Will Red Sox Nation Be Patient As The Sox Reset?

The Red Sox made the trade heard round the world last Saturday when they shipped Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Nick Punto, Carl Crawford and the bulk of their salaries to the Dodgers.  The move was met with almost overwhelming approval from Red Sox Nation.  The move also opened up many unanswered questions as to the direction of the team.  We know that the Red Sox will be going in some kind of a different direction this coming off-season but which direction exactly remains to be seen.  Whatever the future holds the Red Sox brass have seemed to earn some sort of mandate with the trade of those highly paid superstars and the creation of humongous payroll flexibility.

Red Sox Nation may need to show some patience next season

Of course the trade will be judged not only by the money saved but what is done with the money as well.  The problem is that the Red Sox will have to get creative in spending that money.  The free agent market is weak this year with the top two players, Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke, having off-the-field problems that may make teams shy away from giving them long term commitments.  But why would the Red Sox jump right back into the high level free agent market when that’s exactly what last week’s trade was meant to absolve?  We’ve heard about a new “disciplined” direction to team-building and shoveling more money at more free agents would strike many as hypocritical.  So the Red Sox will have to rebuild their team with smarts, patience, and that buzz word – discipline.  The problem is that it might take a year or two for the Red Sox to get to where they want to be.  The question is if Red Sox Nation – the same Red Sox Nation who are seemingly thrilled with the blockbuster – can stay patient as the team tries to do things the right way.

GM Ben Cherington has a lot of work to do

Bear in mind that I am not saying that the Red Sox have no chance to compete next year.  They still have Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester who can still be top of the rotation guys.  They have Felix Doubront and a few good young arms in the system, including the two they received from the Dodgers.  And, as I mentioned last weekend, the Sox will be able to utilize their financial flexibility to add a veteran pitcher on short years who can help the team in the short term.  Think a Jake Peavy or a Gavin Floyd on a 2 or 3 year contract.  The pitching can be fixed.  They can also bring David Ortiz and Cody Ross back to solidify the middle of the lineup.  Factor in the extra wild card spot and it’s not far-fetched to think that the Sox can grab a playoff spot next season while they are trying to rebuild on the fly.  However as possible as the above scenario is the opposite scenario is equally as possible.

What if we once again find ourselves in 4th place by the end of May?  Will Red Sox Nation accept this from a team with potentially half of the payroll of the 2012 squad?  Will Red Sox Nation accept the growing pains of what could be the youngest Red Sox team in decades?  Will they forget how happy they were when the Red Sox jettisoned 3 of their highest paid players, including arguably their most productive one?  It will be a fascinating dynamic to watch next year.  How much are the fans willing to take to preserve that payroll flexibility that they were all so happy to get from the trade with the Dodgers?

Of course the Red Sox can catch fire and be what they should have been this season but there is a good chance that there will be a lot of growing pains between now and when the Sox complete whatever they are starting to build post-trade.  How will Red Sox Nation handle it?  Will the grow impatient or will they give the new guys some room to grow?  If anything else it should be a fascinating story as the Red Sox move forward.

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The Red Sox Blockbuster – A Day Later

Well we are one game into the post-armageddon era of the Red Sox roster and the results were a lot similar to what they were before the trade.  Clearly a team with one of the worst starting ERAs in the league is not going to be fixed with the jettison of one pitcher.  The pitching needs to be overhauled in a big way but unlike two days ago the Sox now have the financial flexibility to do it.  It is still amazing that such a deal went down on August 25th, 25 days after the non-waiver deadline.  Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald had some interesting stuff on the deal this morning.  When you add it all up you can find two undeniable facts regarding the two sides.  The first is that the Red Sox didn’t want to give up Adrian Gonzalez.  The second is that the Dodgers wanted him so badly that they literally made the Red Sox an offer that they couldn’t refuse.

Cherington had a Godfather-like moment yesterday – all of the family business was settled

I remember a few months ago and in the last off-season hearing the Red Sox ownership express concerns about getting under the luxury tax next season for fear of major tax penalties.  I’d imagine that those fears are quashed now.  The Sox have roughly $120 million in space between their year end payroll and the luxury tax threshold.  They could still go out on a spending binge of $60 million in new salaries for next season and still be a cushion of between $50 and $60 million.  The Red Sox aren’t going to spend all of the money that they have just saved in one off-season but the change in financial flexibility from one day to the next is just staggering.  Last year the Red Sox couldn’t even make an offer to pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, a 37-year old starter, because they couldn’t spend the $10 million on a one year deal it would take to get him.  This year they could sign three Kurodas and have plenty of money left over.

