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Beltre’s season – and Red Sox career? – come to a close

10.01.10 at 8:11 pm ET
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Adrian Beltre has played his last game under the one-year deal he signed with the Red Sox in January. (AP)

Adrian Beltre wanted to play this weekend. He wanted to hold off as long as possible to leave the Red Sox, but in the end, duty called. He rushed out of the Red Sox clubhouse Friday afternoon upon word that his wife, Sandra, is close to having the couple’s third child.

And so, Beltre had to pack up his belongings in order to make the journey out to Southern California, with the team’s blessing. And so, the Red Sox will be without their 2010 MVP for the final three days of the year.

That conclusion sounds something of a false note, given that it had been nearly impossible to keep Beltre off the field this season. He led the team with 154 games played, playing through pain (most notably, a hamstring injury that impaired him while running for much of the second half) while rarely acknowledging his discomfort.

“If you ask everybody down there, they love him, myself included. He was a real treat. We were just used to seeing him from the other side of the field. Then we saw what he could do defensively. You’d see that spark, and then he’d beat us with a big swing. But when you see what he did every day, beat up, he’s a real pro,” said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. “I think the first month of the season, every time he saw me, he thought he wasn’t playing, so he kind of avoided me. He’s not, I don’t mean, quick to trust, but with A.B., you kind of have to get to know him a little bit. Once that happened, he became more vocal in the dugout, he became a leader on the field.

“A.B. kind of grew into that as he became more comfortable and guys like that should be leaders. If guys like Beltre are leaders, you’re going in the right direction. It’s hard not to look up to him if you’re a teammate of his.”

Beltre had nothing short of a remarkable year after signing a one-year, $9 million deal that included a player option. The value of that deal grew to $10 million for this season when Beltre met his first plate appearances incentive, earning a $1 million buyout after 575 plate appearances, and the value of the player option went from $5 million to $10 million when Beltre met his second plate appearances incentive on Thursday in Chicago by reaching 640 plate appearances.

Yet Beltre is virtually certain to decline the player option, and with good reason. After enduring an injury-riddled 2009 campaign that ranked as the worst of his career, the 31-year-old wanted to show that he was healthy and productive. He accomplished both goals in staggering fashion in a campaign where he became an All-Star for the first time.

He set a record for a Red Sox third baseman by clubbing 79 extra-base hits, Beltre finishes the year tied for the second-most homers ever (28) by a Red Sox third baseman. He hit .321 with a .365 OBP, .553 slugging mark, .919 OPS and 102 RBI. Despite committing 19 errors — his most since 2003 — he was a well-above average defender, showing terrific range and a strong arm.

And now, the question looms over his empty locker in the Fenway Park clubhouse: Will Beltre ever play another game in Boston as a member of the home team?

Francona suggested that he would love to have Beltre back in 2011.

“Sure — I’d like to see everyone back. I don’t want to make [GM Theo Epstein's] job tougher than it is,” said Francona. “[Beltre] was pretty honest about what he was doing here. He was coming kind of on a make-good and he made pretty good. Worked out pretty good for everybody. Where it goes, that will be interesting.”

Beltre’s power, GM Theo Epstein noted a few weeks ago, did not come as a surprise. His .321 batting average — the second-highest of his career, and a far cry from the .266 he posted over the previous five years in Seattle — represented a startling development, particularly given the unbridled fury of his swing and the fact that he was an aggressive hitter who walked infrequently.

Francona suggested that Beltre was able to sustain a high batting average in no small part due to his excellence with two strikes. In such counts, he hit .272 with a .712 OPS, a far cry from the American League average of .184/.535.

“I think he worked hard on his two-strike approach. He went through a period there where he had some unbelievable numbers. I think he had hits in 13 straight at-bats with two strikes at one point, or something silly,” said Francona. “And batting average for him isn’t the end-all, be-all. I think it shows that he was using the whole field and he cut down on strikeouts with two strikes and he was very productive. He took some of the most ferocious hacks you’ve ever seen but he’d square up balls. He ran every ball out. He’s a treat. Very accountable.”

