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Posts Tagged ‘New Jersey Devils’

The coaching staff has now officially been finalized.  Tim Bogar is the bench coach.  Jerry Royster will take his place as the third base coach.  Alex Ochoa is the first base coach.  Dave Magadan will remain the hitting coach, and Gary Tuck will remain the bullpen coach.  Our new pitching coach is Bob McClure.  The Royals let him go after finishing in fourth place in their division last season, and then we hired him as a minor league instructor and special assignment scout.  Obviously on the surface, this doesn’t exactly bode well.  However, it’s worth mentioning that his professional profile is similar to John Farrell’s; like Farrell, he’s been a player as well as a coach, and he has a knack for evaluating talent.  But by now I have learned how fruitless it is to delve analytically into anything that Bobby V. does before I actually see how it shapes up in action.  Regarding McClure, I’m not sure I know what to think at this point.

We now officially have a closer, and it turns out that it isn’t Mark Melancon.  Melancon will obviously be in the mix, but we traded first baseman Miles Head, right-handed pitcher Raul Alcantara, and, yes, even Josh Reddick to the A’s for outfielder Ryan Sweeney and, more importantly, Andrew Bailey.  Bailey has a career 2.07 ERA and 0.95 WHIP with seventy-five saves and only nine blown saves in his three seasons in the Majors.  He has been injured, which restricted him to less than fifty innings in his last two seasons.  But because we expect him to own the ninth only, I don’t see a problem.  The Bailey-Melancon one-two punch shows considerable promise.  Like Paps, Bailey tends to induce his fair share of fly balls, so Melancon serves as a nice complement to that; in his career, Melancon has induced double the amount of ground balls as fly balls, and only three pitchers last season had a better ratio.

So, to put it lightly, he’ll do.  Now let’s look at Sweeney.  His hitting stats obviously don’t match up well with Reddick’s, but he’s got a solid OBP and he can play all three outfield positions, which we know is incredibly useful.  However, I’m still not happy about that part of the trade because, while Sweeney has obvious upsides, he technically doesn’t even come close to Reddick.  I mean, Reddick has the makings of a Major League superstar.  Of course, we have to moderate that a little by accounting for the fact that he’s young yet and hasn’t seen much action relatively speaking, but still.  I see this trade as addressing our short-term needs rather than considering our long-term needs.  There is a time and place for doing so, but I’m not convinced that this was it.  Again, we’ll have to wait and see.  It’s important to remember that this is Ben’s team now, and he deserves a chance to prove that he has as much foresight as anybody.

Ryan Kalish will miss the start of the season; he just had surgery on his left shoulder to repair a torn labrum.  In all likelihood, so will Jenks, who had another surgery.

The Yankees signed Okajima to a minor league deal; oh, how the mighty have fallen.  The Cubs hired Bill Buckner as a minor league hitting coach.  I hope Theo has fun with that.  Incidentally, in case you didn’t notice, that was sarcastic.

In other news, the Pats have been on an absolute tear.  We beat the Redskins, Broncos, Dolphins, and Bills.  We’ll see if we can convert that into anything of note when it counts.  The B’s have been similarly dominating; we beat the Habs, Panthers (eight-zip shutout), and Coyotes; we dropped our game against the Stars.  We womped the Devils and Flames (seriously, a nine-zip shutout) and lost to Vancouver in a very eventful matchup in which Vancouver was obviously trying to make a statement.  I’d say it was grasping; they may have beaten us by a goal, but the last time I checked, we are still the reigning Stanley Cup champions.  The benches cleared, though.  Five Canucks charged Shawn Thornton for defending a hit teammate, and then all the gloves dropped.  Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault says we’re too physical, probably because the Canucks can’t match us.  By the way, Milan Lucic did indeed take the ice legally on a line change.

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Ben called back Sveum for a second-round interview, but we didn’t make Sveum an offer, and the Cubs picked him up.  We may be interviewing Bobby Valentine next, and I’m not sure I like that.  Actually, scratch that.  I don’t like that.  I don’t like that at all.  Valentine is the antithesis of what we need right now, and the fact that he’s even being considered reflects some serious misdirection and scrambling on the part of our front office, something we haven’t seen in years.  I have full confidence in Ben, but at the moment he looks like he has absolutely no idea what in the world he’s doing, and that may be because he legitimately is lost at this point or because Larry is lost.  Either way, it’s not yielding good results.  It’s yielding a public image of an organization that is in complete and utter chaos.  Whether or not that’s actually true, I do not like that.

