Cleaning Up the Daniel Bard Mess

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It’s doubtful that Daniel Bard can hit or play the outfield like Rick Ankiel, so he won’t be able to move on with his career away from the mound. It’s pitching or nothing. The Red Sox designated Bard for assignment, so it’s unlikely that he’ll be pitching or doing anything for the Red Sox ever again.

The numbers are hideous. Bard didn’t make the Red Sox out of spring training, was sent to Double A and walked 17 in 12.2 innings. He was sent to lower levels in the Red Sox system and couldn’t get it together there either. It’s easy to start doling out the blame for what happened to Bard, a pitcher who had “future dominant closer” attached to his name for three years as a Red Sox set-up man.

The Red Sox moved him to the starting rotation in the dissension-racked 2012 season, jerked him between the rotation and bullpen sometimes within the same week and seemed unsure as to what they wanted to do with him. This was while they were using Alfredo Aceves as their closer following the injury to Andrew Bailey and could very easily have shifted Bard into the spot where he’s best suited – the bullpen – and left him there. He was sent to the minors where the wheels came off.

It’s essentially meaningless to finger one specific person or entity as to why Bard’s career in Boston disintegrated as it has. Bard himself wanted to be a starter, so he can’t complain that the Red Sox were forcing him to do something he didn’t want to do. The Red Sox have a fetish for making their homegrown relievers into starting pitchers without considering the worst case scenario as has happened with Bard.

Bard was clocked at 96-mph on his fastball, so the arm is still there. It’s going to take a complete teardown and rebuild to get him back to where he was in 2011. He’s worth the claim for a club to take him and try to get him straight. Just getting him out of Boston might be a big step in rejuvenating his career.




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Enough About The Red Sox Chemistry

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There is a place for chemistry in baseball and I’m not talking about PEDs. The Red Sox have been lauded for their improved clubhouse atmosphere coinciding with more likable people in the room such as Shane Victorino, Ryan Dempster, Mike Napoli, and manager John Farrell. It’s undoubtedly a more pleasant place without the rampant dysfunction and selfishness that culminated in a 69-93 last place disaster in 2012.

To put the team in context, however, they scarcely could’ve been worse in terms of cohesiveness and being on the same page than they were in 2012. The preponderance of the blame is placed on the desk of former manager Bobby Valentine because he’s a convenient scapegoat and is gone. But there’s more than enough responsibility to go around from owner John Henry with his increasing detachment from the Red Sox day-to-day affairs to focus on building the Fenway sports brand, much to the chagrin of the Liverpool football club’s faithful; CEO Larry Lucchino who spearheaded the Valentine hiring over the objections of the baseball people; and GM Ben Cherington who made the ill-fated decision to trade Josh Reddick for Andrew Bailey among other questionable moves and whose head is now in the noose with the expensive signings of Victorino, Ryan Dempster and the trade for Joel Hanrahan along with the highly dubious decision to trade for Farrell to manage the team, ostensibly because they knew him and he was there when the team was at the height of its powers.

Amid all the chemistry talk and references—specifically from former manager Terry Francona in his book—that the 2011 club didn’t care about one another, all they needed to do was win one more game over the month of September that year and they still would’ve made the playoffs. You can’t blame a bad mix of players for the horrific final month of the season when they were widely regarded as the best team in baseball from May through August. They had two terrible months and they both happened to be in the first and last months of the season. If the players disliking one another wasn’t a problem in the summer, how did it turn into the biggest issue that led to their downfall?

Chemistry is not to be disregarded, but the media constantly harping on the dynamic of the personalities strikes as hunting for a narrative. If they play well, the new players and better communication will be seen as the “why” whether it’s accurate or not. Because the media no longer has to deal with Josh Beckett and his Neanderthal-like grunting and glaring; Adrian Gonzalez with his deer-in-the-headlights reaction to all things Boston; Carl Crawford and his “get me outta here” body language; and Valentine with his Valentineisms, their life is much easier and they don’t have to dread going to work. But so what? This isn’t about the media and the fans having players with a high wattage smile and charm; it’s not about having a manager who looks like he should be a manager, therefore is a manager even though his in-game strategies are widely regarded as terrible. It’s about performing and last night was an ominous sign for the third closer they’ve tried, Hanrahan, since Jonathan Papelbon was allowed to leave without so much as a whimper of protest and an unmistakable air of good riddance.

Closers blow games. It happens. Truth be told, the pitch that was called ball four on Nate McLouth could very easily (and probably should’ve) been called a strike, but big game closers have to overcome that and last night Hanrahan responded to not getting the call by throwing a wild pitch to let the Orioles tie the game, and then served up a meatball to Manny Machado to torch the thing completely.

