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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2012 MLB Rookie of the Year Award Winners

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Here are my picks for the Rookie of the Year in each league along with who I picked in the preseason.

American League

1. Mike Trout, CF—Los Angeles Angels

Many say Trout should be the MVP over Miguel Cabrera even though Cabrera won the Triple Crown, so how could he not be the Rookie of the Year?

Trout was recalled by the Angels at the end of April in a “save us” move as they started the season at 6-14 and were on the verge of panic. At age 20, he did everything possible to save the season with 30 homers, 49 stolen bases, a league leading OPS+ of 171, and Gold Glove defense in center field. He may not win the MVP—in fact, I think he won’t—but he’s Rookie of the Year.

2. Yoenis Cespedes, OF—Oakland Athletics

Cespedes was a risky signing for the Athletics and many, myself included, wondered what Billy Beane was thinking about. Cespedes started the season looking raw and unschooled; he was also frequently injured. Talent won out, however, and he hit 23 homers, stole 16 bases, with an .861 OPS.

3. Yu Darvish, RHP—Texas Rangers

Darvish shoved it to everyone who dismissed him under the absurd logic that he was from Japan and because Daisuke Matsuzaka was a disaster, that Darvish would be a disaster as well.

Darvish went 16-9, struck out 221 in 191 innings and showed dominating potential.

4. Ryan Cook, RHP—Oakland Athletics

Cook took over as closer when Grant Balfour slumped. Balfour eventually retook the role, but without Cook, the A’s wouldn’t have made the playoffs. He posted a 2.09 ERA with 80 strikeouts in 73 innings and made the All-Star team.

5. Will Middlebrooks, 3B—Boston Red Sox

His season was cut short by a broken wrist in August, but he entered a toxic atmosphere and replaced a former star player Kevin Youkilis, performing well enough to spark Youkilis’s trade to the White Sox. Middlebrooks hit 15 homers in 286 plate appearances.

***

My preseason pick was Jesus Montero of the Seattle Mariners. He hit 15 homers, but struggled for extended periods.

National League

1. Bryce Harper, OF—Washington Nationals

The key for Harper wasn’t whether he could play at the big league level at 19—he probably could’ve held his own at 17—but if he would act like the spoiled, loudmouthed brat he was in the minors and engender vitriol not around the league (that was unavoidable), but in his own clubhouse.

He behaved with an impressive maturity for the most part aside from the usual bits of stupidity like nearly hitting himself in the eye with his bat during a runway tantrum, and did most of his talking on the field. He had 22 homers, 18 stolen bases, and an .817 OPS. His humiliation of Cole Hamels by stealing home after Hamels intentionally hit him was a thing of beauty.

2. Norichika Aoki, OF—Milwaukee Brewers

Very quietly, the 30-year-old Aoki had a solid all-around season. He played very good defense in right field; had a slash line of .288/.355/.433 with 10 homers, 37 doubles, and 30 stolen bases.

3. Wade Miley, LHP—Arizona Diamondbacks

With the injury to Daniel Hudson and Ian Kennedy falling back from his work in 2011, Miley saved the Diamondbacks from a season under .500. Miley began the season in the bullpen, but made the All-Star team as a starter and won 16 games with a 3.33 ERA and only 37 walks and 14 homers allowed in 194 innings.

4. Todd Frazier, INF—Cincinnati Reds

Scott Rolen missed a chunk of the season with his usual injuries and Joey Votto was out with knee surgery, but the Reds didn’t miss a beat on the way to 97 wins and the NL Central title in part because of Frazier’s power and production as a utility player. He hit 19 homers and had an .829 OPS in 465 plate appearances.

5. Lucas Harrell, RHP—Houston Astros

Somehow Harrell managed to finish with an 11-11 record, and a 3.76 ERA for an Astros team that lost 107 games and by August resembled a Double A team with all the gutting trades they made during the season.

***

My preseason pick was Yonder Alonso of the Padres. He had a good season with 39 doubles, 9 homers, and a .741 OPS. He would’ve wound up around 6th or 7th on my list.

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Blame for Bobby Valentine’s Red Sox Failure Extends Worldwide

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Bobby Valentine was fired as manager by the Boston Red Sox yesterday with approximately $2.5 million remaining on his 2-year contract. He’s taking the fall for what wasn’t simply an organizational set of problems, but for issues that extended far beyond Boston and were negatively influenced by people, perceptions, and circumstances. Valentine certainly bears a portion of the responsibility for what went wrong in his dream job that rapidly—immediately–degenerated into a nightmare, but there’s plenty to go around.

Let’s look at the map with percentages as to who’s at fault.

Boston, MA

The Red Sox were in total disarray after their collapse in September of 2011. Manager Terry Francona’s contract options were not exercised (technically he wasn’t fired, but he was fired); GM Theo Epstein left for the Cubs shortly thereafter; and the roster was essentially stagnant with owner John Henry slamming shut the vault that had bought and paid for Carl Crawford, John Lackey, and Daisuke Matsuzaka.