Speaking of managers, Tito will stay out after all next season.  I guess Jerry Remy was right.

Ben has had good talks with Papi’s camp.  Supposedly we’ve made contact with Francisco Cordero, and there has been mutual interest expressed in having Heath Bell pitch for us.  Supposedly we may be interested in Roy Oswalt.

Thankfully, Don Orsillo signed a contract extension with NESN.  Thankfully, Heidi Watney has not.  Watney is leaving for Time Warner Cable in California, who now have the Lakers.  She’ll be a sideline reporter for those telecasts.

In other news, the Pats sunk the Jets, 37-16.  The B’s barely beat the Devils and Blue Jackets but laid it on thick in our crushing assault on the Isles for an eight-game winning streak.

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Wow.  Just, wow.   I mean, what? But in a good way.

Yes, I am completely aware that that made absolutely no sense.  It’s just hard not to be too pumped for words after last night’s game.  It was epic.  Not only were we at home, but we won.  Not only did we win, but we won against the Yankees.  Not only did we win against the Yankees, but we won against the Yankees because Josh Beckett came home again.  Everything about that game was immensely satisfying.

The phrase you’re going to hear in almost every article you read about last night’s game is “vintage Beckett.” What does that mean? That means he made a start the likes of which he hasn’t made since 2009, when he went seventeen and six with a 3.86 ERA.  Before 2009, he hadn’t made a start like this since 2007, the year CC Sabathia stole his Cy Young.  I guess he’s on some sort of strange two-year cycle.  Last night, he had his revenge.  Last night, he looked every bit like a Cy Young winner, and he stole the W from Sabathia.

Beckett was wolf-like in his ruthlessness and his ability to detect fear in opposing batters.  He shook of Tek, not because they weren’t on the same page, but because he had the number of every hitter he faced, and he knew exactly what he needed to do to get them out.  And once Tek realized that letting him command his own game would not result in a ridiculous amount of runs, he let him.  The results speak for themselves.

Eight shutout innings.  Two hits.  One walk.  Ten strikeouts.  103 pitches.  Sixty-eight strikes.

That was his first double-digit strikeout total since July 27, 2009.  Back problems? What back problems? Shoulder problems? What shoulder problems? He went out there and he attacked the strike zone like a strike-throwing machine.  He pulled out some nasty stuff.  His fastball was formidable, topping out at ninety-four miles per hour and in for a strike about eighty percent of the time.  His curveball was unhittable and perfectly located.  His cutter was sharp.  His two-seam put away Mark Teixeira.  But his changeup was the real evidence of his return to form.  His arm was so alive that he threw his changeup at an average speed of eighty-eight and a top speed of ninety.  Most pitchers in the Major Leagues are lucky to throw a fastball at that speed.  And the hitters could do absolutely nothing with it.

He threw nineteen pitches in the first inning and only improved from there.  During his last two innings, he needed just eight pitches to secure the three outs.  His speeds varied.  His release point tightened as the game went on.  The strike zone? Peppered.  This was, without a doubt, one of the best starts I have ever seen from him.  Ever.

Fortunately, it didn’t go to waste.  We loaded the bases in the third with nobody out.  Then there was a double play that scored a run.  Then second base umpire Mark Wagner retracted the run and called the post-double play runners back to their bases because Youk apparently “interfered” with the play.  Basically, Youk obstructed Jeter’s ability to field when he slid into second.  But that slide is a slide you see all the time.  It was one of those that prompts a jump by whoever’s covering second in order to clear the bag in time.  It’s a very obscure rule; since this sort of thing happens almost every day, nobody really enforces the rule.  In this particular situation, we fortunately didn’t have to be livid for long.  Cameron managed to eke out an infield hit, and Pedroia came home.

And guess what? Beckett held that lead.  The score was 1-0, and Beckett held it.  He held it through numerous terribly frustrating abandonments of men on base and of prime opportunities squandered in such an irksome fashion that it reminded you that on Saturday we went one for seventeen with runners in scoring position.  But then who should come up big with the bases loaded in the seventh but Marco Scutaro, who smacked a ninety-three mile-per-hour four-seam for a two-run double that looked so natural and so confident that it made you wonder, for that moment, what he was doing batting ninth, until you remembered that placing a hitter who has moments reminiscent of a leadoff man in the ninth spot lengthens your innings because it means you’ve got basically two leadoff hitters in a row.  The ball ended up in left and rolled all the way to the Monster.  Now would be a good time to mention that he’s nine for sixteen with the bases loaded over the course of his Boston career.  Who knew?