I’m not too familiar with the Dodgers situation but it’s  been pretty clear since the new ownership got there that they badly wanted to exercise the Frank McCourt demons.  Apparently they decided the best way to do it was to spend, spend, spend and then spend some more.  Previously they had taken on all of Hanley Ramirez’ remaining contract from the Marlins even though Miami would have been happy to chip in some money to get Hanley out of town.  They claimed Joe Blanton off of waivers from Philly and assumed his whole contract when Philly let him go.  They also claimed Phillies starter Cliff Lee, who is owed $21.5 million over the next 3 seasons but the Phillies pulled him back.  Then they made the huge move yesterday.  They took on over $250 million in salary considerations over the next 5 seasons to secure the first baseman that they wanted.  If a move like that seems preposterous it’s because it is.

The shocking thing about it isn’t just that the Dodgers took on all of that salary but they even gave up some good prospects as well.  This is where general manager Ben Cherington gets a lot of credit.  Even if Henry and Lucchino made it clear that they weren’t going to simply give Gonzalez away it was Cherington who had to do the leg work.  In trades to dump salaries you usually expect something mid level or lower in return (and usually have to pick up some of the tab).  Cherington gunned for the Dodgers #1 prospect, pitcher Zach Lee, but the Dodgers balked.  Cherington then wound up “settling” for the Dodgers #2 and #3 prospects, pitchers Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster.  They also got potential decent bats in OF/1B Jerry Sands and IF Ivan DeJesus.  They also got a major league player, 1B James Loney, that they can audition for the rest of the year and see if he is a fit.  The Red Sox not only got tremendous financial flexibility in the deal but they also got players that they could potentially use in major roles in the future.  One thing Cherington has done very well this season was bolster the Red Sox biggest organizational weakness – acquire high level pitching prospects at or near major league ready.  Since he’s taken the job he’s acquired Clayton Mortensen, Chris Carpenter, Zach Stewart, and now De La Rosa and Webster.  Not too shabby.

The Sox should now do what they should have been doing for years – build around Pedroia and Lester

You’ve heard the word “reset” a lot in the last few days and in a lot of ways that is the perfect word for it.  When the Red Sox were winning the World Series in 2007 you looked at four young players that the Red Sox could potentially build their team around in the future.  Now this off-season you can conceivably see the Red Sox build a new team around those four players – Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, and Jacoby Ellsbury.  There now seems to be an abundance of talent in the minors with the addition of the Dodgers prospects – 3 of the guys acquired have a chance to make the Red Sox squad out of camp next year.  The only one who will certainly need more time in the minors is Webster and that is only because he is 22 years old.  The Red Sox also have a trio of exciting prospects – shortstop Xander Boegarts, outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr., and pitcher Matt Barnes, who are making a bee-line towards the major league roster and should arrive somewhere in the next 10-18 months.  And of course they now have the financial flexibility to add virtually any veteran player around this young core.

We obviously don’t know what’s going to happen moving forward but we know this much – there are A LOT more options on the table for the Red Sox now going into the off-season then there were just two days ago.  Such a move to shift so much payroll from one organization to the next is unprecedented and almost 48 hours after the news first broke it’s still hard to fathom.  One pundit said that this could turn into the Herschel Walker trade for baseball.  I certainly hope it does.  In any event this will go down as one of the most transformational moves in franchise, if not league, history.  Those who were complaining about the direction of this team can probably back off a bit now.  Of course the Red Sox will probably finish horribly for the rest of this season as they audition younger players but here’s the cherry on top – the Red Sox could top off this sweeping organizational change with a top 10 pick in next year’s MLB draft.

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Red Sox Complete Blockbuster Deal With The Dodgers…Now What?

Michael Silverman reported this AM that the Red Sox have completed a deal with the L.A. Dodgers to send 1B Adrian Gonzalez, LF Carl Crawford, P Josh Beckett and IF Nick Punto for 1B James Loney and minor league prospects P Allen Webster, SS Ivan DeJesus, OF Jerry Sands and a PTBNL which will turn out to be P Rubby De La Rosa.  It is a pretty shocking deal considering that the Red Sox had signed Gonzalez and Crawford to much fan fare just two off-seasons ago.  The Red Sox will get tremendous financial flexibility from the deal as they will pick up only $12 million of the $275 million tab that the Dodgers are taking on.

Both Beckett and Gonzalez are shipping out of Boston

A lot of people are celebrating this deal in Red Sox Nation but I’m not sure if I am one of those guys.  This deal comes with tremendous risk.  The Red Sox now have only 1 of their 4 most productive hitters this season under contract for next year (Dustin Pedroia).  Yes, the Red Sox shed a whole boatload of payroll in this deal but where is the money going to go?  The two biggest name free agents on the market, Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke, have tremendous off the field concerns.  And then there is the fact that it will take more than just this deal to change the culture.  The follow up is just as important – even more actually – than this deal which really should be the first shoe of many to drop.  Is Ben Cherington now empowered to build the team in his vision?  If so does that mean he can pick his own manager in the off-season or will Lucchino saddle him with Bobby Valentine for another year.

