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MLB Bullpen Power Rankings: Red Sox moving on up

02.02.11 at 7:39 am ET
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(For a breakdown of the Red Sox bullpen and what the rest of the American League East relievers look like, listen to The Bradford Files podcast, featuring Rob Bradford and Alex Speier, by clicking here.)

1. PADRES: Closer: Heath Bell; 2010 Bullpen ERA Rank: 1st (2.78)

It was a pretty special group that San Diego trotted out last season, with Bell paving the way. The San Diego closer converted 47 of 50 chances, finishing with a 6-1 record and 1.93 ERA. The Padres’ relievers finished with a big-league best 544 strikeouts, while totaling the fourth-most innings (having to make up for the fact SD notched just two complete games from its starters). The combo of Luke Gregerson, Mike Adams, and lefty Joe Thatcher were tough to top in ’10. This season, the Padres have added another veteran presence in Chad Qualls, who had a rough season between Arizona and Tampa Bay in ’10.

2. YANKEES: Closer: Mariano Rivera; 2010 Bullpen ERA Rank: 7th (3.47)

Sure, Rivera blew five saves in ‘€˜10, and allowed left-handed hitters a better batting average than righties for the first time in four seasons. But he is still one of the game’€™s elite closers, and now has another one of MLB’€™s best game-enders setting him up in the form of Rafael Soriano. The jury is still out on Joba Chamberlain. The bullpen, however, does figure to give lefty hitters some issues with the presence of southpaws, Pedro Feliciano, Damaso Marte and Boone Logan, along with Soriano (.196 vs. left-handers in ‘€™10).

3. GIANTS: Closer: Brian Wilson; 2010 Bullpen ERA Rank: 2nd (2.99)

The image of Wilson closing out the ’10 season with the final out in the World Series was fitting considering the kind of season the New Hampshire native came away with. Nobody in baseball had more saves (48), and he finished with an impressive 1.81 ERA. Oh yeah, and remember Ramon Ramirez? Well, the former Red Sox reliever only allowed three runs in 25 appearances with San Francisco, limiting opponents to a .137 batting average.

4. BRAVES: Closer: Craig Kimbrel; 2010 Bullpen ERA Rank: 3rd (3.07)Atlanta took a hit with the retirement of Billy Wagner, but the way GM Frank Wren has filled in the pen from top to bottom has been impressive. Some veteran influences being brought in have been George Sherrill and Scott Linebrink, with Linebrink figuring to be more of the sure thing in terms of getting to Kimbrel. But it is guys like Jonny Venters (93 K’€™s in 83 innings) and Peter Moylan (6-2, 2.97 ERA in ‘€™10) that separate this group. The high ranking, of course, goes out the window if Kimbrel doesn’€™t step up seamlessly into Wagner’€™s spot.

5. OAKLAND: Closer: Andrew Bailey; 2010 Bullpen ERA Rank: 12th (3.75)

The A’€™s did a good job of solidifying the group behind Bailey, signing both Brian Fuentes (lefties hit .128 against him in ‘€™10) and Grant Balfour. Not to be forgotten are Michael Wuertz and lefty Craig Breslow, who has developed into an extremely reliable reliever. Breslow has now pitched in 75 or more games in two straight seasons, while not allowing an opponents batting average against of more than .197 in either campaign.

6. RED SOX: Closer: Jonathan Papelbon; 2010 Bullpen ERA Rank: 23th (4.24)

The Sox bullpen had a few problems in ‘€™10, chief among them were walks, giving up home runs (most in the majors), and allowing inherited runners to score. New comers Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler should help solve some problems. Jenks’€™ 3.39 K/BB and Wheeler’€™s success in not allowing inherited to score (6 of 32) would have both been best on the Red Sox last season. It should be noted that Wheeler also allowed left-handed bats just a .154 battingaverage a year ago (albeit as a situational reliever, facing just 54 lefties).

