A forum to discuss anything and everything that occurs in the Boston Sports World

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Should the Sox Stand Pat?

Should the Sox be "buyers" or should they stand pat? That is a million dollar question in Boston right now but it cannot be answered until the Sox have the answer to one burning question - Can Curt Schilling return by late July and show that he can be a dominating starter. If the answer is yes, the Sox probably should be buyers given the state of baseball. But if there is any question about Curt’s ability to pitch well down the stretch, the Sox would be well advised to play their hand as is and save some ammo for down the road.

The whole key to the Sox short-term and mid-term planning right now hinges on Schilling’s foot. This club needs to know by July 30 whether Curt will be effective this year so efforts can be made at the trade deadline to upgrade first base and secure another lefty for the bullpen. If Curt is still limping around on that date, my recommendation would be to make only those improvements that could be made without sacrificing much of the future. I say this because there is little chance this club can truly compete without a thoroughbred at the head of the staff. There is probably a shot the existing rotation could perform well enough to win the East, but without Schilling, this club is not much of an October threat. I hate to concede that but it is probably the truth. With that said, why throw away key parts of the future if it will do little to secure the ultimate prize? Conversely, if Schilling can come back by early July and show that he is well on his way back to form by late July, then perhaps it makes some sense to part with a few of the kids.

The reason I am more leery then usual of exporting some of the kids in exchange for some immediate major league help is two fold. First of all, it appears for the first time in years that there may be some farmhands - particularly at Portland - that could actually contribute in the near future. Secondly, after glancing at the club’s salary structure over the next few years, it is critical that some of these cheap alternatives be allowed to float up to the major league level. I say this because the Sox have some fairly major and potentially costly holes to fill in the next couple of years and therefore some inexpensive help will be needed. If you don’t believe me, lets take a closer look.

First of all, Johnny Damon is going to be a big nut to cover. After looking at what Jimmy Rollins brought down from the Phillies, it is pretty damn clear that Damon will command eight figures per year on the open market. With the year he is having, I suspect he is looking at something close to $45 million for four years. Will the Sox go there? Perhaps, but if not, the Sox will go into this off-season with a hole in Center, a hole at First, a hole at Second and nothing special at Third. The bullpen will also need to be rebuilt and that is not a cheap proposition. Such deficiencies cannot all be addressed through free agency. Third is perhaps not a huge problem because Youkalis could be used as a stop gap and I suspect Mueller could be brought back at something that could be stomached. But centerfield. Sorry guys, there are no cheapies out there to take up Damon’s slack. They could go downstream for a Kotsay if he opts out, but that won’t exactly be cheap. At first base, the pickings are real slim short of a major financial commitment. Second doesn’t have to cost much, but the end result will be something close to what the Sox already have and that is not pretty. The morale to the story is the Sox do not have the resources to just go out and completely reload through free agency.

With that said, the Sox need some help from within and I would therefore be suspicious of any move that would deplete the farm system at this time. These kids at Portland must be allowed some time to develop since a couple of them have shown big league promise and their successful arrival in Boston could greatly ease a looming liquidity crisis. Foremost, I would make every effort to hold on to pitchers Jon Lester and Jon Papelbon. The budget is likely to get real strained in 2006-2008 and low cost pitching will be needed to help ease the situation. Heck, if these two are in the rotation come 2006 or 2007, the Sox will be in much better shape to address other needs. Further, I would not part with Dustin Pedroia. He seems pretty close and his emergence could settle a big issue at second base. If Pedroia could be counted upon in 2006 and third could be handled by Mueykalis, there may be some resources available to sign Damon and perhaps address first base. But here is the key - some of these kids have to be part of the mix come 2007 and 2008 when the contracts of Ramirez, Renteria and Varitek will all be in jeopardy. Those three contracts will consume $40 million in those years and who can tell what the Sox will be getting in return. As such, it sure would help if the Sox had a couple of starting pitchers in the rotation who were still not eligible for arbitration. If that isn’t the case, get ready to return to the old Joe Kerrigan days where the rotation was rounded out by guys named Burkett, Schourek, Cone and Castillo.

