First Time? Shame on You. Second Time? Shame on Me.

It a kind-of-surprising move, the Red Sox granted catcher Josh Bard his unconditional release.  By doing so, George Kottaras has won the back-up catcher spot for Boston.

This is the second tough departure the Red Sox have given Bard.  The first, you will recall, was when the hastily shipped him to San Diego for Doug Mirabelli (remember the police escort to Fenway?).  I have a feeling that Josh Bard won’t be letting his kids route for the Boston Red Sox any time soon.  Of course I’m sure the Red Sox told Bard when they signed him, that he’d have tough competition and he was not a lock to make the team.  But still, ouch.

As for Kottaras, acquired for David Wells in August 2006, he was out of options and must have impressed the Red Sox enough to win the back-up spot.  Kottaras was originally thought of as an on-base machine, but at some point in 2006, he lost his way and really struggled offensively.  But in 2008, he found some power (22 HRs at Pawtucket with a .245 average and a .348 obp) and that combined with his good performance handling Tim Wakefield this spring and his catching of knuckleballer Charlie Zink in AAA last year, must have made the Red Sox decision easy.

Kottaras has much more upside than does Bard, he is cheaper and he was out of options.  A left-handed bat, he has the potential to cut heavily into Jason Varitek’s playing time should Varitek struggle.

Thinking about this, I guess I assumed all along the Red Sox would not go ahead with Bard, but that they would instead trade for the next regular Red Sox catcher (i.e. Teagarden or Saltalamacchia) and not, instead, decide on Kottaras.

Notes:  Wes Littleton was claimed off waivers by the Brewers.  The Littleton experiment didn’t work as he was terrible this spring (18.56 ERA, granted in only 5.1 IP) and seemingly didn’t have a roster spot available to him even if he had done well.

Julio Lugo had knee surgery and is out 3-4 weeks.  I wonder if all that "muscle" he gained in the off-season helped.

You Can Say Many Things…

but you cannot deny that the U.S. players are fired up right now!  I am fired up too, that was an exciting game and an especially nice piece of hitting by Jimmy Rollins. 

More games like that and I will become a big WBC fan.   

This Guy Doesn’t Get It

Seriously, has there even been someone more in need of firing than A-Rod’s PR person?  I know everyone is as tired of this topic as I am, but I would feel remiss if I didn’t mention this interview he gave, most of which happened the day after Selena Robers confronted him on steroid use.  It includes a number of really amazingly dumb items, but best of all is this quote from his manager, "He really hasn’t had the chance to show people who he really is."

Ok, so the guy who is the richest athlete in baseball and has been in the league for 14 seasons hasn’t had the chance to show us who he really is?  What exactly is stopping him?  It’s obivously not money.  Media access doesn’t seem to be a problem.  Maybe he is just painfully shy- maybe not.   

And if the article wasn’t bad enough, look at the photo shoot.  It’s like a bad porno set and A-Rod looks like a bad porno actor in half the pictures.  What is he doing and what are the people advising him on publicity matters doing?  Ok, I am going back to baseball now.   

This Is The Problem

Andy detailed his complaints with the WBC the other day because the Red Sox got Dustin Pedroia back hurt from the tournament.  The Yankees also had two injured players, Robinson Cano and Damaso Marte.  The good news is the injuries don’t sound serious.  The thing that bothers me is quotes like this one from Cano:

"The good thing is that it’s only a few days. This is about your country. It’s not about just going to play and have fun.  I don’t want to be one of those guys that they say, ‘We needed you and you didn’t want to play.’ The good thing is that this didn’t get worse. It’s still the same and I’ll be ready for Friday."

Now, I don’t blame Cano for feeling that way.  Wanting to represent your country and taking pride in doing so are admirable emotions, but the problem is that this tournament conflicts with Cano’s regular job- playing second for the Yankees.  

So, how do you reconcile the players’ emotions and the needs of the clubs?  First thing I would do is stop the WBC from happening in March.  March is when players are getting ready for the season and it is not the time to play big pressure games.  Pitchers are especially vulnerable as they are asked to ramp up and pitch big inninngs before they have really worked their arms into shape.

Ideally, the tournament would take place in October or November, but you can’t ramp up after the season ended and you wouldn’t want to compete with the World Series.  If the owners really want this thing to work I think they need to do it midseason, maybe shortening the regular season to 154 games in WBC years.  Instead of the All-Star Game hold the WBC and close MLB for a week.  Cut down on the number of teams (Is Italy a real hotbed for baseball?  Australia?) and play it out.  It will never happen, but that is probably the way to do it.

