American League Playoff Contenders Remaining Schedules—New York Yankees

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Baseball is unlike any other sport in that the sheer number of games and individualism within a collective is more important than anything else. By that I mean there’s not an offensive line dominating a defensive line; a hot shooter taking over the game; or a legitimate home field/court advantage. It’s baseball. Any team can beat the hell out of any other team; any closer can give up a game-tying homer; any pitcher can make a mistake to the worst hitter in the opposing lineup and cost his club the game; any manager can bring in the wrong player in the wrong place at the wrong time and lose.

This is why when desperate and panicky fans examine their teams schedule and start checking off wins, it’s a blind, baseless example of faith with no foundation.

With that in mind, let’s look at the schedules of contenders and analyze based on fact and not fantasy and laziness.

Let’s start with the New York Yankees

Yankees vs Red Sox, Sept. 11-13 at Boston; Oct. 1-3 at New York

The Red Sox are gutted, overmatched, and doing just enough to maintain appearances of “trying” while not being fully invested in the outcome. They care about their performance and perception, but knowing that the season is almost over and drastic changes are coming to the club’s construction, they’d just like to get 2012 over with.

The Red Sox are fielding a terrible lineup, but the Yankees haven’t been scoring much either. Jon Lester is starting the opening game of the series, followed by Aaron Cook and Felix Doubront. Hiroki Kuroda, David Phelps, and Phil Hughes are scheduled for the Yankees. There’s not a distinct advantage and the Red Sox might get a boost from putting a dent in the Yankees playoff hopes.

The final three games of the season may mean the difference between the Yankees winning the division, getting one of the Wild Cards, or missing the playoffs entirely. If the Red Sox can win two of the six games, that might be enough to severely harm the Yankees’ chances.

Yankees vs Rays, Sept. 14-16 in New York

The Rays are younger, healthier, and deeper. They’ve been in this position before and come through. With the Yankees concerned about CC Sabathia and waiting for Andy Pettitte (I’d expect him this weekend), it’s not a guarantee that they’re going to get vintage performances from their warhorses. What the Yankees will have to watch is whether the Rays and Orioles battle to a standstill in the six games they have remaining beginning tomorrow night and finishing on the last three games of the season. If one is eliminated by October 1st, it could be a big problem for the Yankees in those last three days.

Yankees vs Blue Jays, Sept. 18-20 in New York; Sept. 27-30 in Toronto

It’s laughable that Mike Francesa and his Yankee-centric guests are looking at the schedule and ticking off wins that they haven’t gotten yet; it’s more laughable that they’re suggesting that the Blue Jays—the team that won 2 of 3 in New York two weeks ago—is going to lay down at the Yankees former might. The Blue Jays have several attributes that should be of concern: they can run; they can hit the ball out of the park; and they have a couple of talented (though inconsistent/slumping) starting pitchers in Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero.

These are not games against the Houston Astros that they can count as wins. Four of those seven games could be pitched by Romero/Morrow. The Yankees are not winning them all.

Yankees vs Athletics, Sept. 21-24 in New York

It was the four-game sweep at the hands of the Athletics in Oakland that began this swoon that’s culminated in September panic, group therapy sessions, tantrums, and confrontations. Now the A’s are fighting for one of the Wild Card spots and are close enough to the top of the AL West to keep it interesting. They have young pitching from top to bottom, power and speed. And they know they can beat the Yankees because they waxed them in four straight in July.

The A’s are going to be watching the Rays and Orioles as closely as the Yankees and they’re playing the Yankees. If things go a certain way, the Yankees might be behind the Rays; behind the Orioles; behind the A’s; and behind the Angels by the time that A’s series is over.

Yankees vs Twins, Sept. 24-26 at Minnesota

The Twins are awful. It’s looking like the Yankees are going to have to sweep that series. Sweeps on the road are not as easy as they’re made out to be and the teams have split the four games they’ve played this season.

To essentially guarantee a division title, the Yankees have to go 16-6. That’s highly unlikely.

To guarantee one of the Wild Card spots (and remember it’s a 1-game playoff and not a ticket in), they have to go around 14-8.

My most likely scenario it a 13-9 run making their playoff spot dicey and probably coming down to the last 3 games against the Red Sox.

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Bard Gets Joba’d…Sort Of

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Say this for the Red Sox: Their handling of Daniel Bard has not followed the calamitous lead of the Yankees in their “development” of Joba Chamberlain as a starter.

Bard’s transition has been rocky, but he’s salvageable wherever they decide to put him long term.

They didn’t muck around with overt, public ambiguity of his role. They were reportedly debating on whether he should start or relieve and did in fact use him out of the bullpen as a set-up man for a game before sticking him back in the rotation but it didn’t degenerate into open organizational warfare between factions that wanted him as a starter versus those that wanted him as a reliever.

That happened with Chamberlain.

They didn’t limit him to some absurd set of floating rules designed to “protect” him but in reality contributed to his ruination.

That happened with Chamberlain.

They didn’t allow public demands and the media to interfere with what they were going to do.

That happened with Chamberlain.

Now the Red Sox have demoted Bard to try and straighten out his control problems.

On Sunday Bard had a horrific start against the Blue Jays in which he had no idea where the ball was going. He walked 6 and hit 2 in 1 2/3 innings. His 2 hit batsmen resulted in the Blue Jays’ Drew Hutchison hitting Kelly Shoppach and Kevin Youkilis.

The retaliation on the part of the Blue Jays was somewhat absurd. If Bard couldn’t throw the ball over the plate what made the Blue Jays think he’d have been able to hit them if he was aiming at them? How do you retaliate for the unintentional?

As for Bard, he’ll try to regain his release point and rebuild his confidence at Triple A. Contingent on the pending returns of Daisuke Matsuzaka and Aaron Cook, it’s possible that the Red Sox will put Bard back in the bullpen for the rest of the season.

I’ll guess that there was a debate as to what they should do with Bard with the same factions who didn’t want him to be a starter in the first place lobbying for him to move back to the bullpen on the big league level and the other side wanting him to continue starting in the minors. The problem with moving him back to the bullpen in the big leagues immediately as he’s having control problems is that it’s more damaging to have a reliever who can’t throw strikes—especially a set-up man—than it is to have him as a starter.

The Red Sox can’t make the mistake of taking Bard’s disappointment with the demotion and fan/media reaction into account when determining when to bring him back. They have to have a plan and adhere to it to try and get him back on track and then decide what role he’ll have at the big league level and then bring him back.

Anything other than that will be a repeat of what the Yankees did with Chamberlain and all they succeeded in doing was to take a Roger Clemens-level talent and turn him into a nondescript middle reliever whose reputation for shaking his fist after meaningless strikeouts and his leaguewide perception of being overrated are more prominent than anything he’s done on the mound.

Bard will be back with the Red Sox eventually. Whether it’s as a starter or reliever is the question and right now, I don’t think the Red Sox know. Nor does Bard.

He’ll be wondering at Pawtucket for the foreseeable future and it’s not the worst thing in the world.