They had a choice: either hire one of the names that GM Ben Cherington preferred like Gene Lamont or Dale Sveum, or do as team CEO Larry Lucchino wanted and hire the polar opposite of Francona and a big name, Valentine. Lucchino was reestablishing his power with the departure of Epstein and, as expected, got his way. This implication that had the Red Sox hired one of Cherington’s choices as manager, everything would’ve been okay, is ridiculous. The team needed structural changes on the field—changes they didn’t make. Such maneuvers would’ve been nearly impossible to construct with other clubs and sell to their fanbase and media, but they could’ve done something to break from the past by dispatching a veteran or three.

I understand why they did what they did with Valentine, but do they? Are they willing to admit it and look into the mirror? Does the Red Sox front office know what they did wrong and why it didn’t work? That it was a huge gaffe to drop Valentine into that toxic stew without altering the ingredients by getting rid of Josh Beckett over the winter? That saddling Valentine with coaches that were a sure bet to undermine him would serve nothing apart from giving the players a sympathetic ear to complain to and the media an “unnamed source” through whom the players could anonymously air their gripes? That these coaches would play clubhouse politics to expand their own influence and possibly become the manager of the team themselves?

The transformation from intelligent and comprehensive decision-making that was implemented under Epstein was gone in favor of spending on free agents and making headline-worthy trades for big names to keep up with the Yankees.

After the 2011 debacle, rather than formulating a cogent plan that may or may not have included Valentine, everyone was looking out for himself. Lucchino with his freedom from Epstein to do what he preferred and have the world know he was in charge again; Cherington going along to get along and letting Lucchino have his way; Valentine for not making sure he wasn’t surrounded by a pack of Judases; and the players for behaving as spoiled, entitled brats.

35% at fault

Arizona

I’m sure Francona, observing the Red Sox train wreck from the ESPN booth and his Arizona home, was amused and satisfied at the 69-93 record and last place in the American League East that the Red Sox “achieved”. Not to imply that Francona wanted the Red Sox to disintegrate as they did, but the implosion somehow validates that the 2011 collapse was not the fault of the former manager when, in part, it was. Francona’s lackadaisical discipline and inability to stop the breakdown of intensity; stem the rise in overwhelming arrogance; and harpoon the sense that because the Red Sox had become such a machine over the years that they were automatically anointed a spot in the post-season, made 2011 inevitable. Francona had been there too long; the team had become complacent under his leadership; and his refusal to appear at the Red Sox 100th anniversary celebration and then decision to show up in a passive-aggressive display of selfishness against Lucchino while he knew the difficulty Valentine was having only exacerbated the situation.

His looming presence as a popular and well-liked person who happened to be in the ESPN broadcasting booth shadowed Valentine and the Red Sox. The idiotic entreaties from the likes of Ken Rosenthal and now others that the Red Sox bring him back are similar to a divorced couple that splits and only remembers the good times and not the reasons they broke up in the first place.

Francona is a good, but not great manager who will do well if he has the players to win. Put him in a rebuilding project such as the Indians and he’ll revert to the, “nice guy, okay enough manager…I guess” individual he was with the Phillies when all he did was lose. He got the Red Sox job because he was willing to take short money for the opportunity, he was agreeable to Curt Schilling whom the Red Sox were trying to acquire, and he would adhere to stat-based principles and do what the front office told him. In short, he was the opposite of Grady Little. The concept that he’s more than that because he was the manager of a loaded Red Sox team is a concocted story that will be proven to be false if he does indeed go to the Indians. (I don’t think he will. He’ll wait out the Tigers/Angels/Dodgers/Diamondbacks jobs.)

12% at fault

Toronto, Canada

The Red Sox are enamored of John Farrell. They wanted him a year ago and didn’t want to surrender what the Blue Jays supposedly asked for (Clay Buchholz) in compensation for their manager. Farrell desperately wants to go back to Boston and he is the next manager of the Red Sox, for better or worse.

That the Blue Jays are willing to let him go to a division rival should be a warning sign to the Red Sox that they may not be getting the problem-solver they’re looking for. Farrell is popular with the players, beloved by the Boston media, and a conduit to the memory of when the Red Sox were a championship team. But, as the Blue Jays and their fans will attest, his in-game managerial skills are lacking and the Blue Jays were an undisciplined and haphazardly run bunch that was expected to be much better than they were in 2012. His longing gaze back at Boston and that Boston was gazing back didn’t help Valentine either.

