Thursday, October 16, 2014

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Friday, March 07, 2014

Saturday, December 08, 2007

No Santana, No Worries - For Now

The Red Sox and the Twins conspired together throughout the days and long nights of baseball's winter meetings. They conspired not, apparently, to make a blockbuster trade involving Johan Santana and several of Boston's bluechip prospects, but rather to waste countless hours of productivity in their respective markets. Fans around the country (and in the Sox's case at least, globe) checked media outlets with breathless regularity, waiting to learn the outcome of the "wag the dog" production that was the Trade That Never Was.

In most circles, even the rarified fanbase air that are the Sox Prospects and Sons of Sam Horn messageboards, the failure of the teams to pull the trigger on a trade has been met with a soft relief from many posters. The cost of acquisition for most of the packages being thrown around was too much for Boston fans; and for the Twins, the thought of prematurely losing the face of the franchise was too agonizing.

Given the situation, this probably means that a fair trade was in place. The Red Sox should have to suck it up if they want to acquire the best left-hander in the business, and the Twins need to understand that Santana is leaving them, and they need to get some value back.

Twins GM Smith is walking a fine line right now. It would be hugely irresponsible for him to fail to get an excellent package for Santana, and the fact is that with other top-tier starters like Haren, Bedard, and Lincecum being shopped - all of whom are younger and will cost significantly less - he could end up without a chair when the music stops. That would be an unmitigated disaster: even if Liriano returns to health, the Twins will not compete next year. They just won't. And the midseason return on Santana will be far less than what's being offered now.

Still, Smith wouldn't pull the trigger, thinking he can get one of NYY or Boston to panic down the road and meet his demands (they are realistically the only two teams at the table). So the meetings came and went, and here we are with no Santana. And if you're a fan of a "homegrown" Sox team; if you're a fan of keeping the young players you've watched rise through the minors - not so much for Winning reasons, but for baseball reasons - you're okay right now. The emotional price was pretty high, and after everything was said and done, the family's still together.

Now, this deal could still go through, and everyone will understand if it does, and even celebrate. Nobody in their right mind could complain if the Sox sign Santana; especially if he only costs one of Lester or Ellsbury. He's too good, and it makes the Sox too good, and no matter the cost, those points are inarguable. But to many of us who wanted to watch a team of "our guys" go out there and compete, the cost will have been steep.

Moreover, the acquisition will just seem a little too "Yankee". And that might just be the highest price to pay of all.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Chasing Santana

No doubt everyone is closely following the quest for Johan Santana, the Holy Grail of lefthanded pitching. The prevailing wisdom is that the trade market for the Twins has been narrowed down to three teams; the Dodgers, Yankees, and Red Sox. The Dodgers seem to be a distant third however, so it's basically Yanks versus Sox, again.

Before I get into who might be changing hands, let's look at the dynamics for a minute.

Santana becomes an FA after next year, and it's already been made clear that the Twins cannot afford him. They could try to keep him and take a flyer on running the table next year with he and Liriano as a solid one-two punch, but it's unlikely. If that doesn't fly and they try to deal him mid-season but this would lessen the return for him. So there is some incentive to deal him now, for sure.

The Twins, however, do not utterly control the terms of this deal. Santana is the best pitcher to come available in a long, long time, but there are the dual constraints of his ongoing cost, and the fact that Bedard, Haren, and Willis are hanging out there as well. Moreover, it is still a case of teams betting against each other. The Twins can demand player X all they want, but if the price is too steep, it's too steep. Both teams know they (the Twins) are not going let themselves end up with just the compensatory draft picks, and this mutual ceiling is to the benefit of the Sox.

The ceiling I'm referring to is the "untouchables". For the Sox, it's probably Buchholz and Ellsbury, and for the Yanks it's Joba and Hughes. The benefit to the Sox is that if that ceiling stays the same for both teams, the Sox proposed package of Lester, Crisp, Lowrie and Masterson/Bowden wins. And let me tell you, if that package brings back Santana (and there is no reason it shouldn't, working in a vacuum; Bill Smith is getting a lot of major-league ready talent there), we should just rejoice, plain and simple.

If it doesn't, because NYY dealt Hughes (Joba I think probably is untouchable), then it sticks in the craw, but it's not a total disaster. The package would likely be Hughes, Cabrera, Jackson and Tabata or Hughes, Jackson and Cano. That would mean that they dealt two or three of their top prospects/young players to get Santana, and that helps the Sox out to some degree in the long run.

The reason it's not a total disaster is because the Sox will have kept Ellsbury, arguably the most exciting homegrown position player to put on a Sox uniform since Yaz, and Buchholz, a pitcher who is simply a mind-boggling talent.

