Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Gagne? Sure, but what about Dye?

OK, I am going on the record: I DO NOT LIKE IT.

One day after imaging how great it would be if the Sox had kept Bruce Hurst, Bobby Ojeda, and John Tudor in the mid-eighties and had those three lefties teamed with Clemens for a dominant rotation for the next ten years, I started thinking about Jon Lester and Kason Gabbard in the same rotation for ten years. Buh-bye Kason.

Yes, the Sox need a back-up closer and that Gagne was a better pick-up than Octavio Dotel (quick, who did the Yankees get at the deadline for the bullpen? Oh yeah, nobody--that is 50% of the reason why the Sox swung the deal), and I would have had a coronary if Lester, Delcarmen, Michael Bowden, Clay Buchholz, or Justin Masterson (heck Bard or Cox would have set me off). Still, I understand the Sox need to give something to get something and the bullpen, while great, is still tenuous. For example:
Jonathan Papelbon: the shoulder will remain a question
Hideki Okajima: how many innings will he last?
Manny Delcarmen: Looks great, then has a stinker like the other night.
Mike Timlin: How long will he last? With the shoulder problems already, he is a huge question mark.
Yo Yo Tavarez: who the heck knows what you will get.
Kyle Snyder: a surprise so far, but will he be dependable if the workload gets bigger?

So the Sox got the help they needed in the bullpen. The best news was that when Gagne leaves as a free agent at the end of the season, they get a one or two and a sandwich pick in the amateur draft.

* * *

Now, the Sox did not get Jermaine Dye. That sucks, but he had no intention of coming to Boston. Wily Mo Pena and Craig Hansen for Jermaine Dye is a joke. Why Chicago would make that trade is beyone me. Of course, I would pay big bucks to see Ozzie Guillen ream out Wily Mo for the first time when he screws up in the outfield. That would be priceless.

* * *

Celtics? Garnett? Yeah, but what about Gagne?

The poor Celtics: the trade of the century (at least since Red fleeced Golden State and got Kevin McHale and Robert Parish for Joe Barry Carroll) and all anyone is talking about in Boston is about the Red Sox a) traded Kason Gabbard and David Murphy for Eric Gagne, and 2) did not get Jermaine Dye from the White Sox for Wily Mo Pena and Craig Hansen.

OK, let us get the Celtics out of the way:

I understand it: Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen along with Brigs and myself filling in at center and point guard would finish .500 at worst. Now, I know that I am biased because I am a huge Big Al Jefferson fan, but really there was not much given up. As for the rest, Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green, Theo Ratliff, Sebastian Telfair, and two first-round draft picks are nothing special. Green COULD be a star, but looks more and more like the second-coming of Ricky Davis (and now he gets to play with him!), Gomes is a good sixth man, Ratliff is a salary dump, and Telfair was gone to begin with. One of the picks belonged to Minnesota to begin with, and hopefully the number one from Boston will not be a lottery pick next season.

Garnett, Pierce, and Allen give the Celtics a legitimate chance to win the Eastern Conference. They should win 50 games, easy. They have a lot of work to do as they only have eleven on the roster now (with two of them second-round picks who have not even played yet). Danny Ainge needs a cheap veteran point guard, another big man on the bench (Bring back the Kandi Man!!!), and a defensive swingman. Since there is not much salary room left, the Celtics front office needs to do a lot of work.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Start thinking about 2009!

This is from a recent Future Shock feature by Kevin Goldstein on BaseballProspectus.com (subscription required),
Ryan Kalish, OF, Short-Season Lowell (Red Sox)
If there’s not a Ryan Kalish bandwagon already going, hop on, because I’m driving. Last year, the New Jersey prepster fell to the ninth round, as most teams saw him as a difficult sign. The Red Sox took care of that with a $600,000 bonus--around mid-second-round money--which looks like a sound investment at this point. Saturday, Kalish reeled off his fourth consecutive three-hit game, a streak in which he’s gone 12-for-15 with three doubles, a triple, and a pair of home runs, raising his season averages to .372/.476/.547 in 22 games while also stealing 18 bases. An ultra-athlete with power, speed and center-field skills, Kalish is making a very quick transition from toolsy to skillsy, giving a pitching-heavy organization that high-upside player they’ve been looking for.

