Red Sox

In Search of an Ace

With Jon Lester’s latest clunker, I think it is time to stop considering him the staff ace. In fact, he might be the worst starter on the Red Sox right now.

Buchholz, Lackey, Dempster and Doubront all have better ERA’s than Lester and despite a great April, Lester has been bad the last 2 seasons.

With a team option for 2014, the Red Sox have a decision to make on Lester. They can keep him this year and next, they can keep him for this year and let him walk, they can keep him this year and trade him in the off-season or they can deal him this year. Because of his early career success, I think Lester has some decent trade value but if he finishes up this season the way he is pitching now, he won’t.

As for who would fill in for Lester should be be moved, well, Allan Webster isn’t lighting the world on fire but a combination of Alfredo Aceves and Franklin Morales might be just as good as Lester.

Falling back on old timey visual evidence, Lester seems relatively indifferent about his pitching performances. After Monday night’s disaster he told the media he felt he pitched much better than the results suggested. If 9 hits, 2 walks and 5 earned runs in 5 innings has enough wiggle room to be considered a better outing than it appears well, ok then.

Me? I trade Lester and get as much as I can for him. He seems to have almost completely morphed himself into Josh Beckett, only with better health. I know the Red Sox are in the thick of it and are on target to make the playoffs (albeit with a ton of baseball left) but Lester isn’t who he once was and the sooner Boston recognizes that, the better. He isn’t pitching well and will have trouble making the playoff roster if he continues this way.

The Boston Bruins just made a bold trade in dealing Tyler Seguin and the Boston Celtics just made two bold moves in dealing Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce and by signing Brad Stevens as coach (I won’t discuss the Patriots here…), perhaps it’s time for the Red Sox to do something bold as well.

Middlebrooks

The Red Sox demoted Will Middlebrooks today.  The 3b has been struggling all season with poor performance and injuries.  It’s a shame because in 2012, he put up 15 home runs and decent vitals in basically half a season.  Whether he was hitting over his head or his injuries this year are to blame, this is the right move.

Middlebrooks wasn’t going to find his stroke in Boston and the Red Sox weren’t going to give him the rest of the year to figure it out.  Ideally he spends a month at Pawtucket under little to no pressure, and regains his confidence and swing.  He was supposed to be a key to the Red Sox line-up this year after all.

What this means is that Jose Iglesias now has a fulltime spot in the line-up.  I can’t believe it, but he is hitting deep into the .400’s right now after 121 plate appearances.  I’m not saying he is a .400 hitter, but it is starting to be a pretty good sample size.  What is most amazing is he’s walked 9 times so far.  I know, he isn’t going to challenge Ted Williams for his walk prowess, but considering he never took a pitch prior to this year (majors or minors), that is impressive.  For a full season, that works out to be about 45 walks.

His fielding is terrific and if he can stay hot, wow, what an addition to the Sox line-up.  Of course, now that the job is his, he’ll probably tank and hit .150 the rest of the way.

Can’t They Just Be Bad?

Tonight we have a match-up this very website celebrates.   Should be fun.

Somehow the Red Sox have a 2 game lead on the AL East.  What is most amazing is that the Yankees, despite major injuries, simply won’t go away.  They have so many key players hurt, no other team could survive.  What does it take for them to be crappy?  I’m not asking too much, am I?  If you lose half your payroll due to injury, shouldn’t you be bad?  Or at least mediocre?

As of this post, the following Yankee players are on the DL:

ARod – $28m

Jeter – $17m

Teixeira – $22.5m

Granderson – $15m

Youkilis – $12m

Pettitte – $12m

That’s $107.5m in 2013 salaries on the DL.  Granted Youk and Teixeira are set to return tonight and Pettitte on Monday, but still.  For me, a Red Sox fan, this is so discouraging.   The Red Sox have had relative health and still only have a 2 game lead on New York.

I do take some solace in the fact the Red Sox really weren’t supposed to be competitive in 2013 and playing .600 ball was not at all a reality.  While the season is still young, I must say this Red Sox team has surprised me with their constant fight (5 walk off wins this year so far vs. 3 all of last year) and the collection of great personalities.

That’s all well and great, but even in second place, the Yankees are as maddening as ever to me.  An ever-present thorn in my side.  Serenity now!!!

