Tuesday, July 31, 2007

I think I'll go to Boston/I think I'll start a new life

Some nearly coherent wee-hours thoughts on today's nearly completed blockbuster trades . . .


Do I like it? . . . Let's put it this way: It's late July, the Sox are in first place, the absolutely stacked Patriots are kicking off training camp, and all anyone was talking about this afternoon was the Celtics . . . C'mon, how can any Celtics fan not love this? All I've wanted these past few years was for this franchise to again become entertaining, good, and relevant, and Garnett makes them all three the very first minute he puts on a green and white uniform . . . Yes, we all liked Al Jefferson a lot, and there is a chance that the T-Wolves could get a franchise-salvaging bounty out of this deal, particularly if Gerald Green ever has the maturity and dedication to match his ability . . . And yes, we know there is more than a little risk in trading the future for a 31-year-old who has worn a lot of tread off his Nikes . . . But I tend to think the majority of people who are skeptical of this trade are the same ones who stopped following the Celtics around the time the Bad Boys Pistons began to reign . . . They're okay with the Celtics' descent into irrelevance, and they probably know Garnett only from the "SportsCenter" highlights, and maybe a commerical or two ("All nude. But tastefully done.") . . . They don't realize that Garnett might be the most dedicated superstar in the game, a selfless, driven, all-around force who plays as hard in a mid-January grinder in Utah as he would against Tim Duncan in the second round of the playoffs. Garnett cares, dammit, and he plays his heart out every freakin' night no matter what . . . Maybe this is hyperbole brought on by the joy and magnitude of the moment, but no matter, because I believe it to be true: Through sheer force of will, Garnett is capable of restoring Celtic Pride, and the alleged and lapsed Celtics fans who don't know this about him are going to be leaping on the bandwagon once they realize what a treat it is to watch this guy play night after night . . . And it will only benefit the Celtics that for all he's accomplished individually in his career, you get the sense that the situation in Minnesota was eating away at him. Despite his most valiant efforts, Minnesota was always undermanned against the iron of the Western Conference . . . With the exception of his brief run with Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell, he was always trying to battle the Spurs and the Lakers and the Suns while stuck playing with the Troy Hudsons and Marco Jarics and rosters full of second-tier talent . . . It wasn't fair. And now he comes to Boston and gets to play with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, who immediately become the two best teammates he's ever had, and who also should complement his skills beautifully? Can you imagine how motivated he must be to prove that he can be a champion if given the proper support? I never, ever thought I'd say this in July, but I simply cannot wait for the NBA season to begin . . . So then, what prompted him to decide that Boston wasn't so bad after all? . . . The Allen deal changed everything, obviously, not only regarding the Celtics' approach to the future - Youth movement? What youth movement? - but with Garnett's perception of the franchise. I think once he knew for sure he wasn't going to his first choice, Phoenix, once he realized there was an easier path to playoff success in the Eastern Conference, once the Celtics dumped his old nemesis Wally Szczerbiak, and once Pierce and Allen began badgering him relentlessly about being their third amigo, he came to the conclusion that this might be a fine fit for him after all . . . Now, of course we do feel bad for Big Al, who by all accounts is devastated by the deal, probably in part because it dawned on him that he'll have to play with the one and only Tyree Ricardo "Ricky" Davis and that scumbag Mark Blount again . . . I'll miss watching him, too. His instincts and old-school moves around the hoop made him something of a throwback. Is it any wonder that Kevin McHale adores him? . . . And I do wish they could have made the deal work without including Ryan Gomes. While he'll never be a star, his smarts and versatility make him appealing, and I thought his ultimate niche would be as a valuable seventh or eighth man on a championship contender . . . The pressure just intensified on Rajon Rondo, that's for sure. Garnett has a low tolerance for youthful screwups, and for all of his breathtaking ability as a playmaker, slasher and defender, Rondo is maddeningly inconsistent, and he remained so in the Summer League. I hope he's ready for this . . . Kevin Garnett, power forward, Boston Celtics. Amazing . . . So when will Michael Wilbon be issuing his apology?

* * *


Looks like my hope that Teixeira would come to Boston and help Manny and Papi anchor the Sox lineup through October and beyond is a few dotted i's and crossed t's from being nothing more than an unfulfilled daydream . . . (Sigh) . . . I have to admit it appears Rangers GM Jon Daniels made out pretty well, all things considered. He got Atlanta's top two position prospects, and apparently will also receive two of their top three pitching prospects. And Saltalamacchia, one of the few elite catching prospects in baseball, is a better player than anything the Sox should or would have been willing to offer, though my hunch is that if the Sox had been willing to give up Clay Buchholz, Teixeira would be having a press conference at Fenway Tuesday afternoon . . . Not that I'm suggesting the Sox should have done that, of course . . . The fascinating thing will be seeing how this all pans out for the Rangers in a few years. While the Braves were clearly dealing from a position of strength and probably gave up Saltalamacchia only because of the presence of young All-Star incumbent Brian McCann, Atlanta GM John Schuerholz rarely makes a wrong move when it comes to deciding which prospects to keep and which ones to deal. (Somewhere, Andy Marte nods his head in agreement while engulfing a creme horn for breakfast). Saltalamacchia looks like the real deal, but Schuerholz's sterling track record should cause at least a shadow of a doubt . . . So with Teixeira headed for the Braves, where do the Sox turn? . . . My prediction is that White Sox GM Kenny Williams will blink and the Red Sox will get Jermaine Dye for a second-tier prospect at or around 3:59 p.m. today, though I wouldn't be shocked if Theo compromised and offered, say, Michael Bowden, who I think has been passed by the ascending and untouchable Justin Masterson on the prospect scale . . . Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I think the reason the Sox allegedly assured Dye that he would play five days a week in Boston is not because they're going to bench J.D. Drew, but because Dye's arrival might preclude a trip to the disabled list and/or the operating table for David Ortiz. Papi is such a mess right now at the plate that it's disconcerting, and there simply has to be more wrong than we are aware of. I would not be shocked if he has that torn meniscus operated on should Dye come here. Dye would, theoretically, ease the temporary loss (four weeks, most likely) of Papi from the lineup, and Boston's cushion in the division is big enough that they might at least consider shutting down Papi to have him healthy for the postseason . . . One more thing about Dye: He is not, contrary to reputation among certain members of the media, a good defensive outfielder. Yes, he won a Gold Glove, and he has a right fielder's arm, but years of leg problems have resulted in him running like he's on stilts, and he's been an adventure at Fenway Park for years dating back to Game 4 of the 2003 ALCS. Now, I'm not suggesting he's as inept as Wily Mo, but he's not good. Fortunately, if he does come here and Papi doesn't end up going on the DL, then the Sox will have a certain $70 million defensive replacement to help him out . . . Bottom line: Give me Dye and, oh, Eric Gagne for a couple random Sea Dogs and PawSox by 4 p.m. today, and maybe that will take my mind off basketball for a few moments.

