Talkin Sox with Dan

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

Archive for the tag “Cody Ross”

The Red Sox Take You Into the Weekend

It’s Friday. That’s a good thing. Celebrate by reading a few must-know points on the Red Sox. I’ll keep it short and sweet.

Torey Lovullo was officially hired as the Red Sox bench coach today. The former major leaguer was John Farrell‘s first base coach last season in Toronto. Lovullo is a known commodity in these parts. He managed the Pawtucket Red Sox in 2010. He also interviewed for the Red Sox’ manager job last offseason. Lovullo is a manager-in-waiting, but the take away here is that Farrell is going to surround himself with guys he trusts, knows, and respects. It is a stark difference from what the Red Sox did last year with Bobby Valentine.

— I’m eager to see who is hired as pitching coach. Farrell has a strong pitching background, but it’s important to realize that the pitching coach is the individual who will be managing the staff on a day to day basis. The Red Sox and Farrell must choose a guy who is given full autonomy over the pitchers. Rick Peterson would be a blessing.

— I have a feeling that the 2013 Red Sox are going to be very fun to watch. David Ortiz, Cody Ross, Dustin Pedroia, and Mike Napoli would be a fun core to root for.

— The Red Sox would be smart to stay away from B.J. Upton and Justin Upton. The former is a free agent who doesn’t get on-base. The latter is a good player who is under contract for reasonable dollars, but it would require quality young talent to get him here. Spend your minor leagues commodities on pitching. Or don’t spend them at all.

Advice for the Red Sox: Farrell, Morales, Ortiz

It’s not that these September games don’t matter at all. There is plenty of room for evaluating guys like Jose Iglesias, Ryan Lavarnway, and Ryan Kalish. However, every move that this organization makes going forward must be done with an eye towards the future. The 2012 Boston Red Sox are officially about the 2013 Boston Red Sox

Here are nine pieces of advice for a ball club in desperate need of putting its best foot forward.

—Do what you have to do to pry John Farrell from the Blue Jays. If Toronto’s GM Alex Anthopoulos demands a player like Clay Buchholz or even Daniel Bard (yes, that Daniel Bard), you move on–because that’s ridiculous. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that Farrell should be the top candidate to replace Bobby Valentine.

—Bring David Ortiz back on a one-year deal. I love these tough-talkers who call into radio shows and proclaim how they’re sick of Ortiz, how he’s a baby, and the Sox need to move on. Get real. I wouldn’t necessarily offer him arbitration, but Ortiz has to be the anchor of that lineup next season. And remember: A pissed off Ortiz is a productive Ortiz.

—Sign Cody Ross this offseason and never let him play right field again. Ever.

—John Henry must empower GM Ben Cherington. He is an intelligent, qualified executive who deserves more autonomy. If that means somehow lessening the importance of Larry Lucchino, so be it. Wins are more important than selling commemorative bricks.

—Give Franklin Morales a fair shot to start in 2013. I’d go to battle with that guy as my fifth starter any day of the week.

—Integrate some patience this offseason. The Red Sox have gotten away from their bread and butter–taking pitches, working the count, and wearing down the opposition. You can get away with a couple of free swingers like Will Middlebrooks, but for every young, anxious hitter, you need two players who are willing to take what is given to them. ESPN’s Jeremy Lundblad explores this in more detail here.

—Trade Jacoby Ellsbury in the offseason. Fans will undoubtedly gripe, but it is the best decision. Here is why.

—Find a way to harness Alfredo Aceves. He is undoubtedly volatile, quirky, and, at times, troublesome. But he is a weapon, a guy who can pitch multiple innings out of the bullpen, spot start, or even close an occasional game. If he proves to be detrimental to the team, cut bait.

—Do not be afraid of bad publicity. When discussing the idea of firing Valentine before season’s end, WEEI’s Rob Bradford advocated the idea by saying “rip the band-aid off.” I don’t necessarily agree with firing Valentine now, but Bradford’s point is actually a good one. This organization has gotten away from what is most important: Assembling a quality team that is capable of playing consistently good team baseball. Are there going to be bumps in the road along the way? Sure. Rather than compromising what is best for the franchise in order to avoid a few potholes, hit them head on. Face the music and learn from the mistakes.

