Kurt Vonnegut once wrote, “Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are ‘it might have been.'”
It’s truly heartbreaking to imagine what “might have been” had the 2011 Red Sox not suffered their historic collapse. Fans and reporters alike anointed the Red Sox as World Series champions before pitchers and catchers even reported. It wasn’t a positive attitude that permeated spring training last season. It was assumption. This led to the insidious sense of entitlement that plagued the players, fans, and media.
After the overwhelming success the Red Sox had this past decade–two championships in four years–fans and media started to expect championships. Everyone has expectations, but it is the attitude that fans, players, and media have toward these expectations that can affect on-the-field performance.
There is no doubt that Epstein assembled an exceptional team. But I think things started to go wrong when people started to prematurely compare them to the 1927 Yankees before a game had even been played. People forgot that baseball is not played on paper. The 2011 Red Sox suffered from entitlement issues.
The collapse was slow and painful. After an less-than-thrilling April that inspired doubt, the Red Sox turned around and had an incredible summer. I spent many summer nights watching Adrian Gonzalez litter opposite-field doubles; I watched Josh Beckett have his typical odd-year success (including a one-hitter), and I watched Jacoby Ellsbury earn himself second place in the American League MVP race. It was almost too good to be true. When the Red Sox started to struggle in September, I tried not to get too concerned because they always stumble a bit in September. I wasn’t as confident that they’d win the World Series without cornerstone players such as Clay Buchholz and Kevin Youkilis. I was 100% confident they would make the playoffs though.
September 28th, 2011 is a day that will live on in infamy. It was like watching an Aristotelian tragedy, but I doubt that Aristotle himself could write something of this magnitude. I thought I was still bitter about Vladmir Guerrero ending the Red Sox’s 2009 campaign, but I will never, ever be able to erase Robert Andino’s fly ball that should have been caught by Carl Crawford. But I was still confident that the Yankees wouldn’t blow a seven run lead to the Rays.
I still maintain my conspiracy theory that the Yankees blew their seven-run lead on purpose. You don’t just leave a fastball up in the zone to Evan Longoria. I try to be objective as a fan who hopes to be a sports writer, but that was the day I lost my objectivity. I cried. It was an awful combination of disbelief, shame, and shock.
As much as I have always thought that Terry Francona is overrated as a manager, I will not assign the blame to him. I don’t think he managed his pitching staff well (you and I both know that he always leaves pitchers in too long), and I think he plays favorites. Maybe I just love national league baseball, but there are so many times where a bunt would have been effective. And there is no excuse for Jacoby Ellsbury only having 39 steals when he had a career high on-base percentage. (Obviously Crawford should be mentioned when it comes to base stealing, but he had a career low on-base percentage).
I will also not assign blame to Theo Epstein. I know he has made some mistakes with free agents (see: Julio Lugo, Daisuke Matsuzaka, John Lackey, Bobby Jenks, no Carl Crawford is not on this list), but those signings were made with good intentions. Julio Lugo terrorized the Red Sox when he was with the Tampa Bay Rays, John Lackey was dominant in the AL West, and Daisuke Matsuzaka had the same amount of hype as Yu Darvish had this year. I guess the road to hell really is paved with good intentions.This is why I hate long-term contracts though. I don’t know why, but I feel like I’m the only person in favor of incentive laden contracts. It’s risky to base a contract on the past, no matter how consistent the numbers are. Would incentive-based contracts really be that radical? If a player performs as he has been, he’ll get the money he wants. But it’s not fair to pay guys like John Lackey ridiculous amounts of money if he’s not performing the way he did in the past (which is why he earned the contract in the first place). I digress.
I will, however, shamelessly assign blame to the pitching staff. There is no denying that everything went wrong at once. But the beer and chicken incidents that surfaced exemplify the entitlement issues that I talked about earlier. As unacceptable as it was, one has to wonder if the same reprimanding reaction would have occurred had the Red Sox advanced in the playoffs.
Josh Beckett can argue all he wants that the 2004 champions drank whiskey in the dugout. We have to assign context to these situations, though. Kevin Millar encouraged everyone to take a shot of whiskey before Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS to loosen everyone up. Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, John Lackey, and others lackadaisically drank during the game on days when they were not pitching. I know it only happened once or twice, but from a fan’s perspective, it just doesn’t look good.
Changes needed to be made, and I firmly believe that change will come in the form of Bobby Valentine. I was admittedly skeptical at first (though I was delighted that I no longer have to listen to him on Sunday Night Baseball), but I think that Valentine is the perfect man for the job. Go ahead and complain about his less-than-impressive managerial record (.510), but Francona had a managerial record of .440 when he came over to the Red Sox.
