Quick Thoughts on Red Sox Game #1

The good news is that for the first time since 2010 the Red Sox started 1-0.  The better news is that for the first time since 2010 that the Red Sox will not be swept in the first series of the season.  The new look Red Sox offense put a ton of pressure on Yankees ace CC Sabathia and Jon Lester got his first opening day victory in three tries for the Red Sox.  Here are some quick, very premature thoughts on the first game of the season.

  • Lester was sharp in all but 1 inning

    Lester was sharp in all but 1 inning

    Jon Lester looked sharp in all but 1 inning but that 1 inning is a killer.  Last year the guy would just lose himself at times and that is what led to his downfall.  It happened again in the 4th inning but luckily he got it back in the 5th to finish out the start and get the win.  Lester needs to eliminate that problem inning because the bottom line is he’s piling up too many damn pitches early in the game.  He can’t rely on the bullpen all season long to clean up his messes.

  • All that being said above the Red Sox bullpen did a hell of a job cleaning up his mess.  It was an interesting strategy by Farrell to use virtually everyone but it worked out today.  Andrew Miller showed how maddening he can be by walking the first two and striking out the next two.  Bailey and Hanrahan both had some extra juice on their fastballs today, they may have been saving that stuff for the regular season.  If the guys in the back end pitch like they did today this team will be tough to beat with a lead late in games.
  • Jonny Gomes celebrate his hustle run in the 7th

    Jonny Gomes celebrate his hustle run in the 9th

    The Red Sox offense did work without Napoli or Middlebrooks doing anything.  Crazy as it sounds I’m not rushing Papi back because Jonny Gomes is a gamer.  That was a great hustle play to score on Ellsbury’s infield single in the 9th.

  • It was nice to see the Red Sox get back to basics overall.  There was no half-assing on the base paths.  Iglesias did what he had to do to get on base with a bunt single and two infield hits.  Bradley walked 3 times, which is as many times as Crawford walked ALL SEASON last year.  They worked Sabathia early and drove up the pitch count and he only lasted 5 innings.  This is the kind of thing that you saw night in and night out during the Francona years and hopefully it’s a sign of things to come this season.
  • I can’t believe I saw Jarrod Saltalamacchia walk 3 times in the same baseball game.  I’ll wait and see if it was just an aberration or if he has finally learned how to take pitches.
  • Jackass

    Jackass

    It was a great start for the Red Sox no doubt but there is one thing that can’t be denied – the Yankees lineup sucks.  Every time they started a rally they’d have a scrub like Lyle Overbay or Jayson Nix come up (or is it Lance Nix?  I’m not even sure which one it was.)  Guys like Vernon Wells, Travis Hafner, even Ichiro, these guys haven’t been any good in years and they are relying on them in key spots.  You could see that Youk strike out against Bailey in the 7th coming from a mile away.  Like we haven’t had that scouting report on him for a decade.  And he’s their clean-up hitter right now.

  • Joba Chamberlain looks like a jackass with his porn stache.
  • The thing that I hate about opening day is they play the first game and you are all pumped up for baseball to be back and then they don’t play again for another day and a half.  We’ll see if the Red Sox can make it 2 for 2 Wednesday night in the Bronx.

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Keep ‘Em Or Trade ‘Em – Red Sox Pitchers And Catchers Edition

Let’s get right to it…

Beckett will likely not be on his way out of town

SP Josh Beckett – I’ll get this one out of the way early.  Josh Beckett is not going anywhere.  For starters he is on the DL.  Then there is the fact that he is still owed upwards of $40 million over the next 3 seasons.  Thirdly he’s got 10/5 no-trade rights that gives him the right to refuse any trade.  That is probably the most important factor because surprisingly Beckett still likes pitching in Boston.  Maybe it’s the atmosphere, maybe he likes the bar scene, maybe all of the hate keeps him motivated.  Who knows?  What I do know is that many people close to the veteran right-hander think that he’s none too anxious to waive his no-trade.  Due to the contract the return would be nothing special anyway and let’s face it, Beckett has been one of the most consistent starters for the Sox this season.  Of his 12 starts 8 have been quality starts.  Only Jon Lester has more quality starts, with 9 in 15 starts.  Beckett will probably play out his contract here so people should probably get used to him sticking around for a while.

Verdict – Keep Him

SP Jon Lester – This is similar to people saying that they should trade Pedroia.  I don’t really see the point…you don’t dump a guy after a poor 1/2 season.  He’s by far the most durable starter for the Sox over the past 2-3 years so I see little sense in giving him up when you have a lack of starting pitching depth.