The Red Sox need to change the way they do business from the top down to the bottom.  They need to do more than trade just a few guys.  Let’s face it.  If you are hitting the reset button you need to fully change the culture and personality of this team.  That means Bobby Valentine needs to go.  They should bring in a young up and coming guy to be the new face of the team.  There were a few guys that they interviewed last year that they can revisit.  There are a few guys that they didn’t interview that they should look at.  One of the Cora brothers, Joey or former Red Sox Alex, would be a great fit with a young team either as manager (in Joey’s case) or bench coach (in Alex’s).  They need to let that new manager pick his own staff.  As I said they need Ben Cherington, and not Larry Lucchino, making ALL of the baseball moves.

Fireballer Rubby De La Rosa is one of the prospects coming back to Boston

There are also still players that need to be moved for both on and off the field reasons.  If I see Mike Aviles and his .284 OBP start another game at shortstop for the Red Sox I will go nuts.  A lot of people are seeing a contract extension for Jacoby Ellsbury in light of the new-found payroll flexibility but is he really a great fit long term?  Will he be better for the money than Carl Crawford was assuming that he gets a similar contract?  I’m not too sure that the answer is yes.  Jarrod Saltalamacchia has become a leader for this team but he strikes out more than he gets on base.  The pitching needs some serious tweaking and that can start with hiring a competent pitching coach.  Lester has looked better in the past month so you hope that he has put his issues behind him and build the rotation around him and Buchholz.  Alfredo Aceves, who was angry that two-time all-star closer Andrew Bailey supplanted him as closer a night after he blew the game twice, should be on the next train out of here as well.  As I said this is a huge franchise changing deal but there is a TON of follow up work to be done.

1B Loney is likely just a rental player

Losing Gonzalez represents a major hit to the Red Sox’ productivity.  He is arguably the most productive hitter on the team with only David Ortiz having an argument to that claim.  Gonzalez plays Gold Glove caliber defense that enhances his productivity as well.  The Red Sox will not be able to match that productivity, at least not this year and maybe for several more to come.  They get back James Loney, a .250 hitter that seems to have peaked even though he is only 28 years old.  The two prizes in the deal are the two right handed pitchers.  23-year old Rubby De La Rosa is a fireballer who had Tommy John surgery a year ago.  He will have a chance to join the Red Sox rotation next season.  22 year old Allen Webster is probably an even better prospect who will likely start the year in AAA.  Both guys represent adding to a huge hole in the Red Sox system, high level pitching prospects who are at or on the verge of being ready for the majors.  They also get a potential outfielder in right-handed hitter Jerry Sands, whose power might translate well in Fenway.  Obviously dealing with prospects always comes with risk and it will be a few years before we see how these guys have turned out in Boston.

There seems to be a lot of excitement about this deal.  I will remain cautiously optimistic until I see the actual follow-up.  With all of the negativity around this team this can obviously work out to become a positive but I can’t shake the image of Larry Lucchino simply re-arranging the chairs on the deck of the sinking SS Bobby V.  Once I see that this revolutionary franchise changer is actually a revolutionary franchise changer then I will get excited.

Obviously there will be more on this deal as we get reactions, player profiles on the prospects, etc. so stay tuned.

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Bob McClure Wasn’t Just A Scapegoat For The Red Sox

The McClure and Valentine marriage was less than a match made in heaven

The Red Sox fired pitching coach Bob McClure on Monday, just 122 games into his first season on the Sox’ staff.  He was the 3rd Red Sox pitching coach in as many years and his firing paved way for the 4th, assistant pitching coach Randy Niemann.  A lot of people are calling McClure a scapegoat for what’s gone on with the Red Sox this season but can you really be a scapegoat if you fail at your job miserably and are fired for it?  The thing that gets Bobby Valentine off of the hook for this one is that McClure wasn’t a Valentine hire.  You can’t say that canning McClure is Valentine trying to pin the troubles of the 2012 Red Sox on his pitching coach because, according to all reports, McClure wasn’t really Valentine’s pitching coach.

McClure was hired by the Red Sox organization last off-season before Bobby Valentine had even picked his coaching staff.  He was hired to be a organizational pitching instructor and not the major league staff’s pitching coach.  The official story given by Ben Cherington and Bobby Valentine today, and stop me if you’ve heard this before, is that they interviewed a handful of potential pitching coach options and Bob McClure was added to the list as a dark horse and apparently “wowed” in the interview and was given the job over Valentine and Cherington’s original list of candidates.  That story sounds an awful like how Valentine himself was hired over the myriad of candidates that Ben Cherington interviewed in the early part of the process.  Does anyone care to guess who it was that pushed Bob McClure to the front of the line?  I’m guessing Larry Lucchino “suggested” to Valentine to hire McClure in the same way that he “suggested” to Cherington to hire Bobby V.