And Beckett held that lead until the eighth, when Papi increased it with a one-run double on an eighty-three mile-per-hour slider that was perhaps one of the most powerfully hit doubles Fenway has ever had the pleasure of witnessing.  It bounced off the very top of the wall in right-center field.  As in, pretty much exactly at the 420-foot mark.  We’re talking inches away from a home run.

So Scutaro went two for two, Papi went two for four, and Pedroia went three for four last night and nine for thirteen in the series.  He read Yankees pitching like a book this weekend.  Paps didn’t necessarily come on during a save opportunity, but the moment was just as suspenseful.  He handled it beautifully.  Three up, three down.  Two strikeouts.  Twelve pitches.  Done.  4-0.

The only bad news is that Sabathia drilled Gonzalez’s hands on an inside pitch in the fifth.  The ball landed squarely on his left pinky and ring finger.  He took his base and, instead of squeezing his batting gloves in both hands, as some baserunners are wont to do to create some extra cushioning to avoid injury, he held both of his gloves in his right hand.  He didn’t swing especially hard after that, but he did stay in the game, and after the game he said he felt fine.  We dodged one serious bullet right there.  Now would be a good time to mention the fact that more batters have been hit during our games with the Yankees than have been hit in games between any other two teams.

Two more counts of good news: the infield at Fenway is brand new, so bounces are truer and fielding is cleaner.  But let’s not forget to tell everyone that, so we don’t have situations like Lowrie had where he expected the ball to bounce as it would on the old infield when instead it actually bounced correctly.  And we signed Buchholz to a four-year extension.  In its most basic form, it’s worth thirty million dollars, but it includes two club options that together are worth about twenty-seven million.  For a pitcher of that caliber, that’s a steal.

Yes, we left sixteen men on base.  Yes, we only went three for fourteen with runners in scoring position.  But we win the series! It’s amazing how different your perception of those things becomes when you win.  But that’s natural, because if you win, at least in the short term it really doesn’t matter.  All that matters is the three, not the fourteen.  The long term is a different story, but we haven’t seen this club get into any sort of groove that would indicate that the lineup won’t be able to produce with runners in scoring position in the long term.

Wow.  Josh Beckett, man.  Josh Beckett.  Welcome back.  It’s good to see you.

In other news, the Bruins lost to the Devils.  An anticlimactic way to end an awesome season.  Which isn’t over yet.  Our first playoff game is Thursday against the Habs.  I’m psyched.

Boston Globe Staff/Jim Davis

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We are now a mere five days away from the start of what could be our first hundred-win season in sixty-four years.  This is the part where everyone starts speculating about who’s better, us or the Yankees or the Rays.  That’s a ridiculous thing to do.  We have our guys who play our game, and that’s how we intend to win.  It doesn’t matter who the opponent is.  Our goal is to be better than everybody.  And we are.  And we will be.  Five more days.  Only five more days.

On Sunday, we lost to the Cards, 10-3, but it actually was not Dice-K’s fault.  I repeat: it was not Dice-K’s fault.  It’s so refreshing to be able to say that.  He pitched shutout ball through five innings against a lineup that did include several regulars, including Pujols and Holliday.  With two outs in the sixth, Pujols walked, Holliday doubled, and Dice-K was pulled.  His line was two runs on three hits.  He struck out four, three looking, and walked two for his second consecutive good start.  Miller came on in relief and was horrible; a walk, another walk with the bases loaded, and six runs on four hits.  Atchison replaced Miller and didn’t fare much better.  Most of the damage was done by Pujols and Holliday alone.

We lost to the Phillies, 4-1, on Monday.  It was Lester’s last lengthy start of spring.  He pitched five and a third innings.  He cruised through the first five.  He actually had a no-hitter going until Roy Halladay of all people hit a single with two out in the inning.  Not so much in that one third.  He ended up giving up four runs, three earned, on five hits while walking four and striking out six.  He threw fifty-six of ninety-eight pitches for strikes.  Twenty-five of those pitches were thrown in that sixth inning alone.  Meanwhile, Paps, Bard, Jenks, and Doubront got some throwing time in.