If the Sox have to give up Ellsbury, and Santana stays healthy for the duration of his contract (this aspect has been largely ignored in all the discussion I've read - Santana has a lot of wear and tear on the arm and stumbled badly in the last couple months of 2007), it's a palatable trade. However, if they give up Buchholz, I don't like the deal. Buchholz is pretty well past the prospect stage now, and has every indication of being the next Santana himself - Keith Law recently stated that right now CBuck has the best change-up in baseball. It should be noted that this pitch is how Santana makes his money, working off a fastball that he commands better than Buchholz does his, but with a curveball that is far inferior to CBuck's.

Giving up the talent currently on the table, possibly with Ellsbury over Crisp in the deal, plus paying the $20-25M per year to extend Santana, makes some sense, because a rotation with Beckett, Santana, Buchholz, and DiceK in it for the next 5 years is simply insane. But when you factor in that you are trading what is likely to be equivalent talent in the one arm (Buchholz), plus three other players, plus the cost/risk of the extension - then the Sox are getting screwed. I say hell no. Hell no.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Give Thanks, Red Sox Nation!

The national day of thanks has come and gone, and it was a banner one for Boston sports fans in 2007, especially here at Bosoxwest HQ.

Our firstborn son Miller arrived in the very, very, silly early AM on October 19th (taking me out of the blogosphere for the ALCS and World Series thereafter, obviously). His mom did the Nation proud. He is a healthy and happy baby boy, and remarkably, he has never witnessed a Red Sox (or Patriots) loss. Beckett stopped Cleveland while he was making his way into the world, and as we know the Sox got hot and ran the table from there. We give thanks for him every day.

I've been explaining to him that past performance may not be indicative of future returns, but for now, we're enjoying it. A huge, heartfelt thanks to the Twenty-Five for bringing home the hardware in 2007. This team was incredibly easy and fun to root for.

Ah. Boston Red Sox, World Series Champions. It has a nice ring, doesn't it? No pun intended.

The organization wasn't done there though: this is a process. The front office has publicly stated that they try to manage the personnel of the team with the goal of winning 95-96 games. Get to the dance, and try to get hot in the postseason. Obviously, this year proved that this recipe can bring success, but it also acknowledges that in baseball anything can happen. We should take a minute to give thanks to the Yankees who proved beyond argument that you can't simply buy a championship. That axiom frames the Sox F.O.'s strategy and makes it palatable to the rabid fan base here in the Nation.

Given the success of the current group of guys, the F.O. had a fairly simple offseason mandate - sign Mike Lowell. We were all tempted by the shiny bauble that is A-Rod but that was a path fraught with peril. A Boras bidding war can destroy an offseason in it's entirety - they could have ended up with neither player, and Plan C really looked like shit (Joe Crede, anyone?). Then, assuming they "won" the A-Rod sweepstakes, the signing itself is a risky proposition. One, you've got 20% of your payroll tied up in a position player who's 32, and this goes on for 10 years (although the percentage maybe shrinks, the cost for production doesn't). Two, if he gets hurt you are screwed, because that contract is pretty much uninsurable after three years. And three, there are the character questions. It's hard to argue A-Rod makes any team worse in the short-term, but the equation did not include a short-term component.

So fan and clubhouse favorite Mikey Lowell returns, and on the terms the F.O. wanted, a three-year deal. Nearly every predictive analysis has Mike's production dropping off going forward, and I'm of the opinion he had a career year in 2007, but I think he's a very smart ballplayer who made some adjustments in his approach to the game this year. The home run power will almost certainly slide, as it has, but if he can continue to control the strike zone and improve in hitting to all fields, he'll still put up good offensive numbers. The second piece is the key: Lowell is an historic pull hitter who doesn't drive the ball the other way well, although he worked on that this year. He'll need to protect the outside half of the plate in order to get pitches he can put his power swing on. But he still has a short, compact swing, and I think he'll adjust okay. People are also forgetting that Drew should offer better protection next year, making Lowell's job easier.

Statistics aside, I'm a believer in "chemistry", or basically attitude, and I think it benefits the team to have a guy like Mike on the field and in the clubhouse who keeps guys focused on staying in the moment. It has to be incredibly difficult to stay focused on the task at hand in the Boston madhouse, and the team needs lodestones in order to succeed. Mikey is such a player.

So thanks to Mikey Lowell. As if it weren't enough he led us to a World Series victory, he took less money and fewer years to stay with the Nation. Regardless of what he does between now and 2010, he deserves a place in the pantheon.

The Hunt For Red Santana

The saga of the offseason will center around Johan Santana. The Yankess obviously cannot allow the Sox to acquire him, but the Sox, while they would hate for the Yankees to do so, would probably more easily see the silver lining in the price they paid. Having Crisp as a "surplus" trading piece makes the deal more palatable f or Boston - the MFYs would probably need to deal two of Joba/Hughes/Kennedy, plus a Tabata.

