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Graphic: How stolen base artists age

12.15.10 at 8:20 am ET
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In today’s column on how speedsters such as Carl Crawford age, Crawford was compared to a group of the 15 other players since 1901 to have accumulated 40 or more steals in five different seasons by age 28. It is a group that includes four Hall of Famers (Rickey Henderson, Ty Cobb, Eddie Collins, Max Carey) and one Hall of Fame hopeful (Tim Raines) as well as several players who performed at an All-Star level for some time. (Also included are players whose only reason for being in the big leagues was speed.)

Here is a more detailed look at the performance of those players as measured by their hitting lines, OPS+ (OPS compared to the league average, with 100 representing league average, 110 identifying a player whose OPS was 10 percent better than average, and 90 identifying a player who was 10 percent below average), games played per season and stolen bases per season. Read the rest of this entry »

Red Sox ‘getting closer’ to a deal with reliever Matt Albers

12.14.10 at 7:46 pm ET
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According to Peter Gammons of NESN and the MLB Network, the Red Sox have signed free agent reliever Matt Albers. A source familiar with the negotiations said that a deal is “not done,” but that it is “getting closer.”

The 27-year-old (he turns 28 in January), who was non-tendered by the Orioles earlier this month, was 5-3 with a 4.52 ERA in 62 games for the Orioles in 2010, striking out 49 and walking 34 in 75 2/3 innings. He has spent parts of the last five seasons in the majors, mostly as a reliever, forging a 15-25 record and 5.11 ERA. In 2008, after he was traded from the Astros to the Orioles as part of the package for Miguel Tejada, Albers had a 3.49 ERA in 49 innings, but with a 26-to-22 strikeout-to-walk rate.

Albers has a low-90s fastball that he mixes with a curve. While his career strikeout numbers (5.8 per nine innings) are fairly unimpressive, he gets a significant number of groundballs, making him an intriguing buy-low possibility on a Sox relief corps that is lacking a groundball-inducing option. Albers has a career 1.05 groundball-to-flyball rate, roughly 33 percent better than league average. In 2010, that jumped to a 1.33 groundball-to-flyball ratio, the sixth-highest mark in the AL (min. 50 innings).

News of the Sox’ interest in Albers was first reported by the Boston Globe.

Read More: Hot Stove, matt albers,

Jayson Stark on D&H: Red Sox could deal Jacoby Ellsbury

12.14.10 at 7:02 pm ET
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Jayson Stark of ESPN called into the Dale & Holley Show on Tuesday to discuss the Phillies’ signing of Cliff Lee and what that means for the Yankees and the Red Sox.

With Lee now heading to Philadelphia with a five-year, $120 million deal, the Phillies have an abundance of starting pitching at a high price. Sports Illustrated reported on Tuesday that the Red Sox and Phillies had a deal in place for Joe Blanton. Stark was asked if Blanton would make sense for the Red Sox.

“Not particularly,” said Stark of Blanton, who has two years and $17 million left on his contract. “I think the Red Sox were willing yesterday to do anything to help the Phillies make this [Lee] deal happen. They would have been a very accommodating trade partner. Joe Blanton doesn’t fit for them. Think about the last time Joe Blanton set foot in Fenway Park. Daniel Nava can tell you all about it. I don’t see Joe Blanton as an AL East kind of guy.”

What is the next move for the Yankees, who now appear to be reeling after missing on Lee? Stark suggests that the Yankees are still trying to figure out what the next step should be, but a move made on Tuesday could lead to a bigger deal down the line.

“The Yankees really haven’t even formulated Plan B,” said Stark. “They were so obsessed, so fixated on Cliff Lee that they were willing to basically put all their resources into him and worry about what happens if they don’t get him later. There’s no doubt that the Russell Martin deal gives them ammunition to make a trade later. Catching is the strongest, deepest part of their system and now they have catching to deal. So I don’t think these deals are disconnected ‘€¦ I think it’s more likely than ever that they’ll make a big deal before the deadline.”

