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No more excuses, time for Carl Crawford to produce

02.23.12 at 8:20 am ET
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If Josh Beckett didn’t say enough this week, Carl Crawford has probably said too much.

Before we get into the rights and wrongs of what Crawford said, let me just note that this is once again an example of why the media (raising hand) can often be completely and totally inconsistent: When a guy gives us nothing or close to nothing we’ll kill him for it. And when a guy — as Crawford has done over the past couple of days with Lou Merloni in a Comcast interview and with Rob Bradford over here — gives us his true feelings and we don’t like them we blast away again. I personally have no problem with an athlete that never speaks to the media, at the end of the day where’s the benefit for the guy?

But Carl Crawford — coming off as bad a season as any outfielder has had in Red Sox history and entering year two of a $140 million deal — decided to make his feelings known in Fort Myers this week. Turns out he wasn’t thrilled with hitting sixth and seventh in the order with the Sox in 2011.

“There’s nothing else you can do [but try to hit home runs],” Crawford told Merloni. “A lot of the other teams, they would come and tell me, you know, they were like ‘we hope they leave you in the seventh hole because we’re not afraid of you at all there. You don’t intimidate us at all. You can’t hit a triple, you’re not probably going to hit a double. And you don’t hit that many home runs. You can’t do nothing, really.’ And to hear that from your peers gives you a feeling on the inside that you just, you know, you just can’t hit there. And I mean, it’s true.”

And that’s the real problem. Carl Crawford isn’t embarrassed about stealing $14 million dollars from the Red Sox (and the owner who, evidently, never wanted him) and doesn’t seem overly embarrassed about playing a not insignificant role in the (wait for it) greatest regular-season collapse in baseball history.

Nope, he just doesn’t want to have to deal with the embarrassment of being a seventh hitter in the order. It’s tough, apparently, to chat with guys from other teams when that’s the case. Makes the slap-and-tickle fests behind the cage a little more uncomfortable, and who the hell wants that?

This strikes me as a pity party, plain and simple. Do I think Terry Francona did a lousy job managing Crawford last season, dropping a four-time All-Star with a $140 million contract to seventh in the order in the third game of the season? Sure, to me it was a staggering overreaction at best.

But let’s ask this: Now that the dust has cleared, does Crawford really deserve to his anywhere higher than, say, sixth in the order? Take away salary and what we thought we knew about players and just look at numbers. Is Crawford a better hitter than Jacoby Ellsbury (who had a far better year in 2011 than any in Crawford’s career) or Dustin Pedroia or Adrian Gonzalez or a healthy Kevin Youkilis or David Ortiz? Other than to pacify Crawford — a legitimate concern, this is the real world and egos do matter — why would Bobby Valentine mess with a lineup that led the American League in runs scored, hits, doubles, OBP and slugging?

“You can’t do nothing,” Crawford told Bradford about hitting lower in the order. “You can’t really steal.”

Well, here’s what you can do, Carl. You can try and draw a walk every week or two (he had 23 walks in 539 plate appearances last season — his .289 OBP was 70th of the 73 qualified American League batters last year). You could actually hit, I’m not sure why you think there is some legislation that outlaws doubles and triples from the No. 6 or No. 7 spot. Were the bases clogged every time you stepped to the plate? And since when is that such a terrific burden? Bill Mueller — who I don’t recall ever being embarrassed about his spot in a lineup and making 1/10th of Crawford’s annual salary — won a batting title hitting mostly sixth and seventh in 2003.

I’m sure Crawford will get his shot at the top of the order to start 2012, but what happens if it’s May 11 and he’s hitting .236? We know now that he’ll be pissed about being dropped, and he’s made it plenty clear that it could affect his on-field performance. He’s put the team in a hell of a spot first by failing last season and now by trying to put some of the struggles on Francona (who told the Big Show yesterday that Crawford’s claim that the manager never spoke to him after moving him down the lineup was “revisionist history,” which is a nice way to say Crawford is full of crapola) to force himself back to where he wants to hit.

The time for excuses are over. It’s time for Carl Crawford to produce. It doesn’t matter if he’s hitting first, second, third or seventh, he needs to be the Carl Crawford the Sox thought they were getting. It was an overpay at $140 million, on that we can all agree, but it shouldn’t be the disaster we saw last season.