The thing that really corroborated my confidence in Valentine was his attitude towards spring training. There are more PFPs, he has already added two B games (my favorite thing–I prefer them over A games), and players will now ride the bus to away games rather than driving themselves. Baseball is a team sport, and the Red Sox did not play like a team last year. Valentine doesn’t even think, like many of his colleagues, that spring training is too short. You all know that I wish spring training lasted loner, too.
I don’t think that I am the only person that notices the tension that pervades the atmosphere of this year’s spring training. Josh Beckett won’t name the players he had issues with last season, and it’s not hard to tell that Crawford was disappointed with Red Sox owner John Henry’s remarks that he did not support the signing.
It was always clear to me when I attended spring training that Josh Beckett is the ring-leader. He has an enormous influence over the younger players, and this concerns me because I don’t think he is the greatest example. I think he’s a great pitcher, but I have issues with his attitude.
There is no doubt in my mind that Carl Crawford will bounce back this season. He is the quintessential five-tool player and an incredible athlete. I’m not trying to make excuses for Crawford, but I can understand why he struggled. Transitioning to a big market team is difficult enough, but Crawford also lacked the permanence with his spot in the lineup when he was with the Rays. For some guys that matters, others it doesn’t. I’ve gotten different responses when I have asked minor league players their opinions about this, and that is what makes baseball so interesting to me: it’s all relative.
I can tell that Red Sox players are sick of discussing the collapse, which is fair. But the success of the 2012 Red Sox relies heavily on the players learning from their mistakes, which I think they have. It’s also important to leave the past in the past, and focus on the future. That being said, before I discuss the minor leagues, I’d like to go through a couple of the (major) off-season additions, and how they impact the roster.
Andrew Bailey and Ryan Sweeney
The Red Sox sent Josh Reddick, Miles Head, and Raul Alcantara to Oakland for Andrew Bailey and Ryan Sweeney. I really like this trade, and I think the Red Sox got the better end of the deal. It was tough for the Red Sox to lose Jonathan Papelbon, but we all saw this coming. He kept signing one-year deals, and it was obvious that he wanted to test free-agent waters unlike Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, and Clay Buchholz who signed multi-year deals before reaching free agency for the first time.
Trading for Bailey, who is still under arbitration, was the perfect way to avoid spending a lot of money on closers like Ryan Madson or Heath Bell of similar caliber. Not to mention the fact that Bailey is fantastic when he is healthy. There’s a reason that he was voted 2009 AL Rookie of the Year.
Ryan Sweeney is the perfect guy to platoon in right field with Cody Ross until Ryan Kalish returns to form. I think that trading Josh Reddick shows the confidence the organization has in Kalish. I think that Kalish is Fenway’s future right fielder if he can maintain his health.
Miles Head had an incredible campaign with Single-A Greenville the first half of the season. He hit .338 with 15 home runs and 53 RBIs in 66 games. He struggled, however, when he advanced to High-A Salem where he hit .254, and suffered significant drops in his on-base and slugging percentages. Obviously the pitching becomes a lot more sophisticated in High-A, but if Head tweaks his mechanics a little bit, I think he has the potential for success.
Raul Alcantara is still extremely raw with his mechanics, and the highest level he has pitched in is Short-Season A. It is unclear to me at this point how effective he can be, but he certainly intrigued me when I watched him at extended spring training as well as the Gulf Coast League.
The Red Sox traded Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland to the Astros for relief pitcher Mark Melancon. Melancon had a terrific 2011 campaign with the Astros, and he is the perfect set up man. This trade obviously had personal repercussions for me since Jed Lowrie was my first “project,” and Kyle Weiland was my favorite pitching prospect, thus marking the second year in a row that the Red Sox traded my favorite pitching prospect.
Lowrie was always a health liability, and even though Weiland didn’t have success when he was in Boston, he showed a lot of promise in the minor leagues, and I think he will have more opportunity to succeed in a small market like Houson.
The Marco Scutaro trade
If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I’m a huge Marco Scutaro apologist. I think he was completely under appreciated during his time with the Red Sox. He didn’t choose the right time to commit his errors. He quietly batted nearly .300 last season, and he has always had a great eye. The Red Sox traded him to the Rockies for the irrelevant Clay Mortenson (though he is a former first round pick). I think the Red Sox could have gotten more for Scutaro, but they got what they really wanted, which was a salary dump, so I digress.
Mike Aviles and Nick Punto will platoon at shortstop. Jose Iglesias is not ready yet after struggling so much at the plate in 2011. No one expects Iglesias to put up numbers like Hanley Ramirez (ignoring 2011) or Troy Tulowitzki. He is heralded for his glove, not his bat. I think that the Red Sox were a little too aggressive in throwing him into Double-A his first professional season. Iglesias undoubtedly needs to see more pitching at the Triple-A level. His glove alone will not keep him in the majors.