We lost again on Tuesday, to the Rays, 7-4.  Lackey wasn’t at his best; he gave up five runs on six hits over five and a third innings while walking two and striking out four.  He threw sixty-seven of ninety-six pitches for strikes.  Pedroia hit two doubles, and Tek went two for three and threw out a runner.

Wednesday was the team’s only day off this spring.  Gonzalez took the opportunity to DH in a minor league game.  He made extremely solid contact in each at-bat and went three for six with an RBI and a run.  Not bad.  Not bad at all.

Thursday was not a good day for Buchholz.  He may have thrown eighty-two pitches against the Marlins and struck out five, but he gave up eleven runs, six earned, on eleven hits, four of which were homers, over four innings, leading to our 15-7 loss.  It was a total implosion.  Salty was the bright spot with four RBIs on three hits, a homer and two doubles.  Ellsbury also went deep.

We put the regulars in on Friday but to no avail.  We lost to the Jays, 11-8.  Corey Patterson had to leave after getting hit in the back of the head by a Bard fastball.  Luckily, he walked off the field, and he appears to be alright.  Five members of our starting lineup posted two-hit games.  Beckett, however, gave up seven runs on eleven hits over six-and-change frames.

The Twins beat us, 9-8, on Saturday.  It was all Jenks’s fault.  He was truly terrible for the first time this spring.  He gave up six runs in the ninth.  Dice-K was the opposite; he gave up one run on five hits with a walk and four K’s over six innings.  He threw sixty-three of ninety-four pitches for strikes.  Gonzalez went two for three with his first homer for us.  Okajima delivered a scoreless seventh.  That brings our losing streak to nine.  Oh, Spring Training.

Roster cuts this week included Daniel Nava, Matt Fox, and Mark Wagner.  The bullpen competition looks like it’s going down to the wire.  Gonzalez’s agent has starting to talk extension with Theo.  Gonzalez’s agent is John Boggs, not Scott Boras, so I actually believe him when he says that an extension should be finalized sometime next month.

New England Sports Ventures changed its name to Fenway Sports Group.  I take that as John Henry reassuring everyone that the Red Sox are his top priority.  Honestly, I never really doubted that.  And Pedro Martinez’s portrait will be added to the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.  Susan Miller-Havens painted him in his Dominican Republic uniform.  Well, he was as interesting a character as he was a baseball player, that’s for sure.

In other news, the Bruins lost to the Devils and the Rangers.  But between those two losses was a win so epic and golden that it almost makes you forget them and just focus on the fact that we’re about to clinch a playoff spot.  We soundly thumped the Habs, seven-zip.  You read right.  They had absolutely no chance whatsoever.  And I hope we meet them in the playoffs so we can do it again when it counts even more.  We’re playing the Flyers tonight.

Boston Globe Staff/Barry Chin

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We claimed outfielder Jordan Parraz off waivers from Kansas City.  That officially fills out our forty-man roster.  He’s going straight to Triple-A, where he’ll stay unless an injury hits.

And that’s as simple as this week’s news is going to get, so hold onto your hats.  We offered arbitration to Beltre, Felipe Lopez, and V-Mart.  They have until Tuesday to decline.

Beltre is going to decline.  That’s basically a fact.  He has a five-year offer from the A’s on the table, and Theo will not come close to that in terms of years, and that’s not even talking about the cash.  So we’re going to get two draft picks for him.  I was ready for this.  I knew Beltre wouldn’t return.  He was only here for one year, and he had too good a season.  Between those two facts, he was bound to test the market.  And his good season inflated his value.  I say “inflated” and not “increased” because, as I’ve said before, I think a big part of why his season was so good was Fenway Park.  He’s a terrific athlete at the plate and in the field, but if you take away Fenway Park, I doubt you’ll get the same production numbers from him.  And I think Theo also knew he wouldn’t return.  So this is an unfortunate but not surprising turn of events.

Lopez is a Type B free agent, so we’re going to get a sandwich-round draft pick if he signs with someone else.  If he accepts, he’d get a better salary than he would ever be able to get on the open market.  But if we cut him during Spring Training, he’s got nothing.  So he’s going to decline.  A wise move given his poor season last year.