YES!!! Finally a power-hitting prospect! Now if I get just get through the next couple of years with my fingers-crossed, all will be well. Most intriguing is that in addition to the impressive power numbers are the 18 stolen bases. This is the way that perennially successful major league teams have to operate to get top prospects: buy them in the late 1st, supplemental, and later rounds when they drop due to signability/money issues.

* * *

RED SOX NOTES

Kason Gabbard, who threw a complete game three-hitter against the Royals Monday night, is desperately needed in the Red Sox rotation. With all right-handed starters presently in the rotation this season, the Sox desperately need an effective lefty or two to throw against some of the strong, right-handed heavy line-ups in the American League. Gabbard had flashes of effectiveness last season, and although I thought (heck, EXPECTED) Jon Lester to jump into the rotation by now, it seems Gabbard is making a claim on the number five spot in the rotation.

* * *

Personally, I see no reason that Yo-Yo Tavarez is even on the team still. He has a low dollar figure, is on a short contract, can start or relieve, and has a rubber arm. His trade value is peaking, and the Sox should be looking to trade him, if only for a mid-level prospect. When Schilling comes back, Tavarez is going to lose his spot in the rotation (there would be a revolt by Boston fans if Tavarez stayed in the rotation and old reliable Shakey-Wakey ended up in the bullpen). Really, Gabbard and Lester should be in the rotation and Wakefield mopping up in the bullpen; however, I doubt that it will happen this season. Tavarez has been a good soldier, and has been about as average as you would expect him to be as a starter, so it is a good time to move him out.

* * *

Seriously, the time to trade Wily Mo Pena has obviously come to a head. If the Sox can get anything for him, his bags should be packed and waiting outside his locker. I have finally accepted that Pena is never going to be a regular in the Boston outfield. Yes, he is potentially a 30 or 40 home run guy, but he will never be more than Adam Dunn if he does not get a couple of years of playing everyday. That is not going to happen here. For his sake, he should be sent to San Diego, who desperately needs someone with the power to reach the fences, and who has the best bullpen in baseball and could part with a decent arm.

* * *

I am not really sure what lame nickname to give the Sox 7-8-9 inning team at the back of the bullpen. Jerry Remy is going to come up with something, so I feel a need to be a bit ahead of the curve here. The combination of Manny Delcarmen, Hideki Okajima, and Jonathan Papelbon has to give us something good:

DOP: No, that just makes me think of the DOOP (Democratic Order Of Planets) from Futurama and think of off-color Zap Branigan remarks. Besides, how does it sound when the announcer says: The Red Sox are going to their DOP now. Definitely a no-go.

DELOKIPAP: That is just horrible.

Manny, Oki, and the Pap: Ugh, another loser of a nickname. See, this is not easy for anyone. Don Orsillo has been grinding this out every afternoon for a month with no solution.

MOJO: Finally, something usable. M for Manny, O for Oki, J for Jonathan and the extra O just for that extra mojo. Hmm, now to try it out: After six strong innings by the starter, the Sox went to their MOJO as Manny Delcarmen came on for the seventh, Hideki Okajima for the eighth, and Jonathan Papelbon closed it out in the ninth. Yeah, that works. Send royalty checks to me at the address below.

Seriously, these three have been lights-out consistently for the Sox, and having that strength and ability to get that big strikeout at the end of games is huge. Right now, we are looking at Delcarmen with a 1.54 ERA, Oki with a mind-boggling 0.81 ERA, and Papelbon with a 1.87 ERA. Not too shabby.

* * *

CH-CH-CH-CHECK YOURSELF

Somehow, Boston fans are adapting well to finding the Red Sox ten games up in the standings in the American League East. For all the pathetic griping and whining from the A-Rod Apologists (aka Yankees fans), the Red Sox have done a damned good job overcoming the obstacles laid out in their path. At mid-season, let us take a chance to show where the Red Sox are:

CATCHER:
Jason Varitek, who spent most of 2006 trying to rediscover his stroke after puling a muscle in his ass, has bounced back to the consistent, but in no way awe-aspiring role of steady performer behind the plate and at the bottom of the line-up. The Chicken Parm man continues to struggle at the plate for the fourth straight season while playing personal caddy to Shakey-Wakey. Personally, I would like Josh Bard and Cla Meredith back, please.

