Talkin Sox with Dan

Where baseball fans gather for commonsensical, opinionated Red Sox banter.

Archive for the month “February, 2012”

News on a Lazy Sunday: Ortiz, Oswalt, and Compensation

Update – 11:15 AM The Red Sox and David Ortiz have successfully avoided arbitration, as first reported by ESPN’s Buster Olney. The two sides came together at the midpoint of their two filings. Ortiz will make $14.575MM in 2012. This is very, very good news.

Needless to say, by this time of year, the hot stove has cooled, teams are readying to begin Spring Training workouts, and there just isn’t a ton of news. For the Red Sox, all of this holds true. There is a sense of anticipation around the team as we head into the second full week of February, however. All of the t’s have not been crossed, and many of the i’s remain without dots. Let’s examine…

Photo courtesy of sportsofboston.com

  • Unless a deal is struck between tonight and tomorrow afternoon, David Ortiz and the Red Sox will go to an arbitration hearing. We are not fans of that idea at TSWD. Earlier this offseason, Ortiz said ‘no thanks’ to a two-year offer worth $18MM. I’m guessing that if the two sides are able to successfully avoid a hearing on Monday, it will take a two-year deal in the neighborhood of $20-22MM. I’m not sure if GM Ben Cherington is willing to commit multiple years and big dollars to a guy who (and I mean this literally) could just stop producing due to his size, body, and age. No matter what, it is vital to remember that Ortiz will be a member of the 2012 Boston Red Sox. The outcome of a hearing likely will not affect how the Red Sox conduct their business going forward. It makes sense to think that the front office has budgeted their finances with the idea that they will lose the hearing. It would be a bad business move to assume a victory. It is difficult to predict how a three member panel will rule, but I’ll stick to my original forecast. The Red Sox will beat Ortiz in arbitration.
  • According to Ben Nicholson-Smith of mlbtraderumors.com, the Rangers and Mike Napoli avoided arbitration and settled on a one-year deal worth $9.4MM. It is becoming increasingly clear that Texas does not have room for Roy Oswalt, both in their rotation and in their payroll. A one-year deal with St. Louis seemed imminent not long ago, but those talks have cooled. I’ve read a lot of message boards on a few different Red Sox blogs, and it seems like fans believe Oswalt is some sort of money hungry player. I do not believe that is the case. He turned down a one-year deal to pitch in Detroit worth $10MM. Geography, not dollar signs, is the driving force here. He may sit back and wait for an injury to occur in Spring Training and join up with a team then. Despite the fact that the he may not have many other options, I don’t see Oswalt with the Red Sox. At some point, the door needs to be closed on him. If he wanted to come to Boston, he would have signed here by now. Let’s collectively move on.
  • Still no news on the compensation for former Red Sox GM Theo Epstein. Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe believes that the Cubs will be giving up a significant player when Commissioner Bud Selig finally makes a decision. I’m not saying that he’s incorrect. In fact, I hope he’s right, but I don’t see it. For now, I’ll assume the ‘I’ll believe it when I see it’ platform.

Eight Quick Points on a Thursday

  1. Why is this news? If we found out Oil Can Boyd didn’t use cocaine during his career, THAT would be news.
  2. Tim Wakefield said he is going to make a decision on his future soon. Earlier this week,  GM Ben Cherington said an announcement concerning Wakefield and Jason Varitek would be coming in about a week. Ideally, Wakefield will announce his retirement before Cherington says that he won’t be welcomed back. It’s impossible not to sound heartless and unappreciative by advocating that a guy like Wake should walk away. So there’s really no point in trying. And I’m done trying. There is no room for you, Wake (on the 25 man roster). It ain’t happenin’.
  3. The Globe’s Nick Cafardo reported via Twitter today that lefty reliever Rich Hill toss a solid bullpen session in Fort Myers. You’ll remember that Hill underwent Tommy John surgery last summer. He showed promise early in 2011, despite the agonizingly slow start by the Red Sox. Lefty specialists who can come into a game, throw strikes, and get batters out are invaluable. I don’t believe Hill will be ready to begin the year, but news like this gets me excited. I’d be willing to bet that new manager Bobby Valentine would rather have Hill as a weapon in his arsenal than worrying about a fifth starter. Seriously.
  4. I’ll stay on the Cafardo train and drop this little nugget of gold.
  5. I’ve read that arbitration experts are saying that David Ortiz may actually have a legitimate shot at beating the Red Sox in a hearing. WEEI’s Alex Speier breaks down the complicated process here. Either way, I don’t see a designated hitter making $16.5MM dollars on a one-year deal. No way. It sounds like the hearing will take place Monday if an agreement cannot be reached before then. It’s safe to say that by this time next week, we will all know a lot more about what Ortiz will earn in 2012.
  6. If you go to Truck Day, you’re a loser.
  7. I’m not going to spend a great deal of time on this because, at the end of the day, don’t really care. Nevertheless, Josh Beckett was recently on MLB Network’s Intentional Talk. It is a show that is hosted by Chris Rose and Kevin Millar. I actually kind of like it. Beckett broke his silence on the the madness that surrounded the collapse in Semptember during an appearance on the show. As you can imagine, it was a pretty safe forum for the Texan. He took none of the blame. He was not contrite. And that’s fine with me. I don’t care. Hell, I like Beckett. So, come to camp in shape, pitch well, and throw at least 200 innings. Nothing else matters to me. The next time I want to hear about chicken and beer, I better be describing my Saturday night.