That said, I am on the fence. Santana has a lot of miles on him, will command a ridiculous salary, and we'd be letting go our best young arm (I cannot imagine any way they accept Lester over Buchholz, really). There are no guarantees in this game, so Buchholz may not be the ace we think he is, but also, as they say, TINSTAAPP.

There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect.

What that means is that by and large, pitchers are born not made. It is normally used to refute assertions that Player A will acquire pitching skills as he matures. Once a pitcher reaches a certain level, what you see is what you are getting. There is of course upside due to growth (and with CBuck this is the truly scary part), but you know if he's a pitcher or not. And we know Buchholz is a pitcher. There has never been any doubt of that. He may not be Santana, but he's much younger, cost-controlled, and doesn't cost other players.

I really am ambivalent. It would be pretty hard to complain about watching Santana in a Sox uniform. And yeah, it would suck pretty hard to see Johan in a MFY uni, but it would be pretty freaking cool to watch Buchholz take the majors by storm. Depending on how you look at it, I guess they call this a win-win.

I'll say thanks for that, too.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Sox Drop Game 3 To Indians, Gorman, God.

If you're like me, you ended Saturday night saying to yourself "That was the worst fucking game I have watched since the talentless Aaron Boone ended the 2003 season". But then along comes Game 3, and it just blows Game 2 out of the water. In the future when mankind's brains and technology are developed enough that you can compress several hours of information into a single impression, this game will be in the dictionary next to "Murphy's Law".

Let's start with the basic, unassailable premise, which is this: in an Indians-Red Sox game where the starters are Jake Westbrook and DiceK, the Red Sox should win 9 of 10 matchups. This is unarguable, because while DiceK is a little shaky at times, Jake Westbrook absolutely sucks. No, really - he sucks.

So what went wrong?

Approach

Well, pretty much everything went wrong, but let's start with the approach at the plate. As an organization the Red Sox stress taking a lot of pitches and getting starters pitch counts up. This has the dual benefits of tiring the starter so they can get to him, get him out, and feast on the generally weaker middle relief. It worked well against CC and Carmona because they are both guys who throw hard with excellent stuff but shitty command. As we all know, the end result was disastrous on Saturday but the approach was correct.

Against a guy like Westbrook who has good command but crappy stuff, it's not the best idea to take a ton of pitches, because he NEEDS to pitch ahead in the count to be successful. If you give him strike one every at-bat, you're playing right into his hands. But that's exactly what the Sox did. Moreover, against Cleveland whose bullpen is fantastic, there is no advantage to getting to them early because Lewis and Betancourt will just shut down your weak-ass bats. The Sox should have been pounding a few first pitch strikes to make Westbrook nibble a bit and get behind in a few counts, but they didn't.

Adding the this mess was the execution. Westbrook, Lewis and Betancourt all threw quite a few mistakes that guys missed, although given the stuff the latter two have it's more forgivable. No matter what you're approach is, when you get your pitch, you need to hit it. And when you load the bases with nobody out against a guy as bad as Westbrook, that should be it - game over.

Home Plate Umpire Brian Gorman

And....speaking of bases loaded situations...the Sox would have had another bases loaded situation but for the simply unbelievable incompetence (or is it Tim Donaghy Redux?) of home plate umpire Brian Gorman, who called strike one on a ball four pitch to Manny that was so far off the plate that the Fox strike zone imaging software could barely register it in the graphic. He later screwed Coco Crisp on ball four on a pitch that was very nearly as bad. Both incidents resulted in rally-killing at-bats that can be laid squarely at the feet of an umpire who called one of the worst and most one-sided ball/strike games in recorded history. On the flip side, DiceK struck out Casey Blake in the fifth but Gorman called it ball three, and Blake went on to single on the next pitch, and then score what proved to be the winning run. With the exception of a terrible first strike call on Pronk, every bad call went against the Sox. Conspiracy theorists, get our your pens.

Let's go to the visual aid!

Here is the strike one pitch to Manny, which if called correctly, puts Manny on first to load the bases with one out and Mike Lowell, the team's best RBI man, stepping to the plate. As I call it, "Gorman's Coup de Grace":

Here is strike two (see #5) to Coco in the seventh, which if called correctly would have put him on first with one out (in front of a Lugo single although that can't be assumed once the Coco play has changed). Having the fastest player on the team on base with one out and the second fastest player at the plate might have changed the context of that inning, you think?


And, here is ball three to Blake (see #5 and note it's vertical match to strike one), which, had Gorman correctly rung him up, probably keeps the score tied at two. I'm thinking that's a significant missed call, especially in light of it being ball three, meaning Blake got to look strike-zone-only on the next pitch.

