Talkin Sox with Dan

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

Archive for the tag “Jose Iglesias”

A Thought on John McDonald

Photo courtesy of mopupduty.com

On Saturday, the Red Sox acquired John McDonald from the Phillies. McDonald, a 38-year old utility infielder, isn’t a game-changer. He’s not going to make the Red Sox significantly better than they were on Friday. But he did get me thinking about Jose Iglesias.

During Iglesias’ abbreviated tenure with the Red Sox, I, along with many others, believed that if he could hit .240, his sparkling defense would make him a worthwhile everyday player in the major leagues. Detractors had their doubts that the Cuban defector could even do that. Their arguments were not unfounded. Iglesias did little in the minors to show that he could be at least serviceable offensively in the big leagues. Defensively, however, the slender Iglesias was nothing short of spectacular. His glove was always major league ready.

Like Iglesias, McDonald is a defensive wiz who can play multiple positions in the infield. Baseball lifers like, Brian Butterfield, gush over McDonald’s prowess as a defender. This year is McDonald’s fifteenth in the major leagues. His career batting average is a paltry .235. McDonald is known across baseball as being a hard working pro, a guy who knows his role. But being a nice guy who works his butt off doesn’t get you a decade and a half if the bigs. The ability to come off the bench after not seeing action for a week and play well above average defense at more than one position? Yup. That will do it.

I’m not saying Iglesias couldn’t turn out to be a better player than McDonald. There is no doubt that he possesses more raw talent. But if you were to ask me if Iglesias has a better chance of being a .320/.368/.397 hitter (his current 2013 slash line) throughout his career or a player in the mold of McDonald, I would take the latter — and that is nothing to be ashamed of.

McDonald will join the Red Sox for the stretch run. He represents what Iglesias could very well become–a utility infielder who is almost never looking for a job. In turn, McDonald also represents why Ben Cherington should be praised for trading Iglesias to acquire Jake Peavy. It was the correct move.

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.

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.

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.

Red Sox Trade Talk

In a three team deal made last season, the Red Sox acquired Erik Bedard from the Seattle Mariners. The Sox shipped Tim Federowicz, Stephen Fife, and Juan Rodriguez to the Dodgers who sent Trayvon Robinson back east. Robinson wasn’t a member of the Sox for long as he and Chih-Hsien Chiang headed to Seattle while Bedard joined a staff in Boston that had been limping along.

Bedard was not the sturdy crutch the Red Sox rotation desperately needed. The Sox missed the playoffs, due in large part to their inability to find quality outings from their starters. As the trade deadline approaches, the Red Sox find themselves in a similar position–a World Series offense and a Little League World Series starting pitching staff.

One could argue that last year’s version of the Red Sox was much better positioned to qualify for postseason play. I’m not going to debate facts, but the point is that this year’s team, like the 2011 squad, is in the thick of the playoff hunt, despite the bed-wetting that occurred at Fenway Park over the weekend. And if the members of the Red Sox front office believe that this team is one piece away from making the postseason, I would appreciate it if they would bring in a better starter than a soft lefty with bad knees who is on the back nine of his career.

Matt Garza would be an ideal addition. Unfortunately, there are a number of things that muddy the trade waters for not only the Red Sox, but many soon-to-be active teams around baseball. The complicating agent at work here is of course baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement. But that is a story for a different day.

Let’s take a look at what we can glean from how the Red Sox approach this year’s trade deadline.

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Could the Red Sox actually be sellers?

The short answer here is an emphatic ‘no’. It’s not easy for a big market team that plays in front of a demanding fan base to begin to auctioning off pieces. The current ownership current group is obsessed with sellout streaks and commemorative bricks. It’s easier to push the product when their team is successful, or at least operating under the cloak of success. Yes, the Red Sox may be a .500 ball club, in last place in their division, and looking up at six teams in an expanded Wild Card race, but I wouldn’t look for brass to make a move that would end up qualifying the team as sellers. If the Red Sox end up going 0-6 on their road trip that will send them into the Texas heat and back north to play the Yankees, however, it may force the organization to hold a mirror up to its face and take stock of reality.