Verdict – Keep Him

SP Clay Buchholz – I could copy and paste the above in this spot.  Like Lester he’s only 28 and signed to a team-friendly deal.  He had a bit of trouble coming back from his back injury from last season but he seems to have put that behind him.  He’s missing his scheduled start today because of the flu but that shouldn’t keep him out too long.

Verdict – Keep Him

Doubront’s been a work horse in his rookie season

SP Felix Doubront – He’s 24 and is 8-3 on June 23rd of his rookie year.  Next question.

Verdict – Keep Him

SP Daisuke Matsuzaka – The Red Sox have spent roughly $98 million on Daisuke since they acquired him before the 2007 season.  Might as well see this thing through and pay him the $5 million remaining.  I’m not sure he’s got much value anyway since it’s up in the air whether or not he is committed to continue playing in the U.S. after his contract expires at the end of the season.

Verdict – Keep Him

SP/RP Franklin Morales – Morales has seemed to curb the control issues that have plagued him for most of his career.  He’s made 2 good starts in place of Josh Beckett.  He’s probably the Sox most versatile pitcher since Aceves is currently the closer.

Verdict – Keep Him

SP/RP Daniel Bard – This one of tempting.  Part of me says that he’ll eventually put it together but part of me says that he never will and you might as well try to get a maximum return for him while you can.  When I see Bard I see visions of his college teammate Andrew Miller.  Miller has been traded twice already and had to fight for a roster spot on the Sox this season.  He finally found his spot as a reliever but only after two major league teams had already wasted time waiting for him to realize his potential.  If there is a Matt Garza type of player out there and Bard can be the centerpiece of a trade I don’t think he’s the type of guy that you walk away from the table to keep.  His arm and head are too much of a question mark to consider him a sure thing.

Verdict – Trade Him if you can make him the centerpiece of a potential blockbuster

Padilla could be the odd man out if they get Bailey and Bard back in the back end of the bullpen

The Bullpen – As the old saying goes “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.  The Sox bullpen has been exceptional since the beginning of May.  Andrew Bailey will have a place when he comes back and so will Bard if he’s not moved.  Miller is the late inning lefty.  Bailey, Aceves, Bard, and Melancon will take up in the back end.  Scott Atchison has excelled in his very specific role.  Clayton Mortensen, Junichi Tazawa, and even Mark Prior are waiting in the wings.  Two guys who could be moved are Matt Albers and Vicente Padilla.  When the back end is healthy they would prove to be redundant and everyone always needs bullpen help.

Verdict – Keep Bailey, Aceves, Melancon, Miller, Atchison, and Mortsensen.  Trade Padilla and Albers for value.

C Jarrod Saltalamacchia – Saltalamacchia just turned 27 and looks to be headed to Kansas City as one of the American League All-Star catchers.  The Sox should honestly be thinking of a contract extension for Salty rather than a trade.  He’s a keeper.

Verdict – Keep Him

Shoppach fits good in the backup C role for now

C Kelly Shoppach – He may have some value but I’d keep him.  The Sox need a backup catcher and Ryan Lavarnway is still developing and wouldn’t be best served to come up to the big leagues to get 1-2 starts a week.  There probably isn’t a better secondary catcher available than Shoppach so I’d keep him for the rest of the year and let the young catchers in the minors continue to develop down there.

Verdict – Keep Him

So there you have it.  Bard is our best piece and like I said teams are always looking for relievers so we might be able to steal something of value for an Albers or Padilla.  Beckett is going nowhere so it’s best if Red Sox Nation dropped that notion.  There is no point in doing a fire sale since a lot of these guys are still young and could be valuable in the future.  There’s no need to sell off players like Lester and Buchholz at this point.

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Red Sox Finally Climb Out Of Last Place

If someone told you at the beginning of the season that the Red Sox would be situated in last place in the American League East division from opening day until June 2nd you would have probably gone into full-blown panic mode.  The truth of the matter is that despite being in last place for two full months the Red Sox climbed up into 4th place last night and now stand only 2 games behind the 1st place Orioles and Rays.  They are only .5 game behind the Yankees at this point for 3rd place as well.  Such is life in the American League East this year.  No one team is much greater than the rest and once the Red Sox bounced back from a horrid start and the Orioles came back down to earth a bit the division has been bunched up together for the past few weeks and it will probably stay that way for much of the remainder of the year.

Things are looking up for Bobby V.’s Red Sox

One thing that’s for sure at this point is that it’s time for Red Sox Nation to give the devil its due.  Bobby Valentine has done a phenomenal job these past few weeks to get the Red Sox back into the AL East race.  He had a rocky start and he certainly heard it from the fans but after settling in Bobby V. has really found his groove.  He has had to maneuver around a minefield of injuries, many significant, and has done an excellent job.  He had what amounted to a patchwork bullpen at the beginning of the season after the injury to Andrew Bailey and ineffectiveness of Mark Melancon and has done an excellent job maintaining with what he has back there.  He’s worked well with the starting pitchers.  For the better part of the last month Bobby Valentine has seemed to push all of the right buttons and it’s time he gets his due.

