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Archive for the category “2013 Preview”

Peace of Mind

Photo courtesy of bleacherreport.com

“This [expletive] has been driving me crazy. I got no choice but to wait. I hope it goes away soon so I can get back into action.”

David Ortiz is in a tough spot. This offseason, he signed a two-year deal worth $26MM. He is at least 37-years old and is dealing with pain that is related to an injury he suffered last July

We are approaching eight full months since he suffered the injury, and fans are growing impatient.

In an ideal world, Ortiz would be batting third or fourth in a number of Spring Training games, slapping doubles off of the left field wall at JetBlue Park and driving balls deep over the right field fence.

But he’s not.

Instead, he’s undergoing MRI’s, occasionally running the bases, and taking batting practice from time to time. Ortiz is frustrated. He is sore. Quite frankly, he’s pretty pissed off.

“You always definitely need to play in spring training, because you need to see the game action. Whoever tells me they don’t have to play in spring training, I’m calling [expletive]. We have spring training for a reason.”

Big Papi is caught between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, he needs to do everything he possibly can to be ready as soon as possible. The Red Sox cannot afford to get off to a bad start for the third straight year. On the other hand, Ortiz has to be sure that when he suits up for his first game, he is back for good. On Monday, Ortiz admitted that Opening Day may be a long shot.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that the MRIs he underwent this past weekend revealed inflammation in each of his heels but no structural damage to his Achilles. I’m not close to being a doctor, but it’s clear that Ortiz has been compensating for the weakness he’s felt in his Achilles. Because of that, he has been dealing with a considerable amount of pain. Once that soreness subsides, the slugger will be able to begin chipping away at the roughly 50 at-bats he will need before he is major league game ready.

The Red Sox seem determined to be sure that when Ortiz is ready to come back, he is as close to 100 percent as possible. And when Ortiz is back, he will have the peace of mind in knowing that the pain he felt in the beginning of Spring Training was due to inflammation, not a setback concerning his Achilles strain from last summer. The fact that the Red Sox best hitter has been shut down for a period of time is disconcerting. There is no doubt about that. But the reactions from fans have been a little surprising to me.

This is the same guy who played an absolutely vital role in bringing two championships to this town, right? The 2004 ALCS? Ring a bell? The guy is a God of Boston. You’re going to tell your grandchildren about this dude. And if none of that is good enough — guess what? He’s still extremely productive. Before injuring his Achilles last season, Ortiz posted a 318/.415/.611 line to go along with 23 home runs. He’s pretty good at baseball.

Look, I get the complaints over signing him to a two-year deal, but let’s not make it seem like it’s a five-year deal worth $100MM. He’s a good player, and the Red Sox need him. The best thing for Ortiz, the Red Sox, and us is to be patient.

It will be worth the wait.

Lowering the Bar

Photo courtesy of espn.go.com

Jon Lester is not an ace.

Don’t tell me about four straight years of at least fifteen wins (2008-2011). I don’t want to hear about how he will be the starter on April 1 in Yankee Stadium. Thirty starts? 200 innings? Good. But not great. Lester may be confused about what it means to be a legit ace, but I’m not. There aren’t many, but you know one when you see one. Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, CC Sabathia stop losing streaks. Not only do those players expect their respective teams to lean on them, but they embrace it. You can count on them. They’re dependable.

And for the past year and a half, Lester has been anything but dependable.

With that out of the way, it’s important to begin figuring out exactly what we can realistically expect from him in 2013. That Cy Young-type season that many of us have been waiting for is not coming. I feel pretty confident in saying that. At the same time, there is absolutely no reason why Lester cannot return to his very good (not great) form from a couple of years ago.

Bouncing Back

I’m going to keep this relatively simple. In 2012, Lester was downright bad. The southpaw consistently struggled early in ballgames, racking up high pitch counts, and often times, getting hit rather hard. Stats aside, the former 19-game winner did not look like himself. And the numbers lend credence to that.

Lester’s average WAR (wins above a replacement level player) from 2008-2011 was 5.2. His WAR last season? 0.4.  He went 9-14 last season. His ERA was 4.28. Raise your hand if you think that those numbers will improve.

No Beckett? No problem

Josh Beckett will never, ever, ever receive the credit he deserves in New England–injuries and a poor attitude sealed his fate with most fans. In 2007, Beckett’s right arm almost single-handedly won the Red Sox their second World Series Championship in four years. You should be proud to have the opportunity to say you watched him pitch that season, especially in October. But that doesn’t mean that his influence will be missed.

