This Isn’t Working

I was as thrilled as anyone that the Red Sox signed John Smoltz in the off-season, but let’s face it, he is terrible right now.  He can say his pitches look and feel good all he wants, but his 7+ era suggests he is either he is fooling himself, or just in denial.

I would hope that a meeting of the minds could take place soon regarding Smoltz and that he could be DLed and sent down to rehab in the minors.  With the Red Sox 2.5 games back, the major league level is no place to work on mechanics and conditioning.  Let Smoltz do that in Pawtucket.

The obvious concern is who would replace Smoltz at this moment.  I have to assume Michael Bodwen for a time and then Tim Wakefield when his health improves.  Given that I believe Wakefield’s injury was more phantom than real, I bet he’d be available on his first day back, which I think is this Friday.

On another note, wouldn’t Adrian Gonzalez look good in a Red Sox uniform?  I keep hearing the Red Sox are asking, but the Padres are interested unless it was a boffo package of players (read: Lars Anderson, Clay Buchholz and Michael Bowden and maybe another player or 2).  I give this deal about a 5% chance of happening.

A Clue?

Scranton has a 6:30pm game tonight and Austin Jackson is not in the starting lineup while Shelley Duncan and Ramiro Pena are.

I don’t know how much it means, Scranton is playing in Toledo and it is certainly feasible for a player to get on a flight tonight or tomorrow morning down to Tampa, but it is curious. 

Ouch

Brett Gardner is headed for the DL with a broken thumb

Now the big question is who comes up from AAA?

The 40-man roster doesn’t have any reserve outfielders on it, unless you count Ramiro Pena because he has played a few games in CF for Scranton. 

Pena would be the easiest move (no 40-man move needed) but that is a leap of faith assuming that he can play outfield.

Shelley Duncan could be a callup.  He has killed the ball in AAA and while he can’t play center, remember that Swisher played center 70 times last year.  You could start Melky is center every game and you Shelly to cover the corners.  If something happened to Melky, Swisher could get you through the game.

Still not ideal, which brings me to what I think is the best solution, give Austin Jackson a two-week audition in center.  

The Yankees have a number of free agent decisions to make this offseason and they start with Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon.  I don’t think the Yankees should bring back either guy, but the decision becomes a lot easier if they know Jackson is up to the task of playing center next season and this could be a good trial period to evaluate him. 

This is really going to come down to what the scouts think.  If they think Pena can handle center, that will be the move.  If they feel Jackson is ready to make the jump, that will be.  We will learn what they think in the next 24 hours.   

 

My Joba Guess

I have been thinking about Joba and what is in store for him and I think I have a guess at what the Yankees are up to. 

Al Leiter speculated on the pregame tonight that the innings number was 150 or so and I think he is right.  Now that includes postseason and I would bet that means the Yankees are looking for Joba to throw around 140 innings in the regular season.  I would guess that around 15 of those are reserved for the bullpen, so that leaves Joba with about 23 innings left as a starter.  

Now look at the schedule.  Joba will take the ball again on July 29th.  But, the Yankees have an off day on August 3rd, meaning they can skip his turn totally the next time around.  They could then start him August 8th and then again August 13th and 18th.   They then would not need a 5th starter until August 29th. 

So here’s my guess.  The Yankees let Joba pitch those next four starts and at the same time start building up Hughes to go back into the rotation.  That’s why Aceves stayed in the pen because he is going to get the 8th inning in the gap created when Hughes is stretching out and Joba is still in the rotation.  Once Joba is back in the pen, he hopefully picks up where he left off and Hughes goes back into the rotation with the confidence he earned from mowing down hitters as a reliever.   

Fingers crossed…. 

WWJD?

By that I mean of course "What Will Joe Do?".  The Yankees have a pretty unique situation in the upcoming three games because they face three lefties in a row.  Now, I hope I am wrong about this, but I have a funny feeling that Joe Girardi is going to look at the opposing pitcher and immediately put Cabrera in center.  Unless something changes between now and gametime he is 1-1 on that prediction.

Joe didn’t seem to notice last season when it happened, so it is probably optimistic to expect him to recognize the fact that Melky has stopped hitting.  Here are his OPS figures from April-July .971/.777/.687/.644.  If we reproduced that visually it would look like a sinking line.  