Andrew Miller has become a key component in the Red Sox bullpen

The bullpen was a mess in the early going but Valentine and Ben Cherington never stopped trying to fit the right pieces in.  They weren’t afraid to admit a mistake when they sent Mark Melancon, who they traded two players for to become the primary set -up man, to AAA Pawtucket to get himself right.  They added Andrew Miller who has the big frame and arm but not the mentality to be a starter into the pen and he is enjoying a renaissance of sorts in his new role.  He stuck with Alfredo Aceves and Vicente Padilla even though they struggled in the early-going and they have become more reliable.  He has gotten used to the roles that he wants the pitchers to have and it’s worked out for the better.  He’s used Scott Atchison in a bridge role and he has responded with an early 0.89 ERA.  He uses Matt Albers primarily against righties late in games and Albers has a 1.32 ERA against them thus far.  Conversely he’s used Rich Hill as a lefty specialist and Hill has a 1.13 ERA against left-handed hitters for the season.  Whatever Bobby V. seems to do with the pen works these days and that’s a far cry from where we were at the beginning of the year.

Valentine has stuck with Nava who’s paid dividends

The injuries and spare parts in the lineup actually tailors more to Bobby V.’s managing style.  Valentine is not the type of manager to keep the lineup the same every night so it’s no surprise that he is mixing and matching with guys like Mike Aviles, Ryan Sweeney, and Daniel Nava.  Instead of replacing Jacoby Ellsbury with a permanent lead off hitter in his absence Valentine has done lead off man by committee which is probably a good idea since there is not a guy on the roster currently with extensive lead off experience with the exception of 36-year old Scott Posednik.  He’s shown faith in guys that have produced like a Daniel Nava.  Francona was a great manager but he tended to stick with the veteran players even if a younger guy was out-producing him.  Nava has been great, Will Middlebrooks has wrestled away a spot in the every day lineup and Mike Aviles has shown why neither Marco Scutaro or Jed Lowrie are missed in the Red Sox order.  No matter where they are in the lineup it seems like another role player or two is producing every game.

The Sox have been hot since Ortiz’ players-only meeting

Lastly the biggest improvement of the team from the start of the year comes in the chemistry department.  I’m not sure if they had to hit rock bottom to come up from the problems of last season but the Josh Beckett golf outing/David Ortiz meeting seems to have become the turning point in team chemistry.  The players seem looser now than they have for a long time.  Sure winning cures these types of things but they have seemed to have gotten over that hump and have come together as a team.  Whatever happened to team chemistry I hope it keeps up because these guys are playing like a team and winning games.

It’s amazing to think that this team was all bit written off a mere few weeks ago.  Now the starters are pitching better including Clay Buchholz and Daniel Bard who both went through brutal stretches.  The bullpen is winning games.  The lineup, whatever it is for any given game, is producing.  Eventually guys like Jacoby Ellsbury, Cody Ross, Carl Crawford, and Andrew Bailey will be back.  There is still a long way to go and anything can happen but you can’t deny that there’s life in this team now.  You couldn’t say that about them a month ago.

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Red Sox And Phillies Are Mirror Images Heading Into Weekend Series

173 Million Dollars.  18 wins.  Last place.  That’s where the Boston Red Sox stand on May 18th, 2012.  173 million dollars.  20 wins.  Last place.  That’s where the Philadelphia Phillies stand on May 18, 2012.  That is as similar as two teams can get at this point in the season.  It’s also incredibly disappointing for two teams who were looked at as surefire playoff contenders and possible World Series candidates.  As luck would have it for these two teams it is still early as there is still over 4 full months in the season.

Ellsbury’s injury was one of many endured by both teams in the early going

The similarities don’t stop with the wins and payroll.  The Phillies lost slugging first baseman Ryan Howard to a torn ACL in their final playoff game last year and are waiting to get him back.  Their other star infielder, Chase Utley, was also injured in spring training and the Phillies have been without him for the start of the season.  The Red Sox had similar woes when they lost closer Andrew Bailey and left fielder Carl Crawford to injuries in spring training and then lost center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury during the home opener.  The silver lining with all of these injuries is that all of these players are expected back before the All-Star Break which means both of these teams are going to get as good of an upgrade as you can get mid-season.  If they both can keep it close in the standings, and they have so far, the returns of these players could provide a big boost for the stretch run.