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Saturday, July 28, 2007

3,141 hits and 3,141 extra value meals ago . . .

Just quickie to point you toward this week's Fox column, which leads with a tribute to the a certain skinny Hawaii Islanders outfielder from 1982 . . .

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Friday, July 27, 2007

Do not bat this man second

First, the praise: I admired Jerry Remy as a kid, and still do. He was the speedy second baseman on those late-'70s Sox teams that hooked me for life, the Fall Rivah kid living the dream. And for all of his huckster tendencies as a broadcaster, he's a superior analyst to every last one of the national nitwits, and he gets bonus points for bringing out the personality in Don Orsillo, who we still suspect is really a vinyl-covered automaton programmed to repeat old Sean McDonough soundbites at the appropriate times.

So, yeah, I'm staunchly pro-RemDawg. It's just . . . well, I recently discovered that he was a really bad offensive player. I mean, really bad. How really bad? Let's put it this way: Remy's career OPS of .655 is exactly .004 points lower than Alex Cora's. I think I understand Remy's verbal fawning over Cora now. Remy might be built more like Dustin Pedroia, but he knows Pedroia has more pure hitting ability than he ever did. He sees his reflection as a player in Cora.

Now about those stats - they're about as attractive as Tawny Kitaen's mugshot. (Click at your retinas' risk, Coverdale.) I first became aware of them a week or so ago when the Hollywood Sports Guy made a crack about Remy's career OPS, and I checked them out further while doing some research for this week's Fox column on the feeble '75 Angels, who hit 55 (yes, 55) home runs as a team. You probably knew that Remy hit just 7 career homers in his 10 seasons, since he jokes about it often with the OrsilloBot. But did you know that he had a career OPS+ of 82? That he was in the top 10 in caught stealing four times, including 21 times against 34 successes with the '75 Angels? That he was in the top 10 in outs four times? That his on-base percentage was .327? That his slugging percentage was .328? Not only was he unproductive, but he was remarkably inefficient.

Don Zimmer did a lot of indefensible things in '78 (running off the Buffalo Heads, playing a woozy Dewey Evans, starting Bleepin' Icewater Bobby Sprowl, sticking with injured, scatterarmed Butch Hobson . . . ah, hell, you get the point), but batting Remy and his .321 on-base percentage in the No. 2 spot in front of Rice, Lynn, and Fisk might have been the dumbest. It's like Zimmer had a metal plate in his head or something. It's a wonder his egregious lineup construction didn't lead to him getting taken hostage by a 10-year-old Rob Neyer.

I realize it was a different game then. The ballparks were bigger, the ballplayers were smaller, and second base, save for the great Joe Morgan, the criminally underrated Bobby Grich, and a couple of others, wasn't regarded as an offensive position. Second base was for the gritty, gutty gamers, the runts and the bunters, the pre-Ecksteins, if you will.

Which explains, I suppose, why Remy, despite his puny numbers, accomplished enough in his career to be rated the 100th-best second baseman of all-time in The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract. (Hey, to be ranked in the top 100 ever at anything is a compliment, even if Remy comes in 21 spots below Yankee punchline Horace Clarke). Wrote James:

When Remy was playing for El Paso in 1974, he wondered aloud if he would ever make it to the major leagues. His manager, Dave Garcia, overheard him and said, "Listen, do you know who is playing second base for the Angels?"

"Denny Doyle," said Remy

"Who runs better, you or Denny?" asked Garcia

"I do," said Remy.

"Who throws better?"

"I do."

"Who hits better?"

"I do," said Remy.

"Well then," said Garcia, "you're going to the major leagues."

Remy took Doyle's job with the Angels in '75 . . . then replaced him in Boston after coming over in a deal in the winter of '77. So it's all relative, right? There are a lot of second baseman who were worse than the 100th best. Doyle's on that list, somewhere.

