Friday, February 27, 2015

Looking Back at 2014's Storylines and What They Mean for 2015

I was looking through some old blog notes this afternoon and found a “Red Sox Storylines for 2014” entry. Here’s what I wrote just about a year ago:

Red Sox Storylines for 2014
  • Is Xander the Rookie of the Year?
  • Is Spring Training Sizemore the Real Deal?
  • Is this the year Willie Middle puts it together?
  • Victorino's health and leadoff hitting, who is our leadoff hitter?
  • Can Gomes, Nava, and Carp duplicate their contributions from 2013?
  • Can Felix Doubront fulfill his potential? 
  • Will Buchholz be back to early 2013 levels?
Yikes. No wonder Boston staggered to a last place finish in 2014. Every single one of those key storylines broke in the negative direction for the Sox. Looking back on it, it’s pretty amazing really that the Sox went 0 for 7 on this list. The karmic swings for this franchise from 2012 to 2013 to 2014 is like a craps table that gamblers flee from in horror. Let’s take a look back through the storylines with the advantage of hindsight and see what went wrong and what the implications are for 2015.

#1. Is Xander the Rookie of the Year?
What Happened: Stephen F*&^*% Drew happened. (Side Note: is there a weirder relationship in sports than the Drew family and Red Sox Nation? One the one hand, the Drew brothers are widely disliked for being baseball automatons and the antithesis of the Cowboy Up! and Bearded Idiots! teams. On the other hand, this happened and so did this) Well, first Will Middlebrooks started off badly and then got hurt (again).  The Sox, already having misgivings about Willie Middle after a demotion to AAA in 2013, panicked. The touted Red Sox farm system seemed to have no internal answers to the hole at 3B (remember the articles on Garin Cecchini at the time: “DO NOT LET THIS GUY PLAY IN THE FIELD! ABORT! ABORT!”), and so they pulled the trigger on free agent Stephen. At the time it seemed reasonable: run back the left side of the infield that won you the World Series just the year before. Instead, the signing bumped Xander Bogaerts to 3B and rattled the youngster, who had just started to blossom into something truly special. Meanwhile, Brock the Slap Weasel Holt came up and outperformed anything Drew did for the rest of 2014, meaning they could have just kept the X Man at short all along. Xander’s season never recovered, and neither did the Red Sox’.

Implications for the Future: The Red Sox realized their mistake and shipped Drew off to the Yankees (with every passing year, Hal Steinbrenner resembles this guy more and more), re-inserting Xander into the shortstop role, hopefully for the next decade. Xander is young. He has said all the right things this spring about starting fresh and finding his confidence/mojo again. There’s no reason to believe he can’t bounce back and fulfill his immense potential. Also, the Slap Weasel should be able to fill in capably at any position on the diamond outside the battery.

#2. Is Spring Training Sizemore the Real Deal?
What Happened: We all wanted Sizemore to succeed in Boston. Everybody loves a comeback story. He was so impressive in the Grapefruit League it was easy to envision him rolling that success over to Fenway Park. Unfortunately, Grady left his bat in Florida when the team traveled north, and the Sizemore experiment fell on its face.

Of course, the related storyline is why the center field job was available for Sizemore to win in the first place: Here's some footage of Bradley's 2013 spring training:


If Bradley could have hit anything, Sizemore never would have been counted on as anything other than a fourth outfielder, and his struggles wouldn’t have contributed to Boston’s early season slide.

Implications for the Future: The Red Sox’ CF job is still in flux, although there are certainly some promising candidates in Rusney Castillo, Mookie Betts, and Jackie Bradley Jr getting another look. For the second straight year the Sox enter the spring with a center field competition to replace Jacoby Ellsbury (Jacoby’s less-than-stellar season in New York overshadowed how much the Sox missed his presence at the top of their batting order in 2013). Although they will have no choice but to make their decision based on spring training results, hopefully they will remember the lesson of Spring Training Sizemore.

#3. Is this the year Willie Middle puts it all together?
What Happened: .191/.256/.265 slash lines with 70 strikeouts in 215 AB’s for a 32.5% strikeout rate happened. Egads. The slugging percentage was especially perplexing given his .509 and .425 marks in 2013 and 2014 respectively. Some of that was nagging injuries and some was…Jenny Dell? 

Implications for the Future: Welcome to Boston, Panda! Is Sandoval the fattest Red Sox player since Rich Garces? Yes! Is he a guy you want to give a five year contract to? Probably not. Is he a $19 million-a-year player? Probably not. Am I ecstatic to watch the Fat Panda era in Boston with his combination of fat guy ballet at the hot corner, decent pop at the plate, and outsized personality in the dugout? ABSOLUTELY! Sign me up!
Oh, and Willie Middle is now employed in San Diego.

#4. Victorino’s health and leadoff hitting. Who is our leadoff hitter?
What Happened: Victorino played in only 30 games in 2014, the fewest since 2005 when he was just breaking in with the Phillies. Injuries cost Shane a chance to follow up on a 2013 campaign that was vital to the Sox’ success. In those scant 30 games, Victornio had only a .685 OPS. 
Boston used five different leadoff hitters in their first twenty games of 2014, and never did settle on a regular table setter until Betts in September. Of course, there’s no guarantee Betts is on the Opening Day roster in 2015.

Implications for the Future: As mentioned in the Grady Sizemore question above, Boston is still trying to replace Jacoby Ellsbury atop the batting order. Rob Bradford declared Mookie Betts the leadoff hitter of the future in this piece from September, but there is no guarantee that Betts even makes the Opening Day roster in 2014. Let’s just say there is still a lot up in the air surrounding Victorino, the center field position, and the leadoff spot.

#5. Can Gomes, Nava, and Carp duplicate their contributions from 2013?
What Happened: 
Jonny Gomes, 2013: .247/.344/.426/.771, 13 HR, 52 RBI, 65 clutch hits/sacrifice flies/celebrations (approximate).
Jonny Gomes, 2014: .234/.329/.354/.683, 6 HR, 37 RBI, 0 clutch hits/sacrifice flies/celebrations (approximate.

