Archive for January, 2012

Red Sox may have an antidote for complacency this spring

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

A year ago, the sense was undeniable. The Red Sox were going through the motions in spring training.

The roster was all but set prior to the first pitch of spring training. At the margins, there were a couple of small questions, chiefly related to the 12th pitcher on the staff to break camp at the start of the season (the big winner having been…Dennys Reyes, whose addition to the roster cost the Sox a bit more than $900,000 for a pitcher who gave up three runs in 1 2/3 innings spanning four appearances). But otherwise, the Red Sox approached the spring like a group that had answered nearly all of its roster questions prior to the start of the regular season. That doesn’t mean that members of the team failed to work hard or purposefully, but work behind the scenes is different from a dogfight for a roster spot or role.

And so, when the team got off to one of the worst starts in franchise history, losing its first six games and then going 2-12, that lackluster spring training was blamed by some for the team’s flat-footed beginning of 2011 — a start that, of course, proved costly given that the Sox missed the postseason by one game.

This year, the Sox will take a different approach. There will be a host of positions that are awaiting definition, with the team having open competitions for playing time.

The Sox will have Daniel Bard, Alfredo Aceves, Vicente Padilla, Aaron Cook, Andrew Miller, Felix Doubront and Carlos Silva (among others) competing for the last two spots in the starting rotation. The team will have Mike Aviles and Nick Punto trying to assert themselves as primary shortstop options. In the outfield, Cody Ross and Ryan Sweeney will have the chance to lay claim to a role as the team’s primary right fielder (once Carl Crawford returns from his injury). Spots will also be up for grabs in the bullpen, where the pitchers in the rotation competition will join others such as Michael Bowden, Matt Albers and Franklin Morales in a scrum for the final spots.

“We like [competition] for spring training. We’€™ve had years where we haven’€™t had a ton of competition for the team. Some level of competition is healthy and it gives [manager Bobby Valentine] and the staff a chance to evaluate players when they’€™re in a little bit more of a legitimate setting,” said Sox GM Ben Cherington. “Spring training isn’€™t the best time to evaluate players, but when guys are trying to win a job, you’€™re seeing a version of them that’€™s closer to the real thing.

“We think there’€™s some benefit to having a team that’€™s not just going through spring training getting ready for Opening Day, but going through spring training with a purpose and something at stake. We’€™ll have that this spring.”

Valentine is mindful of the fact that it is difficult to hold legitimate and meaningful competitions in the spring. At the same time, he did note that there is value to the idea of having players working to win unsettled roster spots.

“I wish that the roster was extended through April so we could have real competition under the lights,” said Valentine. “I think it’s a misleading situation if they just think they’re competing on results. I don’t believe so much in results, but what we see and what there is, that’s how we’ll judge the competition. …

“[But] I think it’s always good for guys to feel like they have a chance to work and to make the team so that they work a little harder, because the more you work and practice, the better foundation you have to last the entire season.”

That, of course, is precisely where the 2012 Red Sox are looking to improve in comparison with their 2011 predecessor, a team that was as good as any team in baseball from May through August but whose season was sabotaged by its struggles at the beginning and end of the year.

Hot Stove: A’s reiterate interest in Manny Ramirez

Monday, January 30th, 2012

A’s assistant general manager David Forst, during a Q&A with fans at a team event Sunday in Oakland, said the team would consider signing Manny Ramirez.

“We’re open to it,” said Forst, backing up a comment from owner Lew Wolff last week. “We do have other things going on, and we expect other additions between now and Opening Day. We have never been in a situation where we had too many good players.”

Ramirez, who started last season with the Rays but abruptly retired after failing a drug test, must serve a 50-game suspension for his second violation of baseball’s policy on banned substances before he can suit up.

The former Red Sox slugger would turn 40 on or about the day he would be eligible to play.

“I think at this point it’s probably still speculation,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said, adding: “There’s probably some momentum to it, but certainly not anything that I’m in position right now to comment on.”

Report: Roy Oswalt might be leaning toward signing with Cardinals

Friday, January 27th, 2012

According to Jim Duquette of MLB Network Radio, the Cardinals appear to have the inside edge on signing free agent pitcher Roy Oswalt, although the Red Sox, Rangers, and Astros are still in the mix.

It was reported by ESPN.com’s Buster Olney earlier this week that the Red Sox had offered Oswalt a one-year deal worth approximately $5 million. Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Wednesday that the Cardinals’ offer approached $5 million.

According to a major league source, the Red Sox would be content in waiting to use any financial flexibility they might have down the road instead of getting in a bidding war for a player like Oswalt (or free agent pitcher Edwin Jackson).