In contrast to the Yankees, the Red Sox have had an extraordinarily productive off-season, adding Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. Stark was asked if the Sox could make another high-impact move.

“I don’t think there’s a whole lot more for the Red Sox to do,” Stark said. “They’re in the tweaking stage right now. I think they are going to listen on Mike Cameron. I don’t think they’re likely to trade him because if you start to look at that outfield and start thinking about how likely it is that Jacoby Ellsbury and J.D. Drew play 140 games each, you’ll see that it’s not that likely. So Mike Cameron still fits for them but he’s an interesting chip. But they’ve spent their money well and they’ve thought and looked over the horizon as they always do and it really showed.”

Is there any chance that the addition of Crawford means a possible deal involving Jacoby Ellsbury? Stark believes the Red Sox are happy with the team they have but won’t shut the door on a potential Ellsbury trade.

“I think it opens that possibility,” said Stark. “No doubt about it. The sense I get is that they are very content with how their team and outfield shapes up right now. But they’ve got four everyday outfielders and an everyday DH, so any time you are sitting in that spot it’s a great place to be. They’re in the driver’s seat now, they can totally call their own shots here and control where their off-season goes from here. Anything they do now, they do from strength. That’s not the case with the Yankees.”

To hear the entire interview, check out the Dale and Holley audio on demand page.

Read More: Cliff Lee, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jayson Stark, joe blanton

Source: Red Sox unlikely to offer any reliever three years

12.14.10 at 4:37 pm ET
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It would not be unprecedented. The Red Sox have done it before — once. But while there is no formal club policy against offering three-year contracts to relievers, according to a source familiar with the club’s thinking, the Sox would only go to such lengths to sign a pitcher whom the club deemed to be one of the best in the game.

While there are several strong options on the relief market right now, only one — Rafael Soriano — could be considered one of the top relievers in the game, and since he is virtually certain to seek a job as a closer (a job that the Sox have filled both for 2011 by Jonathan Papelbon and likely beyond by Daniel Bard), the Sox are unlikely to make a play for him. And so, even though a pair of relievers (Joaquin Benoit and Scott Downs) have set the upper end of the market for middle relievers this winter by signing three-year deals, the likelihood is extremely small that the Sox would offer a three-year deal to a bullpen arm this winter.

The Sox gave out their only three-year relief deal under GM Theo Epstein to closer Keith Foulke following the 2003 season. That paid off in 2004, when Foulke proved a crucial contributor to the Sox’ World Series, but offered a case study in the perils of long-term relief deals in 2005 and 2006, when Foulke missed substantial time with injuries and performed poorly, ultimately losing his job to Papelbon.

The Sox have signed relievers to two-year deals that included vesting options. Both Alan Embree and Julian Tavarez were signed to such deals. Embree made enough appearances for his option to vest, while Tavarez did not, but had his option picked up after emerging as a valuable swingman in 2006 and 2007. Both pitchers ended up being designated for assignment in the third year of their deals.

That history may have informed the Sox’ approach with Downs, the free-agent left-hander whom they aggressively tried to acquire both at the trade deadline and again in free agency.

Downs represented a potentially good fit for the Sox as a southpaw with an outstanding track record (he had a 2.36 ERA over the last four years) and a proven ability to succeed in the AL East. According to multiple major league sources, the Sox had significant interest in Downs, especially after signing Crawford.

In part, that represented the fact that the cost of Downs ‘€“ a Type A free agent for whom the Sox would have to give up a draft pick ‘€“ would not be quite as steep. The Sox had already signed Crawford as a Type A who would cost them their first-round draft pick; Downs, ranked lower among Type A free agents by the Elias rankings system, would have thus cost a second-round pick.

Even so, while the team would have been interested in him for two years, the Sox made the decision to back off of Downs. The team decided that a three-year deal was more than it wanted to invest in a reliever, particularly given Downs’€™ age (34) and the fact that he would cost a pick.