Daniel Nava, 2013: .303/.385/.445/.831, 12 HR, 66 RBI, Boston Strong hero
Daniel Nava, 2014: .270/.346/.361/.706, 4 HR, 37 RBI, sent to Pawtucket

Mike Carp, 2013: .296/.362/.523/.885, 9 HR, 43 RBI, was on the Beard train early on
Mike Carp, 2014: .198/.320/.279/.599, 0 HR, 9 RBI, was on a train out of town

Observations: Well, those numbers speak for themselves. The answer to 2014 storyline #5 is a resounding no. Some numbers that stand out:
  • 12 dingers for Nava in ’13! The dude was locked in all season long. Heading into 2014, Nava had gone from 6 to 12 HR in his two big league seasons. It was reasonable to think maybe that number could climb to 15 or 16 in 2014. Instead, it plummeted to 4, and it’s hard not to think of 2013 as an aberration. 
  • It is hard to have numbers as bad as Mike Carp did and still earn 149 plate appearances at the big league level. I mean, those numbers are Punto-esque. Carp is in camp with the Nationals this spring, hoping to earn a pinch hitter role on a NL roster without a DH spot. This is the same Carp who always claimed to dislike pinch hitting in Boston.
  • Did all three of these guys make deals with the devil in 2013? Did they get a group rate?
Implications for the Future: Only Nava remains with the Red Sox, and he is going to have to rake in Ft. Myers to stay on the big league roster. He could certainly still earn some at-bats in Boston throughout the year as outfield/first base depth based on his veteran approach and know-how. But the next wave of Boston position players have supplanted the three cogs in the ’13 machine listed here.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

2015 Red Sox Spring Training is Underway

All of the Red Sox players are in Fort Myers, dozens of them came into camp days and weeks early.  For a team coming off a last place AL East finish, there is very little uncertainty of the composition of the Opening Day 25 man roster.  Barring the trade of an outfielder ( likely to very likely) or the acquisition of another starting pitcher (ace??), the only open spots are the last job or two in the bullpen.  The other 25 man roster question to be answered is the outfield survivors.  Around the infield (including catcher) is just about set in stone, barring any unforeseen injury:

Catcher: Christian Vazquez, backed up by Ryan Hanigan.

1B  Mike Napoli
2B Dustin Pedroia
SS Xander Bogaerts
3b Pablo Sandoval

Utility Brock Holt

That is not to say there are not questions about this group, but you can bet these guys are the starters, and will have 7 of the 25 roster spots.

But as we move to the outfield, the list of candidates is long:

Hanley Ramirez
Shane Victorino
Rusney Castillo
Mookie Betts
Allen Craig
Daniel Nava
Jackie Bradley, Jr.
Bryce Brentz

In his utility role, Brock Holt may play out here as well, but I bet it is way, way less in the garden as opposed to '14.

Let's start with one certainty.  Hanley Ramirez is going to be the everyday left fielder, now by every day I mean 120-130 games, with another 20 or so at DH giving Big Papi a rest at age 39.  Speaking of David Ortiz, out of anyone on this team he is a mortal lock to hold his spot,  the DH and probably the number three hitter between Pedroia and Hanley. The question of course is how many more years can Big Papi produce.  He showed no sign of stopping in the otherwise miserable 2014 and the 500 home run mark is another carrot out there for David.  So give Hanley and David roster spots 8 and 9.

John Farrell has made two pronouncements regarding the outfield so far this spring.  First "IF HEALTHY" Shane Victorino is the right fielder and in a connected statement, Farrell said Castillo, Betts, and Jackie Bradley, Jr. are in a competition for center field.  More on these four gentlemen in a moment.

That leaves returnees Allen Craig and Daniel Nava, and rookie Bryce Brentz.  Brentz, despite a decent September call up debut, has almost no chance to make this team barring multiple injuries. Despite that you keep hearing whispers the Sox are really intrigued by his plentiful right handed power. He will go to AAA.  Nava and Craig, except for the fact Craig hits righty and Nava is best from the left, are for purposes of this roster the same player.  Unless one or both of them have fantastic springs, there seems to be no way they are both on this roster.  If they do have great springs (especially Craig, who has a three year history '11-'13 as one of the best NL hitters) there is a very slim chance Mike Napoli could traded for pitching and Craig and/or Nava could play first.

Either Nava or Craig are strong candidates to be traded, but even though Craig hit an abysmal .128 for Boston after being traded from St. Louis, I cannot shake the feeling this would be the classical sell-low deal and the Sox would lose out on Craig's comeback.  But I just do not see where he gets at bats here.

Back to the CF/RF puzzle.  I believe Farrell when he says Victorino if he can play is the starting right fielder.  I just do not buy he will be healthy.  Maybe on Opening Day but for how long?  I think by June 1 or earlier if Victorino can play he will be traded.  I am one of the few people left in Red Sox Nation who still thinks Jackie Bradley, Jr. will be a strong major league player.  But right now, he will need to go back to AAA, and put up two strong offensive months, and then see where he fits.

I have been on record all winter saying the "regular" Red Sox outfield in '15 will be Hanley Ramirez, Rusney Castillo, and Mookie Betts, and I am sticking with it.  All three will start at least 120 games in the Sox outfield. Now if the Sox start the year with Hanley and Vic on the corners, there still could be plenty of playing time for Rusney and Mookie.  As Peter Gammons pointed out the other day there are 486 games to be started in the outfield (162 x 3), if you divide that by four you get about 121 games apiece.

Let's give roster spots 10 through 13 to Victorino, Betts, Castillo, and one of Craig/Nava. With a real good chance by June, Jackie Bradley is the fourth outfielder to Ramirez-Castillo-Betts.

Let's change our focus to pitching and look at the rotation.  Here are the five names going into spring training ( and very likely the season).  And roster spots 14 through 18.

Clay Buchholz
Rick Porcello
Wade Miley
Justin Masterson
Joe Kelly

Sunday, February 1, 2015

My First Red Sox Game

Recently while pondering the calendar changing to 2015, I realized that I had gone to my first Red Sox game at Fenway Park ( my first big league game anywhere) in 1965.  This means that besides the fact I am getting damned old, that this year is the 50th anniversary of that game.

As the years have passed there are really only a handful of things I remember about the game.  It was around August 20th and the opponent was the the Detroit Tigers.  I recall the score being 13-10 Red Sox, with the offense being paced by home runs for Tony Horton, and my all time favorite payer, Tony Conigliaro.  I remember a very sparse crowd for the night game ( I do not recall the day of the week) and most of all I recall a very difficult time finding Fenway Park by my parents, my younger sister and I  as none of us had ever ventured into Boston.