Hanrahan is better than Bailey and Alfredo Aceves, but he’s never been in a situation like that of Boston where he’s expected to be a linchpin to the club’s success. He’s also a free agent at the end of the season. This isn’t a rebuilding Nationals team or the Pirates. There’s a lot of pressure on him. The starting rotation is woefully short and the aforementioned personnel and management issues haven’t gone away simply because of their attempts to weed out the problem people who are perceived to have led to the crumbling of the infrastructure. They may have been patched the personality gap to the satisfaction of the media at large, but the players also have to be able to play and play in Boston. Whether they can or not has yet to be determined in spite of the feeling of sunshine permeating the reconfigured room.

Chemistry only goes as far. If they don’t find some starting pitching and have a closer that can finish a game, this discussion on how much more positive the Red Sox are will be all they have to talk about in July because they certainly won’t be discussing preparations for a playoff run.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2013 Baseball Guide now available on Amazon.comSmashwordsBN and Lulu. Check it out and read a sample.

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Keys to 2013: Boston Red Sox

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Starting Pitching Key: Jon Lester

With Josh Beckett gone and the back of the rotation questionable, someone has to be the leader on and off the field. There are conflicting reports about Beckett’s leadership skills. Those within the Red Sox who’ve commented on it have nothing but good things to say about him; those outside see him as the ringleader to the increasing selfishness and laziness that tore down the Red Sox in 2011. Lester used to follow Beckett around like a baby duck, but he’s the man now and with the Red Sox still in flux after a 69-93 season and the one person who all seemed to blame—Bobby Valentine—gone, if they don’t play better other dominos are sure to fall. Lester’s performance can prevent or at least delay the inevitable.

Relief Pitching Key: Alfredo Aceves

Aceves is already irritating the new regime and manager John Farrell by lobbing balls in during what was supposed to be a live batting practice. What Aceves’s problem is is anyone’s guess, but if he continues to act up after his diva-like behavior in 2012, the Red Sox will have no choice but to get rid of him. The problem is, they need him and he was one of the few players who performed as if he cared during the 2011 collapse. He can pitch multiple innings as a reliever, can close and can start. They need Aceves’s versatility if they’re going to win.

Offensive Key: Jacoby Ellsbury

Ellsbury missed almost all of 2010 with a rib injury and half of 2012 with a shoulder injury. In 2011 when he was healthy, he finished second in the MVP voting and helped keep the Red Sox afloat in the waning weeks of the season. His injuries were impact-related and not pulled hamstrings and similar maladies.

If he’s 100%, he can do it all on the field. His presence will go a long way in the Red Sox being respectable. If they play poorly, he’s trade bait and the return on him could help speed their necessary rebuild.

Either way, he has to be healthy.

Defensive Key: Jonny Gomes

One of the reasons the Red Sox let Jason Bay leave after the 2009 season was his statistically and perceptively poor defense. Jim Rice’s defense was presented as a reason to keep him out of the Hall of Fame, but he was good at playing the Green Monster because he knew its quirks.

Since it was built, playing the Green Monster in Fenway has been more about nuance and understanding the wall. But logic says that if they were worried about Bay’s defense and because Rice’s outfield play is a point of contention in his Hall of Fame candidacy that teams want a prototypically adequate defensive outfielder even for a place like Fenway. For 2013, the Red Sox primary left fielder will be Gomes who, by all comprehensible measures, is a terrible outfielder in a normal outfield. What he’ll look like at Fenway has nightmare potential and could severely harm the already shaky pitching staff.

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Aceves’s Problem, the Red Sox Solution

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Bobby Valentine is no longer available as the root of all evil in the Red Sox clubhouse. It’s seemingly lost on the organization that they did everything possible to undermine Valentine as soon as he was hired by saddling him with coaches that he neither knew nor wanted. Immediately, he was surrounded by people he was aware were pipelines to factions in the front office that didn’t want to hire him who simultaneously functioned as Lucy Van Pelt-style purveyors of amateur psychiatric help for 5¢ and open enablers to whining players as a means of ingratiating themselves with the inevitable victors in the battle for control. It began the moment he got the job and continued even after he was dismissed. A vast majority of what happened is the fault of the front office for not stomping the insurrection immediately.

But that’s over. At least it was supposed to be. A new day dawned in Boston with the manager they want in John Farrell and the clubhouse cleared of toxic personalities and people who didn’t fit in Boston like Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. More importantly, their contracts are gone. “Character” guys such as Mike Napoli, David Ross, Ryan Dempster and Shane Victorino were signed and the issues that doomed Terry Francona and Valentine are in the process of being weeded out.

That was the preferred narrative until the first few days of spring training when the notoriously petulant and quirky Alfredo Aceves decided that he’d lob balls toward the plate during live batting practice.

