2010 AL East Preview: Sox, Yankees reloaded

As Spring Training finally dawns, we are looking at two teams at the top of the division with significant turnover from this offseason. The Yankees have shed several older, oft-injured players and added a powerful left-handed bat in OF Curtis Granderson. For their part, Boston has decided to focus on run prevention with the signing of John Lackey and even sacrificed OBP in order to improve their team defense in this “bridge year”. The Tampa Rays have another year of development and polish on their young and talented core. Meanwhile, Toronto has gone into rebuilding mode with the trade of Roy Halladay to the Phillies, and the Orioles’ youth movement is on the cusp of paying dividends. What can we expect to see in 2010? Read more of this post

Hot Stove 2010: Options for a 1B/3B

If the trade of Mike Lowell goes through, the Sox could stand to add a corner infielder. With Max Ramirez added to a slew of players to fill the C/1B/3B/DH roles, the Sox don’t NEED to make a move, yet they probably should. My logic goes like this: Ramirez is labeled as a catcher, but is he our catcher of the future? No. He’s poor defensively. Victor Martinez can catch maybe 60-70% of our games, but we need a good defensive guy to complement him. Do we see Ramirez as our future 1B or DH? Possibly, but at 5-11, 180 his ceiling might not be what we’re looking for. He looks like a trading chip to me.

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Quashing rumors: Halladay, V-Mart and more

It’s trading time, and a lot of teams are deciding right now whether they want to buy or sell. Here are some rumored players and why they are or are not likely to become Red Sox:

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Time to explore other options at third base

Now that he’s officially a free agent, Mike Lowell has been offered a number of four-year deals, at least one of which falls in the $55-60M range. It is thought that the Yankees, Cardinals, Braves and Angels have all come calling. The Red Sox have not extended a better offer than their initial 3 years and $36M, and this all but ensures that Lowell will play with a new team in 2008.

It is very sad that we will be without Lowell’s leadership next season, but it’s not all bad. For Boston, this means that:

1) They will receive a first-round pick from the signing team and a sandwich pick for Lowell, who is a type-A free agent. You almost can’t blame Theo for choosing this route, given how well the Red Sox have drafted in recent years. Adding another Jacoby Ellsbury and Clay Buchholz to the organization would soften the loss of Lowell, yes.

2) We need to explore the free agent market or a trade to fill that hole at third. Here are three possible ways we could choose to fly:

Economy Class
There are a number of options the front office could employ to just plug the hole with what we already have. The Red Sox do not have anyone in their farm system ready to fill this hole. Jed Lowrie, a middle infielder, could be a possibility; but starting a rookie with zero experience AND moving positions on him? Oakland or Minnesota, sure. But I don’t see the Sox taking a risk like that.

The next best option would be to put Kevin Youkilis back at third base, and have Chris Carter and Brandon Moss compete for the first base job. This could work out, but it could also end up flopping big time. I don’t see a World Championship team with our payroll settling for this, either.

There are some third basemen available, but not good fits for our club. Among free agents, there is Mike Lamb (offensive option) and Pedro Feliz (defensive option). Lamb has the stick, but is just barely average at third, and hasn’t played there full-time since being a rookie in 2000. Feliz is a defensive genius and a right-handed batter with some pop, but his lifetime .288 OBP won’t fly in this organization.

Business Class
In a strange free agent year, there are realy no middle-class options at third this offseason, which means that Boston will have to look to trade. With the availability of a lot of big free agents in centerfield this offseason, it may take teams some time to realize that they aren’t going to be able to afford a Torii Hunter or an Andruw Jones. That makes Coco Crisp some mighty tasty trade bait, and he might fetch us one of these middle-of-class guys in return.

Scott Rolen was a perennial All-Star until injury severely limited two of his last three seasons. He’s got 3 years left on his contract at $12M/year (coincidence that this is exactly what the Sox offered Lowell?), which makes him scary to most teams, but not the Red Sox. The Cards are said to be averse to eating any money from his contract, and Theo would oblige if they lower the asking price just a bit. I like Rolen as a good match; he’s a right-handed veteran power bat who plays excellent defense. He’s a bit of a risk, but his lifetime .372 OBP is a nice fit, and he’s actually one year younger than Lowell. The Cardinals want starting pitching in return; would St. Louis take some package including Julian Tavarez, who is locked in for less than $4M, or would we consider dealing Jon Lester?

