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Archive for the tag “Nick Punto”

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.

Two Thoughts on the Red Sox

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

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

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

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

Going Back to Cali

Carl Crawford was in Pensacola, Fl., on Thursday, awaiting surgery. That day, his left elbow was operated on by Dr. James Andrews. Roughly two days later, Crawford, who is two injury-plagued seasons deep into his seven-year $142MM contract, was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers as a piece in a mega-deal that also brought Josh Beckett and Nick Punto to the hills of Hollywood.

But don’t get lost in the shuffle. Don’t get caught up in the noise. This nine-player trade was all about one very talented first baseman: Adrian Gonzalez.

The Dodgers and GM Ned Colletti had been sniffing out the former San Diego Padre  since before the trade deadline. Ben Cherington and the Red Sox rebuffed any attempts by the Dodgers to acquire the talented Californian during the month of July, refusing to give up on their hopes of reaching the postseason. As the Sox continued to plummet further in the standings, it became easier for front office members to recognize the need to do something that would drastically alter the path that this team was on.

Then Friday came, and Gonzalez was claimed off waivers by the Dodgers.

Then Beckett.

It is true that at this juncture the Red Sox could have simply pulled Gonzalez back off of waivers and, as long as Beckett waived his 10-5 rights, washed their hands clean of the much-maligned right handed pitcher. When the Dodgers plucked him off of the waiver wire, the Texas native and the remaining two-plus years of his contract at roughly $16MM a pop was officially their problem.

But that isn’t what happened.

Instead, Cherington (and Larry Lucchino) saw an opportunity, an avenue to bolster a farm system bereft of quality starting pitching prospects and gain a plethora of financial flexibility. The player who would pave this road was none other than Gonzalez. It is important to make one thing abundantly clear–the Dodgers would not have assumed the contracts of both Beckett and Crawford without including Gonzalez, let alone sending two of their top three pitching prospects back East. Gonzalez is what made this deal happen.

When the dust settled, roughly $260MM dollars was shipped from Boston to Los Angeles in the form of Crawford, Beckett, Gonzalez, and Punto. In return, the Red Sox received first baseman James Loney, pitching prospects Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa, and two position-player prospects Ivan De Jesus Jr. and Jerry Sands. (In the interest of being accurate, De La Rosa and Sands are believed to be the two “players to be named later”. This will not become official until after the season as they were placed on waivers and did not clear them). For now, the former Dodgers farmhands are just names to most fans, but there is a truckload of both legitimate talent and potential sprinkled among the Red Sox’ haul. The real prize for the Sox, however, is the financial breathing room that has been afforded to them.

Digest this–Crawford signed a seven-year $142MM contract. To put that in perspective, the left handed hitter who relies on his legs will be 35-years old in the final year of his contract, making $21MM. It’s a ridiculous figure for a player with Crawford’s skill set who is in his prime and unquestionably healthy–never mind the fact that he underwent Tommy John surgery less than a week ago.

To say that Crawford’s personality did not mesh with the pressures that come with playing the game of baseball in the city of Boston would be an understatement. And now, that is no longer a problem of the Red Sox.

Beckett’s situation is different. He is the middle of a four-year contract extension that was given to him in 2010 by former GM Theo Epstein. He has succeeded and, at times, thrived in Boston. It may be hard for some fans to admit, but Beckett is a postseason hero, a linchpin of the 2007 World Series Championship.

But times have changed. Beckett is no longer the committed competitor he once was. He has evolved into the face of what is wrong with the Red Sox. Whether that is fair or unfair, he undoubtedly has done nothing to disprove that assertion. More importantly, he is owed roughly $32MM over the next two-plus years, and his fastball is sitting at a diminishing  91 MPH. And now, that is no longer a problem of the Red Sox.

Going forward, the Red Sox have an absolute ton of money at their disposal. According to Alex Speier of WEEI, the Red Sox have gone from around $100MM in locked up, guaranteed dollars to $39MM in 2013 (not including arbitration eligible or pre-arbitration eligible players). The 2013 free agent market is not exactly flush with talent, however.

It will be vital for the Red Sox not to succumb to old habits–signing a player to a lucrative, long-term contract just because he is the best available option. Not only is it bad way of conducting business, but it is lazy way of conducting business. Cherington certainly sounds like he is willing to put in the work.

“Find value in the market. Find the best opportunities. You’ve got to find players that fit your roster and your team, find the players that are going to deliver the best performance on the field in Boston and try to find those using resources in the most efficient way.”

Because of the blockbuster trade that became official over the weekend, Cherington and the Red Sox will have financial and roster flexibility to reconstruct one of the premier franchises in baseball.

They can thank Gonzalez for that.