Now someone will probably point out that Gardner isn’t hitting in July either.  Very true, but Gardner has a better OBP for the season and he can steal his way into scoring position better than Melky can.  Could Joe at least give Brett a chance?

Farewell

The Red Sox have DFA Mark Kotsay according to the Boston.com.  So ends the speculation on who was getting the pink slip.

It makes sense, Kotsay became an unnecessary redundancy (to use a recent Theo Epstein word)…who couldn’t hit.

Tonight marks the debut of Adam LaRoche in a Red Sox uniform.  I don’t think line-ups have been posted just yet, but I bet he gets a start tonight.

The Joba Math

The Yankees have 67 games left and that means Joba would be expected to start 13 more times this season.  Considering he has already thrown 95 innings, that would put him way over his suspected innings limit of 140. 

So, what exactly is the Yankees’ plan here?  If they want to keep him around 140 innings, they can probably only let him start 5 more times before pulling him out of the rotation and putting him back in the bullpen.  I have three theories as to what they are doing.

1- Either Aceves or Hughes will start to transition back to the rotation soon and take Joba’s place with Joba heading back to the pen.  The problem with this theory is that it would have been simple to keep Aceves starting over the past few weeks and I can’t believe they are suddenly going to reverse course again.  Which leads me to theory 2….

2- The Yankees had a plan at the start of the year which was to open with Joba in the rotation and Hughes in the AAA rotation.  Pitch Joba until he gets close to his innnings limit and then bring Hughes up to fill his role.  If one of the other starters got hurt you still had Aceves and Kennedy in AAA waiting to help out.  Sitting here on July 24th, the Yankees haven’t figured out what to do now that this plan is blown out of the water.  The problem with this theory is why would they have swapped Aceves back to the bullpen if this was true?

3- We are totally misreading this innings limit issue.  The Yankees used the number 140 last year, they haven’t said a number this year and our guesses are way off and they intend to use him for 160 or 170 innings.  The problem with this theory is that the Yankees are very conservative with pitchers and they know the research shows you are risking injury if you jump a pitcher by more than 30 innings a year.  Joba pitched 112 innings in 2007 and 100 in 2008, would they really jump him up to 160 knowing that? 

So, three theories and three problems with them.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out.   

Perfect!

Watching Mark Buehrle today reminded me of a day almost 15 years ago to this day.  July 28th, 1994, was the day I sat in the stands and saw a perfect game. 

Yup, I am one of the lucky few to have actually seen one in person.  I was living in Dallas, TX, at the time and I spent a large part of that summer going to the ballpark.  The strike was looming and wanting to see as much baseball as possible, a co-worker and I decided to go out to Arlington and catch a game.  

We got to the park and amazingly, there were no tickets left.  In Texas the baseball season usually ends when the Cowboys start training camp, but I think that summer people felt like they had better watch baseball while they had a chance.  Luckily, the Ballpark in Arlington (as it was called then) had a TGI Friday’s built into the outfield.  You could walk in there and watch the game through the windows or from the special seating section they had in the upper deck.  For the first few innings we focused more on buffalo wings and beer than baseball, but around the fifth inning we realized what was going on and we headed out into the Texas heat to experience the game.  

The two events I remember vividly from that night are an amazing catch (like today) by Rusty Greer to save the perfecto and Bo Jackson coming up in the 7th or 8th inning.   Bo wasn’t the player he had been at that point, but he was a scary sight at the dish.  I still remember him striking out and feeling an enormous sense of relief.  

One of my favorite things about baseball is that for one day you can attain perfection.  I was lucky enough to see it that day, I wish every fan got that chance. 

UPDATE: This made me laugh,  Yahoo Sports decided BJ Upton was Tampa’s "top batter" with his 0-3 night.  In their defense it is hard to pick someone when they all go 0-3!

Eight Shopping Days Left?

A week from tomorrow brings a trading deadline that may be unlike any other in recent history.  Unlike any other because the economic climate in baseball has drastically changed.  July 31st marks the "non-waiver" trading deadline, meaning teams can make a trade without having to pass the player(s) through waivers first.  In past years, that was a pretty serious deadline because teams could claim any player put through waivers after July 31st to block that player from being traded.  But, the risk that the claiming team always chanced was the possibility that the team putting the player on waivers would simply let the claiming team take him and assume all his salary.  This happened to the Yankees with Jose Canseco in 2000.

