2011 Season Forecast: Boston Red Sox

Last Five Seasons:

2010:  89 – 73 (3rd AL East)
2009:  95 – 67
2008:  95 – 67
2007:  96 – 66 (WS Champs)
2006:  86 – 76

Runs Scored: 818 (2nd, AL to NYY)
Runs Allowed: 744 (11th in the AL, but considering where they play, it was 6th if you adjust for the park)

2010 Recap:

After a lack-luster start in April, the Red Sox started rolling in May and June, at which point everyone started getting dinged up, including Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Cameron, Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, and J.D. Drew (which, frankly, was expected).  Bill Hall turned into an everyday player, Darnell McDonald was forced into the lineup, and Mike Lowell’s body finally gave out having to play as often as it did.  Even Tim Wakefield went down with a back injury.  The Red Sox played near .500 the rest of the way, but with both New York and Tampa playing lights out in July and August, the Red Sox weren’t really in the race despite almost making it to 90 wins.

The Red Sox made few mid-season moves of any consequence, other than putting people on the DL.

Starters:

On paper, as good a rotation as can be found.  Jon Lester is an ACE; a lefty in Fenway with a 3.25 ERA and 19 wins who strikes out more than a batter an inning and keeps the ball in the park.  Clay Buchholz earned 28 starts and was even better in terms of runs saved (34 to 26.5), but Lester really had the better stuff and pitched 35 more innings.  John Lackey took a while to get started, but still won 14 decisions and pitched 215 innings.  Daisuke Matsuzaka only made 25 starts, but had a winning record.  Josh Beckett, on the other hand, made 21 awful starts and finished with a 5.78 ERA.  He needs to move off the fastball and find another out pitch.  Tim Wakefield made 19 starts, got swatted around more than usual, and won just four games.  He’s not retired yet, but the league may retire him anyway.

The same five return for 2011, and Wakefield may not have a spot on the roster.  I don’t think Buchholz will match his 2010 rate, but Beckett could be better if healthy.  I don’t expect improvement from the three or five spots (Lackey or Matsuzaka) and worry what would happen if a key starter went down to injury.

Bullpen:

Like Josh Beckett, Jonathon Papelbon was more hittable than in previous years, finishing with a 3.90 ERA.  He walked more batters than usual and just had days where it didn’t work for him.  I think he’ll be fine, but 8th inning stud Daniel Bard could get some save opportunities if needed.  Hideki Okajima fell off a little in 2010, as did Manny Delcarmen.  Guys like Scott Atchison, Ramon Ramirez, Dustin Richardson, and Scott Schoeneweis didn’t really move the needle.  On the other hand, Lester, Lackey, and (down the stretch) Buchholz didn’t need more than two innings of help most nights.

Still, the Red Sox brought in a bunch of guys to help out for 2011, including Bobby Jenks (not really a closer), Matt Albers, Dan Wheeler, and Alfredo Aceves to shore up the pen, which should make it slightly stronger than in 2010.

Catching:

Last year, Victor Martinez proved he could still hit and Jason Varitek proved he could still catch.  On the other hand, Varitek can’t hit much, and Martinez should be a DH.  So, for 2011, Martinez will get to DH in Detroit, and the Red Sox imported Jarrod Saltalamacchia to be the primary starter.  Salty was acquired for prospects in July, 2010 but didn’t play much.  And, he comes to Boston as a question mark.  He has a great work ethic, but hasn’t ever really been a dominant hitter.  And, last year he was sent to AAA because he couldn’t make the throw from behind the plate back to the pitcher.  Let’s hope he’s got this behind him now…

Offensively, this will be a slide – maybe 25 runs – but defensively (unless Saltalamacchia falls off on his game) it could be a minor improvement.

Infield:

The infield was anchored by third baseman Adrian Beltre, who had his best season in Boston, hitting .321 with power, and fielding his position as well as just about anybody.  Shortstop Marco Scutaro didn’t miss many games, but he didn’t make many plays in the field, made quite a few errors, and his batting fell off to league average levels.  The other half missed half the season – Dustin Pedroia only played in 75 games and Kevin Youkilis missed 60.

Youkilis produces a run a game and can still field.  He will be moving off of first base to take over third as Beltre signed a free agent deal with Texas.  And, Adrian Gonzalez was aquired from San Diego (albeit after shoulder surgery) to play first base.  A healthy Gonzalez is a world class hitter and fielder, and if Pedroia plays 140 games, this unit will generate perhaps 15 more runs than they did in 2010.  If Scutaro struggles at the plate this year, it might be time to dig into the minors for glove wizard Jose Iglesias. Jed Lowrie backs everyone up in 2011.

Outfield:

The outfield of Ellsbury, Cameron, and Drew hardly ever played together, so it was a patchwork crew of guys like Jeremy Hermida, Bill Hall, Ryan Kalish, Darnell McDonald, Daniel Nava, and Josh Reddick.

