Talkin Sox with Dan

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

Archive for the month “November, 2012”

Two Thoughts on the Red Sox

—-On November 24, 2005, the Red Sox came to terms with the Marlins on a deal that was headlined by Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell coming to Boston, while Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez moved south. Sanchez turned out to be a fine pitcher — he is in line to make a ton of dough this offseason — and Lowell, who was viewed as nothing but a salary dump by the Marlins, captured the 2007 World Series MVP. But that Thanksgiving Day Deal came down to two pieces: Beckett and Ramirez.

So would the 2013 Red Sox make that same deal during the offseason before an extremely important season? Would GM Ben Cherington trade top prospect Xander Bogaerts for a young, raw power arm? It’s a tough question. Cherington played an integral role in the group that orchestrated the deal that brought Beckett to Boston seven years ago while former GM Theo Epstein was on a hiatus. He’s also the same guy that sent Beckett, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, and Nick Punto packing this past offseason, simultaneously regaining financial flexibility and acquiring a nice load of quality prospects.

I believe that if the opportunity presented itself, Cherington would let go Boegarts, a promising talent, to acquire a potential ace.

—-No one is really talking too much about him, but Dan Haren would be a nice fit for this team. The Angels did not make the 32-year old right handed pitcher a qualifying offer. In turn, the team that signs him will not have to relinquish a draft pick. According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, teams are less concerned about Haren’s nagging back than they are with his hip. The guy has injury issues–there’s no doubt about that. But Haren an absolute innings eater. Before 2012, a year in which he tossed 176 frames, Haren had thrown at least 200 innings in each of the previous seven seasons. A one-year deal with a large figure attached to it would be ideal. Overpay in the short term.

Catching up with the Red Sox

I remember watching the television and reading the articles that came after the Red Sox traded for Adrian Gonzalez and signed free agent Carl Crawford. I was in awe. I went to Spring Training in Fort Myers for the first time that year (it was pre-planned and didn’t have any correlation to with the Sox’ acquisitions). Nearly every expert had the Red Sox penciled in as AL East champs. I remember feeling legitimately proud of my team. But the feeling didn’t last long. Consequently, I learned, first hand, a valuable lesson — just because you win the offseason, that does not mean you’re going to win when it counts.

So when I see fans on Twitter panicking because the Red Sox haven’t made any big splashes, I just take a deep breath and relax. By no means am I saying that the Sox are going to win the championship in 2013, but I can tell you that if they do, it won’t be because of what they have or have not done in the middle of November.

Let’s catch up with the folks on Yawkey Way.

On Mike NapoliWe all know the story by now — kills the Sox, mashes at Fenway. Let’s look at everything independent of those two facts. Napoli is poor/average defensively whether we are discussing him as a first baseman or catcher. But, for the Red Sox, that is okay. I believe their infield will include Jose Iglesias, so there is room to sacrifice some defense for much-needed pop from the right side. Napoli has reportedly met with (or will be meeting with), the Red Sox, Mariners, and Rangers. He is pushing for a fourth year, which I hope the Sox don’t give him. Go heavy on the dollars, less on the years — not just for Napoli but for every free agent. Inking the burly right handed hitter is not a must, but, all things even, I would rather than him than Adam LaRoche. Napoli is just a good fit for this team, at this time.

On draft picks (and Napoli, kind of)…As baseball fans, we don’t relate to the NFL or NBA drafts. They are highly publicized and televised on networks like ESPN and TNT, respectively. First round talent is expected to produce immediately. Baseball is different. Partially due to the lack of national publicity that the MLB First-Year Player Draft receives and the nature of the game in and of itself (it’s really, really hard), draft picks do not garner the attention they deserve. So my point is simple: They’re important. Really, really important, especially if you’re a team like the Red Sox that is looking to rebuild. It makes Napoli even more intriguing because the Rangers chose not to extend a qualifying offer to the 31-year old. If GM Ben Cherington and the Red Sox lose out on Napoli, they will have to look elsewhere, like to LaRoche. Unlike Napoli, the Nationals did offer LaRoche a qualifying offer (one-year deal at roughly $13.3MM). Therefore, the Red Sox would be forced to forfeit their pick.