It seemed like a doomed situation from the get-go.  Bobby Valentine was saddled by a pitching coach that he didn’t pick and didn’t necessarily have any trust in.  McClure was tossed into a fractured coaching staff as a man on his own.  The other coaches that Valentine has had a frosty relationship with, bench coach Tim Bogar, hitting coach Dave Magadan, and bullpen coach Gary Tuck, are all Terry Francona loyalists.  McClure was coming into the situation cold.  The hiring of an assistant pitching coach, Valentine confidante Randy Niemann, certainly couldn’t have helped the relationship but these are adults that we’re talking about here and McClure was hired, and paid, to do a job.  A job that he apparently thought he could do while barely talking to the manager of the team aka his boss.  As much as I hate to say it that’s the 2012 Red Sox in a nutshell.

McClure may not have liked Valentine but that’s not an excuse to have one of the worst pitching staffs in the league

McClure’s abrasive attitude may have been tolerable if the Red Sox didn’t have one of the worst pitching staffs in the league despite being one of the highest paid.  Jon Lester, who should have been in the prime of his career, went through one of the worst stretches that I’ve ever seen a pitcher of his caliber go through.  Josh Beckett has been mediocre throughout the season.  Clay Buchholz struggled mightily throughout the beginning of the season.  Where were the adjustments?  Daisuke Matsuzaka?  That was another failed experiment.  Felix Doubront had a great start to the season but, again, when he hit the wall where were the adjustments?  What is the point of a pitching coach if not to help the pitchers make adjustments needed to succeed?  Simply put Bob McClure didn’t get the job done.  Now Bobby Valentine will get a month to work with his hand-picked guy, Randy Niemann, as he fights to retain his job for next season (which is another story for another day).

Bob McClure is really a symbol of what was wrong with this team in 2012.  Is Bobby Valentine an attention whore whose sarcasm and brashness doesn’t play in today’s baseball?  Absolutely.  Is that an excuse for guys to sit down on their jobs while getting paid lots of money?  Of course not.  McClure is just the first shoe likely to drop as a result and it’s honestly hard to feel bad for him regardless of how much of a jerk Bobby Valentine is.  The sad part is the true picture of the 2012 Boston Red Sox is starting to show.  It’s a team that was so fractured that only 3 players (Adrian Gonzalez, Dustin Pedroia, and David Ortiz) and 1 coach (Alex Ochoa) even gave an attempt to unit the players and the coaching staff.  And in this day and age, in this city, with this media and fan base, 4 guys isn’t nearly enough.

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Whatever Happened To “Red Sox Baseball”

Saltalamacchia is a great clubhouse guy but just doesn’t seem to be a great organizational fit

I’ve been watching the Red Sox struggle through the 2012 season and i can’t help but wonder what happened to the “Red Sox Baseball” that GM Theo Esptein implemented in the early part of the last decade that helped the Red Sox win two World Championships.  No, I’m not talking about that silly cosmetic stuff that anonymous sources report about what’s going on off the field.  I’m talking about what they do on the field, more specifically at the plate.  The Red Sox don’t take pitches anymore.  They don’t talk walks anymore.  They don’t make pitchers work hard anymore.  They often have poor at-bats, mostly from the bottom of the order.  Why did the Red Sox stop bringing in players with high OBP rates?

John Henry bought the Red Sox with an obsession with Oakland GM Billy Beane’s “moneyball” philosophy.  When he couldn’t secure Beane’s services he turned to another young moneyball disciple in Theo Esptein.  The Red Sox built the 2004 roster on players that walked.  Kevin Millar, David Ortiz, Bill Mueller, and Mark Bellhorn were all acquired before the 2003 or 2004 seasons and they all had one thing in common – they got on base.  The Red Sox built their 2007 roster by drafting players like Dustin Pedroia and supplementing the roster with guys like Mike Lowell and J.D. Drew who all got on base.  Now they have a bottom of the lineup that consistently have 3 or 4 pitch at-bats and leaves the pitcher fresh for the top of the order the 2nd and 3rd times around.  Guys like Mike Aviles and Jarrod Saltalamacchia are the opposite of the prototype moneyball type hitters.  Here’s a look at the OBPs for the starting lineups in the World Series winning years of 2004 and 2007.