This should change as the Red Sox signed Rays left fielder Carl Crawford for 2011.  Ellsbury will be back, hopefully staying in the lineup and batting in front of the boppers, playing center.  He’s the wild card of this group, not being an especially good defensive centerfielder, and having lost much of the season to build on his offensive tool set.  Drew returns to play as many games as possible in right, with Cameron and McDonald around to pick up games and innings as needed.  If Ellsbury can return to form, and having added Crawford, the offense could improve by 50 runs, easily.

DH:

David Ortiz is still around, having generated 98 runs of offense with a 32 – 102 – .270 campaign.  He’ll still play, but he might get a day off from time to time against a tough lefty with Cameron on the bench.  I don’t see Ortiz repeating 2010, but at least the Sox have options.

Down on the Farm:

AAA Pawtucket’s featured outfielders already got a shot, those being Ryan Kalish and Josh Reddeck – both are mid-level power decent bat types and don’t have jobs in Boston just yet.  Among the pitchers, Michael Bowden keeps getting calls to the Red Sox, but hasn’t been able to stick and probably is looking forward to free agency.

Pitcher Felix Doubront made eight solid starts for AA Portland, earning a trip to Pawtucket.  After another eight good starts, he was in Boston for a few outings and didn’t look overmatched.  I don’t see him making the roster in April, so expect the lefty to start in AAA for 2011.  Anthony Rizzo is a potential power source, having hit 20 homers in Portland after being moved up from A+ Salem.  Just 21, he may start at Pawtucket, but his route to the majors is also blocked.

Salem featured pitcher Stolmy Pimentel, who has decent command but needs a little seasoning.  Infielder Oscar Tejeda hit .307 in Salem, with decent power and some speed.  Ryan Lavarnway showed power and command of the strike zone and should start the year at AA Portland.

Forecasting 2011:

The Red Sox are the consensus pick to win the AL East and possibly the World Series.  It’s hard to argue with the logic.  By my methods, I see the offense improving by perhaps as many as 40 runs, and the pitching holding steady.  The defense will be stronger in the outfield, and the only hole will likely be short and catcher.  With 860 runs scored, and about 740 runs allowed, that puts the Sox around 93 wins.  It’s fewer than many others have predicted, but still enough to edge the Rays for the division crown.

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2010 Season Forecast: Boston Red Sox

Last Five Seasons:
2009: 95 – 67 (2nd AL East)
2008: 95 – 67
2007: 96 – 66
2006: 86 – 76
2005: 95 – 67

Runs Scored: 872 (3rd AL)
Runs Allowed: 736 (3rd AL)

Season Recap:

Most people figured that the Red Sox would finish first or second in the AL East and, as they have done four times in the last five years, the finished with at least 95 wins.

The Sox actually stumbled out of the gate, losing their first three series to Tampa, Los Angeles, and then Oakland.  An eleven game winning streak got things going, however, putting the Red Sox out front in the first month of the season.  Jason Bay‘s April made up for the struggles of David Ortiz, but already there were problems.

As the calendar turned to May, the Sox were dealing with a hole at shortstop, the lack of offensive production behind the plate, and still David Ortiz hitting like a middle aged AAA infielder.  Brad Penny wasn’t pitching well as a fourth starter, and the team leader in wins was a 40 something knuckeballer.  Daisuke Matsuzaka was rehabbing a sore back – and dealing with his lack of fitness.

In June, things started to look up.  Ortiz started hitting.  Jon Lester hit his stride, and the Sox went 20 – 8 to regain control of the AL East.  Unfortunately, the Yankees were becoming more complete as the season went on while the Red Sox were just coping.  Mike Lowell‘s hip became problematic.  Jed Lowrie was out and Julio Lugo couldn’t stay in the lineup.  Nick Green, who had taken over for both, began hitting the way Nick Green usually hit – which is .240 with no power or patience.  J.D. Drew missed a month of games, and Jason Bay took a month off with poor production in July.

When August began, the Yankees were in control and the Red Sox were an afterthought.  The Sox didn’t have enough bats to make up for a pitching staff that had 4.86 ERA for the last two months of the year.  In fact, if you consider May, July, August, and September, the Red Sox were just eight games over .500 (59 – 51) and had no business being considered among the elite teams in baseball.  A decent April and a very good June gave them the gaudy record they had.

Pitching:

At the top of the rotation, the Red Sox were solid.  Jon Lester went 15 – 8 and saved his team 33 runs over 203.1 innings.  Josh Beckett delivered a healthy season, 17 wins, and saved his team 20 runs in 212.1 innings.  Tim Wakefield wasn’t bad, but with his bad back, he couldn’t pitch much after the all-star break, making just 21 starts.  After that, however, nobody else was really that impressive.

Brad Penny had a 6.08 ERA in his 24 starts.  John Smoltz returned from surgery to make eight ugly start (8.33 ERA).  Daisuke Matsuzaka went 4 – 6 with a 5.76 ERA.  The Sox gave four starts to Junichi Tazawa that they wish hadn’t happened.  Boston finally gave 16 starts to Clay Buchholz, and he went 7 – 4 with a 4.21 ERA – but you have to wonder what took so long.  Same goes with Justin Masterson, who was left in the bullpen but should have had more than six starts.

