|03.23.10 at 11:58 am ET|
FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Seattle Mariners offseason was rightly hailed for some savvy acquisitions, most notably the three-team deal that landed ace Cliff Lee in Seattle and the long-term deal that will keep Felix Hernandez atop the M’s rotation for at least the next five years. There was also the signing of Chone Figgins, which the Mariners believe will fortify their already stout defense.
Indeed, a defensive upgrade was also at the heart of Seattle’s desire to acquire first baseman Casey Kotchman from the Red Sox. Yet while there are few questions about Kotchman’s glove, it was more than a little surprising to see word trickle out of Arizona that the Mariners are considering Kotchman for the third spot in their batting order. From M’s manager Don Wakamatsu, per the Seattle Times:
“It gives us a guy, with [Ichiro] and [Figgins] at top of the lineup, who is not a double-play guy in general, a guy who can move those runners along. And for me, it backs up Milton [Bradley] to the four-hole and gives us a little more depth that way.
“[Kotchman] is a guy that’s not that prototypical power hitter. I think that haunts a guy, too. You try to be something you’re not. We’re asking him to just be a good hitter. He’s always been that.”
Kotchman, of course, endured significant struggles after being relegated to part-time duty after being dealt from the Braves to the Red Sox at the trade deadline. He hit .218/.284/.287/.572 in 95 plate appearances for the Sox, and his numbers in Atlanta before the trade in ’09 — while better (.282/.354/.409/.764) — left the Braves feeling that they were in need of an offensive upgrade in the form of Adam LaRoche.
In fairness, the Sox viewed Kotchman as a fine and underrated player. The team was open to the idea of having him be its everyday first baseman, with Kevin Youkilis moving to third. The team believed that he had untapped offensive potential thanks to an excellent minor league track record, one fine big league season in 2007 and an advanced command of the strike zone.
That said, the Sox also viewed Kotchman as a bottom-of-the-order hitter. All but two of Kotchman’s starts with the Sox came in the bottom third of the lineup. Had he remained in Boston, there is little question that he would have continued to reside there, as Sox manager Terry Francona suggested during the winter:
“I’m a big Kotchman fan. I think Kotch kind of goes under the radar because he came over and he didn’t play and he didn’t say anything and he just kind of went about his business. We can do just fine with Kotch playing first, hitting down toward the bottom of the order and catching everything in sight. I’m pretty comfortable with that.”
Now, the Mariners could be seeking more from the former first round pick. While the shape of a lineup may or may not play into what kind of run production a team will have (some mathematical models have shown that if you more or less pick a lineup out of a hat, you’d do little to affect its performance), the fact is that the third spot in the order is typically reserved for the player whom a team perceives to be its best hitter. That being the case, the idea that Kotchman — even accepting that he does have upside — could end up being placed in a lineup spot of such prominence does appear, at the least, surprising.
|03.23.10 at 11:21 am ET|
FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Rays clearly think highly of Jacoby Ellsbury‘s game. Rays skipper Joe Maddon peered into the future through his funky glasses and (no doubt influenced by seeing the Sox left fielder hit two bombs against his club in a game this spring) suggested that the 26-year-old could hit 20 or more homers this year. Carl Crawford, meanwhile, called Ellsbury his on-field clone.
With all of that praise being heaped upon Ellsbury, one can only wonder how popular he’d be with the Rays if he was actually a member of their organization. Which, of course, he almost was.
Ellsbury once noted that he came very close to signing with the Rays after they took him in the 23rd round of the 2002 draft. Tampa Bay was believed to have offered him a six-figure signing bonus, but the incredibly athletic (but still raw) outfielder elected instead to accept his scholarship at Oregon State. That worked out well for him and the Sox, since Ellsbury was taken in the first round of the 2005 draft, and has since emerged as a key component of the lineup.
Even so, it is fascinating to think of the ground that might have been covered had Ellsbury been put into the same outfield as Crawford (presumably, B.J. Upton would have also been in the mix). As he contemplated the possibility, Ellsbury grinned.