For the first time in Lester’s career, the Red Sox will open the season without Beckett in their rotation. I’m not a hater of the Texas native, but it’s impossible to simply dismiss the idea that some of his bad habits may have rubbed off on guys like Lester. Even if Beckett was still pitching for the Red Sox, Lester is his own man. He’s not a kid — he’s 29-years old. But still, Beckett is a guy that younger pitchers undoubtedly looked up to. Like or not, he was, for a period of time, a role model to pitchers who came up through the Sox’ system. The hope is that a different tone will pervade the clubhouse this season, espeically with regards to the starting staff. Will the extraction of Beckett lower Lester’s ERA a full run? Of course not. But I’m willing to bet it won’t hurt.

The Farrell Factor

During Farrell’s tenure as pitching coach (2007-2010) of the Red Sox, Lester experienced a great deal of success. He went 54-23, fanned 8.6 batters per nine frames, and posted an ERA of 3.40. It was the stretches of dominance during that four year period that raised fans’ expectations for Lester. In the offseason that followed the 2010 season, Farrell left Boston for an opportunity to manage the Blue Jays, not knowing that the Red Sox would soon have a managerial vacancy themselves. Lester’s 2011 campaign was not an abject failure–he finished year the year 15-9 with 124 ERA+ (adjusted ERA), both quite good. But that was overshadowed by his dismal finish to the disastrous season. Lester’s ERA in his final six starts was a robust 5.40. The Red Sox went 1-5 in those games, and the big lefty looked completely and utterly gassed. He walked too many hitters and allowed bad mechanical habits to persist.

Farrell did not return to Boston as the team’s pitching coach, so it would be silly to assume he will have as much involvement with the staff as he did from ’07-’10. It would be equally foolish, however, to think that Farrell will simply sit back and watch Lester repeat the mistakes he has been making for the past year and a half. Aside from pitching poorly, Lester has received criticism for his overall presence on the mound. Instead of seeing that mean, competitive Lester, we received the complaining, umpire-blaming version. Showing up umpires on the regular makes you appear like a six year old, and that’s never a good look. I believe Farrell (as well as new pitching coach Juan Nieves) will work to reallocate Lester’s focus towards the hitter, rather than the guy calling balls and strikes.

What to Expect

This isn’t exactly a contract year for Lester, but it is close. The Red Sox hold a team option for 2014 worth $13MM. I can’t really see them declining that option, but anything can happen. Either way, it is imperative for Lester to have a good year, not only for the Red Sox but for him personally as well. Nothing is standing in Lester’s way of having a year looks something like 16-8 with an ERA of 3.70.

He is not Verlander or Sabathia. We know that. But Lester is who he is, and over the years, we’ve learned that that typically means more success than failure.

Motivation May Fuel Red Sox in 2013

Photo via espn.com

If you’re looking to gauge what the 2016 Red Sox will look like, the 2013 roster is not a good place to start.

GM Ben Cherington unexpectedly and creatively unloaded three lucrative long term contracts last August. Josh Beckett (signed through 2014), Adrian Gonzalez (signed through 2018), and Carl Crawford (signed through 2017) were suddenly no longer in the fold, leaving the Red Sox a roster bereft of talent but provided the organization with plenty of financial flexibility.

Improvement was undoubtedly needed, but they were not going to put their newfound fiscal flexibility in jeopardy this offseason.

That resulted in a revamped roster that includes several newly signed veterans who have experienced success in the past but are coming off disappointing seasons. Cherington exhibited discipline by staying away from the Josh Hamilton‘s and Zack Greinke‘s of the free agent world. Instead, he set his sights on players with less raw talent who were willing to accept shorter term deals–guys who have something to prove.

Acquisitions via trade and free agency, combined with a couple of team controlled, soon-to-be free agents, have left the Red Sox with several key players who will enter 2013 with a tremendous amount of — let’s face it — money riding on this season.

And we all know that there is nothing wrong with a small fire being lit under a player, even if the flame is fueled by the dollar bill. In fact, that is often when the results are the most fruitful.

——

Jacoby Ellsbury is the most obvious and the most important player that falls into this category. The 29-year old center fielder recently agreed to a one-year deal worth $9MM, successfully avoiding arbitration during his final year of eligibility. Following the 2013 season, Ellsbury will be a free agent and quite an enigmatic one. We know the damage he inflicted on opposing pitchers in 2011, a year that saw him post a .321/.376./.552 line. Ellsbury was a hardware hoarder that year as he appeared in his first All-Star game, took home the Silver Slugger Award for his position, and nabbed his only Gold Glove. Do you want to make a case that he, not Justin Verlander, was the American League’s Most Valuable Player? Good. Do it. You can certainly make a sound argument. Scott Boras definitely will when Ellsbury officially hits free agency.