//

And Daniel Bard as Jack Chesbro

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The Red Sox plan for straightening out the same dysfunctional mess they’ve been since last September is apparently to take Daniel Bard and turn him into an über-Justin Verlander of the present day or a Jack Chesbro from 100 years ago.

According to this CBS Sports report, the Red Sox are skipping Bard’s spot in the rotation, will use him out of the bullpen (possibly as the set-up man), then he’ll go back into the rotation when his turn comes around again.

This scheme is appropriate considering the Red Sox just celebrated the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park with a lavish celebration.

Chesbro pitched in one game for the Red Sox after putting the horse in the word workhorse by setting Major League records that—pre-Bard—were never going to be broken.

41 wins in a season; 51 starts; 48 complete games; 454 innings pitched; a 1.82 ERA—all were cemented in baseball lore as case studies of the ludicrousness of comparing players from one era to another, statistically or otherwise.

Here’s what I’m thinking: they can use Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Bard, Clay Buchholz, Bard, Beckett, Felix Doubront, Bard, Bard, Bard, Lester (with Bard setting up and closing), Buchholz, Bard as the long man if Buchholz gets knocked out or even if he doesn’t, Bard, Doubront, Bard then Bard.

BardBardBardBardBardBardBardBardBard.

Then they can use Bard.

In 2025, the talk on barstools in Boston will sound something like this: “Remembah that Bahd kid? He saved ouwuh season from ouwuhselves.”

Then one will raise his Sam Adams: “To Bahd!”

In unison, his drinking buddies will shout, “TO BAHD!!!!”

In all seriousness, this isn’t happening. The Red Sox are planting the seed before announcing the final decision of shifting Bard back to the bullpen as set-up man and eventually closer and calling Aaron Cook up to take his spot in the rotation.

The stated idea is madness. They’re going to protect their young pitchers by slowly integrating them into the starting rotation by managing their innings and pitch counts very carefully and then put Bard into this situation where he’s going to be talk show fodder if he’s used in both roles?

And what if he comes in on Wednesday and blows the Twins away with three straight strikeouts? Then what? Are they really going to stick him back in the rotation when they have a veteran starter in Cook who’s pitching well in Pawtucket, can opt-out of his minor league contract by May 1st and will be picked up by another team if he does so? The Red Sox need Bard in the bullpen and if they’re going to use him as a starter at some point, it has to be done when they have sufficient and reliable depth in either the starting rotation or relief corps. As of right now, they have neither, but they can survive with a rotation sans Bard; they can’t with the bullpen in the state it’s in.

Bard’s going back to the bullpen and the move is being made whether the Red Sox announce it officially in the coming days or not.

Like much of what they’ve done as an organization since last September, this is being handled strangely and poorly. In the past, they were able to gloss over their infighting and controversies by winning. Now they’re in disarray, are losing and the framing of the Bard story is only adding to that perception that there’s no one person making the decisions, but a college of cardinals who can’t get on the same page. They’re more concerned about how the public reacts than in doing what’s right. If they’re going to return to what they were from 2003-2010, they have to do what needs to be done rather than overthinking how to package it into something palatable for the fans and media. They have too many other things to worry about and fix as it is.

//

Bard’s Start Complicates Matters

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Daniel Bard made his first major league start against the Blue Jays last night and the line was ugly: 5 innings; 8 hits; 5 earned runs; 1 walk; and 6 strikeouts. He threw 96 pitches and 65 strikes and didn’t allow a homer.

But the bottom line of the boxscore is misleading. In fact, most of the runs were scored on placement rather than power. Bard’s biggest problem was the inability to throw his changeup for strikes.

Neftali Feliz made his first major league start as well and his line was far more impressive: 7 innings; 4 hits; 0 runs; 2 walks; and 4 strikeouts. He threw 108 pitches and 68 strikes.

Bard took the loss. Feliz got the win. In truth, they didn’t pitch all that differently. Feliz had better control of his changeup and worse control with his fastball and slider.

None of that is going to matter to those who’ve already made their minds up on how Bard needs to be utilized. Because he gave up 5 runs and the Red Sox bullpen is still in flux, the calls will continue to shift Bard into the closer’s role. After all, the argument will go, he lost and didn’t pitch “well”.

The results weren’t good, but Bard was good enough to win if he’d had some better luck.

There will be no such calls for Feliz to be moved back to the bullpen.

Why?

Because the Rangers signed a veteran closer, Joe Nathan, to take over for Feliz, there’s no debate as to Feliz’s role. He’s a starter, period.

The Red Sox traded for Andrew Bailey, who got hurt; and Mark Melancon, who they don’t trust; and they’re trying Alfredo Aceves as the closer now in a desperation maneuver that’s probably not going to work.

With the Rangers depth in the starting rotation and inexpensive signing of Nathan, they don’t have to concern themselves with perception. The Red Sox don’t have that luxury in either area, so they’re going to endure constant demands to put Bard where he “belongs”.

There’s a dichotomy of purpose in Boston. On one hand, the players, coaching staff and manager want Bard to do well in whatever role he’s in; on the other, they might want to see him do badly enough as a starter that the front office has no choice but to sign off on the move that the on-field staff wants to make and switch him to the bullpen to insert veteran Aaron Cook into the starting rotation.

And don’t think Cook isn’t watching and waiting for his opportunity; if that means he’s silently hoping that Bard pitches poorly as a starter, so be it.

Cook pitched well in his first start for Pawtucket.

Bard’s work last night complicates matters and every game the Red Sox play—and every start Cook makes in Triple A—will be relevant to how the team moves forward.

All will try to twist the results in the direction they prefer and their agendas will lead them; but if Bard keeps pitching as he did last night, there’s not going to be an obvious answer. A decision will have to be made and they’re going to have to stick to it.

It’s not going to be simple one way or the other.

//

With Bailey Out, Bard May Wind Up Closing

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Red Sox intended closer Andrew Bailey’s thumb surgery is set to cost him a large chunk of the season.

The Red Sox didn’t give up a ton to get Bailey and the decision to let Jonathan Papelbon go and replace him with someone younger and cheaper was one of the few things the club did this past winter that was in line with their original organizational theory hatched during the early years of Theo Epstein’s tenure: don’t overpay for saves.

That led to the hackneyed “bullpen by committee” in 2003 which likely cost them the World Series; and they were set to do it again in 2007 before Papelbon went to management and asked to be placed back in the bullpen.

But they altered the plot when they signed Keith Foulke for 2004 and left Papelbon where he belonged in 2007—in the bullpen.

The Red Sox won the World Series in both cases.

There’s a similar dynamic now with Daniel Bard.

They’re not identical, but similar.

Papelbon was being given an audition as a starter in the spring of 2007 and the Red Sox didn’t bother to go out and get a legitimate closer in the previous off-season so the hovering question was: if not Papelbon, then who?

Papelbon had saved 35 games as a rookie in 2006, so the Red Sox knew he could do it; Bard has struggled in his few auditions as a replacement closer and is now being tried as a starter in the face of organizational debate as to what his role should be.

