Talkin Sox with Dan

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Archive for the tag “Ryan Dempster”

Red Sox, Blue Jays: What to watch for

Photo via weei.com

The pitching matchups. The Red Sox, on paper, have the upper hand on the 9-17 Blue Jays in each of the three games during the series. Jon Lester will take the mound on Tuesday–opposed by Brandon Morrow. Clay Buchholz draws Mark Buehrle on Wednesday, while Ryan Dempster will take on either Josh Johnson or J.A. Happ. The Jays’ starting pitching, like much of their team, certainly does not lack talent, but the Red Sox hurlers are absolutely rolling right now.

Lester’s demeanor. The big lefty is an emotional guy. And he has no problem admitting that. However, I firmly believe that when Lester doesn’t get a close call (or two or three) he can let his emotions negatively affect his pitching. I’m confident that John Farrell has had discussions with him about showing up umpires while he is on the mound–like he did during his last start on Wednesday. It just doesn’t help your cause as a pitcher. Nevertheless, as long as Lester is pitching well, I don’t care if he gives the umpire the finger (seriously don’t do that — you’ll get ejected). But when his antics begin to affect his ability to execute his pitches — that’s when it becomes a problem.

Jose Bautista is back. The powerful right handed hitter did not play in any of the three games against the Red Sox earlier this month due to a minor ankle injury. He will be back in the Jays’ lineup this time around and is 10-45 against Lester with four home runs to his credit. (Side note: Brett Lawrie is back too. And he is an important player. I also really appreciate his hard-nosed approach to the game).

Jose Reyes is not back. He is nursing a severe left ankle injury suffered in mid-April during a game against Kansas City–a devastating blow for a struggling Blue Jays team. Reyes, as he so often does, showed us why the Marlins, the Jays, and a myriad of other teams salivated over acquiring his services as he blistered the baseball around the Rogers Centre in Toronto during the early-season series against the Sox. The guy is an elite talent at a primer position. We’ll wish him a successful recovery, but we certainly won’t mourn his absence during the next three games.

— (Keeping up with the theme) Shane Victorino‘s back. Literally. His back. It’s sore. According to reports, there is only inflammation present, and, by all accounts, the Red Sox are determined to keep Victorino off of the disabled listed. It’s worth noting that Jackie Bradley Jr. was back in Pawtucket’s lineup on Tuesday serving as the designated hitter. That is a solid indicator that Victorino will in fact be able to avoid a trip to the DL. However, he will not be in the lineup on Tuesday night. Daniel Nava has served admirably in right field.

The closer situation. Joel Hanrahan was officially activated by the Red Sox today. Although Farrell has not formally disclosed who will work the ninth during the next save situation, he has indicated enough to make fans believe it will be Andrew Bailey who gets the ball.

If that is the decision, I agree with it. Bailey, by and large, has been outstanding in Hanrahan’s absence. His stuff plays in the ninth–his fastball has shown a tremendous amount of life. And when he is healthy, he has proven to be excellent. For now, I would leave Bailey alone and ride things out.

Update: CSNNE.com’s Sean McAdam reported that Farrell informed both Bailey and Hanrahan that Bailey would remain the closer. Look for Hanrahan to work a few low leverage situations as he is eased back from his hamstring injury.

Observations From Fort Myers

Photo via milb.com

From March 13-March 22, I was lucky enough to spend my vacation with my girlfriend, Meg, in Fort Myers. The last time we had visited the Fort was in 2011, the final year the Red Sox would make their spring home at the City of Palms Park. A year later, the Sox would move into a shiny new facility located near the airport in Fort Myers, fittingly dubbed JetBlue Park. They were also coming off a historical September collapse that the organization is still trying to recover from. Fast forward one year, and the Red Sox are determined to fix what is broken, to bring the fans back. On April 1, at Yankee Stadium, they will have their first official chance to “restore the faith.”

Unfortunately, I’m one of the suckers that, no matter what, will always keep coming back. Here’s what I saw in Southwest Florida:

Hammond Stadium is fine by me. The spring home of the Minnesota Twins opens its gates three hours before first pitch. That is exceptionally fan-friendly. Naturally, I made sure that we were at the park at 9:30 AM on March 14. I have to assume that Meg was thrilled.

WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford is a legitimately nice dude. Aside from a few interactions as a caller/tweeter, I don’t know Rob. I introduced myself to him at this past December’s Christmas at Fenway. WEEI was doing a radio show on-site that day. But again, I only know him as one of Boston’s better baseball scribes, and he only knows me as one of many Red Sox fans with an opinion. Despite all of that, I had the opportunity to chat with him while he was on the field at Hammond Stadium. He didn’t mind me bothering him to pick his brain about who has looked good in camp thus far. The next day, I found myself at the Red Sox minor league fields behind Jet Blue Park taking in some action when Rob approached me and offered to take me on an informal tour around the grounds at Fenway South. It was a cool, rare opportunity to get a peak at the complex and the park that the Red Sox occupy for much of the spring. Getting the chance to chat with someone who covers the team on a daily basis was pretty neat too. So thanks for that, Rob.