That was certainly the case for 2010, and his accountability is unlikely to change in 2011. The only question is for what club he will offer such a presence.

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Buchholz scratched from final start; Wakefield gets the nod

10.01.10 at 7:53 pm ET
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Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz‘ breakout 2010 season will end in disappointing fashion, as the 26-year-old has been scratched from his scheduled start against the Yankees on Saturday due to a stiff lower back. Tim Wakefield will get the start in Buchholz’ place.

Buchholz concludes his first full year in the Red Sox rotation with a 17-7 record and a 2.33 ERA that ranked second in the American League to Felix Hernandez (2.27) of the Seattle Mariners. He made 28 starts and pitched 173 2/3 innings, joining Jon Lester to give the Red Sox two All-Star starters atop their rotation. Buchholz struck out 120 and walked 67, holding opponents to a measly .226 average and nine homers.

Wakefield gets his 19th start of the year, and his first since Sept. 8. The 44-year-old is 4-10 with a 5.20 ERA.

Read More: Clay Buchholz, felix hernandez, Tim Wakefield,

Adrian Beltre’s player option jumps up to $10 million

10.01.10 at 12:18 am ET
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CHICAGO — Adrian Beltre’s player option for 2011 officially doubled, from $5 million to $10 million, after he reached 640 plate appearances for the season with his three at-bats in the Red Sox’ 8-2 loss to the White Sox, Thursday night at U.S. Cellular Field. Beltre, who came into the game with 638 plate appearances, hadn’t reached the level of PA’s since 2006, when he finished with 681. The third baseman has now had at least 640 plate appearances four times in his career.

Even with option jumping up by $5 million, it almost certainly won’t factor into Beltre’s approach to committing to a team this offseason. He inked the one-year, $10 million deal with the Red Sox prior to the 2010 campaign with an eye on securing a multi-year deal following the season. The plan has worked for the 31-year-old, who is hitting .321 with 28 home runs and an OPS of .923.

“It doesn’t mean anything to me,” said Beltre, who has played in 154 of the Sox’ 159 games this season. “It’s a testament that I was able to stay healthy, and be in the lineup almost every day. But that’s it.”

Beltre said coming into the season’s final week that the clause in the contract was never thought as something that wouldn’t be attained.

“That number was set because I had done it before. I had been close to that number for a lot of years. Since the season started I never thought about numbers. I never really thought about it,” he said on Sept. 21. “It shows I wasn’t hurt, which was one of the things I wanted to do. Hurt is one thing, but to have soreness and nagging things are another. For me being hurt is having surgery. I’ve been lucky enough that the injuries I’ve had haven’t stopped me from swinging the bat or anything like that.”

For more Red Sox coverage, see the team page at weei.com/redsox.

MLB alters free agent rules

09.30.10 at 7:01 pm ET
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The following statement was issued on Thursday by the Major League Baseball Players Association:

The Basic Agreement sets out rules that govern players’ eligibility for free agency, rules for the conduct of both Clubs and players during the off-season, and a means of enforcing those rules against parties who are alleged to be in violation. These requirements are the product of years of bargaining and earlier litigation between MLB and the MLBPA.

The Players Association brought to the attention of Major League Baseball its concerns about the operation of the free agent market during the past two off-seasons (2008-2009 and 2009–2010). The parties have since engaged in intensive collective bargaining in an effort to arrive at a mutually satisfactory outcome that would obviate the need for prolonged litigation. Today, the MLBPA is pleased to announce that its Executive Board has approved an agreement that will modify certain aspects of the free agent system for the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 off-seasons.  The players did not achieve everything they set out to accomplish, but the Executive Board views the end result as preferable to continued processing of the potential cases under the Grievance and Arbitration provisions of the Basic Agreement.