But he has a lot to prove. Ellsbury’s critics will point to 2010 and 2011 and claim he’s injury prone. And if he’s not injury prone, he is certainly a slow-as-molasses healer. It would be hard to debunk that theory. When healthy, the talented center fielder has the ability to carry a team for a long period of time. Barring any ailments during the spring, Ellsbury will enter 2013 with the opportunity to solidify himself as a legitimate candidate to receive a nine-figure deal in free agency. Should he spend a great deal of time on the disabled list or simply struggle to produce at the top of the Red Sox’ lineup, it will further muddy the water on Ellsbury’s value as a free agent. It is officially put up or shut up time.

Like Ellsbury, closer Joel Hanrahan is entering his final year of arbitration eligibility and is eyeing a big payday next offseason. Hanrahan was traded to the Red Sox from the Pirates earlier this winter in a swap that cleared some clutter on the 40-man roster for Boston, while giving Pittsburgh some salary relief. The power righty has already been given the keys to the car by manager John Farrell who swiftly and shrewdly made his decision to unseat Andrew Bailey as the closer apparent in favor of Hanrahan. That is good news for a player entering the most important season of his career. It also comes with added pressure. Bailey, as injury prone as he may be, is a proven commodity. He can close ballgames. If Hanrahan struggles early, Farrell may look to make a change. He is keenly aware of how badly the bullpen meltdowns of yesteryear affected the Red Sox in April. The pressure and spotlight are on Hanrahan. The stage is Boston. His response will dictate whether or not he receives the fat, multi-year contract offer he will undoubtedly seek next offseason.

Hanrahan’s likely battery mate, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, will have plenty of motivation this season to build on his 2012 campaign. The soon-to-be 28-year old switch hitter had a breakout year of sorts last season, establishing himself a legitimate power hitting backstop. Saltalamacchia is hardly a player without warts, however. He managed to post a .288 on-base percentage in each of the past two seasons, a miserable, yet consistent feat. He strikes out too much and is starkly better when hitting from the left side of the plate. Despite his flaws, Saltalamacchia is a catcher who has pop, and that’s valuable. If he can find a way to not fade as the season wears on, retain his power, and improve his on-base skills (even marginally), Saltalamacchia could be in line for a multi-year deal from a team following the season.

Saltalamacchia isn’t the only player with catching experience on the Red Sox who will be looking to parlay a productive 2013 into a big contract next offseason. Last week, Mike Napoli officially signed a one-year deal worth $5MM, a far cry from the original three-year, $13MM agreement the two sides agreed to on December 3. The reason for the hold up and subsequent $34MM reduction in guarunteed salary? Avascular necrosis–a condition that destroys bone due to lack of blood supply to the specific area. It sounds bad, and it is. But it was caught early, and according to doctors, should not get worse. Still, it cost the 31-year old a ton of dough this offseason. Naturally, Napoli will look to respond with a productive 2013 and prove to clubs that he deserves a multi-year deal. He is in the right lineup and the right ballpark to bounce back.

Stephen Drew is looking to repair his stock as a free agent that, like Napoli, has been marred by injury. Drew, a Boras client, agreed to a one-year deal with the Red Sox that will pay him $9.5MM in 2013. Once a top level performer at his position, Drew, due to a vicious ankle injury that occurred in July of 2011 and forced him to miss the first three months of 2012, did not garner a great deal of interest in free agency. With a strong performance in 2013, Drew will almost certainly see more teams bid on his services next time around. As long as Drew leaves camp healthy, it is hard to envision a scenario where he will not be the Red Sox’ Opening Day shortstop. He will have an opportunity — not unlike Adrian Beltre in 2010 — to capitalize on the ever-intense baseball environment in Boston. His ankle issues seem to be behind him. Health and productivity at a shallow position are all that stands between Drew and a much more memorable crack at free agency.

Cherington and the Red Sox are hoping to take advantage of the motivation that comes naturally with a player operating on a one-year deal. One-year pacts are essentially wagers entered into by both the player and the team. If the bet works out, the player almost always has a big payday waiting, and the team receives the benefit of a playoff run.

In 2013, the Red Sox will gladly go all in.

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.

My Thoughts on John Farrell

John Farrell was officially hired as the 46th manager in Red Sox history on Sunday. Ben Cherington and Co. got their man. And Sox fans should be happy about that. Here’s why.