What is not the way to do it is the way they are now.  I want to get into this tournament but it is hard when you know that the best players are not all there.  The box says the attendance at last night’s U.S. game was 11,000, but I would be amazed if there were more than 3,000 people in the stands.  Fans aren’t stupid and they are not going to spend their money on a half-assed idea.  MLB needs to either go all in on this or get out of this tournament entirely.  It’s a good idea that is poorly executed and we can only hope that a team doesn’t lose a player to injury because of it. 

Three Weeks To Go

April 6th is going to be a great sports day for Yankees’ fans.  You can tune into the Yanks-Orioles game at 4:05 and then watch the National Championship basketball game at 9pm.  For sports fans these are some of the best weeks of the year, we have survived the dead period between the end of the football season and the start of the baseball season.  March Madness is upon us and when it ends baseball begins.

For the Yankees there are a few issues that need to be sorted out in the remaining weeks of camp. Let’s go through them.

Who will be the centerfielder on Opening Day?  It’s very hard to see how Brett Gardner doesn’t get the job.  Not only is he hitting at a torrid clip, .379/.438/.759, he adds a tremedous amount of speed to the lineup.  Melky Cabrera has a nice OBP, but he isn’t hitting for power (not that you should really expect him to) and after nearly 1500 AB’s in the bigs, it is hard to see him becoming anything more than he is right now.  Cabrera is out of options, so I would expect him to make the team eventhough Shelly Duncan is more deserving of a spot right now.

Can Posada catch?  His first test came today and by all accounts he did very well.  The next three weeks will tell us what we need to know about this.  

What will the bullpen look like?  From all accounts, it sounds like the Yankees will carry 12 pitchers.  That means seven relievers and the only locks for the pen are Rivera, Bruney and Marte.  I think Phil Coke is probably well on his way to earning a job.  He has put up nice numbers and is a lefty.  Veras is probably back as well, leaving two spots open.  One of those would go to a long reliever and right now I think Brett Tomko is the leader.  It really is a four-player race with Tomko, Aceves, Giese and Jason Johnson.  Johnson first got into a game the other day since he is recovering from retinal cancer.  Giese and Aceves haven’t been good so far this March, but there is time of that to change. Personally, I hope they use Giese or Aceves in this role since I don’t believe in Tomko’s abilities at this point in his career.  One option the Yankees could try is using Coke as the long guy as well.

That leaves one spot and I think it is a two-player race between Edwar Ramirez and Jonathan Albaladejo.  Now Edwar has been hurt so he hasn’t had much of a chance to compete yet, while Albie has been good, but in only four innings.  Ramirez was solid last year, but I just don’t think he will ever amount to more than a hit-or-miss bet throughout his career.  Albie looked good last April before he got hurt and I hope the Yankees go with him.  Either way, whoever loses this competition should have some trade value, something the Yankees should consider using before the season starts. 

Is Angel Berroa the utility infielder?  For now I think he has won the job because of the injury to A-Rod.  Berroa has torn the cover off the ball, but his defense has been suspect at best.  If you assume the Yankees leave camp with 13 hitters, six of them are going to be outfielders (Damon, Gardner, Nady, Swisher, Cabrera and Matsui)  Add in two catchers and that leaves five infielders and Berroa makes it because A-Rod is on the DL.  

Medic!!!

Just when players like Mike Lowell and Brad Penny are showing improvement, word arrives that Dustin Pedroia (oblique) and Julio Lugo (torn meniscus) are injured.

While the US squad faces Puerto Rico as I write this (losing 6-0 after 4) in the WBC (still not sure why Puerto Rico has its own team and I mean no disrespect in any way.  In fact, I tried to research it as best I could and just don’t quote get it), Pedroia is a scratch.  In Florida, Lugo’s knee soreness, per Saturday morning’s news, has turned into a month-long rehab should he have arthroscopic surgery in the coming days.

Here’s the potential impact:  Jed Lowrie is the Red Sox starting shortstop and Dustin Pedroia is now questionable for the start of the regular season.

Lowrie starting over Lugo wouldn’t be a shock, but Lugo was leading the team in hitting in spring training and making it a good battle.  Lugo said he gained 10 lbs of muscle in the off-season, but every time I hear a player say that, I just assume it’s his way of explaining why he is 10 lbs fatter…after having not worked out in the off-season.  Not fair to Lugo or any player, but that’s always what comes to mind.

As for Pedroia, he is obviously a key cog in the the Red Sox line-up.  With Lowell no guarantee to be healthy and David Ortiz coming off his worst season as a Red Sox, losing Pedroia would be very tough.  I think Nick Green would be the starting 2b if the season started today.  Yikes.