Whatever the reason for Aceves’s behavior is, it’s largely irrelevant. There are times when there should be a liberal viewpoint to someone’s actions because they’re salvageable and useful. Aceves is so versatile—he can start, pitch in long relief and close—that giving him away would be painful and self-destructive. Perhaps there’s an underlying cause that, once it’s eliminated, will make Aceves happy and less of a magnet for controversy. Other times, however, the conservative tack is preferable. By that I mean telling him, “I don’t care why you’re doing it. Just knock it off.”

Is Aceves an insecure alpha male who equates shoving back at authority as a means to improve his status and self-esteem? Does he need…STOP!!!

Know what?

I don’t care.

And that’s what the Red Sox should say.

While Aceves can help them, it would hurt them more to keep him around if he insists on acting like this. Last season there was the tantrum he threw when Valentine removed him from the closer’s role and the public confrontation with Dustin Pedroia over a popup. That’s the stuff we know about. There are probably ten other incidents that were kept in-house.

It’s been a strange turn with Aceves. He was one of the few 2011 Red Sox who acquitted himself as a professional while the world came crashing down in September, pitching on an almost daily basis in a multitude of roles for multiple innings and almost singlehandedly keeping the team afloat. Now, a year-and-a-half later, he’s a problem. The “why” is meaningless. If the Red Sox hired Farrell as the big, tough, stoic sheriff to restore order in a lawless town, the first thing they need to do is react with overwhelming force when his authority is challenged. They need to get rid of Aceves not just to get him out of the clubhouse, but to send a message that the inmates aren’t running the asylum anymore.

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The Red Sox Should’ve Just Paid Papelbon

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Misunderstanding the value of a closer is the Red Sox blindspot.

Adhering too strictly to theories, stats and factoids about closers, the Red Sox have repeatedly made the same mistakes by going back to where their hearts and minds and supposed logic reign instead of where reality and how baseball actually works. They cling to an ideology, occasionally bow to need and concede the point that a legitimate closer is necessary while still holding true to the fanaticism of not paying for saves.

But they are paying for saves with currency other than money and, in retrospect, the $50 million guarantee Jonathan Papelbon received from the Phillies would have been better spent by the Red Sox to keep him rather than do what they’re currently doing, having just acquired their third replacement for him in one year. $50 million is a lot of money, especially for a closer, but here’s the tree of what the Red Sox have spent so far in getting Papelbon’s replacements:

Andrew Bailey

Bailey was acquired from the Athletics and earned $3.9 million in 2012. He spent most of the season on the disabled list with thumb surgery—an unforeseen circumstance to be sure and one that played a large role in the sabotaging of the 2012 season.

To acquire Bailey and Ryan Sweeney however, they surrendered Josh Reddick and two minor leaguers. Sweeney was paid $1.75 million in 2012. Sweeney is a good defensive outfielder in both right and center, but received 219 plate appearances, provided 0 homers, and a .263/.303/.373 slash line, making him nearly worthless at the plate.

Josh Reddick

Reddick earned $485,000 from the Athletics in 2012 and hit 32 homers with 11 stolen bases in 12 attempts and won a Gold Glove in right field for the AL West champs. The Red Sox could certainly have used Reddick in 2012, but they clearly misjudged him, used him as a chip to get a closer and replaced him with Cody Ross.

Cody Ross

Because of his feistiness and everyman likability, Ross became a popular player with the Red Sox and their fans in his lone season as their right fielder. Like Reddick, he could play center field in a pinch; like Reddick he had pop (22 homers), but with no speed and average defense in right field. He cost them $3 million and departed as a free agent for an inexplicable $26 million from the Diamondbacks. To replace Ross, the Red Sox signed Shane Victorino.

Shane Victorino

The Red Sox signed Victorino to a 3-year, $39 million contract. Keith Law referred to Victorino as a “fourth outfielder,” which is absurd. Victorino is a good player with a great attitude and clubhouse presence. He’s versatile and can play both right and center field, is a switch-hitter with power and speed. Victorino gives the Red Sox the freedom to consider trading Jacoby Ellsbury before his heads into free agency after the 2013 season.

That sort of sounds like what Reddick added, except with Reddick they’d have spent around $37.5 million less.

The separate tree to replace Bailey, who replaced Papelbon goes something like this:

Jed Lowrie

Lowrie is an average defensive shortstop at best, but he hit 16 homers with a .769 OPS in 387 plate appearances for the Astros in 2012. He earned $1.15 million last season. The primary Red Sox shortstop, Mike Aviles, had a solid defensive season and hit 13 homers while being paid $1.2 million. It’s a wash on the field, but the Red Sox could’ve gotten something more useful than Melancon for Lowrie.