    Me and Josh. Just kidding. Photo courtesy of deadspin.com

  8. There is roughly 9 days until pitchers between when you finish reading this not-so-entertaining blog and when pitchers and catchers officially report to Spring Training. Good things.

Why Bobby Valentine was the Right Choice

Photo via bleacherreport.com

Never in the aftermath of the Red Sox disaster last season did I think that Bobby Valentine would be the manager of the Boston Red Sox. Never.

Now, as we approach the middle of February, there isn’t a guy I would rather have at the helm of a team that is coming off of an epic collapse that left such a gut wrenching feeling in the pit of my stomach, I can still feel it two nights after I watched the Patriots lose another Super Bowl to the Giants.

Going 7-20 is that bad. Playing the final month of baseball, the most vital games of the regular season at a still-demoralizing .259 clip is that bad. The last time the Red Sox lost 20 games in the month of September? 1952. That was the same year Ted Williams played in six games, the last of which was April 30th of that year, because he was SERVING IN THE KOREAN WAR. Yeah, this past September was that bad.

When it became clear that the Red Sox were going to look to replace Terry Francona, I thought it was obvious that the Red Sox would pursue a relatively inexperienced manager, someone without the reputation of Valentine but with a solid baseball resume. Dale Sveum immediately came to mind. While at work, a buddy of mine had mentioned that Valentine would be a great choice to manage the Red Sox. He liked his personality, his flare. Because I apparently think I am part of the front office on Yawkey Way, I dismissed the idea as rubbish. When the Globe’s Nick Carfardo mentioned Valentine has an ideal choice, I chalked it up to a [respected] writer attempting to create an unwarranted buzz or even garner some readership.

I was wrong. On so many levels, I was wrong.

Valentine was introduced as the 45th manager of the Boston Red Sox on December 1, 2011. Since then, the former Mets and Rangers skipper has made more appearances than I care to recount. Charity events, press conferences, town hall meetings–you name it, and Valentine has done it over the course of the past two months. Although his energy will certainly serve as a asset during his inaugural season as Red Sox manager, it will ultimately be Valentine’s attitude, in-game managerial skills, and dedication to fundamentals that I believe will be the true catalysts in any success he has in Boston.

