Red Sox Manager Search Will Be Different From Last Year

In something totally different in Red Sox Nation the Sox will be looking for the 2nd new manager in as many years.  After Terry Francona’s 8 successful years at the helm in Boston Bobby Valentine barely made it through the one.  So it’s back to the drawing board.  While the Red Sox will look to several of the managers that they did the last time around they will be taking a wholly different approach in the winter of 2012.

Valentine was a disaster in his year at the helm

The structure of the team is entirely different this time around.  Last year, in the wake of the September collapse and all that went down behind the scenes, the Sox were looking for someone stern and experienced who could keep the big contracts and big ego guys in line.  They looked early at some up-and-coming guys with less experience but they clearly valued someone who had been in a major league dugout before and narrowed the field down to Valentine and Tigers 3rd base coach and former Pirates and White Sox manager Gene Lamont.  Valentine won out in the end and as we saw the results were an utter disaster.  He attempted to overcompensate for the coddling ways of his predecessor and wound up alienating many members of the team before the season was even off the ground.  He never developed a great relationship with his coaching staff, even the ones that he chose himself.  In the end Bobby V. wasn’t the right guy for the job.

Fast forward to 2012 and it’s a whole different ballgame for Valentine’s future replacement.  Gone is 71 and 1/4 million dollars from the Red Sox 2013 payroll with the subtractions of Kevin Youkilis, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto.  The big egos and big contracts have been reduced to John Lackey and, well, John Lackey.  Two of their three remaining productive hitters from last year’s lineup, David Ortiz and Cody Ross, have expiring contracts.  It’s a totally different landscape for the next Red Sox manager and one could make the argument that this situation is a much better situation for an up-and-comer to enter than the one that faced the new manager last season.  And for that reason the names that were not good enough for the Red Sox last season may look a lot more attractive this time around.

Alomar lost out to Francona in Cleveland but could be the right guy in Boston

Of the 4 guys that the Red Sox interviewed last season only 1, Cubs manager Dale Sveum, is not available.  Phillies bench coach Pete Mackanin has been fired and doesn’t seem like he’ll be in the mix this time around.  That leaves two guys – Indians bench coach Sandy Alomar Jr. and Blue Jays first base coach Torey Lovullo.  You could make a serious argument that those 2 guys are 2 of the top 3 on the Red Sox list for their next manager.  Alomar lost out on the Indians job to Francona and looks to be the next big managerial candidate in the majors.  If not Boston he’s expected to be a contender for possible openings in Miami and Toronto.  Then there is Lovullo who spent a year as manager of the Pawtucket Red Sox.  With a younger generation of players coming up for the Sox it would be to Lovullo’s benefit to have familiarity with the Red Sox’ minor league system.

There are other names in the mix, chief among them former Sox pitching coach and current Blue Jays manager John Farrell.  I’d expect the Red Sox will spend the early part of next week surveying the situation with Farrell and the Blue Jays before deciding whether that avenue is one worth pursuing.  I don’t expect them to dance around with the Blue Jays for too long before moving on Farrell or simply moving on.  There are some pros and cons to bringing Farrell back but I’d rather get into that when its clear that he’s an actual candidate.  Of course there are other names being thrown around, perhaps former Sox players Mike Lowell or Bill Mueller.  Maybe Marlins bench coach Joey Cora who should be about ready to step out of Ozzie Guillen’s shadow after spending 9 seasons as his #2.  His brother Alex played in Boston for four years.

The picture should get a lot clearer early next week.  After all unlike last season when in late August replacing Terry Francona would have thought to be unheard of, the Sox brass has probably been looking to the future since as far back as July.  Either way remember the names Lovullo and Alomar.  They may have not had enough experience for management last year but the dynamic of the team has changed and Ben Cherington may see one of these two guys as the right man for the job this time around.

