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Buster Olney on M&M: AL East ‘hasn’t defined itself’

05.14.14 at 1:09 pm ET
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ESPN’s Buster Olney joined Mut & Merloni on Wednesday to discuss the Red Sox and the American League East, whose teams have been stung by a rash of injuries. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

All of the AL East teams except the Red Sox are dealing with injuries to key players.

“Just imagine every team wading in about 6 feet of mud,” Olney said. “No question about it. The other day I was talking to an executive from one of the five teams and he sounded so down. I said, ‘Hey, have you had a chance to look at what everyone else is dealing with?’ This division hasn’t defined itself. It’s essentially sitting out there on a tee for someone to grab — whoever can sort out their issues.

The Yankees‘ issues are absolutely acute with their starting pitching a complete mess. I think even if CC Sabathia is able to come back from the knee problem that he has, I think there are real serious questions about whether or not he’s going to be effective going forward and whether or not their starting pitching is going to be able to support a lineup that hasn’t been as productive as they expected. Toronto has starting pitching issues. You mentioned the Rays with their starting pitching. We came into the year saying well, they’re a World Series contender because of their starting pitching. But with Matt Moore out, are they going to be able to sort through that?

“The Orioles may face a situation at some point very soon where Matt Wieters is going to have surgery and be out for the year. Where do they make up for it in the catching? Their starting pitching is an issue. So, the Red Sox aren’t alone in trying figure out some issues. The whole division is three games under .500 collectively.”

The Red Sox could use more production from their young players, as Xander Bogaerts, Will Middlebrooks and Jackie Bradley Jr. all are struggling offensively.

“I think they’re going to stick with Bogaerts for sure, because they committed to him in the offseason,” Olney said. “When they had their last conversation with Stephen Drew at the beginning of January, at that point when they weren’t close to a deal, they said, ‘You know what? We have to commit to this kid.’ So I think they’re going to do that. That’s not going to change. It’s always possible that you take Jackie Bradley out, you look for better matchups, that type of thing. But they believe in his talent. And they think it’s just a matter of time. They absolutely believe in his defense. So I don’t think those things are going to change.

“I am curious about Will Middlebrooks. I’d love to be in the room and give truth serum to the guys making decisions to know what they are seeing and what they are feeling about him. Because of course they’ve seen times when he’s been a help with his power, but then they’ve seen times when he goes into an absolute funk. Before I came on with you guys I was looking at some of his numbers, and the thing that jumped out at me was his performance with two strikes. The numbers suggest that he’s been absolutely helpless: 5-for-33 in two-strike counts — and not [just] 0-2, but 0-2, 1-2, 2-2 and 3-2, with 19 strikeouts. … With 0-2 counts, for example, 0-for-11, nine punchouts. That makes you wonder exactly how he’s approaching his at-bats, and is he one of those guys that once the pitcher gets an arm up on him in the ball-strike count that he becomes a really vulnerable hitter.”

As for the possibility of Drew finally signing, Olney said he’d likely need to drop his asking price first.

“From what I hear from teams — and I can’t speak to the Red Sox directly; that certainly would be an option for them to pursue — but every team that has entertained that thought and explored it, they basically find that the asking price is really high. Let’s face it: He turned down $14.1 million dollars in the qualifying offer.

“And let’s face it: From the teams’ perspective, the Red Sox and other teams, as the days have gone by there are mounting questions about Kendrys Morales and about Stephen Drew, because they haven’t played. …  I’ve heard this from different teams, where they’ve asked the question: If you wind up signing Stephen Drew on a one-year deal, is he playing for you, or is he playing for himself? In other words, if he has a nagging injury, like Jacoby Ellsbury did at the end of last season, is he going to grind through it for you or is he going to protect himself as he goes into free agency? So there are a lot of complicated questions regarding those two players now.”

Following are more highlights from the interview. For more Red Sox news, visit the team page at weei.com/redsox.

On the elbow injury to Marlins ace Jose Fernandez, which many expect will require Tommy John surgery to correct: “There are a lot of big-picture questions being asked about the handling of young pitchers and, ‘Why is this happening?’ … Guys are throwing harder and they’re stronger then they used to be. The bottom line is that you can strengthen the body but you can’€™t strengthen the ligaments and the tendons.

“I’ve had more and more executives speak to me with some weariness about guys who throw hard now. … There’€™s no doubt that the whole philosophy of pitch counts and innings counts is being looked at really closely, and in fact I had an executive with a team yesterday say to me, ‘We are clueless.’ In other words, we don’€™t know what’€™s going on.”

On the possibility of the Marlins putting Giancarlo Stanton on the market in the wake of Fernandez’s injury: “I don’€™t think it’€™s going to be during the year. It’€™s a weird dynamic with the Marlins because on one hand, we know they cut down their payroll. … But on the other hand, their owner, Jeffrey Loria, he’€™s a competitive guy. … He’€™s looking to win, and obviously, I don’€™t believe that they’€™re going to win this year. I suspect at some point they’€™re going to put a big crooked number in front of Stanton and if he says no, then at that point they might market him, but I can’€™t imagine that would take place this summer.”

Read More: buster olney, giancarlo stanton, Jose Fernandez, Mut & Merloni
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