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Tom Verducci on D&C: Yanks have rotation edge on Sox

03.19.10 at 12:36 pm ET
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Tom Verducci

Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci checked in with Dennis & Callahan on Friday to discuss the state of the Red Sox and the state of the rest of MLB spring training.

Verducci said it was most important to have the top five guys make the most starts in the rotation, which is why he is giving a slight nod to the Yankees starting rotation over the Red Sox.

“I think the Yankees have a clear edge. … I thought the biggest move was getting Javier Vazquez. He’s just as durable as CC Sabathia and Andy Pettite has been,” he said. “Those are three guys over the last five years in terms of going out, giving you innings, making starts and staying off the DL.”

Verducci touched on the Mike Lowell situation, the Mike Cameron-Jacoby Ellsbury alignment and the big names that the Red Sox might target in free agency down the road. He also talked about the Ron Washington drug situation and some of the best young studs in Florida spring training.

To read the transcript, look below. To listen to the interview, click here.

Explain why your metrics man is Curt Schilling.

Curt pretty much simplifies things. Probably about four or five years ago he told me that the Yankees and the Red Sox are built so evenly when you think about it and look at the win totals the last seven years it’s pretty darn close. He said it all comes down to having your top five starting pitchers make all of their starts, at least the most. The team that gets the most starts out of the top five starting pitchers is going to win more games than the other team. It’s amazing how many times since 2003 that’s been true. The only year it hasn’t been true is 2004, when the Yankees won more games but the Red Sox got the big prize at the end. I think there is a lot of truth to that.

I think you need those other things to put your team in position to win 95-plus games, but once you put your roster together, it really comes down to how many times your top five pitchers take the ball. Last year, for the first time in Yankees franchise history, they had four guys start 31 times each. You are going to be good if your starters stay healthy and make their starts.

Who has the edge this year?

I think the Yankees have a clear edge. As much as people have talked about Nick Johnson and Curtis Granderson, I thought the biggest move was getting Javier Vazquez. He’s just as durable as CC Sabathia and Andy Pettite has been. Those are three guys over the last five years in terms of going out, giving you innings, making starts and staying off the DL. I think they are givens those three guys and [A.J.] Burnett to me has turned the corner over the last two years with back-to-back 200 plus seasons. They have plenty of options for the five spot whoever that might be, whether its [Phillip] Hughes, [Joba] Chamberlain, [Alfredo] Aceves or [Chad] Gaudin, so I’d give them an edge. [John] Lackey has that history of being a workhorse, he certainly can be that pitcher, but he has not been that pitcher the last two years. Daisuke [Matsuzaka] you all know what’s happened to him the last couple of years as the innings total going down and the injuries continuing this spring, and Clay Buchholz, you got to love his stuff but he’s never thrown 100 innings in the big leagues. The potential is certainly there for a dynamic rotation, but if you are starting now and putting down on paper for who is going to pitch the most innings I would say it’s going to be the Yankees staff.

Especially with last year with the starts from Brad Penny, John Smoltz and Matsuzaka having an ERA over 6.5.

That’s way too many, obviously they hoped one of those guys would have stabilized things. If you get into a situation where, and nobody is going to have five pure starters the whole season it happened the Sox in ’04 it was freakish, but you got to stay away as much as you can from getting down into that inventory where you are running out your No. 7, 8 or 9 starters. That’s going to catch up to you, especially in the American League East.

What do you hear and think will happen to Mike Lowell?

It’s a great question, obviously there is a lot of noise with the Marlins if he would be a fit there. I have a feeling he is going to be there. There is protection there for the Red Sox, coming off the bench if you want to switch the DH position with [David Ortiz]. I think it’s all about Mike accepting the role. If he’s going to fight this thing I don’t think he is going to be very valuable to you. If somehow the Red Sox and [Terry] Francona can convince him that, “Right now it may be hard to do where you are coming from, but we think you are an important part of this team, coming off the bench, filling in when somebody goes down.” He can play third, he can play first, he can play DH. If he buys into that I think they have a very valuable guy coming off their bench. I don’t know if he’s there mentally, it’s a very tough down shift for a guy who is used to being an every day player. Right now I think he’s still going to be there, whether he is going to be affective or not is going to be what is in the head of Mike Lowell.

Would the Red Sox pause and be upset if they let Mike Lowell go and David Ortiz struggles like he did last year?