And if it is, we don’t need to hear why from Crawford. We’ll have figured it out on our own.

LouTube recap: Merloni answers Red Sox spring training questions

02.22.12 at 6:38 pm ET
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Watch live video from WEEI Live Stream on Justin.tv

Terry Francona on The Big Show: ‘Blowing off steam’ with Manny Ramirez comment

02.22.12 at 6:00 pm ET
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Former Red Sox manager Terry Francona, now an analyst for ESPN, joined The Big Show Wednesday to discuss the upcoming baseball season and his days as the team’s skipper. Francona discussed Manny Ramirez, Carl Crawford and the Sox’ rotation, among other things.

A column written in November by Peter Gammons quoted Francona as saying “Manny Ramirez is the worst human being I’ve ever met” in the 2008 season. Francona wasn’t sure he said those exact words, but did say he was angry with Ramirez after he had pushed traveling secretary Jack McCormick.

“I actually talked to Peter this morning,” Francona said. “I don’t remember ever saying that about somebody. I think what probably happened is — I know it was the Jack McCormick incident — I was probably blowing off some steam, and I was having a conversation with Peter, not an interview. I don’t want to sit here and say I was misquoted, because it wasn’t an interview. I don’t think I’ve ever said that about somebody.”

Francona said that Gammons said he shouldn’t have written the quote, but Francona’s fine with it now.

“I was probably blowing off some steam,” he said, “but when you blow off steam sometimes you learn the hard way, so whatever.”

The former manager did admit that he was very upset when Ramirez shoved McCormick, reportedly over the number of tickets McCormick could secure for a game in Houston.

“That was probably the hardest thing that happened to me with the Red Sox, and it just bothered me so much and it ate at me so much, that yeah, it was hard,” Francona said. “It was very difficult.”

Francona couldn’t guess what the Athletics, who signed the slugger Monday, might be getting with Ramirez.

“Manny might be in a great place. I don’t know,” he said. “I haven’t been around him for a while. There were a lot of good moments with Manny. There were just some that were tough, and some that were tougher than others, but it wasn’t just [problems] like every day. ‘€¦ That’s not how I felt. It was probably a bad day, and we’ve all said things like that.”

Sox left fielder Carl Crawford recently said that he felt that he had to force himself to be a power hitter when batting lower in the order, and that he and Francona hadn’t spoken about it. Francona denied that.

“I think [that’s] — what’s the word? — revisionist history,” Francona said. “I probably have a little bit different version of that. As to where we hit him in the order, we started out the season wanting to hit him up high in the order. As the season unfolded rather quickly, the five guys we hit from 1-5, I think they broke records for offensive production. I’m not sure, where, being a responsible manager, if I shoved him in there, I’d have been doing the right thing for the team. There’s no way to get around it. He was struggling. He was having a hard time and he acknowledged that when we sat down and talked to him about hitting him lower in the order and just making sure he understood it.

“Guys remember things differently, and those are the types of stories that come out a year later. I don’t quite remember it the same way. I know I was talking to [former Red Sox bench coach] Demarlo Hale today about that a little bit and he kind of remembered it a little different too.”

Francona also addressed the fact that owner John Henry had not been returning his phone calls. The two have since spoken.

“In the last couple of days, I actually spoke to him at length. ‘€¦ He had texted me right after the season was over, and I called him back a number of times and never heard back from him,” he said. “It was a little miscommunication, but saying that, we had a conversation and it was probably a 30-minute conversation. It was probably five months too late, but it was a good conversation. It was honest from both sides, and I thought it was good. Good for everybody.”

Francona would not divulge what was discussed, saying it was a “personal conversation.”

“I told him, ‘You share whatever you want to share, but I’m not,'” Francona said. “That’s kind of how I left it with him.”

As for this year’s team, Francona shed light on the team’s decision to move Daniel Bard from the bullpen to the starting rotation.

“Daniel Bard’s not going to struggle as a starter,” he said. “The worry that I would have is probably his innings limit. You can’t just take a guy from the bullpen and let him throw 200 innings, and the Red Sox are as aware of that as anybody. They’re so good about watching stuff like that. If you average that out over the course of 35 starts, that’s five innings a start, so then you’re looking for someone to pick up those innings, which is hard because the guy you want to pick up those innings just made the start.