1% at fault

Chicago, IL

From poor drafts in 2008 and onward, to overpaying for free agents nationally and internationally, the 2012 Red Sox were largely put together by the current president of the Chicago Cubs, Theo Epstein. Those are the same Cubs that lost 101 games under Epstein, GM Jed Hoyer, and the manager that Cherington preferred, Sveum. The Cubs were in need of a total overhaul and that’s what Epstein and his crew are doing, so he can’t be blamed for the monstrosity they were this season, but the 2012 Red Sox are absolutely Epstein’s responsibility. He decided to git while the gittin’ was good, but that doesn’t absolve him of the carnage that his acquisitions, signings, and failure to address lingering issues created.

Also in Chicago was Kevin Youkilis of the White Sox.

One of the seminal moments of Valentine’s downfall in Boston was his innocuous criticism of Youkilis early in the season in which he said he felt that Youkilis’s commitment was lacking. It was amazing how a presence like Youkilis, who had begun to be seen as a problematic clubhouse lawyer and divisive busybody in September of 2011, evolved into a rallying point for the Red Sox veterans to say, “See?!? Valentine’s a jerk!!”

Whatever the catalyst was of Valentine’s criticism and Youkilis’s eventual trade to the White Sox, was Valentine wrong?

The injury-prone Youkilis wasn’t hitting for the Red Sox, they had a replacement at the ready in the younger and cheaper Will Middlebrooks, and after Youkilis joined the White Sox, he was the same inconsistent, limited player he’d become for the Red Sox.

Youkilis was an outlet for strife within the Red Sox roster, but he was one of convenience.

30% at fault

Los Angeles, CA

Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, and Crawford were traded to the Dodgers in a salary dump that the Red Sox were beyond lucky that they were able to complete. Gonzalez was a bad fit for Boston due to his laid back West Coast personality and desire to be left alone to do his job. As the veteran leaders like David Ortiz got injured and Gonzalez was called to the forefront on and off the field, he was swallowed up, unable to come up with any legitimate, intelligent response as to why the club faltered in 2011 and was coming unglued in 2012 aside from referencing God.

Crawford tried hard, but was hurt. His deployment was a point of contention between Valentine and the front office with the random decision that he would play X number of games and get Y number of games off to account for an elbow that required Tommy John surgery.

Beckett is the epitome of the problem child bully who needed a smack, but no one in Boston willing to give him that smack. The one person that Valentine needed to come to an understanding with was Beckett. Or the Red Sox had to trade Beckett. Neither happened in time to save 2012, and when they finally traded Beckett in August, it was too late to do any good.

Is it fair to blame Beckett for not behaving as a professional and an adult when he’s never done it before in his entire career and it was up to the front office to accept that and get rid of him? Is it fair to blame Gonzalez for not being any more of a leader than he was with the twice-collapsed Padres clubs for whom he was also the centerpiece? Is it fair to blame Crawford because he was hurt?

Not really.

4% at fault

Stamford, CT

After waiting so long to get back into Major League Baseball as a manager, there has to be a sense of embarrassment for Valentine that he got the chance of a lifetime with a team that spends a lot of money and was rife with stars and that he “blew” it.

But did he blow it?

Valentine, being Valentine walked into the job with the knives already out to get him. The perception of him being a loud, arrogant, condescending, abrasive, micromanaging nuisance notwithstanding, it was up to him to get the players to take him at face value based on their dealings with him rather than dredging up old criticisms from those with an axe to grind such as John Franco, his deposed closer with the Mets.

Valentine saw how Francona became lauded and celebrated after breaking the “curse”; that it could have been him who was managing the Red Sox back in 2003 had he been willing to compromise on his principles and tell Lucchino during an informal chat that he disagreed with Little’s decision to leave Pedro Martinez in to pitch in that fateful game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. But he refused to criticize Little, wound up in Japan for several years, missed out on the Marlins and Orioles jobs and was left with one final opportunity.

Early in the season, had Valentine been the strategic wizard he was portrayed to be, then it might’ve been okay. But he was rusty having not managed in the big leagues for 10 years and in the American League for 20. In an apropos analogy considering Valentine’s bicycle spill in Central Park during the last series against the Yankees, managing is not like getting on a bicycle. Valentine tried and fell.

Valentine won’t regret taking the job, but he will regret not making a greater effort to get the veterans on his side; on not allowing coaches that he didn’t want and were likely to be undermining influences to be on his staff; and for not making a greater effort to dispel the aura than he carried around with him. Making the effort could have helped. Telling Beckett and others, “Listen, I’m sure you’ve heard all the stories about me. Some are true, some aren’t. But I was in my 40s then. I’m 62 now. This is my last chance. I know it, you know it. I wanna win. You guys wanna forget about what happened last year. Let’s work together to make it happen.”

Beckett would probably have still acted the way he did (and does), but Valentine could say he tried.

This was Valentine’s last shot. There are two strategies to take when facing a last shot: 1) go for the deep strike and say, “If I’m going down, I’m going down my way,” and make sure you’re comfortable with everything for better or worse; or 2) be conciliatory and agreeable, hoping it works out based on talent level and available money.