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Ben Cherington’s first crack at the deadline

The first-year GM had the right idea when he sent Jed Lowrie to the Astros for Mark Melancon and Josh Reddick to the A’s for Andrew Bailey in the offseason, but neither deal has proved to be wildly successful. Cherington will always be compared to his predecessor, Theo Epstein, who may be most well-known for the 2004 deadline deal that shipped one of Boston’s most beloved sports figures, Nomar Garciaparra, to Chicago. The three team swap netted he Red Sox Orlando Cabrera, Dave Roberts, and Doug Mientkiewicz. A historic comeback and a World Series championship later, and all of a sudden, Cherington has his work cut out for him.

It would not be an absurd deduction to think that Cherington would be conservative during his first trade deadline as GM, especially given the climate of the market–everyone’s in it and no one is out of it. It is a seller’s market. However, Cherington was part of the team in the fall of 2005 that pulled the trigger on the deal that brought Josh Beckett to Boston and sent prized prospect Hanley Ramirez to the then Florida Marlins. Epstein was on leave at the time. So what does this mean for the Red Sox, seven years later? It’s clear that Cherington isn’t afraid of parting with young, top tier talent if an opportunity to improve presents itself.

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Gauging how the team feels about its minor league assets

If Cherington and his team determine that Jon Lester and Beckett are capable of turning their lackluster seasons around, it would be reasonable to believe that they view the Red Sox as a playoff team. The second half of that contingency is necessary in order for the Sox to pursue a deadline deal. You’re typically not going to move young talent in the middle of the season if your team does not possess a real opportunity to play beyond the month of September.

For the sake of this argument, let’s assume that the Red Sox view themselves as legitimate contenders and will look to add a piece or two next week. Matt Barnes and Xander Bogaerts are two blue chips prospects in the Red Sox system that would certainly garner interest from GM’s across baseball.

Matt Barnes is a starting pitcher currently at High-A Salem. He is 22-years old, throws hard, and represents exactly what the Red Sox desperately need–a low cost, front half of the rotation starter. I can’t imagine him being moved.

Xander Bogaerts is the cream of the crop on the Red Sox farm. He is 19-years old, plays shortstop, and projects as a middle of the order hitter. He is 2012′s version of Hanley Ramirez. The Providence Journal’s Brian MacPherson does not see Bogaerts going anywhere.

MacPherson’s response is an indication of exactly how the organization feels about Bogaerts, and it is extremely likely that Cherington isn’t the only general manager who views the native of Aruba in that same light. Needless to say, Bogaerts carries a truckload of value on the market.

Ultimately, I agree with MacPherson. The Red Sox are not likely to include Bogaerts’ name on a list of prospects that another ball club can pick from when negotiating a potential trade. However, the only caveat is that the Sox possess three quality young players who play on the left side of the infield. Bogaerts, Will Middlebrooks, Jose Iglesias could eventually be vying for two spots in the Red Sox infield. Bogaerts is a player who could become at least somewhat expendable if the Red Sox had confidence in Iglesias’ ability to hit at the major league level. I don’t, so I can’t believe they do either.

Going forward, even beyond this year’s trade deadline, it will be interesting to monitor the availability of both Iglesias and Bogaerts. If one guy’s name is consistently tied to potential trades, it would simultaneously serve as a testament to the confidence that the organization has in the other player.

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My thoughts

It is starting to sound redunant, but it is true: If the Red Sox do not get drastically better performances from Lester and Beckett, they will not seriously contend as the season progresses. In that respect, the trade deadline is almost meaningless in terms of its potential impact on the 2012 season. Garza, tricep cramping aside, would be a solid pick-up. He is young. He would not be a rental as he is signed through next season. He is a guy that would come here and compete his butt off. But without Lester and Beckett pitching up to their expectations, Garza’s efforts would not propel them into October.

Shopping for a Catcher

The Red Sox do not have a surplus of many of things. Wins are a good example of something they certainly do not have an excess of. Their outfield that once played host to Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury is now home to Daniel Nava and Ryan Sweeney. Alfredo Aceves was once a strong candidate to break camp as a member of the rotation. A freak thumb injury to Andrew Bailey, combined with Red Sox brass’ steadfast belief that Daniel Bard is best served as a starter, thrust Aceves into the role of closer. The minute they thought that had six viable starting pitchers, Aaron Cook’s knee was gashed by a spike, landing him on the disabled list.