Some have suggested that Garrett Atkins might be available. While the 28-year old slugger poses an interesting option, at least two writers say that the Rox are not going to trade him this offseason (standard disclaimer here about being blown away by an offer).

The Chicago White Sox have two players who can play third in Joe Crede and Josh Fields, and Crede’s name has come up in trade talks already this offseason. The 30-year old righty plays excellent defense, and has demonstrated some power, though he missed most of last season with an injury. His career .259/.305/.446 line is not that encouraging, but he did have a great 2006 and the White Sox could be interested in Crisp. Crede made about $5M in 2007, is arbitration eligible and under control of Chicago.

Yet another player that has been mentioned is Texas’ Hank Blalock. The Rangers are seeking a good return on the 27-year old, who has one year left on his contract at $6M, and a $6.2M option for 2009. Blalock has a .273/.337/.462 career line and has been about league average on defense the past three years. Texas is another team that has shown a lot of interest in Coco.

First Class
Then there are the big names, the ones who will cost us, either now or in the future.

Alex Rodriguez needs no introduction. The guy has said so many things about what he wants and who he wants to play for that I don’t care what he says anymore. The only thing that hasn’t changed is his egomaniacal need to become the highest paid athlete ever. First the Yankees wouldn’t touch him, but then neither would anyone else at $350M, so the Yanks have come crawling back on their hands and knees. Word is he’s nearly ready to sign a new 10-year, $275M deal with a lot of incentives to stay in pinstripes. If the price had come down to 8 years and $225M or so, I think the Sox should have got him. But, I’m also kind of relieved he won’t be playing here.

Then there’s Miguel Cabrera, the 25-year old phenom who hits everything and eats everything in sight. He’s got two more years under control (at about $11M and $15M), and then would become a free agent. The Marlins are asking for four premium prospects in return for Cabrera, and they’re likely to get two and a half or three from either the Angels or the Dodgers. Cabrera is a butcher at third, and would play at first base if he came to Boston. However, with the Fish asking for Buchholz, Ellsbury AND Lester, I am not optimistic.

Outside the box
If the Sox choose, they could pursue first basemen with the idea of shifting Youk to third. This opens up a huge realm of possibilities, including Richie Sexson, Carlos Pena, Conor Jackson and some old Epstein favorites, including Todd Helton and Ryan Shealy.

UPDATE: Could Lowell come back?
Multiple reports have surfaced suggesting that all those four-year offers never really were offered, and with the Yankees ready to re-sign A-Rod, Lowell could indeed come back to Boston. The Yankees say that they would consider putting Lowell at first base if they sign him, but I don’t see why they want him that badly. I think they are just trying to up the price for the Red Sox.

2007 World Series Game 3: Sox squash comeback bid, 10-5

It all started off right. Daisuke Matsuzaka looked pretty sharp, turning in 5 1/3 innings of scoreless ball. The tablesetters kept getting on base, with Josh Fogg just unable to get either Jacoby Ellsbury or Dustin Pedroia out (or much anyone else, for that matter), the offense exploding for six runs in the third, and even Dice-K contributing an RBI single.

The thick infield grass contributed a lot, starting from the first ball in play, a swinging bunt by Ellsbury that just stopped down the third base line. I think Mo Vaughn could have run that one out, even today. BTW, what is Tim McCarver talking about? He said that the Sox have great speed on the bases with Pedroia at first.

Fogg went on to get David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez and Mike Lowell on fly balls. At Mile High, you have to forget the HR, go opposite field, and just hit it where they ain’t. A lot of balls went for doubles that would be singles in many other parks (like Julio Lugo‘s 2nd inning double), because the outfielders have to play so far back to cover all that real estate.

Top of the 3rd, the Sox mount a six-run rally. Fogg doesn’t even last 3 innings, and I’m not surprised. I’m not sure I would have walked Manny to load the bases with no outs, but Lowell made sure Clint Hurdle paid for that one. BTW, Manny was safe on that play at home. I don’t know how Ted Barrett could have seen it from behind him.