I’m not going to beat around the bush: I do not like Nick Punto. For those of you that wanted Scutaro gone, I’m telling you right now that you are not going to like Punto. He is overrated, and I will NOT be a happy camper if I ever see him facing a left-handed pitcher.
Free Agent Additions:
The biggest free agent additions were probably Cody Ross, Kelly Shoppach, Nick Punto (whom I have already discussed), Vincente Padilla, and Aaron Cook. Ross had a down year last season, but his swing suits Fenway Park, so that will benefit him. He and Sweeney are perfect guys for platoon roles.
Kelly Shoppach is an alright addition for a catcher (he was actually initially drafted by the Red Sox). There won’t be much there with his offense, but he is superb behind the plate. Just wait for Ryan Lavarnway to come up, it won’t be long (I’m assuming he will start the season in Triple-A). It looks like Saltalamacchia will be the leader of the catching staff. I thought he improved A LOT last year–especially in the middle of the season when he actually started to throw out runners.
Vincente Padilla and Aaron Cook figure to be in the battle for the last two spots of the rotation. Daniel Bard, Alfredo Aceves, Ross Ohlendorf, and Andrew Miller also figure to be in those talks.
I don’t know if I can see Bard in the rotation. Bard consistently throws 97-100, and relies on the speed of his fastball to get hitters out. He is not going to be able to throw 97-100 for seven (ideally) innings. That being said, his changeup is typically 87-90 mph, so if he has to tone down his fastball for the sake of longevity, he’s going to have to adjust his changeup accordingly. He’s also going to have to use his secondary pitches more. He has a fantastic slider, but he lost confidence in that pitch in his abysmal September. If he can bring back the cutter, I think there’s potential for success. What bothers me, though, is that Bard resembles Aroldis Chapman and Neftali Feliz (both known for their speed), and neither have had success in the starting rotation. (Why the Rangers are trying Feliz there again, I do not know). C.J. Wilson had success in his transition because he didn’t rely as much on his speed as those pitchers do. It’ll be interesting to see how it pans out, but I have my doubts.
Aceves belongs in the bullpen, in my opinion. His long-term relief is invaluable, and he was so effective out of the ‘pen last year. He can be a spot starter as we saw, but I think his spot is in the ‘pen.
If Bard is successful in his endeavors, then Beckett, Lester, Buchholz, and Bard would be an incredible rotation. If it doesn’t work out though, I’ll be nervous. I can’t say much about Aaron Cook and Vincente Padilla until I see them pitch in spring training, and I have no idea why the Red Sox re-signed Andrew Miller. I know he is a tall lefty with a high ceiling, but after a certain point (and a certain WHIP), you just have to let it go.I also cannot explain to you the logic behind the Ross Ohlendorf signing.
This offseason was extremely different from last year’s. There were no high-profile signings, just a lot of low-risk high reward type signings. It reminds me a lot of the offseason going into the 2008 season with the John Smoltz and Brad Penny experiments. Those did not work out. I’m confident in the offense, I feel pretty good about the bullpen, and Daniel Bard is pretty much the determining factor when it comes to my feelings about the starting rotation.
The admission committee has concluded its evaluation of Early Decision
applicants to Northwestern University. I am sorry we are unable to
offer you a place in the freshman class.
They say that everything happens for a reason. People say that college admissions are a crapshoot: if you get in, you got lucky; if you don’t get in, you were unlucky. You will end up where you are meant to be.
Once I read my rejection letter, none of that made any difference. None of that made me feel better. I was rejected from one of the best journalism schools in the country. It was quite discouraging, which is why I have not written anything in a while. My whole application centered upon my blog and my love for writing about baseball, and why I love to do it. Northwestern rejecting me was like them telling me that my blog was not good enough; that my passion was not good enough. And really, there is not much worse than getting told that your passion is not good enough.
Getting rejected from college is like having a really good career and not getting into the Hall of Fame. I’m Luis Tiant, and Northwestern is the Hall of Fame. He’s a perfectly qualified candidate, who is overlooked.
Granted, the rejection letter did not explain why I was not accepted. In retrospect, if I had to guess, I would say that it was my test scores were not good enough. And if that is the case, then I do not want to go to Northwestern.
If I have learned anything in the past two plus years since I have started this blog, it is that journalism is based on passion. In journalism, passion is paramount to grades, to test scores, and even to writing skills. If you are truly passionate about something, then it will be expressed in your writing. You can be the best writer in the world, but if you’re not passionate about what you’re writing about, then it’s not worth writing about.
I am not asking Northwestern to understand my passion; not many people do. Perhaps they simply do not understand it because my blog is completely independent of my school work. If Northwestern truly was one of the best journalism schools in the country, their mantra would be passion. But if they judge passion solely on grades and test scores, then I was wrong for applying there in the first place.
