Tuesday, June 13, 2006

I Dream of Boomer

Last night I had a dream I never could have seen coming.

A brusque night at the home park, in the heat of the pennant race. A-Rod steps into the box. He's trying to lift his team out of a 2-0 deficit in the 8th. He waits for the pitch with a full count.

Big Boomer takes a deep breath on the hill. He winds up, rears his old arm back and wheels around, aided by the momentum of his great gut. A looping deuce spins off Boomer's hand and bites down through the outside edge of the plate. A-Rod admires it all the way.

BAMMMMM. The punchout is one fit to drop A-Rod to the mat. Inning over. Wells walks back to the dugout with his head down. He clears his head because that's what you have to do when you're spinning a gem.

- Then I woke up. -

And I realized, sadly, that what I had witnessed will only ever be a dream. The recent liner that Boomer took off his ailing knee gave him a deep bone bruise, and significantly lowered the chances of him ever throwing another major-league pitch. Right now, the outlook for his return is grim.

So is the state of the Red Sox rotation, after coming to terms with the fact that the man expected to bolster the back of their rotation is not going to come.

Luckily for the Sox, neither the Yankees nor the Blue Jays have been able to take control of the division lately, which has afforded them some leeway in solving the pitching problem. But it's still unresolved -- how will they do it?

There are a few scenarios.

Stick with David Pauley. He's had three starts, none of which have been won, and gave a quality outing only once. Continuing to pitch Pauley here just isn't the right thing to do. It's comparable to insisting on starting DiNardo, which the Sox eventually figured out wasn't bright either. We're not the Royals, and we're not going to get anywhere by playing like them. Pauley might be useful down the road, but now is not the time.

Go with Jon Lester. Lester made his first start last week with and pitched respectably, having to wait out a long rain delay before making his major league debut. Scouts have said that, despite being the Sox' top prospect, he's not ready to make the jump to the majors yet. Who knows, he might thrive under pressure -- these are the kind of situations that turn prospects into the real deal. But whatever the Sox do, Lester can't be rushed. Young arms just can't take the heat of the long major-league season, and the Sox should take a lesson from the Cubs on this one. Lester will be good, but if too much strain is put on his arm right now, he could get burnt out later in the summer.

Use both. Interesting idea. This would take some strain off the young arms and provide some insurance should the starter flounder early. Pauley Lester in the back of the rotation might be a nice inning-eating innovation.

Reinstate Papelbon. I supported this idea earlier in the season and still do to some degree. But especially now, the bullpen is too weak to remove Paps from it. He's the only proven stopper of the whole bunch, and until the other pitchers take hold of the reigns (which may never happen), Papelbon has to remain the go-to guy in the 9th. The Red Sox hope Craig Hansen can take over sooner than later, but he's yet to find a groove.

Start starting Hansen. He's been starting in AA for some time, and is worth a shot in the rotation. Perhaps, but not right now. For one, the bullpen he's in is especially weak. And with Pauley and Lester hanging around the rotation, they might as well go with one of those two before trying Hansen in that role. He should get a shot if the spot remains open for a while, though, if he pitches well in setup.

Get a proven starter. This option will be expensive, especially in terms of minor-league talent given up. It would likely include Lester or another of the Sox' very top farmhands. If we have a chance to trade for Dontrelle Willis or a comparable good, young arm, it might be viable (however painful) to part with good minor-league talent. The Sox should not, however, mortgage their prospects for a mediocre hurler. Lester's almost ready, so I'd rather see him propelled into the role than traded.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Sox Stock Up in Draft

Red Sox 2nd pick, RHP Daniel Bard -- picture from redsox.com

On the dreary day of a rainout, following two straight losses to the Yankees that caused a drop out of first in the AL East, the only spot of solace to be found was in the Red Sox' 2006 draft class.

The sox drafted 27 pitchers and 27 position players, with an emphasis on raw power (both on the mound and at the plate) and good on-base skills.

They say it's not a sprint, it's a marathon. Well, the MLB amateur draft is 2 marathons, and Baseball America recaps each of the 50 rounds.

1. OF Jason Place, HS (SC)
Place is a solid all-around hitter, baserunner and fielder, in the mold of Jason Bay / Bobby Abreu. Place has a solid set of tools to work with and expand upon as he progresses through the minors. His development may be quick, but it won't be rushed -- just of high school, he has plenty of time to hone his skills down on the farm without pressure to help the major-league squad.

2. RHP Daniel Bard, UNC
Bard's performance as one of the nation's best starters was largely eclipsed by teammate Andrew Miller, who went 6th overall to the Tigers. Bard has been dominant at times, though inconsistent. He has a power arm, a solid arsenal of pitches to work with, and the desirable durability of a college pitcher. The Red Sox know how to treat their prize prospects, and Bard won't be rushed.