* * *

Other notes scribbled in the margins:

• Considering he's the NFL's fourth all-time leading rusher, you'd think Curtis Martin's retirement this week would have merited more attention. I guess there's no time to appropriately salute one of the classiest and accomplished players in recent league history when a certain network's NFL airtime is alloted entirely to a flashy but second-rate quarterback's cruel way with animals. Fortunately, Newsday's Bob Glauber hit the mark with this tribute; Martin's quiet grace, on the field and off, was overshadowed in this day and age in which police lights and the spotlight are often indistinguishable. Even if his football legacy is mostly with the Jets, I'll always remember him as one of my favorites for his three terrific seasons with the Patriots. It's funny to recall now that early in his rookie season, after he scored the winning touchdown against the Browns, Bill Parcells warded off the media hype by saying, "Don't put the kid in Canton quite yet, fellas." Who would have thought then that the Hall of Fame eventually would beckon?

• I might as well say it, because it's become the truth: When Papi comes to the plate with the game hanging in the balance in the late innings, I'm no longer confident, let alone certain, that he's going to come through. And that makes me sad, in a melancholic sort of way. I'm not ready for that era to be over yet.

• Who's NOW? I mean, you're kidding me, right? Bob Ley must weep for what ESPN has become.

• Nice of Wily Mo Pena to tantalize us with his breathtaking, maddening talent once more before he departs. Or did last night's performance and Nick Cafardo's nice piece Thursday about how hard he works and how much his teammates believe in him give you pause about giving up on him now?

• Well, it sure looks like the wheels are coming off my Mark Teixeira-for-Jon Lester bandwagon. The offer Atlanta supposedly made to Texas for the 27-year-old slugger includes catching phenom Jarrod Saltalamacchia (another player the Sox should covet), and I doubt Theo Epstein could trump that offer without including Clay Buchholz, who should not and will not be going anywhere. Teixeira is exactly what the Sox need (check out Mike Lowell's career first- and second-half splits and try not to cringe), but at the moment, the price seems much too high to make it happen.

* * *

As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

"Man, that job-stealing Remy punk is really starting to *&%^ me off."

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Nine innings: 07.24.07

Playing nine innings while wishing Papi would learn how to slide . . .

1. Of course it was heartwarming and wonderful to see Jon Lester on the mound for the Red Sox last night, earning the victory in his first appearance since his cancer diagnosis last August, and from a sentimental standpoint I hope he spends the next dozen years winning ballgames and inspiring Jimmy Fund patients as a treasured member of the Red Sox. But from a coldly unsentimental baseball standpoint, I have to say that the pitcher I saw last night was the same one I saw last summer, one who lacks either the command or the trust in his stuff to be as efficient and effective as a pitcher of his raw talent should be. Sure, I realize the magnitude of the moment, that he surely had butterflies as big as Mothra in his stomach as he completed his long journey back to a big-league mound, and his bases-loaded whiff of Grady Sizemore did bring back fun memories of his high point of a season ago, when he whiffed the Mets' David Wright in a remarkably similar situation. But I still can't help but think (and I admit, hope) that Theo Epstein should be so ruthless as to trade Lester for Mark Teixeira while the young lefty still retains most of his Elite Prospect luster. I hope Lester will become the pitcher we all want him to be, for reasons that extend well beyond baseball. It's just that I'm slightly skeptical, based on what I have seen of him from Portland on up, that it will ever happen, and I wonder, putting their fondness and respect for the kid aside, if the Red Sox honchos feel the same way.

2. Four straight wins . . . the first team in the majors to 60 victories . . . a lead over the "surging" Yankees that is actually a hal-game larger than it was on Mother's Day. Yes, I think it's okay to feel good about the Red Sox again. It's funny, but it seems to me that the baseball gods, who had been conspiring against the Sox for the past few weeks, finally decided to cut them some slack after Tim McClelland turned J.D. Drew's three-run homer into an inning-ending RBI double Friday night. It looked like that was going to be one more bad break, one more lost opportunity . . . and then the next thing you know, Julio Lugo of all people is getting a curtain call after hitting a grand slam, the Sox are cruising to a much-needed win, and all is well. I'm still convinced they need one more A-list hitter in the middle of the lineup, but with Lugo and Coco Crisp contributing and Manny Ramirez finally finding his groove, this lineup more often than not will score enough runs for the stellar pitching staff to come away with a win. As long as the Sox remain reasonably healthy, I'm relatively confident they'll keep the Yankees at a comfortable distance the rest of the way.

3. For all of the talk about Kason Gabbard being a finesse pitcher (I believe the proper baseball term is "a Jamie Moyer-type"), it's worth noting that in his brief major-league career he is averaging slightly more than six strikeouts per nine innings, which is more than respectable and tells you his stuff is better than he's often given credit for. This isn't Kevin Morton or Abe Alvarez we're talking about here. I've seen enough in his 10 career starts to believe that Gabbard has the arm and the repertoire to win in the big leagues.

4. Happy trails, Wily Mo Pena, and good luck with your ongoing and thus far futile quest to recognize a slider. Oh, I know Pena's technically still around, but it's only a matter of days now before he's an Oakland A or a Pittsburgh Pirate, and I figured I'd get the jump on the farewells. That way we can get on with pretending this whole thing never happened.

5. From Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback column:

b. Not that I'm questioning what planet David Ortiz has fallen off, but the catcher for Kansas City, John Buck, who starts about 65 percent of the time and has 121 fewer at-bats, has as many homers, 16, as Ortiz.

c. The following players, four months into the season, have more home runs than Ortiz, who hit 54 last year: Dan Uggla, Brandon Phillips, Carlos Pena, Chris Duncan, Jimmy Rollins, J.J. Hardy, Jack Cust, Brad Hawpe.

d. Theories, anyone? And don't give me the stuff about his right knee being sore. That's not his plant knee.