In the bullpen, the Red Sox remained solid with Jonathan Papelbon‘s  38 saves and 1.85 ERA.  Hideki Okajima, Takashi Saito, and Ramon Ramirez were capable and competent middle and short relievers.  Even Billy Wagner and Daniel Bard contributed when asked to pitch.

Looking to 2010, if the Sox want to keep up with the Yankees, they need to have more starting pitching.  John Lackey was signed away from the Angels to give the Sox a big three to go along with Beckett and Lester.  Matsuzaka has to find his way back to 2007 – 2008 form.  If so, that’s four solid starters.  Look for Matsuzaka to fight with Buchholz and Wakefield for the last two spots in the rotation.  Justin Masterson, as you might remember, is with Cleveland after the Sox traded for catcher Victor Martinez.

The bullpen includes Jonathan Papelbon, Hideki Okajima, and Ramon Ramirez, and is supported by Manny Delcarmen, Daniel Bard, and possibly prospect Michael Bowden.  I think the Sox will miss having Saito, but if Lackey can stay healthy for 30 starts (he’s been nicked up the last couple of years), they might not need the bullpen as often.

That being said, this unit is more potential than actual at the back end – and that tempers my opinion just a little bit.  There is every good reason for this group to be 30 runs better than last season, but in all likelihood, I see it more like 15 runs better.

Catching:

Victor Martinez joined the Sox in the late summer and helped sustain the offense (.336 BA, 507 Slugging).  I think he’ll do just fine in a full season – which will be about 15 runs better than having more Jason Varitek playing full time.  At the same time, Martinez isn’t in Varitek’s league as a catcher (though neither is any good against the run anymore), so it might cost the team about five runs defensively.

Infield:

Kevin Youkilis is a mobile and dependable first and third baseman who, with the addition of Adrian Beltre, will find most of his playing time at first base.  He hits for some power, gets on base a lot – one of the best first basemen in baseball.  Mike Lowell, if he remains, could be a competent backup at both corners.

Dustin Pedroia wasn’t as good in 2009 as he had been in 2008 – but he dropped off both offensively and defensively.  I think he’ll bounce back some defensively, but we’ve probably seen his best offensive season already.

After a year trying Julio Lugo, Jed Lowrie, Nick Green, and Alex Gonzalez at short – failures abounding here – the Sox went out and signed free agent Marco Scutaro from Toronto.  As mentioned in my comments about the shortstops, Scutaro is NOT a top flight defender, but he’ll be a step up.  He’s also coming off a career year and is closer to 35 than 25.

At third, the Sox went defensive – signing Mariner Adrian Beltre to replace Mike Lowell (only Lowell couldn’t leave).  Beltre remains as good a fielder at the position as you will find, and if he can return to good health will have offensive numbers not too different than what Lowell produced.  Lowell was supposedly traded to Texas for catcher Max Ramirez, but hand injuries prevented that trade from happening.  So, for now the Sox have a really good (and expensive) insurance policy.

Bill Hall arrives from Milwaukee to join Jed Lowrie and Lowell in providing bench support.

As a group, this is going to be a bit better than last year – maybe 20 runs better defensively and 15 runs better offensively.

Outfield:

Jason Bay, an all-star left fielder, is gone – and his replacement is Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Mike Cameron.  Cameron is still a solid defensive player so he’ll get the nod in center and move speedster (but not nearly as good defensively) Jacoby Ellsbury to left.  Bay was surprisingly good in left, so Ellsbury will hopefully just maintain the good numbers.  Cameron will be an improvement over Ellsbury in center – assuming that he doesn’t suddenly age in Boston.  In right, J.D. Drew returns – just as likely he’ll be missing time and we’ll get to see more of former Marlin Jeremy HermidaBill Hall could play some out here as well.

I don’t see this as an offensive improvement – it’s probably a loss of 40 runs from 2009.  Defensively, however, it should be fifteen runs better.

DH/Bench:

David Ortiz struggled and you all read about it.  What is lost is how well he played in the last four months, nearly making it to 100 RBI.  I don’t think he’s going back to his old days – he doesn’t have the bat speed and needs to lose about 30 pounds.  But, he can be productive and guys like Hermida and Martinez will do fine as his occasional replacement.

The rest of the bench is pretty good – Hermida can play two positions in the outfield, Hall can play four or five positions.  Jed Lowrie covers the other two, and Varitek is a tolerable back up catcher.  I just don’t think that the offense off the bench will be that good.

Prospects:

Most of the AAA hitters are getting long in the tooth, and the one player who stood out was outfielder Chris Carter, a former Diamondback farmhand who is 27 and should have made it by now.  He must have defensive issues – because he can surely hit.  Of course, he’s with the Mets now.  Let’s hope he catches a break there.  The best pitchers, Daniel Bard, Michael Bowden, Hunter Jones, and Clay Buchholz are already with the big club.  (Hunter Jones is with the Marlins.)