In my conversations with players, I have realized that baseball goes so far beyond its statistics, and I hope that I have been able to convey this to those of you that are kind enough to stop by and read my blog. Baseball is an art. If we solely look at the numbers, then we do not even crack the surface of what this game truly can mean to us. Similarly, I go beyond my statistics (and so does everyone who applies to college).
Perhaps everything does happen for a reason. The last thing I want to do is go to a school that will neither understand nor foster passion. If Northwestern wants to have a homogeneous class of kids with straight A’s and perfect scores, then more power to them. But that is not what journalism is about.
If you presented me with two scenarios right now–the first being that I have perfect grades and scores and I have a ticket to the institution of my choice. The second being my current situation: good grades, not-so-great-scores, but something that I am truly passionate about–I would choose the latter every time. I have something worth writing about.
A lot of you are probably familiar with the “Beyond Baseball” commercial about Dustin Pedroia:
Growing up, Dustin Pedroia was often overlooked, but he used that as motivation to never give up, never give in, and never listen to what they say you can’t do.
This is beyond perseverance; this is beyond baseball.”
In a way, Northwestern has said something similar to me. But like Dustin Pedroia, I’m going to use this as motivation to never give up, never give in, and never listen to what they say I can’t do. Even after college, I know that things like this will happen. The writers I shadowed over the summer said this themselves. There is no one path to where I want to go. There are plenty of other universities with equally renowned journalism programs and reputations. I know that going to a school with a good reputation and connections will only help me. But in the end, it will be my passion that gets me to where I want to go.
In the past few weeks, Theo Epstein has acquired some great players that will play a huge role in the 2011 season and beyond.
The last thing I blogged about was the blockbuster Adrian Gonzalez trade that sent perhaps the best three minor league prospects in the organization (pitcher Casey Kelly, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, and outfielder Reymond Fuentes) as well as Eric Patterson (who was the player to be named later) to San Diego. While this locks up the 2011 season, the Adrian Gonzalez’s future in the Red Sox organization is in jeopardy until a contract extension is finalized.
Epstein had never given a player more than a five-year deal in his regime as Red Sox general manager until Carl Crawford’s 7-year, $142 million deal. I have always thought that Epstein has been really smart in doing this because there is really no way to tell how good a player will be in five years.
However, in the past few years, teams have been signing players to lucrative, long-term contracts typically between 6-8 years. The way I see it, Epstein has been forced to adjust to the market in order to lock up the top-tier players. You would think that a player would settle for less years and more money, but long-term security has been a deal breaker lately.
Locking up Gonzalez long term (I would say five to six years, but with the recent Crawford deal, anything could happen) is absolutely essential. After the 2011 season, teams will be swooping in like vultures for Gonzalez’s services. It will be a huge blow to the organization if the Red Sox lose Gonzalez plus the talented crop of minor league players.
It is quite possible that a deal has been agreed upon in principle with Gonzalez, and the Red Sox are merely waiting until after Opening Day to announce it–exactly what they did with Josh Beckett’s 4-year contract extension last year. This would allow the organization to evade an even heavier luxury tax.
Giving up the prospects was certainly hard to do. I thought that Casey Kelly in particular was untouchable. The minor league system, however, has the potential to be restocked in this year’s draft. In addition to the top-fifty pick that the Red Sox already have, they will have four picks in the compensatory round due to the loss of Victor Martinez (4-years, $50 million with Tigers) and the impending loss of Adrian Beltre. Because they are both Type A free agents, the Red Sox will receive two, compensatory picks. It is also likely that they will non-tender Felipe Lopez–a Type B free agent–so that gives them another compensatory pick. Correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s six of the first fifty picks. Consider the farm system re-stocked.
Casey Kelly was certainly a big deal: he received a lot of hype during Spring Training. Keep your eyes out for Anthony Ranaudo this year. He was drafted in the first round (39th overall) over the 2010 draft out of LSU.
Carl Crawford’s 7-year, $142 million deal is certainly a lot of money, but there is no doubt that he is the type of player that you make exceptions for. He is a five-tool player, and considered by many to be the best athlete in baseball. He will play left field (with Ellsbury moving to center, and Drew staying in right), and I expect him to hit either first or second in the lineup. Cameron will be the fourth outfielder, and this gives Ryan Kalish some time to develop in the minors. I would like to see him get some time in right field and improve his arm to potentially be the starting right fielder in 2012 after Drew’s contract expires.
Speaking of expiring contracts, this has to have b
een a factor in splurging for Crawford. The Red Sox are coming off of a lot of contracts after the 2011 season including David Ortiz, JD Drew, Marco Scutaro, and Mike Cameron. Matsuzaka’s contract is up after the 2012 season.