Big Papi and the Sox offense haven’t missed a beat so far

The only difference between the two teams is that while the Red Sox have hit the ball well their pitching has been inconsistent and the Phillies have had the starting pitching you’d expect from those guys but they’ve struggled offensively.  Obviously the Phillies don’t have their two best offensive hitters so it’s not a huge surprise that they couldn’t match production.  The Red Sox on the other hand are going with their best 5 in the rotation and the results thus far have been less than fruitful.  They have pitched better as of late but can they keep it up?  The bullpen suffered a big blow with Bailey going out but they have somewhat recovered.  The Phillies bullpen isn’t all that much better themselves.  Only Jonathan Papelbon (I’ll get to him in a minute) and Antonio Bastardo have an ERA under 4.00.  They’ve put a lot of pressure on their starters to get deep into games.  In the National League with the pitcher hitting that’s sometimes tough to do.

Papelbon suddenly has beef with the Sox

Then there is our old friend Jonathan Papelbon who seemingly has built up a grudge against the Red Sox out of nowhere.  I’m a little bit surprised because I, and I assumed a lot of other people, saw this divorce coming for a few years before it actually happened.  The Red Sox didn’t come to him with a long term deal and he was content with getting as much as he could in arbitration and playing it year to year.  Papelbon said on more than one occasion that he wanted to get the biggest deal ever for a closer on the free agent market and the Red Sox are notorious for not going above 3 years on any reliever.  So Papelbon went and got his 4 year deal with a 5th year option from the Phillies and the Red Sox got a new cost controlled closer.  Everyone got what they wanted right?  Apparently not because all of a sudden Papelbon feels disrespected.  My brother told me for a few years now how much he hated Papelbon because of all of his ridiculous antics and I always thought he was exaggerating but looking back on it maybe I had my Red Sox-colored glasses on.  This guy really is sort of a clown.

This series really is a big series for both teams.  Whoever wins this series should be right back in the thick of things in their division.  The pitching match-ups are as follows:  Bard-Hamels, Lester-Blanton, Beckett-Lee.  Tonight may be the most important game.  Daniel Bard will be the wild card.  Lester has dominated the Phillies in the past and Lee is pitching great this year.  But at the end of the day it will all come down to whether or not the Red Sox can maintain their pitching and if the Phillies can keep up offensively.  Who ever does what they need to do will have a leg up on their pennant race.

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The Daniel Bard experiment has provided mixed results thus far for the Red Sox

Daniel Bard wanted to either close or start for the Red Sox this season after 3 seasons at the Red Sox’ primary set-up man for former closer Jonathan Papelbon.  When Bard had a horrendous September last season the front office shied away from simply handing him the closers job and went out and acquired proven closer Andrew Bailey from the Athletics.  That left the starters role for Bard.  The Red Sox had a need for a starter in the back of the rotation so it was a fit.  Bard would have to win the job in spring training however.  After a rocky start to the spring Bard settled down and was named to the 5th starter’s role just before the beginning of the season.  Results thus far have been mixed.

Bard’s starting career has been solid if inconsistent thus far

Bard has made 6 appearances, 5 starts and the one appearance out of the bullpen.  Interestingly enough he’s gotten a decision in all 6 appearances he has made, sporting a 2-4 record.  1 of the 2 wins came in his relief appearance so he is 1-4 as a starter.  The record might not necessarily reflect how well Bard has pitched.  Bard has a 4.83 ERA which is not horrible for a starter.  Bard has a average run support per game of 5.40 which isn’t too bad either but he did have a 1-0 loss to the Rays on Marathon Monday.  He’s been inconsistent with strikeouts.  His K/9 rate is an even 6 but he has only had 1 strikeout in each of his last 2 starts.  In his first 3 starts he had 6, 7, and 6 strikeouts respectively.  On Tuesday he tied his innings high for the year by going 7 full innings but he disappointingly couldn’t record an out in the 8th despite only throwing 86 pitches going to the inning.  Durability is still an issue and it probably will be all season long.  It’s not just pitch count durability but innings related too ie. he could have 70 pitches going into the 8th inning but he still may tire because his body is just not used to sitting down and getting back up 8 or 9 times a night yet.

Bard is still trying to figure it all out

One thing that Bard has done far better than ANYONE on the staff is limit the long ball.  He has only given up 1 home run all year, a bomb by White Sox slugger Paul Konerko on a 3-0 pitch.  All of the other Red Sox starters have at least 3 home runs given up and the bullpen has given up a whooping 15 home runs combined.  The home run has killed the Sox staff this year because there haven’t been that many solo shots given up by them.  Bard has also improved on his control.  Since his 7 walk performance against the Rays on Marathon Monday Bard has only walked 8 guys in 4 appearances since, half of which came Tuesday night in Kansas City.  Bard seems to get lost for an inning which is what happened for pretty much all of September but then he was only pitching 1 inning so I guess it’s better off this way.