Dice-K was cruising, not giving up hits or walking people. He opened the bottom of the 3rd by nearly beheading Garrett Atkins. That’s most likely due to the long offensive inning and the cold. It was in the mid-40s at the time of the first pitch, and dropped into the 30s by the end of the game. This was a factor for the pitchers for sure.

Bottom of the 6th, Kevin Youkilis is in the game, and Big Papi is out. Could be a little early, but it was a six-run lead, and Ortiz had just been to bat in the top of the frame. Matsuzaka got one more out. then he walked Todd Helton and Atkins back to back, and Francona chose to go to Javier Lopez to face Brad Hawpe. The whole time, I’m thinking, WHY? He’s a LOOGY who has been awful against lefties, and Hawpe can’t hit the fastball; it’s too early for Hideki Okajima so I’m thinking Manny Delcarmen here. I don’t mind using Lopez in a new inning, but with inherited runners?

Lopez comes in, doesn’t record even one out, and allows two men to score. Tito has to go to Mike Timlin to end the frame, but not before a really, really long out by Ryan Spilborghs to deep centerfield and a near hit by Jeff Baker that Lugo leapt and just manged to snag in the webbing of his glove. 415 ft to the fence seems kinda ridiculous, but it really saved us here. This is one honkin’ big ballpark.

Bottom of the 7th, Timlin allows two singles, and is lifted for Okajima, forcing a double switch: Coco Crisp goes into center, and Ellsbury replaces J.D. Drew in right. Matt Holliday smacks the first pitch he sees (a heater right over the plate) WAY past the centerfield fence, and suddenly it’s a 6-5 game. This inning seems to last forever, but Okajima finally manages to get the third out. It looks like he just needed some more time to warm up.

Top of the 8th, the Sox answer. No Ortiz? No problem. Lugo walks with one out, Crisp singles, and Ellsbury and Pedroia follow up with doubles of their own against a tough lefty in Brian Fuentes. Ellsbury’s pop fly hits right down the right field line, and the sliding Hawpe just can’t quite get to it. That’s a lot of speed on the basepaths (minus Pedroia), and they all get home. 9-5, Sox.

Delcarmen starts the 8th, but gets into a bit of trouble with 2 outs, so they go to Jonathan Papelbon early. One pitch to Holliday, fly ball, inning over.

Top of the 9th, give credit to Lowell for making a great heads up baserunning play for the second game in a row. After Alex Cora moved him up to second, Lowell used an opportunity to steal third base uncontested. This is big, slow, lumbering Mike Lowell. And with one out, Jason Varitek is able to bring him home with a sac fly to center. Paps closes the door in the bottom of the 9th, and it’s now 3-0 Sox.

Ellsbury ended 4-5 with three doubles. He didn’t pound the ball so much, but used the lines and his speed to his advantage. I am really enjoying seeing Ellsbury/Pedroia hitting 1-2, as they could conceivably be in those spots for 2008 and beyond. The skill, determination and spark that they bring is really exciting after the failed Lugo leadoff experiment.

Now Jon Lester gets his chance to seal the deal tomorrow, in Game 4 of the Series. I really hope he does it, but if not, I don’t worry too much with Beckett on the mound Monday. Sorry, Denver. The rally towels didn’t work for Cleveland either, BTW. I guess it’s time for you guys to throw them in now.

2007 World Series Game 2: Sox win a pitching duel, 2-1

It was another disheartening loss for the Rockies tonight, though in a different way this time. So close. In what could be his last start for the Boston Red Sox, Curt Schilling turned in an outing to remember against the Colorado Rockies. After hitting Willy Taveras and allowing an infield hit to Matt Holliday, a throwing error by Mike Lowell allowed the runners to move up to second and third. Todd Helton grounded out to his counterpart Kevin Youkilis, scoring the Rockies’ only run of the night. Schilling proceeded to go 5 1/3 innings, scattering 4 hits and 2 walks on 82 pitches. He was hittable, allowing the leadoff hitters on board in 4 of 5 innings; but he was effective, getting key outs on guys all night.