In 2007, the Red Sox had the starting pitching depth to shift Papelbon back to the bullpen; now they can’t say the same with Bard.

They need him as a starter and they kindasorta have someone who’s closed before with Mark Melancon.

But a team with championship aspirations and two highly inexperienced starting pitchers in Bard and Felix Doubront backing their rotation shouldn’t feel comfortable with their circumstances.

It’s either keep Bard in the rotation and try Melancon as the closer for awhile to see what happens or move Bard to the bullpen, use Alfredo AcevesAaron Cook, Vicente Padilla and/or wait until Daisuke Matsuzaka comes back.

There have been renewed entreaties for the Red Sox to sign Roy Oswalt, but Oswalt’s not going to be ready to go until May and by then the team should have a gauge on where they are in the standings, on the field, with who they have and what they need.

Bard didn’t pitch particularly well as a starter in the spring and with the aforementioned wonderment as to his optimal role, there’s a chance that he could make a start or two in the regular season and be sent back to the bullpen to close.

The options are not dazzling, but the Red Sox may not have much of a choice.

//

Boston Red Sox—Book Excerpt

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Boston Red Sox

2011 Record: 90-72; 3rd place, American League East

2011 Recap:

Before the season, absurd projections were made that the Red Sox were going to challenge the 1927 Yankees as one of the best teams in history.

While that was ludicrous, they had put together a roster that should have guaranteed a spot in the playoffs. They got off to an atrocious 2-10 start, but righted the ship and, on August 31st, were in first place in the AL East by 1 1/2 games and in playoff position by 9 games.

All seemed fine.

Then the wheels came off.

Beset by injuries, dysfunction, arrogance, teamwide factions, disinterest and the onrushing Rays, the Red Sox collapsed.

Losing 20 out of 27 games, they still went into the final series against the woeful Orioles leading the Wild Card by one game. They lost two out of three as the Rays swept the Yankees with the final punctuation on the Red Sox’ disastrous self-destruction coming almost simultaneously as closer Jonathan Papelbon blew the save with 2 outs in the bottom of the ninth inning while, in Tampa, Evan Longoria homered to beat the Yankees and send the Rays to the playoffs while the Red Sox endured the ridicule and resulting reverberations of drastic changes to the entire structure of the organization.

2012 ADDITIONS:

GM Ben Cherington was hired.

Manager Bobby Valentine was hired and signed a 2-year contract.

Pitching coach Bob McClure was hired.

C Kelly Shoppach signed a 1-year, $1.35 million contract. (Rays)

RHP Mark Melancon was acquired from the Houston Astros.

RHP Andrew Bailey was acquired from the Oakland Athletics.

OF Ryan Sweeney was acquired from the Oakland Athletics.

RHP Chris Carpenter was acquired from the Chicago Cubs.

INF Nick Punto signed a 2-year, $3 million contract. (Cardinals)

OF Cody Ross signed a 1-year, $3 million contract. (Giants)

RHP Clayton Mortensen was acquired from the Colorado Rockies.

RHP Aaron Cook signed a minor league conract. (Rockies)

RHP Carlos Silva signed a minor league contract.

RHP Vicente Padilla signed a minor league contract. (Dodgers)

2B Brad Emaus was acquired from the Colorado Rockies.

RHP Ross Ohlendorf signed a minor league contract. (Pirates)

RHP Sean White signed a minor league contract. (Rockies)

RHP John Maine signed a minor league contract. (Rockies)

RHP Garrett Mock signed a minor league contract. (Blue Jays)

RHP Billy Buckner signed a minor league contract. (Rockies)

2012 SUBTRACTIONS:

GM Theo Epstein resigned to take over as President of the Chicago Cubs.

Manager Terry Francona’s contract options were declined.

Pitching coach Curt Young left to rejoin the Oakland Athletics.

RHP Jonathan Papelbon was not re-signed. (Phillies)

SS Marco Scutaro was traded to the Colorado Rockies.

INF Jed Lowrie was traded to the Houston Astros.

RHP Kyle Weiland was traded to the Houston Astros.

OF Josh Reddick was traded to the Oakland Athletics.

C Jason Varitek retired.

RHP Dan Wheeler was not re-signed. (Indians)

RHP Tim Wakefield retired.

OF J.D. Drew was not re-signed.

LHP Erik Bedard was not re-signed. (Pirates)

LHP Hideki Okajima was not re-signed.

LHP Dennys Reyes was not re-signed.

LHP Trever Miller was not re-signed. (Cubs)

2012 PROJECTED STARTING ROTATION: Josh Beckett; Jon Lester; Clay Buchholz; Daniel Bard; Daisuke Matsuzaka; Andrew Miller.

2012 PROJECTED BULLPEN: Andrew Bailey; Mark Melancon; Alfredo Aceves; Michael Bowden; Felix Doubront; Matt Albers; Franklin Morales; Chris Carpenter.

2012 PROJECTED LINEUP: C-Jarrod Saltalamacchia; 1B- Adrian Gonzalez; 2B-Dustin Pedroia; 3B-Kevin Youkilis; SS-Nick Punto; LF-Carl Crawford; CF-Jacoby Ellsbury; RF-Ryan Sweeney; DH-David Ortiz.

2012 PROJECTED BENCH: C-Kelly Shoppach; OF-Cody Ross; OF Darnell McDonald; INF-Mike Aviles; OF-Ryan Kalish; C-Ryan Lavarnway.

2012 POSSIBLE CONTRIBUTORS: RHP Carlos Silva; RHP-Aaron Cook; RHP-Junichi Tazawa; 1B-Lars Anderson; SS-Jose Iglesias; LHP-Rich Hill; 3B-Will Middlebrooks; 2B-Brad Emaus; RHP-Bobby Jenks; RHP-John Maine; RHP-Sean White; RHP-Vicente Padilla; RHP-Billy Buckner; OF-Jason Repko.

FANTASY PICKS: C-Ryan Lavarnway; 1B-Adrian Gonzalez; RHP-Clay Buchholz; LHP-Jon Lester; C-Kelly Shoppach.

MANAGEMENT:

In the aftermath of the Red Sox signing of Carl Crawford and trade for Adrian Gonzalez along with the ridiculous concept of the Red Sox being among the best teams in history, no one—no…one—could have foreseen what happened.

Of course, they could’ve missed the playoffs as a matter of circumstance, but 90 wins is still pretty good regardless of expectations. If you’d been told before the season that not only would the team completely collapse in September, but GM Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona would both be gone by November and the new manager would be Bobby Valentine, you’d label the individual informing you of the logically inexplicable turn of events as hopelessly insane.

After their run of success, how could one bad season result in the departures of both Epstein and Francona?

Here’s how:

Francona had options in his contract for 2012 and 2013; both had to be exercised simultaneously and following the way the team came apart on and off the field, in part because of the freedoms accorded to the veterans by the laid back manager, upper management had every right to examine whether or not they wanted to go forward with Francona or bring in a new voice.

