Talkin Sox with Dan

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

Archive for the month “December, 2012”

One Year Down

Photo via amazon.com

One year ago today, I wrote an article on this site about Daniel Bard and what to expect as he transitions from reliever to starter. It was the first post on a blog that I started as an outlet to express my opinions and thoughts about a team that means a great deal to me. Roughly six and a half years ago, I was a freshman in college who was determined to become a sports writer, earning a living by combining two things that I truly enjoy – sports and writing. It seemed like a natural fit. For me, it would have been counterintuitive to do anything else.

But who knew that the Boston Globe doesn’t just take any kid who graduated from a small Catholic school on Salisbury Street in Worcester, and slide him into Bob Ryan’s desk?

An internship, a collection of bylines from the Telegram & Gazette, a year as the Sports Editor of Assumption College’s excellent student newspaper, and a solid GPA only got me so far. Needless to say, it wasn’t to the chair behind Ryan’s desk. What it did get me was a job. A good one. One that I’m thankful to have. But one that is not in the field that I studied. More importantly, it is a position where I certainly do not get paid to discusss the successes and failures of the Red Sox’ offseason.

And that is okay. I made a very real decision about two years ago when I turned down a full-time reporter position at a truly great small newspaper in my area. So this is not a sob story about the kid who did everything right and still just couldn’t a get job. Nope. Instead, it is about a person who made a choice to take a different path. Ultimately, that path led that person to start a Red Sox blog that lacks a cool, baseball related name (Damn it. I seriously wish I made a better name. Talkin’ Sox with Dan? I mean, really?) because he simply didn’t want to put in his time covering community events or townhall meetings, making a small wage.

There is no doubt that that is what it would’ve taken–gaining experience at small publications, applying to some of the bigger outlets and hoping for the best. So I guess I wasn’t all in. I guess I didn’t have the drive to be the famous sports scribe that I swore I once possessed. One thing I do know for sure is that I love sports, especially baseball, and I enjoy writing about it. I could never imagine not writing about the game that so many of us grew up playing, following, and watching.

It really is the best.

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I didn’t create this space for you, the reader. If I did, I would be in a great deal of trouble. There are a plethora of quality sources that you can go for your Red Sox news and analysis. This blog does not break any news. It is not the first to analyze a trade or acqusition. I never played professionaly or even made a romantic bid to play profesionally. I maxed out at the high school varsity level and was not particularly good at that. I’m not a huge stat guy who can perfectly dissect the different forms of WAR’s that are out there. If Red Sox blogs were to be assigned positions on the diamond, mine would be the super-utility man.

I created this out of pure necessity. It was an entirely selfish endeavor. But I do have a few acknowledgements.

Thank you to my family members who read my blog. You don’t really have a choice, and I know that.

Thank you to my friends who don’t have a real interest in baseball or the Red Sox but click on the site or follow me on Twitter because you’re just a good friend. It means a lot.

Thank you to my buddies who share the same love for the game of baseball that I do. The time you take to write in the comments section of my blog or just simply enjoy reading my pieces is greatly appreciated. You are the lifeblood of this space.

MLB Trade Rumors is an awesome site that I use daily. If it wasn’t for their “Baseball Blogs Weigh In” section each Friday, it would be accurate to say that I would have exponentially less views than I do on here. A big thanks to them.

Rob Bradford wouldn’t know me from a stranger on the street, but he took a few moments to shoot the breeze at Christmas at Fenway earlier this month. He was in the middle of doing an on-site radio show for WEEI. He’s also been kind enough to re-tweet arecent piece of mine that I wrote on Daniel Bard. It’s a couple of nice gestures that he certainly did not have to do. Thank you.

A similar act of kindness from Steve Buckley occurred earlier this summer. I wrote an article after the great Johnny Pesky’s passing in August. From afar, Pesky always struck me as someone incredibly similar to my Great Uncle Frank — full of kindness with a bottomless well of stories from the past. My Uncle Frank passed away in 2011, and I couldn’t help but think that somehow he and Pesky bumped into each other somewhere in heaven and shared a few stories about baseball, family, or their time in the military. I sent Buck my piece, and he was nice enough to share it with his followers. It was a very thoughtful gesture.

Brian MacPherson took time out of his evening, covering a game in Pawtucket this past summer to meet with me and talk about the Red Sox. A handshake a brief exchange doesn’t seem like much, but for some one as busy as Brian, it was very cool of him to do.

