|SI’s Tom Verducci on MFB: Red Sox ‘the best team in a very weak division’||04.06.15 at 1:07 pm ET|
Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci checked in with Middays with MFB on Monday to talk about the Red Sox and other news from around the majors. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.
“I do think the Red Sox are the best team in a very weak division,” he said. “It could be 90 wins or maybe even less to win this division. You could make a case for any team to finish first — and maybe even last. … But to me the Red Sox are a team that has the best offense in all of Major League Baseball. And I think their pitching is just good enough to be the best in a weak division.”
There’s been speculation that the Red Sox will go after a premier pitcher sooner rather than later, but Verducci said that might not be as crucial as some people think.
“I’m not a real big believer in that,” he said. “I know a lot has been focused on the fact that the Red Sox don’t have an ace. The team that won the division last year with 94 wins didn’t have an ace — the Baltimore Orioles. I just think the way the game is played now is entirely different than what it was 10 or 20 years ago.
“Listen, in a perfect world I’d rather have the Nationals rotation than anybody else in baseball — I’d want five aces. There’s just not enough of those pitchers to go around. But with a dynamic offense, I think they have a premier defense, I think their defense could be one of the top three in the American League.
“To me, actually, the key is going to be the bullpen. Whether they have the right pieces now, whether they make changes during the course of the season. I think you can win with basically average starting pitching as long as you have a great offense, really good defense — which they have — and a really good bullpen. And I think the key is actually figuring out how they use their bullpen and what the construct is of that bullpen.”
|Mike Napoli pulling for ex-teammate Josh Hamilton||02.28.15 at 10:15 am ET|
Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli spent two years in Texas with Josh Hamilton when the outfielder was at the height of his powers. He knows what a tremendous talent Hamilton is on the field, which made the news about Hamilton’s looming suspension ‘ reportedly for a drug relapse involving cocaine and alcohol ‘ all the more sad.
“It’s unfortunate, man. It’s just tough,” Napoli said. “A lot of people deal with things in different ways. Obviously there’s something wrong where he keeps relapsing, but it’s sad. I feel for him and his family. I just wish him the best and hope that he gets better.”
Hamilton had been one of the feel-good stories of baseball, a former No. 1 overall pick who drank and drugged his way of the game before a renaissance in Texas from 2008-12. Since signing with the Angels before the 2013 season, however, Hamilton’s star has burned less bright, and his latest transgression is sure to earn him a lengthy suspension.
Napoli doesn’t remember Hamilton struggling to stay on the straight and narrow in Texas.
“It just seemed like he was living his normal life,” he said. “It was never talked about. We were just regular people. We weren’t talking about what he used to do or whatever. When I was there, he had (accountability partner) Johnny Narron, who took care of him and stuff on the road. There was never any sense that he was going to relapse and go down that path.”
Napoli recalls the Rangers altering their celebrations en route to the World Series in 2011 to accommodate Hamilton’s lifestyle.
“We celebrated with ginger ale, and then he’d leave and we’d all celebrate (with champagne),” Napoli said.
In the end, Napoli hopes his former teammate can find himself again and overcome his addictions.
“Some people just have that personality, where they just feel like they need it,” he said. “It’s hard. I feel for him. I hope he gets on the right path to get back to being a star baseball player, because when he’s right and healthy and on the right path, he’s another league above this as a talent. It’s sad.”
|John Henry on M&M: ‘I probably would have preferred to play Cleveland’||10.03.13 at 1:09 pm ET|
Red Sox owner John Henry joined Mut & Merloni on Thursday, one day before the Red Sox open the American League Division Series against the Rays at Fenway Park, and talked about the challenge his Red Sox face against their AL East rivals.
“I was watching the game last night, and I probably would have preferred to play Cleveland, because Tampa is so tough,” Henry said. “We play them 19 times a year. Every game is tough. We got the better of it this year. But their pitching is extraordinary. And our offense is the best in baseball. So it should make for an exciting three, four or five games.”