While I am seriously grumpy about Pedroia getting hurt during the WBC, I have to confess, the games have had a certain dramatic and compelling element.  Watching the Dutch beat the Dominican Republic team (caught about 5 innings of the combine 2 games) twice, was amazing and seeing Canada lose to Italy (only caught highlights) was equally entertaining.  Not that I prefer any of those countries over the others, but seeing a deep-underdog win is always a thrill…unless it is in the 2008 Superbowl…sniffles.

We’ll know more about Pedroia and Lugo by Monday.

Hmmm….

Here’s an interesting story about Ivan Rodriguez and his willingness to play positions other than catcher, notably third.  I know he was terrible with the Yankees last year, but his numbers were actually the same as Molina’s OPS+ wise and I still think he offers more offensive upside. 

I doubt the Yankees would bring him back, but it’s worth a look.  Girardi hasn’t changed from his stance that Posada is only catching 110 games or so and we don’t even know if he is up to that.  Pudge would be a nice insurance policy, probably the best available one at this point, and with his willingness to play other position he could possible fill in for A-Rod. 

New Baseball Stats

Got this email today.  No source given, so apologies in advance…anyway, kind of funny…sort of.

————————————————————————————————————— 

There are some new stats sweeping the MLB scene, Check it out:

Off-base percentage (OBP):

  • The measure of a TV baseball announcer’s ability to veer precariously away from the action on the field to deliver a tangential anecdote so rooted in that announcer’s own personal experience that it cannot possibly be understood by anyone watching the game.
  • Highest OBP ever recorded: Tim McCarver and Joe Morgan (tie)

Walks Per Federal Grand Jury Appearance (WFGJA):

  • Ability of player to avoid successful criminal prosecution even in the face of overwhelming evidence and off-the-charts anti-karmic numbers
  • Highest WFGJA ever recorded: Barry Bonds

PEYOTA:

  • The measure of a player’s ability to perform at world class levels while intoxicated beyond normal human levels
  • Highest PEYOTA ever recorded: Dwight Gooden (1984-1993, 2008)

Fielder’s (Side Dish) Choice (FC):

  • The inverse correlation between a player’s waist measurement and the ability to actually refer to that person as an ‘athlete’.  Numbers for baseball in this regard are typically off the charts
  • Highest FC ever recorded: Cecil and Prince Fielder (tie)

Runs (Accidentally) Created (RC):

  • Typically a high profile player who unintentionally affects the outcome of a crucial game without acting the least bit interested in the outcome of said game, thus infuriating traditionalists
  • Highest RC ever recorded: Manny Ramirez

Scrappiness Index (SI):

  • The direct relationship between a player’s clean-cut caucasian good looks and the likelihood that local fans will overlook that player’s disappointing play and applaud his ‘hustle’ (also known as “White Blindness”)
  • Highest SI ever recorded: David Eckstein (”Did you see that ground ball back to the pitcher? He’s giving it his all!”)

Strikeouts per Budding Country Music Career Destroyed (SBMCD):

  • Inherent ability of a egomaniacal player to satisfy his manly desires whilst stealing the glint out of a simple country girl’s eye, leaving her as a pale husk of a woman.
  • Highest SBMCD ever recorded: Roger Clemens

Putouts – Alyssa Milano

Double Plays – Alyssa Milano

Passed Balls – Alyssa Milano

Papelbon Speaks

ESPN is reporting that Jonathan Papelbon refers to Manny Ramirez as a "cancer" in the April issue of Esquire Magazine (the one with me on the cover).

While not surprising that his teammates (at least one of them) would feel this way, I am a bit surprised that Papelbon would be so public about it, if indeed the report is true.  It’ll be interesting to see how the players Papelbon references in the article as being unwilling to accept Manny’s behavior, Jason Varitek, Tim Wakefield and David Ortiz, react to Papelbon’s comments.

Also, Jon Lester’s reported long-term deal hasn’t been finalized yet, so not certain that will actually get done or not.  I hope it does and wonder what the hold-up is.

Blame It On A-Rod

The Dutch, yes the Dutch just beat the Dominican Republic for the second time in the WBC which eliminates the Dominican team from the tournament. 

Now if you compare the Kingdom Of The Netherlands to the Dominican Republic, this isn’t an upset, it’s actually contains twice the population, but think about the rosters!  

Here’s the Dominican one and here’s the Netherlands‘.  I am not going to say it’s USA-USSR, but it has to be close.  This is just stunning.

Somewhere, Robert Eenhoorn is smiling.   Here’s to you #50. 

UPDATE: I don’t speak Dutch, but this is the sports section of the biggest newspaper in the Netherlands.  I don’t see any baseball players, so I am going to guess that despite what ESPN says, this isn’t a big deal over there.