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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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Keep ‘Em or Trade ‘Em – Red Sox infield edition

I’m back from a week of vacation in Miami and the Red Sox have remained stagnant in the standings.  Despite a 4-2 road trip last week they still stand 7.5 games out of first place.  Despite winning 7 of the last 8 series the Red Sox are still at .500, 18 days into June.  Obviously there will be changes to the roster between now and the end of the season whether the Red Sox are in contention or not.  Here is a breakdown on the guys on the roster and whether I think they should stay or go:

Gonzalez is the type of player that you stick with through a slump

1B Adrian Gonzalez – There is no doubt that Adrian Gonzalez is having a difficult year thus far.  His .260/.315/.403 line is ridiculously lower than his career averages.  He is hitting 78 points below his final average from last season.  He is on pace to hit less than 20 home runs for the first time since 2005 when he played in only 43 games for the Rangers.  Clearly Gonzalez is a better player than this.  The big consideration would be the fact that he is only a few months into a 7-year contract extension that he signed last season.  The contract makes him nearly unmovable and if all things were equal I’d keep Gonzalez anyway.  Eventually the old Gonzalez will be back.  He’s the type of hitter that you ride through slumps with like the Sox have done a few times with David Ortiz.  Put him back at 1B full time, try to find a regular spot in the lineup for him and just wait for him to come around.  Hitters like him always do.

Verdict – Keep Him

Pedroia isn’t nor should be going anywhere

2B Dustin Pedroia – Any argument to trade Pedroia seems ludicrous to me.  The best thing that I can come up with is that people have entertained the idea of trading him just to entertain the idea of making a trade.  Even if you could get value for Pedroia you are simply creating another hole in your lineup as there are no prospects near ready to play 2B in the big leagues.  You’d be going with Aviles or Punto if you traded Pedroia.  Pedroia’s been the heart and soul of this team since he’s been called up and he should never put on another uniform at any point in his career.

Verdict – Keep Him, forever

SS Mike Aviles – Aviles is a guy that could generate some interest at the trade deadline since he has played a very good defensive shortstop this season and could help a team in contention in what is a weak position league-wide.  The enticement for the Red Sox for moving Aviles is that they have Cuban youngster Jose Iglesias waiting in the wings.  Iglesias has seemed to turn the corner offensively in the minors.  Aviles was a huge help to the Red Sox lineup early in the season in the lead-off spot when Ellsbury went down but he has barely hit in the lead-off spot of late.  Even if he’s not a starter he’d be a valuable player and with Dustin Pedroia’s health in question it might make more sense to keep him even if you do decide to bring Iglesias up.  Still if another club is offering some good pieces for him it would be hard not to try and make do without him.  The difference between keeping or getting rid of Aviles will come down to how much a team is willing to give up for him.

Verdict – Trade Him only if you get good value back.  Otherwise keep him.

Youkilis’ days in a Sox uniform appear to be very numbered

3B Kevin Youkilis – Here is the thing about Youkilis right now – he is playing so poorly that it might not even get to a question of whether to keep him or trade him.  It’s easy to rip the Red Sox for continuing to put him in the lineup but it was the right move.  You needed to try and establish value for Youkilis after he came off of the D.L.  It’s pretty clear at this point that Youkilis has little to no value on the trading market.  The one other thing that has kept Youk alive thus far has been the fact that the Red Sox would be losing a lot of right handed power if they got rid of Youk but the impending return of Cody Ross, which could come as early as tomorrow night, would alleviate that problem.  At this point it will start to become increasingly tougher for the Red Sox to justify keeping Youkilis on the roster at all.  He will likely be designated for assignment in the not-too-distant future.  The only saving grace for the Red Sox would be that there are several National League teams that need a 1st Baseman so maybe one of them would claim Youk off of waivers or they could make a trade with one of them after he cleared waivers.  Either way it would be a tremendous upset if Youk were sill on the roster come the All-Star Break let alone the trade deadline.