Of course many people are still clamoring for Bard to return to the bullpen.  I wrote about that myself just a few weeks ago here.  A lot of things have changed since then however.  Firstly the longer they hold off the less sense it makes as the longer we go the closer Andrew Bailey is to returning.  Secondly we need Bard in the rotation still because our alternative options are dwindling.  Aaron Cook got the call-up and promptly got spiked in his 2nd inning of work, sending him to the D.L.  Now Daisuke Matsuzaka, coming off of Tommy John surgery, is the last hope and that’s not even mentioning the 500 lb. gorilla in the room known as Clay Buchholz’ season thus far.  Bard will eventually end up in the bullpen this season, his innings limit will guarantee that.  The fact of the matter is that they need him to start right now and then just hope that Buchholz has come around and Dice-K and Cook are healthy when that time comes.

Bard’s problem has been the 1 inning.  That’s not so bad when you consider that he hasn’t started since low A ball.  Bard is still learning to be a starting pitcher in this league and he’s doing it in the most stacked division in baseball.  This year will provide good experience for the future no matter how the season turns out for Bard and the Red Sox.  It looks like they will stay the course with Bard, which is the best bet at this point.  The bullpen has settled down a bit and the key arms should be recovered from the debacle in Baltimore over the weekend.  Bard’s place for now is the rotation.  Will he ever turn into the top of the rotation guy that he’s got the potential to be?  Maybe, maybe not but at least he’ll be able to say that he got his chance.

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Playing the Red Sox blame game

The “Red Sox blame game” has become en vogue in these parts thanks to another slow start by the Red Sox.  Of course things are a bit more hostile this year when they were last year due to the stink of the September collapse and subsequent jettisoning of Terry Francona and bailing out of Theo Epstein.  Basically to play the blame game you make a pie chart and assign a percentage of blame to who you think it most responsible for the current state of the Red Sox.  Here’s my version of the blame pie:

Former Sox GM Theo Epstein ran off to the Cubs in the off-season

35% former GM Theo Epstein – Theo was the architect of 2 World Series teams in Boston but he also lead the roster into a state of disarray in recent years.  He signed John Lackey to a huge contract when they didn’t really need to add another big money pitcher back before the 2010 season.  In anticipation of losing closer Jonathan Papelbon he signed reliever Bobby Jenks to a 2-year, $12 million contract and he doesn’t look like he’ll put on a Sox uniform ever again.  As much as I think Crawford can still be an asset I can certainly see questioning the wisdom of signing a guy when you have to sign a younger guy with a similar skill set (Jacoby Ellsbury) very shortly.  It’s like they set a high market for one of their own young players which seems kind of crazy when you think about it that way.  Then there is the myriad of prospects that have been traded away in the past few seasons that have depleted the farm system.  He gave up Justin Masterson and Nick Hagadone for a season and a half of Victor Martinez.  He gave up Casey Kelly and Anthony Rizzo to get Adrian Gonzalez after the bungled Mark Teixera negotiations.  He gave up a potentially very valuable outfield piece in David Murphy to acquire Eric Gagne who was a disaster for half of a season in Boston.  Theo’s record on trades in past years has been bad and his free agent signings have not been much better.  He bloated the payroll to the point where over $67 million in players are currently assigned the Red Sox’ disabled list.  To make matters worse he cut and run after the debacle of last season in what seemed to be a maneuver that he had started to plan as far back as the beginning of last season.  Let’s not forget that he won a power play over Larry Lucchino in 2005 and every indication is that he had the final voice on any player moves.  Simply put he left the Red Sox organization holding the bag.

Cherington walked into a tough situation but he was Theo's right hand man previously

25% current GM Ben Cherington – I almost feel bad here because Cherington did a great job finding cheap players with the payroll constraint that he had to deal with this off-season.  Cody Ross, Ryan Sweeney and Kelly Shoppach have all produced in the early going.  Ben loses me in two places.  First is that he was Theo’s right hand man for the past several seasons.  You would think if he knew that he was the heir apparent to Theo, who had seemingly been planning his exit for some time, that he would try to jump in and dissuade Theo from signing some of these dumb contracts or making some of these poor trades.  He’s got to be held at least a little bit accountable for the previous regime.  The other thing that counts against Ben is his handling of the bullpen in the off-season.  This was the major need in the winter.  Letting Papelbon walk I can see.  Trading for Andrew Bailey was a pretty good move as well but although Bailey’s spring injury was a fluke he has had injury issues in the past.  That tells me that you should really go out and fine a good, proven setup guy and maybe more than one.  Instead Cherington went out and got Mark Melancon, who closed for the Astros in the NL Central.  Although he didn’t give up much to get him it was a curious move particularly since there wasn’t another move to bring someone else in to work with such an unproven guy.  Obviously with neither Bailey nor Melancon able to pitch at this point the bullpen is an utter disaster.  I have to think better decisions could have been made.