On the other side, starter Ubaldo Jimenez used his 98 mph fastball and and good breaking ball to good effect. With the Sox coming out very aggresive, Jimenez held the Sox hitless for three innings. I think the logic was that maybe he would start out trying to get first-pitch strikes, and maybe Jimenez would leave something over the plate. After the first time through the lineup, however, Boston turned the patience back on and drew 5 walks off the wild righty. Jimenez threw two pitches behind the heads of Youkilis and Julio Lugo, and had numerous balls in the dirt or way outside. Give credit to Yorvit Torrealba for preventing several wild pitches during this one.

Lowell rounding second baseThe offensive hero of the game was Lowell, with two key plays that produced both runs for Boston. With the Sox behind 1-0, he was able to to take third on a single by J.D. Drew because he caught Brad Hawpe napping over in right field. As Hawpe sidled over to the ball, not charging it, Lowell turned it on going around second, and beat a hurried throw. Huge heads up play. That allowed Jason Varitek to score him with a sacrifice fly, tying it at one apiece.

Lowell’s GW doubleThe next time up, Lowell had Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz at first and second, and he cranked a 2-strike, 2-out breaking ball through the left side of the infield for a double and the game-winning RBI. What a player. Did you see Manny almost get thrown out at third on that one? What’s he doing?

Schilling was able to command the ball just enough, but got into a jam in the 6th inning. After Kazuo Matsui popped out, he allowed a single to Holliday and walked Helton. Call to the bullpen. Hideki Okajima comes in and defuses an important situation, getting Garrett Atkins to ground out and then fanning Brad Hawpe on three pitches. He keeps going and pitches 2 1/3 on the night, keeping the Rox quiet. No runs, no hits and four K’s for Okajima, what an outing!

Jonathan Papelbon in, top of the 8th. One of the most heads up play of the game was the pickoff of Holliday at first base. It prevents Helton from hitting as the winning run. In the ninth, Paps comes back out throwing 97-98 mph fastballs, and he strikes out Helton to start. HELTON. Atkins flies out to centerfield, and Hawpe swings and misses from the heels to end it. I swear I see smoke trailing off the ball as it zips by these guys.

And just like that, the Red Sox are up 2 games to none on the Colorado Rockies. I just don’t see Josh Fogg and Aaron Cook, who hasn’t pitched for over a month, able to even it up, so there will be some real pressure on Colorado these next few games (remember the last guy who tried to come off the DL for the playoffs? Clemens or somebody?).

Since we won’t have the luxury of a DH in Colorado, there is some debate about who should sit; in my mind, it’s not that complicated. We want to protect Papi’s knee, so we will sit him for one game. First base should not see much action when (if) Josh Beckett starts Game 5; however, that’s lefty Jeff Francis. Cook is an extreme groundball pitcher, so Papi would likely have to run the bases a little more in Game 4 vs Game 3, so here’s what I’d suggest:

Game 3: Ortiz/Lowell
Game 4: Youkilis/Lowell
Game 5: Ortiz/Lowell (Youkilis)

If Papi’s knee acts up, Youkilis could always play Game 5 as well. As for the third baseman for Game 5, Lowell should definitely get first dibs for his defense at the hot corner.

The Rockies bullpen also did a good job, and I was impressed with the way Brian Fuentes threw the ball. But they had to use four pitchers in relief again, because of Jimenez’s short outing. They really need innings from their Game 3 guy, Fogg.

One thing that bothers me. Why does Eric Byrnes look so disheveled after the game? He’s in jeans and a flannel shirt and casual coat, while everyone else is in a suit. And his hair looks like he has yet to shower since the NLDS.

2007 World Series Game 1: Sox, Beckett dominate 13-1

Pedroia slams a leadoff HRMake that 21 of 23 games, thank you very much. Josh Beckett and the Red Sox came out wanting to make a bold statement, but it came out more like an air raid siren. And it had the Rockies running for cover. Beckett struck out the side in the top of the first on 15 pitches, and Dustin Pedroia kicked off the bottom of the frame with another Monster shot, his 2nd HR in as many games. You could see the dread and the fear on the Rockies’ faces even then. I think Jeff Francis must have been pretty nervous, because he proceeded to allow four more hits, making it 3-0 after just one inning. Not to be outdone, Beckett comes out and strikes out Todd Helton before giving up a long double to Garrett Atkins. Then he strikes out Brad Hawpe, making him look very, very bad. In fact, Hawpe went 0-4 on the night with four strikeouts. Looks like somebody needs to spend more time in the batting cage. Beckett does leave a fastball over the plate to Troy Tulowitski, allowing a run, but it’s all clear sailing from here. He almost doesn’t need anything but fastballs until around the fourth inning to mow down the Rockies one by one.