Jackie Bradley Jr. doesn’t run. He glides. Lost in the hoop-la surrounding the debate about whether or not the talented young outfielder should begin the season in Boston or Rhode Island has been how special JBJ really is. His approach at the plate is well-documented, but his defense may be even better. Bradley is not a burner by traditional standards, but he makes up for it by reading the ball off the bat, playing angles superbly. In short: He understands the game. If you’re interested in learning a little more about Bradley’s background, I can’t suggest this piece enough.

Minor league games at JetBlue Park are the absolute best. The best, Jerry. In all seriousness, it really is a phenomenal experience. Parking at Fenway South for a game costs $10, not bad at all considering the prices up north during the summer. For the minor league games? No cost. Admission is free as well. You are welcome to bring your own drinks, snacks, sunflower seeds. It’s essentially the opposite of any kind of sporting event you’ll ever attend when it comes to price and access.

At any one time, you have the ability to watch two, or sometimes, three minor league games going on simultaneously. The fields are extremely close to one another. I literally didn’t sit down during the two afternoons I spent at the complex. The players who are not scheduled to play or pitch that day occupy the small sets of bleachers located around the fields. Should you choose to sit, you will almost certainly be next to a flock of players in full uniform who will be playing up and down the Red Sox farm system in a matter of weeks. And these are not unknown guys. Blake Swihart, Matt Barnes, Henry Owens, Xander Bogaerts, and a plethora of other talented professional ballplayers are closer than you will probably ever get to them. You’re just as likely to stumble into a jewel from Red Sox’ past as you are the club’s future when taking in a few innings at the minor league games.

I had the chance to briefly chat with Frank Malzone who is one of the greatest third baseman in Red Sox history. Malzone is 83-years old and looks great. If anyone deserves the passenger seat of a golf cart at Fenway South, it’s him. Dwight Evans looks like he could still run down a well-hit ball to right field. I found it especially cool when I met him–a player who came just before my time, a guy who Bill James views as a Hall of Famer. I wouldn’t be telling the truth, however, if I said that the highlight of my trips to the ball field wasn’t meeting the great Pedro Martinez.

Photo courtesy of espn.com

Pedro doesn’t adhere to anyone’s schedule. He never really did as a player and certainly doesn’t now. Serving in a part-time role as a special assistant to GM Ben Cherington is perfect for Pedro. He can sort of come and go as he pleases. I just happened to get lucky that he was roaming the minor league fields on my final day there. Flanked by two security guards — not that they were needed, as there are simply not many people who attend the games — Pedro was dressed in full uniform, leaning against a pole behind home plate of Field 3. I’m not being facetious when I say that I firmly believe he could go out and give you five strong frames tomorrow if you needed him in a pinch.

After the third out of an inning, I took a deep breath and approached one of the best pitchers the game of baseball has ever seen. I shook his hand and thanked him for everything he did for the Red Sox. I meant it too.

Given the circumstances, it was probably the most I could have done or said, even though I felt like giving him a Jason Varitek-after-the-last-out-in-Game 5-of-the-1999-ALDS-type embrace. But I can’t imagine that would’ve gone over too well.

Grown men seeking autographs is just plain weird. There’s something not right about it. Look, I’m a fan. I’m not above shouting to a player before a game and wishing him luck. It’s cool to be close to the game. I get it. But at some point, you have to stop chasing around guys your own age — or even younger — for a signature on a card or a baseball. If you’re someone who does this, it’s nothing personal. I don’t think you’re a bad dude. I just think you’re taking up the time of a ballplayer who could be signing something for, ya know, a ten year old.

(Full disclosure: I stood in line this past winter to get Terry Francona‘s signature on the cover page of his book. Yes, I think that’s different than the men who pester players who are trying to get their work in on the day of a game or practice.)

Dustin Pedroia and Brian Butterfield are probably a month or two away from being best friends. They both have a tremendous amount of personality. They both get to the yard extremely early. And most importantly, they both love the game. Here’s what Butterfield said about Pedroia back in November: “Dustin, the way he goes about his work, the way he competes and carries the torch and reacts to game situations, you can tell the Red Sox are his top priority. I’m so anxious to work with him.”

Before the Red Sox, Twins game on March 14 from just a few feet away, I watched Pedroia and Butterfield interacting on the top step of the visitor’s dugout of Hammond Stadium. They weren’t finalizing dinner plans either. Pedroia was wearing his helmet and batting gloves, leaning against the top of his bat. Butterfield stood to his right, leaning with his hand against the foam padding on the dugout rail. Their discussion was, at times, quite animated. It certainly appeared that the pair was talking about Pedroia’s approach to his first at-bat of the game. Both Butterfield and Pedroia are two guys cut from the same cloth.