Verdict – Trade Him if you can even get anything for him

Middlebrooks has a bright future in Boston

3B Will Middlebrooks – Middlebrooks is 24 years old and playing behind a gimpy soon-to-be free agent in his 30′s who, as I’ve outlined above, is not too much longer for this team anyway.  He’s have some bumps along the way but Middlebrooks will be a fixture at 3B for the Red Sox by August at the latest.

Verdict – Keep Him

IF Nick Punto – There is no reason to dump this guy unless you have someone to take his place.  The only way he goes is if Iglesias or someone else supplants Aviles at the shortstop position and even then they’d have to make sure Pedroia was 100% before they got rid of him.

Verdict – Keep Him

DH David Ortiz – This is another pointless exercise.  As big of a name as Ortiz is he is still a 36 year old designated hitter with an expiring contract.  There is no possible way to get back the value that he currently gives you in a trade.

Verdict – Keep Him

So there you have it.  Only Youkilis is definite to go, all others should be secure unless the Red Sox are blown away by an offer for Aviles.  Tomorrow I’ll do outfield where there seems to be an impending logjam.

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Quick thoughts on Red Sox/Blue Jays – Game 4

A few quick thoughts on the Red Sox’ triumphant first win of the season last night at the Rogers Centre:

  • Felix Doubront was impressive in his first start of the season for the Sox.  He had trouble with his pitch count but like most young pitchers there is an adjustment period from the minors to the majors.  Henderson Alvarez, whose stuff was electric in his own right last night, had the same issue.  By in large most minor league hitters aren’t as patient as major leaguers and often go out of the zone more so it’s an adjustment to see exactly how much you can get away with in the majors.  The results were good however for both guys when they were near the plate.  Doubront had 6 strikeouts in 5 innings and looked particularly tough against left handed batters.  He was the stopper for all intents and purposes after the two horrible performances by Beckett and Buchholz.  I’m thinking that both of these young Venezuelan pitchers, Doubront and Alvarez, won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.
  • Dustin Pedroia, as always, was the fire-starter.  He will be the heart and soul of this team as long as he is a member of it.  Just no quit in the guy.
  • I see a lot of people talk about how the Red Sox are an “unlikable” team and I have to take a little offense to that.  For starters there still seems to be some negativity surrounding Adrian Gonzalez and his comments at the end of last year about “God’s plan”.  Newsflash – the guy is religious, which he has every right to be.  Get off your high horses.  It’s not like he’s pushing in religion on you, just saying what he believes which, in this country, he has every right to.  It just shows how much fans can be media sheep.  If people stopped listening to guys who are making controversial comments in the sole effort to attain viewers and/or listeners and started formulating opinions with their own brains maybe Red Sox Nation wouldn’t seem so stupid these days.
  • Speaking of likable players I think it will take some time but many fans will fall in love with some of the new guys.  Ryan Sweeney, Cody Ross, Nick Punto, and Mike Aviles always give it 110% when they are out there and seem to care.  They really have been the difference in the better offensive start this year compared to last year.  Role players doing the little things to help the team.  Cherington wanted to bring in guys who wanted to play and play hard in the off-season and he looks to have succeeded.  Meanwhile J.D. Drew is enjoying his retirement at 36 and Jed Lowrie hasn’t played an inning yet for the Astros.
  • Last night was big for Alfredo Aceves and we’ll see how he responds going forward.  Obviously if Bard has a good start today it will probably lock him into the starting rotation, at least for the foreseeable future, and the closers job will be Aceves’ job to hold onto.
  • Scott Atchison really is an unsung member of the Sox pen.  He had a respectable 3.26 ERA last season and pitched 3 scoreless last night to keep the Sox in striking distance for the comeback.  He’s pitching his way to a spot on the staff even when everyone is healthy.
  • Interesting match-up tonight as Bard makes his first start against Kyle Drabek, who was knocked around by the Red Sox last year then it’s Lester, who pitched superbly in Detroit on opening day, and Ricky Romero, who has a 7.12 career ERA vrs. Boston.  Things could look much better this year compared to last year on the home opener and that is something you wouldn’t have expected as recently as the 7th inning last night.
  • It was nice to see the Rogers Centre buzzing like the old days last night.  Hopefully they can maintain the interest.