3. LHP Kris Johnson, Wichita St. -- (Shockers story)
Johnson is a hard-throwing lefty with good stuff, but has had injury trouble. He recently underwent Tommy John surgery, which isn't all that discouraging seeing how that procedure has rejuvenated many a fastball in recent years.

4. RHP Caleb Clay, HS (AL)
Clay was recently converted from an outfielder to a starter (think Jesse Foppert) and was co-ace of his very successful high school club. Like most such converts, Clay lives and dies with his impressive heater. He'll absolutely need to learn a couple more pitches, but he'll have plenty of time to do it. His ultimate role will depend on his ability to learn and stay healthy, and it's much too early to project it.

The first 4 picks

5. RHP Justin Masterson, SD St. -- (Aztecs story)
Masterson shone in both San Diego and the Cape Cod league, where he developed a rapport with the Red Sox and the local community. Not quite the power pitcher that the first three picks are, Masterson still has a good fastball, good command, high K rates and a big frame to work with. Masterson's downside is that he lacks the arsenal of a major-league starter, and coming from college, doesn't have as long as Clay to develop one. He's known as a character guy, and projects well into at least a relief role.

6. 1B Aaron Bates, NC St. -- (Wolfpack story)
Bates is an athletic physical specimen who put up Helton-like numbers at NC State. He set the college's all-time record for batting average while delivering nice power numbers, and figures to do the same against comparable opponents in the low minors.

7. RHP Bryce Cox, Rice
Cox fits the mold that the Red Sox had been fond of the whole draft -- big frame, power arm. Cox's fastball has been called "extremely hard," and he has experience working from both the rotation and the bullpen. His strikeout rates are good, and he could be a very versatile piece in a bullpen.

8. C Jon Still, NC St.
Like teammate Aaron Bates selected before him, Still is a masher. He hits for a nice average with lots of home runs and even more doubles, which are a good predicter of future power. Still played mostly DH at NC state, which probably means he doesn't have much of a future behind the plate. First base looks more likely.

9. LHP Dustin Richardson, TX Tech
Richardson didn't put up great numbers at Texas Tech, but was solid. He's huge and from college, though, both of which bode well for his future. The Red Sox are taking lots of power arms, which shows that they have lots of confidence in their pitching coaches to teach 2nd, 3rd, and 4th pitches. Richardson is a project, and we'll see how the Sox do with him.

10. 3B Zach Daeges, Creighton
Daeges is the full package. He hits for average and power, plays all over the field, and is one of the nation's best at drawing the walk. He's also smart, which is no small indicator of potential. The Red Sox love on-base machines like Youkilis, and the hope is that Daeges will be that for them, with better defense.

Other picks of notice

Round 14. PH (Power Hitter) Matt LaPorta, UF
LaPorta has led the Gators in home runs for a couple of years, and is perhaps the nation's best raw power. Why so low? He's not a senior, and his agent is Scott Boras. That means that if he and the Red Sox don't come to terms (which is more than likely) he can and will go back to Florida and try again next year.

Round 48. RHP Josh Papelbon, North Florida
It will be seen later whether this submarine-style closer has a chance in the minors, but he tremendous upside. What upside? The Papelbon Gene. He's the brother of phenom Jonathan Papelbon, and that alone was enough for the Sox to justify taking a chance on the releiver in the second-to-last round.

Friday, June 02, 2006

...And a Few More Injuries for the Road

The day off for the Red Sox was a gift from heaven.

Right when they needed it the most, a respite came. Now it's back on the road against MLB-best Detroit, fresh off a series that had Red Sox players dropping like flies.

We already knew about LHP David Wells, LHP Lenny DiNardo, and RHP Mike Timlin going down. Now RF Wily Mo Pena's "minor wrist injury" -- very similar to the one that sidelined David Ortiz for 2 months in 1997 -- is dragging him off to surgery and a consequent 6-8 week vacation. Varitek's been hitting poorly, Ortiz has looked tired in the past few series (from doing what?) and Ramirez has sustained some bumps and bruises despite heating up at the plate.

Apart from the normal wear and tear, a couple other serious injuries are looming a little too close for comfort. 3B Mike Lowell, who has sparked the Red Sox offense so far this year while contributing to the team's league-leading fielding percentage, pulled up lame the other night after a groundout to first. The indication is that Lowell's hamstring is the weak link here, and they're known to be particularly bothersome long after the initial pull or strain.