Now, I suppose ol' Latte Lips is not-so-subtly implying something about Papi here, but no matter what ham-handed point he is trying to make, I know this: Every time King writes about his favorite team, the Red Sox, I find myself wishing he was a Yankees fan.

6. Obligatory random football note: Considering that Michael Vick has probably overthrown his last receiver for the Falcons, and considering that the only place he's better than Drew Brees is on Madden, this trade has to go down as the most lopsided in NFL history since the Vikings traded half their depth chart along with their draft board for Herschel Walker.

7. Now this is the Coco Crisp the Red Sox thought they were getting from the Indians before last season. This is the guy who was so dynamic last spring before before a broken finger ruined his first season in Boston. After last night's 4-for-5 performance in his first game in Cleveland since the trade, his batting average is up to .284, and most encouragingly, he's finally hammering good fastballs again, something we were told was his strength as a hitter but never really saw until recently. I'm as enamored with Jacoby Ellsbury as everyone else around here, but if the Crisp we've seen the last six weeks or so is the Crisp we're going to be getting from here on out, I'm in no hurry to see him move on. He's been a joy to watch, especially in the field, and I hope - and believe - it will continue.

8. Not that I'm getting tired of the Yankees digging up these sold-my-soul-to-the-devil types who come out of nowhere seemingly ever other year to provide a late-season jolt, but I am wondering if Shelley Duncan and Shane Spencer have ever been seen in the same room together.

9. As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

Beyond the obvious tragedy of a man dying too young, the thing that really breaks my heart about this story is that Coolbaugh had two children, ages 5 and 3, with a third on the way. Being a father of two myself and roughly the same age as Coolbaugh, I keep catching myself wondering how his widow can possibly have the strength to explain to their two boys why their dad is gone.

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Monday, July 16, 2007

Marked man

Playing nine innings while wondering what Papi and his torn meniscus were doing playing in the All-Star game . . .

1. I know it's probably cold and heartless of me given all that he has overcome, but if the Texas Rangers are willing to take Jon Lester as the centerpiece in a trade for Mark Teixeira, I hope Theo says, "You've got yourself a deal, Daniels," without even a single sentimental second thought. Teixeira is exactly the hitter the Sox need, and it would free them up to trade Mike Lowell (c'mon, you really expect him to hit in the second half like he did in the first?) for some depth. I'm not sweating the Sox' ongoing lethargy - the Yankees are too flawed to take advantage, and besides, the Sox went through the same thing in '04 and that turned out okay - but the more I see this lineup get shut down by the likes of Jesse Litsch and Ryan Feierabend, the more one-run games I see them lose, the more certain I become that they need another Grade A bat in the heart of the lineup. Yeah, there are signs that Manny and Papi are about to bust out of their power drought, but isn't it still alarming that they had a combined 30 (thirty!) fewer homers at the break this year than they did a season ago? Teixeira, who already has put up seasons of 38, 43, and 33 homers at age 27, would ease their burden tremendously, and that he's a switch-hitter only enhances his appeal. And as arrogant though it may sound, I'm convinced that once Teixeira, an East Coast kid who recently ripped the Rangers for their lack of commitment to winning, got to experience playing at Fenway, he'd do everything in his power to stay after his contract expires in '08. Yes, Lester is a talent, no doubt, and we'll never question his spirit or his mental toughness after all he's endured. But I still wonder about his command issues, and while 'EEI callers seem to fail to grasp this concept, to get something you usually need to give something up. For Mark Teixeira, giving up Lester would be worth it.

2. The Mike Timlin rejuvenation is one of the more pleasant (and downright shocking) developments of the season, and it couldn't come at a better time considering that the next time we read Brendan Donnelly's name in the newspaper I suspect it may be accompanied by a reference to a visit with Dr. James Andrews.

3. Had to chuckle when Cable-Access Geffner, while talking with Dave O'Brien about the Police's upcoming visit to Fenway during today's radio broadcast, put on his public relations hat and dutifully rattled off the list of all the great acts who have played there in recent years . . . but one rather notable omission. Mick who? Never heard of him, Dr. Steinberg. Then again, Geffner admitted he wasn't much of a fan of Sting and the boys back in their stellar '80s heyday, which I suppose really shouldn't come as a surprise. I'm pretty sure that's when Geffner was going through his "Like a Virgin" phase.

4. Wily Mo Pena is by all accounts a good-natured, hardworking kid, and there's no denying he has the raw physical talent to hit 35+ home runs in a major league season someday. But even to those of us who thought dealing Bronson Arroyo for him was a shrewd move must admit the truth right now: It would be better for him and the ball club if he moved on. He needs to play every day for a ball club like Kansas City or Pittsburgh (Xavier Nady for Wily Mo? Yes, please) where he can get the 500 at-bats he needs to hone his skills, particularly when it comes to pitch recognition. I like him, and I root for him to make it big, but it's just not going to happen for him here.

5. When - not if, when - A-Rod opts out of his contract with the Yankees and leaves his private New York hell behind after this professionally redemptive season, what he should do is sign with the Angels, who are a perfect match: They have a desperate need for a hitter of his talents, and they happen to play in a city and a ballpark that are as inauthentic as the player himself. But I've said it before and I'll say it again: Four seasons after they first courted him, I think there is a very real chance he ends up with the Red Sox. It would be doable financially (Lowell, Clement, Eric Hinske and Curt Schilling are coming off the books), it would work roster-wise (Lowell is a free agent), it would work from both sides' presumed desire to stick it to New York (c'mon, you don't think he hungers to beat Jeter?), and most of all, it works just like it did in the winter of '03-'04, when he was willing to take a pay cut to come here and Larry Lucchino and Dr. Charles were practically giggling like schoolgirls while plotting how they'd market him as the face of the franchise to all the loyal sucke . . . er, residents of Red Sox Nation. I'm not saying I want this to happen (though if we can root for Randy Moss, accepting A-Rod as one of our own probably won't break the Hypocrisy Meter), and I'm not saying it will happen . . . but I think I would be more surprised if the Sox don't try to make this happen than if they do.