  • Bobby V. Answers to Bobby V.- It would have been easy for the Red Sox to bring in an individual who had never been a full-time Major League manager of team before, like Sveum. On the other hand, Sox brass could have hired a more experienced baseball guy like Gene Lamont who had not managed a squad in over a decade. Either option would have given members of the front office more of an opportunity to contribute their opinions or suggestions to the manager. In other words, Sveum and Lamont were two individuals who represented what would have been an extremely smooth transition from Francona (a guy who was always receptive to input from higher-ups). Valentine is not cut from the same cloth. Love him or hate him, Valentine possesses a strong personality. He is about to turn 62 years old in May, and it’s not like he’s going to change who he is between now and Opening Day. Carfardo, in the beginning of October, phrased it nicely: “He [Valentine] would have to know he has complete control of his team in the clubhouse and on the field. Some would say that’s not the way 21st-century baseball works, but it would be the way it would have to work.” Valentine, for better or worse, will put an identifiable stamp on this team. He is the sculptor, and I don’t anticipate anyone else having their hands on the pottery.
  • Valentine Can Coach. Period.- I need to preface this by saying that nothing I write here is designed to take anything away from Francona. I like to think that I’m quasi-objective, but Tito will always (and I mean always) be my guy. He was the right guy at the right time for the right amount of years. With that said, I believe Red Sox fans are going to see a recognizable difference in in-game managing with Valentine. I think Valentine will be a better overall better decision-maker than Francona. Everything I have read, heard, and overheard is that Valentine is a flat out, straight up gamer in the dugout. He has a little bit of Joe Maddon in him, mixed together with the attitude of an old school baseball guy. I don’t know what it is, but he just seems sneaky-good. ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian characterizes Valentine as a manager: “No manager in the game will outfox Valentine on any strategic move. In the one year I covered his team, and for the 30 years I have known him, not once have I asked him a question about a move he made in a game for which he didn’t have a legitimate answer.” Francona was not a bad in-game manager, but he truly excelled at dealing with guys who made a great deal of money and possessed a great deal of personality. It remains to be seen how Valentine manages guys like David Ortiz and Josh Beckett in the clubhouse and with the media, but I am confident, excited, and anxious to see how he pulls the strings between the first pitch and the final out of ballgames.
  • It’s Spring Training, not Spring Break- Throw some pine tar on the bats and toss some rosin on the baseballs. Looking back on Spring Training last year, it seems like this was the formula that was designed to get the Greatest Team Ever ready for a 162-game grind. Francona did not loosely supervise a frat house. It’s not like that. For the most part, he simply allowed players to manage themselves. It’s not like Valentine is going to serve as some sort of strict disciplinarian. There will be no boot camp atmosphere in Fort Myers. However, there will an aggressive focus on reinforcing fundamentals. ESPN’s Joe McDonald: “Before this offseason, [Kevin] Youkilis didn’t know Valentine on a personal level, but the Sox’s third baseman believes spring training will be different, tougher. He figures the focus will be on fundamentals of the game.” Another industry source shared a similar opinion. The Globe’s Peter Abraham: “The Red Sox will have tougher days than they did in previous springs and spend more time on fundamentals.” I like it. I like it a lot. Beckett made comments around this time of year that he was excited about the idea of pitching on a 100-win team. I had no problem with that at the time, and I still don’t. What I think Valentine will do is prepare this year’s team to do the little things that help win each pitch, each out, each inning, and each game. Eventually, by doing those things day in and day out, the Red Sox will be better prepared to strive towards the playoffs and that 100-win plateau that Beckett alluded to early last year.

Valentine will succeed as manager of the Red Sox. He is inheriting an immensely talented team, which is probably the most important reason why he will win more games than he will lose. However, Valentine comes off as a guy who is a talent sponge. I expect him to get more out of his players in 2012 than Francona was able to squeeze out of them in 2011. A tighter ship will be manned under Valentine. That is for sure. Because he possesses such a dynamic personality, I believe Valentine will be able to win over the big egos in the clubhouse and still run the team the way he would like. I am especially excited to see how some of the not-so-sexy players fare under Valentine. Guys like Mike Aviles, Cody Ross, Ryan Sweeney, and Nick Punto could be the biggest beneficiaries of Valentine’s guidance.

The most important aspect of Valentine’s job as he enters his first Spring Training as the Red Sox manager is getting the members  of the team to care about each other. It may sound stupid, but it’s true. The 2011 version of the Red Sox were good…really, really good. However, they were less of a team and more of a group of individuals, which ultimately lead to their demise. They did not have the back of one another. Valentine will have the responsibility of making that group of individuals into a team that cares deeply about one another.

No matter what the outcome is in 2012, it will be a team that is distinctly his. That is just how Valentine operates.

Why a David Ortiz Arbitration Hearing is Bad for Business

Photo courtesy of abconline.com

David Ortiz is sensitive. Behind that gregarious, carefree veneer, the big bodied Ortiz is like a child. He vies for your attention. He needs your love, and the second he feels as though your eyes are not on him, that your admiration isn’t there, he becomes defensive.

Ortiz must feel respected. Always. For the 36 year old, respect is measured in years and dollar signs.