The Portland River Dogs (AA) featured a couple of pitchers that might make an impact in a couple of years – but likely somewhere else.  Junichi Tazawa smoked AA, pitched well enough at AAA and got a shot with the big club.  He’s not ready, but he’s close.  Good control, decent strikeout numbers…  Felix Doubrant, a 22-year-old, has great stuff but needs to work on his control.  I see him in AAA at the start of 2010.  And reliever Dustin Richardson has NASTY stuff, 80Ks in 63 innings, but walked 40 – and that’s going to be a problem.  He COULD be a future closer, but not yet.

First baseman Aaron Bates alternates between hitting .340 and .240 – the good guy would be great, but the former third round pick (2006) hasn’t been consistent at the top levels.  Outfielder Josh Reddick is 23, has great power, but needs another season before he makes the concert tour with the big boys.

At A+ Salem (where I was surprised to see former Royals infielder Carlos Febles is the batting instructor), the most interesting prospect is from Taiwan, Che-Hsuan Lin.  Lin can run, is 21, and shows some patience and the potential to find a little power.  If he has a big year in AA, look for someone to give him a MLB look.  Anthony Rizzo is even younger and hits a bit like Mark Grace – and plays first base, too.  Ryan Kalish was so good at Salem, he moved to Portland and still showed power.  He’s 22 and will start 2010 at AAA.

Two pitchers that caught my eye were Casey Kelly and Eammon Portice.  Portice has control, an out pitch, and the Ft. Lauderdale native who was a late round 2007 draft pick has been a pleasant surprise at every level.  Kelly is a rare find – the spot starter/shortstop.  He won’t hit enough to play in the big leagues, but has a live arm and might make it based on his great control and power strikeout numbers.  In 95 innings, he’s walked just 16 batters, allowed 65 hits, and fanned 74.

Forecast:

With the offense staying good but likely not great, the improvements defensively and in the rotation should be enough to push the Red Sox back to the top.  The system says 97 wins, but personally, I’d play the under.  If my hunches about both the Yankees and Red Sox are right, Boston and New York would finish in a dead heat – but the system picks the Sox.

Top AL Third Basemen in 2009

Evan Longoria (TB):  No sophomore slump here, huh?  One of the better offensive performers (33 – 113 – .281), draws a few walks, and is as good a defender at his position as there is in the game.  Other than a couple of first basemen and maybe Joe Mauer, nobody was more valuable in the American League.  (114.0 Runs Scored, 31.91 Runs Saved = 146.76 Total Run Production)

If he was a full time third baseman, Kevin Youkilis would rate next.

Chone Figgins (LAA):  Gets on base, runs the bases well, and had an above average season with the glove – a sign that he’s getting more comfortable over there now that he’s not being used like a super utility player. Seattle will like having him at the front of the line up.  (104.3 Runs Created, 7.5 Runs Saved = 111.86 Total Run Production.)

If you are an Angels fan, you probably want to know more about Brandon Wood.  Wood has been the power hitting infielder in waiting for what seems like a small eternity.  Wood was a first round draft pick back in 2003, and has had seasons at Rancho Cucamonga and Salt Lake City that would suggest that he’s the next Troy Glaus.  Personally, I don’t buy it.  Now, he’s struggled to hit .190 in the majors because he’s spent a lot of time going back and forth between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles.  He’s really only had one month where he got some regular MLB playing time – and that month he hit about .250 with a little power.  And that’s where I think he’ll be.  As a rule of thumb, you can usually look at PCL stats and knock 50 points of the batting average and about 40% of the power off the top.  In three seasons of AAA ball, Wood has hit between .270 and .295 with 25 homer power.  That translates to about 15 homers and a .245 batting average.  I’d like to think, hitting at the bottom of the lineup, he’d be okay.  Wood might do a bit better than that – the way Kendry Morales jumped up and hit like a monster.  A bit better than that is 20 homers and .260 – which is decent enough if he brings a solid glove and improves his strikeout/walk ratio.  Wood turns 25 in March, which is a bit long in the tooth for a prospect.

Alex Rodriguez (NYY):  Missed a month following hip surgery, and then needed some time to get back into playing shape.  After the all-star break, he was dominating at times – including during the playoffs.  Is getting better defensively, but has never been an above average fielder.  Would he still be this good had he not spent years on the juice?  (100.3 Runs Created, -6.50 Runs Saved = 93.76 Total Run Production)

Jhonny Peralta (CLE):  As a hitter, he’s declining but tolerable.  As a fielder, he was surprisingly solid at third base.  I don’t know if he’s a long term solution, but what else do the Indians have?  Besides, I’m ranking him as the fourth most productive third baseman in the AL! Andy Marte is penciled in as a backup here and at first base – and in more than a year’s worth of MLB at bats has struggled to hit .220.  Marte looked good at Columbus in AAA, but so far he has not progressed beyond prospect.  (75.6 Runs Created, 10.6 Runs Saved, 86.19 Total Run Production)