Valentine chose the latter with the results we see. He bears a significant portion of the responsibility and was jettisoned, but this was a combined effort from all over the map and top to bottom. No one should be spared from their part in the horror film that is the 2012 Boston Red Sox.

18% at fault

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American League Wild Card Play-In Game Preview—Baltimore Orioles at Texas Rangers

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It wasn’t until Thursday afternoon that the Orioles announced Joe Saunders as their starting pitcher. Since his acquisition from the Diamondbacks on August 26th, Saunders went 3-3 in 7 starts for the Orioles and was a consistent arm in the Orioles rotation for their run to the playoffs. He gives up a lot of hits, can be homer-prone, and accumulates high pitch counts because of his propensity to lose the strike zone. He doesn’t walk that many (39 in 174 innings in 2012), but he goes to a lot of deep counts. He doesn’t have the stuff to miss his spots and if he misses his spots in a homer haven like Texas against the Rangers lineup, the Orioles will be staring at an early crooked number and have to get the bullpen hot quickly.

Manager Buck Showalter will have someone in mind to take over in the first inning if Saunders gets into immediate difficulty. Many of the Rangers players have experience against Saunders from his days with the Angels, and Ian Kinsler has hammered him with a 1.464 OPS and 4 homers in 28 plate appearances. Nelson Cruz has 2 homers in 20 plate appearances, Josh Hamilton is 4 for 10 with a homer, and Geovany Soto is 4 for 6 in his career against Saunders with a homer and two walks.

Saunders struggled in his post-season opportunities with the Angels and has a 6.00 ERA in 18 innings.

We won’t see Saunders for long.

The Rangers are countering with their high-priced Japanese import Yu Darvish. After the consternation as to whether Darvish was going to be another Daisuke Matsuzaka and come to North America with great hype only to fail, perhaps a lesson was learned not to judge a player simply because of his nationality. Darvish and Matsuzaka are nothing like one another apart from both having come from Japan.

Darvish was made even more interesting due to his unique heritage of being half-Japanese and half-Iranian. He was everything that the Rangers could have wanted and more. He went 16-9 with a wonderful innings-pitched/hits ratio of 191/156, and 221 strikeouts. Bear in mind that he walked 89 and can be very wild. Darvish did not pitch against the Orioles this season.

Like Saunders, I wouldn’t expect Darvish to be sharp and in complete command of his enthusiasm and emotions in a home start to send his team deeper into the playoffs. The Rangers are reeling from having blown the AL West to the Athletics and don’t have the peace of mind and relief from just having made the playoffs that prior teams that blew the division like the 2006 Tigers did. There’s no 3 of 5 series to get themselves straight. This is one game and the Rangers need Darvish to be throwing strikes and focused. If his mind is going in twenty different directions, the Rangers are going to have the bullpen ready to go like the Orioles will.

Mike Napoli, Cruz, and Hamilton have all put up great showings in post-seasons past, but where is Hamilton’s head? His dropped pop-up and casual jog after the ball when it fell was indicative of a rampant disinterest as to whether the Rangers won the division or not. It could very well have cost them the game and ruined their season if they lose to the Orioles.

The Orioles have played with magic all season long. I’ve had enough of people saying they’re not a “good” team, or that they’re “lucky” as a justification for having ripped them as hopeless and a perennial loser before the season started. I picked them to finish in last place and was wrong. I’m happy to see an organization as historically significant as the Orioles back in the playoffs after a decade-and-a-half of futility and embarrassment. And what’s wrong with being lucky anyway? They’re opportunistic and cohesive; they get contributions from unexpected sources such as Nate McLouth and Lew Ford, and have stood toe-to-toe with teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays that shoved their faces in the dirt for far too long. They have bashers who can hit the ball out of the park with Mark Reynolds, Chris Davis, Adam Jones, and Matt Wieters.

Both teams, going in, are evenly matched with a decided advantage in the Orioles dugout with Showalter over Rangers’ manager Ron Washington.

The starters are not going to last long and this game will be a shootout. I would prefer not getting into a shootout with a Texas Ranger in Texas and that will be the Orioles downfall.

PREDICTION: Rangers 10—Orioles 7

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The Red Sox Should Just Fire Valentine Now

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The Red Sox 2012 season is a washout. We all know that. More importantly, they know that. Already they’ve publicly said that Bill James is going to take a more prominent role in the evaluation of players. Whether that’s to keep him from commenting about current events as he stupidly did regarding Joe Paterno or that they want his increased input is known only to them, but it sounds as if they’re looking at what went wrong not just in 2012, but also in 2011, 2010, and 2009.

In fact, the mistakes can be seen to have extended as far back as to 2005 when the cohesive chain-of-command took a hit with Theo Epstein’s tantrum and “resignation” amid a power struggle (which he won) with Larry Lucchino. The Red Sox were not intended to be a team that tossed money at all their problems in an effort to win every…single…season, but to build an organization that was a moneymaker, that developed their own players, that signed free agents that fit into their on-field template and off-field budget, and endured the valleys that came along with the decision to plot their own course rather than look for every star that was on the market and pay for it.