I think there is a little bit of hesitation there. I think it’s going to be a test to the manager if Mike is here, with Ortiz and Jason Varitek. Varitek seems to be buying in to his reduced role. You are talking about three guys who have been such an important part of this franchise as everyday players, as important influences in that clubhouse. These are alpha males in that clubhouse and on this team in the roster construction for years. You are talking about all three guys facing the possibility of being almost complementary type players. I think if David Ortiz starts this year the way he did last year, then I think he is going to lose a lot of at-bats. It’s a very hard thing with one player to manager, and it’s a very difficult thing for a manager to manage three of those players.

Will the short-term deals of Marco Scutaro, Mike Cameron and Adrian Beltre work this year?

I’m not sure about it. I like what they did here, but I think people have to remember that this was Plan B. They went to this because they had to go to this. A couple of years ago they thought Lars Anderson was on track to be a big bat in the middle of the lineup. They didn’t see the downfall of David Ortiz as quickly as it did last year. They are still a team, like most teams, that prefer to have a lot of meat in the middle of their lineup.

I think what happened is they woke up and looked at this lineup, especially the way they hit last year on the road, that this was a poor team hitting on the road last year. I think they didn’t have a choice. I don’t think they sat down and said, “Well let’s switch gears here, guys. Now we think that defense wins games.” I think that they had to do it, and in that sense it was a very smart thing to do.

The downside to this, and they are going to be a very good defensive team there is no doubt about that it will help them a lot, but the downside to this is they are very vulnerable to right-handed pitching. I don’t think they are going to be much better as a team that hits on the road. They are a middle-of-the-pack offensive team, which could be good if their pitching holds up and the defense is as good as they think. Any right-hand power pitching — sinker, slider-type pitchers — I think it’s a problem for the Red Sox. If you look at Tampa Bay especially, you look at [Matt] Garza, [James] Shields, [Wade] Davis, [Jeff] Niemann that’s a bad, bad matchup for the Red Sox. We spend a lot of times talking about the Yankees and the Red Sox, but I can tell you that the best team down here in Florida right now, at least they way they look on the field is the Tampa Bay Rays. Do not discount them from this discussion, either.

It will be a track meet when the Rays play the Red Sox, with the Sox’ inability to throw runners out.

That is a bad, bad matchup. You mentioned the stolen bases, and they are going to run on anybody. You talk to scouts who watch the Rays this spring, and when the starters come out after two or three innings and they start running out the other players, most teams are running out players you’ll see in A ball and AA ball, the Rays in the sixth or ninth inning are running out guys that have major league ability. They just come at you in barrages, they have guys who could start anywhere else. Sean Rodriguez, Reid Brignac, Fernando Perez, Matt Joyce, Justin Ruggiano, they just keep coming at you with player after player after player with athleticism. They are young. They can run really well. They are going to be a very good offensive team this year, and they are going to be a pain in the neck. I think they are right there with the Yankees and the Red Sox.

Is the Cameron in center and Jacoby Ellsbury in left a good thing, bad thing or it really doesn’t matter?

It’s a good thing, because I think Cameron is a better center fielder. I never thought the Red Sox, knowing what they know about all these metrics would every sit down and give out a two year contract to a 37-year-old center fielder. I think that speaks to what an outlier Mike Cameron is, being able to keep himself healthy and being able to play that position at a high level into his late 30s is amazing. I think it is the right thing to do. You can always move Ellsbury back there in a couple of years. I just think Cameron throws much better. His defense is better. To me, I admire the fact that he checked ego aside, because Jacoby Ellsbury, you take his offense and put it in center field with his stolen bases would make a lot of money in arbitration. In left field it doesn’t look quite as good but it’s the right thing to do because the better center fielder is Mike Camerson.

What do you see on the horizon for the Red Sox? Who is the big player they are targeting for the future?

I think everybody in New York and Boston is looking at [Joe] Mauer, but I don’t think he’s going to get out there. There’s going to be a way for the Twins to get this thing done, but clearly if he does get on the market I think he’s going to be a Yankee or a Red Sox. Short term, I think you are looking at Carl Crawford. Both teams love the guy. They are waiting for this guy to come on the market and I don’t think there is anyway the Rays are going to keep him. That being said, I don’t know how he’s not a Yankee, because the Yankees tend to get what they want. Nobody is going to outbid them. Beyond that you are looking at two years when you have that incredible class of free agent first basemen if they get there [Albert] Pujols, Adrian Gonzalez, Prince Fielder and Ryan Howard. That’s a pretty good tree to pick from as you are talking about four great first basemen, if you are looking for a bat you might wind up with one of them. Those are the biggest names that probably wind up on the radar for the Red Sox right now.