7. PHILLIES: Closer: Brad Lidge; 2010 Bullpen ERA Rank: 17th (3.98)

There will be little change in what was a solid (albeit older) group, with Lidge (27 of 32 save opportunities in ‘€™10) and Ryan Madson offering a formidable one-two punch. The keys might lie in the consistency of veterans Jose Contreras (67 appearances) and J.C. Romero (60 appearances), who both proved mostly reliable last season. The fact that the Philly bullpen was 24th in batting average against despite the success of the aforementioned foursome suggests it still has some filling in to do.

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Felipe Lopez’ reported minor league deal with Rays bad news for Sox

02.01.11 at 8:39 pm ET
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According to a report from Marc Topkin of the St. Petersburg Times (via twitter), veteran infielder Felipe Lopez is expected to sign a minor-league deal with the Rays in the coming days. If accurate, the report would represent a bit of bad news for the Red Sox, who signed Lopez during the penultimate weekend of the regular season (after he’d been released by the Cardinals and refused a waiver claim by the Padres) in part because of the possibility of netting a draft pick.

Lopez, who played on a one-year, $1 million deal last year, hit .233 with a .311 OBP, .345 slugging mark and .656 OPS for the Cardinals and Sox last year. He was a Type B free agent who turned down the Sox’ offer of salary arbitration, meaning that the Sox could have gotten a sandwich pick (around No. 55-60 in the coming draft) had he signed a major league deal with another club.

But, if Lopez signs a minor league deal, according to multiple major league sources, the Sox would not be entitled to any draft pick compensation.

In four games for the Sox, Lopez was 4-for-15. The Sox paid him approximately $50,000 (the balance of what he would have made on his 2010 deal had he not rejected the Padres’ waiver claim) during his brief time in Boston, and then declined an option on his services for the 2011 season, and instead paid him a $15,000 buyout.

Read More: Cardinals, draft pick compensation, felipe lopez, mlb draft

Joe Maddon on The Big Show: Why Manny Ramirez will fit with the Rays, and why Boston will ‘dig’ Carl Crawford

02.01.11 at 5:31 pm ET
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Rays manager Joe Maddon was a guest of The Big Show on Tuesday, the same day a press conference was held in St. Petersburg introducing Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon as the newest members of Maddon’s squad.

Maddon was asked about the idea that the addition of Ramirez, now 38 and coming off a career-low 90 games in 2010, could present challenges for a manager.

“My hair is already white. If he could turn it brown, I would be appreciative,” Maddon said.

“I had dinner with him last night, as you know he’s actually a very ingratiating fellow. … We had a good conversation, I explained to him about the Rays and how we do things here and he just continued to repeat the mantra that at 7 o’clock he’s going to play hard and compete. And he said that to me several times. So I think he’s at the point where he feels like he has something to prove. He’s lost some weight, he’s in great shape, he’s been working out with Evan Longoria and some other fellows. It was great to see them [Ramirez and Damon] together, it was a lot of fun.”

Maddon managed Carl Crawford for five seasons in Tampa Bay. He said on Tuesday that he wished Crawford was returning to the Rays in 2011, instead of joining an AL East rival in Boston. The 2008 AL Manager of the Year had nothing but praise when asked about his former player. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: adrian gonzalez, carl crawford, Joe Maddon, Johnny Damon

Familiar faces in new places: Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon introduced as Rays

02.01.11 at 1:09 pm ET
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It was in 2005 that Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez last neighbored in the Red Sox outfield, in a pairing that had lasted four years and included three playoff appearances and a World Series trophy. On Tuesday, Damon and Ramirez were giddy in the renewal of their partnership in the American League East, this time as members of the Rays.

Damon signed a one-year, $5.25 million deal with Tampa Bay, and Ramirez agreed to a one-year, $2 million deal. On Tuesday, they were introduced at a press conference in St. Petersburg.

“We’re back,” beamed Ramirez.

Ramirez, who had made more than $20 million per season from 2001-10, said that he had no qualms about signing a one-year, $2 million deal with the Rays, suggesting that the opportunity to prove his ability to perform at a high level on a competitive team was his chief motivation in joining Tampa Bay.

“I already made my money,” Ramirez told reporters. “I’m here because I love the game, I love to compete. It doesn’t matter how much you make. All you want is a chance to prove to people that you still could do it.