Aviles was traded to the Blue Jays for the rights to manager John Farrell, whose hiring will be eventually seen as a mistake if he actually has to do some managing rather than sit there and look managerial. Given this roster, his stern face and ability to deal with the press won’t be enough.

Melancon was shipped along with Jerry Sands and Ivan De Jesus Jr. (two players the Red Sox got from the Dodgers in their salary dump/clubhouse enema deal sending Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford to Los Angeles) to the Pirates for Joel Hanrahan.

Mark Melancon

Melancon made $521,000 in 2012. He had closed for the Astros and was acquired to be a set-up man/backup closer for Bailey just in case Bailey got hurt. But when Bailey got hurt, the decision was made (by manager Bobby Valentine or someone in the front office) to use Alfredo Aceves as the closer.

Aceves was, to put it lightly, not Papelbon. As gutty and useful as Aceves was in 2011, he was equally inconsistent, difficult and contentious with management and teammates in 2012.

Melancon? He got off to a dreadful start and wound up back in the minors. When he returned, he pitched better in a far less important role than as the set-up man. To acquire Melancon, the Red Sox gave up Lowrie and Kyle Weiland.

Joel Hanrahan

Now it’s Hanrahan who’s going to be the closer.

Hanrahan is a free agent after 2013, is arbitration eligible and set to make around $7 million next season. He’s probably better-suited than Bailey to the pressure of pitching in Boston as the closer for the demanding Red Sox, but he won’t be a known commodity until he performs. He’s never pitched for a team with these expectations and with free agency beckoning, he might try too hard and pitch poorly. Or he could be Brad Lidge, circa 2008 and be shockingly close to perfect. We don’t know.

All of this is without the horrific misjudgment the team made in trying to make Daniel Bard into a starter and succeeded in nothing more than popping his value like a balloon. Nobody even talks about him anymore, let alone mentions him in a prominent role as a reliever or starter.

Short of re-signing Papelbon, the easy move would’ve been to use the succession theory and simply insert Bard as the closer to replace Papelbon, but they didn’t do that either.

So let’s tally it up:

Hanrahan (±)$7 million + Ross $3 million + Sweeney $1.75 million + Victorino $39 million + Melancon $521,000 = $51.271 million

vs

Papelbon $50 million + Reddick $485,000 + Lowrie $1.2 million = $51.685 million

This is before getting to the Red Sox results in 2012; the dysfunction; and what they could’ve acquired in lieu of Bailey and Hanrahan if they chose to spend the money they spent and players they traded to get them.

Papelbon received a guaranteed $50 million from the Phillies with a vesting option making it worth a possible $63 million. If he reaches the appearance incentives in 2014-2015 to gain the vesting option, that will mean that Papelbon is healthy and pitching well, making the money moot because the club would be getting what they need from him.

The Red Sox never fully appreciated the value of having a pitcher who was automatically the ninth inning man. They’d underestimated the value of a closer in 2003 when not having one cost them the pennant and possibly the World Series; they accepted that they needed one in 2004 when they signed Keith Foulke, paying him $20 million for what amounted to one productive season. If you conducted a poll of everyone involved with the Red Sox from ownership on down and asked them if, prior to 2004, they’d make a bargain in which they paid any closer that amount of money for one season and were rewarded with a World Series, each and every one of them would’ve said yes without a second thought and been right to do it.

Any manager with experience and who isn’t beholden to taking orders from the front office or brainlessly attached to new theories will say that it takes a great deal off his mind to know that when he calls down to the bullpen, more often than not, his closer will be ready and willing to pitch and, the majority of the time, will nail the game down. The numbers of every game in which a club is leading in the ninth inning winning the game being X% regardless of who closes the game is separate from the sigh of relief self-assuredness the team as a whole feels when a Papelbon is out there.

Yet they still hold onto that ideology like it’s the last bastion of what they aspire to be.

A year after Papelbon’s outstanding rookie year in 2006, they put forth the farce of making him a starter before acquiescing to reality and shifting him back to the bullpen. In large part to Papelbon, they were rewarded with a World Series win in 2007.

Conceded the point; clinging; practically; financially; logistically; ideologically; injuries—there are so many words to attach to why the Red Sox run on this treadmill, but none cancel out that the simplest and smartest option would have been to re-sign Papelbon.

You can go on about his WAR being less than 2 wins in both 2011 and 2012, his failures late in the season of 2011 and how he was inaccurately perceived as a clubhouse problem. How inaccurate that was only became known in 2012 when it wound up being Youkilis, Beckett and the other malcontents who were the troublemakers and not Papelbon, who came to play every day.

You can mention the injury concerns, but as you can see in this posting on Fire Brand of the American League, the Red Sox medical staff hasn’t distinguished itself in a positive way in recent years.