Hell, if Schilling is still uncertain come July 25th and the Sox are in the hunt, I wouldn’t be opposed to packaging over-hyped Kelly Schoppach and perhaps someone else for a lefty. I could live with that but what I don’t want to see is the organization go for broke and mortgage a future that is already very cloudy. Such a move would improve the Sox questionable chances in 2005 but it would severely cap the club’s upside going forward. If 2005 has to be sacrificed for the future, so be it. I can take a one year hit, but it’s a return to the Dark Ages that scares me. Now if Curt is back in form come late July, all bets are off. I could take a trip back to the early 90's so long as there were two trophies in the truck.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

It Ain't Millar Time Anymore

What are the Boston Red Sox going to do about what has become a huge problem at first base? I realize Kevin Millar is one of the core “idiots” and his presence is important in the clubhouse, but how much longer can the Sox keep that bat in the five hole, or the lineup for that matter? Listen, this guy only has six extra base hits this year and a couple of those have come since Sunday morning. That translates to about 30-35 over a full season which pales in comparison to the 56 and 54 he hit the past two seasons. With his extra base hits down, Millar is slugging just .336 which puts in the same neighborhood as Jason Giambi (.325) and Scott Hatteberg (.360). That isn’t a bad neighborhood – it is a damn slum. This production is simply not acceptable, especially from a guy who is tasked with protecting David Ortiz. That pretty much covers Millar’s offense and there is no sense getting into his glove and footwork which are both sub-standard. So what can be done about this problem? Well, John Olerud is on the way, but is he much of an improvement? Hardhat has a great glove, but his bat is not close to what it once was. Further, he doesn’t present a great platoon option as Millar is really struggling against lefties this year. So if Millar can only hit against right-handers, what role will Olerud have other then being a defensive replacement? So what other options are there? Well, internally, there doesn’t seem to be much help on the way. I guess Kevin Youkalis could be a spot replacement but Kevin is certainly not an everyday player. So that leaves the Sox looking elsewhere.

With the Reds falling apart, speculation has turned to possibly bringing in Sean Casey or Adam Dunn. Casey is a nice lefthander who is probably expendable, but he doesn’t exactly excite you with his power. On the other hand, he is a good contact hitter who can put the ball in play. Dunn, on the other hand, has plenty of power, but having him in the same lineup as Belhorn and Varitek is a lot of strikeouts. Further, Dunn may cost a lot since he is young, fairly cheap and sports a huge slugging number. He also isn’t a natural first baseman so there is a liability there. I think a better option, albeit an expensive one, is up in Milwaukee where the Brewers may be interested in moving Lyle Overbay to make room for Prince Fielder. Cecil’s kid isn’t exactly killing the ball down at Nashville right now but the Brewers are extremely high on this kid, or at least they were coming into the season. If the Brewers fall out of this thing by July 1, could Lyle be had for perhaps Hanley Ramirez? That would take care of the problem.

The other possibilities in the NL – which is where a solution most likely would originate - don’t seem too appetizing. I guess J.T. Snow could become available if the Giants summer of discontent continues, but he is a west coast guy and I am not sure he would be thrilled coming East. He is basically a clone of Olerud anyways. Todd Helton? No shot – that contract is massive. Jeff Bagwell could be made available later this year, but he is broken down at this point in his career. In fact, he just went on the DL today with a busted shoulder. That is not an option. Nick Johnson is young and cheap and therefore not going anywhere while Jim Thome is old and much too expensive. That basically takes care of the NL and the prospects in the AL are not too hot. Mike Sweeney is a possibility, but his commitment is always in question and there is no telling how he would play in a media circus like Boston. Don’t count on that. And that basically concludes the menu. The options aren’t great other then one of the Reds or Mr. Overbay and rest assured, Overbay will be costly. So what is the moral to the story? Well, perhaps Olerud comes in and hits. Conversely, perhaps his presence gets Millar going. I wouldn’t bank on either. Well, if things don’t get better, why not put stone glove at first and go out and find a DH. That may be easier then finding a guy who has to be plugged into first. Having Papi out there is a pretty scary thought but desperate times require desperate measures. We aren’t there yet, but if Kevin Millar is still slugging under .350 on July 1, it will be time for a change.