Ortiz is perpetually unhappy with one-year pacts. He wants to a member of the Red Sox this year and know that he is wanted back next year. And I get that. To a certain extent. I don’t care if you’re a professional baseball player or a guy working in a call center for an insurance company–everyone wants job security. Ortiz, however, doesn’t want to sacrifice money for added years. Inking a two-year deal worth in the neighborhood of $18MM earlier in the offseason was not an attractive option for the designated hitter. By signing that deal, Ortiz would have theoretically taken a $7MM pay cut based on the club option that the Red Sox exercised gifted Ortiz  in 2011 worth $12.5MM. The only thing this offseason that would have satisfied Number 34 was a two-year contract worth roughly $25MM. Again, years and big dollars are necessities. When Ortiz feels as though he is not receiving the “respect” he deserves, he acts out.

He may even flirt with joining the Yankees.

Yeah, this whole arbitration hearing is going to go real, real well.

As of today, the Red Sox have filed at $12.65MM. Ortiz and his agent are asking for $16.5MM. That is a difference of close to $3.85MM. It is a significant gap to say the least. Last season, Ortiz made $12.5MM courtesy of the early Christmas present that former GM Theo Epstein and the Red Sox handed the DH in November of 2010. By all accounts, it was a gross overpayment for a soon-to-be 35 year old whose performance wasn’t exactly…let’s say…peaking. It was a way for Red Sox brass to say ‘thank you, David, for everything you’ve done since coming to Boston.’ He wasn’t supposed to have the type of season he had. He was supposed to make it an easy decision to waive good-bye. He made it very difficult, basically impossible for the Red Sox to let him walk. Offensively, in 2011, his performance was actually on par with his pay. Ortiz was machine-like at the plate posting a .309/.398/.554 line.

Let’s contextualize that. The only way to do so is to go back to 2007 when Ortiz recorded a .332/.445/.621 line. It is the last season that Ortiz performed like…well…Oritz. Pitchers still possessed that almost tangible fear when the 6’4″ Dominican strutted towards the plate. Manny Ramirez served as a pretty good tag team partner in the middle of the Red sox lineup as well.

In the following three seasons, Ortiz struggled. Did he end up hitting more than 20 homeruns each one of those three years? Sure. But he swung at bad pitches and became increasingly susceptible to left handed pitching. Former manager Terry Francona, in the interest of trying to win ballgames, was forced to pinch hit for Ortiz at certain points. He had lost the swagger that so many of us had grown accustomed to.

I’m not sure if it was the addition of Adrian Gonzalez, his patient approach, and willingness to shoot the ball into gaps on the left side rather than rolling over an outside pitch. I don’t know if it was an adjustment he made in the offseason. It could have been a one-season fluke. No matter what, Ortiz was a bad man in 2011. The left handed hitter’s OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) was a robust .953, his best since that memorable 2007 campaign. Jacoby Ellsbury, who finished second in MVP voting last year, posted an OPS of .928, almost 20 points lower than Ortiz’s. It’s safe to say he had a successful year at the plate.

It is important for every non-pitcher to perform well at the dish, but it is especially vital to a guy like Ortiz who does not contribute defensively on the diamond.

So when it comes to the impending arbitration hearing, therein lies the rub.

In 2011, the top eight designated hitters, including Ortiz, made an average of $7.16MM. Ortiz and his agent believe that because Ortiz made $12.5MM last season and produced at a high level, he deserves a significant raise.

Wrong.

A small raise? Maybe. But another $4MM on top of the gift that the Red Sox wrapped for Ortiz last offseason? Good luck with that.

If Ortiz and his camp cannot come to an agreement with GM Ben Cherington and the Red Sox prior to a hearing that is believed to be scheduled sometime in the middle of this month, the arbitrators will be forced to choose one figure or the other. In other words, if a hearing occurs, Ortiz will make $16.5MM or $12.65MM in 2012, nothing in between.

The Red Sox have not gone to an arbitration hearing since 2002 with Rolando Arrojo. It certainly seems like that streak is going to come to an end in couple of weeks. However, if there is anyway the Red Sox can come to a resolution with Ortiz, it would be for the best.

Ortiz’s ego is not built to withstand the type of arguments that will ultimately be made against him in a hearing. I would be happy if both sides came together on a one-year agreement worth around $14MM. That way, Ortiz can head to Spring Training with a sizable raise without having to listen to reasons why he is not worth what he is asking for.

Ultimately, if this situation cannot be resolved, it could get ugly. I don’t believe there is any possible way an arbitrator rules in Ortiz’s favor. Designated hitters just simply do not get paid close to $17MM. That’s reality.