You can talk about Papelbon “wanting” to leave or the clubhouse issues, but sometimes all it takes is a branch of communication and the expression from the club that they truly wanted him and said so. They never did. They constantly diminished his importance by refusing to give him a lucrative long-term contract to forego his arbitration years and free agency as they did with other young stars Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, and Kevin Youkilis. They gave Beckett a 4-year $68 million extension. They paid $106 million in total for Daisuke Matsuzaka. They gave Crawford $142 million. They gave John Lackey $82.5 million.

There was no money to pay one of the best closers in baseball over the past seven years? No financial wherewithal to pay one who had proven himself in the post-season where the true separation between the Mariano Rivera-type and the Joe Nathan-type is made? They were unable to provide a reasonable deal and tell Papelbon that they wanted him back? That was too much of a commitment?

The bottom line with Papelbon is that he was proven in the post-season, durable, able to handle the cauldron of baseball madness that is Boston, and they knew what they were getting without having to do a tapdance to replace him.

Hanrahan might work out or he might become another Bailey. They don’t know. With Papelbon, they did know. They just went cheap and retreated to their core beliefs of not paying for a closer while presenting a litany of excuses as to why they were doing it. All they succeeded in doing, though, was to cost themselves more money and prospects, simultaneously adding more questions to the ones that would’ve been answered had they just accepted reality and paid Papelbon to stay.

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Booing The Yankees’ Closer

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The Yankees’ closer has brilliant across-the-board numbers.

He’s saved 33 games in 36 opportunities. He’s only allowed 2 homers in 52.2 innings pitched; has struck out 53, walked 17, given up 46 hits. He’s been reliable and borderline dominant. If you’re interested in advanced stats, his ERA+ is 207 and his WAR is 2.2.

No, I’m not talking about Mariano Rivera. I’m talking about Rafael Soriano.

The same pitcher who the GM Brian Cashman didn’t want and openly said he didn’t want; the same pitcher who was little more than an injury-prone, whining, complaining nuisance in his first season with the team; who refused to get with the Yankees’ program and surrendered the backbreaking homer to Delmon Young in the turning point game 3 of last season’s ALDS; who wasn’t designated as the replacement for Rivera until all other options had been exhausted, has been a key to the Yankees staying in first place and playoff position all season long.

Soriano was booed last night by Yankees’ “faithful” after allowing a 3-run homer (I repeat, the second homer he’s allowed all season) to Blue Jays’ outfielder Colby Rasmus to turn a 6-4 lead into a 7-6 deficit. The Yankees tied the game in the bottom of the 9th when Derek Jeter homered, but lost it in the 11th.

Soriano blew the game, but did he deserve to be booed? Was it simple idiocy on the part of some fans or was it indicative of the problem among segments of the spoiled and greedy fanbase that there can never be failure of any kind. Success is expected and unappreciated; failure is a hanging offense. This is all symptomatic of the onrush to a logical conclusion built for failure: the concept that every player must be an All-Star; that the idea of a workmanlike and useful component can’t fill the shoes of greatness for even one month, one week, one game. How long before a CC Sabathia has his start pushed back because of flulike symptoms and the fans and media inundate the airwaves, web and print with demands to replace him—even for one game—with a star of commensurate magnitude?

It sounds ridiculous? Well, it’s not. Just look at the behaviors from last night. It’s inexplicable audacity for anyone to boo Soriano after the work he’s done not just on the mound, but in withstanding the pressure of replacing Rivera. The concept of “anyone could’ve done it”, which is a stat person’s lament, is ludicrous and selective in its application. The David Robertson as closer experiment was short-lived and the Yankees were retrospectively saved from the replacement “closer” blowing 3-5 more games before a move to Soriano was necessary. Had Joba Chamberlain been available at the time, he too would’ve been ahead of Soriano in the pecking order in spite of Soriano’s experience at doing the job.

Experience.

That’s far more important than stuff in being a successful closer. We can go on ad nauseam as to the true value of the guy who pitches the ninth inning and accumulates the watered down save stat, but it’s not as easy in practice as it is on paper. It’s a mentality that can’t be taught; can’t be drilled in; can’t be transferred to the faceless “PITCHER” as stat people imply. Robertson couldn’t do it and was far more valuable pitching the seventh and eighth innings than he would be in the ninth. But the succession of power dictated that Robertson, the set-up man, take over for Rivera as closer. How many times have we seen a good set-up man unable to pitch the ninth inning? It happens repeatedly. The Red Sox didn’t trust Daniel Bard as their new closer, in part, because he’d struggled in the role during the few save chances he’d had. That led to the trade of Josh Reddick for Andrew Bailey; the installation of Alfredo Aceves as the closer; and Bard being made into a starter, failing, and now rapidly degenerating into a disaster in need of a full mental and physical makeover as he pitches in Triple A as a reliever.