Let’s put some meat on the bones here.

The Red Sox have the seventh overall pick when the draft rolls around this June. Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the top ten picks are protected. Essentially, the Red Sox, no matter who they sign this offseason, cannot lose that pick. As a result, if they do sign someone like LaRoche, Kyle Lohse, Nick Swisher, or Josh Hamilton (and there are others), their second round pick would be shipped to the team that the free agent played with last season. Again, putting context behind this — if the Red Sox sign LaRoche they will relinquish their second round pick to the Nationals. That would be the 38th overall pick. Is a first round pick better than a second round pick? Sure. But in 2009, there was a player taken 13 slots before where the Red Sox will pick in the second round of the 2013 draft . His name is Mike Trout. Draft picks are important.

On Jonny GomesTwo years, $10MM. I’m skeptical. But he did produce admirably for the A’s last season — .262/.377/.491. The OBP is eye-popping. Gomes has a career on-base percentage of .334, which is certainly not poor, but when he is given more than roughly 350 at-bats, he becomes exposed. I’m sort of indifferent on the signing. I didn’t expect it, but I’m not extremely angry over it. If the Red Sox deploy him properly (platoon role against left handed pitchers), he will thrive. It would stupid to ignore the influence he brings in the clubhouse. Gomes is considered one of the better clubhouse guys in the game, which is interesting given his involvement in on the field brawls. He was suspended following the punches that were thrown in the 2008 fight with between the Red Sox and the Rays. From everything I read, Gomes, like the newly acquired David Ross, will help make the Sox clubhouse an enjoyable atmosphere.

On the offseason…Please do not be one of the people who complains during the season about having overpriced, spoiled players and then turns around and criticizes the Sox for not jumping at every big name on the market. Don’t be the guy who calls in 98.5 The Sports Hub, complaining about how the Red Sox are not disciplined and just throw their money away on a two-year deal for their star DH because they need to support their ratings on NESN — and then contend that signing Hamilton is the best avenue to take. I mean, really?

The Winter Meetings start on December 3. Until then, let’s all at least try to relax.

Just Say No

You sure? Do you really want this?

Because I don’t. And when the pen is about to meet paper — when ink makes things irreversible — you’re not going want Josh Hamilton on the Red Sox. If you have the money to purchase a new, reliable vehicle with all of the bells and whistles, what’s the point of going out and buying a fancy used car? Sure, she’s good to look at, parked in the driveway — but once you put her on the road, she breaks down. Hamilton — simply put — is a poor investment.

But man, he is fun to watch.

Hamilton gave me goosebumps in 2008 when he slugged 28 majestic long balls in the first round of the Home Run Derby at Old Yankee Stadium. I’ve see him do his work in person. And I’m pretty sure the ball he hit at Fenway this past April jusssssst landed. He is great.

I really mean that. The man has that Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Sandy Koufax sort of greatness about him. It’s appointment viewing. It’s Pedro Martinez every fifth day. Your bathroom breaks revolve around when guys like Hamilton are due to hit. And yet, there is something about him that brings him closer to us as fans that most professional athletes do not have.

Hamilton is critically flawed. He is an addict. He has battled both drugs and alcohol. He’s open about it. The big left handed hitter looks like an NFL tight end. He is 6’4″ and weighs the best part of 250 pounds. Hamilton is larger than life.

But he is uniquely human.

Can you relate to Derek Jeter? I don’t know about you, but I have no idea what it’s like to win multiple World Series titles. I have no clue what it’s like to date stars like Mariah Carey or Minka Kelly. I wish I had an idea of what it is like to have a well-deserved squeaky-clean image.

But I don’t. And neither does Hamilton. I’m willing to bet you don’t either.