Damon was the prototypical moneyball lead-off hitter

2004:

C Jason Varitek .390, 1B Kevin Millar .383, 2b Mark Bellhorn .373, SS Orlando Cabrera .320, 3B Bill Mueller .365, LF Manny Ramirez .397, CF Johnny Damon .380, RF Trot Nixon .377, DH David Ortiz .380

2007:

C Jason Varitek .367, 1B Kevin Youkilis .390, 2B Dustin Pedroia .380, SS Julio Lugo, .294, 3B Mike Lowell .378, LF Manny Ramirez .388, CF Coco Crisp, .330, RF J.D. Drew .373, DH David Ortiz .445

Now let’s take a look at the OBP numbers for the starting lineup so far this season:

C Jarrod Saltalamacchia .282, 1B Adrian Gonzalez, .352, 2B Dustin Pedroia, .336, SS Mike Aviles .285, 3B Will Middlebrooks .325, LF Carl Crawford .308, CF Jacoby Ellsbury .309, RF Cody Ross .337, DH David Ortiz .414

The differences are astounding.  In 2004 and 2007 only 1 player in the Sox starting lineup, Julio Lugo, had an OBP under .300 and he was at .294.  This year they have 2, Saltalamacchia and Aviles, and both are .285 or under.  Lugo, Orlando Cabrera, and Coco Crisp were the only 3 guys in those two seasons to have a OBP of .330 or lower.  Only 4 guys in the Red Sox starting lineup this season – their 3 best hitters, Gonzalez, Pedroia, Ross and Ortiz – are over the .330 mark.  Jacoby Ellsbury’s .309 OBP is a horrible number for a lead-off hitter and pales in comparison to the .380 OBP of 2004 lead-off man Johnny Damon.  Bill Mueller’s .365 OBP was 2nd lowest in the Red Sox starting lineup in 2004.  He’d have the second highest in this year’s lineup.

It’s clear what the Red Sox need to do.  They need to re-acquire players who takes pitches and get on base.  They need to rebuild the roster with the 2004 version as a guideline.  When Theo Epstein took over in 2002 he envisioned a 100 million dollar player development machine.  Now it’s just a 100 million dollar mess.  For the Red Sox to get back into the post-season they need to simply get back to Red Sox baseball.  Judging by the numbers above it doesn’t seem like a guy like Mike Aviles, Jarrod Saltalamacchia or even Jacoby Ellsbury would fit into that plan.  They need to get rid of the guys who don’t get on base and replace him with guys who do.

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Red Sox Legend Johnny Pesky Passes Away

Rest In Peace Johnny Pesky 9/27/1919 – 8/13/2012

Johnny Pesky, a mainstay in the Boston Red Sox organization for over 60 years and arguably one of the most recognizable faces in Red Sox team history passed away today at the age of 92. You’ll never find a single man in the last generation, the current generation, or the next generation that was so inherently loyal to a single sports franchise than Johnny.  Pesky proudly wore the Red Sox uniform almost every day of the season from the time that he signed with the Red Sox in 1939 until the time that he was no longer physically able to do so.

Johnny Pesky played in 1,029 games for the Boston Red Sox from 1942 until 1952, losing 3 years from 1943-1945 to military service.  He amassed 1,277 hits for the Red Sox, good for a .313 average with the club.  He had 196 doubles, 46 triples, 13 home runs, 361 runs batted in and 48 stolen bases in his time with Boston.  He played a solid shortstop and teamed up with Hall of Fame 2B Bobby Doerr in the middle of the Sox infield throughout the 40’s.  He managed the Sox in 1963 and 1964 to rather disappointing results.   He returned to the Red Sox organization in 1968 as a colour commentator on WHDH radio and WBZ TV.  He became the Red Sox’ 1st base coach in 1975 and held that position until 1980 when he became hitting coach and bench coach.  When manager Don Zimmer was fired with 5 games left in the 1980 season Pesky became the team’s interim manager.  He went back to his bench and batting coach role until 1984.  He actually managed the Pawtucket Red Sox for their final 2 1/2 months of the 1990 season.  He has been officially listed as a special instructor and assistant to the General Manager since 1985.

Pesky certainly made his mark with the Red Sox organization and his legacy will live on forever in a lot of ways.  The right field foul pole was named Pesky’s Pole since teammate Mel Parnell joked that the only way that he could hit a home run was to bend it around that foul pole. He had his #6 retired in 2008, the only player in Red Sox history that isn’t in the Pro Baseball Hall Of Fame to have his number on the right field facade.  I was fortunate enough to watch that ceremony live at Fenway Park.  He will also forever stand outside the right field gate of Fenway Park along with his friends and teammates Ted Williams, Dom DiMaggio, and Bobby Doerr in the form of a statue inspired by the book “Teammates” by David Halberstam.  He was in the Red Sox clubhouse in St. Louis to celebrate the Red Sox first World Series win in 86 years in 2004, 58 years after he played in the 1946 World Series for the Red Sox against those same St. Louis Cardinals.  He was on the field for one of the final times this past April re-uniting with his former double play partner Bobby Doerr at the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park celebration.