The Red Sox also signed three relievers expected to strengthen the bullpen. RHP Bobby Jenks was signed to a two year deal worth $12 million. The Red Sox non-tendered the inconsistent Hideki Okajima, so I expect Jenks to serve as a setup man for Papelbon. He had arguably his worst season last year posting a 4.44 ERA, but he has been very reliable in the past. The only thing I do not like is his beard.
The Red Sox also signed RHP Dan Wheeler to a one year deal worth $3 million with a club option for 2012. He has had a consistently good ERA over the past three seasons averaging about 3.25.
The signing that I was not all too crazy about was the one year deal with RHP Matt Albers. He has never had an ERA under 4.00. I am pretty sure that it is a major league contract, but I suspect that he will battle for a bullpen spot during Spring Training.
The only left that the Red Sox have in the bullpen is Felix Doubront, and I am sure that Francona will use him as the lefty specialist (which, as I have mentioned, I do not buy). He is currently the only lefty in the bullpen, so I suspect Epstein will sign a few guys to minor league contracts that will compete for roster spots in 2011.
Most places experience four seasons: spring, summer, fall, and winter. Each season is distinctly associated with different weather patterns and different activities. When people ask me what my favorite season is, I say, “Baseball season.” I think that I need to be more specific, though. A lot of people think that there is just baseball season and the off season, but like the weather, baseball has four seasons as well: the preseason, the regular season, the postseason, and the hot stove season. Just because there is no baseball, that does not mean that there is an “off” season.
If you asked me which of the baseball seasons were my favorite, I would have a hard time responding. If you asked me my least favorite, though, I would not have to think twice about answering, “The hot stove season.” For a baseball fan, there is nothing worse than having your favorite player be a free agent. You hope that deep down, money and years are subordinate to the loyalty he has for his team. But in the end, we all have to face the harsh reality that for players, love for a team is quantified.
The off season can be even harder if, like me, you are a huge fan of minor league baseball. The top rated prospects are always the ones who are most vulnerable to blockbuster trades. This brings me to, you guessed it, Adrian Gonzalez.
As I write this, it has essentially been made official that the Red Sox and the Padres have completed a blockbuster trade. The Red Sox have been interested in Adrian Gonzalez for over a year now, and Theo Epstein has finally made it happen. The Red Sox lose perhaps the three best prospects in the organization in Casey Kelly, Anthony Rizzo, and Reymond Fuentes.
I wonder how it is to hear your name in trade talks as these three so often did. In this case, though, I think this trade is a compliment to their abilities. The Red Sox are not trading to get rid of them. Adrian Gonzalez is one of the most talented players in baseball, and the San Diego Padres see enough talent in these three prospects to trade away their face of the franchise. That is a huge compliment.
This trade has some personal repercussions for me. Anyone who has read this blog once or twice knows how much faith and respect I had for these guys. I expected to see Casey Kelly in the Red Sox’s starting rotation in 2013. I expected Anthony Rizzo to be the Red Sox’s starting first baseman in either 2012 or 2013. I expected Reymond Fuentes to be the Red Sox’s starting center fielder in 2014.
It’s not just that I closely followed their minor league development. I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing each of them. I feel very lucky that I had the opportunity to get to know them a bit. Obviously, all three of them are fantastic players, but when it comes down to it, they’re good guys too.
I remember the first time I talked to Casey Kelly. He, Kris Johnson, Kyle Weiland, and Ryan Kalish were sitting at a table signing at an event in Fort Myers. I gave them all my card, and we had an interesting conversation about the spelling of analysis. I saw Kelly about 20 minutes later, and I talked to him a bit more about the spelling of analysis, and also about his transition from shortstop to pitcher. When I saw him in Portland, he was happy to re-establish the fact that I, apparently, am a poor speller.
I met Anthony Rizzo on the last day of Spring Training. I told him and his mother, Lori, that he was one of my projects. When I saw him in Portland over the summer, I talked to him a lot, and I even had the chance to formally interview him, the transcript of which you can read here.
I formally interviewed Reymond Fuentes at the Fall Instructional League in Fort Myers. You can read the transcript of that here.. (It’s actually more of a summary of what I remembered, because I accidentally deleted it). I don’t have a picture with him, but I am thankful that I had the chance to talk to him before he was traded.
Although I’m truly going to miss these guys, this was a fantastic trade. I think both sides will benefit equally. Gonzalez’s impact will obviously be more immediate, but like I said, I fully expect Kelly, Rizzo, and Fuentes to be starting in the near future after they finish their development. The Red Sox are currently working out a long term deal with Gonzalez because he is in the last year of his contract. Every baseball team learned from the Atlanta Braves’ mistake a couple of years ago when they traded top prospects (Elvis Andrus and Neftali Feliz, to name a few) to the Texas Rangers for Mark Teixeira, and failed to sign him long term.
Adrian Gonzalez will obviously play first base, and Kevin Youkilis will move to third: a position that he is very comfortable at considering he was developed as a third baseman. Adrian Beltre will not be in a Red Sox uniform next season. He is a fantastic player, and his bat will have a huge impact on whichever team he signs with.