The winter of 2006-2007 can be lumped in there too. Even though they won the World Series in 2007, it was the checkbook that was perceived to have been the “why” for their second title in four years. In reality, the players they signed—Julio Lugo, J.D. Drew, and Daisuke Matsuzaka—didn’t do all that much to help them that season. In the long-term, Drew was of use, but the Red Sox would presumably have preferred do-overs on the other two as well as Eric Gagne, whom they acquired during the season. In subsequent years, the still had notable success, but the developmental train became secondary to signing free agents. Any season not culminating in a World Series win was a disappointment and nothing they did—losing game 7 of the 2008 ALCS; making the playoffs in 2009; overcoming endless injuries in 2010 to win 89 games—was good enough. So they spent, spent, spent on players who were essentially mercenaries and poor fits for Boston.

They dumped manager Terry Francona when the team collapsed; Epstein left; and they became a case study for the logical conclusion of the mistakes they made in incremental stages to create the nightmare of 2012. Manager Bobby Valentine is the epitome of everything that’s gone wrong even though a majority of the poison had infected the organization’s blood. They’ve dispatched Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, and Carl Crawford; Valentine isn’t going to be back in 2013. They’re getting back to their roots from over a decade ago.

For right now, however, there is an opportunity to salvage this season and make it memorable for something other than a disaster: They can do to the Yankees what the Orioles, Rays, and to a certain degree the Yankees, did to them a year ago by knocking the Yankees out of the playoffs.

The Red Sox are playing six games against the Yankees with a 3-game series in Boston beginning on Tuesday and the final three games of the season at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees are reeling; their fans and media sycophants are panicking and cuddling one another in a delusional group therapy session, counting the days until the season is over and hoping that their condescension and arrogance isn’t reverberating on them in the most cruel and ironic way by authoring a collapse similar to those experienced by their two most hated rivals, the Red Sox and Mets.

I can tell you right now that if the Yankees don’t win the AL East, they’re not making it to the Wild Card play-in game. The Red Sox can take part in that if they win half of those games against the Yankees. Can they do it? Not as they’re currently constructed, and by that I mean with Valentine as manager.

He’s going to be fired; he’s become the embodiment of this organizational downfall in spite of him having nearly nothing to do with it; after his interview on Wednesday in which a joke was blown out of proportion to sound as if it was an “ugly confrontation” with an obnoxious radio host, his time in Boston is coming to a merciful end. It makes no sense to move forward with him after tomorrow, especially with the Yankees series starting on Tuesday. The Red Sox talent level and effort is currently that of a last place team, which is what they might be by Monday. The Yankees are fighting for their playoff lives. The current Red Sox players presumably know they’ll have a new manager in 2013, but there’s a rampant disinterest in how they’re playing now; an expectation to lose. A portion of that might be not wanting to play well enough to leave any possibility that Valentine is going to return. They’re not tanking, but they’re not enthused either. Firing him now and replacing him with an empty uniform to run the team could provide a spark and wake them up for the last three weeks and those six games against the Yankees.

Would it feel better going into the winter laughing at the Yankees and their fans for enduring a collapse that’s worse than what the Red Sox and Mets suffered? Of course it would.

Keeping Valentine postpones the inevitable and could help the Yankees, so just pull the plug now. They could leave a better taste going into the winter by dragging the Yankees into the same abyss that they’re currently in. If they pull that off, most of 2012 will be forgotten.

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Your Alternate Red Sox Universe

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You’ve all heard and read about the Red Sox players running to ownership to complain about Bobby Valentine. Analysis of this is rampant, but I’m going to do something different. Let’s say that Terry Francona wasn’t forced out and as a corollary to that decision, Theo Epstein stayed on as GM to fulfill the final year of his contract. What would the Red Sox look like right now without Valentine as manager; without Ben Cherington in this no-win situation and having his power usurped by Larry Lucchino; without the moves they made to patch over holes while keeping the foundation of the team intact?

Epstein said that his future with the Red Sox was tied to Francona. Epstein was entering the final year of his contract and, in a benevolently arrogant Theo way, would’ve done the Red Sox a favor and stayed under those terms contingent on Francona being retained as manager.

I think Francona wanted freedom from the out-of-control nuthouse and expectations the Red Sox had become. I think his desire to leave was due to his physical and mental health. What had once been appreciated was no longer so; in a state of World Series win or bust, there’s no enjoyment, only relief in winning or devastation in losing. Francona had had it.

I also think Epstein wanted out. Whether it was to escape the pressure of his hometown and the victories that had turned into a burden or that he wanted a new challenge, he needed to move on. Both achieved their ends. Francona is able to sit in an ESPN booth and luxuriate in the accolades of what he presided over and be absolved of the blame for the lack of discipline, overt disrespect, poor play, and questionable decisions that led to the 2011 collapse and set the stage for the exodus.

