|08.19.09 at 2:07 pm ET|
ROY HALLADAY VS. RED SOX
Just last week, one member of the Red Sox described Roy Halladay as being ‘in a class by himself’ among American League pitchers in terms of the stuff that he features on the mound. He is a force of nature, one whom J.P. Ricciardi described during an interview on Dale & Holley today as capable of swinging the balance of power in any division by himself.
Still, it is worth noting that David Ortiz has more homers (5) than any other hitter against Halladay, and that of the 79 hitters to face Halladay at least 25 times, Kevin Youkilis ranks eighth in OPS (.939) and fifth in OBP (.429). ]
David Ortiz (99 career plate appearances): .275/.323/.505/.828, 5 HR, 12 Ks
Jason Varitek (81): .213/.272/.347/.619, 2 HR, 22 Ks
Kevin Youkilis (56): .347/.429/.510/.939, 1 HR, 6 Ks
Dustin Pedroia (38): .200/.243/.343/.586, 1 HR, 2 Ks
Mike Lowell (31): .233/.258/.533/.791, 3 HR, 7 Ks
J.D. Drew (28): .320/.393/.440/.833, 1 HR, 4 Ks
Jacoby Ellsbury (21): .286/.286/.667/.953, 2 HR, 3 Ks
Jason Bay (16): .267/.313/.533/.846, 1 HR, 3 Ks
Casey Kotchman (15): .200/.200/.200/.400, 0 HR, 1 K
Victor Martinez (12): .300/.417/.400/.817, 0 HR, 2 Ks
Alex Gonzalez (6): 0-for-4, walk, sac fly
Nick Green (6): 1-for-6, single, 4 Ks
Brian Anderson (3): 2-for-3
CLAY BUCHHOLZ VS. BLUE JAYS
Buchholz made his first big-league start of 2009 in Toronto against the Blue Jays in the first game of the second half. He pitched well that day, allowing four hits in 5.2 innings, allowing one run and earning the win.
That was intended to be a one-game call-up. Indeed, it was: Buchholz was optioned to Triple-A the next day. But Tim Wakefield tweaked his back in a side session the day after Buchholz’ start, commencing a D.L. stint that is still going. And so, Buchholz remains in the majors, and is now facing the buzzard’s luck of a third straight start against an ace. Today, he opposes Roy Halladay, after having pitched against CC Sabathia of the Yankees and Justin Verlander of the Tigers in his prior two outings.
Buchholz has a 2.08 ERA in those two starts, but an 0-2 record.
Aaron Hill (7): .143/.143/.143/.286, 3 Ks
Kevin Millar (7): 0-for-5, 2 walks, 4 strikeouts
Lyle Overbay (7): 5-for-7, .714/.714/.857/1.571, 1 2B, 1 K
Vernon Wells (6): 0-for-4, 2 walks
Adam Lind (5): 2-for-5, 1 2B, 1 K
Marco Scutaro (5): 0-for-2, 3 walks, 1 K
Rod Barajas (3): 0-for-2, walk
Jose Bautista (2): 0-for-2
John McDonald (1): 1-for-1, double
|08.19.09 at 12:37 pm ET|
Red Sox Manager Terry Francona joined the Dale & Holley Show (Tom Caron filling in for Michael Holley) for his weekly interview on Wednesday afternoon and had the following to say (CLICK HERE for the complete audio interview):
– On Dustin Pedroia: “Dustin will not be back tonight (against the Jays)….When he is comfortable enough to play, we will certainly welcome him back.”
– On Josh Beckett being effected by Jason Varitek’s injury: “You can’t use anything as an excuse, because that’s what it would be is an excuse. But watching [Beckett] walk around yesterday you could just see that he had some anxiety before he even left the dugout. He was pacing through the clubhouse.”
– On Jason Varitek’s injury: “This isnt something new, this is something he has played with all year… He couldnt look left… Probably going to set him back 3-4 days….He wanted to play, thought it wasnt in his best interest.”
– On Clay Buchholz pinch-running last week: “With Youk being suspended, it was probably something we needed to do… You certainly have to measure what one run is worth as opposed to Clay sliding into home and breaking a finger….He actually did a pretty good job, he just didnt see the ball.”
– On JD Drew asking to come out of the game against the Rangers: “He was aware of what was going on… He wasn’t coming out… I think it (injury) has been nagging at him for a whie… Aggrevated it on the swing (homerun against Texas).”