Red Sox introduce new digital ticket initiative for upper bleacher seats

Friday, January 27th, 2012

The Red Sox announced today a brand new digital ticket initiative as well as information for tomorrow’s general ticket sale. Below is the full release from the Red Sox:

BOSTON, MA ‘€“ As part of an ongoing effort to provide fans and families with more opportunities to purchase the most affordable seats at Fenway Park, the Boston Red Sox today introduced a new ‘€œDigital Ticket Initiative’€ that would help prevent the lowest priced seats at Fenway Park ‘€“ the Upper Bleacher seats priced at $12 ‘€“ from being sold on the secondary market at significantly higher prices.

For select high-demand games during the 2012 season, most seats in the Upper Bleacher area of the ballpark will only be offered as ‘€œdigital tickets’€ rather than printed tickets, and require the credit card used by the primary purchaser to be swiped at the gate in order to gain entry into the Park on game day.

‘€œOver the past 10 years, we have intentionally held the price of the Upper Bleacher seating category at $12 per seat in order to provide family-friendly pricing options for Red Sox fans,’€ said Red Sox SVP/Ticketing Ron Bumgarner. ‘€œThe downside of keeping these low price points is that these tickets sometimes end up on the secondary ticketing market at significantly marked up prices. By requiring the primary purchaser of the tickets to attend the game through this Digital Ticketing Initiative, our hope is to gradually eliminate those purchasing these specific tickets solely for the purpose of resale, and instead get these tickets into the hands of fans and families all over New England.’€ (more…)

Conor Jackson looking to move on from his ‘whirlwind’ month with Red Sox

Friday, January 27th, 2012

GILBERT, Ariz. — Life with the Red Sox has often served as a springboard for some players. They might be dropped in mid-season, find a role and supply a Bobby Kielty-like heroic moment somewhere in the midst of a postseason run.

It didn’€™t work out that way for Conor Jackson.

The 29-year-old, who was dealt from Oakland to the Red Sox on Aug. 31 for minor league pitcher Jason Rice, currently finds himself spending his mornings working out with Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia, Yankees catcher Russell Martin, Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier and a smattering of minor leaguers in a custom-made barn in back of Ethier’€™s house.

That’€™s the fun part. The waiting to hear about a job is another story.

Jackson is one of the remaining free agents still looking for a job with just a few weeks to go until spring training.

‘€œI’€™m a realist,’€ Jackson said. ‘€œI understand an everyday job is probably not available right now. It’€™s going to be coming off the bench. You look for outfielders who are left-handed, a first baseman who is young and spots you’€™ll get an opportunity to get some at-bats.

‘€œI’€™m just searching for the right opportunity. Free agency is not fun these days. Obviously at the end of the day you have to be a realist. That’€™s the big thing. I just want people to be honest with me where I stand with them. I understand nothing is going to be handed to me. I’€™ve had a couple of bad years so I have to prove I can play everyday again.’€

As for the Red Sox, that door seemingly closed for good when the team signed another right-handed-hitting option, Cody Ross, to fill out their outfield rotation.

‘€œI think they’€™re set now, especially after the signing of Cody,’€ Jackson said. ‘€œIt looks like they have their five and will stick with that.’€

Jackson never found his stride with the Red Sox, due in large part to injuries. The first came during his second start with the team, when he crashed into the Fenway Park right field wall, resulting in a knee injury. Later in the month, it would be the left field wall where a collision would take place, leading to another banged up knee.

He did have his moment, however, coming in an 18-9 Red Sox rout of the Orioles at Fenway when the righty hitter launched a grand slam over Fenway’€™s left field wall. But when the sting with the Sox was all said done, Jackson was left with 12-game resume in which he managed just three hits in 19 at-bats.

‘€œIt was a disappointing finish for me, and just the Red Sox in general,’€ he said. ‘€œGetting traded to a franchise like that, you wan to play as much as you can. Unfortunately my first start lingered for quite a while after I banged into that wall. It was a pretty salty taste in my mouth after finishing like that.

‘€œIt was an experience. It was a whirlwind. I’€™ve never seen another team’€™s reporters come in and cover another team. That was different. But it was a fun experience.’€

Jackson on former A’s teammate, and new Red Sox closer, Andrew Bailey: “Just a stud. A light’€™s out closer. When I was playing in Oakland I don’€™t remember him blowing a save. He’€™s got really good stuff. He’€™s going to fill in for Pap pretty well, and that’€™s a tough thing to do. It’€™s a good move to Boston. He’€™s going to transition pretty well.”

