Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Is Colon Signing Rational?

In a nut shell...Yes! But...

Something is not right with Bartolo. Between 1998 and 2005 he pitched in a minimum of 30 games and could be counted on for a solid 15 wins. In fact, he was the second winning-est pitcher in that span topping out with 21 wins and a coveted Cy Young award in 2005. Think about that - 2005! That is not long ago. In 2006 he had some shoulder issues, and last year had some elbow issues. You'll hear that towards the end of last year he was looking pretty good in September. The next thing you know, the Sox seemingly pick him up off the scrap heap for a bare bones minor league deal just two years after winning a Cy Young award?

So, the Angels tossed him aside for nothing, and no other team offers him anything better than a minor league deal? Yes, something is wrong. I do not recall Colon having undergone surgery within the last two years, so here are some possibilities...

1) He has structural damage to either the shoulder or elbow, or both, and won't regain his old form for any extended period of time without surgery.

2) Age and being overweight and not in great shape have caught up to him a little sooner than most, and his best days are simply in the past.

3) He has checked out mentally and no longer has the drive to get it done.

4) (I hate it that we have to consider this these days) I suppose there is a possibility he had been enjoying the benefits of some sort of performance enhancing drugs and had to stop using them due to newly imposed testing procedures and can no longer perform at a top level without them. Hopefully that is not the case, and I'm not implying it is, but worth a thought.

The thing that gets me is if Colon was simply working through a moderate injury last year and that's all, he would not have been let go with no other team interested! Something is wrong, and baseball people know it and are not interested.

But, since the Sox only signed him to a minor league deal, they are taking on a potentially helpful pitcher for very low money ($18,000 per month while he's in the minors and if he's called up he'll get $1.2 million pro-rated over whatever is left of the season at that point). so, it was not a bad idea for Theo to pick him up, and he may prove to be helpful at some point.

I just can't imagine how every other team passed him by if he's got anything left in the tank at all. My guess is that he'll be mediocre at best, and may fill in as a starter, although not with consistent effectiveness. If he somehow is able to pull it together and pitch well, Theo will have made the steal of the year. It is just hard to imagine.

Friday, February 22, 2008

A Rational Look at Center Field

This is actually a tricky subject. We have a very talented 28 year old veteran gold glove caliber center fielder in Coco Crisp. But, we also have Jacoby Ellsbury - a terrific looking 24 year old rookie center fielder who played a key part in winning the World Series last year. What do irrational fans scream about this? Well, they scream about the last thing that happened of course. The last thing that happened is that we saw Coco having some struggles at the plate, but playing some tremendous outfield. When he got banged up, Jacoby Ellsbury went in and lit a spark under the team. He hit, he ran, he fielded, he looked great. So, the irrational fan says, "Dump that bum Coco Crisp. Put that amazing kid Ellsbury in there!".

So, what does a rational fan think? I think we are in great shape. From where I sat, Coco Crisp deserved to win a gold glove last year, and he saved quite a number of hits, and runs, with some amazing defense. I would expect we'd see a repeat of that great defense this year too. His defensive weakness is a mediocre throwing arm. But, if you make the catch, you may not need the throw! His arm is average, but that won't cost the Sox too much. On the base paths Crisp is a stolen base threat who can be counted on for about 20 or more thefts per year. But, at the plate, we should not expect too much. He hit .300 once with the Indians, and you probably should not expect him to be more than a .285 hitter on average. That said, he did hit below .285 the past 2 seasons. He is not a real power hitter, but managed to hit 15 and 16 HR's in his last two seasons with Cleveland. That is probably his upper end. So, where does that leave us? Well, he would be a very valuable center fielder on any team. You want him in there for solid defense, which is critical. Offensively, you might want to bat him leadoff to take advantage of his speed, but his on base percentage doesn't look like a leadoff hitter's. So, you'll probably use him toward the bottom of the order unless he's on a hot streak, but keep in mind there is value in his being a switch hitter too.

What about Ellsbury? I loved watching him last year. Young, fast and fearless are three words that come to mind. He is just as fast, if not a step faster, than Coco. He showed he can steal bases, and will only get better at that with good coaching. He looked good in the outfield, but I have to be honest, he is not as good as Coco yet. He has speed, which gives him the range Coco has, but last summer you could see Coco's glove was more of a vacuum - the ball just stuck better on diving and reaching plays. This is a small difference, but the biggest difference was playing fly balls that scrape or hit low off the wall. Jacoby missed at least 3 balls off the wall last summer that Crisp would have reeled in. I honestly think this is just a matter of practice and coaching, but Jacoby was very hesitant going up the wall for a fly and did not judge it well.