Adrian Beltre (SEA):  Couldn’t stay healthy, and his bat suffered mightily.  He’s now at the age where the chances of him returning to his 2006-2008 form are getting slimmer, but his stats might come back playing in Fenway.  He’s never been a GREAT hitter, but he’s always been above average until last year.  He remains a great fielder, though – and he will help Boston’s pitchers.  (55.5 Runs Created, 28.6 Runs Saved = 84.14 Total Run Production)

Brandon Inge (DET):  His body broke down as the season progressed, but he still played in 161 games.  I’m just not so sure he was helping in, say, September.  A surprising number of homers made up for a lack of batting average.  He remains a pretty good fielder.  (71.9 Runs Created, 9.4 Runs Saved, 81.31 Total Run Production)

Melvin Mora (BAL):  Now in Colorado.  Like Beltre, his bat fell in the tank.  Defensively, he was solid – so he can still help.  He’s not getting any younger, though…  Welcome back, Miguel Tejada, who – if he doesn’t age two more years – should be a step up here.  (51.6 Runs Created, 21.70 Runs Saved, 73.32 Total Run Production)

Adam Kennedy (OAK):  Played all over the infield, but had the most innings here.  He’s really NOT a third baseman and having been signed to play second base for Washington, is returning to his old home…  Kevin Kouzmanoff arrives from San Diego to play for the As, and Eric Chavez could always come back from injuries to play for a month at some point in the season.  Kouz is NOT a step up from what Kennedy did overall – and if we ranked him using the numbers he put up in San Diego, would rank in this exact same spot anyway.

Mike Lowell (BOS):  His hip injuries have become problematic, but he’s more productive than most.  Last year’s fielding numbers were below average and his offensive numbers weren’t great but still above the league norm.  Somebody is going to give him 400 at bats and he’s not going to be a problem.  I still predict that he’ll join the Marlins radio booth in a few years…  (69.7 Runs Created, -4.2 Runs Saved = 65.51 Total Run Production)

Gordon Beckham (CWS):  Actually, not a bad tally for a rookie and if he were staying at third, I’d like his chances to move into the top five in this group next year.  Instead, the White Sox are moving Beckham to second base and giving his job to Mark Teahen – which isn’t a great idea (I’d rather have kept Beckham at third and signed Orlando Hudson), and it might take a while for the new infield to gel.  Beckham’s OBP and SLG numbers were solid.  I like him.  (60.5 Runs Created, 4.2 Runs Saved = 64.67 Total Run Production)

Michael Young (TEX):  Newly found power source gave Young perhaps his best offensive season ever.  However, he looked out of position at third after years as a shortstop and his overall production numbers dropped him to eleventh.  Hopefully he can maintain the offense and improve his range in 2010.  (102.8 Runs Created, -39.0 Runs Saved = 63.83 Total Run Production)

Scott Rolen (TOR):  Had a remarkably productive run for Toronto, hitting .320 with a little power.  He was so good, Toronto sent him to Cincinnati…  Like Lowell, you wonder how many years he has left, but if he can hit like this, he’s got plenty.  Glove is no longer a strong suit.  Edwin Encarnacion may not have this job for long unless he finds some stability and to be honest, this is a step down for Toronto.  (63.2 Runs Created, -5.6 Runs Saved = 57.61 Total Run Production).

Joe Crede (MIN):  The best of what Minnesota threw out there (Brendan Harris, Matt Tolbert, Brian Buscher, Nick Punto), Crede isn’t horrible but he isn’t dependably healthy either.  Minnesota will go in a different direction, but it’s hard to say what that direction will be.  As of this writing, Harris is listed at the top of the depth chart but he is NOT a third baseman.  (38.2 Runs Created, 6.8 Runs Saved = 45.01 Total Run Production)

Mark Teahen (KC):  Alex Gordon will get his old job back, but it’s not like Gordon has been as advertised since arriving with the Royals three years ago.  Teahen struggled mightily in the field for some reason – he’s usually pretty dependable.  Now, he’s a White Sox third baseman, and that may not be a good thing.  We’ll see.  (67.4 Runs Created, -23.9 Runs Saved = 43.53 Total Run Production)

Beltre in Boston; Blyleven and Ballots – and Ken Rudolph Called…

Adrian Beltre gets one year to convince somebody that he’s still capable of being an impact player, signing a one-year, $10 million deal to man the hot corner for Boston.

I actually discussed this when the Mariners signed Chone Figgins…  Beltre remains a productive third baseman because his defense remains solid.  Last year, Figgins was a better offensive player, but the difference in terms of plays made per 800 balls in play makes them a wash despite the fact that Beltre missed about a third of the season.  In previous years, there’s no way I would have taken Figgins over Beltre.  So, if Beltre can stay healthy and bounce back a little with the bat, he’s going to help out.