Jackson on former Oakland teammate, and current Red Sox outfielder, Ryan Sweeney: “One of the better defensive guys I’€™ve seen better. He can swing it, too. He just hits line-drives. That will be a nice addition.”

A look at the updated Red Sox payroll (and correcting the record on John Lackey’s deal)

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

The trade of Marco Scutaro unexpectedly freed up more payroll for luxury tax purposes than expected, as the shortstop’s $6 million salary in 2012 would have represented a $7.67 million payroll hit for luxury tax purposes. (More on that here.) Yet in another way, the Sox have slightly less flexibility than anticipated.

It had been assumed that John Lackey had given the team a couple million dollars in additional payroll flexibility with the news that Tommy John surgery that will cost him all of the 2012 season. That is because his absence for the season in turn gives the team an option on his services at the major league minimum for the 2015 season, thus seemingly turning his contract from a five-year, $82.5 million ($16.5 million AAV) contract to a six-year, $83 million contract ($13.83 million AAV).

However, that conclusion was based on a premature push of the fast-forward button. Lackey’s contract remains a five-year, $82.5 million deal. There was a conditional club option for the 2015 season that, if he missed an entire year with a preexisting elbow condition, he would pitch in 2015 for the major league minimum. That is now a club option (rather than a conditional one), rather than a guaranteed season. As such, it does not alter how Lackey’s contract impacts the team’s payroll in 2012. He still represents $16.5 million in salary against the luxury tax threshold in 2012.

That now out of the way, here’s a look at the Red Sox‘ current payroll commitments, in a year when the Red Sox appear to be budgeting for somewhere in the vicinity of $185 million to $190 million (a number that will exceed the luxury tax threshold of $178 million): (more…)

Dustin Pedroia on The Big Show: Punk’d by Andre Ethier

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

Dustin Pedroia joined The Big Show for his weekly radio appearance to talk about the Marco Scutaro trade, Julio Iglesias, Nick Punto, Mike Aviles and his beloved San Francisco 49ers.

Yet the visit was particularly noteworthy for another reason, as the second baseman was confronted with a phone call from “Andrew, calling from his car.”

“People keep talking about this Punto and Aviles, I think they should be starting over you, they should be in the middle infield now,” the caller said. “I’ve been watching you play over the years and you ain’t that good.

“They already got rid of Scutaro, they should probably get rid of you, too,” the caller added in his rant.

Pedroia was quick to respond.

“Let me break it down for you, Andrew,” Pedroia, who won Rookie of the Year honors in 2007 and the AL MVP in 2008, responded. “I’ve got a couple of pieces of hardware at my house that says I’m pretty damn good.”

But lost in all the trash talk and back-and-forth banter was a simple truth — Andrew was, in fact, Dodgers All-Star rightfielder Andre Ethier, one of Pedroia’s closest friends. (more…)

Red Sox GM Ben Cherington: ‘Don’t feel like we need’ to make a move

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

Red Sox GM Ben Cherington, in an interview on The Big Show, said that the Red Sox face a budget but not a mandate to stay under the $178 million luxury tax threshold for 2012, explained the rationale for the trade of Marco Scutaro to the Rockies and suggested that, while the Sox are exploring options (including starting pitching options) to reinforce their roster, that he is comfortable with where the team stands with its pitching.

Cherington suggested that the team is weighing whether there is more to be gained by using their available resources to sign players now or whether the team might be better served to maintain financial flexibility for potential deals either during spring training or leading up to the trade deadline.

“We would be content going [into spring training] with the pitching staff we have right now. Again, any decision you make, when it comes to acquiring a player, whether a free agent or a trade, there’€™s that decision and then there’€™s the opportunity cost of doing that. There’€™s something, by doing that, that you may not be able to do. Those are the things we weigh,” said Cherington. “If there’€™s something that helps the team now, that we think makes sense and is the right value, then we’€™ll do that. If not, we’€™ll keep our doors open, remain flexible and consider things during spring training and during the year.

“Teams evolve,” he continued. “Teams very seldom look the same way in July or at the end of the year that they do in spring training. In large part, that’€™s because baseball is such a difficult sport. It’€™s such a grind, it’€™s such a long season. It’€™s hard to predict exactly what you’€™re going to need. It’€™s hard to predict how players are going to react or respond. Sometimes flexibility can be a good thing.

