Bloody Sox

Red Sox Rants — and other random opinions about sports

Archive for the month “July, 2009”

Are they done?

As I write this, the report is that the Red Sox have picked up both Victor Martinez and Casey Kotchman in separate trades. This does not make much sense to me, because it builds a log jam at firstbase and DH. I just feel there is one more move in the mix… Kotchman to the Mariners, maybe. 

More to come…

Roid Sox?

What to make of David Ortiz’s positive test in 2003 for performance enhancing drugs? Does this revelation taint the Red Sox championships? What is going to be the legacy of Big Papi?

In 1998 Mark McGwire hit 70 home runs. Is the Cardinal’s third place finish in the NL Central tainted? Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs in 2001. Are we to question the Giant’s second place finish in the NL west? My point being that ALL of major league baseball is tainted. We don’t know who was using PEDs on the ’04 Cardinals and the ’07 Rockies — the Red Sox World Series opponents in their championship years — but we can be fairly certain some of them were. And we can be fairly certain that some key Yankee players were on the juice when the Red Sox beat them in the ’04 ALCS (well, we can say we are no less certain of them as we are of Ortiz).

So, are the championships tainted? Of course they are, but they are not diminished. We know at least 104 major leaguers were using PEDs in 2003, the year the infamous anonymous testing occurred. The Detroit Tigers finished that season with a dismal total of 43 wins. While possible, the odds that no Tiger players were using PEDs that year are slim.

Has my view of the steroid era changed now that Ortiz is implicated? I don’t think so. I never said Yankee championships were tainted. Players are tainted. Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Alex Rodriguez, Roger Clemens, and Manny Ramirez are tainted. And now so is David Ortiz. This is a stink that will and should stick with him the rest of his career and the rest of his life.

And this is the most sad part of it all. Ortiz has been — or at least appeared to be — a great citizen, a player everyone could respect. That’s gone. Not just because of the positive test, but also, and perhaps even more so, because he dissembled about this issue. He acted as if he were outraged when hearing the news that A-Rod had been implicated. And now he is pretending he was unaware of his positive test. What’s worse, being a cheat or a liar? Well, it appears that Big Papi is both.

Crap, shoot

Can we add the $102 million the Red Sox have committed to Daisuke Matsuzaka to Theo Epstein’s growing list of magnificent blunders? In fact, can we call this move the biggest of Theo’s failed signings?

It’s bad enough that Matsuzaka has had mediocre results as a pitcher — not bad, but certainly not worthy of the money Theo expended to get him (i.e. Derek Lowe would have been less expensive and had equal or better results). But now he’s throwing the team under the bus. How long before the Sox pull the plug on this gaff like they did with Edgar Renteria and Julio Lugo — basically swallowing a shitload of money that they get no return on.

And what does all this say about Theo Epstein, the former boy wonder GM who now looks more and more like boy blunder? If the Red Sox didn’t have deep pockets that allow them to absorb these expensive mistakes, where would the team be now?

Yes, Epstein has brought us two world championships. And he deserves praise and credit for this. But not too much. The core of the 2004 team was made up of Dan Duquette signees. And the two most important additions to the 2007 roster — Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell — were acquisitions made while Theo was off pouting and more or less out of the picture (although rumor has it that he was against that trade when consulted on it).

Epstein also deserves credit for creating a better farm system than his predecessor. Or does he? We’re now in year seven of the Epstein era, and the Sox have only developed two impact position players in that time: Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury (Kevin Youkilis was a Duquette draft pick). And who is on the horizon? Lars Anderson, the Sox top position prospect seems to be languishing in double A ball. The Sox have known for some time that they needed to have an heir apparent for Jason Varitek, yet there seems to be no one ready to take over the catching duties. Where is the power-hitting outfielder? Where’s the next third baseman?

But we’ve got Papelbon and Masterson and Bard and Delcarmen and Lester and possibly Buchholz (though the jury is still out on him). The Sox farm system has been very good at developing young arms.