I want to briefly analyze the other moves that the Red Sox have made this season, and then address the remaining needs.
1. They signed Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek to one year
deals. Varitek is always a good guy to have around considering he knows
how to handle the pitching staff, and he can help Saltalamacchia learn.
Saltalamacchia was formerly a huge catching prospect in the Rangers
organization, but he never really panned out as expected. He even
struggled with getting the ball back to the pitcher. However, I would not be surprised if he turned out to be a valuable asset. At the same time, though, neither his or Varitek’s bat will fill Victor Martinez’s (who signed a four year contract worth $50 million with the Tigers) hole. The Red Sox obviously value Salty and Varitek for their defense, not their bats. The rest of the Red Sox lineup will compensate.
2. They traded Dustin Richardson for former first round pick (sixth overall), Andrew Miller, whom they have just non-tendered. They also non-tendered Hideki Okajima. As many of you know–or even just judging from my picture–this trade also had personal repercussions for me. Richardson was perhaps my favorite pitcher in the minor league system. He did not have a full year to develop in Triple-A, which explains why he struggled a bit with walks at the major league level. As a left handed pitcher, I think he could have been a valuable asset to the Red Sox’s bullpen, but I have no doubt that he will do well in Florida. I look forward to following his career down here.
I remember the first time I talked to Richardson. It was at a spring training workout, and I was able to tell him how much I enjoyed watching him last September, and that I thought really highly of him. It surprised me that he remembered me nearly a month later, and that he had taken the time to read my site. When I talked to him more extensively, what really impressed me about him was that he was really honest with himself. Instead of saying, “Yeah, I should be in Boston,” he wanted to work stuff out in Pawtucket. I was even more surprised that he recognized me immediately in San Francisco, and I was so glad that I had the chance to congratulate him on his first major league strikeout. He gave me two baseballs.
What confused me, though, is that the Red Sox non-tendered Andrew Miller. If the Red Sox were not planning on keeping him, then they essentially gave up Richardson for free. It was suggested to me on Twitter, by @justjohnsonya, that perhaps the Red Sox were clearing a roster spot for the Rule 5 Draft, and hoping to sign Miller after that.
The Red Sox have proven arms in Scott Atchison, Daniel Bard, Tim Wakefiled, and Jonathan Papelbon, and I expect to see great things from Felix Doubront and Michael Bowden. However, the bullpen is another asset that the Red Sox need to improve upon.
The rest of the Red Sox’s Hot Stove moves have been relatively anticlimactic, picking up a guy off waivers here and there. There are two big names on the market that the Red Sox will pursue: Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth. The Red Sox already have a right-fielder in Drew (who is in the last year of his contract), and a left fielder in Ellsbury, but Ellsbury can easily move to center field. I could see the Red Sox signing Crawford, moving Ellsbury to center, keeping Drew in right, and having Mike Cameron as the fourth outfielder (he is still under contract). If this happens, I would think that the Red Sox would want to develop Kalish as a right fielder, because I fully expect him to be in the starting lineup in 2012. Between Crawford and Werth, Crawford is the most logical move.
I think that I speak on behalf of many baseball fans when I say that my favorite day of the year is Opening Day. Because, well, there’s something about opening day. I have a second favorite day of the year, though: September 1. In fact, September might just be my favorite month of the season.
Towards the end of August, it becomes quite clear which teams are in the hunt for October. The month of September is all about the final push. I see it as the most crucial month of the season. However, that doesn’t mean that the games in September are any more important then they were in, say, May, for example. I think what I’m trying to say is that each team is in a certain position at the beginning of September. What each team has done until that point has affected their respective playoff berth chances. Some teams have an almost definite chance at making it, some teams are on the line, some teams’ hopes are slowly, painfully dwindling away, and some teams simply won’t make it. From that point at the beginning of September, the outcome of each game will affect where you are in October: on the field, or watching from the couch.
I won’t beat around the bush here: the Red Sox have a very slim chance of making it into October. I know that there is nearly an entire month of baseball left, but statistically speaking, it is highly improbable. Not only would the Red Sox have to win nearly every game from here on out, but also, the Yankees and Rays would have to cooperate and lose some games, which they simply don’t do.
Regardless of whether or not the Red Sox make the playoffs, I will not consider this a wasted season, or even a disappointing season. Rather, I would consider it frustrating. The Red Sox are in no way, shape, or form a bad team. They are a very unlucky team. Everyone I have spoken with this season is absolutely flabbergasted by the copious amount of injuries. I’m usually not one to make excuses; in fact, I’ll be the first to admit if the Red Sox play bad baseball, which they sometimes do. However, when Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Cameron, Kevin Youkilis, and Dustin Pedroia–4/9ths of the opening day lineup–are out for the rest of the season, that certainly hurts. When Josh Beckett–the man considered by many to be the staff’s ace–is out for 10+ weeks, it doesn’t help.