“Lot of base hits taken away. [Crawford] is one of those players that’s fun to watch. He doesn’t have to hit a home run for you to be impressed by him. He runs down balls down the line, or runs down a ball in the gap,” said Ellsbury. “Maybe you didn’t drive in a run today, but you took away three. If you have that kind of speed in the outfield, there are not too many balls falling. There would be a lot of free dinners from pitchers.”
Along those lines, it is worth noting the Crawford is a bit miffed that Gold Glove voters have not recognized an American League left fielder in nearly three decades.* More to the point, Crawford is a bit miffed that he has not been recognized with a Gold Glove.
“It’s always a centerfielder or Ichiro,” said Crawford. “I take a lot of pride in my defense. I try to make plays that normal left fielders don’t make. I guess voters don’t see that as being important. I definitely feel like I should have won a couple by now. Every year when I don’t win one, it makes me want to work harder. I’m not giving up. I’m going for it.”
* – (In fairness, it is worth noting that Barry Bonds was recognized with eight Gold Gloves while playing left during that time.)
|03.23.10 at 9:55 am ET|
Look no further. This is by far the most interesting comment I found in among the pile of Red Sox spring training item:
‘I don’t know another player who looks so much like myself. It’s crazy sometimes. I think he’s almost exactly like me. When I see him, I see myself ‘ especially now that he’s moving to left. His game is almost the same.’
It comes from Tampa Bay’s Carl Crawford and it is the outfielder describing his Red Sox countepart Jacoby Ellsbury.
Then we soak in this portion of Alex Speier’s story:
So the question becomes whether Ellsbury can become a player in the mold of Crawford, a three-time All-Star. A quick comparison of where Crawford was at a comparable age and stage of his career suggests similar trajectories.
Ellsbury ‘ 2009 (2nd full major league season, age 25): .301/.355/.415/.770, 8 HR, 70 SB
Crawford ‘ 2004 (2nd full major league season, age 22): .296/.331/.450/.781, 11 HR, 59 SB
Crawford ‘ 2007 (5th full major league season, age 25): .315/.355/.466/.820, 11 HR, 50 SB
Those numbers suggest that Ellsbury has a more advanced command of the strike zone than did Crawford after two years. They also point to Ellsbury slugging the ball less authoritatively than Crawford.
But one American League talent evaluator suggested that Ellsbury already shows a more advanced plate approach than did Crawford at this stage of his career. Even taking into account that Rays outfielder was younger, the evaluator suggested that Ellsbury’s second half showed a player with a growing understanding of which pitches he could drive.
Ultimately, he thought, that approach ‘ combined with surprising raw power ‘ could allow the Sox left fielder to exceed the career-high 18 homers that Crawford launched in 2006. If he can do so, then Ellsbury’s combination of speed and power could make him one of the best offensive and all-around players in the American League.
‘A guy like Ellsbury can bring up the power, where people were looking at, ‘They gave up some of that for this,’’ said Maddon. ‘He’s going to get beyond just being speed. He could end up hitting 20-plus home runs this year.’
That is a dynamic comparison. For the complete story click here.
– While the Crawford quote was the most interesting utterance of the day, perhaps the best statistical nugget comes from Kirk Minihane’s story on why Tim Wakefield should be marveled at. Writes Minihane regarding Wakefield’s first game in a Red Sox uniform — on May 27, 1995 in Anaheim:
But a closer look at the box score reveals this little factoid: Six pitchers (three for each team) pitched in the game. Five of those pitchers have not been active in the major leagues for a combined 65 years.
Oh, the sixth guy? Tim Wakefield.
So while I’m sure things are swell in the lives of Derek Lilliquist (out of baseball since 1996), Ken Ryan (1999), Mike Bielecki (1997), Ken Edenfield (1996) and Mitch ‘Wild Thing’ Williams (1997), I can report with some level of certainty that none of these fellas will begin the 2010 season in the rotation of a team that should contend for a World Series.
Sixty-five years of retirement! (I miss the Lilliquist Era.)