Pesky was more than just a baseball guy.  He served in the United States Navy and spent 3 years away from the baseball diamond fighting for America in World War II from 1943-1945.  Ruth, his wife of 61 years passed away in 2005.  He is survived by his son David.

In closing I don’t want to tie the situation that the Red Sox are currently in with Pesky’s passing but I will say one thing.  It’s always been about the logo more than it’s been about just one man. Next time you say that you are done with this team, for whatever reason, remember that this man , Johnny Pesky, literally gave virtually his entire adult life to this one organization.

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How Should The Red Sox Handle Carl Crawford’s Injury?

Crawford looks more comfortable in Boston this year but there is no sense delaying his Tommy John surgery

The Red Sox signed Carl Crawford to a monster contract before the 2011 season and Crawford had a disappointing first year in Boston.  He hit only .255 and stole only 18 bases, well below his career totals when he was in Tampa where he regularly terrorized the Red Sox.  Crawford was anxious to make Red Sox Nation forget about his poor first season but a series of injuries delayed his comeback until July 16th.  Word was that even though he was healthy enough to play that he would eventually need Tommy John surgery on his elbow, likely at the end of this season.  So the question now is – at what point does Crawford shut it down and get the surgery?

Crawford has played much better this year than he did last year with the Red Sox.  In his 24 games since he has come of the DL he is hitting .258 with 3 home runs and 13 RBI.  He is hitting much better at home than on the road though which is something that he needs to fix.  The problem for the Red Sox is that even with Crawford back in the lineup the Red Sox are still sputtering around the .500 mark.  The Sox have not put out their best lineup all season and when they lost 3B Will Middlebrooks for the rest of the year it meant that they won’t at any point.  At some point David Ortiz will be back in the lineup but by then it will be far too late for the Red Sox to get back into contention.  One might say that the Sox should shut Crawford down and get the surgery now.

There is a lot of different information about exactly how long it takes a position player to recover from Tommy John surgery.  Despite Rob Bradford of WEEI’s claim that it takes just as long for a position player to recover from Tommy John surgery as a pitcher, meaning 10-12 months, the numbers simply don’t back that up.  Two position players got Tommy John Surgery last August, Padres OF Brad Hawpe and Reds SS Zach Cozart.  Both players were cleared for full baseball activity by mid-February, almost 6 months to the day from the time of their surgery.  So even if Crawford were to wait until the end of the season to get the surgery he would likely be able to be cleared for baseball activity before opening day.  However if he shuts down at the end of this month and gets the surgery then he should be healthy enough to participate in spring training next season.

One other thing is that Crawford is still “likely” to need the surgery which sounds like a final decision has yet to be made.  Why is there still doubt that the procedure would have to be done?  I’m not sure but it doesn’t make sense for him to “probably” need Tommy John surgery for 3 months and then all of a sudden not need it.  My money is that he will get the surgery at some point in the next few months and will hopefully feel a lot better and more comfortable as a result.

At this point the Red Sox should re-evaluate the decision at the end of the month.  If the Red Sox are still at or under .500 then they should shut Crawford down and have him get the surgery.  A surgery in early September means that he should be able to resume baseball activities in early March and would be more healthy going into next season then he was this season.  He doesn’t need to try and rush to get back to the team like he did this year.  Hopefully with his major injury concerns behind him he can relax and get back to being the Carl Crawford that we expected when he signed here last off-season.  There’s no need for false hope at this point.  This season is lost, it might be time to start looking towards the next one.

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Buffalo Bills Pre-Season Game 1 – 5 Things To Watch

The Bills kick off their preseason slate of games tonight when they host Robert Griffith III and the Washington Redskins.  It’s been a long off-season for Bills fans who were given hope in the wake of their late season collapse with the high profile free agent signing of star defensive end Mario Williams as well as a push to retain their own key players, a philosophy that had been lost on the organization in the decade prior.  The Bills will begin their push to return to the playoffs in earnest tonight with their first tune-up.  The starters will likely be on the field for roughly 12 plays before giving way to the backups who will be fighting for a roster spot.  Here are 5 things to watch in tonight’s game:

Rookie 2nd rounder Glenn will start at left tackle tonight

1. Who will be the left tackle?  This one will be interesting to watch tonight.  Both candidates for starting left tackle, rookie 2nd round pick Cordy Glenn and second year player Chris Hairston, will be in the starting lineup as incumbent starting right tackle Erik Pears is out with an injury.  In a perfect world the Bills will have Glenn as their starting left tackle and Hairston the starting right tackle in the long term but they still have the veteran Pears on the roster and both of the younger guys need to gain experience.  Glenn seems to have the edge so far at left tackle and he will get the chance to prove it with the start tonight.  Hairston played well in spurts last year but he did suffer several injuries.  Both guys will be going up against starting defensive ends at the beginning of the game which will help in evaluation.  Expect to see both guys at left tackle at certain points tonight with both the 1st and 2nd units.