Finally, the individuals who have literally no connection to myself beyond my blog, a big thank you for reading and following on Twitter. It means a great deal.

As always, go Sox.

Power Plays

Photo via mlive.com

On Wednesday, the Red Sox officially addressed an area of surplus. They have a closer. Andrew Bailey is injury-plagued. There is no debating that. But he is a legitimate ninth inning pitcher, a former All-Star with 81 saves on his resume. The bottom line is that GM Ben Cherington did not need to bring in a proven closer this offseason.

But he did.

Joel Hanrahan was traded by the Pirates to the Red Sox in a six-player swap that will also send reliever Mark Melancon to Pittsburgh. The Red Sox still have not come to terms with free agent Mike Napoli, leaving a vacancy at first base. They remain shallow in the outfield with Jonny Gomes likely needing a platoon-mate that can do damage against hit right handed pitching. Clearly, Cherington still has several areas of need to address, yet he chose to actively pursue adding a late-inning arm to a bullpen that already has Bailey and Koji Uehara.

Why?

The answer has everything to do with Daniel Bard.

It wasn’t that long ago that the Red Sox possessed two of the game’s absolute best in the eighth and ninth innings. Bard and Jonathan Papelbon were a powerful one-two punch that helped former manager Terry Francona win more than a few games during the final segment of his tenure in Boston. Both Bard and Papelbon threw hard and threw strikes. The pair represented exactly what every team wants at the end of games.

In the offseason that followed the 2011 season, Papelbon left Boston for Philadelphia. Bard, who, despite fatiguing down the stretch for the Red Sox in ’11, seemed tailor-made for the closer role in 2012. His powerful stuff played well in the late innings of ballgames. Fans were used to watching him wiggle out of high leverage situations, using his fastball that consistently registered well above 95 MPH to blow away hitters on the regular.

But then the Red Sox got cheap, and Bard got a little greedy.

Cherington and the rest of baseball operations understood the potential payoff of converting Bard to a starter. Let’s face it — Bard made roughly $1.6MM in 2012. Good luck getting Hiroki Kuroda to pitch for your team for that salary. At the same time, Bard knew that starting pitchers do not need to pitch at the level of a Justin Verlander or a Clayton Kershaw to get paid. Pick up the phone and give Edwin Jackson a buzz. He will tell you all about his four-year $52MM deal that the Cubs gave him last week.

It was a perfect storm. Bard wanted to start, and the Red Sox saw it as a cost-efficient opportunity to fill a vacancy in the rotation.

Bard performed miserably as a starter. His outing on Sunday June 3 in Toronto was the breaking point of the experiment. In an inning and two-thirds, Bard walked six Blue Jays and plunked two others. It was like watching the goriest of horror movies, when one is only able to catch a glimpse of the television screen between fingers as their hands shielded their face. It was that bad. The whole thing was an unmitigated disaster that ultimately earned Bard a demotion to Pawtucket and a question mark when it comes to where he fits on this team in 2013.

The Red Sox subsequently spent their second straight offseason looking for ways to plug the gaping holes left by both Papelbon and Bard. Had the latter embraced the role of closer in the same fashion the former did, the Red Sox would likely not be participating in the annual game of bullpen pick ‘em. If Cherington and Co. had recognized that Bard’s stuff as well as his mentality is best suited at the end of ballgames, Hanrahan may not have been a trade target this offseason.

Removing Bard from the bullpen created quite a large void for the Red Sox–one that was only amplified by his abject failure as a starter. Since then, Cherington has been searching for that power arm that is almost always needed at the end of games. Simply put, swing and miss stuff limits the amount of balls that are put in play, and Bard certainly racked up a great deal of punch outs as a set-up man.

The addition of Hanrahan is yet another example of how poor baseball decisions can negatively impact a club for years down the road. Hanrahan’s performance in 2013, good or bad, will serve as a reminder of how sorely Bard is missed in the Boston bullpen and how desperately Cherington has searched for someone to anchor it.

Where the Hell is Mike Napoli?

Photo via nashuatelegraph.com

On December 3, the Red Sox agreed to a three-year deal with free agent Mike Napoli. That’s right.

The third.