– The WEEI.com GPS was turned on and discovered that our omnipresent reporter Mike Petraglia could be found at the Joe Mauer press conference Monday night. It was there he came across this comment from the newly-signed Twins catcher regarding Red Sox backstop Victor Martinez:
‘It really comes down to everybody’s individual’s cases, and in my case, I really wanted to stay in Minnesota and I really feel comfortable here. I wish Victor and everybody else out there the best in their decisions, but they have to do what is right for them. I really felt this was the right situation for me.’
Mauer, who will be making just more than $23 million a year for the next eight seasons (after this one), also said he checked with the Players Association to get their take on the deal before he agreed.
– Then there was Martinez’ take on his lot in life as he heads into a contract year, saying the Red Sox have not approached him regarding a new deal. Click here for Martinez’ remarks earlier in the day and Speier’s take on how Mauer’s deal affects the Sox.
|03.22.10 at 8:53 pm ET|
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Using the same pen with which he signed his first professional contract, Joe Mauer signed on the dotted line at the Minnesota Twins minor league complex Monday for a record $184 million contract extension through 2018. He will make $23 million a season in the fourth-richest contract ever awarded a player.
“One of the things we did in this process was check with the players association and see what they feel about it,” said Mauer, who said he’s aware that Victor Martinez is entering the final year of his contract in Boston.
[Click here to listen to Mauer talk about how his deal could set the standard for Martinez.]
“It really comes down to everybody’s individual’s cases, and in my case, I really wanted to stay in Minnesota and I really feel comfortable here. I wish Victor and everybody else out there the best in their decisions, but they have to do what is right for them. I really felt this was the right situation for me.”
Martinez indicated earlier Monday that the Red Sox had yet to contact him about a contract extension.
|03.22.10 at 5:23 pm ET|
FORT MYERS, Fla. — It was a busy day of baseball for the Red Sox, with the team flung all over Florida.
The most promising development for the big league club actually took place at the minor league complex, where John Lackey was dealing for five innings. Despite allowing a solo homer to left by Daniel Nava (the only run Lackey has allowed all spring), the big right-hander featured a nice arsenal of swing-and-miss pitches, including his sharpest slider of spring training. Of the 15 outs he recorded, seven were on strikeouts, and six were on grounders. He was particularly pleased with the fact that he hasn’t walked a batter this spring, suggesting that steering clear of free passes was an important component of success in the AL East.
The Grapefruit League action did not go quite so swimmingly. Most notably, Boof Bonser had a rough day both physically and in his line score. After a sharp 1-2-3 first inning, he gave up homers in both the second and third innings, and finished with a yield of five runs on six hits and two walks (with two strikeouts) in 2.0 innings (he allowed all three batters he faced in the third to reach).
According to manager Terry Francona, Bonser said after he left the game that he felt discomfort in his right groin.
“We hope it’s certainly not much,” said Francona.
Bonser, however, did not mention injuries in dissecting his poor performance.
“It was very frustrating, you know, to try to come in and get that last spot and go out and do something like that, that’s not fun at all. That takes its toll a little bit,” said Bonser. “They say one step forward and two steps back. I think I got my two steps back today.”
Francona, however, suggested that the Sox weren’t going to “penalize someone for two bad days.” He said that the team has been pleased with Bonser’s delivery and arm action, which they consider more significant than his 11.57 ERA.
The Rays continued to pound Sox pitching after Bonser left the game. For his second straight game against the Rays, Junichi Tazawa showed that he can get pounded if he leaves his pitches up in the strike zone. He allowed three homers, and both Scott Atchison and Joe Nelson — each of whom is competing for a spot in the Red Sox bullpen — allowed one.
“Those boys are real comfortable at the plate,” said Bonser. “I don’t want to say it but they need to get uncomfortable real quick.’
— Michael Bowden and a group of relatively obscure Red Sox pitchers fared little better against the Cardinals, losing 13-8. Bowden allowed four runs (three earned) in three innings on six hits. Still, the Sox were ahead, 7-6, entering the bottom of the eighth before St. Louis unloaded on Ramon A. Ramirez and T.J. Large for seven runs in a 13-8 win. Of some note was the fact that Bill Hall — trying to reacclimate to shortstop — committed a pair of errors at the position.
— Alan Embree threw a bullpen session, and will throw a minor league game later in the week.