A meeting with Cleveland would have meant a reunion with former Sox manager Terry Francona, who had a falling out with Henry and the Sox ownership after his departure following the 2011 season.
“It would have added an extra dimension, no doubt about it,” Henry said. “It would be sort of like playing the Dodgers in the World Series.”
Henry said the in-house projection for this year’s Red Sox team was to post a win total in the high 80s, as it was a year ago when the Sox stumbled to a 69-93 mark.
“It was an incredibly frustrating year,” Henry said of 2012. “You lose 93 games, that’s 93 nights — and more, because you have off nights sometimes following. It’s just, I don’t know how to put it other than pure suffering. You suffer through that. The games were painful.
“This year it was just really fun to watch and be a part of.”
Henry said the key was a return to the team’s core philosophies, including on-base percentage.
“If you just look at simple things like the at-bats the players had, grinding out at-bats,” Henry said. “The difference between last year, when we had consistently poor at-bats, and this year, it’s amazing to see that turnaround in one year.”
Added Henry: “I think the players and John Farrell and his great staff and Ben [Cherington] and his staff are what got us back to where we were. You saw our on-base percentage last year dropped to either 13th or 14th. And we led the majors this year in on-base percentage. So, there’s definitely been a change in that regard.”
Henry also pointed to the Red Sox’ strategy last offseason, when they stayed away from the big-name free agents and instead loaded up on solid but unspectacular players.
“You saw Ben become much more depth-oriented, as opposed to going after, say, Josh Hamilton or someone like that last year,” the owner said.
Added Henry of Hamilton: “To my knowledge, we didn’t pursue him. Any time he was brought up for discussion, we weren’t pursuing him.”
“People have talked about Tom [Werner], as well, as commissioner. But they both seem pretty happy here,” Henry said. “Last year, I think people on the outside thought we were — you remember we had one phone call over whether or not the team was for sale.
“Even at the worst of it, I think Tom and Larry were committed. We were all three — and everyone in the organization — pretty much committed to getting back on track. And now that we are, I don’t see any of that changing, at least personnel-wise.”
|Red Sox-Angels series preview||07.05.13 at 8:43 am ET|
The Red Sox will head west for a long road trip before the All-Star break, with the first stop in Anaheim to take on the Angels.
The first team in the majors to hit 53 wins, the Red Sox wrapped up an extremely successful homestand with a sweep of the Padres, heading out to the West Coast having won eight of their last nine contests. They extended their division lead to 4½ games over the second-place Orioles with an 8-2 victory on Thursday, giving rookie Allen Webster his first major league win. It’s now been 40 days since the Red Sox moved into first place in the AL East, and they currently enjoy their biggest lead of the season.
The Red Sox have enjoyed quite a bit of late-inning magic this season, with Jonny Gomes blasting his third pinch-hit home run of the season to give the Sox their eighth walk-off win this season (and the second of the homestand) on Wednesday, tied with the Giants for the most in the majors.
‘There’s a vibe that’s been going all the way from spring training through now,’ said first baseman/outfielder Mike Carp after the latest victory that came in walk-off fashion. ‘We’ve still got a lot of baseball left, but we’re certainly in a good position.’
The Angels created some of their own ninth-inning drama on Thursday, scoring two runs off of Cardinals closer Edward Mujica to seal a 6-5 victory, their eighth win in their last nine contests. After going 9-17 in April, the Angels posted a 16-13 record in May and finished June in the midst of a seven-game win streak. The streak helped propel the Angels into third place, and though they’re still three games under .500, the Angels have closed the gap to 8½ games in the division after falling as far as 12 games back at one point in the season.
“The Angels are a winning club,” Los Angeles ace Jered Weaver proclaimed after a victory against the Cardinals on Tuesday. “Obviously it hasn’t gone our way the last couple of years as far as reaching our goals, but we’re never going to give up. There’s too much talent in this room to sit back and not win ballgames. Everything’s starting to click now.”