On the current pitching rotation: “We are going to stay right on rotation… We dont have a lot off days coming up… The extra day is needed right now….If we have the extra day, we will leave him (the starting pitcher) in the game.”
– On Tim Wakefield: “There is weakness in that calf because of his back… At some point he is probably going to need a surgery….We are not going to put him in a situation where he is going to hurt himself or not field his position….we just want to get some better answers.”
– On Daisuke Matsuzaka’s rehab: “It is going off the charts… He is really doing a good job… He will pitch a side on Friday… Monday he is will pitch in a Gulf Coast Game…He is back on the radar of the major league team…hope to help us in September.”
– On Clay Buchholz’ recent pitching: -“If he does what he has been doing, he will give us a chance to win… Clay can’t go into the game worried about Halladay…. Let us do our job.”
– On Daniel Bard: “There is no concern… I think he has held it together pretty well.”
– On Wednesday’s starting lineup: Casey Kotchman will play first. Kevin Youkilis moves to third. Mike Lowell will get the day off. David Ortiz will remain at DH. Victor Martinez will catch once again. Nick Green will be at second for Dustin Pedroia.
|08.18.09 at 7:18 pm ET|
Though Jason Varitek was originally in the Red Sox‘ starting lineup against the Blue Jays, he was scratched due to what manager Terry Francona told reporters was a stiff neck. Victor Martinez will instead catch Josh Beckett, marking the first time that the two will be paired together for a game.
This is the third time that Beckett will start with a catcher other than Varitek this year. In the prior two starts, when paired with George Kottaras, he is 0-2 with a 10.97 ERA. When paired with Varitek, Beckett is 14-2 with a 2.52 ERA. Varitek caught all of Beckett’s starts in 2008, and caught all but one of his starts in 2007. In ’07, Beckett allowed two runs in eight innings (2.25 ERA) in the only game caught by Doug Mirabelli, and had a 3.32 ERA in 29 games when paired with Varitek.
|08.18.09 at 3:14 pm ET|
After losing two in a row in Texas, the Red Sox will look to get back on track ‘ and more importantly, back in the Wild Card race ‘ in Toronto Tuesday night. As they look to do so, the team is no doubt heartened by the fact that ace Josh Beckett will be on the mound.
Beckett (14-4, 3.10 ERA) has been lights out in August, giving up only two runs in his last three starts. What’s more, the AL wins leader has gone 4-1 with a 1.80 ERA in his last six starts.
But interestingly enough, he has yet to face the Blue Jays this season. In 10 career starts against Toronto, Beckett hasn’t enjoyed much success, going 3-5 with a 5.95 ERA. These less than impressive statistics can perhaps be attributed to the very impressive statistics of Blue Jays centerfielder Vernon Wells, who’s batted .321 lifetime against Beckett with five homers.
Pitching for the Blue Jays is Ricky Romero. The 24-year-old Romero is only in his first season with Toronto, but he has already proved he belongs in the big leagues. The rookie left-hander has gone 10-5 with a 3.70 ERA and 95 strikeouts in 2009. Still, he’s been the losing pitcher in both of his starts against the Sox this season. In 8.1 innings against Boston this year, Romero has a 9.72 ERA with 10 walks.
Tuesday night will also mark the return of Kevin Youkilis following his five-game suspension for charging the mound against Detroit. He two homers and two walks in six career plate appearances against Romero.
SOX VS. ROMERO
J.D. Drew (6 career plate appearances against Romero): 1-for-5, walk, 3 strikeouts
Dustin Pedroia (6): 2-for-5, homer, walk
Kevin Youkilis (6): 2-for-4, 2 homers, 2 walks, strikeout
Jason Bay (5): 1-for-3, 2 walks, 2 strikeouts
David Ortiz (5): 3-for-5, strikeout
Nick Green (4): 0-for-3, walk, 3 strikeouts
Mike Lowell (4): 1-for-4, 2 strikeouts
Jason Varitek (4): 0-for-1, 3 walks
Victor Martinez (3): 1-for-3
Jacoby Ellsbury (2): 1-for-1
BLUE JAYS VS. BECKETT
Lyle Overbay (33 career plate appearances against Beckett): .333 average/ .455 OBP/ .407 slugging, 6 walks, 7 strikeouts
Vernon Wells (32): .321/ .406/ .893, 5 homers, 3 walks, 4 strikeouts
Aaron Hill (25): .333/ .360/ .500, 2 strikeouts
Kevin Millar (20): .263/ .300/ .368, walk, strikeout
Rod Barajas (12): .400/ .500/ .900, homer, walk, 2 strikeouts
Marco Scutaro (7): 3-for-7, 2 strikeouts
John McDonald (6): 2-for-4, 2 walks, strikeout
Raul Chavez (5): 0-for-4, walk, 2 strikeouts
Joe Inglett (5): 1-for-5, strikeout
Adam Lind (5): 3-for-5, homer, strikeout
Edwin Encarnacion (3): 0-for-3
|08.18.09 at 10:41 am ET|
The headline for the May 19 column was ‘I’ve just jinxed the Blue Jays’. The first line read as follows: “You know,” I told a member of the Blue Jays’ decision-making team, “by writing this I’m virtually guaranteeing that you plummet in the standings.”