Youkilis Returns

It feels like it was just three weeks ago when I was driving home after a nice weekend on the Cape, listening to the WEEI broadcast of the Red Sox, Braves game. Kevin Youkilis, in what proved to be his final at-bat in Boston uniform, tripled. Nick Punto, who pinch ran for the bulky corner infielder, met Youkilis, his good friend, with a hug at third base. As he jogged off of the field, Youk emotionally acknowledged the Fenway Park crowd that stood together in praise of the two-time World Series champion.

Wait a second. It was three weeks ago.

Roughly 21 days does not provide enough of separation to truly understand and appreciate Youkilis’ body of work in a Red Sox uniform. Is it enough time to analyze his injury plagued and trade-shortened 2012 campaign? Not a chance. Wait till after the season.

The Red Sox are in the middle of a playoff race. Make fun of the second Wild Card all you want, but the fact remains that it exists, and it’s just as good as the first spot. That’s where fans’ sight should be set–making the playoffs.

Look, I’m as much of a Youk fan as the next guy, but one standing ovation during his first at-bat is more than enough.

He is now a contributing member of the opposition. The White Sox are more than in the hunt, and tonight represents the next opportunity for the Red Sox to record a win, to get closer to the dance.

And that’s what it’s all about, right? Winning ballgames, making the tournament, and seeing what happens once you get there.

So whether you’re at Fenway, watching on television, or listening in the car, tip your cap to Youk, but then move on. Hope the opposing third baseman grounds out to short and then makes an errant throw in the field.

Save the gushing for off-season NESN programming.

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.

Tough Love

Toughness and intelligence are not synonymous. There may be not be a better example of the distinction between those two characteristics than the situation surrounding Dustin Pedroia‘s most recent injury to his right thumb.

According to WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford, Pedroia will return to the starting lineup on Tuesday night as the Red Sox open up a three-game set against the Orioles.

Pedroia has been out of commission since he was removed from the game against the Tigers on Memorial Day. MRI results ultimately indicated that the scrappy second baseman had partially torn a muscle in his thumb. As a handful of days passed, it was revealed that Pedroia originally suffered the injury on May 2nd, a home game against the Athletics, during an at-bat against reliever Ryan Cook. He fouled off a pitch, clearly grimacing afterwards.

(As an aside, I was at that game in May. It was a cold, rainy Wednesday night at Fenway. No one wanted to be there, whether you were in the bleachers or at the plate.)

Since that game against the A’s, Pedroia had been able to successfully manage the discomfort in his right thumb. During the 24 games that followed Pedroia’s foul ball against Cook, the former AL MVP hit at a .296/.360/.429 clip. He slugged two home runs during that time. Nothing exemplary, but certainly more than acceptable.

Prior to the injury, it is safe to assume that Pedroia was nothing but healthy. In the 23 games that led up to the game in which he originally hurt his thumb, Pedroia’s numbers are surprisingly similar his statistics mentioned above. His slash line of .296/.337/.469 compares favorably. From Opening Day in Detroit through May 1st, the All-Star second baseman clubbed three home runs, just one more than he would eventually hit with an ailing thumb.

Essentially, Pedroia remained the same player, despite operating with an injury to the worst part of a ballplayer’s body–his hands. Nevertheless, the former Rookie of the Year successfully took batting practice in Toronto over the weekend. He did use a brace during the sessions. According to Bradford, if Pedroia was able to pass a final examination on Monday, he would be ready to go on Tuesday.

Apparently, he aced the test.

So we are here. The Red Sox and Pedroia have avoided a trip to the disabled list. He would have only missed six games. Nick Punto will go back to his familar position–the bench, while Pedroia returns to second base. He will bat in the tw0-hole against Jason Hammel, a right handed pitcher that he has worn out (4-7).

It is very likely that this aggressive approach will work out. If anyone can do it, Pedey can. Red Sox players, fans, and members of the media will applaud Pedroia for his toughness, and his legacy in Boston will be augmented yet again.

However, there is always a chance that this backfires. Pedroia could go out tonight, get buried with a hard sinking fastball, and re-aggravate his injury, forcing him to go on the disabled for who knows how long. It would be ignorant to ignore the inherent gamble that Pedroia and the Red Sox are making.

I’m not a doctor, but I have to think that rest and rehabilitation would help heal a torn adductor muscle in one’s thumb more than taking at-bats against the best pitching in the world (that isn’t a compliment directed the Fighting Showalters, but rather for Major League Baseball as a whole).

But that’s just not Pedroia. If he feels as though he can help the team win, you’re going to need to do more than threaten to place him on some sort of silly list that says he can’t play for 15 days.

And that’s why he is a beloved figure in a city that cares a tiny bit about its baseball. It’s why Jacoby Ellsbury could have another MVP-like year in 2013, as he did in 2011, and he still will not surpass Pedroia in the fickle court of public opinion. Toughness is a quality that is lauded. It is met with immediate respect and deservedly so.