The 2012 version of the Boston Red Sox is not exactly dripping with depth.

They do have catching, however. Jarrod Saltalamacchia is posting a so-so  slash line of .250/.281/.512. He has shown a knack for hitting the ball out of the ballpark on the young season. Salty’s gone bridge five times. The 27-year old was once a highly touted prospect and a former first round pick. He has the pedigree and is still developing at an extremely demanding position. Kelly Shoppach mashes lefties and seems to be vaulting into the position of personal catcher for Josh Beckett. It should not be ignored that on Monday night, Shoppach caught Jon Lester‘s complete game against the Mariners. Whether it is factual or not, pitchers seem to be more comfortable working with Shoppach. Finally, Ryan Lavarnway is biding his time at Triple-A Pawtucket. He certainly looks like the catcher of the future or at least a power bat from the right side.

Compared to the catching situations for the Angels and the Nationals, the Red Sox look like they have Ivan Rodriguez, Johnny Bench, and Yogi Berra.

In Washington, the backstops are dropping early and often. Wilson Ramos, a talented young catcher, is likely out for the duration of the season with a right knee injury. On Monday night, Ramos’ replacement, Sandy Leon, a rookie, fell victim to a high right ankle sprain courtesy of the Padres’ Chase Headley during a play at the plate. Out West, the Angels are suffering a similar fate. Chris Iannetta will be out for the best part of two months following wrist surgery. Their top catching prospect, Hank Conger, is currently on the shelf as well.

So this tweet from the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo does not come as much of a suprise:

Conveniently enough, as I mentioned previously, Shoppach caught Lester’s masterful performance last night. He also went very deep to left field, just for good measure. He is a veteran guy, playing under a one-year deal at short money. John Heyman of CBSSports.com sees a tremendous amount of interest brewing around baseball in Shoppach.

This is an interesting situation for GM Ben Cherington and the Red Sox. It’s not like they are openly showcasing their catchers, but other organizations are in need, and, in this situation, the Red Sox have. But what does it all mean?

Ryan Lavarnway is not going anywhere. He hasn’t hit his stride in the International League as of yet, but he is as close to a proven commodity as a prospect can get. Saltalamacchia is not your typical bridge player. The Sox have Mike Aviles keeping Jose Iglesias‘ seat warm, but I do not get the impression that Salty is strictly a placeholder. That is not to say that he is untradeable. If the right deal came along, I believe Cherington would be willing to part with Saltalamacchia. That would be the ultimate vote of confidence for Lavarnway.

Shoppach is the most interesting piece in all of this. At first glance, he is the most tradeable catching commodity the Red Sox have. But is role on this team has expanded. Valentine openly stated that he was not in favor of his pitchers having personal catchers, but it would be moronic to say that Shoppach has not evolved into Beckett’s new version of Jason Varitek. After Lester’s best performance of the year on Monday, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Shoppach behind the dish for the lefty’s next turn.

It will be a curious situation to monitor over the course of the next several days. In all likelihood, the Red Sox will not make a deal. But I would be extremely surprised to hear that they did not listen.

Nine Focal Points in 2012

Alright, so I’m pretty GD excited. Opening Day (in the United States) is awesome. It’s a feeling that is tough to beat. The negativity around the Olde Towne Team is justified, but, as objective as I try to be, I can’t help but be all sorts of jacked up for baseball to be back in Boston.

And I’m not even going to have the privilege of watching a single live pitch when the Red Sox fire up the 2012 season this afternoon against the Tigers in the Motor City. Working gets in the way of day games from time to time.

Last night, I checked in with Josh Johnson, the Cardinals, and the Marlins new amusement park stadium–which actually looks really nice. Baseball is back, and this guy couldn’t be happier.