Quietly Unproductive

The Red Sox misbehaved. Their starting pitchers have been escorted to the principal’s office, while the members of the offense got to take their recess.

Somehow, the hitters have gotten off the hook. And I don’t believe that’s very fair.

The arms and the bats have worked together to get this team in the perilous situation it is in.

Have the starting pitchers, notably Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and Clay Buchholz, fallen well short of their preseason expectations during the first half of  the 2012 season? You bet. If you could augment only one area of this ball club as it is currently constituted, starting pitching would be the unanimous selection.

Pitching has been so consistently terrible throughout the course of the season that it has actually drawn attention away from the deficiencies of the offense. The first three weeks of the season, it was the bullpen taking the grenades. Alfredo Aceves and Co., have righted the ship, but the starters have not experienced the same success.

When one is asked about the failures of the 2012 squad, it is almost instinctual to immediately point towards the top of the starting pitching staff. The Red Sox have lacked consistency since the first toss towards home plate of the season was thrown in Detroit, but one theme for this team has remained the same–it is the pitching, not the hitting, that is to blame.

Beckett is an apathetic boat anchor on a staff that doesn’t need any help sinking. Buccholz cares more about vodka and partying than he does about the welfare of his team. Lester is fat.

These days, it seems as though whenever a starter not named Felix Doubront or Aaron Cook toes the rubber, fans, writers, and experts alike almost root, or at least expect, a poor performance. It has become trendy to hate the Red Sox, especially the three “aces”.

Whenever there is a scapegoat, there is a person or group of people tiptoeing away, looking over their shoulder, hoping that no one notices.

The point is not that the Red Sox lineup deserves the bear all, more, or even an equal share of the burden for the failures of the team as a whole. Instead, it is to highlight that its league-wide perception of being comprised of a group of hitters who consistently throw up crooked numbers against the opposition at will does not quite run parallel to the reality of the situation.

Let’s get a couple things out of the way now.

1) This is a lineup that has operated without two of its biggest offensive pieces for the majority of the season. Yes, it is true that Carl Crawford has yet to appear in a regular season game, and Jacoby Ellsbury has been sidelined since the home opener. Ellsbury’s absence has certainly taken a toll, especially when the Sox have faced right handed pitching. Crawford, on the other hand, is paid like a savior but is far from one. Evan Longoria, you’ll remember, has played in a grand total of 23 games for offensively bereft Rays. It wouldn’t be difficult to make a case that he is more vital to his team than any other player is to his respective squad in all of baseball. Have injuries negatively impacted this team? Of course. But don’t look to the DL for bailouts–the Red Sox have enough bullets in the chamber to spare a couple and still have enough to succeed.

2) The Red Sox offense, for all intents and purposes, has been good. Through 86 games, Sox hitters have produced 432 runs, good for second in Major League Baseball. At the same time, it is important to keep in mind that the Red Sox are stellar in blowouts and lackluster is close, grind-‘em-out games. They’re excellent at winning the contests that lack pressure and relatively poor in the white-knuckle affairs.

Despite the Red Sox statistically robust offense, they often corner themselves into situations that require a clutch hit in order to score a run. In other words, Sox hitters, in spite of those classic 10-5 wins, tend to put themselves in favorable situations at the beginning of innings, only to fail to produce productive outs in key situations that ultimately lead to a plethora of stranded runners and missed opportunities. 

Essentially, the Red Sox have a hard time hitting their foul shots.

Free and easy opportunities to score runs without getting a base hit do not often present themselves in close, well-pitched games. Let’s take a look at two recent, glaring examples that occurred in back-to-back innings in a game that should have been an easy win.

