start on Friday, so it’s likely he’ll be inundated with offers, but I could see us being a big player there.  We’re also supposedly interested in Dan Uggla; apparently there is potential in turning the second baseman into a left fielder.  Frankly, I don’t see that playing out.  Congratulations to Jason Bay, who won his first Silver Slugger! And that functions as even more of a reason for us to sign him.  I think we’ll focus our efforts there before we start turning infielders into outfielders.

In addition to options, the other big story at this point is arbitration.  We’ve got eight guys eligible: Casey Kotchman, now Jeremy Hermida, Ramon Ramirez, Fernando Cabrera, Brian Anderson, Hideki Okajima, Manny Delcarmen, and, you guessed it, Jonathan Papelbon.  The arbitration process will probably be more or less smooth sailing for the utility guys and the no-doubts, the players who have clear bargaining power due to their consistently good performances.  I’d put Ramon Ramirez and Hideki Okajima in the latter category.  As far as Manny Delcarmen is concerned, his second half was just bad, so he’ll probably take some sort of cut.  Jonathan Papelbon will be quite the case; I’ll be very interested to see how that goes.  He obviously packs a lot of bargaining power, but there’s also no ignoring the fact that his walk total was up and his postseason performance was…well, let’s not go there.  Let’s just say he’s less able to pull off the I-should-be-paid-Mariano’s-salary routine this time around.  Especially because Daniel Bard is coming on strong and Billy Wagner has stated that he might be open to an arbitration offer that would bring him back to Boston next year.  Let’s face it: he wants a ring, and in this day and age ballplayers who want rings come to Boston.

Nick Green and Joey Gathright have opted to file for free agency rather than accept minor league assignments.  Green had back surgery at Mass. General on Monday, by the way, so he’s facing an uphill battle as far as market value goes.  Dice-K is going to begin his conditioning program early this year.  Thankfully.  Finally.  I think I speak for all of Red Sox Nation when I say that we’re ready to see him ace this year.  Or at the very least spend more time on the roster than on the disabled list.  Theo and Tito are in the throes of their search for a bench coach, and they’ve narrowed it down to four: PawSox manager Ron Johnson, Lowell Spinners manager Gary DiSarcina, minor league field coordinator Rob Leary, and outfield and baserunning coordinator Tom Goodwin.  Promoting from within.  I like it.  Really, there’s no better way to ensure that a new member of the coaching staff knows the franchise and the players; many of the players currently on the team have played for these guys in their younger days.

We’re biding our time but staying in the loop.  I think there’s a potential for a serious blockbuster deal this offseason.  Whether it’s Lackey or Adrian Gonzalez or someone else, I don’t know.  I’ll leave that to the front office.  At this point, so much is kept under wraps that it’s hard to know exactly who we’re pursuing first or what our main focus will be.  But I will say that either of those guys would have a hugely positive impact on our team.  We’ll have to wait and see what happens, I guess.  It’s a long winter; the speculation keeps us going.  That’s just what the offseason is all about.

The Bruins played three games this week.  We shut out the Penguins, lost to the Panthers in a shootout, and lost to the Penguins in sudden death.  The Sabres lead us in the division by five points, but at least we’re ahead of the Habs.  The Pats beat the Dolphins.

 

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The 2009 season is officially over.  It’s amazing how time flies when you’re having fun.  Seriously.  It was a great season.  Plenty of highs, plenty of lows, plenty to celebrate, plenty to scratch your head and have no idea what’s going on.  But now we have the second season on our hands: the postseason.  And with the approach of the postseason come the all-important roster decisions that must be made to give us the greatest ability to advance to the World Series.  This is what Terry Francona may have in mind, with a little help from the Portland Press-Herald.

As far as the pitching staff is concerned, there’s no surprise there: Lester, Beckett, Buchholz, and Dice-K, in that order.  Lester is starting first because, had it been the other way around, one of them would’ve been on normal rest and the other would’ve been on ten days’ rest.  Plus Lester had the better second half, plus Lester is the go-to man for Game 4 should we find ourselves in a hole.  Or we could use Beckett on four days’ rest for Game 4 and Lester on five for Game 5 since there’s an off day between the two, but I’m not a fan of that option.  Tito hasn’t announced the starter for Game 4 yet, though.

No surprises in the relief corps, either: Papelbon, Bard, Wagner, Okajima, and Ramirez.  Saito and Delcarmen will fill out the bullpen.  Wakefield has officially been scratched, Michael Bowden is still pretty new, and Byrd, while he could be a long reliever, wouldn’t necessarily be as effective.  Yes, Saito and Delcarmen (especially Delcarmen) have had their struggles, but that’s why it’s called the second season.  You take a rest, you put it behind you, and you record punchout after punchout.  If I need options for innings in October, I want Saito’s experience and Delcarmen’s power.  But Delcarmen’s health may eliminate him; after the car accident this weekend, his back and neck are pretty sore.

The catchers are obviously V-Mart and Tek. For the first time in a very long time, we don’t need a third catcher.  The third catcher was supposed to pinch-hit for the offensively challenged Tek and backup, but with V-Mart’s bat, that need is gone.  (Not to mention the fact that the role of a backup changes dramatically now that Wakefield isn’t in the mix.  Instead of having to concentrate on catching knuckleballs, the October backup catcher this year will have to concentrate on getting all the hits that Tek doesn’t.)

The infielders are obviously Youk, Pedroia, Gonzalez, Lowell, and Kotchman.  Nick Green’s back and leg will probably keep him off the roster, so Jed Lowrie and Chris Woodward will probably come on as utilities.  Jed Lowrie can hit in the clutch (I refer you to his grand slam on Sunday), and Woodward can flash leather, even if he can’t buy a hit.