Is it something new for voices in the Red Sox organization to unload on employees who’ve departed by choice or by force? They did it with Pedro Martinez, Nomar Garciaparra, Johnny Damon, and now Francona. This offended the players? It’s par for the course. They ripped David Ortiz and Jason Varitek before both decided to stay. In 2005 Epstein left in a power grabbing snit and came back. It’s the way things go in Boston. The “grand returns as beloved conquering heroes” for these star players as if there was no bad blood is inherent and hypocritical. It’s not going to change.

Would the 2012 team be different with Epstein and Francona? Would Josh Beckett be pitching better? Would Jon Lester? Would they have moved forward with Kevin Youkilis?

Considering how he views the closer role as easily replaceable, I can tell you now that Epstein would not have traded Josh Reddick for Andrew Bailey. Epstein would also have blunted Lucchino’s incursion into the baseball operations. But it was Epstein who put together the 2011 team. It was Epstein who paid over $100 million for Daisuke Matsuzaka; signed Carl Crawford, John Lackey and Bobby Jenks. Most of the roster and the players who are underperforming and throwing tantrums were brought in by Epstein. It was Francona who let the players run roughshod over all propriety and behave as if they were entitled to do whatever they wanted just because. To think that the club would be better now if Francona and Epstein had stayed is ignoring the fundamental issues that caused the 2011 collapse in the first place.

Both Epstein and Francona can feel badly for players they have affinity for and who played hard for them like Dustin Pedroia, but privately don’t you think they’re wallowing in what the Red Sox are going through now? Loving it? Sitting there with smug half-smiles as they’ve moved along and their former organization is teetering on the brink of revolution?

The Red Sox are 57-60 and are not making the playoffs. It would be the same circumstances with different actors in the drama if Epstein and Francona had stayed. If that had happened, Epstein’s expiring contract would be the hot topic of discussion and those who are looking back on Francona’s tenure with the remembrances of a long-lost love would’ve called for his head in May and the Red Sox would’ve had no choice but to fire him. Do you think the players would’ve defended him? Or, just as they leaked the meeting with ownership regarding Valentine, would they be privately saying that the clubhouse had tuned Francona out and a change needed to be made?

This is not a good team. Valentine has brought on many of the problems himself because of who and how he is, but the players were ready to mutiny the second he was hired before even talking to him and it was all based on reputation. He was a bad choice to patch over the holes that led to the massive changes, but it was either make structural changes to the personnel or put a Band-Aid on them and try to find someone who they felt would handle the stat-studded roster they were stuck with. It hasn’t worked, but they wouldn’t be in a better position with Francona; with Gene Lamont; with Dale Sveum; with John Farrell; with anyone.

The issue of the players failing to look in the mirror and accepting that they’re part of the problem still remains sans Francona and Epstein and with Valentine targeted for elimination. Beckett refused to take responsibility for being out of shape, arrogant and selfish last season and the same issues are in play now. Adrian Gonzalez’s looking toward the heavens and referencing God’s plan at the conclusion of 2011 along with him having been the star player for three teams that have collapsed and his whining about Valentine are validating the perception that he’s not a leader and has a preference to being a background player rather than the out-front star.

Is Valentine to blame for Beckett? For Lester? For Daniel Bard? For Crawford?

No. But he’s the scapegoat.

Red Sox ownership is going to have to confront these hard truths. Yes, they can fire Valentine and install whomever as the new manager, but is that going to fix things? Will the players suddenly rediscover a work ethic that’s sorely lacking? And if Pedroia is so hell-bent on winning and doing things the “right” way, why didn’t he confront the players who were clearly acting in a manner that was diametrically opposed to winning and was affecting the team negatively last September?

The team doesn’t need a new manager. It needs a mirror. A big one.

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Soler Provides A Window Into The Future

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Through Jorge Soler, I’ve gazed into the future.

Not because he’s such a hot prospect and was so heavily in demand that the Cubs today signed the 20-year-old Cuban outfielder to a 9-year, $30 million contract. I have no idea how good he is or if he’s going to take 3-5 years of seasoning to become anything close to what his talent indicates he could be. Cubs’ team President Theo Epstein is a good executive, but he’s gotten torched on the international market before both practically and narratively.

The posting fee and signing of Daisuke Matsuzaka was costly. The results were inconsistent at best and, by all accounts, disappointing. One can only hope that Epstein won’t take to calling a 20-year-old from Cuba “Mr.” Soler as he called Matsuzaka “Mr.” Matsuzaka.

When the Red Sox were avidly pursuing Jose Contreras, Epstein had just taken over as their GM and there was still a sense of puppetry with Larry Lucchino holding the strings floating over the head of the then-28-year-old, so it wasn’t such a shock that the story of Epstein being so angry that the Yankees had signed Contreras that he broke a chair in the Nicaragua hotel in a fit of rage.

