Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Ladies and Gentlemen, Your 2006 Red Sox! Probably.

Today we get right down to it. You can view the mostly complete active roster here. These are the guys who will be wearing the shirts we root for in 2006.

Obviously there will be a change or two; almost certainly there will be with respect to Stern once he satisfies the Rule 5 requirements and gets sent down to AAA to play everyday. Wells will start the season on the DL, and will replace Dinardo when he returns. If Mohr accepts assignment to Pawtucket he could be called back up when Stern is demoted, although he probably would not play barring injury. Harris is a better bet in my mind with his speed - he could be this year's Dave Roberts - and because his contract allows him to leave the team if he has not spent any ML time in April.

In terms of the non-roster guys optioned to AAA you have to be pretty pleased. Durrington has shown tremendous versatility and is an Aussie, so you know he can booze. Enrique Wilson is a friend of Manny's and that always has entertainment value, not to mention he has some mentoring aspects that could benefit the Sox' young infielders. There is some appeal to shysty Mike Holtz as a LOOGY; he has looked fairly good in ST, with 13 Ks in 9.2 innings and a 1.33 WHIP. Of course, there are no more damning words in the sports lexicon than "looked good in spring training", but still.

Overall, and I've said this before, this team looks good on paper. This has been an exciting few weeks in getting to this team though. In typical 2006 offseason fashion, there had to be some drama.

The first shoe to drop was the trade for Wily Mo Pena, Super Genius, as we have covered already. This hurt Mohr, and of course we all feel badly for him, but he is not a super genius, nor does he hit the ball far away. At least, not by WMPSG's standards. I suppose a lot of people would argue this hurt Arroyo too, but I feel this move helps his career (his baseball career). As I have stated before, from a pure entertainment value perspective, Wily Mo is the greatest acquisition of the decade.

The second shoe to drop was the waiver claim of Korean behemoth Hee Seop-Choi, a name which in Korean means "behemoth". Choi is a hulking first baseman with some power whose best isolated skill is his batting eye, as evidenced by his career .349 OBP. Despite this, he also strikes out a ton, a weakness that according to the Korean national coach (read the article in Donga - that's right, the Donga need food - here) can be attributed to Choi's resistance to making adjustments to counter holes in his swing. This doesn't make me feel good, but the kid is just 27 and there is time for him to come to the table. Given his treatment by the Dodgers and LA media, I would think he has to understand this could be his last chance.

Walking barefoot out the door was embittered second baseman Tony Graffanino. I have to be honest, I think Graff was ill-used to some degree by the Sox in the whole arbitration play, and is just a guy who, overall, probably hasn't gotten a fair shake in the bigs. He came over to the Sox in the middle of a pennant race in Boston, and put up the following line while playing very solid defense:

51 188 39 60 12 1 4 20 86 0.355 0.457 0.319

I've heard people say that Graffanino is a utility guy only who isn't starter material, and last year was a career year that's an aberration, but I think that's bullshit. Last year was the most at-bats the guy's ever seen. He moves from Kansas City, baseball's burial above ground, to Boston, where every fan should be medicated, and ups his game to a new level. All this guy does is bring a professional attitude to the field, to the batter's box, and to the team, and perform. He should be starting for a half-dozen teams in the bigs on opening day, IMO. I suppose I should be thankful the Sox are not one of them though, as Loretta has the ability to tear it up if he's healthy this year.

One of the stories to watch over the course of the first half of the season will be the supposedly much-upgraded bullpen. I say supposedly because the word "supposedly" means "pertaining to things that I have doubts about". Foulke looks good so far but knees always worry me. Timlin at some point has to realize he's old. Riske has more or, just more, actually...sucked thus far, against guys he should be getting out. And Tavarez is crazy as a shithouse rat.

All the other stuff will work itself out, in my opinion, so let's look at Taverez. First of all, his last name is Tavarez, not Tavares. Tavares was a 1970's disco band, best known for their inspired - but not at all relevent to crazy Julian - single "Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel". Butch, Chubby, Pooch, Ralph and Tiny would be horrified to learn that they were being lumped together with a sociopath who has the added burden of looking like the "Jeep" from the Popeye cartoon:

One has to wonder if we are looking at another Jay Payton situation in which a player's douchy personality outweighs the things he can do on the field. Now, granted, given that the Jeep is a much more highly leveraged player than Payton, he will have to be a much bigger douche (it's hard to believe I am typing this) to reach that tipping point, but given what he's shown us thus far, I don't think it's out of reach. Standing at home plate punching people as they arrive is not a subtle message that you are unwell, it is the Citgo sign of unwell messages.