V-Mart will not be returning to Boston.  He’s going to sign a four-year deal worth fifty million dollars with the Tigers.  So he got what he wanted: years with cash.  So the question becomes whether he would have been worth a better offer from us.  We offered him four years for forty-two million dollars.  There’s no question that that should have been enough, so the question then becomes whether we should have matched the Tigers.  A part of me does sort of wish that Theo just offered the extra eight million.  V-Mart is a hitting catcher who also plays first base, and he’s starter material in all three.  There is probably no other active player right now for whom that is true.  We already have a first baseman, but we need a hitter, and we need a catcher, and rare is the opportunity to consolidate the two into one player.  He’s improved his throwing, he’s gotten to know our staff really well, and we just spent all of last season grooming him to take on the starter’s role and be our catcher of the future.  This is not Mark Teixeira; we can revisit the Mark Teixeira episode when we start talking about Adrian Gonzalez.  We’ve kept our fair share of catchers in the starter’s role well beyond the point where they ceased to merit it.  And the reason why I brought up Mark Teixeira is that he’s an example of us in the past offering loads of cash and loads of years to a player who may or may not have been worth it.  (Again, that’s a separate issue, and I’m sure it’ll come up when we get to Adrian Gonzalez.) So given those two facts, it just seems like, if there were ever a time or a player that merited an extra eight million dollars, it would be right now and V-Mart.  There are only maybe three other catchers in the Majors who can hit like he can, and none of them are on the radar.  So we’re going to have to go with a catcher who’s solid behind the plate and compensate for the loss of production with another position.  That would explain our interest in Carl Crawford, Jayson Werth, and recently Justin Upton from the D-Backs.

However, from a sabermetrics standpoint, Theo’s decision makes sense.  We all know that Theo has that line, different for every player given our situation at the time, that he absolutely under any circumstances will not cross.  And I guess that was the line for V-Mart.  It’s easy to say that Theo should’ve just kicked in an extra eight million, but it’s possible that that would’ve set off some sort of bidding war, although very small in scale because this is the Tigers we’re talking about, and the Tigers would’ve gone above that, and we wouldn’t have matched that new offer anyway.  The Tigers’ situation is completely different than ours.  They finished the season at .500 exactly, and they’re looking for shining stars around which to construct a team that can compete.  But we need V-Mart more than they do because V-Mart won’t get them to the World Series.  He might get us to the World Series.  But he’s thirty-two years old, so he’s approaching that age, which we all know comes sooner for catchers than it does for other position players.  He’ll probably only be able to catch consistently for the first half of that contract.  And let’s not forget that there are draft picks involved, something that in the past has led to the likes of Lester, Buchholz, Pedroia, Lowrie, and Ellsbury.  So, as you can see, there are all sorts of variables involved that Theo obviously didn’t think merited that kind of money for those years, perhaps because the last one or two of them would see an obvious decrease in performance.

I always say that in Theo we must trust, so we’re going to have to wait and see.  He thinks of every angle.  He places a value on a player before negotiations and sticks to it.  He doesn’t like bidding wars, and honestly neither do I.  All I know is that Salty can not handle the starter’s role.  He just can’t.  That’s confirmed by the fact that we’re already looking for replacements, who could include Bengie Molina, Mike Napoli, and Chris Iannetta.  Ultimately, we need to put a good team on the field every year.  Not just this year and next year.  So if that ability would have been hindered by offering V-Mart extra money, we can’t have that.  As long as the catcher can catch and the hitters can hit, it doesn’t technically matter whether the catcher is the one hitting or the hitter is the one catching.

Speaking of catchers, we didn’t offer arbitration to Tek because we didn’t want to pay three million dollars to a Type B backup catcher.  If he signs with someone else, we won’t get draft picks.  But he won’t sign with someone else.  He’s coming back.

We didn’t offer arbitration to Hall, who wants to go somewhere with more playing time.  Speaking of versatility, there is arguably no player more versatile than Hall.  His average keeps him from starting regularly, but he has played almost every position for us this past year: second base, third base, shortstop, left field, center field, right field, even pitcher.  That, my friends, is a dirt dog answering the call of duty.

As always with arbitration, the week leaves us with lots of questions and almost no answers.  That’s the beauty of the offseason.  It’s a time when teams get the chance to overhaul, and you never know what you’re going to get.  Stay tuned.