FIRST BASE:
Kevin Youkilis has finally blossomed. Youk has shown gold-glove ability at first to go along with his impressive on-base and slugging numbers. His intensity at the plate is welcome (if anyone can intensely take a pitch, it is Youk) in the line-up, be it at the top or middle. Youk looks like he is finally hitting his comfort zone and is in stride at the major league level (remember, this is really only year three up here).

SECOND BASE:
April? Huh? Forget April. Dustin Pedroia is the toast of the town right now. All the WEEIdiots who were prepared to run him out of town on a rail and promote Alex Not Joey to starting second baseman should be continually reminded of how wrong they were. The stats do not lie: I wrote on April 4 about Pedroia:

PECOTA says: .294 9 62 .791 OBPSThe big beer gut says: .300 10 60 .800 OBPSPECOTA loves Pedroia. His VORP (value-over-replacement-player) is third on the team at 22.2, which says as much about how many crappy 2B there are in the majors as much as how good Pedroia could be.

THIRD BASE:
Mike Lowell is deservedly going to the all-star game. Of course, last year at this time, he looked like a bounce-back star as well. Then he swooned through July, August, and September. I would like to think that in his Fenway swan song he can pick-up the slack in the second half and earn himself some big bucks in the off-season as a free agent.

SHORTSTOP:
I go. You go. We go. Lugo. For a guy that generates as much excitement with my daughter (turning four tomorrow) as Manny and Big Papi, he sure as had a lot of trouble living up to the hype. Lugo has driven in a fair number of runs, but considering RBIs are one of those stats that merely measures the ability of the batters ahead of you to get on base, it really holds no water (I will let BaseballProspectus.com rip the RBI as a statistic as they do such a better job of it). Lugo has struggled mightily, but has been a good defensive shortstop (not A-Gon, but equal to or better than the Messiah of the Bronx, aka the Joe DiMaggio reincarnate). Lugo will end up at around .275/.350/.425 as he moves back toward what he should and will do statistically this season. Alex (Not Joey) Cora did a fine job filling in as usual, but please Sox Nation, the guy is a utility infielder: no more, no less.

DESIGNATED HITTER:
Big Papi is a gamer. Obviously, the man is not hitting like he did last year, and yet he is still the most feared hitter in the line-up. With fading protection behind him, Ortiz gamely pounds grounders through the shift and is driving enough pitches to left field to negate any outfield shift. On that note, I was intrigued enough that I took a look at the BIP Chart over at the Baseball Prospectus site and found through some comparisons with other sluggers that Ortiz really does not have an overt tendency to the pull the ball. In fact, his percentages and those for Manny break down as such:

Papi (2006): lf cf rf
Ground balls: 25% 13% 61%
Line drives: 39% 22% 39%
Pop-ups: 57% 11% 31%
Fly-balls: 40% 33% 27%

Manny (2006): lf cf rf
Ground balls: 74% 13% 13%
Line drives: 42% 29% 29%
Pop-ups: 12% 6% 81%
Fly-balls: 27% 32% 41%

Now, remember that Big Papi bats left-handed and Manny from the right side, and we see that as far as ground ball, Manny is pulling them with more frequency, while the fly-balls are almost identical. Really, super-aggressive shifts only work with lefties who do not run fast, because even with Manny jogging down the line, not many shortstops will be in left-field trying to throw him out at first. So does Ortiz really pull the ball too much? No, I do not think so, but the numbers definitely give some food for thought.

LEFT FIELD:
Ok, Manny. We are more than half-way through the season, and the numbers are still lacking. Manny still does not catch-up to the high hard one (he never did), but this year I have been amazed at how many pitches he has watched sail down the middle of the plate for strike three. Now Manny is a professed guesser at the plate, going on pitcher tendencies to find that one fastball or hanging curve right where he wants it. This year, he has been guessing wrong and looks downright foolish. The nadir has been his woeful performance in the final series where Ortiz was intentionally walked three times and each time up Manny failed to do anything at the plate. That is reason enough for intestinal turmoil if you ask me. The gist of this is that the Sox are not doing anything in the second-half or post-season without a big run of power and production out of the number four spot. If Manny continues his lackluster play in the second-half, I would expect this may finally be the season he gets his ticket punched out of town in the off-season.