Another potential problem is the foot of 2B Mark Loretta, who, despite going yard in the series finale, ran gingerly around the foot in the field. Ask Pena, Foulke, and Crisp; sometimes these "little" injuries aren't so little after all. One can't help but wonder what would happen if either Lowell or Loretta aggravated their conditions, and it's not a pretty picture:

3B Kevin Youkilis
SS Alex Gonzalez
2B Alex Cora
1B J.T. Snow

We'd be able to turn 2, and not much else. Which might come in handy if the Sox need to start RHP David Pauley again in the back of their beat-up rotation, judging by the hittability and lack of control he showed in his major-league debut.

The point is, Cora, Snow, Gonzalez and Pauley are not names you find in a playoff-caliber lineup and rotation. The Red Sox walk a thin and treacherous line for the next 7 road games, and if Loretta or Lowell goes down it may well turn out to be a plank.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Injury Bug Forces Sox to Improvise

With the Red Sox setting off on a strenuous 10-game road trip, we the fans are about to see whether they can find some band-aids to patch their cuts and bruises, or if they will limp into second place on the road.

In the same few days when CF Coco Crisp returned from a long DL stint, 4 other sox replaced him, and one more was optioned down.

RHP Mike Timlin (right shoulder strain), LHP David Wells (hit by comebacker), LHP Lenny DiNardo (neck strain???), and RF Wily Mo Pena (wrist injury) were all inactive for the first two games against the Blue Jays in which the Sox went 0-2 behind Clement and Beckett.

The real challenge for the Red Sox now will be filling the shoes of the walking wounded.

There are reports that the Sox have been scouting designated Twins RHP Kyle Lohse, though he walks far too many batters to be a real asset.

Slated to replace Wells tonight is AA righthander David Pauley, making his Major League debut. Like DiNardo, his key will be keeping the ball low, and hoping that the Sox lineup bashes lots of run support.

Crisp has jumped back into the lineup and will fill the void left by Pena, though the Sox will certainly miss that power option.

The pressure is on with the Yankees only .5 games back, and the Blue Jays silently keeping pace, back 1.5 games. If the players come together as a team to stop the leaks, it might be done. Otherwise this might be a Titanic disaster of a road trip.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Where Will Coco Go?

With Coco Crisp's return from the DL aimed for Monday's matchup with the Blue Jays, one monumental question has yet to be answered -- where will Coco go?

The Red Sox have four legitimate, everyday-quality outfielders, as well as a couple capable backups in Willie Harris and Dustan Mohr. And though we love Manny, Coco, Wily Mo, and Trot, the fact remains that there's only room enough for three. None of these guys figure to tolerate riding the pine, which means that unless Pena and Nixon platoon in right, one must be the odd man out -- of Boston.

And of course the first instinct is to have Nixon and Pena platoon in right, but this turns out to be a very inefficient solution. Pena is thriving with so many at-bats, and Nixon is hitting well thus far too -- in fact, their averages, homers, runs scored and RBI are nearly identical. But cost is going to be a large factor in this proposed solution, and no team can feel good with a $7.5 million situational hitter. To cap it off, this platoon would make absolutely no sense from a baseball standpoint either. Isn't one of the two players supposed to be able to hit a lefty? Well, yeah. And for as bad a rap as Trot gets, his splits are acutally much improved from previous years. Pena, the proposed lefty-masher, has an ugly split this year, hitting .190 off southpaws. If the ultimate decision is for Nixon and Pena to "share time" in right, it would be at least tolerable. The justification for a platoon here just doesn't exist.

So, if you want to effectively spend $10 million on a right fielder with a good average and a hit-or-miss power stroke, stunt Pena's development and fail to reap the full benefit of Trot's contract year, feel free to put Wily Mo Nixon in right. Somehow that just doesn't seem like the most viable option, though. And with Manny and Crisp all but set in stone in center and left, it's too small for two in right. Especially with Wily Mo Pena there. But to trade Trot?

Unthinkable -- at first, anyway. But the more you think about the possibility, the more appealing it becomes, for a slew of reasons. Trot has good trade value that's been getting even better thanks the the impressive numbers he's been posting. He's in the last year of his contract, a trading win-win: we would receive compensation for him where he would otherwise have walked, and he will be especially attractive to suitors for lack of a cumbersome contract.

What kind of a deal would the Sox pull? That would depend on how many other variables played out, but no matter how the cards fall there will be any number of possibilities. Potential trading partners? Teams with 1)money, 2)a chance at the playoffs, and 3)need for an OF. We can only imagine a few:

Houston Astros: a poor outfield isn't helping the Astros chances in the NL Central, where they are already 6 games back. The Sox would definitely be interested in RHP Equiziel Astacio, or farther down, LHP Troy Patton.

