2009 ALDS Game 1: Offense, defense flounder 0-5

Anytime you get shut out in the playoffs, it isn’t good. The Angels got their first playoff shutout ever last night on the strength of a 7.1 inning, 4-hit start by John Lackey. The 6-6 horse came out looking good, and it wasn’t until the 6th inning until we got a chance to do something against him. When he allowed a two-out single to Dustin Pedroia and walked Victor Martinez on four pitches, I was sure that he was falling apart; give him credit, he came back and got Kevin Youkilis to end the threat.

UPDATE: Credit home plate umpire Joe West, rather. That was clearly a walk. I was actually getting from my car to my TV during that at-bat, and I just reviewed the GameDay data.

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2009 ALDS Preview: The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Now that we’ve clinched our playoff berth as the AL wild card, it’s time to scout our competition. First up, the LAAoA. If that ain’t a mouthful. The Red Sox have owned them in the postseason, but they are not as weak as they were last year. Here’s a quick look at how we stack up side by side.

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Arguing balls and strikes: they’re no angels

For those of you who watched the Red Sox come back last night in the bottom of the 9th with 2 outs, I have to say, it’s pretty clear that we caught a break with Nick Green’s walk. So the Angels do have a legitimate beef, according to PITCHf/x. It hurts to lose a game like that, but I don’t know that it should have caused dissension or even fighting in the clubhouse. Now Brian Fuentes has come out and accused Boston fans of intimidating the umpires. That’s a little too much – even Angels catcher Mike Napoli hestitated to support his closer on that one. At least Torii Hunter had a better attitude about the whole thing; it’s not just that at-bat, but both teams had plenty of opportunities to put the game away earlier.

Not to jinx or anything, but given the way the Halos are playing against Boston and NY this year, I’m really not too worried about them, come playoff time.

2008 ALDS Game 1: Lester shines, 4-1

It was a well-pitched game by John Lackey, but a 2-run home run by Jason Bay would put the Sox ahead to stay. Welcome to the playoffs, Jason. Jon Lester settled down to throw seven strong innings, and the Sox pushed across two more runs against Scot Shields in the 9th to seal the deal. 1 game to none, Red Sox.

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15-7: Ellsbury, Pedroia lead in comeback win against the Halos, 7-6

On the first warm night in Fenway, David Pauley was called in to make an emergency start for Josh Beckett, who was pulled for “neck stiffness”. There isn’t much detail about how serious the injury is, but it is being said that Beckett has the flu bug that’s been going around. On a night when the Sox offense generated 7 runs on 16 hits and a walk, he was good enough that the Sox pulled it out yet again for their 6th straight win, 7-6.

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Red Sox have an offer on the table for Santana

Charley Walters of the Pioneer Press writes today that the Boston Red Sox have the leading offer for Johan Santana thus far. According to him, the Sox are offering four players for one guaranteed year of perhaps the best left-handed pitcher in the last decade. The purported deal would send Coco Crisp, Jon Lester, Jed Lowrie and Justin Masterson to the Twins in exchange for Santana. Part of the stipulations would be that the Sox get a window to try and negotiate a contract extension with Santana, who could be looking for 6 or even 7 years at $20-25M per season.

If this report is true, the Sox could acquire Santana without breaking up the big league club at all, no small feat. Lowrie is very talented, but with Julio Lugo locked up for three more years and Dustin Pedroia having five years until free agency, the middle infield looks to be set. Masterson had an awesome run in the middle of last season, but his ceiling is probably as a #3 starter. If this deal gets done, Boston could feature perhaps one of the best rotations from top to bottom in baseball history. Seriously. But don’t break out the champagne just yet. The Yankees are still in the bidding, mind you, so don’t be surprised if the Twins take this offer and go demand more from them. New York is in desperate need of a front-line starter (unlike us), and could give in to Minnesota’s demands. Theo Epstein is probably counting on this to happen.

Theo has set a deadline for the negotiations with Minnesota, and wants to try to get a deal done before the Winter Meetings on Dec 3. Minnesota made a six player blockbuster deal yesterday, and acquired a badly needed power prospect in Delmon Young. While Young is capable of playing center, the Twins are used to having Torii Hunter there, and could want a better defensive option, thus making Crisp desirable.

Twins’ Santana looks to be too pricey

It’s been a while, but as we gear up for the Winter Meetings next week, the Twins have named their asking price for two-time Cy Young winner Johan Santana. After Santana declined their extension offer of 4 years and $80M, the Twins are trying to maximize their return on him before he walks. Santana does, however, hold a partial to full no-trade clause (conflicting reports on what it says exactly), so he likely has to approve of any trade. Imagine a rotation spearheaded by Santana, Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka. That top three could be legendary for a long time. There’s no question you would want to add a guy of his caliber, but the main question has been, how much would Santana cost to acquire?

