11-9-2011: Other areas of need and available free agents

Ben Cherington came out yesterday and suggested that the Red Sox were not likely to be big players on the free agent market this offseason. I think he’s being genuine, but even if they were, what good would it do them to come out and say that?

Here are the problem areas as I see them, and some free agent projections (all numbers assume a transition to the AL East).

1. Starting pitching

With so much money already committed to the rotation, I would be surprised if the Red Sox continued to throw money at this problem. Adding C.J. Wilson or Yu Darvish would be nice, but can we afford another $100M contract here, while our core players will be earning more and more every season? Signing a big arm to a long-term deal like that might mean saying goodbye to Jon Lester or Clay Buchholz once their current deals expire.

Name Age IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA WHIP
CJ Wilson 31 182.1 8.2 3.7 0.5 3.42 1.30
Roy Oswalt 34 161.6 7.1 2.4 0.9 3.93 1.30
Erik Bedard 33 64.2 8.7 3.5 1.0 3.94 1.36
Hiroki Kuroda 37 154.8 7.2 2.4 1.0 4.06 1.34
Mark Buehrle 33 189.1 4.9 2.1 0.9 4.10 1.39
Edwin Jackson 28 186.5 7.3 3.3 0.9 4.14 1.45
Freddy Garcia 35 109.2 6.1 2.7 1.0 4.27 1.40
Bartolo Colon 39 93.8 7.0 2.7 1.2 4.28 1.40
Javier Vazquez 35 167.3 8.0 2.7 1.3 4.41 1.33
Jeff Francis 31 123.2 5.6 2.4 0.9 4.58 1.46
Paul Maholm 30 161.2 5.5 3.2 0.9 4.68 1.54
Tim Wakefield 45 118.8 5.8 3.3 1.1 4.92 1.46

As you can see, bringing back Tim Wakefield really shouldn’t be an option; almost any free agent is likely to be better than him going forward. Erik Bedard has huge injury concerns, and that’s not what this staff needs. Hiroki Kuroda doesn’t seem likely to come out east. I think Roy Oswalt could be a fit if he’s willing to take a two-year deal at good money, and Buehrle would be a solid signing if we can get him for fewer than four years. Edwin Jackson scares me a little bit long-term, so I’d avoid offering him more than three years as well.

2. A closer/setup man (or two)

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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.

2007 World Series Preview: The Colorado Rockies

Schedule of games:

Game 1: Wed Oct 24 8:35PM (@BOS); Jeff Francis vs Josh Beckett
Game 2: Thu Oct 25 8:30PM (@BOS); TBA
Game 3: Sat Oct 27 (@COL)
Game 4: Sun Oct 28 (@COL)
Game 5: Mon Oct 29 (@COL)
Game 6: Wed Oct 31 (@BOS)
Game 7: Thu Nov  1 (@BOS)

The Red Sox have yet to announce the starting rotation for the Series, because they have to decide whether it’ll be Curt Schilling or Tim Wakefield in Game 2, with the other pitcher likely starting in Game 4 in Colorado. Schilling is 4-4 with a 5.51 ERA lifetime in Colorado, and Wakefield is 0-2 with a 9.31 ERA in two career starts there, not a fun choice to be making. Should he start a mile high, the thin air at Invesco should cause his knuckleball to lose a little bit of its movement. The Rockies could be taking batting practice on Wake if that happens. On the other hand, Wakefield dazzled the Colorado lineup at Fenway back in June, and could do it again.

There is a little more story line between these teams. Apparently, the rumored deal of Todd Helton for Mike Lowell and Julian Tavarez earlier this year was a done deal, but the Sox balked at the last minute when Dan O’Dowd asked for one of Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz or Manny Delcarmen to be included in the deal. What a different season that would have been.

My prediction? Sox in 6.

Setting the Roster

I don’t expect any changes to the roster for the World Series. Personally, I wouldn’t mind swapping out Javier Lopez with Tavarez, but it’s tough to remove a guy at this point, when he’s contributed to the team’s success. Taking away his shot to play in a World Series is a tough one. Call me crazy, but I actually think Eric Gagne could prove useful against a National League team, though I wouldn’t ask him to hold a pressure situation any time soon.