Jacoby Ellsbury

What was supposed to be a highly productive season for Jacoby Ellsbury, has been anything but.  Ellsbury is on the cusp of unrestricted free agency and his agent is Scott Boras.  Generally the combination of those two things equals money in the bank for a player.

The problem for Ellsbury has been that he has been terrible this year.  He has a .683 OPS.  Yes he has 12 steals, but his .323. OBP means he really shouldn’t be a lead-off hitter.  And if Ellsbury isn’t leading off, his value is dramatically reduced.

In the off-season, the idea that he was a $20mm a year players was tossed about with even his biggests critics saying they’d pay him $12mm a year for 4-5 years.  But if Ellsbury doesn’t turn this ship around, he’ll be lucky to get $6mm a year for 2-3 years.  With Ellsbury, the promise is always there and this will probably help him this off-season.  After all, it was just 2011 that he put together an amazing offensive display, but that was then.

Consider his OPS tallies in seasons he played everyday and was healthy (i.e. 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2013 to date):

2008: .729

2009: .770

2011: .928

2013: .683

Now his injury plagued seasons and rookie campaign:

2007: .902 (127 PAs)

2010: .485 (only 84 PAs)

2012: .682 (in 323 PAs)

If you were a GM, would you pay this guy $20mm?  $14mm?  I wouldn’t.  First off, he can’t stay healthy and secondly, his 2011 season is worlds apart from anything else he has done.  It makes no sense.

Now Boras will spin Ellsbury into something he isn’t and I’m sure some team will pay him far more than he is worth.  I just hope it isn’t the Red Sox, but I do hope Ellsbury puts together a strong run so the Red Sox can get more when the time comes to trade him this year.

Night(s) in the Ruts

Many have said of the Red Sox early season success that it will be interesting to see how they deal with adversity.  Well, adversity as at their door.

What started as a stacked bullpen has been seen Joel Hanrahan lost for the season, an ineffectual and always odd, Alfredo Aceves sent down to Pawtucket.  Daniel Bard hasn’t found his form and Andrew Bailey has spent a few weeks on the DL.  Add to it the offense, save for last night’s outburst, that has been horrendous of late, has led to a 3-9 performance over the last 12 games.

The Red Sox benefited from a relatively light schedule at the beginning of the year.  That’s not to take away from the AL East, but let’s face it, all AL East teams have their significant question marks:  The Yankees are loaded with injuries (yet have been winning nonetheless…as always), the Blue Jays imported a bunch of talent that didn’t do anything last year, the Orioles, well, they just seem to play better baseball than they should and the Rays are always hamstrung by a low payroll.  Sprinkle in games against Houston and Cleveland and the schedule wasn’t too tough, baseball-reference.com has them as an average strength of schedule.  Things, however, got tough when they traveled to Texas and got swept.  That’s when the wheels came off.

It’ll be very interesting to see how the Red Sox deal with the next 10-15 games.  With Andrew Bailey set to return, hopefully the bullpen will settle down a bit and hopefully the starters, other than Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, can offer up a few innings.  Ryan Dempster has probably pitched better than his record, but he is still 2-4.  The good news is the Sox are still 6 games over .500 and are very much in the mix in the AL East and Wildcard.

Ben Cherington has to be wondering if they are going to be buyers or sellers in a couple of months.  My original prediction of 82-88 wins is still in range.  A 6 game swing/margin in a prediction is somewhat lame, I know, but I guess my point is that they could be average to borderline wildcard.  They are currently projected to win 88.1 games according to coolstandings.com, so I’m not totally off and of course I would be the happiest person on Earth if they came in above 88 wins.

If the Red Sox do stay competitive, it will be very tough for Cherington to sell off parts, but let’s face it, this is not a World Series team.  I think their pitching is fine, but their lack of offense lately is worrisome.  Where has it gone for the last 12 games?  12 games!!!  Cherington will be best served selling off various pieces/parts to better prepare the Red Sox for 2014.

Tomorrow: Let’s talk about Jacoby Ellsbury.

Early Season Red Sox Observations

Interesting to see that so early in the season there are no undefeated or winless teams left.  Every team 3-1, 2-2, 1-3 or 3-2.