On July 3rd, while the East Coast was getting ready to celebrate its independence, the Red Sox were busy giving away a victory. In the top of the eighth inning, the Sox were clinging to a 2-1 lead. Here is how the inning unfolded:

Pedroia walk — Pedroia steal — Ortiz walk.

As a reminder, that is a runner on first and second with no one out, and Cody Ross due up. The best case scenario here is obviously a base hit by Ross. But here, expectations are not that high. It would be unfair to ask the powerful righty to lay down a bunt, and a ground ball to the right side could easily result in a double play. It is fair, however, to look for Ross, at the very least, to lift a semi-deep fly ball to right, right-center, or center field–all three of which would have resulted in Pedroia tagging up and getting to third base with less than two outs, a prime run-scoring position.

Instead, Ross failed to produce a productive out and struck out swinging. At this point, the Red Sox officially lost the opportunity to score a “free run”. They now needed a base hit to record any insurance in a tight ballgame.

Adrian Gonzalez came to the plate and drove a deep fly ball to center field, which is the exact result the Sox needeed one batter earlier. Pedroia tagged and went to third. First and third with two outs. Jarrod Saltalamacchia proceeded to strikeout looking to end what initially appeared to be an extremely promising inning.

Thanks to some nifty pitching in the bottom of the eighth by Vicente Padilla, the Red Sox headed to the top of ninth still gripping a one-run lead. Here is how the inning unfolded:

Ryan Kalish single — Mike Aviles walk.

Here we go again. First and second, no one out–a situation where the Red Sox had the opportunity to score a run without a hitter getting a base hit. Nick Punto is headed towards the dish, the players on the field and the dozens of people at O.co Coliseum knew the bunt was coming. Punto squared and attempted the bunt, which was popped up and resulted in a double play for the Athletics. Kalish, for some strange reason, attempted to steal third and was promptly dispatched to end the inning.

Aceves went on to blow the save, as the Athletics came back to the tie and win the game in the bottom of the ninth. The loss went to Ace, but it really belonged to the Red Sox offense.

In close, well-pitched games, the margin for error is slim and opportunities are few and far between. Runs are often not doubled home or delivered by a round tripper. Instead, they are carved out by getting timely hits, earning walks, and selflessly finding ways to make productive outs.

The Red Sox have struggled against quality competition this season. According to the Boston Globe’s Tony Massarotti, they are 24-35 against American League teams who are at or above .500. The Red Sox are rarely able to match-up with the quality teams in their league. That is a fact. But it not just a pitching problem.

To pin the failures of this year’s Sox squad solely on the starting pitching staff is shortsighted, incorrect, and most of all, entirely too easy. It is the lazy fan’s excuse for why their team is perpetually treading water.

If the 2012 Boston Red Sox hope to succeed in the second half, it will be contingent upon their ability to find ways to beat quality teams. Improved starting pitching, combined with a more efficient offense will certainly increase their odds of nabbing a postseason berth.

Ross Puts Sox on Back

Damn it. Wrong Ross.

Cody Ross slugged two home runs last night, helping the Red Sox snap a five-game skid. His first long ball tied the game in the seventh inning. It was two-run shot to left field that hugged the line. It had the distance. The only question was if it was going to stay fair or not. With two outs in the top of the ninth, and the game still knotted at five runs a piece, Ross took a low, outside pitch from Twins’ closer Matt Capps to deep right field for a solo home run. It was an impressive display of power by 2010 NLCS hero who is known as a predominately pull-hitter. Alfredo Aceves somewhat reluctantly shut the door in the bottom of the ninth, securing a much-needed 6-5 win for the local nine. Ross was the man on Monday night in Minnesota.