That’s all for now.  Enjoy the games and if you have DirecTV you can watch all of the MLB games for free until the 15th.  Check the 700 channels.

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Red Sox Series 1 Recap

It feels like deja vu all over again as the Red Sox were swept in 3 games on the road to start the season for the 2nd time in as many years.  To get the excuses out of the way first, I wonder who the Red Sox pissed off at the MLB offices to draw the defending American League Champions at home to open the season one year and then the defending AL Central champs with the reigning M.V.P. and Cy Young winner the next.  I long for the days of opening up against the Baltimore’s of the world.  It’s important to remember that while we are 0-3 we still aren’t as bad off as we were last season when we started 0-6.  We’ll see what happens in Toronto but here’s what I saw in the first series:

Lester was out-dueled by Verlander on opening day but was otherwise the lone bright spot in the rotation

First off, obviously the pitching was atrocious, save Lester and some good performances from Padilla and Morales in relief on Sunday.  The Tigers do have a good lineup and Miguel Cabrera looks like he’ll be a beast all season hitting in front of Prince Fielder.  I think that the 1-2 punch of Cabrera and Fielder definitely got into the heads of the Red Sox pitching staff as the series went on.  They combined for 5 home runs in the last two games and went 3-for-4 with 3 RBI in the two blown save innings on Sunday.  The Sox staff also had tremendous trouble keeping Tigers’ lead-off hitter Austin Jackson off the base-paths and he caused havoc on numerous occasions.  Josh Beckett said he wasn’t injured but his velocity was troubling.  It didn’t look that bad in spring training and suddenly he topped out at about 92 on Saturday.  Clay Buchholz was equally as bad in his outing on Sunday and you hope that he is just shaking the rust off at this point.  Both Beckett and Buchholz had trouble locating their fastballs and that is the last thing you want to do against a lineup like the Tigers.  Now Felix Doubront and Daniel Bard will have to come up big in Toronto.

Alfredo Aceves was in a word, awful against Detroit

Then there is the bullpen.  Right now it has no identity.  The silver lining here is that it seems like a very similar start to the 2003 season where the bullpen had no identity and were blowing games left and right early on.  The Sox acquired Diamondbacks pitcher Byung-Hyun Kim and eventually inserted him into the closers role and things kind of fell in line from there.  Hopefully Valentine is still feeling out the bullpen (for those saying that he should have done that in spring training, remember that minor leaguers are playing at the end of all of the games so you can’t really do it that way) and once things are settled he’ll have confidence in certain guys to put in key situations.  Obviously Melancon and Aceves are off to auspicious starts.  I’ve always been a Franklin Morales guy and he showed some grit today and I’d like to see him put into more pressure situations late in games.  Padilla was very effective today but he’s more of a “jack of all trades” guy to be used in a variety of situations.  Everyone is suddenly on the Daniel Bard for closer bandwagon but I’m skeptical.  I don’t like the idea of simply handing the closers job to a guy that almost single handedly blew the season last September.  Remember Beckett and Lester had 2 bad starts at the end and Papelbon blew the last game but Bard was consistently awful throughout the whole month of September.  And now he’s the savior?  I’m not buying it.  People talk about Aceves or Melancon not having that closers mentality.  Well, I’ve never seen it from Bard either to be honest.  I say that they stay the course with Bard as a starter and find some other solution at the back of the bullpen.