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Back to business. Andrew Bailey has a bum thumb. So does Josh Beckett, but he is apparently fine for now. Surgery is a distinct possibility at some point down the road, which is a miserable thought. Alfredo Aceves is the closer of the Boston Red Sox. And Vicente Padilla is somewhere, sweating. With the first pitch of the 2012 season just a handful of hours away, the Sox could certainly be in a better position, but hey, it could be worse.

Here are nine points of interest to monitor throughout the season:

Bobby Valentine’s Approval Rating-Valentine is going to piss some people off. He isn’t quite as abrasive as an Ozzie Guillen-type. He’s more like an intelligent gnat. He has a little Joe Maddon in him. But instead of just having a glass of red wine in his office after a game, Valentine will trick you into buying the bottle and pouring it for him. Curt Schilling was largely off base in his premature criticism of Valentine last week in an interview on WEEI. However, there were some grains of truth in what he had to say–you just had to look hard for them. Valentine should not try to reinvent the game during his tenure in Boston. I encourage him to place his own stamp on the Red Sox, make them his team. I’m all about that. With that said, no one wants Mike Aviles leading off a ballgame. Ever. Kevin Youkilis belongs in the fat part of the lineup. Don’t even flirt with the idea of putting him at the top. In the end, it’s important to judge Valentine by the number of ballgames he wins. Try to keep that in mind. The rest is just noise.

Carl Crawford‘s Ability to Hit the Glass-He needs to rebound. Let me rephrase. He NEEDS to rebound. I’m expecting to see CC back in action during the first week in May, and it is vital for Valentine to handle his return correctly. There are three acceptable spots in the batting order where Crawford fits: Lead off, the two-hole, or the nine-hole. Look, I’m all about the idea of a guy hitting in the latter half of the lineup until he “proves” he is ready for a prime spot in the order, but that’s not the way to get the most out of the speedy left fielder. He is most effective when he feels comfortable, and he feels comfortable hitting in a part of the lineup where his speed can be utilized. I believe Valentine will excel at getting the most out of his players. Daisuke Matsuzaka and Crawford are a couple of great candidates. It is the job of the Red Sox and Valentine to put Crawford in the best possible position to succeed. Crawford will be responsible with taking advantage of that opportunity.

Alex Wilson‘s Impending Promotion-Here is Wilson’s player page from the folks at Sox Prospects. Wilson isn’t going to dial it up at a Bard-like 98 MPH, but he throws hard enough and locates his pitches extremely well. Good teams are able to bring up a player or two from their farm system halfway through the year who can contribute. Wilson could very easily be that guy for the Sox. Keep an eye on this kid who will begin the year as a starter in Pawtucket. You could see him evolve into a quality option out of the ‘pen.

Bobby Valentine’s Man-Crush on Jose Iglesias-Okay, so I share the same sort of affinity for the Cuban phenom–I just didn’t want to put it in bold writing. Mike Aviles will be at shortstop today in Detroit. That we know. I’m still not completely convinced that he is the best choice, but that’s an argument suited for a different day. The ideal scenario consists of Iglesias spending the majority of 2012 in Triple-A, remaining healthy, and receiving a ton of at-bats. However, that plan could be derailed by an injury to either Aviles or Youkilis–the latter hasn’t exactly been a model of health over the course of the past couple of seasons. A significant injury to a member of the left side of the Red Sox infield would likely prompt GM Ben Cherington to summon Iglesias from Rhode Island to Boston. Let’s just say Valentine wouldn’t put up a ton of resistance.

Jon Lester: Pony or Horse?-Alright, so pony is probably too harsh. If Lester is a pony, he is the best damned pony around. I have detailed my thoughts on the left handed pitcher. In short, he is not efficient with respect to his pitch count. He relies too heavily on his cutter and often nibbles around the plate. It is extremely frustrating because I am an absolutely massive fan of Lester and the tools he brings to the rubber. The tall lefty recently made some interesting comments during an interview on WEEI. Look, Jon, you don’t need to win 20 games to be considered elite. Instead, you do need to pitch north of 200 innings, decrease your walks, and work deeper into games. I am beyond interested to see if the Washington native finally puts together a season that leaves voters unable to leave him off of their Cy Young ballot.