A few other observations from a Monday in Mauer country…

  • Before the season, Jon Lester made it abundantly clear that he would like to be mentioned among the game’s elite hurlers. Throughout the spring, Lester was the most contrite out of all of the pitchers who were accused of taking their foot off of the gas in September of last season. He seemed focused, primed for a big year. It may be time to abandon the thought that Lester will ever evolve into a true ace. As a caveat, when I refer to an “ace”, I don’t mean C.J. Wilson. I don’t mean Ricky Romero. When I talk about an ace, I’m pointing to C.C. Sabathia, Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez, and the small fraternity of pitchers who instill a feeling of “yeah, we’re going to win today” in their teammates. Lester is very good, but he is not Roy Halladay. He’s not Cliff Lee. He’s not even Matt Cain. Kudos on settling down and giving your team seven innings but walking four and allowing five runs to the Minnesota Twins when your team desperately needs its stopper to stp up simply does not cut it. And let’s not even get into the fact that Lester has been spotted at least a two-run lead in the early innings of his last two starts. Squandered leads are not good for business in Boston.
  • It was nice to have Daniel Bard out of the bullpen again. It felt so good, so good, so good.
  • David Ortiz is absolutely raking right now. Even the outs he makes are hit hard. Watching him give the metaphorical middle finger to the shift is fun to watch. He looks like a smart hitter who is comfortable in his own skin.
  • Someone should tell Kevin Youkilis that the left side of the infield on the opposing team usually takes grounders before the game. He does not need to provide them fungo work during it.
  • Ryan Sweeney will likely never be a superstar or even a star, but he seems content hitting line drives and doing his job. I like that. (Clearly ignoring his mishap in right field last night. He can thank Bard for that.)

Remaking an Identity

Whether it was used in the context of consolation or with connotations of projected failure, one point has remained consistent since the end of the 2011 season: The 2012 version of the Boston Red Sox will look extremely similar on the field to last year’s team.

And that is largely true. Let’s give the diamond a once-over. Jarrod Saltalamacchia will be the starting backstop again. A healthy Kevin Youkilis will be stationed at third base. Shortstop has a statistical doppelganger to Marco Scutaro in the form of Mike Aviles. Dustin Pedroia is primed for another super solid season at second base. To Pedroia’s left is the ever-smooth Adrian Gonzalez. In right field, a platoon of the defensively astute Ryan Sweeney and soon-to-be fan favorite Cody Ross will make everyone really hate J.D. Drew. Jacoby Ellsbury will again roam the real estate in center field. Eventually, Carl Crawford will be back in the shadow of the Green Monster.

The starting pitching staff? Love ‘em or hate ‘em–the main pieces are still in place.

However, the bullpen, the special teams of baseball, has undergone a makeover. Every other aspect of the 2012 Red Sox looks extremely similar to the 2011 version. The guys sitting behind the fence in right field, on the other hand, are quite different.

Over the course of the past couple of years, fans had gotten used to the end-of-the-game routine. Eighth inning-straight gas from Daniel Bard-Ninth inning-a steady dose of fastballs and splitters from Jonathan Papelbon-Postgame-“I’m Shipping Up to Boston”. No matter how last season ended, no matter what you think of Papelbon in the wake of his comments about the intelligence of Red Sox fans–things were good. Really good.

Bard has traded the grittiness of being a bullpen guy for the routinized schedule of a fourth starter. Papelbon will close down games for the Phillies in the National League, and “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” will cease to play at the culmination of the ninth frame.

Instead, Mark Melancon, a former Yankee who was once deemed a potential successor to Mariano Rivera, will slot into Bard’s old role. Andrew Bailey, a two-time All-Star who was acquired from the Athletics, will be the new closer of the Red Sox. Bailey, a Jersey kid, will not have the Dropkick Murphy’s belting out lyrics for his entrance song.

Things are starkly different.

Alfredo Aceves has been downright dirty in game action this spring. Officially, he is competing for the fifth spot in the rotation. In reality, he will be in the bullpen serving as a guy who can flat get guys out. Michael Bowden is out of options and seems to have developed a nice relationship with manager Bobby Valentine as well as pitching coach Bob McClure. Oh, and he’s pitched pretty damn well. I’d expect him to earn a spot in the bullpen to begin the year. Vicente Padilla is a guy who is similar to Aceves. A bit hot headed? Sure. Tenacious? Oh yes. Versatile? You betchya. Let’s not forget about our old friends Franklin Morales, Andrew Miller, Felix Doubront, and Matt Albers.