I won’t blame everything on injuries though. I’m happy to speak of instances where the Red Sox haven’t played smart baseball. I’m not here for harsh criticism, I’m here for constructive criticism. When you have runners on first and second with no outs, there is no excuse for not bunting. Small ball wins games. You sacrifice an out to get two runners into scoring position. Also, the Red Sox have been absolutely sparse on the base paths. As soon as Ellsbury comes out of the lineup, we stop stealing! There have also been some mental slips on Francona’s part as well. One of the most obvious instances, in my opinion, was when he brought Clay Buchholz out for the eighth inning when he was over 100 pitches. Next thing that happens? A home run to tie the game. He has done that on many an occasion this year.
Francona also is obsessed with lefty-lefty match-ups. I have discussed this with @TheRealMBB many a time. We don’t hire Francona to read a book full of statistics. I can do that. We hire him to trust his gut. Baseball goes beyond statistics. You go with the guy who is throwing the ball the best, and that is final.
A playoff berth is improbable. But in baseball, things that are improbable tend to become probable more than often. Take yesterday (Sunday), for example. The Red Sox took a 5-3 lead into the top of the ninth. In fact, they had a two run lead in the top of the ninth with two outs, and their storied closer, Jonathan Papelbon, was on the mound. Be honest with yourself. When you were watching that game, you thought the Red Sox were going to win. There was no way the White Sox were going to come back and tie that game–let alone score four runs.
I always say that I like baseball because anything can happen. Literally. Anything. That came back to bite me in the **** yesterday. The Red Sox are 10 games back from first place. They are 7.5 games out of the wild card. Statistically speaking, it’s improbable. But as I said earlier, baseball goes beyond statistics. There is so much in this game that goes beyond baseball. Anything can happen.
There is another thing that I really like about September, though. Perhaps even more than the hunt for October: expanded rosters. This is where my projects come in and make a difference, just like I predicted all the way back in Spring Training. This is when I feel like a proud mother every time I get a tweet saying that somebody is en route to Boston.
It’s surreal for me to see Dustin Richardson, Felix Doubront, Ryan Kalish, Daniel Nava, Josh Reddick, Lars Anderson, and Michael Bowden (soon, anyway) on the roster at the same time. It’s even more surreal to realize that I’ve had a conversation with each and every one of them. I had the chance to tell them, in person, that I was impressed with what they had done in the minors, and that I knew that they were going to be good, and that I had faith that they would be up in Boston soon. I feel like a proud mother. There is nothing in this world that could top that for me.
The Red Sox have had a copious amount of injuries this season. Because of all the casualties, many minor league prospects, and some veterans, have been given the chance to show what they can do. Had Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Cameron, and Jeremy Hermida maintained a relatively healthy season, there is no way that the Red Sox would have seen Darnell McDonald, Daniel Nava, or Ryan Kalish. Sometimes I wonder if these guys–in the back of their minds–hope for injuries so that they can have a shot.
To be honest, I never expected Ryan Kalish to be up this year at all. Not because he is a bad athlete or anything, but because how meticulous the Red Sox are when it comes to development. He started the year in Double-AA Portland, and he was performing at a very high level. No doubt that he was going to be moved up to Pawtucket, right? Kalish transitioned seamlessly from Portland to Pawtucket–considered by some to be the toughest jump. I think Kalish was called up because the Red Sox were unsure of what they had in Reddick. Believe me, I think that he is full of potential, he just hasn’t had the at-bats to prove it yet. He has been producing exponentially better since he changed his mechanics after the All-Star Break.
The point I’m trying to make is that Ryan Kalish started the season in Double-AA, and now he is in the big leagues. I like to think that I have taken a similar path over the past couple of months. As you know, I worked in both Pawtucket and Portland this past summer. I was afforded unbelievable opportunities that gave me incredible access. I never expected to have that kind of access in the major leagues for a really long time.
Those of you who have seen my pictures on Twitter and Facebook may be wondering how I got that kind of access. Basically, Subway is sponsoring this webcast that is going to be an app on Facebook and on youtube called “High School Heroes” (that might just be the working title). I think what they are trying to do is find kids around the country who are just really passionate about something, and they are just really into it. So they wanted to follow me around at a baseball game and kind of see what I normally do. Stalking a stalker, right? Here is the catch, though. Somehow, Subway was able to get me an all-access (minus the clubhouse) media pass for before the game, and even an interview with a player to be named later (my favorite expression…) I was allowed on the field during batting practice.