Soriano has not only taken over for the best closer in history, but been a major reason why the Yankees are still in the position they’re in. Had Robertson not injured his oblique and stayed as the closer for another week, where would the Yankees be now? What would they have done? Would they have gone to Soriano for any reason other than not having a choice? Would they have tried to make a trade to get someone else? And how would that have worked?

The Yankees playoff spot is currently not guaranteed. There are 5 spots for 7 teams that are legitimate contenders and eight if you count the floundering Angels, which I do. Manager Joe Girardi also brought up an important point during his press conference yesterday when he said it’s imperative for the Yankees to win the division because the Wild Card spots, while having an extra entry point, are a one-game and out affair. There’s no longer an automatic waltz into a best 3 of 5 series against a division champion for winning the Wild Card. A playoff spot for the Wild Card teams are limited to one game, and in one game, anything can happen.

In the American League overall standings, The Yankees are 2 games behind the Rangers; have a 2 ½ game lead on the White Sox; a 3 ½ game lead on the Orioles and Athletics; a 4 game lead on the Rays; a 4 ½ game lead on the Tigers; and an 8 game lead on the Angels. One bad week and they could fall from second in the league to sixth. Easily. And without Soriano, they probably would be in that position.

Boo Soriano and diminish his accomplishments if you choose to, but understand how he’s saved the Yankees both literally and figuratively before doing so. He stepped into massive shoes and, for the most part, has filled them. Yankees’ fans should consider where they’d currently be without Soriano. That’s, of course, if they’re capable of being objective and comprehending that they don’t have a divine right to the playoffs and that not every player can be a megastar/future Hall of Famer. That greed is their undoing and could be the eventual undoing of the entire organization if they’re not careful, prudent, and smart.

Are they careful, prudent and smart? The fans booing and criticizing Soriano certainly aren’t and, as said before, that attitude spreads like a disease and is getting worse and worse, even incurable, by the day.

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The Red Sox-Dodgers Trade, Part IV—For The Teams, For the Players

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Let’s look at how this affects the teams and the players.

For the Dodgers

The Dodgers are under new ownership and GM Ned Colletti got the nod to go for it now and boy, is he. After trading for Hanley Ramirez, Shane Victorino, and Joe Blanton, he also claimed Cliff Lee on waivers only to see the Phillies pull him back. There’s a difference between “wanting” and being “willing to take”. Colletti wanted Adrian Gonzalez and was willing to take Josh Beckett in order to get it done. Lest anyone believe that the Dodgers weren’t serious about their willingness to take on heavy salary as Colletti claimed both Gonzalez and Beckett. Had a deal not been consummated, there was a real possibility that the Red Sox would simply have given Beckett to the Dodgers. Not so with Gonzalez. Carl Crawford will be in left field for the Dodgers at some point in 2013 replacing the rotating list of names that included Marcus Thames, Juan Rivera, Bobby Abreu and now the pending free agent Victorino, who most assuredly won’t be back with the Dodgers in 2013.

The Dodgers needed a power-hitting first baseman to replace the light-hitting James Loney; they went after Gonzalez several times when he was still with the Padres; and Beckett is an extra arm in the rotation with post-season success in his past. They have the money and the desire, nor did they give up their top prospects to get this done.

For the Red Sox

This is a housecleaning and fumigation.

Naturally, as is the case with this current Red Sox group, there was additional controversy when closer Alfredo Aceves threw a tantrum and stormed out of manager Bobby Valentine’s office after Andrew Bailey was used to close a game instead of Aceves. It was obscured by the magnitude of this trade, but was a symptom of what’s gone wrong in Boston not just since Valentine took over, but going back to last season. On that note, Aceves is not the long-term Red Sox closer. Bailey is. I don’t think anyone should get worked up over the happiness or unhappiness of a useful journeyman with a long history of injuries like Aceves.

Gonzalez was a bad fit in Boston. He’s quiet and religious and was reluctant to step to the forefront as a leader.

Crawford was miserable and injured.

Beckett had behaved like a spoiled rotten brat and a bully.

Whether the Red Sox are going to keep Valentine for the second year of his contract remains to be seen, but this trade was an admission that they couldn’t go forward with Valentine or anyone else and maintain the construction of the roster and the hierarchy of the clubhouse as it was. They cleared out $261 million and left themselves flexibility to alter the on-field product as much as the poisoned off-field perception that has exemplified their team since 2011.