Red Sox observations:

Koji Uehara is awesome.  Not just that he has ridiculous control, but rather when he finishes an inning, he sprints to the dugout and enthusiastically high-fives everyone.  Amazing energy.

Johnny Gomes, when he is in the line-up, you can see he is an all out competitor.  A few years back while he was with Tampa Bay, the Devil Rays and Red Sox had a dust-up and Gomes was first into the fray.  I hated him then for that but I can see he is all about team and now that he is own the Red Sox, it’s great.  He also took issue with Shelley Duncan of the Yankees a few spring trainings ago.  That kind of player is more commonly found in the NHL.  Ken Linesman comes to mind and a more modern version is Brad Marchand.  Perhaps the latter two are more agitators but either way you hate playing against them but love them as teammates.

While this Red Sox edition has far less talent than prior years, they seem to be far more competitive.  Players like Gomes, Victorino, Uehara and Pedroia get dirty and leave it all on the field.  Less complacency.  It is refreshing to see and I think it’ll energize the fan base.  It’s only been 4 games but I’m seeing life and excitement with this squad.  If some of the younger players can develop and if some of the veterans can regain their form, we might just have a low-level playoff team.  That’s a lot of “ifs” I realize.

My original prediction on 82-88 wins stands but you never know.

Communication Skillz

Clayton Mortensen today learned today that he made the Red Sox opening day roster.  What’s worrisome is the way he learned he made the roster. He had to seek out new manager John Farrell to find out his status with the club.  Farrell told him he assumed he knew that he had made the club given other roster cuts.  In addition, Jackie Bradley Jr. also told the media that he is unaware of his status Even though he is flying to New York with the others.

If you make an opening-day roster, wouldn’t it be nice if your manager told you face-to-face?  From all accounts, Ferrell seems to be an upfront, no-frills manager. I like that. But he clearly has some work to do with his communication skills.  Perhaps I’m making a mountain out of a molehill with this issue, but I think a manager owes it to the players on is 25 man roster to tell them face-to-face if they’ve made the team.

Maybe he has a reason for his approach and I’m more than willing to give him time, but the last thing this edition of the Red Sox need is a manager with doesn’t have time to tell his players, especially his young players for which this is a milestone event, that they’ve made the club.

Red Sox Cuts

Just a bit more than a week until Opening Night, the Red Sox are trimming their roster to 25.  At the moment, there are 35 players still in the mix.  If we assume David Ortiz goes on the DL, make it 34 players meaning 9 more cuts.

On the bubble:  Clayton Mortenson, Mike Carp, Mauro Gomez, Jose Iglesias, Ryan Lavarnway, Junichi Tazawa, Lyle Overbay, Alfredo Aceves, Ryan Sweeney, Jackie Bradley Jr., Pedro Ciriaco and Brock Holt.

If Drew goes on the DL, I think Iglesias makes the team, otherwise he is headed to Pawtucket for more seasoning, remember he is only 23.  Drew was declared ready for baseball activities again and since he’d had 16 at bats already this spring, I imagine he’ll be ready for opening day.  Holt and Ciriaco are interesting too as Ciriaco offers a bit more flexibility (all infield positions, save first base/catcher and all outfield positions) while Holt is a better offensive player.  They could both stick.

Mortenson and Tazawa are casualties of the numbers game.  Good enough to be on the team but there is no room.  Aceves is such a wild man I’d be looking to deal him immediately.  He is a headache is as likely to get suspended as he is to provide good innings.

With Daniel Nava learning first base on the fly I see him sticking (reports today on ESPN suggest this) meaning Carp and Overbay are cut.  Lavarnway just won’t get any PT with 2 catchers on the team already in Ross and Saltalamacchia.  Back to AAA for Lavarnway.

That leaves the following:

catchers: Ross and Saltalamacchia

infield: Pedroia, Middlebrooks, Drew, Holt,  Ciriaco, Napoli

outfield: Gomes, Ellsbury, Victorino, Nava, ???

starters: Lester, Buchholz, Dempster, Doubront and Lackey

bullpen: Hanrahan, Bailey, Uehara, Breslow, Miller, Morales and Bard (*)

* If Bard isn’t quite ready, which is being reported, Mortenson, Tazawa or Aceves could step in.