“I think people are forgetting that having a healthy Clay Buchholz back is huge. This kid turned himself into an All-Star pitcher, and all of a sudden once you’re not pitching, people seem to forget that. If he comes back healthy and he can lob 200 innings, wow, what a difference in the rotation.”

Where should Jacoby Ellsbury hit?

02.22.12 at 5:50 pm ET
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There are two schools of thought when trying to imagine where Jacoby Ellsbury might fit into the lineup.

As he blossomed into a 30/30 hitter who ranked as one of the most dynamic in the game, Ellsbury’s swing became that of a hitter who typically resides in the middle of the order. The centerfielder led the American League with 83 extra-base hits, a number that suggests that he could have finished the year with more than 105 RBI.

On the other hand, his ability to run and on-base presence suggested that he remained a tremendous fit for the leadoff spot in which Ellsbury has spent most of his career. He has always talked about the top-of-the-order being a hand-in-glove phenomenon. And, as the leadoff hitter, Ellsbury would be certain to see more plate appearances than he would in any other spot in the order.

Certainly, Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine is weighing those elements as he tries to determine how to assemble his lineup for next year. Valentine discussed the factors that will play into his decision on Wednesday.

Someone that has as many extra-base hits as he had last year, if he was going to duplicate that, the only thing we can define is that in 162 games, he would definitely hit 162 times with no one on base if he’€™s the leadoff hitter. That’€™s the only thing we can define,” said Valentine. “That has to be considered, if in fact we wanted to give him a chance to have those 162 with someone that he can drive in with an extra-base hit. So I think, if it’€™s just one player, you say that one player can hit a few different spots in the order for all different reasons.

“(But) I think, there is a thing about hitting in an order that sometimes guys have mental conditions also. I’€™m pretty sure it was Mike Piazza who came to me and said, ‘€˜I can’€™t hit fourth.’€™ I said, ‘€˜Oh, you should have told me before I made the lineup.’€™ And then he hit fourth for us and he’€™s going to the Hall of Fame. It’€™s one of those things.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Bobby Valentine: David Ortiz a force, but will he keep hitting lefties?

02.22.12 at 5:02 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — With the arrival of David Ortiz in Red Sox camp, manager Bobby Valentine praised his slugger as a force even as he wondered aloud whether one particularly impressive aspect of his 2011 season was sustainable. In 2011, Ortiz had his finest season in years, hitting .309 with a .398 OBP, .554 slugging mark and .953 OPS — all his top marks since 2007 — while slugging 29 homers and driving in 96 runs.

A strong case can be made that the most extraordinary aspect of Ortiz’s season was his performance against left-handed pitchers. Ortiz had struggled dramatically against southpaws from 2008-10, but in 2011, he was better than ever against them. He set career-bests against left-handers in average (.329), OBP (.423) and OPS (.989). As such, one can make the case that from at-bat to at-bat he’d never been more consistent.

But, the question looms: Given how much better Ortiz was against lefties in 2011 than in the previous three years, are those marks sustainable? Ortiz had a .371 batting average on balls in play against lefties last year, a huge spike from his career mark of .298 and the 2011 league left-on-left average of .296. Without examining his at-bats to understand the basis of such a leap, it would be easy to suggest that Ortiz was the beneficiary of some luck.

Valentine acknowledged that question even as he enthused about what Ortiz would mean to his lineup.

“The clubhouse seems to be full of David right now. I expect him to have that smile as often as possible so he can light up our clubhouse and our dugout,” said Valentine. “I hope he can swing the bat the way he did last year. I don’€™t know if he can hit left-handers equally well. I hope he can. Provide some leadership, provide some experience and put some fear into the hearts of opposing pitchers.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Bobby Valentine, David Ortiz,

Dustin Pedroia will be hitting ‘cage bombs’ and ‘going to the moon’ this spring

02.22.12 at 2:21 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Dustin Pedroia is ready.

The second baseman in his sixth year with the Red Sox is ready for a new outlook, new manager and new feel in 2012.

And he’s come up with a new catch-phase.

On his way out Wednesday, Pedroia, who spent seven hours shooting a Sullivan Tire commercial Tuesday, said he was on a mission.

“Heading out to hit cage bombs, going to the moon,” Pedroia said.

What was his offseason training like?

“I was trying to straight body build, man,” he said without cracking a smile. “That’s basically it, and hit cage bombs.”