Seventeen days later, Napoli has yet to sit in front of the fake brick Red Sox/Dunkin’ Donuts overlay, donning the home white while GM Ben Cherington and Company introduce him to the media. No one is saying much of anything. Mum is most definetely the word.

“There’s really nothing to comment on. As with any free agent, until it’s done, it’s not done. We continue to work on different ways to improve the team. I’ll comment on it as soon as I can, but I can’t right now. We’ve had some more dialogue. I wouldn’t classify it as one way or the other,” Cherington said at Ryan Dempster‘s introductory presser on Tuesday.

Well, that was very Belichickian of Cherington. But really, what do we expect? It’s a sensitive situation that affects both the Red Sox as a team in 2013 as well as Napoli’s value as a free agent. It benefits no one to discuss the snag.  Nevertheless, it certainly doesn’t stop us from dissecting what is approaching a post-agreement disaster.

What this means for the Red Sox

In the end? Probably nothing. Napoli will likely still sign with the Sox for either two years or three years with a well-defined injury clause similar to John Lackey‘s. Will Carroll of SI.com recently reported that Cherington and the Red Sox are in fact looking to have Napoli and his agent agree to reduce the pact to a two-year agreement. I’m sure that there is some validity to that. We know one thing for sure: If Napoli is a member of the Red Sox in 2013, the Red Sox will be well-protected against any sort of injury.

I’ve heard the theory that this is just another case of Red Sox doctors fouling up a situation involving a player. The next quasi-logical thought is that this process, especially if it ends with an unhappy Napoli, will deter future free agents from looking Boston’s way in the future. I will never buy the argument that free agents are going to go to other teams because the media in Boston is tough, the clubhouse can be a rough place to be, or the medical staff has a bad rep. Just follow the money. In the end, nothing else really matters.

For now, Cherington has to keep his options open. I don’t believe the agreement will end up falling through, but as a GM, one must be ready for any situation he is thrust in to. That means not losing touch with guys like Nick Swisher or Adam LaRoche. Lesser first base options like Mark Reynolds and Kevin Youkilis have signed with Indians and Yankees, respectively. Trade targets, like Kendrys Morales, will not hang around, waiting for Napoli’s three week long doctors appointment to come to an end. It benefits the Red Sox to get this wrapped up as soon as possible.

The same can be said for Napoli.

What this means for him

The bulky right handed hitter set out to do two things this offseason: Establish himself as a free agent catcher, not a first baseman, and come to terms on a four-year deal. He missed on both. The Red Sox, like other teams, evaluated Napoli as a full-time first baseman who possesses the ability to catch here and there when needed. As soon as it was reported that the former Texas Ranger was looking to land a four-year deal, the Sox immediately let their foot off of the gas pedal. They seemingly drew the line in the sand at three-years. Their decision proved fruitful as they netted Napoli for three-years and $39MM, plenty lucrative for a player who is looking to rebound after a below average, injury plagued 2012 campaign. Napoli’s goal of a guaranteed four years could easily be cut in half should the negotiations following his physical lead to his camp and the Red Sox agreeing on a two year guaranteed contract with an option, for example.

There is, of course, a chance that Napoli finds himself on the open market yet again. His value would naturally be much lower than it was before he agreed to the three-year deal with the Red Sox. I cannot see a team offering anything more than a two years, and even that may be a stretch.

Ultimately, the Red Sox need Napoli as much as Napoli needs the Red Sox. I would expect this to be resolved on either Wednesday or Thursday of this upcoming week, just before the beginning of 2013.

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Update: According to Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com, the snag is concerning an issue with one of Napoli’s hips. Local reports are indicating that the deal could easily fall through. Based on Rosenthal’s report, I believe that is a bit overstated. You can decide for yourself. Here is the link. I still believe this deal gets done.

Red Sox Quick Hits: Youkilis, Uehara, Drew

Photo via boston.cbslocal.com

Kevin Youkilis inked a one-year pact with the New York Yankees for the upcoming season. Tom Brady’s brother-in-law will earn $12MM in 2013, which is a nice chunk of change for the soon-to-be 34-year old. In fact, it is only one million less than the option the White Sox held after he was traded from Boston last summer. He passed up a chance at a multi-year deal with the Indians and a reunion with his longtime skipper, Terry Francona. It’s a great deal for Youk.