The terms of the agreement are confidential, but among its provisions are the following substantive changes to the operation of the free agent market that will be effective for the 2010 and 2011 off-seasons:
– Automatic free agency for eligible players, without the need for election;
– A five-day period at the end of the World Series (shortened from fifteen) during which only the free agent’s original team may sign him to a new contract;
– Earlier deadlines for the original teams to offer, and for the players to accept, salary arbitration under the rules of the Basic Agreement;
– An earlier date for Clubs to make tender and non-tender decisions;
– Stricter rules for all parties (the MLBPA, MLB, Clubs, players and agents) to guard against collusion in the free agent process;
– Restrictions on the abilities of the Clubs, players and agents to conduct their free agent negotiations through use of the media.

MLBPA Executive Director Michael Weiner said:

“The agreement provides a meaningful response to the MLBPA’s concerns about the operation of recent free agent markets. It is intended to facilitate negotiations between Clubs and players throughout the salary structure.

“The agreement was approved by the MLBPA’s Executive Board, after consultation with a significant number of affected players and their agents. Those affected players, who had the most to gain if the Union had successfully litigated these claims, sacrificed for the benefit of players going forward, and deserve our praise and gratitude.

“The Commissioner’s Office worked productively and creatively with the Union to resolve our differences. I hope that we can build on this momentum when we begin bargaining for a new Basic Agreement later this year.”

Theo Epstein on D&H: Transcript

09.30.10 at 2:53 pm ET
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Theo Epstein (AP)

Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein joined the Dale & Holley show Thursday morning and talked about his disappointment with his team failing to advance to the postseason.

“We’re disappointed,” he said. “We’re proud of the way the guys hung in there and played really hard to the end. But I’m disappointed that we’re going to fall short or our goal every year to get to the postseason and try to do some damage in October.”

Epstein said pitching and defense, which he thought would be the team’s strengths coming out of spring training, ended up being the major problems, especially the bullpen’s failure to prevent opponents from scoring.

“It’s just not acceptable,” he said. “If you’re looking for one area of the club, that’s really it. We didn’t pitch like we wanted to, we didn’t play defense like we wanted to, and we allowed our opponents to just score way too much.”

Following is a transcript. To hear the interview, visit the Dale & Holley audio on demand page.

How are you doing? You don’t sound a whole lot better than [Terry Francona] did yesterday.

Yeah, we’re hanging in there. Tito was pretty sick yesterday. I just talked to him. He’s doing a lot better today. But no, it’s a long grind, physically and emotionally. And when you reach the end of the line, it catches up with you a little bit.

Is the raspiness I hear in your voice, is that just the realization that your team is not going to make the playoffs, and you were somehow holding out hope that there could be some kind of miraculous finish regarding the postseason?

Well, yeah, I guess you hear disappointment. I mean, it would be kind of disturbing if you didn’t. We’re disappointed. We’re proud of the way the guys hung in there and played really hard to the end. But I’m disappointed that we’re going to fall short or our goal every year to get to the postseason and try to do some damage in October. So, sure, yeah, you hear some disappointment.

If you had to narrow it down to your top thing, why are you in this position? Why is your team 87-71 and on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoffs?

Well, it’s always hard to identify any one single factor. It is definitely multifactorial. But, just kind of recapping the year, if you look back to where we were and how we felt when we broke spring training, I think we felt like we had a really good team, a legitimate chance to be one of the best teams in the league, one of the best two or three in all of baseball, and the chance to accomplish our goals.

I think we thought we had a balanced club, you know, one that would be one of the top two or three in the league in scoring runs, and one that would be one of the top two or three in pitching and defense and limiting our opposition scoring. That’s the balance that we strive for. Some things went right and some things went wrong, and obviously we had a lot of injuries along the way.

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Read More: Jacoby Ellsbury, John Lacket, Josh Beckett, Theo Epstein

Theo Epstein on D&H: ‘We’re disappointed’

09.30.10 at 2:20 pm ET
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Theo Epstein (AP)

Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein joined the Dale & Holley show to offer his thoughts on the 2010 season. In a wide-ranging interview, Epstein touched on a number of topics including the performances of Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Jonathan Papelbon and J.D. Drew. (A complete transcript will be posted shortly).