6. In case you missed it - and I'm really hoping you did - Jeter won the ESPY for the Best Baseball Player. So to answer the longstanding question, yes, there is an award more meaningless and arbitrary than the Gold Glove.

7. I tend to think Jason Varitek gets too much credit for certain immeasurable things, such as his game-calling. There are a lot of pitchers who have faltered on his watch while later thriving elsewhere, and I'm with Remy; Why was Papelbon messing around with a cutter with the game on the line against Detroit last week? Going back further, why would anyone ever call for a low-and-away fastball to A-Rod? (I know, I know, let it go). But there is simply no exaggerating his value to the Red Sox right now, not only because of his somewhat surprising bounce-back season at the plate at age 35, but mostly because the dropoff from Tek to Dougie Chicken Parm is like going from Jessica Biel to Jessica Tandy. It's so unappealing that you don't even want to think about it.

8. I wrote about this in my Sox GameDay column a few days ago, but I'll regurgitate it here in case you didn't see it. I'm convinced Clay Buchholz will be pitching for the Red Sox after four or five starts at Pawtucket, provided things go as well in Triple A as his talent suggests they will. He's on the same path Papelbon was on in '05: half a season at Portland, a handful of starts at Pawtucket, and then a promotion to the big leagues as a live arm to help the playoff push. You might recall that by the end of the '05 postseason, Papelbon was the Sox' most effective pitcher. I doubt that will be the case with Buchholz, simply because the Sox staff is so much deeper and more talented than it was in '05 (see: Matt Clement, Game 1 starter, ALDS), but he will be a factor, whether it's in the rotation or as one more power arm out of the 'pen.

9. As for today's Completely Random 8x10 Photo*:

Fourteen years after Dan Duquette insisted Stairs could hit big-league pitching if someone just looked past the bowling-pin physique and gave him a chance, the 39-year-old Bangor, Maine resident is still proving him right.

* - Because we couldn't find a card of him in a Sox uni.

P.S. - For those of you who aren't tired of reading my nonsense after this disaster, here's my lastest Fox column, if you missed it. Man, I'm awesome at this self-promotion stuff, aren't I?

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Monday, July 09, 2007

Of course, Chris House is glad he's in Detroit

A few quick items while trying not to wonder what exactly "intestinal turmoil" entails . . .

I know I wasn't the only one playing the What-If game while watching Gary Sheffield pummel Red Sox pitching the last few days. Sheffield, as I'm sure you recall, last season expressed a desire to play for the Red Sox, which likely was a huge factor in Yankees GM Brian Cashman's decision to pick up Sheffield's option and trade him to Detroit rather than allowing him to defect to the the enemy. You have to wonder if Sheffield would be playing right field and batting fifth for the Sox right now (rather than J.D. Drew, whose ineptitude is even ticking off mild-mannered Joe Castiglione these days) if only he'd kept his mouth shut about his intentions. Perhaps it's because he has such a disdain for the Yankees now, or perhaps it's his fondness for Boston (something Michael Wilbon should take note of), but I kind of get a kick out of Sheffield these days, and I'd love to see him on the Sox. He's my kind of crazy.

I'm not worried about Manny yet. Slightly concerned in a Jim Rice-circa-'88 sort of way, but not worried. Nope, not yet.

Man, it drives me nuts when the Sox can't touch Todd Jones. His ERA just recently fell below 6.00, his K/BB ratio of just about 1 to 1 is atrocious for any pitcher, especially a closer, and he's got the same repertoire of slop that he had when he spent the summer of '03 getting lit up for the Sox.

Not only was I wrong about Dustin Pedroia, but I have to admit he's becoming one of my favorites. Tony Mazz hit it right on the sweet spot in the Herald this morning: Pedroia is Tanner Boyle from the Bad News Bears. In case you forgot, he's the shrimpy blond kid who yells at the Yankees (of course) after they beat the Bears in the championship, "Hey Yankees, you can take your apology and your trophy and shove it straight up your (three-letter synonym for Steinbrenner)." I can see Pedroia doing the same, can't you?

Jeff Bailey, meet Andy Dominique. Andy Dominique, Jeff Bailey.

Been meaning to say this for a while, but John Rish does a fine job on the Red Sox radio postgame show. He knows his stuff, is uncommonly reasonable, and best of all, has a low tolerance for the Budweiser-soaked morons who make up 80 percent of Mike Adams's callers. WEEI could use a few more like him.

Yes, I admit I had more fun writing this week's FOX column than usual, something that the talented guys at Yanksfan vs. Soxfan seem to have figured out. I actually thought the column would generate more of a reaction than it did from the Bleacher Buttafuoco types, but I guess they probably need someone to read it to them in order to get upset.

As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

This is the player I expect Jacoby Ellsbury to become.

Hoping to be back tonight with a look at where the Sox stand and where they may be heading, including my suspicion that they may pull off a trade no one sees coming, so be sure to check back in . . .