In other news, the Bruins lost to the Lightning, 1-3, but then beat the Panthers by the same score.  The Devils shut us out, and we’re playing the Thrashers this evening.  The Thrashers are hot right now, so this would be a great time for us to bounce back.  The Pats crushed the Lions, 45-24.

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Awards season has come and gone and left disappointment and injustice in its wake.  Seriously.  I can’t even talk about it.  This goes beyond even Sabathia stealing Beckett’s Cy Young and Guerrero stealing Papi’s Silver Slugger.  This time, it’s personal.

Lester and Buchholz both finished in the top six in the AL Cy Young voting, but both ultimately lost to Felix Hernandez, who won it with his numbers alone since the Mariners didn’t offer any help of any sort at any time.  And if a Cy Young were awarded to best one-two punch, Lester and Buchholz would totally sweep that vote.

A new award was introduced this year: the Commissioner’s Award for Philanthropic Excellence.  We won it, and I can’t think of any team more deserving.  The Red Sox Foundation now gets ten thousand dollars.  I have to say, if any award is worth winning, this one is obviously most definitely up there.

So, obviously, that’s not where the disappointment and injustice come in, although I will say that both Lester and Buchholz were spectacular this past year, and I’d be very surprised if neither wins at least one Cy Young in each of their careers.  No.  All of that comes in here: Tito did not win Manager of the Year; cue the disappointment.  Furthermore, he finished fourth in the voting; cue the injustice.  We won eighty-nine games last year with half our starting lineup ending up being out for the season, more than 136 different batting orders, and a majority of our starters out of Spring Training on the DL by the end of it.  And you’re telling me that’s not Manager of the Year material right there? That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard in a very long time.  All three managers who finished ahead of Tito, perhaps not coincidentally, had teams that ended up in the playoffs.  But that’s not supposed to be what this is about.  Putting a team in the playoffs doesn’t necessarily indicate a good manager; it indicates a good team with a good schedule.  And I can’t even begin to tell you how utterly frustrated I am with any system that could possibly have resulted in this outcome.  Tony La Russa even said in print that it should unquestionably be Tito as AL Manager of the Year.  And not only does he not get it, but he finishes fourth? That is complete insanity if I’ve ever seen it, ever.

That’s a pretty bold statement, but it’s true.  The three managers who finished ahead of him were Ron Gardenhire, Ron Washington, and Joe Maddon, all worthy opponents and all perennial appearance-makers in votes for this award.  All of them obviously had to deal with major injuries to major players at inopportune times this past year, Gardenhire much more than the other two.  And they all get their usual credit for maintaining stability in the clubhouse, handling big personalities, and just generally being good at what they do.  But only one of them did it with some of the biggest of the big personalities in one of the most pressurized of cookers called Major League Baseball teams every single day for an entire season during which the team, on any given day, looked entirely different.  It’s incredibly difficult to sustain morale in that kind of competition environment with that kind of scenario going on, and yet Tito made it look like a walk in the park (pun intended).  Maddon arguably had it easiest of the four, following by Washington.  So we’re talking Tito and Gardenhire, but at least Gardenhire had more peace and quiet in which to conduct his business and less potential clubhouse drama to worry about.  We’re talking about the man who managed a minor league baseball team that had Michael Jordan on its roster, and don’t even get me started on Manny Ramirez.  Obviously, neither of those two episodes had bearing on this year, but they’re just great testimonies to his managerial abilities.

All I’m saying is that Tito will have another spectacular year this coming year, and even then he probably won’t have any Manager of the Year award to show for it, but one of the reasons he deserves such an award is that he doesn’t do any of what he does with the award in mind.  He does it anyway, day in and day out, injuries or no injuries.  So here’s to you, Tito.  We all know who the real Manager of the Year is.

The GM meetings have also come and gone, hopefully having greased the skids for the Winter Meetings next month.  Cue the rumors.  We are one of three teams in hot pursuit of Carl Crawford, and we might trade Paps.  The former is true; the latter couldn’t be more false.  Lou Merloni is all in favor of taking the plunge, making the trade for some elite relievers, and giving Bard the closer’s job.  I don’t think that’s prudent at this point.  When Paps first burst onto the scene, he looked a lot like Bard: a new phenom nobody had seen and everybody loved because his fastball found triple-digit speeds.  If we give the ball to Bard too early, we could have another Paps on our hands.  Paps had a bad year this past year, but let’s see how he does this coming year before we just give away our closer in favor of a young guy who isn’t yet tried-and-true in that role on a regular basis.