The Idiots Also Happen to be Cheap

It was reported last night that Red Sox Kevin Millar, Billy Mueller and Mark Belhorn have agreed to throw five dollars a day into a charity pool until one of them hits a blast. Five dollars? What kind of outlay is that? If these guys went Jackless for the next 100 days, some lucky charity is going to receive a not so impressive $1500. I sure hope NESN misreported that number because that is pretty damn embarrassing for three guys who make $3.5, $2.5 and $2.75 million per year respectively. I don’t know about Mueller but as far as the other guys go, it may be smart to save their money since there is no telling whether they will ever be paid to play baseball again after this season. If these guys wanted to be charitable, Belhorn would donate $1000 per strikeout, Millar would chip in $1000 per broken bat foul and Mueller would cough up $1000 for every game he misses due to that balky knee. Such a bet would raise some serious coin. Guess what – Millar hit one out last night so some Boston Charity is in line for a $15 payday.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Relax Folks - Its Just a Couple of Dinged Up Feet

If you listen to the defeatists on WEEI, you would think Curt Schilling and David Wells will be out until at least the all-star break. Where are these doom and gloom projections coming from? One guy has a sprained foot and the other has a bone bruise around the ankle. These are injuries that a general practitioner could handle, yet to hear some describe the situation, the two injured players should be seeking out the nation’s best orthopedic surgeons. These are not injuries that need corrective surgery and they are not injuries that require extensive rehab. More importantly, we are not talking about elbow, shoulder or back injuries here. We are talking about a couple of dinged up feet. Okay, I understand Nomar’s spring training injury last year was characterized in similar terms and he ended up missing 50 games, but that was an extraordinary situation. I am not saying the Sox are not going to be without the services Schilling and Wells for a period, but if one of these guys isn’t back by May 15th, I would be a bit surprised. After all, by the 15th, each of these guys would have had three full weeks or R&R and that seems like plenty of time for bruises and sprains to heal. Moreover, it now looks like Wade Miller will be ready on the 8th, so the need for these guys to return will be at least halved come next Sunday, provided Miller is ready to go. Listen, would I prefer having Curt performing at his 2004 best? Of course I would, but this is not the end of the world. There is a contingency plan and his name is Wade Miller. I may be a bit to optimistic on Wade, but this guy has the ability to step in and fill one of the holes. As for the other spot, we are talking about two or three unexpected starts from John Halama. While those starts will be torturous to watch, it won’t be the end of the world.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

The Crowd Bows Down to Belichick

Is it just me or do other people think it is funny how much deference NFL draft analysts now give New England Coach Bill Belichick and Personnel Director Scott Pioli? On Saturday, you could look far and wide, but almost no print or broadcast analysts were willing to criticize the Patriots brain trust for selecting Fresno State tackle Logan Mankins at the end of the first round, even though Mankins was considered by many to be a prospective third rounder. Other teams would have been vilified for selecting Mankins, especially by NFL draft guru Mel Kiper who usually takes teams to task for reaching in the first two rounds. But Kiper was silent early Saturday evening when Mankins name was called, and the thought here is Kiper, along with other draft analysts, is leery of challenging anything that Belichick and Pioli touch. My sense is Pioli and Bells have nailed so many home runs in the past that analysts no longer have the confidence or the balls necessary to challenge their primary picks. After all, these are the guys who found Brady in the sixth round, starting center Dan Koppen in the fifth round and starting receiver David Givens in the seventh round. With that kind of track record, who is to say that Mankins won’t be playing in Hawaii within a couple years?

These thoughts must have been racing through Kiper’s head as he tripped over the English language explaining how Mankins was a safe and defensible pick. After searching the literature, the only mainstream guy I have seen criticize the pick is Kevin Mannix of the Boston Herald who noted that Mankins could have probably been nabbed a round later. Mannix may be right, but I am going to side with the crowd and cut Belichick some deserved slack here. I think Coach B looks at the draft a little different then others do. He clearly is looking for people who can fit into his system and perhaps Mankins was just a perfect fit. There were a slew of talented people still on the board when the Pats picked, like corner Justin Miller from Clemson and Florida linebacker Channing Crowder, but both of these kids had rap sheets and that just doesn’t cut it with Belichick. As for Mankins, he had a strong endorsement from Fresno State coach Pat Hill and that probably goes a long way with Belichick since the two used to coach together. I will be the first to admit I too was a bit surprised by the pick even though the Pats needed an interior lineman. But that is not to say I am disappointed. Given the Pats recent history, Mankins will most likely turn out to be a very good player. But just as importantly, I have every confidence that somebody picked in the later rounds will also turn out to be a stud. I have given up trying to second guess Belichick. That is what happens when a guy wins three Super Bowls in four years. It buys him some deference, even from this lifelong cynic.