Let’s say the Red Sox were unable to make a trade like this and they gave in to the complaints of the players regarding Valentine. Then what? What if they hired another manager and that manager irritated the veteran players in a different way. What if he was strategically inept; soft on discipline; unable to handle the media; or what if they just didn’t like him? Then what? Were they going to give the babies another pacifier and fire him too?

They could’ve stuck a mannequin in a Red Sox uniform at the corner of the dugout with the words NOT VALENTINE stitched across his shoulder blades and until those players found a mirror and chose to act and play like professionals, it wouldn’t have made one bit of difference this season or next.

They made a bold decision to cut ties with players who no longer wanted to be with the Red Sox or shouldn’t have been with the Red Sox in the first place. Now they can move on and start again.

Adrian Gonzalez

Gonzalez is a West Coast-type who will be much better off as the silent and powerful lineup partner to Matt Kemp. As gifted a player as he is, he does not want to be the vocal leader. But if he was truly behind the text message to Red Sox ownership complaining about Valentine, then he has to make a decision: either he wants to be a representative of the team and lead or he wants to sit in the background and be left alone and do his job. He can have one or the other, but not both.

Gonzalez will be playing for a kindred spirit in manager Don Mattingly. Gonzalez has been a key member of three separate teams that collapsed in September to blow playoff spots that should have been sewn up. Mattingly’s Yankees teams were forever in turmoil and didn’t turn the corner until Mattingly’s career and greatness were dismantled by injuries. Mattingly wasn’t a vocal leader either in spite of being the captain of the Yankees and when he tried to be, it came out as awkward.

Gonzalez will revert to the MVP-candidate he was with the Padres, back on the Coast he never should have left.

Josh Beckett

It wasn’t his behavior that was the biggest problem with the Red Sox. That’s saying a lot considering how out of shape he was; how unwilling he was to acknowledge any more than the tiniest bit of responsibility nor regret for the Red Sox coming apart under Terry Francona and his part in the debacle.

It was Beckett’s frequent injuries and rancid performances indicative of someone who was saying, “Get me outta here,” in multiple ways.

I’m not prepared to say that Beckett, with his declining velocity, doughy midsection, and injuries will be what the Dodgers want: a post-season performer and ace who loves the spotlight. In fact, I’d expect something close to what he was with the Red Sox for the rest of 2012 at least. Perhaps Kemp and Mattingly can convince Beckett to show up in shape in 2013, but it’s no guarantee.

Carl Crawford

He was terrible offensively. He was terrible defensively. He looked unhappy. And he was constantly injured.

Crawford was a true 5-tool player with the Rays who degenerated to nothing almost immediately upon pulling a Red Sox jersey over his shoulders. Another bad fit who was something of a redundancy with Jacoby Ellsbury already in the Red Sox outfield, Crawford couldn’t get used to the scrutiny that he never experienced in Tampa; and he couldn’t get the hang of the Green Monster.

Crawford’s struggles are one of the reasons that those who criticize Jim Rice as a bad defensive player as an absolutist declaration of his poor Hall of Fame credentials are leaving out facts as convenient to their argument. Rice was a left fielder for the Boston Red Sox meaning that he had to learn to play the quirks and angles of that wall. He did it as well as anyone and found himself on the outside looking in at the Hall of Fame because he wasn’t Dave Winfield defensively.

Crawford might eventually have learned to handle Boston and overcome his injuries to again become the player he was, but this opportunity was too good to pass up for the Red Sox.

As for the Dodgers, they’re getting a great player who can still be a great player once he’s healthy and happy in Southern California.

Nick Punto

Yeah. It’s Nick Punto. He can do some useful things here and there I guess.

James Loney

When Mattingly took over as Dodgers manager I was sure that he was going to exert the same pressure on Loney that Lou Piniella did on Mattingly to turn on the inside pitches and hit for more power. Mattingly did and became an MVP and megastar. Loney got worse under Mattingly.

He’s a first baseman who doesn’t hit for any power at all and is a short-term guest for the Red Sox as a free agent at the end of the season. The Red Sox might spin him off somewhere by August 31st.

Allen Webster

Webster is a right-handed starting pitcher who was picked by the Dodgers in the 18th round of the 2008 draft. He’s put up solid numbers in the minors and, after having watched a YouTube clip of him appears to be a control-type righty with a mechanical, slightly across-his-body motion. Judging from that, he’s a back-of-the-rotation starter and not someone about whom anyone should get into a twist about surrendering…or acquiring.

Ivan de Jesus Jr.

The son of former big league shortstop Ivan de Jesus, De Jesus Jr was the 2nd round pick of the Dodgers in 2005. He’s 25 and was stagnating as a 4-A player. Perhaps he can be a useful utility player.