At least I was right about something.
No, my prediction that the team that came to Boston carrying a 2 ½-game lead in the American League in mid-May was going to be in AL East mix for the long haul didn’t quite work out.
Since that proclamation, the Blue Jays have gone 55-61, finding themselves 17 ½ games out, while serving as the poster boys for Major League Baseball‘s ‘Wait ‘Til Next Year’ campaign.
They’ve listened to offers for the face of their franchise (Roy Halladay), let one of their young, cornerstone position players (Alex Rios) go for the payoff of financial flexibility, traded a veteran (Scott Rolen) presence in order to gain even more budgetary breathing room, gone over the suggested Major League Baseball slot in signing draft picks more than ever before, yet failed to sign their second-highest selection in this year’s draft.
Through it all, Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi sounds like a man with at least a tint of optimism in his voice when talking about the future of his franchise. He talks about having to be “great” not “good” and how many of these steps are paving the way to find that distinction.
Ricciardi took a few minutes to talk about his team’s lot in life, via phone, Monday night:
RB: Have the challenges of building a team in this division surprised you over the years?
JP: It’s not a a surprise. Nothing has changed. From the day I took the job in Toronto the Red Sox changed, with the new ownership coming in. All of a sudden you didn’t have to worry just about the Yankees, you had to worry about two super teams as far as having to be able to do things. The division has only gotten harder, but it’s a great division in because we like competing against those guys. It’s not easy, but anything you strive to do in life is not going to be easy.
RB: Were the offers you received for Halladay surprising?
JP: I don’t think we were surprised. Everybody values their own players differently. For us, we just didn’t get moved by anything that said ‘This is worth while.’ We weren’t surprised. Who are we to say what other teams should value or shouldn’t value. We just know the value we put on our own player and if it isn’t met we weren’t going to move the player.
RB: How do you view your team after all of this dust has cleared?
JP: We like our team, we really do. We like the nucleus we have in place. We think Hill and Lind are going to be stars and are on their way. We think Snider is going to be a very good player. We like our team. We like our arms on the mound. There’s a lot of really good things happening here. What I think we’ve realized is the reality of the division. We know it, but we’ve come to realize it even more so. This is not a division you can be good in, you have to be great in it to make the playoffs. We’ve been good the last three years. The ownership has been great to us. They’ve allowed us to spend some money over the last three years, and the last three years we were high 80’s in wins. We’re not good enough to win the division.
What we have to do is take a step back and start looking at ways that we can start building to get great. I think with the Cecils and the Romeros and all the young arms we have, along with the Hills and the Linds and the players we have coming we have a really good foundation and nucleus to get there. But I think we have to be smart about the fact that right now we’re not great and you have to be great to win this division.
I think it’s extremely important. You have to realize that we’re a club that had a $20 million cut in payroll this year. So with that savings going into next year, along with the Rolen savings along with the players we acquired for Rolen, we were able to hopefully utilize that money to address some of our needs. I’ll only be able to answer the question over the next five years how that money works in our favor.
I think the most misleading thing about this year is that we were very upfront and honest with our fan base that this was going to be a year we didn’t spend money. This was going to be a year where we take a step back and play a lot of kids. We committed to Lind, we committed to Romero, we committed to all the young kids on the mound. I think we’re probably playing the way we all expected in spring training. The unfortunate thing is that we got off to a really good start and once you get off to a really good start I think expectations went out the window except everybody in the front office. We kept saying we’re still young in a lot of these areas and are going to go through some growing pains. Probably the most misleading thing from our end was that we worried about our pitching but it wasn’t our pitching that was the problem, it’s been our offense and that was probably the one thing that was the most disappointing thing than anything, that offensively we just haven’t been as good as we hoped to have been.