Big Papi has started the year on fire along with fellow masher Adrian Gonzalez

The offense is actually farther ahead of where the offense was after three games last year when you consider that the Sox scored more runs on Sunday (12) than they did for the entire series in Texas last year (11).  Of course they only scored 2 runs in the first two games but Verlander’s stuff was electric on opening day and the offense had a rough game on Saturday but a lot of times, especially with a lineup as stacked as the Sox’ is, it takes one big game to get an offense going.  Last year they couldn’t score more than 5 runs in any of their 1st 6 games on the road and scored over 5 only twice in the first 15 games.  Sunday they scored 12 runs and the meat of the order – Pedroia, Gonzalez, and Ortiz – are all hitting the ball well in the early going.  It also helps that role players such has Ryan Sweeney, Nick Punto, and Mike Aviles, all guys that the Sox didn’t have on opening day last season, have contributed thus far in the early going.  The Blue Jays have two young pitchers going in the first two games and close out the series with Ricky Romero who has a career 7.12 ERA vrs. the Red Sox.  The Sox can use the match-ups to catapult the offense early in the season, something they didn’t do last year.

As always it all comes down to the pitching.  Lester looks great but there has to be some early concern about Beckett and Buchholz.  Hopefully the Tigers vaunted lineup had something to do with it as well.  The bullpen is still working out the kinks obviously and Valentine seems content on sending people out there to sink or swim and he really has no other options at this point.  Some guys sunk (Melancon, Aceves) and some guys swam (Padilla, Morales).  Hopefully another power arm emerges in the back of the bullpen.  Not sure who it can be but someone is going to need to step up here soon.  Now it’s on to Toronto and thankfully we can put Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder in the rear view mirror for a while.

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Boston Red Sox 2012 Opening Day Preview

A lot of us would like to forget the 2011 baseball season, or at least the final month of it.  Today marks the first day that we can officially start to move on.  The Red Sox will try to erase the stink of the 2011 season by embarking on a march to what they, and we, hope will culminate in another World Championship.  Things may look bleak in light of the events of last year and it may be hard to realize that, save the loss of Jonathan Papelbon, this is basically the same team being fielded by the Red Sox.  That team last year was just 1 win away from the playoffs.  The Sox may be in a more enviable position this year in a sort of an underdog role rather than having heaps of expectation placed on them.  Here is a quick look at the opening day roster and the guys waiting in the wings on the 15 day DL:

Red Sox 2B Dustin Pedroia

Infielders and Catchers – SS Mike Aviles, 1B Adrian Gonzalez, 2B Dustin Pedroia, IF Nick Punto, C Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C Kelly Shoppach, 3B Kevin Youkilis

There were a few tough omissions from spring training, notably prospects Jose Iglesias and Ryan Lavarnway, but it’s hard not to argue that, when healthy, there aren’t many more starting infields as good as the Red Sox in the American League.  Gonzalez and Pedroia are good for at least 155-158 games a season barring injury and are both rock solid, consistent players on both offense and defense.  Mike Aviles should do just fine for what he is, as should Nick Punto in the utility role.  The wild card is the health of Kevin Youkilis.  If he’s healthy, expect him to be productive.  If he needs extended time off due to injury I would expect the Sox to call on Iglesias to come up and play just about every day at short with Aviles manning the hot corner.  Salty will hopefully be more consistent with a year under his belt and Shoppach should help against lefties and with his defense.

Outfielders – CF Jacoby Ellsbury, OF Darnell McDonald, RF Cody Ross, OF Ryan Sweeney

This is an interesting group.  Obviously it is missing Crawford for the start of the season.  Can Ellsbury replicate his success of last season?  It will be a tough task because he was very, very good last year.  I doubt he’ll do as good as he did but he won’t totally fall off either.  Cody Ross is a guy fans are really going to love and I can see him getting the bulk of the playing time in right field, even after Crawford is back.  Ryan Sweeney has potential but he has been dreadful all spring and will probably have to fight Darnell McDonald for playing time at the start of the season.