“The Cardinals, in spring training last year, were getting beat up because they hadn’€™t extended Pujols and they lost Wainwright in spring training. Things worked out pretty well. That’€™s not to suggest it’€™s always going to happen that way, but things change a lot in baseball. We need to stay nimble and be prepared to react to things that we think make sense. If that’€™s next week, then it’€™s next week. If it’€™s a month from now, then it’€™s a month from now. If it’€™s July, then it’€™s July. We’€™ll just take every opportunity as it comes.”

As for reports that the Sox have made a contract offer to Roy Oswalt (and reportedly have also made an offer to Edwin Jackson), Cherington spoke in generalities.

“There’€™s a lot out there. If we acquired every player we are rumored to be on, we’€™d need, like, an 80-man roster. I’€™d never comment on a negotiation, specifically,” said Cherington. “We’€™re talking to a few different guys, we’€™re considering different things. If there’€™s a way to make our team better, whether it’€™s the rotation of the pitching staff or whether it’€™s another part of the team between now and spring training, we’€™ll do that.

“We don’€™t feel like we need to do that. We feel like we’€™re in a good position. If spring training started today, we like the mix that we have and we’€™ll have plenty of contenders for the end of the rotation and the last couple bullpen spots.”

To listen to the compete interview, visit The Big Show audio on demand page. Here is a transcript of other highlights of the interview:

Are the Red Sox under orders to stay under the luxury tax threshold of $178 million in 2012? (more…)

Source: Red Sox ‘exploring everything’ to create roster spot for Cody Ross

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

As first pointed out by Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal (via twitter), the Red Sox face a bit of a roster crunch at the moment. The team’s 40-man roster is currently fully occupied, meaning that in order to finalize the recent one-year, $3 million deal with outfielder Cody Ross, the Sox will have to create space for the 31-year-old.

According to a team source, the Sox are in the process of “exploring everything” with regards to freeing that spot, though at the moment, there’s no sense that the team will contemplate anything “significant” with regards to its roster. While there are still some available starting pitchers on the market, the most straightforward way in which the Sox might clear space on the 40-man would be either a deal involving one of the team’s many out-of-options pitchers (Matt Albers, Scott Atchison, Michael Bowden, Felix Doubront, Andrew Miller or Franklin Morales), since the Sox will be in a position where — barring a significant string of injuries — they will not be able to carry all of them on the major league roster. Indeed, it was with an eye towards that fact that the Sox spent time early in the offseason gauging trade interest in that group of pitchers, knowing that at some point, one or more would have to be removed from the roster.

The team could also consider a trade of one of its six outfielders who is currently on the 40-man roster. If they did so, Darnell McDonald (who is out-of-options) and Che-Hsuan Lin (who was added to the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, but who (after hitting .235 with a .325 OBP, .293 slugging mark and .618 OPS in 85 Triple-A games as a 22-year-old last year) represents more of a depth option than a player whose skills (excellent defense, speed, a good command of the strike zone but limited offensive skills and no discernible power to this point in his career) create a clear big league role with the Sox.

And, if the team cannot deal one of those players for a minor league prospect (someone not on the 40-man roster) to clear a spot, it could always designate a player for assignment and hope to sneak him through waivers to the minors.

The 40-man roster bottleneck will ease somewhat late in spring training, when the Sox can put John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka on the 60-day disabled list. But, until then, the Sox will need to create an opening for Ross in order to make his deal official.

Prince Fielder and the challenge of building through free agency

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

As the Red Sox prepared to reload after missing the playoffs in 2010, they faced something of a dilemma. They could part with three of their top prospects in an effort to acquire a superstar first baseman, or they could wait until after the 2011 season when there would be a potential once-in-a-generation ensemble of first basemen on the market.

The Red Sox, of course, chose the former route. Though it hurt to part with pitcher Casey Kelly, first baseman Anthony Rizzo and centerfielder Reymond Fuentes, the Sox were willing to do so to acquire Adrian Gonzalez on the condition that they were able to define the parameters for a long-term extension. The team chose that path not just because of its longstanding love affair with Gonzalez, but also because they were happy to avoid the murky terrain of free agency, a process that at times resembles a descent into dark underworld of Dagobah in which one never knows what one will encounter.

As one Sox official pointed out last spring, you simply never know who will jump in the bidding in free agency for a player and take him out of a reasonable price range. Moreover, the fact that the free market is not transparent further complicates the bidding process.

It’s become popular sport to ridicule the notion of the so-called mystery team, but suffice it to say that at the start of the offseason, no one anticipated that Prince Fielder would end up signing a nine-year, $214 million deal with the Tigers. Few thought that Albert Pujols would leave St. Louis in order to sign a 10-year, $254 million deal with the Angels.