So, the 2006 Boston Red Sox. If I had to pick one word to describe this team so far it would be "bemusing". I am always looking at them, thinking about all the possible outcomes. Bemusing is better than ambivalent, for sure, so we're making progress. I mean, I can't think about this team without worrying a little bit and chuckling a little bit at the same time. Of course, that behaviour would fit the description "ambivalent" pretty aptly, so I suppose really I have no point here.

What I think I'm trying to get at is that the 2006 Red Sox are a bit like a puzzle right now, a puzzle with many solutions, some more elegant that others. I'm reminded of the triangular peg solitaire Howard Johnson's used to place on the booth tables (I think Cracker Barrel had them as well). If you solve the puzzle with only one peg remaining you are a genius, with two remaining you are very very smart, and so on down to like seven remaining, at which point you are Julian Tavarez. I am eager to see how many pegs are remaining on Theo's puzzle come August, and I honestly have no idea what that number will be. But here's hoping it's one.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Just for fun!

I swear to you, I am not doing this to rile anyone up, or because I am bitter. I am just happy for these guys whom I adopted as my own while we had them. Granted, in Marte's case, this was an incredibly short time, but still. I have a lot of love to give.

Here are the ST lines for Hanley, Marte and Petagine. Pay special attention to Petagine. This guy will probably STILL not get a spot on an ML club this year (hello - Kansas City?).

Hanley 48 13 19 0 4 3 6 36 2 3 0.420 0.750 0.396
Marte 35 3 12 5 0 1 8 20 2 6 0.368 0.571 0.343
Petagine 31 2 14 3 0 1 5 20 4 7 0.528 0.645 0.452

We all know that spring training doesn't count for crap (for reference, see Cesar Crespo). Nevertheless, it's great to see these guys succeed, right up until the day they come to Fenway and succeed their way past the Sox. Then, they suck.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

A Gift.

I can't help it. I am getting more and more excited about the Wily Mo Pena acquisition each day. He is a gift, a gift that (I hope) keeps on giving. He's only been here two days - two days! - and look what we've got already:

1.) Every at-bat is a white-knuckle flight! Take today for example. In his first at-bat he was so badly embarrassed swinging at strike three he actually flung his bat into the stands. On his next at-bat, he went yard.

2.) He is eminently quotable. His first gem, and one for the ages: "Sometimes, when I hit a ball hard, I can hit it far away." Seriously. It is perfection its egomaniacal naivete, and also its, um, kind of scary hilarity.

3.) He already has a moniker, and it is all things good, and funny:

Wily Mo Pena, Super Genius.

I mean, we've all thought it, reading the box scores for Cincy or perusing the player stat pages, but he is now a Red Sox, and that means that one of MY players goes by the nickname Wily Mo Pena, Super Genius. This makes me happy beyond my ability to describe and if you're not getting it, well, I don't know what I can do for you. Just trust me; this is good.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Bit of a surprise for a Monday morning. I mean, I certainly knew that there was an excellent chance Arroyo would be dealt, but it always surprises me when things happen early on a Monday. Why aren't these people just drinking coffee and relating uninteresting tales from their early-to-mid-30s weekends?

I like the deal. In fact, I like it a lot. In my opinion, Arroyo was as good as he would ever get, and Pena has a ton of potential. In fact, looking at highlights of Wily Mo, one could argue that he IS a ton of potential. I am not trying to bag on Saturn Balls; I like him. The thing is, he couldn't get lefties out (at all - three year splits against him by LHH are .275/.338/.455), and he was getting killed every other start. His K/9 rate had dropped alarmingly from 2004 - 2005; guys were just figuring him out. If his curveball wasn't locating, it was over.

Pena on the other hand has some problems of his own, notably that for much of his MLB career he has never seen a pitch he didn't like. His astronimical (read: Cliff Johnson-esque) K rates support this crazy assertation. The thing is, and Theo alluded to this in today's report, he has had extremely poor developmental support in his career. He was signed to a major-league contract at 16 and had to be kept on the Reds' roster by age 20 since he was out of options, so he didn't really get a chance to develop as a player in his maturation years. Still, he seems to be improving, and despite his high K rates, his HR rates are very nearly the same as those of Big Papi and Manny over the last full season. He could very well be an utter monster by 2007. He played in the winter league in the DR, and his numbers were much much better: over 1.000 OPS and a 15:27 BB/K ratio. Granted, the sample size alert is going off all over the place, and the DR winter league is not the big leagues, but the kid seems to be confident that he can get better at taking pitches, and understands how that approach can help him. From the Dayton Daily News article (here):

"Pena said he can't wait for fans to witness the new, improved Wily Mo Pena, the one that developed this winter in the Dominican Republic Winter League.