Rich Hill is My Boy-There’s no point in hiding it. I love Hill like Tommy loved Walter. Hill is recovering from Tommy John surgery. Thus far, he has been making a tremendous amount of progress. When Hill is able to finally join the big club, he has the potential to serve a vital role as a lefty specialist out of the bullpen. His sidearm delivery and ability to consistently throw strikes make him quite the weapon against guys like Robinson Cano and Carlos Pena. Pay close attention to his road back to the majors.

Daniel Bard The Starter vs. Daniel Bard The Reliever-Let’s hope the former wins out. I’m not going to beat a dead horse here. I’ll make it quick. Bard wants to start. He would prefer not to close. Cherington and the Red Sox granted him the opportunity to start. He did nothing this spring to lose that opportunity. The Red Sox owe it to themselves and Bard to let the plan run its course. Bailey’s injury, however, is not good for Bard’s development as a starter. In all likelihood, there will be external and internal pressure to slot Bard back into the bullpen. It would be an easy fix, a cop out. Converting a stud reliever to starter is not supposed to be easy. If the Red Sox and Bard are equally committed to his long term success as a starting pitcher, they must not even consider moving him back to the bullpen. This will be something to monitor closely.

Jacoby Ellsbury‘s Encore-Call me a downer, but I’m not expecting another 32 long balls from Ells in 2012. I still think 24-28 home runs is within reach. Last season, Ellsbury got on base at a .376 clip. I believe that is a figure the Oregon native can improve upon. Pitchers will undoubtedly be more apt to work around the 2011 MVP runner-up. He will have the opportunity to take his fair share of free passes. The Red Sox don’t need Ellsbury to mash 30 home runs–getting on-base and applying pressure to opposing pitchers does the trick just fine. Ells had a massive year last year, and it will be fascinating to see how he responds in 2012.

Three’s Company-Everything discussed above is meaningless if Lester, Beckett, and Clay Buchholz do not perform well. In order to perform well, health is a necessity. Beckett has already begun to deal with thumb issues. Buchholz is coming off of an always ambiguous back injury. Lester is the only guy who can be described as anything close to a sure thing. With an already weakened bullpen, the Red Sox top three starters must combine to start at least 90 games and throw in the neighborhood of 900 innings. If healthy, Lester, Beckett, and Buchholz are bound to find success in 2012. They’re that talented.

And in the interest of Opening Day…

“You look forward to it like a birthday party when you’re a kid. You think something wonderful is going to happen.”- Joe DiMaggio

Patience is Key to Bard’s Success

Daniel Bard is going to give up a lot runs over the course of not-so-many innings in 2012.

Get used to it.

It is not easy to transition from dominant reliever to starter on a team that carries lofty expectations like the Red Sox. Nothing goes under the radar. Everything is magnified. And that undoubtedly makes change of any kind more difficult in a hotbed like Boston.

Media and fans will always be around to question the choices made on and off the diamond by management. That’s part of the fun, after all. In turn, however, management must remain steadfast in the decisions they make. After announcing that Mike Aviles, not Jose Iglesias, will begin the season as the starting shortstop, it would be unfair to both parties for GM Ben Cherington or Bobby Valentine to state that Opening Day is still a week away and a lot of things can happen between now and then. It would represent doubt and a lack of resolve. The decision-makers on Yawkey Way would look rather fickle.

So it is curious that reports out of Fenway South last week indicated that Bard would be heading back to the bullpen when the Red Sox break camp. The news broke the day after the tall right hander threw five innings against the Blue Jays, allowing three runs on three hits. He walked three and fanned two.

Bobby Valentine was not impressed. According to CSNNE’s Sean McAdam, Valentine cited the low number of changeups thrown by Bard, his lack of control, and his poor efficiency with regard to the high pitch count over just five frames.

Valentine is anything but stupid. He knows that the process of a reliever transitioning to starter is not one that is generally smooth. There are roadblocks. Instead of listing Bard’s struggles in his outing a week and a half ago against Toronto as natural obstacles that are bound to occur, he used them in a way that made it seem like he was positioning Bard for a demotion to the bullpen.

And I can’t say I blame him.