Offensively, he looks intriguing. He is still young, and I think he's still feeling his way around to a final batting stroke. Right now he's primarily focused on reading the pitch and getting the bat on it any way he can. He has a nice level swing to maximize the opportunity for contact, but it gives him a tendency towards being a slap hitter - ala Ichiro or Johnny Damon. Nothing wrong with that! As a speedy left handed batter, he (like Ichiro and Damon) will be able to fight off tough pitchers by just getting a piece of the ball and beating out the throw. Then, he can create havoc on the bases. He's strong enough to hit for power on occassion, but won't pull out that swing unless he sees a meatball coming. Probably good for 10-15 HR's a year. Hard to tell how he'll compare to Crisp yet - there's simply not enough evidence - but I think he has a terrific upside and lots of potential.

Okay, enough of all that. Who plays center field this year?

The answer... Too early to tell. Francona is saying the right things. Crisp is the incumbent. He is, at the moment, the Red Sox center fielder. If the season started today, it would be Crisp in center. If Crisp struggles (like Duston Pedroia did for a spell last spring) Francona can always give him a rest with Jacoby going to center. If Jacoby is hot, he may stay until he cools off. Crisp, like last year, would realize that was the best thing for the team. But, the season does not start today. The Sox coaching staff will follow this closely. The player who looks the best to them will get the nod by the end of Spring Training. A tie will go to Coco.

Coco has indicated he wants to start, he wants to play. So do all players. He says he'd rather start for another team than sit on the bench for the Sox. I can't blame him for that. He's only been here 2 seasons. He is not a lifetime Sox guy (yet). He's also at the age where he needs to play or get rusty and settle to finish the rest of his career as a bench player.

Theo Epstein should be thinking about this for only one reason. If Jacoby truly stands out in Spring Training, and the Sox are willing to hand the job to him, it would be a smart strategy to leverage Coco in a trade to help fill other needs, keep Coco happy, and retain a happy locker room. But that is putting the cart before the horse right now. Remember how we always worry about having too many starting pitchers, and then find ourselves short on pitching due to injuries? Same thing can go for outfield. Right now, we have a terrific groups of outfielders. Let them play themselves into or out of a starting role, and take it from there.

Besides, if JD drew got injured or was simply having another bad year (which I do not expect), how would we like to see Manny in left, Coco in center, and Ellsbury in right?

So, this one is not worth the stress right now, and it won't be for a while. Odds are, unless Theo sees a trade out there that involves Coco that he can't refuse, we'll open the season with Crisp in center, and Jacoby on the roster ready to fill in. Jacoby will get plenty of playing time giving guys a rest, filling in for an injury, spelling guys who are in a slump, and pinch running. But, once he gets in, we may find he sticks there!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Rational Take on Steroids

With the recent media circus surrounding the Mitchell report, and more recently, Roger Clemens' visit with Congress, it might be time to take a rational look at the subject of Performance Enhancing Drugs (PED's). It is a tough subject, but in truth, it is being typically blown beyond proportion in the media. Ever since there was truly something at stake (money, reputation, fame) athletes have worked hard to gain a competitive advantage. The greater the value of what is at stake, the greater the effort put in. This typically takes the form of hard training, exercise routines, stretching, diet, innovative strategies, etc. But, how do you get an edge? Any way you can. Remember Sylvester Stallone in Rocky? His edge was unusual down to earth workouts - punching butchered steers, running stairs in downtown Philly, working out in remote Russian farms, etc. His opponent in Rocky 4 went high tech - computerized analysis of intense workouts. An edge over what Stallone was doing.

Okay, that's all fine, but what about steriods? Well, the technology of physical fitness has dramatically increased over the last few decades. Gatorade was introduced. Power bars. Stop by any health store and look at the array of powders and mixes to add muscle, reduce fat, extend workouts, increase energy, etc. All designed to get an edge. Steroids and PED's are out there too.

Steroids were made notable initially in the world of weight lifting and body building. Professional football picked up on it as well. The problem is, these are powerful drugs that require careful medical monitoring to be fully safe. Using them any other way is illegal as a result. What they do is allow the muscles to quickly repair themselves following an intense workout. This allows the athlete to build up muscle quicker, and work out harder and more often - all drug enhanced.

So, how does this all apply to baseball? The Jose Canseco era Oakland A's really brought steroids into prime time. Never before had baseball seen such huge, chiseled players. The result? Home run city, and a few world championships. The big problem is, according to MLB, it was NOT against the rules. It was against the law to use without a prescription under a doctor's supervision. It was also clearly "cheating" from an ethical perspective. Body building, the NFL, and the Olympic Committee had all previously denounced steroids, so we all knew using steroids was going too far. It was unnaturally taking the body beyond where it would normally go, and most players would avoid it - thus providing an even playing field for those who were brave enough to partake.