'You'll see,' he said. 'Much different, much better. My swing is better. If I take the same approach I had in the D.R., everybody is going to see. More home runs. I was taking a lot of pitches, not swinging at bad pitches, getting my pitches to hit. And I was hitting balls all over the field.' "

Maybe I'm being a little too optimistic with Wily Mo, but c'mon. He spells his name with one "L". He spells it "wily", and that means cunning, and crafty, and according to one of my oldest postulates, kids always turn into their names. So I think he's going to get it.

The crappy part, kind of, is Arroyo's "hometown discount" deal. The Sox are going to get killed in the press for trading him after they said they probably wouldn't. As it actually turns out, Arroyo would have been the long man in the pen this year since Paps and Wells are most likely better. This means that in 2007 he'd have gone to arb and would probably have gotten less money than the current deal guarantees him for the next three. thanks to the trade he's in Cincy, sure, but at least he starts. Heck, in Cincy he's the #2. And even if he totally gags, he's making money for the next few years. So I'm not going to lose too much sleep over the "back-stabbing" angle, but I'm betting Shaughnessy goes ballistic, just because he can.

One last comment on this point. Ask yourself this: if you went in to sign the contract to buy a house and asked "does the foundation need repairs?" and the response was "probably not", would you sign? On some level, there has to be accountability on both sides.

Back to the deal...

The biggest detractors on this trade will hearken back to the old adage "you can never have too much pitching", and they have a point. The crux of this deal, in my opinion, hinges on two premises:

1) Dinardo gives you similar performance as your #6 starter / long-reliever (and can get lefties out, which Bronson could simply never do) until Lester is ready

2) Nixon is more likely to go down than the other players at risk in the deal(Schilling, Wells, Beckett) and once he does your market leverage is nil

Take that for what you will. Sitting here, analyzing this, I feel saddened that I am coming at it with such a business-like approach, because I think Arroyo is a good guy with class who loves the city of Boston, and that should count for something. Moreover, it bothers me that so few of the guys from 2004 are still around. The things is, what can you do? These guys are the 2006 Boston Red Sox, and we just have to embrace them. I just have to remember, we root for the laundry. Meet the new Sox; same as the old Sox.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Cool of the Grass (Man)

Well, we're getting down to it, and typically, there are lots of fun spring training subplots taking shape. Seriously, what is not to love about the baseball season starting anew? New players to root for, underdog young guys playing their hearts out trying to make the squad, Canucks lighting the world on fire beating Team USA and still getting demoted to Pawtucket in 18 days - it's all beautiful.

I'll cover off on some of the highlights thus far in ST...

1) The "Put It On My Tab In Hell Feel-Good Story" of the spring of course is Captain Cavechrist's shoulder problem. I love Johnny, and I will forever appreciate his heroics in 2004, but he plays for the Douchebags now. Plus, he pulled the "direspected me" card. I hate that card. It is complete and utter bullshit. What I would like to hear is an athlete come out once and say "In hindsight, I suppose I could have signed that deal that only paid me $10 Million freaking dollars a year, because I don't really have a problem living on that kind of money, and I loved that town. I guess I over-respected myself."

2) Fatty McFatFat is staying, and he's happy to be staying and finishing his career with a championship-caliber team, but he's pissed. Color me surprised. When is Wells not pissed? Honestly, every time I read a quote from him in the paper, and he sounds happy, I look around to see if I'm being filmed. The upside here is that in a couple days Selig will do something to take his mind off his spot in the rotation.

3) This is probably related to #2 above, but we will almost certainly unload a starter at some point. Reports are that it will be Arroyo, Clement, or Wells (in alpha order).

I am actually pleased that Clement is the least likely to go, because I think he is going to have a good year. It is physically impossible to perform worse than he did in the ALCS last year. I could go out and put up the line he put up. So I think psychologically he's hit bottom, and can start dealing with his fear.

Arroyo is young, cheap, and healthy, but has been teed off on in every appearance thus far. Teed off on by AA, AAA, and AAAA players, mind you. At this point we might, MIGHT be able to get Chip Ambres back for him. Huzzah. I assume he'll get back on track, and will probably fetch the most in return.

Wells, historically speaking, will get the most play. He throws down a bunch of innings, is a lefty, and is a crafty veteran who knows how to win. He also hides ribs and tater tots in his glove during games so he can stay in shape (round) and is coming off a knee injury. Bad knees don't like supporting giant piles of fat, so there is a small question mark there.

I myself am for keeping these guys until June to see what pans out. Hopefully one or all have made headway, and we can assume that every Cubs and Yankees starter will be on the DL by then.

3) What do we do with the Italian Scullion, Tony Graffanino? He deserves to play everyday somewhere, just not here. The problem is, noone needs a 2B. Hell, Jim Bowden has two of them in the starting lineup. Tony deserves better than his current situation but the Sox need to get some value for him, and it will be tough to do so, given that noone would give up a draft pick to sign him as an FA.