The bullpen will undoubtedly appear much different than it was last year. Bard and Papelbon have had their spots replaced by Melancon and Bailey. However, the construction of a bullpen remains the same. For a general manager, like Ben Cherington, building a bullpen is a lot like playing the lottery. Sure you can pick the numbers you play, but the majority of your success depends on luck. Just as with all major league bullpens, there will be moving parts. What the Sox begin with, will not be what they end with.

In the end, it will be up to the kid from Jersey who grew up rooting for the Phillies to make fans forget about the guy who is now pitching in Philadelphia. It will be up to the guy who was once looked at as the heir apparent to the Rivera Regime in the Bronx to validate the decision that moved Bard to the rotation. It will be up to the rest of the guys to contribute when asked, throw strikes, and record outs.

After all, that is what being in the bullpen is all about.

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.

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.

Checking in on a Thursday Evening

Just some notes concerning the Red Sox and some activity around baseball.

  • Bobby Valentine continued his crusade around New England today where I’m confident he will end up meeting every single one of the six states’ constituents. He made several stops, meeting with police officers, fire fighters, and members of the Coast Guard. The Globe’s Peter Abraham went along for the ride. I’m usually relatively pessimistic when it comes to these things, but for some reason, I don’t believe that Valentine’s efforts are at all contrived. Now, I don’t actually believe that these appearances necessarily are a precursor to any sort of success in the dugout, but I still dig it. Say what you want about the guy, but he one tireless individual.
  • In case you want to size-up Valentine in-person, NESN and the Red Sox will host a “town hall style” meeting at Worcester Technical High School this coming Wednesday. GM Ben Cherington will be there with Valentine to field questions from the public. TSWD will be there. I’m all for events that are down the road, free, and provide a unique opportunity to potentially embarrass myself.
  • Andrew Bailey and the Red Sox avoided arbitration yesterday, agreeing to a one year deal worth $3.9MM. He will likely be the Opening Day closer when the Sox play in Detroit on April 5. Jonathan Papelbon will make slightly over $11MM in 2012. Say what you want about the Red Sox and their lack of spending this offseason, but that’s just solid work by a first-year GM.
  • Cody Ross is officially a member of the Red Sox. Scott Atchison was designated for assignment to make room for the right handed hitting outfielder, according to Boston Globe.
  • Just as TSWD blogged yesterday, Roy Oswalt does not want the Red Sox the way the Red Sox want Roy Oswalt. Don’t blame him. There are other teams that are closer to home and face less difficult competition on a night in and night out basis. Sure,Boston is a good place to go if you want to compete for a championship, but so is Texas or St. Louis.
  • Via Twitter, Nick Cafardo is reporting that the Red Sox are one of several teams that Edwin Jackson is willing to accept a one-year deal to pitch for. I won’t be heartbroken if the Sox don’t end up withJackson, but I will be disappointed. In order for the Marco Scutaro trade to be viewed as a wise decision, signing a quality starting pitcher is important essential.
  • Signing overweight, defensively not-so-great first baseman to nine-year deals is never wise.
  • But neither are sever-year deals for players who don’t get on-base as often as you think and rely on their legs.
  • Is there any chance the Red Sox could leave the American League entirely and just play in the NL Central? Please?

Cody Ross and the State of the Red Sox

Photo via dailycaller.com

Marco Scutaro is gone. Cody Ross is in. The former NLCS MVP has reportedly agreed to sign a one-year $3MM deal with the Red Sox. Nothing official has come from the Red Sox, but Ross seems pretty confident that he will be a member of the Red Sox in 2012. Before getting into the implications of this signing, let’s first simply react.