The real crime is that MLB opted to overlook the obvious indiscretion because they liked the results. Jose Canseco and Mark Macguire set a terrible trap. Their success was praised nationwide. Players like Barry Bonds were frustrated. Barry is a much better player than these guys, but they were getting all the fame and glory. And, while it was outside of good sense and ethics, it was within the rules of the company they worked for. So, Barry could not help himself. To prove he was better than the rest of them, he needed to compete on a level playing field with them - and according to MLB, he was NOT cheating. Roger Clemens? It seems he was indeed beginning to slow down with age, as we all do. Again, imagine being offered a drink from the fountain of youth - get back that strength and ability - just take a few simple shots? How can you turn that down, especially when it does NOT break the rules of MLB?

MLB allowed it to happen, they allowed it to go on, and players that were daring enough, and driven enough took advantage. Now, there is a lynch mob mentality to round up these players. What enrages the fans the most is when they out and out lie about it. Who is coming out on top? The ones who tell the truth. Jason Giambi was first. Now, Andy Pettitte (for HGH). These players cause fans to shake their heads, boo the player to show our disapproval for their decisions, and then move on. Jason is now just another player. Yes, we know some of his past performance was chemically enhanced, but we're okay moving forward. Same with Pettitte. He made a bad decision, confessed, and moved on. Do you remember Gary Sheffield roomed with Bonds and admitted to using the Cream? I did not think so - we've moved past that.

It seems all too clear that players like Bonds and Clemens had their hand in the cookie jar too. No different than Macguire, Giambi, Pettitte, and a host of others. But to point their fingers at us while vowing how they are innocent is a direct insult, and fans the flames of anger, and helping blow it all out of proportion. Bonds and Clemens had the audacity to do something none of these others players did - they broke all time records and became historic icons in baseball lore. We want to praise their accomplishments at ending up at the very top of baseball history, but now we cannot embrace that. Their feats are tainted. Had MLB stepped in a decade ago and put a stop to it, we would not be here today. But here we are.

So, now what? As a baseball fan, we move on. We have moved past the Black Sox scandal, racial segregation, Pete Rose's gambling scandal, player strikes, spit balls, corked bats, stolen signs, sliding into second base with cleats raised to inflict injury, lowering the pitching mound, the introduction of the designated hitter, etc. Now, we need to simply recognize, as FANS, not as ownership, that this has happened and it is getting under control.

We need to begin to trust that this year's players are reasonably clean. We need to admit that some of the feats accomplished over the past decade are steroid enhanced, and let it go. The players were not breaking MLB rules, and they got away with pushing the envelope. We look back and hate they did it, but we also enjoyed it while it was going on. They set records the way no one could in the past, and it is now part of history. We don't need to like it, but we do need to move past it.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Oldie - but worth looking at

This is a reflection I wrote as we headed into Spring Training 2005. The Sox had just won it all, and a new season was beginning...

A New Beginning

Hey Red Sox fans, can you feel it? Something is different in the air, something different indeed. Of course, we are about to enter another fresh new baseball season, full of hope and excitement. Yet, that’s not it, not really. We spent our winter months, as always, scanning the news for trade rumors and debating the merits of honest to goodness trades. We went through spells where we were emotional fans and prayed that our favorite players would be back for another year. We cheered when they re-signed (thank you Jason!), and cursed when they left (why Pedro, why?). We spent hours in Theo Epstein’s shoes identifying our weakest areas and strategizing ways to get stronger. We can now admit that some of the trades we concocted were far fetched, and that is why we ultimately leave the job to Theo. We watch spring training and keep an eye on those players recovering from injuries, the young kids fighting for a roster spot, and the returning stars to see if they look ready. This is all as it has always been, and yet something has indeed changed this year - enough so that you can feel it, like a subtle change in the weather when, even though there are no obvious signs, you turn and say to a companion that “it feels like it is about to snow”.

In the end, it is no wonder the new strange thing is so elusive. The difference is not that anything new has been added, but that something old and persistent is no longer there. That something is a question - a simple, short, question. A question that has grown old with us and had become part of our standard vernacular, like saying “nothing” whenever anyone asks “what’s up?”, or “fine” whenever anyone asks how you are. You never really notice it, but it is always there…until this year. For nostalgia sake, let’s look at "the question" one last time. The question is “so, do you think this will be the year?”. Ah yes, that was the question and the question had a life of its own. It shaped who we were, what we believed, and how we reacted to every little aspect, every little nuance of our beloved Red Sox.