Red Sox P Clay Buchholz

Starting Pitchers – Daniel Bard, Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz, Felix Doubront, Jon Lester

This is another wild card group.  You can count on productivity from Beckett, Lester, and Buchholz if they can all stay healthy.  There is no indication that Buchholz’s back problem is going to linger but you never know with pitchers and injuries.  Bard looked timid early on in spring training but came on towards the end to solidify his spot in the rotation.  He’s certainly got the stuff to succeed.  The guy to watch in the group is Felix Doubront.  He’s been flying under the radar for the past few seasons because he’s been hurt.  He’s a young lefty with good stuff and if he settles in and stays healthy he can win 10-15 games for you.  If he does that there should be no reason that the Sox aren’t in contention by the end of the year.

Relief Pitchers – Alfredo Aceves, Matt Albers, Scott Atchison, Michael Bowden, Mark Melancon, Franklin Morales, Vicente Padilla, Justin Thomas

Obviously the big story here is the injury to Andrew Bailey.  Aceves will make for an interesting closer but I do think he’ll have a shorter leash then a regular closer.  I can see a platoon with Melancon emerging if they are both pitching well.  A lot of people see Padilla as a set-up guy in this bullpen but he’s the only one stretched out so they’ll have to go to him in long situations if they need to.  Morales can be a strong set-up guy, he’s got really great stuff and he’s equally effective against righties and lefties.  Albers pitched well early last year and hopefully he can condition himself to keep it up this year.  I’ve never really seen anything from Bowden so he’ll have to show the Sox something or it will likely come down to him or Atchison when Crawford comes back.  Justin Thomas will be there until Rich Hill is ready unless he is pitching so much better than the other guys that you can’t send him down.

Red Sox OF Carl Crawford

The amazing thing about this list is that you have two guys who had Tommy John surgery last June and are starting the season on the 15 day DL.  I liked what I saw from Hill in his limited time last year but am a bit worried that his motion, that was so effective, was actually the cause of his injury.  Dice-K would be a huge boon to the rotation if Bard or Doubront aren’t pitching well or there is an injury.  Andrew Miller has the stuff but he needs to harness his control, maybe a start in Pawtucket wouldn’t be so bad for him.  Crawford doesn’t seem to be too far behind and should be back before the start of May.

We haven’t even talked about new manager Bobby Valentine.  Here’s the thing about Valentine, beneath all the pot shots and the snide comments the guy is a good manager.  He knows to work a clubhouse and he knows how to coach a baseball team when they’re out on the field.  he’s got good coaches around him, notably hitting coach Dave Magadan who has been here for 5 years already and has been preaching the Red Sox way of hitting since then and Tim Bogar who’s been on the staff for 5 years as well.  I’m not really buying what Curt Schilling was saying about the players not taking to Valentine since so many of them came out so quickly and criticized Schilling’s comments.  Bobby V. will do just fine managing the Sox but we’ll see how he handles the media and how many times his mouth gets him in trouble.

Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine

So there you have it.  Championship team?  We’ll see.  Of course after all of this drama we actually have to play the games.  The Sox have an opening three game set against the Detroit Tigers in Detroit and then they head north to Toronto.  The 0-6 start from last season will clearly be on everyone’s mind so it’s important for the Sox to come out of the gate strong.  The Tigers are a tough opponent, they’ve added Prince Fielder and Justin Verlander is coming off of an M.V.P. and Cy Young season so the crowd will be pumped.  It’s important to remember that losing game 1 is not the end of the world, Verlander only lost 4 all of last season after all.  The 2nd two match-ups in the series favor the Red Sox.  Josh Beckett is 3-2 with a 2.50 ERA against the Tigers and Clay Buchholz is 1-1 with a 2.58 ERA.  Detroit’s Doug Fister is a good pitcher and hasn’t pitched bad against the Red Sox but game 3′s starter Max Scherzer has been absolutely horrid against the Sox, going 0-2 with a 9.45 ERA.  Winning 2 out of 3 would be great going into Toronto but they need to take it 1 game at a time.  Of course a 3 game sweep at the hands of the Tigers would be a disaster since the team would then be on its heels just 3 games into the season just like they were last year.  Let’s hope we’re not talking about that come Monday morning.