The Angels do have plenty of talent on their roster yet have not been over .500 since winning their first game of the season back on April 1. The biggest problem has been their pitching staff, which ranks 26th among major league teams with a 4.27 ERA. Their lineup, which boasts some of the most powerful hitters in the game, has been somewhat disappointing yet still effective, coming into the series ninth in the majors in runs scored and eighth in OPS.
The Red Sox and Angels have met once already this season, when the Angels visited Fenway in early June. The Sox got the better of the series, winning two of the three games and scoring a total of 22 runs off of Angels pitching.
Here are the pitching matchups.
WHO’S HOT: RED SOX
‘¢ Jacoby Ellsbury had a huge game on Thursday, belting his second home run of the season (and first in 74 games) and going 3-for-4 to extend his hit streak to 14 games. Over the life of the streak, Ellsbury is hitting .424 with a home run, five doubles and eight RBIs. With the three-hit day, Ellsbury raised his line to .303/.367/.417, and he is hitting above .300 for the first time since the third game of the 2013 season. The speedy outfielder still ranks first in stolen bases, leading the majors with 33.
|David Ortiz thought Red Sox signing Josh Hamilton ‘was going to happen’||06.08.13 at 10:07 am ET|
Ortiz told WEEI.com that he thought the Sox would sign free agent Josh Hamilton this past offseason. The outfielder, of course, chose to join the Los Angeles Angels, signing a five-year, $133 million deal.
‘I thought it was going to happen,’ Ortiz said. ‘It didn’t happen, but I thought it was going to happen. We let some guys go that was like $300 million, so I thought there was a chance.’
According to a major league source, Hamilton and the Red Sox never came close to a deal during the 32-year-old’s free agency period.
General manager Ben Cherington and John Farrell did meet with Hamilton during the winter meetings in Nashville, but with the Red Sox not willing to go beyond three years on any deal Hamilton’s representatives never truly fully engaged the Red Sox regarding a potential deal.
Hamilton has struggled in his first year with the Angels, entering their series at Fenway Park hitting .216 with a .660 OPS and eight home runs.
The struggles continued concerns left over from the second half of 2012, when he saw his OPS drop from 1.106 in the first half, to .833 in the final three months.
Hamilton continues to swing at an extraordinary number of pitches out of the strike zone, totaling the third-most (194) swings at pitches out of the zone of any player in the majors. He is hitting just .122 on those errant offerings.
Fifty-two of Hamilton’s 62 strikeouts this season have been swinging. He also has the second-most first-pitch swings-and-misses in the big leagues.
‘Josh is struggling a little bit, but we know at the end of the season he’s going to be fine,’ Ortiz said. ‘It’s just a matter of time.’
Making the Red Sox’ decision not to pursue Hamilton harder seem better for the time being has been the emergence of Daniel Nava.
The outfielder not only has emerged to play above-average defense at both corner outfield positions, but he entered Saturday totaling the best on-base percentage (.387) of any American League outfielder, while carrying the fourth-best OPS (.846) of the group.
|Red Sox-Angels series preview||06.07.13 at 12:49 pm ET|
Fresh off the latest round of David Ortiz‘ late-inning heroics, the Red Sox prepare to host the struggling Angels for a three-game set at Fenway. The Angels are losers of five of their last six against the Astros and Cubs, and at 26-34 they are in third place in the AL West, 10½ games back of the Rangers.
If there is any team that could get the Angels back on track, however, it might just be the Red Sox. Los Angeles has won eight in a row against the Red Sox, albeit none of those against John Farrell‘s crew, since this is the first meeting of the season between the teams.
The Angels also haven’t quite gotten the production they’re used to. Josh Hamilton (.660 OPS) and Albert Pujols (.732 OPS) haven’t lived up to their contracts, and the team’s best starter in the last month, Jerome Williams (2.12 ERA, 1.06 WHIP), just got bumped back to the bullpen.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, will look to take advantage of the only team with a losing record on their schedule until they host the Blue Jays at the end of the month. They have handled their difficult June well thus far, getting contributions from just about everyone while taking two of three against both the Yankees and Rangers. They have averaged almost eight runs per game on the young month, even without the rehabbing Will Middlebrooks and Shane Victorino.