Guys like Aceves are not doing the job they were asked to do

20% The Players – This one is another tough one because you are lumping the whole team together.  Unlike last year, when the whole team seemed to be underachieving, this slow start seems to be a product of underachievement on the pitching side of things.  Josh Beckett gets a lot of money and shouldn’t be giving up 6 home runs in a game like he did in Detroit.  Jon Lester needs to pitch better than he has the last two times out.  Clay Buchholz has been a disaster so far and he’s making too much money to pitch so poorly.  The bullpen, well, all of these guys are major league players so they should start pitching like them.  I know the Yankees, Rangers, and Tigers are good lineups but it is pretty embarrassing when you literally can’t get anyone out.  Daniel Bard is more worried about his future paychecks than where he can help the team best.  If I did this last year I would have placed more blame on the players, as a matter of fact they probably would have gotten the majority, but it’s tough to do that this year with Papi hitting well over .400 and Aviles filling in admirably at the lead off spot and things like that.

These guys might be annoying but they are not the main reason we are 6-10

15% The Owners – This is where I break from most people.  Theo left on his own volition so you can’t really blame them for that.  Yeah, there was the Tito thing and the fact that he was replaced by Bobby Valentine but notice that Bobby V. hasn’t been named on the blame pie chart yet.  The ownership group doesn’t really deserve as much of the blame as they get for what happens on the field.  The Red Sox have a higher payroll than all but 1 of the 30 MLB teams, which is of course the Yankees.  All I hear is people complaining about them selling bricks.  Who cares about that?  It’s their job to make money and selling bricks creates revenue?  What’s the issue.  This is the problem that people don’t understand – there aren’t 3 guys who do the same job.  Lucchino is the baseball guy, he doesn’t have anything to do with selling bricks.  That would be Tom Werner who is the marketing guy.  It’s hard to argue that Tom Werner is not very good at his job.  He doesn’t have anything to do with the baseball decisions so blaming him for players not performing on the field seems ludicrous.  Then there is John Henry who is the facilitator and I’ve already mentioned that the Sox have the second highest payroll in the league.  They parred their payroll in the off-season, much like the Yankees also did to little fanfare, more because they were sick of paying increasing revenue sharing taxes to low revenue teams who in turn pocketed the money rather than because they didn’t have the money.  Are the Red Sox owners arrogant, over-bearing, and generally unlikable?  Sure they are but that doesn’t make it their fault that $190 million worth of players are not performing on the field.

Bobby V. must cringe every time he has to do this

3% current manager Bobby Valentine – Despite the boos you hear at Fenway Bobby V. has done a pretty good job in my opinion.  He made a few errors but most of his gambles have paid off.  You can’t really blame him for making too many pitching change mistakes since most of the guys he calls upon can’t get anyone out anyway.  He got a spark when the offense struggled the first two games and he placed Nick Punto in the lead off role.  Replacing Aviles for the injured Ellsbury at the top of the lineup seemed to be a great move.  Moving Ryan Sweeney into the #2 slot seems like a move that is paying off as well.  The only two flaws to Valentine’s year so far are the Youk comments, which he may have been right about anyway, and the Bard situation but as Bard’s comments have shown he hasn’t been too cooperative in the process.

2% Former Manager Terry Francona – He goes on here for now.  If at the end of the season things haven’t turned around then you can take him off and put his current percentage of blame (and probably more) on Valentine.  The reason I put him here is that you can make the argument that some players, particularly pitchers, are struggling with a more hard-nosed approach to the game after being subject to Camp Francona for all those years.  It’s a little thing and something that should fade over time but that’s why he only gets 2%.

There it is, my blame pie.  I’d make a chart but I don’t think it’s that necessary.  Agree?  Disagree?  Feel free to let me know.

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Bard, Aceves’ unwillingness to step up for team is disappointing

Back before the 2007 season when Jonathan Papelbon was coming off of his 1st full season as closer he was moved to the rotation.  Organizational philosophy says that you put your best arms in a position where they would get the most work, which is in the starting rotation.  Sometimes extenuating circumstances come up.  Towards the start of the season, when it became apparent that there was no better option in the bullpen to close games out than him, Papelbon went to manager Terry Francona and sacrificed his starting spot, where the big money was made, for a chance to help the team where he could help best.  So Papelbon became the closer and held the job for the next 5 seasons and then signed a 5 year contract with the Phillies worth over 15 million per season, the largest ever for a relief pitcher.  Things seemed to work out for Papelbon with what started as a selfless, team-oriented act.