But toughness does not beget intelligence.

Maybe it will breed luck.

Pre-game Notes 4/11/12 — Red Sox vs. Blue Jays

Here are some quick pre-game thoughts as Daniel Bard takes the hill for the first time as a starter in the regular season. Rapid fire. Let’s go.

  • Nick Punto will fill in for Mike Aviles tonight. Aviles has a no-big-deal ankle issue. He turned it last night. Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston tweeted back to TSWD as to exactly when it occurred.

  • Ryan Sweeney was tabbed as a quality defensive outfielder who did not carry a big stick. Pfffff. So far so good from the big lefty. He has come up with big hits early this season. I like what I see, so far.
  • Expect a high scoring game tonight. Bard, like I said, is making his first start as, well…a starter. He’s been known to walk a guy or seven. He will likely be working with guys on base for the majority of the night. On the other side, Kyle Drabek is on the bump for the Jays, and the majority of the middle of the order hitters for the Sox have good numbers against him. I’ll take Sox tonight 8-6.
  • As always, it will be interesting to see how the game goes if the Sox are in a save situation. Alfredo Aceves notched a clean final frame last night. Keep an eye on how he performs in back-to-back save situations.
  • With the W last night, I hope this squad loosens up a bit. It’s important to have fun. And winning begets fun.

Pre-game Notes on Easter Sunday

—I wonder if Tito thinks it is as funny as I do that Nick Punto will be batting in the leadoff this afternoon in Detroit. Disclaimer: I have no issue with Bobby Valentine playing with the lineup. None whatsoever. But I’m not on board with Punto swinging from the one-hole.

Josh Beckett is not hurt. He just pitched bad. At least that is what is being reported.

—He’s not in the lineup today, but Kevin Youkilis has looked hideous at the plate in the season’s first two games.

Clay Buchholz will take the mound today for the first time in a regular season game since suffering a back injury that sidelined him for the vast majority of 2011. He will have his hands full as he takes on the white hot middle of the Tigers’ order.

Anyways, here are today’s lineups, courtesy of the Globe’s Peter Abraham:

RED SOX (0-2)
Punto 3B
Ellsbury CF
Pedroia 2B
Gonzalez 1B
Ortiz DH
McDonald LF
Sweeney RF
Aviles SS
Shoppach C
Pitching: RHP Clay Buchholz (6-3, 3.48 in 2011)

TIGERS (2-0)
Jackson CF
Boesch RF
Cabrera 3B
Fielder 1B
Young DH
Avila C
Peralta SS
Dirks LF
Raburn 2B
Pitching: RHP Max Scherzer (15-9, 4.43 in 2011)

The Importance of Dustin Pedroia

Photo courtesy of bostonherald.com

The 2012 version of the Boston Red Sox are heading into Spring Training with a myriad of questions. In just 12 short months, the Old Towne Team has gone from being projected as the Greatest Team Ever to being viewed as the Most Flawed Team Ever. Their starting shortstop, Marco Scutaro, will be playing second base in Colorado to open the year. The franchise’s best closer, Jonathan Papelbon, will be toeing the rubber in the ninth for the Phillies in 2012. The rear end of the Red Sox rotation possesses two gaping holes. Despite toting a payroll that will likely eclipse $180MM, the ownership group on Yawkey Way is being labeled as a collection of misers, too preoccupied with football in England to be focusing on baseball in New England. Oh, and there was a cataclysmic collapse last September that cost the Red Sox a playoff berth. More importantly, that wet-the-bed effort in the final month of the season forced the media and fans of Boston to question the level of dedication and effort being put forth by many members of that Red Sox team, specifically, the pitching staff. Trust me, there are plenty of items for Sox enthusiasts to worry about.

Dustin Pedroia, on the other hand, represents the exact opposite. When it comes to Pedroia, there is nothing to worry about. He is a stalwart. A stud. If you’re placing a bet on Pedroia to succeed, starting counting your doubloons now because he is a complete and total lock. The scrappy second baseman also happens to be the most important position player on a team that, despite popular opinion, is loaded with talent. Pedroia is good. That already we know. But how good?

Last season, Pedroia got on-base at a .387 clip. Career high. He drove in 91 runs. Career high. The guy even drew 86 walks. Career high. Because he not a burner, stolen bases is not a stat that writers who cover the Sox immediately turn to when analyzing Pedroia, but the second baseman swiped a smooth 26 bags in 2011. He is an intelligent base runner who is sneaky-quick.  The 26 bases he nabbed? Career high.