Let’s hope Ortiz and the Red Sox reach a middle ground very soon.

Summarizing the Town Hall Meeting

Photo courtesy of grantland.com

As previously blogged, I attended a town hall style meeting tonight at Worcester Technical High School hosted by NESN. GM Ben Cherington and Bobby Valentine answered a myriad of questions from the crowd. I took my sister who is an avid Red Sox fan. It was a fun event. It was free. And I didn’t embarrass myself too badly, but you can be the judge of that when the program airs tomorrow night at 10 PM on NESN. Let’s hit on a couple quick notes.

  • Worcester Tech’s campus is beautiful, and the auditorium was an ideal venue to play host to an event like tonight’s. I’m used to a plethora of aluminum chairs in a gym with a basketball hoop in the background. This was the opposite. Very professional. NESN has four microphones set up. Two were on each side of the stage–about seven feet away from Valentine and Cherington. The other two were situated towards the rear, just before the beginning of the second level of seating. The NESN employees did an excellent job ensuring that question-askers were in the right spot, at the right microphone at the right time. Tom Caron did a superb job hosting. He seamlessly transitioned between questions from the audience to general inquiries you would expect from a standard interview. I thought it was really well done.
  • I’m going to guess that 25-30 questions were asked. Half of the inquiries were made by Sox fans who were no older than 12. Pretty brave of the young fellas. When I was that age, I was just trying to avoid getting beat up, forget posing questions in front of hundreds of people to members of Red Sox brass.
  • It was a good question, but, contrary to popular belief, Valentine is not related to Greg “The Hammer” Valentine.
  • But he may have invented the wrap.
  • I wouldn’t be telling the truth if I said I didn’t end up shaking my head at a few ton of the questions that were posed to both Valentine and Cherington. One member of the audience has to be related to Marco Scutaro. Right now, do I believe that it was a shrewd move by Cherington to ship Scutaro to the Rockies? No, not yet. But this guy was really, really unhappy with the first-year GM.
  • I had told myself and a few buddies that if I did get the chance to ask a question, I would. The opportunity did present itself, and I took advantage of it. I immediately regretted my decision. Naturally, I was placed at one of the stage-side microphones (to the left of Cherington and Valentine). I was hoping to be escorted to one of the mikes towards the back of the auditorium in order to decrease the amount of sweat that seeped from my palms. When it was my turn, I asked the question that I believe is the most relevant question of the offseason: (quoted roughly) “The Marco Scutaro trade freed up close to $8MM in luxury tax dollars. $3MM has been allocated to Cody Ross, and $5-6MM is left. If you, as the GM of the Red Sox, are unable to obtain a quality starting pitcher before the season or at the trade deadline, will the Scutaro trade be viewed as a failure?”

–Cherington’s response is what you would expect–loaded with jargon about how the financial flexibility can’t just be attributed to Ross’ signing because there are players on the roster (Adrian Gonzalez, Jacoby Ellsbury, etc.) who will receive more money in 2012 than than they did the previous year. Essentially, the Red Sox look at payroll through a macro, not a micro, lens. In other words, the fiscal flexibility gained through the Scutaro trade could be used now to pluck a guy like Edwin Jackson or Roy Oswalt off of the market or utilized later for any number of roster moves that may or may not have a direct effect on the 2012 season (signing a draft pick, for example).

Remove the cameras and the audience–Cherington would agree that the success of the Scutaro trade is contingent upon the Red Sox ability to acquire a quality starting pitcher between now and the beginning of August. If that was not the case, the Red Sox would not still be involved in talks with Oswalt and Jackson.

Town Hall Meeting Tonight

Manager Bobby Valentine and GM Ben Cherington will be on hand at Worcester Technical High School tonight to answer questions and discuss the 2012 Boston Red Sox. Tom Caron is hosting the event for NESN which will air the question and answer session tomorrow night.

I’ve never been to an event like this, so I’m not sure what to expect. If I get the opportunity to ask a question, I certainly will. I hope to inquire about how the Marco Scutaro trade will be evaluated if the Red Sox are unable to acquire a quality starting pitcher before the season begins or at the trade deadline. If for some reason someone beats me to the punch, I have a more philosophical question regarding how Cherington approaches free agency and trades as opposed to other GM’s, notably Ruben Amaro Jr. of the Phillies.

I’ll try to refrain from any Jay Buhner rants.

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