Valentine is not making Fenway Park his permanent residence. This is a two-three year lease, max. So if Valentine believes that he can squeeze more productivity out of Bard The Reliever than Bard The Starter in the short term, why wouldn’t he try to make him his closer or stud set-up man?

I would.

Success for Valentine will not be measured in how the 2016 or 2017 Red Sox fare. He needs to start accumulating wins now, not later. Despite that, Valentine will realize, if he hasn’t already, that some decisions even transcend Bobby V.

Bard’s move from reliable reliever to middle of the rotation starter falls into that category. You can make a valid argument that Bard belongs in the bullpen. His repertoire is conducive to late inning, high leverage situations. He was miserable as a starter early in his professional career. I get it. But the Red Sox and Bard made the collaborative decision to give him a chance as a starter.

So what has changed since then?

The answer, in reality, is nothing. Sure, Bard has had an exceptionally mediocre spring, but that certainly should not preclude him from receiving the fair chance he was promised before pitchers and catchers reported. Bard will not be asked to be an All-Star. Instead, he will have the responsibility of being a middle of the road starting pitcher.

Let’s take a look at the projected fourth starters among the expected contenders in the American League:

Blue Jay-Brett Cecil

Indians-Josh Tomlin

Rangers-Yu Darvish

Tigers-Rick Porcello

Yankees-Ivan Nova

Rays-Matt Moore

Angels-Ervin Santana

You would be hard pressed to make a case that Bard does not compare favorably with the majority of these starters. Will he be as productive as Darvish in 2012? Probably not. Can he out perform Porcello? Absolutely. Does Bard have the type of ceiling that Moore possesses? He might.

The Red Sox brass as well as Valentine should treat Bard like Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, and Clay Buchholz. Is there any chance that either of them winds up in the bullpen? No. The same should hold true for Bard.

He is a starter now.

Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe summed it up well.

“Everyone knew converting Bard from set-up man to starter was going to require patience. To pull the plug now wouldn’t be fair to Bard”

Your Fifth Starter Pitches Tonight

As the Red Sox enter the dog days of spring, two questions still remain for the team that totes around quite a bulky payroll: Who will be playing shortstop on Opening Day and who will be the fifth fourth and fifth starters when the season begins? Jose Iglesias would almost certainly be readying himself to begin the year in Triple-A Pawtucket if such a large personality was not the at the helm of the club, but with Bobby Valentine as the skipper, anything is possible–even if it is not what GM Ben Cherington would prefer.

The latter question does not possess a firm answer. Throughout the course of a 162-game season, injuries occur, rotations become jumbled, and teams rarely use the same five starters. Who begins the season at the tail end of a rotation is often not nearly as important as the individuals who finish the season in those slots.

The 2012 Boston Red Sox may begin the season with Felix Doubront and Alfredo Aceves (or Daniel Bard) as the fourth and fifth starters, but neither of the pitchers will likely finish there. Instead, it certainly sounds like  Daisuke Matsuzaka will be ready sooner rather than later as he is being tabbed for a June return time. Say what you want about the buzzkill from the Eas, butthat’s good news. Two words: Contract year. The second piece to the second half of the rotation puzzle will be taking the mound this evening at Jet Blue Park as the Red Sox take on the Yankees.

Aaron Cook will certainly not be ready to suit up on April 5, but he has the opportunity to be a serious, summer-long contributor to a staff that is thirsty for someone to step up and provide valuable innings from the back end of the rotation.

If he is healthy and receives an opportunity, Cook is a guy that fans, teammates, and coaches will really enjoy.

According to Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe, in his two starts this spring “he has thrown 5 ⅓ innings without giving up a run.” Even better, the 16 outs that Cook has recorded, “eight have come on ground balls.”

Giddy up.

The downside to Cook is two-fold. First, he is not on the same pace that the other candidates for the rotation are on. Early reservations about the strength of Cook’s shoulder prevented him from getting on the mound in a timely fashion. Second, the righty inked a minor league deal with the Sox which allows him to opt out of his contract on May 1. The guy is a veteran who does not want to toil in Pawtucket for the majority of the season, waiting for a spot to open via injury. If he feels as though he can contribute on the major league level and the Red Sox are not giving him a shot, he should have the opportunity to explore greener pastures. However, as long as he continues to progress, the Red Sox will likely give Cook a chance to start.