As poorly as Francona was treated as his reputation was impugned by the whispers of prescription drug problems contributing to his inability to get through to the players and seeming inability to connect and rein them in, someone has to be held responsible for a bad ending. While the prescription pill stuff was the expected sliming of a former employee done as a matter of course by anonymous, paranoid spin doctors in the Red Sox front office, Francona didn’t deserve a pass for what happened, two World Series wins or not.

Everyone liked and respected Francona, but 8 years in one place—especially a pressure-packed atmosphere with the expectations in recent years exploding into a World Series or bust mandate—is too long. No one wanted to see Francona’s health compromised and once the supposedly mutual decision was made that the parties would go their separate ways, Francona appeared relieved. You don’t want to see a guy drop dead from stress.

Once Francona was out, the Cubs came calling with a request to speak to GM Theo Epstein to take over as their new team president.

Epstein had achieved something that no other executive had been able to accomplish by not only getting the Red Sox their first World Series win since 1918, but he made them the hot ticket in town with a packed house every night.

He’d consolidated his power over the organization but the expectations were suffocating for Epstein as well.

He couldn’t go anywhere or do anything without being recognized. The drive to compete with the Yankees took precedence and rather than do what Epstein wanted and build a team that could compete and do so under reasonable payroll, it became an annual competition of who could buy or trade for the bigger names.

It was a case of diminishing returns were anything other than a World Series was a disappointment.

Much like Francona, this is not to absolve Epstein of blame for what happened. He brought in John Lackey, Carl Crawford and Bobby Jenks—all expensive disasters. This was his team as well. After so much success and demands on his time and personal life, it’s entirely understandable that a relatively young man who’d yet to turn 40 might want to do something else and engage in a new challenge. The Cubs are as big if not bigger challenge than the Red Sox were when he took over.

Both are gone and the Red Sox are in utter hierarchical disarray with no one person in clear command.

Epstein’s longtime assistant Ben Cherington was hired to take over as the new GM. Cherington began his career working in the Red Sox front office under former GM Dan Duquette and learned his lessons well under Epstein, but now it’s unclear as to who’s actually running things.

CEO Larry Lucchino had lost the power struggle to his former protégé Epstein after Epstein’s tantrum and “resignation” following the 2005 season. Marginalized, Lucchino was held at bay for six years and when the opportunity arose to jump back into the fray, he grabbed it.

Ask yourself this: if Epstein had stayed on to finish his contract with the Red Sox sans Francona, would he have hired Bobby Valentine?

You know the answer is absolutely not.

But that’s exactly who the Red Sox hired after interviewing such qualified candidates as Pete Mackanin and Dale Sveum.

None of the managers they spoke to had any legitimate buzz.

But Valentine is friends with Lucchino and was considered for the job after Grady Little was let go following the 2003 season. Valentine spoke with Lucchino and refused to criticize Little for the Pedro Martinez ALCS situation; Valentine felt it cost him a shot to interview for the job.

Eight years later, Cherington found himself interviewing and nudged to hire a polar opposite to the calm and uncontroversial Francona.

Valentine is that polar opposite.

As for player moves, they’ve been haphazard.

Allowing Jonathan Papelbon to leave without even making an offer was in line with the Red Sox template of not overpaying for saves. It was probably time for the team and Papelbon to part ways in their hot and cold relationship.

Cherington traded Jed Lowrie and pitching prospect Kyle Weiland to the Astros for set-up man Mark Melancon; acquired Andrew Bailey from the Athletics; strangely traded Marco Scutaro to the Rockies for journeyman righty Clayton Mortensen in order to free up $6 million, then used $3 million on a decidedly non-Red Sox-type player, Cody Ross.

The vault that was wide open and ample for Epstein is no longer so for Cherington. To make things worse, he hired a manager he clearly didn’t want and is proverbially wiping the back of his neck to pat dry the damp mist of Lucchino’s breath and unwanted interference.

This is not what he envisioned when he became a GM.

Bobby Valentine is back.

After flirtations with the Mets, Marlins and Orioles following stints in Japan and working for ESPN, Valentine got himself a high-profile job that fits his controversial personality and winning resume.

No, he wasn’t the choice of the GM.

No, the players weren’t happy when he was hired.

Yes, he was forced to take a 2-year contract making it imperative that he wins immediately.

But at least he’s getting an opportunity.

The positives with Valentine: he’s a brilliant strategic mind; he generates attention; he doesn’t care what people say about him; he’s intensely loyal to players he believes in; and doesn’t allow criticism to affect what he does on or off the field.

The negatives with Valentine: he’s calculating with the media and occasionally brutal with players who he can’t use; he grates on opponents so they want to beat him and his team that much more badly; he carries a reputation as a paranoid and self-centered entity; two of his Mets teams in 1998 and 1999 collapsed (the 1999 team recovered); he’s been away from big league competition for a long time and it might take time for him to get back into the managerial frame of mind—time the Red Sox, in an impossible division and needing to get off to a good start after the collapse and rampant changes—might not have.

Valentine always knows what the other manager is going to do and knows every rule in the book better than the umpires do. The players were upset at his hiring, but they should’ve thought of that before they betrayed and undermined Francona. Now they have to deal with Valentine and it’s their own fault.

The Red Sox have made a great show of banning beer in the clubhouse.

It sounds cliché, but it comes down to “enjoying responsibly” and the Red Sox didn’t enjoy responsibly. They were given a privilege of having beer in the clubhouse; they abused the privilege; the privilege was taken away.

There’s no reason for there to be beer in the clubhouse anyway. It’s their place of business and they’re there to work. Period.

STARTING PITCHING:

Josh Beckett was the ringleader of the group of starting pitchers who spent time in the clubhouse eating fried chicken and allegedly playing video games and drinking beer during games.

I find it hard to believe that these things haven’t been going on for years, so to take the team’s collapse and assign blame to any one individual for what was decidedly a team effort is stupid. If they got away with it while the team was winning, then there’s no reason to say “this is why” when the team was losing.

That said, it’s a negative on Beckett that he chose to behave this way when it was clearly bothering the manager and the team could have used some unity as the wheels came off.

Beckett, when he’s right, is a great pitcher; he’s also a frontrunning bully who tries to exert his will in an attempt to bolster his manhood. If anyone is going to butt heads with Valentine, it will be Beckett. And Valentine is not going to back down.

If an example has to be set with a veteran player to make sure everyone else knows that there’s a new sheriff in town, I’d put the word out to other teams that Beckett is in play for a trade if things start off badly.

I doubt the Red Sox, desperate to win to wash away the memory of the horrific end to the 2011 season, will do that. But maybe they should.

On the field, Beckett had a fine season with a 13-7 record in 30 starts, a 2.89 ERA, 146 hits allowed and 175 strikeouts in 193 innings.

He pitched very poorly in September when the team needed him most. And on his days off, he was in the clubhouse eating chicken and gaining weight.

He’d better show up to camp in shape and ready to play, but with Beckett and his attitude, I’d be ready for anything if I was Valentine—especially a fight.