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

TATB's third annual Red Sox midseason report card

Fifty wins, 31 losses, and a relatively comfortable double-digit lead in the American League East. Nope, not a bad half at all for your Boston Red Sox. So with a hat tip to Terry Francona for handling his ball club and all the ancillary stuff as deftly as any Sox manager we've ever seen - yep, Tito gets a hard-earned A - let's break it all down, player by player, grade by grade, while hoping the good times continue to roll right through October. (Stats through Monday, Game 81):

Dustin Pedroia (.320 avg., 3 homers, 25 RBIs, .851 OPS):
I haven't been this wrong about a player since I guaranteed in the Maine Campus 15 or so years ago that Jack Clark was born to hit at Fenway. Once an idiot, always an idiot. A-

Kevin Youkilis (.329-9-44, .924): Yooooooooouuuuuk! The best hitter on the team so far, a beast in the clutch, and he's pretty darn good around the first base bag, too. What more could we ask for? Just this: A duplicate performance in the second half. A

David Ortiz (.312-13-49, .977): File this one under All You Need To Know: David Ortiz has as many home runs as Alex Gonzalez. Yes, that Alex Gonzalez. Something tells me that hamstring that was bothering him earlier this season is a lingering injury, because I see no other logical explanation for why he's gone 48 at-bats without an extra-base hit. B (Sorry, I just can't grade Papi any lower than that.)

Manny Ramirez (.288-11-44, .858): It's like we're getting the Bizarro Manny this season. He's running hard almost all the time, he's leading the ball club in games played, he's excited about the All-Star Game, his grandmother and his knees are apparently healthy, he's playing a very good left field, at least at Fenway . . . and yet he's rarely looked like one of the elite hitters of his generation. This dependable Manny is nice, but personally, I prefer the hitting-savant goofball who bats .320 with 40 homers and 125 RBIs while offending all the self-appointed Keepers of the Game by taking pee breaks inside the sacred Green Monster. Maybe it's because Manny has a history of comporting himself like a 12-year-old, but it's easy to forget that he's now 35 and all growns up. Time isn't his friend anymore, and you have to wonder if he's going to be a 25-homer guy (or worse) from here on out. He's always had such a knack for turning a 2-1 game into a 5-1 game with one swing, and the Sox have dearly missed his ability to break a game open. I'm still confident that he'll have a couple of his patented midsummer tears and will finish somewhere around .300-30-110 . . . but then, it's not such a sure thing anymore, is it? C

J.D. Drew (.257-6-32, .763): I've made a conscious effort to ignore his sticker price and try my best to appreciate the player for what he is. So . . . um, well, he's been healthy for the most part, which counts for something, and his swing sure is purty. Now (trying desperately not to mention his contract), on behalf of an eager constituency, where's the freakin' power? D+

Mike Lowell (.292-12-55, .850): Made one of the definining plays of the season so far when he Urlachered the Yankees' Robinson Cano on a double play grounder. Like Bill Mueller before him, he's one of those True Professional types who everyone from the cynics in the press box to the pink hats in the bleachers likes and appreciates. Like Youkilis, however, it's imperative that he avoids his traditional second half slumber. A-

Jason Varitek (.270-8-33, .802): The captain, at age 35, is defying the odds by bouncing back effectively after last season's disaster. He remains one of the two or three most indispensable players on the team. What, seeing Doug Mirabelli every fifth day isn't enough for you? B

Coco Crisp (.262-4-22, .680) Say what you will about his salami bat - and he was coming around at the plate before his recent thumb injury, raising his average 40 points in June - but Crisp has contributed to his share of victories this season, playing the best center field we've seen at Fenway since . . . well, when? Ellis Burks? Fred Lynn? And I'll admit it: There's something about the way he plays the game that makes me really want to see him succeed here. C

Julio Lugo (.189-4-34, .541): Come back, Edgar. We won't call you Rent-A-Wreck anymore, promise. All is forgiven. Hell, we might even welcome you too, Cesar Crespo. Oh, all right, in all fairness, Lugo hasn't been that bad. He has handled his 0-fer-30-something with class and accountability, and getting caught stealing third the other night simply had to be rock-bottom. Besides, he's not going anywhere, so we'd better hope he turns it around. F

Josh Beckett (11 wins, 2 losses, 3.38 ERA, 1.10 WHIP): Now that's the cool, cocky ace we thought we were getting. Not a bad trade after all, Larry. A

Daisuke Matsuzaka (9-5, 3.80, 1.23): So he's not Pedro. So what? Don't you realize the Martinez Era at Fenway Park was a once-in-a-fan's-lifetime gift from the baseball gods? The truth is, while the hype upon Dice-Ks arrival and debut was, well, over the top (guilty as charged), except for a few hiccups he has pitched to the level of at least a No. 2 starter all the while adjusting both culturally and professionally. He seems to be more comfortable and more dominant each time out, and while I've sworn off hyperbole with him for the time being, I have no doubt that the next 5 1/2 years with this guy are going to be a blast. B+

Curt Schilling (6-4, 4.20, 1.36): I still say they've sent him away for an intensive midsummer session at fat camp. As you read this, I bet he's either sucking down a junior-sized fat-free yogurt, wheezing his way around the track in the quarter-mile run stride for stride with kids nicknamed "Blueberry" and "Chub," or back in his cabin reading Judy Blume's "Blubber" while nodding his head solemnly. Probably the latter. C+

Julian Tavarez (5-6, 4.39, 1.40): He's a crazy SOB, but he's our crazy SOB. My impression of Tavarez before he came to Boston was that he was a selfish lunatic who didn't care about the team and usually wore out his welcome with an ill-timed temper tantrum or two. My impression now is that he's a lunatic because he almost cares too much about the team, and it drives him, well, looney to let his teammates down. While his numbers aren't much prettier than his headshot, he's been a stalwart as far as fifth starters go. The cat can pitch for my team anytime. B

Tim Wakefield (8-8, 4.31, 1.33): Plusses: Selfless; durable; chews up innings; superior numbers to most fourth and fifth starters; downright unhittable at times. Minuses: When he's bad, he's brutal; can be sailing along, then all of a suddenly loses it quickly; is the sole reason Doug Mirabelli is still leading the big league life. C+

Kason Gabbard: Three starts, two wins. That's fine production for a spot starter on the Pawtucket shuttle. He'd be taking a regular turn for a lot of other big league teams. Incomplete, but grateful.