For the Red Sox sake, I hope the 33 year old stays healthy and builds up his endurance. That would at least put him in position to be given an opportunity. He is a sinkerball pitcher who would slot nicely into the back end of a rotation that, for all of the criticism it has taken this winter, is actually quite good.

And Cook would be a welcomed commodity.

“I’m pitching to contact. I’m trying to get guys out of the box as quickly as possible and get our offense back on the field.”

Always Fun to Forecast

We are now firmly entrenched in the latter half of March. Eight days from today the Athletics and the Mariners will square off in Japan to officially open the 2012 season. Many people, like myself, have already made a handful of different predictions involving the Red Sox this fall and winter. As we begin to stare spring in the eyes, let’s take a look at some of the issues on this ball club and make some semi-educated guesses.

Alfredo Aceves, regardless of how well he pitches during the rest of Spring Training, will be in the bullpen. It’s too bad because I’m all about meritocracy, and Ace has tossed well enough to round out the rotation for the Red Sox. Nevertheless, his value as a member of the ‘pen is greater than it would be as a tail end of the rotation starter. Does Aceves deserve the chance to start? Yes. Will he get it, at least right away? No.

Mike Aviles will be the Opening Day shortstop for the Red Sox. Yeah, yeah–I know I had said that Jose Iglesias was a good spring away from nabbing the position. Iglesias has had a good spring, but Aviles has played exceptionally well too. Iggy is the better shortstop between the two. He plays better defense and is just downright intriguing. The Cuban defector needs to show that he can handle the stick a bit better before GM Ben Cherington and company gives him the keys to the convertible. It is an integral year for Iglesias–at some point, the Red Sox will have to decide whether he is the shortstop of the future or not. I believe he is. A solid 300+ at-bats in Pawtucket will go a long way in confirming that belief.

Rich Hill will eventually prove to be an important piece in Boston’s bullpen. As Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe points out, the Milton, Mass., native is progressing nicely as he attempts to return from Tommy John surgery. I know that many of us choose to forget the miserable start the Sox had last April, but Hill was one of the few bright spots. The guy was deadly out of the ‘pen on left handed hitters. From Robinson Cano to Carlos Pena, there are a bevy of dangerous left handed hitters that call the AL East their home. Hill, if healthy, is a tricky southpaw who offers a sidearm delivery that works to neutralize tough lefties. When he is right, Hill throws strikes. It’s easy to find a lefty who comes out of the bullpen. It’s tough to find a guy who gets the ball over the plate, while using a deceptive delivery. And

Felix Doubront will begin the year as the fifth starter, but Aaron Cook will ultimately assume that role. I like sinkers. I like quick innings. I miss me some Derek Lowe. Maybe Cook will make me miss Lowe a little bit less.

Carl Crawford will continue to disappoint. Make no mistake about it–I will be rooting for CC the whole way, but I just don’t see it. He has begun swinging again, but he will not even be close to ready for Opening Day. He has a wrist injury. And that’s never good. It is likely that Crawford will come back in late April/early May and begin hitting in the latter half of the lineup, where he is notably uncomfortable. Fenway Park simply does not play to his strengths. I wasn’t a huge fan of the signing when it happened last winter, and I really don’t like it today.

Bobby Valentine will struggle to get a handle on the bullpen. Is it just me or does the Red Sox ‘pen seem a bit disorganized these days? Andrew Bailey is the closer. Mark Melancon is the set-up man. I think. Or is it Aceves? I know that there is still plenty of time left this spring to sort things out, but I think it is time to start making some decisions. Doubront, Aceves, and Andrew Miller are in a sort of purgatory between the rotation and the bullpen. If Bailey struggles early on or suffers some sort of injury, things could get ugly. I believe it is important for Valentine to begin to designate at least who will be where (rotation, bullpen). Every move he makes will be heavily scrutinized, so he needs to be sure he has the right guys in the roles that are best suited for them to succeed.

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