Opening day is always an exciting time is this year is really no exception.  You’ve got the 100 year anniversary of Fenway Park on tap this year and a team full of motivated players determined to right the wrongs of 2011.  The baseball season is a long and strange road with a lot of twists and turns, we found that out last season.  My advice right now would be to sit back and enjoy the ride.  Let’s hope that it turns out to be a good one.

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2012 Red Sox Player Preview: The Bench

The bench is always an important part of a baseball team.  The Red Sox have a mix of guys in their starting lineup who have either been everyday stalwarts like Adrian Gonzalez, Dustin Pedroia, and David Ortiz who rarely miss time or have guys like Kevin Youkilis, Carl Crawford, and Jacoby Ellsbury who have all missed significant time in the past few seasons.  Certain spots are more important than other and for the Sox it is important to have a dependable backup infielder and a few solid outfield options with what they have in the starting lineup.  Here’s what they’re working with this season on the bench:

Catcher Kelly Shoppach

Red Sox C Kelly Shoppach

Here’s a look at Shoppach’s 2011 season (career highs in parentheses):

Games: 87 (112, 2008)
Average: .176 (.261, 2007 & 2008)
On-Base Percentage: .268 (.348, 2008)
Slugging Percentage: .339 (.517, 2008)
On Base plus Slugging (OPS): .607 (.865, 2008)
Home Runs: 11 (21, 2008)
Runs Batted In: 22 (55, 2008)
Runs: 23 (67, 2008)
Doubles: 3 (27, 2008)
Walks: 19 (36, 2008)

2012 Season Outlook:

Shoppach was brought in for one reason – defense.  Last year’s #2 catcher, Jason Varitek, was abysmal when it came to throwing base stealers out and Jarrod Saltalamacchia struggled early on as well.  Shoppach is well regarded as one of the best defensive catchers in the game and had the highest percentage of catching would be base stealers of all catchers in the American League last year.  Shoppach’s production with the bat will be minimal (he has hit under .200 in each of the past two seasons) but he will give you the occasional pop (he’s been in double digits in home runs in 3 of the past 4 years).  The Red Sox will likely play Shoppach almost exclusively against left-handed pitching, which he hits considerably better, so that should limit the liability he brings on the offensive side.  Depending on how starter Jarrod Saltalamacchia is going defensively, you may see Shoppach come into the game as a late inning replacement particularly if the club finds a spot for both him and fellow catcher Ryan Lavarnway on the 40 man roster.

Utility Infielder Nick Punto

Red Sox IF Nick Punto

Here’s a look at Punto’s 2011 season (career highs in parentheses):

Games: 63 (150, 2007)
Average: .278 (.290, 2006)
On-Base Percentage: .388 (.388, 2011)
Slugging Percentage: .421 (.421, 2011)
On Base plus Slugging (OPS): .809 (.809, 2011)
Home Runs: 1 (4, 2005)
Runs Batted In: 20 (45, 2006)
Runs: 21 (73, 2006)
Doubles: 8 (21, 2006)
Walks: 25 (61, 2009)

2012 Season Outlook:

Punto had a nice little season last year with the world champion Cardinals.  Don’t expect him to repeat his offensive success however as he moves from the NL Central to the AL East.  Punto was once a solid supersub who could fill in for long periods of time at any position but at 34 he is more of a traditional utility infielder type now.  Punto’s biggest asset is his versatility in that he can still play all four defensive positions very competently.  He would allow the Red Sox to carry only the one back-up infielder but if youngster Jose Iglesias makes the squad as the starting shortstop then he will share the backup infield duties with mike Aviles.  Expect Punto to take virtually all of the back-up innings on the right side of the infield as well as a fair share at third base, particularly if Youkilis’ injuries flare back up.  Punto will never be an everyday player, if one of the Sox infielders go down long term expect Aviles or Iglesias to take that role, but Punto will give you the little things like a good bunt or solid base running.  He’s a good guy to have around.