John Heyman reports that Minnesota would want Jacoby Ellsbury AND either Clay Buchholz or Jon Lester in return for the prize lefty. From the Yankees, they are asking for Melky Cabrera and one of three pitching prospects: Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain or Ian Kennedy. In my mind, Ellsbury holds an edge over Cabrera because of his speed, better defense and (most importantly) less service time.

From our perspective, that is definitely asking too much for only one guaranteed year of Santana. He is signed for 2008 at about $13M, but is expected to require at least 5 years at $20+ million after that in order to re-sign. If I were Theo, I’d have to consider trading one of these three players, but not two of them. If I had to choose one, I’d say that Lester is the most expendable. Since the Twins are trying to acquire a centerfielder to replace Torii Hunter, no doubt the Sox will try to offer them a package including Coco Crisp. I could maybe see a deal with Lester, Crisp and another prospect happening. Failing that, trading Ellsbury and a lesser pitching prospect would not be a bad option.

The good thing for us is that we are not desperate for pitching. Our league-best rotation from 2007 is still intact, so we are not under any pressure to make a move. But with the Yankees in the bidding, we have to at least have a seat at the table. Heyman also mentions that the Mets, Dodgers, Angels and Mariners have shown interest in trading for Santana.

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.

Cuckoo for Coco Crisp?

With the emergence of Jacoby Ellsbury this season, the Red Sox are sitting pretty with Coco Crisp as a fourth outfielder. Crisp is too good to be a fourth outfielder, but the Sox have the budget to carry him as such if they can’t get the price they want in a trade. His manageable salary makes him attractive to a lot of smaller market teams, and with so many centerfielders hitting the free agent market, his name has come up early and often. The list of suitors includes (but is not limited to): Atlanta, Minnesota, San Diego, Texas and Washington.

What do the Sox want/can they get in return? Let’s look at a team-by-team breakdown.

Atlanta Braves
With the loss of Andruw Jones, the Braves are getting hit doubly hard. They lose their top defender AND a huge bat. They’ve addressed the offense by getting Mark Teixeira at the 2007 trade deadline, but they need someone to step in and cover centerfield. Atlanta has always liked Crisp, though John Schuerholz is out now as GM. There was some talk of the Sox being interested in Kelly Johnson, though I’m not sure where he would play. The Sox more likely would be interested in a plus bullpen arm; they were said to be going after Mike Gonzalez last year, though I’m not sure the Braves would give him up now.

Minnesota Twins
Torii Hunter had a career year in 2007, and the Twins made a run at the playoffs before flaming out. Now they need to move on and try to squeeze every penny if they want a shot at extending Johan Santana past 2008. The consensus is that they’d like to try for either Crisp or Rocco Baldelli, but the price has been too high, especially with so many bidders. Look for them to reconsider once the big free agents start to get situated, and the pressure gets on to find a starting centerfielder. What could the Sox want from the Twins? Epstein has inquired about Jesse Crain in the past, but maybe they’d like to get someone like Pat Neshek or Matt Guerrier. Maybe even Kevin Slowey or Glen Perkins.

San Diego Padres
With the pending departure of Mike Cameron, the Pads need to sign someone who can cover the vast expanse that is PETCO Stadium. Who better than someone like Crisp? I know that Chase Headley must have come up, but even I would be shocked if they’d give him up. What about getting a solid setup guy, like Heath Bell?

Texas Rangers
The Rangers need someone to man centerfield for them, and they have some good spare parts to offer. The Red Sox are said to have inquired about Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Gerald Laird, both capable of starting at catcher at the big league level. Texas will likely stick with Salty, leaving the 27-year old Laird, who has a great arm and is a good catcher, though inconsistent at the plate. Looks like perfect protege material for Jason Varitek, if you ask me. The other name that’s being bandied about is Hank Blalock, who has been on again and off again of the trading block for a couple of years now. He’d only make sense if we can’t sign Mike Lowell to a reasonable deal.

Washington Nationals
The Nationals tried out a string of players in center this past season with no luck. Failing to sign one of the big names to a one-year deal, acquiring Crisp from the World Champion Red Sox would help them stabilize this team somewhat and start on the road to credibility. Without a doubt, relievers Chad Cordero or Jon Rauch are in this discussion as a return for Crisp.

Epstein will keep asking for a lot; it’s still very early in the offseason. Once Andruw, Torii and Mike find homes, it’ll be easier to gauge what we can get for Coco. Who knows? Other bidders may emerge as the offseason goes on. Then it’s just a matter of who is the highest bidder.

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