And finally, last but totally not least, we have some news from Bud Selig, who is obviously trying to make waves before he retires.  He wants to add another Wild Card to each league in order to expand the playoffs from eight teams to ten.  I mean, what? I guess the Wild Card teams would play each other to determine the Wild Card champion, and then everything would return to business as usual? And then the Wild Card champion would of course be able to sell untold amounts of shirts, hats, and other merchandise? He wants to implement this change by next season, which convinces me that he’s doing this to leave his mark.  Rob Manfred, executive vice president for labor relations of Major League Baseball, basically said that’s not in the cards (pun intended) due to collective bargaining issues.  Michael Weiner, the head of the player’s union, says the players aren’t necessarily opposed to the potential change, but the union hasn’t been approached formally yet.

I am not in favor.  Selig claims that eight is a fair number of total teams, and so is ten; therefore, why not ten? I would counter that with the age-old adage, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” The playoffs are a whole month long with eight teams as it is, and baseball should not be played in November.  Also, how would you approach the scenario of one of these newly added Wild Card teams winning the World Series? It’s similar to the steroids issue.  Does the juiced player who breaks a record go into the books with or without an asterisk, or does he not go into the books at all? Similarly, this new team wouldn’t even have made the playoffs under the old system, so do we really consider them World Series champions or don’t we? Granted, the current organization of the playoffs isn’t that old; expansion was voted on and passed in 1993.  But because this format is so new, let’s let it get its footing first.  There are those who point out that expansion would have gotten us into the playoffs this year.  But then we’d have more levels of competition to clear once we get there, so it’s not necessarily all that helpful.  Like I said, there’s been no indication so far that it needs fixing by the addition of two teams.  This is Selig wanting to make waves, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s been having some nice talks with the networks about it too.  I’m just saying that I think he’s proposing this change for all the wrong reasons, and there are no clear benefits from a baseball standpoint.

Also, Selig’s second in command and right-hand man, Bob DuPuy, Major League Baseball’s Chief Operating Officer, resigned last month.  What’s up with that.

We claimed Taylor Buchholz.  Yes, he is Clay’s cousin.

In other news, the B’s shut out the Devils and Panthers this week, with the help of Lucic’s hat trick in the latter, and bested the Rangers by one goal.  We lost to the Kings yesterday by one goal, but it was in overtime, so we still get a point.  The Pats beat the Steelers last week.  In Pittsburgh.  39-26.  It was nothing short of awesome.

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It’ll be one week tomorrow since our elimination from the playoffs, and it already feels like forever since baseball season.  That’s a bad sign.  If it feels like forever after a week, I don’t want to think about how it’s going to feel after a month, or two, or six.

The Twins failed us, and that’s all I’m going to say about that.

Let’s look back on our season, shall we? We finished second in the Majors in runs scored with 818, sixth in hits with 1,511, first in doubles with 358, second in homers with 211, first in total bases with 2,546, second in RBIs with 782, sixth in batting average with .268, third in on-base percentage with .339, and second in slugging percentage with .451.

When you look at it like that, our offense was awesome.  Before the season, everyone was worried about where the home runs were going to come from.  Well, they came.  They came in droves compared to the offensive ineptitude everyone was ready to heap onto us.   Beltre was a big part of that, and if you ask me he should be in the discussion for AL MVP.  Tito should be Manager of the Year.  Done.  If he doesn’t get Manager of the Year, something is fundamentally wrong.

Let’s do pitching.  We were tenth in the Majors in wins with eighty-nine, seventh in saves with forty-four, second in innings pitched with exactly 1,457, ninth in strikeouts with 1,207, and ninth in opponent’s batting average with .253.  Unfortunately, our ERA, runs, earned runs, and walks were off the charts.  If we got into the playoffs it would have been because of about half the offense and half the staff, namely Lester and Buchholz.  We basically spent the entire year playing with and relying on only half our team.  Half the staff was trying to carry all of it, and half the order was trying to carry all of it.  The bullpen was a mess.

And finally, fielding.  We were second in the Majors in putouts with 4,371.  The rest of our fielding stats were essentially awful.  Beltre was as bad in the field as he was good at the plate, and he wasn’t the only one.