It’s not to say that guys like Jeter don’t have their issues–they do, trust me. They’re human too. But with Hamilton, it’s different. It just is. And that’s what makes him so incredibly likable. We root for him because we see ourselves in him. Sure, it may not be drugs or alcohol — but it’s something. Maybe it’s cigarettes or junk food. Maybe it’s gambling. I don’t know. But it’s something. We’re not all a gang of Jeter’s.

At the same time, Hamilton is best observed from afar, admired from a distance. He will be 32-years old in May. If his agent has any intelligence whatsoever, he will demand a five-year pact, at least. No if’s, and’s, or but’s about it. Security is vital for this man, for what he has been through, for what is likely to come.

Over the course of the next five seasons, on average, I want Hamilton to play 150 games, slug 35 home runs, get on-base at a .375 clip, drive in 120 runs, play stellar defense, but most of all, stay clean.

But I don’t trust him to do that. And the last thing the Red Sox need is an expensive, difficult to maintain vehicle with high mileage. No matter how pretty it looks.

Some Advice for the Offseason

There is no doubt that this offseason is an important one for GM Ben Cherington and the Red Sox. Barring some sort of unforeseen massive trade or two, coupled with a flurry of quality free agent signings, the Sox will not be on any expert’s list to win much of anything next season. For now, it’s important for this team to target players who are willing sign short term, short money deals. Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke are excellent players, but they simply do not fit in Boston–not this year.

The Red Sox, however, have plenty of vacancies. They need help at first base, shortstop, in the outfield, and on the mound. Cherington has absolute ton of money to play with as well. So what does this mean?

A few things…

  • They will be linked to almost every free agent or trade candidate. It doesn’t matter if it’s a 33-year old Adam LaRoche who flashed nicely in Washington last season, slugging 33 home runs or if it’s Justin Upton, a nice young player who would require a team to unload major league ready talent as well as a slew of quality prospects.
  • It is wise for every agent to include the Red Sox as a team interesed in their client. In theory, the Sox possess the resources to compete for literally every free agent on the market. From Hamilton to Greinke to Jeff Keppinger, agents wants other teams to believe that the Red Sox are in on their guy. It will simply drive the price up, whether the Sox have legitimate interest or not.
  • Keep this in mind as the offseason unfolds. Don’t get too excited if reports indicate that the Red Sox are pursuing Player X. Boston has both a ton of holes to fill and a ton of dough to spend, and that likely means they’ll be “in” on nearly everyone. It’s beneficial for almost all of the parties involved to have the Red Sox show up on the list of teams ready to throw cash at a free agent.
  • Bottom line: Given where the Red Sox currently stand, if a player is looking for anything more than a three-year deal, they’re likely not extremely interested.

Housekeeping: Nieves, Napoli, Upton

Juan Nieves was named pitching coach of the Red Sox Wednesday. Nieves served as bullpen coach of the White Sox from ’08-’12. His selection came as a bit of a surprise as pitching guru Rick Peterson was the lead dog prior the announcement yesterday. The 47-year old Puerto Rico native once tossed a no-hitter for the Brewers in 1987. He has some New England roots too. Nieves spent his high school years attending Avon Old Farms Prep in Connecticut.  But it was ultimately the relationship he formed with a 24-year old highly-touted Indians prospect he met while pitching in the Puerto Rican winter league.

That kid was John Farrell.

—- Last year, Mike Napoli had an extremely disappointing, injury-plagued season. He finished his 2012 campaign with a .227/.343/.469 slash line. The bulky right handed hitter still contributed 24 home runs. Consequently, the Rangers chose not to make Napoli a qualifying offer (one-year, $13.3MM).

What does this mean for the Red Sox?

Well, they can pursue Napoli knowing that they will not have to relinquish a draft pick. GM Ben Cherington will be looking for a first baseman with some pop, and Napoli can catch a little bit too. He’s 31-years old and is less than stellar defensively. Nevertheless, it would be wise of Cherington and the Red Sox to pursue Napoli who will not be looking for an overly long-term pact.