We have a really good foundation here. Our ownership is great. Our ownership isn’t one that gives into pressure and understands that it’s a long haul and understands there’s a method to the madness. We’re pretty confident we’re going to be OK going forward. Every year brings different challenges and hopefully one of these years we’ll stay healthy to put the right players out there.
|08.18.09 at 12:16 am ET|
As first reported by Baseball America, WEEI.com has confirmed that the Red Sox signed ninth-round draft choice Kendal Volz for a bonus of $550,000. Volz, a right-handed pitcher from Baylor, was considered a likely first-round draft choice entering this draft season on the strength of dominating performances for Team USA last summer. But the junior struggled this year, and showed a decline in velocity. He had thrown a sinking mid-90s fastball, but he became more hittable this year as his fastball lost some zip and movement. Even so, the Sox were intrigued sufficiently by the potential to draft him and then to commit a bonus in line with the slot recommendation for a mid-second round pick to the right-hander.
“I saw him real early this year and he threw very well that night. It kind of tapered off very quickly for him,” Red Sox scouting director Jason McLeod said of Volz earlier in the summer. “If he can get back on track where he thinks he should be or the way he was throwing for Team USA last summer, that could get real interesting for us if we can sign him a little later this summer.”
The Sox signed 14 of their first 15 draft picks this year, the lone exception being right-hander Branden Kline, a sixth-round selection who will instead attend the University of Virginia. Some players with notable blood-lines decided against signing. Those included:
–16th rounder Luke Bard: the younger brother of the Red Sox reliever will instead go to Georgia Tech
–36th rounder Michael Yastrzemski: the grandson of Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski will attend Vanderbilt, fulfilling a promise to his father that he would attend school
–39th rounder Gavin McCourt: the son of the Dodgers owner will attend Stanford, and he plans to try out for the Cardinal as a walk-on
|08.17.09 at 4:14 pm ET|
It would be a slight exaggeration of fact to suggest that John Smoltz is certain to become a free agent. According to a major-league source, the right-hander was placed on unconditional release waivers on Monday. Between now and Wednesday, any team can claim him and secure his services simply by picking up the remainder of his contract.
There is precedent for a team claiming a player on release waivers. For instance, prior to the 2004 season, the Sox claimed Reynaldo Garcia off of release waivers from the Rangers after he had been designated for assignment. But the cost of claiming Garcia — who required elbow surgery during spring training, and spent the entire year rehabbing in Fort Myers — was virtually nothing. It seems unlikely, by contrast, that a team would claim Smoltz at this point, since he would cost them more than $3 million in base salary and active roster incentives.
So, presuming that Smoltz clears waivers — a near certainty — he would become a free-agent, able to sign with any club for a prorated portion of the major-league minimum (roughly $100,000).
While the Sox will be off the hook for the amount Smoltz receives in a major-league contract that he signs with another club, the team will be responsible for the remainder of his $5.5 million salary. All told, between that salary, his $125,000 activation bonus, and the $35,000 a day that the team paid Smoltz during his time on the active roster in Boston (which ran from June 26-Aug. 7), the Sox will have paid Smoltz just over $7 million for his tenure in Boston, even when factoring in the off-set the team will receive from whatever team signs the pitcher.
Smoltz went 2-5 with an 8.32 ERA in eight starts for the Red Sox. He was designated for assignment on Friday, Aug. 7. The Sox had hoped that he might consider accepting a minor-league assignment so that he could prepare to work out of the bullpen down the stretch, but Smoltz declined, leading to his imminent status as a free agent.
The right-hander insisted after every one of his starts that his stuff was sufficient to achieve the sort of results that have been commonplace throughout his Hall of Fame career. Come Wednesday, when any club will be free to negotiate with him, it will become apparent how many teams agree with that assessment.
|08.17.09 at 12:58 pm ET|
Midnight looms for major-league baseball teams to reach agreement with the players selected in this year’s June draft. And no issue looms larger than that of the future of top overall draft pick Stephen Strasburg and his negotiations — with the contributions of “adviser” Scott Boras — with the Washington Nationals.