A case can be made that Downs was the best setup man on the market this offseason. That being the case, even while the Sox have interest in other available relievers such as (according to multiple industry sources) Matt Guerrier and Jesse Crain as well as (according to ESPN.com) Kevin Gregg, among others, none is likely to receive a deal with three guaranteed seasons.

Read More: bullpen, Hot Stove, jesse crain, kevin gregg

Red Sox sold nearly 239,000 tickets last weekend

12.14.10 at 3:28 pm ET
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The Red Sox announced on Tuesday that they sold 238,818 tickets this weekend at their annual “Christmas at Fenway” event and online. The event, which marks the beginning of regular-season ticket sales, had its second-best showing since its inception. The team sold 243,024 tickets in their first weekend of sales in 2008.

‘€œWe are incredibly grateful for the support our fans continue to show year after year,’€ Executive Vice President/Chief Operating Officer Sam Kennedy said in a statement released by the team.  ‘€œThe enthusiasm for the 2011 season was palpable Saturday at Fenway Park with the introduction of Carl Crawford to Red Sox Nation and appearances by other members of our organization during Christmas at Fenway.  We continue to work hard throughout this off-season to bring our fans a team and a ballpark experience worthy of their support, and look forward to welcoming Red Sox Nation home on Opening Day, April 8, 2011.’€

The signing of Crawford and the acquisition of Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez likely played a role in the spike in ticket sales.

Fangraphs: J.D. Drew has earned his keep

12.14.10 at 3:27 pm ET
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Dave Cameron of Fangraphs.com offered an interesting piece today, comparing this year’s free agent market to the profligacy evident in the offseason of 2006-07. Over the past couple offseasons, huge long-term deals had been few; this winter, however, the signing of Cliff Lee by the Phillies will mark the fourth $100 million deal of the offseason, following those signed by Troy Tulowitzki, Jayson Werth and Carl Crawford.

Things didn’t work out so well for the baseball world the last time that nine-figure contracts and/or contracts of four-plus years were dished out like Halloween candy. To wit, Cameron notes that of the 14 players signed in the winter of ’06/’07, just one has earned his keep.

The player who has been worth his deal? J.D. Drew.

According to FanGraphs, Drew — because of his plate discipline, power and defense — has been worth $57.2 million over the first four years of his deal, during which time he has been paid $56 million.

The other free agent outfielders signed that winter have been disasters, and received longer-term deals than Drew. Carlos Lee — a glorified DH who is forced to play a position in the NL — has been a $38.9 million player; he has been paid $63 million with another $37 million due over the next two years.

Alfonso Soriano has been paid $64 million over his first four seasons with the Cubs, and is still owed $72 million over the next four years. FanGraphs values his performance at $59.3 million.

A year ago, Sox GM Theo Epstein suggested that he didn’t regret the Drew deal, and suggested that the right fielder had earned his keep. One year later, at least by one measurement system, the outfielder continues to do so. Of course, he will have to recover next year from his struggles of 2010 in order to be worth the money for the full life of his contract. All the same, given some of the other signings that winter (Lee, Soriano, Barry Zito, Gary Matthews, etc.), the oft-criticized deal for Drew could be judged in a different light.

Read More: J.D Drew,

Yankees sign Russell Martin; Sox had limited interest

12.14.10 at 11:20 am ET
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According to multiple reports, the Yankees have reached an agreement to sign catcher Russell Martin. Martin hit .248/.347/.322 with five homers in 2010 before a hip injury ended his season with the Dodgers in mid-August. The Dodgers did not tender him a contract earlier this month, fearing they would have to give the arbitration-eligible catcher a raise on the $5.05 million he earned last year.

The Red Sox were also interested in Martin, but their discussions with him were primarily as a depth option in case either Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Jason Varitek was injured in spring training. A source familiar with the discussions suggested that the Sox discussed a deal that featured little guaranteed money with the 28-year-old.

Martin’s batting average and OPS has gone down in each of the last three years. But he is also a two-time All-Star who as recently as two seasons ago was regarded as one of the best all-around catchers in the game, and at 28, he remains young enough that there could be upside.

Read More: Hot Stove, Russell Martin,
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