He did all of that with a screw inserted into his left foot. It was removed on September 30th of this past year. As if that wasn’t enough, in a mid-May contest against the Orioles, Pedroia injured his right knee making an off-balance throw to first base. For the majority of 2011, the former MVP had to mentally and physically deal with knowing that an inch-long piece of metal was in his left foot and play through what ended up being a badly bruised knee. In a recent offseason interview with weei.com’s Rob Bradford, Pedroia opened up about how he was feeling during the first part of 2011: “There was the point I bruised the knee cap in my right knee and I’m dealing with the foot and my knee and it was wearing on me. I was more frustrated because I couldn’t do what I wanted to do.” The injury to Pedroia’s knee ended up being relatively minor, but there was plenty of concern at the time. There was even talk of potentially needing surgery. He missed a pivotal game in the series finale with the Yankees on June 9th to have his knee examined in Boston. At the time, he was sporting a less-than-impressive.247/.361/.338 line. The results of the exam were positive–a simple bruise, no surgery needed, and Pedroia finally had a little peace of mind. He went 3-4 and added a walk the next night in Toronto. As a reminder, the veteran rebounded in superb fashion and finished the year with a show-and-tell worthy .307/.387/.474 line. Pedroia puts up numbers that earns him recognition league-wide, but his value to this Red Sox team transcends the traditional statistical categories.

According to Fan Graphs, in 2011, Pedroia accounted for 8 wins above what a replacement player would have offered. A replacement player is identified as someone at the AAA/AAAA level. Nick Punto would serve as a good example of a replacement for Pedroia. Let’s offer some context on the matter of WAR. Pedroia finished fourth among all Major League position players in WAR. Robinson Cano, Pedroia’s rival counterpart who is widely regarded as a superior player, had a 5.6 WAR in 2011, more than two wins above replacement behind the Sox second baseman. The overarching point here is that Pedroia is extremely valuable to his team. His impact on the diamond, relative to the rest of the players in Major League Baseball, has an immensely positive impact on the win column for the Red Sox. He is an integral cog in the Red Sox machine. This coming year will offer a new set of challenges that will undoubtedly test Pedroia’s ability to adapt defensively and provide offensive versatility.

It has been well-documented that the Red Sox will enter Spring Training without an everyday shortstop. Mike Aviles can provide some pop at the plate, but his defense isn’t exactly award-winning. Punto can flash the leather a bit, but he is 34 years old. In the past two seasons, the longtime Twin and former Cardinal has played in a total of 151 games. GM Ben Cherington acquired Punto to serve strictly in a utility role. The dark horse candidate at shortstop is Jose Iglesias. Unless he puts together an eye-widening Spring Training, he will likely find himself in Triple-A to begin the year. In 2012, Pedroia will be anchoring a middle infield that will see multiple faces at shortstop. It is safe to say that Cherington would not have traded Scutaro to the Rockies if the Red Sox did not have the luxury of having a Gold Glove caliber veteran at second base. There is no doubt that Pedroia’s defensive prowess around the second base bag will have to be on display more than ever in 2012. The Red Sox are likely to also lean on his offensive flexibility.

In an ideal world, DP is a guy who slots seamlessly into the two-hole. Hitting behind Jacoby Ellsbury, Pedroia offers power, speed, and the ability to get on base. Not to mention, Number 15 is a right handed hitter who transitions nicely into Adrian Gonzalez, a left handed hitter who is molded for the three-hole. Like Kevin Youkilis, Pedroia is never cheated out of an at bat. Ever. If you’re a starting pitcher, good luck dealing with Ellsbury and Pedroia to begin a game. Pedroia was birthed to hit second in a powerhouse lineup. However, Carl Crawford is another guy who is best served hitting towards the top of the heap. The Red Sox have a lot of those guys. It doesn’t take Connie Mack to figure out that Crawford cannot be hitting in the latter half of the lineup. He just isn’t that guy. Bobby Valentine, I hope, will come to that realization when Crawford returns from his wrist surgery. I don’t care if it lefty-lefty at the top of the order–Crawford needs to be hitting second for his own psyche. Thankfully, Pedroia is an extremely flexible offensive weapon. Who is more likely to succeed if he is bounced around the lineup (between second and fifth): Pedroia or Crawford? DP. Easy choice. Valentine has said on multiple occasions that he does not necessarily believe in a “set lineup”. That’s fine by me. Nevertheless, as the manager, it is vital to provide stability for Crawford, while taking advantage of Pedroia’s ability to get on base and drive in runs. The guy is a total masher who can hit anywhere from the two-hole to the five-hole. He is the definition of being offensively versatile.

Pedroia will play the majority of 2012 at the age of 28. He is entering the prime of his career. He is extremely healthy entering Spring Training. No mental or physical preoccupations exist now that the screw has been extracted from his foot. Pedroia is ready to roll.

There are no questions to be asked. Just as we expected.

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.

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