Jonathan Papelbon: (0-1, 1.50, 0.87, 19 saves)
He's the closest thing I've ever seen to Goose Gossage, and I consider Goose the second-most dominating closer I've ever seen after Mariano Rivera. You feel like victory is inevitable when Paps is on the mound, and that's the highest praise you can give a closer. One confession: I still fret about the shoulder. A

Hideki Okajima (2-0, 0.88, 0.78, 4 saves): Has there ever been a more pleasant surprise in any Red Sox season, let alone this one? We thought he was here as Dice-K's consigliere, and instead he turns out to be the glue to the bullpen, one of the team's most indispensable players. Whoever's scouting Japan for the Sox (Craig Shipley, i assume) deserves a raise. A+

Brendan Donnelly (2-1, 3.05, 1.16): Moderately effective when healthy, but why do I get the sense we're not going to be seeing him for quite some time? B-

Javier Lopez (1-1, 3.05, 1.35): He's done the job, but the reason is still trying to establish himself at age 30 is because he walks way too many batters (11 in 20.2 innings). B-

Kyle Snyder (1-1, 2.40, 1.30): When your long reliever has numbers that good, you know you have a deep staff. And on a sentimental note, after years of injuries robbed him of his blazing fastball and his phenom status with the Royals, is nice to see him enjoying good health and success in the big leagues. He deserves it. B

Mike Timlin (1-0, 5.59, 1.50): I've been jabbering for about a year now that the Sox should give him a hearty thank-you, a pat on the back, and an appropriate parting gift, like maybe a nice gold watch or a tricked-out assault rifle, and send him on his way, so he can spend the rest of his days pursuing his passion for hunting possum, squirrels, and Democrats. I know he threw well Monday, and Tito finally seems to have realized he can't use him in high-leverage situations anymore, but I still can't shake the feeling that he's gassed. I'd love to be wrong, though. D-

Manny Delcarmen: Love the radar gun readings, still don't trust the command. But who knows, maybe that bases-loaded whiff of Slammin' Sammy was the turning point. This much is certain: The role of the power-armed righthanded setup guy is there for his taking. Incomplete, but hopeful.

Joel Pineiro (1-1, 5.04 ERA, 1.62 WHIP): I'm probably the last remaining refugee aboard the Pineiro bandwagon - hey, his stuff is still above-average, if maddeningly inconsistent - but can you imagine where the Sox might be had they not been prudent enough to move Papelbon back to the bullpen when it was apparent Pineiro wasn't the answer? The Yankees might still have some hope of catching them. D

Alex Cora (.282, 2 HRs):
Tito and the RemDawg seem to be having a fawning contest to see who can praise him more, but I've said it before and I'll say it now: He's the best utility infielder the Sox have had in my lifetime (but only because Chico Walker got jobbed by Ralph Houk.) B+

Wily Mo Pena (.224 avg., 4 HRs): It's just not going to happen for him here, is it? He can't pinch-hit. He might be able to recognize a slider away, but he hasn't taught himself to lay off it yet. He's the single worst outfielder at catching fly balls I've ever seen. And it's apparent he needs to play every day in order for his immense, maddeningly raw talent to blossom. The player and the team would be better off if he were a Royal or a Ranger or a Pirate come the trade deadline. D

Eric Hinske (.218, 3 HRs): He's had two memorable games this season - the homer-and-diving-catch game earlier this season, and the game-breaking three-run triple Monday night. Yet like Gabe Kapler before him, he seems to have a genuine appreciation for playing in Boston despite his supporting role, a pretty impressive act of selflessness for a former Rookie of the Year who is used to playing every day. Like I said, he hasn't done much, but that doesn't mean he's not an asset. C-

Doug Mirabelli (.174, 2 HRs): You realize he's hitting 15 points lower than Lugo, right? At this point, he couldn't catch up to Frank Castillo's fastball. F-

Jacoby Ellsbury: Yes, I know he would benefit from playing every day in Triple A. Know what? I do not care. With his speed and aggressiveness, he can help this team, right now, even if it's as a pinch-runner/sporadic starter. I say he stays. Incomplete, but itching to see more.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Baby, have you ever wondered/Wondered what ever became of me

After too many days away, you know I've got some things to say . . .