Here are a couple of other thoughts on the Pats and their 2005 draft. First off, this may be a bit of a stretch, but I am a bit more confident today that Teddy Bruschi will be back on the field this year. I say this because the Pats hardly lifted a finger to select an inside backer to help fill what could be a gaping hole in the middle this fall. Sure, inside linebacker Ryan Claridge was selected out of Vegas in the fifth round, but that is not exactly the kind of commitment I would have expected if the front office was convinced Teddy is through playing. The counter to this argument is Belichick never sees anything he likes at linebacker and that is why none were selected until Claridge was picked. That may be so and it is also possible that Belichick will address this need with a veteran free agent signing (Chad Brown?), but if I had to guess, I would say it is no longer a slam dunk that Bruschi sits out. I still don’t think the odds that number 54 will play this year are great, but they are incrementally improving, at least in my mind.

This is something I have come to expect, but there is a common thread that runs through all of the Patriots top five selections. If you scan the bios published by Scout Inc. each pick is described in the same general terms. All are considered hard working, all are considered versatile and intelligent, all have a mean streak and most are considered to be very physical. It has become cliché to say it, but it is clear that Belichick and Pioli consider these characteristics to be every bit as important as speed and agility. Another thing I find interesting is two players this year were selected from Fresno State, which as I mentioned before, is coached by Belichick’s old buddy Pat Hill. Bill used to select a ton of guys out of LSU when his friend Nick Saban was coaching down there and this year, he moved west and invaded another friend’s stable. It is clear to me that Belichick has an inner circle that he trusts very much, especially in the area of talent evaluation, and it is also clear to me that if a player gets an endorsement from someone in this circle, he stands a good chance of ending up in New England. It should also be noted that no LSU players were selected by the Pats this year, perhaps because Saban turned off the faucet the minute he left school and became coach of the Patriots rival down in Florida.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Brady Bombs on Broadway

Tom Brady hosted Saturday Night Live this week and the results were a bit on the shaky side as the writers forced him to play with a dreadful game plan. The writing was truly awful and making Tom play with Rachel Dratch and Amy Poehler is a bit like making him play in the Super Bowl with backup Cedric Cobbs at running back and some receivers off the extended practice squad. Heck, there were certainly no Will Ferrell’s or Chris Farley’s out there to protect Brady’s backside or get deep down the field for some big laughs. The game started off alright as Brady’s opening monologue was decent and showed off some decent skills. It wasn’t a touchdown drive, but I’ll give him three points for his dance moves. He followed that up with a skit that featured him as a guy who couldn’t throw a football threw a hole at an amusement park. Again, it was not horrible, but it was certainly nothing to get too excited about. I’ll be generous and say Vinaterri nailed a long one for Tom to get another three on the board. What followed was real ugly. There was a horrific skit with Rachal Dratch where Tom and her pretended to be a couple receiving some counseling from Dr. Phil. This was a BOMB and therefore I am giving this TD to the opposition. What followed was a ridiculous cameo where Tom played a lost hiker in a moronic skit about a guy who was half man and half falcon. Since it was just a cameo, I am only going to award three points to Tom’s opponent. So at halftime, Brady is only down 10-6.