Here are the scheduled starters for this weekend.
WHO’S HOT: RED SOX
‘¢ Since allowing six earned runs in back-to-back starts in early May, Doubront has posted a 2.74 ERA and 1.39 WHIP in his last four turns. He capped off that run with what was arguably his best outing of the season last weekend, a one-run, six-strikeout performance in six innings of work against the Yankees. Buchholz found similar success in his first start since getting skipped for an irritated AC joint, using just 71 pitches in the rain-shortened five-inning complete game. In the bullpen, Koji Uehara (0.90 ERA), Craig Breslow (2.03) and Junichi Tazawa (2.25) have been sharp the last month.
|Why Mike Napoli left an ‘awesome’ situation in Texas behind||03.07.13 at 7:22 am ET|
For the past two seasons, Mike Napoli was part of a team that won more games (regular season and postseason combined) than any other team in baseball. He has been in the playoffs in five of the past six seasons.
Now, the Red Sox first baseman is banking on the streak continuing.
Napoli not only left a team in the Texas Rangers that had won more than anybody in the past couple of years, but one which also possessed the kind of clubhouse the Red Sox aspire to duplicate.
‘It was awesome,’ said Napoli regarding the environment hovering around the Rangers. ‘You get up and want to get to the field because you don’t know what’s going to happen in the clubhouse that day. You just never knew what was going to happen. It’s always a good feeling waking up and really wanting to get to the field. And winning doesn’t hurt. It had a good feeling.
‘Once you have such a good group like that ‘¦ It’s everything in a clubhouse and on the field that you need. Looking at it, you think you would keep the core group of guys together and be able to keep things going.’
But in early December, Napoli made the choice to move on. According to the 31-year-old, it wasn’t easy.
When December rolled around, there was still a chance that not only Napoli would return, but Josh Hamilton could be back. And Michael Young, perceived as a cornerstone in that clubhouse, was still nine days away from officially being traded to Philadelphia.
‘They were always in it,’ said Napoli of the Rangers. ‘I felt really comfortable there. I didn’t know really anywhere else. The thing that came to mind was I didn’t want to go somewhere and it not be the same. I really enjoyed what they had there. That was the biggest thing for me. I knew they had a good team. We would win there. So they were definitely at the top of the list and I wanted to give them a chance and keep them in the loop and go from there.’
‘I definitely thought there was a good chance he would be back in Texas,’ explained Napoli explained, who was never asked by the Red Sox to help recruit the free agent outfielder. ‘But free agency is free agency. I guess they just couldn’t figure something out. But, yeah, it’s a little surprising just because of his whole situation. The Rangers dealt with a lot with him and were able to comfort him and be able to help him. Just being comfortable with all of his surroundings. That’s his personal decision.’
But three days into December, Napoli agreed to a three-year, $39 million with the Red Sox. He was not only sold on the financial terms, but the idea that the Red Sox could become what he was leaving behind in Texas.
Even when the initial agreement with the Red Sox blew up due to the diagnosis of avascular necrosis in both the slugger’s hips, the Rangers didn’t go away. They understood the value of Napoli, and thought he might want to continue what had been a good thing.
Still, even with contact continuing with Texas, Napoli was ready to move on.
‘When I agreed here I felt really comfortable,’ he said. ‘I liked what was going on. Talking to Ben [Cherington], John [Farrell], their visions of what was going on. Obviously there was the talent. Boston is a good place. I felt they definitely could win here. Texas was always there. I was in a weird situation where my emotions were so up and down. I think going through the whole thing I was hoping we would work it out in Boston. The role did play into it, but I think going into it and other teams being involved I still had my mind set that I was going to come to Boston. But I still had to listen and it just so happened the Rangers came in and were in the same area. I was weighing my options but I really already had my mind set. I already had my mind set once I agreed the first time.’
|GM Ben Cherington on what Red Sox still have to do||01.11.13 at 9:23 am ET|
Red Sox GM Ben Cherington, in an interview on WEEI’s Red Sox Hot Stove Show on Thursday night, said that while the team has not yet resolved its need to add a first baseman given the unresolved nature of negotiations with Mike Napoli, the club is otherwise relatively well defined. The team’s primary focus, aside from concluding its search for a first baseman (with Cherington noting that the team continues to talk with Napoli and is “hopeful” of getting a deal done), mostly appears to be the addition of roster depth.