Epstein vehemently denied it and I believe him. In subsequent years, he became a respected GM and won two championships while working in his hometown and running what isn’t a passion in Boston, but is a religion. It’s no surprise that he was showing the wear of eight years at their helm—he was burned out and needed a new mountain to climb. The Cubs are certainly that.

That said, no one knows what Soler will be. In that sense, he’s like a highly drafted player who is given a massive signing bonus along the lines of Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg just for signing his name on a contract.

But he’s not a drafted player. He was a former professional player in Cuba who, because of that status, became an MLB free agent.

It’s ironic that the Soler signing occurred during the frenzied confusion that’s been a corollary to the new MLB draft rules that have the “experts” and advocates of drafting and developing throwing hissy fits over players like Stanford pitcher Mark Appel. Appel was considered one of the top if not the top player in the draft, but fell to the Pirates at 8 because of signability concerns that have placed him in a box: his eligibility as an amateur is exhausted; MLB is the only game in town; it’s sign or don’t play.

A large part of the preparation for a drawn out battle is Appel’s adviser, Scott Boras. Boras has been openly critical of the new draft rules.

You can read about the new draft rules here. They’re hardline to say the least.

It’s only a matter of time before the defector’s handbook is used in the opposite way for the known amateur stars in North America and Canada to circumnavigate the draft. Much like the reserve clause challenged and from which Curt Flood, Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally eventually won their freedom from the indentured servitude that used to be in place, someone will try to take MLB to court to negate the draft. From the legal wrangling initiated by Flood, the entire wall came crashing down not long after. It only takes one player and one agent to try and sue baseball to get out of the requirement that the player go to the team that drafted him or be forced to delay the start of his career by years if necessary to get the opportunity to be paid and go to a venue he prefers. J.D. Drew tried something similar when he (also represented by Boras) played with an independent minor league team after being drafted 2nd overall by the Phillies and couldn’t come to an agreement on a contract. The ploy didn’t work, Drew went back into the draft the next year and was taken by the Cardinals with the 5th pick in the first round. This time he signed.

Much like the concussion and long-term damage inspired lawsuits now being filed on behalf of retired NFL players, it only takes one to start the train rolling before others (some traveling in first class; others hopping onto the boxcar) join in and try to get their piece of the American Dream of riches through lawsuits.

That’s not to diminish the tragic deaths of Dave Duerson, Andre Waters and Mike Webster among many others, but did they need a warning that playing in the NFL was dangerous? That repeated blows to the head and body would eventually take its toll and that they were trading years off their lives for the money, glory, excitement and perks of playing in the NFL?

How long before Boras convinces a top draft pick to shun MLB and walk through the loophole of age and professional status presented by players who’ve played in Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Cuba? According to this piece on MLB.com, that loophole is big enough for a convoy of prospects to walk through—maybe even the entire first round of the draft.

The relevant bit follows:

Not all international players will be subject to these rules. Players in leagues deemed to be professional (those in Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Cuba apply), are at least 23 years old and have played a certain number of years in those leagues can be signed without the money counting against the pool. Yoenis Cespedes, the 26-year-old outfielder who is a free agent after defecting from Cuba for example, would not count against the pool. Neither would Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish, should he be posted by the Nippon Ham Fighters. But the money spent on Cuban left-hander Aroldis Chapman, who was 22 when he signed with the Reds almost two years ago, would have counted against the pool.

Japan has a working relationship with MLB that nets them large sums of money for the posting fees on players like Darvish and Matsuzaka so it’s unlikely that they’d want to upset that applecart by messing with MLB’s attempt to install cost certainty into the draft and cap the bonuses, but would Taiwan care? Would Korea? And if Cuba sees a way to really stick it to a big American business that has raided their players and caused embarrassment with worldwide stories on players defecting, what’s to stop them from creating a baseball player program where college age players would be able to come to Cuba, make some money and then walk back into MLB as free agents and make a truckload of cash that they wouldn’t make otherwise?

Don’t think these scenarios haven’t been considered by Boras.

And don’t think that a player isn’t going to be willing to destroy the draft and the rules because it’s depriving him—in a way that doesn’t reflect the capitalism of what America stands for—of the freedom to auction his skills to the highest bidder due to MLB’s oligarchical constraints.

Baseball as an industry has to think about this. They never thought the reserve clause would be struck down, but it was. The same thing could happen to the draft if they wind up in front of the wrong judge.

It’s going to be tested. Soon.

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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.

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Believe It Or Don’t—The Bad (American League)

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Yesterday I examined teams that were expected to do poorly, but haven’t and whether or not their performances are real. Today let’s look at the teams that were supposed to be good and have started out…bad.

This is the American League; the National League will be posted later.