Would the Red Sox have been able to afford either Fielder or Pujols on the sorts of deals that they signed, or Gonzalez for whatever he might have commanded on the open market? Maybe, maybe not. But what the Sox knew was that they could take the three-prospect needed to trade for Gonzalez and that they could afford his $6.3 million salary in 2011 as well as the seven-year, $154 million extension that will kick in next year and run through the 2018 campaign.

The Sox knew that they had a comfort level adding Gonzalez for his age 29-36 seasons at the value they established in negotiations with him. Whether they would have been similarly confident in the return on investment if they had to sign him through, say, his age 38 season, or if they had to pay Pujols through his age 42 season or Fielder through his age 36 season (given the likelihood that erosion of his somewhat limited defensive skills will turn him into a DH at some point in his deal) is not as clear.

All of that serves as something of a reminder about how difficult it is to plan to build through free agency. Unlike the trade market, which offers cost certainty, free agency inherently features guesswork that either can lead teams to bid against themselves or that forces them to blow past commitments with which they could expect performance to remain in line with contract size.

While Pujols and Fielder received the third and fourth contracts of $200 million or more in major league history, the Sox remained comfortably on the sidelines as the bidding process unfolded. It is hard to imagine that they were unhappy with that vantage point.

A look at the three first basemen:

PRINCE FIELDER

27 years old (turns 28 in May)
9-year, $214 million contract with the Tigers ($23.8 million per year)
2011: .299 average, .415 OBP, .566 slugging, .981 OPS, 38 homers, 120 RBI, 162 games
2006-11 average: .282 average, .391 OBP, .541 slugging, .932 OPS, 38 homers/year, 108 RBI/year, 160 games/year

Fielder is the youngest of the bunch, at an age that suggests he is just entering his prime, and that he’€™s likely to be the healthiest of the players over the coming few years (despite concerns that his massive frame will make it difficult for him to remain hold up for the long haul). He also put up huge numbers in 2011.

He’€™s been somewhat less consistent than Gonzalez and Pujols, having alternated MVP-caliber numbers with star (rather than superstar) level production in the last six years. His year-by-year OPS since his rookie year of 2006: .831, 1.013, .879, 1.014, .871, .981. His defense is also a notable step down from that of past Gold Glovers Pujols and Gonzalez, and the likelihood that he spends the life of his next contract as a first baseman (rather than a DH) is low.

Moreover, he has benefited from his home park, with a .965 career OPS at Miller Park and an .896 road mark. Still, his power is extraordinary, and his ability to impact a baseball while unloading with a monster swing bears resemblance to David Ortiz.

ADRIAN GONZALEZ

29 years old (turns 30 in May)
7-year, $154 million contract with the Red Sox ($22 million per year)
2011: .338 average, .410 OBP, .548 slugging, .957 OPS, 27 homers, 117 RBI, 159 games
2006-11: .297 average, .380 OBP, .520 slugging, .900 OPS, 31 homers/year, 103 RBI/year, 160 games/year

Gonzalez had his fewest homers since 2006, a development that was at least partly the result of the fact that he lost strength in his surgically repaired shoulder over the course of the year and that he suffered a mid-year neck injury that hindered his ability to drive the ball.

However, removed from the offense-smothering environment of PETCO Park in San Diego, he also performed near an MVP level, with the highest average and OBP of his career, along with the second highest slugging mark. Moreover, Gonzalez is in the middle of his prime.

With a healthy offseason of workouts in front of him, there is reason to believe that he is capable of sustaining or improving upon his 2011 performance in the coming couple of seasons, so long as he remains relatively healthy.

ALBERT PUJOLS

32 years old (turned 32 on Jan. 16)
10-year, $254 million contract with the Angels ($25.4 million per year)
2011: .299 average, .366 OBP, .541 slugging, .906 OPS, 37 homers, 99 RBI, 147 games
2006-11: .325 average, .424 OBP, .613 slugging, 1.037 OPS, 41 homers/year, 118 RBI/year, 152 games/year

Pujols is the oldest of the three, and he is at the end of what is typically a player’€™s prime offseason seasons, at a point where decline typically sets in. His career-low average, OBP, slugging percentage, OPS and RBI total suggest as much.

That said, his production was still remarkable, particularly given that he shook off a poor start and that he missed just two weeks after suffering a wrist fracture in the middle of the year. And he still assaults baseball’s with nearly unmatched force.

With Pujols, it is nearly impossible that anyone else can match his peak years. The question is whether the coming peak years of Fielder and Gonzalez might prove superior to the early years of his decline from his historic heights.

Which first baseman would you most want to build around given his contract?

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