The second half opened with Tom having to scramble for his life in an atrocious skit promoting a fictitious Middle Eastern restaurant in South Jersey. This was clearly a touchdown for the defense. But just when you thought it couldn’t get worse, the game was broken open when Tom had to play a character who was struggling with the decision of whether to get married. The skit ended in an Amy Poehler fumble which led to a touchdown and a two point conversion. Adding insult to injury was another “Behind the Music” sketch where Brady played Jim MacMahon of the 1985 Bears. It wasn’t a disaster but Brady was sacked in the end zone for a safety. The game ended with Brady getting a meaningless three off a skit that featured an impression of Peyton and Donovan, but it wasn’t nearly enough to win or cover the spread. The final score: 27-9. That certainly isn’t a victory and I have to admit I was expecting a bit better performance. But again, he was weighed down by poor surrounding talent and a terrible game plan. Other athletes – such as Nancy Kerrigan, Marvin Hagler and Wayne Gretzky – had no such liabilities when they appeared and that is why I am not ready to put Brady’s performance at the bottom of the SNL scrap heap. He did not shine, but we are not talking about Tony Eason in the 1985 Super Bowl here. No, I am going to cut Tom some slack here and say his performance was more like Scott Zolak’s 21 of 44 in the Patriots 25-10 wildcard loss to Jacksonville in 1998.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Have The Sox Solved Their "Lefty" Problem?

It is no secret that in recent years, the Red Sox have been particularly vulnerable to lefties. Whether it was Sox killer Andy Pettitte, Jays southpaw Ted Lilly or youngsters like Scott Kazmir and Bobby Mardritsch, Boston has struggled mightily against lefthanders. It is too early to make a definitive judgment, but there is reason to hope that the 2005 Sox will enjoy more success against lefties than Sox teams from past years. I say this for a few reasons, the most important of which may be the addition of Edgar Renteria. In case anyone forgot, Nomar had an absolutely miserable time hitting lefties in 2004, hitting just .240 and slugging .370. Now to be fair, OC was passable against lefties, but Pokey was a disaster, much like Nomie. You may have some criticisms of Renteria, like the fact that he doesn’t walk a whole lot, but one thing you cannot say is he punks out against southpaws. In 2004, he slugged .550 against lefties and since 1997, his OPS is about 100 points higher against lefties than right-handers. Renteria showed some of his skill against southpaws last Thursday when he took Randy Johnson yard. I wouldn’t try drawing too much from that at bat, but it is clear that this guy can and will hit lefties, and good ones at that. The other marked change that could pay dividends is the acquisition of Jay Payton and the recognition that Trot just should not be out there against southpaws. For some reason, Trot just can’t get it done against lefties, as evidenced by some woeful number in 2004 and historic numbers that are not so hot either. Well, in comes Payton who actually has a pretty nice resume against lefties. Since 1997, Payton’s OPS versus lefties is a respectable .818, which is more than fifty points higher than his OPS versus right-handers. More importantly, that .818 number is almost 200 points higher than Trot’s over the same time period. As such, there is almost no way someone can justify playing Nixon ahead of Payton when a lefty is on the mound. The last point worth making on this subject is that the Sox cause against lefties would sure be helped if Billy Mueller could return to his 2003 form when hitting right-handed. He was miserable hitting right-handed last year and the Sox need him to bump up his production against lefties. He drew some walks today, but Billy M needs to start parking some balls off that wall. So how did my theory work out today against Scott Kazmir. Well, I cannot exactly claim victory since the Sox only put up three runs against Kazmir in five innings, but that sure beats the two outings the Sox had against Scott in 2004. As for my boys, Renteria jacked one and Payton had a single that scored two. It is too early to call my theory bulletproof, but I like some of the early data points.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Did Tito Catch Bruschi's Stroke?

Is it possible that two Boston sports figures suffered mild strokes in the past few months. I am well aware that Teddy Bruschi had some sort of aneurysm, but did Terry Francona suffer one as well? It sure seemed like it last night when Francona did everything in his power to convince me that his recent viral infection caused some sort of ancillary brain damage. What else could explain Tito’s decision to leave Curt Schiiling in a 2-2 game after he had thrown ninety plus pitches in his first game of the year. What was so important about last night’s game that Francona felt a need to press his ace to his limit? It made no sense whatsoever. Francona played last night’s game like it was game 2 of the ALCS when if fact was just the eighth game of the year. He got five innings and 90 pitches out of Schilling and that is about all he could have expected. So why did he trot him out in the Sixth and once he gave up a hit, why was Curt not lifted? I cannot answer that question.