“We’re disappointed,” Epstein said of the season. “We’re proud of the way the guys hung in there and played really hard to the end, but I’m disappointed that we’re going to fall short of our goal every year to get to the postseason and do some damage in October.”

Yet Epstein thinks that the Sox are not far away from returning to a championship-level club. “It adds up to an organization that’s in really good position and not far away from a championship,” Epstein said. “In fact we could very well win one next year and that’s the goal.”

To hear the interview, go to the Dale & Holley audio on demand page.

Asked if he could identify one thing that went wrong, Epstein said, “It’s always hard to identify one single factor. It is definitely is multi-factorial. We felt like we had a really good team, a legitimate chance to be on the best teams in the league. We thought we had a balanced club, one of the top two or three in the league scoring runs and one of the top two or three in pitching and defense. That’s the balance that we strive for. Some things went right and some things went wrong.

“The way things went offensively kind of went according to plan,” Epstein continued. “Given that, you can really isolate a lot of the issues to our pitching and defense where we underperformed pretty dramatically. … Our starting pitching was a bit of a mixed bag. [Jon] Lester and [Clay] Buchholz both had dominating years. The rest of the rotations didn’t really live up to expectations and then the bullpen turned out to be our major weakness.” Read the rest of this entry »

The case for why Felix Hernandez should win the Cy Young

09.30.10 at 1:48 pm ET
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The dominance Felix Hernandez has had against the American League East is a big reason why he should win the Cy Young. (AP)

I realize that the Yankees and the Rays are still battling it out to see who will win the AL East, but I’m more concerned with the other race in the American League: The Cy Young.

There are five legit candidates this year: CC Sabathia, David Price, Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester, and Felix Hernandez. (No disrespect to Trevor Cahill, who has had an outstanding year, but I just can’t put him in same class as the others.)

You can make an argument for each one of them. If you look at wins, than Sabathia may be your guy. If you look more at ERA, than its between Hernandez and Buchholz. The final vote may be one of the closest races in recent history.

My opinion?  I give the nod to Felix Hernandez.

I just think that King Felix has been the most dominant pitcher in the game this year. I know that he only has 13 wins on the year, but you have to take into consideration how bad Seattle’s offense was this year. The Red Sox, Rays and Yankees have scored 290, 287, and 337 more runs, respectively, than the Seattle Mariners.  But with a race this close, I chose to take a deeper look and see how each pitcher did against the AL East. I don’t think that this should be the deciding factor, but as we all know, the East is the best division in baseball.  Take a look:

CC SABATHIA: 21-7, 3.18 ERA, 237 2/3 IP, 197 K’s

Against …

Baltimore (6 starts) 5-1, 3.56 ERA, 43 IP, 31 K’s

Boston (4 starts) 1-0, 3.96 ERA, 25 IP, 17 K’s

Tampa Bay (5 starts) 1-2, 3.38 ERA, 34 2/3 IP, 29 K’s

Toronto (1 start), 1-0. 1.08 ERA, 8 1/3 IP 8 K’s

Total: (16 starts) 8-3, 3.41 ERA, 111 IP, 85 K’s

(CC’s numbers are good but nothing blows you away.)

DAVID PRICE: 19-6, 2.73 ERA, 207 2/3 IP, 187 K’s

Against …

Baltimore (2 starts), 2-0, 0.60 ERA, 15 IP, 15 K’s

Boston (3 starts), 2-1, 2.61 ERA, 20 2/3 IP, 20 K’s

New York (4 starts), 2-1, 4.39 ERA, 26 2/3 IP, 21 K’s

Toronto (4 starts), 4-0, 0.58 ERA, 31 IP, 23 K’s

Total: (13 starts) 10-2, 2.12 ERA, 93 1/3 IP, 79 K’s

(Winning 10 games in the AL East is impressive. After looking at these numbers, Price jumps up the board.)

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