After finally seeing the lights from a distance we found Fenway and walked up to the ticket window and purchased four seats just several rows behind the Red Sox dugout.  That was the pre Impossible Dream reality for attendance to Red Sox games.

So I have done some research to fill in some of the memory gaps.  The game was on a Saturday night, August 21, 1965.  The Tigers were indeed the visitors and most importantly I had the right score, 13-10 Sox, and I had correctly recalled the only Sox home runs were by Tony Horton and Tony C.

But for the first big league game for a ten year old kid in Maine, it was a delicious stew of characters and events.  Some memories that had faded in time, others perhaps beyond the grasp of a relatively new, young fan, and others that needed the hindsight of decades to shine a light on what I had seen.

So here is the story of my first Red Sox game.

PREGAME

The teams were managed by two baseball lifers.  The Red Sox manager was William Jennings Bryan    "Billy" Herman. His main attribute as manger seemed to be he was a drinking buddy of Tom Yawkey's ( as most of the mangers and execs hired by Yawkey seemed to be).  But as player in his day, Herman was an outstanding second sacker mostly for the Cubs, he actually played in three World Series with the Cubs (really the Cubs) in the 1930's.  Ten years later in 1975, the veterans committee voted Herman into the Hall of Fame.  Herman may or may not have been at Fenway that night.  On August 10, he underwent an emergency appendectomy, and was reported to have missed 11 days with the team.  So he either returned that night or the next day.

Charlie Dressen was the Tigers' skipper.  Dressen ( also known as Chuck) has some claims to fame himself.  He had been a pro football quarterback from 1920-1923 with first the Decatur Staleys( a forerunner of the Chicago Bears) and then in Racine, Wisconsin.  He gave up football for a baseball career, which led him to manage the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1951 to 1953.  1951 was the year of the famous collapse to the cross town Giants and Bobby Thomson's shot heard round the world.  But lead by players such as Jackie Robinson, Dressen lead the Bums to the World Series in 1952 and 1953.
After Dressen was fired and replaced by no name Walter Alston, the Dodgers only changed managers one more time until 1996. Alston and Tommy Lasorda  were the only Dodger managers for all those years.  Dressen also managed the Senators and Milwaukee Braves, before joining the Tigers in mid-64. Chuck had a heart attack in spring training of 1965 and re-joined the Tigers at the end of May.  The second of two more heart attacks in 1966 lead to his death on August 10, 1966, less than one year from this game night.

STARTING LINEUPS

Detroit

1. 3B  Don Wert
2. 2B  Jerry Lumpe
3. LF  Gates Brown
4. RF  Willie Horton
5. CF  Don Demeter
6. 1B  Norm Cash
7.  C   Bill Freehan
8. SS  Ray Oyler
9.   P  Hank Aguirre

Boston

1. SS  Rico Petrocelli
2. 3B  Frank Malzone
3. LF  Carl Yastrzemski
4. 2B  Felix Mantilla
5. RF Tony Conigliaro
6. 1B  Tony Horton
7. CF  Jim Gosger
8.  C  Bob Tillman
9.  P  Dave Morehead


Boston was 44-77, 33 games out of first in ninth place.  The Tigers were in third, nine games behind the eventual 1965 AL champs, the Minnesota Twins, with a record of 69-52.  The announced paid attendance was 7, 567.

FIRST INNING

The first major league hitter I ever saw stride to the plate was Don Wert, the Tiger third baseman.  Wert, who is the only player in major league history to have a last name that can be spelled out on any standard keyboard with four or more consecutive keys, left to right. ( Go ahead and try to find another). Wert was known as good fielding, light hitting player, but he was in the midst of his best two season stretch of his career offensively ( 64-65).  Wert struck out as did both of the next two Tigers, and in the first inning I ever saw pitched in the big leagues, Sox starter Dave Morehead had struck out the side.

The Red Sox began the first by getting the first two batters on base with a single and a walk.  The two hitters at the top of the Sox lineup were a rookie and faded vet near the end: Rico Petrocelli and Frank Malzone.  Rico Petrocelli, was the everyday Sox shortstop as a rookie in 1965 (although he made his MLB debut by playing one game and getting a double in 1963).  In '65 Rico hit 13-33-.232, but he became a Sox fixture through 1976, eventually moving to third base, playing in two World Series with Boston ('67 and '75).  He was a key member of the Impossible Dream Sox two years later.  Rico finished his career with 210 home runs, and the 40 home runs he hit in 1970 was a American League record for years.

Malzone, 35 years old at the time, was born and raised in the Bronx.  He first joined the Red Sox in 1955, full time at third base in 1957, a job he held through 1965.  He was a six time AL All Star and won three gold gloves for his stellar play at third.  By the time I saw him in '65 he was near the end, batting only 3-34-.239 and he was released that winter and played one final year for the Angels.

The Sox offense cashed in the two table setters.  A bunt and ground out plated the first run.  Then a two out double by Tony Conigliaro was followed by a two run home run by Tony Horton.

4-0 Boston after one.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Welcome 2015- A New Year and A New Upcoming Baseball Season

Welcome 2015, hopefully it brings health, happiness, and a championship contending baseball team in Boston.  As the New Year commences, I thought I would throw out a few ideas about the 2015 Boston Red Sox that at this early juncture I feel strongly about.  These are not actual predictions for the upcoming season (although some of these same topics may appear in the 2015 predictions), we here at Red Sox Maineiacs have a tradition of making those official prognostications right before Opening Day.  So as the calendar has turned to 2015, here are a handful of items that I feel will happen based on my own opinions and from reading the works of many Red Sox pundits this winter.

1. Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo will form the starting outfield with Hanley Ramirez.

More on Hanley later on, let us start with Betts and Castillo.  A number of Sox Nation (including some of the other Maineiacs, I believe) feel that either Betts or Castillo (maybe both) could start '15 at AAA due to the need for more seasoning and/or to alleviate the outfield numbers crunch.  I strongly believe that Betts and Castillo will make up 2/3 of the starting outfield on Opening Day, for the great majority of 2015, and for many years to come.  The positions are up in the air, with center and right open to them.  Most observers who agree with me they will both start seem to pencil Rusney in center and Mookie in right.  Castillo is considered to have the stronger throwing arm, which to me should lead to Castillo playing right field.  Either way, the Red Sox would fulfill their long stated desire of having a centerfield caliber outfielder in right field to cover the difficult Fenway pasture there.