This also means that Mike Lowell will likely STILL get traded once his thumb surgery heals and he can pass a physical.  [MLB]

Rockies add Olivo…

Miguel Olivo signed a one year, $2.5 million contract with Colorado where he will share catching duties with Chris Ianetta.  Olivo COULD become a late round fantasy sleeper – he has power (though he’s not a high average hitter) and is durable and if he gets a hot streak going in April, he might get the bulk of the playing time.  He’s active around the plate – if slightly error prone – and he’s now logging a lot of mileage changing teams… [ESPN]

Bucs Bring in Pitchers…

The Pittsburgh Pirates took low level chances on a couple of good arms hoping for another chance at making the big leagues…  Neal Cotts (former Cub and ChiSox pitcher), Tyler Yates (former Brave and Pirate), and Brian Burres (former Oriole and Blue Jay) all signed minor league deals.  Cotts and Yates are coming off of elbow reconstructive surgery (both happened in July).  If nothing else, this gives the Pirates some organizational depth they can test at AA or AAA and, if needed, can move into the bullpen later in the season.  [ESPN]

Taking Sides…

SI’s Jon Heyman explains his Hall of Fame vote – and why he didn’t vote for Bert Blyleven, saying that counting stats aren’t enough.

ESPN’s Jim Caple argues that Blyleven’s case for the Hall of Fame rests in a long career of top level performance and statistically significant contributions.

Personally, I’m pulling for Tim Raines.

Happy Birthday!

A lot of famous Chicago guys, including Bob Dernier (1957) and Ron Kittle (1958)  lead the birthday list.  Here’s a more complete list:

Bob Carruthers (1864), Byron Bancroft (Ban) Johnson (1864), Bill Dahlen (1870), Art Fletcher (1885), Benny Kauff (1890), Riggs Stephenson (1898), Luke Sewell (1901), Earl Battey (1935), Charlie Hough (1948), Jim Gantner (1953), Milt Thompson (1959), Henry Cotto (1961), John Russell (1961), Danny Jackson (1962), Jeff Fassero (1963), Juan Nieves (1965), Chris Nabholz (1967), Mark Redman (1974), and the Minor Twins – Damon and Ryan (1974).  I saw Ryan Minor play college ball when he was with Oklahoma and rooted for him, even though he never really made it work.

Ken Rudolph Called…

I’ll go a little further than this in a future post, but the other day was Ken Rudolph’s birthday.  Rudolph was a member of the first MLB draft in 1965 – getting picked in the second round by the Cubs, and one of seven catchers (like Ray Fosse) taken ahead of Johnny Bench in that draft…  Anyway – Rudolph made the Cubs and was Randy Hundley’s backup for about five or six years in Chicago before becoming a bit of a MLB nomad and later coach.

So, I decided to see if I could find Ken Rudolph online.  A quick Google search found a YouTube video of Ken discussing (among other topics) steroid usage and mentioning that he coaches kids.  So, I did another Google search but adding “high school” to the search terms and sure enough I found him.  He’s coaching high school ball in the Phoenix area.  Getting his email address, I shot him a happy birthday note and asked if I could talk to him about coaching kids and topics related to that.  Well, yesterday he called me at the office and we chatted for fifteen minutes about various baseball topics.

I’ll have the article written (and published locally here in South Florida) shortly – but I wanted to take a second to thank Coach Rudolph for calling me back and giving me a few minutes of his time.  It certainly made my day!

Of course, and this is the odd part, I chuckled at myself – I had to call dad to tell him (my dad, Kenneth, and my stepmother, Carol, are both Cubs fans) and for a half hour or so, I felt like a ten-year-old kid.  I mean – I’ve published a book about baseball, and as a reporter I covered Bob Dole and a governor’s race in Kansas, chased any number of coaches and athletes and I STILL get the same butterflies.  As goofy as this sounds, I hope that feeling never goes away.

Mariners, Cubs Exchange Headaches…

On the heels of an all-star season, the Cubs signed Milton Bradley to a three-year deal – GM Jim Hendry knowing that it could implode as quickly as I eat a bag of M&Ms.  After three good seasons in four – not great, but good – the Mariners gave $48 million to Carlos Silva hoping he would eat as many innings as I eat M&Ms as a member of the Seattle rotation.

Neither idea worked out.  Bradley’s performance slipped and his attitude sunk, eventually blaming fans and the media and the Cubs of a variety of things including a bad atmosphere, racism, and the ghost of Mike Royko.  Silva won all of five games, losing nearly twenty, served up more hits than Motown, and and made Mariners fans long for the days of Mike Moore.

Sometimes a change of scenery (and cash) makes things better.  So, now Carlos Silva is a member of the Cubs and Milton Bradley is a Mariner.

Look – this can work for the Mariners if Bradley chooses to play and enjoy his last chance (this is, what, his eighth team in nine major league seasons?).  He can hit – he can still run a little, but his fielding isn’t what you’d like it to be.  I mean, Bradley is a better hitter than Silva is a pitcher.  Bradley has a little power, is patient (at least at the plate), and can hit for a nice average.