2. Who will step up at wide receiver?  The Bills have two spots locked up at receiver – they have a bonafide #1 receiver in Stevie Johnson who just signed a 5-year extension in the off-season and a mainstay at slot receiver in David Nelson who has caught 92 balls over his first two seasons in the league.  Donald Jones is the #2 right now, as he was at the beginning of last season.  Jones is dependable enough when he’s healthy but he’s missed 9 games to injury over his first two seasons.  Of note to watch are two young receivers who will be jockeying for playing time – 3rd round pick T.J. Graham, a burner who can get behind a defense quickly, and 3rd year man Marcus Easley, who has yet to play a down in the NFL.  After losing his rookie season to a knee injury Easley had a good camp last year before hitting injured reserve right before the start of the season with a heart ailment.  Easley is purportedly back to 100% and is a big target with plus speed so any contribution from him will be an added bonus.  Veteran Derek Hagan, who showed good chemistry with Ryan Fitzpatrick late last season, also figures to be in the mix.  Nelson won’t play after tweaking his knee in camp last week so it should give some of the otehr guys some time with Fitz tonight.

Young has struggled in his attempt to become Fitz’s backup and may be playing for his job already in game 1

3. Will Vince Young make it to preseason week 2?  There has been rumblings out of training camp that the Bills coaching staff is already prepared to cut ties with quarterback Vince Young who has been slow to catch on to the Bills offense.  That says a lot about Young when you consider that the Bills thought so much about Young’s competition for back-up QB, Tyler Thigpen, that they let Ryan Fitzpatrick play the last 9 games of last season with cracked ribs rather than inserting Thigpen into the lineup.  It seems like a make-or-break game tonight for Young who will get to prove himself in game action before the Bills make any decision on him.  If I were Thigpen I wouldn’t rest in my laurels without Young as there is plenty of time to get someone else into practice and throw them into the competition if Young bows out this early.  Despite the reports of Young’s demise GM Buddy Nix told NFL.com’s Steve Wyche this morning that he expects the battle to go down to Week 4 of the preseason so we’ll see how it goes.

4. How will the defensive line’s second unit shape up?  We know about Mario-Kyle-Dareus-Anderson but what about the guys coming up behind them?  Chris Kelsay is an everyman who is as solid as any 3rd DE in the league.  Shawne Merriman can be a huge asset if he is healthy but he hasn’t been healthy in 4 years.  The keys to the 2nd unit are the two 3rd year men – Alex Carrington and Torell Troup.  Carrington has shown flashes in his first two years and if he continues to develop he can be molded into a Chris Canty-type player on this stacked defensive line.  Troup on the other hand has shown very little in his first two seasons  A lot of it is due to injury but again you’ve got to stay healthy to produce.  Troup played in the 4-3 in college and he said in the off-season that he would be more comfortable as an attacking d-tackle in Dave Wannstedt’s new 4-3.  Now is the time for him to show it.

2nd year man Williams has a leg up on the competition for 2nd CB spot

5. How will the cornerback unit shape up?  So far in training camp Stephon Gilmore has lived up to the hype and appears to be a lock for one of the starters jobs.  2nd year man Aaron Williams has been playing the #2 spot to mixed results, one day Gailey and Wannstedt will criticize his play and the next they will praise him.  He definitely played well as a rookie.  Leodis McKelvin has been working in the slot and that might be the best spot for him.  He struggles mightily against bigger receivers and gets beat along the sidelines often so the middle of the field might be the best place for him.  Terrence McGee is coming back from injury and looking to make one last run with the Bills in his 9th season with the team.  He will be pushed by youngsters Justin Rogers, who was a revelation as a 7th round pick last season, and Ron Brooks, who played behind two All-Americans at LSU.

That’s the 5 biggest things to look for in this game tonight.  There are of course larger issues such as how Wannstedt’s new 4-3 defense acclimates but that is something better reviewed over the long haul of the full preseason schedule rather than after 1 game.  The 1st game will really be about young guys jockeying for position and fringe roster players fighting to live another week.  It will be interesting to see how conservative RG3 is in his first NFL preseason game, particularly against the Bills’ revamped and revved-up defensive front.  One thing is for sure – it’s great to see some NFL action again after a long off-season.  Enjoy the game.

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At What Point Is Larry Lucchino’s Job With The Red Sox In Jeopardy

The Red Sox have been an unmitigated mess since last September 1st.  They have changed managers.  They have changed general managers.  They have turned over the roster some.  The one constant throughout all of the mess has been Red Sox ownership – John Henry, Tom Werner, and Larry Lucchino.  Henry, of course, is the point and money person.  Werner is the marketing and TV guy and since they are still making money hand over fist from ad revenue and ticket sales I’d say he’s not the problem.  That leaves the baseball guy – Larry Lucchino.