Castillo is not a green kid, he is 27 years old and the Sox have invested over $70 million in him.  They will want him in the big leagues if at all possible.  It is true he missed about 1 1/2 seasons from his Cuban league team while defecting.  But he received some playing time late in 2014 for the Sox minor league playoff teams( including the Sea Dogs) and for Boston.  This off season Castillo played briefly in the Arizona Fall League, before a minor injury shortened his season there.  After recovering, Rusney reported to the Puerto Rico Winter League.  His manager there, former Sox Alex Cora was absolutely effusive in his praise of Castillo's performance and flat out stated he felt Castillo was ready for Boston.

Betts' readiness is often questioned by comparing him to Xander Bogaerts.  Bogaerts appeared on the scene late in 2013 and was anointed a star for 2014. Bogaerts in fact had a somewhat disappointing 2014.  But in 2013 Xander had 44 at bats in Boston ( with 27 more in the ALCS and World Series) with a BA/OBP/OPS of .250/.320/.364.  Betts on the other hand had 189 AB's (more than 2.5 times Bogaerts, even including the post season), and had a line of .291/.368/.444.  So not only is Betts more experienced entering '15 than Bogaerts was a year ago, but he also fills one of the holes on this team.  Leadoff hitter.  His speed, on base ability, and power would set the table for some combination of Pedroia, Ortiz, Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, and Mike Napoli (with Bogaerts and Castillo to follow).

The only possible roadblock to Betts and Castillo beginning the year as starters is the presence of veterans Allen Craig and especially, Shane Victorino.  Craig would need to completely dominate in Florida this spring to gain and hold a starting job, so let's focus on Victorino.  Victorino, one of the key members of the 2013 World Championship team, was unable to stay healthy in 2014 ( he struggled with his health in '13 for that matter) and had back surgery late in the season.  Victorino has made it perfectly clear this winter in several interviews that he feels he is and intends to be the starting right fielder for the 2015 Boston Red Sox.  If Vic performs well enough (and stays healthy enough) to push Betts or Castillo aside, so be it,  the team would benefit from his presence. But to me I think the optimal role for Victorino would be fourth outfielder, gaining playing time backing up all three of the starters.  This would also limit Victorino's appearances rendering him healthier as well, hopefully.  But a number of the Sox beat writers and others have opined that Victorino would not warm to a backup role, and could be a clubhouse problem.  This could lead to a showcasing of Victorino during spring training, and if he proves his health, a trade to one of the several teams still looking for outfield help. I feel that one of theses two scenarios will occur for Shane ( fourth outfielder or trade) which continues to point to Betts and Castillo joining Hanley Ramirez as the starting outfield in '15.

2. The current Red Sox rotation is sufficient to win the AL East and beyond.

The hue and cry throughout Red Sox Nation and the baseball world in general is the Red Sox need an "ace" to front their existing rotation of mid-level guys.  I am in the minority who feels this team could go a long ways ( maybe all the way) with the starting pitching they have.  Would I like to have Cole Hamels, Jordan Zimmerman, James Shields, or Johnny Cueto in the front of the Sox rotation??  Maybe, yes, not really, and absolutely, come see me in July are the answers by the way. The Red Sox are not trading Betts, Bogaerts, or Blake Swihart for Hamels or any other pitcher who might be available.

One of the phony or wrong headed arguments out there is if the Red Sx go into the season with their current five man rotation: Clay Buchholz, Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, Joe Kelly, and Justin Masterson, who would start Games one or two or a playoff series?  This question is silly because if the Red Sox are going into a playoff series and need to choose starters for game one and two, it means at least two, if not more of these guys had outstanding years! So choose the guys with the best years.  Are you telling me it is beyond comprehension that a AL East winning Red Sox team couldn't start Clay Buchholz       (who has had two years since 2010 with ERAs of 2.33 and 1.74) and Rick Porcello and win a playoff series?

Here is a description of the Red Sox rotation by Braden Campbell of Boston.com recently ( I would include the link if I was not technically inept).

" A 29 year old workhorse coming off his worse season, a second year starter with a high 4 ERA, a would be ace with world class stuff and often abysmal control, a mediocre NL transplant, and a disgruntled declining vet."

The Red Sox rotation he is describing is the 2013 Red Sox rotation of Lester, Doubront, Buchholz, Dempster, and Lackey that went on to win the World Series.

The other reason the Sox may indeed have enough pitching all ready is the potential Paw Sox '15 Opening day rotation of Anthony Ranaudo, Matt Barnes, Henry Owens, Brian Johnson, and Eduardo Rodriguez, plus knuckler Stephen Wright. Any of these hurlers could easily step into the Red Sox rotation by June or so if one of the vets falters.

3. Xander Bogaerts takes a big step towards stardom.

I am not necessarily predicting Bogaerts wins the AL MVP, but he will smooth out all of the bumps of 2014.  He will be the unquestioned shortstop, which seem to boost his offensive production in 2014. He will have an entire year under his belt versus big league pitching.  Bogaerts is still a baby at age 22, with plenty of time to meet his sky high expectations.  2015 will lead down that path.

4. Hanley Ramirez will thrive in Boston and in left field.

First the issue of playing left filed for the first time.  Anyone who has played shortstop, at the top of the defensive spectrum, can play left field, especially the tiny left field at Fenway.  Boston thrived for nearly a decade (and captured two world titles) with a Ramirez in left field, even though Manny Ramirez was no Gold Glover.  Hanley will be fine in left.

Hanley has had a reputation of character issues in his career, but these should be mitigated in Boston for at least two reasons.  First the presence of David Ortiz, who has had a relationship with Hanley, since the Red Sox minor league days of a younger Ramirez.  Papi will help keep Hanley in line, if needed.  Secondly, this is where Hanley wanted to play.  Early in this free agent season a report came out that Ramirez was willing to move from his long time shortstop position and play third, first, or the outfield.  What that report did not say or know is the team Hanley specifically said this to was Boston.  Ramirez picked up the phone and called Ben Cherington to tell him he wanted to come home to Boston.