RED SOX: You know, I hate even thinking this, let alone writing it, but I'm beginning to wonder where Papi's mojo has gone. I know, today was an extreme example of his recent struggles, whiffing feebly with runners on base not once but twice late in the game, but man, it's just so damn disconcerting to see him falter in those clutch situations after absolutely owning the late innings since 2003. I may be forgetting an early-season walkoff single or some other meaningful late-inning delivery here, but the reality is he's been more mortal that superhero so far in '07. I know that is borderline blasphemous to say, but he hasn't homered at Fenway since April 21, and watching him fail to catch up to some very hittable fastballs recently, I'm beginning to wonder if something's wrong. Now, I realize it's unfair to expect someone to come through every single time, but I just miss that feeling that when he comes to the plate with the game on the line, you just know it's going to end with a moonshot, then a raised fist as he trots around first, a tossed batting helmet as he heads down the homestretch, and finally, a raucous celebration at home plate. And I know I'm not the only one who wonders where those moments have gone - even Joe Castig's voice lacked that familiar sense of optimism or anticipation when Papi was the winning run at the plate with two outs in the ninth, and he hardly sounded surprised when his final call was a dejected "Swing and a popup," rather than his old joyous standby, "David Ortiz has done it again!" I mean, he is going to do it again soon, right? . . . Julio Lugo's pea-brained attempt to swipe third base with the Sox down a run and Kevin Youkilis at the plate Saturday was the single stupidest baserunning move by a Sox player since Psycho Lyons's idiotic heyday. I suppose you can't fault him, though. He's been on base so infrequently this season that I'm surprised he actually ran in the right direction . . . The Red Sox have scored 26 runs in their last nine games, Papi and Manny just completed a month in which they combined for 23 RBIs and looked less like the reincarnation of Gehrig and Ruth and more like the modern-day Maas and Meulens, and if the Yankees weren't actually living up to a certain chant, we might be in full panic mode about this June semi-swoon. While you have to chalk it up to a bad month (the Sox went 13-14), a malaise that afflicts even the best teams over the long season, there has to be some level of concern here, even considering their relatively comfortable lead in the American League East. And the more I consider the strengths and weaknesses of this team heading into the All-Star break, the more convinced I become that they need to add another big bat to the lineup. So I ask: Would you go after Mark Teixeira? And what would you give up? Provided he returns to his .959-OPS form after returning from his quad injury, I say they should at least try to swing a deal with Texas, and while I'd hope Theo would hang up the phone Rangers GM Jon Daniels mentions Clay Buchholz's name, I'd give serious consideration to giving up Michael Bowden, and I might even listen to an offer for Jon Lester, gambling that once Teixeira got to Boston, he'd love the atmosphere enough that he'd want to stay after his contract expires following next season . . . So, assuming Lugo continues his quest to have the worst offensive season of any player in at least 10 years, what are the alternatives at shortstop? Omar Vizquel? He's 40 years old, has a wretched .594 OPS, and is known to be something of a clubhouse lawyer. I'll pass. Jed Lowrie? He's having a fine season in Portland after a slow start, but let's see him reach Triple A first before we anoint him the savior. Ed Rogers? Bobby Scales? Spike Owen? Yep, something tells me it's going to be Lugo with an increased dose of Alex Cora, and if the $36 Million Flop doesn't start looking like a major leaguer soon, Theo will be addressing the shortstop position for the fourth consecutive offseason . . . Call me a conspiracy theorist, but considering Curt Schilling apparent annoyance with the way the front office is handling his injury, I'm wondering if there's more going on here. To put it another way, I'm not so sure that there isn't more concern about his conditioning in general than the condition of his shoulder . . . Given what the Baseball America junkies have told us about his roadrunner (beep-beep!) speed, it seemed appropriate that Jacoby Ellsbury's first big league hit was a basically a routine grounder that he legged out after a moment's hesitation by the shortstop. The kid looks like a jittery rookie right now (admit it, the Sox have missed Coco Crisp in center the past two days), but it's always fun to catch a first glimpse of a player whom you're pretty sure will be a big part of the future.

CELTICS: Now, about that other Boston team in the news lately, and no, I don't mean the Bruins and their acquisition of journeyman goalie Manny Fernandez. I'm talking about the Runnin' Grousbecks, of course, and how fascinating it has been to gauge the national reaction to Danny Ainge's acquisition of Ray Allen for first-rounder Jeff Green, Delonte West, and Wally Szczerbiak's leftover limbs. If I recall correctly, Sports Illustrated's Ian Thomsen and Jack McCallum loved the deal for Boston (and there's no one I respect more than McCallum), ESPN stat dude John Hollinger hated it, and Bill Simmons seemed to talk himself into it as his Draft Diary progressed. My take? Well, my initial reaction was that it was a panic move, that Ainge was desperate to do something to A) appease Paul Pierce and B) save his own hindquarters, and so he brought in a 32-year-old guard with two gimpy ankles and the inability to guard Denzel Washington, let alone actual NBA players. But then I remembered just how much I liked watching Allen shoot the ball - seriously, there hasn't been anyone with a smoother J since Dale Ellis - and the thought of him, Pierce and Al Jefferson (or, I almost hope, Kevin Garnett) playing together sounded like, well, fun. And we all know that fun hasn't exactly been in abundance at the New Garden in recent years. I'm still not sure it was a particularly shrewd move for the franchise's long-term health, but at least the Celtics are going to be interesting next season, and for now, I guess I consider that progress.

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As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

While playing 148 games at shortstop for the 1988 Philadelphia Phillies, Mr. Jeltz here batted a robust .187 in 379 at-bats, while slugging a mighty .237. So, yes, there have been modern shortstop who have been as atrocious for a full season as Lugo has been for half of one. I just hope Jeltz isn't signed to a six-year, $60 million deal by Theo next winter.

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Quickie links to stuff we wrote: The FOXSports column is here (and be sure to tune in this coming Friday - I think I might go after a certain Calm-Eyed Captain in the Bronx), and here's a shorter piece I wrote for Sunday's edition of Red Sox GameDay. As always, we appreciate the clicks, and while my work schedule is nuts the next few weeks (at least by my couch potato standards), I have a couple of posts planned that I'm looking forward to writing, including a midseason report card. So be sure to check in, and as always, thanks for your patience. Really, you're a saint.

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