At What Point Is Larry Lucchino’s Job With The Red Sox In Jeopardy

Make no mistake, Larry Lucchino bought the Red Sox woes over the offseason when he placed organization mainstay Ben Cherington into Theo Epstein’s old role and then himself not only hired the manager he wanted, Bobby Valentine, but also added to the coaching staff as he saw fit by saddling Valentine with his own pitching coach hire, Bob McClure.  Lucchino bought this mess back in the off-season and now he must be held responsible for what has taken place since.

This isn’t the first time that Lucchino has pulled a power play.  He lost the first time around back in 2005 when Theo Epstein challenged Lucchino’s power by walking away from the organization for several months following the season (and his contract expiration).  Red Sox owner John Henry valued Epstein too much to lose him in a power struggle to Lucchino and brokered a deal to return Epstein to an organization that saw Lucchino’s power diminished.  Epstein went on to win another World Series as GM but the wheels came off the Epstein regime in 2011 and he jumped ship to the Cubs as a result.  This put Lucchino back into his familiar position of power and he exerted every ounce of it that he could.  As new GM Cherington was conducting an on-the-level search for a new manager Lucchino did everything he could to get his guy, Bobby Valentine, the job.

Henry trusts Lucchino put he needs to pull back his power now like he did in 2005

I don’t even blame John Henry for letting Lucchino take the reigns for this year.  The guy, like him or not, is  a proven baseball executive and has been one of Henry’s closest confidantes in baseball for over a decade.  But Lucchino should be subject to the same performance evaluations as anyone else and let’s call his performance exactly what it is – not very good.  Lucchino tried to put on his Theo Epstein hat and do his thing and he failed.  Lucchino, while a great executive and overseer, is simply not a day-to-day baseball guy.  As much as he wanted to be able to say that he could,  at the end of the day Lucchino is simply not a Theo Epstein.  Or a Pat Gillick.  Or a Billy Beane.  He’s not an exceptional baseball operations guy.  He’s just a good businessman who knows the business of baseball.

Now I’m not naive enough to think that Henry will simply dismiss Lucchino but it seems like the time is coming for an organizational overhaul.  That would mean a new front office and coaching staff.  If Henry was smart he’d find another guy out there who he could entrust the entire baseball operations to, like he did Epstein, and tell Lucchino that he needs to back off and let that person do his thing.  That means picking his own manager and letting that manager pick his own staff.  If Henry goes about things the wrong way then come next season Lucchino will still have all the power, Cherington will continue to be a paper GM and Valentine will still be the manager with a lame duck coaching staff.  Its clear that the changes that need to be made at this point are at the top.  It just depends on whether or not John Henry has the guts to implement them.

I don’t advocate making a move now as it will amount to once again putting a band-aid on a gunshot wound.  If the Red Sox fail to make the playoffs for the third straight year then it is clear that the Red Sox need to change the focus of the organization.  Bring a new set of eyes in and let them build around Pedroia, Gonzalez, Crawford, Buchholz and the prospects that they do have.

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Are The New York Jets Messing With Us?

From ESPN.com: Jets players Brawl On Sidelines

CORTLAND, N.Y. — A brawl involving about 20 players erupted on the sideline in the New York Jets‘ practice Monday, causing reporters to scatter and coming dangerously close to fans.

Rex Ryan has got to be playing some jedi mind tricks on us at this point

This has got to be a joke at this point right?  A professional sports team simply can not be this dysfunctional.  You’ve got a high-profile quarterback controversy involving two painfully mediocre quarterbacks, a coach who continues to run his mouth despite the fact that the team didn’t win anything after he ran said mouth in each of his first three seasons as head coach, you’ve got a psychotic linebacker who’s about to rip the head off of the third string quarterback who wildly criticized the team in the off-season in a blatant attempt to get let go but is still with the team for some reason.  You’ve got a wide receiver who took a similar track in the off-season and was injured in practice by the cornerback who has never played a down on offense yet said that he’s the second best wide receiver on the team.  You know the one, the guy with 8 different kids from 8 different mother?  Now they are literally endangering their fans by having a battle royal within inches of the sidelines.

I refuse to believe that a pro sports team is this messed up.  Even with this group, it is literally impossible to be this dysfunctional.  Hell, they make the 2012 Red Sox look like the 2004 Red Sox.  At least the Sox made the effort to pretend that things were going alright during spring training.  The Jets haven’t even waited until a pre-season game has been played to show how much of a mess they are.  I’m convinced at this point that they are just messing with us.  They’re going to come out looking like the ’85 Bears and start singing Kumbaya together in the locker room after the games while Rex laughs in everyone’s face.  Because a team this messed up has to be joking right?  There’s no way this is real.

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