I think the objective was for me to have easier access to the players to ask for pictures and what not. The only thing is that when I get a press pass, I switch into professional mode, but this was kind of difference. This press pass wasn’t to get me the kind of access that I got when I was at Pawtucket/Portland. This press pass to get me the kind of access I had at, say, the minor league complex, but with the major league players.
The first thing I did with this access was finally show Dustin Pedroia my Dustin Pedroia salsa. I didn’t have him sign it, though, because I was still kind of figuring out exactly how I was supposed to behave (for lack of a better word) with this pass. It was mainly an opportunity to discuss it with him.
I decided to ask Big Papi for a picture. Never hurts to ask, right? There were some fans with pre-game access badges behind home plate, and he was over there as well, so I thought it would be an appropriate time to ask.
Then I asked Jacoby Ellsbury for a picture. Obviously, he wasn’t playing in the game, but he was still taking batting practice. He was one of the nicest guys I met that day. It seemed like he cared about who I was, he wasn’t as dismissive as some of the other guys were (understandably so).
I also got a picture with Victor Martinez. It was absolutely surreal to be less than a foot away from these guys. I wasn’t separated by a fence, and security could not do anything to me. There were tons of fans around hoping for autographs too. Because I was where the players were, I now know that yes, they can hear you, but they choose to ignore you. It’s understandable because they have a job, it’s just annoying realizing that some of my efforts of the past have been futile. Luckily, if you’re on the field, they don’t ignore you as much.
Emperor Felix was also kind enough to pose for a picture on his way back from shagging balls in the outfield. Unfortunately, Michael Bowden was sent down that very same day, which was really frustrating because I had been really looking forward to talking to him. I wanted to tell him that I plan on writing my college essay about my first interview with him. The prompt is to describe a significant experience and its impact on you. I didn’t realize how big of an impact it had had on me until I was writing the essay.
As Daniel Nava and Ryan Kalish were jogging in, I asked them for a picture, and they said they would do it after batting practice. Before Nava went to batting practice, though, I was able to tell him how I was at his Double-AA debut. I was even able to show him the notes that I had from the game. We were talking about the first hit he got on that level and he said, “the ball found [him]” which I thought was really cool.
Darnell and Clay
(click the link for the picture via @RedSoxDoll, check out her blog here)
The interview with the “player to be named later” was Darnell McDonald. I was so excited to interview him, but at the same time, I was really nervous because I had no time to prepare the questions. I had found out about it about an hour and a half before. Luckily, I had my notebook filled with various questions from my interviews in Portland.
McDonald is honestly one of the best guys I have ever interviewed. He is such a great conversationalist, and he seemed really genuine and sincere about everything. You can listen to the audio here:
I asked him about his favorite major league experience. I assumed it would be either Opening Day with the Cincinnati Reds in 2009, or his debut with the Red Sox, so I listed those two options, but I obviously left it open for something else. He said his favorite moment was at one of the San Francisco games this past summer. In fact, I was at the game. Before the game, a young boy with cancer had given him a blue band, which he was still wearing. In his very first at-bat that day, he hit a home run. I remember being there for that home run, but I never realized it had that much significance to him. That was certainly beyond baseball.
I had access to the press box during the game as well, so that was incredible. I had never been in a major league press box, and I didn’t expect to be in one until after college. This was a nice taste. In the press dining area, I had the chance to speak with Amalie Benjamin, a writer for the Boston Globe. She was very genial, and she told me that she went to Northwestern (currently in my top two choices). Although she didn’t go to the Medill School of Journalism, she used all of its resources. I really enjoyed talking to her because I admire her writing, and she is someone that I look up to considering she is a successful female sports journalist.
I did not feel all that lost in the press box considering I had been in one a couple of times before. The only thing was that I didn’t have my laptop, but I was fine. I tried to keep track of all of the pitches in my notebook, and I kept score as well. I am definitely getting used to this.
There was only one bad part of the night. The fact that Scott Atchinson gave up a walk off home run to Dan Johnson. My father and I had driven four hours to see the Red Sox lose, and then we had to drive all the way back after a pretty devastating loss. It was such a great baseball game to watch, though. A great pitcher’s duel between Garza and Buchholz, and just back and forth baseball that kept me on the edge of my seat (even though I had to maintain some level of objectivity in the press box). I think the pros outweighed the cons in this case.
The kinds of opportunities that I have been getting for the past few months have been out of this world. I can’t thank the people of the various media relations departments enough to trust that I will be responsible with this kind of access. I don’t know if it all has set in yet. It’s really hard for me to believe that all this is happening, but I just try to go with the flow. I really think that it’s all a matter of taking every opportunity that you can get.
Yesterday, I received an email from the Red Sox Insider blog that I’m subscribed to, and it had some interesting statistics:
so that the Red Sox can see if he is just going through a funk, or if his career is actually coming to an end. He obviously wants what is best for the team, which is why he mused that the team might be better off without him.