So Youkilis, a three-time All-Star and World Champion, will head to the Bronx, and many a fan in Boston will take the opportunity to boo him or cowardly insult him in the comments section of blogs on the internet. As I wrote here nearly six months ago, Youkilis is the type of player who should be embraced in Boston, cheered when he returns, and revered when his playing days come to an end. I’m not sure what fans really want from a player. I guess I can’t speak for everyone, but I root for guys who care about winning and leave it all on the field. And if Youkilis didn’t do that when he was in a Red Sox uniform, then no one did.

Koji Uehara‘s one-year deal worth a reported $4.25MM became official yesterday. I’ll preface this by saying that I was head-over-heels in love with the Mark Melancon trade last offseason, so take my assessment of Uehara with a grain of salt. But I’m head-over-heels in love with this signing.

The 37-year old right hander will help solidify a bullpen that could evolve into quite an asset for the 2013 Red Sox. If Uehara stays healthy, he will be one of the most reliable arms John Farrell has at his disposal. Although the native of Japan pitched for the Texas Rangers last season, he is very familiar with the rigors that come with pitching in the AL East. Over the course of two and a half seasons as an Oriole, Uehara compiled a more-than-respectable 3.03 ERA.  Additionally, he strikes out nearly eight batters for every one batter he walks. That’s good stuff. GM Ben Cherington has stated that he is looking to add arms who attack the strike zone. Mission accomplished.

Stephen Drew agreed to a one-year contract with the Red Sox worth $9.5MM. Well, there goes my whole ‘start Jose Iglesias at shortstop if he has a good camp’ theory. The brother of Red Sox World Series champion and ALCS hero, J.D. Drew, this Drew is looking to rebound from what was a wretched 2012 campaign. Still recovering from a wince-worthy ankle injury he suffered in the middle of 2011, Drew missed the first half of last season and played a combined 79 games with both the Diamondback and the Athletics. His .223/.309/.348 line didn’t exactly leave Drew and his agent, Scott Boras, with a plethora of can’t-refuse offers this offseason. But Boras, as he so often does — see Adrian Beltre with the Red Sox in 2010 — found a home for his client where he will make a substantial salary and have the opportunity to rebuild his value in anticipation of cashing in this time next offseason.

Drew isn’t a player that gets me especially excited. He is an average to good defender — nothing spectacular with regards to the leather. It is true that he does offer much more upside at the plate than a player like Iglesias, but offense is almost never the real problem for Red Sox teams of recent memory.  Granted, the lineup that took the field in the subsequent games after Nick Punto and friends were traded to the Dodgers was pitiful. Generally speaking, however, the Red Sox tend to hit well enough to win on a consistent basis. Pitching has been the source of most of the headaches throughout the summer. So aside from adding a legitimate ace to the staff, what is a better way to assist in run prevention? Quality defense, especially in the middle of the diamond.

Cherington added David Ross who is excellent behind the plate. Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury are superb at second base and center field, respectively. Iglesias at shortstop would have not only been extremely fun to watch — it would have helped save a great deal of runs. For now, I have to assume that Iglesias will be back in Pawtucket, continuing to work on developing his bat.

Drew’s deal is only for one-year, so I’m not especially angry over it. Is $9.5MM an overpay? Probably. But, for this team, it’s all about long term flexibility, and Drew is a yet another free agent who should, if healthy, be able to contribute as an above average player at his position in 2013.

Quick Hits

winter meetings

  • The Red Sox inked Mike Napoli to a three-year $39MM deal on Monday. An excellent signing for GM Ben Cherington. Some will say that the Sox overpaid for the right handed hitter, but who cares? Seriously. It’s about the number of years, not the number of dollars. Rejoice, Red Sox fans.
  • Towards the end of the last offseason, the Red Sox were restricted by their payroll. They couldn’t offer enough to entice Hiroki Kuroda or Edwin Jackson to come to Boston. Thanks to the Dodgers, things have changed. Look for Cherington to be patient in regards to the free agent pitching market. A guy like Shaun Marcum will be an interesting option come January, if he’s not signed earlier. I believe the Red Sox will find a quality starting pitcher or two after Christmas.
  • Despite the fact that Cherington acted relatively quick in signing Napoli, Sox fans should still expect their team to exhibit patience as the free agent market unfolds during the winter. Typically, that’s how the diamonds are found in the rough.

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