In today’s economic climate, I think a lot of teams will be very, very careful before putting in a waiver claim.  While young and inexpensive players will still get claimed, anyone with a higher salary will be a risky bet for the claiming team.  Teams could use the waiver process to try and lower their payroll.  Take Ron Mahay for example, decent reliever but nothing specia,l earning $4 million this year.  Normally, I would expect him to get claimed in waivers because contending teams wouldn’t want him traded to a competitor who had a hole in their bullpen.  But, with a $4 million salary, I would bet there is a big chance the Royals would let a claiming team take him and walk away from the $1.75 million or so left on his deal. 

So, with that out of the way.  What do the Yankees need to do between now and the deadline, whenever it truly is? 

I think if you honestly assess this team the biggest weakness remains starting pitching.  The offense is good enough to win and there are enough spare parts on the bench and in the minors to cover holes that spring up.  Ditto that with the bullpen. If the right deal came along, I would totally jump at it, but these areas should not be a prioirty.  

The rotation is another story.  From what I have read, Wang seems like a longshot to come back this year and even if he does, he wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire before he got hurt.  Pettitte and Joba looked great their last time out, but I think they are question marks the rest of the way.  Mitre is not a guy I want to bet on and even more concerning, what happens if another starter gets hurt?  The probable answer is you see Kei Igawa in the rotation and I don’t think any of us want that.

That’s why it is imperative in my mind that Cashman goes out and gets another starter.  We need a guy to who can plug a hole in the back of the rotation and provide 6-7 innings each time out. That should be his focus and his only focus over the next eight days.   

More on Adam LaRoche

One of the driving reasons behind the Red Sox acquisition of Adam LaRoche was most likely his career 1st half/2nd half splits.

1st half career: .252 avg, .326 obp, .447 slg, .773 OPS

2nd half career: .296 avg, .357 obp, .544 slg, .901 OPS.

Clearly a case of 2 different hitters.  The Red Sox are banking on him repeating his 2nd half surge.

In addition, his career OPS against righties is .847 and vs. lefties its .743.  So he is expected to see most of his time against righties.  Mike Lowell has hit righties at a .797 clip and lefties at a .851 clip (OPS).  Lowell’s lob-sided OPS splits are even more extreme in 2009 (.758/.903).

So expect to see much less Mike Lowell in the line-up, specifically against righties.  This will serve Lowell well as it will allow him more time off to heal his hip and it will serve the Red Sox better because you’ll have a near-platoon like situation at the corner infield positions that will be the best offensive line-up possible given their pieces.

While no official announcement has been made, I assume Mark Kotsay is gone.  He provided nice flexibility with his glove, but isn’t much of a hitter these days.  His last decent offensive season was 2005.  That’s a long time ago.  It’s nice to say a player can play multiple positions, but if all he can do is field, then not so much.  A guy like Kevin Youkilis is great because he can handle both 3rd and 1st well and still put up a .950 OPS.

It is being reported that the Pirates are sending some cash along with LaRoche to offset his cost.

Obviously the Red Sox feel Rocco Baldelli is healthy enough to be the sole back-up outfielder.

A few overdue notes, with Tim Wakefield on the DL, Clay Buchholz is back up.  Good I say.  It seems so suspect that a spot would open for Buchholz this close to the deadline as I think the Red Sox will use his next 2 starts (after a successful start last week) as a means to gauge his potential in 2009.  If they like what they see, they will likely get rid of Brad Penny and/or John Smoltz.  Let’s face it, Penny has received far too much positive press for a guy with a 5+ era and Smoltz just hasn’t been sharp now with a 6+ era.

The Red Sox need to figure out if Buchholz will help them this year and now is the time to find out so they can react accordingly at the trade deadline.

My bets:  Buchholz wins a full time spot in the rotation and Penny is gone.  And if Matsuzaka can get healthy, Smoltz might get released.  Although I suspect Smoltz has a better chance of figuring things out than does Matsuzaka in 2009.