This time last year Blue Jays’ GM Alex Anthopoulos wanted Clay Buchholz in exchange for John Farrell. It was just one year ago that the Jays’ front office thought that Farrell was worth a pitcher who is good and has the potential to be a legitimate front of the rotation starter. The Red Sox obviously rebuffed the Blue Jays’ request and hired Bobby Valentine. One year later, the asking price dropped considerably as the Jays accepted infielder Mike Aviles in exchange for their manager who still had one-year remaining on his three-year deal. Detractors have pointed to Farrell’s questionable in-game management (overly aggressive on the base paths) and the disruptions within Toronto’s clubhouse. It is accurate to say that there are fragments of truth buried in each of those two criticisms. However, the fact remains that just 12 months ago the Jays thought very highly of their former skipper–enough to demand Buchholz in return.

Farrell knows the demands that come with managing a baseball team that plays in Boston. There are no surprises here. Farrell served as the pitching coach from 2007-2010. He oversaw a staff that won a World Series, and one that went all the way to Game Seven of the ALCS. He knows the landscape, the demands, and many of the players. Familarity, coupled with two years of separation from the tumult in Boston, makes Farrell a nice fit.

The hiring process was completed relatively quickly. This could have carried on for awhile. Figuring out compensation for a manager or front office executive is never easy as we saw with the Theo Epstein to the Cubs saga last year. The Red Sox, however, were able to acquire Farrell in a reasonable amount of time. This will allow them to begin the process of assembling their 2013 squad immediately. And that, of course, is the most important part of the offseason.

Farrell was the unanimous choice by everyone involved in the selection process. That means John Henry, Larry Lucchino, and, most importantly, Ben Cherington agreed that Farrell was the best choice. Remember that that was simply not the case last time around. Cherington did not want Valentine. Lucchino did. Lucchino won. There was dysfunction from the beginning. Things go smoother when everyone is pulling in the same direction.

Is Farrell perfect? No. Does he have his warts? Yes. Most importantly, is he the right man, at the right time for the job? Time will tell. In the meantime, there is no doubt that his hiring has restored a sense of order, a feeling of confidence about the future of this team–something that players, brass, and fans alike can appreciate.

It’s the Mold, Not the Man

On Monday, the Red Sox interviewed Tony Pena, the Yankees’ bench coach. A few days before, the folks on Yawkey Way met with Tim Wallach. Brad Ausmus and Demarlo Hale are due in to town later this week.

But isn’t John Farrell their guy?

Yeah, probably. But in reality, it is what Farrell represents that truly attracts the eye of Red Sox brass. He is a respected figure within the clubhouse and works well with baseball operations. Farrell’s lack of success in his first two years as a big league manager is neutralized by his strong pitching pedigree.

Just as important, Farrell seems to be a candidate that GM Ben Cherington fully endorses–he was a wanted man by the Red Sox this time last year as well. We all saw the dysfunction that results from hiring a manager that the person in charge of hiring the manager doesn’t sign off on.

It does not matter if the next Red Sox manager is Pena, Farrell, Gene Lamont, Joe Torre, or Kenny Powers.

As long as he commands the respect of the men in the clubhouse, is open to engaging in active dialogue with Cherington and his crew in baseball operations (stay out, Larry), and is the choice of the GM, then he will be a good selection.

Let’s see if the Sox learn from their mistakes.

Waiting for Farrell

The Bobby Valentine era lasted less than one calendar year, but it felt like a decade. I’d love to be able to tell my readers that I saw the writing on the wall when Valentine was hired, that I knew he would about as useful as a warm fart on a hot day. But I can’t. I was very, very wrong.

But that’s okay, right? We’re all wrong at some point. Hell, I thought majoring in English was a good idea.

It’s time to get caught up on the Red Sox managerial search that I hope doesn’t last as long as the one that brought Captain Idiot to town. One thought per bullet. Let’s go.

  • John Farrell is the clear front-runner for the job.
  • I don’t put much stock in Farrell’s sub .500 record as a manager in Toronto.
  • Terry Francona’s record as a manager was terrible when he was hired by the Red Sox.
  • Francona is probably the greatest manager in Red Sox hisotry.
  • By “much stock”, I mean none.
  • The Blue Jays wanted Clay Buchholz for Farrell last season.
  • He has one-year left on his deal, rendering him a lame duck manager.
  • The asking price, if any, will be much, much less.
  • Larry Lucchino and Paul Beeston are very good friends.
  • Paul Beeston is the President of the Blue Jays.
  • I wish my last name was “Beeston”.
  • Farrell isn’t the be all end all, but I believe he brings a great deal of really good things to the table.
  • I won’t be heartbroken if Farrell isn’t managing this team in 2013.
  • No matter who the Red Sox hire, he must be able to earn the trust of the players, communicate well with brass, and manage the pressure that comes with being the skipper of a baseball team that plays in Boston.
  • I hope the Red Sox get their man.

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