Because Ramirez has spent his entire career (except for two at bats with Boston in 2005) in the National League, Red Sox fans do not really grasp what an elite or at least near-elite hitter Hanley is.  He has 191 career home runs in nine seasons, despite not being a pure home run hitter.  His career BA/OBP/OPS is .300/.373/.873, and these numbers were complied with home parks in Miami and LA, both notorious pitchers parks.  Hanley, who turned only 31 on December 23, should pepper the wall at Fenway.

5. Mike Napoli will have an outstanding walk season.

Napoli can be a free agent after the 2015 campaign, and many a player has put up career years in their free agent walk seasons.  But there are two additional reasons I would look for a big 2015 from Mike.  First, Nap had the successful off season jaw surgery for sleep apnea. Even though his famous beard came off for the surgery, the long term effect should make him healthier and more productive (and the beard is coming back).  The other positive attribute for a big '15 for Nap is the added thump around him in the lineup.  The additions of Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez.  The full seasons of Betts and Castillo, and better years from Bogaerts and Dustin Pedroia will lengthen the lineup and create may RBI chances for Napoli.  Even with a big year, it very well could be the final Boston campaign for Napoli, I bet he goes out with a bang.

As pitchers and catchers get closer to reporting day by day, we will continue to touch on some Red Sox subjects for you.

Happy 2015!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Winter Meeting Dust Settles- Red Sox Have Rotation Upgrade

The much anticipated 2014 Baseball Winter Meetings have come and gone, and despite the Red Sox finishing second in the Jon Lester sweepstakes to the Cubs, the Sox returned home from San Diego with a new five man rotation in place..... for now.

The Red Sox did sign a former Boston pitcher to a free agent deal, but it was Justin Masterson for a one year $9.5M contract rather than the $155M or so Lester received from Theo and the Cubs.  The Red Sox also made two trades to acquire young starting pitchers with MLB experience.  Rick Porcello came from Detroit for Yoenis Cespedes and Alex Wilson.  Arizona sent lefty Wade Miley to Boston for Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa, and a minor league infielder.

The new acquisitions  are penciled into the rotation with holdovers Joe Kelly and Clay Buchholz. Despite the apparent filling of the rotation, many observers are still clamoring for the missing ace.  Ben Cherington publicly seems to be saying the Sox will go into '15 with this group, but will keep their eyes open for any way to improve the team further.  The only obvious aces who may be available include, Cole Hamels, Jordan Zimmerman, and Johnny Cueto.  The Reds have all ready traded 2/5 of their 2014 rotation, so Cueto may not be available, and the Nats are reportedly looking for a second baseman for Zimmerman, so the Sox may not match up there.

The Hamels rumors still abound, and the crux of a deal still seems to be the Sox offering Philly an acceptable deal that does not include Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, or Blake Swihart.  The latest rumor floating is the Sox may include Kelly in a package with two or three minor leaguers to get Hamles and keep the kids that they want to hold.  Even if this happened, Hamels still has a no trade clause to Boston.  This deal could still happen, but I think it is less than 50-50.

All three of the newcomers fit a single description: relatively young ( all will be 30 or under in 2015-as will Buchhoz and Kelly), have all pitched 200 inning season(s) in the majors, and throw the ball down in the zone getting many ground balls.  They also walk few hitters, especially Porcello who averages only 2.2 walks per nine innings in his career.

Porcello has a chance to grow into the missing ace the Sox do not seem to have.  Despite turning 26 later this month, he has pitched six full MLB seasons, and his best year was 2014, with 15 wins, 3.43 ERA and only 1.8 BB/9.  Porcello has been overshadowed by pitching in the Tigers rotation with names like Verlander, Scherzer, Sanchez, and most recently David Price.

Miley is sort of unknown to Sox fans due to his career being spent in Arizona.  But he also, like Porcello, has a chance to be entering the prime of his career.  His best year was his first full season in 2012, when Miley went 16-11, 3.33 ERA and pitched 194 innings ( which Miley has bested the last two campaigns hurling 202.2 and 201.1) and finishing second in the National league Rookie of the Year balloting.  Chase Field in Arizona is a notorious hitters park and Miley's road ERA was a full run lower than at home.  In fact since 2012 on, Miley is tied for fourth in wins by a NL lefty with Cole Hamels at 34.  The three pitchers ahead of him are Clayton Kershaw. Madison Bumgarner, and Gio Gonzalez.

Masterson was the Cleveland ace from 2011 through 2013 and he averaged over 200 innings pitched and averaged 12 wins per year.  Masterson is well known as a great clubhouse guy, and will be looking to revitalize his career after a poor, injury plagued 2014.  This is why Masterson was looking for the one year deal.  Both Porcello and Masterson could be free agents after 2015, Miley is under team control through 2017.

The other news to come from the meetings concerning the rotation is for now the Sox have kept who they apparently consider the high end starting pitching prospects:  Henry Owens, Eduardo Rodriguez, Brian Johnson, Matt Barnes, Anthony Ranaudo, and Brandon Workman. Though Workman is very likely heading for the bullpen all of the others will be at AAA ready to fill in as the year goes along.

Webster and De La Rosa were considered by many to be in the lead for the fifth rotation spot, if the Sox imported two new starters.  But by bringing three and keeping so many other kid pitchers the two former Dodgers were expendable.

The winter meetings of 2014 lived up to the hype not only for Boston, but across the game.  But there are still nearly four months until the next season begins and we will continue to watch Ben Cherington and his baseball ops department to see what else is up their sleeves.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Winter Meetings Live Chat 12-9-14

Live Blog Winter Meetings Live Chat 12-9-14
 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Winter Meetings Eve

The baseball winter meetings begin tomorrow, and there have been numerous reports of rampant trade talk between the teams.  Will the Red Sox have a busy week?  They could because of their need of two or maybe even three more starting pitchers.  Also, the Red Sox have a well chronicled surplus of outfielders and many available prospects, including a lot of pitching.