Silva, however, is a big time question mark.  He throws strikes and he throws a hard sinker.  I watched his last few outings in 2009 after he came back from a shoulder injury and it seemed to me that he was leaving his pitches up – way up – and that’s going to lead to a lot of homers.  Shouldn’t a guy who throws a hard sinker be getting burrowing grounders all day?  At best, he’s a spot starter and long reliever for the Cubs – assuming he really is healthy.

Anyway – two of the worst free agent signings of the last few years are going to get a second (eighth?) chance.  Good luck to both of them.

Meanwhile, the Mariners resigned outfielder Ryan Langerhans to a one-year, $525K deal…  I wonder how much playing time he’ll get with Bradley on the roster?  If he’s ever going to break out, this would be the right season.

Glad to Have You Around!

The Phillies picked up the 2011 option year for Jimmy Rollins, keeping their gold glove shortstop around at least two more seasons.  Rollins will make $7.5 million in 2010, and $8.5 million in 2011.  [ESPN]

Scott Rolen agreed to defer $5 million (as a signing bonus) of what would have been the last year of his contract in 2009 in exchange for two additional years at $6.5 million guaranteed.  The Reds had hoped to work with Rolen because (a) they wanted more financial flexibility in 2010 and (b) they liked having Rolen on the team.  [ESPN]

I Guess We’re Stuck With You:

Mike Lowell’s injured thumb will require surgery.  This means that the trade between the Red Sox and Rangers, which would have sent Mike Lowell and enough cash to cover 75% of his salary to Texas for catching prospect Max Ramirez, is now over.  At least until Spring Training…  [MLB]

Happy Birthday!

One of the great lists of birthdays in terms of interesting people and legends of baseball so rather than point out one person who stands above the rest, I’ll just go with the list…

Harry Stovey (1856), Jimmy Williams (1876)…  Jimmy Williams was Rube Waddell’s teammate three different times, so I have a pretty good grasp of his career.  When he first started, he was a pretty good hitting third baseman.  When the league changed the foul/strike rule his batting average fell some, but he was still okay for most of the first decade of the last century.  He famously struggled in the 1900 postseason with a ton of throwing errors (something he struggled with his first two years in Pittsburgh), which hastened his move from third base to second base.  Williams was the first Pirate stolen in the NL/AL wars when the AL first got started, signing with Baltimore (who became the Yankees) and helped immensely when they made their surprise run in the 1904 season.  He eventually moved to St. Louis where he helped the Browns in the 1908 pennant race.  When he couldn’t hit AL pitching, Williams played successfully in the American Association where he was a star for the Minneapolis Millers…

Continuing…  Branch Rickey (1881), Fred Merkle (1888), Gabby Hartnett (1900), Spud Davis (1904), Julio Becquet (1931), Oscar Gamble and Cecil Cooper (1949), Jose DeLeon (1960), Aubrey Huff (1976),  David DeJesus (1979), and David Wright (1982).  I mean – that’s a lot of major league talent and historical people…

Afterthoughts…

Turns out that Sammy Sosa won’t be sued after all – a judge threw out a case brought against Sosa by a business associate for insufficient evidence.  [ESPN]

A Weekend of Wheeling and Dealing…

After a weekend of work and play, it’s time to see what all happened while we went Christmas and Hanukkah shopping…

Who Signed?

Rafael Soriano was signed to a $7 million contract – and then traded by the Braves to Tampa for reliever Jesse Chavez.  Soriano immediately upgrades the closer role in Tampa, a problem all of 2009.  [FanHouse/SI]

Houston inked reliever Brandon Lyon to a three year, $15 million deal.  Lyon isn’t bad – he’s dependable, but is he really better than Grant Balfour?  $3 million better for the next three years?  (See his deal below.)  [SI]

The new third baseman in Houston is former Phillie Pedro Feliz – one year, $4.5 million.  [SI]

Scott Olsen got an incentive-filled deal with the Nationals – coming off a disappointing season and shoulder surgery.  [ESPN]

Jason Kendall – who looked like he aged four years at the plate last year – signed a two year deal with the Royals.  (See John Buck, below.)  By the way – Miguel Olivo might not return.  The Royals confuse me.  [SI]

Meanwhile, the Royals signed Brian Bannister and Kyle Davies to one-year deals.  [SI]

The Royals non-tendered catcher John Buck, but he signed with Toronto for $2 million pending a physical.  [ESPN]

Two years ago, he was a closer – now, J.J. Putz is an eighth inning guy in Chicago for one year at $3 million.  There are a lot of incentives, too.  [SI]

Kevin Correia will stay in San Diego, signing a one-year, $3.6 million deal.  [ESPN]

Arizona signed Augie Ojeda and Blaine Boyer to one-year deals.  [SI]

The Braves signed outfielder Matt Diaz for one year at $2.55 million. [ESPN]

Grant Balfour signed with Tampa – one year, $2.05 million.  [SI]

Milwaukee gets one more year with Craig Counsell – who remains a valuable utility player at 39.  [MLB]

Esteban German remains in Texas for 2010.  [MLB]

The Cubs tendered offers to eight players, (Jeff Baker, Mike Fontenot, Koyie Hill, Ryan Theriot, Tom Gorzelanny, Angel Guzman, Carlos Marmol and Sean Marshall) with Neil Cotts likely heading to arbitration.  [MLB]

The Dodgers tendered offers to nine players (go read the article), including Chad Billingsley, Andre Ethier, Jonathan Broxton and Russell Martin.  Everybody gets a raise in LA!!!  [MLB]

Who Got Let Go…

The Braves non-tendered outfielder Ryan Church and second baseman Kelly Johnson.  [MLB]

Boston non-tendered outfielder Brian Anderson.