Texas Rangers: Don't necessarily need Nixon in the outfield, but could use some stability from the DH. RP Akinori Otsuka would be highly-coveted by the Red Sox if they would rather get immediate bullpen help. If they can wait, Texas has an abundance of minor-league righties to offer, as well as minor-league OF Freddy Guzman and SS Joaquin Arias.

St. Louis Cardinals: The outfield could use some bolstering for the playoff run, and though RHP Anthony Reyes is likely (or at least should be) untouchable, righty RP Adam Wainwright would fit nicely into the Sox pen. The Cardinals' top 6 prospects are all RHPs, so trading one wouldn't hurt as much as it might other teams.

LA Dodgers: They have a decent outfield, but it taking on Nixon in the playoff hunt would be a significant upgrade. 3B Andy LaRoche would be a nice additition to the farm.

San Diego Padres: The upgrade to Nixon (with the Red Sox assuming some contract) could net C George Kottaras (Varitek isn't getting any younger). For immediate help, right-handed releiver Scott Cassidy would be downright stingy near the back of the bullpen.

To trade Nixon, the Sox' second-longest tenured player, would be to go against every natural instinct of a Red Sox fan. But if it feels wrong to trade Trot, it feels... wrong-er to keep him. Especially with Roger Clemens narrowing down his choices as he prepares for a comeback, the $7.5 million would just be much better-spent elsewhere than on a part-time right fielder.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A Monday on the Monster

What's big, imposing, green, friendly to right-handed hitters, and has two concession stands and a bathroom on top of it? They call it the Monstah, and while it may be scary to pitchers facing Manny Ramirez, it is a blast of vantage point for lucky Sox fans. After watching Monday's opener of the Sox-Yanks series from atop the big wall, I'm convinced that it is the only way to properly watch a Yankees game in May.

I've seen games lots of ways. I've sat way up in the bleachers, right next to the bullpen, behind the Pesky Pole. I've sat in both sides of the grandstand, both sides of the loge box, and rested my drink atop the Sox' dugout. I've sat along the sloping left field wall, in the front, in the back, in the sun, in the shade, during the day, at night, and have and upgraded to better seats more than a few times. I've driven to the park, taken the T from 5 different stops, and walked in from both Kenmore and Fenway. Point being, after enough experience at the park to have an opinion on a good many seats, the most unique may have been the seat without a seat at all.

Don't get me wrong -- sitting five feet from Big Papi, hanging out with the bleacher creatures, and watching from the infield are all great in their own right (any seat in Fenway is), but standing atop the fabled monster is a feeling that you just have to experience to understand.

Pre-game batting practice is a fitting welcome, with Manny, Lowell, and Youkilis belting souveneirs sky-high and up into the four rows of seats. It's a pretty cool perspective when home runs are hit directly toward you instead of away. In fact, the whole view was much better than I expected -- perfect, with no obstruction even from the last row. The aerial viewpoint gave me a newfound respect for Cora, Lowell, and (grudgingly) Jeter's superb infield play that isn't done justice by the standard TV angles.

I thought I'd have to stake a claim in order to get a space at the standing room bar, but that didn't turn out to be the case. There was plenty of space on top of the wall and, once you were admitted to the section, a comparably small and relaxed security presence. If you want to move down a few rows to some empty barstools in the top of the third, no one is likely to object. I didn't bother because the $35 standing room seats were more than good enough -- the Yankees fan standing to my right paid $250 on eBay for the same spot.

But I wouldn't have sold my ticket even if I had known it would spin a $215 profit; the night was perfect. With the cold wind blowing at our backs through the open fence and Schilling mowing through the Yankee lineup, the series opener seemed more like an ALCS game 1 than a normal Monday in May. But I was hardly surprised -- any Sox fan knows that Fenway's greatest gift is making every game feel like it means the world.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

MLB Roundup, 5/21

Photo mlb.com


Barry Bonds went yard. He hit the ball so hard it couldn't be weighed down by the hype.

Michael Barrett decked A.J. Pierzynski after he was bowled over at the plate. Barrett has to expect that on a close play at the plate, but apparantly he took issue with what happened after the initial collision. Either way, a beatdown ensued.

Pujols won't stop. He has 21. Can he give Bonds' 73 mark a run?

Red Sox
Josh Beckett went yard, drove in 2, and gave the credit to a lucky swing.

Abe Alvarez was recalled from Pawtucket and will releive DiNardo's start today.

There are talks of Cesar Izturis becoming a trade possibility at SS.

David Wells finally pitched a simulated game and will be embarking on a minor-league rehab stint.

J.T. Snow wants out of Boston, with Youkilis performing well and getting all the action at 1B.

Former Red Sox SS Hanley Ramirez will be returning to the lineup in Florida after a minor injury, where he has torn up the NL this year.