Alfredo Aceves seems to lack the mental toughness to close games out

Fast forward to 2012.  The Red Sox acquired A’s closer Andrew Bailey to replace Papelbon but unfortunately an injury right before the season started put him on the shelf for the balance of the summer.  The Red Sox needed someone to step up and fill in for Bailey.  Alfredo Aceves was named the closer although he had never held the job before.  He has struggled mightily in the role and when Nick Cafardo was filling in for Jerry Remy in the NESN booth last night he mentioned that Aceves had told Cafardo’s Globe colleague Michael Vega that he was not comfortable closing and likely never will be.  One has to wonder if his ego was bruised when he was not named to the starting rotation coming out of spring training and that has as much to do with his early season mental ineptitude as does the fact that he is uncomfortable closing.  Aceves has always been seen as a jack of all trades.  He will never be a top end of the rotation guy like Felix Doubront and Daniel Bard have the potential to be so he shouldn’t be too hurt about losing out to superior talents.  But if he can’t mentally get into the role the team is asking of him, I’m not sure how much use that he has to the team.

Daniel Bard seems more concerned about his own role than the good of the team

Aceves may not be comfortable with his role but at least he doesn’t publicly refuse to do it like Daniel Bard has.  Bard came out before last night’s game and made it clear that he had no intention of returning to the bullpen full time.  What is interesting about that is that the last time I checked Bard didn’t make the personnel decisions on the team, Bobby Valentine did.  It’s one thing for a bona fide leader like Pedroia to be openly question the manager but apparently Bard forgets the horrendous September he had last year not to mention the fact that he didn’t even secure a spot in the starting rotation until his last several starts of spring training.  I’ve never seen a pitcher who has accomplished so little so publicly throw egg on his manager’s face like Bard did with his pregame comments last night.  That level of diva-ness is generally reserved for the big guns such as Pedro and Roger.  One thing that Bard apparently didn’t learn from his former bullpen mate Papelbon is humility.  As much as a show off and an over the top personality that Papelbon was at least he was a team player.

Make no mistake about it, these guys want to start for one reason and one reason only – money.  Maybe they are just personally selfish guys or maybe it’s an overall attitude that younger pitchers are taking around the league as a whole.  I’ve noticed a few of the young Tampa Bay pitchers act like spoiled children on the mound at times.  Apparently the $60 million over 5 years that Papelbon earned on the free agent market wasn’t enough.  Whatever the reason the Red Sox desperately need to find someone to close out games and the fact that neither of these guys seem to want to step up is incredibly disappointing.

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Red Sox hope bullpen changes improve on 2011 performance

As they say, out with the old...

On paper it looks like Andrew Bailey and Mark Melancon are a step down from Jonathan Papelbon and Daniel Bard.  The Red Sox team ERA last season was 3.67, which was good for 13th in the major leagues.  The bullpen failed the Red Sox in the stretch run however.  The Red Sox had a team ERA of 5.84 in the month of September.  Papelbon’s September ERA was 3.72 and Bard’s was an astonishingly high 10.64.  Daniel Bard blew three games alone in the last two weeks of the season and Papelbon himself coughed up the last game against the Orioles with the playoffs on the line after he had gotten the first two outs of the inning.  The September swoon by the Sox pitching staff may or may not have been an anomaly but the Red Sox felt the need to institute changes none the less.

Papelbon found his money in Philly

Jonathan Papelbon was coming off of a sub par year in 2010 as he was preparing for the final year of his Red Sox contract.  He had an ERA of 3.90, 28 walks, and 7 losses – all career highs.  He returned to form for most of the season but fell off in September, raising some concerns about his arm and his workload.  The question the Red Sox had to ask themselves was whether or not Jonathan Papelbon was worth the investment.  He would likely demand a contract of at least four years and upwards of 15 million dollars a year.  The Red Sox decided to let Papelbon chase the money, which he found in Philadelphia.  The Red Sox may regret losing Jonathan Papelbon from the back end of their bullpen but you can’t really question refusing to give 15 million dollars to a guy to close at age 36.

In regards to Daniel Bard, here is a guy who is 6 feet, 4 inches tall and 215 lbs.  He lost 9 games last season and had a 3.33 ERA.  As bad as he was in September, he was a streaky guy all year.  A few years ago Bard looked to be the heir apparent to Papelbon and his 1.93 ERA in 2010 looked to solidify that.  When you look at Bard’s performance last year however you see a guy who was not very comfortable where he was.  He mostly pitched in the 8th inning, sometimes he would come into the game in the 7th to get a few extra outs but it didn’t ever look like a role that suited him.  They say that you should develop your best arms as starters in the minors, as they did with Papelbon, but for some reason the Sox brass moved Bard to the bullpen after only a handful of starts in low A ball.  Bard wanted to either start or close and the Red Sox didn’t think he was the right guy to close (and really who can blame them) so they chose to move him into the rotation.  They are hoping that Bard finds the same success that C.J. Wilson and Alexei Ogando did in Texas.  If he can succeed in the rotation that he would a huge boon to the Red Sox staff who have two huge holes in the back end of their rotation.