The Mets non-tendered four players, including pitchers Tim Redding and Lance Broadway, as well as outfielders Cory Sullivan and Jeremy Reed.  [ESPN]

Despite hitting 20 homers in little more than a half season, Johnny Gomes was non-tendered by the Reds.  He might still sign somewhere, but let’s face it – he’s a DH.  [ESPN]

Chien-Ming Wang is a free agent, and apparently disappointed that the Yankees didn’t stay with him…  Since injuring his ankle running the bases, Wang has REALLY struggled. [ESPN]

Matt Capps, closer for Pittsburgh, was caught off guard – he was non-tendered by the Pirates.  [MLB]

Jose Arredondo, about to have surgery, will not have an Angels contract for 2010.  [MLB]

Jack Cust (Oakland), Ryan Garko (San Francisco), Mike MacDougal (Washington), D.J. Carrasco (Chi Sox), Clay Condrey (Philadelphia), Alfredo Amezaga (Florida) join a LONG list of free agents.

Here’s a good summary of who is now available…  [SI]

For a complete list of transactions, you can always go here…  [MLB]

What’s the Hold Up?

Jason Bay may not return to Boston – the hold up appears to be the duration of the contract.  Bay wants five years; Boston is offering four.  [ESPN]

Mike Lowell’s injured thumb is stalling an agreement between Texas and Boston.  Boston would (a) get catcher Max Ramirez – a good prospect and (b) pretty much pay for Lowell to play in Texas where he would play first, DH, and backup Michael Young at third base.  [ESPN]

The Cards made a pitch to Matt Holliday and hope to have an answer this week.  [FoxSports]

Happy Birthday!

One of the more famous names in baseball history, Bill Buckner, turns 60.  Billy Buck was a hustler – played through injuries, used to complain about every called strike or close play at first base.  He was unfortunately humbled by that error in the 1986 World Series and his career degenerated quickly after that – though he was showing signs of age at the time.  He had a lot of hits – 2715 of them – and used to be fast.  Something tells me that he’s probably mellowed a lot over the last 20 years…  I’d love to buy him lunch.  Happy Birthday, Billy.

Others celebrating with cake, cards, or remembrances include: Honest John Anderson (1872), Maurice “The Comet” Archdeacon (1897), Toothpick Sam Jones (1925), Ken Hunt (1938), Ken Hill and future Hall of Famer Craig Biggio (1965) – I loved Biggio who was an amazingly versatile athlete, Dave Nilsson and Scott Hatteberg (1969), Angel Guzman (1981), and Josh Fields (1982).

Afterthoughts…

Peter Gammons thanks everyone for the memories at ESPN.

Trade Analysis: Marlins Go Fishing; Hook Nick Johnson for Prospect

I’ve lived in South Florida since 1999, and while we have had our share of selling – giving away established players for prospects – we occasionally do make a run for players.  Sometimes we have gone overboard – like in 1997 – and other times we do a subtle move here or there to finish the product (2003).  In 2009, the Marlins decided they wanted someone with on base skills to replace Emilio Bonafacio – fast but not a leadoff hitter – and found one in Washington: Nick Johnson.

Florida Gets:  One of the hidden gems when he’s healthy, Nick Johnson is a tolerable first baseman and left fielder, but his best skill is working the count for hits and walks.  Johnson has a .399 OBP in his career which started more than a decade ago with the Yankees.  Johnson isn’t going to make the Marlins infield more airtight – and moving Jorge Cantu back to third isn’t an improvement over the mobile Bonafacio – but he is going to help score runs.  The Marlins offense is already potent – not Boston on Steroids potent, but capable of routing people.

Washington Gets:  Well – Nick Johnson wasn’t staying around anyway – he’s a free agent after the season.  Aaron Thompson is a former Marlins #1 pick (2005) who has some control, but seems to be hittable and despite that #1 tag hasn’t moved that quickly through the system.  Thompson may make the Nationals in a year or so, but he isn’t going to make a splash.  Maybe he can become a middle reliever and stick around a while.

Winner:  Marlins, who seem to win on all these deals.  I know Josh Beckett and Lowell for Hanley Ramirez is probably a wash, but Hanley is all that.  If Anibel Sanchez ever comes back to where he was three years ago (not likely, if you ask me), the Marlins would have won that deal, too.