Strasburg has been described as a once-a-generation talent, a pitcher with a more explosive fastball than Daniel Bard or Justin Verlander, capable of complementing that pitch with above-average off-speed stuff (a curve and changeup — and good luck to batters who are geared up for a 100+ mph fastball if he can also sell a changeup). The Nationals have already leaked word that they have made a record offer for a drafted pitcher, exceeding the $10.5 million that Mark Prior got to sign with the Cubs.
Of course, Prior offers something of a cautionary tale. He was viewed as a perennial Cy Young contender with perfect mechanics that made him virtually injury proof. Instead, following a collision while running with the bases in 2003 and heavy usage by then-Cubs manager Dusty Baker, prior encountered shoulder injuries that derailed his career. He has not pitched since 2006, another example of a huge prospect taken near the top of the draft who never panned out.
Prior is not alone. Brien Taylor was taken as the top draft pick by the Yankees in 1991, a left-handed pitcher who had stuff out the wazoo (including a 99 mph fastball) when he was taken out of high school. But he ruined his shoulder in a bar fight, and never reached the majors. In 2004, the Padres took shortstop Matt Bush with the top pick of the draft. He was arrested shortly after his selection, never proved able to hit in the minors, was eventually converted to pitching and, after that experiment failed (he blew out his shoulder), is not even pitching in the minors.
There are cautionary tales, to be sure. That said, it is possible to exaggerate the dangers of the top draft pick.
Since the draft was implemented in 1965, 19 of the 44 top selections (not including Strasburg, who has yet to turn pro) have made at least one All-Star team. Former top picks Ken Griffey, Chipper Jones and Alex Rodriguez have all put up Hall of Fame numbers in their careers; Joe Mauer is in his fifth full season of doing the same.
The common denominator of those players, aside from their draft status, is that they are all position players. Pitchers, on the other hand, have been a riskier lot, with just three of the 13 pitchers taken first overall making an All-Star team. (Even the group of All-Stars is anything but illustrious: Floyd Bannister, Mike Moore and Andy Benes weren’t exactly annual Cy Young contenders.)
Will Strasburg be able to fulfill his potential in a fashion that would be unprecedented for a pitcher taken with the top of the pick? Will he even seek the opportunity to do so, or will he walk away from an eight-figure offer from the Nationals in an effort to use his singular talent to bring down the draft system? The answers will start to come by midnight. And the baseball world will be watching with considerable fascination to see what will emerge from the Bermuda Triangle of Strasburg-the Nationals-Boras.
The Red Sox will be no different. For months, team officials have wondered what the future might hold for Strasburg. But Boston has been in the rather enviable position of detachment while watching Boras’ tireless efforts to claim millions of dollars for his amateur advisees this year.
The Sox did not draft a single Boras client this year. And so, the team has enjoyed a relatively calm negotiation period, in which the team has locked up most of the top talents whom it selected.
To date, the one significant disappointment for the Sox has been the fact that sixth-rounder Branden Kline will not sign. The right-hander was viewed as possessing immense potential, with the frame and delivery that suggested the potential for a mid-90s fastball and a nasty curve. But Kline didn’t play in a summer league, and instead seemed intent on fulfilling his academic and athletic scholarship to the University of Virginia.
Otherwise, the Sox have reached agreements with a raft of high-end talents. The team has spent particularly aggressively to secure the services of top prep talents, and in recent days, the team has spent almost $4 million to secure the services of players who fell in the draft due to questions about their willingness to sign.
The most prominent players who have signed with the Sox in recent days include:
–3rd-round pick David Renfroe (signed for $1.4 million), a pitcher and shortstop who earned some comparisons to David Wright; he will be groomed as a position player with the Sox
–7th-round pick Madison Younginer (signed for $975,000), a right-handed pitcher with a fastball that touches the high-90s and a slider that made his high-school opponents weep
–10th-round pick Brandon Jacobs (signed for $750,000), a powerful running back and outfielder who has what Sox amateur scouting director Jason McLeod describes as ‘goofy power’
–11th-round pick Justin Thompson (signed for $300,000), a shortstop who can also play second and third and shows a solid all-around game
–18th-round pick Renny Parthemore (signed for $150,000) is a right-handed power arm who shows the potential for an above average fastball and curve
–26th-round pick Miles Head (signed for $335,000, according to Jim Callis of Baseball America) is a corner infielder who showed significant power in several high school showcase events
When the smoke clears on Aug. 18, the Sox will have added a number of young players (mostly high schoolers) whom they hope will one day make an impact at the major-league level. That impact, clearly, is coming at some cost, though clearly nothing like what the Nationals are spending ‘ in time, money and sanity ‘ with Strasburg and Boras.