The question was much, much larger than the few words on paper. It was a deep question. Asking it showed hope and desire to see the Red Sox win a championship. But, being a question, it implied doubt and uncertainty. The way it was phrased was focused on “the year”, not “another year”, not a repeat performance, but one single year of success. In that, the question demonstrated that there had not been a year, a year the asker is waiting for, in a very long time. It implied doubt as to the ability of this year’s team to be the one to finally deliver, but at the same instant, implied that there was some hope it could be “the team”. And beneath the question, there were so many other questions that tried to make sense of how this team could come so close, so very close, so many times, and yet never be able to, even accidentally, reach the ultimate goal. Each time they came within reach, and lost, the question got heavier and heavier.

That question is gone now. That is what is new. The question was heavy; it weighed on us like a wet backpack on a two day hike. That backpack is no longer there, and that is what we feel. The weight is lifted. Sure, we want another championship, and sure we want to end a season in first place, above the dreaded Yankees. But we are no longer wondering why we can only come close and not reach that ever elusive goal. The 2004 Boston Red Sox were our long awaited saviors. They exorcised the question in dramatic fashion. They freed us to become honest to goodness baseball fans, and allowed us to shed that painful desperation. We can see the games clearly now. We can truly say, and believe, that it is a long season and there is time. We can forgive the occasional error, bad decision, and off day. In the past, every mistake, even the small ones in early April, were sure signs that fate had it in for us again. Last year, hopefully, taught us that mistakes will happen. Winning streaks will be offset by losing streaks, home runs by strikeouts, stunning defense plays by sloppy errors. Hopefully we saw that, in the end, it is the drive, determination and teamwork that really count. Now, we can watch our beloved team, cheer them on, give them encouragement, and really enjoy the games. But this time, without the dread in our hearts. We have won a championship, and this is a new era, one where we no longer wonder if a championship is possible. To preserve that memory, nearly every fan in all of New England has had a chance to pose with the Championship Trophy to prove it happened and that each of us was there. Now we can start of this new and exciting season with a whole new attitude. Red Sox fans embark on the 2005 season, for the first time in generations, no longer in fear of losing, but rather with determination and hope for winning. Isn’t this what we have all been waiting for?


This blog will be a work in progress for a little while. While baseball goes through Spring Training, so will this blog - and hopefully both will be ready for the regular season. But, as an introduction, and to get a foundation going...

I grew up in New England (RI and MA) and have been a Red Sox fan since roughly 1970. I follow the season closely, and I attend about a dozen Red Sox games a year. In addition to being a fan, I (until recent retirement) have been a baseball player for many years, solely at the amature level. In addition to playing as a kid, I also played as an adult for three seasons in Australia, followed by nine seasons in the Boston area. In Australia I was a starting shortstop, and in the U.S. I was a starting outfielder and second baseman. I retired because my body literally began giving out due to old age and wear and tear. The first sign was a severed rotator cuff, and it went down hill from there.

So, that gives a little background on my perspective. I love the sport, am an avid fan, and love to play the game. As a fan, I love to follow the game. In doing so I leverage my perspective as a former player which helps me see the game for what it really is. I also take the perspective of a passionate and LOYAL fan and teammate. So, I tend to see the game from a more logical, rational perspective than we are inundated with from the media. The media hype can sure be entertaining, but it can get people obsessed about meaningless tidbits and become too obsessed with non-important issues.

What I want to do here, is share my insights and perspective. We'll try to get through the hype and hysteria, remain loyal and supportive, and see the game for what it really is. When your team loses, it is not an attempt to ruin your day (although it might). When a player struggles, he is still on your side (ex: JD Drew - 2007) and fighting for us. The only thing you can be certain of is that baseball is a roller coaster of a ride. Some days a player can't do anything wrong. Every pitch looks like a soft toss, every throw is on the mark, and every instinct just clicks. But, the very next day, he might go 0 for 5 with 2 errors. That's just the way it is. A tremendous batter fails 65% of the time. Failure is integral to the game. The players know and truly accept that. Most fans know that, but have a hard time truly accepting that.

Well, Sox fans have had a lot to be happy this century. Ever competitive teams, regular playoff appearances, exciting players, tremendous fan interest, all topped off with 2 dominating World Series Championships. As we get into Spring Training, let's start getting warmed up to the team and follow along. Should be an exciting year.

We have not had much off season activity, so what catches my interest heading into Spring Training? Honestly? Youth. That will be an initial focus - how is the tremendous farm system coming along - and how will that complement and add to a Championship team?

Are you ready?