Jon Lester was also involved in the clubhouse shenanigans, put on weight as the season went on and pitched poorly in September with a 1-3 record, an ERA near 5 1/2 and 35 hits allowed, 19 earned runs in 31 innings.

Lester is one of the best pitchers in baseball when he’s right and seemed truly contrite (unlike Beckett) for what went on throughout the season and how they let Francona down.

Lester went 15-9 in 31 starts with 166 hits allowed in 191 innings. Lester with his fastball that can reach the mid-90s and array of ancillary pitches including a changeup, a cutter, a curve and a slider make him a Cy Young Award contender.

He’s going to try and make amends for last season and will have a big year.

The Red Sox vaunted medical staff misdiagnosed and mistreated Clay Buchholz’s back injury thinking it was a muscle strain when it was actually a spinal stress fracture.

Buchholz only made 14 starts, the last being in June. He was working to get back in time for the playoffs, but that was rendered meaningless.

Buchholz is potentially a top pitcher in baseball with two fastballs, both reaching the mid-90s; a cutter; a changeup; and a curve. At age 27, all innings constraints should be off and if his back is healthy, he’ll be back in the form he showed when he finished 6th in the AL Cy Young Award voting in 2010.

Daniel Bard is making the switch from being the set-up man (he too struggled badly late in the season) to a starter.

Bard was a starter in the low minors and terrible at it, but that was five years ago. He has the repertoire of pitches to make the transition if he gets his slider over and his changeup is effective. Bard needs to understand that he doesn’t have to throw the ball 98 mph to be a good starter and the Red Sox have had the experience in shifting a reliever into the rotation successfully with Derek Lowe.

Bard will be on an innings limit, but if the other starters are pitching well, he’ll be fine.

Valentine was one of Daisuke Matsuzaka’s biggest cheerleaders when he first came to North America and if anyone can get through to him, it’s Valentine.

Matsuzaka’s numbers have been somewhat respectable during his time with the Red Sox, but numbers don’t tell the whole story. He’s been a disappointment with his complaints about the training techniques in the States, hiding injuries and inability to throw consistent strikes.

Matsuzaka had Tommy John surgery last June and is, as of this writing, beginning his comeback by throwing off the mound in a bullpen session.

He’s in the last year of his Red Sox contract and perhaps pitching for Valentine—revered in Japan and with a working knowledge of the language—will help Matsuzaka redeem himself to a certain degree. The Red Sox are going to need him.

Lefty Andrew Miller was the 6th pick in the draft in 2006 and has bounced from the Tigers to the Marlins to the Red Sox. The talent is somewhere in Miller’s body, but he has to throw the ball over the plate. His height and motion make it difficult for him to maintain his mechanics and release point and if he’s unable to harness his stuff, I don’t know what you do with him because you can’t trust a reliever who can’t throw strikes and lefties have hit him as well as righties have in his career.

As of right now, the Red Sox will need him in the rotation as he competes for a spot with veterans Aaron Cook, Vicente Padilla and John Maine.

BULLPEN:

Longtime closer Jonathan Papelbon was allowed to leave for the Phillies without the Red Sox making an offer.

There was talk that Bard would take over as closer, but they needed and wanted him in the starting rotation. Mark Melancon spent time as the Astros closer, but there’s a significant difference between closing for the Astros and closing for the would-be championship contending Red Sox. So they pursued the Athletics’ young reliever, former Rookie of the Year and two-time All-Star Andrew Bailey.

In acquiring Bailey and outfielder Ryan Sweeney for Josh Reddick and two minor leaguers, the Red Sox got themselves a cost-controlled short reliever.

Bailey throws hard and has had elbow problems, so the only question about him is whether or not he’s going to stay healthy. Bailey’s already had Tommy John surgery and when he was out with an elbow strain early last year, there was fear that he was going to need to have the surgery again. He recovered with rest and saved 24 games.

Durability is going to be a problem. Papelbon pitched in around 65 games a season as the Red Sox closer and Bailey has been limited to 47 in 2010 and 42 in 2011 because of injuries. Also, he’s never pitched on a team or in a situation quite like that of the Red Sox. Trying too hard might be a problem.

Former Yankees farmhand Mark Melancon will replace Bard as the set-up man.

Melancon has a good arm, but his problem with the Yankees was that he never seemed to know where the ball was going.

The Red Sox acquired him for infielder Jed Lowrie and young pitcher Kyle Weiland. Melancon pitched well for the Astros and is predominately a ground ball pitcher with a hard sinker, so the Green Monster won’t be a large factor.

Righty Alfredo Aceves was called upon repeatedly in September and was invaluable as a long reliever.

Just as he did for the Yankees in their championship season of 2009, Aceves has a habit of entering games, pitching multiple innings and racking up wins in relief. He went 10-1 in 55 games (all but 4 were in relief) and pitched 114 innings, allowing 84 hits and striking out 80.

24-year-old lefty Felix Doubront could be a long reliever or spot starter. He throws two different fastballs—a four-seamer and a two-seamer—that reach the low-to-mid 90s and a curveball. His motion has a slight hitch and he throws slightly across his body on a stiff front leg making it difficult to pick up out of his hands. Once he gains some experience, worst case scenario, he’ll be a lefty specialist out of the bullpen.

Veteran Matt Albers appeared in 56 games for the Red Sox in 2011, threw 64 innings and struck out 68; it was the best strikeout season of his career. He’s a fly ball pitcher and is prone to allowing home runs (7 last season). He has to get his slider over the plate to be effective.

Lefty Franklin Morales was acquired from the Rockies in May and was solid against both lefties and righties with a mid-90s fastball and good control.

Righty Chris Carpenter was sent from the Cubs to the Red Sox as compensation for Theo Epstein. Technically, the Red Sox had to send a Player to be Named Later to the Cubs, but the deal was Carpenter for Epstein.

Carpenter is a former 3rd round pick of the Cubs who has a fastball that reaches the upper-90s and a hard slider. He’s 26, has pitched in 10 big league games and was a mediocre starter in the minors.

Hard throwing former White Sox closer Bobby Jenks was signed by Epstein to a 2-year, $12 million contract before last season and pitched poorly before going on the disabled list with a back problem that required surgery. Jenks had another surgical procedure in January and his return is in question this season.

LINEUP:

Jarrod Saltalamacchia finally had a healthy season and the switch-hitter hit 16 homers in 103 games sharing time with Jason Varitek behind the plate.

Now Varitek is gone, the Red Sox signed Kelly Shoppach to split the catching duties for 2012.

Saltalamacchia’s catching was an issue especially with John Lackey, but Lackey’s out for the season with Tommy John surgery and Valentine won’t put up with similar on-field bickering between his pitchers and catchers as Francona did.

Saltalamacchia doesn’t walk and was hideous batting right handed (.209/.252/.383 slash line). His throwing was serviceable with a 31% caught stealing rate and he led the league with 26 passed balls, but that’s misleading because he caught Tim Wakefield’s knuckleball in 28 of the pitcher’s appearances.