But there are a couple of reasons why this could be a quiet week for the Sox.  First as we have mentioned earlier this off season, despite the 2014 last place finish, other than the rotation and maybe one more bullpen arm, the Sox roster if pretty much set except for backup catcher.  The team will very likely lineup around the diamond like this:

C  Christian Vazquez
1B Mike Napoli
2B Dustin Pedroia
SS Xander Bogaerts
3B Pablo Sandoval
LF Hanley Ramirez
DH David Ortiz

CF-RF some combination of Mookie Betts, Rusney Castillo, Shane Victorino, and Allen Craig, with Daniel Nava backing up the corner slots.

There has been very, very little rumors involving any of these names.  The exceptions are a rumor or two of dealing Napoli (maybe to Seattle), several NL teams have been asking about Allen Craig, and there are some big time blockbuster trade suggestions for an ace (think Chris Sale) where the Sox may trade Betts and/or Bogaerts.  But 98% of the reports say Boston has no intention of dealing Mookie, Xander, Blake Swihart, and likely not Henry Owens.

The other reason for the possibility of a quiet week for Boston is our first topic....

1. Jon Lester.  Other than the Red Sox jumping into the bats market and securing both Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, the entire Sox off season has centered around the pursuit of Jon Lester. The suitors appear to be the Sox, Cubs, Giants, and this week's seemingly late arrival to the dance, the Dodgers (with maybe the Cardinals and Braves lurking).   The Sox have reportedly bid 6 years 130M, the Cubs maybe around 138-140M, the Giants bid is unknown, but they do have at least the 95M Sandoval turned down.  It is expected LA could blow all the bids out of the water, if they wished.  Originally the Lester sweepstakes were assumed to end around Thanksgiving, and then before the meetings began, now it is being reported it will be Wednesday at the earliest.  If Lester does not decide in two days or so, the Sox are hamstrung in their shopping for more pitching.  They will not know if they need an ace still or are they shopping for an arm or two to slot in behind Lester.

The best piece of news for Red Sox fans, perhaps, leaked out yesterday when Rob Bradford and Alex Speier of weei.com reported Red Sox owner John Henry flew to Atlanta Friday and met personally with Jon Lester at Lester's home.  Hopefully it was not to say goodbye.

I am still reasonably optimistic that Lester returns to Boston, but it is far from a lock. In a small bit of spin at least if Lester does not return all of his other bidders are in the NL.

2. If Lester signs, the Sox shop Yoenis Cespedes for a number two type starter.  The reason I did not include Yoenis in the projected lineup above is the very great likelihood he is traded this week. The right handed power Cespedes possesses makes him a attractive trade chip despite having only one more year on his contract.  The most likely match would be a team in need of a power hitting corner outfielder and that has a starting pitcher with only one year of contractual control themselves to come back in return.

Here are some of the pitchers and teams that meet the criteria and have been rumored as possible deals.

Tigers- Rick Porcello.  This is the one I think I like best.  Porcello is only 26 but will be a free agent after next year. Porcello is a ground ball pitcher who has been hurt for much of his career by a poor Tiger defense.  The Tigers have much interest in Cespedes to fill their left field hole, but according to reports may not want to trade Porcello for Yoenis straight up.  With Detroit acquiring starter Shane Greene this week, they be more willing to do the one for one swap.  If not the Sox could include one of their younger righties maybe Allen Webster and get another piece back from Detroit ( Alex Avila?)

Padres- Ian Kennedy.  San Diego has two more attractive starters that could be had in Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner,  and the Sox could put together a Cespedes plus prospects package for either of them.  But for a one for one Cespedes for a pitcher deal, it would be Kennedy.  I have been lukewarm on Kennedy, but a quick review of his past few seasons show a 21-4 2011 campaign with Arizona followed by a 15 win 2012.  Last year in San Diego Kennedy was 13-13.

Reds-  Mat Latos or Mike Leake.  Cincy has a glaring hole in left field and stated desire to contend in 2015 ( when they also host the All Star Game).  Both Latos and Leake can walk after 2015 and could be had if not straight up for Cespedes with only very little more added to the package.  Both pitchers are still in their 20's, although Latos has the bigger "reputation", he has had more injury issues.

Mariners- Hisashi Iwakuma.  Although the M's signed Nelson Cruz they are reportedly still on the market for one more power bat.  Iwakuma is a free agent after next season.  But there may be two impediments to a Iwakuma-Cespedes deal.  First Seattle is going all in to win in '15 and Iwakuma is their number two starter,  it may not make sense for a team all in to deal their second best starter.  Secondly, it had been reported the power bat Seattle really would want from Boston is Mike Napoli. One trade proposal ( not a rumor) had the Sox trading both Cespedes and Napoli to Seattle in a three way deal which would net the Sox Jordan Zimmerman.  It seemed far fetched at the time, and the Mariners have signed Cruz since so that is unlikely to happen.

3.  Trade some others players for the number two starter.

There is only one oft rumored Sox target that may take players other than Cespedes to acquire.  That is Jeff Samardjiza of Oakland.  Since Cespedes came from Oakland and has only the one year left on his contract, the A's would want a package of other players.  Now it is Billy Beane and Oakland took a lot of heat for their offense collapsing after trading Yoenis, so maybe he could go back to Oakland as part of the deal, but I would not count on it.  The A's are looking for a shortstop and relief help.  The crux of getting a deal done here may be if Oakland thinks Deven Marrero would be the shortstop they need and would Boston deal Marrero (plus a pitcher) for one year of Samardjiza?

For one, peter gammons has reported that there is not a good match between the A's and Sox.  This could be a spot where a three team trade is needed, with Boston sending Cespedes plus to a team that needs him and has the shortstop to send to Oakland.

Scott Kazmir also has one year to go on his deal and could also fit Boston's needs, but there has been no rumors that I am aware of involving Kazmir and the Sox.

There is another name available that would fit the Sox rotation and has one year left and has been said to be available, that is Doug Fister of the Nats.  Washington does not need an outfielder so it would take a package of kids or a three way trade.