|08.17.09 at 12:27 pm ET|
We all thought after the trading deadline that things might turn around but it’s been just the opposite. Since July 31 the Sox are 6-9, a half game back in the Wild Card and 7.5 back in the AL East. Those injuries to Wakefield, Drew, Lowell, Bay, Lowrie and the suspension of Youkilis have not helped. But when you’re looking for the real reason for the bump in the road, focus in on the lineup — what was supposed to be, and what hasn’t been.
So what can be done?
The Sox have the potential for run production, they can be a good hitting team, just not as of late. A consistent lineup is a must.
No. 1, I’d like to see Ortiz batting third. He’s always been most comfortable there and this weekend was encouraging when he went 3-for-8 with two home runs and a double. Put him at third and keep that lefty, righty lineup of Ellsbury and Pedroia at one and two followed by Bay fourth, Youkilis fifth, Martinez sixth, Drew seventh, Lowell eighth and Alex Gonzalez ninth. Right now the lineup is too circular and inconsistent. Granted the injuries have been the cause of that but with Youkilis back on Tuesday from suspension it should makes things a little easier for Terry. Take Lowell out late in the game and put Casey Kotchman at first with Youk moving to third and the lineup is still strong with a better defense on the field.
As soon as the offense becomes more consistent the pitching will benefit. The current rotation has been keeping the Sox in games and Beckett, Lester and Buchholz have been solid. Buchholz last two starts have been especially promising (13 innings, 11 hits, 4 runs, 3 earned, 6 SO) even while receving the loss in both games. He went up against two aces (Verlander in Detroit and Sabathia in New York) and has certainly assumed the No. 3 starting role for the Sox. Tazawa’s debut and performance in that game in New York during extra innings says a lot about him as a pitcher. He followed up that outing with the game against Detroit in which he pitched a gem after the Sox-Tigers brawl. He’s been more than what the Sox expected in the No. 5 slot. Penny also has been putting up good enough numbers for a No. 4 pitcher but has suffered the Sox lack of production at the plate.
You can’t expect to win these games if you don’t start scoring runs. End of story.
Another thing, Varitek needs time off. The acquisition of Victor Martinez was supposed to ease Tek’s load but the recent slew of injuries have prevented that from happening. Martinez has been filling for Bay, Drew and Lowell in the lineup rather than adding another bat to it. Give Tek some time off, especially when we reach Sept. and then you can talk about bringing George Kottaras back up to give Victor a break.
This team is dying for that first day in September when rosters expand. The Sox won’t get a break for a the next three weeks facing Toronto, New York, Chicago, Toronto, Tampa Bay and Chicago before a two-game series with sub .500 Baltimore in early September. Once the Sox can add depth in about two weeks, they will have a much easier time filling the lineup and bench to help out the worn out starters. Bench players and pinch-runners will no doubt be a welcome sight to Francona who had Buchholz pinch running over the weekend. When Baldelli comes back you have his speed plus Reddick’s giving the Sox a big boost late in games and adding one of the elements the Sox have been lacking this season.
So it’s not time to panic yet. There are still seven weeks left before the end of the season including two series each against the Yankees and Rays. If the Sox can stay afloat until September 1 when help arrives, a refreshed offense with extra bats and players off the bench will certainly help the rotation and the Sox chances.
We’ll just have to wait and see.
|08.17.09 at 11:50 am ET|
When it comes to the draft, it’s no secret that the Red Sox are serious spenders.
For years, the organization has capitalized on landing premium players who carry hefty price tags. Take 2005, for example. With the 26th pick, the Sox were able to select (and then pay handsomely in the form of a $4.4 million major-league contract) hard-throwing right-hander Craig Hansen out of St. John’s. Hansen was considered the best pitcher in the ‘05 draft class and a candidate to go first overall, yet it was Boston that was able to tab him thanks to their resources.
Since then, it’s been more of the same. Lars Anderson (18th round in ‘06, $825,000), Casey Kelly (30th overall in ‘08, $3 million), Ryan Westmoreland (fifth round in ‘08, $2 million) are just a few of those who have been paid considerably higher than slot value thanks to the Sox’ willingness to go above and beyond to secure elite talents.