4) We seem to have a small issue at third. Who will play there - Mike Lowell, or the white chalk outline of Mike Lowell's corpse? When Ken Rosenthal is saying things like you've lost your "body quickness", it's not good. He sits behind a desk for a living, so I'm guessing he's not playing ping pong for China in the next Olympics either. If he's saying you're slow, you might just be slow. Looking on the bright side here, at least this loss of quickness hasn't impacted Lowell's mind or spirit yet. That would be tragic.

5) Related to #4; if in fact Lowell is done, and assuming Youks has no problem stepping on the outline of his corpse all day, can JT Snow play first everyday? According to the aforementioned Rosenthal, JT, a professional athlete, "lacks athleticism"! You can clearly see how this would be a problem. It would be like me unearthing the dire news that Ken Rosenthal lacked "reportercism". How do they do their jobs? What I would do if I were Theo in this case would be to trade a pitcher for Soriano, then act outraged when Alfonso wouldn't switch to first base. That's how I would do it.

6) Keith Foulke is getting injections in his knees to prepare him for the season. If Foulke return to 2004 form (and his knees look like Lisa Rinna) that is huge for the Sox. If he accomplishes this without angering every Sox fan in the northeast, it will be even better. Boston players who hate Boston is sort of becoming a trouble spot. Boston players and fans who hate the Boston media, also a small problem.

Those are my key points for discussion at this point. Some people seem to be spending a lot of time worrying about who our back-up catcher will be, but I'm here to tell you, it's Josh Bard. Look around the league - there is no group of people on earth as homogeneous as the back-up catcher. They are like the security guards (also known as "red shirts") on Star Trek. They serve one purpose: that's what they do. When they go away, you don't care. Dougie was an extreme aberration here because he had one big year in 2004 that will remain an outlier in his statistical dossier forever. Also, there was the perception that he scored a lot of tail. Once we traded him, we were in the realm of the Bardhuckerty, and at that point it no longer matters.

I'm winded. Let's get to April!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

And a-waaay we go!

I have arbitrarily determined that today is the day I will celebrate the return of the boys of summer. It probably goes without saying that I have been relentlessly reading, researching, and conjuring fantasies about all aspects of the off-season and spring training, but I was waiting for that ineluctable internal spark to spur me to return to the blogging venue. Rudy Seanez finally pissed me off enough to drive me back. Let's begin.

I think I speak for many of us when I say I've been waiting for the other shoe to drop, somewhere. Wells, certainly; Graf, certainly; Arroyo and Clement maybe. We have guys that want out, and we still need a solid 4th OF, unless you have more faith than I do that Dustan Mohr is the answer (which is not to say I'm anti-Mohr, I just think we can do better, and get younger). The shoe is not dropping. Wells came around this week, and made a sensible decision in my mind. Hell, he's about done, he's on a great team in the very heart of all that is baseball - what better way to go out? Next year he can get anonymously loaded all he wants. This year is the year to go for it.

That's not really important, though, in my mind. At this point I don't advocate making a trade. We have pitching depth, and that's excellent. We have some old pitchers, some older even than me. They could snap like twigs, at any moment. We have infield depth, and veteran leadership, and I think that's great for a playoff run too. We're a little light in the outfield, but if the Archangel Gabriel returns from injury, Mohr plays up to par, and we find a spot for Willie Harris on the roseter I think we're fine.

The thing to remember about this team is that as of right now this is a great "paper team". If you take everyone's best year, they are phenomenal. Even taking PECOTA averages this team projects to score a lot of runs. They've upgraded the rotation and the bullpen. From a front office perspective the 2006 Boston Red Sox are a solid contender. But there are a lot of Ifs on this squad, and we've heard them all. Will Lowell rebound, has Loretta's injury sapped him, can Gonzalez hit at all, will Youks adapt to playing everyday, can Crisp hit leadoff and play CF, will Foulke and Schilling regain their healthy form, etc., etc. In the end I think the roster's flexibility, and the quality of the guys they have on the squad in those positions in question, will be the difference if this team hits obstacles. In baseball they usually do.

The benefit of all this flux, from the fans' perspective, is that we will get to enjoy (hopefully) watching each of these sub-plots play out as the season progresses. We have a chance to root for several smaller but meaningful victories over the course of the season, each of which can contribute to the greater goal of a world championship. Plus, our high-level prospects are starting to flourish, and that will add some spice to the campaign. Finally, we still have some core members remaining to hold up 2004 as an example of what could be, and to take us back to the days when anything was possible.

It's too difficult to predict how the season will end in terms of the standings and playoff berths, but after some careful thinking, and some positive adjustments, I've come to one conclusion: this should be a very exciting year to be a Sox fan. Now that the Curse Monkey's off our backs, we can just focus on watching a great group of players try to catch a falling star again. And these guys have a chance, they really do.