4. If Lester signs elsewhere, Sox still need to shop for an ace.  This may very well extend beyond the winter meetings.  First the free agent market contains two more "ace" pitchers: Max Scherzer and James Shields.  Scherzer has long been considered out of Boston's price range since he turned down Detroit's 6 year 144M offer in spring training.  But with reports of the Sox willing to go to 150M for Lester, and depending how desperate they feel for their ace if no Lester, they could at least test the waters.  I still find this unlikely. The best way for Scherzer to provide an ace for Boston would be to sign with Washington or Detroit (both rumored landing spots for Max).  If the Nationals ( whose GM, Mike Rizzo originally signed Scherzer for Arizona) land him, Jordan Zimmerman becomes even more available and if Scherzer goes back to Motown, David Price, a potential free agent a year from now, could go on the market.  A Price package could at least begin with Cespedes but would take more. Either Zimmerman or Price could be had for less than you may think because of only one year of control left.  And there have been some reports the Red Sox would prefer to bring a big name with only one year to go because not only may the cost in talent be less, but it also gives them another year to develop their own young starters.  Also, if the guy the Sox brought in walks, they get a draft pick plus they could dive into next winter's very deep free agent pool of starters.

Back to James Shields.  He may or may not be an ace, but despite his post season woes, he is good for 200 innings plus each year, and could act as your ace if the Sox fail on other avenues. Shields was the ace for an AL which made the World Series in 2014 after all.  Boston could try to move very quickly on Shields if Lester goes elsewhere.  If Lester spurns both the Sox and Cubs, expect Theo to also dive in heavily for Joe Maddon's former Tampa Bay star.  Shields' max deal should be around 4 years 80-85M.

As far as trading for an ace three names have been mentioned repeatedly.  Cole Hamels, Johnny Cueto, and Chris Sale. Let's start with Sale.  Very, very unlikely on all fronts in my opinion.  First Chicago has shown no real interest in dealing him (other than saying they'll listen on anyone).  And the package would be rumored to have to include Bogaerts AND Betts.  No thanks, not with the fragility of any pitcher's arm.

Cueto would be my number two target after Lester of anyone mentioned.  Cespedes and at least two maybe three kids would need to go, although again Cueto is a free agent a year from now, so maybe lesser  prospects than you think.  The Reds have said publicly over and over Cueto is not going to be traded.  But their superstar Joey Votto has a 225M deal and they all ready have a 100M+ deal with one of their starters, Homer Bailey.  Can a market like Cincy afford two 100M pitchers, especially when Cueto is likely to command more like 150-175M or more if he gets to free agency in a year?  I still think this is a deal to watch.

Cole Hamels.  Report after report has linked the Sox and Phillies regarding Hamels.  He is the opposite of all of the potential free agents to be, with four years remaining on his deal plus an option year for a fifth.  He has a no trade list of nine teams including the Red Sox.  Most of the speculation centers around Hamels waiving the no trade if the Sox pick up the fifth year making his deal 5 years around 114M, much less than the Lester bidding.  Two big roadblocks to a deal are the insistence of Philadelphia GM, Ruben Amaro wanting one or maybe two of the untradeable kids. Then if the demands lower to something like Owens,  Matt Barnes, Marrero, Sean Coyle, and Manuel Margot the other stumbling point is would Hamesl really approve the deal?

Despite the preponderance of the idea of Hamels waiving the no trade for the fifth year, the other theory is Hamels wants no part of the American League, and would block a trade to any AL team on his no trade list.

5. Grab a 2-3 type starter from free agency.

We have gone over the names before but here are some likely candidates for this type of deal.

Brandon  McCarthy
Justin Masterson
Francisco Liriano
Ervin Santana

The Sox have rumored interest in each of these names. McCarthy and Masterson would not cost a draft pick, the other two would but only a third rounder since the Sox have all ready surrendered their two second round picks for Sandoval and Ramirez.

6. Other possible moves.

Backup catcher.  Faling to find a left hitting backup, David Ross could return.  Ross has other feelers from the Braves, Cubs, and Padres.

Finding a bullpen arm, preferably left handed.  Only specific name rumored is Sean Doolittle from Oakland.  Maybe re-signing Craig Breslow or righty Burke Badenhop.

Thinning the outfield beyond Cespedes.  There are several Allen Craig rumors, Miami and Milwaukee among them. However this would be the ultimate sell low, I think the Red Sox may wait through spring training to see if Craig can regain his stroke, he is only 29. The Sox will listen on Daniel Nava, but not look to unload him.  Also, the Red Sox would like to find a taker for Shane Victorino, but until he proves he is healthy this could be difficult.  Do not be shocked if Vic is moved this week, though.

With all of the chips Ben Cherington has and the pitching needs, unless Jon Lester clogs up the works, I expect the Sox to make at least two moves this week.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Looking at the Red Sox Position by Position Two Weeks before Winter Meetings

This post will check out the Red Sox at each position in regards to possible winter transactions and the incumbents who have a job all ready claimed.  Two previous posts this off season have concentrated on starting pitching, so we will look at the rest of the team, with a few additional notes on the rotation candidates near the end.  Sprinkled throughout are also mentions of ten deals or so from this winter that have impacted the Sox trade market all ready.

Bullpen-  Unlike the rotation, the re-signing of free agent Koji Uehara leaves the Boston bullpen with stable vets in key spots.  Koji will close with fellow countryman Junichi Tazawa the 8th inning specialist.  Edwin Mujica, who pitched much better post All-Star break in 2014 also returns.  The left handed side of the pen is less settled.  Tommy Layne and Drake Britton, both of who spent the majority of '14 in AAA, are the only incumbent lefties, after the July trade of Andrew Miller and the option declination  of Craig Breslow.  Miller and Breslow are not completely out of the picture.  Breslow could brought back on a cheaper deal than the option declined by the Sox, though I think the Sox will move on from the '13 ALCS star.  Boston would love to grab Miller back, as he is now a free agent with no draft pick attached. But Andrew was so spectacular for Boston and Baltimore in 2014, he may one of the hottest free agents on the market.  It is widely thought he will get a 4 year, $32M deal.  I cannot imagine Boston going there.  Since most of the free agent relievers connected to Boston other than Miler are righties ( Pat Neshek, Luke Gregerson, Luke Hochevar) it may be that Layne and Britton are the Boston bullpen lefties, at least going into spring training.  

I believe any other hurlers to join the bullpen brigade will come from the plethora of young pitchers who have hit Boston in 2013-14.  Whoever is not traded this winter or loses out on a possible starting job should be in the pen.  The approximate order of likely pitchers to land in the pen are: Brandon Workman, Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster, Stephen Wright, Matt Barnes, Edwin Escobar, Anthony Ranaudo.  Also included in this pool are two pitchers from AAA who are all ready relievers: Alex Wilson and Heath Hembree.