Outfielder Ryan Sweeney

Red Sox OF Ryan Sweeney

Here’s a look at Sweeney’s 2011 season (career highs in parentheses):

Games: 108 (134, 2009)
Average: .265 (.294, 2010)
On-Base Percentage: .346 (.350, 2008)
Slugging Percentage: .341 (.407, 2009)
On Base plus Slugging (OPS): .687 (.755, 2009)
Home Runs: 1 (6, 2009)
Runs Batted In: 25 (53, 2009)
Runs: 34 (68, 2009)
Doubles: 11 (31, 2009)
Walks: 33 (40, 2009)

2012 Season Outlook:

Sweeney came over to the Sox along with Andrew Bailey in the trade that sent Josh Reddick and others to Oakland.  Sweeney is one of those guys that you look at and see a great player but all you really get is a decent sub.  He’s got a tall frame like that of a power hitter yet he’s never hit more than 6 home runs in a season.  He’s hit for pretty decent averages in his career though and he’s got some patience at the plate.  I’d expect that Sweeney will start the season in a platoon with Darnell McDonald in Carl Crawford’s spot in the outfield.  After Crawford comes back he’ll likely spell Cody Ross in right field against some right handed pitchers.  Sweeney is a dime a dozen guy in the outfield but he is a good fielder as opposed to Reddick, who was atrocious in the field, and the Sox needed a left handed outfielder off of the bench while prospect Ryan Kalish continues to recover from last season’s shoulder injury.  No offense to Sweeney but I hope we don’t see too too much of him after Crawford is back healthy.

Outfielder Darnell McDonald

Red Sox OF Darnell McDonald

Here’s a look at McDonald’s 2011 season (career highs in parentheses):

Games: 79 (117, 2010)
Average: .236 (.270, 2010)
On-Base Percentage: .303 (.336, 2010)
Slugging Percentage: .401 (.429, 2010)
On Base plus Slugging (OPS): .704 (.766, 2010)
Home Runs: 6 (9, 2010)
Runs Batted In: 24 (34, 2010)
Runs: 26 (40, 2010)
Doubles: 6 (18, 2010)
Walks: 14 (30, 2010)

2012 Season Outlook:

McDonald had a rough start last year after having a very solid 2010.  McDonald logged a lot of playing time in ’10 with Ellsbury’s and Drew’s injuries and seemed to struggle being put back into a reserve role in ’11.  McDonald looked to be on the bubble with the acquisition of Cody Ross and Sweeney but he seemed to get at least a temporary stay of execution when Carl Crawford was injured and Marco Scutaro was traded away.  McDonald seems to be responding this spring with his back against the wall, hitting .467 thus far in camp.  I like McDonald, he’s played hard in the past few seasons with the Sox and seems like a great team player.  I’d like to see him stick but when the club is healthy I’m not sure the numbers game will work for him.  Here’s hoping it does though.

We’re still waiting to hear on the shortstop position and there are a few young guys who may yet make an impact and I will cover them in a separate preview.

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Sox sign Nick Punto

Punto will fill Jed Lowrie's role as infield super-sub

The Sox continued their flurry of moves today by agreeing to terms with IF Nick Punto.  Punto will likely take Jed Lowrie’s spot as utility infielder and would be able to back up Adrian Gonzalez at first base if necessary .  Punto played for the Cardinals’ World Series team last year after spending 7 seasons with the Twins.  Punto has a career line of .249 avg./.325 obp/.652 ops but posted a .278 avg/.388 obp/.809 ops last season with the Cardinals.  Punto has a track record of being a hard-nosed player and clubhouse leader and seems to fit the mold of the kind of guy that they would need to fill the clubhouse with following the debacle of last year.  The deal is for 3 million over 2 years.  Punto is 34 years old and will be entering his 10th season in the majors next year.

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