“I’ve been working hard and I want to show people that I can still play,” added Ramirez, who underwent surgery to repair a sports hernia following the season, and then went to Athletes’ Performance in Arizona to prepare for the season.

Ramirez, 38, was limited by injuries to a career-low 90 games in 2010. He split the year between the Dodgers and White Sox (after being claimed on waivers by Chicago in August), hitting .290 with a .409 OBP, .460 slugging mark, .870 OPS and nine homers. For his career, he is a .313/.411/.586/.998 hitter with 555 homers. He suggested that he can play for five more seasons.

Ramirez, who will DH for the Rays, will wear the same No. 24 with the Rays that he wore with the Red Sox, leaving behind the No. 99 he wore with the Dodgers. He told reporters that No. 99 is his National League number, while No. 24 is his preferred American League integer.

Damon grew up in nearby Orlando, and so the 37-year-old — who played in 145 games in 2010 for the Tigers while hitting .271 with a .355 OBP, .401 slugging mark and .756 OPS — viewed the opportunity for a homecoming as an opportunity that could not be turned down.

“This is my dream team,” Damon told reporters at the press conference to introduce him and Manny Ramirez as the newest Rays. “I’ll see much more of my family and friends. I love this opportunity to come back home and hopefully help this team win a championship.”

Damon said that he views the Rays — who won the AL East in 2010 — as capable of competing in the division this year. He also said that he does not view this season as the “final chapter” of his career.

The Rays, of course, are Damon’s third stop in the American League East. After coming up with the Royals and spending his first six big league seasons in Kansas City, he spent one year in Oakland before playing from 2002-05 with the Red Sox. He hit .295 with a .362 OBP and .441 slugging mark with the Sox, helping Boston to the 2004 World Series. He then went to the Yankees from 2006-09, hitting .285/.363/.458/.821 in his four years in the Bronx, which culminated in another World Series ring in 2009.

Now, Damon and Ramirez will be competing against the Sox and Yankees for AL East supremacy. While the departure of free agent left fielder Carl Crawford to the Sox was expected to represent a shift in the balance of power in the division, the Red Sox caution that the Rays’ chances in the division should not be discounted.

‘€œThe demise of the Rays has been greatly exaggerated. Even before those moves, we never erased them at all from our radar,’€ Sox GM Theo Epstein said on Monday. ‘€œThey’€™re uniquely positioned to lose some really good players and stay and keep their status as one of the best teams in baseball given the strength of their farm system. They lose [Matt] Garza, they have [Jeremy] Hellickson ready to step in. They lose Crawford, they have [Desmond] Jennings and [Matt] Joyce ready to step in. They’€™re going to be really tough.’€

Read More: Johnny Damon, Manny Ramirez, tampa bay rays,

Red Sox expect Pedroia to conclude recovery ‘with flying colors’

01.31.11 at 9:28 pm ET
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Red Sox GM Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona suggested that they envision second baseman Dustin Pedroia — who had a screw put in his foot in September to help heal a broken left foot — being able to make a full recovery for the coming season. Pedroia recently told WEEI.com that he would modify some of his activities in order to reduce the strain on his foot, and he also admitted that he still sometimes has discomfort in the appendage, prompting some anxiety about his health going forward.

But Epstein said that while Pedroia will be paced in his return, his recovery is proceeding well, and he is not expected to be restricted for the season. The discomfort Pedroia encountered, Epstein said, was unrelated to the surgery.

“He went through a period where he was having some pain in a slightly different part of his foot, and doctors determined it was basically a result of having the foot immobile for so long. That was reassuring,” said Epstein. “It didn’€™t have anything to do with the fracture or the surgery. He’€™s healing really well, working out. He’€™s not wearing cleats yet, but we’€™re going to be smart about it. We don’€™t expect him to be limited by the time the season starts.”

Francona suggested that he has checked in frequently with the second baseman, and acknowledged that Pedroia has experienced emotional ups and downs during the recovery process. Even so, the manager is confident that the three-time All-Star will be in good shape entering the 2011 season.