Which gets us back to Dice-K, who was a crap shoot from the start. An expensive, risky bet, and one that looks as if it is not going to pay off. I wonder if the Sox will find someone — possibly San Diego or Seattle — who might be willing to take the Japanese hurler in a trade. If so, the Sox will be eating the $52 million posting fee they made… and possibly some of Dice-K’s remaining contract.

And how much longer will John Henry be willing to let the young GM continue to fritter his money away? In this economy, it seems like the leash will be getting shorter and shorter. When that happens, when Theo knows he is going to have to live with his mistakes year in and year out, I wonder how he’ll do. Perhaps better. Perhaps he won’t throw unnecessary money at the likes of J.D. Drew… the G.D. dreadful rightfielder. Maybe, just maybe Theo won’t be so willing to roll the dice on these big, stupid contracts, which seem to mostly lead to snake eyes.

LaRoche bomb

The Red Sox have acquired 1st baseman Adam LaRoche from the Pittsburgh Pirates, who appear to be acting as the Sox triple-A farm team these days.

The Sox gave up very little (or appear to have — only time will tell) for this rent-a-player who is a free agent at the end of the year. His bat certainly doesn’t look to send fear into the hearts of opposing hurlers, but he will probably provide some added offense against right-handers. Of course, with the way the Sox are swinging the bat these days, even bringing back Mo Vaughn out of retirement could be an improvement at the plate.

What remains to be seen, at least as I write this, is who will be the odd man out on the current 25-man roster. It figures to be Mark Kotsay, as his prowess at 1st base will no longer be necessary. That’s too bad, as I like Kotsay’s approach to the game. The other issue, however, is this will leave the Sox with just four outfielders, two of whom would be the fragile G.D. Dreadful (i.e. J.D. Drew) and Rocco Baldelli. Of course, if it were up to me, I’d designate Drew and keep Kotsay, but then I’m not the one who needs to justify paying the $14 million per year salary left on Drew’s contract over the next couple or three seasons.

Anyway, I’m far from convinced this is all the medicine the Sox lineup needs, but we’ll have to wait and see. If the Sox turn things around, go deep into the playoffs, then I’ll tip my hat to Theo Epstein.

Shrivelling in Texas

After dropping their second game in a row to the Texas Rangers, the Sox are now in the midst of a four-game losing streak, one that has seen them slide from three games up on the Yankees to a game behind.

Normally, I would say, “Don’t panic. It’s a long season and these things balance out.” But I’ve been somewhat troubled by this Sox team all season. The offense has never been all that scary, and now it has withered to almost nothing. J.D. Drew is G.D. dreadful. Jacoby Ellsbury losing his nerve in the leadoff spot. Jason Bay looks more like J-Lo at the plate. Varitek is fading fast.

In addition, Mike Lowell and Jed Lowrie will both be used more judiciously; i.e. they’ll be sitting out more games.

As much as I appreciate the character of both Mark Kotsay and Rocco Baldelli, neither one inspires a great deal of confidence coming off the bench — at least not at the plate.

And now the Sox vaunted pitching depth is becoming suspect as well. Instead of being able to plug Clay Buchholz into Brad Penny’s spot, he has to fill in for Wakefield. John Smoltz looks his age. Neither Penny or Smoltz can get past the fifth inning, putting a lot of pressure on the bull pen, which was beginning to show wear and tear as we entered the All Star break.

I won’t go so far as to say things are bleak in Boston, but I will say that what once looked like a luxury — i.e. finding a bat for the lineup — is now beginning to look like a necessity. And that will only make Theo’s job harder, since he will have lost some of his bargaining strength. With the pitching staff getting thinner, who do you trade for that bat?

All this is leading up to this conclusion, one that has been rumbling around in my gut for a while: Theo Epstein was trying to get through this season on the cheap, and now it is catching up to him. He could have brought in a bat in the off season, or traded for one during the past few weeks. He didn’t. He stayed smugly pat with the lineup he has. Now, if he wants to salvage this season, he’s going to need to trade some of his prized prospects for a slugger.