The outfielders are obviously Bay, Ellsbury, Drew, and Baldelli, and you really can’t get much better than that.  We have three options with which to fill out the outfield: Joey Gathright, Josh Reddick, and Brian Anderson.  Brian Anderson is out; his speed, glove, and bat don’t compare to the other two.  Gathright has remarkable speed, but Reddick has a remarkable bat.  So you’re basically choosing between a clutch steal and a clutch hit.  Dave Roberts’s heroism wills all of Red Sox Nation to go with Gathright, but let’s remember that Dave Roberts’s steal only counted in the long run because Bill Mueller singled him home.  And it’s not like Reddick has no speed at all.  On the other hand, it’s not like Gathright has no bat at all, and it’s been Gathright who’s been seeing playing time recently as part of the reserve.  So I think Gathright is the answer.  And we may need him more than ever because of Baldelli’s hip injury.

The designated hitter will be David Ortiz.  Obviously.

And now for the lineup.  It’ll be Ellsbury, Pedroia, V-Mart, Youk, Ortiz, Bay, Drew, Lowell, and Gonzalez.  If it’s a righty.  If it’s a lefty, Baldelli will take Drew’s spot.  If Tek catches, that’s a whole different story, and Tito will have to do some serious finagling to accommodate that.  Look for Tek to be at the bottom of the order.

Speaking of the lineup, in response to “Second Shift,” Jeremy commented:

Boston may have the most well-rounded team heading into October however one thing I’ve noticed is that the offense struggles a lot versus good pitching. The line-up will pound a bad pitcher or a pitcher with an off night and the offense will explode. However, for most of the season there has been very little output against great pitching. And that has to be concerning. Because that’s what your likely going to face come playoff time.

Jeremy makes an excellent point.  Remember when we played the Tigers in June? We swept.  We didn’t face Justin Verlander.  Remember when we played the Royals in July? We took three out of four and didn’t face Zack Greinke.  We just played the Royals again and split a four-game set, and one of the games we lost was pitched by, you guessed it, Zack Greinke.  We’ve been very lucky this season with pitching schedules, but this luck is about to run out.  The teams you face in October are guaranteed to be the best of the best, and part of what makes them so good is their pitching.  There’ll be no escaping a Justin Verlander or a Zack Greinke in the postseason.  So I completely agree with Jeremy, but I don’t think it’ll affect the outcome of our October.  The ALDS is a big reason why.  Playing the Angels in the ALDS is kind of like a warm-up for the rest of the month, but it’s a warm-up that counts, so you get all the pressure of the October stage, including great pitching, with all the confidence of having a pretty good feeling that you’ll advance.  Now, you’ll notice that in both 2004 and 2007, the ALDS wasn’t enough to remind us who we are offensively, which is probably why it took moving ourselves to the brink of elimination and facing postseason death in the ALCS to remind us that, yes, we actually are capable of handling these arms.  Between the ALDS and half of the ALCS, we play a lot of games against quality pitchers, so by the time we’re almost out of the playoffs completely, we come roaring back and get ourselves to the World Series, where we obviously have no problem with the National League.  And let me tell you, it helps in the long run, because nobody wants to be the team that finishes the ALCS early and just sits around waiting for the Fall Classic.  I refer you to the Rockies in 2007.

We are exactly where we need to be to make this October count.  The Yankees played the month of September like they had something to prove.  And they did.  You don’t spend a quarter of a billion dollars on three players in the offseason and not win the division.  But at what cost, both literally and figuratively? It is entirely possible that the AL East is the kiss of death for New York; they’ve exhausted all of their resources.  I refer you to 2004, when they ramped it up big time in September specifically to win the division, which they did by a hair.  Then they lost steam in the ALCS, and look what happened.

Finally, I know some people have taken issue with Terry Francona’s approach to the final games of the season.  Let me put that issue to rest.  There are two possibilities to consider here.  The first is Angels Syndrome and the other is Yankees Syndrome.  In the first, you rest on your laurels for such a long time that you’re not prepared for the intensity and competition of the playoffs.  In the second, you use all your resources to accomplish a regular-season goal and run out of steam halfway through the playoffs.  Fortunately, we are not a victim of either, because we’ve only been resting on our laurels for about a week, and the rest was absolutely necessary given the health concerns of several of our starters.  And since the division was out of the question, we had no reason to burn out.  So I’m pretty happy, although my fandom revolts at this notion of being happy with the Wild Card.  But I’d rather get in with the Wild Card than not get in at all.  And I’d much rather get in with the Wild Card than resort to a one-game playoff.  Did you know that winners of one-game playoffs haven’t won the World Series since 1978? (Of course, we all know who played that playoff against who, and who went on to win the World Series that year.  Let’s just say it involved pinstripes.  I’d rather not talk about it.)

Regarding how the teams stack up, we’re pretty even, and most of the gaping holes are in our favor.  We’re much better at home than they are on the road, hit many more home runs, have a higher team slugging percentage and ERA, and our bullpen ERA is much higher.  We also had a better September, which is key.  We’ll need David Ortiz to handle Brian Fuentes, and we’ll need Bard to be in top form as a set-up man.  The Angels’ problem will be scoring runs, so if our starting rotation keeps us in it, we should be able to come away with a win.

So that’s it.  All we have to do now is wait.  Let’s start this party.

Boston Globe Staff/Yoon S. Byun

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