Adrian Gonzalez had an MVP-quality year in his first season with the Red Sox. He batted .338, had a .410 OBP, a .957 OPS, 213 hits, 45 doubles, 27 homers and 117 RBI. He also won the Gold Glove at first base and the Silver Slugger.

The 30-year-old Gonzalez has had an interesting time of it in pennant races. Twice with the Padres, the teams had playoff spots all but sewn up and blew them; then last season, he was right in the middle of the Red Sox’ collapse.

Gonzalez invited quizzical glances in the clubhouse and overt ridicule by the media and fans when he said the Red Sox gack was part of “God’s plan”.

If God’s up there, I seriously doubt he’s spending his time worrying about the Red Sox making or not making the playoffs. It would be of great concern to me that Gonzalez is referencing a deity as the “reason” his team completely collapsed in September. That’s not a leadership thing to say. The Red Sox were a team that was hungry for leadership last season and will be even more so with the departure of Varitek.

One player who gave everything he had on the field and was truly upset with the selfish behavior exhibited by his teammates that resulted in Francona’s departure was Dustin Pedroia.

Pedroia rebounded from his injury-ravaged 2010 season with 195 hits, 37 doubles, 21 homers, 26 stolen bases, an .861 OPS and his second Gold Glove award.

Pedroia exemplified the gritty, gutty, never-say-die Red Sox from 2007-2010. The newcomers and holdovers who didn’t take his lead should do so because if the Red Sox had all cared as Pedroia does, they wouldn’t have collapsed.

Kevin Youkilis’s intensity was once seen as a thirst to win and his whining was a byproduct of that. When the clubhouse was imploding, it was just irritating.

Youkilis battled hip and back injuries and was in and out of the lineup in August and September.

He hit in some bad luck as his BAbip dropped to .296 from its usual .327+. He still hits for power and walks a lot. Youkilis has a $13 million club option for 2013 and if the teams gets off slowly or there’s chafing at Valentine’s methods, he could be one the players traded as an “example” that none of them are safe under the new regime.

Veteran Nick Punto won a World Series ring with the Cardinals in 2011 and is a serviceable defensive shortstop, but what was initially seen as a utilityman signing has suddenly become something close to the everyday shortstop with the strange trade of Marco Scutaro to the Rockies.

Punto is not an everyday player. He’s got some speed and is versatile, but he’s a bench player. I’m not sure what the Red Sox plans are for shortstop unless they’re hoping that young Jose Iglesias will be ready sometime around mid-season.

That’s highly unlikely and he’d better be completely ready because Valentine is not going to play a rookie shortstop while he’s working on a 2-year contract and has to win.

Carl Crawford was a pure and utter disaster in his first season in Boston. It wasn’t a case of inability to handle the pressure, but that he was pressing and trying too hard. He got off to a hideous start and, once the season started and it became clear that he was uncomfortable batting leadoff and the Red Sox didn’t know where to put him.

The Red Sox thought they were getting an offensive force with power and speed and Crawford only stole 18 bases and hit 11 homers, 29 doubles and 7 triples.

After the season, it was revealed in a radio interview with owner John Henry that he was cool to the idea of signing Crawford for $142 million, but Epstein wanted him and Henry signed off on the deal.

It was a nightmare all around and it’s got the potential to get worse because Crawford had arthroscopic surgery on his left wrist in January and is questionable for opening day.

I picked Crawford as the MVP last season and I was, um, wrong.

As bad as Crawford was, that’s how good Jacoby Ellsbury was.

Ellsbury nearly singlehandedly kept the Red Sox in the race in September and had an overall wonderful season finally fulfilling the potential everyone raved about from that combination of a sweet left-handed swing and speed.

Ellsbury was never known as a power hitter, but hit 32 homers in 2011. He bashed 212 hits, had 46 doubles and 39 stolen bases. He led the big leagues in total bases with 364, won the Silver Slugger and the Gold Glove in center field.

This was a remarkable turnaround from his hellish 2010 season in which his toughness was questioned when broken ribs were misdiagnosed and members of the organization thought he was intentionally staying out of the lineup.

Ryan Sweeney was acquired in the Bailey trade and will probably platoon with Cody Ross in right field.

Sweeney for his career has batted .296 with a .754 OPS in 1319 plate appearances vs righties. He’s a singles hitter which isn’t what you prototypically want in a corner outfielder. The Red Sox are making strange decisions in diminishing their offense at two positions—right field and shortstop—without adding any significant starting pitching.

David Ortiz did a lot of talking after the collapse and what he said kindasorta made sense. It was Ortiz’s argument that players had always been going into the clubhouse and eating chicken during games if they weren’t playing.

In a sense, he’s right.

Here’s the bottom line with the chicken and video games: if it’s just the starting pitchers who are doing it, no one’s going to notice nor care if they’re hanging around the dugout during games. Steve Carlton used to go into the clubhouse and sleep on days he wasn’t pitching. If the Red Sox had always done it and no one complained about it, why complain about it as if it was the cause of their losing.

Yes, it was a sign of disrespect to manager Francona, but if he let them do it for years, how could he turn around and tell them to cut it out after letting it go for so long?

And what would he have done if Beckett had told him to go screw himself?

Ortiz also made the mistake of speculating what life would be like if he went to play with the Yankees—a definite no-no in Boston.

What he should’ve done was shut up. And eventually, once he saw that no team was going to give him a multi-year deal, he wound up taking arbitration from the Red Sox.

They didn’t want to shell out for a new DH and Ortiz had nowhere to go.

The two sides agreed to a 1-year, $14.575 million contract to avoid arbitration.

He’s lucky the Red Sox needed him or he’d have gone the way of Varitek and Wakefield and been kicked out the door as part of the culture altering purge that was necessary to try and get things back in line.

BENCH:

Veteran backup catcher and respected veteran catcher Kelly Shoppach signed a 1-year, $1.35 million contract to share time with Saltalamacchia. Shoppach batted only .176, but he has pop and patience at the plate and threw out 41% of the runners who tried to steal on him in 2011.

Cody Ross signed a 1-year, $3 million contract. Ross is a feisty, tough player with power and is a good defensive outfielder who can play all three outfield positions. He’s not a prototypical Red Sox player because he doesn’t walk, but they needed a complement to Sweeney in right and Ross has a career .912 OPS vs lefties. Ross is a back-up-the-middle mistake hitter who can hit a fastball and will pull more than a few inside pitches over the Green Monster.

Darnell McDonald will see the bulk of the time in left field if Crawford is unable to go to start the season. The right-handed hitting McDonald was a scrapheap pickup for the Red Sox and has gotten big hits for them since coming over. He can play all three defensive outfield positions.

Mike Aviles will share duties with Punto at shortstop. Aviles was a longtime minor leaguer before getting a chance to play regularly for the Royals in 2010 and he batted .304 with 8 homers and 14 stolen bases in 110 games, mostly at second base. He’s a decent defensive shortstop and showed 15 homer power in the minors.