—- Rumors swirled Wednesday evening concerning Justin Upton who is perpetually on the trading block. Like almost every free agent or semi-available player, the Red Sox seem like a good fit. Reports indicated that they would be in on the 25-year old right fielder. Upton is a quality player who is under control for the next three seasons. It’s hard to blame the Diamondbacks for shopping Upton, given the haul he would bring in return. And one can understand why a plethora of teams would stand in line for a shot at obtaining his services.

But when it surfaced that Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers would be looking for some combination of a starting pitcher and third baseman, the Red Sox essentially fell out of the Upton sweepstakes. The Sox are certainly not swimming in quality young pitching, and Will Middlebrooks is not going anywhere.

A Final Thought on David Ortiz

Today, the Red Sox and David Ortiz made their two-year deal official. I won’t be discussing whether or not it was a good choice that GM Ben Cherington and the Red Sox gave Ortiz a multi-year deal. It’s a fair debate, but one for a different day. Instead, I ask a question: Can you believe it?

Can you believe that on November 5, 2012, Ortiz received a two-year deal from the Red Sox?

Because three years ago, it would’ve sounded ridiculous.

In 2009, Ortiz hit .238 and posted his lowest OBP (.332) as a member of the Red Sox. He pulled everything and looked totally out of sync. Ortiz truly seemed like he was done. His numbers in 2010 were better but fell well short of what you would expect from the big slugger.

Then something happened.

It could have been Adrian Gonzalez‘ influence. I’m not sure. But Ortiz began hitting the ball to the opposite field with authority, just as he had done during the prime of his career. He was content with going to left field for a base hit. The long-time designated hitter began staying on the ball longer, refusing to bail out and ground to the right side. Ortiz went back to being a force against left handed pitching.

In the three years prior to 2011, Ortiz did not pass the eye test game in and game out against southpaws. He wasn’t selective and certainly was not getting on-base at the same clip that he did between 2004-2007. In the 236 combined games Ortiz played in 2011-2012, he posted an OBP of .407. He was back to his old self.

The Red Sox aren’t going to be any expert’s pick to win the World Series next year, but you can bet that if they find themselves in contention come September, it will be due in large part to Ortiz.

And if someone told me three years ago that Ortiz would be relied upon 2013, I wouldn’t have believed you.

David Ortiz Inks Two-Year Deal

On Friday, the Red Sox and David Ortiz agreed to a two-year deal worth $26MM. He’ll have the opportunity to make an additional $4MM in incentives. Here is my abbreviated breakdown of the multi-year pact.

The Good: Ortiz can still flat-out hit. The two-time World Series champion is back to getting on-base at a tremendous pace. He is back to taking the ball to the opposite field with authority. In 2012, the native of the Dominican Republic posted an impressive .318/.415/.611 line. He blasted 23 home runs for good measure. And it was all done in 90 games.

The Bad: Ortiz played in 90 games last season. He injured his right Achilles’ tendon while rounding the bases on what would be a home run off the bat of former Red Sox Adrian Gonzalez. He is going to be 37 years old in 13 days, and ideally, the Red Sox would’ve continued to go year-to-year with Ortiz. It would have ensured that the slugger remained motivated, while limiting risk for the team.

The Emotional: Big Papi is the face of the Red Sox. He is a legend in these parts and will be in the same conversation with Bobby Orr, Larry Bird, Ted Williams, and Tom Brady when it comes to the Mount Rushmore of Boston sports. He should never not be a Red Sox.