And, for those of you who might be wondering if the knees was too low to be considered within Gorman's strike zone, here is a strike call from two batters later:


Obviously, I am pissed that Gorman fucked over my team. That said, the Sox should have beaten the crap out of Jake Westbrook. Last night's loss is firmly on the offense. But how is it possible that in one of the most important games of the year, we have to put up with this shit? I mean, these are not tough calls, in most cases they are painfully obvious. The pitch to Manny was so far inside you'd think that Gorman would have to have an astigmatism or be on crack to call it a strike. It makes no sense that MLB can't remedy this situation because it detracts from the game and leaves everyone feeling cheated.

God, Karma, Elementary Particles - Whatever

Lastly, in our Perfect Storm of Suck, we have the current that runs through baseball like water, and the reason we have the term "small sample size" in discussing the game. Luck. A lot of people will be bitching about DiceK's inability to get out of the 5th again, and it is certainly true that he should never, ever, give up a dinger to the scrawny girlish corpse of Kenny Lofton, but as per usual DiceK died by the seeing-eye groundball.

The hit by Cabrera (which scored the should-have-been-sitting-in-the-dugout Casey Blake), by rights, should have been a routine out, but Pedroia wasn't positioned up the middle, which he should have been with Cabrera hitting with two strikes and Tek set up outside. That is on the first base coach Luis Alicea who as a former middle infielder should know better. The hit by Garko that put him on base for Lofton was a weak piece of shit that barely made it to the outfield. These are the breaks, and DiceK, for whatever reason, rarely gets them.

On the other hand, when Papi hits a screamer right on the screws, it goes directly into the face of the Indians' right fielder. That's baseball. At this level, you need some luck, and the Sox aren't getting it.

Final Analysis: DiceK

All things being said, and this is an ongoing source of frustration to everyone in Red Sox Nation, DiceK remains a mystery. He has never dominated like he should have this season. To some degree this is caused by the incredible hazing he has received from the umps all year. Nobody on the staff gets squeezed as harshly as DiceK does. To a greater extent, this is caused by the fact that the Sox have forced him to pitch off his fastball all year - his weakest pitch. It was good to see some at-bats last night where DiceK led off with a secondary pitch for a strike. When he does this it puts hitters at a real disadvantage. Overall, I didn't consider it a bad start at all. He made one mistake to Lofton, who correctly noted that Tek had started every hitter in the game off with a fastball, and he gave up a couple bleeders that put the game out of reach after Gorman squeezed him. If he gets one break we are not discussing him at all today.

Overall though, DiceK hasn't shown the ability to dominate hitters when he needs to. The expectations, which were unreasonably high, granted, were that when DiceK got in trouble he would simply confound batters so much that they would screw themselves into the ground striking out. That hasn't happened, clearly. I am in the camp that DiceK and Tek will reach a unified plan of attack for next season and we will see some great pitching by the young ace, but it would have been nice to see that last night.

Final Analysis: Sox Offense

What to say here? Everything is wrong. The biggest issue of course is this: all the runs come from 2-5. While Pedro is slumping pitchers are looking at 6 consecutive weak bats. That is just devastating. In games where Manny, Papi and Lowell are contained this team has literally zero shot of winning.

The double-plays of course are killing us too. The Sox just broke a record for most DPs in the first three games of a playoff series. That's not one teams have been chasing, people. That's like breaking the record for most times having explosive diarrhea during a sales presentation. No bueno. Some of this is Tito's ultra-conservative approach, some of this is the umps being awful, but mostly it's just sucking.

Last night came down to this: when Sox batters got their pitch they missed it. When you're behind in the count, as they were often enough, it gets tougher to be aggressive, but especially with Westbrook on the mound, there isn't much excuse.

Tonight

One of the problems with the Saturday game was that it was so long and physically exhausting, after a travel day. On average the Indians are a younger team than the Sox and probably bounced back quicker. But now the Sox are up against it. It's time to grind out a win.

I am in the minority that is OK with Wake starting tonight. Can he suck? Sure, we all know Bad Timmeh's dastardly resume. But Byrd's home ERA at the Jake is 5.68. If Wake sucks worse than that, if the offense doesn't come to life and score a bunch off a pretty bad starting pitcher, then this team doesn't deserve to advance. It's that simple people. Even if they threw Tavarez out there we should expect a win tonight. If they don't win, they are not good enough to win. End of story. And if they do win, it's pretty unlikely that Schill and DiceK would beat CC and Carmona. We'll need Beckett to take one of those games.

The bottom line is that the Sox are behind the eight-ball here. Cleveland is a well-constructed team who have taken advantage of a few breaks and a little help from the boys in blue. The Sox need to run uphill from here, but there will be no excuses if they don't get it done. There isn't a human being on earth that will feel badly to see a team paying J.D. Drew $14M a year go down to a spunky if less-heralded ballclub. That's the American dream. Time was, the Sox represented that, but now, love them though I might, they aren't any kind of underdogs any more.

Still, romance be damned: I expect these boys to go to work and get the job done.