Before that, he spent several minutes talking about why he feels good coming into this season.

“We’re going to play good baseball,” Pedroia said of the fundamental approach of new skipper Bobby Valentine. “I’m excited, I’m excited to go play. Last year, the end was tough but we have to regroup together, come out and play good baseball and do it all year long.”

As for Valentine, Pedroia knows he must get accustomed to a new message coming from the manager’s office. He’s ready to start getting a feel for the specifics.

“I’ve been here a day and a half and met him a couple of times but we’ll find out more once camp goes,” Pedroia said. “From what I hear, he’s thinking about baseball non-stop and thinking about fundamentals and trying to get this team where this team needs to be.

“Play the game the right way. That’s basically it. I don’t have answers for what went on last year. Last year is over. It was tough. There’s not a day that goes by I don’t think about it. You have to try and turn the page and come out and play well and play for your teammates. That’s what I’m going to try and do.”

Pedroia knows Valentine will have a different approach than Terry Francona, the manager he would play cribbage and cards with before games.

“It’s different,” Pedroia said. “That’s the only thing I’ve kind of known. Things change. It’s tough to see [Francona] go, especially the way that it ended for us last year. He’ll always be a close friend of mine. Whatever he chooses to do going forward, I’m pulling for him.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Boston Red Sox, cage bombs, Dustin Pedroia, marco scutaro

JetBluePark.com directs to Yankees site

02.22.12 at 1:57 pm ET
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The Red Sox did not miss many details when it came to constructing the team’s new spring training home, JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Fla. One thing they overlooked, however, was obtaining the Internet domain name jetbluepark.com.

Fort Myers resident Eric Engelman purchased the domain name for $8 last March after learning of the new facility’s name.

“I just thought it would be fun to have,” Engleman told The News-Press.

Engelman, 30, is a Cubs fan, but he decided to play a joke and have the site link to the Yankees home page. That got the attention of the Red Sox.

“Have him call me,” executive vice president and chief operating officer Sam Kennedy told the Florida paper. “We can make a deal. Or maybe we can make a deal.”

Read More: JetBlue Park, Sam Kennedy,

Rich Hill feeling better than ever after Tommy John surgery

02.22.12 at 10:44 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — When he underwent Tommy John surgery last June, Rich Hill knew that there was a long rehab road ahead of him. Players often need a full year or more to be back in position to pitch in games.

But the left-hander, who made nine scoreless appearances for the Sox last season before blowing out, is already pushing the timetable of his return. The 31-year-old used the period of his recovery from surgery to improve his overall strength and conditioning, to the point where he has thrown impressive bullpen sessions in which his mechanics have been close to what they were prior to his injury and surgery.

“You can see it,” Hill, less than nine months after the surgery, said of his progress. “It’€™s the first time I’€™ve been through anything like this, this major of a surgery. I haven’€™t felt as good as I feel now probably since the beginning of my career, because of the rehab. The shoulder is fully rehabbed. The elbow now has obviously been fixed. When you have that combination of the rehab process with the lifting and the strengthening that goes on, I took advantage of it. I made the most of it. I’€™ve worked. It’€™s made a big difference. … Over the course of the offseason, there’€™s been a lot of work that’€™s been put in. It’€™s paying off.”

That is true in more ways than one. Hill signed a minor league deal with the Red Sox in December that included a $725,000 salary if he made the big league roster as well as the possibility of an opt-out in the first week of March if he was not added to the roster. On Tuesday, roughly seven to 10 days before the left-hander would have had the opportunity to declare free agency if not on the roster, the Sox went ahead and added him to the 40-man roster. Read the rest of this entry »

David Ortiz talks September collapse, free agency, future with Red Sox

02.22.12 at 10:34 am ET
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Shortly after arriving at JetBlue Park for the first time, Wednesday, David Ortiz took time to field questions from the media. The Red Sox‘ DH touched on a variety of subjects, including last September’s collapse, his foray into free agency, and how he currently views his team. The following is a transcript from the 30-minute session:

(Thoughts about the new year?)

You always have something to prove. A new year, new season. I’m excited, very excited.

(Did you have any beer and chicken?)

Do I look like it?

(Thoughts on the controversy surrounding the team following last season?)