Regardless, that leaves 24 players.  The big talk is whether or not Jackie Bradley Jr. (no, not Jackie Rogers Jr) makes the team.  Bradley has torn it up this spring (.444/.545/.578) and while he has never played above AA, there is strong temptation to bring him to Boston.  The upside is that he is an exciting player who will probably take over for Ellsbury once his time with Boston is done, but the downside is that the jump from AA is huge.  Small market teams are forced to do this kind of thing with their dearth of talent. Personally I’d assign him to AAA and let him get some reps there with the idea of promoting him if he continues to rip it up.  If Bradley doesn’t break camp with the Red Sox, Ryan Sweeney will.

I’m sure I’ll be wrong on several fronts (especially Aceves) but this is my $0.02.

Lackey

So many things happen during camp, I thought I’d share a few of them with you.

If you get a chance to watch John Lackey pitch this spring, you’ll be stunned.  He has lost a ton of weight.  Most players claim to have lost some weight in the off-season, but Lackey truly has.  I’d guess he is at 225 or so down from 255.  Just a guess on my part, but he really has transformed his body.

On the other hand, David Ortiz said he weighs 260, same as last year.  260 seems like a bunch of weight to carry around for a guy coming back from an achilles injury.

Down on the farm, Red Sox minor league Drake Britton was arrest for going 111 mph in a 45 and driving under the influence.  Not good.

Another minor league, Jackie Bradley Jr., has been tearing it up so far hitting .479 with a .525 OBP.  Bradley has little chance of breaking camp with Boston, but he is showing management and fans what to be looking for either later this season or next.

Jon Lester, early in camp, said there was no higher level to achieve for himself as a pitcher in an interview with Rob Bradford from WEEI.  That rubbed many the wrong way especially coming from a guy who threw up a career worst 4.82 ERA in 2012.  A day or so later, Lester’s tone changed completely and started to appear less defensive, you know, less like Josh Beckett.  I’m not sure why the change, but my guess is John Farrell had a talk with him.

Here is his full quote:

What next level is there? That’s the thing that frustrates me. People don’t consider me an ace or don’t consider me a frontline starter…What extra level is there to it? Am I supposed to win 25 games every year? It’s not possible.

How many games did I lose when I gave up three runs or less? I can’t control the outcome of the game. I can only control being healthy every five days and going out there and pitching. That’s what I consider an ace…I don’t know what people want from me for the next level. So I’m not concerned about the next level.

Yikes.  Well, like I said, he has changed his tune and started to talk a more positive game.  These are our 2013 Red Sox.

 

Winning Attitude

With Red Sox Spring Training now underway, two former Red Sox, now in L.A., spoke of their time in Boston.

When asked his impression of Dodgers ownership and management, Adrian Gonzalez said, “From the time I got here, I found out right away the owners would do everything possible to win.  They told us, ‘Play hard and have a good time, and if we don’t get to the playoffs this year, we’re going to make every effort to give you the best team next season.’ And they’ve done that.”

I guess I find the “and if we don’t get to the playoffs” part to be most interesting.  It’s almost like he is looking to publish ownership’s free pass that the playoffs are nice, but not big deal if we don’t make them, we’ll just re-load.

And Carl Crawford had this to say about this time in Boston, “Toughest two years of my career by far.  From the outside you watch guys playing over there, and you think you can go and play, but you realize once you get there it’s a little than you expected.  As for signing his with Boston, did he regret it? “A lot of times I did.  You hear a lot of talk about how I just wanted money, at some point you just wondered if you made the right decision.”

Well, as a Red Sox fan, I cannot be happier that the Red Sox were able to get out from underneath these mega deals.  I know, call me a homer, say it’s sour grapes, but when one of your most expensive players, Crawford, basically says he at times regretted his signing here and that playing here was very difficult, then yeah, ship him out of town.  As for Gonzalez, he is obviously a very talented player, but perhaps doesn’t have the passion or intensity or, whatever you want to call it, to play in a high-pressure market.

Had the Red Sox not moved these two guys, they would have produced at an above replacement level and more, but if you want to go to war (let’s be clear, a baseball war), then I’d prefer players who relish a high intensity environment and ballparks full of baseball crazy fans, not two guys, half committed to the Red Sox.  Whether or not the Red Sox have 25 guys like that ready to go for 2013 remains to be seen, but at least there’s hope.