— The Sox were trailing the Rays, 11-1, entering the bottom of the seventh. The team then erupted for eight runs in the next three innings, but with runners on second and third and two outs in the bottom of the ninth, highly regarded prospect Derrik Gibson had a comebacker to end the game in an 11-9 loss. Noteworthy in the comeback bid: Mark Wagner, who entered the game in the bottom of the seventh, launched a pair of triples. Wagner hadn’t hit a triple in a regular season game since 2007, when he was with Hi-A Lancaster.
Since 1920, only 64 big league catchers have hit multiple triples in a game. John Buck did so for the Royals last year, becoming the first catcher to accomplish the rare double since 2000. Here’s the list.
|03.22.10 at 3:58 pm ET|
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Red Sox starter John Lackey, in his fourth start of the spring, threw five innings in a minor league camp game. Facing an array of Sox minor leaguers (mostly from the Double A and Triple A ranks), Lackey allowed one run on three hits while striking out seven and walking none.
The run came on an opposite field homer to left by minor leaguer Daniel Nava. Lackey was able to take his first run of the spring in stride, however, considering that he had said after his last start that he didn’t want to leave all his runs this year on the table for the regular season.
“Got one out of the way,” Lackey joked. “Honestly, it’s kind of good, because it’s going to happen. It’s good to get that feeling, get back in the strike zone and get the next guy out.”
Lackey threw 68 pitches, 46 strikes. He said that his buildup this spring has been more gradual than in previous years, but that he wanted to scale back his spring workload somewhat after having started each of the last two seasons on the disabled list. He incorporated more sliders than he had to this point of the spring, and was able to use the pitch to record a couple of his punchouts.
“I was more happy with my breaking stuff today than I have been in the past,” said Lackey. “I got a few more swings and misses going for a couple strikeouts that I got. There are definitely some times in games when you’ve got to go get one. I was able to do that.”
The best indicator, Lackey said, of his effectiveness this spring has been the fact that he still has yet to issue a walk. Since the start of the 2007 season, Lackey has walked just 2.22 batters per nine innings, the eight-lowest total among AL pitchers with at least 400 innings in that time.
“That’s my game,” said Lackey. “Especially coming over here to the East, you can’t walk people. Guys are such good hitters, you’re going to give up hits. If you give them baserunners, that’s when those hits are really magnified.”
Lackey said that he would like to extend to six innings in his next start, and then scale back his workload in his final spring training start. He feels that he is where he needs to be at this point in the spring, as he prepares for his first year with the Red Sox.
|03.22.10 at 1:13 pm ET|
FORT MYERS, Fla. ‘ Once again, the Red Sox‘ catching situation beyond this season is front and center. Joe Mauer won’t be walking into the Red Sox clubhouse. That makes all the more significant the future of Victor Martinez, who has told the Sox that he is open to negotiating a long-term deal this spring, but says that the club has not taken him up on that offer.
Amidst that setting, it was intriguing to ponder the parallel universe in which a player who visited the Sox’ spring training home on Sunday could have been the team’s solution behind the plate following this season.
When the Astros visited Fort Myers, they brought with them heralded catching prospect Jason Castro. The rights to the 22-year-old were briefly held by the Red Sox five summers ago.
The Red Sox took him in the 43rd round of the 2005 draft, but Castro said that he was uninterested in turning pro. There was never an opportunity for substantive talks between the two sides.
‘It was obviously an honor to be drafted by the Red Sox out of high school, but my decision was already made,’ said Castro. ‘They called me, let me know I had been drafted. At that point, I had already made my decision to go to school. It wasn’t something that I had a real hard decision over.’
He instead accepted a scholarship to play at Stanford. The opportunity to get an education at an elite academic institution was compelling for Castro. But there was more to the decision than just academic opportunity.
‘I don’t know if I was ready yet, actually, at the time to come out of high school,’ said Castro. ‘I thought I made the right decision: get the right combination of education and the experience to allow myself to mature a little bit more.’
When Castro was preparing for the ‘08 draft, he did have some contact with the Sox. Boston thought that there was a slim chance that he could slip to their pick, the 30th overall in the first round.