Though they have forked over quite a bit to build their prized farm system (ranked in the top 10 in three of the last four years by Baseball America), they have their limits. The team has walked away from enormous talents in the past, Pedro Alvarez (2005, 14th round) and Matt LaPorta (2006, 14th round), two players who dropped due to signability concerns and who ultimately, in fact, proved unsignable within the parameters that the Sox considered reasonable for an offer. But the Epstein administration has never walked away from a first or second-round pick’ except for ‘07 second-rounder Hunter Morris.
After drafting left-handed pitcher Nick Hagadone (who was recently shipped to the Indians in the Victor Martinez trade) and middle infielder Ryan Dent with sandwich picks, the Sox were next on the clock with the 87th overall pick. With it they chose Morris, a left-handed-hitting first baseman out of Virgil I Grissom High School. The selection came after both Morris and his advisor had made it known that he was willing to sign for slot value, which at that point would be just under $400,000, according to major-league sources. At the time of the selection, it appeared a safe bet that Boston would be able to lure the Alabama native away from a scholarship to play college ball at Auburn.
‘For me it was a win-win situation,’ Morris said last month. Even if the two sides failed to agree, something that seemed highly unlikely when the Sox confirmed the asking price prior to his selection, Morris could still take his swings for at least three years in the SEC.
However, when Morris raised his asking price following the draft by $50,000-100,000, it was anything but a win-win situation, especially on Boston’s part. The heightened price tag led the Sox, who felt it was important to hold a player to his word and not let him squeeze them for more money after a deal had been agreed upon, to walk away from the draft pick. Morris, however, seems content with how his first foray at the negotiating table played out.
‘Obviously, there’s a dollar sign you can put on forgoing college, but I didn’t feel like it reached that,’ Morris said. ‘It definitely just worked out that, at the time, it was a better fit for me to go to college. I wasn’t ready to play professional baseball.’
The whole ordeal left the Sox burned, moving on without someone who seemed sure to be in the fold by the deadline for signing players. Though the Sox received an identical pick in ‘08 (RHP Stephen Fife, who has impressed at Lowell, Greenville, and Salem since his selection) for not being able to put Morris’ pen to paper, the negotiation process gave an indication that the Red Sox organization will not permit players and agents to take advantage of their willingness to spend aggressively to acquire talent.
What does this say about the organization? If anything, it makes the clear that, while the team does have money to spend in the draft, they peg each player at a number, regardless of the round in which they were selected. If the asking price surpasses the number, they will turn their attention and resources to other options, much like they have in recent years with the negotiations of free agents Pedro Martinez and Mark Teixeira.
In Morris’ case, money clearly proved to be the determining factor, yet the slugger respects what the Red Sox were willing to give.
‘The number that [the Red Sox] offered was very reasonable,’ Morris said. “It was a great offer, and it just wasn’t the right fit for me at the time.”
Two seasons and a stint with Team USA later, Morris has used his bat to back up — and likely increase — his asking price of ‘07. Morris has hit .318 at Auburn with 23 home runs and recently finished a summer playing for the Cape League’s Falmouth Commodores. Though he joined the team late because he needed to finish up classes, Morris still finished second in the league with eight homers.
He stood on the Fenway grass last month as he prepared to take part in the Cape League’s Home Run Derby. At that time, Morris reflected on the hectic process knowing full well that next June, following his junior year at Auburn, he’s set to be draft eligible for the first time since ‘07. While he said that he’ll be happy just to go between the first and the last pick, it was interesting to hear which team he’d like to play for.
‘I really am comfortable with the Red Sox and I got to know a lot of their guys throughout the organization and management, throughout the negotiations and whole draft process the first time, and I’m in no way opposed to being drafted by them again,’ Morris said. ‘I mean, they’re a great organization, and a great place to play. There’s nothing better I could ask for. Any of the teams would be great, [but] it would be awesome to play for Boston.’
As for the Sox, team sources suggest there is no lingering animosity towards Morris, whom their scouts encounter regularly in SEC play. It is far too early project a year down the road, but should the opportunity present itself, would the Red Sox really have no reservations about revisiting negotiations that turned so badly for them in the past? It certainly remains to be seen, but whoever the pick is, the Sox will undoubtedly approach negotiations with both deep pockets and the ability to draw a line in the sand.
Alex Speier contributed to this report.
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