After you finish the way we did always somebody has something to say about it, that’s normal. I think it’s 2012 already. It’s a new season. I think a good way to start things is being positive. Saw most of my teammates out there and it looks like everybody is ready to go. This year is going to be a challenge, like some other times. It’s a year everybody has to come in and pull themselves together and try to change things around.

We have a lot of leaders, a lot of guys capable to change things around. That’s not going to be a problem. Sometimes you get caught in some situations and things get out of hand for a minute. The deal people make about our clubhouse last year was bigger than what it was, that’s the way I see it. That’s why at one point I was like, ‘Whatever.’ You can make any story, you can say whatever you want, but we’re the one who knows how our clubhouse runs. I’m one of the guys who is one of the older guys here on the team and I know there are a lot of people watching what I do. That put me in a situation where I had to try and do things, not perfect because I’m not perfect ‘€¦ my teammates are a group of hard-working guys, I believe in them and when I was listening to everything people had to say last year it got me a little upset because it isn’t like that. But playing the way we played the last month, and the way things went down, of course you’re going to have the right to say whatever you want. But one thing I wasn’t worried about was leadership. I’m not worried about that because everybody takes things personal here. Everybody wants to go out and do something to help this ball club to win games.

(Leadership on the team?)

I always feel that. I’ve been feeling that for years. It’s not like it’s new to me. Like I say, when guys walk into our clubhouse guys already know what our goal is. Based on what happened the last month of the season last year it seemed like everything was going south. It didn’t matter what we did, it seemed like everything was going to end up the way it did. Now this year we’ve changed things around. You learn from your mistakes. You learn from your struggles. So I’m pretty sure everybody is on same page now and things are going to be different. We have a new manager, Bobby, and he has an idea what he wants to do with all of us and I’m pretty sure that he’s going to take over and try and do his job his best.

(On pitchers drinking beer and eating fried chicken during games)

Well, I don’€™t think ‘€¦ not because of the beer or the chicken. The problem was when they did it. If they come out and apologize, that means they’€™re not going to do it again. Because of that, you need to turn the page. We’€™re going to be thinking of the fried chicken and the beer that they had last September and March and February of 2012? No. you’€™re not going to resolve any problems with that. Now, we have a new skipper, he is aware of all this stuff and he’€™s going to try to change things around. That’€™s all you can do about it.

Read the rest of this entry »

Will Middlebrooks offers scouting report on Chris Carpenter, Bryce Harper, Mike Trout

02.22.12 at 10:32 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Arizona Fall League typically assembles many of the top prospects in the game. Last fall was no different.

As a result, third baseman Will Middlebrooks — the consensus top prospect in the Red Sox system — had a fascinating vantage point to observe some elite talent while playing for the Scottsdale Scorpions. Though his AFL season was cut very short by virtue of a left thumb sprain incurred while chasing a foul ball, the experience was nonetheless memorable.

Middlebrooks was on the same team as outfielders Bryce Harper and Mike Trout — considered the top two prospects in the game — and also had a chance to face right-hander Chris Carpenter, the pitcher whom the Sox acquired from the Cubs as compensation for the departure of former GM Theo Epstein. Here are some of Middlebrooks’ observations on those players:

On Carpenter: “I only faced him once. All I remember is he threw hard and had good stuff. He was one of the guys who was a later-innings guy, who came in and threw hard — good, hard stuff: hard fastball, hard slider. It was definitely good. … He didn’t have any control issues against us.”

On Trout and Harper: “Good guys, man. Stupid tools. They’re going to be really good for a long time.”

On what stood out first about each: “For Trout, speed. His jumps on balls in the outfield, it’s crazy to watch him out there. Then Harp, it’s his power, man. His pop. He’s so strong. His hands are so fast. If you throw it 120 (mph) up there, he’s going to find a way to square it up. He may miss the first two, but you’re not going to beat him more than once or twice. He’s going to make you pay. … He would flick balls out to left, and hit them out like righties would hit them. The most impressive thing was, we were down by one, there were two men on base and he said, ‘Hey, man, if I get up and get a chance, I’m going to hit a three-run walkoff homer.’ Everyone was like, ‘Shut up, man. No you’re not.’ Second pitch — he took it up and in, then the guy throws him a slider and it was like, ‘Whack.’ Dead center. Walkoff. We were all like, ‘Man, we’re never going to hear the end of this.'”

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