Lefty batting 24-year-old Ryan Kalish batted .252 and stole 10 bases in 179 plate appearances as a rookie in 2011. He’s got some pop in his bat and patience at the plate.

Ryan Lavarnway was pressed into service behind the plate late in the season as both Saltalamacchia and Varitek were down with injuries. The Yale-educated catcher hit 2 homers in the next-to-last game of the season to postpone was wound up being an inevitable end for the Red Sox. He had 32 homers in Double and Triple-A last season and if neither Saltalamacchia nor Shoppach are hitting and the Red Sox need offense, don’t be surpised to see them toss Lavarnway out there to see if he can spark the team.

PREDICTION:

Discombobulated.

That’s the one word that comes to mind regarding the Red Sox winter following the one word that comes to mind to describe their 2011 season: collapse.

Who’s running things? Is it Lucchino? Cherington? Henry? Valentine? Who?

The maneuvers the Red Sox have made this winter have taken a similar tone of not knowing what one side wants to do while the other side is making trade calls and another is courting free agents.

What was the purpose of trading Scutaro? Was Cherington forced to hire Valentine? Is Beckett going to behave himself or will he try to exert his will on Valentine?

Can Bailey close in Boston? Will Bard be able to start? And what if they can’t?

How will Valentine react with the first controversy that comes his way? And controversy is part of the Bobby V Package, so it’s not a matter of “if”, but “when”.

Already he’s been relentlessly tweaking the Yankees with snide comments about Derek Jeter.

The Red Sox’ veterans didn’t want Valentine. The media and fans, angered after the way the team exploded and imploded after the expectations of rivaling the 1927 Yankees want Valentine to storm into the room and start cracking heads.

He won’t do that at first.

He’ll try to get on the same page with the veterans and come to a consensus on how things are going to go to maintain the peace. But if someone pushes him—and someone will—Valentine’s going to slam down the hammer secure in the knowledge that Lucchino’s got his back.

Then it’s going to get messy.

Very messy.

There’s an absence of cohesion in Boston that hasn’t been seen since the days of Dan Duquette firing Jimy Williams and replacing him with Joe Kerrigan.

And that’s not a good thing.

Teams recovering from a nightmare like what happened to the Red Sox in 2011 generally have a hangover the next year unless drastic roster changes are made. The Red Sox have tweaked the roster and cleared out the manager, pitching coach and GM.

Now what they have is the last throes of an era degenerating into a shambles. Rife with contentious veterans and question marks all around, I don’t see anyone predicting 110 wins this year.

They made history in 2011, but it wasn’t how they intended.

What a difference a year makes.

This isn’t going to go well.

At all.

PREDICTED RECORD: 81-81

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Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide can be purchased on KindleSmashwordsBN and Lulu with other outlets on the way. It’s great for fantasy players and useful all season long.

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Hot Stove Losers, 2011-2012

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On Friday I listed the winners of the off-season. Now let’s look at the losers.

Boston Red Sox

It’s not the maneuvers they made that are specifically bad.

Confusing? Yes, trading Marco Scutaro to free up some money and then spending some of that money to sign Cody Ross while leaving shortstop in the questionable hands of Nick Punto, Mike Aviles and/or rookie Jose Iglesias was one of a long line of bizarre decisions, but none could be called “bad”.

My focus is on the perceived and practical appearance of disarray that’s taken hold in Boston since the departure of Theo Epstein.

Say what you want about Epstein and the moves he made, but you knew he was in charge.

Now, with Ben Cherington elevated to GM and Larry Lucchino clearly diving into the breach and interfering in team matters (Bobby Valentine would not be the Red Sox manager without Lucchino championing him), there’s a troubling lack of cohesion.

What you have is a team of well-paid stars whose behavior was enabled by a disciplinary lackadaisical former manager, good guy Terry Francona; a transition from a clubhouse dominated by Jason Varitek to…who?; a front office with multiple voices and philosophies trying to gain sway; and a polarizing manager who won’t want to blow what is probably his final chance to manage in the majors and working on a 2-year contract.

They haven’t addressed issues in the starting rotation other than hope that Daniel Bard can make the transition from reliever to starter and sign a bunch of low-cost veterans on minor league deals to see if they can cobble together a back-end of the rotation. But what happened with the Yankees and Freddy Garcia/Bartolo Colon in 2011 doesn’t happen too often, so the Red Sox shouldn’t expect to get similar renaissance-level/amazing rise performances from Aaron Cook, Vicente Padilla, John Maine and Clayton Mortensen.

There are more questions than answers with this team and the solution to what ails them starts at the top.

And at the top, it’s chaos.

Baltimore Orioles

Regardless of the ridicule his hiring received, Dan Duquette is a highly competent baseball man who never got the credit he deserved for helping put together the Expos of the 1990s or the Red Sox of recent vintage.

But the Orioles are devoid of talent, especially on the mound, and it doesn’t matter how qualified the manager (Buck Showalter) and GM are, you can’t win if you don’t have talent.

What the Orioles have to do is make the difficult decision to take their most marketable assets—Nick Markakis, Adam JonesJim Johnson and even Matt Wieters—and let the rest of baseball know that they’re open for business and willing to listen to any and all offers.

Whether owner Peter Angelos or Showalter will be on board with that is up in the air.

Oakland Athletics

So Billy Beane gets another rebuild?

How many is this now? Five?

The Athletics use a lack of funds and a difficult division—along with their GM’s increasingly ridiculous and fictional reputation as a “genius”—to justify trading away all of their young talent for the future.

That future is far away in the distance and contingent on a new ballpark that they hope, pray, plead, beg will one day come their way.

Here’s a question: why do the Rays, facing the same logistical issues as the Athletics, try and win by making intelligent, cost-effective moves with their players and somehow succeed while a supposed “genius” is continually given a pass because of a resume that is bottom-line fabricated from start-to-finish?

Yet we’ll again hear how Beane got the “right” players in dumping Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill and Andrew Bailey.

Right players for what?

If the answer is losing close to 100 games, then he’s definitely succeeded.

Oh, they kept Coco Crisp and signed Bartolo Colon.

Beane deserves an Oscar more than Brad Pitt for maintaining the veneer of knowing something others don’t.

It’s a ruse and you’re a fool if you continue to fall for it.

Milwaukee Brewers

They understandably lost Prince Fielder because they couldn’t and wouldn’t approach the $214 million he received from the Tigers.

Signing Aramis Ramirez was a good decision and they kept their bullpen and starting rotation together, but their hot stove season was pockmarked with the failed(?) drug test of NL MVP Ryan Braun and possible 50 game suspension for using PEDs.

With the pitching and remaining offense in a mediocre division, they’d be able to hang around contention even without Fielder, but missing Braun for 50 games could bury them.

St. Louis Cardinals

You can’t lose three Hall of Fame caliber people and consider the off-season a success. Albert Pujols, Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan are all gone. Lance Berkman and Carlos Beltran will offset the loss of Pujols…somewhat, but he’s still Pujols and fundamentally irreplaceable.