The Takeaway: Would Oritz have gotten a multi-year deal worth the same amount of dollars on the open market? Probably not. Nevertheless, it is a fair deal based on the financial situation of the Red Sox. They can afford to overspend a bit for shorter term deals. The team possesses financial flexibility in the here and now, and it is important to preserve that for the foreseeable future. From a personnel standpoint, the free agent class simply does not offer what a healthy Ortiz can bring to the table–a unique blend of average and power. The Red Sox could have played hardball with Ortiz and his agent, but if a reasonable deal, like this one, could be reached, what is the point? Finally, GM Ben Cherington is in a much better position this offseason than last. John Farrell is the manager, and Ortiz is signed and presumably happy. Both of those problems were far from being solved one year ago.

Time to Let Go

Moving on is tough. Change is difficult. The past can often seem better than the present. For the Boston Red Sox and its fans, this couldn’t be more true when it comes to their ball club. Nevertheless, it is time to look forward.

It is about 2013, not 2004.

Terry Francona is not walking through that door.

Francona will always be beloved in these parts. He brought Red Sox fans salvation in 2004 and again three years later. Tito is arguably the greatest manager in Sox history. And that’s part of the problem–he is history. He’s not the manager in Boston any longer. In fact, he’s now the enemy (a relatively benign enemy in the form of the Cleveland Indians, but an enemy nonetheless). On April 16 — when the Indians visit Fenway — Francona will officially begin attempting to beat his old club.

The Tito Love Fest needs to end. It went on all of last year, mostly due to circumstances that surrounded the Red Sox and their former manager. Francona was dismissed at the end of the 2011 season in a manner that most people who follow the team would describe as unfair. Despite the allegations concerning Tito’s prescription drug abuse, he walked away from the rubble that befell Yawkey Way pretty clean. He went on to hook up with ESPN in an innocuous gig on Sunday Night Baseball.  Bobby Valentine, who is the black to Francona’s white when it comes to managerial style, never really got settled in Boston–much to his own device. It was easy to long for the way things were under Francona when Valentine was busy looking like a total idiot.

Tito quickly became the figurehead for anti-Establishment. Cheering the old manager meant opposing John Henry, Larry Lucchino, and to a lesser extent, Valentine. It was a theme that permeated throughout the season — Francona received the biggest ovation during the 100-year celebration of Fenway Park on April 20. In July, the ESPN analyst held court with a small group of Red Sox players in the visitor’s clubhouse at Yankee Stadium. Despite the denials from both sides, it must have been incredibly awkward for Valentine.

Franonca, however, is no longer serving in a role that has no real bearing on the welfare of the Red Sox. He is actively competing against them. Valentine has been disposed as manager, and the Sox have a new man at the helm in John Farrell who possesses many of the same coveted managerial skills as Francona but has a starkly different style. It is no longer about Francona. It’s about Farrell, and his team’s performance this summer.

Stop selling the past. Make a case for the future.

Let’s first deal with the facts. Last season was the 100-year anniversary of Fenway Park, and that is important. The aforementioned celebration this past April was necessary and well-done. The All-Fenway Team was acknowledged before the final home game of the season in September, and that too was appropriate given the circumstances surrounding the park’s birthday in 2012.

But recognizing the eight-year anniversary of the 2004 championship team? Please stop.

It’s time for ownership to stop leaning so heavily on the equity of good will that they have built up since purchasing the team. Instead, they must reinvest themselves in the 2013, 2014, and 2015 Red Sox. In turn, fans will reinvest accordingly.

Get excited about Will Middlebrooks, not Kevin Millar.

—–

None of this is easy. Francona was a superb manager during his tenure in Boston. Farrell owns a sub .500 record since taking over his first managerial gig in Toronto. Middlebrooks is heading into his sophomore season as a pro, and in the grand scheme of things, hasn’t done much of anything yet. Conversely, a player like MIllar helped deliver a World Series trophy to this city. It’s understandable why fans and even members of ownership gravitate towards these guys. They’re fun, likable winners.

And it’s perfectly fine to give Francona a nice ovation when he visits Fenway in an Indians uniform. Let him tip his cap and acknowledge the fans. He deserves that.

But after that, let go.

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