Beckett Delivers in Game 1Welcome to the American League, boys. You see, the last time the Red Sox ace faced the Rockies on June 14, he was 9-0 and on the way to setting some serious records. A couple of weeks after coming back off of a finger avulsion (read: blister-like thingy) and trip to the DL, he gave up a grand slam to Atkins and another HR to Matt Holliday in his first loss of the year. 5 innings, 6 runs, and only one strikeout (Willy Taveras). Some players get intimidated by stuff like that. Not Beckett; he feeds off that, and grows stronger. He wants to show you who you’re dealing with. And last night, he did, going 7 really strong innings, striking out 9, and walking just one.

The Red Sox offense battered starter Francis for 6 runs on 10 hits and 3 walks over four innings, and continued the punishment on rookie reliever Franklin Morales, who balked once and gave up seven runs in just 2/3 of an inning. To be fair, big righty Ryan Speier walked in three of those runs with the bases loaded; that was painful to watch. Everyone contributed in some way, with all the regulars getting at least one hit, save Jacoby Ellsbury, who still walked in a run and also scored. David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez and Julio Lugo had three hits each, and accounted for 5 runs and 5 RBI combined. It was that kind of night. In all, Boston scored in four of the first five innings, and left 17 men on base in this game. They set a World Series record for a Game 1 blowout, and are the first team to score 10+ runs in three consecutive postseason games. The Rockies have a pretty good offense, but they will have some trouble coming back if the Sox get another big lead in this Series. They need to string hits together to win, because the HR power is somewhat lacking.

The Colorado bullpen did a good job the rest of the way, but with a cushion like that, you know the Sox hitters must have let up just a bit. Clint Hurdle had to use five of his seven relievers last night, which should lead to interesting results, should rookie starter Ubaldo Jimenez leave early tonight. The Red Sox just need to be patient and take a lot of pitches with him, as control has been an issue for him in the past.

Mike Timlin and Eric Gagne each provided an inning of scoreless relief, striking out three batters between them. It was nice to see Gagne go out there and throw strikes (8 of 11 pitches) and work an easy inning.

As expected, Coco Crisp came into the game as a defensive replacement, Manny sat down and Ellsbury shifted to left. Good to see that the catch to end the ALCS didn’t cause an injury.

I don’t think that we should necessarily consider this Series to be in the bag yet, but this game should inspire a lot of confidence. The Sox players are saying all the right things in their interviews, and I don’t see them getting too cocky and letting this one slip away. Like I said, I think confidence is a huge factor for a young team like the Rockies. If they think they can, they could actually pull it off, given the right circumstances. But take away their hope early, and it ain’t gonna happen. If Curt Schilling dazzles them tonight, I do believe that it’s all but done, with Josh Fogg taking the mound in Game 3. The Rox will need him to pull a Jake Westbrook if they are going to survive.

I’ve heard some people wondering why the Red Sox went with Kyle Snyder on the roster rather than Julian Tavarez. While Tavarez is more of a groundball pitcher, which seems more suitable for a place like Mile High Stadium, it’s important to note that batters hit only .223 against Snyder this year, while they hit Tavarez at a .281 clip. Neither of them had a good second half, it’s true (Snyder 5.24 ERA and Tavarez 5.48 ERA), but Snyder’s BAA was actually even better post-ASB (.207) than the first half (.233). His problem was the longball; he gave up 5 of his 7 HR in August and September. While Mile High is a great hitter’s park, the HRs are not as much of an issue as they used to be, thanks to the Humidor. I think what the Sox want to do is minimize the number of balls in play, and rely more on strikeouts and softly hit balls.

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