Mike Matheny has never managed before and it was the rebuilding aptitude of Dave Duncan that salvaged something out of the broken down and finished pitchers he continually fixed like an abandoned but still workable car.

LaRussa is the best manager of this generation.

A seamless transition? No way.

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Trade Targets For American League Contenders

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Yesterday I discussed players contending National League teams should pursue at the trading deadline. Now let’s look at the American League.

Boston Red Sox

What they need: Starting pitching.

With Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz on the disabled list and John Lackey an enigma (although he looked good in his last start), the Red Sox are on the lookout for a decent starter.

And the starter only has to be decent; with their offense, competence is all that’s required.

Ryan Dempster is competent and wouldn’t cost much in terms of players; the Red Sox say they don’t have much money to spend, but if they need something they’ll go and get it. The $14 million player option held by Dempster would have to be dealt with; the Red Sox want no part of that.

Cheaper names would include Aaron Cook, Erik Bedard, Brett Myers (I doubt they’ll bring him to the scene of the crime and he hasn’t pitched particularly well this year).

Ricky Nolasco and Anibal Sanchez of the Marlins could be in play and the Red Sox have the prospects to get it done.

There was talk that they’d be after Jose Reyes or Carlos Beltran, but I don’t see why. If they want a shortstop bat, they’d go after Hanley Ramirez first.

New York Yankees

What they need: A solid utility player; an OF/DH bat; bullpen help; a backup catcher; a starting pitcher(?).

I actually think the Yankees starting pitching is serviceable enough contingent on Phil Hughes‘s performance and whether Bartolo Colon continues to pitch well. Dempster is a good option for them and they’ve always liked Ted Lilly.

There was talk of Francisco Rodriguez and the Mets would give him away—he wouldn’t be closing for the Yankees and K-Rod’s new agent Scott Boras is posturing about where he’d let his client go via trade.

It’s pure posturing because they have little leverage. K-Rod’s contract has 10 teams he can reject trades to—their identities are unknown.

Heath Bell is getting traded eventually.

For set-up help Rafael Betancourt of the Rockies and Grant Balfour of the Athletics are targets.

They could use a lefty reliever like Tim Byrdak or take a chance on Brian Fuentes.

Naturally with Alex Rodriguez out for a month after knee surgery, there will be Yankees fans who want them to go and trade for a star third baseman like Aramis Ramirez—you can’t go through a series of games without a star player at every position I suppose, even in the short-term.

If Casey Blake is healthy, he can play third, first and the outfield.

I have a feeling Hideki Matsui is going to end up back with the Yankees. He proved during the A’s tour of the National League that he can still play the outfield and I’m not quite sure what it is that Andruw Jones does that keeps him on the roster.

Any backup catcher would be better than Francisco Cervelli. I’d probably be better than Francisco Cervelli. If the White Sox fade, Ramon Castro is a good backup with pop.

Tampa Bay Rays

What they need: A bat. Any bat.

Beltran would be a very nice addition. Presumably he’d okay a trade to the contending Rays.

Jim Thome would bash as the DH.

Here’s a thought: Hanley Ramirez. The Rays have the prospects and while his attitude is somewhere along the lines of B.J. Upton, there’s no denying his talent. Whether Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria would allow his favorite son to: A) be traded; and B) be sent across the state, is a question.

Detroit Tigers

What they need: A bat; a back-end starter; bullpen help.

If Blake is healthy, he’s better than Brandon Inge. Beltran and K-Rod are dangling from the Mets. I’ve always liked Josh Willingham of the Athletics.

If the Marlins discuss Hanley Ramirez, the Tigers probably don’t have the prospects to get him; Aramis Ramirez would fit in nicely.

The Tigers have the money to take Lilly’s contract. Then there are the usual suspects mentioned earlier like Dempster or Cook.

Cleveland Indians

What they need: A bat; a competent veteran starting pitcher.

With Shin-Soo Choo out until September with a broken thumb, Beltran is a great idea for the Indians. Then there are Matsui, Willingham and David DeJesus from the Athletics. The Cubs could move Aramis Ramirez and Kosuke Fukudome.

Cook of the Rockies and Bedard are short-term, inexpensive and worthwhile gambles.

The White Sox and Twins have to decide what they are and where they’re headed. In the past, both have shown a hesitancy to sell and they’re close enough to contention in a rotten division to justify going either way.

Texas Rangers

What they need: Starting pitching.

The Rangers have been aggressive in recent years, so they’ll be in on the expensive names and pending free agents. They were looking at Scott Kazmir, but that’s a dead-end.

Lilly has an attitude that Nolan Ryan likes. Dempster would fit with the Rangers; Wandy Rodriguez is signed and highly underrated. Jeremy Guthrie of the Orioles has pitched better than his 3-12 record.

How about making a bid for Mike Pelfrey of the Mets? They’ll move him in the right deal and the Rangers have prospects to trade.

Los Angeles Angels

What they need: A bat; bullpen help.

Surprisingly, the Angels don’t need much of anything if their current players perform. They could use a bat at shortstop like Hanley Ramirez and have some young players to exchange, but that’s farfetched.

There was talk recently that Angels owner Arte Moreno had told GM Tony Reagins that they couldn’t add money, but that was before their hot streak put them near first place. That division is wide open for them. If they make the playoffs, they have the pitching to do damage.

Would the Angels like to rent K-Rod for the rest of the season as a set-up man? He performed brilliantly in that role when they won the World Series in 2002, manager Mike Scioscia knows how to handle him and he’s familiar with the Angels clubhouse.

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Rocky III

Fantasy/Roto, Games, Management, Media, Players

Ubaldo Jimenez is pitching better after an injury-hindered start.

Aaron Cook has been notoriously unlucky on balls in play and hit trajectory.

Jhoulys Chacin has star potential.

The offense is solid; the bullpen deep; Jim Tracy is a top manager; GM Dan O’Dowd is aggressive in improving the club; and their penchant for late season hot streaks has happened too often to discount as a fluke.

Because they’re struggling with inconsistency and injuries and are plodding along at 38-40, it’s easy to forget the Rockies.

The Giants have fantastic pitching and are battle-hardened after their World Series win in 2010 and the Diamondbacks have played so surprisingly well, they’re receiving deserved attention.

But that doesn’t hide their flaws and the overall strengths and expected production of the Rockies.

The Giants need a bat. Desperately. Their bullpen, specifically Brian Wilson, is overworked; the starting rotation is functioning without any run support and they went deeply into the playoffs last season and Wilson and the rotation are running the risk of cumulative exhaustion both mentally and physically.

They’re going to fade.

The Diamondbacks can score and their starting pitching has gone above-and-beyond the call of duty; but their bullpen is a major issue and I do not trust J.J. Putz.

The Rockies have the goods in every area to vault over both teams. Once Troy Tulowitzki goes into one of his unconscious hot streaks and the pitchers are 100% healthy and have better luck, the Rockies are going to take off in another second half blaze.

The Rockies are the team to beat in the NL West.

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