That didn’t happen, nor would it have mattered. To the surprise of many, Castro ‘ on the strength of a breakout performance on the Cape in the summer after his sophomore year and a huge junior year ‘ was taken by the Astros with the 10th overall pick. Even had Castro been available with their top pick, however, the team still would have selected Casey Kelly.
Kelly is regarded as perhaps the top prospect in the Red Sox system. Castro was given the same designation by Baseball America this offseason, less than two years removed from having signed with the Astros for a bonus of $2 million and having zoomed through the Astros system.
Already, Castro has cemented himself as Houston’s catcher of the future. In his first full pro season, he excelled at two levels, hitting .309/.399/.517/.916 in the hitter’s paradise of Hi-A Lancaster, then hitting .293/.362/.385/.747 with Double-A Corpus Christi. He’s in big league camp, a reflection of the possibility that he could be in the majors as soon as this year.
‘It was a fortunate situation for me that it worked out like it did,’ said Castro. ‘It’s a great opportunity [this spring]. I’m trying to take the most advantage of it.’
|03.22.10 at 12:28 pm ET|
Joe Mauer and the Minnesota Twins came to terms on an eight-year contract worth $184 million and a full no-trade clause for Mauer. The deal leaves Martinez as the undisputed biggest-name catcher without a long-term deal in place.
“Man, it’s great,” Martinez said on Monday morning of Mauer’s deal. “He deserved every penny he got. I think he’s going to be fine for the next eight years. He really deserved every penny. Obviously, he’s a great guy, a great player.”
[Click here to listen to Martinez’s comments on Mauer’s signing.]
A three-time American League batting champ and reigning AL MVP, Mauer was locked up by the Twins as an anchor of their franchise moving into the new Target Field in the Twin Cities. Martinez, while with Cleveland, played against Mauer regularly as the two were rivals in the AL Central.
“I got to play against him a lot when I was in Cleveland,” Martinez said. “It’s fun. The way he goes about his business, play the game. It’s always fun to watch a guy like him play.
“When you talk about catching, you just look at Joe Mauer. He’s a great player. Everything he has done so far, he really deserves everything he has got right now. Just worry about myself, keep myself healthy and see what happens.”
So does Martinez have an idea of what kind of financial windfall he’s going to run into as a result of Mauer’s signing?
“Can’t really answer that question,” Martinez said. “I don’t really know. We’ll see what happens now. I can’t control anything else. Just keep myself healthy and on the field.”
|03.22.10 at 10:57 am ET|
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Terry Francona understands the knee-jerk reaction to a baseball player getting $184 million over the next eight years. He knows some fans are just going to assume another big-market team is scooping up the best available talent in the game.
“I think it’s really good for the game,” Francona offered on Monday morning, hours before Mauer’s scheduled press conference across town at Hammond Stadium.
The Red Sox manager, like every baseball fan, has heard the theory that baseball’s growing problem of mega-contracts is destroying balance in the game. He then offered perspective.
“Unless you have a way to fix it, it’s easy just to have comments, ‘Well, this is wrong, this is wrong,’ and because we’re not the NFL where [they] have that national TV package, I don’t know a way to fix it, I just don’t,” Francona said.
[Click here to hear Francona’s thoughts on the Joe Mauer deal.]
“I guess I hope people that are smarter than me come up with ways. There is a big difference. I understand that. I used to care more when I was with the Phillies.”
Ah, those days with the Phillies. Francona remembers those years between 1997-2000 when a team in a big market like Philadelphia acted more like a small market because of the lack of big names and big-time success.
Of course, while Boston is a big town, Red Sox Nation has evolved into the most baseball-intense market in the country.
“We are the Red Sox,” Francona said. “I don’t know if it’s fair. I think that our ownership and our city, they’ve created a big market. We’re a big-market team. I don’t know that we are one of the biggest. I know there are differences when you hear people argue about it.