Or he won’t. If that’s the case, I hope his confidence in this team proves well placed.

Deal or no deal?

So here we are at the All Star break and the Red Sox enjoy a three-game lead over the Yankees of the Brand New Stadium. The Sox have the second best record in baseball, the best in the American League and are one of only three teams with 50 or more wins. All in all, a pretty good first half.

Additionally, they have Jed Lowrie and Mike Lowell soon to return from the DL, and Clay Buchholz pawing the earth like an enraged bull, eager to join the big club’s rotation.

On top of this, J.D. Drew has yet to have one of his blazing hot months with the bat, Big Papi seems to be finally hitting his stride, and it’s about time for Youk to wake up from his nap.

So it would seem the Sox are pretty well positioned for another run at a championship.

Nevertheless, it is July and so we’ll continue to wonder if Theo Epstein will make a DEAL. Or maybe just a deal.

If I were a betting man, I’d lay money on the latter. Theo won’t mortgage the farm to bring in some temporary talent. But I think he has trouble simply standing pat. He’ll want to tweak the lineup with a bat that can play at least one of the corners.

(If I could script the next four months: The Sox acquire Nomar Garciaparra from the Oakland A’s for Julio Lugo and a ton of cash. In game four of the World Series vs. the Dodgers, Nomar hits a walk off home run to solidify the sweep and then retires — Manny goes one for 19 in the series.)

But it is fun to imagine the blockbuster trade, the one that brings a genuine impact player in exchange for a host of prospects. You can forget about Roy Halladay, however, because there is no way J.P. Riccardi will want to see him return to Toronto nine or ten times a year in a Red Sox uniform; and there is no way Theo Epstein is going to want to have to face Clay Buccholz four or five times a year for the next six or seven years.

Would I trade Clay, Lars Anderson and Manny Delcarmen for Adrian Gonzalez of the Padres? Yep. Gonzalez is young and is reputed to be an excellent fielder — I haven’t seen him play. He could be a stalwart of the offense for years to come, as well as providing some needed power to the current lineup. Would I trade those same three for Victor Martinez? Nope. Martinez is 30 — not over the hill, but not far from reaching the downward slope. He’d help this year, but then you’d need to sign him to an expensive extension or risk losing him after 2010 (I think that’s correct).

Anyway, by all accounts, the Padres are intent on keeping Gonzalez, so it might take even more than the trio I mentioned above to pry him away, and then you’re starting to make the deal too costly.

The ideal scenario is for the Sox to find a good hitting short stop, but they seem to be in very short (ahem) supply. The Rangers are in the thick of things, so I doubt they’d part with Michael Young at this stage. Who else is there? Is Jack Wilson really a difference maker? Nick Green’s bat has cooled off some, but it seems to me some combination of he and Jed Lowrie are just about as good as any of the trading options.

But even a small trade for a Nick Johnson type player might be a long shot. With Lowrie and Lowell coming off the DL, two positions will need to be cleared: Aaron Bates (or whoever is the Pawtucket flavor of the month) will be one of them, and probably Julio Lugo will be the other. But if the Sox bring in an additional corner infielder, they’ll have to dump either Rocco Baldelli or Mark Kotsay (is that the reason Baldelli was taking balls at first base the other day?), but that will leave them thin in the outfield — and with Sir Hurtsalot in right field, it seems unlikely Theo would put the team in that position. So, unless the new player can also play the outfield, I can’t see the Sox making that move — and who are they going to get who can play first base and center field like Mark Kotsay?

The bottom line is that I suspect the Sox will end up making no deals afterall — unless they determine that Lowrie or Lowell will not be able to come back at full speed. If that’s the case, all bets are on.

Nomar returns!