Jerry Sands

Given the proliferation of statistics, there’s an idea that a player like Sands needs little more than a chance to play and he’ll replicate his massive minor league power numbers with a different organization. Sands has been a big-time power hitter in the minors for the Dodgers (functioning in the light air of Albuquerque) and never gotten a legitimate chance to play in the big leagues.

Think about this for a second. The Dodgers have had a gaping hole in left field going back years and refused to give Sands a chance to play. Doesn’t it make sense that the Dodgers would know more about Sands than some guy studying Sands’s stats and determining that “all he needs is a chance”?

He’s big and he’s righty. Maybe he can benefit from the close proximity of the Green Monster.

Rubby De La Rosa

The Dominican righty is recovering from Tommy John surgery and has put up big strikeout numbers in the minors. The 23-year-old is poised and polished and has a clean motion. Of all the prospects sent to the Red Sox, the one with the highest upside is De La Rosa.

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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.

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The Negative Validation of Bobby V

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In his first opportunity to show that he’s learned from his mistakes, all Bobby Valentine proved was that he hasn’t changed.

He’s a great manager and a self-destructive force who will insist on going down his way.

That’s not a good thing.

Last season, when Terry Collins took over the Mets after a 10-year absence from managing in the big leagues, many who knew him and his intense, overbearing ways didn’t think there would be a “new” Terry. At the first sign of trouble, he’d revert to the raving maniac that polarized two talented clubhouses and labeled him as an impossible person to deal with.

Collins is still intense and fiery, but has toned down his act to discipline his clubhouse while not alienating it.

The Red Sox veterans viewed the hiring of Valentine with, at best, trepidation.

Throughout spring training the media tried to stoke the fires of controversy with everything Valentine did. From bunting to his lineup and bullpen decisions to the supposed “rift” between him and GM Ben Cherington, the traps were set for the “old” Bobby V—condescending, abrasive, uncontrollably arrogant, vindictive—to appear.

For the most part he kept himself in check.

But on opening day he reverted to the old Bobby V in one of the worst ways imaginable.

In the past, one issue he constantly had was the way he ran his clubs in a self-interested, paranoid, cold-hearted fashion.

The players didn’t trust him because he didn’t trust them.

The list of players with whom Valentine had public dust-ups included Todd Hundley, Pete Harnisch, Darryl Hamilton, Bobby Bonilla, Goose Gossage and David Wells.

Wells never actually played for Valentine.

Yesterday Valentine contradicted himself, the organizational strategy based on stats and told the players that he didn’t trust them to do their defined jobs.

One argument that stat people constantly use is to adhere to the percentages. That’s evolved into the rote maneuver of never using the “closer” in a tie game on the road unless they have no choice. Valentine had a choice.

Of course it’s ridiculous to cling to an ironclad strategy to be used in the face of reason, experience and situation, but the one thing Valentine did not want to do—on opening day!!!—is to give the veteran players a reason to start bashing him behind his back more than they already are.

By using Mark Melancon in the tie game and then panicking by yanking Melancon after, with one out, the next two Tigers’ hitters in the tenth inning got on base with balls that were conveniently placed and not hit hard, he told the players something they already suspected and were presumably whispering about from the time he was hired: he’s a mircomanager who won’t put the game in our hands.

Contrast that with Charlie Manuel—a manager the players love and run to play for.

Manuel was criticized in recent years because he stuck with Brad Lidge too long as closer when Lidge couldn’t get anyone out; for letting Jimmy Rollins run wild with his outrageous statements; for letting Ryan Howard swing on a 3-0 count in the NLDS last season with his team down a run and Howard in a horrific slump.

But for all of his perceived strategic lapses, the players know what they’re getting from Cholly privately because that’s what they get publicly.

Cholly’s got their backs because his actions are in the front.

He gives his players rope and if they hang themselves and the team with it, so be it.

Can Valentine say that?

Right off the bat, he’s telling Melancon, the entire roster and upper management that he doesn’t think much of a pitcher he’s going to need to do well if the Red Sox are going to contend.

This is not a defense of Melancon, who I think is mediocre, it’s a statement that even if they’d lost with Melancon (which they wound up doing anyway with “closer” Alfredo Aceves), it would’ve been a better conclusion because Valentine wouldn’t have immediately validated the players’ fears about him.

If the players believe the manager is out for himself—trying not to be criticized; always holding his finger over the panic button; nitpicking—they’re going to tune out and quickly look at their own situations superceding team goals.

With most managers it would be judged as one game in a 162 game season. With Valentine it’s a signal that he hasn’t changed; that he’s still going to ignore his mandate; that he’ll shun long-term harmony for one game desperation.

The Red Sox had better start winning games fast or by early May the ticking time bomb that is Valentine in that mercurial clubhouse will be set to detonate.

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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.

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