What was your immediate reaction to the Howard for Pujols trade rumor?

My immediate reaction was the same the possibility of a trade is preposterous. I’m not saying the idea of the Phillies talking about it is preposterous, but you wouldn’t make that trade in a rotisserie league. Albert Pujols is the best player in baseball. He’s a far better defender than Ryan Howard. Ryan strikes out a ton and he has trouble against left-handed pitching. Albert hits anybody and everybody. They are both signed for the next two years and Ryan Howard makes $7 million more than Albert Pujols, so it didn’t make any sense to me.

It would be like the Twins last year, with two years left to go on Joe Mauer’s contract, throwing up their hands and saying, “We won’t be able to sign this guy, so let’s trade him for an inferior player who makes more money.” It just doesn’t make any sense. The idea that because Ryan Howard grew up in St. Louis makes him attractive to the Cardinals, I mean, come on. They’d be lighting their torches and manning their pitchforks if they ever tried to trade Albert Pujols without trying to sign him. I think he’s the most popular Cardinal since Stan Musial. I don’t care where Ryan Howard grew up. Albert Pujols to me is a Cardinal and should be a longtime Cardinal. They are way to far away from throwing up their hands and saying, “We can’t sign this guy, let’s go ahead and move him.” I don’t blame the Phillies for looking at it.

What is your reaction to Ron Washington and his drug usage?

I was just shocked. It doesn’t make any sense, I don’t know who is buying that it was the first time that he tried it. Think about this, if you are gullible enough to believe that, he’s 57 years old, he’s never tried it, he’s in the middle of the season and his team is fighting for first place. He just signed a contract extension with the Texas Rangers. You are a major league manager and you are 57 years old and now you are going to make the decision, knowing that you are subject to drug testing by the way, but now you are going to try it? You talk about bad decision-making, but this is the guy who is the face of the franchise. That’s what managers are. No one in your franchise is out in front of the media more than your manager, and that’s the kind of decision-making skills that he has.

If you believe it, and I don’t think anybody does, I don’t think that gets him off the hook. In some ways it makes it worse. There’s a problem somewhere with this guy, either a problem in the past drug use or problem in decision-making, I said it was a fireable offense and I would have not have blamed the Texas Rangers if they did fire him. But I think it speaks to the fact how much they trust and like this guy no matter what kind of a bad decision that he made. Clearly they like the guy, they trust the guy, he is on a short rope anyway. Nolan Ryan came out and said that they should win 92 games, if they don’t get off to good start there is no doubt that the seat he is on right now is a lot hotter than it was four days ago.

Could Nolan Ryan change his mind if more comes out?

I would think so. You guys know that we have gone through this with public profile stories in the last four or five years, a lot of times it’s not the crime it’s the cover up of the crime and how you handle it. I would have to imagine that they sat him down and said, “There better not be anything else here that we are going to be surprised about.” I’m guessing he said that there is not. That would be a job killer if there is.

Where have you been, and where are you going?

I’m in Orlando. I’ve been in Florida for spring training. I’m heading out to Arizona. I can tell you that it’s pretty cool being in Florida this year, not just weather wise, but being able to watch Stephen Strasburg and Jason Heyward I think you are talking about young superstars in the game who may be superstars this year. One is 20, one is 21, and those two guys have been the talk of Florida.

At the end of the season who will have made a bigger impact with their respective teams?

I’m going to say Heward. I’ll take Heyward as the Rookie of the Year and I’ll give you the field in the National League and I’ll like my chances. He’s 20 years old and I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t hit at least 20 homeruns. I go back to Pujols in 2001 spring training when he was just too good for the Cardinals to send him back to the minors. And in 1989 with [Ken Griffey Jr.], he was 19 in the Mariners camp and they had no intention of keeping the guy but the more he played they said we have to keep this guy. That’s what I see with Jason Heyward. There would be revolt in the clubhouse with Chipper Jones leading if they didn’t keep this guy on the Opening Day roster.

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