UPDATED

When I was a kid, I worshipped Carl Yastrzemski, Rico Petrocelli, Luis Tiant, Bill Lee, Carlton Fisk, Fred Lynn, Jim Rice and Dwight Evans. After those stars retired or moved on (the last one being Dwight Evans), I never felt the same about any of the new Red Sox players. This probably has more to do with growing up than anything — although it was hard to muster a lot of passion for Wade Boggs or Mike Greenwell. And Roger Clemens was great, but it was clear even then he was a Texas oaf.

But then Nomar Garciaparra joined the Sox and I suddenly felt that same exuberance I felt as a teen. His passion for the game was evident in the way he played with intensity and a sense of the tradition of Fenway Park. Ted Williams loved him, which should be enough for any fan. After Manny showed up I often said that I’d rather have one Nomar than a whole team of Mannys. Nomar exhibited so much spirit and enthusiasm, he was a joy to watch. Where Manny was just Manny — an idiot savant who could crush the ball, but couldn’t have cared less about where he played.

There has been some revisionist history in the years since Nomar left — namely that he was a weak defensive player. That is nonsense. He may not have been the best defensive short stop in the league, but he was aggressive and athletic, getting to balls which seemed as if they were going to be hits. One day I was watching a Sox game with my brother-in-law (whose brother pitched in the major leagues). He told me that Nomar wasn’t much of a fielder, then Garciaparra made a great play on a ball up the middle, gobbling it up and gunning out the runner and my brother-in-law changed his opinion then and there. I remember one game shortly after Nomar made his aborted attempt to come back early from his wrist injury. It was a close game in the late innings. The opposing team had a man on third with one out. The batter hit a blooper that looked as if it was going to fall near the foul line between the third baseman and Manny. Then, coming out of nowhere, Nomar made a sliding catch, leapt to his feet and threw out the runner trying to score from third.

Nomar made those plays routinely. What he had trouble with was throwing accurately to first. But he wasn’t Chuck Knoblauch. A decent first baseman, even Mo Vaughn, could almost always scoop up those balls. Unfortunately, in Nomar’s final two seasons in Boston, Kevin Millar played first — and he might as well have been Kawlija the Wooden Indian.

The sad thing is how Nomar’s time in Boston came to an end. He proved to have a thin skin and seemed unable to cope with the press. But the hard feelings were not all Nomar’s doing. John Henry unfairly made the team’s negotiations with Nomar public at the same time the Sox were trying to deal Manny AND Nomar to acquire Alex Rodriguez.  Nomar’s legacy with the Sox has been bound up with Manny. When Manny pouted his way out of town last July, everyone compared him to Nomar and suddenly they were both disgruntled players of the same ilk. That, too, is nonsense. Manny was always a selfish player. Nomar never was. It wasn’t about the money for Nomar. It was about respect, and he didn’t feel he got that from the Henry ownership, and I can’t say that I blame him for feeling that way. When friction arose between George Steinbrenner and Derek Jeter, Steinbrenner made Jeter team captain. That’s the way to respect a player.

Tonight Nomar will be making his first return to Fenway Park after five years. I hope the fans remember what it was like to watch Nomar play his first five seasons in Boston. If they do, they will give him the same kind of ovation they’d give to Jim Rice or Dwight Evans.  Nomar deserves that much.

UPDATE: This column by Tony Massarotti over on Boston.com illustrates perfectly the media mindset that sent Nomar over the edge. Instead of writing a story recalling the brilliance of Nomar during most of his seven plus seasons with the Sox, this article implies that casting off Nomar helped the Sox — and, in fact, ALL Boston sports teams — shed the loser mentality. Is it any wonder Nomar grimaced every time he had to face these people. Sure, if he had had thicker skin, he would have shrugged it all off for what it is, the idle ramblings of a sports writer hoping to say something relevent. Nomar couldn’t do that, unfortunately.

Mazz also draws a comparison between Nomar and John Smoltz — a winner, in Mazz’s eyes — conveniently forgetting that Smoltz left Atlanta feeling betrayed and bitter. I know that Mazz will claim the article is about the perception of Boston sports, and not an idictment of Garciaparra — but I think it is clear that Mazz is making a direct correlation here.

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