If someone told me three months ago that Ross would be a member of the 2012 Red Sox team, I would have been very, very excited (still am). Ross is 31 years old and can play all three outfield positions. He hits from the right side and has a smooth .282/.349/.563 career line against left handed pitching. Ideally, he will serve as a platoon player in right field. Ryan Sweeney is an excellent defensive outfielder, but like many of the Red Sox hitters, is left handed. Ross will serve as a nice compliment to Sweeney. With Carl Crawford likely to miss at least a handful of games in the early part of the season, Ross will see a great deal of playing time, presumably in left field. He just really comes off as a team-first guy who is primed to be a fan favorite.

The signing of Ross comes after the Red Sox unloaded close to $8MM (luxury tax purposes) in the Scutaro trade to the Rockies. Immediately after that trade was completed, it seemed obvious that the Red Sox would ink Roy Oswalt to a one-year deal worth in the neighborhood of $8MM. That has not happened yet. Instead, the Red Sox have allocated at least $3MM towards outfield depth (Ross’ deal may also includes some nice production-based incentives). The argument naturally turns to what have the Red Sox sacrificed to gain a platoon outfielder and where do they go from here.

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Robbing Peter to pay Paul

It is not like the Red Sox to dump salary in the form of a useful player, especially when that player is slotted to start arguably the most important position on the diamond. Nevertheless, the Sox moved Scutaro in order to gain fiscal flexibility. As of right now, the Red Sox have essentially traded Scutaro for Ross and a starter that will likely begin the year in Pawtucket in the form of Clayton Mortensen. It would be difficult to make an argument that Ross is more valuable than Scutaro. Probably because he isn’t.

Before the trade became official, the Red Sox had two glaring holes. The first being in the bottom of the rotation. Relying on Daniel Bard and a combination of Vicente Padilla, Carlos Silva, Aaron Cook, Andrew Miller, Alfredo Aceves, and Felix Doubront to fill out the latter half of a pitching staff is risky business. The second question mark was in the outfield. Even before Carl Crawford‘s impromptu wrist surgery, the Sox needed to acquire a right handed hitting bat who could play the outfield. Trading Scutaro freed up money, while simultaneously opening yet another vacancy that needed to be addressed. Nick Punto and Mike Aviles are fine players, but I’m not on board with watching those two platoon at shortstop over the course of a 162 game season. After the Scutaro deal and before the Ross agreement, the Red Sox had successfully created a brand new need. Aside from a reliable bottom of the rotation starter and a player to add outfield depth, Boston now needed a steady shortstop. The Ross agreement is all but official, eliminating the need for an outfielder. Essentially, the Red Sox have now traded reliability at the shortstop position for depth in the outfield, as well as some financial flexibility.

Nevertheless, it is important to realize that the Red Sox, before the Scutaro trade and the Ross signing, possessed two noticeable areas that needed to be addressed (outfield depth, quasi-reliable starter). Since those two aforementioned moves have been made, the team still needs to improve in two specific areas (shortstop, quasi-reliable starter). If that’s not treading water, I don’t know what is.

Conventional thinking, however, would lead one to believe that the Sox are not done this offseason. After all, Oswalt is still extremely available to the Red Sox. Or is he?

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If you were Roy Oswalt, would you come to Boston?

I wouldn’t. Oswalt is 34 years old. He is openly seeking a one-year deal worth $8MM. The Mississippi native wants to show teams that his back is healthy, and he is worth a multi-year deal. The AL East is likely the absolute last place a pitcher like Oswalt would want to go. Yes, there is something to be said for playing in a big market and garnering attention that way. It worked for Adrain Beltre, but that does not mean it will work for Oswalt.

If Oswalt could choose the team he pitches for in 2012, I have to believe that it would be in the National League. St. Louis seems like his ideal team. It is relatively close to home and gives the right handed pitcher a better place to succeed than in the offensively stacked AL East. The point is that Oswalt, despite the fact that he’s not seeking anything close to a long-term deal, still reserves some selectivity as to where he ends up in 2012.