  • New York Yankees

What they’re doing.

The Yankees are 21-20 and in fourth place in the American League East, 5 1/2 games behind the Baltimore Orioles.

How they’re doing it.

The easy answer is to say that the Yankees are hovering around .500 because of injuries. Strangely, the loss of Mariano Rivera hasn’t hurt them yet and presumably won’t until (if) they’re in the playoffs.

The word “if” concerning a playoff spot was once a hedge, but no longer. This team is not, under any circumstances, guaranteed a playoff spot in spite of the specious logic of Mike Francesa when he says something like, “well, they’ve made in in 15 of the past 16 years” as if there’s a connection.

They loaded up on starting pitching by trading for Michael Pineda and signing Hiroki Kuroda; prior to that, they also re-signed Freddy Garcia.

Pineda’s out for the year (at least); Kuroda’s been alternately brilliant and awful; and Garcia was bounced from the starting rotation. Andy Pettitte’s return gives them another veteran starter but they can’t reasonably expect Pettitte to be close to what he was in his prime.

The starting pitching has been inconsistent, but serviceable; the bullpen is still functional. It’s been the lineup that’s the problem.

Russell Martin is hitting .170 and losing playing time to the defensively superior and offensively inept Chris Stewart. Alex Rodriguez is now a “threat emeritus” against whom opposing clubs still need to be careful, but can challenge and beat him with power fastballs. Robinson Cano has gotten hot in May. Mark Teixeira has taken Derek Jeter’s place as the target of the fans’ ire. He’s been ill with a bad cough and hasn’t hit at all. It seems so long ago that Jeter was called “Captain DP” among other things; now Teixeira has taken his place.

Eventually, Teixeira will hit.

Believe it or don’t?

They’re going to hit enough to get back into contention for a playoff spot, but that doesn’t mean they’re a lock to get in.

Don’t believe it but don’t get too overconfident (or suffocatingly arrogant) either.

  • Boston Red Sox

What they’re doing.

The Red Sox are 20-21 and in last place in the AL East, 6 1/2 games behind the Orioles.

How they’re doing it.

The starting pitching got off to a woeful start and the transition from the laid back Terry Francona to the polarizing Bobby Valentine, combined with the front office regime change and still simmering tensions from the 2011 collapse put the Red Sox in an onerous situation.

Josh Beckett has pitched well in his last two starts following the golf outing/strained back/public effigy he endured. Daniel Bard is a Daisuke Matsuzaka return away from a trip back to the bullpen and they’ve lost Jacoby Ellsbury and Kevin Youkilis to injuries. Adrian Gonzalez hasn’t gotten hot yet.

Believe it or don’t.

After everything, the Red Sox are only one game behind the Yankees.

I didn’t think they were a legitimate contender before the season. Nor did I think they were as bad as they looked early in the season.

Objectively, they’re about a .500 team.

Believe it.

  • Detroit Tigers

What they’re doing.

The Tigers are 20-21, in third place and 3 games behind the Indians in the AL Central.

How they’re doing it.

The Tigers were widely predicted to run away and hide in the AL Central based on their high-powered offense, deep bullpen and all-world ace in Justin Verlander. Those factors would make up for a rancid defense and questionable backend of their rotation.

The offense is seventh in runs scoured and is functioning with black holes at second base and DH. The starting pitching behind Verlander has been bad. Jose Valverde was on the verge of losing his closer’s job before he injured his back.

Believe it or don’t?

This isn’t a new experience for the Tigers. For years after their shocking run to the World Series in 2006, they acquired big, expensive names in an “I’m collecting superstars” fashion by getting Gary Sheffield, Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis and it didn’t work then either.

The offense will be okay but the back of the rotation with Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello and a series of youngsters is a major problem.

They’re not an under .500 team, but they’re not walking into the playoffs.

Don’t believe it, but they’re going to have to fight their way into the playoffs.

  • Los Angeles Angels

What they’re doing.

The Angels are 18-24, in last place in the AL West and 8 games behind the Texas Rangers.

How they’re doing it.

They’re 13th in the American League in runs scored continuing the same absence of firepower that cost them in the pennant race in 2011. The difference now is that they have Albert Pujols.

The bullpen has been bad and closer Jordan Walden was replaced by veteran Scott Downs.

Inexplicably, only three of their everyday players have on base percentages over .300 and one of them isn’t Pujols.

This team is not a Mike Scioscia-style team that preferred speed, defense, good pitching and opportunism. The chasm between the manager’s style and the type of team he has is showing and it cost hitting coach Mickey Hatcher his job.

Believe it or don’t?

Don’t believe it.

Their starting pitching is too good and Pujols is going to hit at some point. It’s going to take some time for everyone to get on the same page, but by the All Star break, I’d expect an uneasy peace among new GM Jerry Dipoto, Scioscia, the newcomers and the remaining veterans for the Angels to right their ship and make a playoff run.

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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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