As for Schilling, I thought he threw a fine game through five, albeit one that was not exactly pitch efficient. He seemed aggressive by coming out and throwing strikes from the get go, constantly getting ahead of Yankee hitters. The only problem I saw was Yankee hitters were fouling off pitches all night, thus driving up the pitch count. Schilling was around the plate early and often, but he lacked an out pitch and that probably ended up costing him twenty additional pitches. I am confident that splitter will come so I am not exactly ready to press the panic button yet.

As for the rest of the game, I thought it was basically lost in the bottom of the third when Jaret Wright couldn’t find the dish with a map of Fenway yet the Sox were only able to plate a single run. When David Ortiz is up there and its bases loaded with one out, you gotta think you are going to get more then a single run. But Ortiz was only able to lob a soft fly to Matsui and Renteria was unable to come up with the big two out hit. Had the Sox come up with another hit in that frame, the game would have been played on different terms.

The New Schedule Is Out, The New Schedule Is Out!

It is always tough to predict the difficulty of an NFL schedule ahead of time, but at first glance, it looks like the Patriots will have a challenging yet navigable road to a three-peat. While we knew the opponents and the sites months ago, it wasn’t until yesterday that the official NFL schedule was released. Upon review, there is no reason to sound any alarms, but the Pats have a seemingly difficult road ahead, especially early on. Opening up at home against Oakland is nothing to get excited about, but I sure wish this cupcake came later and could used as a respite to break up a tough stretch. After Oakland departs, the Pats have a very tough stretch that includes games at Carolina, at Pittsburgh, at home with San Diego and then at Atlanta. This stretch features two teams in last year’s final four, a powerhouse in the making, and a Panther team that was as hot as anyone during the second half of last season. That game at Pittsburgh looks particularly precarious given how last year ended for the Steelers. With that said, I would be surprised if the Pats are better then 3-2 at this point. Optimists can hope for four wins, but three seems more likelyto this cat. From there, the team heads to Denver, which was a cemetery for the Pats up until the 2003 Miracle on Monday night. But the Broncos are on a slippery slope to nowhere so I am banking on that as a win and the Pats going into a well-placed bye-week with a 4-2 record. Coming out of the bye, the Pats have Buffalo and Indy at home. I would have preferred the Colts game a bit later in the year, just to tilt the scales a bit more, but does it really matter when Belichek plays either of these guys, especially at the Razor? That is a rhetorical question. So I am looking for a 6-2 record in the first half and that looks pretty doable.

In the second half, things look a bit smoother, although there are five division games on tap, including two against the Jets within five weeks of each other. Playing at Kansas City is never easy, but the scheduling gods are keeping the Pats in the Northeast for every game after Thanksgiving and that always bodes well for a strong finish. That penultimate game at the Meadowlands looks like a tough spot and playing at Buffalo in December is never easy, but I don’t see why the Pats cannot go 7-1 in the back half. As such, I am looking for something along the lines of 13-3, with 12-4 more likely than 14-2.

A thirteen win season with a victory over Indy should get the boys a first round bye and that is critical. Getting both Indy and San Diego at home is nice as far as tie-breakers go, although that road game at Pittsburgh offsets some of the good fortune. Other positives include avoiding Jacksonville and Cleveland. I feel the Jags are an up and comer, while I didn’t want to get hit with all that Romeo squares off his against his old team garbage. Also, there are no road games to the Pacific Time Zone. Last year, KC was our longest fight and this year it is Denver. It could have been a whole lot more taxing having to make trips to Oakland and SD. Lastly, going to Miami in November instead of September is a nice changeup since it spares the Pats from that late summer humidity.

It should be noted that while penning this piece, I felt like a talk show host that has nothing else to discuss. All talk of the season ahead is a bit premature until we see the draft and get a look into pre-season. A few injuries here and a few injuries there, and this entire slate of predictions falls by the wayside. Hell, if Bruschi sits out, as I expect, and a couple of guys get banged up, wins at Denver and at home against Buffalo and San Diego are far from certain. About the only thing I can be certain about is that come hell or highwater, the Pats will beat Peyton on November 7th. You can bank on that!