According to Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com, Oswalt said ‘no thanks’ to the Tigers earlier this week. Even a call from Cy Young Award winner, Justin Verlander, didn’t sway Oswalt’s decision. At this point, I’m sure Verlander, along with the rest of Detroit, is more focused on welcoming Prince Fielder than worrying about where Oswalt will end up.

If I’m Cherington, Oswalt is my guy. He was derailed last season by some back issues that limited him to 23 starts. Before that, the righty made at least 30 starts in seven consecutive seasons. Sign me up.

However, Oswalt may not be the best candidate (financially) that fits the needs of Cherington and the Red Sox.

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Why I reluctantly believe that trading for a starter makes sense

I am a guy who always salivates at the idea of signing a one-year deal for virtually any player, especially one like Oswalt who possesses a high upside. There is virtually no risk. If things don’t go well, it is no big dealyou just cut ties. Nevertheless, the Red Sox, like or not, are apparently up against a budget. It revolves around the luxury tax threshold. As a result, Gavin Floyd makes a ton of sense. Let’s first explore why White Sox GM Kenny Williams would want to deal Floyd.

By now, we are all aware of the deal that Fielder inked earlier in the day with the Tigers. Detroit, despite losing Victor Martinez due to injury, is now the obvious favorite in the AL Central. It is certainly possible that the recent addition by the Tigers will motivate Williams to move Floyd. Let’s face it–they’re not winning their division. The White Sox organization has shown that they want to rebuild. Sergio Santos was curiously dealt to the Blue Jays earlier this offseason. John Danks, however, was extended. Mixed signals.

It is tough to gauge exactly where the White Sox are at in terms of their willingness to deal pieces of their pitching staff. It is nearly impossible to pinpoint Williams’ intentions, but nothing has surfaced indicating that Floyd is off the market. Therefore, he is worth discussing.

Floyd is the latter half of a four-year $15.5MM contract. In 2012, he will make $7MM, whether he plays in Chicago or Boston (or anywhere for that matter). The Red Sox are most concerned with the figure that affects the luxury tax, and that number is based on AAV (average annual value). Therefore, Floyd would represent roughly $4MM in luxury tax dollars, despite his 2012 salary. He does have a 2013 option that, if exercised, would vault his AAV to $5MM, roughly. That option is worth $9.5MM.

Attempting to predict Williams’ strategy is almost futile. He is difficult to figure out, but Floyd certainly seems like he is there for the taking. He makes a lot of sense for the Red Sox, as long as they are comfortable giving up a handful of decent prospects. Doubront and Miller are two guys I could see being used as pieces if the Red Sox pursue a trade.

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The Red Sox shortstop situation as it stands today

Jose Iglesias should be the happiest player in the Red Sox organization. The window is open for the highly touted prospect to win the starting shortstop position in Spring Training. He just turned 22 years old and should be drooling over the opportunity.  There is no doubt that Iglesias can field at a Major League level, but he has not offensively performed up to expectations in the minor leagues. I’m anxious and excited to see how Valentine handles Iglesias in Spring Training. I firmly believe that if Iglesias has an overly productive spring, it will be difficult for Cherington/Valentine to place him in Triple-A.

Without the Red Sox adding a veteran infielder that can solidify the shortstop position, Iglesias is simply one solid Spring Training away from being the Opening Day starter for Red Sox.

Cody Ross Boston Bound?

You know the stove isn’t very hot when you’re hitting the refresh button to see if Cody Ross has chosen which team he will sign with. I wonder if he’s going to have his own Decision special on ESPN like Lebron James.

The former NLCS MVP is a fine right handed outfielder who hits left handed pitching rather well. The Red Sox shed some payroll after moving Marco Scutaro to the Rockies. For luxury tax purposes, Scutaro freed up close to $8MM. Alex Speier of weei.com does an excellent job explaining this here. So the Sox have some flexibility to add a piece or two. It seems like they’re going to pull the trigger on Ross who represents some much-needed outfield depth in the form of a right haded bat.

It will be interesting to see how a deal for Ross would affect their ability to pursue Roy Oswalt or Gavin Floyd.

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