Ryan Dempster is going to be a guy that fans will like watching. The two games we attended both featured Dempster as the starting pitcher. I had the chance to observe what it looks like when he is sharp and also when he is not so sharp. He is not going to blow hitters away, but he always seems like he is pitching with a plan. The Red Sox aren’t looking for Dempster to be the savior. If he stays healthy, expect to get a nice return on the righty. It also helps that signing him did not force the Sox to relinquish a draft pick.

Will Middlebrooks‘ wrist is just fine. It’s hard to believe that it was one month ago that Middlebrooks suffered, what appeared to be, a wince-worthy injury to his right wrist on an awkward check swing in a spring training game against the Orioles. At the time, I panicked. I’ll admit it. The young third baseman is such an integral part of this team. The Red Sox simply cannot afford to lose him. Thankfully, it only turned out to be a scare. Middlebrooks has gone on to tear up Grapefruit League pitching. This spring, he has hit at a 362/.400/.617 clip. Because of the work Jackie Bradley Jr. has done, Middlebrooks’ impressive camp has gone under the radar. In the two games I saw, even when he made outs, he struck the ball with authority. The kid’s going to be fun to watch over the course of a full season.

——

Spring Training often gets to be a monotonous time for fans, media, and players, but man, it is cool. The idea of watching baseball games when it is still basically winter in New England is an enticing thought in and of itself. If it were not for some convenient circumstances, I probably couldn’t afford to go on a nine-day vacation in Southwest Florida. Even without being as lucky as I have been, there are ways to do it relatively cheaply. You don’t need to stay near Fort Myers Beach to still spend a good amount of time getting a tan burnt. Public transportation is less than ideal, but you can get to the airport, the beach, and the ballpark inexpensively.

I’m already looking forward to the next Spring Training trip because seeing Luis Tiant drive a golf cart while smoking a cigar never gets old. Ever.

Spring Training Notes

Photo courtesy of bleacherreport.com

The offseason can be fun, but it sure is nice to have baseball back in our lives. Real life, reach out and touch it baseball. That’s not to say that Spring Training doesn’t get tedious, for both fans and players. But for now, let’s be happy that we can turn on our televisions tonight and watch live baseball. It’s hard not to smile.

— Lost in the fray a bit this spring has been newly acquired starting pitcher Ryan Dempster. Relative to players like Zack Greinke, R.A. Dickey, and James Shields, all guys who changed uniforms over the winter, Dempster is not sexy. The 15-year veteran is certainly not on the front-nine of his career. The righty does not boast a big fastball that is designed to blow opposing batters away. As a guy who will play the majority of the 2013 season at age 36, Dempster sort of is what he is–roughly 200 innings, 4.00 ERA. But that may prove to be exactly what the Red Sox need. I’m excited to watch him pitch in meaningful games.

— I have been extremely cautious when it comes to David Ortiz and his Achilles injury. When he strained it (over seven months ago), the reports indicated that it was only going to be a few days. As we all know, that quickly changed. Ortiz must be himself this season if the Red Sox hope to contend. When you start hearing that the left handed slugger will be ready for Opening Day, it doesn’t leave you feeling warm and fuzzy. Opening Day!? How about Spring Training games!? Let’s set games in March as a goal before we talk April!

Lately, however, the news has been sort of, kind of encouraging. Doctors have told him that his Achilles is good to go. At this point, it’s fair to say that Ortiz needs the peace of mind of knowing that the injury is completely healed. Has the progress been slow? Absolutely. But maybe that will be the key in preventing re-injury during the season. For the first time in a long time, I’m confident that Ortiz will be 100 percent on April 1.

— Spring Training, as I mentioned, can be dull. The writers can get a bit bored from time to time too. And that is perfectly fine. But Jackie Bradley Jr. is not breaking camp with the Boston Red Sox. It ain’t happenin’. Look, the kid’s good. He’s a mature, well-rounded hard working player. Bradley knows how to get on-base and plays stellar defense. There is nothing not to like about the left handed hitting, right handed throwing outfielder. In fact, I would go as far to say that I believe he’s ready to make a legitimate impact on the major league level. So why not give him the nod at the end of Spring Training? It’s simple: I don’t see the benefit of starting Bradley’s service-time clock when he will only serve a part-time player. Jonny Gomes, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Shane Victorino make up your outfield. Barring injury, count on Bradley playing in Rhode Island, not Boston.

Where the Hell is Mike Napoli?

Photo via nashuatelegraph.com

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

The third.

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

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

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

What this means for the Red Sox

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

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

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

The same can be said for Napoli.

What this means for him

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

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

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

—–

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

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