Likely 2015 Opening day Bullpen: Uehara, Tazawa, Mujica, Layne, Workman, A. Wilson, Hochevar.

Catcher- Incumbents (from current 40 man roster): Christian Vazquez, Ryan Lavarnway, Dan Butler, Blake Swihart.  In reverse order, Swihart was just added to 40 man roster, and will be the everyday AAA catcher until at least July if not all year.  Butler may have a small chance of being the Boston backup receiver in 2015, but without a veteran ahead of him, that chance gets even smaller.  If not included in a deal, Butler also spends next year in Rhode Island.  Lavarnway, someone whom Boston  apparently had given up on, is inexplicably still on the team.  But if you want to stump your Red Sox friends at a holiday party, ask them who are the five most senior members of the current Red Sox roster, based on when they were most recently added to the 40 man roster.  The answer is David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Clay Buchholz (okay so far, right), Junichi Tazawa is #4 and at number 5 is yep, Ryan Lavarnway, who was added to the roster in August 2011. 

Vazquez, all ready renowned for his pitch framing and incredible pop times to second to gun out would be base stealers, is the odds on favorite to be the regular Red Sox catcher in 2015.  The fact John Farrell loves him cements the deal. Only one small fly in the ointment before CV is anointed ( OK two things, he will need to prove he can hit enough to be a starting big league catcher), is if the Red Sox end up aggressively pursuing Cole Hamels from Philadelphia, could Vazquez be included in the deal?  Far-fetched? Philly has reported heavy interest in Swihart, who Boston is very reluctant to trade, as they are with Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts.  Would a package of Vazquez, Henry Owens, and Deven Marrero, Manuel Margot get Hamels or least get close?

The backup backstop spot is wide open and likely to come from outside.  With the Sox lacking left handed hitters the rumors have Sox pursuing a lefty hitter for the #2 catcher spot.  John Jaso of Oakland is effective lefty hitter, but not the most reliable defensive catcher,  Billy Beane likes to deal so Jaso in a real possibility. Two transactions that have all ready occurred this off season could affect the search.  The Tigers were rumored to non tender Alex Avila, but that did pick up his option.  Avila, another lefty hitter, has been the Motown starter for several years, but due to the buildup of injuries, including concussions, many teams view him as a backup from here on out.  For Boston to get  Avila now a trade is needed.  The Angels have traded catcher Hank Conger to Houston which led to rumors that current Astros receiver Jason Castro could be available in trade.  Castro, who once drafted by Boston, would fulfill the left handed hitting need, but he may sought by clubs looking for a starting catcher.  If none of the left handed hitting options pan out, the Sox could re-sign free agent David Ross, who while does not bat lefty, is a perfect mentor for Vazquez.

One last name, going back to the idea of dealing Vazquez to the Phillies.  In that deal the Sox would try to get catcher Carlos Ruiz (who the Sox pursued last winter when he was a free agent) included in the deal.  Ruiz could keep the seat warm for Swihart and then act as mentor/backup for Blake.

Likely Opening day catchers: Christian Vazquez, David Ross


Shaw will start 2015 back at AAA as the every day first sacker.  Shaw has never been considered a blue chip prospect, but he hits left handed and the man has power: 21 home runs last year at Portland and Pawtucket combined.  Nava and Craig are outfielders foremost (although defensively Craig is much better off playing first) who would back up Napoli.

Juan Francisco, the rotund corner infielder, was picked up on waivers this week from the Jays.  The pros: he bats left handed and has power, 16 jacks in '14 with part time at bats.  Cons: he is a crappy defensive player at either first or third.  He could make the team as a bat of the bench, if the Sox clear several members of the existing 1B/3B/OF logjam.  My best guess is that the Sox designate Juan for assignment during the winter to make room on the currently full 40 man roster, maybe signing him to a spring training invite, if he clears waivers.

Mike Napoli is very likely to be the '15 first baseman and will form the power core of the lineup with David Ortiz and Yoenis Cespedes. But there is a definite shortage of right handed power in the game, therefore there are whispers ( reported by Peter Gammons, for one) the Sox may listen on offers for Napoli.  They are also shopping Cespedes reportedly and if Yoenis goes, Napoli almost certainly stays. Another transaction that went down late this week changes somewhat the complexion of the Gammons report.  He said the Sox could deal Napoli for pitching and then sign Adam LaRoche for a lefty bat at first (especially if they fail to get a lefty hitting third baseman).  But Laroche has signed with the other Sox in Chicago.  But could the Sox replace Nap with a Craig/Nava platoon?

One Napoli rumor involves a pitcher I mislabeled somewhat in the trading for pitching post.  Seattle covets Napoli and one rumor is Nap for pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma.  I had called Iwakuma a pitcher Seattle would not trade, but in fact he is a free agent one year from now and may be available for Napoli who also has one year to go on his contract.

Likely Opening day 1st baseman:  Allen Craig/Daniel Nava ( just a feeling I have).

Second base-  Dustin Pedroia, Brock Holt, Jemile Weeks, Sean Coyle

Coyle after an outstanding year at Portland will head to AAA for '15 if he is not traded in a package.  For example, Coyle is from Philly, I hear they have a team there who scouted the Sox system extensively throughout 2014.

I think the Sox may have found something useful in Weeks and if he can play short at all (not sure he can), he could be the utility infielder on this team if Holt isn't.  Holt probably should listed elsewhere because barring a Pedroia disaster Holt is not playing much here.

Pedroia is without question the man here.  Best case scenario he is finally healthy for a whole campaign, and his power resurfaces.  At minimum Pedey can earn another Gold Glove and provide a respectable level of offense.

Opening day second base:  Dustin Pedroia

Shortstop: Xander Bogaerts, Holt

Other than Pedroia at second and David Ortiz at DH, Xander has the biggest lock on his position.  If Bogaerts can build on his productive September he will be counted on to provide right handed power, especially if Cespedes and /or Napoli are traded.  Bogaerts will have at least all of 2015 to show he is a MLB caliber shortstop.  One year                                                                                                                 
from now, Deven Marrero may enter the discussion if he can hit at Pawtucket like he did at Portland in'14 and in the Arizona Fall League, not like he did at Pawtucket last year.

Likely Opening day shortstop: Xander Bogarts backed up by Brock Holt.