In with the new, new Red Sox closer Andrew Bailey

Of course these moves can only be facilitated if they can replace those two guys.  Enter Andrew Bailey and Mark Melancon.  Andrew Bailey is as good as they come for young closers in baseball.  He has recorded 75 saves in only three seasons in the majors.  That’s impressive considering his team did not finish over .500 in any of those three years.  He is a two time all-star and former AL Rookie of the Year.  He’s got a career ERA of 2.07 and a WHIP of 0.954.  He’s got a career 1.74 ERA vrs. the Orioles, 1.50 ERA vrs. the Rays, 0.00 ERA vrs. the Blue Jays and a 3.27 ERA vrs. the Yankees.  While you’d like to see his number against the Yankees go down he has pitched well against the vaunted AL East.  He’s also a local kid, born and raised in Connecticut.  Some say that closing is 50% mental and we’ll see if Bailey has what it takes to be the closer in the baseball pressure cooker that is Boston but I don’t see any evidence that shows that he doesn’t have the make-up to get the job done.  Melancon is more of a enigma.  He had a cup of tea with the Yankees before he was traded to the Astros where he  has developed into a solid back of the rotation arm.  He has closing experience and the stuff to succeed in the AL East.  He didn’t have horrible numbers as a member of the Yankees, with a 3.86% ERA in 13 appearances in his rookie year.

The key for Bobby Valentine and the Red Sox will be defining roles in the bullpen.  Even as Papelbon and Bard struggled in September Terry Francona played it like a two-man bullpen.  They need more people to step up this year.  Obviously Aceves is a gamer and will be another guy to count on as long as the rotation stays healthy and he’s not needed there.  Bobby Jenks is the wild card.  If he is healthy and can pitch effectively then he will take a lot of the pressure off of young Melancon in his first year with the Red Sox.  Franklin Morales could also emerge as a guy who can get people out on either side of the plate.

Two years ago it seemed like Papelbon and Bard would carry the back-end of the bullpen for years to come.  That didn’t work out.  The Sox are no doubt taking a gamble on these two young guys but if it works out then they could be the anchors of the Sox bullpen for years to come themselves.

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Red Sox acquire Andrew Bailey from A’s

The Red Sox have gotten their closer to replace Jonathan Papelbon, acquiring Andrew Bailey from the A’s in a five player deal on Wednesday.  The Red Sox will be sending Josh Reddick and prospects Miles Head and Raul Alcantara to the Athletics.  They will receive Andrew Bailey and outfielder Ryan Sweeney in return.

Andrew Bailey is the new Red Sox closer

Bailey, 27, has been the Athletics closer for the past three years since his debut in 2009.  He won the American League Rookie of the Year in ’09and was named to the American League All-Star Team when he posted 26 saves with a 1.84 ERA and a .876 WHIP in 83.1 innings.  He also had a 6-3 record.  In 2010 he was once again named an AL All-Star and finished the season with 25 saves and a 1.47 ERA and .959 WHIP in 49 innings but lost a month to an elbow injury.  Last year he posted 24 saves and a 3.24 ERA and 1.104 WHIP in 41.2 innings after missing the first two months of the season due to a forearm strain.  Bailey was healthy for the rest of the season and the Sox hope that his injury worries are behind him.

Ryan Sweeney is a decent outfielder, not a full-time player, but he’s the prototype hitter for the Sox lineup, which is not surprising because he was the prototypical hitter for the A’s lineup as well.  He has a career .283/.342/.720 line in 6 seasons.  He is not a power threat, he only had 14 career home runs, but that can change once he is out of Oakland.  He’s a decent defensive outfielder but that makes him a lot better than Reddick.  I seem him as a platoon right fielder, much the same way I saw Reddick, with another right handed hitter added to the mix.  Once again the Sox move a minus defensive player (Reddick, like Lowrie) and replace him with someone of similar offensive production but superior defensive ability (Sweeney, like Punto).

All in all I love what Ben Cherington has done with the bullpen this off-season.  Bailey and Mark Melancon are both young and cost-controlled and figure to be a great 1-2 for the next few years and maybe beyond if they can sort out extensions.  They could still use another right-handed arm but with Albers, Morales, and Aceves and the everyman, it is shaping up to be a good bullpen.

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