CENTER FIELD:
Finally! For the first time since a brief two-week period in early 2006, we get to see the REAL Coco Crisp. Overall, his stats are still underwhelming, but he has been the most dynamic defensive center-fielder since (Reid Nichols? Gary Miller? Otis My Man Nixon?) Freddy Lynn. As his bat has heated-up in the past month or so, he has been an asset to the line-up: hitting the ball with authority, stealing bases, and providing a much needed spark to both the top and bottom of the line-up.

RIGHT FIELD:
The jury is decidedly still out on J.D. Drew (thought not with my kids, who find it hysterical that his name is made-up of Zach Braff’s character from Scrubs and their 16-year old cousin’s name). I think the J.D. Drew of June and July is the true Drew, but how he fights through nagging injuries and is strong at the end of the season is the true measure of him right now.

BULLPEN:
The bullpen has been at times the strongest part of the team in the first half of the season, and yet at times a gigantic Achilles heel. Hideki Okajima has been a god-send and arguably the first half MVP. Jonathan Papelbon has been his usual dominating self when he gets enough work at the end of the bullpen. Everyone else has been in flux: Brendan Donnelly looked like an option at set-up until he got hurt; Manny Delcarmen has looked unhittable in his brief work in the majors, but no one knows if that will stand-up; Joel Pineiro has been alternately good and bad, and then hurt; Kyle Snyder has flashes of effectiveness, but is nothing special as the long-man; and the mix of other lefties has been a mixed bag as JC Romero already got his ticket punched and Javier Lopez seems unhittable some days and unable to find the strike zone on others.

ROTATION:
The one constant, and the one thing that the fans need to hang their hats on in the second half of the season, has been the starting rotation. Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka have been as solid a 1-2 punch as could be asked for in. Tim Wakefield has been his usual adequate self, keeping his record near .500 and the team in games. I would like to see more seven and eight inning performances from Wakefield (where did this innings-eater myth come from?) Curt Schilling, if he can get healthy, should contribute again down the stretch. The Red Sox have been wise to make him take his time coming back from his stiff shoulder. If he comes back around August first, he could be the most useful addition of any team at the trade deadline (and costs the team nothing). As far as Yo-Yo Tavarez, well, I think the less said the better. He should be gone ASAP from the rotation. He is serviceable, and merely taking up space better used on Kason Gabbard or Jon Lester. The fact that you could swap him out with Kyle Snyder and lose nothing speaks volumes.

Overall, the Sox have impressed half-way through the season. They need more consistent production through the line-up (Runs scored continue to drop year after year), but the improved pitching and defense more than make-up for any line-up discrepancies. If Lugo, Crisp, and Drew continue to improve and Manny and Papi heat-up at all, the Sox should become a juggernaut in the second half of the season as their schedule, short of one extended trip out west, is pretty much full of underachievers.

* * *

Friday, July 06, 2007

VACATION NOTES

The Red Sox dropped their second straight one-run game to the lowly Texas Rangers on Sunday. Following a night they looked to be cruising to an easy victory after being up 4-0 in the second inning, Josh Beckett had one rough inning and gave the runs back. In his defense, the offense was horrible, leaving runners on base and never getting that clutch hit that was so desperately needed. They followed up that game by looking downright anemic against Kameron Loe. Yo-Yo Tavarez had a great game, giving up only one earned run while the bullpen did a great job holding back the Rangers; unfortunately, the Sox offense was once again doing nothing.

What I am waiting for, and have been waiting for this season, is that Big Papi or Manny walk-off dinger. That crowd at home plate waiting for him, waiting to slap the crap out of him. See the helmet flip off rounding third and the mad, hopping celebration at the plate. Where is it? Where is that big comeback win? Where is that kick-in-the-pants win? That is what this team needs right now: that one comeback win. That oh-my-God we stole that game from them.

I know, I know, it is hard to get down on a team with a double-digit lead and a great starting rotation, but this team is giving away games that they should be winning. The Sox should be up 15+ games right now, instead of giving games to the Mariners and Rangers.

* * *

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