“Like anybody that’s had a screw put in, you have some days where you’re like so thankful. You feel those little milestones or breakthroughs, and then, you have a couple days where you get frustrated,” said Francona. “But I think from talking to him and the people that are running his rehab that he’s going to come through this with flying colors. Saying that, the first day we’re down there, we do the 300-yard shuttle. We might not let him do that. We might. But he had a screw put in his foot. We’re going to try to take care of our guys. We’ll check with him every day, but I think he’s going to be OK.”

The 27-year-old Pedroia hit .288 with a .367 OBP, .493 slugging mark, .860 OPS, 12 homers and nine steals in 75 games before fracturing his foot by fouling a ball off of it in San Francisco in late-June.

Read More: Dustin Pedroia, Terry Francona, Theo Epstein,

Francona: David Ortiz needs to face left-handed pitchers

01.31.11 at 8:58 pm ET
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Red Sox manager Terry Francona, prior to a Town Hall meeting between team executives and members of the public, said that even though David Ortiz has endured a significant dropoff in his offense in recent seasons against left-handed pitchers, he does not believe that he can simply sit the DH against southpaws.

Ortiz hit .222 with a .275 OBP, .324 slugging mark and two homers in 185 at-bats against lefties. He hit .297/.416/.643 with 30 homers in 333 at-bats against right-handed pitchers. From 2008-10, Ortiz is hitting .218/.291/.393 against lefties, and .274/.383/.549 against right-handed pitchers. Meanwhile, in Mike Cameron and Jed Lowrie, the Red Sox will have a pair of strong bench options against left-handed pitchers. But Francona does not envision pushing Ortiz into a platoon.

“For David to be successful — and I see his numbers against lefties, believe me, I do — you can’t just sit him because I don’t know if he’d have as much success against righties. I know we believe that,” said Francona. “I think there are times where it’ll do him good to maybe give him a break against somebody he struggles with. That wasn’t necessarily the case [last] April. He was struggling against everybody, and we were struggling to win.”

Francona further elaborated on the difficult balancing act he faced last April, when Ortiz struggled desperately out of the gate for the second straight year, while Mike Lowell languished on the bench.

“For whatever reason, the last two years have been horrendous starts. Thankfully, he’s pulled out of it. There’s no getting around it. Last April was awful. It was hard. You get through it, and we had to kind of fire our way through it at times, and thankfully we did. But it was hard,” said Francona. “I lost a lot of sleep over that. We always tell guys the night before if they’re playing. It’s something that we do, and I’m real comfortable with it. I remember one night in New York, I think [CC] Sabathia might’ve been pitching (the next day), and for one of the few times since I’ve been here, I had to go out and tell guys, ‘I don’t know. We’ll call you tomorrow.’ Maybe in some places that’s normal, but it really bothered me. It was a lot of anxiety for an April game. It was important to them, so it should’ve been important to me.”

For complete Red Sox coverage, visit weei.com/redsox.

Read More: David Ortiz, Terry Francona,

Lucchino: Yankees still favorites

01.31.11 at 8:03 pm ET
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Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino, asked his thoughts on Yankees GM Brian Cashman‘s recent suggestion that the Red Sox are the favorites in the AL East, tried to downplay the comment.

“Cashman is a very honest, forthright guy. But he’s also not above playing games,” Lucchino said. “They’re always the favorites. C’mon. They’re the New York Yankees. They’re in the biggest market in the world. We’re happy to be those guys that they worry about looking over their shoulder.

“If it were anybody but Cashman, I might say there’s plenty of gamesmanship,” Lucchino added. “In this case, he was saying something I hope he believes. I hope he has some respect for us. We have plenty of it for them.”

The Red Sox have been praised widely for ‘winning the winter’ by acquiring Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, while the Yankees failed to land their prize target, Cliff Lee. But while Lucchino admitted that there was “hormonal satisfaction” in enjoying the more successful offseason, he also stated that such a feeling would dissipate quickly once games start.

Meanwhile, GM Theo Epstein took stock of Tampa Bay’s offseason, which now includes the acquisitions of former Red Sox outfielders Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon.

“Those guys can probably still hit a little bit, to say the least,” said Epstein. “I think the demise of the Rays is greatly exaggerated.”

Read More: adrian gonzalez, brian cashman, carl crawford, Cliff Lee
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