All of that begs the tough question that encompasses every GM’s universe come the offseason: what do we do to improve? We’re in a very difficult position.  After a season finish like ours, the first impulse is to be convinced that what we need is some sort of incredibly massive overhaul.  But that’s not necessarily the case, and we should be wary of doing anything rash.  We know from that brief but glorious period right before the All-Star Game that Theo’s run prevention theory works.  We were well on our way to locking the division before the injuries hit.  So we can’t write off that approach so fast, especially since we obviously did end up having good offensive production.  Aside from our obvious needs, it’s hard to gauge what’s needed because we never actually got to see the 2010 team in full force for any indicative period of time.  So I actually don’t think that there are too many glaring holes that need patching up this winter.

One glaring hole we do have is the bullpen.  Paps was decidedly subpar, and so were most of our other relievers.  We need a middle reliever, and our specialist situation is not clear-cut at the moment.  We need to fix that.

We need to re-sign V-Mart.  That is absolutely non-negotiable.  He works very well with the staff, he has improved his arm, and he hits.  Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a catcher who hits.  And he hits from both sides of the plate.  And he destroys southpaws.  And he plays first base.  V-Mart will be worth every penny the brass offers.  The only potential problem there is years.  V-Mart wants a long contract, and we don’t like offering long contracts because they damage our flexibility.  But I still say he’s integral.

We need to retain Big Papi.  We’ve got an option on him, and as usual there’s no comment as to whether that’s going to be exercised.  All I know is that Papi was an absolute force this year.  When he gets going, it’s hard to stop him, and he’s still got it.  Not to mention what he does for the team off the field, which is also important.  So between his potent bat and his potent personality, he does great things for this team, and I think it would be a mistake not to bring him back.

Beltre is also a free agent.  This is a tricky one.  Nobody expected him to be as good as he was this year, so he’s going to have decisions to make this winter.  There is absolutely no way on this planet that he will exercise his option.  No way.  It’s not happening.  Beltre is going to want some serious coin, perhaps more than we’ll want to offer.  We’re going to have to be ready if that’s how it comes to pass.  Suppose Beltre signs with someone else.  Presumably, Youk will be healthy next year, so we’ll have his bat back to take the place of Beltre’s, and we wait for the other Adrian, Adrian Gonzalez, to become a free agent, we sign him, and we move Youk back to third.  Obviously that’s easier said than done, but it’s a viable option and one that the organization has been thinking about.  Do I think Beltre would be worth the kind of financial commitment he’s probably looking for? That depends on how much we’re talking.  He’s obviously a beast.  He’s a great hitter, presumably he’ll eventually be a great fielder as he gets more accustomed to Fenway, and he’s durable, which we learned the hard way this year.  He’s so durable that, not only did he stay healthy for the whole year, but he took out others for the season.

Lastly, there’s the subtle yet present question of Jason Varitek.  Tek will be back next year in a backup role.  He has embraced his demotion as a way to help the team in a different way, and he’s happy with that.  Everyone needs a backup catcher, and he’s probably the best backup catcher you could possibly find.  He’s also a class act; it takes a real man to accept a backup job with a team you love instead of signing for more money with another team that would probably make you a starter.  Tek has never played baseball for anyone else, and I suspect he wants to keep it that way.

No matter what happens, I think next year will be vastly different from this year, and not only because we’ll be healthy next year.  That’s definitely one reason; Pedroia had his surgery when he did so he would be ready to begin his offseason regimen on time. Everyone is committed to making 2011 a turnaround.  If you ask me, I think we’re going to have a World Series coming our way.  Also because our bench and farm are now one of the best in baseball since they all became starters this year and got regular playing time for a good portion of the season.  And new guys like Lackey will be fully acclimated, and we’ll get to see them really live up to their potential.  So I’m psyched.

In other news, the Pats walked all over the Dolphins last weekend, beating them bad by a score of 41-14.  And hockey season has officially begun.  We kicked it off in Prague with the Coyotes.  We dropped the first game, 5-2, but came roaring back in the second, 3-0.  Tyler Seguin scored his first NHL goal, and it was Thomas with the shutout.  Then we’re returning to the United States to take on the Devils.  This is going to be a great season for us.  We’re loaded with young talent, and I think we’re going to go places.

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