“Most of the heavy lifting is probably done. We feel pretty good about the options that we have on most parts of the roster,” said Cherington. “We feel pretty good about where we are. We’ve tried to improve as many parts of the roster as we can this offseason. I would expect that there would be some additions to major league camp. Whether that’s roster or non-roster remains to be seen, but I would expect we’d add some competition to major league camp before we get to Fort Myers, guys who are not with us right now.”
One area where the Sox might look to add more competition is in starting rotation depth options. Right now, the rotation in Triple-A Pawtucket looks set to feature prospects with limited big league experience. Of the four starters who appear almost certain to open the year in Triple-A, right-hander Rubby De La Rosa has spent just a few months in the big leagues with the Dodgers, while right-handers Allen Webster and Steven Wright and left-hander Chris Hernandez have never pitched in the big leagues. (Left-hander Drake Britton, whose performance in the spring will determine whether he starts the year in Double-A or Triple-A, also has never pitched in the big leagues.) Read the rest of this entry »
|The age and risk of the Josh Hamilton class, ages 32-36||12.13.12 at 4:27 pm ET|
A few days ago, we offered this column on Josh Hamilton and the likelihood of diminishing returns in the fourth year of a contract. In light of the fact that the 31-year-old (who will turn 32 early next season) signed a five-year, $125 million deal with the Angels, it seemed appropriate to update the numbers to examine the standard performance of comparable hitters as 36-year-olds (Hamilton’s playing age in the fifth year of a deal), particularly given that, as Rob Bradford reported, the Sox were only interested in Hamilton on a deal of three or fewer years.
Hamilton is the 60th player since 1901 with an OPS+ (meaning OPS compared to league average but adjusted for park, with 100 representing 100 percent of league average, and 130 representing a player who is 30 percent better than average) of between 130 and 140 during his age 27-31 seasons and at least 100 homers during that time. As a group, his predecessors have seen their OPS+ drop from an average of 135 to 122 between ages 32-34 to 111 at age 35 before bumping back up to 114 at age 36.
However, the availability of those players into their mid-30s has seen considerable declines. While there were 60 players in the initial “Hamilton class” between ages 27-31, there were just 38 players who remained active at age 36. Meanwhile, of those who did play at age 36, those 38 players averaged 391 plate appearances, broken down as follows:
500-plus plate appearances: 12
400-499 plate appearances: 9
300-399 plate appearances: 4
200-299 plate appearances: 7
100-199 plate appearances: 3
1-99 plate appearances: 3
So, of the 60 original members of the Hamilton group, and excluding the six who remain active but younger than 36, just 38.9 percent have been healthy and productive enough to claim as many as 400 plate appearances at age 36. Players who are elite in their primes tend to remain productive (albeit considerably less so, and with far less power) as they age into their mid-30s, but their ability to stay on the field at age 35 and 36 tends to drop precipitously, to the point of creating the possibility of a very expensive contract albatross.
Here’s the breakdown of hitters in the Hamilton class:
|Hot Stove: Josh Hamilton reportedly offered 3-year deal from Phillies||12.12.12 at 9:27 am ET|
Dallas Morning News writer Gerry Fraley speculated that a three-year deal worth more than $25 million per season might be enough for Hamilton, assuming no team is willing to take a risk on a longer-team contract with the 31-year-old who has a history of substance-abuse issues.
Hamilton hit .285/.354/.577 with 43 home runs and 128 RBIs last season. In six major league seasons (one with the Reds and five All-Star seasons with the Rangers), he’s hitting .304/.363/.549 with 161 home runs and 553 RBIs. He was named American League MVP in 2010 after hitting .359/.411/.633 with 32 home runs and 100 RBIs.
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