“Minnesota’s got their new stadium and it looks like they’re going to get after it a little bit. I think that’s good.”
|03.22.10 at 9:15 am ET|
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Immediately, the significance of Joe Mauer‘s landmark eight-year, $184 million deal with the Twins was apparent in the Red Sox clubhouse this morning. Players sat huddled, talking about the deal, David Ortiz shouting that the M&M Boys (Mauer and Justin Morneau) on his former club were getting rich.
(As he walked into the clubhouse on Monday morning, Ortiz initially shouted, “(Expletive), Morneau just got paid!” Mike Lowell chided, “It was Mauer, but close enough, David.”)
Thus ends any visions of Mauer becoming the object of a bidding war between the Red Sox, Yankees and several other big-market clubs. Between the deal for Mauer and the injury to Joe Nathan, one can suggest that it was the first time since the days of Kirby Puckett‘s playing career that the Twins were dictating the shape of the high-end market. The fact that the reigning AL MVP will not be available this offseason was greeted with some amusement.
Fellow catcher Jason Varitek agreed, while noting the impact of Mauer’s removal from the potential free-agent market following this season.
“It doesn’t bode well for other teams, probably including us, that [the Twins] got it done before he was gone,” Sox catcher Jason Varitek said with a chuckle. “He’s a premium, premium player.”
“We really want to thank the Twins for signing him to a long-term deal and keeping him in that division,” added Rays manager Joe Maddon. “For us, Toronto and Baltimore, we really appreciate it.”
With Mauer off the market for the next eight years, Sox catcher Victor Martinez immediately vaults to the top of the crop of potential free agent catchers following this year, a crop that also includes A.J. Pierzynski and few other catchers of note. That being the case, it was obvious to wonder whether Mauer’s deal might create greater urgency between the Sox and their own catcher about a long-term extension. But the 31-year-old Sox catcher — who was thrilled for Mauer, and said that the Minnesota star “deserves every penny he got” — said that while he would like to discuss a long-term deal with Boston, there have been no extension talks as he prepares to begins the final season under his contract.
“I already told them through my agent that I was going to be more than happy to [talk] before the season,” Martinez said. “It’s all up to them. … [There’s been] nothing ’til now.”
Yet clearly, the Mauer deal will have repercussions for the landscape that Martinez faces in free agency. Mauer set new records for both the length of a deal given to a catcher (surpassing the seven-year, $91 million deal that Mike Piazza signed with the Mets) and for average annual value (blowing away the $13.1 million standard set by Yankees catcher Jorge Posada in his current catching contract). With the Twins superstar off the market, Martinez could also now face a different free agent landscape in which — if he can prove that he is an offensive force as an everyday catcher in 2010 — he will be the best available player at the position.
But Martinez clearly preferred not to consider those market dynamics. Instead, he simply wanted to reflect on the fact that a player whom he respects immensely was not only rewarded, but will now have the opportunity to remain with the only team for whom he’s ever played.
“I’m really happy about Joe and his contract. He really deserves it,” said Martinez. “On the other hand, I just worry about myself. I can’t control anything else, so just worry about being healthy and keeping myself on the field.”
At the least, the Sox face one less concern with Morneau having signed his extension with the Twins. That deal guarantees that he will face Boston for only two or three series a season, as opposed to having to face the catcher as a constant nemesis had he signed with the Yankees or another team in the Sox’ division this offseason.
“That’s great,” said Sox manager Terry Francona. “Keep all those guys out of the East.”
For more on the free agent catching market, and Martinez’ place in it, click here.
Latest from Bleacher Report
- Cup of Coffee: Benintendi powers Greenville to victory
- Cup of Coffee: Callahan helps move Greenville into wild card lead
- Podcast Ep. 84: Mailbag extravaganza!
- Cup of Coffee: Longhi, Watkins power Greenville playoff push
- Cup of Coffee: Drive step closer to playoffs behind Drehoff, Moncada
- Cup of Coffee: Season comes to an end for DSL Red Sox
- Cup of Coffee: DSL Sox drop playoff opener; Espinoza dominates
- Weekly Notes: Greenville lineup turning heads
- Cup of Coffee: McGrath lights-out, Sea Dogs' bats back Wilkerson
- Cup of Coffee: Perez helps GCL Red Sox clinch division