Keys to the Series

The Rockies come in as hot as humanly possible. Everyone knows about them winning 21 of their last 22 games; that’s an amazing streak, especially to continue that in the playoffs is unheard of. And if you thought Cleveland was a young team, get ready for a shock. You might not recognize a good 3/4 of their team, unless you follow fantasy baseball. So how are they doing it? As a team, they scored the second most runs, led the NL in batting average at .280, tied for the league lead with a .354 OBP. The Rockies boast a very young rotation that has just come together in the last months of the season, and a solid bullpen with a lot of power arms. They came in 8th in the NL with a team ERA of 4.32, which is not bad, considering they play at altitude, where balls tend to carry well. They have taken to storing all of their baseballs in a Humidor, which ensures that the balls do not dry out and carry even further in the thin mountain air. While they do have good stuff, their pitching staff is not a strikeout staff; they rely on getting ground balls from their sinkerball pitchers. Having swept the NLCS about a week ago, Colorado is very well-rested, and we have to count on them having gotten a little rusty in the mean time.

This young rotation has been on fire in the playoffs, with everyone contributing. Jeff Francis is a really tough lefty who I predict will give Sox hitters fits. He’s got great command of a low 90s fastball and a biting curve that’s tough to gauge. Their #2, Aaron Cook is a fireballer, and he throws perhaps the heaviest sinker in the majors right now. Then there’s 23-year old Ubaldo Jimenez, who throws high-90s and has a nasty curveball to go with it. He also throws a pretty decent changeup. Josh Fogg is a journeyman, really, and a control/finesse pitcher who we should be able to hit well, should they use him. Franklin Morales is a quality lefty that they will likely move to the bullpen, with the return of Cook.

The Colorado pitchers are used to facing NL lineups, not David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. You can not get past a good AL lineup with just a good fastball, as Josh Beckett learned in 2006. They do have a lot of young arms with very good stuff, but with youth comes control problems and inconsistency. The Rockies pitchers need to be able to throw their secondary pitches for strikes, or else this patient lineup will take them apart. We have to rely on their youth and inexperience to work against them; if they get into trouble, I think their youngest pitchers will fall apart pretty quickly. Advantage Boston.

The Rockies feature a pretty deep bullpen, hard throwers with good stuff. They are inexperienced also, but I don’t think it matters here as much as it does in the rotation. Their closer, Manny Corpas, has had a phenomenal rookie campaign, and tough lefty Brian Fuentes is also there to back him up. Look for them to bring him in to face Big Papi in key at-bats. Jeremy Affeldt and LaTroy Hawkins are hard throwers. They have some big guys here. Jason Hirsh and Darren Clarke are both 6’8″, and Ryan Speier is 6’7″. Apart from the closer, I’d say these two bullpens are about even.

The Rockies offense is led by All-Star Matt Holliday. Holliday is the real deal, a very dangerous hitter who can make contact, drive the ball, and even run a little on the basepaths. Besides him, there is Todd Helton, who is an on-base and doubles machine, and Garrett Atkins, a good hitter with a great power stroke. Troy Tulowitski and Brad Hawpe both hit .291 and had at least 24 HR this season. The Rockies have a couple of pesky hitters in Kazuo Matsui and Willy Taveras, who between the two of them stole 65 bases in 2007. Their bench is stocked with good depth at every position. Like the Indians, they feature a nice balanced lineup. Still, they lacked the power numbers you’d expect of a team that plays at Mile High Stadium. If they’re going to succeed against Boston, they’re going to have to do it by manufacturing runs and getting key hits. Boston has a slight edge here.

This Rockies defense is very good. Their infield is led by shortstop Tulowitski, who as a rookie already has filled the highlight reels with his goodies. Tavarez covers a lot of ground in center, and Hawpe is pretty good in right. One pitfall for the Sox is that when we play in Colorado, Ortiz is going to be manning first base. That’s the only way to keep his bat in the lineup. Ortiz took some practice there before the last series, so hopefully he’ll be up to the task. Look for Kevin Youkilis to come in as a defensive replacement late in these games. Also, the outfield at Mile High is a mile wide. Manny will have to really pay attention not to mess it up there. Getting Ellsbury in left late in games would be a very good idea.

Terry Francona and the Boston team gets an edge here just because of playoff experience. This team knows how to rally once we’re down; the Rockies have had yet to face a serious challenge in the postseason. What if they go down 0-2 games? I think it’s over at that point.

Final Thoughts
Boston has the edge here, and is expected to win. The Rockies have a big advantage when were playing in Denver, but we also have a big advantage when we play here in Beantown. The Rockies are definitely talented, but they are just a bad play away from losing their confidence in themselves. Just as Cleveland clearly buckled in the last three games, Colorado runs the same risk because of their collective inexperience. If they get off to a great start, the Sox could be in trouble; but if we start well, it is over.